Serendipitous Encounters on the Road

What’s the statistical chance of bumping into someone you know

when in some far flung land, miles from home?

Does anyone know?

We were sailing from Singapore to Sumatra aboard a rubber cargo boat that took just 12 passengers (the number that could fit horizontally on the canvas covered hold to sleep at night) we met up with two Germans, Hans and Heinz.

It was a small boat for 12 Europeans to be couped up on for 3 days and Heinz was a bundle of energy. He couldn’t sit still. He’d march around the deck inspecting every component to see where it had been made just to keep himself occupied!

Three days later we landed at Palembang and went our separate ways, although knowing both of our final destinations was Bali it was inevitable we’d criss-cross paths meandering down through Java.

Phil and I spent our final few days in Indonesia staying with a Balinese family in a compound, a short walk through a coconut grove on the edge of Kuta. Walking back to our lodgings each evening under palm fronds silhouetted by the full moon, with the sound of iridescent waves breaking on the beach beyond, was a heavenly end to our trip through the islands.

Photo by Andru1308

At Kuta airport awaiting our flight to Darwin, once again Hans and Heinz were to share our mode of transportation.
Landing in Australia a small group of us decided to pool some dollars and hire a taxi to get into town.
Not Heinz – He was too impatient to wait for a taxi and marched off down the road from the airport, disappearing into the night.

When our band of travellers gathered the next morning at the employment centre Hans was there – but Heinz was nowhere to be seen
I was worried he’d got down to the Stuart Highway and not knowing which way to turn for civilisation had unwittingly turned left, heading off into the Australian outback (and the road to Alice Springs 1,000 km south) instead of turning right into town?

But the mystery was left unsolved as we turned our attention to earning some dollars to fund our next trip, which was to be overland back to Europe.

Nearly two years later we left Australia for Timor… then Bali… Java… Singapore… Malaysia… Thailand… Burma (now Myanmar)… India… Nepal… Pakistan… Afghanistan… Iran… and then Turkey… when we both started feeling increasing ill – Our pee had turned a coca cola colour, our poo was pale and our skin was turning an increasing shade of yellow – Hepatitis 🙁

As luck would have it my aunt was teaching English in Istanbul. We arrived on her doorstep looking sickly, feeling weak and exhausted.
We spent 3 weeks with her in Istanbul recuperating making short forays out to buy beautiful fresh strawberries from passing street vendors. Sadly, the wonderful Turkish lamb and vegetable dishes on offer had to be left untouched as our stomachs turned at the sight (or even thought) of anything with oil or fat in it.

Photo by Sue Kellerman

Slowly but surely we regained our health until we felt strong enough to make the final push across Europe back to England.

Having bought a Kombi bus in Nepal we wanted to share the fuel costs with some fellow travellers heading west.
We went down to the ‘Pudding Shop’, a known hang-out for passing travellers in Istanbul, to put up a sign on the noticeboard and…

Who should be sitting in there?


Having returned to Europe he had just made a trip through northern Africa and back to Istanbul via Egypt –

We’d both traversed the world for nearly two years and serendipitously ended up in the same city, in the same cafe, at the same time.

We gave him a ride as far as the German border – and said our farewells. We haven’t seen him since… but you never know!

Have you ever met someone you know in an unlikely far-flung place?

Do tell in the comments below 🙂

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16 thoughts on “Serendipitous Encounters on the Road

  1. What an amazing tale. Not quite so spectacular but the 6 degrees of separation rule came into play when I was in New Zealand earlier this year. We were on the steam train just South of Keri Keri and bumped into a couple from our hometown in Cornwall. Whilst we didnt know them we knew everyone they knew and one of the couple had started teaching at our school not long after my youngest brother left. In fact I am always bumping into Cornish people overseas. They get around!

    • I’m sure your turn will come!
      I actually had another time when I was flying to Australia and stopped for a re-fuel in Dubai for just an hour and bumped into a friend (who I was planning on seeing when I got here) in the In Transit lounge who was on a flight from Australia to UK and had landed for just an hour to re-fuel too!
      Two flights coming from opposite sides of the world, landing for just an hour – meeting, then taking off for each others point of departure 😉

  2. When I read your story I immediately thought about one time (about 15 years ago) when my husband and I were living in Hong Kong and were on holiday in Indonesia.

    We were in a small town somewhere on Java and the World Cup or European Cup (football/soccer) was on. Our home country (Holland) was playing in the middle of the night and we found out there was a tiny café close to our accommodation that would stay open and show the match on TV.

    We rolled out of bed at like 3am and went to the café, cheering on our orange squad in the dark, together with about a dozen other supporters, some of whom we found out were from Holland as well.

    One girl looked a bit familiar to me and after the game ended (can’t remember if we won or not) I asked her some questions.

    Turned out that just a few years earlier, when I was living in the Netherlands and staying with a friend over New Year’s, I’d taken her home from a New Year’s Eve party after she’d had a few too many drinks and I was ready to call it a night anyway. She lived in the same house (student accommodation) as the friend I was staying with. She had finished her studies and was working in that small town on Java for 6 months.

    We couldn’t believe the coincidence of me holidaying in that particular small town from Hong Kong and her living there, and seeking out that same tiny café to cheer on our home country that night!
    Micky recently posted..Guest Post on Canada’s largest Internet Marketing BlogMy Profile

    • Isn’t it fantastic and incredible – If you put that into a novel I could see readers rolling their eyes thinking ‘well that’s a bit far fetched isn’t it?’… but it happens 😉

    • Thanks Michael for dropping by my blog to let me know how you (and many of your readers) have had the same experience of bumping into someone you know whilst in some far flung land!

      It is extraordinary that out of the 149 million square kilometres of land on the globe, and the 86,400 seconds in any one day that we could end up standing in the same place, at the same time, as someone we know from a previous time in our lives out of the world’s population of 7 billion people –

      I’d still like to know the statistical probability!

  3. Hi Linda

    This story immediately resonated with me – I come from Lithgow in the Central West of NSW which must be atown of travellers – many locals will tell you that you cant go anywhere in the world without bumping into someone you know from Lithgow – throughout my life this has been proven whether travelling with my parents as a child/teenager or since I left home – and often its happened in the most out of the way unusual places 🙂

    Your story is great 🙂

    Have a great day

    Leanne Berry recently posted..Profit – Plug The LeaksMy Profile

  4. Back in 1977, my father paid the cost of flights for me to the USA from the UK as an “end of school” present. As usual there was an Air Traffic Controllers strike in the UK in August so I got talking to some fellow travellers waiting for the same flight. We eventually arrived in New York and shared a taxi to Manhatten; I waved them a fond farewell in Greenwich Village at around 2.30am.

    About three weeks later, I was walking down the Mall in Washington DC and saw these very same people walking towards me. It took a while for it to click as to who they were but it did. Quick chat on the sidewalk, another farewell and never seen or heard from again! Coincidences.

    • While it seems so natural when it happens, it really is a totally bizarre coincidence that I’m sure is statistically highly improbable 😉

  5. I arrived in Austalia in 1985 on a two year transfer from London to Brisbane. One of the guys in the office in Brisbane (David) had recently returned from a stint in Liberia, West Africa. However, it transpired that he had been working inLiberia with another David who I had spent three years working with back in Bristol, UK some years previously. Won’t tell the stories as I am sure divorce (for the UK David) would result if they ever got out.
    Ian Berry recently posted..Profit – Plug The LeaksMy Profile

    • Thanks Ian for your stories ~
      All these life paths being interwoven to create such a colourful tapestry of serendipitous moments make it all the richer don’t you think? 🙂

  6. I love this post! I had a serendipitous encounter in Buenos Aires last year. I was staying in an apartment I had found on Airbnb, it was a 3 bedroom place and my boyfriend & I were in one room. In the evening we cooked dinner and spoke to a girl from NYC who was staying in one of the other rooms.

    After an hour or so of conversation she had started to seem very familiar and I asked her if we’d ever met before. She couldn’t remember where but said we seemed familiar to her too. As it turns out, we HAD all met before – for one evening in a guest house by the lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2 years previously.

    We now have her FB details so our next meeting can be planned rather than chance 🙂

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