Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia.
Note: This is one of those internal process posts. If you’re looking to see amazing vistas and hear stories of the road, please skip ahead to the next post!
Ricocheting through the rocky roads leading to Villa de Leyva’s central plaza, I was pondering anxiety. Currently spawned by the continuous stares I was getting from all those I passed along this lively town’s side streets. This is no new experience. I’ve received gaping-jawed stares throughout my time in Latin America, every time I enter a new town. But I never know how to handle it. I tend to reactively tighten my jaw and sternly pass through, attempting a rigid ignorance of the intense attention. The worst is when I enter a town just as school is getting out. Not only are the countless droves of uniform-clad school children all staring, but the girls most often are pointing and laughing. I know by now that this is just a natural reaction to something so wildly different and new. But this doesn’t feel good. Nor does my reaction to it. I want to connect to people and my tension only serves as a boundary between me and that intention. I consider the possibility of manifesting the types of random connections I so desperately need after traveling alone so much of this journey — softening my jaw and gaze, so as to increase my approachablility. Trying to be open to a new experience happening that I couldn’t predict.
During my time in Colombia I’ve been considering the patterns I’ve established along this journey and in my life as a whole, the aspects of identity which perhaps keep me bound. Among which include my name, my goatee, my tendency to be very reserved sexually.
For example, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks trying on the “spanishized” version of my middle name Gregory: to Gregorio. I like how it sounds, and enjoy having a name that has more than one syllable, and really I just like the nickname of it, “Goyo.” Scott has never truly felt like me, and I’ve never truly felt like a Scott. On one level it’s just a name. But somehow the name with which we present ourselves to the world should resonate within us. Part of this journey for me is discovering my most fundamental truths, allowing myself to be who I most fundamentally am without the fear of judgement, especially from myself. Not at all ready to offer this shift to my community back in the states, but here in Colombia there’s safety in anonymity.
Then there’s the goatee…
My final months in Seattle were accompanied by huge hair and huge beard, remnants from my first bike tour in 2013.
I shaved everything the night before leaving, except for a small patch of hair on my chin.
Somehow that little soul patch turned into a wispy long rat tail on my face over this journey. Other bikers have shared that I’m referred to as that guy with the funny glasses and hair thing on his chin. How odd that these random choices of style become enmeshed with identity over time. Perhaps it’s time to rock the boat.
This brings me back to Villa de Leyva…
After a night with a kind Warmshowers.org host and his family, I was introduced online to a local woman by another biker who’d stayed with her some months back with the possibility of being hosted by her for a few days. We were to meet on the main church steps in town, and as I walked by the random groups of people (not knowing what she looked like) I really hoped (and feared) it was the extremely attractive woman I awkwardly passed a few meters back. Moments later, that very woman flagged me down to say hello! “Hi, I’m Gregorio, but people call me Goyo for short.”
She was friendly, warm and instantly informed me I’d be staying with her as long as I wanted. Amazing and intriguing! Perhaps the loneliness I’d been experiencing these last 8 months might be coming to a close.
She was very warm, and offered a lot of physical contact. In my current touch-deprived reality this was fantastic, but very intense. Every slight brush of her hand on my arm sent shockwaves through my nervous system (operative word being nervous). I reminded myself to relax. Invited myself to allow things to just flow. And they did. I thought…
She invited me as her guest to honor the passing of a a local woman, revered by the community. She then invited me to a family dinner, where we shared beer and fantastic food.
She even introduced me to the unique Colombian combination of bocce, darts and pyrotechnics, known as “tejo”. A quite interesting game, in which each player throws a metal puck across the room in attempts to hit the center of a clay target marked by a metal ring. The metal ring is lined with a few small packets of gunpowder so when the center ring is struck, the contact makes a very loud “BANG!” Generally accompanied by lots of beer.
Oddly, I actually didn’t actually feel a strong emotional connection with her. She was not my type in most ways: seemingly very image conscious with fake eyelashes, long perfectly painted fingernails, and appeared to have had received some cosmetic surgeries. She smoked a lot, talked a lot and didn’t listen very well. It was like having an infatuation with a concept honestly. Somehow I’d still managed to convince myself that it was a good thing. Important lesson there…
Still, we were having a great time. I thought things were going well over the 2 days I spent with her, and maybe progressing into something physical. She suggested I’d look better without my goatee and that very day I shaved it off. I had already considered it quite a bit and that just pushed me over the threshold. Ah, the persuasive power of perspective proximity.
I was excited to feel things unfolding with her. UNTIL:
I’m in the weirdest fucking situation right now. Laying on the spare bed, unbearably hearing her having sex in the next room. This happened the very next night.
She had invited an Australian tourist we’d met in town the previous night to come see some waterfalls with us during our third day. I thought nothing of it, that things between her and me were going well. I got some strange vibes during the day however, as if her attention was shifting from me toward him. Again. I thought nothing of it. That night a group of us were hanging out at her house quite late, and I excused myself to lay down for a few minutes as I was not used to being up so late. I awoke to the sounds of sex…
A wave of emotion engulfed me, rushing over my forehead and face to sharply spear my throat and chest. Retrospectively it was quite amazing to notice how quickly that physical reaction got interpreted as intense anger. “How could she do this to me???? How could he hook up with her when she was so clearly ‘with me’? Who does that????” Eventually the torturous sounds faded and I was left with the deafening silence to manage my rage. Poorly. The following morning I awoke quite early wanting nothing more than to get out of there. Unfortunately I had wet clothes still drying and was not prepared to leave. When they finally wandered out of the bedroom I had no ability to make eye contact with them. I was still livid. I gathered some things and halfheartedly excused myself to spend a day alone in town. Breathing in the fresh air, walking vigorously though town, I gained some perspective. There were no promises made between us. In fact, nothing really even happened, yet, to allude to any commitments. So why was I so hurt???
It was crystal clear: The intense and unique pain of being instantaneously informed that my concept of reality was just a fantasy. I was angry because reality wasn’t what I thought it was, and worse, the opposite of what I’d wanted. I was not suddenly in love with this woman. I just got excited to feel the onset of intimacy. It was then harshly, suddenly removed, and that really stung. That was not her fault. Yes, it was weird and confusing how things unfolded but my anger was just that: MY anger. It was also confusing because she’d actually been a really kind and generous host. She let me share her home, do laundry, and offered meals. It was indeed possible that us connecting physically was just a figment of my imagination, or perhaps a momentary opportunity that I missed the boat on out of timidness and fear. I really don’t know. I just felt traumatized.
Much more oddly, I had actually met another woman in town, only hours before this all began. A Chilean cyclist who’d been biking around South America for a year. She had also offered to let me crash for a night or two where she was house-sitting just outside of town, but I for some reason pursued the story of a potential hook-up with a sexy Colombian supermodel looking woman over connection with a fucking cool, interesting cyclist. Short-sighted. Sigh.
How odd that the first longer-than-a-day-long break I take from riding the last few weeks ended up like this. I know it’s not right, but my fearful, vulnerable part just wanted to get on the bike and ride away from it all.
While writing about this very experience in a local cafe, I got a message from the Chilean about meeting up. I hadn’t even finished describing the experience before she arrived. What a different connection. Reflective, left space in conversation to listen, and was deeply insightful. 5 hours later, we parted ways so she could make her way to her cabin outside of town. I could feel she didn’t want to part ways and neither did I. It felt so different. Grounded. Gentle. Relaxed. We agreed to meet up for breakfast the following morning, after which I’d planned to head out of town. Meandering back to my residence, I was hesitant to confront what would still be an uncomfortable situation, but with a far different attitude. How curious and comical our existence can be. How one door must shut in order for another to open. How the path of integrity is accompanied by ease and calm while that of compromising one’s core values comes with anxiety and DIS-ease. Indeed, Villa de Leyva has taught me some important lessons, for which I feel deeply grateful. I returned to the house to see that the Aussie had moved his stuff into her bedroom for the night. It was the last place I wanted to be and I very much considered packing up to leave right then. But somehow my time in town had softened my anger-masked pain. I could again talk to each of them, but really noticed the difference in conversation. Not much listening. Not very deep or engaged. Kind of withdrawn. Not what I wanted.
. I packed up early the next morning, saying goodbye to my host, her family and the Aussie. It was awkward, but I still feel so grateful for her hospitality.
With high hopes that my final interaction in Villa de Leyva would be with the Chilean, I wrote her and headed out for breakfast. Unfortunately due to technical issues we missed each other and didn’t get to say goodbye. Some part of me wanted to stay in town, give it another day, but felt too vulnerable to do it after my recent trauma. So I left. Somehow it was all right though. I rode away with much to consider, and lessons to apply.
Post Note: The cyclist has unfortunately ended her journey weeks later due to illness, and is now back in the Northern Chilean countryside with her mother in order to recover. We hope to meet up down there sometime this Fall. I have no expectations of it leading anywhere but feel joyful about the potential to deepen a strong connection, be it friend or other.