Friday, 22 August 2014

How the Belgian and the Aussie met

I had always wanted to travel long term,  it was my dream from a young age. But, unfortunately, I'd had trouble finding anybody else to share the same dream. 

So, I travelled alone. Interestingly, it seems people thought I wanted to travel alone, but that wasn't the case. I just wanted to travel more than I wanted companionship. 

Being that I wanted to travel long term, that I was alone, and that I didn't have endless money to spend, I travelled as a backpacker. By 'backpacker' I mean that I travelled by local transport and stayed in cheap accommodation. I also carried my luggage in a backpack. 

Backpacking frustrated me, but it seemed like the only option I had. What I didn't like about backpacking was that it was very difficult to get out into the countryside and see the lifestyles there. 

I don't have much interest in visiting cities: more churches, plazas, parks, museums. Instead, when I took a bus or train from point A to B, I wished I could visit the little places in between, and buy food items from the road side stalls. 

So, in 2013, after a few months in India, I decided that if I hiked one of the Camino's in Spain, I could at least be in the countryside. So, I went to Spain. 

People who've heard of the Camino's de Compuestela often think only of the famous Camino Frances which starts in France a travels across Northern Spain. But, there are lots of different camino routes. 

I chose to hike the Via de la Plata, which starts in Seville in Southern Spain. It's reasonably popular, and has lots of roman ruins along the way. 

Before going I asked if it was safe to do alone and everyone said 'yes', 'most definitely'. 

Unfortunately, on my first day, I was robbed by 2 men wearing balaclavas and wielding big kitchen knives on a quiet stretch of road. They stole €60 and, worst of all, my confidence. 

I kept hiking, but with a team of older men who adopted me (there was a group of 3 men together and 2 other solo hikers). The pace wasn't good for me though, and I hurt my knees after another week of hiking. Eventually, I quit the hike. 

I ended up returning to Australia and wondering what to do with my life. I still wanted to be travelling, but I realised that I really needed to try to find a travel companion. 

I started searching a couple of online travel forums. On the Travel Companions section of the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree I found a guy who had responded to a few other people's posts. His name was Hendrik, from Belgium, and from his forum username, which included the number 74, I guessed his age to be just a year older than I. He was overlanding in South America, and I loved this idea: by overlanding you can visit the countryside!

I couldn't find his original post, but he'd left his email address on his response to someone else so I emailed him directly. As I was only interested in a travel companion, I only asked about the bare minimum that was important to me: his itinerary, and that he wasn't a smoker (I realised that if this worked out we'd be together a lot, and didn't want my only companion to be a smoker). 

In 2009-2010 I spent almost an entire year in South America. As a backpacker, it was a destination I was confident in, and I was fluent in Spanish. I decided to fly to South America and meet him. If he turned out to be someone I couldn't get along with, I reasoned, then I could go back to being a backpacker. 

Most people who knew me were amazed, supportive and told me to be careful. My dentist's assistant told me 'oh! He's going to be the one! I can tell!'  I thought she was crazy, I was, after all, just going to meet a travel companion. 

So, that's it really. I flew to meet him in Mendoza, Argentina. Life was instantly everything I'd ever wanted, I was traveling perpetually, and we were stopping wherever we wanted: which was mostly in the countryside. 

That was last September. When H proposed marriage in February I was shocked! But I said yes (after 2 weeks of thinking), and we got married last month. It seems that the Dentist's assistant was right!


  1. Great Story! Love, adventure and travelling. Amazing!

  2. Awww, I'm so happy for you Ali....I've always wanted to do that too but never had the courage or money to start it. So glad you've found the love of u'r life xxx

  3. I would lvoe to hear H's part of this story... =)

  4. Loberto, He won't write! but he does proof all my stories.

    Hey Sueanne, it's not the life for everyone.

  5. deze zal hij toch moeten vertalen voor u(its Flemish)