As I sat in the airport for the world’s longest and most painful layover, beset with thunder, lightening and flash flood warnings threatening to make it even longer, I actually contemplated if this trip was a good idea. I’m usually in such a good head space as I embark on an adventure of such magnitude; I actually can’t remember a trip where I wasn’t. However, this was by far the worst head space I’ve ever been stuck in as I left the real world for a temporary but nomadic one.
I generally relish in airport layovers. While most people hate them, I love the people watching and being able to eavesdrop on the interesting, funny and even annoying lives around me just as much as I like the jittery feelings of anticipation I get during the wait for whatever trip I’m taking. But this time I spent much of it staring at a wall, on the verge of weeping, replaying the bizarre week prior to lift off, questioning why I planned such a big trip during such a major state of flux in my life.
I was texting friend after friend for words of encouragement, something to keep me afloat in between the blank staring, heart palpitations and mindless scrabble games. I couldn’t read as I had planned; I couldn’t write as I had wanted to. I couldn’t escape the thoughts in my head. And it sucked.
I’ve been in a Canada-coma for the past few months – much has been out of my control, but I have to admit that over the month before I left, the errors I made were of my own doing. However, it’s funny what travel does for the soul and psyche. Within an hour of walking around Cartagena after the day it took to get here, I could quite literally feel it lifting. I felt like myself again – strong and in control but carefree and spontaneous at the same time.
Someone recently asked me why I didn’t feel more empowered about the adventure I was embarking on as I ranted about the rut I was clearly stuck in. I certainly felt fortunate to be able to take such a trip but empowered…? It was hard to see it at the time because I was nearing the top of a particular emotional roller coaster ride that I had voluntarily got on. But now that I’m here, I’m slowly shedding all the pressure I heap on my shoulders day in and day out and feeling just that.
I’m also learning to let things go and not beat myself up over things I can’t control and people who don’t do or feel what I want them to. The term ‘open book’ isn’t strong enough to describe me…I’m more like a full Encyclopedia Britannica set. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve which makes it easy to see but equally as easy to break.
But let’s face it – baggage – both literal and figurative – is heavy, and the weight of either can slow any journey to a snail’s pace. So, in letting that go, I AM starting to feel truly empowered for taking this trip.
It’s strange though…as I sat in the stifling heat yesterday in Plaza del something-or-other, celebrating my first beer of freedom and anticipating the summer ahead, I couldn’t help but hope I get to the point where I feel this sense of empowerment when back in the real world, where I need it most. What I do know now after recent events is that it’s okay to grieve and feel but that getting back on the proverbial horse is the best thing.
One of my favourite quotes to this effect comes from Aldous Huxley who says in part “rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean” which speaks to me about regret, remorse and that of which is out of one’s control. As for me, I’m definitely down for a quick wallow but usually bounce back quickly too. This recent bout of life had me wallowing a bit longer than usual, but I’m recognizing it and moving forward. Or at least I’m moving for now. I feel the forward will come soon enough.
So I think this trip will be okay. I will be okay. And if I feel otherwise I will keep moving and the forward will inevitably follow. I’d like to get to a point where travel and escape are not precursors for such epiphanies and necessary catharsis but I will take it where I can get it for now.
So the silver linings brought to me by Cartagena the first day… Well, the city is beautiful, the people are helpful and the beer is served frigid and fabulous. Within 30 minutes of walking around, I had two separate cars slow down by me to yell out ‘Bienvenidos a Cartagena, Gringa!’ Perhaps because they knew I had just gotten here or that I needed such a welcome on a day like yesterday.
I’m also staying in the historic centre which is quite literally a walled city of colour, culture, art and action. I’m a 10-minute walk from the ocean and the sunshine and heat are inescapable. And my amazing B&B comes with talking parrots…right outside my F’in door. As I napped between excursions I was awakened by what I thought were a few people screaming in the most annoying high pitched voices (in Spanish of course, strangely saying the same things over and over). But no….when I opened my door there were two large parrots in the courtyard looking at me like I just interrupted a special meeting. Not sure how long it’ll be until they annoy me. For now though, I’m kind of glad they’re there.
The nightlife also seems to be fun and safe for a solo gringa. A little square right in my hood was teeming with patios and buskers and musicians and tourists and families and laughter. The best medicine, indeed.
So the real world is months away and despite life’s recent curve balls, I will bask in the now, bask in getting lost on streets that all look the same, back in navigating the language waters with a mix of English, Spanish and the ever-important charades and bask in a culture I know so little about now, but expect to envelope myself in quickly.
I read a great article that was sent to me by a friend (7 Ways to Stay Strong When Everything Goes Wrong) that starts off by saying “when life is falling apart, it could actually be falling together…for the very first time.”
So I guess sometimes hard landings are inevitable on a journey but not always such a negative thing. Here’s to 10 weeks of finding that out…