A few years ago I came up with this random travel goal: for my country count to always be at least twice the number as I am years old. I’m now 38, and have set foot in 70 countries at last count. I’ve hardly traveled at all this year, and most of my 2012 travel was to Mexico, so I’m six countries behind my goal as a result.
But it doesn’t matter so much anymore. I don’t feel the hurry-up-and-travel clock ticking the way I once did, and frankly, the exhaustive travel pace that allowed me to visit so many places – most of them over a single eleven-year span – was starting to wear me down. I won’t make it to anymore new countries for the remainder of 2013…and I doubt I’ll hit up any new countries in 2014, either. (The money has finally run out, Loyal Reader, the money has finally run out.) If this makes me sad, I at least take some degree of comfort knowing that I’ve seen more corners of the world than perhaps any of my crazy traveling friends…the majority of whom are no travel slouches themselves.
This post has been a long time coming. I started an interesting thread on Facebook last night about whether people get offended when I use profanity on FB. Responses were predominantly in my favor (that is to say, no offense was taken), and those responses were predominantly from my aforementioned circle of traveling friends. Some of them I met on the road, some of them I had known for years before we finally decided to travel together, and a few of them I’ve never even met at all except over a travel-themed website. Cool people all, and more colorful than a Skittles rainbow. But it is this latter group I want to tell you about today. Screen names have been changed – slightly – to protect the not-so-innocent.
During the heyday of the Interwebs, I was a moderator and frequent contributor of Eurotrek.net, a fully-independent, wholly-non-profit, backpacker-targeted website. Eurotrek came into existence after an earlier, more-outdated site, Eurotrip.com, jumped the shark. Several “Eurotrippers” jumped ship and started their own site. Although I can’t claim credit as one of the creators, I did coin the site’s logo, “Start here.” So there’s that.
As a group of like-minded globetrotters, we clicked immediately. Few of us had ever met before, but it didn’t matter. We continued the Eurotrip tradition of “fests” by arranging periodic meet-ups in various cities around the globe, not just in Europe. (Actually, few if any “fests” actually took place in Europe, despite the site’s name.) Said gatherings typically formed when one member posted that he/she was traveling to X city, which just happened to be the home of another member. One of them expressed interest in meeting up, and the word spread. This is how I met several of Eurotrip’s – and Eurotrek’s – coolest members.
It should be mention that I have seldom received more support – emotional and financial – than I did by some of the following people after I was mugged this past June. Mostly it was just good wishes, or offers of loaner cell phones or laptops, and every kind word was appreciated and taken to heart. A few of you, however, spotted me some emergency cash – and never asked for it to be paid back, but rather for it to be paid forward. I hope I don’t let any of you down in that regard. I’m very fortunate to call all of you my friends.
BeLow and Xanadu are married and live just outside of NYC. I met them for dinner one night in 2006 (I think) whilst in the Big Apple on business. We clicked immediately. Cool people both, we shared stories about travel, politics, movies, favorite craft brews and yes, fart jokes aplenty. My kind of people. They have a young child – something that normally sends me running for the hills – but the kid is cool and likes fart jokes as much as her parents. BeLow and Xanadu took me to their favorite Brazilian restaurant and shared hilarious stories about fests with other Eurotrekkers, none of whom I had met before. I hoped to change this.
Beach Bum was a longtime member of both ETK sites, as well as a close friend of BeLow and Xanadu. He lived in Chicago, my former stomping ground, yet we had never met until I found myself in Chitown for a friend’s wedding in 2010. To call Beach Bum a weird dude is to put it lightly. He loves travel and photography, like me, but his fastidious dietary habits are eye-opening, to say the least. Can you imagine eating tuna and lentils five times a day? Beach Bum – a fitness-obsessed former personal trainer – can. In all seriousness, he’s a good guy, and one of the smartest people I know. I traveled with him to South America in 2011 and would do so again. He now lives in NYC and presumably annoys BeLow and Xanadu with his eating habits on a regular basis. Miss you, buddy!
Suncat is another Chicagoan-turned-New Yorker. He is ridiculously successful in his career, I think, and is one of the luckiest guys I know. I’ve met Suncat just twice – and only for an hour or so each time – but he seems like a genuinely cool dude. He shares my penchant for goofy internet memes that feature majestic animals such as narwhals and pandas, always with batshit-crazy captions that increase the meme’s awesomeness substantially. Suncat was the creator of Eurotrek, and I have mad respect for him for respecting the maxims of free speech as regards the site’s moderation. He also imparted some honest, practical advice after I blogged about my mugging, and much of what he wrote has been taken to heart.
DeviousOne – the only tall Asian I know – probably has his picture listed in the dictionary next to the definition of “Capitalist Success Story.” He’s a globe-trekking MBA recipient who enjoys golf, fine wine, five star hotels, and luxury automobiles. Ironic, perhaps, considering that he grew up in China. He may have the best job in the world, and he plays just as hard as he works. I enjoyed African safaris with him in both Kenya and Uganda, and I expect that one day he and I might outdo that trip if we can coordinate our schedules to make it to our seventh continent, Antarctica! That is, of course, if his wife and child (on the way) allow it. Congratulations my friend!
Ralooker is an introverted, Eastern European-born computer geek-ess who now lives in Switzerland. I don’t know her as well as some of the others I’ve spoken of on here, but I was fortunate enough to break bread with her on two different occasions, both while passing through der Schweiz. She’s a bit shy, I think, so I almost didn’t include her in this post. In fact, I omitted her completely upon my first posting, but added her back in later as she was a kind host, and is a kindred soul-searcher not unlike myself. She deserves at least a cursory mention here. Ralooker is Romanian by birth, but there are no gypsy tendencies with this girl. The only thing she might steal is your heart.
Joker is an interesting person. Half-gringa and half-Mexican, she spent much of her life in Latin America and an equal number of years in the Midwestern United States, though she currently lives in Mexico. We met for breakfast on two different occasions as I passed through Mexico City, each time en route to/from somewhere else in the country. (On our first meeting – several years before I moved to Mexico City – I actually had a two-day layover in DF following a week in Chiapas, and we made the mistake of meeting at Chapultepec Park on a Sunday, when all the attractions are free and when everyone in the city flocks there as a result.) Joker is down to earth and one of the only redheads in Mexico.
The Alcotts hail from the southeastern United States and have probably seen more of the world than anyone else mentioned in this post. Child psychologists (IIRC) and married high school sweethearts, they each have a good head on their shoulders and seem to have life figured better than I could ever hope to. He has hiked much of the Appalachian Trail – which automatically makes him okay in my book – and together they traveled the world for 18 months. One of the first stops in their trip was California. It was here that I met them, in July 2008, for a fun weekend camping among the state’s majestic giant sequoias. I haven’t spent any time with them since, but am more than a bit jealous about some of their particular journeys, including extended time spent in the Himalayas of Nepal.
The Quelites are another young, married couple, and their background is even more interesting. They grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, which currently ranks as high as #3 on some lists of the world’s most dangerous cities. Today they reside in Santiago, Chile, a much safer and more cosmopolitan Latin American capital. I’ve hung out with them twice, and on both occasions for extended periods of time and with the same larger group of Eurotrekkers (the others of whom I’ll mention below). They offered me a place to stay for my first three nights in Santiago, in 2009, and later sent me packing to the nearest hostel after my flatulence nearly killed their cat. Or something like that. We drank fine wine and hit up several of Santiago’s hot spots before I moved on to places further south on the continent. Two years later, they vacationed in sunny Southern California, where we hung out, rode roller coasters, and explored downtown LA, which, alas, many people believe to be only moderately less dangerous than Caracas.
Seagull is Canadian, but from the French-speaking part, so jokes about firearms and farm animals are not relevant. She’s a real sweetheart actually, and we’ve hung out on at least three different occasions. She took me to her favorite crêpes restaurant when I happened to visit her home city of Montreal, we joined the Quelites at Six Flags Magic Mountain in SoCal, and we explored Valparaiso and Torres del Paine, Chile. Seagull also helped me with some formatting problems on my blog page when my site first went live, so if nothing else, I still owe her a beer for that. Thanks Seagull!
JSquirrelLove is a Midwestern girl with a Pacific Northwest personality. She’s a bit of a crazy cat lady methinks, but I mean that in only the best of ways. JSquirrelLove was another member of Santiago-fest 2009, and she also hosted me on two separate trips to Seattle. Once we drove all the way to Mount Rainier, only to arrive just as the visitor’s center was closing for the day. Epic fail! JSquirrelLove recently moved from Seattle – where she had lived for years – to suburban Minneapolis, and this move reminded me that I haven’t been to the Land of 1000 Lakes since I was still wearing short pants. In other words: far too long. Hope to see you soon, J – in Minny, in Mexico, or wherever!
The BinMod is the final member of Santiago-fest. He and I were regular posters in Eurotrek’s colorful “Pub” – an anything-goes forum where the topics ranged from politics to movies to male grooming products…but seldom dealt with travel itself. The BinMod and I were sometimes at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to political posts, but we managed to share similar insights on topics that really mattered. Like Middle Eastern food, for example. It was a couple years before I realized that he lived just one block from the building I had worked in for several years! We finally hung out for the first time – this was in January 2009 IIRC – and exchanged thoughts about meeting Seagull, JSquirrelLove, and the Quelites in Santiago. We kept in contact during the intervening years and we even went hiking a few times – we lived in the same city after all. I later discovered that our parents live in the same state; it seems we have much in common indeed. We’re also the same age, if I’m not mistaken. The BinMod was the first Eurotrekker to visit me in Mexico City. Plus, he’s my token black friend. 🙂
I’ve met a few others from Eurotrek, and my community of travel buddies includes more than just my fellow ETK posters and lurkers. But for the purposes of today’s post, I thought I’d focus exclusively on ETK regulars with whom I’ve made an acquaintance. The people mentioned above – their handles changed slightly as I mentioned before – seemed to make the biggest, or longest-lasting, impression. I don’t know nearly enough about them but for those ETK regulars reading this and thinking, “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” – know that I’d also like to meet Frenchy, PomPequeña, FunkyMonkey, MeinHerr, ZeRuskie, DutchOven, and QueenPriscilla, among others. If you’re reading this, you surely know who you are. If you can’t find your likeness in this post, it almost certainly is unintentional.
Alas, while I encourage everyone I meet to get out of their element and travel, I suppose it is not for everyone. It takes a kindred spirit to recognize the soul-saving importance of seeing the world, as a tourist and traveler both. We all know what St. Augustine said. There’s an unspoken bond between travelers. We don’t lie to each other, we don’t steal each other’s shit from hostel dorms, and we never discourage those so like ourselves to stop learning, traveling, doing, living.