It was a typical early evening at the hostel...
As dinnertime approached, a steady stream of backpackers were
making their way up the hill to the rustic old house for the night.
A simple supper was simmering on the old wood-fired stove.
We had a local dish of corn chowder with plenty of homemade bread
and butter along with warm apple crisp for dessert.
I never knew who would land on my doorstep each evening….
I usually had 20-40 young people from all over the world on any given night.
Most of the hikers were north Americans, but we had our various Brits,
Europeans and others.
On rare occasions I might play host to an Israeli, a Bolivian or a Jamaican. Even more infrequent was the arrival of one of the the more serious world travelers like the Aussies.
The Aussies were a jolly lot…and a rarity in this far outpost.
This is a true story about one of those encounters...
As I signed people in for the evening, I noted their names, ages, and place of origin. In this evening's bag of tricks, we had a young woman from Australia.
I was surprised to see someone from so far afield and doubly so to see a lone woman on such a long journey.
I was curious about her from the start…
Plucky, adventuresome, mysterious…
I hoped she would stay on for a few days so we could chat and I could hear
I remarked over her intrepid travels while showing her and the others
to the bunkhouse. She demurred somewhat and gave the impression
of being somewhat serious and private about herself.
So I simply welcomed her and gave her her space.
Everyone turned up for the communal dinner and got to know one another.
We always had a fascinating array of people in high season.
Really, it was often better than travelling itself!
It was a constantly revolving set of players on my home stage.
It was a rich experience even with its small annoyances.
Better to have a full and noisy house, I decided…
After dinner and cleaning up, most everyone gathered downstairs
for the evening.
Guitars, flutes and other instruments would be unpacked
and impromptu jam sessions followed.
Another corner might find strangers engaged in all kinds of conversations.
Travel stories, advice on hiking trails, hitchhiking, other hostels. As the evening unfolded, people talked of the Vietnam war, going back to the land, freeing themselves from the confines and expectations of early 70’s society, metaphysics, eastern religions and the like.
It was an exciting time and people were unusually open and pulsating
with new potentials.
I noticed the Australian guest seated in a quiet corner working on her journal...not engaging the others.
She stayed for several days...the hostel limit.
As she signed in that evening, she told me that night would be her last.
She would be moving on.
I felt a vague sadness at the thought of not getting to know her...
It looked like we had a busy evening ahead.
I was signing people in and pointing out available bunk spaces
as fast as I could.
We would be at capacity that night.
Then I signed in a tall, ruddy-faced fellow with an engaging smile
and an Aussie accent.
How curious...2 Aussies under my roof!
I took him aside, saying there was a fellow countryman here
and that they must meet.
We searched from room to room, until I spotted her sitting alone
in a corner of the kitchen.
When he laid eyes on her, he froze and stepped back!
She glanced up, saw him and uttered a cry!
Seems they already knew each other...
But there was more to this unlikely story...
Not only did they know each other, but they had been engaged to be married!
They had been sweethearts since college and it seemed only natural
that they would get engaged and marry.
But something had happened between them while in the midst of planning their wedding and they suffered a painful break-up.
It was so shattering that they changed colleges, each heading to opposite
ends of the continent.
They finished their studies and unbeknownst to each other, worked like mad, saved their money and embarked on a year-long, round-the-world trip
before settling down in their chosen professions.
They left Australia around the same time, but headed in opposite directions around the globe...and many months later, they met again at my hostel!
The universe is a very strange, wonderful and mysterious place...
The prologue to this story...
I got to know the young man and he promised to keep in touch as their story unfolded. They had a long talk and left, arm-in-arm.
They travelled together for a couple of weeks and then, sadly for him,
they parted ways once again, continuing in their opposite directions...
an ongoing search for self.
On his return home, he became a dentist
They kept in touch and tried to make a go of it.
Two years later, they were still separated and the trail ran cold.
In the words of Tom Robbins...
"The theater of man is not always 'amusing', but it is always theater,
and theater can be marveled at even when its content is somber and harsh.
You're acquainted with Greek tragedy?”