It's nearly June, and I've been away from home for almost five months now. I'm writing this story sitting by the window in a remote hostel outside Quito, Ecuador. The view is arguably among the most spectacular I've seen in a long time. The snow-capped cone of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world at almost 6000m altitude, is glistening at the far end of a grass-green valley dotted with horses, adorable lamas, shrubs, and wild flowers. We're at 3500m ourselves, and the air, though sparse, is fresh and fragrant. It's a place that really quiets you down and simplifies life to a more natural routine, which is something I have been feeling an increasing need for in my first month integrating life-changing Ayahuasca work. A month that has presented me with plenty of inner enchantment and collision, and which I spent returning, for the second time in my life, to beautiful Panama.
I fell in love with Panama on my first year-long backpacking trip, exactly five years ago, and spent nearly two months taking in the lush, tropical scenery of this small but suprisingly diverse nation. I decided to follow almost exactly the same route this time around, returning to places I remembered and experiencing them again through the lens of my altered self. I theorized that with this approach, I would be able to really understand the lessons I'd recently learned by witnessing my behavior in response to outward challenges, or "tests", and comparing it to the mindset of my 5-year-younger self. Pseudo-scientifically put: Controlling for confounding factors by only varying a single one - myself.
And I have to say, this worked surprisingly well. Arriving in Panama City, made up of skyscrapers and slums, high-society colonial quarters and vast stretches of poverty, was a mostly off-putting experience. I had realized this on my first visit as well, but this time it really got to me. Not just the unjust inequality, which is rife in most societies in the world and is something each of us has to find reconciliation with, but the utter disregard of the modestly-wealthy for the ultra-poor and all the class-related hierarchical behavior that came with it. Being a Western backpacker, even on a budget, I had access to the priviliged places, mostly guarded by scores of heavily-armed police, but I decided to mostly steer clear.
A very different story was my return to the Lost & Found Hostel, a few days later. Having worked there on my first visit, I was curious to see how this magnificent cloud forest hostel had changed over the past years (or how it hadn't). I was happily suprised to notice that, once again, I immediately felt quite at home in the secluded, natural and peaceful environment. I hiked my old trails, spent a lot of time in hammocks (I'm contemplating to write a separate post solely on that topic), by myself and talking with others, keeping in touch with what I was feeling in my body and how that was changing over time. I played violin in the bar at night, jamming with great guitarists and beautiful voices, singing their heart out. I connected intimately with and through music and allowed myself to feel every minute of it.
And the music didn't end there. While staying in Bocas del Toro, my favorite island archipelago in the world and the stage for paradisial, Carribean island life, I connected with a stellar electronic music artist and DJ. Upon telling him of my violin jamming ambitions, he promptly invited me to play a deep house set together at the waterfront resort he was performing at, with no rehearsal or soundcheck, and without me knowing any of the music. Letting go of my anxiety and mind and giving in to my fingers and my body, I managed to make my first-ever entry into the electronic music scene a relative success. Over the course of the next few days, I improvised with another DJ as well as an epic wandering folk-rock band, always without preparation, always with full commitment.
This act of really feeling the music and the moment, experiencing the present and allowing it to happen to me, combined with my own ability to shape it, became a state of mind I attempted to cultivate as much as possible, and one I realized I need to continue pursuing. At the same time I found that, perhaps most importantly, the bodily ability to live life presently goes hand in hand with the mental capacity for deduction and intellectual reasoning. Without the mind, bodily experiences cannot be properly contextualized or even materialized. Without the body, mental experiences can never reveal their possibly most profound implications. Both are needed, balanced and carefully cared for, with integral and never-ceasing communication.
On a lighter but no less important note, I was happy to sync up with Charlotte during my time in Panama, a former work colleague and dear friend of mine from Denmark, who was visiting Panama on a two-week holiday with her Swedish friend, Felix. We weathered stormy long-boat rides between lush palm-tree-covered islands, watched dolphins cruise through lagoon waters, hiked up (Charlotte) and around (Felix and I) volcanoes, and talked a lot about life, love and liberty. I greatly appreciated encountering a familiar face after months of constantly meeting new ones.
And that is perhaps what I miss the most about home at this point in time: the familiar faces. Not only my family, but also my friends back home in Denmark and Belgium. The traveler's ever-changing environments, logistical challenges and need for constant awareness and resilience are not trivial to handle. But the reward of all that I have learned and witnessed so far is very well worth it. In a few weeks from now, I'll have been traveling for half a year, an unbelievable first leg of the trip. Maria and I will have crossed through Ecuador and will be in Mexico by then, the final country of our Latin American adventure.
But all of that is in the future. Right now, I'm off to feed the lamas.
May 17th, 2022