Funny, how even six empty beds in a dorm room, filled the night before with people who said hello and meant it, can leave one with a deep sense of hollowness, loss. Across the globe—and across the heart that dwells on the globe, beating in rooms and with people— there are myriad forms of pain. Empty beds are but one.
On most days of the year in the Colombian city of Bucaramanga, you can spot paragliders in the distance sailing along the valley’s edge. Or, if you take a bus up from the city to the mountainside itself, you can sit and watch folks gallop off the grassy slope right in front of your eyes. You’ll see them suspended, swooping and rising, steering their way through sky. You’ll see them rushing forward into what suddenly seems a giant world of open air.
The paraglider in this picture is Dimitry, an ethnic Russian from Latvia with whom I shared a room for three nights. He was nearing the end of a year-long journey around the world and had begun this last leg in South America with a few weeks of language learning in Chile—he clearly mastered basic conversational skills—and then found his way north to Colombia, where he was now devoting himself to galloping off mountainsides. Dimitry was the sort of guy who might enjoy a good view from an armchair, but he was not content to just be in the armchair.
Recently my mom asked for an enlargement of this photograph for their living room, attracted to its themes of liberation and transcendence as well as the contrast between transience (paraglider) and permanence (chairs). For me, partly because I know the guy in the air, the picture brought to mind something Paul Theroux once wrote. Describing the objective behind his book The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux says that he wanted to “take the train that everyone took to work [in Massachusetts], and then to keep going, changing trains, to the end of the line [in South America].” Later he writes:
As you read it, you should be able to see the people and places, to hear them and smell them. Of course, some of it is painful, but travel—its very motion—ought to suggest hope. Despair is the armchair; it is indifference and glazed, incurious eyes. I think travelers are essentially optimists, or else they would never go anywhere.
For a lighthearted self-portrait while on my own tandem parasail an hour earlier, click HERE