I’m home! And enjoying the beautiful Colorado sunshine and dry air. Wait, what? I mean the rainiest June I have ever seen and humidity almost to Barranquilla levels. What did ya’ll do to Colorado while I was gone? Apart from being very confused by the weather, it's been wonderful being home. I wanted to bring you one last post, well, at least until I head off on another adventure, with some reflections on the trip and reactions to being home. Let's start by taking it back two weeks for one last day in the Caribbean.
So here I am. Sitting in ‘Crepes and Waffles,’ which we were told is the most Colombian of restaurants. Though I struggle to believe that a fully female run, fantastically delicious restaurant without a single typical Colombian dish on the menu is truly the most Colombian. That doesn’t make it any less delicious though and they do have one of the best things this city has to offer on the menu: corozo juice. Which is why I’m here, alone on my final evening, killing time before my last dance class and getting swept up in the transition between the busy goodbyes of the last few days and a pair of silver wings that will carry me home. Until today, it hasn’t really hit me. At least not on a gut level. I knew I was leaving. I had been planning and packing and keeping busy finishing up everything I wanted to do here, all the while sending my new friends off to distant corners of the world. Yet it was only today after my last tango lesson came to an end and I was walking to the bus for one of my last bouncy Colombian bus rides, that it hit. It hit like a summer rainstorm. I could see it brewing for days, darkening the edges of things but not quite ready to release. Then as the last few pieces fell into place, the barrier of activities between me and my flight could no longer withstand the force and the rain of emotions started pouring down. So far it’s been a light rain mind you. Just a twisting of my stomach, a sense of surrealness, a pang of sadness, a twinge of nerves and a touch of serenity. Nothing like a Barranquilla rainstorm that threatens to wash the unsuspecting away. But the rain of emotions is here nonetheless, begging me to stop and notice. To count the drops of feelings and remember them. To cherish the memories but also rejoice in time well spent and a trip completed.
What I’m going to miss:
- It’s such a silly thing but I’m going to miss juice. Juice. Plain and simple. Sweet and refreshing. Mango, pineapple, corozo, passion fruit, guava, lulo, mandarin. I’m sure my body isn’t a huge fan of the sugar rush but meals are just better with juice and besides this juice is much more of a ‘throw the fruit in the blender with a little water and sugar, strain it and call it juice.’ So I’m telling myself it can’t be that bad, right? It’s something I would love to bring home but it’s going to be a bit harder to make a tall pitcher of mango juice at US fruit prices.
- While we are on the subject of food, I’m going to miss crepes. I know that’s a weird thing to say. We have crepes in the US and crepes aren’t exactly Colombian but they seem to have caught on to crepes faster than we have. Also the quantity of Nutella they serve with them is just spectacular.
- I will miss the beautiful winter weather here. The warm breezy days and almost chilly nights, a little salt on the air, enough moisture for you never to feel dried out like a Colorado winter, never a need for a jacket.
- I will miss the incredible fabric shopping. Yes, I indulged myself and am bringing home three projects worth to keep me busy for months to come. It’s just something else to decide between two different areas of the city both with fabric shops galore and know you will be able to find what you are looking for at a good price. Plus it’s so fun to be in the busy shops and see all the cool fabric combinations people are putting together and wonder what they are making.
- Obviously, I’ll miss the new friends I’ve made but hopefully some will stay in contact and one of them is already planning to visit me in July! Plus, who knows, maybe I’ll have to go visit her in Canada some day. What terrible fortune. :)
- I’ll miss my host mom bringing dinner to the table and telling us that everything she makes is made with love. I’ll miss her messages, her caring nature and how happy she was to have us in her home.
- I’ll miss 50 cent bus rides to nearly any part of the city and Ubers cheap enough to take anytime, anywhere with hardly a thought. In a weird way, I’ll miss being crammed like a sardine on a bus when I timed my travel wrong and somehow feeling so part of the human experience.
- Oh and dance. Have I mentioned I’m going to miss my dance classes yet? If you’ve talked to me in the last month you’ve surely heard way too much about my recent dance obsession, which I’m sure will continue when I get home. Over the last five weeks I was able to take almost 30 hrs of private dance classes, thank you Colombian prices for allowing me to, and I’ve learned so much. Plus my instructors were just lovely and I’m going to miss working with them both so much.
- Among the many privileges of coming from US dollars to Colombian Pesos is the fact that to us, going out to dinner was just so cheap. I will miss being able to go to a nice restaurant, order an entree, appetizer and juice, pay the service fee and walk out the door having spent $14 USD.
- I’ll miss the wildly different wildlife in Barranquilla, especially the flocks of noisy parrots in the parks, the geckos who visited my room and iguanas eating mangoes on the university sidewalks.
- Like every time I’ve been to a Spanish speaking country, I’m going to miss the sound of Spanish. To my ears, the rounder vowels, the double Rs and the pronunciation of every single vowel, even ones back to back, makes for such a wonderful sounding language. English always sounds a little flat to me after hearing Rs trilled out over the radio.
- I’m going to miss the size of cars. I’ve never quite jived with the US obsession with massive cars. While I am looking forward to a smoother driving experience, it just feels so much more natural and efficient for the roads to be filled with tiny cars.
- I definitely will miss Latin music, though maybe not hearing the same 15 songs over and over again. If you want to hear a little bit of what I heard all the time down south, I made a little playlist with some of the most popular songs and some of my favorites.
There are also things I'm not going to miss:
- This one is pretty obvious, but I will not miss the rainy season heat. I will not miss wanting to change my clothes after being outside for 20 minutes, or sitting still and just feeling the sweat run down my back. I did actually adapt to it a lot better than I thought, but it’s not a sensation I enjoy.
- It’s a comfort that I know I probably should be going without more often, but man do I just want to take a hot shower.
- I will not miss being in a city that gets shut down by massive rain storms frequently. The infrastructure just isn’t quite there to keep many of the streets from becoming rivers and they don’t seem to have caught on to the idea of gutters on the roofs, so all the water pours right down in the middle of the sidewalks. I’m also still so confused why a city with this much rain isn’t more adapted to it. I saw so many people holding trash bags or backpacks over their heads and jumping across the streets trying to keep their tennis shoes dry. I really thought they would all have rain boots and umbrellas, but apparently not. It leads to some interesting ways to make money though. People will put boards or pallets over the edges of the street where the water is deepest and if you want to cross they ask for coins. I also got piggyback carried across a street one day by a guy who was acting as a human ferry.
- On to food. I will not miss white rice. At all. I will not be eating plain white rice for months. Thank you very much. In addition to that, I’m looking forward to strong flavor. The food here is good but spice or strong flavor is rare to find. We all became flavor fiends and would go after anything that had more than salt as seasoning.
- I’m really looking forward to having control over my transportation again. Especially being able to walk and bike places. I loved the easy bus and taxi travel, but going to school could take 20 minutes or 40 depending on the day and my luck and I’m ready to be able to know when I need to leave.
- I have to say for a semester abroad having a really light class load is wonderful, but I do miss the pace of learning I’m used to. Mostly because of the classes I happened to be in and the fact that I was in fewer than normal, I had practically no homework and we got through very little material in comparison to my normal classes.
- When I arrived this didn’t bother me, but as the months went by it started feeling like the days should be getting longer but they just didn’t. The sun still set at 6:30 which meant the day was pretty much over. I’m so looking forward to long summer evenings.
- I definitely won’t miss not being able to order things. In the world of online shopping we are used to it was quite the transition to go to a world where that doesn’t exist. I can’t say it caused that many problems as the in-person shopping is so much better but I definitely won’t miss not having the option to get something shipped to me if I wanted it.
Alright, keep your arms and legs inside the time machine at all times while we hop forward two days to walking off the plane in the Denver airport. First impressions of a place are always odd but the things I noticed where particularly strange. The most obvious was the style of dress. I kind of forgot about Colorado’s no-nonsense, very outdoorsy and very athletic vibe. Leggings were probably the first thing I noticed. Despite the Colombians wearing pants everyday and sometimes very tight fitting ones despite the blasting heat, the concept of leggings barely existed and definitely weren’t something you would wear out anywhere but the gym. The next thing that caught my attention was the amount of wild, messy, mostly blond hair. Colombians rarely had a hair out of place and I always felt that my hair was kind of a mess in comparison. I feel right at home here though. Also, dreadlocks. That's not something I saw once. Probably the weirdest thing I noticed was coughing. I know, strange. I hadn’t noticed until I was listening to a couple people coughing in the airport, that I hadn’t heard anyone cough more than a little-quite-clear-your-throat kind of cough in months. I don’t know if we just weren’t there during their cold season or if they have easier access to meds, or they are better at staying home, or it’s just really rude to cough in public, but for whatever reason that's just not a thing I heard. Not a real pleasant sound to have to hear again.
After getting settled in for the summer I just have to say it: Wow, do I love living in Colorado. I’ve been biking a bunch, it’s beautiful, there are such wonderful people and mountains practically in my backyard. It’s also been really lovely to see my sister and parents again. I've been so insanely busy since I got back between work, catching up with friends, dancing and a start-up program I’m doing for the summer, but it’s been just lovely. I nearly did run myself into the ground my first week though, but hey I survived and had a great time, so it was totally worth it. It’s amazing how much more I can get done in a day when I’m not dying of heat, I have a functioning laptop and control over my transportation. That being said, there are definitely a few things I miss. Though, the more I’ve been home the more I’ve been reflecting on how the trip was exactly what I wanted, which was a different experience in as many ways as possible but that means that while I really enjoyed my time there, it was not a place that fit me well. I really enjoyed exploring and all the new things, people, foods and experiences but I could never have stayed. I feel so much more at home in Colorado and I can be myself a little bit more here. Heck, I can walk out of my house barefoot if I feel like it and not get a second glance or get scolded. Life definitely moves faster here and I have not shaken the Colombian out of my system in terms of being on time. I was pretty much always a little late before the trip but I’ve been majorly struggling to be on time to everything here. I even managed to be an hour late to my own welcome home party (I got the time wrong in my head). It’s gonna take me a while to live that one down. Another interesting thing about being home is how much more online everyday life is. Getting back into the swing of ordering almost everything online is weird. It’s not like I can’t buy a lot of things in-person but the in-person shopping definitely isn’t quite the same and I can actually be picky about what I’m buying now instead of settling for whatever I happen to find. Well, except for good mangos and chocolate. My mom was really sweet and bought me a bunch of mangoes from Costco which in every way are good US mangoes but somehow they just aren't the same. I guess you just can’t taste the sunshine in them when they have to travel this far. Also, I did a side by side comparison of the best chocolate I can buy from the grocery stores here and the equivalent from Colombia and it's not even the same thing. They have no right to be called by the same name. They are both good, but the flavor palette is entirely different. The Colombian chocolate has such strong, complex fruity flavor to it that the US chocolate doesn’t even hint at. I guess I’m going to have to go on a chocolate hunt.
I do have to say that everything is big and a little lonely here though. Everyone drives the very orderly and massively wide streets, swallowed up by their massive cars. We live in massive homes (at least by comparison), and shop in incredibly wide grocery store isles. Even at the crowded farmers market you always have space around you. People get out of your way when you are walking towards them and the sidewalks are mostly quiet despite being 3x as wide. Hardly anyone is on the street corners trying to sell you some fresh treat and people pass each other without a word. Often we don’t even acknowledge the other person is there. In some ways it’s nice to have a little more space again, but in other ways it's so sad not to be greeted by 10 'Buenos Dias!' on my walk to the bus, not to be jostled a little getting off with a crowd of people, and not to have to weave between people on the sidewalks. I can see why the US has become so lonely. I’m lucky to have my friends but if I didn’t have them, the US offers so little recognition of my existence.
One more random little thing I’ve noticed about being back. I went salsa dancing, which was an incredible time. There was a huge crowd and dancers of every level. That kind of dedicated dance event really didn’t exist in Barranquilla. The interesting thing is that in Colombia everyone has rhythm and musicality and could really groove but didn’t have a lot of variety in their moves. I was always amazed that they could do the same step for practically a whole song without seeming to get bored. Here people have so many more fancy moves and hardly do base steps at all but let's just say the Americans have a lot less rhythm in their bones. It’s not that no one could keep time, people just don’t meld with the music here.
With that, I believe this journey has come to its conclusion. I’m so incredibly grateful for the support and readership I’ve had from all of you and I’m so deeply honored to have been able to share my journey.
With gratitude from the bottom of my heart,