Solo Dolo in Colombia

Remember when I announced this new category on my blog where writers from around the world would be able to write about their solo dolo travel experience? Well, here is the first post! This new category has the purpose of encouraging you to travel solo whether it is for a week or a gap year! Cheers to a life full of adventures.

Whenever I engage in a conversation regarding my past traveling experiences, I must begin where it all started. So many beautiful memories made, locations visited, people met and exquisite food tasted… I could easily write a book about it all, but today, I want to write about my first experience of traveling alone, and the fears, joys and lessons I learned by doing so.

I lived in Ecuador for more than a year where I got the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious Business school at the Catholic University in the country, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador. During my time there, I would visit some amazing towns whenever my siblings and friends would be available. Back then, I was too much of a coward to engage in solo adventures. Although, I was always the most hyped when it comes to planning these activities, I would never have the guts to go to unknown places alone. My parents made it slightly difficult to overcome this fear either, as they would often call to warn me to be very careful in the streets. You know how it is when you leave home and think it is the best time to gain your independence; yet, at your great surprise, mom’s presence and dad’s red flag seem to follow you everywhere. Oh God! That was sometimes irritating!

I may be off topic but I have to tell you this hilarious story about how controlling my parents were and would freak the heck out of me even when I would peacefully hang out at home. So one day, some friends invited my twin sister and I to the beach in Montaňita located at 8 hours and 10 minutes from the capital city of Quito where I resided. Off course I said yes and I was very enthusiastic about this up-coming event. If there is one thing you must know about me is that I am always down and I say again…always down for some good times in good company. I heard so much about this astounding area that I couldn’t refuse such an invitation. I was actually more adrenalized than my friends who were organizing this week-end on the coast. Montaňita, guys, is one of the most beautiful beaches of Ecuador’s South Coast and there, the party never stops. Whenever you can in your spare time, please google this place and if you ever want to drop by Ecuador, add this to your bucket list… You won’t regret it. This place is guaranteed to keep even the most intrepid traveler on their toes. So ya! As the good girl that I am, I called my lovely parents to share with them my thrill of jumping on a bus towards this “widely spoken of” zone. I didn’t even finish my sentence when I heard my dad from the other side of the line saying: “You are not going anywhere and I will make sure to call every minute that weekend to check if both your sister and you are at home”. OMG!!!My eyes almost fell out of their sockets. I was so overwrought that I blacked out a few seconds. “Nooo!!! What in the world was I thinking to have the nerves to tell my parents I would be away this weekend”. I am telling you people, my dad called more than 4 times a day that weekend to assure we didn’t go there. I was so upset at myself that I decided to never inform them anymore of any of my plans before they happen.

Okay so now back to the subject at hand!

ipiales_view

As I previously said, to me traveling by myself was unthinkable. I would see people doing it and wonder how they enjoy being among so many astonishing and breathtaking places alone. I always thought it was more fun to be accompanied and discover new parts of the earth with a friend or a relative. Who would I share my feelings with when I experience something unusual and incredible?!? Or take pictures besides stunning monuments?!? (In 2010, I didn’t know about the selfie stick or if it existed, it wasn’t in vogue nor popularized). So to me going on adventure alone was a no-no. Yet, one day, I caught myself on a bus heading towards Colombia which is situated 6 hours North of Ecuador. I – Was – Freaking – Out. The border of Colombia / Ecuador was known for the place where the FARCs – a revolutionary armed force of Colombia – would perpetrate terrorist acts such as kidnappings, assassinations of civilians, and wars with the military. When I asked my friends and brothers to go with me, they all had a hitch and couldn’t make it. But I really wanted to go though, mostly because I heard clothes there were less expensive than in Ecuador. After asking for advice and suggestions, a few people told me I could take the risk. Yes… The risk!!! As the saying goes: “All is fair in war”… I packed my stuff and took the first bus to Colombia. I decided instead of worrying about how I would get killed or kidnapped by the FARCs to preferably enjoy the ride. No sooner said than done, I actually had a great time. The landscape people, was spectacular… So green!!! And the volcanoes, the high mountains, the plantations, the endless roads, the little traditional houses all combined together made a décor which left me speechless and staggered. It was BIOU-DI-FUL!!! I took a few pictures that I unfortunately lost in this laptop I had back then.

When I finally got to the terminal station, the bus stopped at a 10 minute walking distance from the border so all the passengers had to walk to the frontier. My heart was smacking hard against my chest as I was approaching my destination. I was in the middle of a bunch of strangers in a place reputed to be super dangerous and worst thing is that my cellphone stopped working. “Elodie, may the odds be ever in your favor”, I told to myself. The people around me seemed relaxed and confident so I, myself, started to unwind. It was funny when I put my feet on the Colombian territory. I imagined someone and I, each of us standing on the other side of the border, shaking hands and thinking: “We are in two different countries”. Funny!!! When I entered the city, Ipiales, it almost seemed like I took a chill pill; I was enjoying myself, turning my head in all directions, playing the curious tourist. The houses and churches seemed old, keeping their traditional structures. The people were very nice and welcoming. Many merchants were calling me to get in their little tiendas to buy clothes and other stuff. I didn’t really notice any huge differences between Ecuador and Colombia. To me, Ipiales and many other Ecuadorian places looked pretty much the same. It must have been because I was visiting the first city at the border (Please don’t make it the absolute generality. I am a 100% certain that these two countries have lots of architectural dissimilarities). Anyway, I stayed two days there, “alone”, and I liked it. The most interesting thing to me was to come across some good Quenêpe, a fruit that I haven’t seen in more than a year and that is unfamiliar to Ecuadorians. During my stay there, I ate a lot (If you know me, you know I adore good food), I wandered a lot, took many pictures with my back then little Blackberry but bought just one pair of jeans. I don’t know if it is because the merchants figured out I was a foreigner, the prices were actually higher there. So in order to bring a souvenir from my journey, I purchased the easiest item I could bargain for… a pair of brown jeans. I still remember. I am not sure where it is now though but I still got something back with me in Ecuador.

It was a great experience. My parents didn’t find out until I came back from the trip. I was so proud to tell them I went to Colombia all alone like a grown girl and came back alive. Before that day, the thought of traveling alone always petrified me. For many years, I remained under the impression that traveling alone was unwise, dangerous and boring, but man was I wrong! Although it might seem a basic trip, I actually learned a lot from it. I learned some vulgar slang words used by Colombians. Don’t ask, I won’t tell. But most importantly, I learned to enjoy my own company and conquer my fears. I think the whole fun is actually in taking the risk. You don’t know what the outcomes might be; yet, you still try. If things turn out good then great, if not, you just try again. After all, life is an adventure. It is better to have a life of “Oh Wells” than a life of “What Ifs”. There is so much excitement out there that I am sure you don’t want to miss so get up now and leave your comfort zone. Go on adventures, try new things, and meet new people… Yes new people!!! Stay away, for a while, from that same circle you hang out with all the damn freaking time, and eat new food etc. But please before you decide to do all that, do some research and check the online reviews. It is important to know about the locations you add to your bucket list and also to have a feedback from people who went there before you.

Xo

Elodie Hérard,

A Travel Lover

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