It’s been a year and a half since I returned from my epic trip around the world and I haven’t left US soil since the fall of 2017. Almost everything in my life has changed. I live in a new city, have a new job, a new apartment, new car, new friends, and new routines. It’s dizzying if I think about it for too long. And prior to all of these previously mentioned positive changes, just a couple of months after returning from the most incredible 15 months of my life of travel/adventure/joy, I was leveled by a tsunami of unexpected crisis and loss.
I felt like I was in one of those dark fairy tales where the stormy seas take their vengeance on the heroine whose ship is now overturned and is being pulled into the abyss by invisible forces. And just when I thought I wasn’t going to make it out of the vortex, I saw a life saver just a few feet within reach. I grabbed hold and it brought me up out of the water and pulled me toward the city of angels.
I spent most of this year in this transition from where-in-the-world-is-sandy to back-in-the-game-sandy. But I vowed that this time, I would do it differently than I had done it before. I returned to the media world but under nearly opposite circumstances from my previous stint in NYC. I’ve gone from a big corporate job to a daring entrepreneurial venture. I’ve joined a team of incredibly smart and successful people, all of whom have also had the big jobs in other big (and bigger) companies. But more than their impressive career trajectories, which are pretty damn impressive, I’m working with people who care about the world and each other. We’re joined in this mission to do something new, creative and innovative that we feel will contribute something positive. It feels really good to be a part of something that I am building with a team that respect and like each other. I think it’s in my DNA to be drawn toward big, bold missions and that has manifested in my professional and personal life.
But like my transitions, it’s not always easy. And while I was far from my family and friends during my world adventures, it’s different when you settle into your day-to-day routine and live on the opposite coast from the people closest to you. But thankfully, new and old friends welcomed me into their homes and their lives and made the change so much easier. I am so grateful to those that have done so much to make LA feel more like home.
The year was almost over and after a really great month of hosting my mom and sister in LA, I decided that I would take advantage of the Christmas/New Year break by taking a trip out of the country and crossing off a major travel bucket-list item. I was finally going to make it to South America with a trip to Colombia, a country that I have been admiring from afar for some time. There were many friends and even a Lyft driver or two that expressed concern about my traveling solo to Colombia. I think that was due to the reputation that Colombia had for many years due to the devastation caused by the drug cartels, ensuing violence and the reacquainting of that history thanks to the success of the Narcos franchise. And in defense of my friends, their concern mostly stemmed from knowing that I was still dealing with PTSD after the previously referenced trauma tsunami. And while all of their concern was heartfelt and loving, I knew that I wanted to start in Colombia and see how I would feel being there. I wanted to see if I returned even briefly to a life of travel, would I feel the same exhilaration? Would my confidence reemerge? Will I feel like Me?
Christmas in Colombia
As I left LAX on Christmas Eve, I started to feel that familiar thrill that comes from setting off on an adventure to a new place. “This was the right call” I assured myself. I landed in Medellín around midnight and arranged with the hotel for a car to pick me up. I knew that I wanted to stay in a hotel that’s more upscale than when I was on my long trip to give myself some of the safeguards and comfort I needed for a short trip. My driver and I found each other as soon as I left customs and not even 20 minutes into my arrival in Colombia, I had two distinct thoughts: “girl, you packed too much shit” and “why did you study French not Spanish, you dummy?”
Medellín known as the City of Eternal Spring, is a large, thriving city with pulsing with energy and change. It’s no longer Pablo Escobar’s city, it’s the people’s city. They’ve done so much work to turn away from the violence of the not too distant past and a big part of their success in bringing jobs, safety and commerce to the city was by investing in their public transportation. Their metro system is fast, clean, inexpensive and spread across the mountainous areas. Their cable cars are famous not only for tourists who want to climb up the mountain to get to Arvi Park, which candidly I didn’t find that impressive, but the ride up and views certainly are. The cars that go into the small mountain-side barrios give the residents efficient and affordable access to the city center for work and recreation.
I want to say that I felt all of those old feelings from travel’s past, and while I did feel much of what I loved before – discovery, curiosity, humility, freedom, and surprise; those weren’t the only emotions to surface. One day, in the middle of the afternoon when I was walking through the center where children were walking with their parents and grandparents, the market swirling with activity and in so many ways, it was one of the most familiar sights no matter where I traveled. However, this time, I felt my body tighten, my blood pressure rise and fearful and paranoid thoughts started to chime in rapid succession. A tug-of-war began between my rational mind laying out the facts: it’s daytime, there are families all around you, you are safe; and my traumatized voice responded: it’s dangerous, you’re alone, and you can’t trust anyone. I jogged out of the most crowded areas of the center and the next two hours passed in a blur of rushing down sidewalks, searching for the metro and taking deep breaths to try and calm down. I finally made it back to my hotel room, shut the door, crashed on the bed and cried until I could fell asleep. When I woke from my nap, I felt foolish, disappointed with myself and relieved to be in the hotel.
A Big Rock in A Small Town
I decided that I wanted to go somewhere outside of the city, someplace smaller where things moved more slowly. I went to Guatapé a little town about two hours away. I took one of those small local buses that was full when I boarded, so the bus driver took pity on me and invited me to sit in the front of the bus. Score! This was definitely a familiar experience, thrilling and white-knuckled, as the friendly driver talks on the phone and eats his snacks while speeding fast and furious up and around the mountains. I’d heard from a couple of people about this place including from my niece Jinna who is a full-time world explorer, surf photographer and free spirit that I should try and make a day trip to this town. It has become a weekend getaway for the upper middle to wealthier class and it’s best known for El Peñol a giant rock that is rumored to reward you at the top with spectacular views.
I stayed in the most adorable cabana outside of Guatapé, at the foot of El Peñol. Even though the inside of the cabana is as basic as it gets in terms of design and comfort, the outside is what captivates. You have to drag your bag up a very steep and rocky driveway that many of the tuk tuks won’t attempt, but once you get up there, the views are off-the-charts. On one side you see lakes with tiny islands clustered in between and the other is that giant rock beckoning you toward its 700 steps. The town itself is a 3D version of an impressionist painting –vibrant, full of character, quaint shops, friendly merchants, and sweet and savory treats – it’s Instagram Xanadu.
I’m so happy I decided to get out of the city and spend the last two nights in a quieter place surrounded by beautiful natural settings, enjoying the slower pace and fewer people. And Guatapé is so colorful and charming with businesses and vendors selling everything from jewelry, coffee, art and even organic toiletries. And of course, no shortage of food options here. However, Colombian food was a little on the bland side for me.
I was pretty nervous about attempting to climb Peñol because I was woefully out of shape. I used the move to LA and transitional period as an excuse to avoid exercise and my body and energy suffered the consequences. It had been a really really long time since extreme hikes in New Zealand, Australia and southeast Asia. But I knew I had to try. So, I layered on my sunscreen, donned my large floppy Korean lady hat, double-tied my sneaker’s laces, shoved my water bottle in my travel bag and set off to climb the rock. (Side note: every online review warns you about the 700 steps, but NO ONE talks about the 30 minutes up a steep hill you have to trek up to just to get to step 1 of Peñol.)
I already gave myself permission to take as many breaks as needed to get up there. Reminding myself that I wasn’t in competition with anyone, and that if I succeeded, the reward would be even greater than just the famous views. I knew that after surviving the monster that was 2018 that being able to accomplish something like climbing a big ass rock would do wonders for my spirit. I took each step deliberately, switching from super slow to slow and sometimes even not slow. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel superior to anyone I passed as I knew that a moment later, while I’m huffing and sweating in recovery-mode, that lovely 78-year-old abuelita nipping at my heels will scoot right past me without breaking a sweat.
When I finally made it to the top, I finally felt that full surge of gratitude, hope and awe that I felt countless times before in so many places all over this beautiful world. I looked all around and there were so many amazing views to take in. I bought a cup of freshly sliced mangos, sat back in a chair, stared in awe at the landscape, and I felt a small seed of renewedconfidence take root in my chest.