Thursday, July 12, 2012

After 20 years it's all brand new

Plans are changing again. I had a seemed like a good one and it involved me climbing Cotopaxi, spending a couple weeks in the jungle region of Ecuador, spending a couple weeks in a yoga village on the fringes of that jungle, then slowly working my way through Colombia, exploring the virgin Caribbean coast and then spending my last month on the beaches of Costa Rica before flying home.

Then 2 things happened. First of all, I found work in Chile, which meant that I would spend the ski season in the that pretty much wiped out all of plan A. Then I was surprised to hear that I would have another visitor; my brother was coming down for about 2 weeks and wanted to meet me in Colombia - over Memorial Weekend. That was less than 2 weeks away, and, well, I was still on the Galapagos. So now I was going to have to run through Ecuador, completely skip the jungle, the mountain, the yoga village and get really comfortable on a bus to get the Cali in time.

All that time crawling on the Galapagos was flipped in an instant. Days were moving by so fast, so were cities, towns, buses, faces and families. They all just zipped by. I crossed the border from Ecuador into Colombia trying to wrap my head around what just happened. Who was I just with? What did I just see? What did I miss? Ecuador, like most places on this journey has been flagged as one of those countries I'll just have to come back to...somehow, someway, someday.

But Colombia holds a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. I consider Colombia a strand in my cultural roots, a place that is connected to me even if I never really understood how. My mother was raised in Colombia and brought with her parts of her traditions when she came to the United States, and I, unknowingly adopted parts of those traditions. But perhaps the most significant reason is that Colombia was my first ever international travel destination. I was a small 8yr old girl, with a 10yr old brother and a stuffed animal named Bumbum to count as my friends when we boarded that plane to Cali 20 years ago. My mom had arranged for us to stay with her best girlhood friend for nearly 2 months. My brother and I didn't know them (the family we would be staying with), we didn't know the language, we didn't understand the culture...we didn't even really know where we were going other than it was really, really, really far away.

That was 20 years ago. It's incredible how memories change, evolve, fade. I was about to walk back in time those 20 years and see this family and this culture again...but really for the first time. And like that summer so long ago, I would have my brother by my side. In all my planning, I never imagined this. But really who could have? I split up my ride from Quito to Cali for a brief stay in Pasto and then Popayan. In Popayan I was hosted by some fantastic couchsurfers who made me feel like a best friend with hours of our meeting. I didn't want to leave, but I had to. My brother was flying in from New Jersey and in all honesty I hadn't really spent any quantifiable time with him in nearly 4 years. It would be despicable to show up late today. My new friends made me promise to come back with my brother so they could meet him too. Even if it wasn't for my great hosts I would have come back with Stephen. The town is beautiful, colonial, small, and the entire historic center is painted white like something out of a movie.

From there I got on a bus to Cali, onto the chaotic sprawl of Cali. It was dark when I arrived and the route takes you through the poor areas in the south of the city; it takes you past homeless people huddled around barrel fires, sleeping in doorways and under overpasses, and past poor street kids knocking on car windows for change. I didn't remember any of this, I just remembered a very nice house, a country club with a really, really high dive, and a live-in maid with a daughter about my age...the memories of an 8yr old. In reality nothing about my memories said “Colombia” it could have been a beautiful house anywhere.

Stephen and I arrived at about the same time at 2 very different locations, one at the bus terminal and one at the airport. This was my fault; I should have left Popayan earlier. In the end it all worked out and before long we were all in the car: Alvaro (my host dad), Carmenza (my host mom), Juliana (it's latin america, we'll call her my cousin), Stephen and I. It was almost the same cast of my childhood, minus Alvaro Jose(the son) who was out of town. Once he got there it really would be a reunion...a phone call would have to do until he was back in town. 

We were all sitting together at a restaurant along the river eating empanadas and playing catch up. I felt bad; they kept asking me if I remembered things: people, places, events, food. I always thought I had such vivid memories of Colombia, turns out they were spotty at best and mostly limited to the layout of an otherwise beautiful house and the bickering of children trying to play games lost in translation. But there we were, all grown up, and I could swear I’d never been there before, never met THESE people. But I recognized the faces and I knew the names, but that was where it stopped.

We would have a few days to actually get to know each other. Plus I would have a couple weeks to get to know my brother again. We would go and spend some time with Amparo, a woman I consider to be my grandmother, explore a new city (Medellin), and spend time with Stephen’s adoptive family in Bogota. Colombia, it seemed, was going to be a lot of family. To be frank, I was totally okay with that and thrilled that I would get to share these long overdue reunions with my brother. It was definitely different from everything else I had done to date. After 10 months…it’s all still new.

1 comment:

  1. You can always twist my arm to go with you on your return to Ecuador adventure... just sayin'.