The Gift of Travel: It’s all about the People.
Since our arrival in Lagos Portugal almost three months ago, this trip has been nothing short of spectacular. And as I reflect on all of it, I’m reminded of an event that happened the very moment we arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but it truly altered my approach to our travels.
After a very long series of flights, Carla and I took a 50-minute cab ride from the Faro airport to Lagos. The cabbie dropped us and our 6 bags in front of our Airbnb and drove off. We were feeling relieved and grateful to be there. Unfortunately, that feeling lasted for only a few seconds! As I watched the cab driving away, I realized that I had left my phone in the cab. And it’s not just my phone, it’s really my camera. So, despite our exhaustion, we were suddenly thrust into high alert mode, and the drama begins.
Without even thinking about it, and with one of my backpacks (the heavy one) strapped on my back, I took off running after the cab which I could still see at the bottom of the hill. Without saying a word to Carla, I just took off . . . running as fast as I possibly could - wearing my boots with slick soles and running down a steep hill on a slippery pebbled road. I raced down the middle of the road, franticly waving my arms, and trying to get the attention of the driver. After about 300 meters, I watched as he turned off onto the main road and at that point, it was clear that I was not going to catch him. As I stopped running, I’m sure I had a defeated look about me. It wasn’t so much about losing my phone . . . it was about losing my camera, and my hope of getting started with this blog.
But, before I had time to wallow in self-pity, a car pulled up beside me and the driver said . . . “You’re following that cab, aren’t you? Get in and I’ll catch him for you.” I wasn’t very optimistic because the cab had quite a head start, but without giving it a second thought I jumped in and off we went. This very kind man with an incredibly generous offer was named Jorge . . . and Jorge was flying! After about 10 minutes, the cab was in our sights, and I began feeling quite hopeful. Then suddenly, the cab slowed down and pulled over. It seemed kind of surreal. We pulled off the road in front of him and I ran to his cab, and there he was holding my phone. It turns out that Carla (the brains of our operation) called my phone. Once the cab driver heard it ring, he pulled over to answer and that was when we caught up with him. The relief I felt was really beyond words. I then asked the cabbie to take me back to the Airbnb and Jorge, whose home was in the opposite direction, insisted that he drive me back.
So, keep in mind that Carla is back at the Airbnb and unable to go anywhere because she is standing in the street with all our bags. She watched me running away at full speed, downhill, on a very slippery road, with a heavy backpack, and had no idea where I was or what was happening. She had no way of tracing me and her worst fear was that perhaps I had fallen, broken my leg, and couldn’t contact her. Why else would I be taking so long to return?
For me, the real story begins after I’ve retrieved my phone and Jorge is taking me back to our Airbnb. I wanted to do something for him and so I offered him some money. He quickly refused the money and said, “I just like helping people. You don’t have to do anything for me.” His response felt very genuine. The rest of the time he spoke about his family and his work, and I just relaxed into listening to this man, who by all accounts was as kind a human being as I have ever encountered. There was a purity and innocence to him, and it was coupled with a deep wisdom that I’m not sure he even knew emanated from him. He would never describe himself as anything but a simple man trying to take care of his family and enjoy his friends. And yet, he seemed to clearly understand and embody what many of us take a lifetime to learn . . . it’s all about love and kindness.
For those who know me well, you know that my life philosophy is simple. I like to say that love is my religion. It’s also my politics as well as my guiding philosophy. I do the best I can everyday to live out my philosophy and yet, I often fall short. But I enjoy trying, and for as long as I remain alive, I’ll keep working at it. I think we all come into the world with a very basic toolset - love, compassion, empathy, and kindness. Sometimes we forget about this toolset or temporarily misplace it, but it’s always available if we want to access it. I have read the New Testament, the Old Testament, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and so on and that seems to be the point of intersection with all of these philosophies/religions. It’s like the Dalai Lama says, “Whenever possible, be kind. And it’s always possible.”
And so, I had just met Jorge, who seemed to embody love and kindness. It was truly beautiful. I did not take a photo of Jorge. I was tempted, but I did not want to reduce this magical connection with him to a social media moment. I knew that I would most likely never see him again, but he was in my heart throughout our trip. By the time he dropped me off, I realized how I could best thank him . . . I would pay his kindness and generosity forward. Jorge gave me the gift - not of the return of my iPhone - but of reminding me what’s most important.
While I was excited about all the places I was going to see, Jorge reminded me that every place is someone’s home. The benefit of traveling is not just about the places we visit . . . it’s about the people who inhabit those places. That’s what makes a journey special. And that’s what has made our trip extraordinary. It’s the people. They touch our hearts, they open our eyes, and they welcome us to their homeland. That is the true gift of travel. We are grateful to all those who have so graciously welcomed us to their beautiful towns and cities - and I am especially grateful for the wisdom and love of my brother, Jorge.