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.
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.
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.
The next morning I set out to go to Río Largatos solo.
Río Lagartos is a town located on an inlet from the Gulf of México. It’s name means river of the crocodile because the river is well, filled with crocodiles. It is also home to hundreds of bird species. While this is all beautiful and interesting my main reason for wanting to visit the town was to see La Playa de Las Coradas.
La Playa de Las Coradas is a bright pink salt lake in between Río Lagartos and the Gulf of México. The water is a shade of pink from a crustacean called “artemia salina”. The best way to describe a crustacean is something between a shrimp and a lobster. Artemia salina absorbs the pigment of their prey, in this case the pink microorganisms living in the water. The same is true for the flamingos that feed on it, this is why flamingos are pink!
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.
After spending a week in Puerto Escondido, it was finally time to hit the road again. Helena would take a flight to Mexico City and then eventually to Lima, Peru. Bernarda would go North as well, but to Oaxaca. Nelly and I had decided to head east to San Cristóbal de Las Casas on an overnight bus. Before leaving our hostel for the bus station, we met a guy named Mike from New Zealand who was on the same bus as us and staying at the same hostel in San Cristobal.
We boarded the bus to San Cristóbal at 7pm. It was a 13-hour bus ride that arrived at 8am. ADO seems to be the only bus company in Southern Mexico. Our tickets were $500 MXN (about $25 USD). Most of the backpackers I’ve met while traveling seem to prefer overnight buses. By traveling at night you don’t lose a day of exploring or have the added expense of a hostel for the night. I, however, am not a fan. I have never been able to sleep on an overnight bus and I just end up feeling groggy and out of it the next day.
Continuing with my three S plan, I set up surfing lessons with a company called Vidasurf Ecotours, which was recommended by my hostel. The owner of the company and surf instructor, Antonio, picked us up in the morning for our surfing lessons. It was $300 MXN (about $15 USD) per person. We then headed to La Punta, a beach about a 10 minute drive away from our hostel. La Punta is a great spot for beginning surfers because the waves are small. Playa Zicatela just down the road is where all the best of the best go to surf; the waves are much larger and stronger there.
Antonio wanted each of us to carry our own boards over our heads with one hand holding either side. Before waiting for his instructions, I placed my board on my head. The weight of the board snapped my neck back and to the side. I heard my neck crack. “Oh my God… I broke my neck,” I thought. Obviously, I didn’t because I wasn’t dead but I couldn’t turn my head to the left! I was in excruciating pain! I generally like to think everything in life happens for a reason. What was the reason for this?! I kept thinking, “Why, God, why?” Surfing was on my checklist of things to learn and now that I’m learning, this happens! What was the reason? What’s the point?!
After Guanajuato, I spent the night in Mexico City with my friends Cinthia and Perla before catching a morning bus to Oaxaca. The 7 hour bus ride would be my fourth this week and I was exhausted from traveling around so much. I decided I would stay in Oaxaca for a week and take a Spanish and cooking course. In addition to rest, I needed a little more structure to my day and I also desperately wanted to improve my Spanish.
Just as I was about to doze off on the bus a rock was thrown at one of the windows! It immediately shattered into a million little pieces. Everyone quickly moved to the other side of the bus as the shattered pieces of glass began to fly into the bus. The bus driver knew the window had been broken but didn’t stop. I’m not sure if it was because there was no where to pull over or if it was because he didn’t want to stop anywhere near the person who had broken our window. Welcome to Oaxaca…?
For the 30 days I was in Cuba, I had budgeted to spend about $2,000 CUC. I ended up spending only $1,300 CUC. I was able to cut costs by sharing a room, cooking meals in my casa and I also took advantage of traveling like a local whenever possible.
I did however, buy meals or drinks for my Cuban friends so, that did add a little extra to my trip expenses. I was happy to do it though being so under budget.
During the 7 days I was in Santiago de Cuba, I can honestly say I didn’t do much – there also isn’t that much to do. My days consisted of sleeping in late, taking a few cold showers, going out to eat and taking naps. I got into a routine of getting a daily cappuccino at my favorite coffee place, Wen (for only .45 cents), then trying to do at least one thing with my day.
I’ve now learned that once you’ve been traveling for awhile many of the things that use to be important to you stop being important. I just don’t have the energy to care about things that don’t directly impact my trip. As I’m writing this, I’m on day 43 of my trip – I don’t wear makeup anymore or really put that much effort into my appearance. Just thinking about how I wanted to bring my eyebrow dye on my trip makes me laugh – even though they really need it.