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My Father's Red Bandanna

I was initially apprehensive about traveling with my father. We’d not lived together in years, both have strong opinions about the world, we’re both have the potential to be know-it-alls. And we were probably are used to having our own bathrooms. And now, we’d be sharing a room, bathroom, and every meal together for a full week.

When he signed up (and paid me) to take him to the tropical Pacific Coast of Colombia, I was a bit surprised. I was happy, but surprised. This trip would be a fast-paced, culturally immersive experience that required multiple modes of transportation (everything from Uber, to speed boats and canoes) over various terrain, in tropical South American heat at the peak of summer. Understanding some of his health challenges, propensity to be stubborn at times, and my style of travel, I wasn't quite sold that all would go well.

I began to reimagine my father as a paying customer, with curiosity and an open mind. He wasn't necessarily the same man from my childhood---often strict and enigmatic. As an adult now, I reimagined the way that we’d communicate and commune during the seven day adventure--his first trip out of North America.

My father and I in Cali, Colombia in August 2018.

We got ready one morning with the patio door open, and the curtain flapping back and forth in the wind, which drowned out the crashing waves on the beach below. This was the day we’d go on a boat ride through the local saltwater mangroves in Uramba Bahia Malaga National Park, and finish with a dip in a freshwater swimming lagoon and cascade waterfalls that only locals know about. I was excited. Wasn’t sure if my dad was, though.

These are the kinds of things that I do when I travel alone. I do whatever is available, exciting, and maybe a bit dangerous. Though this excursion was safe enough that I’d take my dad.

I tied a dark blue bandanna around my neck--half for utility, half for jungle couture. And donned my favorite travel sandals: lightweight, durable, and colorful. As I lifted my head up from attaching the velcro strap across my foot I saw that my dad had tied a bandanna around his neck too! A red one.

I teased him and said, “You wanna be like me, huh?” He then replied, “Yup, why wouldn’t I want to be like you, Son?” I grinned on the outside, and smiled ever bigger on the inside. My dad just gave me a compliment in a way---his wearing a bandanna was either a nod to my jungle fashion sense, or his way of telling me that his fashion sense predates mine (and that I got it from him), and his verbal affirmation translated in my ears to his admiration and appreciation of who I am; including my adventurous spirit.

We set out on our way after meeting the rest of the excursion-goers in the resort’s lobby. There were others in sandals, some in water shoes, and one guy wearing white gym shoes. This diverse array of footwear would somehow get us through the muddy mixture left in the roads after rain the night before.

Our guide was a local Black man. He was slim, proud, very knowledgeable about the natural environment, and cool as hell--unbothered actually. He told us to walk down the road toward a direction that he pointed. He then disappeared from sight. I assumed he was rounding up others that would be joining the excursion. He’d catch up shortly.

We traversed the muddy roads, potholes, dips, crevices and puddles. This was the kind of mud that sucks your foot into it, and makes a smacking sound as it releases your beloved limb. It was the kind of mud that splashes up the back of your leg, even as you tiptoe and perform acrobatics to avoid it. I am always amazed how locals can walk down muddy roads and arrive to their destinations just as pristine as when they left their home.

We came to one point in the road that was flooded out all the way across---from one yard to the yard across from it. Only small slivers of grass and dirt lay appropriate to use for stepping, like brown and green lily pads. It was a conundrum. We all lined up across the road trying to figure out how to get on the other side of the huge milk chocolatey puddle. We were trying to figure out the exact right combination of steps would get us to the other side with dry feet and minimal mud splatter.

Me, I was ready. I sized up some dirt and grass on a mound that was flanking a fence post and someone’s yard. I stepped over and toward the mound, and as my body weight moved forward, it became more clear that this was a bad idea. And that the mound was not as solid as I assumed. The grass only camouflaged the mud underneath. My right foot landed on the top of the mound, then slipped, and it instantly began to move again; thrusting my leg forward-- up, and out. All of the inertia of my body followed my foot and leg. Up, and out!

I fell backward as my legs went into the air in front of me. In a reflex, my arms flew up into the air and grasped for anything that could keep me from falling to the ground. The fence post, one of many that outlined the yard next to the road, was strung with rusty barbed wire. And this is what I grabbed---my brain only making sense of this after the weight of my body was headed toward the ground, propelling my hand, and forcing a barb into the flesh of my palm. All this happened in less than one second. And after that one second elapsed, I found myself lying in a brown puddle. My right arm was perpendicular to my body. My hand still grasping the rusty barbed wire above.

As soon as I landed, my dad ran over, and with worry in his voice, asked if I was ok. I began to stand up and balance myself, careful to not push the barb deeper into my hand. Then, like the fear of pulling a bandaid off a wound, I began to pull my hand off of the wire. I could feel the barb leaving my hand.

When I was finally back on my feet, I felt embarrassed. My father then snatched the red bandana off of his neck, and insisted that I wrap it around the wound on my hand. Before I tied it around my hand, someone else in the group insisted that I use their bottled water to rinse my wound, and another smeared hand sanitizer over the little red hole in my palm. Each making it a point to use the limited English they knew to show me their generosity. My embarrassment turned to gratefulness.

For the rest of the excursion, I wore my dad’s red bandanna around my wounded hand like a prize. I wore it up until our canoe made it to the swimming hole. Then he cheered me on to jump off the 15-foot high ledge down into the water. I did it. And he told me he was proud; and that he was also relieved I didn't bust my head open (which I was known for doing as a kid).

Sons need their fathers, no matter what age. Whether he shows his love by supporting your passion for travel, borrowing from your fashion sense, bandaging your wound, or simply telling you that he’s proud, it is a refreshing force that immediately silences the world’s doubters, and the pain, bumps, bruises, and mud puddles that life might bring your way.

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