OK, I Get It, It’s a Small World



Backpacking, like life, is filled with many random encounters. But when you open your life up to the entire world, and these random encounters still happen, it’s enough to make you want to build an amusement park ride with animatronic children singing about it.

I checked into a small hostel in a tiny village between Lagos and Sagres in Portugal yesterday. I was in the kitchen having a chat with an Aussie guy who’d been there a few days – covering all the basics – when his friend came in. I said hi. She said, “Hiiii…” in a drawn-out tone that made me feel like she knew something about me that I didn’t.

“Were you in South Africa?” she asked.

The friend that I’d been talking to obviously thought it was a weird question. But he thought my answer was weirder.

“Yeah… I was… yeaaaah…. you look familiar…”

We both eyed each other up, trying to figure out where we’d met each other. We quietly lingered in that delicate aura of blurred memory, similar to the one you get upon waking after a particularly rowdy night out – a mix of curiosity and anticipatory regret. I was in South Africa four months ago, a country firmly bookended by many other countries, and hundreds of other faces. We both retraced the routes we took, when suddenly it came to me.

“Oh yeaaah, I know… Johannesburg. The hostel with the hot tub in the bar. We went out to an aviation-themed bar, I kept talking about being Maverick, looking for Goose… We were with that other Aussie, and the Swiss guy and the South African, what’s his name, weird name. You were there with your sister.”

“Ohh yeaahh. Yeah, she’s in the shower.”

I’ve run into the same people within the same country, but never a continent and four months apart. It’s absolutely bizarre, but put a group of travellers together and you’re as likely to run into them in another continent as you are to run into your old high school buddy at the neighbourhood grocery store. But it’s very strange that two people from different corners of the world, travelling different routes, for different reasons, can end up in the same hostel, at the same time, twice.

So sing away, animatronic children of the world. You make a really good point.