The Tragedy of Travel

I found out today that someone I met while traveling, Pablo the doctor from Chile, passed away in a motorcycle accident in the Philippines two months ago. I last spoke to him a couple of weeks before his passing, and sent him a message a couple of weeks after he passed without knowing what had happened – messages that are still unread.

The news of his passing came as a shock, and the accompanying sadness and grief is far more intense than I expected it to be – Pablo was a great guy, who helped me a lot when I hurt myself in a small motorcycle accident of my own, but I only knew him briefly, for a few short days. I remember riding pillion on his bike, back to the hostel after my accident, and he was telling me about how he was always going too fast on his motorbike. We talked about Chile, his love for traveling and his excitement about the rest of his journey. I almost ended up going on a dive trip in Indonesia with him. He was kind, and caring, and generous, and gone too soon.

But I realize that my grief for Pablo isn’t just confined to Pablo. It’s something about traveling that has always worried me. You see, everyone always talks about how many great people you meet while traveling, the amazing relationships and friendships forged, the incredible memories you  make with people you’ll never forget. But they fail to remind you that all these people, every single one of these life-changing people, will one day pass on, some far too soon, and you may or may not ever be aware of it.

It may be months, or years before you ever find out that someone you cared for, thought of as your friend, and shared so many special moments with, is no longer around, no longer a call or a message away, no longer a part of this life, much less yours. And it’s hard. It’s so hard. Because how do you grieve from a distance? How do you grieve for someone who was a part of your past, but not your present?

Death is never easy to deal with. And this idea is something I’ve struggled with from the very beginning. The knowledge that the more people you know and love, the more people you will lose. It’s a reality of traveling, of meeting wonderful people who change your life, of choosing this life. That one day this will come to pass, and you’ll be the last to know, the last to grieve, or never know. It’s the tragedy of travel.

And as much of a cliche as it is, the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson do ring true – Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

So to all the people I have known and loved and lost, whether I may know it at this time or not, thank you. For having been a part of my life, and made it that much better. As Pablo used to say, sigue la aventura.

Koh Phangan, Feb 2018

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