Many solo travellers have told me this same message – the thing about travelling solo is that often or not, you’re never really alone as there will always be people you will meet along the way.
Some people you meet may not leave much of an impression. While, of course, there will be others where you may find yourself walking away thinking you would have been better off if you have had never met them.
And yet, there are also those that will leave such an indelible mark in your heart it’ll be difficult to leave them when it’s time to say goodbye. I had already spent most of the past three weeks travelling (mostly) solo through Spain, and just on the day before my flight back home, I met one such person, a 60-something year old man – Mr Jose of Segovia.
Visitors to the Alcázar of Segovia, may have met Jose. Perhaps one may have walked passed this man sitting along the stone walls that demarcated the area of the castle during their visit. Many others who have earlier passed through the gates to enter the vicinity of the castle may have probably even spoken to him.
The Alcázar of Segovia
The day I met Jose, I was walking alone, heading towards to the ticketing counter of the castle when I heard this voice calling out from a distance away. I was not even sure whether the person was talking to me, but something prompted me to look around to detect the source of the voice. And there he was, a bearded man dressed in a thick grey fleece jacket, saying something to me I couldn’t quite decipher from that distance.
“If you go downhill for about 20 minutes, you’ll see a very nice view of the castle,” he said as I approached him. He began dishing out more tips on where I could get good views of the castle from down below.
Moving on from talking about the castle, he asked where I was from.
“Ah Singapore. Five million people, no? Together with Malaysia, Indonesia, no?” he questioned.
He had never been to Singapore or Asia for that matter, but somehow knew our population numbers. I whipped out my smartphone and showed him on Google Maps how Singapore was an island and not connected by land to either Malaysia or Indonesia, as he had thought.
We spoke for about five minutes before I proceeded to visit the castle. Just as I walked off, two young travellers who had just finished their tour of the castle, walked towards Jose waving at him, asking whether they could take a photo with him. They too, probably had had a short conversation with him before entering the castle.
I bought my tickets, and just before I stepped into the castle, I turned around and saw that the two girls were long gone. And there Jose was sitting alone next to the stone walls of the castle, looking for the next traveller to pass by his way.
When I emerged from the castle, I saw Jose again, still sitting in the same spot as I had seen him an hour before. This time, he was speaking to two local travellers in Spanish, and once again, was pointing out to the distance down the hill, presumbly telling them about the good views from down below.
I walked towards his direction, and he waved. We spoke for another few minutes, and again, he mentions about the views of the castle from below. “If you have time, you should really go,” he advised. I told him I had a train to catch back to Madrid in just two hours and did not think I’d have the time to go downhill.
Struggling to find the English words to say, he offered to give me a lift, if I did not mind, and would even get me back to the train station half an hour before the train departed. Without hesitation, I climbed into the passenger seat of his car – if my intuition was right, this man meant no harm and really just wanted to meet people.
Driving along the roads of Segovia
He drove slowly through the meandering roads of Segovia, occasionally swerving a little when he turned around to try to understand what I was saying. I decided it was best not to open my mouth when he was driving for fear of an accident and simply let him spoke.
View of the Alcázar of Segovia from a grass patch below
We stopped by an open grass patch. I snapped a few photos of the castle from below, like he had recommended. We paused there for sometime, where he continued to share about his life, about how he wished that growing up he could have learnt English better, and how he was interested to know more about Asian culture.
“Doesn’t he have a wife or a family perhaps?” This thought entered my mind when he mentioned a former girlfriend. I took a quick glance at his ring finger, and saw no wedding band.
Jose’s rickety car
We returned to the car and drove off to the next viewing point. Throughout our conversation, he constantly maintained a smile on his face. But beneath that cheerful appearance, I detected a sense of loneliness and a crave for companionship.
The View of the Alcázar of Segovia and the Segovia Catedral from afar
He told me he sits outside the nearly 1,000-year old castle everyday without fail, watching people pass by, and occasionally stopping some of the visitors to share some tips about the castle with them and at the same time practise his English. He stays till evening time comes along. In summer, he stays a little a longer, he says. And the next day, he repeats this routine over and over again.
Thinking about his routine, I became more certain he simply yearned for company, and I was glad that for those short two hours I was able to be that companion.
It was time to head to the train station. As we approached the station, I ask him for his mailing address so that I could mail him the photo I took of us. He stopped by the road side and scribbled it down on the back of my train ticket for me. “You need to add the “Arranz” at the back,” he instructed. “There are loads of “Jose F.” in Spain.”
The car turned into the train station, and it was time to bid our goodbyes. I thanked him for his time and for willingly taking me to observe views I otherwise would have missed out on, while he thanked me for teaching him more about Singapore and Asia in general.
A “kiss” on the right then left cheek, typical Spanish greeting style, and it was adios for good.
As I walked into the station, a smile crept up onto my face as I thought of the time spent with Jose for those last two hours.
I hadn’t realised how alone I actually did feel as I ventured solo through the cobbled-stone streets of the old city of Segovia that very day. And while it was worthwhile having been a complete strangers’ companion for that short period of time, even more so, he was in fact my companion on that lonely day of mine.
Jose, you’ll be missed.