Travel Diary: One Coffee and an Epiphany to Go

Baños, Ecuador, Jan 2008

I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop in Baños, Ecuador with my tablet, notebook and pen watching the rainfall. It’s a gloomy morning just like the previous days and the atmosphere is both calm and chaotic. People are rushing in trying to stay warm and dry. And then there’s me, with nothing to do. I have finally tasted true freedom. Time is currently standing still for me.

I can hear the conversation of a tourist couple across from me revising their plans for the day, two toddlers to my left screaming and laughing, and the calm jazz music playing in the background. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee hits my face when I suddenly realize: I feel so alone. 

It had been a while since this feeling creeped up on me. I used to hate it when it did. It feels different today. It’s not the bad type of alone most people would assume. I feel alone but the difference this time is… I don’t feel lonely. 

This time, my “alone” feels powerful. This realization brings me so much joy!

I could cry and pretend my face is wet from the rain, but I’ve cried too many times before and today calls for a celebration. Today, I will soak in this new self-discovery and write about it with a smile. 

I’ve been single for almost six years and in the process of healing my broken heart and parts of my life that no longer felt authentic to me, I neglected my progress and accomplishments. Why don’t we have celebrations for these types of milestones? I can see it now: “So and so finished a full year of therapy… it’s time for a celebratory dinner!” Or, “I think my impostor syndrome is disappearing… I’m going to celebrate this weekend!” I’ve come such a long way from the perfectionist and ‘check-box’ obsessed person I used to be that sometimes I think I deserve a medal.

If someone had told my 19-year-old self that she would eventually quit her job, cash out her savings and go backpacking throughout the world at 28, she would have died of a panic attack. 19-year-old Diana had her life planned out and being a broke backpacker was never part of the plan.

But here I am, sitting alone in this overcrowded coffee shop in Baños, between the central Andes and the Amazon of Ecuador and over 3000 miles away from home feeling alone and yet so fulfilled. To this day, I am amazed at how much we can change mentally and emotionally if we allow ourselves to heal. One big step towards healing that’s rarely talked about is that you must first acknowledge the pain. 

I’ve noticed most people skip this part (I avoided this step for years) because our ego doesn’t want us to admit we’ve been hurt. In doing so, we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability and who likes to feel vulnerable? I had to allow myself to break so I could rebuild myself back together, like a new 1,000-piece puzzle.

I can write about all of the things I’ve learned over the years (and I will eventually), but at this moment, in this coffee shop, all I want to do is quietly celebrate the love I’ve been able to cultivate towards myself through my healing. Today, I celebrate the growth that allows me to witness my loneliness turn into peace.

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