“Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another. … I maintain also that substances, whether material or immaterial, cannot be conceived in their bare essence without any activity, activity being of the essence of substance in general.“- Leibniz
I started off my 26th year in a rather magical way, careening down a mountain at perilous speeds, while all of Medellín’s lights twinkled below us. A new British friend and I were sharing a car from the airport, and for hours, we had been taking turns making fun of each other in a Countess Violet-esque manner. However, as soon as the car curved and we saw the millions of lights reflected in the valley below us, we both had absolutely no chill and began babbling words of astonishment.
Medellín’s greatness lies not so much in Pritzker Prize winning architecture or world-class food, but rather in the juxtaposition of verde and viva, in the way that the sublime mountain landscape melds into the lives of Paísas.
[Lady of the Lake(s)]
Not only is Medellín itself a natural paradise, but the greater Antioquia region as a whole promises vertiginous views and endless greenery. Perhaps the most famous vista in Antioquia is El Peñol, the famous “rock” of Guatape. When I sent a photo of it to someone before I was set to subirlo, they accused me of sending them a Photoshopped pic. One could see how this might be plausible, as the rock seems to jut out of the earth like an extraterrestrial ship. However, it is certainly a part of this tierra.
[Road tripping like B. Spears in ~Crossroads~, aka the theme of my 12th birthday]
Like every cliché Millennial, I consider myself ~spiritual but not religious~. It seems near impossible to not believe in a higher power when confronted with such dazzling natural wonders. Not to get all GenesisEnthusiast90 or BibleBeltBabe069 on you (which btw, would be the hottest ChristianMingle usernames of all time), but I definitely felt connected to a power greater than myself during my travels in Colombia.
[A friendly reminder that “doG” is “God” spelled backward !!!]
However, Colombia also forces you to confront a key religious paradox. If there is a just and fair God, why do some people get to live vibrant, affluent, healthy lives yet other people, arguably just as “good” or “important”, are cursed with poverty, illness, or other strife? Most of the Antioquia region is poor, at least by U.S. standards, so it is impossible to ignore one’s own privilege. While it may be great to enjoy a handful of empañadas (made from the most fresh and delicious cheese I’ve tasted in my life) at a farm stand for the equivalent of 75 cents, it is also indicative of vast economic disparity.
[Near the bottom of the Metrocable, a more prosperous neighborhood]
As mentioned before, one of the highlights of my trip was taking the Metrocable, which soars of the immense urban sprawl of Medellín, placing you literally above the city’s most economically disadvantaged residents. It does almost feel as though you are playing God, watching from an elevated vantage point all of the ordinary interactions of working class people; as they hang laundry out to dry, and watch TV, and yell at their kids, and smoke a cigarette on the balcony. Even though I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, by dressing in casual workout clothes and not taking obviously gawking photos, I still felt like a privileged voyeur.
[Imagine if this mountain were your ~office~]
Even climbing El Peñol itself became an exercise in privilege awareness. For less than $100, I was able to take a private car with a driver, who both waited for me and waited on me, for 12 hours. As I climbed the 740-odd steps to the top, I brought with me just my own weight, my own baggage. That alone was difficult and forced me to persevere, ignoring the burning in my quads and lungs. Thanks to El Peñol’s workout plan, I’m the envy of all my friends.
[About halfway up]
Climbing the steps in front of me was a man, far more slender than I, and moving just as quickly, albeit with a large box of pineapples on his head. He had to bring them to the top, so that the restaurant at the summit could sell them for a large markup to dumb tourists like me. Later, I saw him climbing up the hundreds of steps again, this time with a 12 pack of Gatorade perched on his shoulders. Again, I felt a mixture of both guilt and gratitude.
I am not someone who naturally stumbles upon gratitude. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in my own self-absorbed problems, and to make the most superficial things into metaphorical mountains. Why doesn’t this person love me? Why haven’t I been promoted yet, when I clearly deserve it? Why don’t I weigh 119 pounds?
But deep down, I know that in a week or a month or a year, none of it will really merit anxiety. This was visually illustrated to me yesterday, as I explored a photography exhibit at the Museo de Antioquia. The photos varied in years of origin, from about 1860 to 1950, with most of them from the mid to late 19th century.
They were starkly beautiful, yet haunting images. Portraits of gorgeous society girls in sumptuous Victorian dresses, posing in the prime of their youth, now long buried. Indígena children at their first Holy Communion, surrounded by austere but attractive looking clergy, all of them long gone too. Laughing babies in lace up booties and twee vests, their jubilance now silenced for decades.
In my 26th year, I want to be better at being grateful for all of the positive experiences and all of the privileges in my life, instead of focusing so much on what is not right. I also want to continue to be known as someone who makes bold choices, who lives more in a place of “why not” than “why”.
Life is short, and unpredictable. We never know when our last photograph might be. Almost always, it is better to take the risk and climb the mountain, even if you have to do it with a box of pineapples on your head. For, if you don’t climb the mountain, how can you see all of the beautiful lights below?