While sitting at a cafe in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico I eavesdropped on a conversation between two travelers. This is the transcription of a snippet of their interaction that I overheard. I found that it accurately described two very different categories of backpackers.
“A friend told me someone got shot in front of that hostel.” Leaning back in his chair, a tall American 20-something lights a cigarette.
The petite blonde woman across the table from him lets her jaw fall.
“You mean a local?” she peeps out, revealing a posh British accent. She’s wearing a plaid button down and cut off shorts.
“No, a tourist,” he responds, leaving the British woman wide eyed.
“Wow, I thought Colombia was supposed to be quite safe now,” she murmurs.
“It is, for the most part. Most of the drug running has moved up to Mexico now. When Pablo Escobar died, there was a power vacuum. Mexico was happy to snatch it up.”
The woman nods her head, but doesn’t respond. Two bottles of Dos Equis sit on the table. The green bottles sweat beads of cold water as a brief silence becomes longer.
“Colombia was beautiful, but I think Cuba has been my favorite country on this trip,” he states, exhaling a puff of smoke over his shoulder.
“But I thought Americans weren’t allowed to go into Cuba? Isn’t it illegal?” she leans in across the table.
He takes a long inhale before answering.
“Nah, well, I did it,” he says with a smirk while shrugging his shoulders.
“Have you done a lot of travel before?” the woman chimes in before he starts talking again.
“Till I was 13 I went to Greece twice a year. I learned to walk there.” He pulls another cigarette out of his pack and lights it. “I think traveling shows you the person you ought to be, or the person you want to be.”
A brief silence and then he adds “travelers are who interest me. Everybody else is just.. pff,” he makes a popping sound with his lips.
A waiter appears at their table and they order another round of Dos Equis. The topic of conversation shifts from travel to over-medication of ADD in the states.
“I’ve been diagnosed with it, but have never taken meds.” The woman says, sitting up in her chair. “In Uni I would turn up for lecture and leave after 20 minutes. I have trouble listening to professors if I’m not really interested”
“I only listen to people I think are worth listening to,” he responds, a cloud of smoke escaping from his mouth.
“Well, I guess everyone learns in a different way.” The woman twirls her half empty beer bottle in her hand. Shivering her shoulders she squeaks, “I’m cold.”
“Here,” he says, grabbing a red and black scarf from his backpack. “Take this.”
She grabs the scarf and pulls it over her shoulders.
“No, no, not like that. You don’t wear it like that.”
“It’s okay, it’s keeping me warm this way.”
He laughs and reaches across the table to adjust the scarf. Then he leans back in his chair and says “There, that’s how you wear it.”
The woman leans back in her chair and gulps down the remainder of her beer.