NOTE: Colombia. Holy shit. What a ride. The ultimate planned gone unplanned getaway. There are several stories and thoughts coming out of this trip but I'm also working on several side projects so be sure to stay tuned as they'll be rolling out slowly, one by one.
I don't travel much. I'm usually training on the weekends and spend most of my vacation days on races or going home to visit family. However, I finally spun the travel roulette wheel, landed on Colombia, and booked tickets.
Fast forward: Colombia.
The first five days, I was stuck without luggage. If I had been a savvier traveler, I would've packed a solid carry-on stash of extra clothes/food. But I'm not, so I didn't. Baggageless, Akina and I decided to pass the time at Playa Blanca, a beach we had heard mixed reviews about that was a forty minute cab ride from our hostel in Cartegena. Sure, why not.
My first impression of the beach was pure horror. Shaded wet sand littered with cow shit gave way to burning hot sand, vendors shouted and shook their wares in our faces, screaming kids darted in between hordes of families and couples that covered every square inch of available beachfront real estate. It was my nightmare.
The further we wandered down the beach, the thinner the crowds became until we eventually reached our hostel. Empty. We checked out the cabana, plopped down our money, and then plopped down our asses in the warm, crowd-free sand. Paradise.
We spent the day in the sun, feeding ice to the adorable stray dogs, and sipping on pina coladas and cuba libres. As the sun set and the deliciously vibrant colours began to flood the skies, I stared out at the ocean and my heart caught in my throat. Happy. Pure, pure happiness shot through my body and warmed me from the inside out until it escaped, hot on my lips and pricked at the back of my eyes. I couldn't help but let the tears trickle down my beaming cheeks. Here on this beach, there were no worries, no problems. I wasn't a failure or a wannabe, I wasn't a disappointment. I wasn't filled with dread about what the hell I would do when I got back. I didn't care about my missing bag, full of irreplaceable gear. I didn't even think about the past moments that tend to haunt me at times like this. I just .... was. I was my toes in the sand, I was my breath, I was my own measured heartbeat, I was the wind gently tangling itself in my hair. It was pure and beautiful and real. How could there ever be a moment better than this? I stood there gazing out over the water until the light faded into velvety darkness.
"Hey," Akina's voice drifted over on the breeze. I looked up at her walking over, she continued, "So that guy over there says we can go see some bioluminescent plankton tonight. It's only $10, want to go?"
We had seen a speck of glowing blue earlier and I geeked out, I've never seen the aurora borealis of the sea and was stoked to see the one lone blue ranger drifting in front of us. I considered it briefly but remembered I had $30 in my account and a nonfunctioning credit card. "Ehhhh... no thanks. I don't want to pay and find out it's not a good night for it or only see, like, ten."
"Come on..." she pressed. "It'll still be worth it. You freaked out over one, even if you saw ten you know you'd be happy." Pause. I mulled it over. She leaned in, "Okay, what if I pay?"
I narrowed my eyes. "Fine."
Ten minutes later, we donned over-sized life jackets in the dark and headed into the blackness beyond the shore at a steady clip. The night was warm, the waters fairly gentle, the ride smooth. I kept trying to mentally talk myself down so I wouldn't be disappointed. I didn't want to picture the photos I had seen plastered all over the internet of glowing beaches and end up seeing ten measly specks. Tough life, right? Akina turned to me to set the record straight, "Imagine stars in the water, like Salt Lake City stars not Moab stars. City stars. It'll still be cool but those photos you always see online are super photoshopped. They're really hard to see in photos." I nodded. I felt less regretful for leaving my phone behind now since I wouldn't have gotten a decent photo anyway.
"Look at the water, do you see?" the guide's tiny shadow pointed to the wake our boat created. It was definitely illuminated but it was a full moon, so I was nonplussed. Meh. I've seen the moon on the ocean water before, nothing to get excited about. I glanced up to see the moon's position and saw it had slipped behind a cloud, leaving the sky black. Holy shit. The water was glowing faintly. My heart skipped. Glowing. Water.
Wide-eyed, I looked over at Akina. She caught a glimpse of my face and laughed, "I told you!" The boat was slowing down now, slipping into a dark glassy lagoon. The guide began giving instructions in Spanish but promised to repeat them in English. He didn't. I caught a couple words, something about water and uh...The next thing I knew, we were standing on the side of the boat, ready to jump.
I didn't even hear him finish the word. Immediately, my eyes were filled with glowing salt water. Blue, vibrantly illuminated blue water churned around me as I whipped my head back and forth underwater trying to take it all in before my lungs burned up my breath. My first breath at the surface was a breathless laugh.
I could hear Akina splashing on the other side of the boat, swimming around to where I was kicking my legs underneath me, whipping up a cloud of light. I couldn't stop laughing. We were kids again, splashing around, giggling, spitting water at each other, and just drinking in the incredible place we found ourselves.
I cupped a handful of water and looked down, I was holding the Milky Way in my hands. Twinkling stars of tiny sea creatures blinked and shone out from my palms. Swirling with the motion of the water still looking to settle in its new space, they danced and whirled, creating constellations to last seconds instead of lightyears.
I don't know how long we were in the water or how long the boat ride back to shore lasted. I vaguely remember rinsing off and heading to bed. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw thousands of tiny glowing stars. It was only after we returned that I remembered I hadn't had my phone on me, in fact, neither of us brought a phone. I couldn't have been happier. Had we been fussing with the lighting or choosing between flash or no flash, etc, we wouldn't have been able to truly enjoy those moments we spent swimming among the stars. We became gods in a tiny universe, creating life, watching constellations form and fade, and were both fully present to enjoy it.
Having spent a good chunk of the trip nursing a potentially damaged phone and letting it sit alone on timeout in its rice bag, I slowly began to cut the chain that bound me to it. Working in social media and marketing for a living, I'm never not on my phone. It was so bad that at one point, I even had two identical phones, one for work and one for me. Even on my runs, I sneak in a Snapchat or check socials if I'm lucky enough to find service. Date nights or listening to friends' stories, every two minutes, I scratch the phone itch and check my list of apps and sites that engrained the habit (addiction?). The greatest moments from the trip weren't captured on my phone, I was lucky enough to live them in real time, with all of my senses.
Now that I'm sitting home, I think about how it worked out. Truly a blessing in disguise. I've been wanting to wean myself off my phone addiction for over a year, more than ever now that there is no real need lately, but didn't know how. Sometimes, the universe answers your request in a very different way than expected but it answers you all the same. I'm much better about my phone these past few days I've been back home. The time I've spent with others, I've been fully present. The time I've spent outside, I've been completely absorbed by the experience. The trip to Colombia certainly wasn't free and it probably wasn't the most fiscally responsible, but what it has given me in return is worth far more than the scarce cash I sacrificed to receive it.