The golden South American sunlight penetrated the ocean and turned it a rich azure. I sat on my surfboard and marveled at the absolute perfection of my surroundings. I looked up and down the seemingly infinite coastline that extended out of sight to the North and South. The sun warmly caressed my face and shoulders while the cool water swirled between my toes. I looked to the horizon and contemplated the powerful beauty of the ocean while I anxiously waited for the next set. A gentle breeze effortlessly flowed from the vast expanse of the ocean and cooled my wet hair. I breathed in deeply. The familiar salty tang made me light-headed and relaxed. A sublime peace descended on my consciousness. This is why I have traveled thousands of miles I thought. This is all that matters.
The peace was shattered when my mind betrayed me and drifted away. I was no longer surrounded by the flawless tranquility of the ocean; I was in a loud night club, then a hostel lobby and then a Spanish school. My eyes still scanned the horizon for the next wave but my mind was searching my memories. I thought about people I would never see again. I remembered vividly exact conversations on sailboats, beaches, dance floors and in late night bars and hammocks. I heard laughs and saw smiles. I recalled reaching a profound understanding of some of life’s great truths with a girl who had been a stranger only hours before; a girl who I had nothing and everything in common with. I smiled as ridiculous and surreal inside jokes floated to the surface of my mind. I remembered an excitement that was entirely too intense to have come from the sparkle in a girl’s blue eyes but none the less it had been there and it had been very real.
On a trip to see gorgeous places, ancient history and exotic cultures I realized that sights and experiences are important but people are absolutely vital. And not just people, but incredible, intelligent and adventurous people and being cool with those people. Some of the best times and worst times on this trip have been in the same places doing essentially the same things but when interesting, passionate and vibrant people appeared everything changed. When I was working at the Loki hostel in Mancora every few days the personality of the hostel completely changed with the arrival and departure of the guests. It went from dull to exciting with the boisterous appearance of a group of Irish or Dutch. Everything became fun and exciting with the birth of new friendships. Bocas del Toro, Bogotá, Montanita, Mancora, and Buenos Aires were some of my favorite places and everyone of them was made great by the people I shared them with.
Not all the people that I’ve met have been great. There have been way more loud idiots and obnoxious fools than I thought there would be. There have been too many Aussies who were in South America for the sole purpose of doing as much cocaine as possible. Entirely too many of the English that I met must have been related to the queen because they had the accent, sickly skin tone and arrogance of a member of the royal family. There were Americans who, no wait there were no Americans because South America was too dangerous and scary. Many travelers were lost or damaged and unable or unwilling to deal with life back home. They were running and most of them didn’t know from what. There were those that seemed amazing at first but then I realize that I just liked the idea of the person or that I liked the story that the person created when they entered my life. But as I sorted through hundreds of sad, boring and stupid people I found dozens of great friends.
The thrill of discovering new friends was equaled in intensity only by the sadness of losing them all too soon. I hated that I met some of the greatest and most intriguing people of my life but was only able to spend a few days with them. On several occasions after an especially difficult good-bye I told myself that I didn’t want to do it anymore and that I was done making new friends. Usually the next day I would meet another incredible person and we would become friends. Not becoming friends with an awesome person would be a much worse tragedy than becoming friends and then losing them. And so the cycle continued uninterrupted.
The ripple on the horizon pulled me back to my pristine surrounding in the ocean. My memories fell into the water around me, silently splashing into the ocean and then sinking into the cool waters of my mind where they would be safe. At first I wasn’t sure if the swell was going to develop into anything but as it raced towards me I realized that it was growing into a nice wave. My mind was clear as I spun around on my board and paddled into position. I looked over my left shoulder and a burst of energy shot through my body when I saw the glorious shape and size of the wave rolling towards me. I got this, I thought as I paddled towards the shore building speed and feeling the water swell underneath me. I timed my takeoff perfectly and smoothly glided down the face of the breaking wave. I made a slight turn to the left and climbed up the face of the wave gaining speed as I did. A burst of joy exploded in my chest with the force of the acceleration. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the emerald wall of water rise up and prepare to crash down on my head. The race was on; I crouched lower on my board and got every bit of speed possible. This is going to be close I thought. I shot ahead of the wave, narrowly escaping a nasty wipe out, and then made a hard right turn back into it. I found the sweet spot in the wave again and began to walk towards the front of my long board. I skillfully steered the board with slight pressure from the balls of my feet. I was a foot from the nose of my board when I looked up and saw that I was getting close to the beach. I walked towards the back of the board and enjoyed a few more seconds of the ride before ending it by attempting a clumsy back flip off the board into three feet of water. I erupted from the shallow water and laughed with joy as I climbed back onto my board. My entire being vibrated with pure ecstasy. I powerfully paddled back towards the break with a massive smile on my face. It had been a long ride and I had a lot of distance to cover. Slowly the joy receded and my mind returned to my friends. I missed them and wished that they had been there so that we could have enjoyed the waves together.