This trip and this story begin much like any other, doused with calamity, drowning in uncertainty, and half-drunk at an airport at four in the morning. But something was far different this time than any other escape I have attempted. I cling to the passport that was issued just sixteen hours before my plane is set to depart, the passport I was told if I lose I will never be issued another and I wonder how I made it here again this time.
Seven A.M. from Washington National to Fort Lauderdale and I remember nothing, passing out instantly against the cool window and waking to the long string of gate announcements and proclamations of local weather. Two hours in Florida finds a mimosa before I board the plane to Bogota. I bought this ticket six months ago on a whim. $175 for a one-way ticket to Colombia. I was suffocating on my life in Charlotte, gasping for something other than air that might help keep me alive. But Charlotte didn’t have what I was looking for, and I wasn’t even sure exactly what it was. The last time I felt that way, leaving was the only answer.
But New Zealand wasn’t just a trip. It wasn’t just a desire to see the world that fueled that spontaneous departure. Back then it felt like the whole country, my whole life was kicking me out. As if I didn’t leave I would never know what I needed to know, and never find what I didn’t even know I was looking for. And where that feeling rested its wild mane, there remains a thirst I know not how to satiate. But there is also something else that grows and thrives in a different place, something more foreign to me than any of these places.
When the plane lands safely in the unappealing sprawl of Bogota, I am still exhausted and disoriented. I speak not a word of Spanish other than “donde esta el banjo?” and have no idea where I will even be staying when I reach Cartagena late this evening. I haven’t eaten or slept since yesterday save for a bag of combos, a mimosa, a beer, and a two hour nap on the plane. I am dizzy, my bag heavy, my hands shaking as I wander clueless in yet another foreign land.
When I finally find the check-in counter a rush of Spanish cascades from the mouth of a LAN employee, her hair pulled back tight and shining with product, reflecting the light from the ceiling as if she were a cartoon. Her skin is yellowed caramel, her unforgiving red lipstick perfectly lines her lips, and I have no fucking idea what she is saying to me. Eventually she points at some kiosks behind me and I assume I am to check-in there.
But of course the machines are in Spanish, as is the woman who is trying to help me use them and I end up back in line trying to explain to the first woman that it wouldn’t give me a boarding pass. Eventually succumbing to our inability to communicate, she directs me to the counter to check my overpacked backpack. The first person with even a lick of English takes my bag, points me to domestic departures, and places a boarding pass in my ever more shaky hands. I need food, and water, and fast, or I don’t think I’ll make it very far.
With only American dollars I need to find a money exchange first. I thought I had seen one before, casa de cambio. So I ask the first official looking person, “Donde esta casa de cambio?” Believing myself to be clever, that I will get the hang of this in no time, his response is another flood of Espanol through which I hear only one word: izquierda. So I make a left and wander in circles until I finally find the money exchange hidden behind a Subway.
While I wait in line, the dizziness already beginning to blur my vision, my knees weakened and swaying with lack of sleep and sanity, I begin to doubt everything again. What am I doing here? Why do I choose these things that are so difficult? I tell myself I don’t even want this, that I just want to go home. And I almost believe it. I couldn’t do it alone again, I am sure. But I am meeting a friend in Cartagena this time. A best friend. And the knowledge she will be there with me the first ten days of the next six weeks, settles me almost as much as the sandwich I am about to eat.
With $436,000 Colombian Pesos in my hand I head to the Subway to stumble through ordering. The names of each of the toppings are posted on the glass in Spanish and I am infinitely grateful for this. When I am told how much it is, I don’t understand, but hand over twenty large and assume it will cover the bill. I am thankful again for change and a receipt. At least numbers are the same in every language.
I sit in the terminal and slowly begin to eat, so weak and hungry at this point that swallowing itself is difficult, and I find the first moments in my head since I left that are only mine. What is so different this time than the last? Why does everything feel harder, scarier, lonelier? I believed myself to be some kind of seasoned traveler but I think in all that I forgot that it’s always scary. Knowing no one, no language, no plans is never easy. But the drive I felt the first time I left was fueled by a desire for fulfillment I could not find when even my home had nothing of a home to offer me.
Today I have left behind more than I could ever ask to have. A man whose love has graced me in the way I so yearned for during my long days on the road. A yearning I attempted to fill with the physical comforts that can only ever dream to mimic such a thing. I have left a job that affords me this trip, that is filled with people who so quickly have grown dearer to me than most, and the one thing a life on the road can never offer: utter and complete comfort.
So perhaps in this realization I find the dichotomy of my soul. That the ecstasy of wandering and the broad satisfaction of comfort are never to be had at once. Suddenly I see that I am not a traveler this time. Not another lonely soul with no real destination but pleasure, but just a girl on a long, happy holiday from a cold, working winter. I will drink beers for breakfast and wander the beaches, work on my tan, and return home in six weeks with the joys of exploring a sliver of the sixth continent under my belt.
And when I think of the beauty that these places encompass, which is ineffable and indelible in me, I still know I now have everything I truly want back home. Not to say I am done exploring because I don’t believe I ever will be. But each of the two occupies a different void in me, and to love one is to leave the other, at least for a while. And I’m not ready to leave this one for too long just yet.