I was lonely and broken-hearted and contemplating quitting when I walked into the guesthouse recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. I was in Tatopani, Nepal, along the Annapurna Circuit, and I was tired of being alone.
The whole point of my trip was to use solo travel as a way to overcome fear, though, so any interaction with Americans, any connection that felt easy and comfortable and safe left me feeling wildly guilty. Like I wasn’t doing it right. Like I was cheating.
Then I met Mike.
He was tall and lean and his eyes crinkled when he smiled. He had sun-streaked hair and a beard and he reminded me of an old friend at home, someone I had a crush on growing up and who’d remained in my life through college. I guess this association, this familiarity, is what made it ok for me to walk over to him and sit down. To start talking. To let my guard down.
The other travelers were posturing and competitive. They were talking loudly about meditation retreats and dysentery and getting stoned. I wanted no part of it, and from the looks of this friendly person beside me, he didn’t either.
We talked quietly for a long time. I learned that he was from San Diego, had a golden retriever and was in grad school. Those are the only details I remember, but I know we sat there for hours, talking long after the others went to bed, talking until we saw the backlit silhouettes of the mountains outside the windows.
I slept for a few hours, and when I walked back into the main room of the guest house, I saw that he was gone. There was no note or message. I didn’t know where he was going next, and even then, I knew that it didn’t matter.
I didn’t need to know. An email address, even a last name, would have been pointless. We didn’t need each other; we weren’t friends. And now, years later, I have no idea how to contact him, nor do I want to. His life doesn’t concern me anymore. I wish him the best, but where he is or what he’s doing doesn’t matter.
What matters, what I remember from that one conversation on one night in the middle of a trek in Nepal, is that it is possible to make a safe connection with a stranger. That they’re out there, the good ones. That I don’t always have to protect myself. That sometimes, people are beautiful.