Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The philosopher

To be honest despite all my travels I had never truly traveled alone. I always wanted someone there to experience all the new things with me, someone to take photos of me, and most importantly someone to talk to about... whatever...just be there so I wouldn't forget how to carry on a conversation.
Most of the time during my bike ride I would stay in these little towns where I had to stay at the one hotel in town. I might do a little chit chatty with the receptionist or maybe with a couple people around town. However, for the most part these interactions would not have been considered conversations.
In the Baltics I occasionally stayed in hostels. The crowds were a bit different than the usual crowds at hostels I stayed at before. To begin with they were considerably older and almost always all men. On a few occasions I got an entire women's dorm to myself because I was the only woman.
When I arrived in Warsaw it seemed the perfect place to strike up a conversation. It was by far the most cosmopolitan place I had been since Helsinki. Also, the hostel I stayed at the people seemed a bit younger.
At the hostel there was a bar that at the assigned happy hour has ridiculously cheap beer. This was the place to have a conversation. I took a book with me just in case but I could feel conversations filling up in my head that I was going to have with people. The book would just become a prop for my dialogue. I knew it...
I went into the bar and ordered a beer. Was told it is even cheaper if I ordered two, so I made plans to come back and get one after the one in my hands was done. There were four tables in the bar, 3 of them full of people from all over discussing their recent travels. There was also one empty table. I took a spot on the edge of the empty table and sat near a group of young Brits laughing and joking very loudly. I sat with my beer and would laugh at their little quips. Nod in acknowledgement of some place that I had also been and would also refer to as a "shit hole". There was the hope that someone would notice how cool and interesting I looked, despite being really sweaty and in clothes that hadn't been washed in a week. When no one noticed I got another beer, did a little chit chat with the barman so that maybe one of the little groups would notice I speak English. When I sat back down with my second beer I realized no one was going to include me and I didn't have the initiative to include myself. So, I slammed the beer and went and watched a Zombie movie in the park by myself. And I got a Doner Kebab... It was actually a pretty good night.
My second night in Warsaw after spending the entire day trying to get my bike fixed and than back to the hostel(for the record you take the wrong way in Warsaw and you are suddenly facing some mighty big hills to climb in order to get home) I knew that it was now or never for ever having a conversation again. If I didn't have one today I would never speak with anyone again. I don't know why my mother always tells me I'm a tad dramatic...
I entered the happy hour with the exact amount of money for two beers. I made the same deal with the barman that I had made the night before. I took my one beer and my book and turned to find a seat. The same three tables had people chatting and laughing and the table that had been empty the day before had someone sitting at it. Nice looking guy, looked about my age, sitting alone with a beer and a book... he officially had a red bulleye on him as my conversation target.
"Can I sit here?"
He looked up and had a big smile on his face. It was that kind of smile that says, "Yes, Yes thank god I don't have to sit alone any longer."
"Ah, yeah... sure."
He closed his book as I sat down he wiped one hand on his jeans, grabbed his beer with the other hand, smiled, and inquired, "So, see anything interesting today?"
"Ugh, I guess but I had to run all over town trying to get my bike fixed...." I said it in a gruff never speak to me again voice. I than picked up my book and started reading it.
Not actually reading it of course. More holding a book in my hands, having an intent look on my face, while thinking, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! HE CLEARLY WANTS A CONVERSATION! GEEZ PERFECT INTRO!!!! COULD HAVE TOLD HIM ABOUT THE PHOTO EXHIBIT I SAW!!!!! AHHHH SO STUPID!!!!!!"
He waited for the conversation to start for a long uncomfortably long time. He took some pulls on his beer, looked around, sighed made it clear he wasn't that into his "Europe on a shoestring" book. After a while he looked me up and down(this is how not reading I was I totally knew what he was doing the entire time) and went back to his book. After 15 minutes of silence between us, both of us only looking up from our books to look at the people laughing at other tables, I decided to just stop being such a lame wussy and say something.
"So, ah... did you see anything interesting today. Or, ah, do anything fun?"
There was that smile again, but I noticed this time when he shut his book he left his finger in it in case he needed to come back to reading the book quickly.
"Oh, ya know Warsaw is just another big European city, they are all kinda the same aren't they?"
"Yeah, but with little differences you gotta go looking for what makes the cities unique."
"Well, I'm thinking I'm going to have to head back up to Estonia because each city there was unique."
"Oh, yeah ?I loved Estonia."
"Oh, you have been there..."
Houston we have lift off...
I was engaged in a conversation. We chatted for an hour or so by ourselves. Than eventually a woman from the table next to our interrupted because she had heard me speaking to the receptionist earlier about where to put my bike. The girl from the next table wanted to know how it was going on a bike and did I like the book "along way around" by Ewan McGregor. It took a while for us to get on the same page that I was on a bicycle, not a motor bike.
This revelation that I had pedal biked from Helsinki suddenly gave me street cred. The crowd in the Warsaw hostel was considerably different from a crowd you would find in a western Europe hostel. Most of us had traveled through the Baltics. Some had come up from the Balkans. Others had seen all of Poland. It was an interesting group. However, they had all come by train or bus so my bicycle some how made me that much more ambitious and courageous and interesting. Most of all I found some how it made me in there eyes a much deeper person. I'm not deep, I'm not philosophical and before that night in Warsaw I had never been confused as being deep. For reasons beyond me I went with it. I took my new role as this deeply philosophical woman that they will have met in Warsaw.
It was all going well until I found myself say, "Yeah, ya know in a bus or train you see the places. But on a bicycle... oh, man on a bicycle you feel these places. Ya know what I mean?"
They all nodded that they recognized what I was saying. The problem with that is in my head I was thinking, "No. no I don't know what you mean? How are you feeling the road Carol? Is it in the sore butt or the sweat rashes, or the tick bites, or the random rashes from random plants you have never seen before? what are you feeling?"
This is when I knew it was time to get to bed. It took me another hour to pull myself out of the conversation that was now involving about 10 people. It was fun playing the philosopher, but it's not me. I could only hope that someday these people would have a friend who tells them what I will tell you all now:
Just because someone is on a bike it doesn't make them any deeper than the next person. It just means they're an a-hole who can ignore huge amounts of pain in their a-hole...
See if I were deep I would have found a better way of saying that.


  1. Kyle said...

    Carol, I enjoy your blog thoroughly. However, I have to disagree that a bike really helps you "feel" a place more than a bus or a car. In my most recent location of Kyrgyzstan I think riding alone on a bicycle would have been quite pleasant. However, in cars I got to experience being in the back seat of a lada with 7 other people, having the eje in the backseat feel me up, being verbally assaulted by the drunk baike, having kids stare at wonder in at the white man who was in their car -the list goes on.

  2. Anonymous said...

    haha I would love to see you playing a philosopher. I'm glad you got to talk to someone that would have been pretty sad if you never spoke to anyone again, and you told billy "LETS NOT BE DRAMATIC" :) miss ya, Rachael

  3. *secret smile* said...

    Finally had a chance to read this post and I LOVE it. Absolutely love it. I can't believe it took you 15 minutes to talk to that dude. I'm glad you did though, because it would be sad if you missed your opportunity and lost the ability to vocalize. I would miss our long chats about embarassing stories (that were virtually non-existent) and the maladaptive ways people sometimes live their lives... haha.

    I hope that the day we can again converse in person will come sooner rather than later!!

  4. Caitlin said...

    ahahaha rachael is funny. and so are you.

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  6. becky said...

    i would've loved to have sat in on this convo... hear you talking about "feeling" a place on your bike ;)

    but riding your bike all over the place definitely gives you street cred. i think it's incredible you did that!!