There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet. ~William Butler Yeats
At no time did this saying feel truer in my life than when I traveled solo for nearly two months. Back then, I met strangers who accepted me as part of their family or as a friend. There were also strangers whom I had only brief but honest and meaningful encounters with, but which were far more authentic than some regular encounters I had with people back home in the city. Also unforgettable were the strangers who inspired me just by being who they are and doing what they feel they are called to do.
And then there were the strangers who seemed like angels in disguise, who helped me avoid serious trouble or assisted me through some inconvenience, and then promptly disappeared from my sight and my life.
These travel encounters made me feel like the richest person in the world then, and I felt I fully grasped the meaning of another favorite travel quote: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
And so, when the theme on strangers for the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ monthly blog carnival was announced, I was at a loss on what to write about. How do I choose from a wealth of connections with strangers? Each story is worth telling, and I have shared some here in my blog, and I feel I will eventually share more in the future, or weave them into another narrative.
So instead of figuring out which of my stranger stories is the best one to share, I have decided to tell the one closest to my heart – because that, at least, is what I am clear of.
(Photo by Phillip Kimpo)
That time, a friend invited me for free scuba diving. Without hesitation, I took the three-hour bus ride to Subic, Zambales. There, I met first-timers and old-timers in diving.
He was one of the first-timers. Conversation easily flowed between us when we found out we liked some of the same books. But what probably bonded us most then was that it would both be our first time to dive, and the fear and anticipation that came with it. I know this now from hindsight; I didn’t realize this back then.
Mostly then I was just focused on the exhilaration of being underwater several meters deep for the first time, and coming in closer contact with fish and corals. It was 30 minutes of eternity in blue and other bright hues.
(Photo by Bebang Siy)
On the way home, we talked nonstop about books, films and everything under the sun, with an ease of friends for years. Our connection was undeniable. But, instead of being overtaken with the heady rush of romance, as I was prone to with men I felt this kind of connection, I curiously only felt a warm companionship.
We became fast friends, and even unofficial siblings, with my parents and brothers warmly welcoming him into the family. During our friendship we saw the best and the worst in the other, and slowly learned to accept what we saw.
We had thought of each other so long as siblings that romance seemed unthinkable. We were both deeply attracted to other people, and I was seriously considering a relationship with another guy. Or so I thought.
After nine months of friendship, we felt a distinct shift, and it was also while traveling when we felt it. We were sitting on the rocks of a gentle stream flowing from the mountains, feeling afraid about losing each other and yet badly wanting to trust what would come. Brightly colored butterflies circled us, and days later we embraced our friendship’s own metamorphosis and rebirth.
Since then, we have had more adventures together – both in travel and in life’s daily miracles and mishaps.
My wanderlust was far greater than his, though. No longer contented with four-day or week-long trips with him and with friends, I declared my intentions of going off on a long-term solo adventure. He was worried but did not stop me. After all, we met while traveling. He understood the call that was too great for me to ignore.
As a traveler, I know that I am home wherever I am. I have found peace in seas, mountains, waterfalls, churches, temples, far-flung towns and islands lacking modern conveniences but rich in spirit, and in locals who show me how different, and yet how ultimately the same, we all human beings are. There are strangers who have warmly welcomed me into their homes and who I believe will welcome me again if I go back.
But, it is beautifully assuring for me to know that no matter where my wanderlust takes me, there is always one place, one person, I can go home to. And with him, I can take deep rest and be freely, utterly and unabashedly myself without reservation.
And yes, we will travel again together.
(Photo by Ros Flores)