The story behind the bracelet
“It gave me so much”, she said while we waited for our dinner in a cozy tavern in Split. Spontaneously we decided to spend the evening together although we just met a couple of hours ago in the common room of a Croatian hostel.
“You’re right”, I responded in a way that only a few in the know of the magic travel spirit would understand, “each bracelet contributed to it.”
“Ok, then let me tell the story.”
The waiter came with our plates, placed them on the table and poured some white wine in our glasses.
“Dobar tek!” He wished us a good meal and left.
“It was my very first trip far away from home. Before I quit my job, I never traveled before. I must have been crazy to choose Europe as my first real destination thousands of miles away from home. Anyway, the idea was so much stuck in my head, that there was no option not to take this adventure.”
The Mediterranean salad was delicious. We raised our glasses in a toast to this wonderful summer night in good company. Some candles on the big table softly lit the surroundings.
“Shall we order some more wine”, she asked and waived over the waiter. We agreed and our glasses got filled up with the sweet grape liquor.
In Slovenia I met this girl, Hanna. Her whole arm was full of bracelets in all colors and shapes. None was the same. They were all unique in their appearance – simple, braided, or knotted with a very difficult technique. Apart from her cheerfully covered arms, her whole personality was cheerful and welcoming too.
“Pick one bracelet”, she said, pointing at her left arm. I chose a blue bracelet with plaited red glass pearls.
“Good choice”, she replied, “I’ll tell you the story behind. I have a much older brother. One day he was gathering our complete family, including my grandparents, in the living room to make an announcement. We stared at him with a questionless expression. That never happened before. Tomas, my brother, is a very calm person but in this moment while he stood in front of us, he presented a new side of himself. His eyes kept looking strong and fixing our glances.
“Tomorrow I’m going to leave”, was the reason for the gathering, he explained.
“I’ll leave the country and I don’t know when I’m coming back.”
Our jaws dropped. None of us could believe what he told us a couple of seconds ago. My mother was the first who tried to find appropriate words to clarify the situation.
“Where are you planning to go”, she asked a little bit scared.
“I don’t know yet”, Tomas responded without losing his strong attitude.
He continued, “I am heading to the East, traveling along the coast through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia up to Greece.”
My mother asked him what he was thinking to do in Greece.
“Do you remember Paulo”, Tomas asked.
While my mother shook her head, I blurted out, “I remember him. You mean Paulo from this Greek island who was here last summer. He hitchhiked all his way up to our country and you brought him home for dinner. We sat together in the garden, listening to Paulo’s stories on the road and about his own culture. He liked rakija a little bit too much, so that he had to stay over night.” I was smiling.
My mother and all the other family members started to remember the funny guy with the curly hair. While my mother was still rejecting what Tomas was about to do and that was traveling, the rest of the family felt proud of my brother. Especially me. I was fascinated by his courage to do the same what Paulo did. Hitchhiking all his way up to Greece without knowing when he will arrive and what would happen in between.
We calmed our mother down and reassured her that Tomas is a smart young guy who knows how to protect himself. To cross the border, was a horrible image for my mother as she still kept that old idea of the Balkan hostilities in her head.
My brother wanted to make a step out of his comfort zone. At the same time, it made me reflect about my own life. The idea of following my brother’s and Paulo’s way one day, was born in my head and heart.
When Paulo left to continue his journey, he came over to our house to say goodbye. I was the only one home.
“No”, Paulo said, putting something into my hands, “this is for you. One day, it’s your turn to leave everything behind and put your feet on the road, following your most inner dreams.”
I looked on my hands. There was a blue bracelet with red pearls. I took the bracelet and tied it around my wrist. It was my first bracelet given by a stranger. Excuse me, not a stranger – a traveler. Whenever I look at the bracelet, I feel reminded of Paulo and his story.
The Canadian girl paused her talk, running her hand over the white bracelet. I asked her about the end of the story.
“We waited together at the train station as I was about to leave Slovenia to continue to Croatia. Before I got on the train, Hanna gave me this white knotted bracelet as a memory of our encounter.
“Continue our tradition”, she said while waving goodbye.
Not till I arrived in Zagreb, I figured out that with “our tradition” she meant the “unwritten traditions of all travelers around the world”. I was eager to keep my promise and fill my arms with bracelets or to put it a better way, fill my heart with stories that are behind the bracelets.”
We sat there for a while in silence, eating our dinner, drinking the wine. When we finished, we went outside for a walk to the marina where we enjoyed the view over the sea, lit up by the moon.
Suddenly she untied a yellow bracelet. It was not the bracelet from the story but one of her own. However, the story of her brother and Paulo was part of her own story. Only a few months later, the Slovenian girl started to travel herself. Mika, my new Canadian travel friend handed the yellow bracelet over to me.
“Traveling gave me so much”, she repeated her words.
“You’re right”, I responded in confidence, “each bracelet contributed to it.”
I tied the given bracelet to my wrist, knowing that it’s now my turn to continue the tradition. The unwritten tradition of all travelers around the world.
I told you the story of Paulo, Tomas, Hanna, Mika and in the end the story of myself. Paulo gave Hanna a blue bracelet. Hanna gave Mika a white bracelet. Mika gave me a yellow bracelet. Not any bracelets – special ones. If you see travelers, you’ll easily recognize them by their bracelet-filled arms.
A bracelet is a symbol of belonging to a circle of people from different nations and cultures who are united by their insatiable hunger for traveling the world and telling their stories. I collect bracelets I bought in the places I visited or that were given to me by travel mates since I wrote the first page of my story book. In telling my stories and passing over bracelets, I give away a part of myself. My adventures, experiences, encounters and dreams. By keeping the unwritten tradition of wanderers no matter which language they speak or which culture they belong to, we created a universal code of understanding each other in the way of sharing our travel stories and carrying them with us. Not only stored in bracelets but rather in our hearts and memories.