Lonely Planet describes the colonial city of Popayan as having more style than Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellin combined. Our expectations were high, yet an hour after entering the city limits something just wasn’t right about this place. The ultimate logic behind our decision eluded us as we hit the highway in search of a place outside the city.
We set up camp among the trees of an ecological preserve and marveled at the beauty surrounding us only two kilometers out of town. We read by the lake for the few hours before sunset and later broke bread with the Seventh Day Adventists who ran the place. Unknowingly, we had stumbled into their religious retreat, but they were more than happy to host us.
Our hasty retreat from Popayan is not a unique occurrence in our travels. Large cities rarely appear on our list of favorite stops. Popayan was sure to provide excellent museums, quaint colonial squares, and a hopping nightlife, but this amusement no longer sustains us. We now find it difficult to lose ourselves in organized chaos.
From the nightlife to the art scene to the people to the music to the wide variety of performing arts, the city is a limitless playground. No matter the time or the place, there is bound to be something happening, something you won’t want to miss, playing itself out on the city stage. Think Disneyland for adults, complete with long lines and overpriced drinks.
City living required we attack each weekend with hungry enthusiasm because come Monday morning, those 48 hours somehow yielded the identity we struggled to maintain. We started this journey to break the cycle, hoping to build a stronger relationship with the passions we rarely had time for in our city of distraction.
When you strip away the diversion, the amusement, what you are left with – the simplicity of life – is astounding. The amount of personal joy one can attain in the simple act of living is liberating. When your fundamental needs are minimized, life is inevitably maximized. A non-urban setting allows for a more honest self-evaluation where we can be more in tune with ourselves, less on display for others.
We are new to this. Short of Walden, our days in nature are supported by the big box grocery stores in town and Exxon Mobile’s oil extraction in the Amazon Basin. We are not perfect, we are learning, we are making mistakes, we are striving to live better.