I detest the cliche of leaving my old life behind to travel for a year and “find myself”, and so it is difficult to describe what I’m doing now without falling back on the term. I am travelling, yes. I like to say I’m looking for a place to fall in love with so I can stay there. It may be a physical place that I fall in love with, a community of like-minded individuals, or yes, even a person. I’m not seeking the truth or a higher power – I want to find a place to call home. I know who I am and it’s pretty close to who I want to be, but I want to discover where I want to be.

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A place like this might be too isolated for me

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Cartagena is a beautiful city but very hot and teeming with tourists

I know a lot about who I am already. I know I am a kind person, I know I am intelligent. I am aware of what makes me happy, and I am not just aimlessly wandering. I know that I like to throw myself heart and soul into projects, and I know I tire of those same projects if I work on them too long. I know those things about myself, and I don’t feel lost and in need of finding.

I am doing this because I want to learn more. I’m finding it really difficult to describe my skills and strengths when applying for volunteer positions because I don’t want to limit myself to doing only things I’m good at. A big part of this trip is developing new skills and seeing how others do things. I’m learning things I didn’t know were there to learn, things I’d never thought about before.

The balance I’m having trouble finding, though, is between meeting like-minded people and having an authentic experience. So many opportunities I find are to live sustainably in a 50-acre compound of North American expats practicing yoga and eating organic vegetarian meals while working on conservation projects in nearby jungles and setting up schools for the locals in their spare time. In fact, Ellen and I are on the verge of signing up for something similar to that for our next stop. I’m going to send them an e-mail as soon as I publish this post, but I have no idea whether this will be an awkward two weeks with people whose idea of nirvana is clearly not mine, or whether everything they’re doing will be exactly the things I’ve been looking for.

I want to like those things, but I didn’t come to Colombia to meet North Americans finding themselves. I came here to experience Latin American culture, and I’m not convinced I’ll find it in a yoga retreat. I want to find something developed by locals, where I’m sure that I’m helping the community and not just contributing to the wealth of a group of foreigners who are using land for ten people that could support 75 local families if they weren’t there. But then again, I might discover that a yoga retreat in the mountains of Colombia is exactly where I’ll find people who know how I feel. They might know exactly what I’m looking for and where I can find it.

What I want to get out of the trip is this: I want to develop a variety of skills and bases of knowledge in myself, but what those will be depend on what opportunities I take. I want to work in places where I’m furthering the interests of the locals, rather than contributing to a foreign ecotourism venture. I want to meet like-minded people. I want to find a place that feels like I could make a home of it. I want to make connections with people who might help me in future projects, whatever those may be. I want to learn the local languages. I want to interact with local families. I want to eat the local specialties, drink the local brews, understand the local culture. What I’m looking for is actually quite similar to what I found in Korea – meeting good people, enjoying the culture, food, and language, and feeling I’ve made a difference to others while furthering my own prospects for the future. I’m sure I can find that here.

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