About a month ago, I stepped off a plane and set foot in Colombia for a week. Thus far, 2015 has been a rollercoaster for me. I ended a long-term relationship, I moved into a new apartment, I quit my job, I started my company, and I reinvented myself. Needless to say, by the time my 25th birthday rolled around in August, I was in dire need to get away for some self-exploration, and rest and relaxation.
My best friend of 13 years shares a birthday week with me, and we always spend that time together. In February, she quit her job, let go of her apartment, and flew down to Central America to venture on a six-month solo excursion. I was so proud and inspired by her fearlessness, but missed her during the tough times earlier this year. Through Skype and WhatsApp she supported me during the transitions, and when I asked her “What am I going to do without you on my birthday!?” she replied, “Come with me to Colombia!” It was a stretch, especially since I had just put all my savings into moving and starting a business from the ground up, but I knew it would be worth every penny. Up until that point, I had never considered Colombia as a near future destination, but without hesitation, I booked a few flights, packed my bag, and was on my way.
Our first stop was Cartagena, the fifth largest city of Colombia located on the northern coast in the Caribbean Coast Region. Cartagena is one of the oldest cities of Colombia and served as a prominent role in the historical struggles of the Colombian independence. We stayed in the Old Town area just outside the city, near The Walled City and the San Felipe de Barajas Castle. The streets were narrow, the buildings were historical, and the locals were hardworking and friendly. Every morning we drank fresh fruit juice and coffee and ate traditional empanadas for lunch and dinner. We went on a great walking tour exploring the history of the city and learning about the many struggles of independence. We watched the Las Palenqueras sell their fruit during the day and at night we ate and drank in the town square with the locals. There was music, laughter, dancing, and culture all around us.
From Cartagena, we took a short, one-hour bus ride to Playa Blanca, a secluded beach on the northern most point of the Caribbean coast. When we first stepped onto the beach, the shore was crowded with locals and tourists, but after walking down the beach for thirty minutes, we found that we had the entire beach to ourselves. We stayed in a bungalow with four simple walls made of wood and dried palm leaves with a bed and mosquito net. There was no running water, limited electricity, and absolutely no cell phone reception or wi-fi. It was perfect! For two days, we sat on the beach reading and napping under an umbrella. We swam and floated in the warm crystal clear water, washing away our worries and fears. We ate home cooked meals made by the local families consisting of a fried whole fish, rice, plantains, and salad, a traditional Colombian dish. We woke up to the sound of acoustic guitar and fell asleep to the rolling waves. It was paradise.
After three days in Cartagena and two in Playa Blanca, we decided to move along to the city of Medellin. All the flights were booked, so we opted for an overnight bus ride, of about 9 hours. The bus was a chilly 45 degrees, but I managed to fall sleep in my summer clothes fairly quickly until I woke up and realized that we were in the middle of a storm. There were buckets of rain, thunder, and lightening every other second. The bus was plowing through the road, rocking and shaking when we came to a screeching halt. A large tree had fallen on the narrow two-way road, and we were stranded in the middle of the Colombian countryside at 2 am in the morning in the midst of a storm. We waited for hours for a maintenance crew to arrive and chop up the tree to free the road. After four hours of sitting idle we were back on the road, and after a double dose of Dramamine I was finally asleep again. I woke up at sunrise while we were driving through the hills outside of Medellin. My breath was taken away by the site. I watched the pink and orange sunrise against the lush green hills while everyone else was asleep. It was so beautiful I decided just to take in the moment rather than trying to capture it in a photo. Some moments are so personal and unique that they don’t need to be shared with the world.
Once we arrived the Medellin after 15 hours on the bus, we were in the middle of the bustling city, a very different environment from where we departed. We hailed a cab and settled in. While in the city, we ate rich foods and explored the markets and shops by bus and train. We heard stories of war, the Cartel, and Escobar, but the city had a positive vibe and playfulness. The city was crowded with street art and designs of bright colors and lush florals. We explored during the day and went salsa dancing at night. For recently being in times of war, the city felt fully recovered as if they were celebrating every day.
While in Colombia, I took the opportunity and unplugged from my life in the States. I traveled the local path, spoke the language, ate new foods, tried new things, and explored the land of what was once thought of as a dangerous destination. What I love most about traveling is seeing how other cultures perceive life. I was so captivated by the energy, positivity, and happiness the Colombians possessed, especially after recently being in times of war, poverty, and hardship. It has only been four years since tourist returned to the country after a 20-year hiatus due to the violence of the drug wars. In just a short amount of time, the country has rebuilt and has flourished as a beautiful place to visit. I returned home yearning for a simpler life, noticing how happy the little things could make me feel. I purged my belongings, reconnected with what I realized made me happy and disconnected with what did not. Colombia is thriving and one week was not enough time to see the beauty of such a fertile land. I think back on my trip very fondly and am so thankful I had the opportunity to travel and spend time in such an amazing country.