2011 July 21 Lima, Peru

“Where are you from?” An older backpacker across from me asks with his spanish accent.

My throat is aching and I’m coughing up bits of phlegm — typical, travel small-talk is the last thing I want to do right now.

In less than forty seconds he has his laptop out, showing me his professional landscape photos and flipping through each one, naming them aloud like they are the names of his proud children.

They are beautiful but I feel a lack of enthusiasm, tired from my fever and the chilly winter weather.

“Would you like some tea? I have fresh honey with me too. I love bees.” A wide-toothed grin fills his face and he pulls out a litre size jar of honey.

I start to protest knowing that the kitchen is down the stairs but he is already up and gone in a second.

The hot tea slowly warms my body and my guard is melting away little by little.

“And you live here in Lima?” I ask.

He shakes his head with a smile. “I live here.” His arms motion over his things. “This is what I own.” I see a big backpack, an assortment of bags, a yoga mat, a Macbook, camera, a towel and boots.

He shows me more slides of his photography — each photo more majestic than the one before. Machu Picchu, sunsets over ruins, crisp enormous waves, cliffs with the view of waterfalls between giant jungles. I look at his brown, weathered skin. He must have had to hike for days just to get one of these shots.

“As long as I am healthy enough to surf, hike and take my pictures, I am happy. I like to think two minutes into my future; maybe three.”

I feel embarrassed for labeling him a backpacker — for brushing him off so quickly.

Each person has an amazing story if we choose to listen… if we choose to see them as a human being rather than the limiting roles or characters we define them as: a foreigner, a salesperson, a young teenager, an old person, a businessman, a waitress.

We miss a many opportunity when we believe and feed these false limitations. The most open thing we can do for another is to listen without feeling superior or inferior, without judgements and without our bounding opinions and labels.

He gets up, grabs a bag and his board, announcing that he’s going surfing. I thank him for the tea and silently thank him for this small, yet important lesson. As the sound of his steps become fainter and fainter, I look around, the cup warming my hands, and soak in the moment. I am here. This is where I wanted to be. Miles and miles away from home, surrounded by familiar strangers, sick with adventure and wild. I am here.

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