Revivir – Literally, in Spanish, to live again. Even the urge to write comes back like an itch I’ve been having for two years – far too long to be called a writer’s block and far too short to never see that creative outlet again. My life as a dromomaniac came to a halt when I moved back to New York City last August, and only recently this summer have I felt happy again. The change coming back to the U.S. after living in Spain for a year was a strange reverse cultural shock; suddenly life was real again. I lost so much: a low-stress no-stress job with an amazing salary, incredible friends and coworkers who made me smile constantly, and the most difficult to lose, a relationship I thought would last forever. I guess starting a Ph.D. program is never difficult but the fall was even greater for me when you think you have it all. And now being in New York City, I realize that I love all that it has to offer but hate that it’s a rich man’s city. I’ll save my rant on the highlights and lowlights of NYC for another time though.
I book my flight to Cartagena two weeks before I depart. And I’m traveling alone. This is the adventure and spontaneity I cultivated to love. Never mind the fact that most people would think it suspicious (“Hmm… a chemist going to Colombia alone with only a backpack and cash”), but I had my destination and journey set. Traveling alone is wonderful, and I recommend everyone to try it at least once. You will be forced to meet and interact with people you wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise, you get to do what YOU want to really do when you want to do it, and you are able to reflect and contemplate about things you might not be able to do in company. That being said, I do like to travel with others as well; it just makes for a different experience.
Having the skin color I do while traveling proves to be a gift. Landing in Cartagena’s airport made me realize I am a chameleon; right away, the security officers asked to see my Colombian passport. Jaja, no… soy de Nueva York. And probably being a male helps too. Walking around the streets in Cartagena, I was never harassed. In fact, it was so interesting when I pulled out my monstrous DSLR camera because suddenly I was a tourist, and only then did I get more attention. The same happened to me when I was in Brazil: while in a favela tour group, some locals pointed at me and said, “Brasileiro, Brasileiro!”
Colombia reminds me of a spicier version of Miami (if that’s even possible). Constant salsa music blasting from the bars into the streets, even MORE humid, hot weather, and delicious empanadas at every corner. The people are much friendlier as well. From the divorced woman sitting next to me on the plane talking about revisiting Colombia again after 10 years and not knowing what to expect to the 40-year-old man approaching me to talk about football and youth, people seemed much less hesitant to engage in conversation. Perhaps living in big cities like NYC closes us off and makes us harder individuals.
The highlight of my trip was taking a 2-hour boat ride away from Cartagena to las Islas Rosario, where you only get electricity, in the form of a single outlet, for a few hours of the day. I fell asleep at night to the waves rolling in and out in a bungalow, something you would picture on the set of Gilligan’s Island. How incredible it felt to be so disconnected from the rest of the world. I met these two beautiful German travelers, and we dove in the water at night and saw the bioluminescent plankton. You move your hand and all of the plankton glow around it. Probably one of the most interesting and breathtaking moments I have ever experienced.
I also was able to spend some time exploring the different tourist attractions around Cartagena, one being the mud volcano. Apparently it is several thousand feet deep but because the density of the mud is so high, your body stays afloat. It’s quite an interesting feeling and supposedly the minerals and salts are beneficial to the skin. I imagine it’s similar to the masks women put on in the beauty salons.
And so, my preconceived notions of Colombia are shattered. I come back to the U.S. with a more open, healthy mind and body. I still remember my Spanish friend telling me to “work to live, don’t live to work.” We get so comfortable with our daily routine, eg. 10+ hours of work a day, that it almost irks us to see any change. Keeping the mind and body stimulated requires an interruption from the norm, which is not necessarily in the form of leaving the country but also in learning a new language, taking a class in graphics design, or trying a new exercise regimen. Life’s too short to throw away even one day.
I’d like to end this post with a favorite quote of mine, which has never resonated so deeply to me:
“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”