I grew up in a time of violence in Colombia where traveling was extremely dangerous. There were towns that the guerrillas would take over and either kill all its inhabitants and make them work for them while they were committing atrocities. Dead bodies on the road in Colombia while growing up was nothing out of the ordinary. I remember counting at least 16 dead bodies on the road once from the bus terminal in Medellin to my uncle’s home in Itagui.
When Lorne and I started planning our trip starting in Colombia and heading south by bus, I hesitated. I know that the situation in Colombia has changed over the years and that kidnappings were not as often or common as they were before. I knew that Colombians and foreigners are traveling by road everywhere in Colombia. I also knew that the tourist industry was booming in Colombia for backpackers.
I left Colombia in 1999 and at the start of this trip I spent one month in my home town with my parents. One sign of how much things had changed in Colombia was the opening of a hostel/micro-brewery in my home town called Buga Hostel . When I left Buga, the culinary highlights were pizza at Leo’s pizza or cholado (shredded ice with syrup) at the park. Another thing I noticed on my return was that I have changed and people could sense this. Growing up as a light skinned ginger in Buga resulted in a lot of teasing but it was never an issue that set me apart from being Bugueno. Being in Buga for one month after living in Vancouver for 15 years taught me that I am not only a visitor of my hometown, but I am also associated with a foreigner. Maybe, it is the fact that I wear black socks with sneakers or that my sense of fashion has gone down a bit during this trip. An evidence of this was when one day I told my mother I was ready to go out and visit someone and she said to me: “you are going out wearing that”.
When we live in places, we adapt and transform ourselves by the way we speak, eat, dress and interact with others. In a way, places shaped the way we are. If we do not have a strong sense of identity, places can completely change the way people are. Although living in Canada has changed me tremendously, my core values and who I am as a person have not changed. I probably do not care as much if people see me wearing not so good clothing, would appreciate if people call before dropping by the house, and appreciate neighbours that do not play loud music until 5 am in the morning.
Traveling is a mini version of living abroad. The more time you spend traveling in a country, the more you find yourself either adapting, struggling or discovering yourself if you allow the experience to do so. We have met some wonderful people during our trip, locals and foreigners that have shared their experiences, their tips, and some who have open their homes for us for when we travel in their countries. One of these people is Nicole. Nicole is a German traveling in Peru and Ecuador. You can follow her travels at by checking out Nicole’s travel blog. I knew Nicole and I had things in common for when we were in the market and she negotiated a price down from 3.50 dollars to 2.50. Nicole did not leave the stand, stayed firm on the price and told the seller that she was only going to pay this price. Nicole is also not afraid to speak her mind about what she likes or does not. Nicole is open to try street food, restaurants where locals go and serve intestines and walk around places even when they are not in a travel guide.
Nicole told us about an experience she had while traveling in Peru where she ordered fillet mignon. Like many of us, Nicole wanted a piece of meat after eating corn in every possible form while traveling in Peru. Nicole waited for the dish to be delivered to her table. When this arrived, it was a breaded steak with cheese and bacon inside. Nicole told the waiter that this was not fillet mignon and they should not advertise this as such. Nicole told the owner that they should research about this dish otherwise costumers are going to be disappointed when they order this. In many ways, Lorne and I have encounter similar filet mignon experiences on this trip. We have ordered food such as chuleta (schnitzel) in Ecuador to find out that this is a very thin piece of meat with bones that has been fried. We have stayed in hostels that have been noisy, and have gone on buses that have clearly indicated they are direct but in fact are stopping in every little town and picking up every person on the road needing a ride. The rules of engagement change as you change places.
As travellers, we often do not have the time to adapt and know how to interact with our new environment. We bring our way of interacting from the places we come from to the places to go to. This can be even more challenging when traveling in the non-western style like we are. We are taking local buses, going to local restaurants and for when we can staying in hostels/hotels locals stay at. We are finding this extremely rewarding. We have increased our sense of awareness when crossing the streets, have simplified the things we carry with us at all times, walk on the shade when the sun is out, have become more observant where the locals eat, and basically apply the old phrase of when in Rome do as Romans do. I am even considering wearing flip flops. Those who know me well know that this has been a big NO for me as I do not like the feeling of having my feet dirty. As Nicole, we are learning to embrace our travel experiences and adapting somehow to our new environments.
As Mercedes Sosa song says:
Cambia lo superficial
Cambia también lo profundo
Cambia el modo de pensar
Cambia todo en este mundo
Cambia el clima con los años
Cambia el pastor su rebaño
Y así como todo cambia
Que yo cambie no es extraño
That which is superficial changes
Also that which is profound
the way of thinking changes
Everything in this world changes
The weather changes as the years go by
The shepherd changes his flock
and just as everything changes
the fact that I change it’s not in the least strange
Hopefully, this trip will allow Lorne and I to increase our self-awareness and take with us the things we are experiencing/learning in the different places we are visiting.