In my adult life, I’ve been privileged to travel to Colombia and Peru several times now. (Three for Peru and about four for Colombia, I believe.) These countries always feel so familiar to me, and comfortable. They’re like home, because they are like home. Ecuador, that is. The mountains, the people, the climate, the food, it’s all like home.
Many of the people I’ve worked with have been surprised at how well I, a foreigner, have adapted. I hiked up and down the hills outside Bogotá at 12,000 ft and six months pregnant, while the others in my group sat on the curb.
But while familiar, each trip has also afforded me new opportunities to see inside the cultures and ways of life that I didn’t know as a child growing up in Ecuador.
I never imagined I’d sit inside the mud-walled huts of the Quechua in Peru, for example. My previous experience there had all been watching from the window of a car. I never thought I’d eat their boiled potatoes and river trout spread on a blanket in the thick, green Andean grass, atop the very patch-worked hills I loved.
This recent trip to Colombia took me again to a part of the world I hadn’t seen up close before: the insular, self-sufficient farmers.
This time we hiked among the eucalyptus groves and winding dirt roads near dusk, stopping to talk with a farmer here, a child there. Many were milking, or carrying milk home for dinner in colorful plastic jugs trudging along the road in black rubber boots. Inside their homes, the questions were good, the conversation earnest. We stopped with a school teacher at her house, where she lived on the school campus — really a square of concrete block classrooms clustered around an inner courtyard. Below us, young men used the school basketball court to play soccer, bugs hissing as they swarmed the court lights.
The night hours carried us back along the wide highways to Bogotá’s neon and light and traffic, a total change in worlds.