I’ll admit it was tricky to begin with. I turned up to the surf lodge where the tour was supposed to start, dripping with sweat, having carried my bags for over an hour to avoid a second creepy taxi-driver encounter for one day. When I found the group, most of the accents were versions of British. Did they all know each other already? My roommate was a recent high school graduate from south London. For a few days I thought she was a quiet girl.
At 11:30pm that first night in Canggu I FaceTimed Emilie from the hotel lobby, feeling lonely and silly. I’m 28 – almost 29, actually – and separated – almost divorced, actually – and these fresh-faced tiddlywinks are dancing their way through gap years. Emilie gave me some good advice: Just show up to each day. And sure enough, as I sit in the airport twelve days later, waiting to board my flight out of Denpasar, I miss all ten of my tour-mates.
Here’s a brief introduction to the crew.
1. There’s Fleur, the Dutch uni student who’s heading home with a tattoo her folks don’t know about.
2. There’s Rach, a friendly, well-travelled nurse from Bristol.
3. Another nurse, Emily from Wales, has really cool taste in music.
4. Emma and Fiona, hilarious besties from the UK, are on gap years. We’re planning to meet up so they can show me around Guildford next month.
5. William and Wendy, so kind and so wise, hail from the craft beer capital of America: Asheville, North Carolina. Special mention goes to William who’s one of those great guys that doesn’t seem at all weirded out by being the only man in a group of women.
6. There’s my roomie, Eloise: a clever and unpredictable barrel of laughs. She too got a tat that’s been met with less than total parental approval.
7. We got lucky and had two guides because Brooke (USA) was training Emma (UK). They’re both competent, gorgeous and a lot of fun.
My photos attest to the amazing times we had – but it’s always the people that bring the magic, right? They’re the reason I’m on my way to Vietnam and Cambodia, in defiance of my original plans! Sure, I need my alone time, and twelve days is a decent chunk. I was surprised to find that the hours of quiet travel here and there on trains, buses and boats were sufficient to recharge the relational batteries. I cherished the company of these precious people, and I’ve got renewed confidence in my capacity to make friends. I think I’ve become one of the lucky buggers with mates on different continents!
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that my visa for Vietnam didn’t come through in time for me to board my flight this evening. (The reason’s probably part Coronavirus, part the fact I applied at relatively short notice.) That’s why I’m sitting in Denpasar airport, waiting on a 1:35am flight to Bangkok. It’s a step in the right direction… Here’s hoping I make it to Hanoi in time to join the 15-day north-to-south cycling tour of Vietnam that begins on Sunday morning!