‘Girls who go on trekking tours don’t do one night stands,’ – a fellow trekker on the Inca Trail.
For my first real solo-adventure, I opted for safety in numbers, and jumped on a few smallish group tours. I figured this way it would be someone else’s problem to sort out all the logistics with the added advantage of a local English-speaking guide to rescue me from my floundering phrasebook Latin American Spanish. It wasn’t a cheap option, but it has meant I’ve been able to see and experience so much in such a short time.
More importantly, joining tours has allowed me to meet a bunch of new people from around the globe: Australians, Canadians, South Africans and Britons, young people, old people, and everything in between. The kind of people who will look at the stiff bread roll and blackberry jam served for breakfast each day and say ‘that’s fantastic!’ just because it’s something new, something authentic, and something other than what they left behind.
Surprisingly each of the groups has housed quite a few couples. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the trips haven’t degenerated into singles-shagathons and the focus has remained on the in-country experience, but when you want to turn to a partner, or a lover, or have someone looking out just for you and you for them, as a solo traveller in a couplish group, you’re pretty much on your own.
Like me, many of the solo travellers have reached a crossroads. We are skin-shedders, people at the beginning or end of a journey. This trip signals the conclusion of one life phase and the beginning of something new when we return. Travel is an escape, a hiatus, and an epiphany. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. These are the type of people who have chosen the same kind of adventure – if nothing else, this says we share a way of approaching one aspect of our lives.
The same is not true for many of the couples, who are mid-together-journey, and for whom this is a shared experience on a continuum.
Each group forms its own dynamic fairly quickly, and no two groups are alike. Even within the one group, as newbies arrive and veterans leave, the dynamic shifts, leaving you feeling more or less connected to those around you, but never truly lonely, even when you’re alone. In fact, I’ve had to opt out of some activities to spend the day apart, simply because the introvert in me can’t socialise indefinitely without burning out.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some truly inspiring people this way, people who have generously shared their world view, their introspection and life lessons, and who have shown me it is never too late to start something new, as many times as it takes.
I’ve also met people whose paths wouldn’t normally cross with mine, who have very different interests and who I might not otherwise choose to hang out with, but that’s all part of the adventure, and in a big enough group, it’s easy to find the like-minded, or to temporarily retreat, without it being an issue.
With only a week left, and no more group tours, I’m left wondering how I can return to the mundane of home, how I can keep in touch with the new friends that I’ve made, and more importantly, how I’m going to save up for my next big adventure.