I stared at the quickly-moving clouds as a tear streamed down my face and fell on the hard granite rock I chose to lounge on. The clouds captivated me. This island captivated me. Clouds flowed and dissolved as pleased.I hate saying goodbyes and therefore I don’t mind not saying them. I read somewhere to always say farewell instead of goodbye.
Noe sprained his ankle pretty good and we all knew it. We tried to make the best of the zero-mileage day while he hobbled in and out of the stream to chill his injury.
We met Noe and Ana while hiking the GR 20 on the island of Corsica, France. We only knew them for a little more than a week but we laughed and celebrated and experienced the difficulty of the trail together. They were our trail family.
We convinced them to hike further and hike harder. They boosted my spirit with just a few minutes of nonsense chatter. They shared their rum and their cigarettes. We were the foursome of young, broke, silly, and fast vagabonds speaking in English and laughing and loitering and living.
My expectations on meeting friends on a French island were extremely low. My French vocabulary shouldn’t even be referred to as a vocabulary. Noe and Ana tried to teach me French but their accent screamed Quebec; their French Canadian dialect sounded silly to the French that surrounded us.
I felt relaxed but with a heavy heart as I lay on my rock. I was alone. I let the tears fall. I felt silly for a second but also grateful to feel. Just two days ago all four of us were huddled in a shed on a campground escaping the wind and drinking rum and coke out of a cook pot and, once again, laughing and laughing and laughing.
Noe couldn’t walk. His ankle was swollen as ever as we told him, “it looks better.” Ana and my Ryan decided to hike down toward a dirt road in search for food, help, or hope. Noe and I chatted about the lizards and took a midday nap. His ankle will be better tomorrow…
“They meet us at 4…” Ana declared as she and Ryan jogged back to our camp around 3:50 pm. My brain and my heart felt jumbled. ‘They’ were taking Noe and Ana to a town. I fought the thought of never seeing my friends again. I fought the thought of the inevitable goodbye.
Ryan decided to help Ana and Noe down the mountain, a 500-foot descent. They gathered their gear in a hurry. I tried to watch with detachment. I wrote my name down on a scrap piece of paper in hopes to keep in touch through Facebook.
They stand there in front of me, all four of us having nothing interesting or funny or sincere to say. We avoided eye contact at first. I tried to remember every detail of them from Noe’s last freckle to Ana’s beautiful, brunette hair. I wanted to remember their personality. I wanted to remember Ana’s easiness to smile and laugh or the way Noe would say ‘fuck that!’ in his French accent.
“Finish the GR 20 for us” Ana requested.
That was tough to hear. We promised we would. I gave her my piece of paper with my scribbled name, the paper a bit damp from my sweaty, clenched hand. No hug, no handshake, and barely a smile and we said our goodbye. We were riding on the hopes we would meet again at the beach at the end of the trail. We would meet again if the universe allowed.
They walked away, even Ryan, with heads low. I walked toward my granite rock to soak in my emotion and to let out my tears. I lay in meditation with eyes wide open, my thoughts moving with the clouds, in and out. I try to feel nothing but my salty and warm tears say otherwise. I should have said farewell instead of goodbye, I thought.
I must accept my fate is similar to the cloud than the mountain. I must move as the universe demands. Fighting change only instills hate and anxiety and sadness.
Ryan and I finished the GR 20. We eluded the rain through our entire hike until we hiked on without Noe and Ana. Our last days on the trail were rainy, muggy, gray, and moist. I guess change is truly written in the clouds.
We have returned to the United States with no contact from Ana or Noe. I do not feel anger or resentment toward my friends. I know Ana has a traveling spirit and a broken phone. I know Noe is focused on money and a semester to look forward to in Quebec. I enjoy the idea I will run into Noe or Ana on the Great Wall of China or on a beach in California or on a hike in Peru.
The worst thing about travel isn’t the rainy days or the loneliness or coming home. The most depressing fact exists in a broken heart: never seeing the friends you attach yourself to so closely and so interestingly and so quickly while in your weeks, months, years of travel.
A contact through Facebook won’t show the traveler I know anyway: stinky, hairy, messy, hungry, and beautiful.