By Amber Locke
Something magical and very unexpected happened to me while riding with Green Tortoise Adventure Travel for a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park. After a single experience with this unique style of travel, I learned exactly why the Green Tortoise is still going strong almost 50 years after pioneering group adventure travel in America.
Sure, they go to amazing places in their living room-style buses. Yes, you will come away from the trip with photos of beautiful scenery and incredible memories of your destinations. Of course, the food is fantastic and freshly prepared. But the real draw to the Tortoise? It's the people. The personalities you can’t help but fall in love with are exactly the types that will happily hop on a bus and sleep curled up next to strangers for days at a time. The mystery beforehand of the people you’ll be sharing the experience with is part of the majesty of riding the Tortoise bus.
As a resident of the Bay Area, I ride the train to work and look around at my fellow commuters staring at their cell phones or playing Candy Crush on iPads; I can't help but wonder why we completely ignore everyone around us. It’s rare that you see two or more strangers engaging with one another on the morning or afternoon commute that we all seem to share. I’ve come to see us as jellyfish caught in the same current; all moving in the same direction, yet unaware of our connection.
So, when I boarded the custom-built Green Tortoise coach with 30 strangers, I wondered how this atmosphere would be any different. Within two hours of the ride, I discovered that it was, in fact, very different. With chatter coming from everywhere on the bus, I heard someone remark, “I feel like I’m seeing my Australian friends, again. Like, you’re back from a long trip and we’ve reunited.” (He was a solo traveler from the U.K. and made quick friends with everyone on the bus.) Most of us were in the same situation -- traveling alone, hoping to see as much as possible during our short vacations and willing to share the sights with the people surrounding us. Our singularity was actually what allowed us to connect so easily.
When we arrived in Yosemite (after a night drive), we were no longer solo travelers. We were a huge group of friends, banding together to form groups to tackle different activities. Americans, Taiwanese, British, Serbians and many other nationalities were walking together in one of the most beautiful places on Earth; I came to understand that we weren’t so different from each other, after all.
The Tortoise taught me to have a little more faith in humanity. I discovered that despite our home addresses, we shared a need for adventure and love for travel that transcends cultures. Our bus was full of diversity and, to me, that evolved into the most beautiful aspect of the trip. How effortlessly we had formed connections was awe-inspiring. When the time came, I left the trip with a handful of new friends and I was truly saddened to say goodbye. We had climbed to new heights together, shared meals in beautiful settings, I’d even taught them how to make s’mores. In return, they had taught me funny new phrases from their countries and about a newly developed part of myself I cannot explain.
When I boarded the Green Tortoise coach in San Francisco I never imagined that one weekend would have such an effect on me. In fact, the next time I stepped onto the Bay Area rapid transit train, I had the overwhelming urge to shout, “Good morning!” to everyone onboard. I had a desire to gift upon everyone an awareness; we are all searching for the same happiness in life and if we take a moment to connect with the human being next to us, our daily routine would be infinitely enhanced. Perhaps it would change someone's life, as it did mine, by acknowledging that we are here together sharing this community, our one lifetime, our one world.