It was Day Two on our Intrepid tour in the Outback, and it felt like we’d been together for a week. I had introduced myself to most of my fellow travelers, and some had introduced themselves amongst themselves, but here had been no “formal” introductions that included all.
So as we sat around the fire I suggested we introduce ourselves. It was one of those moments when I wondered if they would all think, “Bloody pushy American, so overfriendly! Why can’t we spend 48 hours in a bus, sleeping, hiking, and eating together and remain anonymous?”
I was the oldest member of the group by a good 10 years, so I like to think I was just more mature and had better social skills than the rest of them.
Everyone thought it was a good idea. We went around the circle, each person saying his or her name and where he or she was from. When we got to the Chinese pair, the young woman stood up and gave a speech with her Chinese name, her English name because no one could pronounce her Chinese name, where she was from, where she lived in Australia, the name of the bank she worked for, her job title, and her leisure interests, which of course included travel.
We then turned to the older man beside her; he was sitting a ways outside of the circle and staring into the bonfire as he slowly took drags off his cigarette. I waved a hand at him, “Hello! Would you like to introduce yourself?” He stared straight ahead, giving no sign that he was aware of us.
The young woman said, “He is my father, and he doesn’t speak any English.”
That didn’t explain why he wouldn’t join in. He could have asked her to translate. Was he autistic? Antisocial? Shy? Depressed?
Heidi chatted with the Canadian couple. The woman was a marine biologist and he was a book editor for a publishing house. They lived in separate cities and were engaged and would have to figure out where to live where they could both work.
We had all been examining the sky. Rare is the night I can see stars in the city. I had gasped with awe to see the Milky Way in August in northern Wisconsin. It had been splashed across the sky in a horizontal arc. Here, it seemed to rain down vertically. Was that because of where we were, or the time of night, or the season?
The English-Australian guy was pointing out the Southern Cross, which was also tattooed on his calf, and one of the German girls excitedly pointed out the Big Dipper.
The Canadian guy had been fiddling with his cell phone and then sprang up, “I’ve got this app to show us the constellations!” He held it aloft and it showed lines connecting the stars composing the Orion Belt.
The Swiss guy, not to be outdone, held up his ipad, which had a similar app but with more bells and whistles. The apps were cool, but the magic was gone. There was no searching, no excitement upon finding, no mystery, no helping fellow travelers by pointing and painting a verbal picture. It was Stars for Dummies.
I left the group to join James, the Korean cook, who was sitting by himself. No one engaged with him, perhaps because his English was so rough. Or maybe it was because he was the only solo traveler. I’ve been that solo traveler on many a journey, and people do tend to ignore you. We’re so uncomfortable with people on their own.
James confided that he was depressed and very anxious about going back to Korea. He didn’t want to go, but it hadn’t worked out here. He was a failure. I tried to reassure him, “But you tried! You took a risk, which is more than most people ever do.” I don’t think he bought it.
“Awwwlright you lot! Brekky at five,” Meg yelled. “Be on the bus by 5:30 for another three-hour hike—and this one’ll be a killer!”
In our tent, Heidi and I could hear the Chinese dad yapping incessantly to his daughter in the next tent.