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Putting It All Together in Medellín
“As a Black solo traveler turned travel writer, I’ve learned that travel as escapism is dangerous in its naiveté”
As a Black woman, I know what it feels like to be tired. Back in March of this year, when I was more tired than usual, I decided to take a trip.
Now, as a Black solo traveler turned travel writer, I’ve learned that travel as escapism is dangerous in its naiveté. Anti-Blackness can be found in any corner of the globe. There is no refuge from it. And just as I know what it means to be tired, I know that traveling can sometimes open you up to even more weariness. Traveling while Black means stares lingering past the point of comfort, being followed while shopping in a store, racist jokes about my afro while dining at restaurants. Those are just three examples. I’ve buried many more deep in my psyche so as not to be perpetually seething with rage.
But as the doldrums of winter neared their end and the first signs of spring appeared, I decided it was okay to want a break. I booked a one-way ticket to Medellín, Colombia. The city is still known for its history of drug-related violence and the legacy of Pablo Escobar, although efforts to draw visitors there have driven a sharp rise in tourism in recent years. I had actually been to Medellín six months earlier, having made a conscious effort to travel to cities and countries to be among Black people, descendants of Africans. I’d discovered that a large number of Afro-Colombians lived in Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, hours north of Medellín. I ended up in Medellín. The city still called to me from my first visit.
A month before I left, I was in Mexico City. There, I met a Black woman from Detroit who connected me with a friend of hers, another Black woman already in Medellín. Once in Medellín, I made plans to meet with her at an intercambio — a language exchange — on a Saturday night in El Poblado. After an hour of waiting, I assumed she wasn’t coming.
Dejected, I stuffed down my disappointment. Then two other Black women walked in. I knew they were American from their accents. I started talking to one of them and learned she was from Los Angeles.
Then the friend of a friend arrived, armed with her roommate, another Black woman. I introduced the new acquaintance I’d made and complained about my rumbling stomach. The four of us set off to find somewhere chill to eat, drink, and talk.
We stopped at a taco spot advertising cheap shots of tequila. There, four Black women who an hour ago didn’t even know each other sat with a warmth of understanding. I have long known that the company, kinship, and understanding Black women provide can be a healing balm. Here I was, finding it again, at a table in South America.
One woman asked why I was in Medellín. I opened my mouth and closed it. Before I could parse my words, a vulnerable admission flew out my mouth. I was tired, I said. I was tired of the news coverage evidencing how perilous it was to exist in my Black body as a woman at “home.” I was tired of being fearful to exist as who I was. And if it wasn’t being reminded of the brutality Black people faced it, it was other things: the weight of patriarchy underscoring my worth, the judgement for untraditional life choices, the loneliness and isolation that came with those choices.
The friend of a friend shifted in her seat, softly nodding her head, finishing the last of the Coke she’d been sipping. She simply said, “It takes a lot to be free.”
Something clicked for me that evening. I have long been telling people that travel is my self-care. But I could never put my finger on why the more I traveled, the further away I felt from reaching self-care enlightenment—that is, becoming a master of taking care of myself.
But it’s because travel is bigger than self-care. I know now that, through travel, I have been seeking what freedom looks like, and feels like, to me as a Black woman. I have been subconsciously hoping to unshackle myself from the unending burden of what it means to be a Black woman.
Today I am, with a heart full of hope, wandering my way toward liberation as I travel around the world. I am distantly dreaming of a space where life feels easier, through all the beautiful conversations I have with strangers. And I am praying that this time, this trip, this experience, will be the one where I can finally rest.