Last week, Elise and I said adios to the amazing, friendly, beautiful country of Colombia. Next week, I will say namaste to India and the Himalayan mountains that first captured my imagination 15 years ago. This has truly been a journey the past 15 months.
I have had the unexpected privilege of traveling internationally for my PhD studies. I hoped to get one trip in during my time at Arizona State, but will now travel on my fourth international journey as I go to Nainital, Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayas. There I will be generating data for my dissertation research looking at NGO and grassroots responses to climate change. All this comes on the heels of Scotland and South Africa in 2014, and Colombia last week.
Colombia was a truly incredible country. The diversity of South America is said to be paraphrased in this one place. From the aqua-colored shores of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea, to the coffee-covered hills of San Gil, to the buzzing heights of Bogota, Colombia was full of surprises and wonders.
The Sonoran desert, in which I live, is a very colorful place by desert standards. If all you see here is tan, you aren’t looking. But its muted subtlety could not be more strongly contrasted than by the bright contrasts of Colombia.
The houses of barrio San Diego in Cartagena, where we stayed, came in every vibrant hue imaginable. Sometimes so strikingly different, that a photo of two right next door look like a photoshopped compilation. Elise’s beautiful pictures of the doors of Cartagena capture the diversity of old town.
From there, we traveled into the Andes, to the remote adventure sport outpost of San Gil. Coffee, sand collection, and tourism make up much of the economy here and attracted our white water rafting guide Alberto from the economically depressed eastern neighbor Venezuela. Again, the friendliness and beauty of Colombia was apparent.
Finally, we finished our trip in the bustling streets of Bogota, the second largest city in South America. The stark contrast between the green of the Santander region can be jarring when you first arrive in Bogota. But the colors, diversity, and energy of Bogota have their own hypnotic charm. Some of the best museums we have ever been to added to our Colombian education at the Botero Museum and the Gold Museum.
The journey was a long time coming for Elise and I, who met 12 years ago traveling as international volunteers. We always dreamt of traveling together internationally, but the costs were always too much. Every time we saved something, a dog got sick or a car broke down. Finally, we just bought the tickets and made it work. It was as great as we dreamt.
The trip to Colombia brought my continent total to six, with Antarctica the only remaining major landmass to visit. Moving to India for a time will bring my total postal codes lived in to 33, matching my age once again. Sometimes I hesitate to include many of the locations on that list, but there quickly develops holes totaling multiple years where I would have lived nowhere. In my life, a month or more of residence has to be counted as a place in which I have lived.
Nainital promises to be another wonderful place to live. At an altitude of nearly 7000 feet, the town is nestled along the steep banks of a volcanic lake in the foothills of the Himalaya. There I will partner with scholars and NGO workers at Kumaon University and the Central Himalayan Environment Association to understand how locals are responding to climate change and environmental degradation and the implications for quality of life.
Best of all, Elise will be able to visit, a reality that was in doubt for most of our planning.
Finally, I have to mention my mentor and friend Dr. Richard Knopf who is largely responsible for the traveling I have been able to do the last two years. He has helped me identify resources and navigate the processes of funding in ways that have made nearly every travel opportunity possible. Besides being a brilliant man and wonderful friend, his enthusiasm and support for my academic dreaming has never waned.
So, it is from adios to namaste that I travel this week. It is an incredible privilege for which I am grateful. Thanks to all who have made this possible.