While backpacking in Colombia, I spent four days in Barranquilla, a city on the Northern coast, at a huge annual party known as Carnival. By the end of the fourth day, I was exhausted and needed a vacation from my vacation. I had heard about a hostel located farther up the coast in the middle of the jungle. I wanted to get away from metropolitan cities for a while. I thought it’d be a nice place to spend a few days regenerating before continuing on my journey.
The hostel was located in a small coastal town called Buritaca. Getting there by bus proved to be a little challenging. I had to ask several different people where to find a bus headed in the direction of Buritaca. Finally, I ended up at the “bus station” which was just a street lined with buses. I got on a bus I was 75 percent sure would take me where I wanted to go, hoping for the best. After about two hours, the bus dropped me off on the side of the road in front of a sign that read, “Rancho Relaxo”. The name threw me for a loop. I couldn’t tell if the name was a joke or not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A friend that I made in Mexico City, Perla, decided to come visit me in Merida. She has close family friends in Merida who she hadn’t seen in over a year, and me being there was the perfect excuse to come visit.
Perla’s friends, Jorge, Roxanna and their daughter Andrea, are the nicest people I have ever met. Jorge is like the picture-perfect TV husband and father: very generous, caring and patient. Jorge and his wife made me feel so welcome and part of their family. They own two homes, one of which they use for storage. Perla and I were lucky enough to be able to stay in one of their homes while she was visiting.
It was time to hit the road again and our next stop was Palenque! The three amigos were sticking together for one more city! Mike was even already planning out our days before we left San Cristóbal. We were told by the ADO bus station that the bus ride to Palenque was 7 hours from San Cristóbal. Since the bus ride was only 7 hours, if we had taken an overnight bus we would arrived in Palenque at around 5 or 6am, meaning we’d have to wander the streets until check in time, which is normally around 12pm or 1pm. So we naturally opted for the morning bus in order to arrive at a decent hour.
Right next to the entrance to the Palenque ruins we heard there is a small community located in the jungle called El Panchan. Someone had recommended we stay at a place called Jungle Palace which is located in that same community. They have no phone and don’t respond to emails so we were just going to have to show up and hope they had room.
Well we all have to get sick at least once in a foreign country and I did…
I met up with my friend Tim to go to the beach and all the sudden my stomach started to ache with pains. Thank god we were close to a hotel so I could use their bathroom. Bathrooms are hard to come by in Cuba, they are always usually missing a toilet seat, toilet paper, soap and sometimes even running water. Make sure to always carry toilet paper on you and use hotel bathrooms because they’re sure to have the most amenities.
I thought I could walk it off but it just started to get worse and worse. My doctor had prescribed me some medicine in case this happens. I had left some items with my Couchsurfing host in Mexico City because I had too many things to carry and of course I stupidly I left those pills.