My head was beginning to pound as I walked out of my hostel in Medellin for the last time. But my hangover was nothing compared to the heavy depression in my chest. I had left the club at five in the morning and taken a bus back to the hostel where I had 45 minutes of sleep. The previous day never really ended but I was staggering into the next. I had no physical or emotional energy. I was about to take a cab, to the metro and then the metro to the bus station where I would get on a bus for ten hours. As I stumbled onto the metro with hundreds of beautiful, smiling Paisas dressed in their simple but elegant business attire, I thought, ‘It’s not too late. I can still go back to the hostel and stay here for a few more days.’
‘No, this is right, I should leave. This trip is not about settling down or finding the perfect place or making lasting friendships. It is about moving and searching and finding the surreal and the sublime.’ I didn’t believe it though. It was a poorly constructed pep talk filled with lies. I threw it at the pillar of melancholy and fear that dominated my mind. It ineffectively bounced off.
Once the lame speech faded my true thoughts slowly began to flow. They were weighed down by fatigue and rum, but mostly by sadness. The grey morning light filtered into my mind and illuminated the previous month and a half’s events as they began to flicker like an ancient home movie.
This is what streamed through my head.
Traveling is life distilled down to its purest form. There is no boredom, mundane job, artificial comfort, PowerPoint, apathy, extraneous relationships, tedious TV, emotional insulation, spreadsheets, or false independence. All the impurities have been removed. And like other highly refined fuels or substances it can be explosive and caustic.
I can’t take another ten hour bus ride over winding Andean roads where the bus driver passes slow trucks on blind corners while talking on his cell phone. I am so tired of massive packs of Australian boys who treat every bar like a rugby field and every ally like a urinal. I hate whiney Americans who complain that it is so hard to find organic whole wheat bread in Colombian and then a minute later light a cigarette. I have had a hacking cough for over a week now and my chest is starting to feel heavy, maybe I should get more than three hours of sleep a night and drink less rum. The next ice cold shower I take from a metal pipe with no shower head might kill me. I am going to defenestrate the next Englishman who complains about hearing too much salsa in the salsa capital of South America. I am going to eviscerate the next German who claims that electronic music is better than salsa. I should stop going to bed covered in sweat from hours of dancing. I don’t want to make any more truly good friends only to leave them a few days later. I am tired of speaking Spanish with such a shitty accent that the adorable Colombiana sales girls, giggles at me and then shakes their heads. I still have several cases of altitude sickness, diarrhea and food poisoning ahead of me. I hate how big my bag is when I leave the hostel in the morning to catch the bus but love that I still have clean socks when I get dressed at night. The constant altitude and scenery changes make me lightheaded. These ten hour bus trips exhaust me even though I am asleep most of the time. I feel like I have been travelling for six months and it has only been six weeks. I am so tired. I am sad.
I wearily pulled out my Lonely Planet. It was heavy in my shaky hands but I managed to flip to the color map in the front. It was blurry for a second but then came into focus. The continent of South America arrogantly stared back into my blood shot eyes. I had covered less than two countries. I had at least eight to go. I was only part way over the Andes and I was going to have to cross back over them at least once more. I wasn’t even that far into Colombia.
A scared and timid voice whined ‘I’m not so sure I can keep going’. My weary eyes followed the planned route South. They naturally settled on the soft blue ink that represented the Pacific Ocean. ‘I haven’t even seen the Pacific yet. I miss her and I will surf her again soon.’ I thought. A chorus of powerful and passionate voices screamed ‘Yes!’ The weak old voice let out a wheeze and died. I began to relish the daunting task ahead of me.
The surreal high deserts of Bolivia and Chile are calling me. The amazon basin is ahead and I need to see a Jaguar. The pampas is only a little further South and I want to see an anaconda. I should visit my old friends Huanchaco, Lima and Cuzco. I still have to see if the night life of Buenos Aires and Rio can compare with that of Cartagena and Medellin. I must see Iguazu falls. I will surf the Atlantic for the first time in several years. I’ve got countless friends to make and then leave. I have many more Colombinas to dance with.
The metro slowed and stopped at Estacion Caribe. It was my stop. The Estacion del Norte bus terminal was close and I knew how to get there. These places that were strange and slightly distressing eight days before had become comfortable and easy. The doors slid open and I picked up my bags. I no longer wanted to stay.
I am getting stronger every day because the impurities haven’t just been removed from my life they have been removed from me.