Friday, December 9, 2011

The Beginning

Leaving for Bogota on January 1.
Many years from now when I sit down to tell my grandchildren about my year in Colombia, I will tell them that it was one of the best, worst, and greatest years of my life.

I will speak of how I followed my heart to a distant land in hopes of making the world a little better, a little brighter. Although I found reality to be sobering, I nevertheless stayed the course.

Nearly a year ago, I boarded a plane to Bogotá.

I was hopeful.



When I arrived, my unchecked enthusiasm slammed headfirst into the stonewall of a dysfunctional education system. I found the abundant talk and little follow-through to be aggravating. I found it incomprehensible how such an invaluable resource could be allowed to go underutilized for an entire year. Despite it all, I did the best I could with what I had.

With some of my students.
Mark Jenkins once wrote, “Adventure is a path. Real adventure—self-determined, self-motivated, often risky—forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way, you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind—and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

It is a scary thing to walk where you have never walked before—to leave the comfort of familiar shores in pursuit of something greater than yourself.  I set out to change the world but ultimately found it to be the other way around.

Away from everyone I knew and loved, I experienced true loneliness. But rather than let it break me, I learned to become a more independent, self-sufficient individual. After growing up in one of the most privileged communities on the planet, I saw what it was like to live in one of the most underserved.

At Machu Picchu.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like today had I remained in my cubicle. I would have gotten promoted, found my own San Francisco apartment, maybe even met someone. I sacrificed that life, along with tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages to go work for free in a country where I could very well have lost that which I can never get back.

In leaving all that, many believed I was putting my life on hold.
But they had it all wrong.

In leaving, I was finally able to begin truly living.

I traveled.

Explored ancient ruins at the heights of the Andes Mountains.

Swinging into the water in Costa Rica.
Witnessed breathtaking Caribbean sunsets.

Scaled active Costa Rican volcanoes.

Sipped wine on the Chilean coast.

Hiked through the Colombian jungle.

Saw the Panama Canal.

Met Pablo Escobar’s brother.

And so much more.

But the most rewarding thing about this year were the people I met along the way—inspiring individuals who taught me to look at life differently. That there is more than one way to lead a good life. Nobody has all the answers.

Living in such a world, our hearts are the only reliable compass.

Watching a Caribbean sunset.
I followed mine here—to South America.

But now find it pointing north.

I am ready to go home to the land that I love, to rejoin the friends and family I miss, and begin the next chapter of my life. Although I don’t know where life’s winds will take me, I will always look back on my time in Colombia with infinite gratitude for allowing me to reclaim something I lost.

Last year, before embarking on this crazy adventure, I wrote that “…there can be no courage without fear and no real reward without risk.”

After a year in Colombia, I have learned to summon the courage to face any fear and that is, in and of itself, the ultimate reward.

Watching over Bogota.
I am fired up. I am ready to begin my adult life in earnest; kick some butt and establish myself in the working world; become economically independent; form new relationships; maybe even find someone crazy enough to share it all with me.

Tomorrow, I will board a plane that will take me home. What awaits me there, I don’t know.

But something tells me I’ll be able to handle it.


  1. Awesome post. Good luck on the journey back!

  2. Mike, you truly are an inspiration, even to an old lady like me. I wish you the very best on your new adventure. I will miss reading about the "Tall Gringo."

  3. "Met Pablo Escobar's brother..." Like most posts here, very cool. Wishing you the best of luck on your upcoming journeys, wherever they may take you... un beso, Molly

  4. That was very inspiring! I hope you are enjoying being back here in the states. I am getting pretty nervous/excited!

  5. I found your blog when I was doing some research for TESOL. I think it's an awesome Blog. Have a safe trip home. Although, I do wonder how much Spanish you learned in the year you spent over there. Thanks for sharing your experiences abroad.

  6. Hi, I dont think that you remember me but I was the girl that you met in the plane from Cusco, is a pleasure find you. I remember that you have a blog and I was like: Please remember the name.
    So... I dont know if you really remember, in that ocasion you was reading 100 años de soledad.

    Bye c;

    1. Hola Maria! Por supuesto que me acuerdo de ti! Como has estado? Ya regresado a California, pero extraño Colombia mucho. Cuidate.

  7. What a beautiful place. I'm gonna share your stuff with my Alcohol and Drug Rehab team. Thanks