My Nomadic Life, Photography, travel, travel, Writing

Leaving Colombia. Again.

In late 2015, I embarked on a nomadic journey through Brazil that forever changed my life. I wasn’t sure where exactly I would go or for how long— all I knew was I would start in the Amazon, head south to Uruguay, and stop at Iguazu Falls. After eighteen months on the road, I managed to do everything I wanted and more: I spent a total of 10 days on slow boats sailing down the Amazon River, learnt that “summer” is a relative term in Uruguay, and marvelled at the lush waterfalls at Iguazu, all while making friends, (badly) dancing samba, and falling in love with the magical land that is Brazil as I travelled down the coast on buses, cars, boats, and planes. 

In Brazil, I was working online and volunteering at hostels in exchange for free accommodation, crashing on friends’ couches, and hitting the beach as much as possible; it was a wonderful time and I wouldn’t change a single thing. But I have different goals for the second part of My Nomadic Life, like working on my writing projects and staying in short-term rental apartments, which won’t offer the possibility of meeting people like hostels do but will give me more space and privacy to work and rest. After living in shared accommodation for so long, I appreciate my own space more than ever, and I also don’t want to burn myself out like I did the first time around, which prompted me to go back to Santa Marta for six months in 2017 to decompress. 

My journey through Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina was life-changing and made me realise how much I love and appreciate Colombia. I came back, reenergised, ready to start a life here but the Universe had other plans. And after eighteen months of staying still due to the pandemic, practically alone but surrounded by nature in the one place on Earth that I call home, the time has come to pack my bags again and hit the road. But first, I have to say goodbye to Colombia. Again. And clarify that it’s my choice to leave and that I understand how privileged I am to be able to make that choice for myself, to have the opportunity to seek out a place that won’t break my heart every single day.

With internal displacements surging again due to violence, a direct consequence of the current right-wing government’s refusal to implement the historic peace deal that was signed in 2016, thousands of Colombians are being forced to choose between fleeing their homes and risking their lives. And with over 8 million internally displaced people (IDPs), Colombia has one of the world’s highest numbers of IDPs alongside war zones like Syria, the DRC, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Unlike those being displaced and those who don’t have the opportunity to leave, I am lucky to be able to dream of a dignified, peaceful future and start over somewhere new.

This isn’t the first time I’ve left searching for something new, different, or better. I can’t count how many times I’ve left —how many times I’ve left “for good”— or how many times I’ve come back, unsure of my next step but craving the chaos and beautiful absurdity of home. But the last few years have proven to me that I can’t live in this country that I adore, that has shaped me into the person I am today, that has taught me so much, because Colombia’s future looks too much like its past. So I have finally come to terms with my decision to take care of myself first, despite the overwhelming guilt and grief that comes with a reluctant permanent migration.  

I don’t have the strength to fight for this country or the bravery to put my life on the line in the hopes that better things will come; Colombia is amazing but it is also a fundamentally unjust, violent, broken place, and no amount of festivals or exuberant nature can make up for that, because the rot runs deep and is embedded in a culture of inequality, elitism, indifference, destruction, and death. And yes, there are many good, wonderful, unique, beautiful things here that I absolutely love —like picking fresh fruit off the trees that line the streets of Medellín and seeing the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada from the lush, jungle-covered rivers of the northern Caribbean coast— and yes, there are bad things everywhere —badness is, after all, inherently human— but I find that the reality of living here (outside of my beautiful family home) is, unfortunately, more than I can handle.  

Loving Colombia hurts me deeper than any heartbreak, and this past year, which I am so grateful for in spite of everything because it forced me to be present, to slow down, and to focus, has helped me accept that my dream of having a home base in my country of birth isn’t realistic or healthy for me. 

So I’m leaving again in hopes of finding a new home base somewhere else where where art and life are valued. I know I will miss Colombia so much it will hurt, but it will hurt less to miss it than to live it. And I’m not saying I’ll never return —I definitely will, I already can’t wait— but only as a visitor, as an outsider, so I can appreciate its beauty, its diversity, its abundance, and give thanks for having lived it, loved it, and left it. 

It’s definitely a bitter-sweet goodbye and certainly the hardest one yet, because every other time I left I knew I would come back and live here someday. But the road ahead is exciting albeit fraught with challenges, starting with the ever-changing COVID restrictions and my brown Colombian passport, which has taken me farther than one would expect but still comes with stigma and complications attached. 

I don’t know when or where I will find my new home, but this time I am travelling with purpose rather than aimlessly wandering the globe seeking adventure (although that was fun, too). I never thought I’d crave stability and I know I’ll never stop exploring, but I do want a place of my own to call home, and despite loving every corner of Colombia, that place isn’t here.

Ever since lockdown started in March 2020, I haven’t been sure of much, not even of my past, myself, or the fragile outline that once defined me. That’s why this journey, beyond being a mission to find my new home, is a quest to reengage with who and where I’ve been, and to reconnect with old friends who might live oceans away but still inhabit my heart. I need to get back to my essence and return to places that seem to only exist now in my memories, transforming into surrealist fantasies that make me question my own existence. Did I really live there a lifetime ago? Was I really that person, once upon a time? And what is distance, anyway?

So although I might be running away from the problems in Colombia and my own issues with it, I am also running towards myself and hopefully towards a better life.

Saying goodbye is never easy but saying hello to new experiences always makes up for it! Follow along on my blog and social media @LauraRepoOrtega and keep me company on this new journey, wherever you might be and wherever I may end up.

My Nomadic Life Pt II: Seeking Home

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