You plan a trip to do this and see that, but often the best travel moments come unexpectedly between this and that. I go to San Agustin solely to visit an archaeological site, but when I arrive, the weather delays my plans and the setting, characters, and atmosphere align to replace them with subtle magic.
As my travel partner and I pull into San Agustin’s wondrous La Casa de Francois, I notice a guy riding up the hill behind us on a bike. He is clearly a foreigner, and I figure he has rented a bike for the day.
At the hostel, there is no one to check us in, so we wait outside on a bench. Exhausted, the biker plops down next to us. It turns out he is not simply riding his bike for the day — he has been riding his bike for months through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and he’s now at the end of his journey in Colombia. Impressive. As we get to know this Scottish bike traveler, our travel duo quickly becomes a trio.
A man who will check us in emerges from a room above the dining room. He looks like Gael Garcia Bernal if he escaped his acting career to live a simple life in Colombian highlands. As he goes over everything we need to know about the hostel, I ask him, “Do you have internet here?”
His eyes grow wide and he stammers as he explains the complicated process of getting on the internet there. “Oh, nevermind,” I say.
I’d asked out of habit, but I know I won’t need it. I’ve got good company and an excellent view of the Andes, San Agustin, and all of the wonderful things that are grown on the hostel property.
We are all put in the same dorm room above a beautiful, airy kitchen. It’s a cozy cabin with bamboo shutters and colorful recycled bottles embedded in the cement walls that let the sun in. There is a wooden balcony just outside our door and hammocks to enjoy the view from. Just when I think this can’t get any better, I spot stacks of old National Geographic magazines from the 1970s and 80s, waiting to be read. This is the perfect place to disconnect and settle into serenity.
My reverie about the days ahead is interrupted when I start to unpack and I realize I’ve lost my small camera. It’s an older camera that I mainly use if go out at night or to take pictures in potentially precarious places. I don’t care about the camera as much as the memories it contains, and it’s been awhile since I last backed it up.
I’m in a sulky mood as I go down to the hostel restaurant for dinner. Then I get a delicious pasta dish, go to bed early, and let my disappointment dissipate with my dreams. I wake up feeling refreshed.
I’ve made plans to go to the San Agustin Archaeological Park with my travel trio today, but just after we eat breakfast, it starts pouring. It doesn’t stop. We decide abandon our historical exploration and enjoy the rainy day at our indoor-outdoor hostel.
We lie in hammocks reading the old issues of National Geographic, marveling at how much has changed since those stories were written. We watch the rain. We admire the ripe fruit on the trees just outside our room. We tell travel stories. We tell home life stories. We sit in silence. This is a time and space to let everything come to mind; a time and space to think, heal, dream, and count blessings.
When we begin to get cabin fever, we move to a covered outdoor seating area and hook up someone’s mp3 player to the sound system. As we are getting some bottles of Club Colombia from the hostel’s honor system fridge, we meet a couple from England who have just arrived. We invite them to join us. We clink bottles and play cards and chat until dinner time.
That evening, a new roommate from Switzerland joins us at dinner and our group expands. Somehow, this out of the way hostel in this out of the way town has incredible food at backpacker to flashpacker rates. The Scottish bike traveler and I both have steak which is unbelievably delicious and comes with cake for dessert. As he bites into his steak, he exclaims, “I can’t believe I’m eating this right now!” The following day, a different person will say the exact same thing while eating the same dish.
We linger after dinner, but again, we go to sleep early. This setting we’re in is a good place to align your body’s clock with the sun. You can only read for so long by flashlight and there are no glows of cell phones and computers to keep you awake, so you just go to bed because there’s nothing else to do. And then you wake up to greet the morning mist feeling more rested than you have in awhile.
I never signed up for holistic rejuvenation, but that’s what I receive in San Agustin. As I disconnect, I reconnect profoundly with all of my senses. As I disconnect, I connect with strangers. As I slow down, I feel more human, more whole.
As I marvel at how good it feels to disconnect, I know that on some future day, I’ll be writing about and sharing all of this using the very things I am so happy to be away from.
But for now, I still have the scent of fertile damp earth and vintage magazines. I have lush colors that I am not just observing in a 3×4 frame; I am in the colors, a part of them. I have food grown outside my door to eat slowly and savor. I have kindred spirits to savor it with while we talk about the whole world. And on some future day, I’ll have these memories to remind me of what I need in case I forget what nature intended for me.