How talking to a stranger can change everything

Hola from somewhere in between Oaxaca and Mexico City,

Does it ever happen to you, that you really want to talk to a stranger to prove to yourself that you can do it? Or how about when you walk down the road with your camera in hand and see that interesting person you want to take a photo of but you end up fighting in your mind, trying to push yourself to do it, but can’t? I have these moments all the time and after struggling with the occasional bad patch of self-doubt, I wanted to prove to myself that I have it in me to go up to someone and start a conversation.

I was sitting at a large shared table at nice cafe hidden inside one of the many a courtyards of the old town of Oaxaca when the waiter seated another guest at the table. “Bright blond hair, well dressed and wearing large golden earrings, this person must be an interesting character to talk to,” I thought to myself, whilst trying to shake the feeling that I had met him before. I was about to finish the last piece of Shakshuka when I made my move: “Were you in Puerto Escondido by any chance?” He turned around: “Yeah I was!” He replied and we started to talk about Puerto and the places we had been, about what we do and had studied. “Off course I know Goldsmiths College!” He said when I mentioned that some of my friends went to his school in Copenhagen to do an exchange semester.

Aerial view of Oaxaca City

It was around this time when two girls sat down right across from us at the table as well. “You’re staying at the same hostel right?” I said to one of them. “Yeah, I saw you in the morning.” She replied before Frederic and I continued our conversation about ceramics and sculpture “I overheard you talking about ceramics!” one of the girls said who introduced herself as Tamar. “Where are you from?” we asked them. “Upstate New York” Ellie replied before we moved on to talk about Denmark “No!!! That’s crazy!” Tamar looked at Frederic in disbelief! “Your government pays you to study even in the US?” “Yep!” Frederic shrugged his shoulder as if that fact was the most normal thing in the world. It was fun to watch Tamar cracking up about how Frederic reacted to her questions or the way he explained the little intricacies of Danish society. We all ended up meeting again for drinks at night and picked up our conversations where we left of.

Árbol del Tule – A giant tree that is believed to be up to 6000 years old

Skip ahead two days and I am sitting with Tamara and Ellie in a stranger’s car they had met on Couchsurfing. Yet Jesus turned out to be the most amazing guide we could have ever imagined. He drove us around Oaxaca to stunning places like Hierve de Agua, shared breakfast with us in a local market and told us about his many trips around the world. You could feel his pride, when he told us about his work with indigenous communities in the region or when introducing us to his favourite Mexican songs. We returned to Oaxaca right in time for some Mezcal infused cocktails. One of them, an avocado-based mix, topped with fried grasshoppers, also known as ‘chapulines’ in Mexico.

Tamar, Ellie and Jesus enjoying their fresh Coco
Ellie and Tamar trying not to slip at Hierve el Agua

I am now sitting on a bus to Mexico City, where I will once again meet up with Tamar and Ellie, contemplating how that one little conversation with a stranger, led to all these unforgettable memories. I remembered a call from a friend who is still having a hard time adjusting to being home in Munich and meeting other like-minded people. “Why don’t you pretend to be a traveller in your own city?” I said to her. This is my challenge to you as well! Head to a cafe or a public place and start a conversation with a stranger – you don’t have to be travelling to do this. If they don’t want to talk they will tell you that, but most of the time people crave to be heard. So let me know how it went by leaving comments below or tell me about similar experiences you had yourself.

Tamar and I enjoying our ride in Jesus’ car