My favorite place is not a single destination. My favorite place is the journey. ❤
I just had dinner at a restaurant called Caminante Cartagena Street Kitchen. It’s a tiny restaurant in the Getsemaní sector of Cartagena that serves arepas and bowls and even a take on the bandeja paisa. I almost walked right past it, but I noticed that the menu had a few vegetarian options and decided to go inside and check them out.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the restaurant was the thick wave of heat. The open kitchen made the inside of the restaurant feel even hotter than it was out on the street, but the menu had me hooked. After briefly debating between the veggie bowl and the bandeja paisa (sin chicharrón aka without meat), I decided to go with the veggie bowl and a coconut lemonade. At first, I sat at a private table by the window, but there was no breeze cut the heat. As beads of sweat began to form on my forehead, I decided to move over to the table in the middle of the restaurant with family-style seating. It was the centerpiece of the dining room, covering most of the floor space, and there was a chair available right in front of one of the fans. For a while, I just stood in front of the fan, willing the warm gusts to ward off the sweat. By the time the server arrived with my coconut lemonade, the fan’s warm breezes had done their job, and I sat down at the family-style table to savor the cool drink.
The first sip went down easy. It was cool and sweet, smooth, with just a hint of tang from the lemon. It was tasty, to be sure, but all I could do was think about the first limonada de coco that I had tried. The one from La Cucharita in Cali, the one that was smoother than smooth. The one that made me realize that I was starting to love this place deeply. Today’s lemonade was good, but the best part about it were the memories. When my veggie bowl arrived, I look a long look: white rice, black beans, sautéed vegetables, avocado, ripe plantains, and cilantro. My mouth began to water as I inhaled the delicious aroma. Before I took the first bite, I knew that only one thing could perfectly complement this feast for the senses. I quickly asked the server if they had any hot sauce, and the rest was destiny.
After dinner, I headed over to the walled city, with my heart set on buying as many cocadas de maracuyá as I could hold and heading back to my room to eat them one by one.
As I passed the clock tower, though, I had a change of heart and decided that what I really wanted was ice cream—passion fruit ice cream. So I set off down one street where I thought I remembered there being an ice cream shop. No luck. I wandered down another street, intent on completing my mission. There were a few popsicle shops, but no ice cream. Finally, after zigzagging through what seemed like a maze of streets, I popped my head into an Italian gelato shop. I scanned the display for passion fruit, but, before I found it, another flavor caught my eye—mangolulo. It was a combination of mango and a local citrus fruit called lulo. I had tried lulo by itself (it tasted liked a sour kiwi). I had tried it on top of arroz con leche. I had tried it in a lulada (a lemonade-style drink made with lulo fruit). And I was highly intrigued by the palate-delighting potential of combining the mango and lulo flavor profiles.
I asked the young woman behind the counter if I could try the mangolulo, on the off chance that it was not in fact as delicious as its name promised. The store allowed each customer to try up to three samples, but I only needed the one. I asked for two scoops of mangolulo in a cone. Who would have known that this delicious combination existed. I strolled away from the ice cream shop and back toward Getsemaní, taking care to savor each drop of the mangolulo.
It’s the eve of my 35th birthday, and I just arrived back in Cartagena. I first touched down here two weeks ago, but it feels like it’s already been a lifetime. Because, on that first day in Cartagena, I had not yet bathed in mud at the Totumo Volcano or found myself unexpectedly (though only briefly) nude in a lake. I had not yet stood in the waters of the Galerazamba salt flats or frolicked in the waves at Manzanillo beach. I hadn’t tried arroz con coco (coconut rice) or gone scuba diving for the first time in San Andrés. I hadn’t visited Comuna 13 or taken a street food tour in Medellín. I hadn’t climbed the 740 (!) steps of the Piedra del Peñol or tried the bandeja paisa in Guatapé. I hadn’t stood at the Cristo Rey monument and looked out over the city of Cali. I hadn’t walked along the Bulevar del Río and eaten my first cholado. And, two weeks and a lifetime later, it’s the eve of my 35th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the 35 years that I have lived … and the unspecified number of years that are still to come.
And, two weeks and a lifetime later, it’s the eve of my 35th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the 35 years that I have lived … and the unspecified number of years that are still to come.
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to travel the world, discover knew places, meet knew people, and seek new adventures. Not a moment goes by that I am not grateful for the privilege. In 35 years, I have traveled to 35 countries on six continents and seen four of the seven Wonders of the World with my own eyes (the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, Machu Picchu, and the Christ the Redeemer Statue). The life that I am living right now wasn’t even in my wildest dreams when I was growing up. I didn’t even fly on a plane for the first time until I was 15 years old. And now, 20 years later, traveling the world has developed my character and expanded my worldview in more ways than I can count. Traveling has taught me to step outside my comfort zone, to hone my instincts, and to trust myself. The journey has introduced me to some of the people that I love the most, and I have left every place a better person than I was when I came.
As I look forward to the future, I wonder what the next phase of my life will hold. I am cautiously optimistic, as I consider whether the best is yet to come or whether the best has already been. With 35 countries under my belt, traveling to all 195 countries does not seem out of my reach. With six continents down so far, traveling to all seven does not seem out of the question. Despite the fact that I have seen and experienced more breathtaking moments than any one person should be entitled to, the beauty of new places is still able to take my breath away, and I hope that part never changes.
I hope that my heart never stops seeking adventure. That I am never content to rest in the shadow of what has already been done. That wisdom allows me to turn mistakes into lessons. That bravery helps me to push past my fears. I hope that I never stop falling head over heels in love with places that I’ve just met. That I never stop seeing the best in people. That I never stop discovering new things and new places that delight me. I hope that the journey never stops surprising me, and I hope that life never clips my wings.
I hope that my heart never stops seeking adventure. That I am never content to rest in the shadow of what has already been done. That wisdom allows me to turn mistakes into lessons. That bravery helps me to push past my fears.
Whenever I tell people about my goal of traveling to 35 countries by my 35th birthday, they invariably ask, “What has been your favorite place?” That question always seems impossible to answer. My favorite place is not a single destination. My favorite place is, and always has been, the journey. ❤