When family friends spend a night at my house and are leaving the next morning, my family has this ritual where we stand on the driveway and wave to them until their car turns down the street and around the corner. When I was younger, I remember running down the sidewalk after my uncle’s car until I couldn’t see it anymore, saying bye until the laaast minute.
Last night as my friend Andreas drove me to the airport, we passed the front door of Capetown Backpackers. And sure enough, standing outside and waving were my friends Dean and Clark, who have been there since the beginning. And I turned in my seat and waved to them until our car turned the corner and they passed out of sight.
The wonderful thing about staying at a backpackers is that you get to meet people that you never would have met otherwise. Cape Town has become such an intern hubbub in the last few years, almost like an overseas New York or DC. It would be easy to exclusively hang out with other young twenty-year-olds who hail from Western colleges and who—while very diverse—have all had pretty similar experiences.
But where else could I have met someone like Dean, the bartender at CTB, who drinks more than anyone I’ve ever known but who is also making his way through the entire works of J.D. Salinger? Or Dudu, who works the night shift and used to be a child soldier in the DRC? Tess, who got dangerously angry when hungry; Andreas, who would great me each day by screeching ‘JAMIE’ in a strained falsetto; Ronny my German friend—together, Jill and I taught him a dictionary of essential English words like ‘biddies’ and ‘bromance.’ Or Clark, the twelve-going-on-twenty-something-year-old Taiwanese-South African whose profession alternates between digital publishing and butt modeling and spent six years in a boys’-school-induced coma. And of course, my favorite red-wine-drinking, pasta-sauce-hating, Express-only-wardrobe roommate Jill. Road trips, restaurant outings—Clark would always forget who our water was and Ronny would always order enough for six—making fun of Dean’s music choices—these are some of the things about this city that I will miss the most.
Traveling is always tough because you fall in love with a place and its people only to leave it too soon. Andy, the owner of the Backpackers, says that’s okay—he says you make the best of people when you have them and don’t stress over holding onto them after you leave—if you do, you’ll do a disservice to all of the people you still have to meet in the future. It’s a live-in-the-moment kind of philosophy.
I know I’ll be back in Cape Town one day—and I can only hope that sometime, somewhere, I will run into my friends again. Even if I don’t, in small ways—riding a BMX bike, eating macadamia nuts, flashing my blinkers after passing someone on a two-lane highway—they will always be with me. Plus if all else fails, there’s always Facebook.
Photos: Top: clockwise from left, Clark, Ronny, Andreas, Me, Jill, Tess; Middle: Dean, left, and Andreas; Lower left: from left, Clark, Me, Dudu, Anita; Bottom: from left, Me, Ronny, Jill, Tess, and Clark.