On December 31st, 2014 I turned in my company cell phone and badge, loaded my car with all my belongings, and left behind my life in San Francisco. A year later, I have made my way through nine Latin American countries and am now living in Medellin, Colombia: former Murder Capital of the World, current Butt Implant Captial of the World.
I wish there were a quick n’ easy summary of the year, but there’s not. I am struggling to figure out, how can I possibly begin to share what this year has been for me?
I’ll start with a rather dark story from a few weeks ago, when in the dead silence of the early morning, a few friends and I found ourselves still awake and chatting the dining table.
“I hate that, as a woman, I can’t feel secure walking home alone at night. I remember in college it wasn’t considered safe to cross campus at night unaccompanied”
“I always offer to walk girls home.”
“Yeah but then there were the guys that would walk you home, only to expect sex. That’s the worst.”
“Well I do it without expectations; it’s a nice thing to do.”
“That’s great of you. It just sucks that it’s hard to tell whether someone genuinely wants to be helpful, or if they’re being manipulative. You never know who to trust.”
The conversation meandered off, and soon, dawn looming, it was time to say goodbye. I lived two blocks away.
“Want me to walk you back?”
“Nah, it’s just two blocks, I’ll be fine” I said, in defiance of the previous conversation, opening the door into the empty streets of Envigado.
After two months in Colombia, this little corner of Medellin was just starting to feel like home, but that didn’t stop me from feeling extremeley vulnerable. Passing an empty soccer pitch, windows like hollow eye sockets looming above me, I hurried to my apartment, head down, eyes ahead, and then, catching sight of a man half a block behind me, I jogged a ways before slowing down (was I just being paranoid?), fumbled with my keys, entered the brightly lit stairwell of my building, and glanced back to see, to my horror, the man, in shadow, looking up at me through the barred gates of my stairwell. I have never climbed stairs so fast.
In the pit of our stomachs, we have little knots that clench in times of uncertainty and fear. Nodding and acknowledging those little knots, but telling them politely that they will not guide all your decisions, will help us know what we are capable of and realize that we’ve been holding ourselves back all along.
This year I left behind a comfortable job and life as I knew it, with no idea that it was only the beginning, that ultimately my experiences in Mexico, Cuba, Central America, and Colombia would lead me to discover a world that is bigger, more exciting, and more full of opportunity than I ever imagined.
This year has also full of discomforts and fears that I had never imagined, like the man from the stairwell. Even though the experience left me with chills down my spine, I have come to believe that leaning into discomfort is a crucial survival skill. Ten months traveling alone through Latin America (as a blond-haired-blue-eyed female, especially) will quickly teach you that you have no anonymity, that an invisible spotlight shines down on you wherever you go, and that any public excursion will usually involve stares, whistles, and crude pickup lines. But that all of it has been more than worth it for the people and experiences I’ve accumulated.
Now that I’ve been gone so long, I wonder what people imagine my trip has been like? It’s difficult to get a sense of it, I think, since travel is idealized so much.
2015 has been a special year for me, though not without risk and dangers. In the end, though, the times I was uncomfortable, scared, or very, very confused were the ones that changed me the most.
Over the next few days, I will post a few stories from the places I’ve been this year; they are blog posts that had remained unfinished, sitting waiting on my desktop. I am pleased to finally be publishing, and I hope you enjoy them.
Happy New Years!