When the Coffee Buzz Wears Off: A Long-Term Travel Low

Scenes from the Zona Cafetera in Colombia

Here in Colombia’s coffee heartland, I’ve been ingesting a lot of caffeine. And consequently considering things.

Today I’ve been on the road exactly five months. And I have to admit I’ve hit one of those moments. I’ll call it what it is: a travel low.

Independent travel is what I love and what I crave. But it can be hard work, occasionally I get tired and the luster fades. It’s bound to happen – endlessly overnighting in unfamiliar towns, countless buses and constantly eating out, routine conversations with strangers, forever packing, planning and figuring shit out. It all takes a toll.

I’ve never traveled this long or far in one trip. Long-term travelers I’ve met have told me that breaks are essential in enduring lengthy spells on the road. Stopping can be as important as moving. I’m ready to sit in once place for a bit.

Maybe I feel this way because this travel chapter is winding down. Knowing that I have a couple more weeks in South America hastens the process of boxing things up and turning things off. Paul and Mark and Amy arrive in two days – I am thrilled to close out this journey with loved ones but also caught in this hollow of waiting.

So these driftless past weeks have been hard for me. I feel I’m at my best when I have specific objectives, like the Kiva fellowship, working on a technology project or learning something (like Portuguese) in a structured way.

Yet simply traveling around with a backpack is, and always will be, an important goal of mine. But now after extended periods in South America and Southeast Asia – nine months of transient world travel – I’m ready for something with a different purpose: a new vocational direction, more volunteering, deeper engagement with people, some rooting in a community.

It’s not that I don’t have any plans. There’s much I want to accomplish professionally and personally. Paul and I have lots of exciting ideas and are working on them. But nothing yet is concrete. Things remain uncertain, unclear. This business of changing one’s path is a deliberate process. It takes time. And patience has never been one of my strengths.

Soon I will say goodbye once again to South America and it will not be easy. These past months have been gratifying beyond words and my love for this continent and people grows deeper with each visit. And I look forward to my journey northwards; I want to greet family and friends, taste foods that I miss, start new projects, enjoy the ease and familiarity of home turf for a while.

That’s it, my low point: a threshold. My apprehensive transition between here and there. I know things will sort themselves out in time. Today’s trough will be a peak tomorrow.

So enough of these ruminations about past and future!

Here’s where I am right now:

I sit on the colorful wooden balcony of my charming hostal overlooking the main plaza of Filandia. It’s an overcast Sunday, the town is abuzz with locals enjoying this day of rest, this Sabbath. The busy work of yesterday and tomorrow weighs on no one.

Sunday – a threshold too – is a time to pause, sit and chat, sip steaming cups of coffee to lilting ranchera music…

Sunday scenes from Filandia, Colombia



There’s a specific process that I go through each time I travel.  As soon as I land in a new place my senses are sharp as I take in the unfamiliar surroundings and try to grasp the unacquainted customs.

The first thing I do is walk.  I walk constantly, sometimes all day, looking and learning, trying to orient myself.  I notice faces and gestures, I register landmarks and neighborhoods, I catalog shops and eateries, I study the local conveyances and set my bearings.

The newness amazes and confounds me: simple things like transport, streets, prices, meals, the protocols of daily interactions and small exchanges – these usually occupy a huge space in my mind for the first few days.  I am acutely aware of everything.  It’s an overwhelmingly stimulating period and a tiring one.  My mind is constantly gauging and processing.  I drain easily.

And sleep doesn’t always come easily those first days.  The sounds and smells, the altitude or humidity, the jet lag or the change in seasons – these all contribute to restless nights and a fatigue that accompanies my waking hours.

Continue reading “Landing”

Stoked on the Seventies

Stoked on the 70′s

I’ve been thinking of the 1970’s lately, not exactly sure why.  Although I was born in the 60’s (albeit in the final 3 weeks), the 1970’s was my first real decade.  I was a youngster, too young for much of the fun and frenzy but not too young to miss its new vibe.  This was the decade in which I became aware of the world:  the music, the television, the politics, the people, the fads, the crises, the cultural tensions.  The chaos of the sixties spilled into this decade: Watergate, ‘Nam, gas shortages, ERA, nuclear weapons proliferation, airplane hijackings and conflict in the Middle East… tumultuous times indeed.

But as a kid what I remember the most was the popular culture: America’s glittering face and glowing body during these years, those soaring sounds on the radio, bold fabrics scratching our skin, heavy cars in the streets, extravagant colors ablaze on toys, television and t-shirts, a powerful exhale for equality (now voiced by women and gays), the unsettling and seductive sexual revolution, a new concern for protecting our environment, our patriotism on display at the nation’s bicentennial birthday bash.

There was a collective energy and emotion during these years that I find myself yearning for lately.  Yes, the 1970’s were in many ways hard years and there was a lot of silliness too.  But despite the insecurity and disruption, America was beaming.

Today I see none of that express enthusiasm, America is bitterly divided and the toxic politics of “No We Can’t” rule the day.

Maybe that’s why the 1970’s are on my mind; I want that smile to return.

Back in the day...

A Progressive Family Goes Marching in Washington, DC…

DC Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

On Saturday, October 30 I met my mom and brother in Washington DC to march in the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the eve of the mid-term elections.  It was a playful event, lighthearted and smiling crowds celebrating our liberal leaning with clever signs and costumes.

Some fun signs spotted among the crowds:

What follows is a brief account from each of us.

Continue reading “A Progressive Family Goes Marching in Washington, DC…”

2010 Inaugural Ride

Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

My idea as an accompaniment to my summer riding this year is to photocopy random poems from my Immortal Poems of the English Language anthology received from Mom back in 1984 (I can’t believe this edition is still in print, same cover and all).

With a poem taped to my handlebars to keep me company, my aim is to spend time reading and reflecting while cycling the seacoast.  As a kid I loved reading poetry, memorizing favorite ones.  As an adult I find it difficult to make space for poetry, so why not carve out time while doing something equally rewarding.  Or in our modern idiom: kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

So a couple days ago I cracked the volume to Yeats and thumbed to the intriguing title Sailing to Byzantium which starts “That is no country for old men.”  Perfect for my first pedal of the season!

Continue reading “2010 Inaugural Ride”

Olá mundo

First blog post, just testing this out.

I prefer the edge: the place where countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another—where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life. Such places once abounded. Well into the twentieth century there were many cities comprising multiple communities and languages—often mutually antagonistic, occasionally clashing, but somehow coexisting. Sarajevo was one, Alexandria another. Tangiers, Salonica, Odessa, Beirut, and Istanbul all qualified—as did smaller towns like Chernovitz and Uzhhorod. By the standards of American conformism, New York resembles aspects of these lost cosmopolitan cities: that is why I live here.

You can read the full post by Tony Judt here.