We act as if it is normal to say “I am busy” every time somebody asks us how we are.
Have you ever had a very stressful time in your life? You probably have, like the majority of humans who seem to be busy or stressed by default these days. We act as if it is normal to say “I am busy” every time somebody asks us how we are. First of all, it sounds extremely impolite. It is the equivalent of saying “Go away! There is no place in my exclusive and tight agenda for you”. Secondly, how are you? Really, I mean, how do you feel? Happy? Sad? Angry? Or are you so busy that there is not even time for feelings anymore? If that’s the case, here is my advice: TRAVEL! A new haircut, a shopping trip or a bottle of wine will not be enough to take the stress away. Not even two bottles (trust me).
How I escaped the "busy" disease
My trip started with an opportunity that came along just at the right time. I had “I am busy” written all over my forehead. After finishing a master in Environmental Biology I heard about a project in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Güican, in Colombia. There was a research project that consisted of collecting plants while interviewing the local campesinos about how they use them (e.g.: medicine, food, wood, fodder, rituals) in a countryside area in the Andes Mountains, at 3500 meters above sea level.
Once in the field, I felt overwhelmed with the beauty of my surroundings and I felt obligated to work hard in this incredible place lost among the clouds. But I also noticed that a grandma could walk better than me in those high mountains. Probably, because I’ve never been in such altitudes, although increasing the number of cigarettes smoked per day did not help much with the lack of oxygen. However, despite walking up and down the hills all day, getting a red peeled nose (no matter how much sunscreen I applied) and having a diet that mostly consisted of rice and potatoes, at the end of the day, I felt happy. Not busy, but happy.
Key to happiness
Many things contributed to this contentment. For example, the impressive mountains rising in the horizon crowned with peaks of snow, the glacier lakes protected by mythological beings, or the peculiar vegetation of high Andean forests and páramos. The funny-looking Frailejones also always brought a smile to my face: imagine a human sized plant with long leaves and a beautiful hat of yellow flowers on top. Sometimes, when I walked behind everyone else (grandma style), I thought that the other fieldworkers were standing somewhere close to me, but it turned out that I confused them with the Frailejones. (Again, I blame the lack of oxygen.)
The people also made me incredibly happy: from the kind campesinos, who opened the doors of their houses (and their hearts) to me, to the research team, from whom I learnt a lot. I felt inspired by them, both by the wisdom of the elders and the lightheartedness of the young ones. Stunning landscapes and amazing people, what else could I ask for?
No space for problems
My trip was filled with many breathtaking experiences that made me forget about any issues at home. One of the greatest memories I have is of climbing up to 5200m on the highest glacier of the Sierra. The scientist (and now a friend) who brought us there, told us: “At that height, all the problems remain down at the bottom”.
During the walk, I was in awe. The ground connected with the sky and it seemed as if we floated in a white atmosphere of emptiness. But we felt full, full of gratitude for being so close to heaven. I also felt really exhausted. I literally talked to my feet in order to take one more step. When I went back down, tears were streaming down my face while I was thinking about how close I was to my mum. But I also felt a strange feeling of relief. My friend was right, all the problems stayed down at the bottom. Perhaps they were too heavy for me to carry them up, and the best thing - they never came back.
Lessons that will last a lifetime
I would need a whole book to describe all the picturesque adventures I experienced in the Sierra and later on in the city of Bogota. The last minute change of plane tickets (I had literally one minute to decide whether to get on the plane or extend my stay)... my solo trip to the coffee axis of Colombia and Medellin, where I stayed in a hostel full of artists, sharing music, art and life experiences (although apparently we also shared bed bugs)... the list of memories never ends.
However, a cache of special moments is not the greatest result of taking this leap. Most importantly, I realised what was weighing me down. I was a little scared before embarking on this trip, I did not know what was waiting for me in such a remote area far away from home. But I took the chance, I overcame obstacles (my feet finally listened to me and brought me far away) and it turned out to be one of the best adventures of my life. I feel more relaxed, stronger and confident. I’m full of joy when I think back on this trip and I am already planning my next one. If somebody asks me now how I am, I now say “Fine, thanks!” (Yes, this is the proper answer) with a big smile on my face.
So, how are you?
If your answer is “busy” you better go travel, or at least, take a walk through the clouds
Author - Mireia Alcántara Rodríguez
I am ethnobotanist, dreamer and nature lover. Once I found myself in a foreign country, which I was not enjoying anymore. I was having a hard time combining studies, work and a grey weather for most of the days. Then I decided to sign onto an exciting project at 4000 meters high. I was amazed when I arrived to this mountain paradise. From where I came, the sky used to be cloudy, but I have never been among the clouds before. This project resulted in one of the greatest adventures of my life!