Cartagena was a different city from the one I got to know in August with Lauren and Geoff. This time around, every hostel was overbooked, you could barely eat without a reservation, the streets were jammed, and the beach was more a patchwork of towels than a stretch of sand. But it was an interesting international crowd, and the city was was wearing its Sunday best for the holidays.
The perfect New Year’s Eve is an elusive fruit. It’s a silly thing to reach for, but with so much potential - so many friends and so much energy, optimism, and alcohol - it’s hard to temper expectations. That was an especially difficult task in Cartagena, where the air was thick with anticipation.
Inevitably, there was no perfection, but it was a memorable celebration nonetheless. Fireworks over the Caribbean, dancing in the cobbled streets of the old town, toasting the stroke of midnight with an old friend. In truth, kissing 2015 goodbye was emotional. I’ve never seen a year like it and I’m not sure I’ll meet one again. It’s hard to imagine a day where I don’t look back at the last year as one of the best of my life.
I’m reminded of my step sister, Tasha, who loves to ask tough questions around the holiday dinner table. “So Bradley,” she’d ask, “what did you learn in 2015?” To speak Spanish, to SCUBA dive, to sleep in a hammock, and that my mom has a talent on the dance floor that she both hid from and failed to pass on to her children, for starters.
But none of those answers would suffice. I hope this won’t sound hackneyed or trite. If it does, blame the fact that I’m writing from my seat on the tail end of yet another sleepless overnight bus, chugging along the rim of the spectacular Chicamocha Canyon. The views are so dramatic it’s hard not to be grandiose. But, Tasha, here’s your answer:
I remembered what happiness feels like.
That’s a tough thing to admit on two fronts. First, it feels gauche. Second, it paints an inaccurate picture. My life before this adventure wasn’t all thunderstorms and punts, and traveling hasn't been all gummy bears and sunshine. I still have lonely, confused, tired and overwhelming days, and a relentlessly uncertain future. But happiness isn’t just serotonin and smooth sailing. To me, now, it is the conviction that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. And that feels good even on a bad day.