Meital and Inbal, the two girls we met in Rio Tranquilo, epitomized the idea of the ‘single serving friend’ (apologies to Palahniuk for the plagiarism). Getting into town, meeting a (fairly grumpy, kinda sick and Peruvian-looking) girl, talking to her a bit about the trip, where she’s been and where she’s heading, meeting her (much nicer) friend, making the boat trip to the marble caves together, getting back into town, trying to hitch, Uri and I north and Meital and Inbal south, failing and giving up simultaneously, finding a hostel together, cooking a very nice dinner together, letting the wine flow (but in moderation), having a great time, developing some fatherly care for the grumpy girl… and the morning after having the two of them leave without even saying goodbye. And it’s strange, but it doesn’t really bother you, because that’s what the trip is like. To stretch the plagiarism: “you meet a beautiful stranger, you dance all night, and then…” (way different context, but it works well here, I think).
The Cerro Castillo trek with Asaf and Ohad (BTW, all four of them- and all two of us, of course- Israelis. See a pattern here?) is another good example. A one-time meeting, where everybody knows we’re spending the four trekking days together and then heading in opposite directions, and we’ll leave it to chance if we meet again (I ended up meeting Meital, Asaf and Ohad in Salta, in Northern Argentina, two months later, along with about 20 other people I’d met earlier in the trip. It was a crazy week of coincidences, that one). But for those four days you’re a group, a team, you go through meaningful experiences- including a near death situation- together, you take care and help each other out, you share everything with no questions asked, and you even manage to develop some group character. And then, unavoidably, comes the return to town, the after-trek barbeque, and the awkward goodbye hugs in the morning (twice, since we didn’t find a ride, and ended up meeting again at the hot dog place on the road at around noon).
The “Big Trip” is a great illustration of life’s randomness. The flowing of people through the different place causes every town, hostel or camping ground to change substantially from one day to the next. The decision to spend one more day in one town triggers a chain-reaction: you meet different people, they want to do different things, you get different recommendations for the future, different groups are formed and broken, and you have other experiences. And every single place you come to or leave is the same, branching off into a huge amount of possibilities. You could say that life in general is like that, but you never see the basic randomness as much as you do while traveling. It is never as extreme in your routine life.
It is the Panta Rhei principle embodied. The river of people (in the Israeli uber-group in South America there are common terms denomintating the north- and southbound travelers: the ascending wave and the descending wave) is in constant flux, and you can’t enter it in the same spot twice.