Storytellers of a new generation
Lost And Found In South America

Lost And Found In South America

A girl’s 6 month journey of getting over heart break in South America.

My story is a cliché eat, pray, love version of a 24-year-old Bombay girl, heartbroken and terribly hung up, looking to breakaway. I was sick of my then on-again-off-again boyfriend, as I was sick of the Bandra bylanes that haunted me with his memories. My life goals hung gloomily before me, as if chiding me further. So much for 'visit South America once you graduate.'

Overlooking the valley in MincaOverlooking the valley in Minca

I’m on a plane to Colombia. I’m on a plane to Bogota, Colombia. Two months after endless pleading with the parents, internet scavenging and painful scouring for opportunities, I landed a one semester job some place in South America I know nothing about. I’m going to teach English, and I hope to get some real writing done while at that. I’ve spent the last 6 hours in transit at Guarulhos International Airport, Sao Paulo. I’m now en route Bogota, currently shining the airplane torchlight on to this page, hoping the curvy man snoozing next to me doesn’t mind. This plane is dingy. The crew wears red skirts with red lipstick and a funny smell hangs in the air. Avianca (my carrier) is famous for Escobar blowing up one of their vessels carrying about a hundred passengers, all dead with zero survivors. He was targeting the then presidential candidate Gaviria, who wasn’t even on the flight.

Lets see what the next six months have in store.

Enroute Guane (a day trek)Enroute Guane (a day trek)

So Colombia isn’t all Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Escobar. It’s also Aguardiente (a cheap alcohol here which literally translates into ‘water’ and ‘fiery’, and fiery it is) and Tejo (a bizarre traditional Colombian game involving lots of throwing and gunpowder, and beer). Little bars line the cobbled lanes of La Candelaria. Everything is on a slope, and the walls are painted with graffiti. I’ve been living in a hostel and I meet one new person everyday, from a new country with new advice on what trail to take in and which route to follow for my travels.

I sent him a long email on my first night here. I was jet lagged, blue and a little lost and lonely. New places enthrall me and fill me with a deep sense of loneliness at the same time, like Eddie Vedder’s song ‘Society.’ He didn’t reply.
But this is about new beginnings.

Aguardeinte shots con amigosAguardeinte shots con amigos

One month feels like one year to me. So much has changed. A haze of endless partying and meeting new strangers every night has now settled into regular rhythmic work life. I have four roommates - Erik, from Sweden, Tristan and Celia from France and Sid, who happens to be from India too. I cook food in the morning, ride the Transmilenio (the local transport here) to work and get escorted in a high security car to my school. The children don’t know a word of English, which makes them endearing and annoying at the same time. I’ve also travelled to Medellin, which according to me is the Bombay of Colombia. Bogota has been kind to me, but it has this lingering harshness in the air. People still look at you with suspicion and I’ve heard of incidents of mugging quite often. Medellin seems warm and chill (tranquilla!).

Erik is my favourite person in this entire country. He listens to musicals, makes us all watch his favourite show Eurovision (to much protest from Tristan and Cecil) and diligently wears his onion pink sweater every other day. He poked fun at how I didn’t know how to use the washing machine (ahem, it had instructions in Spanish) and makes delicious pancakes for us on weeknights.

No heart-stealing and falling in love has happened yet. Maybe the heart is too bruised to want to fall for anyone. Stupid heart.

Unwinding at Villa de LeyvaUnwinding at Villa de Leyva

Lets say you’ve always thought of South America as this exotic place with tropical beaches and people speaking in Spanish with sexy accents, men knowing how to dance and everyone playing amazing football. Colombia is that to me, and so much more. Santa Marta, an idyllic Colombian port held this lazy calm, where time seemed to stop still. Cartagena was gorgeous by night, its stone walls and elegant horse carriages serving as perfect backdrop to a picturesque old-school castle wedding. Villa de Leyva on the other hand was a beautiful bucolic town, its cobblestone streets making it a perfect setting for penning some poetry, rivaling Barichara a picturesque exorbitant retreat for most Bogotanos.

My beds have changed regularly, from hammocks by the seaside to bunk beds in a hostel to a sleeping bag at a friends. The bus journeys are the best. Fresh fruit has become our staple, bananas are my favourite (combine instant energy with excellent mobility).

They say the more you see the more lost you feel. One part of me feels rock solid, as if all the rough travel has worked on not only my soul but also on my body. Transformation is the common stereotype travel comes with. Mine has been gradual and gentle. I don’t think I’ve noticed it until right now. Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,’ has started resonating.

Namaste by 17 different nationalitiesNamaste by 17 different nationalities

Spinach soup is my favourite thing to cook. Green is my new favourite colour, I think I’m going to paint my wall green when I’m back. I can now speak basic fluent Spanish, negotiate with the man at the grocery store (who flirts with me each time) and order a full meal without looking at the menu.

We all use an algorithm of some sort to navigate our lives. I think the charm in not having anyone show you the ropes, chart out your life for you and lack of structure in how to live, gives you a chance to give serendipity a shot. Only serendipity has gotten me so far. Clichéd as it might sound, people make a place. My brief window in Colombia is one that has made my muscles and my mind stronger (maybe it’s the avocados and the jam?).

Catharsis by the sands of small town PalominoCatharsis by the sands of small town Palomino

Tristan and Cecil have flown out, back to Paris. Erik is about to leave soon. He’s leaving me his onion pink sweater.

I now eat one banana everyday.

If South America is on your list, cross it. It’s not just the ten thousand miles that will do something to you. It’s so much more. As Marquez says, ‘It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.’

Read Divya’s teaching experience in Colombia here:


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of

By Divya Punjabi
Photographs by: Divya Punjabi