the new way of living with the world
inside of us so we cannot lose it,
and we cannot be lost.
Seven months ago, I made the impulsive decision to take my first big girl overseas trip to Colombia. With a little help from Groupon's enticing deals and extra push from the kind of girlfriend who equally shares the yearn for traveling, I committed to a 5-day vacation to a country I knew almost nothing about. Two months later the Zika virus broke out and spread to various South American countries, Colombia included, and I had several friends and family warn me about the dangers of kidnappings and drug cartels and poverty. It also hadn't helped that ever since I watched the movie Taken, I've been scarred about traveling with just another female in a foreign country. Then weeks before our departure, we realized we were traveling during Colombia's rain season where thunderstorms were more frequent everyday, which completely crushed my hopes of leaving gloomy, cold New York to go somewhere perfectly contrasted. Needless to say, the months counting down towards our trip to Colombia had me feeling more frightened than excited about my preliminary foreign adventures.
Well, if I learned anything from my first travels, I can say with the utmost confidence that the warnings and my worries were strictly cautionary with a bit of paranoia. Every travel experience is subjective to personal experience, and as long as you are prepared and smart about your surroundings, there is no reason to let your fears get in the way of completely immersing yourself in a new culture. And I say this because I don't think my friends and family, and even myself, could be more deceived by the media about Colombia. The people we met were more than willing to help us in any way they could despite the impeding language barrier. From the waiter who ordered our meals for us because we couldn't understand the menu to the taxi driver who told us specific spots we had to see in Old Town before our leave, Colombians were some of the nicest and genuine people I've met, and definitely a breath of fresh air from the bitter New Yorkers I'm used to. Maybe I was lucky enough to meet these kinds of people but nevertheless, these encounters taught me to look at the world with a broader perspective and an open mind.
My favorite story from this trip has to be that time when Lynn and I got lost in Old Town, Cartagena looking for a restaurant our friends told us to meet them at. With absolutely no access to the internet to look up its location and very few places where free Wifi was accessible, we were truly, indefinitely, and hopelessly...lost. But in this moment of slight impatience and subtle frustration, I felt completely immersed in the Colombian culture. There were no ties to the kind of familiarity I'm used to back home and I was forced to become part of the locals if we were to progress anywhere. We asked locals who understood some English, then they would ask a nearby local, and the telephone-chain of inquiry would go on until someone had some clue as to what we were looking for. The extent to which they dedicated their time and effort to help out flustered foreigners who had almost no Spanish understanding relieved any fearful presumptions of locals taking advantage of tourists I had. It was so refreshingly genuine and I felt seemingly aligned and embracive of this unfamiliar culture. If there is any real way to really get to know a place, it is to simply get lost in it (with street smarts, of course). And that's something I'll always take away with me for my future travels.
Lesson #3: You don't have to feel lost if you allow the beauty of strangeness to flow naturally.
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Photography by Neckbreakin' Style