On Travel Friends, and Nina.

We met Nina at the dock in Moyogalpa on Ometepe, seconds after I’d agreed that we’d use our cab driver’s friend on the other side of the ferry ride. It took the British woman two sentences for us to agree to abort our previous travel plans and join her on the chicken bus to San Juan Del Sur. All three of us were going to the same place; why pay extra for a cab? And so Nina joined us (or we joined her) and two became three for the next leg of the trip.

I don’t know how to say the following without writing in generalizations: Being far away from home makes it more natural to open up to strangers. We spent two days with Nina, this outrageous, striking, smart and dominant California transplant. It could have been one hundred. I felt like I thoroughly knew her by the time we parted ways.

I love making travel friends.

Nina has a knack for arguing down any price by half, for making things happen the way she wants (we ended up sharing a hostel room with her and she made sure that no others would be booked in our room; no arguments there) and for understanding exactly what someone wants or needs despite the language barrier. While Nina doesn’t read Spanish fluently, she reads people. And she has plenty of experience; the woman has traveled all over the world — 64 countries at latest count. (She was on a solo journey from Panama to Belize when we met her.)

Two days, two things I love:

1. She reminds me that anything is possible. If a pregnant (yes, pregnant) woman can travel through Central America by herself, then I can probably do something equally or less terrifying. And maybe I just need to relax, damn it. Enjoy the scenery, banter with strangers, try something new. Filled with anxiety about San Juan Del Sur’s reputation as a party town — where ex-pats and backpackers go to get drugged up and party all night — I was constantly on edge. Nina’s very existence proves that you can do something exciting while still being safe. She trots the globe but stays in at night. A parent’s dream.

2. She eats all the food. Divide and conquer: the food blogger’s mantra. I did not need to explain this to her. Instead, she happily took part in the giant meals we ordered, and dutifully offered bites to share.

I’ve made travel friends in the past. And if I’m still in touch with them, it’s because Maya is much better at being a pen pal than I am. And here’s the thing. I’m dangerously close to one of those broad and boring statements. You know, the ones about Facebook making a big world small. Instead, I’ll say this. When tiny portions of Nina’s life pop into my screen, I become thrilled. Because these days, travel friends can become always friends. And that’s kind of awesome.

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