Dan and I left Colombia on November 30, 2015 to begin our next adventure in Patagonia. We left Colombia with heavy hearts, nostalgia, some fear, a boat load of memories and also excitement to see what Patagonia will hold for us. We loved Colombia and were sad to go but realized we needed to if we were going to make it to the other places we had on our minds. Colombia will forever hold an extra special place in my heart not only because it was the first stop on this journey, but because I fell in love with the country. More than I thought I would. All of my expectations going there were completely blown out of the water. I really felt (and still feel) like we left parts of ourselves there. For all of these reasons, I felt like I owed Colombia something for this huge gift it gave me. I felt ungrateful just leaving and moving on to another country without recognizing our time there. So I had an idea.
I’ve been wanting Dan to write a guest post in my blog since I had the idea to even start it. Doing what I do best, I finally nagged him enough to cave and write a tribute to Colombia by detailing what it meant to him. I wanted Dan’s words on Colombia because only in this country, did I see him wake up every morning excited to start his day. I thought he could give a better recap on our time there because Dan thrived in Colombia. He truly loved his everyday.
I’m very proud to introduce my second guest post by my amazing husband and travel partner:
Christie has been asking me to do a guest post here ever since we started this trip. I’ve said yes multiple times, even called a post, but never went through with it. I have a hard enough time opening up in person, and doing so on the internet for everyone to read is WAY out of my comfort zone. But a big part of this whole experience was to do just that, get out of my little bubble, so I committed to a post reflecting on our first 2 months in Colombia. I wasn’t sure how to tackle the task of summarizing 2 whole months in one post, and that’s where Christie had a great idea; a top 10 list. I compiled a list of my favorite moments, selected pictures, and even got as close as hitting ‘Publish’ in WordPress before I had a change of heart. If I was to truly give my Colombian experience justice, it needed to be more than a top 10 list, most of which Christie had already touched on in greater detail in her previous posts. I needed to put my insecurities aside, and go all in, so here it goes..
Colombia. 2 months, 7 cities, 4 weeks of Spanish class, 2 hikes, and more, all amounted to one life changing experience. I know, it sounds dramatic and cliche, but the person that walked through customs in Medellin in early October, and the one who left the country 2 months later are completely different. Colombia changed me. It welcomed me with its warm weather and people, challenged me, surprised me, and inspired me. The way I think of my time here is in two parts; the first being our month in Medellin, and the second being the month we traveled everywhere else. Each part having its own profound affect upon me, and my time here.
Part 1: Medellin
With its fame in violence, cocaine, narco-trafficking, and of course Pablo Escobar, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Medellin. It was a gamble of sorts on our part, picking not only Colombia, but also Medellin as the place to start our travels due to all of the perceptions back home. As we came to find out, all of these perceptions and stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. Caveat: is it a beacon of safety? No, its like any other big city anywhere, there is still crime. That aside, Medellin set the tone, not only for itself, but the rest of our trip in Colombia. A true reflection of the Paisa culture, Medellin is a hard working, innovative, ‘chip on their shoulders’ type of city – they literally think they are better than all other Colombians. As an example: back in the 90’s when violence consumed the city, when people were afraid to be outside, the city decided to build and successfully completed the first and only metro system in Colombia. Paisa’s make the most of their situation, no matter the circumstances, and its contagious. I caught it.
I arrived in Medellin at a pretty low point in my life. I was overly stressed, had no free time, didn’t even enjoy the little free time I did have. I was caught in an endless cycle of work, drink, rest; every day, every week. At the root of it, I didn’t enjoy my life, and more importantly, I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. With this mindset I entered Medellin looking for a fresh start, a new mentality to grasp on to, a new way to go about life. When this mentality got ahold of the Paisa culture, it was a shot of new life in me. I started to be more positive, more confident, I enjoyed things more, the little things stopped bothering me; I felt and thought differently.
This change is best exemplified by my morning routine; in that I’m not a morning person. Back in the states before work, I would need a solid 30 minutes of internet browsing and a full cup of coffee before I was awake. In Medellin, I woke up before my alarm, on a Monday, excited to start my day. I couldn’t believe it. I loved everything about my day. From riding the local bus each morning, to getting to class early to read, to learning Spanish, to the homework, to the freedom Christie and I had to explore the city on the weekends. I was happy. Everyday. It was a feeling lost long ago, and was incredible to find again. And I realized that I’m in control of this happiness. This attitude and mindset are something that can’t be taken away from me when I leave, and the knowledge of being able to make changes in your life that will lead to happiness is profound and empowering.
So was Colombia an escape? Partially. But, I don’t attach any negative connotation to it. I knew my unhappiness and willingly made a change. And I’m not saying boom, 4 weeks in Medellin and I’m cured either. And further, I know that when this adventure phase is over, I will be presented with different life circumstances that will challenge and test all of this. And was all of this because of Medellin, or just giving myself time to think and grow? I don’t know, nor do I care to. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know I’m on the right track. The track of discovering what will bring me life long happiness. A journey I was long overdue in starting, and one that was brought to the fore front in Medellin. For this reason, Medellin will always have a special place in my heart.
Part 2: The Rest of Colombia
Reenergized from my time in Medellin, Christie and I took on the task of trying to see the rest of the country. With this new mindset, I loved each and every destination we chose. Christie has done such a fantastic job at posting about each location we visited, and offering so much insight to what we took away from each place, that I don’t have much more to add. And going through any additional thoughts I had on each place would be much too boring, so I decided to pick 2 experiences from this ‘Part 2’ that left the biggest impact on me.
Los Nevados Trek: This trek was hands down the most mentally and physically challenging thing I’ve ever done. Ever. We hiked 20km everyday, for 3 days. So 20km is about 13 miles, which seems doable, until the fact that its all uphill for 2 days, all downhill the last day, and most of it is not on any trail. Our guides grew up in the national park the trek was in, and took us up and over mountain passes that had no trails.
It was hard to see the coolness of this in the moment, when our bodies ached, our heads hurt from the altitude, and we could never catch our breath. And the last day of going down, supposed to be easier, right? No, it rained. Factor in wind as you go over a mountain pass, and the rain is coming straight at you. Nothing like hiking 13 miles while wet. Did I mention that we didn’t even make it to the summit? Christie and I opted out of the last ascent of 500m-800m (can’t remember exactly at this point), and instead rested at a not to shabby 14,000 feet with our guide. So, I’ve been whining about this whole trek, and we didn’t even make the summit. Was this trek a bad decision, or worse even, a failure? Not even close. I pushed myself to my limits, and I came out a better, stronger, more confident person. I learned not only what my trekking limits are, but how strong I am to be able to accomplish 90% of this. As we finished our trek, we end up on the same path that tourists enter to see these tall palm trees. As I came out of the wilderness a sweaty, dirty mess, I came out a different person.
Last Night in Cartagena: Our last night in Cartagena was really a layover in a crappy airport motel, as we had 24 hours of travel time the next day down to Argentinian Patagonia. To get to Cartagena that day we endured a terribly hot, long, and jerky bus ride from Santa Marta. And then at about 1:00am, I get sick.
This bathroom is gross, there is no toilet seat, and the toilet is so close to the wall in front of it, the only way I can sit on it is with my legs spread wide. I got unwillingly good at this position due to the frequency of my visits all night. So good in fact, that I would rest my forehead on the wall in front of me. Just miserable, and I had 24 hours of flights and airports to look forward to in just a couple hours. A definite low point in the trip.
In the position, with my head against resting against the wall, I kept asking myself, why am I still here? Why am I putting myself through this? In that moment I wanted nothing more than to be in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by family, friends, and kitties. The answer, and motivation to carry on came in the most unlikely of places. The only channel in English at the hotel was playing a crappy, terribly 1980’s, Sylvester Stallone movie, Over the Top. There is a quote that Sly has during the movie that, I’m embarrassed to admit, really stuck with me: “The world meets nobody halfway, you want something, you have to take it.”
As I thought more and more about this quote, the more and more I found it personally meaningful. The whole point of this trip, this adventure, was to really grab life by the horns for once. Take a chance on something. Shake things up. Push myself, learn about myself. This isn’t something that comes to you on your couch binging on Netflix, this is something you have to take. The reason I’m still here is that I’m taking from the world, not meeting it halfway. This is going to require low points in addition achieving the high points. I never really thought of it in this manner before. I never thought of how much work it would be once we got here, how tiring it would be, how uncomfortable I would feel; its not a vacation. In taking this experience, adventure, and growth from the world, its going to require getting through these low points I didn’t exactly envision before. To get to the highs of swimming in waterfalls up in the mountains, I’m going to have to endure long travel days, bug bites, feeling like an outsider, being lost, being continually uncomfortable and a lot of diarrhea.
In the end, this lesson isn’t just applicable to our adventure. Its applicable to life. To continue to take for yourself a rich and fulfilling life from the world is going to require so much on a personal level. All of the ups and downs will lead to a more purposeful life, and thats clearer now. The lows build character, and the highs are more enjoyable. I’m still here because I’m not done yet. Not with this trip, not with the life I want to live. The world won’t meet me halfway sitting on the couch, so I have to be out here pushing my limits, experiencing the highs and lows. And to think all of this came from Sylvester Stallone, crazy.
Part 3: Wrap it up already!
Colombia offered not only beautiful scenery, weather, food, people and culture, but a place for personal growth and reflection. It showed me that traveling and exploring is more than just experiencing what the country has to offer, its also equally about exploring yourself. Because of all of this, I have a deep, personal connection to this country, and my life has been forever changed by being here. My time in Colombia is something I dearly cherish, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived such an experience. Colombia changed me, and I changed in Colombia. ¡Viva Colombia!