Three days ago I wrote that I am cold, old, vulnerable, and unsure what to do. Only one of those things can not be easily changed, and I’m well on my way to addressing the others. Yesterday I bought a flight to Medellin and enrolled in a Spanish language school. I have heard that Medellin is a wonderful city, slightly warmer than Bogotá, safe and clean. Most people say I am at risk of getting stuck there, as it is hard to leave. I fly on Saturday afternoon and start school on Monday. I have enrolled for one week and will decide how long to stay. I will be less vulnerable, less cold, and I will know what I am doing with my time. I am still feeling old, but from what I can tell that won’t change.
Here is an update of my trip so far, in numbers:
1 – Number of entries in my journal
Normally, I spent a great deal of time reading and writing when I travel. This time, I have barely started my book and written only once in my journal (on the plane). Most of my trips are an opportunity to take a short break from “real life”, take in a new city (mostly by eating), and enjoy solitude. All but one of my trips last year was at the beginning or end of a long work week, so I needed the break from people.
This trip, however, is my real life. My real life is now being unemployed and my goal is to meet other people and figure out my identity outside my career.
4 – Days in Bogotá
I have been in Bogotá for four days now, and am starting to settle in – not to the city itself but to traveling. It always takes a few days, I think, to adjust to life without a schedule or obligations. I don’t need to set an alarm, I have no dog to walk, and no one expects anything from me.
The longest vacation I have ever taken was two weeks in India a few years ago. There, it took me a week to settle into vacation mode and a week to prepare to go back. I already knew I had meetings and deadlines the week I got back. When I had henna painted on my arm, I had to consider whether it would be gone by an upcoming conference.
I get up early most mornings, have breakfast and listen to others talk about their plans for the day. I’ve been spending a few hours on the computer researching my next destination, and then venturing out to wander around the city.
I have made friends with some people in my hostel. Last night we went to the top of Monserrate for sunset, and today we will go to a museum and then check out a new neighbourhood. Photos of Monserrate
5 – Disgusting spider bites I have gotten while I sleep
I won’t go into detail. I know the bug situation is only going to get worse from here and that soon I will yearn for this point where I only have 5 giant red bumps on inconvenient places. My knuckles, FFS!
8 – Billion dollars allocated as part of Plan Colombia
Yesterday I went on a graffiti tour which was absolutely fascinating. We learned about the way that the city of Bogotá has embraced street art and celebrates its status as one of the world’s best canvases.
Looking at the art, it is impossible to ignore the messages behind it – dark and powerful. I was completely ignorant of the political situation in Colombia, most people are as it is suppressed in media coverage. I’ve since been reading about the US Initiative, Plan Colombia. The most disturbing thing I have learned about so far (and I am sure it barely scratches the surface, is Falsos Positivos. I’ll let you read it on your own, but be warned it is quite upsetting.
9 – The street at which you should turn around
I went out shopping with two girls from my hostel yesterday, someone had drawn us a map to a nice pedestrian area. We got caught up talking, however, and walked past a turn. A few blocks later (at Carrera 9), an older woman approached us with urgency and told us to stop. She insisted that we turn around now, that we were about to walk into a very dangerous area. We thanked her and walked briskly back to an area we were certain was safe, and shared a moment of gratitude.
I am still trying to find the right balance between being afraid and being alert. I feel like am leaning too far toward the former, but I often lose track of my surroundings and get wrapped up in the moment. I’ll find my stride, in time.
22 – Average age of the people at my hostel
I’m still feeling old. Every time a new person arrives we go through the standard introduction:
- Where are you from?
- Where have you just arrived from?
- When are you leaving Bogotá?
- Where are you going next?
- How long is your trip overall?
Once we have formed a group of five or more, someone asks how old everyone is. The oldest girl I have met is 29. I have been spending most of my time with her and a few girls who are 22 and really enjoying it. I don’t usually have younger friends as there is no natural context in which to meet but it is nice to get to know them and hear their perspective. When I tell the group I am 32 and they are intrigued. They are surprised I am backpacking and want to know why, they don’t ask anyone else that question.
I have met a lot of Dutch people, a few from England, and several Kiwis and Aussies. I have made a few connections but making friends has never been easy for me. On this trip, I am trying harder than I usually do but I don’t have the energy to keep up. Every night at the hostel a group parties loudly, doing shots and singing and dancing. Tonight they are going on a party bus to a big club an hour away from the hostel. I feel internal pressure to go, to try to fit in and to make the most of my experience here. But I won’t – it is expensive and I hate crowds and loud music. I’m 32 years old, I know what I like and it isn’t that. I like writing and reading and enjoying my solitude.