The image you are looking at may not have the most vivid colours, a breath taking backdrop or even amazing framing, but what it is, is real. It is a real life moment. A capture of cross cultural connection between two people with a beautifully natural bond. This is what traveling can be. This is what it is all about.
We share this world with literally billions of other people and when we travel, we put ourselves out there. Out there to expand our horizons and reach out to many different types of people from all walks of life. My experience has shown me that it is quite easy to find common ground with almost anyone in this world. Certainly enough to enjoy a dinner, a walk or to simply sit with in the park, but occasionally, you meet someone who you feel is a kindred spirit.
This image was snapped from afar. This is my tour guide Julio and I, deep in the Peruvian Amazon spending a moment swimming in a nearby river. When I arrived on a plane from Lima, I knew I was about to have an exciting time visiting the famed amazon jungle, but I was not expecting to meet such a special person.
We stayed at the G adventures, G Lodge, near the city of Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Upon our arrival, we were ushered into a bus which took us to the local docks on the Amazon River. When we disembarked our bus, a 22 year old Peruvian handed me my lunch, neatly wrapped in a banana leaf. He then helped me into our boat and off we went down the Amazon River. We met again later that day at our first meal in the Lodge when he introduced himself as our guide. He informed us how our days were scheduled; breakfast…a tour in the morning, lunch…a break, dinner…a tour at night. He was great on our tours, extremely knowledgeable, open to our concerns (mom was sick at the time) and he had a great eye for wild life. Though the high quality of the tour is not quite what I am getting at here.
The program at the G Lodge had us dining with our guide every night, so we got to know a little more about him. He was born in the high Andes, in a small farming mountain village. Julio’s family consisted of both brothers and sisters all living on a small farm in a small house. He worked as a child selling homemade treats to gringo travellers in the local village. Formal education was a distance away and ended early. He learned basic English while working as a porter on the Inca Trail and continued learning the language by talking to visitors at the G Lodge. By the time we met him, he had progressed from kitchen help to guide, fluent in English without a single lesson. Certainly his upbringing was substantially different from mine yet we shared much. Occasionally you meet a person so special that you do not have enough time to share everything you want to with them. You cannot seem to stop making epic plans. Where you feed off of every bit of each other’s energy. You know, a person who makes you want to throw your hands up and dance, laugh and smile. That’s what he was to me. Special. We were 2 people from two different cultures, speaking two different languages yet we shared some kind of unwritten bond.
One morning after I woke up, we had breakfast together then jumped into the boat to go for a flora walk downriver. After our morning walk our group was scheduled to take a break. As Julio and I walked together back to the lodge from the boat dock, he looked at me and asked if I wanted to do something after lunch. So Julio and I went for our own walks through the jungle around the lodge, having heart to heart talks about our lives and futures, with him showing me the occasional plant. These walks were probably my favorite part of my amazon trip. We hopped along the paths around trees and through rivers looking for plants, insects and animals of the jungle. I learned so much about the jungle, life and most importantly about my new friend.
Sometimes when it got too hot we would go to the local swimming river. We would spend hours there jumping off the tree bridge. I even tried to teach him some gymnastics. Zooming in on this experience, as our guide he was so professional and fabulous, as a friend he was even better. In fact, when we were swimming I would often forget that we spoke different languages and came from different countries. Here, he was just my friend. This is one of the big lessons I believe that traveling offers. Maybe he was one of the first people I had this type of bond with but it has happened many times since. It did not matter which one of us had grown up with more, who went to what school, and how we got to where we were. All that mattered was that our spirits had connected.
As the tour continued we went for an anaconda walk, looking for Caymans at night and McCaw’s during the day and although these experiences were so great, it is my time with my friend that I often reflect on most. Walking through the jungle day and night, learning about flora and fauna, swimming in the river, joking, doing gymnastics, and even witnessing the occasional jungle fútbol match. These are things that stand out to me.
So every once in a while, when we lose our feet and need a little grounding, there are some things that can bring a beautiful sense of calm to our heads and hearts. I often look back to this snapshot my dad took of Julio and myself. Why does this photo make my heart tingle? Because this photo is natural. It does not consist of a clever pose or gimmick. It tells a story. The smile on my face, the way that you can feel our interaction and the way that you can almost put yourself into the scene. This is something I feel is rare and which I am so happy to be able to share with others. I would like to take a moment to appreciate something travel has taught me. It matters not where you come from, but instead who you are. These special connections are better than seeing a wonder of the world, a postcard-worthy natural landscape or an architectural sensation. Traveling embodies these relationships and connections. This is what it is all about.