It’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve been traveling alone…but thinking back to when I first flew into Bogotá, Colombia…it feels like it’s been longer. I can’t even say how long it’s felt because it really doesn’t feel like days, weeks, or months exist. Except for my flight from Santiago, Chile to Patagonia, I have no where to be or nothing to do that requires a deadline. I sort of have an idea of where I am going next, but in reality this can change based on what I want to do. Since I am alone, I have the option to stay somewhere as long as I please. I get to choose what I want to do. I get to really feel what makes me excited and inspired, as well as what makes me feel repressed and unhappy.
I felt like I kind of had an idea of what I liked before going into this trip, but somehow those things felt intangible. If I knew then what I know 2 weeks later…I wouldn’t have booked a hostel for 4 nights in Bogotá, Colombia’s bustling capital filled with skyscrapers and crowded streets. WhhhoooEEE that was a lot to take in right off the bat. It was overwhelming. My heart physically felt like it was being crushed. Those first few days there I kept asking myself “what am I doing there, I don’t belong here” then I would always have that Radiohead song stuck in my head. For these first few days I didn’t feel good, I couldn’t eat, I was stressed…and almost anytime I had to speak to someone in spanish and it wasn’t going well (when my brain was too tired to understand words or make them) I would cry because it was soooo frustrating!!! It’s like when you’re a child and can’t communicate or understand but it’s worse because you’re an adult and you actually know how to communicate your thoughts..in your language. Not only is it frustrating, but when you have this limited ability to understand and speak, you feel really stupid. I would always have this confused and sad look on my face when someone was talking to me and I had to ask them to repeat what they said 4 times until they’d boil it down to one word I was able to understand. I felt (and still feel) really humbled to be here, in a place where I am an outsider that doesn’t know what’s going on a lot of the time. I think it’s good to understand this feeling. It gives you more patience and compassion for others around you struggling with whatever…two qualities I’ve felt like I’d been lacking for a while.
I didn’t meet people immediately for multiple reasons: my hostel was too small/no very social; the people I did meet just happened to be people I didn’t click with; I didn’t do any organized tours/activities until my last day; I wanted to explore on my own; and most importantly, I needed to become a little more grounded before I could be a less stressed, lovely and approachable human being. On my last day in Bogotá, I finally met some folks that I liked and had the chance to hang out with because I finally did an organized tour – the Bogotá graffiti tour. It taught a lot about Colombian history and culture through the legal but still kind of illegal art of graffiti (it’s legal if you get permission from the building’s owner). There were a lot of art depicting birds because artists are very inspired by Colombia’s wonderful biodiversity. Of course there was also politically charged art, like a pig in a cop’s uniform (the police here are corrupt, like most places). The guide also made a point to show us a lot of art done by women, which showed that women here have been able to overcome being over shadowed by men, as well as the fear of being out alone while creating theirart. There was even art of just fun stuff, like a wall of cats..including grumpy cat, tom, and other familiar faces:
So this is how you mostly meet people, you do touristy stuff like this. It was nice to speak to people in english and laugh a lot and not eat dinner alone. It was also my first experience meeting people I really liked then having to leave them forever the next day. It didn’t feel bad, it felt exciting because I knew I would get to share other awesome experiences with other awesome people.
So originally I was go north from Bogotá to the coast then travel southwest and make my way around all these popular cities, but I couldn’t bear being in a city again. I needed something more calm. I found myself really wanting to experience areas with ecological significance in Colombia. I also realized at this point that South America is a huge continent and I didn’t think I had enough time to make all these stops in Colombia…I had to keep moving south! I decided to go to a small town called Salento, a beautiful area known for its coffee farms and the gorgeous Cocora Valley:
I loved it here. It was calm and I was so close to all these beautiful areas. I met lovely people in my hostel and during the Cocora Valley trek. A group of travelers from Israel invited me to join them, and we later ran into another group and we all got to experience something new and beautiful together. It felt like a short-term family.
I left Salento to Cali, which is a large city known for its warm temperature and salsa dancing. I didn’t like it. I found myself missing Oregon – place I felt like I belonged. In South America, I felt very much like an outsider looking in. I did meet some cool people here and we got to experience Cali’s Festival of Lights, where I saw the most colorful lights ever…it was gorgeous. I wanted to go watch birds in a pretty place but this wasn’t easy in Cali. I woke up my second day being there and decided then to take off, even though I had another night reserved. This is what freedom feels like! I didn’t like it so I left. Easy. I hopped on a bus to Pasto, a small town popular for travelers to sleep before they cross the boarder to Ecuador. The ride was 11 hours from Cali and the person I sat next to needed to spread his legs and arms all up in my space…he used my foot rest as his foot rest! He bought me juice at one point, which confused me because I wasn’t being very friendly with him. Also why would he buy me juice anyways? I didn’t want it but I took it because it would have been rude not to. Turns out it was the most delicious juice I ever tried…Hit Mango, yo! Still, it was an uncomfortable ride. I arrived to Pasto feeling run-down and overly exhausted. I took a couple days here to relax, to be alone a prepare for the madness of a boarder crossing. I went wandering to find a church. Being inside these old and beautiful buildings calms me and gives me a profound sense of history and cultural importance. A german lady approached me and asked if I was crossing the boarder the next day, which I was, and she said she wanted someone to do it with. I happily agreed because I was nervous as well.
The boarder crossing went well, even though it took way too long. I left my german friend at the bus station past Ecuador’s boarder and made a new eccentric english friend with many stories to tell. I’ve been in Quito, Ecuador for almost a week (more on the beautiful Ecuador later). After two weeks I feel a lot more confident traveling alone…and now I’m genuinely enjoying it. It’s a great sense of relief!! My mind and body feel more clear.
Before I left on this trip, people kept asking why I wasn’t more excited…and even though I did feel excitement, I mostly felt very scared the closer I got to leaving. I hadn’t done something this big alone before. I’m actually surprised more people didn’t understand why I was scared. I suppose it’s because the idea seems intangible and foreign to most people…that’s how it felt to me when I made the decision to go. I wasn’t scared when I booked my plane ticket to Colombia because I didn’t really understand what I was doing. But of course the closer it got the more i went over scenarios in my head, and the idea became more real. But now it’s really real, and I’m in it. This experience is big, but it’s like overcoming any other challenge in life. Sometimes the world isn’t as scary as you think it is, and more often than not, you’re stronger than you think you are.