I let out a huge, silent sigh of relief as she entered the room. I said hi and she smiled warmly with a reciprocated hello. I was so glad my hostel roommate for two nights was a girl and better yet, one that was seemingly very kind.
We both sat on our red-blanketed beds and I asked the general questions. She’s from Taiwan. She’s traveling for 8 months solo. When she’s not traveling, she’s living in a small town in France. No, she has never been to Sicily. But she loved Palermo. The most exciting thing she’d done in her travels so far was on her trip to Morocco. She bought a tour from a local guide in Marrakech and spent a night or two out in the Sahara. They spent the nights around the fire, listening to the rhythms of native instruments. One night she thought it would be cool to sleep outside of the tent in the sands of the Sahara. So she did. And when I asked if she was afraid of snakes, scorpions, people or literally anything else, she said no. “I just think you only live once.”
This was Helen.
From the moment I met Helen, I knew she was good. It was her smile. Authentic, big and warm, she exuded a light that filled the room. We spent our first morning together at Scala Dei Turchi. Imagine a massive white mountain of limestone and white marl surrounded by pristine aqua blue water below. It’s stunning to say the least. But, it’s also quite frankly blinding to look at, let alone climb up in the heat of a mid-morning sun. But we did. Once we hit a stable point, we decided to take a rest from scaling the staggered, chalky mountain and enjoy the view.
But Helen didn’t sit for long.
She decided she was going to climb higher. A few moments later, she disappeared. Salvo and Byoung Hyoo, our other new friends, helped me as we searched amongst the mass of climbing tourists. When we spotted her she was hoisting herself up about four ledges above us. I’m not sure if the view was better, but she was certainly beating us all on the adventure points.
Helen, Byoung Hyoo, and I
Scala dei Turchi - Realmonte, Sicily
When we got back that night, Helen and I were back in our room, showered, tired, and a little burned from our day’s adventure. I told Helen about a documentary I want to make about happiness and love and asked if she would be my first interview for it. She agreed.
I flipped on my camera and just like that we delved deep into the topic of love. I asked her intimate questions…what was her idea of love? When did she feel the most loved? Who is the first person she thinks of when I say the word love?
It wasn’t unapparent that I had met someone special. But talking to Helen that night in our simple white bed frames, a dim plastic lamp lighting the room and a few of our belongings around us, she became someone I wholeheartedly admire.
Helen shared her story with me. She told me why she was traveling alone for so long, she told me what was important to her and she taught me how to say love in Mandarin. I could do nothing but sit there with a full heart, feeling pure joy that I had come across such a purely wonderful person. When we finished our interview, I thanked her and she laughed shyly when I said she would be famous one day. It only added to her beautiful, unassuming spirit.
The next morning we sat on the train together leaving Agrigento. We shared music and realized we liked some of the same artists. We talked about seeing one of the artists in Berlin, but we’re saving that for another time...
When we arrived at Helen’s stop we shared one last hug and she went on her way. I turned up the cool French group she added to my music and still think of her now when their music pops up. She kept me updated as she went on to try horse meat for the first time and then hiked a volcano a few days later, just like she told me she would.
Helen is someone who lives life as it should be. She doesn’t hesitate, she does things because she only has this life to and she shares a kindness and joy along the way that is simply incomparable.
Our two-day trip was a short one but our journey of friendship is one to last a lifetime.