On one dreary grey English summer’s day I was sitting in the departure lounge of Heathrow’s Terminal 2 waiting to board a flight which would end up turning my whole world upside down. I was a mess of emotions but most of all I was overcome with fear and doubt. I was anxiously waiting to board my flight to Bogota, Colombia; in 11 hours I would be halfway across the world in a country that is well-known for completely the wrong reasons.
This wasn’t my first trip to Colombia, I had undertaken a 6 week trip at the end of 2015, and Colombia had captivated me; in 6 weeks a country which people had told me I was stupid for visiting had won me over. In those 6 weeks I had never felt more alive, that trip changed me, it gave me a sense of worth, hope and opportunity. Colombia instantly made me feel at home; I can’t explain it as I had never felt like this before about anywhere, not even in England.
There’s something strangely satisfying about proving people wrong, taking a risk and discovering the real gains and rewards. When I first embarked on my 6 week trip back in 2015, I received various remarks about my life choices: why would you visit Colombia? Why would you go alone? And even: are you stupid? Many of these comments were directed at my safety, being a women and travelling alone. I chose to ignore these remarks, actually they enhanced my desire to visit the country even more. Yes I had heard about Colombia’s troublesome past, but I have also learnt to not believe things until you see them. I took a risk, and decided that no matter what it couldn’t be as bad as the media made out. It could have gone completely the other way, I took a well-educated risk, which looking back on it, wasn’t a risk at all. People got in my head and they told me stories of the country’s past, but I just couldn’t believe that this was the country’s present and future. I had to see it for myself; I had to experience it for myself.
Colombia’s breathtaking landscapes, beautifully friendly people and the feeling of opportunity had won me over. In Colombia magic can be found everywhere from a simple smile from someone you have never met to a conversation with a countryside shop owner, in Colombia everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles, fears and worries, but many overcome these fears with laughter, smiles and hope. Colombia gives me hope, Colombians give me hope their motivation is inspiring. I tell people that Colombia has magic around every corner, ‘Colombia is magical realism’, ‘the only things dangerous about Colombia, is wanting to stay’. These two quotes inspire me to believe in a better world and a better future. I have met a large number of expats all over Colombia and at first I wondered why they were here, why Colombia when they could have chosen anywhere in the world? Then one day in the small countryside village of Guasca, just outside of the country’s capital (Bogotá), it hit me like a tonne of bricks.
I was walking next to a plaza in the town and I found myself looking around staring and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a hummingbird feeding off flowers in a bush. Such a quiet, small, still, colourful and beautiful but fast moving animal. I looked up and I suddenly saw everything differently. I mean I had looked around different parts of the country in the 4 weeks I had spent there, but I had never really seen what was happening around me; I had never stopped to stand still and take it all in. I hadn’t seen the country for how it is, watched the people live their daily lives or watched what was going on in the world around me. The peacefulness of the countryside, the smiling people, the wildlife, the vast varieties of green plants and unique wildlife mean that Colombia is like that hummingbird: relaxed, full of colour and beautiful.
After the end of my time in the country and everyday after I left I found myself thinking about it, about the different things I should have done, the stories I should have listened to, the people I could have met, and the experiences I could have had. I knew in my gut I had to return, I was unfinished, something was missing and I knew I needed to find it.
So there I was sitting in the departure lounge about to return to the country I had fallen in love with, but this time was different I had decided to try to make Colombia my home, which was a completely different kettle of fish. Everything I had ever known and done in my life had taken me to this point, this airport at this time. Every choice I made, person I had met, experience I’ve had, had brought me to this point, this exact moment. From now on everything would be different. A whole array of questions ran through my mind, the future was unknown, uncertain and unpredictable. I had travelled to over 28 countries but I had always had a safety blanket, something to fall back on or an end date. This time I was going in blind, I had no job, no permanent accommodation and only a few friends from my earlier trip. This was it, I was going alone. At some point everyone has to make tough choices like moving to a new city for a job or university. I was just doing this on an extravagant scale.
Whether I had moved to Europe, Australia or the United States my story would have been the same, same worries and doubts. The fact that I was moving to Latin America as a women made no difference to me, the thought actually didn’t even cross my mind, until after I had arrived. Every country is unique and special in its own way, in this vastly unpredictable world nowhere is safe or unsafe. Bad things happen everyday, to innocent people in every country. At this moment in time taking into account the terrible tragedies around the world, anything could happen anywhere at anytime. Latin America is no more unsafe for a women than places in Europe or the United States. In fact crossing the road, getting out of bed or driving is taking as much of a risk as visiting Latin America.
I have learnt through my past experiences, break ups, illness and unexpected events that life is short. If I worry about what might happen I might miss the present and forget to live in the moment. This was my thinking in the departure lounge, this was what was getting me through: if I didn’t take the risk and go I would never know what I could have had, how my life could have been or the experiences I could have had.
My thoughts were abruptly disrupted by the loud-speaker calling my gate for boarding, that was it, it was my moment, my moment to shine, my moment to be great and prove everyone who doubted me wrong. But the sound and commotion stopped me still, I froze, the announcement of boarding echoed all the way through my body like when you listen to a beautiful song, feel it to your core and get goosebumps. I couldn’t move, I was frozen, it was now or never. In this split second I had a choice to make do I get up and embark on this crazy once in a lifetime adventure to a country whose reputation makes people shiver or do I sit still, wait for everyone to leave and turn around. Do I move forward or turn around? Jump into the unknown or stay within my comfort zone, what I know and always wonder what if? Curiosity, change and challenge finally won me over, I stood up very slowly, took a deep breath and walked over to the gate, handed my boarding pass over and walked down the gateway without once looking back. Now only 11 hours stood between me and my future, 11 doubt filled hours. My mind wouldn’t turn off: had I made the right decision? Well there was no going back now; I was doing this, taking the risk.
Once I stepped off the aeroplane 11 hours later, I was greeted by the Latin culture, it hit me. There were friendly people helping me around the airport with my bags and the sound of Spanish talking all around me. I wasn’t in England anymore, I was as far away as I could be and I admit I was slightly overwhelmed. Once I stepped out of the airport into the hustle and bustle of Bogotá, I became overwhelmed by a feeling in my gut, a feeling that I had only ever experienced once before. I felt like I was home and the part of me which felt missing before suddenly no longer did, I felt whole for the first time in my life. I never knew something was missing until I found it.
Have you ever visited Colombia? Post your comments and stories in the comments box.