san gil

Yesterday I attempted to watch the sunset from a cross on a hill high above the small city of San Gil. (I say “attempted” because being surrounded by hills, engulfed in clouds is not really an ideal sunset spot). I was there with a skinny, nomadic sadhu-looking Colombian named Fredy. I met Fredy weeks ago when running the Valle de Cocoro and we just happened to bump into each other again while here. He hiked 10 days across the mountains to reach San Gil. He’s a wanderer, complete with coloured strings around his wrists, greasy not-quite-dreads, scruffy facial hair, and a blue scarf tied around his head like an Anthropologie ad. Funny how people spend big money to look as though they have nothing, to look like Fredy.

Anyways, Fredy and I have very interesting Spanglish conversations covering everything from mountain spirits and Amazonian Shamanic practices to the conjugation of verbs and the quality of bread sold at the local panderia. He asked me yesterday if my hair has always been short, and I said no, I just cut it in October… to which he replied a year had passed.

Wow, a year. It’s been a year since I first seriously considered taking El Sabatico. Thinking on this, I realized that when things go to shit is when it gets fun. When everything fails, adventure starts.

Last year, I felt like a lot in my life was failing – job, fitness, learning, relationships, health. Even my hair was failing – I had to cut it right off. This is a bit dramatic… nothing was happening to make it so bad and I didn’t need to run from anything. Rather, it just felt too unchanging and unchallenging. Stagnant. Claustrophobic.

For a time I really struggled with this idea of failure. I’d only been in my position a year and wondered what people would think. Would they think I’d been fired? Was it a mistake to leave another city, another ‘home’ and move on again? Was I giving up too soon? Being too sensitive? Not tough enough? Where would I end up?

Isn’t the idea of adventure synonymous with the unknown? Most people have positive connotations with the word ‘adventure’, but it’s always characterized by periods of hard times before the good comes along. The difference between calling something an adventure and a failure is how long you stick with it. Most of the time our failures are defined at times that we give up while still wanting something.

Sitting under the cross overlooking San Gil, I realized that in many ways I’m in the same position as one year ago… Recently I thought I’d figured out what was next, had a plan starting January, knew where I’d live, how I would work, what I’d learn. I had even thought about neighbourhoods and sending Colombian artisan furniture back (yes, furniture! A huge commitment!). However, that plan unraveled and I’m back to a similar place as I was a year ago – not knowing. Not knowing, and not always comfortable with it.

(Ironically, Tom Petty’s “Freefalling” just came on the radio.)

The best times, the best adventures have happened when I didn’t know what was next – falling into a river while hiking Algonquin in 3 feet of snow, jumping off a speeding train in Mumbai, sharing 13 hours of leg sweat with strangers on a bus from the middle of nowhere to Mombassa (we hoped), fainting on a Malaysian subway and regaining consciousness on the platform with thousands of busy feet walking past, not knowing who or where I was. I can’t say any of those times were comfortable, but they did create the best stories and the greatest memories. And each time I got where I needed to go.

(“Learning to Fly” just came on the radio. Not even joking.)