Monday, March 28, 2011

Baggage & History: a Preface

No matter how many times you check the fucking list, there will always be something you think you’re missing; something you clearly overlooked or blatantly forgot. That one piece of clothing you love to travel with, have never gone without, and this time around it didn’t make it into the suitcase. No matter the trip, big or small, near or far, packing is, I believe, the bane of a traveler’s existence.

For one of the first times in my life, my comprehensive list – along with self-illustrated maps and icons – provided me with a brilliant blueprint of what would be fitting into my red-wheeler. Granted, a few extra items found their way in, but I managed to have extra room for the return. Perhaps my biggest fear this go round is that for the first time in 5 years, I’m flying without my beloved green and orange Calvin Klein shoulder bag. Call me materialistic, call me shallow, but the bag was fucking brilliant. Perfectly shaped, deceivingly huge, and waterproof, it is the travelers perfect carry-on. But I’ve had it for five years and have lugged it nearly every single day around the City, and on every trip, near and far, since I purchased it. And so, during my recent jaunt to LA and Portland, one of the bottom corners cracked. I refuse to further destroy this accessory. The irony is that I’ve been trying to find a new bag – not a replacement, but a supplement – for probably a year now. That find did not come soon enough. Thankfully, I’m headed to the textile capital of South America, where Toby says there are tons and tons and tons of bags, all shapes, colors, styles and sizes that I’ll be able to choose from. My fingers are crossed.

If you know me, you’ll laugh knowing I have no shortage of bags to choose from. I’m toting a black leather weekender, shoulder strap, which was the first overnight bag I ever purchased in high school for a trip to Florida. It’s practical and sturdy. I just hate that it’s black and leather.

Now that I’ve stupidly rambled about the death of my beloved bag, I guess I should impart on where I’m headed: Medellin, Colombia and the surrounding area. Before my current employ, I worked as a personal assistant for a life-long New Yorker who lives in Morningside Heights. Her name is Toby. You may have heard a story or twelve. The tale of our meeting is as wondrous as any New York introduction: We were sharing a bench in the north garden at the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park. It was my birthday and it was gorgeous outside. She’s an artist, and was busily sketching the freshly blooming crab apple trees, along with all the virginal colors of spring; I had tired of my magazine but stayed to take in rays. She was suddenly flummoxed by a section of her pastel drawing, and I noticed. Being the art lover that I am, and critic too, I guess, I spoke up. I began working for her soon thereafter, and within six months, we were off to Costa Rica. Then I landed my current job and we’ve remained dear friends ever since.

But I digress: Colombia! A shockingly sprawling country in the north of South America, it is the only country on the continent that has coasts on both the Pacific and Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) Oceans. The fourth largest in South America and 26th largest country in the world, it is the welcome land after passing through Panama as the most southern country in Central America. Second only to Vietnam in coffee exports, it also has a booming cut floral industry, as well as textile manufacturing. While known throughout the world for its civil strife and drug trade, Colombia has blossomed in the past decade. Though it still struggles daily with the FARC, guerillas, and para-militaries, many of its cities are safe to visit and indeed benefit from a revived tourist industry. I say this now, not having been there. But Toby has been a few times and has dear friends there. I also know a few folks from Semester at Sea who have visited, and there’s even one there now, whom I’m hoping to grab a beer with.

Medellín, also known as the City of Eternal Spring, lies inland, flanked by two Andean mountain chains: Cordillera Occidental to the west and Cordillera Central to the east. It boasts the only meto-line in the country, as well as a cable car, and elaborate bus system. Its parks are lush and streets brimming with public art because of a City-ordinance that required art be built or displayed when new construction was erected.

We’re staying in El Poblado. It’s the newly chic nabe, safe, and filled with expats and locals, as well as some nightlife and shopping. Toby has already visited a finca (coffee farm) and we’ll be going again. She met someone who has a car we’ll be able to take for day trips apparently, too. There’s also buses that traverse the entire country, so we’ll have our share of urban and rural. After all, as an equatorial wonder, Colombia is home to tropical jungles and grassy lowlands, mountain grasslands, deserts, and scrublands, to name just a few of its environmental categories.

Unlike our last adventure, we’ll know people in the City we’re starting in. Costa Rica is quite a different place, but I think we’ll fare just fine in Colombia. I hear the roads are better, too. Keep your fingers crossed.

I’m heading to the M60 in less than four hours. Will report from Medellín soon!