What are the chances of meeting someone you haven’t seen in years, you haven’t talked to in ages, when you don’t even know where he lives and what he’s doing and you are on the other side of the world? Well, according to my experience, they are actually quite high.
A lifetime ago, I had a Greek boyfriend, Michalis. I met him when I started my studies at the University of Essex, in England, and our troubled relationship lasted about 3 years, during which we’d argue, break up and get back together until we eventually broke up for good, in January 2006 (wow, that almost is 10 years ago!).
Michalis moved back to Greece in late 2006, and we occasionally talked until May 2007, when we had one final argument on the phone and resolved to never talk to each other again. Then, I also moved back to Italy and regularly travelled to England for PhD supervisory meetings to assess the progress of my research. Eventually, I managed to submit my dissertation and the date for my discussion was set for February 2010. I travelled to Colchester, England, a few days before my viva. That’s when my friend, at whose place I was staying, told me that she thought she had seen Michalis on campus. I thought she may have been mistaken and actually met someone else. However, on a snowy day as I waited to catch a bus to university, I saw Michalis walking towards the bus stop too. He was as surprised as I was, but for the first time since we had broken up we were able to have a pleasant conversation over coffee, the anger we had both felt towards each other finally vanished.
After that random meeting, Michalis and I had kept in touch. We’d exchange a few emails each year, and occasionally even have a brief chat on skype. That’s how I knew he eventually settled down and got married with a Mexican girl and occasionally travelled to Mexico to visit her family. I was happy for him, because although things didn’t work out between us I always considered him a clever, interesting and pleasant person.
The last few years of my life have been quite eventful and there have been so many changes that it has been difficult to keep track of things at times, or to keep everyone updated of my whereabouts. I thought I had told Michalis that I had abandoned my academic career to start a life of travel and blogging, but evidently I had not.
Surely, Michalis was not the person I was thinking of when I finished my second guided tour of the season, on December 2014. After that nightmare of a tour was finally over (I had a number of persons in my group that were a real handful!), my friend Guiselaine came to meet me to spend a week in the Riviera Maya before I would have to go back to work and travel to Nicaragua for more tours. We wanted to relax and had not really planned much. Each day we’d wake up, take a look at the weather outside and decide what to do accordingly. I was quite tired after having to take around a group of tourists who were very demanding at times, and I was even a bit “templed out”. After visiting the most important archeological sites in the country, I really did not feel like visiting any other on my free time.
Yet, when we woke up in Tulum on the third day of our holiday, we realised the weather wasn’t good enough to just bum at the beach. So I reluctantly agreed to visit the archeological site of Coba. After all, I had no better plans for that day, I had not been there yet and getting there seemed like a relatively easy and cheap thing, as it was only 40 minutes away from Tulum on a colectivo (minibus) – watch out though, because although colectivos do take people to Coba, there is none leaving from there to get back to Tulum and the only way to get back to town is either by taxi or on ADO buses that should be booked in advance in peak season.
I knew very little about Coba, and I soon realised once there that it is a unique site compared to the rest of the ones found in the Yucatan peninsula, and definitely worth visiting. It is very spread out and completely immersed in the thick jungle typical of the region. There are well kept foothpaths in the forest that link the various points of interest of the site, and what is a cultural visit can actually turn into a good workout as the distances are at times quite large – up to 2 km from one spot to the other (I calculated that, by the end of the visit, I must have walked some 10 km). Indeed, it is possible to rent bikes and even to hire the services of bici taxis to move more swiftly across the site. It actually is a good idea to wear proper walking shoes in order to walk or bike around Coba – I did not know what to expect that day, and I sported my flip flops as it was a hot day. My friend Guiselaine did the same.
In our complete ignorance of the site, we did not know that Coba is the only site in Yucatan where it is still possible to climb the pyramid. I was keen to do that, as I enjoy standing on tall places and take in the view. But Guiselaine preferred not to do so as she felt that it was not a good idea to climb a pyramid when wearing sandals. I thus started climbing the Kukulkan Pyramid by myself. However, it was the peak season, there were lots of other people in Coba and surely many were trying to climb the pyramid, so that sneaking my way around other tourists was not an easy task. That’s why, when I arrived at about the middle of the pyramid on my way to the top and saw that a small group of people had decided to sit and rest on the narrow staircase, I turned around to snap at them in my good Spanish, ready to tell them that perhaps it was not such a good idea to block the way.
However, I had to stop mid sentence as I could not believe what I saw. Sitting there, with a scared look on his face, a thin line of sweat on his forehead, was Michalis. Imagine the shock, for both of us! We stared at each other for a mere second, although it really seemed more like an hour, and then he uttered: “what are you doing here?” to which I replied asking the same thing. He then introduced me to his wife, and to his in laws. Apparently they were all in Tulum on holidays, having just arrived from Mexico City. The look of terror in Michalis’ eyes increased when his brother in law asked the question: “So, how do you two know each other?” I chuckle now when I think that if I wanted I could have turned his holiday into a nightmare and spell the dirtiest secrets of our relationship. But then, I was so glad with how my life was evolving then that I just vaguely said we had met in university. That was a satisfactory answer to all, and I could see that Michalis finally relaxed in spite of my presence.
I then finished climbing the pyramid, took some amazing shots from above and even asked Michalis brother in law, who had climbed all the way up as well, to take some pictures of me and, on my way down I said goodbye to Michalis, till our next random encounter. We had a brief chat, in which I told him that I had finally decided to live my dream and travel the world, and to finally abandon my life in academia which had caused me much suffering in the last few years. He told me that, for as much as he loves his wife and he likes Mexico, he still can’t get a hang of Mexican food and would much rather have olives and pita bread – but don’t tell his wife!
Meeting Michalis again, in such a random way, was actually nice. It made me realise that we can have great memories of even the most troubled relationships. It made me understand that once the anger and sadness for the end of a love story finally boil down, there can be a good, honest friendship. Besides, I had one more funny anecdote to tell my family (imagine how hard my father laughed when I told him!), my friends – including Guiselaine who had seen the whole scene while waiting for me at the bottom of the pyramid – and to write on my blog. What more could I want?
What has been your most random encounter during your travels?