It’s been nearly a month since I wrote a new post about this new chapter of My Nomadic Life, even though when I left Colombia I told myself that this time I’d be more constant about updating my blog—not like in Brazil, where it fizzled out after a few months as the daily distractions of the road made me forget all about my writing.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of exploring and discovering new things and people and places when I’m travelling, to forget where I was before and where I’m going next, to completely let go of whatever I might have felt was holding me back or why I left in the first place, as if nothing else existed but that moment, that experience, that place. And it can be a beautiful feeling, a liberating way to live, but only sustainable in the long-term if I keep travelling with purpose towards my goals.
But then things that are beyond my control happen and ground me, hard, threatening to break me and reminding me that just because I’m back in Europe, exploring Spain’s Mediterranean coast, vibrant French cities and towns, and charming Italian villages, the world hasn’t stopped, and neither have life and death. I wanted to write about finally being back on this side of the world after dreaming about it for over a year, but there are other stories—the inevitable ones that change our lives—that must be told.
It was my last morning in Barcelona when I got the heartbreaking news that Diego, one of the people I’ve loved most in my life, a great love and friend, one of those people whose voice lives in my head, keeping me in check, challenging me, making me laugh even in my imagination, had died back home in Colombia. The news landed heavily, painfully, abruptly and unexpectedly, and I cried for what felt like endless days as I tried to understand what it meant to live in a world without him.
I cried that day as I walked through the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, desperate for a distraction, for signs the world was still spinning; I cried as I waited for my bus to Paris that night, and was so obviously distraught that the lovely Sami, a complete stranger up until that moment, handed me a tissue and shared comforting words about loss and grief; I cried as I watched the sun rise over Lyon and was still in tears hours later as the bus got stuck in Parisian traffic; I cried when I watched Diego’s funeral online, grateful for the opportunity to be present, even at a great distance, but shattered that I wasn’t there in person to say goodbye, to be with his family, with our friends.
Grief is a strange thing—we never know how we’ll react to it, how we’ll handle it, how it will change us, what it will demand of us, or what will help soothe it. For me, being in Europe surrounded by people I love, friends and family who have hugged me and consoled me, offered me comforting food and drink, and taken me out to explore villages and cities, both familiar and new, has been healing. Though it’s also been an uncomfortable feeling at times, to have fun while grieving; there’s a nagging sense of guilt, like I shouldn’t be happy when I’m this sad.
To be honest, I don’t know how I’d be handling Diego’s death if I was still home in Colombia, surrounded by all the things that remind me of him and our history; it’s been hard enough being on the other side of the Atlantic, far from anything familiar between us except the memories that have been flooding my mind and the old photos that I’m grateful to have saved in my hard drive, which have given me something more concrete to hold onto as I think back on the lifetime we shared.
As the days pass and I keep moving, I find myself smiling again, crying less, and I think he’d surely want me to enjoy myself; I imagine I’m bringing him along with me, like he asked me one of the last times we spoke before I left Colombia and I told him of my travel (non-)plans. “Will you adopt me? Take me with you?” he asked, “Just don’t leave me stranded.” I laughed, “Let’s go, it’ll be fun!” It would have been fun. I find myself still talking to him as if he’s really here with me and thinking how much he’d love these things, these places, these meals.
That morning on the bus from Barcelona to Paris, just 24 hours after learning about his death, I felt him with me, coming to say goodbye; he asked me not to cry and told me he loved me. I loved him too, I always have, I said, and asked him to watch over me, to never forget me even as he travelled on into the unknown. He promised he would, so I know he’s been with me every day since—as I saw the changing leaves fall in Paris and attended my first live music show since the pandemic started, while I swam in the azure waters of the Mediterranean in Nice, and when I marvelled at the pink alleys of Ventimiglia and Villefranche-sur-Mer. And I’m glad that, even in the metaphysical realm, we finally got to travel together again after so many years.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and I’m not sure if being so far removed from that loss makes it easier or harder; I’m not sure if I’m just in denial about his death, simply avoiding thinking about the reality of his loss, distracting myself with the novelty of travel, or if getting back to what I love after being locked up for so long has helped me cope with losing him. Maybe both; probably both.
Through the years, the road has taught me to keep going without forgetting, to move on without ever letting go, so that’s what I’m trying to do as I prepare for the next part of this adventure—Italy, the main destination of this journey and the place where I hope to find what I’ve been looking for. And I’m sure Diego will love it, too.
Follow along on my blog and social media @LauraRepoOrtega and keep me company on this new journey, wherever you might be and wherever I may end up.
All photos shot on iPhone