30 Day Travel Series: Wow-a!

I was focused on analyzing their relationship and counting how many times he called her "Sweetie." He said Sweetie literally every other word when he was talking to her.

We met Mario on his birthday. We all happened to leave our hostel at the same time, on our way to the beach, so the three of us decided to go together.

Julian ran straight into the water, I set up my sunbathing area, and Mario stood in his speedos, flirting with some sixty-something Barcelonian ladies who were tanning nearby. He was friendly beyond belief. His Italian accent was as thick as they come, and every one of his words was accompanied with a wild hand gesture.

The women, with their big-brimmed sun hats, threw their heads back in laughter; they were flattered. They told him they were too old for him. I was laying there with a t-shirt protecting my face from the powerful South African sun and fully entertained by Mario.

“I am turning thirty seven,” I heard him say. “I know you ladies aren't a day over forty five.” When they said they were sixty three, sixty four and sixty five, he let out his classic exclamation, “Wow-a,” and insisted they were younger.

That was the first of hundreds of Wow-a's I heard over the next five days. He said Wow-a in response to everything. Judging from the five nights we spent with him in the hostel, it seemed like it was the first thing he said when he woke up in the morning and the last thing he said before he went to bed. Julian was so amused by the Wow-a he started saying it too.

One day when we were out on a day trip to go to the Cape of Good Hope, I realized that Julian was saying it every time Mario said it. The scenery was stunning: we saw penguins on the beach and stood at the southernmost point of Africa so there was a lot to Wow-a about that day. Mario, who was driving, would slow down, point out the window and say something like, “Wow-a, look at the blue water and the small penguin swimming.” Julian would volley it back in his fake accent, “Wow-a, so cool.” Sometimes Mario would then return yet another enthusiastic, “Wow-a!” Julian wasn’t necessarily making fun of him, it was more like it seemed like Mario was having so much saying it that Julian wanted to join in on the fun. I learned later that Julian was counting Mario’s Wow-a’s.

While Julian focused on counting Wow-a's, I focused on counting something else. For the past three days, since that first day on the beach, he had been hanging out with this woman from Canada that he had met at our hostel. They were sharing a dorm bedroom together and I guess they were the only ones in the whole room. He had alluded to the fact that they were now sharing a bed, and he had asked her to come to the Cape of Good Hope with us. They were a pretty cute match. He was beefy, tan, Italian and loud, and she was skinny, covered in tattoos, a vegan, and had an asymmetrical haircut. I was focused on analyzing their relationship and counting how many times he called her “Sweetie.” He said “Sweetie” literally every other word when he was talking to her. His sentences would go like this: “Sweetie, do you see this beautiful blue water? Are you looking out the window Sweetie? It is a very very beautiful view Sweetie. Wow-a!” I am in no way exaggerating; it was constant. I kept looking at her to see if she was going to react, but she just seemed to just totally go with it. I thought it was really cute.

We all got along really well and were laughing continually the whole 3-hour car ride. When we arrived at the Cape, we all leaned over the rail and looked out into the great blue sea. It really felt like we were at the edge of the world. Julian and I stood there daydreaming about setting sail from the point, wondering where we'd end up. Mario and the girl wandered off a bit. When I turned around I saw Mario running back towards us, he was running lightly, as if not to make a lot of noise. He looked like he was coming to tell us a secret. When he reached us, he was out of breath and said quickly and quietly, “Tell me something Heather, tell me something,” he said. “What is Sweetie's name?!”

Julian and I looked at each other. Our eyes were big as we racked our brains. “Mario – we have no idea,” I said. I was so stressed out for him. “You are sleeping next to her every night and you don't know her name?” He was shaking his head. “No idea, not even a little clue,” he said. He looked ashamed and frantic. “Gotta go,” he said and ran back to catch up with her. He grabbed her hand when he reached her and kissed her on the head, she rubbed his back and snuggled under his arm.

“What a disaster,” Julian said. We started cracking up. They looked so cute walking up there though.

On the way home Julian and I tried to figure out her name. I asked her what her email was trying to get a lead, but her email was something like ‘veganprincess.’ Julian initiated a conversation about his hyphenated last name and asked us all if we had middle names. When it came around to her she said politely, “Nope, just my first name and last name...that’s it!”

When we got home from our trip that day the “Sweetie” count was 47; I can’t even imagine what the final count was the day they parted ways. It made me think that maybe names weren’t as important as I thought, especially in travel romances. Maybe we get too caught up in the details and just being someone's “Sweetie” is enough.

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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