At the beginning of August, Helanya and I embarked on a trip that would allow us to cross many destinations off our bucket list. This morning, while enjoying breakfast in sunny South Africa with old friends and reminiscing about our experiences, I realised that much of the success of our trip depended on the generous support, hospitality and goodwill of many friends, most of whom we’d never met before.
Like the lady at the Grand Canyon gate who, during the US shutdown, warned us that she cannot allow us through, but nevertheless did. We never had the chance to thank her. Or the car rental agent, who suggested we upgrade (for a minimal fee) to a 2014-model Ford Mustang V6. (Worth every cent, see picture.) Or the Swedish train conductor who personally came to explain to us – the only English-speaking people on a Swedish train – what had happened when the train had suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. Or the waitress at the Cheesecake Factory in Tucson who suggested the most scrumptious upside-down pineapple cheesecake.
Then there were those friends who were willing to show us around (and offered to pay for many meals): Erik and Jeannette Green, who invited us to join them in Bornholm (a magical Danish island off the coast of Sweden) for a few days during their summer holiday. And later, another invite to a traditional Swedish crayfish festival. And to Ellen Hillbom and her family, for a lovely Swedish lunch. (Read more about our stay in Lund.) In Colorado, we met up with Scott and Cara Leonard, for a wonderful dinner at the Blue Moose in Beaver Creek. (And for showing us how to fill up on gas.) In Santa Monica, Christine Ernst Bode not only invited us into her home, but took us to Los Angeles’ most famous sites, including Malibu, Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier and even the house Helanya’s grandparents had lived in many moons ago. In Tucson, Price and Pam Fishback invited us to the Desert Museum, ensured that we see the Arizona Wildcats play football and basketball, organised an outing to a haunted cowboy town, and several wonderful dinners. Many of his colleagues and students, notably Tiemen Woutersen and Taylor Jaworski (and his wife, Lila), continued the hospitality, inviting us to dinners around town and hikes in the Santa Catalina mountains. Our Airbnb host in Tucson, Ross Raderstorf, took us to baseball batting cages with his friend Toby (try the 90mph net!) and on a ride through the desert at sunset in his 1960-something Chevvie Caprice. Back in California, family-friend Lydia-Marie Joubert showed us Stanford’s impressive campus, while Liehann Loots gave us a tour around Google’s head office. Jan de Vries and his wife welcomed us into their home at Berkeley, and not only treated us to a lovely dinner, but also to an extensive campus tour and sage advice. (More of my thoughts on America here.) In Montevideo, Luis Bertola showed me how Uruguayans braai (not bad) and play football (not bad either). (I also wrote about my trip to Latin America here.)
In the last four months, I’ve travelled more than 5000 miles by car, boarded 20 flights, and visited four continents. Wherever I went, I found people willing to give much of their time and resources, and expecting nothing in return. This warmth, generosity and hospitality I encountered everywhere is profoundly reassuring: it suggests that we often underestimate the selflessness of our colleagues, friends and strangers. That we find more pleasure in giving than in receiving. That we want to share, rather than compete. That, perhaps, we have this innate desire to make life better for our fellow travellers.
So, as the final post of 2013, we toast a glass of Stellenbosch’s finest to these fellow journeymen, old and new, who have influenced our lives along the way. Maybe there is some truth in the old saying: ‘A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles’.