"I might disappear in a month." And so he might. In a few days, weeks, or months we will say our goodbyes, embrace and go our separate ways. He will head into his world and I to mine. Just like that.
On the road, friends -- like homes -- are made, enjoyed, and lost. They become a part of the strewn gravel, the white lines, the dedicated pieces of memory. They become our postcards and our prayers, turning into beloved memories in their disappearance.
I took astronomy and cosmology back in school. The stars taught me a few things. A star's light reaches us billions of years after it's emitted. We see history unfold beneath its light: Billions of years in a fleeting glimpse. Light moves at about 299 million meters per second -- fast, but never enough. So when I look at you, I'm looking into the past, or a shadow of the future. I can touch the present, but I can never quite see it. The further we are from one another, the deeper into the past we beam. The closer we are, the brighter the mirage. Touch, feel the visceral present.
On the road, we've got no time to settle. We plan years, marriages, trips, etc. We try to watch it with arbitrary numbers, letters and symbols for our own Western conscience. But life doesn't happen like that. Life happens in moments. Life happens now, passing in seconds, minutes and hours. Sometimes we spoil ourselves, letting it slip the wrist on holiday, calling it "island time" for lack of better understanding. Travel abounds with these moments -- it can even be defined by them. Therefore, a traveler living moment to moment embodies time itself, becoming his/her own clock, aging with the wind, wrinkling beneath the sun.
And so we shine on. Twenty-four hours in a day. I sleep six. That gives me 18 hours of moments: A world to see in one day. I guess that's why I'm here. I guess that's why I took off my watch before landing in Nadi, Fiji, in 2012 and haven't put it on since. It feels good to loosen time and lose the watch. It feels good to let it disappear.
We travelers keep nothing that can't be shipped, gifted, sold or trashed. Our burdens become our visas, our currencies and our memories. Trying to get by and then some. Saving enough for the next leg, whether it's spent on a whim or stored away for an endless summer. We are misfits of time, bursting with light.
My friend, like my watch, will be there, somewhere. He won't huddle between boxcars or camp with rooted vagabonds. He'll be found without a private detective or a compass, just like anyone reading this. You're connected. He's connected. I'm connected. That's not the hard part -- it's the disconnect that gets us. Don't pretend to know everything your phone does. Unplug long enough to drop in; long enough to let their world become a part of your playground.
"Which religion have you?"
"I haven't got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don't need any other God." (Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia)
Don't be afraid to walkabout. Pretend your iPhone skips; let your headphones hang. Beat to the city's huff and puff; stroll to the countryside's silence. Rediscover what it means to move around without Google Street View. If you really want to get to know a place, then get to know its people. Follow them. Join them. Disappear with them. Watch their face, listen to their voice, feel their heat. The minimum wagers of Santiago who make around $500 a month don't breathe like the Kiwis who earn $2,500 a month for the same job. Feel the injustice. Walk in their soles.
Follow the crowds or kick it old-school and ask for directions. Locals know the best of what's around. They'll know what's free or close to it. A bus stop conversation will change your life if you let it -- that's how I met my fiancée. Hop on a real bus and let it take you on a tour of the real city. Get off. Change direction. It's the journey that marks you: the routes, the time, the conversations. The act of losing yourself brings you to a place you never knew existed.
"...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)
Scars reflect the fight, streets reflect the city, visas reflect the traveler. Whether traveling on short days or into dreamless nights, mind yourself and your circumstances. Embrace the inner demons in a shroud of anonymity or embody the code of conduct. Test your ethics; travel will define your morals. I might be high and tight at home, but on the road I let my hair down. Remember that you may forever define a culture, race or ethnicity; you can either become the stereotype or break the bonds of definition. All those inquisitive eyes remember your actions even though you may not. Hone your senses. Disappear because you want to, not because of someone else.
There is a sincere attraction to obscurity and reinvention. On the road, you are whoever you want to be. Chatwin and Kerouac: Travelers before us with nothing to trace those wayward steps. No Facebook or Twitter, no Pinterest or Instagram; no palpitations in their transience. Their light shines in hardcovers and soft, a few photographs and interviews, but that's the lot. We don't have that kind of luxury. We are a world of connection. So I challenge you: Disappear. Beckon time. Become the protagonist of your own tale.