Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
Puno (Lake Titicaca) Peru
The nature of friendships and the role of social media. I touched on this topic recently in response to my latest birthday (69 and closing in on 70). My self-perception (possibly misguided) is that I’m a loner, that I don’t have many friends (and that I don’t make new friends easily). But upon reflection I’m not sure the facts support the hypothesis. I actually seem to have a lot of friends (relationships that go beyond mere acquaintance), and I wonder (sometimes) where they all came from.
As you can tell I spend way too much time in my head. I am an introvert, I spend a lot of time in introspection, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude making friends. I’m often more gregarious and full of humor than I think I am, especially when I’m throwing my brother Joel under the bus to get a laugh. Travelling almost forces a person to be sociable and friendly, it’s much harder to live in social-bubble unaware of the people around you.
I won’t embarrass my friends by using their last names, but I would like to share a few examples to illustrate my point. These five people are by no means the sum total of my travelling friendships, but they all share certain commonalities. They are younger than me (and often as not female); they are well-educated; they are adventuresome, courageous, and independent; in many cases they share personality traits similar to my own: more self-contained personas.
Candie. Candie was probably my first real travelling friend. I met Candie about three years ago in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. We were staying in the same hostel. She was in her late twenties then, early thirties now. The first thing you notice about Candie is her huge and welcoming smile. She lights up the room with her smile. Candie is from the Philippines and has travelled the world extensively (usually solo). She is university educated and speaks several languages. When not travelling she will often act as a guide in the Philippines and works in the family business back home. Candie is an intermittent blogger when the notion strikes her. When her travelling companion fell ill (in the room next door to mine), she stuck her head into my bedroom (I had my door open as I was perusing my daily photos), and struck up a conversation. We spent the next three hours, sitting on my bed, sharing stories and experiences. Three hours and a lasting friendship was born (how is that even possible?). We talk every few days on Facebook, and when Joel and I finally make it to the Philippines we will hookup again, Candie has promised to be our guide to her country.
Paul. Paul is a nomad by nature and splits his time between Berlin, Germany and Central America (mostly Costa Rica). Paul is an English/American hybrid probably in his early forties. He’s a freelance writer and travel photographer by inclination, but can do almost anything to facilitate his travels (the word resourceful comes to mind). He’s a very bright guy and speaks multiple languages (primarily English, German, and Spanish). Like Candie, Paul travels extensively and usually travels solo. We met Paul in Nicaragua while boarding a small riverboat on the Rio San Juan heading downriver into the jungle. For the next three weeks we shared rustic accommodations on the river (thatched native huts and local cuisine) while we explored, took our photos, and wrote our articles. Separating, we hooked up again in Costa Rica. Paul introduced us to Samara (on the Nicoya Peninsula) and his friend Brian (owner/operator of Casa Brian). Joel and I spent over two months hanging out in Samara, and both Paul and Brian are now good friends.
Lisa. We met Lisa in Samara while she was on vacation, and we immediately bonded. Lisa is in her mid-forties and looks like she’s in her mid-twenties. I was completely blown away when she told me how old she was, and I didn’t believe her at first (she probably thought I was trying to hit on her or something). Lisa works in education and was recently promoted to an Assistant Principle position back in the States (smart lady). I know she speaks both English and Spanish, and possibly more languages to boot. Last year we celebrated my birthday at The Flying Taco in Samara, and spent the hours drinking Scotch and beer, smoking cigars, eating tacos, and talking. Boy did we talk (and laugh). I’m not sure I remember all of it, but I know we had fun. Lisa was staying at Casa Brian too (for the second time), and it was fun talking to her everyday. Like Candie, Paul, and Brian we stay in touch on a regular basis through Facebook. She’s making noises like she might be travelling south again, and we may hookup in Bolivia, Chile, or Argentina if the opportunity presents itself (hope so).
Jöelle. I met Jöelle in the Galapagos Islands last year. We travelled together for about two weeks on the small (fifty foot), wood-hulled boat the New Flamingo. Jöelle is a very beautiful, twenty-four year old, blonde & blue-eyed Swiss national. She is also a medical doctor. She was on holiday before entering into her hospital residency back in Switzerland. Like most Swiss, Jöelle spoke multiple languages and her English was perfect. Like Candie, Jöelle’s smile could light up a room, and she had a terrific sense of humor. Intelligent, funny, and beautiful—if I wasn’t old enough to be her grandfather she would have been the perfect catch. For whatever reason we seemed to hit it off really well, and she helped to make my adventure in the Galapagos both fun and memorable. We still mange the occasional chat on Facebook, but with her ongoing medical training she is kept very, very busy back home. She is carrying on a family tradition, as both of her parents are medical doctors in Switzerland.
Yuko. We just met Yuko last week in Puno, Peru while sailing on Lake Titicaca. Yuko is originally from Japan, although she has studied and lived in many places (she currently resides in Boston, MA). She’s a university graduate with a PhD (yeah, really smart). Doctor Yuko. She’s a scientist in the bio-medical industry and seems very accomplished and independent. I have no idea how old Yuko is, but she seems pretty darn young to have done so much. She was only on holiday for fourteen days, and is now back in Massachusetts after continuing her travels in Bolivia. We only spent moments together on the lake, but she became an almost instant friend. We’ve been trading Facebook posts and messages back & forth since our brief encounter, and she seems like a very interesting person. I still don’t understand how people can bond so quickly while travelling, and how those bonds can develop into long-lasting friendships. Maybe it’s best not to question too much, but to just accept those blessings that come into your life serendipitously.
I’m a big critic of social media, but I must admit that without it my friendships would be fewer. How else could a self-described introvert-loner-hermit have so many wonderful friends. I’m not a huge birthday guy either, but it was heartwarming to receive so many well-wishes from around the world. I have almost 300 Facebook friends these days (and that’s after culling the list a few times), and I’ve added many of those friends since I began my world travels. It’s definitely an interesting world and time for this old dinosaur.