“A quick walk to the waterfall”? Henry suggested as we made our way up the gangway and into the Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörðu.
Our ferry had just arrived, departing Scrabster, the very tip of Scotland, 31 hours ago, sailing via the Faroe Islands to this tiny town in Eastern Iceland.
I had met Henry in my cabin below deck, a room, which alarmingly had triple bunk beds.
For much of the trip, he’d kept himself to himself, but on the last day we had stuck up casual conversation, and we now both had time to kill before our onward connections, with Henry off to the Western Fjords to study in a masters programme.
As we followed a rugged path up the side of the hill, Henry pointed out flowers and berries, some of which were poisonous, some of which were edible, and we tucked into bilberries, a tiny sharp little fruit similar to blueberries.
Halfway up the hill, much to his excitement, a sizeable looking yellowy mushroom peeked out from the dewy grass, the name of which I can’t recall. Fumbling in his pockets, he produced a rustic looking pocket knife, explaining he had made it on a wilderness course in the Sami region of Scandinavia.
He offers me a piece of the raw mushroom to try and I look at him and hesitate.
Here I am, with a near stranger who is offering me a raw mushroom, which for all I know, he could have misidentified. Memories of watching Into The Wild the previous year briefly flash into my mind, but still, I take the piece I am offered to try.
And that’s the strange thing about fleeting friendships made when we travel, those people you suddenly connect with on a brief, often intense level. Perhaps it’s the shared brave and boldness required for an independent adventure which affords am immediate trust on an extraordinary level, a trust which is rare if you were to strike up a conversation with someone in your local town or city.
Casting my mind back to my various trips over the years, there are so many characters which punctured and bought the journeys to life.
Take Chris, a wildly enthusiastic Australian electrician, on a mission to connect with his Polish ancestry. We had an afternoon on the beginner slopes in the southern Polish mountains of Zakopane, neither of us had skied for years but egging each other on and on.
From the same trip, there was Frank, cycling around Eastern Europe in a bid to sadly run away from his problems of home, strumming his guitar halfheartedly as he poured out his woes to me in a hostel lounge in Krakow.
On an overnight stay at the remote eco hostel of Loch Ossian in Scotland, I met two girls who worked for Cath Kidston as designers in London but were longing for a more simple life. We shared veggie food and glasses of red wine and plotted plans and ideas for them to escape the London rat race.
There was the German artist I met at a camping bod (similar to a bothy) in the Shetland Islands, we took a walk out to the most southerly point to check out the puffins and drink whisky at the local hotel, sharing in our excitement for the new beginnings we were both about to embark on after we left the magical islands.
It’s these small, intense moments of fleeting friendship which stay long in the memory.
In contrast, I have also gained friendships which have stood the test of time long after the backpacks have gone back in the wardrobe back home. Holly, who I met whilst working in New Zealand for 2 years still remains one of my dearest friends nine years after we met on Waiheke Island.
After our walk to the waterfall, Henry and I went our separate ways.
There was no exchanging of numbers, or email or Facebook. There was that awkward moment when you go to part ways – do I ask to stay in touch? Do I know them well enough? Will I actually stay in touch?
Somehow you often know if they will be that random person that stays on your friend’s list, popping up now and again but you probably wouldn’t actually message, or comment or send them a birthday greeting in years to come.
But those people you meet at a bus stop, the ones you have an in-depth conversation one night in the hostel lounge long after everyone’s gone to bed, those people you met when your stuck at a border crossing, despite the intensity of the moment perhaps it’s best to remain that way, fleeting and intense.
Not everyone needs to remain.
And perhaps letting them go with a simple goodbye maintains that mystery that is so endearing about travel – that we never really know who we will meet out there and how they could impact or change our lives.
**The story with Henry dates back to 2008, when the Symril Line ferry used to still run from Scotland. It sadly now only runs from Denmark to Iceland – but is worth the adventure!
More of my Personal Stories
On the joy of first light: Edinburgh
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