colombia con katie
Hello everyone out there! Welcome to the 2nd episode of my podcast! I interview one of my best friends about her recent trip....to Colombia! Listen to it above and read below.
What attracts you to visit another place: its history, food, people, language, natural wonders, architectural marvels? Its likelihood to provide stimulation, relaxation, adventure, learning? What type of experience do you expect? And in these expectations, how do you reconcile them with the real-world happenings of travel?
Through much laughter and silliness and seriousness combined, Katie and I talk about her trip, the joys of travel, recent inspiring reads, and other thoughts.
After hearing Katie talk on and off our interview about the food she ate, I couldn't help but search for vegetarian Colombian recipes.
Katie spoke of the incredible street art in Medellín, once the notorious dangerous murder capitol of the 1980s due to the drug lord Pablo Escobar. I had to scour the net for myself to see these works of art. You can find photographs of the diverse and colorful murals dotting the community of Comuna 13. On the website, Inspired by Maps, I found these images and a story on the neighborhood:
"Formerly one of Medellin’s most feared barrio’s, Comuna 13’s metamorphosis now represents Medellin in microcosm: not a perfect model for urban planning by any means, but a radical laboratory where untested experiments are carried out which seek to improve the urban and social fabric. Street art is a pivotal part of this change, and it diffuses through every house, roof, door and blank canvas in this now colourful neighbourhood. Street art’s themes are as diverse as the people that create them – from being deeply political and serious to being fun, satirical and irreverent, but upon closer inspection of these flaking canvases you can see they are imbued with hope, the chance for change and ability to dream again. For most of the residents lives here it was impossible to dream, living a life of suffering, terror and unimaginable hardships. Stuck in a cycle of poverty and gang warfare from which there was no way out. Today, however, thanks to the return of the rule of law and many new projects and initiatives in Comuna 13, the people here can again imagine a better life, a safer life. Street art is just one part of this, along with giant public education programs, security, activities for youth, library’s, increased transportation and economic opportunities. Optimism fills the air these days in Comuna 13, things are still far from perfect but as residents will tell you – “Every day, in every way, things are getting better and better”
For another read on the transformation of Medellín, read this article from The Guardian, which describes its move from danger to a more liveable, open, and friendly city. While I hear rumblings of and anticipate complications in its rise with issues like gentrification and the double-edged-sword of tourism, I hope it continues to thrive and be a safe place for natives and travelers.
A new view: travel as creative
As a teacher I look forward to and feel so grateful for the summers for travel. Besides being a great escape, travel is a sure way to think differently, and see the world differently. In the episode I talk about how I think creativity extends far beyond the arts, speaking to a more overall human ability to see the world differently. Mark Twain famously said:
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
And if you're somebody who hesitated like many of my friends and students when asked if you're creative, hear out Elizabeth Gilbert. Her recent book on creativity, Big Magic, continues to inspire and inform my process. She speaks about how her parents, a farmer and a nurse, forged their own life for themselves, never asking permission from anybody. They were self-motivated do-it-yourselfers, who "were never hippies" but followed their own path, creatively solving the problems of their unorthodox lifestyle and passing down the trait to her. She's a writer, yes, but she encourages anyone waiting for permission to be creative to look in their family's history:
"Look at your grandparents: Odds are pretty good they were makers. No? Not yet? Keep looking back, then. Go back further still. Look at your great-grandparents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the ones who were immigrants, or slaves, or soldiers, or farmers, or sailors, or the original people who watched the ships arrive with the strangers onboard. Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers, people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things.
This is where you come from.
This is where we all come from.
Human beings have been creative beings for a really long time........."
the travel wheel
Throughout the episode, you may have heard Katie and I talking about "blue days" and days that are hard when traveling. Even though travel is perceived as a flawless escape from your reality, there are still everyday occurrences which muddle the experience, as well as fantastic events that create difficulties. Far from making trips worrisome, these are simply the snags that you find in your day to day life. In some ways, they are intensified in a new environment, and in other ways they are yawningly mundane.
On the top of the travel wheel are the exhilarating feelings of travel creativity: elation, giddiness, a feeling of the world being fresh and new. This is partially catharsis from leaving home, partially rose-colored glasses, and partially the magic of your destination. This is a great time to practice living in the moment and feeling what you're experiencing fully. If you're traveling with someone, you have the particular pleasure of sharing your happiness with them. If you're traveling alone, sometimes these full emotions can feel a bit hollow, unless you're used to interacting and talking with strangers enough to share the moment with them. A journal comes in handy for recording your happiness, as well as a camera. Nothing is a replacement for the real thing, however, so bask in it.
The other side of the travel wheel encompasses a wide range of challenging emotions such as aggressive loneliness, fatigue, frustration, doubt, and confusion. If you're traveling with someone, these can become soothed or exacerbated depending on your chemistry with your partner. If you're alone, you sit with these emotions. I've learned over around 5 years of solo travel how to meet these with a calm face, like an old friend. Like a broken record, I repeat, carry a journal. It will record the good and bad, placid and hectic. It can serve as a witness to your frustrations, and has helped me to process numerous grating encounters, from swindling cab-drivers to lost luggage to creepy men to cities flooding to tired feet. They are part of the experience; and most that don't hurt you will become hilarious adventure stories you can primp and exaggerate to entertain your friends back home.
And if you're scared, if you're nervous to leave the comfort of your daily life, turn to something to inspire a packed bag. A passage from Kahlil Gibran's phenomenal book, The Prophet, does it for me:
And tell me, people of OrphaIese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?
Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.
It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
acknowledge your privilege
It goes without saying that travel is a luxury. Katie and I discuss this a little in our interview, and I'll venture to discuss it more here. No matter how much of a self-starter you are, no matter how hard you work or how much you save for your trips, your ability to travel is a privilege. I say this not to discourage anyone from pursuing the pleasure of travel, but to bring awareness to this practice. If you're like me, this practice is an extension of privilege elsewhere in your life. You may not come from money, no one may be paying for your trip, but maybe you were raised in a pleasant home where you received a decent to excellent education. Maybe you were able to go to college. Maybe you have natural access to healthcare and information. Maybe you are able to earn money only for yourself, not having to take care of children or aging parents. Maybe your white skin allows you to live free of daily, damaging prejudice. Maybe you are not suffering from a disease or disability that prevents mobility and a pain-free existence.
The simple truth is, here in America many of us live a life immeasurably more comfortable than the majority of the world. And here as well, most people don't have a choice between luxury and living; they work to survive. People who do not live with privilege may have the ability to pursue travel, but not without great effort or cost. Still, there are spaces and communities that help if you are a person of color, if you are living with a physical disability or mental illness and are traveling. If you don't believe me, though I can't speak from personal experience, there are some articles here, here, and here for a different perspective. I can only hope for societies and communities to become more inclusive and welcoming for everyone's sake.
hit the road
Let's say your able, let's say you're ready. If you still need a little push, look to influencers. I've found Jubril Agoro and Sorelle Amore to be inspiring in their own ways. There are so many solo travelers who live a life vastly different from us, in that they travel and support themselves by doing so. In our internet-saturated age you can find more personalities encouraging you to travel than ever before. I find these two have transparency in how they do it and will encourage you to try out traveling as an activity or as a lifestyle. Here's a link to a blog dedicated to traveling alone, which Katie and I will tell you is doable and very rewarding!
I happen to think anyone who is able to travel can tap into the spontaneity and creativity of travel. Call it part of my day job or part of my personality. I find that if we're open to creativity every day becomes more exciting rather than something to bear. Rarely are we bored when we dive into something creative, and that can be simply reading or learning about something that will change how you see the world.
Let me know what inspires you in the comments, or share a travel story or questions about travel! Want me to write more specifically about an aspect of travel, say so! Stay golden, and stay creative.