Every now and again you chance upon someone special while on the road, writes Robyn Yousef.
"The great difference between voyages
rests not with the ships, but with the
people you meet on them."
Amelia E. Barr
There was the Irish priest who talked and knitted all the way from Christchurch to Oamaru on a
bus. There was the religious zealot on a Middle Eastern flight, who had wandering hands, and then there was the young woman who thought it was perfectly acceptable to subject all those around her to the fumes of acetone and nail polish as she gave herself a mid-flight manicure.
While contemplating the purchase of a first edition of the 1971 Barry Crump book Bastards I Have Met, the title got me thinking about the weird and wonderful travellers I have encountered over the years.
All keen travellers know travelling is not just about the geographical wonders, exotic menus and shopping. The people we meet are hugely influential on how we view a town or country.
When you are travelling alone you make more effort to connect with others. Fellow travellers or locals are far more likely to strike up a conversation with a solitary passenger than with a cosy, self-contained couple or those with an organised tour group. And travelling long distances alone can be a lonely affair.
Of course, it is now possible to "hook up" or meet other solo travellers online and arrange for a rendezvous in Corfu or Casablanca. This is particularly popular for young backpackers travelling through Africa and India.
And, if you don't "do" mid-air/bus/train conversations and prefer to catch up on sleep, the films you have missed or some valuable reading time, it's easy enough (usually!) to send that signal out to the person in the next seat who seems to be settling in to show you family photos. You can put on your sleep mask and feign soft snores, pretend you have limited English or bury yourself in your book or in-flight entertainment.
One of the most uncomfortable flights I encountered was a long night flight when I was seated by a young Israeli off to surf in Bondi. He was very polite and incredibly attractive. I knew I couldn't possibly go to sleep and snore loudly beside such an impossibly handsome young man and so sat rigidly fighting sleep. I ruined it by succumbing to sleep just as we were about to land in Sydney and stunning the whole row awake with a thunderous snort.
But, it was an old Air New Zealand teal-coloured bag that caught my homesick eye in the crush of a Cairo street and led to a special friendship with a Kiwi traveller. I was desperate to hear those Kiwi vowels and tapped her on the shoulder, starting a long-lasting friendship.
She travelled extensively and when I went to Christchurch for her last farewell a few years ago, I wasn't surprised that her ashes were kept in a travel bag, among her souvenirs of exotic places.
I never get tired of watching that amazing theatre — the travelling public — and it's often just as interesting on the ferry to Stewart Island as it is on a flight to an exotic location.