It’s monkeys here in El Tunco and Copán

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I don’t really quite know how to describe the feeling of panic that passes through you when you quite literally have the shit scared out of you. Traveling in third world countries breeds sickness. It’s just a fact of traveling, especially in Central America, that you’re going to get sick a few times.

But I wasn’t expecting the monkey.

It was bad enough to find a bathroom. I was in the Copán Ruinas in Honduras. I had seen the monkey a ways off when I first entered the area, and then I saw the bathroom. There were two stalls that looked throughly ransacked. I knew it had to be the monkey. The bins were knocked over and the entire toilet paper roll was in the bowl. I grabbed the paper from another stall and went in, carefully avoiding the damage. It wasn’t ideal, but I wasn’t in a position to be picky. Going to the bathroom in Central America is either a desperate emergency or nothing at all. I’m pretty sure Hellen Keller said that when she went to Central America. At least the water seemed to be working.

All of the sudden, the monkey was coming in under the door. I freaked out and stomped my feet. Looks like this time going to the bathroom was going to be nothing at all. Safe to say it was one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had in the past few weeks… when I came out the monkey then proceeded to basically corner us out of the area by making high pitched noises and following us. We hightailed it out of there.

Last week we left Antigua and arrived in El Tunco, El Salvador. It was our first walking across the border experience, which was pretty interesting. Although it was not so interesting to get stuck in the bus in traffic for over an hour. El Tunco is a really great beach on the Pacific Coast. I didn’t do much here besides swim, tan and read. Since I started reading The Goldfinch I was pretty addicted and didn’t do much partying, but if you’re looking for a cheap party beach, El Tunco is the way to go. It is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen a “guy’s night,” where any guy could drink for free for a few hours. But of course the ladies had even that beat, seeing as there were bars that had ladies night every night. The smoothies (only $2.50) along the beach were great, and the food options here were also a nice break from the traditional central american food of chicken, beans and rice. It was also strange to be using the American dollar again. Anna took some surfing lessons from a friend, because the waves on this beach are pretty intense, even for the best swimmers. But I always love a beautiful beach, and the sunsets here were something spectacular.

The sunset at El Tunco beach in El Salvador.
The sunset at El Tunco beach in El Salvador.

Now we are stopped over in Copán, Honduras for two nights to see the ruins and make our way over to the other side of the continent to go diving in Utila.

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Guatemala, you got me: Antigua, Monterrico and Guatemala City

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Well, I’m back in Antigua again. It’s been almost a month since the first time I arrived here from Semuc Champay in our broken down bus. When we first got here we stayed in Tropicana, and that’s where we are back now. We came back to meet up with some of the girls from previous cities. We’ve been in Guatemala for over a month now.

We were very happy to be off the bus. The view from happy hour on the top of Tropicana Hostel in Antigua.
We were very happy to be off the bus. The view from happy hour on the top of Tropicana Hostel in Antigua.

Our route:

Flores – 3 nights
Semuc Champay – 2 nights
Antigua – 3 nights
Acatenango hike – 1 night
Antigua – 1 night
Monterrico – 2 nights
Guatemala City – 3 nights
Quetzaltenango – 2 weeks
San Pedro – 3 nights

And now we are back in Antigua. When we first got here our whole big group started drinking immediately (because that’s how you behave when you get off of an all day bus ride that broke down). We all went out that night to a bar and had a crazy night. You never know what will happen when you are in a good mood, the right mindset and with a great group of friends. A few shots of tequila might have also contributed.

Antigua is my favorite city so far that we have been to. It is a great mix of Guatemalans and expats/travelers, and it is not quite as cold as Quetzaltenango (aka Xela). Sam, one of the members of our group who we met in Semuc Champay recommended that we go to Xela to study Spanish and stay with a Guatemalan family because it is cheaper there. We paid about $140 a week for 3 meals a day, accommodation and 20 hours of Spanish classes a week.

Our whole group at a BBQ place in Antigua.
Our whole group at a BBQ place in Antigua.

When we were in Antigua the first time we had a lot of group time, going to bars and just having fun together in the hostel. I bought myself a handmade backpack, we did a coffee plantation tour (which had too much learning and not enough coffee tasting) and then Sam, Anna, Maro and I went on the Acatenango hike on Sunday night. When we got back, we stayed in a different hostel and celebrated Australia Day with some of our new Australian friends. Many of our group was splitting up by this point to go home or on their various ways, so Anna and I tagged along with Sam to go to Monterrico, a black sand beach on the west coast of Guatemala. We had to take four different chicken buses and a boat to get there, but it was definitely worth it. Especially for the last chicken bus, where the bus driver only played Black Eyed Peas music.

This was a much needed relaxation break after the volcano hike. The hostel was very cheap, only 50 Q a night, although the beach town was a little dead during the week. My favorite part of this destination was the Tortugaria. For a 10Q donation, we got to release a baby sea turtle into the sea!! I was in pure bliss and it’s safe to say my snapchat story peaked on this day. That experience alone would be worth going to Monterrico. It was hard to swim here in the ocean, though, because the surf was so intense.

After Monterrico, Anna and I decided to split up for the weekend. She went to San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, and I went to Guatemala City with Sam for the weekend.

The first night we stayed in a hostel, but we didn’t do much because we were slightly afraid to leave the hostel because it was in a bad area. The second day we met up with Julio, a guy who Sam had arranged to stay with on Couchsurfing. This ended up being a great decision because Julio took us to a lot of great local places.

We had some good street food, and went out to some very busy bars. He ordered a very dangerous drink made of Quezalteca (Rosa de Jamaica) and Red Bull. Quezalteca tastes a bit like cough medicine, but when mixed with Red Bull was actually really good. We then ended up going to a bar where we danced on the countertops and broke plates on the floor at midnight. It was wild.

The next day we went to the zoo and Julio brought us to Paseo Calaya. It was nice to be able to see the city using a car, since we didn’t really know where we were going and it was slightly more dangerous than the areas we had been to before. On our last night there we had a chill night and Sam and I ended up watching this very strange movie on MTV called Black Mirror: White Christmas. If anyone has seen this movie and understands it, please send me a message because I’m still baffled by it. Granted I didn’t watch the whole thing.

On Sunday, Sam and I split up. He got a plane to Medillin, Colombia and I got on a bus to meet Anna in Xela for our two week stay with a family learning Spanish. It’s always hard to say goodbye to someone who you end up traveling with for a while, but now I have an excuse to go to Colombia. And London.

Meet me at the border

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I’ve found moving to be the best way to make friends. Whether it’s moving to a new city, moving to a new place in an old city or simply moving across the room—if you need a new friend, moving is how you find one. But making new friends, quite literally on the border was not something I was expecting.

Anna, Nica and I met Leah, Maria and Talle in between the Belize exit customs and the Guatemalan entrance customs. There’s something primitive and exciting about crossing the border on foot, plus it gives you the chance to meet new people. We were all trying to figure out where we were supposed to catch a collective taxi to Flores, Guatemala from the Belizean border.

From left to right: Maria, Anna, Leah, me, Nica, Talle at the Guatemalan border.
From left to right: Maria, Anna, Leah, me, Nica, Talle at the Guatemalan border.

Going into Guatemala, I didn’t realize how much I would prefer it to Belize. The culture was definitely a lot different and overall everything is a bit cheaper here than in Belize.

When we all figured out how to change our money, get our passports stamped and get ourselves to Flores we all realized that we were headed to the same hostel. Serendipity. Leah was a native of Nashville, traveling solo. Maria and Talle were from Norway, traveling together on a gap year in between highschool and university.

The sunset from the hostel when we arrived in Flores.
The sunset from the hostel when we arrived in Flores.
"Do not climb up."
“Do not climb up.”

We all got into Flores where the owner of the hostel, Neil, picked us up from the island and took us by boat across the lake to his hostel that overlooked the town. Arriving just at sunset, the view was stunning. The next day we all took a tour to see Tikal, the largest Mayan ruin site in the world. It was very interesting to see because most of it was still covered in vegetation. We had a stunning view of the sunset atop one of the temples like the Mayans. Although the temple we climbed up was crumbling a bit so it was forbidden to climb it, I’m pretty sure all the tour guides let their young groups climb up. I was a bit freaked out at first, but Leah coached me through to the top.

The hostel we stayed at was pretty cool, it had a pool (!!) and we hung out with two guys who were traveling all the way from Jackson Hole to the Darien Gap on their motorcycles. Leah, Maria, Talle and Nica all parted ways before us.

Watching the sunset atop a temple like the Mayans.
Watching the sunset atop a temple like the Mayans.

Our next stop was Lanquin, a small town near Semuc Champay, which are these gorgeous natural limestone pools. Here we met Charlie and Sam, who were staying in our room. This place was pretty isolated from everything, and the bus ride there was very bumpy. The town was basically two streets, but it was a main tourist destination for people to go to Semuc Champay. Plus it was a good stopover to break up the traveling in between Flores and Antigua because it is about halfway.

Anna and I decided to do Semuc Champay on our own without a tour guide. It was nice to be able to hike at our own pace and enjoy things on our own time. Plus we heard the cave portion of the tour required you to swim through a dark cave with nothing but a candle. Not that I am afraid of the dark, but I am afraid of the dark. After exploring the park, we walked up the hill to find the hostel that we knew Maria, Talle and Leah were staying at. It was a very colorful hostel called Gringos Hostel and it was good to see them one last time before we all parted separate ways.

The next day Anna and I were to leave on a 6 a.m. shuttle to Antigua. But when we woke up, we were locked in the hostel! It was a total Nancy Drew moment (“It’s locked”). After a few minutes of panicking and trying every key I could find in the office, I failed at playing Nancy Drew, and we woke up the owner so he could let us out.

Our shuttle was supposed to leave at 6 a.m. and arrive in Antigua at 2 p.m. This definitely didn’t happen, but I can’t say I’m mad about it. We ended up on the friendliest bus, making friends with Charlie and Sam who had been in our room, along with Es, Kevin and Samantha, three buddies traveling together from Las Vegas. The day started out bad for one of our other fellow travelers, name unknown. He was very upset that the shuttle wasn’t directly going to San Pedro, and that it was stopping in Antigua first. We all later woke up to him shouting to stop the bus because he dropped his cell phone on the bus and it FELL OUT THROUGH A HOLE IN THE BACK OF THE BUS 10 KM BACK. This nutso guy then proceeded to get off the bus with his stuff to go back and look for his phone.

We all had a good laugh at him, but then karma bit us in the ass a few hours later when our bus broke down on the side of the road for two and a half hours. It was fun though. Sofia from Chile busted out a bottle of vodka and we all passed it around as we talked and socialized. This was also when a strange man barked at me and it was the funniest moment of my life, but definitely one of those things where you had to be there. By the time we got a new bus (which was smaller than the first) Sam had convinced us all to stay at the same hostel in Antigua because it had a hot tub (!!!!!!!!!!!!). Warm water in Central America is a luxury one cannot pass up.

Throughout my trip I have been so grateful for all the friends I have made along the way, no matter the random ways we have met. Shout out to all you lovely, inspiring people!

The bus ride(s) with the best group!
The bus ride(s) with the best group!

Here’s a little diddy about San Ignacio

Thousand Foot Falls.

San Ignacio was a breath of fresh city air. While Caye Caulker and Placencia were gorgeous beaches, it was nice to feel like we were really traveling, not just on an extended vacation. Anna, Nica and I arrived around mid-day. We were planning on meeting an expat from Washington State named Ariana.

Our whole couchsurfing group going to the Pine Reserve.
Our whole couchsurfing group going to the Pine Reserve.

She showed up at our hostel just after we arrived to make plans for the next day. We were to meet her at the bus stop at 8 a.m. and her and her husband Smoky were going to take us to the Pine Ridge Nature Reserve for swimming and a barbeque, where there were caves, pools and waterfalls. She also showed us where to get some cheap local eats. Fry jacks for only 3 BZE.

We then hustled because I really wanted to do a sunset cave tubing tour. We had to take a bus and get to the tour center by 3. It was 3:10 and we were still on the bus. By the time we got dropped off on the side of the highway, we realized we were going to have to run the mile to get to the center. So with our swim suits and our water shoes, we ran. We made it there around 3:30 and it just so happened that a couple from Maine also got there late. But we were allowed to go into the park… and the couple even gave us a ride back to San Ignacio afterward. It ended up working out better than we expected. Inside the caves for tubing was really cool, except for the part when the guide made us all turn off our headlamps. It seemed like a social experiment to see who would freak out first and turn theirs back on. I don’t remember who broke first, but later we all agreed that we had wanted to turn ours on.

Cave tubing with Anna, Nica, and the Blisses.
Cave tubing with Anna, Nica, and the Blisses.

Later that night was a fun one in the hostel. We all cooked dinner and drank rum, while Anna and Brandon, a Canadian guy we met, made up goofy songs on the ukulele (which neither of them can play). The next day we woke up and hopped in the back of Ariana’s truck bed with a few other Canadians from couchsurfing, and we were off.

It was quite the bumpy ride in the back of the truck bed on the roads filled with potholes. Our butts took quite a beating, but when we got to the cave, our first destination, it was totally worth it. The cave was huge, and there was no one in it.

After the cave we drove a little way back into the reservation to go to Rio on Pools to barbeque. The best part about this day was that we weren’t with a huge tour group, just Ariana and her husband and his friend, so we had the whole place to ourselves for most of the day until the tours came around 3 in the afternoon. We had lots of time to climb over all the rocks, although Anna and I both had some wipeouts.

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Our last stop was Big Rock Falls. It was really great hanging out with Ariana the few days we were in San Ignacio, she showed us around and we all became good friends. The next day we went to some Mayan ruins and then swimming again. She told us all about how she had been traveling just like us, but when she got to San Ignacio and the Cayo District she just fell in love and stayed there. Then she met her husband and got married and has been living there ever since.

Brandon, Anna, Nica and I atop Xunantunich.
Brandon, Anna, Nica and I atop Xunantunich.

But sitting still was not for us… we were too excited for the next stop: Guatemala!

Hiking Volcan Acatenango in Guatemala

Anna at the summit.

Hiking up 4000 meters to the summit of a volcano has gone down at the top of my list of things to never do ever again. While I’m glad I did it, and I sure am proud, the overnight hike to the top of Volcan Acatenango was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the view sure was breathtaking.

The sunrise from the top of Acatenango in Guatemala.
The sunrise from the top of Acatenango in Guatemala.
Hiking on day one.
Hiking on day one.

Initially when we were booking it, I didn’t ask too many questions. I think this might have been a good thing seeing as I probably would not have done it had I known how difficult it would be ahead of time. At such a high altitude, you need good lungs and lots of balance, both of which I don’t have. We booked an overnight hike, where we would hike 6 hours up to our campsite near the top of the volcano, make dinner, sleep and then wake up at four a.m. to hike two more hours to the summit. In theory, it sounds fun.

Within ten minutes of the hike, I distinguished myself as the clear weakest link in our group. I was constantly dragging behind, struggling to breathe with the help of my trusty inhaler. But I decided I was going to do it, no matter how long it took me. Our group would stop every thirty minutes or so to wait for me to catch up, but by the time we got to the top I was exhausted. We made a fire to warm ourselves, ate some food, including a Snickers bar, which was Anna’s brilliant idea. We passed out shortly after the (stunning) sunset view of the other two nearby volcanoes, one of which was active, although unfortunately had just erupted a few days before we were there. We all went to bed around 6:30 p.m., exhausted and exhilarated, but not before putting on our glamorous rented coats. Personally, I think mine made me look like a nerdy 80’s boy.

Sleeping atop a volcano was more creepy than poetic. We all woke up constantly with dreams and impressions that someone was talking outside the tents caused by the raging winds outside. At four a.m. our guide woke us up to continue on the hike, this time without our packs. We stumbled up the rest of the volcano in the dark, racing the sun to the summit. Scrambling up volcanic sands in the dark, we cursed ourselves for signing up for this hike. For every two steps forward, we would fall back two. But when you turned around to glimpse the sun slowly creeping over the clouds on the horizon it was indescribably beautiful. I even managed to crack a smile with my cracked, stained-black lips.

Once we got to the top, it was so windy you could hardly open your eyes. Then it was time for a little comedic bit I like to refer to as “Mollie Takes a Tumble Down a Mountain.” Here’s a visual representation of what I looked like for four hours climbing down from the top of the volcano with my pack on.

At one point the guide took pity on me and took a few things from me to make my pack lighter, although I can’t say it helped much. For some reason our entire group was in shambles compared to everyone else. At one point someone else even asked us why we were so dirty. But I don’t know how she managed to be wearing eyeliner at the top of a volcano. Our group looked like we came straight from the trenches. It’s been two days since the hike, and I’m still sore. But overall, the hike was a bucket list experience.

Me at the summit, 4000 m up.
Me at the summit, 4000 m up.

 

How local is too local?

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In Lonely Planet, Seine Bight is described as “Worth the trip” and “a small Rastafarian town near Placencia with cheap eats.” We never had plans to go down to Placencia or Seine Bight, which is in the south of Belize, until someone on couchsurfing reached out to Anna and said we should come stay with him. Since we had such a positive experience with all our other couchsurfing in Belize, we didn’t think anything of it and hopped on a bus to go down there.

The view from the chicken bus to Placencia.
The view from the chicken bus to Placencia.
Playing cards at the bus station in Dangriga during our four hour wait.
Playing cards at the bus station in Dangriga during our four hour wait.

When we arrived after a long day of traveling and many hours spent waiting in a bus station (helpful hint, don’t travel by bus on Sundays without taking the express bus), we were a little confused as to where we were going. Once we found RJ our host we realized we were getting quite the local experience. His house was more of a shack set on the beach, with no electricity or running water. So we set out to find some food and a bathroom. Lonely Planet did not disappoint, as we found burritos for 3 BZE, which equals $1.50 USD. After dinner we went to a local bar outside where people were singing karaoke. We talked with the host and his friend Philip, who also lived in Seine Bight and works at a dive shop. Later I got to sing California Girls, which was pretty funny considering my ear was still kind of messed up and I couldn’t hear myself. So who knows how I did, but it was still fun. We then drove into Placencia to go to a different karaoke bar. That night Nica, Anna and I slept three on a bed, a little squished, but warm and snuggly. It was quite a sight to see in the morning, but we were on guard staying in place that was so out of our comfort zone. It was more comfortable mentally to be uncomfortable physically.

Nica and I asleep on the bed that all three of us shared.
Nica and I asleep on the bed that all three of us shared.

The next day we hitchhiked back into Placencia to go to the beach. We splurged at a more touristy restaurant on the beach. The beaches in Placencia are amazing, probably one of the best I’ve been to and it’s not very crowded. The resorts there looked very nice, too. Later that day RJ cut open some coconuts and we drank coconut rum from them on the beach. It was interesting and sad to see that the tourist beach in Placencia was so nice, but Seine Bight was only four miles away and the beach and town was covered in trash. We sure were getting the local experience… but how local is too local? In a place that is considered a third world country, we learned from this experience that safety and comfort are privileges a lot of locals, especially women, can’t afford.

Hitchhiking to the beach in Placencia.
Hitchhiking to the beach in Placencia.
Janelle braiding my hair in Seine Bight. It took three hours.
Janelle braiding my hair in Seine Bight. It took three hours.

While we were in Seine Bight, our host’s cousin said she would braid my hair for me. Since it took three hours, we chatted a bit and she mentioned that she had four kids and she was only 26, unmarried, with different fathers. One thing we noticed was that although there were a lot of nice men that we met, most of them did expect something from you the longer you hung out with them or were polite to them. But for some local women, the privilege to say no and go stay somewhere else is not available to them, whereas Nica, Anna and I could do just that. So we did.

On our last night in Placencia, we stayed in town at a hotel in a private room for the first time so far on our trip. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to not feel obligated to anyone for anything other than the night’s rent, especially when it’s only $9 USD each.

A sign at the Tipsy Tuna in Placencia.
A sign at the Tipsy Tuna in Placencia.

Trusting your trip

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It feels good to trust people. It’s a basic form of human connection, and it’s a necessary evil for living and especially for traveling. You have to trust that your luggage will make it to your destination as you drop if off with the airline. You have to trust that you remembered everything you need or will be able to find it at your destination. It’s not easy. It’s scary to trust other people. It’s hard, even when you’re actively trying.

From the very beginning of when I started telling people I was going to Central America, most people from back home thought I was crazy and/or made jokes about me dying etc. Hell, for a second when we landed in Belize City even I thought we were crazy. When we asked someone for help finding the buses into the city center, one of the customs officers told us we were too pretty to take the bus; we needed to get a cab “considering the time of night.” It was 4:30 p.m., not even beginning to get dark. But we trusted him. We got a cab from the airport to our host’s house for the night. His name was Ian and he was a local social studies and biology teacher. He was a fabulous host who took us to the grocery store, and made us a traditional Belize dinner while introducing us to local Belize “punta” music and telling us all about the history of how Belize culture formed. He also explained why they don’t speak exclusively Spanish with extensive background on The Battle of St. George’s Caye, a battle where the Belizeans and British used the coral reef as a defense mechanism against the Spanish.

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Me and Ian, our host in Belize City, on a walk to get groceries.

I’ve finally found some time to blog after being inspired by Bruna, who gave me another lesson in trusting. Bruna is a Brazilian girl who I met last night while I was out. I instantly took a liking to her genuine personality. But when we ran into her today on the island she seemed upset. She needed to finish writing a paper that was due a week before she thought it would be and the island we are staying on, Caye Caulker, only had one internet cafe that was outrageously priced considering the length of time she would need to use it to write her 10 page paper for graduate school back in Brazil. So I decided to trust her and lend her my laptop for a few hours.

My laptop so far has been the single most regretful item I have brought on this trip. We have been here for five days, and I haven’t used it once up until now. But boy have I worried about it. I worried about it when I flew to Austin, I worried about it when we left our host’s apartment to go get groceries, I worried about it when we took a water taxi from Belize City to Caye Caulker and I had to check my bag with the boating company, and boy has it also made me sweat. Adding my laptop to my backpack has made it significantly heavier since I originally planned my backpack and after two days I already have looked into spending $200 to FedEx it back to the States. If you’re planning on traveling for a while and don’t need your laptop for work, I highly recommend leaving it at home. You will save yourself a lot of stress and make your pack a lot less heavy.

But after seeing how happy Bruna was when I let her borrow it, I realized maybe it is not so bad to have it with me after all. I have travel insurance, so yes I do need to worry about losing it or breaking it, but the worse that can happen is only that. I lose it or I break it. I backed up my things before I left, so all I would be losing out was faster typing time for blogging.

So much has happened on this trip in only five short days. We learned about Belize culture and ate a traditional Belize dinner home cooked by our host Ian, we felt victorious when we avoided a water taxi scam, we dove 130 feet underwater in the Blue Hole and swam with sharks, I got a (little) sunburned, Anna had an amazing 23rd birthday celebrating with new friends from all over the world, we drank some free rum punch from the hostel, we watched the sunset over the ocean in a canoe with a new traveling buddy and we have already been having the time of our lives.

That’s not to say there haven’t been a few low points. I broke my nasal spray for diving and irritated my ears on our dive to the Blue Hole because we had to descend too quickly for my ears to adjust. Since we were going to 130 feet, and you can only be down that low for about 8 minutes, our dive master only planned for us to have 3 minutes to descend so that we could have 5 minutes by the stalactites before we had to start ascending. Even now writing about it, it seems like enough time, but when you are struggling to equalize the pressure in your ears, it did not feel like enough time. But diving the Blue Hole was definitely a bucket list experience. We used Aqua Scuba since most of the other outfitters on the island were already booked for the time we were here. We got to do 3 dives for $480 BZE, which is about $240. While it was a bit pricier than other dive excursions I’ve gone on, it seemed to be a pretty standard price for the three dives on the island. Considering it was a 2 hour boat ride out to the Blue Hole, I would say it was overall worth it. We were also provided with breakfast and lunch and water and dive gear.

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So far this trip has been fun and exhausting. We leave Caye Caulker tomorrow for Placencia and then on westward to Guatamala. The most exciting part about staying in “Dirty McNasty’s” hostel, aside from the homemade omelettes in the morning, has definitely been getting to meet people who are going the same route as us on their backpacking trip. We’ve picked up another girl who is going to be traveling with us for awhile. Her name is Nica, and her and Anna randomly bonded because she is from Martha’s Vineyard and Anna worked there last summer. Small world.

I’m just figuring out how to use my GoPro, but if you want to see more pictures from our trip follow @shejustlikedtogo on Instagram! For now it’s time for me to sleep. Tonight is my first night taking my malaria medication, which apparently gives you crazy dreams. Wish me luck!

Planning and packing for Central America

With just one week until my backpacking trip to Central America, I’ve garnered a few packing tips for anyone planning a month or longer trip to Central America. With a trip like this, you have to worry about more than just making sure you bring enough underwear. Some of the most important things are far from obvious.

Items I am packing: GoPro for diving pictures, inhaler for asthma, headlamp, Merrill walking shoes, ibuprofen, chapstick, Eno hammock, outlet adapter, combination lock for hostels, fast-drying towel, daypack, Pali Hawaiian sandals.
Items I am packing: GoPro for diving pictures, inhaler for asthma, headlamp, Merrill walking shoes, ibuprofen, chapstick, Eno hammock, outlet adapter, combination lock for hostels, fast-drying towel, daypack, Pali Hawaiian sandals.

Your health

Most countries in Central America recommend or require you to have shots before entering the country. You can find a list of what shots you need on the Center For Disease Control and Prevention website. If you are planning on getting your vaccinations and medicines at your primary care physician, make sure you call ahead and ask if they have them. Many physician’s offices do not carry some of these vaccines. You can also look into travel clinics in your area. I recommend Passport Health. They do not accept insurance, but many of the costs can be submitted to your insurance for reimbursement. They tend to have availability within the week, so you can get in on a moment’s notice like I did, but I don’t recommend it. Many shots take 10+ days to kick in, so you want to get them as soon as possible after planning your trip. You can also visit your local department of health to see if they offer travel vaccinations.

I waited until the week before my trip and the clinics in my area were all experiencing a shortage of yellow fever vaccine. Do not repeat this mistake.

Your feet

My new Pali Hawaiian sandals. Perfect for the beach and walking around town.
My new Pali Hawaiian sandals. Perfect for the beach and walking around town.

As I’ve gotten older (feels weird to say this) I have finally come to appreciate my feet. As someone who is very into fashion and has been all about the latest in shoe wear trends, I have been learning to compromise when it comes to travel shoes. I’m packing one pair of slightly ugly, but very functional hiking shoes, a pair of fancy everyday sandals, and a supportive pair of waterproof sandals. I chose Merril hiking shoes, Sam Edelman Trina sandals and Pali Hawaiian sandals from Hallmark. The last ones are my perfect find! Supportive, squishy (for your feet), cute, neutral to match, and so cheap! At just $10 a pair I can always sacrifice this pair of shoes for shoes I buy along the way. I’m still debating on whether to bring a pair functional heels for fancier nights, but I have yet to see my pack weight.

Your pack

While REI is probably what comes to mind first for packs, I was not looking to spend over $200 on a pack. I found mine at Sports Authority, which has other brands for much cheaper prices. I went with a 55 L pack, because I have limited upper body strength and am known for overpacking/filling my bag to the brim. If you’re also guilty of this habit I suggest buying a smaller pack so you don’t pack more than you can carry.

Don’t know where to travel? Call a friend

Anna Edge and Mollie Barnes at the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills in Austin, Texas.

Today I looked up where Belize was on a map. Today I bought a one way ticket to Belize. It’s been 12 hours and I still haven’t told anyone. It’s like this thrilling, crazy secret that I don’t want to tell anyone about. There’s something so exhilarating about knowing your life is about to take a drastic turn when others don’t. Like the plot twist to your own life, the opposite of dramatic irony.

I’m slightly worried that some people are going to be mad… angry even. But I do not want to passively let life happen to me. My goal is to actively and fiercely pursue the life I want. And I want to go…lots of places.

Belize wasn’t my idea. It was my roommate Anna’s. I’m currently living in a loft above a bar on historic 6th Street in Austin, Texas. I think I would describe it as somewhere in between a 1950s boarding house for unmarried women and a sanctuary for women scorned. We all found it on Craigslist, but the listing might as well have advertised only to 22-year-old women, all recently single, and not by choice because that’s what we all are. But we’ve bonded over that and helped each other overcome it.

Anna Edge and Mollie Barnes at the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills in Austin, Texas.
Anna Edge and Mollie Barnes at the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills in Austin, Texas.

Anna had recently moved back to Texas from Martha’s Vineyard after getting dumped by the boy she moved there to be with. She is ready to leave Texas, her home state, and the US, her home country. It didn’t take long to convince me. I’ve always been pretty flexible with my traveling when it comes to new places. If I haven’t been there, I’m generally down to go. And considering I have never been to Belize or further south than Mexico, I was DTG (down to go).

If you can’t decide where to go, my best advice is to decide who to go with. Finding a perfect travel buddy is generally more important than a perfect destination because with the right buddy, any destination can be perfect.

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”

Stay tuned for updates from our trip to Central America!

I didn’t know where to go, so I just went

JustGo

My whole life I have grown up, always knowing where to go. Go to school, go to sports practice, go to band practice, go to college, go study abroad, go finish your degree. Go go go.

It’s easy to go when you are happy. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have been mostly happy for my entire life. Until this year.

This year has been… not quite a disaster, but not quite not a disaster either. I got my heart broken on my birthday in early February, and after that I was lost. Heartbreak was not the worst thing that could ever happen to me, but it was the worst thing that has happened to me. My first heartbreak left me scrambling to find meaning in everything and nothing. Like a rat in a maze with no exits, I retraced each path to see where I might have gone wrong, how I might have made it work. But there was nothing.  So I settled for finding meaning in nothing.

I have always been the type of person with an intense personal motivation, but after that happened, I floundered. It didn’t help that this also coincided with me graduating college. Not only was I trying to decide what direction to go with my personal life, but also with my professional life. Not knowing where to go or what to do, I felt simply stuck where I was in Columbia, Mo.

Finally at graduation, my mom saw what I couldn’t see—I needed to get out—and after graduation weekend she took my clothes with her back to my childhood home, knowing that wherever my clothes were, I would be. I moved home.

I spent the summer based out of St. Louis, nostalgically traveling back to Columbia and taking some of my things with me each time; a slow, painful goodbye to a life I wasn’t sure I was ready to let go, even as it forcefully tried to shake me.

When it finally did, I drifted.

I went on a family vacation to the beach in Gulf Shores. I went on a trip with my friend Mary Cait to New Orleans. I went to Los Angeles with a coworker for a conference. I went diving in Arkansas with a club from school. I took an oil painting class with senior citizens. I tried to move on. I did. But grief was always there when I turned the corner, like an old familiar neighbor that I loved to hate. It was there when I went to the grocery store we went to once. When I stopped at the gas station we used to walk to. When I went in my backyard and saw the swing we sat on. I even found it in places we had never been to together.

But as easy as it was to let grief consume me, there came a time when I realized that it was becoming a little too comfortable. It was a little too comfortable to go to the restaurants I used to go to with him and sadly remember when we were happy there. So as the summer living at home with my parents drew to a close, I realized that grief was becoming more than comfortable. In fact, I was actually frightened of leaving those places and those feelings behind. Even though they were painful—they were ours, they were mine, and they were all I had. I could see other people moving on and creating new happy memories, but being sad was so comfortable to me that I was deathly afraid anything else, even happiness.

So when a company offered me a job in Austin, Texas—a place I literally couldn’t point out to you on a map before I set out on the journey—I went. It didn’t really matter where, I just had to go. So I just went.