Bart Och - Travel Journalist

I was sat on the edge of the half-empty pool. The water turned green and swampy. Burnished blue tiles were now covered with a thin layer of grime, the lifebuoy found its way into the shallow corner, and the volleyball we played with just a few days ago swelled up with moisture in the overflow. I wondered what good this pandemic gave me. The pandemic that took my job, prevented me from realising my passion, erased much of my plans, buried the effects of many sacrifices and efforts, and turned my lifestyle upside down. Did I really need a lockdown to learn what was important to me; to feel connected to nature and recognise the need to take care of our planet and myself? I understood all of this a long time ago, and that is why I followed this path.

Sometimes, I miss having a stable life: my own home that I can always return to from my travels, a normal job, a circle of friends that I can hang out with after work. Sometimes, I get tired of going from place to place, having to constantly pack my bag and doing my laundry in a sink. Sometimes, I just want to stay put.

And now, when suddenly the Earth stood still, and my wishes somewhat came true, I found myself stranded indefinitely in a strange, communist country. At the foot of a camelback-shaped mountain veiled in dense tropical foliage, a quiet farmstay on the outskirts of Phong Nha unexpectedly became my new home for months.

In a tiny town in central Vietnam, far away from family, one would think I was shut off from the world. I suppose I was. But when I was thinking about how much the pandemic took away from me, I realised that it gave me something very important in return. It made me realise that all those years ago when I decided to leave my comfortable life in England and follow my passion, I made the right choice. Not good in general or for everyone, but good for me. How do I know that? Because even now, I don’t regret that I picked this life for myself.

James Thurber once wrote, ‘To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.’

In the inability to travel, to pursue my passion, I clearly understood that I don’t need an actual home to feel safe and accomplished, or a regular job to make ends meet. I don’t need a lot of money or fancy things to feel fortunate. None of it would make me any happier or richer than the memories I have gathered over the years, the experiences I have had, the friends I have made, the roads I have taken.

I miss the dreadful bus journeys and crappy beds. I miss being lost and trying to find my way around a new city. I am longing to pick up and dust off my backpack and to go to places I haven’t yet had a chance to visit. And I ought to always remember that freedom and life are fragile privileges I shouldn’t ever take for granted. Because more than anything else, I miss being free.

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