21.07.2009 - 21.07.2009
One of things that I find fascinating about traveling is discovering – or constantly being reminded about - just how small a world this is. The theory of 6 stages of separation (or 6 stages of Kevin Bacon, depending on your preferences) really does hold true. It is amazing just how often you run into people you know, or people that know a mutual acquaintance or have some other connection to, or people that have heard of you for whatever reason (and in my case, rarely a good one).
I have had some crazy ones in the past – that night journey in Tajikistan all those years back, and that hostel in Southern Turkey will both take some beating – but what I think fascinates me most is how quickly when talking to a stranger, you can realise you have a mutual friend. A classic example of that came in Shanghai on one of my longer trips a few years back, when I randomly got talking to an English girl one night in the hostel. Within 10minutes, we had discovered that she had shared a house in Australia with somebody I had spent a few years at school with 20years previously. It wasn't the fact that we both knew the person in question that was astonishing, rather how the conversation happened to run in such a way that we worked it out so quickly. In other circumstances (and this is pre-Facebook, where mutual friend links suddenly become easier to discover), i could probably have known this girl for 5-10 or more years without conversation ever going in a useful direction for us to realise we both knew Matt. Possibly what is even more interesting/frightening is how many of these mutual link exist that are never discovered, simply due to fate or turn of conversation.
When traveling it has always been fairly common to run into people over and over: You often find that whilst you thought you had a wonderfully unique route or idea, in actual fact there are many other people doing very similar routes at similar times, who you periodically bump into. Seeing familiar faces months later is almost always good fun, although can occasionally be a hideous experience.
In areas with a fairly narrow 'tourist trail' as such (such as the South-East Europe loop, or Vietnam), or more limited backpacker/western infrastructure (such as parts of East Africa), this gets accentuated. Certainly, having pretty much lived in the same hostel for 3months, I have met several people 2 or 3 times as they pass through at the start and end of their trips, or between tours. One girl, Kelly, i think I have now met on 7 different occasions at the same hostel: We are both stuck around this part of the world for a while and return to the same place in between our short excursions. East Africa also has a large number people who come for voluntary placements, and there are also several groups of people who are constantly turning over on their way to/fro the same project: I have met any number of people from a Dutch University all on the way to/from Kitui town, where they work on assorted projects as part of their studies. Ditto Engineers Without Borders going to Kakamega.
And naturally it works both ways. There are not that many Welsh people traveling the world (personally, I meet very very few), and even fewer cartographers. So people tend to remember the Welsh map guy, or hear stories about me long before I ever meet them (and many, i will never meet) especially the more oddball ones, and occasionally it is in the most surreal of ways. This is particularly true at the moment, where I am in a fairly small hostel and with a specific story that people like passing on to others in their projects (the wonders of having such a fun parasite as Hamish. He is certainly a frequent topic of conversation) – several people I have met have said a bit later 'oh, you are the guy we were told about' or words to that affect.
And so, happily I can report that in the past 24hours, I have randomly come across 5 different people who I know from different African countries and different stages of this current trip. It has been a bit surprising, but also fun catching up. I don't know why there has been this sudden spurt: After a few weeks without anything, I have also come across several old colleagues/acquaintances via the Belgian, and then one of Maaret and my stalkers - who we met regularly in Namibia and Zambia - in Jinja. By now, you will have realised that there i absolutely no reason for this entry except that i have an hour to kill during treatments and can't do anything except lie on my front. I've just finished my book, so i figured i may as well type this drivel, as it is more exciting – marginally – than watching the already dry paint on my cubicle wall.
Now, if only i had a good tin of magnolia paint...