Fishing for Piranhas in the Amazon

Visiting the Amazon had been highly recommended to me, although I wasn’t exactly a fan of the idea. Having grown up in a city, I much prefer cities to the countryside, or in this case, the jungle. When I pictured the Amazon, I thought of crazy heat and humidity, mosquitoes, giant spiders, and sleeping under mosquito nets in dirty beds or hammocks. I was in Thailand two years earlier and I had a less than fortunate experience on a jungle trekking tour. We rode bamboo rafts in a snake infested river that I fell into not once but twice. Soaking wet, we trekked up into the humid jungle for the next 4 hours. When we finally reached our camp for the night, we were starving but we were only fed rice.  In addition, the group had to sleep outside on wooden boards with moldy blankets. Since that traumatizing experience, I haven’t wanted to do anything remotely similar. This time, one of my goals was to really push myself, face my fears, and experience the unfamiliar.

After spending two weeks in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, I flew to a small city called Leticia located between the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. There isn’t much to Leticia and its main industry is tourism. The city is small with a downtown consisting of a few streets lined with tour agencies and stores selling cheap plastic items made in China. Having come all the way to the Amazon, I didn’t want to spend my time in Leticia. I wanted to get into the real jungle. After spending a few days in Leticia, I booked a two-day Amazon jungle tour.

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Off the Grid in Desierto de la Tatacoa

Desert de la Tatacoa, located about 6 hours South of Bogotá, had been recommended to me by someone I met while traveling in Mexico. It is a place that is often overlooked by tourists and rarely visited by locals. It’s not actually a desert at all but a dry tropical forest that has dried up over centuries. The “desert” is surrounded by beautiful mountains and has been nicknamed the red desert for the unique red earth that makes up the terrain. It is easy to get to Tatacoa, it just takes a little time. To get there from Bogotá or Cali you can either fly into Neiva on a small plane which costs about $135 USD roundtrip from Bogotá, or $209 roundtrip from Cali. You can also get there by bus, which is what I did. I took a bus from Bogotá to Neiva, which I caught at the Terminal de Transporte de Bogotá Station. It’s about a five to six hour bus ride from Bogota, depending on the bus line and the time of day. When you arrive at the Neiva bus station, catch a taxi collectivo (a taxi collectivo is a taxi or small bus of sorts that takes many different people going in the same direction) to Villavieja which takes about an hour, then eventually to Tatacoa which will take you out to the actual “desert” and is another 30 minutes.

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Don’t Look Down – Highlining in Sutatusa

I didn’t know anything about where we were going. I didn’t even know the name of the town. My Austrian traveling companion, Hedi and I hopped on the Transmilenio (Colombia’s bus system) and headed to Portal Norte where we met a friend from Bogotá, Alejandra and Ästa, another friend from Norway whom we had met in Mexico. From Portal Norte, the four of us then took a taxi collectivo to Sutatusa. All in all, the trip took about 2 hours from our hostel in La Macarena, Bogotá.

When we arrived at the “town,” we had a quick lunch and then headed to our hostel. I quickly learned that it wasn’t really a “hostel” but a place people could pay to stay if they wanted to come out into the mountains to highline. I had seen people slackline before but had no idea what slacklining or highlining was or what it was called. Slacklining uses a flat rope about 2 inches thick that is stretched taut between two objects. The goal is to walk across it, kind of like a tightrope. It’s much harder than it looks and takes an enormous amount of leg and core strength.

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Back at It in Bogotá

Leaving Seattle again was hard. I wanted to spend two months in Colombia but I was also starting to get very comfortable back at home. The thought of leaving my comfortable bed, beautiful clean shower with hot water, and all my friends was making the decision all the more difficult. 

After participating in the worldwide Women’s March on January 21st, I just had this sense that it was time to go and I needed to go soon. I decided that day that I’d leave four days later on the 25th of January. 

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Homo for the Holidays

My family’s Christmases are usually filled with family and friends but this year it would just be the four of us. We planned several things to make it special.

The night before Christmas Eve, we visited Temperance Café and Bar, a new speakeasy-themed restaurant with Prohibition-era inspired food and drinks. It’s located in the Chinese Room of the Smith Tower. When it was built in 1914, the Smith Tower was the tallest building in Seattle until 1962 when the Space Needle, built for the World’s Fair, surpassed it. The Smith Tower is still a Seattle icon located in the downtown neighborhood of Pioneer Square. The Chinese Room has a beautifully hand carved teak ceiling as well as an old Chinese teak chair called the Wishing Chair. Legend has it that any unmarried person who sits in that chair will be married within a year. The bar also has an observation deck with a beautiful 360-degree view of Seattle.

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Mama, I’m Coming Home

Deciding to fly home for Christmas was a hard decision. I had said I was going to travel for six months and I really wanted to stick with it. On the other hand, I was homesick and I wanted to spend Christmas with my family. I also knew my grandmother was nearing the end of her life and this might be my last chance to see her.

My last day in Tulum (and Mexico) was spent riding bikes, swimming, eating delicious food, and lying in the hot sun. I wondered how I could leave all that for the cold of Seattle. I even called the airline to see how much it would cost to change my ticket, but it was too expensive. In the end, I flew home for Christmas and it was the right decision.

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México on A Shoestring Budget

Mexico gets a bad wrap. They say it’s dangerous, the people who live there are thieves and rapists, and they illegally come to the US to steal our jobs. The list goes on and on…I’m here to break that myth. I traveled solo in Mexico for almost two months and never once had any issues regarding my safety. Everyone I met was super kind, caring, and helpful. If you want to go on vacation but have limited funds, Mexico is your destination.

Flights from the US are relatively inexpensive, costing between $250 – $500 roundtrip depending on where you live and where you want to go. Mexico City and Cancún are the cheapest cities to fly to. Whether you’re looking to explore a metropolitan city, relax on a white sandy beach, hike in the mountains, or explore ancient ruins in the jungle, Mexico has what you’re looking for at a price anyone can afford.

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Eating Shit in Bacalar

I had always purchased bus tickets a day in advance in Mexico. It ensures you get a cheaper rate and will be on the bus you want. I stupidly didn’t buy my ticket in advance for Bacalar. When I got to the ADO bus station at 10:30am the 11am bus I wanted was full. I’d have to wait for the 1pm bus meaning I’d waste my day waiting for and sitting on the bus.

I had two hours to kill before my bus and Campanella was down the street, so what did I do? Got ice cream at my favorite place one last time. Not the worst way to kill time.

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Life Lessons in Tulum: How to Get to Akumal for $1.75 and Have a Tinder Hookup

I was honestly pretty lazy in Tulum. I was over traveling, tired, and didn’t want to do much else besides lie on the beach and eat Mexican food. I had heard about a place nearby where you could snorkel and see giant sea turtles as well as tropical fish in a coral reef. I had to keep convincing myself all morning to go before I finally made it out the door. I think part of it was not wanting to go alone but when have I ever let that hold me back before?

Here is a BIG insider tip on Akumal and how to do it for only $35 MXN (about $1.75 USD). To get to Akumal from the Tulum city center take a taxi collectivo which you can catch along the main road. There will be signs posted with a picture of a bus on it or, if you see a bunch of people standing around waiting for something ask if this is where you can catch a taxi collectivo. You want the collectivo going in the direction of Playa del Carmen and they will stop along the way at Akumal. It’s only $35 MXN (about $1.75 USD). The collectivo will drop you off at a bus stop that says Akumal. From there, walk East towards the beach. As you walk towards the beach, you will be approached by people telling you you need to rent a life jacket, that you need a tour guide, that you won’t be able to see the fish or turtles without them. All of this is a lie. Just say, “No, gracias” and walk on past them. When you get to the beach walk south until you reach a red flag, and the snorkeling is just beyond that. You’ll know you’re there by the hordes of people in the water snorkeling. I think it’s more fun to actually use goggles than a snorkel mask. You can get down in close with the fish and turtles but don’t touch them! If you don’t have goggles or a snorkel mask you can rent one there but you do not need to rent a life jacket.

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A Twin Bed…for Two?

The next day, I packed my stuff and trekked on over to meet my Couchsurfing host, Efrain. We had decided to meet at a supermarket close to his place then walk to his house together. When we got to his home he gave me a tour of the small one-bedroom turned two-bedroom home he shared with two friends. His room had previously been the living room. He opened the door to his room and said that this was the room we’d be sharing…there was only a twin bed. I thought oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?! This guy seemed so nice and sweet and had good reviews on Couchsurfing but he wants us to share a twin bed?! I thought I’d spend the day with him before jumping to any conclusions and freaking out. He also only spoke Spanish so with the language barrier I didn’t know how to phrase it.

Right as we were about to step out for lunch it began to downpour. We had to step back inside and wait it out. I was able to not only hit Cuba’s rainy season but Mexico’s as well. Lucky me! After about an hour the rain finally let up. Just as we were about to step out the front door the downpour started again. So we waited.

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Tindering in Tulum

After two days I had had enough of Cancún and was ready for a new location. I decided to head to Tulum and continue Couchsurfing. My host couldn’t host me until the next day so, I booked one night at the Humble Bumble hostel.

The hostel was only about two months old and definitely one of the strangest I have ever stayed in. It was still under construction when I was there. It was going through a huge renovation, being transformed from a HUGE outdoor restaurant and strip club into a hostel. The common area was a massive outdoor area under a thatched roof with tables and dinning chairs. It didn’t really have that hostel vibe but the people that worked there were super nice.

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Couchsurfing in the “Most Dangerous” Neighborhood in Cancún

In Cancún I decided to stay with a Couchsurfing host. I hadn’t Couchsurfed since Morelia over a month ago and I was getting tired of hostel life. I just wanted to be able to unpack my stuff somewhere and leave it unpacked for a day or so. I had posted a public trip on the Couchsurfing website (this is a great way to find hosts) and had gotten several responses but decided to go with Arturo because he had time off work and great reviews.

When I arrived in Cancún from Holbox I took an Uber to Arturo’s home. The Uber driver asked me the normal questions, where I was from, how long I was in Cancún for, where I was going, how did I know this guy, of course all in Spanish. I told him I didn’t really know the guy I was staying with, we had met online through a website. It sounds crazier than it is in reality but it’s hard to explain that in Spanish. The driver told me that my Couchsurfing host lived in the most dangerous neighborhood in Cancún and I shouldn’t even walk around there during the day. I started to get really scared, thinking OMG, I’m staying with some random stranger from the Internet in the most dangerous neighborhood in Cancún?!

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