It's been a strange week. On the one hand as I've strolled through Cartagena I've had waves of NRE for Colombia, the country I've most looked forward to after Mexico. On the other hand I've mostly hung around my slightly oppressive hostel feeling flat, sad (for a few reasons but mostly because my friend Aaron died this week), irritable, much too hot, uncomfortable, adrift and demotivated!
I've spent the past year getting from British Columbia to Colombia. It's been eclectic. I organised a conference and unexpectedly fell in love in Vancouver. Loathed the USA. Adored Mexico. Learned a lot about myself in Central America. And now here I am in South America, excited by the journeys ahead of me yet feeling more than usually adrift.
Sometimes I let myself wallow in this state of mind for a while without doing any of the things that might shift it. I have to be careful though otherwise it can start to feel like depression, as happened in Oaxaca.
I was talking to a friend this week about the interesting psychological experience of stripping away all the usual structure and 'shoulds' from day-to-day life. I still hear the little 'should' voices in my head, but less and less I think.
So what's the problem? Mostly I think it's to do with an ongoing imbalance along a couple of related dimensions that one might argue are 'occupational hazards' for a solo nomad.
First, the dimension of solo-ness and connected-ness, which I obviously don't see as polar but which do take some balancing. In Oaxaca I learned three straight months is too long to have no company but my own. Once again I am facing this prospect, til I head back to the UK for the summer. Perhaps it's time to think ahead to the rest of my journey through South America (roughly the 18 months from October 2018) and try to engineer some evenly-spaced visits from my peeps. <hint...>
I'm usually good at making new friends but have yet to even attempt this in Spanish. I simply don't wish to subject the kind of people I find interesting to a gringa that sounds like a two year-old. Vicious circle.
The other dimension is subtly different: being visible vs invisible. When on the move with the bike I'm constantly visible and this exhausts me. These days I do absorb energy from smiles and verbal salutations but I'm utterly drained by the non-consensual interrogations directed at me constantly, not to mention the honking. Rationally I realise people are curious and their interest is almost always supportive, but I rarely experience it this way. As for the honking, I'm going to have to make some kind of peace with it or I may actually go mad.
"I know my way of life is enviable. I'm grateful every day for many things. But man, sometimes I get so tired. Tired of being visible/ looked at all the time. Tired of being driven at, honked at, hollered at, barked at. Tired of having questions non-consensually fired at me whenever I stand still. Tired of being told I'm in the wrong fucking toilet. Sometimes I'd just like to be in a snug in a quiet pub with people who actually know me." (Recent Facebook post)
In order to strike a balance between exploring Colombia's landscapes and urban cultures - between 'bike travelling' and studying Spanish - I'm going to try a new pattern of moving for a couple of weeks then stopping (hiding?) for a few. When I stop I should really look for some kind of shared accommodation... but I bet I won't!
So... intentions for Colombia...
Spanish. I'll finish working through and discard my 'Colloquial Spanish' textbook. I'll get my MP3 player working and listen to podcasts wherever road conditions permit. When settled I'll reengage with Olly Richards' Spanish Academy. I'll find ways to learn irregular verbs and other hard stuff like the subjunctive, and devise contexts in which to practise them. Also...
Reading. I'm going to be realistic and say it will take me the full three months to read Isabel Allende's first novel "La casa de los espíritus". It ought to take me much less time to finish Gabriel García Márquez' "One hundred years of solitude" (in English) and Galeano's "Open veins of Latin America" (also in English).
If close friends have any observations about this post I'd be glad to hear them.