Although they took place 40 years and several thousand miles apart I think it is fitting that this article begins and concludes with two events involving Roger Woods, a boyhood friend of mine from Bournemouth.
Roger used to live in a cul de sac that backed on to our back garden and I met him when I was transferred to the local Grammar School for the final two years of my schooling. We often used to go together to the Ritz Ballrooms on the West Cliff Promenade which was known to be both affordable and as good a place as any in Bournemouth for teenage males to meet female company (or ‘pick up a bird’ in 60s parlance). This was partly because the live music was good and featured acts such as Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and the Four Tops when over from the USA and touring the UK. After we took our A levels at the age of 18 we both continued our Studies at University College London myself reading Geography whilst Roger studied Psychology.
I think it was during my second year that for some reason I had my dilapidated split screen Morris Minor in London and for some reason I was driving around Piccadilly Circus when my car stalled and I could not get it restarted. A group of bystanders nearby quickly realised both my embarrassment and the traffic congestion that would result and quickly pushed me from the centre of the road to the side where I was no longer blocking traffic. It turned out that one of my Good Samaritans was Roger who was in the West End of London with some friends and I remember being surprised that of the 8 million inhabitants in London it was one of the relatively few (of that number) that I knew who came to help me out.
They say that if you spend your life at Piccadilly Circus you will eventually see all your friends pass by but nevertheless I thought this was quite a coincidence and ever since I have been fascinated by the many apparent coincidences and shared connections people experience when one travels the world and meet people one knows or have connections with in the most unexpected and unlikely situations. And indeed at a time when I was almost getting blasé about meeting people who I either knew or shared connections with it was Roger who almost 40 years later was to figure in perhaps the most surreal, unexpected and surprising meeting I have experienced.
Unexpected meetings with people I know or who have a close association with me have occurred repeatedly to me over the decades in the most unlikely places and I have no idea if this is typical of other people’s experiences? Read on and decide for yourselves.
One of the first occasions that I found myself thinking ‘it was a million to one chance that person was sitting there’ was when I was in Kuta Beach on Bali in Indonesia in 1972 towards the end of a six month overland journey through Asia. Once one got to Istanbul the route to India was fairly standard across Turkey to Erzerum and into Iran where the route went through Tabriz, Tehran and Mashad before continuing into Afghanistan (now very definitely off limits) and to Kabul vis Herat and Kandahar. Travellers then continued through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan passing through Peshawar and Lahore before arriving at Amritsar in India.
It was not unusual to see the same faces from time to time as one travelled across Central Asia following a similar route – and after all there were not that many travellers either at that time. Once in India there were a number of options for exploring India and then South East Asia although Goa and Agra featured on most people’s itineraries in India (together with a side trip to Kathmandu in Nepal) and Kuta Beach in Bali was the magnet that attracted travellers to one last idyllic gathering spot on an epic journey from Europe to Australia.(See my article here for how Kuta has changed 1972 -2012).
It was in Kuta that my girlfriend Heather and I recognised another couple we had travelled with for a few days in Iran and Afghanistan and we were talking about other people we had been travelling with and between us although it was pre internet/email/facebook we had up to date information on where all of the others had ended up except for a German guy named Toni. ‘I wonder what happened to him?’ I commented.
‘Excuse me but are you talking about Toni from Koln’ a voice said from a nearby table.
‘Yes’ we answered in unison.
‘Oh we travelled with him by train from Bangkok down to Singapore. He decided to head for Japan and try and get a job teaching English and he flew there two weeks ago’.
Easily explainable that fellow travellers with a similar mind set would be in the same town but long odds that they would be at an adjacent table and overhearing a conversation about someone they knew.
However there was a much greater coincidence when I met my wife to be Sharron in the highlands of New Guinea in January 1977!
Sharron from Vancouver BC, Peter Thompson (who features in this narrative later) and myself all met up on the same day – I think we were the only white faces to be found in the area and as instantly recognisable travellers we were drawn to each other.
When Sharron asked us both where we came from I replied ‘Bournemouth’ and she said ‘I thought so!’
I immediately suspected Bullshit and replied ‘Hold on – you may recognise that my accent comes from the south coast of England but no way can you pinpoint Bournemouth’
But Sharron had a ready explanation ‘I have been staying in Sydney with a couple who are friends of mine and he comes from Bournemouth and you speak just like him’
I knew of several people of my age from Bournemouth who had relocated either permanently or temporarily to both Australia in general and Sydney in particular but when I asked Sharron for the name and she replied ‘Colin Ing’ it meant nothing to me…………………………at the time!
However the more I thought about it the more I thought that the name Colin Ing did ring some distant bell in my memory and a few days later after Sharron and myself had gone our separate ways I had reason to call my mother in the UK.
‘I met this Canadian girl here in Papua New Guinea Mum and she had been staying in Sydney with a guy from Bournemouth called Colin Ing. I am trying to remember if that was someone I ever knew’
‘Oh Michael – of course you knew him. When we lived in those two rooms at your Grandmother’s house in Inverleigh Road before we got a Council House the Ings lived next door but one. You used to play with Colin a lot until you were 5 and we moved. I had heard he was living in Australia’
I would have no idea of the probability of meeting a future wife in the Highlands of New Guinea – let alone a future wife who had been staying with a childhood friend half way around the world!
And Sharron features in the next story as well because in April 1979 I was increasingly frustrated at my inability to find and purchase a suitable building in my budget in the UK in which to start up a Language school. I was getting a series of interesting, informative and I guess enticing letters from Sharron as she travelled overland herself from Europe to Australia and I decided I would fly out to India, surprise her and travel together for a few weeks in India and Sri Lanka.
I made the decision on a Monday and placed an advert to sell my car, I sold the car on the Tuesday, bought an air ticket on the Wednesday, sent a telegram to Sharron in India telling her to wait in Goa for me and departed on the Thursday and arrived in what was then Bombay (Now Mumbai) on the Friday and immediately flew south to the former Portuguese colony of Goa.
I went to the Poste Restante Counter of the Post Office in the main town of Margao and the counter clerk told me that Sharron Best’s mail (including my telegram) was still waiting to be collected. Now Sharron was exceedingly well organised and really valued her mail so I was 100% certain that she, like any seasoned traveller, would not move on without leaving a forwarding address and going to the Post Office just prior to departure so I knew she was still in Goa – an area equivalent in size to several small European counties like Wales.
However I knew that most Travellers stayed at one of the three Beach communities – Colva, Calangute and Anjuna and started by checking all the Guest Houses and Lodges that I could find in the then undeveloped villages of Colva and Calangute.
I had drawn a blank in both and was having a Coffee at a Tea House in Calangute before moving onto Anjuna and I explained why I was there to a German at the same table.
From the next table a voice said ‘Hey, are the two girls you are looking for from Vancouver and New Westminster. I think one was called Diane’
‘Yes that’s them’ I replied.
‘I was just with them. They have gone for a walk heading north along the beach towards Baga. They plan to walk for an hour then turn around and head back along the road that runs parallel to the beach. If you walk north on the road you should meet them’
I headed north along the road and indeed surprised the two of them as they were making their way back to Calangute between the Palm Trees.
The three of us travelled around India and Sri Lanka for most of the following 6 weeks and I always tell people I met my wife in Papua New Guinea and then found her again in Goa.
Within 6 months we were setting up our own travel company in the UK which developed into a Queens Award winning Tour Operator and one of the world’s leading Educational Tour Operators. 30 months later we were married. I guess it was always meant to be.
By chance the next two coincidences I will recount involved the same friend of mine.
In 1994 the Elsworth family moved from South Africa into the nearby Somerset village of Charlton Horethorne and became good friends of ours. Our kids went to the same Primary School, went to Art Classes together and shared the same Piano teacher. To this day we regularly go out for dinner once or twice annually and in 1999 Chris and I went hiking in Switzerland for a week. In short we have been good and close friends for over 20 years.
In October 2004 I had just completed one of the most enjoyable, rewarding and tiring experiences of my 31 years as a Tour operator. I had led a group of 15 on a circuit of Mt Kailash in Tibet and once we were acclimatised and fit we had achieved our target of trekking to the former British Advanced Base Camp beneath Everest’s north Col and 7 of us had continued to reach the rarely visited Raphu La, at an elevation of 6,550metres/21,500 ft at the foot of Everest’s famed (and rarely climbed) formidable North Eastern ridge.
After the trip was completed and the group was safely back in Kathmandu I had a satisfactory feeling of both exhaustion and fulfilment after completing our 23 day trip with the most pleasant group of clients and without mishap and I was looking forward to meeting Sharron, Lisa and David for a relaxing family holiday in Dubai.
Understandably I slept for much of the flight from Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi where we were due to meet in the transit lounge but at one point I got up to visit the toilet and as I walked along the aisle towards the rear of the plane I noticed a South African asleep in an aisle seat. I knew (or assumed) he was South African as he was wearing a Green Springbok shirt and although hundreds of thousands of South Africans have left their homeland in recent decades to relocate in the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand most are keen to maintain their sense of nationality, pride and affection for their homeland by sporting their national colours. And to put it in context this was no big deal – just one of countless observations that all of us make without giving it a second thought as we work through our days wherever we are.
Imagine my surprise when I made my way into the Transit Lounge at Abu Dhabi to see Sharron embracing someone who turned out to be …………………..our good friend Chris Elsworth.
Slowly my mind clicked into gear………………….Transit Lounge In Abu Dhabi?…………………….. …….Why is Chris here?……………………Was he on the same flight as me?……………Wait a minute …………I saw a tall guy on my flight wearing Springbok shirt…………………Was that………………….. Could that have been?………………….Yes it was my good friend Chris and I had walked right past him because quite frankly the last place I expected to see him was at 35,000ft half way between Nepal and Abu Dhabi!
Which made me wonder how many times do each of us walk right past someone we know or knew yet fail to recognise them because we did not expect to see them there. Indeed only a few months ago I went to Australia to visit our daughter Lisa and as a surprise for Lisa I was accompanied by our other daughter Sarah.
When we got to Sydney I sent Sarah out first and she walked right past Lisa who was so intent on looking for me she failed to recognise her own sister!
I had certainly not expected to see Chris anywhere near Nepal as despite being a keen hiker I knew he had never been to the Himalaya and I had even invited him to join my group. Indeed our company was one of the leading operators of treks in Nepal at the time so I thought if ever he did go it would be on one of our treks! (I think with the passage of time I may have forgiven him for his error of judgement)
However I had not seen him in the previous 6 months and he had made a late decision to join a group of physicians who had made a Charity Trek up the Gokyo Valley to raise money for a Health Post to be built at Machermo in the Gokyo Valley, an area where many local Porters were known to succumb to acclimatisation problems due to the altitude. Indeed four years later my daughter Lisa and myself saw Chris’s name on the Plaque listing the Donors when I revisited Machermo on a subsequent ‘Father and Daughter’ Trek.
A few weeks later when we were enjoying an Indian Meal in the UK with the Elsworths and it transpired that they were planning to make one of their frequent visits to South Africa at the same time as were planning a Family holiday in South Africa. It also turned out that we were both planning to visit the famed Kruger Park (still for me the best Wildlife Viewing option in Southern Africa) and it seemed likely we were both likely to stay at the southern end of the Park at around the same time.
We got as far as exchanging some provisional dates when we might both be staying at the Lower Sabie Camp but did not fix up any definite plans to meet but when we arrived the Reception confirmed the Elsworths were due to check in the same day! That afternoon we identified a Water Hole about 20 miles from the Camp which we thought might be good for some late afternoon Game viewing and headed that way in our rental car but we saw very little in the way of Game.
My advice after several visits to the Kruger is that if you put the hours and miles in with several hours a day of driving combining early morning and late afternoon visits to water Holes and popular viewing spots you will inevitably have hours and hours of seeing nothing but over a few days you will inevitably be rewarded with some truly magnificent viewing experiences. I have been fortunate to visit many of the well known Private Game Parks and Reserves but for me the Kruger is unsurpassed as long as you are willing to invest the hours.
However on this occasion the best viewing was reserved for the drive back along the sunbaked track as we passed a single vehicle heading for the Water Hole.
‘That was the Elsworths’ shouted Sharron.
‘Are you sure ‘I replied and when Sharron confirmed I turned around and within 5 minutes had returned to the Water Hole just as Chris and Linda were getting out of their car.
I wound down my window and in my best Afrikaans accent said ‘I hope you realise you have to be back in your Camp by six o clock Sir’
They were of course surprised to see us at the Water Hole and had forgotten we were likely to be at Lower Sabie the same time as them – The Elsworths are famed for an unrivalled Social life with zillions of friends and relatives to keep balanced.
And I suspect that even in the annals of Travel Coincidences it is unusual for anyone to have two unplanned meetings with friends on two separate continents within 6 months!
And a year later I was to be astonished at a connection I made on a boat I was taking from the Malaysian Island of Langkawi back to Thailand after one of the visa runs (short stay in a neighbouring country) that visitors to Thailand are obliged to make if they wish to extend their stay beyond 30 days.
There were a group of Backpackers on the boat and I deduced that a number of them were Canadian from the Maple Leaf insignias sown onto their backpacks.
‘Whereabouts are you from in Canada’ I asked one of them
‘Toronto’ he replied ‘Why do you ask’
‘I know Canada well’ I replied. ’I was married in New Westminster and we have a home in Vancouver. I have spent a lot of time there in the last 25 years and my kids went to school there for a year’
‘That guy over there is from Vancouver’ the bearded fellow I was talking to responded and followed up with ‘Hey Bob. Guy here has a home in Vancouver’.
Despite our 30 year age differential Bob and I were soon chatting about our shared affections for Beautiful British Columbia and it turned out he lived on Amla St which was less than a mile from our house in Point Gray between downtown Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.
‘What do you plan to do when you get home ‘I asked
‘I have a job as a Senior Counsellor at a Summer Camp near Squamish’ Bob replied.
‘Really?’ I commented ‘Our three kids used to go to a Summer camp up there for a number of years and they thought it was great’
‘What was it called?’
‘I can’t remember’ I responded ‘It was run by the Forestry Department and had a short name, maybe Jones. Wait a minute. Maybe it was named after or by a Lake. The kids used to do overnight camps and exchange tales around the campfire’
‘Yes, Of Course. That was it’
‘Thats where I work’ said Bob and then after a thought he added ‘Wait a minute. Was your daughter called Sarah. Sarah Broomfield or something.’
‘That’s right’ I said correcting him ‘Sarah Bromfield. She went to the Camp for about three summers and then did two more as a Counsellor’
‘Oh my God. I remember her so well. She stood out because she had this neat British accent. In fact when we both Counsellors and she and I shared some duties and patrols together!’
So what are the chances of getting aboard a local ferry boat from Malaysia to Thailand and ending up chatting with someone who has worked with your daughter several years earlier on the other side of the world?
Whatever the odds it is a certainty that there will be plenty more connections that exist when you do not start talking with a third party and discover that you have shared connections.
Maybe not so much of a coincidence but I was to be equally surprised when I went to the Casterbridge Tours Staff Christmas Dinner in Sherborne in 2009.
My mind was very much focussed on socialising with Casterbridge staff but no sooner had I got through the door then our Operations Director Amanda approached me and said there is someone here who would like to say ‘Hello’ to you and my heart skipped a beat – I don’t like surprises and still less when I have no idea how I will be expected to respond!
‘I told you he would be late’ said Amanda adding to me ‘This gentleman has been waiting patiently to see you since he realised it was Casterbridge having their Staff function here’ and a rather distinguished grey haired and bearded gent of a similar age to myself got up to shake hands with the introduction
‘Hello. Long time no see’
I must have looked pretty lost as he quickly added
‘Overland through Asia in 1972’
‘My God. Dick Trollope’ I responded.
In fact I had last seen Dick in the Sydney Harbour side suburb of Neutral Bay in 1973!
He and I had gone to school together in Bournemouth 1965-67 and then together with my girlfriend Heather the three of us had travelled through Asia from London to Singapore in 1972. At that point we separated as Richard’s girlfriend Pam had flown out to Malaysia (with my mother) and after the five of us spent 3 weeks in Malaysia Dick and Pam had gone directly to Australia from Singapore and were soon married.
I caught up with them 6 months later when Heather and I had arrived in Sydney and stayed with them for a few days whilst we looked for our own place to stay.
And since then…………………..nothing! We had not fallen out but our lives went in different directions and for some reason we did not stay in touch. Dick and Pam soon returned to the UK whilst I stayed based in Australia for almost five years.
It turned out that after taking early retirement Dick had taken up a temporary position with Westlands in Yeovil about six years earlier and he had been working there temporarily for four days a week ever since Living in Lodgings and returning to his Pam and his home in the New Forest for three day/ four night weekends.
He had noticed my name in the local press in conjunction with some articles on my involvement with Yeovil Town FC which referred to me as the Chairman of Casterbridge Tours based in nearby Sherborne. He had even walked past our Offices and fully intended to get in touch but it had never happened.
So I guess when we both went to our respective Staff Christmas Dinners at the Eastlands Hotel in Sherborne in December 2009 neither of us expected to be re-establishing a friendship that had been on ‘hold’ since we last chatted in Sydney almost 37 years earlier!
We did not leave it so long till our next get together as we hooked up again for a New Year’s Eve Quiz night that I hosted few weeks later!
Two years later I spent an enjoyable day hiking with Simon Russell, the son of a university friend of mine, in the mountains above Leysin in Switzerland. Simon lived and worked in Geneva and we were both going to the Montreux Jazz Festival that evening – he to watch Arcade Fire and myself to see Natalie Cole.
No sooner had we said our farewells in the Foyer outside our adjacent auditoriums than I heard a voice say ‘Michael?’
I was approached by an attractive blonde Girl who said ‘It is you, isn’t it?’
It was my friend Angeline Vincent who I had met in Vancouver 10 years previously when I was ‘window shopping’ at Granville Harbour one Sunday afternoon looking at Power Boats for sale. Angelique had struck me as an extrovert and professional young lady who was putting herself through college and funding it by working weekends as a Sales person for a yacht broker.
In the intervening 10 years we had stayed in touch and she had offered to drive my car across the USA car and deliver it to our US Sales Office in Virginia and had enquired after a Sales position at our US Office before embarking on a career with Resort Developers in Mexico and the Caribbean.
We had met up briefly at London’s Heathrow Airport on one occasion for a quick coffee when she was in London and I was en route to somewhere or other and we had also spent an enjoyable day with my daughter Lisa hiking to Mt Seymour in Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains.
The last time we had met was perhaps 4 years previously when she had returned to Canada to take a postgraduate course in Business Management and wanted to interview me and use Casterbridge Tours as a Case Study in regard the to challenges in managing a growing company.
We had not exchanged emails for maybe 6 months so I had no idea she was planning to marry her longstanding Swiss boyfriend and move to Switzerland – in fact she had got married two days earlier, was now living in the well heeled and upmarket Swiss resort of Verbier and had come to Montreux to see Arcade Fire and was waiting for a friend by the ticket office when I walked past having said my farewells to Simon!
If I had been a minute earlier or later I would have missed Angeline or who knows – met someone else from another part of my life?
I never fail to be surprised by such coincidences and another occurred a few years ago when I was dining at Paprikas, one of two excellent Indian restuarants in the Dorset town of Sherborne in the UK when where our Company was headquartered. When the Owner Manager Shahed asked me what I was planning to do post Casterbridge I told him that our family company had purchased an apartment in London as our daughter was planning to extend the family Holiday Rental business into London.
‘Whereabouts in London did you purchase this apartment Michael?’ asked Shahed
‘In Bloomsbury’ I replied.
‘Not in Northington St’
I thought I saw you on Northington St recently but assumed I was mistaken. That’s where I live!
It turned out that out of however many million buildings there are in London we had purchased an apartment for our family company that was in the building next door to the home of the owner of one of our favourite Restaurants.
And these coincidences keep rolling up with increasing frequencies and over the last year there have been several more.
In the Alps last summer I disembarked from the cable car in the small village of Gimmelwald to start a three day hike in the Upper Lauterbrunnen Valley when I spotted two hikers looking at their map with Peregrine Tours (Australia’s leading Adventure Tour Operator) Baggage labels on their hiking packs.
‘Can I help?’ I asked cheekily adding ‘Always willing to help two lost Aussies’
It turned out they (big Jackie and Short Paul) were from Yorkshire and looking for somewhere to sketch. Their Baggage Tags were explained by their having booked an Arctic and Antarctic Cruise through Peregrine when their Expedition Leaders were the famed Woody and Annie – the same Woody and Annie taking Sharron and myself to the Galapagos next May! They are pretty much Legends as far as Polar Expeditions are concerned’ said Jackie and after two expeditions with Woody and Annie myself I was inclined to agree.
And as it happened our last visit to the Antarctic in January 2014 had led to another interesting coincidence.
On that cruise we made the acquaintance of Ishwar, a charming Indian gentleman who had emigrated to the USA in the early 1970s via the UK. He and his Swiss wife Ruth and their two sons owned and operated a fascinating business in Wisconsin where with a total work force of four (the family!) they were operating one of the biggest computer ink manufacturing plants in the USA! They had a home in Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland where they spent part of each summer and last August Ishwar came to visit me in Murren where I and my wife have owned an apartment since 1997. Murren is also in the Bernese Oberland, indeed just a three day walk from Kandersteg via a classic route that crosses two high passes although Ishwar and Ruth came by train!
Like all our visitors Ishwar and Ruth went on our balcony to admire the view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungrau and to look over Murren including the Sports Shop below facing our apartment.
‘Do you know Michael’ Ishwar chuckled ‘the first time we came to Murren was almost 30 years ago and we stayed in that apartment above the Sports Shop’
We had gone all the way to Antarctica to make new friends from the USA who had once stayed in the building facing our Swiss home!
When I was in Brazil for the World cup this past June I shared a taxi with a friendly Canadian named Bruce Childs from Edmonton Alberta, It turned out he had been born in England’s West Country and lived there until he was 13.
When I asked him where he had been born he replied
‘A small village named Bayford. You probably have not heard of it Michael?’
‘I should Bruce as I have lived within 5 miles of Bayford for most of the last 35 years! And its no longer a small village as it is part of Wincanton now. We set up our Travel Company in the former Merthyr Guest Hospital in Templecombe in 1979 and that is only 5 miles from Wincanton.’
‘The old hospital in Templecombe? My father used to deliver milk there!’
It turned out that despite living over 6,000 miles away in Edmonton Bruce was also a Yeovil supporter who had obtained a ticket to watch Yeovil’s triumph over Brentford at Wembley 14 months earlier that is described here ! He had flown to the game from Canada and I had flown in from Thailand!
So even in Brazil for the World Cup I managed to meet someone whose father had delivered milk to the building I had bought in 1979 and lived in until 1984!
And just recently in Australia I met up with Peter Thompson who as I explained earlier was present in the highlands of Papua New Guinea when I first met my wife to be Sharron in January 1978.
We went to have a coffee with Diana who had been our guide on the Trans Siberian Railway in 2012 (in a journey described here) and who has since relocated to Australia.
I asked Diana if she was still in touch with Gerlee – our Mongolian guide who made quite an impression on me (as you can read here!) and it turned out that Peter and his girlfriend Debbie had also visited Mongolia a year later in 2013 and their guide had been the very same and still attractive and captivating Gerlee!
I had not realised Peter had visited Mongolia let alone ended up with the same guide but indeed it’s a small world.
But I will end as I started with Roger Woods and the most unlikely meeting of all the coincidental meetings that I have experienced.
The year was 2006 and I was due to lead a group to the rarely visited eastern flanks of Everest in Tibet but beforehand was taking three of my friends on a 14 day hike in the Langtang area of Nepal to build up our fitness and help with acclimatising to the higher altitudes.
It was in the heart of the decade long Maoist insurgency which was tantamount to a Civil War in Nepal outside the capital Kathmandu with different swathes of the country loyal either to the Monarchy and the Status Quo or the Maoists who wanted to make Nepal a Socialist Republic.
Because of the importance of Tourists to the Nepalese economy both sides went to great lengths to ensure the Tourists were in no ways affected. The only inconvenience was trekkers had to pay a $60 fee – for which a receipt was issued! – when trekking through Maoist controlled areas but understandably tourist numbers were way down.
Indeed we saw no other travellers as we spent 4 days hiking up the Langtang Valley from Syabru Bensi and when we reached the trekking centre of Kyangin Gompa it was virtually deserted. Although there were almost 20 Tea Houses and Lodges providing accommodation for visitors there were just the four of us, our guide, porters and kitchen crew and three French trekkers staying at another lodge.
We were about 10 miles from the Tibetan border and surrounded by magnificent snow capped and glacier clad peaks many between 6,500 and 7,000 metres in altitude and dominated by Langtang Lirung at 7,246 metres . Our plan was to do some local treks and then if snow conditions allowed to climb to the south, cross the Ganja La (Pass) and continue south through Helambu to Kathmandu.
After the 4 day hike to Kyangin Gompa and two fairly strenuous day hikes I decided to have a day off and sat relaxing in the courtyard of our Lodge when the others went off to climb a nearby peak.
I was enjoying the warm sun when after an hour another trekker wandered into the courtyard and we exchanged greetings.
‘Have you hiked up from Syarbu Bensi?’ I asked and when the hiker, a similar age to myself confirmed the same, we discussed our thoughts on the route and plans for the next few days.
After about 10 minutes of general chitchat the hiker looked at me and asked
‘Would you be Mike Bromfield?’
Firstly I was amazed that anyone would know me at the end of a remote dead end valley in the heart of the Himalaya close to the Nepalese Tibetan Border (there was no border crossing or even a trail into Tibet) and secondly hardly anyone had called me ‘Mike’ for at least 30 years.
‘Yes, I guess I am’ I replied with a smile that revealed my surprise.
‘Roger Woods’ the trekker said offering me his hand. ‘We used to go to the Ritz together in Bournemouth in the Sixties’
I could not believe it but more was to follow:
‘My God. I don’t believe it. Are you up here trekking on your own’
No – I am with Bob. He will probably turn up any minute’
‘Bob?’ (I was obviously expected to recognise the name!)
‘Yes Bob Turner’
‘Don’t you remember? I went to UCL with you after Bournemouth School (No I didn’t remember?) but although I studied Pscychology I was friendly with all you Geographers and Bob Turner was in your group.
‘Eh’ I mumbled trying to cast my mind back almost 40 years when nothing had made me think of my university years for months if not years. I was certainly not primed for instant recall or nostalgia as I trekked through the Himalaya ‘was he a short guy with red hair. I think he played Rugby?’
Yes – that’s Bob. We have remained good friends for 35 years’
And right on cue Bob Turner walked into our courtyard and joined the group.
I could not believe it. One moment I was sitting in the courtyard of a Lodge in an almost deserted Himalayan village – ten minutes later I am joined by a school friend from 1965-67 and then a university classmate from 1967 -70, neither of whom I had seen for 36 years!
It turned out that another friend of mine Pemba Geljen, one of Nepal’s foremost mountaineers (and recipient of National Geographer’s Adventurer of the Year Award in 2010 for his efforts in rescuing fellow climbers from the summit slopes of K2) was running a Training Course for aspirant Nepalese Mountain Guides on behalf of the Nepalese Mountaineering Association in Kyangin Gompa and Pemba, Roger, Bob and the rest of my group had a very enjoyable dinner together as Roger, Bob and I caught up on almost 40 years of news and exchanged details of mutual friends.
There were some interesting postscripts to this meeting as the following day our two groups went several ways – Bob and Roger with their porters to try and climb Naya Kanga and ourselves further up the Langtang Valley as we considered it to problematic to try and cross the Ganja La. However we were confronted by a highly abnormal and heavy out of season snow storm and both groups had to abandon their plans – Some of Roger and Bob’s porters were lucky to come to no harm when they were avalanched on their descent and our group was snowbound for 3 days and eventually helicoptered out.
We met up back in Kathmandu for a farewell Dinner and as Bob only lived 30 miles away from my West Country base we agreed to meet up but never got our acts together with so many conflicting demands on our time and when we did eventually meet up again it was……………….two years later back in Kathmandu when we were both making trips with our daughters! Since then however we have managed to get together a few times and indeed Bob signed up to climb Kilamanjaro and undertake a challenging trek in a rarely visited part of Nepal with the adventure division of our company Casterbridge Tours.
Roger and I discovered we had a shared passion for Leonard Cohen and subsequently met up at Leonard Cohen Concerts in Manchester, Bournemouth and Lille in Northern France!
So there you have it – so many unexpected meetings and is it Coincidence or Fate, whatever that is?
I guess you make your own choice and all of us have experienced those moments when we meet someone totally unexpectedly.
Only a few weeks ago my friend Brendan told me that my former classmate Tom Jackson had twice by chance met Brendan’s brother in bars in some far flung corner of the world and they hardly knew each other save for the connection through Brendan.
The point that fascinates me however is if I meet a friend by chance in a theatre foyer in Switzerland or walking along a street in South Africa how many more times have we walked down one side of a street and a friend totally unbeknown to us has walked along the other?
For sure if we say it has to be easier to miss someone rather meet them there has to be countless occasions when we do just that – get out of a taxi just seconds after someone we know got in the preceding taxi!
Statistically, Logically, According to the law of probability or whichever way you look at it, it stands to reason that as with planes there have to be many more near misses than actual collisions!
As a gambler I am fascinated by the mathematical odds of some of these coincidences and they have to be hundreds of thousands to one or longer.
And yet I know I am far from alone in experiencing coincidental and unexpected meetings against all the odds and I wonder if there is some form of paranormal explanation – it is difficult for a realist cynic like me to consider the same but who knows. I have long since learnt to ‘Never say Never!’
Postscript: I would love to hear of other people’s experiences if you would like to post them below.
© Michael Bromfield 2014