I miss traveling.
I might miss it more right now than ever before.
One of my best friends, Dan, is currently writing a blog about the adventures that we had 10 years ago while traveling around the world with nothing but our backpacks, a sense of adventure and fleeting memories that dwelled with us as we made a new home each and every day. It’s those homes that I miss the most.
If you haven’t ever backpacked, you’d never understand. It sounds conceited and quaint, but backpackers are a different breed and in my opinion, a better breed. We are a symbiotic group of individuals from around the globe who have chosen to make homes of each other. We survive on dirt, sweat, laundry, street food, dorm beds, cheap beers and the laughter of strangers. As Billy Joel once wrote,
“well i’ll never be a stranger and I’ll never be alone. whenever we’re together, that’s my home.”
I know he was writing about a lover, but the same lyrics come to mind when I think about every person that I’ve met over the years while sleeping at hostels and the feeling was reignited this past week while I spent 3 nights at a hostel in Tulum – a tiny town on the Gulf of Mexico on the Yucutan Peninsula.
I was in town for a wedding that would take place at a resort about 40 miles up the coast a few days later, but took some of time to live the way that I like to live. I took a public bus from the airport to Playa Del Carmen because it was the furthest south I could get. Then I took a second bus to Tulum. I had written down the name of a hostel and some cursory directions on a printout of tidbits of info on the city. My notes, as mentioned, were cursory. They failed to mention if I should turn right or left from the bus station and I predictably went the wrong way. Several blocks later I asked, in gringo Spanish, a police officer armed with a semi-automatic weapon slung over his shoulder and hugged to his chest where the street was that I was looking for. He sent me on my way.
I giggled with excitement when I saw how dilapidated the facade of my new domicile was. Across the street from a taco cart that used a hand written sign on a poster board to announce it’s name and offerings, the thatched roof on this place must have been erected a decade of suns ago and the trash strewn empty lot beside it just made me so fucking happy. I honestly missed walking up to a place that looked like hell because I knew the greatness that lied inside.
I checked in. Dropped my bag at my bed and sat at the bar in the open air common space that made up the front of the hostel. The bartender that night was a guy named Mike. He hailed from Holland but spoke English with a near perfect California accent. He would claim that he learned to speak from watching hours and hours of Cartoon Network as a child. He was working there in exchange for a free bed for a week or so. Three Aussie girls arrived at the bar. Heidi, Stacey, and Beck. Two blondes and a half Asian. All adorable in their own right. We all enjoyed a beer or two, but having just had a wild night the evening before, these kids were all ready for an easy night. But by the end of my first beer, we had already all become more than friends. We had become each other’s home.
The following day I would rent a bicycle and the Dutchman, the three Aussie’s and two Frenchmen who were already a part of their home from the day before would travel the city together. We visited a cenote, which is essentially an open air cave that collects rainwater, creating a magnificent place to swim and snorkel amongst freshwater fish and turtles. We drank smoothies. We visited the Tulum ruins that overlook the crystal turquoise water. We sat on the beach, letting the sun turn these experienced travelers a darker shade of brown and giving me the first tan that I’d had in months.
That evening we drank a few more beers at our hostel bar, getting to know a Japanese-American bar owner from San Antonio and his girlfriend. New additions to our home.
Nine of us (2 French, 3 Aussie, 1 Dutch, 3 American and 1 Mexican – also a traveling hostel employee) went out that night without much of a plan. We parked ourselves at a bar a few blocks down the main road. It was dead, but most of this small town was. We had some more drinks and by the time the Spanish language reggae music started to play, we were in the mood to have a dance party. The nine of us. Just the nine of us. People who hadn’t known of our own existence the day before. We got up and created our own party. It was one of those moments that you rarely experience with your closest of friends. No inhibitions whatsoever. Nobody trying to impress anyone. Nobody trying to be “cool.” Just nine strangers who had become a family within 24 hours time, dancing wildly, surrounded by empty space and flowing music.
I miss those moments. I miss those people. I miss those dirty towns and humid streets and the tranquilo vibes that flow throughout hostels in nearly every country around the world. I miss my home, even when I’m home.