Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski
Just riding around with Pabloski


Conversations with Strangers: The Strangest Stranger

About him: Mystery man was very unassuming: a standard tall american white male; quiet and North Face clad. Once we started talking, I quickly realized that I had stumbled upon a truly fascinating man. Mystery man was originally from the States, but had been residing in Dubai for the last ten years. He had lived in Afghanistan working with military contracts, smuggled medicines into Northern Thailand and Mexico under government assignment and picked up Farsi somewhere along the way. Although he agreed to answer my questions, he didn’t want to share his identity and wouldn’t give a first name. I respect that, because if I were a CIA agent, I wouldn’t share that either.

How we met: This past weekend in Switzerland, my friend Katie and I took a train from the mountain town of Martigny to Geneva and sat across from mystery man. After some time, he timidly struck up a conversation with us. You could tell that he has lived quite an adventurous life. Nevertheless, he had an air of sadness about him, and you could sense how incredibly lonely he must be.

Coolest experience: One of his most memorable experiences was riding on the back of afghan supply trucks in the middle of the night while he was working with the military in Afghanistan. He described how there were no lights, no airplanes overhead and no noise. “The stars looked like chalk on a blackboard above, and it was so cold that you could see your breath like a ghost in front of you.” We can all agree that when mystery man is not busy doing secret undercover stuff for the government, he is a poet.

Life dream: I didn’t have enough time to ask. We reached mystery man’s stop and he quickly grabbed his backpack, said goodbye and left me sitting there, dumbfounded. He was one of those people who I desperately wanted to know more about, and I wish that train hadn’t stopped.

Conversations with Strangers: Grant from Michigan a.k.a. GRiZ

How we met: My friend Katie and I flew to Switzerland to see GRiZ, and went out to a venue where he had just played, in hopes of running into him. Once at the bar, he noticed the Chicago cap I was wearing and introduced himself, even though I was fully aware of who he was. Grant was amazingly easy to talk to; he was happy that two fans came all this way to see him play and we also bonded over our polish heritage. We ended up hanging out with Grant the entire night, and during his show in Martigny the next day. Yoga, chocolate bunnies and bananas were involved.

About him: Grant, also known by his stage name GRiZ, is an American DJ and electronic producer from Michigan. He has played at Electric Forest, TomorrowWorld, North Coast and Lollapalooza, just to name a few. I shamelessly took that off of Wikipedia, because he’s the first person I have met who has their own Wikipedia page and that’s pretty damn cool. 

Coolest experience: The first thing that came to Grant’s mind was watching the sunrise at Burning Man. But, he said a close second was the first time he did a show as Grizmatik in 2012 and the roar of the crowd was louder than what his eyes could see. That’s so epic that I don’t even know what it means.

Life dream: Grant’s big dream is to play a duet with Stevie Wonder. I’ll be sure to be there when it happens.

I am the proud owner of Griz's selfie.
I am the proud owner of Griz’s selfie.

Conservations with Strangers: Juan from Barcelona

How we met: Juan and I met while boarding our flight to Istanbul Thursday night. We ended up sitting in the same row in window seats on opposite sides of the plane and insisted on obnoxiously yelling to each other in Spanish across the aisle for most of the flight. Needless to say, the other passengers were not particularly pleased about it.

About him: Juan is a fashion designer and wine connoisseur. He had a bruise on his nose because the other night he was laying in bed wearing a new hat and decided to take a selfie using his laptop, but dropped it on his face. We’ve all been there.

Coolest experience: The most incredible thing that has happened to Juan is when he got a puppy, a yorkie named Roque who helped him through some tough times and whom he loved dearly.

Life dream: Juan’s big dream is to play the piano. Unfortunately, he has the fingers of a Chucky doll. He showed me his hands and I can confirm they are ridiculously tiny and would make piano playing quite the task.

Airplane selfies always warrant a duck face.


Conversations with Strangers: Jenica from Johannesburg

How we met: Jenica and I sat across from each other on a 5 am train to the airport in London and immediately started chatting. We talked about travel, how I would make the world’s worst spy and how many camels I would sell for in Africa. If you’re following the Conversations with Strangers posts, you know that this is not the first time a stranger has brought this up, and I’m not quite sure what to think of this reoccurring theme.

About her: First off, lets take a moment to acknowledge my first post featuring a woman. She’s also the second South African I have met. Jenica got sent to a small town near London for work, and was on the way to Dusseldorf for a client meeting. She’s also one of the sweetest humans I have encountered at 5 in the morning. 

Coolest experience: She once shook the hand of Prince Edward. I asked her if he had soft hands and she said that they are, in fact, quite soft.

Life dream: This was the first time Jenica had left South Africa, and she is now inspired to travel more. She would especially love to visit Belgium to discover her roots.

Having to take a 4 am selfie on a strangers phone, and she's still smiling.
Having to take a 5 am selfie on a strangers phone, and she’s still smiling.

Conversations with Strangers: Renean from South Africa

How we met: Long story short, I moved into my apartment a little early and my new room was occupied by a wonderful girl from The Netherlands who had her friend visiting. Basically, Renean and I got to be roommates for a whole three days.

About him: Renean is South African, but resides in The Netherlands. He speaks fluent English, Dutch and Afrikaans.  When we first met I was tempted to recreate the scene from Mean Girls where Karen asks Lindsey Lohan, “So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” 

Coolest experience: Going 185 mph on his motorcycle in Germany on the Autobahn.

Life dream: Renean would like to become an entrepreneur and has a lot of ideas for businesses that don’t yet exist. He would also like to become a sommelier, which is basically someone who gets paid to drink wine. I fully support that.

My very first South African friend, I feel so global.
My very first South African friend, I feel so global.

Conversations with Strangers: Kyle from Boston

How we met: I met Kyle and his buddies, Alex and Ned, while waiting for the metro. They were speaking English, and being an English speaker myself, I decided we had enough in common to become friends. We spent the rest of the night bar hopping and I am most definitely still feeling the remnants of last night as I write this.

About him: Kyle is also studying abroad in Barcelona and has agreed to be my Spanish gay best friend. He had his Jack Spade messenger bag stolen the other day, which made us both very sad. Also, he has a very soft face.

Coolest experience: Jonah Hill was filming at a library at Kyle’s school, so Kyle snuck in and ambushed the Superbad actor outside the bathroom. Jonah put his arm around Kyle for a photo and Kyle said, “”Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re moving too fast.” He then offered to smoke Jonah up, but unfortunately he had a flight to catch. Later Kyle was featured on the Wendy Williams show to talk about his celebrity encounter.

Life dream: Kyle aspires to touch Anderson Cooper one day. He also dreams of being able to lean into the wind like Michael Jackson in the Smooth Criminal video.

Sober or nah?
Sober or nah?

Conversations with Strangers: Chris from Brisbane

How we met: I really wish I could make up an exciting story (preferably involving a Vespa and a sunset), but I am a terrible liar and we met on Tinder. I refused to meet him at first because I am convinced that as wonderful and attractive Australians are, they are also heart-breakers and should be avoided at all costs. But, since he asked nicely  I agreed to show him around Barcelona after class. We wandered the city talking about how Poland was pretty much shit out of luck during the 20th century, aborigines are the Australian equivalent of Native Americans and how it took him only seven years to graduate a four year University.

About him: Chris is hanging out in Barcelona for a few days, as part of his three month world tour. He has traveled through the United States and Europe, all while carrying a jenga set, a porcelain doll and two steins in his suitcase. He is a former swimmer and rower, with great hair and a heavy Australian accent, which I found very comforting. I meant the accent, but I suppose great hair is also comforting. 

Coolest experience: “Every day is an adventure.” While this is a very valid statement, I think a man who has spent the last three months wandering the earth could have come up with something a little more profound.

Life dream: Chris aspires to have his own TV show back in Australia with his best friend. With his dynamic personality and good looks, I actually have no doubt that he will succeed. So one day, when Chris is a famous Australian TV personality and is invited to host Season 42 of Dancing with the Stars, you can say, “Hey, that’s the dude that Pauline met on Tinder that one time.”

I suppose he just wanted to touch himself in his selfie. I wanted to do the same.
I suppose he just wanted to touch himself in his selfie. Can’t say I blame him.

Conversations with Strangers: Roman from Kazakhstan

How we met: I was trudging through Brussels airport with two bags that collectively weighed more than me, so I flagged Roman down in his airport golf cart. He was hesitant to help at first, but when I spoke Russian to him he immediately drove me across the entire airport to my gate and even carried my bags. I got to see the secret corridors of the airport while uncomfortably listening to his very Putin-like political views. It was interesting to say the least.

About him: Roman is from Kazakhstan, but he likes living in Belgium and working at the airport. He plans on moving to Russia because he prefers being in a more conservative country, “where they don’t allow gay people.”

Coolest experience: Shooting weapons. He didn’t elaborate. I didn’t ask.

Life dream: Time travel to a roman orgy.

Roman took many selfies before finding the perfect Russian smolder