My arrival in Colombia was a lot like my arrival in China. I didn't have much an itinerary but I wanted a big change, so I took a big chance on a completely different continent. I navigated through the smoggy cities and towns of rice paddies and I discovered new strength, new ideas and new parts of myself and my perspective that I didn't know about myself in all my 28 years of living. Hopping onto the bullet train leaving from Shanghai' Pudong Airport I had all kinds of dreams for my first month in China.
I struggled through customs and into the busy afternoon traffic of Medellin a little more nervous than I usually am whenever I first arrive in a new place. That moment I live for - that thrill of arriving in some place completely unknown and having it all at your fingertips was replaced by second guesses and lots of caution. My first time in South America. Maybe it was a friend from home who commented that because I'd never been to South America yet that I couldn't say I was a world traveller. I agreed with him. Some people travel to leave the box, but then at the end of the day find ourselves being put into a different boxes. And so it goes.
I was very aware that I was in South America, and very aware that it's a little different than other places I'm used to traveling solo in. Bangkok is one thing - Bogota is another. Anyone who's been to those two cities can confirm that. I hadn't prepared for this new game because I was sticking to my own, which was to wing it. I'm not sure if time or wisdom will ever change my method.
The image of the Andes couldn't escape my brain cloud as I boarded the airport bus bound for the middle of Medellin. You know when you see all kinds of pictures of a place for years, and then you finally see it? You can pinpoint the location without even a confirmation, because you just know. I was half asleep and resting my head on the window of the plane when we'd crossed the Caribbean and entered the landscape of South America. Colombia is in the northern end of the continent, so it didn't take much flight to get above the Andes region. Groggy and anxious I looked out and saw some of the most beautiful land I'd ever seen. I've flown over the Himalayas, over the Rockies (never hiked them, yet) but what was under my feet was unmistakably South America. The high suddenly hit me and I got that dose of energy for the world that I need to fuel me.
I didn't choose Colombia because it was a place on my bucket list. I don't really have a bucket list. The country chose me. A good friend asked "Wanna join me in Colombia for a few weeks? I need a break."
The first rule of improv - just say yes. And I always do.
What can I say about following the route Gabriel Garcia Marquez once took and going to the village from One Hundred Years of Solitude?
How can I describe the thrill of being in the back of a motorbike once again, as my friends and I made our way from the town of Minca to the hostel on the hill also known as Casa Elemento - a place I decided to call home for a few weeks as I was given room and board to serve backpackers mojitos, margaritas, gin and tonics, and crack open cans of Aguilas for them?
How can I write about being completely content as I was the only single person on a boat ride up the Rio Magdalena, and spotted scenic swampland, eagles and other wildlife? Or that morning I woke up at dawn and walked by the town church only to see three eagles perched on the bench in front of the bright yellow Iglesia San Francisco, as the sun rose over the river?
There's the blue that opened my eyes one morning as I was sleeping in a hammock. We were in the desert, somewhere by the Caribbean and I saw only two colours - a deep turquoise and the orange of the mud houses around us. It was silent. It was the moment when only the spirits are heard as the people continue to rest. It's that peace before we wake up and make a bit of a mess of things, which is okay, because the sun always rises the next morning.
There was the friends I made at Casa Elemento, and our talks after watching the sunset.
There was the kindness I found during moments when I'd briefly forgotten that kindness existed.
Those are my highlights for now, and the memories that keep me going on this chilly autumn evening. I'll flesh out the details more for you in future posts.
But one thing I did learn, is that you can never get tired of a beautiful sunset.