I know the last thing that this blog needs lately is a negative post.
However, this week marks the anniversary of the death of my dear friend and fellow vagabond, Elin.
There hasn’t been a single day in the last 365 that I didn’t think about what happened, so she needs to be remembered as much as I need to write about it.
I have even been writing about Gili Trawangan for About.com lately, a task made even more daunting by the memories I have associated with the island.
If you are OK with sharing this with me, then read on. Otherwise it would be best to stumble on to another blog.
In April of last year, I landed in Indonesia and prepared to make my way on to Papua, New Guinea, looking for a little adventure.
Elin, who was in Hanoi at the time, happened to see on Facebook that I was back in Southeast Asia. She promptly grabbed a cheap flight down to see me; we met in Bali.
For the next two weeks we traveled around Bali, Ubud, Senggigi, and eventually ended up on the party island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. I took her on her first reef snorkeling trip there and watched her eyes widen in disbelief as a giant sea turtle came to us. At night, we ate and partied along with everyone else.
I eventually had my fill of the non-stop partying and took a one-hour boat over to the next island, Gili Air.
On May 12, I told Elin the shortest of goodbyes because I was sure that she would be joining me soon on Gili Air. It was the last I saw of her. On May 13 she passed away on Gili Trawangan from mysterious causes (later, suspected to be methanol poisoning — an ongoing problem from drinking arak, a locally made moonshine).
With no internet connectivity on my island, I had no idea what had happened and assumed that she had met someone or had a change of heart when she never turned up. It wasn’t until I returned back to the mainland that I received the news via email, causing me to break down in a place with no friendly faces to help.
Alex came back for me and did help.
If only I could have gone back to that goodbye, or better yet, never left the island in the first place.
I first met Elin in the Thai islands in 2006. We had a brief conversation and said goodbye. Months later, we randomly met again in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and she didn’t even recognize me. It wasn’t until an hour into our conversation that we both realized that we had met before.
We said goodbye in Cambodia and then weeks later, met again randomly on Koh Chang in Thailand — what fate! This time, we solidified our friendship on the island.
Elin was an esoteric dreamer, and we both agreed that everything — including our random meetings — happened for a reason. Little did I know how nefarious my role in her life would be one day.
How much do tiny decisions we make every day affect ourselves and others? What if I had walked left out of my bungalow that day in 2006 rather than right?
We would not have been friends and she would not have come to Indonesia — a prospect maddening to think about. One that I do think about every night before going to sleep.
I visited Elin later in Sweden for two weeks, where I met her wonderful parents. They received me well and are great people. Elin was an only child, and one of the toughest parts of all this has been knowing what her family is going through.
Elin was only 23 years old. At her age, she already had more travel experience than I did and was an inspiration to me both as a traveler and a writer. She had recently become accepted into a prestigious writing school in Sweden.
Elin was a tortured soul, beautifully eccentric, and a special woman. She traveled alone without fear and could handle herself in any country or jungle.
Strangely, one of my best memories of her is how we couldn’t pass a single stray cat without her stopping to give it attention. We always took leftover food for the cats and eventually built a reputation among the feline community on Gili Trawangan.
The beaten-up strays would come out of hiding and literally walk behind Elin as she made her way down the streets! They knew her and loved her.
Another great memory is when we hired a motorbike and rode from Ubud to the mountains of North Bali. She had wrecked a scooter previously and was nervous about getting onto the back of another.
Out of trust, she relented, and off we sped in the mad Bali traffic toward distant volcanoes. We rode through the jungle, rain, dirt roads, and even got attacked by monkeys!
Somehow we managed to make it back to Ubud and laughed and laughed, each of us claiming the other to be more scared when the monkeys came from nowhere.
Over three years of friendship, Elin and I met in four countries and constantly shared travel experiences online. Even one year later, I still type this in disbelief and it still seems as if I could just send her an email to see where she is now.
If you made it this far through a post like this, thank you. The road is a funny place; you never know what to expect. But one thing is guaranteed: whatever the outcome, the road always wins.
I pray that Elin’s adventures continue, in a place even far more beautiful than this world. If I know her at all, she’s exploring every inch of it as I write this.
See you on the road, Elin. I miss you.