There were three of us. We'd left the official hiking trail a while ago and were now ascending up rocky hills and through flower-filled fields, ever higher up, watching the landscape unfold all around us. After passing a final stretch of weathered evergreens, we arrived at a sharp ridge, surrounded on all sides by the massive valley below. Countless pine trees filled the void, lining a massive, icy blue-green lake. Shimmering in the backdrop rose perhaps the most impressive mountain panorama I've ever laid eyes on - jagged, snowy peaks carving up the cloudless sky in every direction, mesmerizing and never-ending. Perched on the edge of this view, and, so it felt, the world, we shared a summit beer and took in the moment with pure awe. I thought to myself that I couldn't have hoped for a better way to reunite with my oldest travel friends than by doing this, being together in nature, exploring the Canadian Rocky Mountains together.
I first met Jayme, from Canada, and Ana, Brazilian, over ten years ago in India, on my first ever solo backpacking trip. We immediately got along, and continued traveling together over the course of several months. Together with Pat, Jayme's longtime friend, we hustled our way through life on the road. My own overly organized and ever-prepared personality was healthily exposed to, and nicely complemented, the more spontaneous and guns-blazing mindset of the swash-buckling Canadians and the Brazilian element of supreme cool and lively sensitivity. Suffice to say that I learned many positive life lessons during my time with them. Ana and Jayme became a couple on that trip, and are still together to this day. As so often is the case with travel friendships, our ability to see eachother in person diminished considerably after returning home. I think it's a testament to the connection we felt back then that we kept making attempts to see eachother during the decade since, with me managing to meet up with Ana in Brazil during my previous world trip, and all of us meeting a year later for an epic reunion in central London (that pub might still not have recovered). I even hosted Jayme's brother, Danny, and his girlfriend Meghan in Antwerp, and took them and their friends around Copenhagen in the years since, always having a stellar time.
Something seems to fall into place when we spend time together, hard to explain intellectually yet so easy to feel. As a person who is getting increasingly adept at spending time with a wide variety of people, I find that connections this meaningful are rare, at least for me. So it seems like a good life strategy, even an essential one, to make an effort to hold on to them. Which is precisely what I did by arranging a two-week visit to the not-so-touristy city of Edmonton, Alberta on my way from America to Asia. The welcome I received was beyond hospitable. Right off the bat, Jayme and Ana took me on a three-day hiking trip in spectacular Jasper National Park, a mere three-hour van ride from their home. We went hiking up grassy and pine-covered slopes, panoramic mountain views all around. The weather was exceptionally good, with cloudless blue skies and temperatures over 30C. After the hike of the day, we took dips in ice cold glacial lakes and steaming hot springs. At night we chilled at our camp site around a crackling fire, primarily meant to stave off the hordes of mosquitos similarly excited about this brief and perfectly timed Canadian heat wave. Though it was only a brief introduction, I got a real sense of how vast, as well as beautiful, the Canadian mountain ranges really are.
As Jayme's parents own farmland just outside of Edmonton, a modest 160 acres (!) of meadows, forest and lakes, we continued our camping trip out there, in the company of Jayme's family, friends, and a ton of pet dogs that seemed to be having the time of their lives, along with their owners. We barbecued, chilled and broke out our instruments at the evening fire. Aware of Jayme and Danny's guitar prowess, I'd been looking forward to jamming with them, and humbly put, we hit it off pretty spectacularly. My decision of bringing my violin along on this trip is really turning out to be one of the better ones I've made in recent times. The morning after, I was 33 years old and felt pretty happy about it, too.
My remaining days in Edmonton were no less eventful, consisting of walks along the beautiful city river valley, sampling arrays of Canadia craft beers, trying bison steak at a family dinner, and attending my first ever college baseball game - complete with a firework show, Canadian country band and raging fans. Our antics on the stand even secured us a solid 30-second appearance on the jumbotron TV. I cycled for the first time in 7 months, laying waste to scores of city blocks with a lifetime of Belgian-Danish technique under my belt and a big smile on my face. Perhaps most unexpectedly, Jayme took me to local recording studio owned by one of his many musician friends on my final evening, to record violin samples for his upcoming album! This experience constituted yet another first for me, and we had a blast vibing musically and creating some tracks that even I, with my perpetual musical self-criticism and perfectionism, was fairly proud of.
My brief stint in Canada has been an absolute highlight of my journey, and I'm grateful to be able to call Ana, Jayme, Danny and Meghan my friends. They are some of the most kind, generous, sincere and ruthlessly funny people I've ever met. Whatever my future holds, I intend to have them in it.
August 9th, 2022