Estoy Sola (I am alone).
I have traveled alone on and off for four years. I’ve mostly loved it and at times, I’ve I hated it, but luckily not often. I wrote about its virtues here. And there are many.
In my last post I talked about how traveling alone pushed me out of my comfort zone. Well, I wrote that before I left. Now I am here and feeling the full effects of just that…being uncomfortable.
I’ve mentioned previously my self-awareness of my mood when I first arrive in a new and foreign place – taking time to get accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells, finding my groove, and giving myself ‘transition time’ to just feel comfortable in my own solitary skin.
Well, I’m not there yet. I landed in Cartagena, Colombia at ten o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Eve day. I cabbed it to my hotel, checked in, dropped my bags and then hit the streets. For the first couple of nights I was staying in Bocagrande, not a remote outskirt, but also not the totally touristy center. It felt like a slightly crumbling Miami Beach. There were concrete high-rise condos and hotels wedged between shack-like eateries and the odd hip café or modern home appliance store. This was more the place for Colombian tourists and less expats. It seemed up and coming, but for many here, this was already it – the posh and trendy place to be…and also allegedly a nice dumping ground for drug money. But for me and my American preconceptions and innate views, it still seemed poor, dusty, and in parts, dodgy. My traveler side knew it wasn’t and some of it reminded me of many Latin-American or southeast Asian countries…especially the sidewalks. They crumbled beneath my feet and I had to watch for cracks and broken tiles.
And as I wandered around, there it was…my old friend, ‘discomfort.’ Why did I leave the comfy and easy-feeling USA? Why didn’t I stay longer at my uncle’s house in his posh Fort Lauderdale gated-community with the lush landscaping and all-amenities atmosphere?
I was uneasy. My ‘aloneness’ makes me feel super ‘visible’ at times in places like this. As I walked down the broken sidewalks, I felt like every guy was staring at me, whistling at me, calling to me. I didn’t want this kind of attention. Back home in Chicago, I walk alone in peace all the time – why was this different? I felt like I stood out. And not necessarily because I don’t look Colombian. But because I carry a back-pack and a camera. I am a photographer, so I tell myself I really have to have my camera out and visible in order to take photos, but at the same time it makes me feel very self-conscious and certainly conspicuous. And that’s not a helpful feeling to have when you are a photographer. Now I recall having this feeling other times I was traveling when ultimately I didn’t get ‘the shot’ I wanted because I felt too uncomfortable to walk closer to someone or something or to bother taking my camera out at all. It’s a double-edged sword. I want to blend in, but I want to get great shots.
If I didn’t already look like a tourist in my Teva sandals and backpack, I certainly did now. There are Colombian women all around me and some are alone, but you don’t see them with a backpack or hiking shoes. They are all in cute heels or sandals and big clutches or purses. Why does traveling make me feel less feminine? And you wouldn’t think I would feel this considering so many men have made comments to me, from the immigration officer upon my arrival to waiters to random guys on the street.
“Hola chica! Tus ojos azules son muy bonitas.”
“Porque estas sola?”
“Donde esta tu novio?”
Time and time again people ask me how I traveled alone for so long. I always regale them with tales of all my new friends on the road and other happenstance meetings all over the world – all the kismet-like encounters that led to amazing (or simply fun) experiences. I always say how I am never alone for very long. But what about when I am? Do I like it? Right now…no. Now I can remember the feeling of loneliness and the longing to mostly have someone to grab a beer with or eat a nice meal with. I know this feeling does not last and I did have plans to meet people soon. I know I also like to be alone to tour a city without worrying about others’ needs or holding others up while I wait for a perfect shot or the perfect light. But so far, for dia numero uno – I’m a hot, sweaty mess. I’m a bit lost and questioning how much more I should keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone during these kinds of travels. I certainly don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. So, just for the ‘sake of doing it’ is not a valid reason.
I’m sure (as usual) that I’ll be over this self-pitying low tomorrow, but for now I wanted to get it down on paper (yes, real pen and paper. I did chicken-scratch this one out at a bar while drinking my favorite drink: Cerveza Michelada – a beer with lime juice and salt…alone of course) so I could think about it more and get it out of my system and ponder what’s next. Of course, then I ended up talking to my waiter a bit and wasn’t alone, at least for a moment.
When you travel alone, how do you feel? What are your favorite parts? Least favorite?