Many moons ago I traveled for a year alone, with a backpack, and on the cheap through Asia and Latin America, staying at hostels for less than $15 a night. None of my friends understood why, but I loved it. The adventure and freedom to decide whatever you wanted to do every day was total bliss.
Life — and travel — are different now with a husband and two daughters. Wonderful, but different. Sometimes I miss wandering alone without any other goal but to find little unexpected visual jewels around the corner of a foreign street.
So once or twice during our family holidays, I’ve made up an excuse to do some wandering for a few hours, and return to the state of mind of my backpacking days.
The excuse usually has something to do with my camera; I love my camera for so many reasons. With it in my hands, I never feel awkward in a room full of strangers. It gives me something to do and a reason to talk to people, while it also helps me to notice and appreciate all the beauty around me so much more. It allows me to create art. And last, but surely not least, my beloved camera makes for a wonderful excuse to spend time alone, just like other people feign migraines to be able to lie down and rest for a bit.
Last summer my family and I traveled through Colombia. We stayed a few days in a sweet colonial town made up of cobblestoned streets, whitewashed houses, cactus plants and red-tiled roofs. As soon as we arrived in Villa de Leyva, I knew I needed alone time here to take in the beauty of the place in an intense way that can only be done solo.
After a morning of wandering around in the beating sun, I wanted to visit a museum. Husband and kids were tired and had no desire to go inside. They were very happy to go back to the hotel but were concerned about leaving me behind.
I smiled. ‘It’s okay, really’, I said, and fumbled at the zippers of my backpack to take out my little traveling companion.
We split up in front of the old house where artist Luis Alberto Acuna used to live.
I found a fountain and took a few gulps of fresh spring water, splashing my wrists and face. Better.
The house had been turned into a museum — a peaceful haven. I move slowly from room to cool room built around a small picturesque courtyard. It smells musty the way only old houses in faraway places do.
After the quaint museum, I took to the cobblestone streets. It was quiet, siesta time. The hottest time of day and no one was out, just me. It was hard to believe that Villa de Leyva overflows with day-trippers from Bogota on the weekends.
I could have visited a number of other museums, but I was really just happy just to roam alone, admire and photograph the picturesque colonial houses, their doors, and flowering bougainvillea that spilled over most walls.
At the Plaza Mayor I treated myself to a glass of cold lemonade on a terrace overlooking the grand Iglesia Nuestra Senora de El Rosario. The town slowly came back to life. School kids crossed the square on their way back home, followed by stray dogs looking for some leftover lunch. A few men in panama hats set up fruit and candy stalls for the nighttime passersby.
The way back to our hotel, Hospederia Duruelo was an uphill climb and by the time I got there, my dress was soaked and beads of sweat trickled down my face.
‘Poor mama!’ my girls exclaimed. ‘Sit down. Here, some water,’ my youngest handed me a glass.
I gratefully took a few gulps.
‘I told you – you should have come back with us. We all had massages,’ Anil, my husband said.
But I just smiled. Because he was so wrong.
How do you use your camera when you’re traveling?