Thanks for reading the first part of this Travel Stories article! Now I continue this extraordinary experience with the “travel grandparents” I wish I had!
Jinti, Andy, my colleague, and I laughed at the seemingly contrived meet-up (again) on the plane.
I traveled six days via train from Beijing to Moscow with my berth “neighbors” Jinti and Andy, and had a chance encounter with them in the huge city center of Moscow. And now, we’re together on the plane – just seated opposite each other!
The Scottish couple offered to buy us some snacks on the plane since we didn’t have enough cash left. We politely declined (I was terribly shy at that moment) and instead continued to talk to them until the plane took off. Our pairs had been separated on our flight to London but we met again for the last time at the passport security area at Heathrow. There we said goodbyes; but no, there’s another thing…
Back on the train, Jinti and Andy gave us their contacts and on Whiskey Night Four (last night of the journey), the couple invited us to go to their place in Burntisland, just east of Edinburgh in Scotland. I thought it would be out of my way, however, as my itinerary after London were the cities of Belfast and Dublin.
Two weeks after the Trans-Siberian Railway trip, I stayed in London and met with my Filipino friend, Patricia. My colleague, on the other hand, left for Paris and Rome, but would be returning to London for our flight back to Beijing.
While I was exploring London with Patricia, I recalled the invitation from the Scottish couple. So I messaged Jinti and Andy about it, and they said they would wait for us at the train station near to their house.
On the way, Jinti said there was also someone else joining the small shindig she had prepared for us. So when Patricia and I arrived, I was surprised to see one of the Greek guys whom I met on the train: George, who was apparently working in Edinburgh!
Our three-night stay at the house was so memorable. On the second night, the couple showed us a documentary they watched before taking the train: Trans-Siberian Adventure by British actress Joanna Lumley. With legit Scottish whiskey, of course. That film was exhilarating and made me recall our whiskey nights and adventure stories on the train!
The couple also showed us the photo albums of their recent Mediterranean journey with their sons and grandchildren. They told me that they would send me a copy of their 2016 photo album.
The day Patricia and I said goodbye to Jinti and Andy was particularly sad because I had made a strong familial connection with the couple given our extraordinary chance encounter. We still got in touch afterwards, and in one of our exchanges, Jinti surprised me with the digital copy of the photo album in which I was featured! I felt like that I’d been part of their family and memory so it was such a good moment for me.
Come 2017, when I finally finished arranging my travel plans: explore Spain first, then visit historical sites in Greece, then make a pilgrimage to Italy, then finally meet my family in the Philippines. I messaged Jinti if they would be in Greece sometime in October; she said yes, on Corfu island with their boat, Selkie Dancer.
After my trip to Athens, I flew to Corfu and met with Jinti and Andy at a coffee house by the seaside. I couldn’t believe that it had been a year since I first met them on the train – and now we were together again in Greece. We caught up with a lot of stories before going to their boat.
I was very surprised when they asked me where my luggage was. It turned out that they were expecting me to sail with them in the Ionian Sea, just near Greece’s border with Albania. Good thing that I’d booked a cheap hotel. I ultimately scrapped all my travel plans on the island and told them that I would go back to the hotel to get a few clothes and toiletries for the sailing trip!
The two-day two-night sail was easily the highlight of my trip to Greece. I had planned a separate cruise on the Aegean/Mediterranean islands of Aegina, Hydra, and Poros but thought it was short. Instead, I got an opportunity to take a private sailing trip with the Scottish couple and it ended up being truly outstanding.
Andy taught me some of the basics of sailing over a few glasses of whiskey (again!) while Jinti gave me books to read and showed me the hard copy of their photo album. It was so amazing to see my face there! At night, we anchored in a small bay and looked at the clear Greek night sky – and we saw a “shooting star” – it was one of the artificial communications satellites.
The following day I swam in the bay, though I was scared because it was a “deep” 15 feet. Then we sailed near Greece’s border with Albania and talked about Chinese politics and the internet, and then about traveling. They asked me why I wanted to go to Greece; I told them the story of the encyclopedia that inspired me to travel. We shared a Mediterranean lunch while listening to traditional Greek rhythms. Before my last night on the boat ended, we anchored in a marina where Selkie Dancer would stay until the next summer.
On the next morning, the couple headed out to town to buy brunch stuff. I sneaked into the boat’s kitchen only to find a calendar where the dates of my stay were listed. I felt truly grateful and privileged that I had become a major part of Jinti and Andy’s travel memories in the past two years, and that easily surpassed all other notable travel stories I’ve had since I began my worldwide adventure.
When they got back, Jinti told me she would be giving a talk in her hometown about their recent travels. “I will call it ‘From Square to Square.’ Well, it’s because we’d been to Tian’anmen Square then to the Red Square,” Jinti said, adding that the title might not be so catchy, but I told her that the story would be really interesting.
“Yes, and you’ll be a big part of the story. Who knew we would meet a young man like you on the train, and then met again randomly in Moscow, then share the same flight back to London? Isn’t it interesting?” Jinti said, and I blushed after hearing that. “And now, you’re with us on Selkie Dancer! We will have you again on our photo album for 2017,” she added.
The couple accompanied me to the bus station, and there we talked about the next leg of my trip to Rome. When I left them, I couldn’t help but shed a tear because I felt they enriched my life, not to mention that my experience with them reinforced the idea that you will meet good people when you travel. I looked at the photos I took of them during our sailing trip and realized I forgot something.
“Hey Jinti, thank you so much for the wonderful experience! You’ve enriched my life a lot. Too bad I forgot to take a video of us together. But I will see you both again,” my WhatsApp message to them read.
“Yes!! Hope you enjoy today,” Jinti replied.
Photos: Andy Penafuerte III