Day 181 – 31 Aug, 2015
In one hour, I flew from Santa Marta to Bogotá, effectively erasing an 18 hour bus journey. The skip in my step had vanished. Now, here I was, in the nation’s capital, only for the purpose of flying onward. I felt like I was biding my time and it was true. Jonah and Michael had encouraged me to skip this flight and trek into Parque Tayrona with them. I have no doubt that would have been fun. I would have drank too much, slept too late and I’m sure I might have fallen for Jonah just a little bit too, but I would have been on the coast when I had an international flight leaving from the mountains. I did the responsible thing, yet I didn’t want to be there in Bogotá.
I forced myself to do the usual tour – the funicular to Montserrate, the old city, etc. It all seemed so contrived and forced. I was sad to say goodbye to the mountains, the beaches, the glaciers, the deserts, the forests, the jungle, and even the waterfalls. Walking around Bogotá felt empty somehow. It didn’t have any of the beauty or charm I had come to love about this continent.
I had heard nothing but good things about the Catedral de Sal, although to me, it sounded gimmicky and that is not why I went. I wanted to see one more small town, one more way of life, have one more unpredictable bus journey, and needed one more opportunity to get lost.
Zipaquirá, about 30 minutes north of Bogotá, was not unlike other towns I had visited – the same street vendors, the same well-manicured plazas filled with people. It wasn’t new or special but it felt familiar and I liked it.
The Salt Cathedral, what I thought was going to be a sad attempt at a tourist attraction, was actually beautiful and fascinating. It was an old salt mine that had since been converted to a cathedral and was therefore, entirely underground. Religious monuments had been carved into the salty crust and as you traveled deeper into the tunnels, the rooms were illuminated with ethereal lights. The entire complex was a maze and there were strategically placed EXIT signs in case you became lost. It was a boon for photography and I took my time wandering around to get the good shots. Of course, there were also strategically placed souvenir shops and food vendors just down the hall from the main chapel, but I expected as much.
When I returned to Bogotá later that same day and packed my backpack for the final time, I lay awake in my cocoon of a bunk and couldn’t sleep. I tried to feel excitement for the next leg of my journey. All I could manage was a shallow sense of loss for what I was leaving behind. I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people and places in the last few months, I found it difficult to feel any strong emotion at all. Long term travel is a dream for many people (and I suppose for many it’s a nightmare too) but not having anything constant and stable can wear you down and ultimately, leave you numb. Everything always changes so what’s the point of becoming attached?
Now that a couple of months have passed, I know that I will always have a special connection to South America and my lack of emotion in the final hours was more of a defense mechanism than anything else. In any case, I was bound for Europe on a one way ticket with plans to travel a whole lot slower.