TUNJA, Colombia- I was looking for a bus with “Sogamoso ” written upon its placard, but what I found instead was a familiar face. It was Robin Reifel, the perpetual traveler behind Gadtramp.com. Robin and I have been in contact for many years, and we’ve been loosely charting each others moves across the planet since 2007. Though Robin and I have recently been shooting emails back and forth, aiming for a place to meet, the actual occurrence of which was at a completely random crossroad: the bus terminal of Tunja, Colombia.
Robin seemed to recognized me on sight as I descended from the stairwell and into the bus yard, and when I saw her smiling face I knew who she was as well — the Gadtramp. I joined Robin upon the bench she was sitting on and we watched the mayhem of the Tunja bus station in tandem.
I looked over her very much broken down travel rig — a rucksack from Thailand that now had a snapped frame, a day pack that she took from some Army Ranger in Iraq that was now only held together by multiple repairs done with pink thread. Her gear had been around the world, and it looked that way. A true traveler’s rig if I ever saw one.
There are not many perpetual travelers on the planet who keep up the profession long enough to wear out a rucksack, there are even less who publish stories about their journeys, even fewer who go to the nether regions of the globe rather than just SE Asia, Central America, and Europe, and even less who are women traveling solo. Robin is a representative of this rarest group.
I have no idea how long Robin has been traveling for, but it has been a long, long time. Our first email exchanges were in 2007, and she was already well into her world travels by then. Robin says that she’s in love with India, she has hitchhiked through Kenya, considered settling in Ethiopia, visited Yemen, taught for a year in Iraq, and just arrived in Colombia after a couple of months in Venezuela. Her path about the world is anything but typical.
Friends of the way
In their writing, the old Japanese hermits would call those who shared their lifestyle “friends of the way,” and I think it would be suiting to appropriate this as a phrase of endearment for other travelers. The world is full of travelers, yes, but very few have the desire to make the practice of itinerancy into an overblown lifestyle.
I have to admit that it is a little obsessive to live out of a backpack for decades on end by choice — connecting the dots across the globe as though drawing in some planetary picture. When I meet up with someone else who is also afflicted by this estranged obsession — this addiction to new landscapes, fresh experience, this everlasting hunt for insights, this insatiable urge to satiate curiosity, this drive to win a contiguous impression of this planet — I stop short and call them a friend of the way.
Travelers are investors and hoarders like everyone else, but the wealth of travel is measured in memories, knowledge, and experience, rather than money. As far as I’m concerned, those dusty tramps with broken backpacks are smuggling riches beneath their rags that top the largest bank balances on record. The difference is that a traveler’s wealth is stuffed safely away beneath their sun parched skin. It is a wealth that cannot be robbed, bought, or sold — it is kept in an internal bank which receives new deposits on a daily basis that can never be withdrawn.
You can take everything I own and I wouldn’t lose much of anything that I truly value. I looked at Robin’s beat up backpack as a sign of the wealth she possesses. I knew that I could not rob it from her — but maybe, just maybe I could get her to share a little of it.
“These hotels in Colombia are a little expensive.”
“The ferry from Venezuela to Trinidad is a rip off.”
“Yeah, it seems as if the prices for everything have gone up a lot in Colombia over the past couple of years.”
“I got a private room in Pamplona with WIFI, bathroom, everything fr 18,000 pesos.”
“Have you had any luck bartering down the price of hotels in Colombia?”
“Yeah, we’ve been getting weekly rates.”
“Bring dollars to Venezuela.”
“You can often barter to get a lower price on bus tickets but the price of minibuses are pretty firm.”
“Did you hear anything about making money off of buying dollars here?”
“We are going to Mongui.”
“I looked it up and couldn’t find any information about it online.”
“That’s why we’re going there.”
“You can fly from Trinidad to Guyana for $100.”
“I think I want to get to the beach.”
As what often happens at the crossroads of travel, I was going one way and Robin another — our meeting was all too short lived. It was time to find that Sogamoso placard, get on the bus, take the ride. Though Robin and I hatched out a plan to meet again on the coast.
temporarily this wild goose
must go away