by Darnell Lamont Walker
It was on the rooftop of a hostel in 2015, in the middle of Lima, Peru’s Miraflores neighborhood where I realized what I was doing in the world and the beauty behind it all. Three months prior, in Bogotá, Colombia, I sat at a dining room table in a beautiful hostel in Zona G with men and women I hadn’t known just a few hours earlier. We were talking about the day we spent together admiring the views from Monserrate, getting stuck in the middle of the jungle full of perros peligrosos (dangerous dogs) with an Uber driver who took a wrong turn, and searching for hot chocolate with a sweet cheese melted into it to warm us up a bit in the evening. We shared stories. Laurie was in her last days as a traveler through South America before returning home to Berlin to start teaching elementary school. Jasmin and Canadian Mike met years ago at a concert somewhere thousands of miles from both their home countries and decided a life of traveling, hopping on boats and tiny engine planes with priests, open-minded and available friends, and sex workers was better than a life of sitting still. And there I was, sitting and smiling, knowing I’d found my tribe – the people with rich lives tinged with loneliness and longing because we know moments like that one are rare. I’d be leaving the next day, and like any time I have to return to the U.S., I was sad. Stewart, another American, was with us all day and loved the energy just as much as I did. His flight was a couple of hours after mine and we agreed to ride to the airport together.
First that evening in Lima, I played pool with the Germans on holiday and drank caipirinhas with a French woman who made it her business to express her love of Jimmy Baldwin to me– caipirinhas made by the Laotian bartender with a beautiful tattooed sleeve and only three days left on her visa. I’m sure those drinks are what gave me the courage to show off my bad salsa moves to the rooftop full of strangers-turned-friends, twisting my hips, overlapping my feet to “Dile a Ella” by Victor Manuelle. When the song came to an end, I heard, “Oh my god, Darnell?” It shot across the rooftop, from the bar to the dance floor. I turn to see Stewart, holding a beer, smiling big, and his arms stretched for a hug. I couldn’t help but to smile back and hug my friend.
That last morning, in the Bogotá hostel, months before the rooftop in Lima, Stewart never showed. I’d always wondered if he made it to the airport and home safely. We ordered a drink for me and found a seat at the bar to catch up.
Stewart woke up that morning in Bogotá to meet me in the lobby, but before I came down, an Australian traveler entered the lobby from his room, keys in hand, and looked over to Stewart and asked the words I always hoped someone would ask me: “Wanna go on an adventure?” The Australian bought a truck because it was cheaper than getting a ticket home, and he decided he’d drive through South America. He didn’t know Stewart, but he knew he looked like a fun passenger and sometimes-driver. Stewart accepted and the two took off. I sat in amazement, listening to the story, wondering how I’d tell it to others.
It was talking to Stewart on that rooftop that I realized how much I loved the stories the world poured into me. I loved collecting tribe members. I was in the world to collect them, whether they were mine or others’. I’m in the world to share them and I want that for others.
I want others to know the feeling of laughing in a hostel with people who understand them more than anyone else they’ve ever known. I want them to know the feeling of the wind in their face as they bike by the Achilleion Palace through the Greek isle of Corfu. I want them to know what it feels like to walk through Luxembourg with a lover, holding hands in pockets to stay warm, following behind a slow-moving cookie truck to see where it’ll park. I want them to taste the cookies and wonder if they love it more than the person whose hand they’re holding. I want them to drive from Milan to Monaco and wonder how so much beauty can exist in the world. I want to send them to South Africa to reconnect with the same incredible friends who years ago renamed me “Sizwe” in a grand celebration, and I want them all to rid themselves of the things that hold them back in North America.
Stewart and I said our goodbyes, sure we’d see each other again, perhaps in 2032 on the walking trail that goes from South Africa to Russia, walking in opposite directions. Perhaps chasing birds near the Monastery of Santa Maria in the Italian city of Tropea or reaching for beauty in the Ashikaga Flower Park in Japan. It’ll happen. Until then, I’ll continue collecting stories and sharing them with anyone who listens. I’ll keep urging others to do the same.
Darnell Lamont Walker is a self-proclaimed true explorer and runs the travel company, Passport Required (passportrequired.com), making travel accessible and affordable, taking strangers-turn-family on secret trips throughout the world to dance, eat, laugh, and see the sun shine in places where the earth curves.