I was sitting in the hostel bar recovering from my volcano hike when I saw you walking down the street, backpack in tow, wearing Teva’s, khaki shorts, and t-shirt–the uniform of the Western backpacker. In my six weeks in Antigua, I’ve seen literally hundreds of guys, dressed just like you. At this point, it’s a game. Where are you from? Americans almost always wear baseball caps, and I see no cap in sight. Canadians almost always have a maple leaf sewn somewhere on their pack. Northern Europeans and those from the UK are usually pale or sunburnt and you are neither. That leaves me to guess Australia or New Zealand, but those guys tend to travel in large packs, and you are alone. I’m intrigued.
I continue to stare, hiding behind my sunglasses and tattered paperback as you walk towards, then past me. I see you at the bar ordering a local beer. I turn back to my paperback–probably just something I picked up in the hostel lobby. You can find a lot of interesting books that way.
“Like what you see?” you say as you sit your beer at my table.
“Excuse me?” I stammer. One because you startled me and two because I felt totally exposed.
“Do. You. Like. What. You. See?” You repeated as if I were a toddler or someone who struggles with the English language. Cocky. I may have misjudged the American-ness of you. But your voice–it’s still not American.
I stammer and stutter, and actually make zero coherent sounds. I can feel my face flushing and it’s not from the drink I’m drinking. I find that I cannot make an English word. You laugh. And sit at my table.
I’d been in Antigua six weeks and planning to stay an additional two more before heading back to my temporary home in Mexico. I’d originally come to Antigua renew my tourist visa and check out the Mayan ruins [because #historynerd], but I was travelling for a much different reason. That’s the thing about travel–you can be anyone you want to be, or anyone you need to be. And at this point in life, I needed to be a confident, self-assured 22 year old, and so I pretended.
“Yes.” I replied, “I like the view. Do you?”
“Very much” you replied as you raised your Gallo and took a long swig. We began to talk and I discovered you were raised in Puerto Rico and South Africa with a little bit of the American heartland mixed in which is why I had such a hard time guessing your nationality. You we older than I originally thought–nearly 30– but I didn’t mind. We talked–for hours–about this and that, sports, and my go-to when I want to impress someone–Mayan art and architecture. (I can’t help it, I’m such a nerd at times).
Well after midnight and with the bartender eyeing us suspiciously, I got up to turn in for the night. You grabbed me by the wrist, pull me in, and kiss me hard–cerveza and tequila mixing on our breath. After what seems like an eternity we come up for air. I smile.
I wish you a good night, and turn to walk away. I don’t know if I’ll see you in the morning despite our hastily made plans, and truthfully, it doesn’t matter. You helped me forget–forget the one who hurt me a million miles away, but not that long ago, and for that, I will always be grateful.