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Evan waits for a bus up on Mesa de los Santos, in Colombia.

Colombia —Part 2

—Evan Belknap

I’m back now and it feels as though I’ve blinked and six weeks have gone by. Here in New Mexico it’s still wintery, the Sandias are frosted and unapproachable. Placitas is windy and cold and beautiful from inside, next to a fire. My dad is still waiting for the perfect day to go snowboarding and my mom is still making stained glass windows. Many of my friends are working the same jobs, living the same routines, working on the same projects. But something is different with me, someone said—“You seem calmer. Or like you have some secret.”

It’s hard to talk about a trip and what it all means, because it is definitely a secret. It is you, alone, on another planet, living a separate life, in a separate reality, for a definite amount of time. And when you get back all you can really say to your friends and family is that it was pretty sweet. That the country was good and warm and full of friends and the city was hectic and lonely. The girls were pretty and your dancing, ugly. That you sweat on some buses and shivered on others, but you always got to where you needed to be and never got stabbed.

The food was delicious except that time you found a hairy pig foot in your Bandeja Paisa.

A bed was cheap and comfortable but each night you’d have to wake up multiple times, turn on the light, and hunt the tiny mosquitos that hid from the light, but would buzz in your ears and bite your cheeks as soon as it was dark.

You can tell them about your dog, Wolfman, that waited for you outside your hostel in Suesca each morning and accompanied you to breakfast and then climbing. How he got in a fight and you had to try to treat the gaping wounds in his foot and back and ear. How the locals asked how you were going to take him with you, you were so close.

Then you went north, you could say, and even draw a little map on a bar napkin, waaayyy up here, close to Bucaramanga. And it was finally hot. You got sunburned and then tan. And how the rocks wouldn’t go into the shade until about 11:00 a.m., so you and your friend would make a big breakfast and then stretch and drink coffee on the edge of the “Grand Canyon of Colombia.” You’d watch the condors and try to touch your toes.

After climbing all day on bullet hard red sandstone walls, with little features to grab on to, you’d walk down into the pueblo, go to the back porch of the little pink house and there you bought all sorts of vegetables and eggs and handmade, local chorizo for only a couple dollars. The little girl there stared up at your 6’4” friend like he was a friendly dragon. You made spicy spaghetti sauce with terrible boxed wine and fresh red and green tomatoes. You fed anyone that was around, and lived in Spanish, and drank beers late into the night. How you lived there in the yoga room, towering over the canyon, for ten days. You snuck in at night, opened all the doors that dropped off a thousand feet and let that cool breeze blow away the mosquitos. How you bundled up and finally found the best sleep of your trip. How you’d wake up to the sunrise.

You could name and paint all the faces of the people you met, and routes you climbed, and mountains you saw. You could go on and on.

But the thing that gets me, is that while now it’s just a bunch of snippets and words, it was real there for a while and I got used to living it. It was my life and now, suddenly, at it’s end, it’s like it never happened—and unless I tell these little stories, no one will ever know I was there, except the people I met along the way. But my friends here say, “You were gone forever,” and my girlfriends all moved on, and it’s suddenly almost March. How confusing it is to have to restart real life after what seems a long dream. To tuck away this warm little glow of memory and experience and hold it there like a secret while I go about my day.

I guess that’s life though, just a long series of chapters that fill you up from the inside.

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