It’s Never Too Late
To learn, to let go, to live.
Colombia is the first stop on my South American journey. Yes, watching Narcos had me intrigued but I had heard so much about this beautiful country that I had to check it out for myself. My friend Jenne was in between gigs and wanted to see Colombia too so I started my journey with her. I got only an hour of sleep on a Copa Airlines flight that connected in Panama before we landed in Cartagena. Jenne knew of this Spanish school, Nueva Lengua, and suggested we look into an intensive course. Despite my last name, my Spanish is shit. I understand a lot but never have a chance to speak much and when I do it’s pretty awful. So this course seemed like a great way to start my latin american journey. We checked into Casa Blanca Hotel, which is literally spitting distance from the school and settled in for the next 8 nights. Since we arrived on a weekend, we had a couple of days to explore Cartagena, which is essentially anything in and around the walled city. The wall was built to protect the town from enemies and I guess in a way it’s not so different today. They tell tourists to stay within the walled city cause it’s safer and so they do.
Thankfully the school is located in a part of the walled city that was more my kinda vibe. The barrio is called Getsemani and it’s a little more ghetto but so much better than the Centro. The Centro is where all the nicer accommodation is, where tour packages send you, where eating out costs 50% more on average, where street performers dance or sing around tourists with cameras, where you will likely run into someone’s selfie stick as you round a corner and where all the ATM’s are- which was the only reason to go there. There was a time when Getsemani was not considered very safe as far as the walled city goes, but thanks to gentrification, it’s very safe now. Still rough around the edges, but I like that. Loads of color, creativity and life. Reminds me a lot of the Mission district of SF. Lots of graffiti art and a growing foodie scene.
The town square, Plaza de la Trinidad, is where it all happens. It is undoubtedly the social focal point of the town and every night of the week there was something going on. You will find different types of street food from yummy crunchy hamburgers to empanadas to fresh fruit juices. You will see folks just chillin’ out and watching people go by, kids kicking a football around, lovers kissing under a street lamp, hippie kids playing their guitars and drums and doing acro yoga. And if you’re lucky, like I was, you may even stumble upon some random latin dance class.
The course we signed up for was a week of intensive Spanish and dance. The dance portion was an optional add-on, so why the heck not. We had 4 hours of Spanish and 2 hours of dance most days. The course started on Monday at 8am sharp and suddenly I felt like the first day of school- a bit nervous and anxious, a bit curious and excited and wondering what my class and teacher will be like. After taking a written test to place my level, I was put into a class with 2 other gals. I lucked out. They are the most lovely chicks who showed me what’s what. They had both already been going to school so knew the lay of the land. I also lucked out with the teacher. She was a hard ass but she challenged me and made me work for it. What I discovered about myself was that I had forgotten a lot about grammar. You study the fuck out of grammar when you learn a language and Spanish is no exception. I may sound like an idiot now, but I had to recall terms like present perfect progressive and past participle predicate. Then trying to remember what those meant in English so I could then translate it to Spanish. Aye yai yai! I’m sure at some point I had learned this stuff in the years of Spanish classes I had taken, but I’d forgotten it all and had gotten by on travelers Spanish- lacking structure but able to get the point across. So, it’s never too late to learn something new or re-learn something. And although it gets more difficult with time, learning a language can be done with a lot of work and practice practice practice, which I’m getting loads of. I do believe my Spanish is improving and I’m using it every day.
As if 4 hours of Spanish wasn’t enough, we also had latin dance for 2 hours. I learned a bit of Cuban Salsa, Bachata and Cha Cha. Of course, the dance lesson was taught in Spanish only. Luckily I’ve taken dance classes for many years so it’s pretty easy for me to pick up on steps. What’s not easy for me is to do partner dancing. Let me do my own thing and I can fucking rock that shit out, but give me a partner that I have to follow and it’s a different story. The thing is…. it’s difficult for me to not lead. Translation- not be in control. When I partner dance, I find myself wanting to take lead and anticipate the next move. These salsa lessons required me to surrender fully to the instructor. I learned to give in and let someone else take lead. I learned that I could trust in that person to guide me and by doing so I was able to let go, improve and follow with ease.
The spanish school has students from different countries and of different ages. Surprisingly I met a lot of Swiss, which I only mention cause there are so many of them here and I’m not used to meeting so many when I travel. I thought there must have been some serious advertising for Colombia in Switzerland. Like we see in the subway station or on the busses. This was not the case though. Their answer was always — ya, we Swiss travel a lot. Anyways, at the school I’d say I was in the older age group as compared to the others, but in the end it was no big thang. People laugh, drink, eat, and connect and no matter what your age is or what you do or where you are from, it’s all good. It’s the conversation you have, it’s the stories you share, it’s the advice you give, the hug you receive, the smile you catch and the closeness you feel that is remembered. While traveling you will always meet people along the way and some will be meaningful, some will be challenging and some will simply be what it is. There will be those moments when you meet someone, if only for a short while, and you know that you were meant to be in their lives at that time for whatever reason. You learn from them and they learn from you.
After an intense week in Cartagena, we headed for the calm and peace of an eco lodge by the beach, La Sirena. Located in Palomino just 30 minutes outside of Tayrona National Park, in the northernmost part of Colombia. All week I never really felt very calm. I slept poorly, still had some anxiety, had homework every day and was enticed by the city life. I was still holding on to thoughts of my life back in SF and finding it difficult to settle in to this life right now. What my body and soul needed was some rest and relaxation and to be surrounded by nature. The plan was to decompress and get back into a meditation and yoga routine. As soon as we got to the eco lodge, I spotted a hammock by the beach. Finally, I could start to feel my mind and body letting go a bit. I layed in that hammock for the next couple of hours just staring up at the dusk sky and feeling lucky, happy and alive. It took me a while to settle in and feel that I wasn't just on a vacation but I think I’m getting there. I’m learning to live my life, slowly but surely.