PUblished Travel Articles

In the beginning, it is quiet. The only sound is rain falling on the great, green savage land. Then the birds start to coo and call in hearty anticipation. “Are you ready?” they seem to say. “Are you ready for the change? Are you ready to look at yourself from the inside?” A chorus of Chicharras shakes and sings as nature’s symphony swells to a deafening hum.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

“Are you ready?”

 

“Are you ready?”

Think back to the first time you had sex.

 

That confused feeling of ecstasy where the moves are all new, but the urges have been there forever. It is discovery mixed with a biological sense of duty. You smell differently afterwards. Your eyes have adjusted as your pupils have dilated to take in the beauty of the darkness surrounding you. You are different. You can never go back to the comfort of innocence because you know there are better things ahead. For the first time you look a little further into your future. Relationship? Marriage? Kids? You are probably a child yourself at this first encounter, but your heart doesn’t know your age.

 

This is precisely how I felt when I stepped foot on my first foreign land. Springtime in Paris, 2010. I was a virgin to travel. I had no idea the depths it would reach, how much I would change.

When I told my mother I was going to Colombia, she started screaming. My grandmother started crying. Every family member I had, spread out over the Indiana cornfields, was terrified. Me? I just smiled. I was about to embark on my most dangerous expedition yet. France and Italy are child’s play next to this cocaine-filled, guerrilla war zone, where young American girls like me get kidnapped by gun-wielding masked men. Or, at least, this is what my family thought. Why not? The media does a fine job of covering every aspect of the Colombian drug trade (sadly cocaine is still their main export), the violence, and the political uncertainties that come with it. As with nearly all things media, however, they conveniently leave out the heart of this country—the magic, the music, and the men.

 

I’ve lived in Manizales, Colombia for nine months now. I know that Santander Avenue runs parallel through the city with another avenue aptly called “The Parallela”. I know that the blue busses are newer and nicer than the green or red busses and that the small white collectivo will take you to your destination faster for dos cientos mas.  I know that groceries are almost always cheaper in El Centro and to buy my tinto (strong black coffee in plastic cups) from a vendor on the street rather than the expensive corporate conglomerate, Juan Valdez. I’ve even settled into a 3-bedroom apartment on the main avenue with my Colombian boyfriend (it’s serious – we have plants). On Saturdays we play table tennis and on Sundays we share an ice cream in Chipre, a neighborhood where it seems you can see the whole country at once from the high mountain view. But I’ve stopped traveling. I’ve… settled down. I used to spit that word out of my mouth in disdain, disgusted that people would actuallychoose that path. It seemed like no path at all! Where’s the ADVENTURE!? Where’s the ROMANCE!? So, what happened? Let me explain.

I leave Manizales, Colombia in a small plane with visible propellers. The sky is cloudy, like normal, and the air is crisp. I felt a sense of belonging in this little city, but today is my leaving day. I turn back once more through a glaze of hot tears to blow a kiss to the man I love before walking through the small security gate. The officer stops me and says I have to throw away my nail clippers, almost regretfully. He must sense my sadness. “Oh shit,” I mumble. “Pero no es importante,” I say as the tears well up in my eyes and my face scrunches to a strange distorted trying-not-to-cry-but-failing face. He looks at me doubtfully. I toss the clippers and remove my bags from the belt.

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