Traveling is an experience that always compels a re-evaluation of your own habits and customs, and throws you continuously into new situations that further impel you to critique your own perceptions, your own self-image. During my trip to Perú, I had found myself going through a lot of introspection, for I was traveling alone and often had little else to do but contemplate and turn inward. I also had been dealing with the death of a friend and co-worker, and overall, the whole trip became rather spiritual in nature due to this thought and self-exploration. I was learning self-reliancy, confidence in new and challenging situations, and the ability to allow the universe to manifest some of its boundless potential.
As in any trip, therefore, my trip to Colombia has a sub-context, a narrative that extends throughout, present beneath all of the surface-level passings of circumstance and activity. The whole trip has not been anything at all like what I experienced alone in Perú, and the reason is quite simple: I am traveling with my girlfriend. And thus the underlying story of this trip has been one of our relationship. I had foreseen this before we’d left, knowing that travel is always stressful for relationships, whether between friends, family, or lovers. And it has indeed been a rocky road. All of my experiences on the trip have been filtered through the window of our togetherness.
At first, I found myself frustrated with the lack of freedom. While traveling alone is often lonely, it also gives you the ability to freely associate with strangers in ways that you are buffered against while traveling with other people. You tend to drift into random conversations with people in bars, on the street. You speak only in Spanish because you don’t have any other option, other than just hanging out with other gringo backpackers. You are more open to being placed into potentially sketchy situations, because you have only yourself to worry about.
Traveling with someone changes all of that instantaneously. You have someone to conversate with at all times in English, so thus anywhere you venture into, you always have a buffer of safety with you, wherein you can speak your own language and avoid contact with strangers. And traveling with your girlfriend, you feel much more protective, and less willing to be placed in potentially sketchy situations. You are more secure, and thus more unwilling to take risks.
So I had to contend with these differences and realize that this trip was not going to be the trip that I had envisioned before coming to Colombia. I was not going to go out dancing all the time, I was not going to meet and hang-out with many locals, and I was not going to speak much Spanish beyond the interaction of commerce and transport. Thus, other than the time spent with my extended Colombian family, I have had little insider insight into the culture, and have rather been stuck on the outside, and somewhat bitter about it, I suppose. This has resulted in some squabbles between my girlfriend and I until I came somewhat to terms with the trip as it is and will be.
And on the other side of this has been the self-questioning I’ve been undergoing about our relationship in general. Basically, I was getting something like cold feet, because I was thinking too much about the future, and could only envision the looming mirage of marriage, kids, etc, and this only made me frightened. When all of this internal torment finally came out and I laid it on the table, my girlfriend made me understand that I can’t think that far ahead into the future. I was thinking so much about some distant, uncertain future that I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy what I have right now, which is all that really matters anyway.
When you spend every waking and sleeping minute with another person, all of the bad sides of yourself can’t be shuttered up or given the space needed to be released without inflicting suffering on the other person. I’m the type of person that doesn’t know what he feels immediately, and I need some time to process and work through things before I understand where I’m at. So sometimes, before I know what’s happening, I’ll just start to be mean, because I’m trying to work through something and I don’t know it yet, and I’m trying to get space.
So this journey in Colombia has been a learning experience in ways that go beyond the bus trips and hostal stays and excursions and forays and food and cafés. I’m learning that I’m not always the person I want to be, neither for myself, nor for my girlfriend. I’m learning that I need to learn how to lead, and not just hesitate and wait for things to happen. I’m learning that I can be a difficult person to get along with. I’m learning what it is to be loved in all of my daily and eternal imperfection, and I’m learning how to try and give that love back, unconditionally.
So where my trip to Perú was about introspection and self-questioning, this trip in Colombia has been about my relationship, and about going beyond myself. I think it is somewhat fitting in some ways, given that Colombian culture in general is more fast-paced and based on the fleeting moments of the everyday, with its coke and its plastic surgeries and its ongoing warfare. On another post, I will attempt to grapple some more with what impressions I’ve gotten of Colombia as a whole, as that is a whole ‘nother beast to tackle. Til then.