Angels in Colombia

Yes, weird things happen to me. It isn’t news. In fact I have another book on the horizon detailing all my weird little adventures. Or at least the ones that are appropriate to publish. (Actually, no guarantees on that – some of the best stories are the slightly inappropriate ones). Anyway, I’m so excited about it and I can’t wait to share it with you. Follow me here and on Facebook or Instagram to be among the first to know when it’s available. I hope something wonderfully weird happens to you when you read it – like maybe you laugh so hard you leak in your undies.

The truth is, some pretty freakin’ wonderful things happen to me too. Magical things. These are the things I LOVE to share because they make my heart happy. I hope something wonderfully happy happens to you when you read these tales – like maybe you find hope and joy again.

This particular tale actually started six months ago when I was in Villa de Lleyva, Colombia.

One of the best Plazas in South America, according to some. Villa de Lleyva, Colombia is a town known for its beauty both architecturally and geographically.
The view from one of my favorite waterfalls that drops a dramatic number of vertical feet (I can’t remember how many) in front of a bat cave. (Also-I love bats.)

I’d spent several incredible days touring the area with the infamous (and fabulous) tour guide of Colombia Natural Sport, Oscar.

Notorious and well-loved tour guide, “the wild man” Oscar (that’s not my trip though, just to be clear).

Over the previous three weeks we’d hiked waterfalls, swam in their pools, explored ancient ruins, visited wildlife preserves, and – ultimately – become great friends. He hugged me for a long moment when it was time to say goodbye. “But now, we have to get you on this bus before it gets dangerous.”

This was not taken that night (obvs) but it was one of many (M.A.N.Y) bus rides in the country.

We hugged one last time before I landed hard on a vacant seat on the bus. Just as we lurched around the last corner heading out of town my phone gave up it’s remaining battery life with a ding and almost simultaneously I made the intensely disconcerting realization that I didn’t have any money. This news would be even more disconcerting to the driver when we arrived in Tunja. As you might imagine, things are not especially formal in Colombia. You don’t necessarily have to buy a ticket at the station beforehand. Sometimes you just wave the bus down on a random road and pay when you arrive at the station. I’ll just use the ATM at the bus station in Tunja, I reasoned. Though my concerns about catching the correct bus to Bogota though were not as easily assuaged. I speak very little of the language and I hadn’t had to transfer buses alone before. I can do this, I can do this, I worked to reassure myself but as the bus swayed into the parking lot of the Tunja station my stomach crumbled in on itself. The building was quite dark and largely deserted, and the parking lot was populated only by a few hulking coaches idling while their drivers smoked and chatted on the sidewalk.

“Lo siento, lo siento!” I apologized profusely, the phrase, by now, my most commonly used Spanish term. “No tengo pesos.” He was clearly furious as I emptied the last of my Colombian coins into his hand and he waved me off the bus among what I can only assume to be a wave of profanity. I hustled down the sidewalk to the group of drivers and attempted to relay my situation; I had no pesos but I could get some out of the ATM in the Bogota station, if they would only let me ride that far. Whether because they wouldn’t, or because they couldn’t understand me, my pleas were refuted. I would not be able to get on a bus tonight. Which, ostensibly, meant sleeping outside the bus station. Wildly unsafe. Walking toward Bogota and flagging one down was my next best option and only marginally less dangerous. I felt my stomach tighten. I’d been traveling for weeks, I reasoned. I could do this. Just as I was about to drop my pack and change into my hiking boots a single young man emerged from the station, backlit by the security lights and as though he were an angel sent directly from heaven he spoke in perfect English, “Do you need help?”

I nearly broke down into tears of relief. Instead, in classically awkward-Jaci style, I jumped up and down and hugged my new best friend. He was, understandably taken aback but generously helped me anyway and relayed my situation to the driver, negotiating a sort of collateral system; I’d give the driver my wallet and he’d give it back to me when I got the money out of the ATM in Bogota. I thanked my new best friend profusely and handed my wallet to the driver as he hustled me toward the bus. At the last second, just before I climbed aboard, I ran back to my new friend and handed him my business card. “If I can EVER help you in any way, or if you ever need anything you think I can provide, please look me up. Thank you thank you thank you. ” He smiled wanly and waved to me as the huge coach heaved out of the parking lot and up the hill out of town.

It was just one more example of the many, many times I’ve been cared for by complete strangers while traveling Colombia alone. Despite its discolored reputation, there really is a lot to love about this place. And the people are perhaps the most incredible part. Despite sticking out like a sore thumb with my light skin and blonde hair, despite my inability to speak their language with any fluency, despite my over-eagerness to become friends, they generously – and patiently – help me whenever I am in need. Total strangers with no agenda at all. That night a stranger in an almost deserted bus station in nearly the middle of the night made me feel safe. That is an incredible gift.

And, just a couple of weeks ago, as I was planning my return trip to the country, I got a phone call. The first time I answered it I was met with silence so I assumed it was an automated solicitation and hung up. The second time it rang I was preparing to be slightly less patient when a voice came on the line. “Hi. My name is Jim. I think I helped you at a bus station in Colombia several months ago.” I nearly fell out of my chair. I effused for far too long about how grateful I was and how much it meant to me all those months ago, and Jim related that he was a language student, studying English. He had recently been hired as a private tutor for a family in the United States and was now living near the East Coast. We’ve begun chatting regularly and helping each other perfect our respective adopted languages.

He’s also the third Colombia-related person to come into my life since I left that country for the second time before the pandemic hit. And I find that to be a magical thing. More on that later.

But, for the moment, I want to remember how many beautiful souls there are in the world. And I want to remind you of that truth as well. Because when we all put aside our prejudices and assumptions, there’s sure a lot of good in the world.

Thank you, again and forever, Jim for reminding us all.

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