The following meeting took place during my Continental Divide Trail hike of 2012:
As I descended towards Morrison Lake, I was approached by a latino man on horseback. He greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hola Amigo!”
Much to his surprise, I responded in Spanish. Upon suspecting that I spoke even a smidgen of his native tongue, the cowboy dismounted his horse and invited me to join him under the nearest tree for a meal and conversation.
My new found acquaintance was named Cristian. He was a shepherd from Peru.
In the United States on a 12 month working visa, Cristian was employed by a nearby ranch to herd some 2,500 sheep. He spent 95% of his time alone in the hills with his flock, and not being able to speak English, conversation opportunities were few and far between.
For more than two hours we chatted about family (he is the father of two month old twins whom he is yet to meet), life in Montana and most of all about his homeland of Peru. He couldn’t believe that I had actually been to his family’s village of Chiquian, during a trip that I had made to South America some sixteen years before.
Indeed, in regards to that visit, it turned out that Cristian and I may well have run into each other back in 1996.
Between the ages of 6 to 13, Cristian worked almost daily selling sweets/candy around the Chiquian plaza. The same town square upon which I spent numerous hours writing in my journal and watching the world go by during my two day stay. He would have been 11 years old at the time, and the chances are very high that he would have been doing his vending rounds whilst I was there.
How cool is that?!
It never ceases to amaze me what a small world we live in. A Peruvian shepherd and an Australian hiker who may well have met some 16 years before, reunited on Montana’s Continental Divide Trail!
When it was eventually time to head on my way we exchanged addresses, and I offered to take his photo and email it to his family. Cristian didn’t have electricity, let alone internet access at his camp. His face immediately lit up as he said thank you. Then he gave me a big hug.
Seeing that beaming smile and hearing those heartfelt words was one of the highlights of not only my CDT thru hike, but of the entire 12 Long Walks.
It was also a timely reminder that whilst tangible considerations such as mileage, gear and logistics are all important unto themselves, it is invariably the intangible moments, the serendipitous encounters such as my meeting with Cristian, that have marked my journeys as memorable over the years.