Not long ago, I read an article from SMH’s Backpacker blogger Ben Groundwater titled “You Will Never See These People Again” about friends you make when you are travelling and promises to meet up that often fall through.
Ben’s article considered an interesting point; that perhaps these encounters when you travel are supposed to be just that – encounters that affect, influence or even change your life in that moment, but forever remain in that situation and not be brought back to your real life at home.
I had mixed feelings when I read it. I have made travel plans with people I met on the road that we actually saw through, and had a great time. I have met people during one part of a trip, and caught up with them again later in the same trip, and had a great time. I have also hung out with people I met travelling when they have visited Sydney and enjoyed it. But after spending a few days in Colombia with someone who had a big impact on my life at the time, and never seeing or hearing from them again, I can understand the value of a meeting that was only ever supposed to last a short time.
It got me thinking about the experiences you have when you travel, and if these are something that are supposed to become part of your “real life” or stay on the road.
Before my first trip to Mexico and Central America in 2009, I was curious about the Mayan history in the area, and only knew a few words of Spanish despite having a close friend with South American background. But when I was over there, I became captivated. I wanted to come back and study Spanish, I wanted to learn how to dance salsa and, of course, I “fell in love” with a Latino.
When I arrived back in Australia, I split the time I used to spend running or watching sport with salsa and Spanish classes. My schedule was so busy trying to fit everything in that I didn’t have a single night of the week where I just went home and relaxed. It got a point where something had to give, and after a second trip in late 2010, it did.
In preparation for another 8 months travelling, the only thing I cared about was Latin America. Group Spanish classes had become one-on-one lessons, and salsa classes had eventuated into social dancing a few times a week, sometimes late enough that I’m not sure how I made it to work on time the next day. The third trip took the situation to the extreme – months of being immersed in the culture meant I had reached a point where I wanted to live there. When I got home, I was happiest when I was around my South American friends, they knew my music, and the places I had been and understood why I loved it so much.
It didn’t seem like a big deal when friends I met over there who had started going home seemed to go back to their normal lives, without the desire to sign up for salsa classes, go to reggaeton clubs or join Spanish conversation groups. It just meant I loved it as more than just a place to travel. It had been a joke with a friend I met in Brazil that I had been born on the wrong continent. The truth was that I was completely obsessed.
Leaving for the fourth trip was supposed to be the one where I stayed over there. I had my TESOL qualification on hand, had narrowed my choice down to three countries and had started to look at schools where I could get a teaching job. But when it came time to put research into action, it turned out that I didn’t want to stay.
The disconnect didn’t happen as soon as I returned to Australia. I went on a few dates with an Argentinean guy, and I was still going to salsa once a week. I even finally managed to convince my South American BFF the significance of Ai Se Eu Te Pego.
The first hint that something had changed was buying a ticket to Pitbull after a few drinks, and when I remembered the next day I really didn’t want to go (so glad it was cancelled).
But it was when I walked into Margaritaville for salsa last night that it became really obvious. I hadn’t been dancing for about 6 months, at first because of City2Surf training, then because of my broken foot and lastly because of lack of motivation. When I arrived last night I realised the underlying reason behind all three – lack of interest. I had a few dances and while it was fun enough, my heart wasn’t in it. It was a strange feeling, how something that not long ago was a huge part of my life, now felt so foreign. The description of bachata as “the most beautiful dance” and merengue as “sexier than salsa” might have resonated with me in the past, but last night felt impossible to relate to.
I have amazing memories of dancing merengue in Panama, but I’m happy to let them stay as memories. It will never be the same trying to recreate them here, because they represented a moment of significant change in my life. It was as much about the feelings associated with it as it was about the dancing.
I loved travelling in Latin America. I love the culture, the music, the food, the language. I loved watching the top 20 countdown on HTV while eating breakfast, shopping at Exito, buying Choco Bigger ice cream to survive the heat, running on the beach in Rio, drinking Aguila, Pilsen and Club Colombia, and of course, dancing.
But after a few years of trying to incorporate some of those things into my life here in Australia, I realised that I like it just fine the way it was. Because sometimes the experiences you have when you travel are about the impact they have on your life in a particular moment, not something you need to bring home with you.
*Disclaimer, I’m not suggesting all dancers, Spanish students or Pitbull fans are obsessed with Latin America, just was the case for me.