Wandering Thoughts

March 15, 2009

Poste Restante!

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 9:01 am
Tags: , ,

It seems impossible now, but in the beginning at least, I crisscrossed a world which barely had an Internet. Bali, when I first got there, was filled with places to make international phone calls instead of cyber-cafes. And it was only intermittent postcards that let my parents know I was still in one piece in the Mexican wilds.

Change was afoot, of course. The guys I lived with in New York used the “net” to figure out what the waves were doing, and thought my habit of trying to predict the wind from the flow of the clouds almost as quaint as my accent. The surfers in the small town in Portugal were I stayed spent the evenings at home flirting and gossiping in on-line chat rooms. And slowly restaurants started sprouting computers. Increasingly, other travellers would offer to exchange email addresses.

I didn’t actually get an email account of my own until 1999. But got the hang of things quick enough after that. It made life easier. On the other hand…


Benji and I arrived just in time, having woven our way on maps of broken Portuguese and Creole through the cobble stone streets of Sao Vicente. Giddy, from the overnight ferry ride across the trade wind washed sea and the new surroundings – a proper town! – we burst into the post office in an ebullient clatter.

“Poste Restante?”

We were directed to a counter round the back.

“Boa tarde. Tem cartas para Terence Wood e Benjamin Prou?”

In Germany we would have been doomed. Two guys in their early twenties, with long hair and baggy hotch-potch clothes, mangling the language and grinning like Cheshire cats.  But in those African Islands, dots of sand floating off the Sahara, people laughed in post offices and excitement was infectious. Behind the counter the woman smiled a big beautiful smile and joined in on the game.

“Talves,” she said with mock seriousness, making an act of looking for letters which might or might not exist.

She returned with a pile, and began doling them out one by one.

We kept score like they were goals in a penalty shoot out. I got the first one. Benji equalised, then pulled ahead, then I got a second…in the end he won four letters to three. Not that it mattered.

With hasty ‘Obrigados’ trailing in our wake we raced back to the hotel, flopped down on our beds and read. Letters from girlfriends, friends and family, written 6 weeks ago but news to us. Words lifting up off the page, forming half painted pictures, restitching frayed connections and continuing conversations before heading on their way – dispersing into the chatter of the ceiling fan above.


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