The Circles We Run In

In our daily lives, we all have certain circles we run in. We shop at the same grocery store, attend the same church, have a drink at the same bar, get dinner at the same restaurant, grab coffee at the same cafe. And in the process, we see familiar faces. We come to have a favorite bartender or waitress; we share small talk with the girl who pours our coffee; we ask the grocery store clerk about her day. Rarely do these people turn into much more than acquaintances, but when they are no longer there, we miss their presence. They have a role in our lives.

When you travel, moving from one place to another in a matter of days, rarely if ever returning to the same place, you lose your circle. You don’t have your favorites, the old stand-bys. But actually it’s not completely true that you lose your circle, because lately we’ve learned that thought they might not be showing up in the same place, we will often see the same faces.

In Nicaragua, we didn’t do repeats. We’d meet someone in some town, and then never see them again. Not by design, but because that’s just the way it worked. In Chile and now Argentina however that’s the case. We’re on a certain route that a certain type of traveler (the outdoorsy-type I’d say) likes, and we therefore find ourselves repeatedly running into the same people. For instance, we first met Wesley (an electrician from Britain) while cooking dinner in a cramped hostel kitchen in Puerto Varas. A few days later, we walk into our hostel in Chiloe to see him sitting in the common area. About a week later, we’re ascending Valle Frances in Torres del Paine, and who do we see sitting on a log beside a creek but Wesley. We’d pass him multiple times during the rest of the hike. And then, finally, just two days ago while we were eating our lunch at a park in El Calafate, Wesley walks by on his way to an ATM. Each time, we stop and chat, exchange stories about where we’d been in the time between spottings, and then head off with a see you later, since goodbye seems a bit premature.

The same thing has happened with others. Oh, look, there’s the lady from Torres del Paine who did the uphills so slowly it seemed she wasn’t moving. Oh, hey, it’s Nienke and Tijmen, the couple from the Netherlands who we met in Chiloe, I guess they’re done surfing. And on and on. Though I guess some people could find this irritating (and it probably would be if we didn’t like the people we keep running into), I find it a bit nice. Humans are creatures of routine and habit, and when your world changes every day, it can be awfully nice to see a familiar face…even if it’s just for a few minutes, before you again move on, maybe in ultimately the same direction and maybe not.

15 Replies to “The Circles We Run In”

  1. I’m not so sure this is running a circle but rather stalking. Let’s just say its a good thing you all aren’t in Massachusetts:

    “In the General Laws of Massachusetts, Chapter 265, section 43, any person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another.”

  2. In big towns, I think those people who see at certain places become the people you small chat with, but I couldn’t tell you how many people on this campus I have never talked to but see all the time. I am pretty good at remembering and recognizing faces, so there are some people I do this with all the time.

  3. YES! That happened to me in Argentina and Chile also. I was in Ushuaia and ended up meeting with three people in the same hostel in El Calafate by mere coincidence with whom I’d stayed at the same hostel before in Ushuaia. Then in Mendoza, I found I was on the same bus with this French couple with whom I’d been with on a Navimag cruise about one week earlier. Small, small, world.

  4. That’s a sure sign you’re not veering much off the South American “been there, done that” trail. I remember a few years back when 2 different friends came back from 2 different trips to Europe about a month apart – both had a little apres-trip photo session I attended. After going through Friend #2’s pix, what struck me was that they both had almost the identical set of photos. It’s almost as if there’s an ‘X’ on the spot you have to stand to get the best postcard-like photo. Their pictures also showed a set of friends eerily similar as well.

    Robert Frost:

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  5. I disagree with the whole “two roads diverged.” Obviously it’s a metaphorical poem, but even then, whichever road you are going to take is going to probably lead you to crossing paths with the same people more than once. You can never find a path that’s just yours. There’s consequences (and familiar faces) on any path you choose. Or, I can you could continue to search for that elusive path and be distracted from everything you are missing.

    I do agree that people tend to visit the same places (and take similar pictures). There could be many reasons for this. I’d say three of the biggest reasons are: 1) Similar backgrounds of those who have the ability to do such trips (“it’s my year off after college and I’m going to be original and go to Europe”), 2) Recognition of what is out there that is worth visiting (whether such assessments are “correct” or not) and 3) Guidebooks, sites like this, and word of mouth advertising that deem certain places as “must see.”

    Running into the same people more than once, though, never accounts for all those people you never run into, those people staying at nice hotels while you are doing the whole hostel/local living approach or those doing slightly different activities. The idea of taking the road less traveled (metaphoric after all) doesn’t say anything about the quality of the choices one makes and really it says nothing other than to compare one’s travel with the other choices this person had.

    Robert Frost probably wrote that poem on his death bed to convince himself that his life was more valuable than it really was. And now people read it at funerals and shit to further memorialize people. And really, the poem in no way accounts for what he may have missed not choosing the “more popular” trail. Every choice is a choice of exclusion.

    Chris G, none of this is really directed at you. I just really hate that poem – although I think it might have been read at my (and Theresa’s) grandfather’s funeral (am I making this up? is this faulty memory? anyone?). I really need to make peace with the idea that it is metaphoric and let it all go. Deep breath.

  6. Well put, Matt.
    I thought about writing something to that effect, but didn’t really know to put it.
    Sometimes I enjoy taking the road more traveled by, because it IS familiar.
    Sometimes you need new and exciting, sometimes you need new and exciting with a few constants mixed in.

  7. I agree that it’s comforting to run into familiar faces… I wonder if you’ll run into any of those people on some of the other continents that you plan to visit? Have you met anyone yet that’s also doing a RTW trip?

  8. We’ve been to some places off the beaten path and some places on, but we’re really not concerning ourselves too much with that. We’re going to places we want to go to do what we want to do. Torres del Paine is hugely popular but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. (I also wouldn’t have done the one-day group tour of it either.) In my opinion, the majority of popular places are popular for good reason. It’s just up to you to decide whether that kind of popularity interests you. Places that are popular (as well as places that aren’t popular) because of their natural beauty interest me. Places that are popular for their surfing, or their casinos, or their shopping or whatnot hold no interest for me. I think anyone who really thinks they are far off the beaten path (unless they’ve landed on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific) is probably kidding themselves. The world isn’t that big. I think you’re always moving in some circle, be it the outdoor adventure circle, the best restaurants in the world circle, the beach going circle, or the I’m trying to get off the beaten path circle. And as long as whatever type of travel you’re doing makes you happy, then hooray for you.

  9. Also, Matthew, I don’t think that was read at Grandpa’s funeral because well, we’re Catholic, and they’re really picky about all that crap and have a lot of rules about what can and cannot be read. And if any Frost poem was read, my money would be on “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” because that is the poem with the lines “But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” which I believe was the saying hanging in the family room at their house.

  10. Theresa you are right about the poem. I think it was read at the funeral home before the Catholic church funeral.

    I slept through Frost day in my American Lit class.

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