The smell of diesel. Women in tailored skirt suits and demure heels. Public pay toilets. Automatic weapons. Not being able to fall asleep.
Transitions are hard. Jet lag. Soul delay. The company you keep. Liminal states where no matter what you’re feeling, you feel it more acutely.
How do you know when you’re somewhere new that you will never go back there again? Is it just a feeling, a self-fulfilling prophecy? As if any feeling is ever just a feeling. Is it a premonition that your future is a set path, unfolding in time to a rhythm set in advance?
At a restaurant above the square in Zipaquirá, the hanging bouquets of paper flowers swayed in the breeze, marking time to the panpipe renditions of 70s pop songs, like so many unmarried aunts in second-hand ball gowns.
Under the noon sun, at a busy intersection, a man juggled 3 machetes.
Men in their 40s, 50s, what were they doing 20 years ago? Our driver Guillermo lived in Costa Rica for 12 years. Was he sent away for safety? What was he fleeing to work in a kitchen?
The airport in Medellín was like a greenhouse. We watched the same international headlines repeat themselves on television. There were ads for law firms in Miami. The relationship between places that you find remote and those you find familiar is like two friends you didn’t realize know each other.
An absurd history of governments detaining and executing political prisoners in soccer stadiums, those inescapable pantheons of fanaticism.
Every trip feels like planning for a better one. Revising itineraries and destinations and travel companions and packing lists until you arrive at the perfect alchemy.
The alchemy of this particular trip: my first friend, altitude headaches and insomnia, tramadol, senalgen, mota, Arturo’s mojitos from Tasca María. Buying a joint from the friend of a hostel bartender. Drinking at a hostel bar when you’re staying at a hotel across the city.
The people you meet while traveling—a relationship, no matter how fleeting, that feels charged. Maybe because traveling is lonely, whether or not you’re alone, unmooring, and even a stranger can anchor you. Maybe that’s why their faces, from transcontinental flights, foreign bars, meals shared at tourist traps, etch themselves deeper and fade slower.
The assimilation of automatic weapons into polite society. At a Crepes & Waffles in a shopping mall at two in the afternoon, uniformed guards walked behind the counter, one holding a 12-gauge shotgun, conversed briefly with the young woman in a hairnet, and left, the rifle still cocked. The father seated next to me, his two young daughters playing a princess board game, smiled and raised his eyebrows at me. “Un poco asustando, no?” He smiled. “Sólo un guardia.” On our last night, la planta exploded as we watched reruns on a laptop on the terrace and the entire neighborhood went dark. In the taxi on the way to the airport I watched the sun rise over the water and people jog in the still cool air.
Bogotá, Zipaquirá, Medellín, Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Colombia