Going home..

After a whirlwind three months that included trips to Chile, Bolivia and different cities in Colombia, I am getting ready to come home in a few days.  As always, leaving Bogotá is bittersweet.  I miss my friends, and my family but I will also miss the city and all of the nice people I’ve met here.

I am posting a map of Colombia, so even though I’ve taken several trips – you can see that I haven’t really explored the country at all. (I’ve posted little push pins on the areas I have visited.)  I excluded Facativa and some of the closer towns since they are really just suburbs of Bogotá, and it would just clutter the map.

Map of Colombia, courtesy of Google Earth

As you can see – I haven’t explored the southern part of Colombia, or the pacific coast at all.  My Atlantic adventures have been confined to Cartagena.  So, I guess this means, I still have a lot of work cut out for me on my next visit(s).

map showing central Colombia

But I hope that readers have enjoyed reading about my travels, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen.  Now – I know this is a medical/ surgery blog but since much of the surgery I write about is in this part of the world, I think that including some of my experiences is relevant/ interesting for people who read the blog.  Once I get back home, I’ll post some more articles on medical quality control and standards – and more of my usual dry fare.

in Lerida

in the mountains on the way to Tolima

Most Americans have limited exposure to Colombia, and Colombian life.  Other than media reports about drugs and violence, the majority of people’s opinions about the country have been formed by one quintessential little film of the mid-80’s…

“Romancing the Stone” – yeah, that’s right – the silly little romantic comedy with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.  “Is this the bus to Cartagena?” is a line I’ve heard many, many times from people asking questions about my experiences here.

In general, like most things, Colombia is nothing like the movies.  Especially this one, since it was filmed in Veracruz, Mexico.

just outside Lerida at Sunset

But Lerida is that Colombia – the hot, humid, tropical Colombia that people think of after watching that movie.  It isn’t jungle-like here, of course,(that’s further south) but it’s an ancient city with stone buildings and some cobblestone streets interspersed among newer construction; but Lerida has the unrelenting heat and steaminess that people generally picture (and fail to find in Bogota.)  My guide tells me that the city wasn’t quite so hot – until most of the trees were removed when the streets were paved.  It makes sense since the neighboring cities (with thick tree-lined streets) are noticeably cooler.

It’s an interesting city – and more than just miles away from Bogotá – more like decades.  Life is a bit more traditional here, but that may be just the heat, and the ancient appearance of much of the buildings contributing to that perception.  Lerida was first ‘discovered’ in 1538 by Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcazar who was amazed by the richness of the land, but it wasn’t officially ‘founded’ until 1777, which actually makes it technically one of the younger towns.  But as you wander the town, you see that people are still living in many of the original buildings – updated and modernized, of course.  But the original architecture with high ceiling and spacious rooms offers the advantages of cooler temperatures despite relentless sun.

As a mentioned in a previous post about Cali – motorcycles are the preferred method of travel in the warmer climes; relatively inexpensive, and good on gas – you see motorcycles just about everywhere you look; with entire families on bikes.

family on motorcycle in Lerida

Women in high heels, babies pressed between bodies, toddlers riding up front, even women riding ‘side-saddle’.

Coming from a society where motorcycles are used more as a statement than a viable mode of transportation; it takes a minute to adjust to the scene of so many bikes – it’s not a convention, they aren’t ‘bikers’, it’s just another day of running errands and going to work.

line of motorcycles

For more posts about my visits to Medellin, click here.

What is home? (and where is home?)

One of the questions I am asked frequently when I travel is “Where do you live?” or “Where are you from?” and sometimes, “Where is home?”

While these questions seem the same – they aren’t.  For someone like me who travels often for extended durations – the answers are often deeper than the questions.  The nature of the question of home changes.  Of course, I am from the United States – and I always will be; a born and bred southerner from Virginia.  But is it home?  Probably not, as my extended family lives in several different points of the globe, and without a job or a house in Virginia there is very little reason to return.

the neighborhood I call home..

Where do I live?  Not so easily either – unless you are asking directions to the apartment here in Bogota where I am staying for the next several months.  But is that home?  The answer is yes, and no.

I am not a native Bogotano and never will be.  My trips here are always too brief stops before heading on. But at the same time, in many ways it does feel like home.  Just yesterday – as I took my Sunday stroll, I ran into a friend of mine, so we walked a bit and enjoyed the sunny day.  Then as I was coming back, two people asked me for directions – (which I was able to give)..  Today, I am helping teach an English class and tomorrow I will be doing more research..

if home is having a favorite restaurant, then this is certainly it..

So in that sense, Bogota is more my home than several other places I’ve stayed.  I have favorite places to lunch, to shop, to buy groceries – all of those things that come with familiarity, with belonging. I can hop on and off Transmileno like a native and navigate myself through this busy city.  But in a few months – I will leave again – and don’t know when I will return.. so I guess Bogota is not home either.

Maybe home is the place a person longs to be.  But even that is fraught with complexity.  While I love my friends here, and always look forward to being here, for example,  I am also ‘homesick’ for many of my friends back in Mexicali..

or is this (the operating room/ hospital) home? Because I am certainly there a lot – and I miss it when I’m away..

I guess in the end, home is defined as my personal comfort zone.. so where ever my laptop and I end up – for how ever long – that must be home.