“Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.”-Douglas Coupland
I’ve decided that the show must go on, and that means that I need to find myself a new editor. Who better to ask than the woman that was traveling through Africa with me? We worked on chapters 1-5 together and she knows my writing better than anyone. But, and it’s a big but, we haven’t spoken since she turned down my offer to meet in Beijing a couple of months ago.
While watching all the Australian couples canoodle on the booze cruise in Ha Long Bay two weeks ago it dawned on me just how much I still really miss her. I haven’t been able to move on, in fact my desire to see her again has only intensified.
When she turned down my offer to meet up in China it was devastating.
However, one of the things she said stuck out to me, “Maybe I can meet you again someday down the road.”
Even though she turned me down, I’ve been holding onto the sliver of hope she left me, and in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking that we’d eventually find our way back together one day. As I sit at my desk in Saigon and stare out the window I think that it’s not only worth asking her to edit my writing again, but that now is also the time for her to rejoin me on the road.
As far as meeting people and making new friends goes, I’m convinced there is no easier way to meet people than traveling solo. Typically, the solo traveler is on a budget so they stay in hostels or cheap hotels with other like-minded backpackers. They are often sharing a smelly dorm room or a communal kitchen with a handful of people from different corners of the globe, which forces them out of their comfort zones and into conversations that they’d otherwise never have at home or when traveling alongside someone else.
The flip side of that coin, which has been my side of the coin lately, is that when you’re traveling solo and you’re not staying in hostels and bumping into enthusiastic like-minded backpackers over a bowl of ramen noodles, it can become one of the loneliest things to do on the planet. Lately the hotels that have been accepting my film and photography exchange are 3 and 4 star hotels. Not that I’m complaining because the rooms and the food at these places have been wonderful, but this time of the year these types of hotels are either empty or only frequented by busy business travelers that tend to keep to themselves.
Ever since she left way back in Tanzania I’ve eaten nearly every meal alone. It’s almost like I’ve been purposely trying to exclude others from my life. I’ve whittled my already small group of friends down to an even smaller select few and because of it, I’ve grown increasingly lonely.
It took an odd encounter for me to realize just how lonely I was.
Two nights ago while sitting on my hotel bed a commercial came on the television advertising my favorite TV show, The Office. When I saw Michael, Jim, Pam and Dwight’s faces for the first time in over a year flash across the screen I unexpectedly waved and smiled at them.
Without thinking, my mind played a trick on me. I called out, “Hey guys! It’s so good to see you!” Then, I actually got off the bed and walked toward the television with a smile, wanting to catch up with them like they were my friends. Before I made it to the TV, of course, I realized my mistake and laughed at myself, but after the laughing died down I figured that it was time to start addressing this issue.
I never actually thought that I even had the capacity to feel lonely. I’ve craved long stretches of solitude most of my life. I was so happy growing up as an only child that I never once wished for siblings. I loved making up my own imaginary games with my action figures and playing one on one basketball against myself. I would even shoot with my right hand and then block that shot with my left. Simply put, I adored being alone and there was no better place to be than lost in my own world.
A lot of times when I was a teenager and Sunday would roll around I would get really cranky if my friends had been over at my house since Friday night. I’d actually send them packing first thing Sunday morning and then I’d ask them not to bother me all day so I could just reconnect with my own self. I can still remember how odd most of my friends thought I was for doing that; I mean how many 16 year-olds turn down pizza and video games so they can commune in solitude.
I think back to all of this as I mentally prepare to write her again. I’m really in a bind with my writing and I’m desperate for an editor, which makes it’s a little tricky to tell if its that or the loneliness or the fact that I miss her so much that’s really the root of my wanting to see her again, but its time to throw caution to the wind. I want to see if she will give our relationship one last shot.
As far as when and where we should meet, I may actually have an idea.
I usually don’t like to plan out all that much of my route around the world and I’ve really only been organizing things out about one or two weeks in advance. Normally, I arrive in a new city and pull out my map to decide where to go next. In this case Phnom Penh is the next closest city to Saigon, so I’ll go to a travel website like Tripadvisor and I’ll look up all the hotels in and around Phnom Penh. Then, I’ll search for the email address of each hotel and send my standard offer (film or photograph their hotel in exchange for a room).
I try to cast my net as wide as possible in an effort to get at least one hotel in every city to say yes. This usually means sending out hundreds of emails. I’ll start at the top with the nicest 5 star hotels I can find and go down the list until I get to the most beat up rundown hostel the city has to offer. If any hotel or hostel happens to say yes, then I start the process of planning how to get there.
Since I’m getting close to the end of mainland Asia, I’ve had to plan ahead a little more than normal. After Cambodia there’s only Thailand and Malaysia before reaching Singapore and the Indian Ocean. I don’t want a repeat of what happened in Egypt, so I’ve already organized my options so that I can continue to travel over land. Just this week I officially booked myself on two separate cargo ships.
One ship called the MS Victory will take me and whatever cargo they happen to haul from Singapore to Fremantle in May. Then a second cargo ship called the MS Cap Capricorn will pick me up in Sydney in June and drop me off in Oakland 25 days later.
After days of research and triple checking all my options I had to go with these two ships, they were really the only options anyway and far cheaper than a fancy cruise line. Each ship only has space for three passengers at any one time, so I had to act fast and book my tickets. The Cap Capricorn is set to arrive in Oakland on July 4th, which is perfect timing if you ask me. What better way to arrive back in my homeland than on its 240th birthday?
In my head, everything seems pretty clear. I’ll sail under the Golden Gate Bridge as fireworks light the way and she’ll be at the end of the pier waiting for me. We will fall back in love and everything will work out just how it’s supposed to.
For the second time this year I begin to type her an email. I keep it short and simple. With redemption on my mind, I apologize for all of my mistakes and offer myself to her in full. Then I ask her to rejoin me in Oakland.