Un Camino para Otro Día

By January 23, 2012Latin America, Lessons Learned

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.


  • Hi Taylor! I just found your blog and I’m in love with it! So much of what you write about has found its way in my heart and echoes my own thoughts. By the way, I recently got “black listed” at the U.S. embassy for losing my passport too! They have little sympathy for that kind of shit, huh? Anyway, keep writing and keep sharing your stories, I’m tantalized! Cheers!

    • Taylor says:

      Thanks so much Mariah! Luckily after a year of temporary passport probation, I was granted the real deal. And I’m now more paranoid about losing it than anything ever. I’m actually perusing your site right now and I like your style too 🙂

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