The first time I saw Ryan, I thought he couldn’t be older than 17. I just started work at a funky, eclectic bar called Lucky Coq in Melbourne, Australia and I didn’t believe he was old enough to be behind the bar. Upon finishing my shift he was quick to join me for a knock-off [Australian slang for a free drink after a shift] on the patio. We played the 20 question travel game, “how long have you been away? Where’s home? Where’s next?” Me, a Chicagoan new to Aus from spending five months backpacking in India. Him, a Yorkshire man [actually older than my 25 year old self] who moved to Australia to escape the gray days of the UK. We immediately became friends.
Months later, Ryan noticed we both had a rare Friday night off and we set plans to meet for drinks. After a group of us bar hopped around the city and somewhere in between too many jagerbombs and vodka/sprites, he politely asked “Would you punch me in the face, if I kissed you?” I blushed, let out an awkward laugh, and shook my head.
From then on our relationship was a mix of drunken hookups and adventurous day dates. We picnicked in the Botanical Gardens, in random parks, anywhere we could and we’d talk for hours about future plans abroad, but deep down we both knew the end was near. My plans to travel through SouthEast Asia on my way home to the States were two months away, plus I had the backpacker mindset. “Enjoy what you have now, because eventually we’ll go separate ways and who knows if you’ll find each other again.” Ryan fell hard for me. And I’ll admit it, I cared deeply for him.
Tears fell from both our faces as I boarded my plane as he promised to meet me in Thailand in a few months time. And he did. Again timing was wrong. I had the wanderer attitude, non-committed, taking life day by day. We enjoyed our time together exploring waterfalls, playing with elephants and scootering around the North of Thailand. On one of our last nights, he said those three words most people kill to hear, but I turned away unable to reciprocate. The second goodbye was messier than the first [he even flew back to Australia with my passport, accidentally, and I got stuck in Bangkok for a few extra days; click here for that mess of a story].
Fast forward to summer ’14, a year and some later, Ryan in Manchester, me back in Chicago, playing catch up here and there through FaceTime and messenger. I told him about my plans to head to South American in Autumn and we quickly discussed the idea of meeting up. It was a casual chat, I didn’t think much of it, but over the next few months planning began. We’d start in Peru after the holidays and backpack as long as our bank accounts let us. In the months prior, I wondered what would become of us…“would we travel as friends or fall back into our tangled ways?”
Arriving in Lima a few days earlier, I was anxious and nervous for him to arrive, I felt that this time would be different. After the jitters and butterflies disappeared, it was as if only days had passed. It didn’t take long for us to end up back in each others’ arms.
Before I took his kindness for granted, but now I saw what an incredible human being he was [and has always been]; it was in front of me the entire time. I began to fall for him. Hard. In mid-sentence, he’d sprint across the street to help an elderly woman up the stairs or volunteer to help load a bus for the locals. When I fell ill a day before our planned trek, he took care of me, but then spent the night handing out water and food to homeless on the street.
Once recovered, we headed out of Cusco, Peru for our first hike in the Sacred Valley. It was and still is the hardest day of hiking of my life. For over eight hours we climbed up some 2000m, carrying unnecessary weight, following a non-existent trail. We’d think we’d see the top and be hold another peak. I’d scream ahead, “is it over?” sure that my legs couldn’t take one more step and he’d cheer me on, lying, saying “just a bit further.” Without Ryan, I would have given up, but amongst the jagged, snowy peaks and incredible heights, I climbed on knowing he was there supporting me.
Somewhere at our highest point in the clouds, we lost the path. Walking on loose gravel in the fog, I began panicking. Ryan searched onwards as I looked desperately for any sign of the trail. Finally, I pointed out a thin line in the distance and shouted towards Ryan. Little did we know, he almost walked off a cliff edge. Nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment once we finally descended for the first time. Once below the cloud coverage, the views were nothing short of heaven. We camped next to a rushing river as locals herded alpacas passed us. Through the pain and struggle of that climb, my heart kept repeating the words “I love you.” I wanted to scream it from the top of my lungs. Never had I experienced such a feeling. My brain forming this sentence, begging to escape my lips. I held it in, knowing it was too early, thinking I was insane.
For a while we lived in limbo. Acting like a couple, sharing a bunk in the hostels, but when fellow backpackers asked how long we’ve been together, we’d mumble out something about being friends. After a few drinks on a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Iquique, Chile, we had the talk. “So I have an American girlfriend?” he laughed and I couldn’t stop smiling. In Santiago, after a big argument and hours apart, we exchanged “I love you’s” and continued to gross people out across Patagonia, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru again and Colombia. Our love was strong happy and others recognized it, often commenting.
Two years later, we are still in love and still abroad. Living in magnificent New Zealand splitting our time working and traveling in our home on wheels [we call Ronda] with a million more world adventures ahead. Falling in love abroad is never easy. Different passports mean different visa entries and sometimes the magic of meeting a foreigner abroad disappears when returning home, but somehow we got lucky. It’s not the prettiest love story, but it’s ours and it will continue as we wander as much of the gorgeous globe hand in hand.
[insert mooshy kiss]
Viktoria & Ryan
Currently traveling with a loved one? Read my post on tips for traveling together without killing each other!