The Lonely Traveler Bug

Its funny how content I was with traveling alone, until I met the German girl. I met her during an afternoon in the park. I had been enjoying the shade beneath a massive, ancient tree. A light breeze was rustling the tree leaves, and nearby were Dominicans speaking a beautiful version of Spanish. I hadn’t spoken English in the past 3 days, and I was totally fine with that.
Then I heard, “Hello. Do you speak English? Do you know what I’m saying? How long have you been here?” come from over the edge of my book.
I looked up and she was standing there, roughly 5 foot seven, with short brown hair, and several piercings. She had a concerned look on her face, and was not smiling.
I marked the page I had been reading, gave her a friendly smile, and wondered how I could help. I was wondering how I could help her. I told her that I did speak English, and she continued talking hungrily.
“I haven’t traveled with or spoken to anybody in days. People are either going to a resort, or leaving the country when I meet them. I haven’t found anyone to travel with in this country. I feel so alone.”
She paused for a second to catch her breath, and I let her without trying to interrupt. It seemed that she had something to get off her chest.
Then she continued explaining herself, “I travel alone, but not to be alone. Do you know how I mean? The reasons I travel is not just to see new places, but also to meet people. Have you had trouble meeting people? Where are you staying?”
I tried to reconcile all of these questions, and at the same time consider how much I felt aligned with her words. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had just infected me with the lonely travel bug.
“Yeah I guess that’s true.” I said feeling a little bewildered, “I’ve been trying to meet local Dominicans, but its hard when you only understand marginal Spanish. Some of them have been pretty nice, but it definitely isnt the kind of friendship I’m used to on these trips.”
What I told her had stretched the truth just a little. My actual relationships with the Dominican people was more to do with business than anything else. The best I had managed in terms of friendship was a 20 minute bus conversation with a pretty girl from Santo Domingo, two taxi drivers in broken spanglish, and a day of motorcycle tourism with my guide Juan, who charged 30 dollars a day. So at my best, I had found friends for hire at negotiable rates.
I had been fine with this arrangement, until my conversation with the German girl made me feel like something was missing. How could I do a trip, and be fine with having friends for hire? Sure this was the thing that most tourists did during their vacations, but I wasn’t a regular tourist. I was a backpacker. And so was this German girl. If she wasn’t fine with it, then I wasn’t either.
Our conversation slowly came to and end when we realized that our hostels were on the opposite ends of town, and it was getting dark. Neither of us knew how safe the streets were at night, so she wanted to get back before nightfall. We had spent the past half an hour talking about how hard it was to find friends, only to leave each other friendless once again.
I sat under the tree, no longer content with reading, thinking about how my life as a tourist had become like a recurring joke my friends and I had in high school. I felt like I had become the punch line, though looking back I know that this is not true.
The joke was about paying for friends. We would say that the other persons parents were paying us to be their friend, and it was funny. That is it was funny until I realized that I was paying for my friends in the Dominican Republic. Only my parents weren’t paying for the friendships. I was.
I was infected by the influence of her loneliness, and wanted to find new friends with the fervor of a middle school girl. The feeling was like a sickness, and it was growing. I began a new phase of overflowing outgoingness. I tried to find new friends anywhere I could. It was weird.
Like a miracle from the sky, I found a pair of Finish guys who were eating at one of the Fried Chicken places that I liked. They were dressed for adventure, and seemed like the kind of guys I would get along with.
Our conversation was both forced and awkward, because a construction crew was working next door to the diner.
“I said, we were canyoneering today.” Said one of the men in a muffled yell.
“Oh that’s cool.” I said back, “Was it any good?”
“What!?”
“Was the canyoneering any good!?”
“One more time!?”
“Do you wanna get out of here and grab a beer?” I yelled at them over their dinner.
They looked at each other and were silent for a moment.
“We have our bikes here from the hotel. We don’t want to lose them.”
Strike one.
I left them to get deodorant at the grocery store, thinking that a new smell might help my search for friends.
In spite of not seeing any other English-speaking people during most of my trip, I was now finding them everywhere. On my way to the store, there were two people speaking English to one another as they walked down the street, and I found another group in the grocery store.
They were a group of college-aged kids like myself, but with a wonderful twist: They were volunteering their time in the Dominican as dentists.
It hadn’t crossed their mind that people would go backpacking through the Dominican Republic. From what I gathered during our conversation, they were under the impression that any English speaking person would be robbed at gunpoint after 10 o’clock. I couldn’t convince them otherwise, and was sadly deprived of the opportunity to get a beer with them later that night.
Strike two.
I wish I could say that there were a strike three, but I had given up the search after traveling volunteer dentists. Maybe I was too pleased with what I perceived as a very strange way to spend a vacation, or maybe it was because I didn’t want to try and start conversational friendships with strangers who were walking the streets to do errands.
Eitehr way, I didn’t try my luck again.
The next day I was going to tour the mountains with my friend Juan once again, and was meeting him at 8 in the morning. We were going to see the largest mountain in the Caribbean, and I was very excited.
Come by again next Monday to check out the story!

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