It’s the little things that remind us of a good trip: the pop song on the radio that played in every bar in Spain; the grey beat-up backpack that dutifully carried all our belongings; and the site of red wine served from a penguin.
It’s the latter that reminds us of all our hot Latin nights, dining on the sidewalks of Buenos Aires eating juicy steaks and cheap house wine.
“Wait, did she say wine from a penguin?”
Yes I did. Yes I did.
No more views of Caribbean beaches, no more signs in Spanish, no more bans against flushing toilet paper down the toilet, and free water at every meal.
We are home.
As our plane lifted off the runway in Bogota, Colombia a few weeks ago, I looked out my window and watched the giant peaks of the Andes that had become such a familiar sight over the last year turn into nothing but tiny anthills. The clouds eventually enveloped the plane and I knew that the next time I touched down, it would be on American soil.
My heart felt heavy, excited, torn, melancholy, scared, happy, and blessed all at the same time. To be honest, I don't know what I was feeling because I had never felt it before.
It has been nearly a year now since Tom and I left our jobs to travel. It has been a whirlwind of an adventure that has included 14 countries, 2 continents, and 3 broken Apple products.
And here I sit on a fairly secluded beach on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. One friend described this spot as a slice of paradise, but I have to disagree.
I mean, if spending all day laying in a hammock, cooling off in the turquoise-blue ocean, and sipping mojitos is paradise, then yes, this is the place. But if paradise is supposed to be our ideal existence, something we can live out and enjoy eternally, then a place of total rest just won't do.
Now, don't get me wrong. Rest is good. It feels good, but I would venture to say that it is actually impossible to enjoy rest, maybe even impossible to have any rest at all without actually having work.
Medellín was named the most dangerous city in the world (even more so than Beirut) in the 1990's due to the Colombian armed conflict and the rule of the drug lord's. The city maintained its dangerous reputation into the 21st century. But in less than ten years, it has experienced an impressive and radical transformation. In 2013 it was named the world's most innovative city.
The US still warns US tourists about visiting Colombia, but for us, the country's marketing slogan rings true: "the only risk is wanting to stay."
Our longest bus ride on this trip clocked in at a whopping 24 hours straight. We had another one that was 40 hours total, but we were able to stop half way through and sleep in a real bed. Therefore, it really goes down in the books as two 20-hour bus rides.
Needless to say, we spend a lot of time on buses while traveling through South America. Down here there is not an extensive train system like Europe, and airplanes are much more expensive, so buses are our primary means of transportation.
So how do we pass all this windshield time?
What do coffee and a game of explosives have in common? A little coffee-growing, Tejo-throwing town called Salento, that’s what.
After a month-long siesta in Buenos Aires (yup…we loved it so much we went back), we are now on the road again. This time we’re exploring the once off-limits Colombia. After spending our first few days in the country in the capital city of Bogota, we were itching to indulge ourselves in Colombia’s “other drug,” coffee.
To our surprise it’s actually a bit difficult to find a great cup of joe in the big cities of Colombia, a country known worldwide as one of the top coffee-growing nations. Turns out that Colombians export their best beans and keep the second tier crop for themselves.
So to get our fix, we planned a short trip straight to the caffeine source, a coffee growing region in the hills northwest of Bogota, known as the “coffee triangle,” and its little charming town of Salento.
For just $10 per person we got to experience what The Observer named as number one of the "top 50 sporting things to do before you die." And just like our Turkish bath experience that I posted about last week, this was another one of those classic "we're definitely not in America anymore" moments.
Suuuuuuperclásico. This seemed to be the word of the week around Mendoza when we were there last February. Waiters, locals, tourists, and everyone in between were chattering about the upcoming fútball match between the bitter Argentinian fútbol (soccer) rivals, River Plate and Boca Juniors.
They come once per year to play a match on neutral turf, in Mendoza, and fortunately for my sports-addicted husband, we just so happened to be there that same week.
After our whirlwind week in the Galapagos, Tom and I had no reprieve from adventure.
We headed back to Quito, Ecuador to meet our good friends Rigo and Kait that came to visit us on their vacation. While planning our time with them, they said they would rather forego relaxing for adventure, so with phrases like YOLO and SFP floating around, we booked ourselves solid.
Ecuador didn’t disappoint. For a tiny country known for the equator, chocolate, and small Andean women with cool hats, we found loads of adventure activities to be had. Take your pick between the coast, mountains, or jungle, because Ecuador has all three! It’s a small country with lots of diversity.
Our trip started in Quito. We thought it was one of the most beautiful cities we have seen in South America. The city is nestled between Andean mountain peeks and valleys. At night, it looks like someone laid a blanket of lights over the Andes.
As some of you may know, Tom had to return to the States (Texas) for a few weeks to take care of some…well…stuff (long story). While he is gone, I’m getting a taste of solo travel.
After 18 hours, 3 taxi rides, 2 bus trips, and 1 flight, I finally made it to Buenos Aires from Baños, Ecuador. Yes, you heard that right…Buenos Aires, again!
Naturally, after a long day of travel, I dropped my bags at my hostel and immediately headed out to find a bar to watch the Argentina/Switzerland fútbol game which had already begun about 20 minutes prior.
As I began walking down the street, I noticed that Buenos Aires was not as I remembered it. It was eerily quiet, there was not one car driving down the street, and I only passed one or two other people on the sidewalk.
At every corner I turned, I could hear the faint sound of a fútbol announcer repeating Messi’s name over and over again. It almost seemed as if somebody had installed citywide surround sound. There was not one TV or radio playing something other than the game. All else was quiet in the city. There were no car horns, no dump trucks, no people chatting on their cell phones.
As I floated in a little bay and felt a sea lion playfully nibble at my toes, I knew we had made the right decision to visit Darwin’s famed, Galapagos Islands.
A few weeks prior, while we were visiting Quito, Ecuador, we decided to book a last-minute deal for an 8-day Galapagos cruise on a small "economy class" yacht.
It was a bit of a budget-buster, but worth every penny. While traveling on a budget, our goal is not always to spend as little as possible; our goal is to get the biggest bang for our buck...and Galapagos packed quite a punch.
Located about 600 miles off the West coast of Ecuador, these volcanic islands boast pristine, uninhabited beaches and unique species of wildlife found nowhere else in the world.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!