Why Traveling is Accidental and How it’s Similar to Having Children

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While traveling for 2 years in Latin America, I remember being asked what is our goal. I could make something up, say, visit all the countries on the continent. But the truth is, there was no goal. You travel because there is something out there that is worth seeing yourself. Because there are people whose life you can’t imagine, unless you meet them. You travel because you are curious. But there is no purpose, there is no inherent meaning attached to it.

We met Iabi in Salvador de Bahia, in the Northeast of Brazil. She has taken us to around the city, infusing her warmth and enthusiasm with insights about local politics and movies. Her mother Odomaria accompanied us – a graceful woman with sad eyes, she talked about her family, her city of Juazeiro, her college years living under the military dictatorship. We shared feijoada, visited the Bonfim church where Catholicism and Candomble, the African religious tradition, coexist.

Before parting, Iabi gave me a book.

Photographs of grimy children caught in a game, young men jumping in water one after the other in an act of camaraderie. Moments of time long-lost, of life withered. And yet, as I browse through this collection of black-and-white photos of Juazeiro of early 80’s, I’m struck by how alive these people are. As if I just saw this woman hanging laundry around the corner, her hair fluttering in the wind.

Photographer’s name is Euvaldo Macedo Filho. His life was cut short a few years after taking these photos. Iabi was 4 then. She has fond memories of her father. Odomaria doesn’t speak, her eyes do. You can tell, almost 40 years later, she still misses her young husband.

Young Brazilian photographer who passed away a year after I was born on the other side of the world. I swear, I could have lived 100 lives and still not encounter Euvaldo’s photographs. if not for a thousand of variables aligning just right. If not for that chance meeting, turned friendship.

In pursuing a career or founding a company, your actions are thoughtful, your gaze is focused, your goal is well-defined. In traveling, your eyes are wide-open, your discoveries are accidental. There is no goalpost, there are no achievements. The meaning emerges itself in the process.

This sudden connection of kindred souls. This bridge to other time and place. I didn’t plan it, didn’t create it. I didn’t travel to Salvador to meet Iabi and get to know Euvaldo’s work. The universe took care of arranging that. It was a gift, not a struggle.

In traveling, the meaning is generated by you responding to the world around you. It’s the same with children. No one knows why we are having them. Some cave it to society’s pressure, some get a fuzzy feeling inside. Whatever it is, there is no defined purpose, no a priori meaning attached to it. Endless money spent, opportunities lost, years of self-sacrifice… for what? No one knows exactly. But we sense there is something there that is worth discovering. There is someone worth meeting.

After they are born, you soon discover you don’t need to teach them a whole lot. They quickly emerge equipped with ability, personality and charisma. On a good day, when you have a small reserve of attention left, you take a closer look at this miraculous creature. He tells you he wants to learn Portuguese. Then he tells you a joke: “you are a monkey, so why are you on a plane?”. Then he tells you he is a zombie and you have to run for your life.

Your eyes are wide open. Your discoveries accidental. New meaning is created every day. It’s not a struggle, it’s a gift.

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6 Replies

  • One reason I enjoy your travels and the resulting blog, Mike, is the assurance that you are more present and aware of the moment than the rest of us. What you recognize in those fotos from Salvador by a Brazilian fotografer we recognize in you, your images and words.

    • Thank you Tom,
      I truly appreciate your kind words. I don’t think I’m particularly present in my moment-to-moment life. Maybe that’s why it’s important for me to hang to those moments that passed. If the present is ephemeral and thoughtless, I have to try and rescue the past.

  • Well done in presenting the lives of people – congrat’s – as to having children – perhaps it is ingrained in our DNA as a method of species survival and has to be overridden when a decision is made not to reproduce – so it could be the reverse of what you think (assuming we are like almost all other species where choices are in many ways dictated by DNA).

    But travel – is it paternalistic to say it is intellectually stimulating? Will seeing outside of our ‘normal’ boundaries and experience what happens in other parts of the world make us a better person? Am not sure if that is a reason to travel although i have used it as a justification as it allows me to alter my perception of my boundaries through my experiences.

    • Hi Sid,
      Thank you for the comment. I’m not sure traveling necessarily makes us better people. But as you say, it opens our eyes to new realities. It makes us actually see people, that previously were unseen and unknown. What we do with it – whether we adjust our views to let our empathy include all of humanity, that’s an open question.

  • Hi Mike, I’m very happy with your testimony and I was thrilled with your sensitivity … Our friendship isn’t of this life and I agree that the universe conspires with these “thousands of variables lining up just right”, so that things happen. But I would like to record that the images aren’t from Salvador, but from Juazeiro, in Bahia, where the São Francisco River passes. A big kiss from Brazil to you, Oxanna and little Ayam. You are undoubtedly one of the best gifts that Couchsurgfing has offered me .. Love, Iabi

    • Thank you dear Iabi – for the book, for the memories and for the friendship. Please send hugs to Odomaria!

      I’ve been reading some of Euvaldo’s poems, but using Google Translate for poetry sucks )) Are there any plans to translate his works in English? I would love to understand better his way of sensing and seeing the world.

      p.s.
      Thanks for the correction, I updated the post ))

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