When my friend Annette first called me about joining her for the match-made-in-heaven collaboration between El Camino Travel and the Conde Nast Traveler, Women Who Travel brands… and the fact that they were headed to Colombia in March … it was the end of December, we had just spent a crapload of money (birthdays, ORC, holidays), and I really had to take a beat to think about:

1. Did I deserve to take a trip so soon…

2. Was I excited about traveling without my family (we had just had so much fun in Brazil over the summer)?

3. Would it feel totally self-indulgent?

Well before I even took that beat… the trip was sold out!

Annette put her name on the email list for the next go round, and I thought I had PLENTY of time to ruminate on the decision…

… but within DAYS they had added another trip… and without barely even consulting my hubby (don’t worry… he knows I’m spontaneous like that), I hit the “deposit” button… and I was going to Colombia with a group of strangers… and Annette (or so I thought)…

Travel…

It teaches you to stretch, to go with the flow, to embrace change, and to allow yourself to be uncomfortable at times…

This experience reminded me of all of those things and more…

Let’s start at the beginning!

Three days before departure time… Annette called to tell me that she was VERY ill… ill enough to question whether or not she could make it to Colombia! Wait… WHAT???

Ultimately…

… she was CRAZY sick and my “buddy” experience became a solo excursion. I was in this “alone”.

I touched down in Cartagena, after a red-eye from Los Angeles, and was in AWE of the beauty of the city. The 17th Century home we were staying in, Casa Fernandez de Madrid, satisfied ALL of the design-worthy moments I was looking for.

I strolled around a bit by myself, and for a few moments with Amy, one of the women who landed from San Francisco at the same time as I did. We were the first arrivals, so we had some time to kill.

I could do an entire post on the swoon worthy doors and knockers we passed (each knocker represents a unique profession, such as fisherman, farmer, land owner, etc.)… and I wished I could have pounded on each one to see what gorgeous interiors hid behind them!

Eventually, the “red-eye” called for some “shut-eye”, and I went back for a nap… not quite sure yet about how I felt (mom-guilt had already set in). The struggle is REAL…

… but it was time to get to know these ladies I would be spending the next 8 days with… and nothing breaks the ice better than some cocktails!

That’s Adina (on the left)… our “oldest” traveler, and BTW… she’s still traveling… because that’s what she does! She is sending us photos from various towns in Colombia as I write this… living her best life!

Not only did I find out that EVERY woman had come here on their own (without a friend), but that most of these women had traveled solo before.

It was eye-opening… and inspiring for me.

… and although I craved and missed the communication from Annette, I realized IMMEDIATELY that I would need to push through my personal space bubble and get to know these women, perhaps better than if Annette had been on the trip as planned.

After dipping into the Cartagena cocktail scene at Alquimico (and learning how to make some of our own concoctions using local fruits and liquor), we had an AMAZING dinner at Celele, a hot-spot run by two young chefs who truly blew my mind.

Similar to Brazil, Colombia has some bright culinary stars with so much to offer at what seems a FRACTION of the price for what you would pay in the States. We are talking seven to nine course tasting menus with paired wines that would run you the equivalent of about $70 U.S. dollars. Mind. Blown.

Belly full, I decided to skip out on post-dinner cocktails and dancing to head back to the house and get some work done.

Although I was excited… I felt a bit down.

I’m not sure why I was so emotional… but I missed my family so much (It had only been one day!), and I wasn’t sure if anyone else would understand that.

I also think that as an entrepreneur (and of course as a mom), it just feels so hard to “let go”, and to be okay with allowing others in your “village” to take over.

I believe that’s why Annette and I had booked this trip TOGETHER… so that we could bounce our “mom guilt” and ridiculous feelings off of each other and not feel bad…

… no one wants to hear two moms moaning about their kids while they are on vacation!

… but little did I know how wrong I was.

As days went by, and we began to break open… I realized how much everyone began to “care”.

My gem of a roommate Jessica, above, consistently checked in with me to see how I was doing… and we quickly bonded over our shared love of “noise machines” (to help us sleep) our chilly shower situation (it was a very old house), and ultimately our physical reaction to too much Colombian sausage (1. Get your mind out of the gutter. 2. Oh yes… people… we got CLOSE).

At forty-five years old you don’t think you will ever have to share things quite so intimately with a new person again, but intimacy with others leads to self-discovery, and we should never close that door… right?

So never underestimate the power of human connection as you age. I now have a new life-long friend “made” over meat-induced “dutch ovens” and too many “that’s what she said!” moments to count.

Speaking of laughter…

The next morning we climbed into a volcanic mud pit and rolled around… happy as a pig in shit.

It was one of the most strange, yet most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had.

It’s honestly too hard to describe, so I am just going to assume that some day you will get there… and you better tell me about it when you do.

After we were sufficiently cleaned up (by women in the local lake who weren’t afraid to get mud out of EVERY crack and crevice )… we headed to Getsemani, which is just outside the “walled city” of Cartagena.

Think of Getsemani as the place that the “cool kids” go… the locals, the artists, the actual residents of Cartagena.

It’s colorful, and gritty, and full of life… just the way I love my neighborhoods!

It is here that we had lunch with two incredible women who are paving their own path through life with love, food, and bravery!

Maria and Lily run Mama Nilma cafe… serving up traditional Colombian fare next to the home that Maria was born in.

Maria and Lily have been married for almost twenty years. The restaurant is dedicated to Maria’s mom, who has completely supported them in a society that is HIGHLY conservative, patriarchal, and full of machismo.

It was an honor to be there and to enjoy their company!

… and as if this day couldn’t have been ANY more fun… it was time to SALSA!!!

… absolutely no fun to be had here…

Nope…

This is Patty… with the enviable skin tone and gorgeous smile…

… and she was in charge of us LADIES (as she would say)!

I am taking this moment to acknowledge what a DREAM she was.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to corral eleven women, and to keep calm under circumstances that were out of our control (shit happens when you travel, right?)…

… but she “kept calm and carried on”… at least in front of us. And she did it with grace and style. I think I might have developed a Colombian crush 😉 .

Now back to our salsa excursion (that lasted for FOUR hours!)…

… this is Auntie Tere, and if you haven’t tuned into my Instagram Archived Stories (look for Colombia), then you better go there STAT. If she doesn’t inspire you to dance… then I don’t know who will.

Colombian fire water and magical mini beers will also inspire you…

… and if you can’t tell by the smile on my face… I started to “let go”.

Day three (yes… we are only on day three!)… brought more ice cream from La Paletteria, a drum circle from La Boquilla, and a street food tour laced with local history!

I also learned that my kiddos back home were sick with fevers and gnarly congestion and coughs. This, my friends, was another test. I was just beginning to relax… but it sure is tough when you hear those snotty (for REAL snotty), achy little voices over the line. My head felt split in two…

… but I had to trust in my “team” and know that everything was being handled (best Mimi and Pop Pop  and Hubby in the world!).

And again… these beautiful women that I had met only a few days before… they asked me every morning how Parker and Avery were feeling. EVERY. DAMN. DAY.

It gave me all of the “warm and fuzzies”… and the motivation to keep exploring!

So off we went to the La Boquilla drumming school, a community-led project that aims to preserve the culture of the inhabitants of the oceanfront villages that are susceptible to beach development and gentrification.

More dancing. More magical mini beers. More smiles ensued.

… and speaking of smiles. That is Ashley on the left. She was definitely the “up for anything” girl on this trip. Always laughing. Always trying new things. Even trying pork… and she is a vegetarian! Now THAT is commitment to “adventuring”.

She has also committed to go with me to the Korean Spa when she comes to Los Angeles for a visit. Nothing like a naked salt scrub to bring us even closer! Ashley… I’ll be waiting!

Day four… and our stay in this lovely city was coming to a end.

A moment of relaxation was definitely in the cards.

Our sail out complied with our wishes, and we had a lovely time sunbathing, singing, swimming and dining…

Our return was not so smooth, though… and although we laugh about it now… rough waters, sea spray, and some extreme bouts with motion sickness had us praying to get home!

“Before the boat” and “after the boat”, are now a part of our narrative…

… but I wouldn’t have it any other way (Melissa would beg to differ).

These are the tales that tie us together.

Group travel is a “trip” man. It’s a trip you should go on… along with solo travel, family travel, partner travel, etc.

Traveling as a group requires more flexibility, more “go-with-the-flow”, more acceptance, and more willingness to adapt than any of its alternatives…

… and isn’t that what we need if we are to be an ACTIVE participant in this word-wide community?

I have a lot more to say on this… but this post is already too long…

I will give you more in Medellin…

… stay tuned for part deux!

P.S. Every beautiful photo featured here was taken by the amazing Simone Anne Photography. She (and her laugh) will also be highlighted in Medellin… because she is pretty spectacular!