There she stood in the Guayaquil bus terminal – tall, sleek, her gentle curves perfectly formed. From a distance (and with an aged, well-honed stealth), I studied her lines as she leaned against a young man who was as handsome as she was stunning. They were not alone. Beside them, rising tall out of his sandals, was another equally attractive, curly-topped man of similar youth (Damn them both). Tragically, he did not share the pleasure of a similar beauty at his side.
I found myself staring – an old man envious I guess. Silently I debated the appropriateness of approaching the three and introducing myself, secretively hoping they were hopping on my bus and traveling in my direction. But before I could gather the needed courage, my wife (noticing my distraction) suddenly uncurled her fingers from my hand and confidently marched over to the three, introducing herself while I remained fixed and googly-eyed on the concrete platform.
As it turned out, these two German twenty-somethings with their curvy, fine-lined, 6’9” shared surfboard were on a journey from Lima, Peru where they had been studying international economics, to the surfing/fishing village of Canoa, Ecuador which we now call home. Cool – they were heading our way!
This “chance” encounter presented us with a wonderful gift, and I wonder how often I must miss such opportunities, perhaps by being too distracted by the day-to-day ordinary or by being too reserved or too hesitant to “intrude” upon another. If it were not for my wife’s boldness, this fortuitous moment might have ended up as one of those lost chances.
Max and Anthony were so very warm and outgoing, and they kindly took the time in the bus station to share their sojourn with two old people well beyond twice their age. (Sorry Jan, but facts are facts. We’ve gotten old – but you’re still beautiful.) The conversing and the sharing of life with these two amazing young men continued through the next seven fun and thought-provoking days.
Every morning (with the exception of New Year’s Day – did I mention they were in their twenties and nowhere at daybreak to be found?) we surfed together, and afterward they joined us on our deck for fresh-made fruit smoothies and a feast of Jan’s wonderfully prepared eggs, bacon and home-cooked banana bread. The growing friendship between foreigners of both country and age spilled out into several evenings at local beach bar huts where we relaxed around tables stationed on the warm sand while brilliant sunsets engulfed the skies and roaming dogs begged at our feet. Clinked bottles of beer offering cheers to all were followed by more conversation and an evolving friendship.
On our seventh and last morning together, as I was straddling my board while musing between sets, I was struck by our unusual assembly. An Ecuadorian, two Germans and a fellow expat who resides in nearby San Clemente floated alongside me. Five men, representing two generations, three languages, harboring the biases that naturally come with the divide of age and nationalities sat serenely encouraging one another – an outcome of our deeply held and shared unexplainable passion for surfing. However, there was an undercurrent occurring that went well beyond just surfing. Over the course of those seven days friendships and memories were fused and, as a result, my life became more colorful, my thoughts expanded.
These two young, open-hearted travelers are just one example of the many benefits of living my life here as an expat. Anthony and Max, along with many explorers of lands and souls, have touched my life and taught me lessons on an age-old conflict with which many of us struggle – the clash between security and vulnerability. How can one ever experience the positive impacts realized when people of differing ideas, faiths, political persuasions or national alliances come together, without offering passage by lowering the drawbridges over the motes that protect our lives? It is then we are freed from fear and allowed to play, break bread together and toast the sunsets with those that are, at a glance, seemingly different from ourselves.