Alone does not mean lonely

Sybille Essmann, Chartered Wealth Solutions Retirement Specialist, has put legs on the Retire Successfully philosophy.  She has written a number of articles on her adventures and travels that have taken her to exotic destinations she would not have dreamed of seeing.  The defining moments, however, have been encountering remarkable people who have had an enduring impact on her life. Here she gives us a snapshot of some of these encounters.

At nearly 50, Nicky volunteered as a teacher in Mombasa, before heading for a 3-year stint at an international school in Bangkok.  I met her on a bus from Kampot to Phnom Phen in Cambodia.  We have firmed up the friendship by her visits to South Africa and I have no doubt that our paths will cross again, possibly in some remote location on the globe.

When you are a solo traveller, you may think that you gravitate to people the same as you.  What a pity that would be!  It was such a treat to see Laos – during an epic monsoon thunderstorm – through the eyes of two young ladies in their twenties from Switzerland and Germany.

In Kathamandu, I befriended the enterprising young Dipendra, manager of the Trekkers Home, who put together an unforgettable 11-day package, taking me to Pokhara, then a 5-day trek through the foothills of the Annapurna Himalaya and onto the Chitwas National Park in search of the elusive Nepalese tiger.  Dipendra, a shining example of Nepalese hospitality, contributed to that country becoming my number one destination in the East.

Embracing new ways to connect

My São Paulo AirB&B hosts, Guillhaume and Eduardo, remain friends to today, thanks to the power of Facebook. I had similar positive experiences with hosts in Brazil, Colombia, Peru.

Beyond that, I “adopted” many other young people along the way. I met Nícolas and Kelly on a Free Walking Tour in Rio de Janeiro. They invited me to stay with them in Bogotá. I might have been their inspiration to explore the world, because together they have subsequently spent 8 months in India, a few months in Turkey, then Italy and are presently in Russia. I was so excited when they reported that South Africa was on their travel itinerary and I cannot wait to open my home to them.

In the Amazonian jungle I met the beautiful Tathiane from São Paulo who also recently made it to our shores while on a year-long travel adventure around the world, the silver-tongued Gregor also from Brazil, who calls me mom, his friend Jerry from Oz, Indian Vasu, now living in California and Israeli Nir who made up our merry troupe. I so often reminisce about the unforgettable few days we spent together. It gives me such pleasure to follow their exploits on Facebook.

Medellin in Colombia rates as one of my favourite South American cities, mainly due to my good fortune of meeting the sultry Georgia. Colombian by birth, Georgia had been adopted by Swiss parents, and was doing a thesis on slum tourism. Together we discovered parts of the city that a visitor rarely gets to see, and explored many interesting gems further afield that I might have missed on my own.

Because the Galápagos Islands were beyond my shoestring budget, I opted for a 45US$ day trip to the Isla de la Plata, an hour’s boat trip off the Ecuadorian coast which is supposed to be the Poor Man’s Galapagos. There I met Swiss Rike and Martin, who had bought an old Ford van in Buenos Aires and had spent the last 11 months criss-crossing the continent. Their van has subsequently taken them beyond South America, through Central America and the USA and only now nearly two years later is their trip coming to an end as they are expecting a baby. They remain one of my travel icons.

When help was needed most

Florence and Richard, she from France, he from New Zealand, married and having one last travel adventure before settling down in New Zealand were my travel buddies when we made the arduous trip from Popayan, Colombia over the Ecuadorian border on to Quito. Over the next few weeks our paths crossed many times and we finally had a joyous reunion in Arequipa. From there we planned a two day hiking trip into the Colca Canyon, after which we had already booked our bus tickets and our accommodation in Cusco – we were uber-excited to finally get to what undoubtedly would have been my pinnacle of travel experiences, Machu Picchu.

Alas, it was not to be.

40 minutes into our hike I stumbled over a rock, and when I heard the crack I knew in a heartbeat that this was the end of my travels. I will forever be grateful to Richard and Florence when they without hesitation aborted their hike to accompany me back to Arequipa. Although I acted gung-ho, in all honesty I would have been lost without their selfless help.

To all these amazing souls. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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