Time for the non-filtered bits.
I feel like I need a nap. A like, 3 day long nap. Let me please preface this by saying that I realise how incredibly fortunate I am to have this opportunity to travel to even sit here and write this thing. I receive that message loud and clear in a humbling daily reminder that many of the people in the countries I am visiting will never even leave their home town, let alone their country. I am also very aware that my home town of Melbourne is wickedly freezing atm and everyone’s toes are teeny tiny icycles. So this blog does not come from a place of ungratefulness, it doesn’t even come from a place of unhappiness. It just comes from a place of tiredness. But how could I be this tired? How could I have the feeling that I need a holiday from my holiday?! But what kind of travel blogger would I be if I only allowed you all to see this experience through an Instagram filter (I don’t even use Instagram filters but that’s not the point).
Nearly five months, the longest I have ever been away from home. Surprisingly, this fact hasn’t really bothered me much at all. I haven’t gotten overly homesick or fed up because I have been experiencing so many new and amazing things. My tan has started to set in, but so had that feeling of being a bit ‘over it’.
So, the time had come to cross from Central to South America a great big whopping new continent. For a bit of background story we had never really planned to spend much time in Central because quite frankly, we didn’t really know much about it. We just kind of tacked on Mexico at the start of our trip and planned to scoot through the bunch of other countries we couldn’t even name. BUT, what followed were some of the most incredible experiences, diverse landscapes and amazing people that we couldn’t tear ourselves away, not only that but we didn’t want to. Between us we ended up visiting every country in Central except El Salvador. Both of us were visited by family during this time, which was amazing but at the same time a reminder of a life happening outside of our travel bubble. In the airport as we were about to board our flight to Colombia at 4 in the morning I found myself turning to Brendan and hesitantly saying ‘I kinda just want to go home.’ I was nervous for his response, neither of us had really expressed or experienced great desires to return home but to my surprise his response was ‘I know how you are feeling, I’m really tired too.’ Even hearing him say these words made me feel immediately better and realise that it was probably just a phase. But it was nice to know that I was not just being a wuss and alone in this feeling.
Traveling for a long time is so worthwhile. But it is hard. Without me even really noticing, towels, air conditioning, private bathrooms, private bedrooms, even pillows have become more of a luxury item with a price tag than an essential. Feeling guilty every meal because you were outside the budget or you subbed a salad for a hamburger to try and stick to the budget is hard. Staying in bedrooms with 12 strangers and one shitty toilet which if you’re lucky is a reasonable proximity and relatively clean is hard. Only being able to talk to your friends when the time difference aligns and you’re not on a bus and have a decent or even any wifi connection is hard. Missing milestones with friends and family is hard. Not being able to drink water out of the tap is hard. Carrying your pack in the heat and up hills to avoid a taxi fee is hard. You get the picture, lots of things about this are hard but I can confirm first-hand cross-my-heart it is worth it. But it’s also not for everyone.
We got a little reminiscent when crossing from Central to South. We were also super proud of ourselves. We had heeded many warnings when traveling this area and we had managed to scoot through relatively unscathed. We realised neither of us had been robbed, threatened or hurt (apart from the spud who stole my Havainas in a hostel). Neither of us had been majorly sick or majorly hurt (even my dodgy stomach has held up like an absolute trooper!) We haven’t had to utilize our extortionate insurance plan. We hadn’t broken up or had any major melt downs. Of course we knocked on wood and all that to not jinx ourselves, but we were feeling pretty satisfied. However during this period in true fate style the universe decided to deliver us a series of unfortunate events to make sure we weren’t getting too cocky.
It started with the mosquitoes/bed bugs/possible pox/possible allergic reaction incident of Panama City. We needed to spend a few nights here before catching our flight to Colombia, we arrived at a lovely, clean, comfortable hostel already sporting an impressive amount of sand-fly bites from the Caribbean coast. After night one I woke up to find that something or another had absolutely mauled me. I’m talking hundreds of bites. My entire body was covered. People literally winced when they looked at me, and it just seemed to get worse as the day went on. We obviously changed rooms and the hostel was super helpful and accommodating but we still don’t really know what it was. I am susceptible to mossie bites at the best of times but these were absolute welts. This was not the work of just one pesky mossie. The hostel cleaned all my clothes free of charge in case they were bed bugs but bed is ironic because sleep was not something I would be experiencing for a while. My boyfriend literally had to pin my hands down to stop me scratching at four in the morning. It was make-you-want-to-screeamm kinda itchy and I just wanted someone to run me a great big bath of calamine lotion until it went away. Thankfully after a few days they did go away and I have invested in a mosquito net which I will be religiously using.
We flew to Colombia a few days later. For confident travelers Colombia made it pretty clear within an hour of landing that this was a whollee other ball game. Our taxi driver at the airport drove two whole blocks away before insisting he had absolutely no idea where our accommodation was and when we asked him to let us out tried to charge us what we were told to pay for the 25min ride to our accomodation for all of 2 minutes. I ended up just paying him enough to let us out safely and with our belongings. Thank god for a nearby cafe with wifi and enter almighty Uber! Taxi drivers are in absolute uproar about Uber in Colombia, with cab drivers yelling at us and making punching gestures in the street for using Uber, but with the atrocious service it is clear to see why. No it is not good to put cab drivers out of work, but I don’t think there will ever come a time there is truly no use for them, and it is actually an amazing thing to see in developing countries such as Brazil and Colombia that just from owning a car locals can drive for Uber and make themselves a living. But I digress.
We enjoyed a few days in stinking hot but stinking beautiful Cartagena before heading to coastal city Santa Marta. That’s when our accommodation fun and games begun. We spent our first night in a pretty rotten hostel, all 14 in our dorm not sleeping a wink due to extreme noise and extreme heat. Toilet situations that I won’t even repeat. It was only one night but we were both pretty over hostels by this point, so we decided to find ourselves a nice air-conditioned Airbnb. We found one that looked comfy and within budget so eyes hanging out of our heads set off in the heat with our packs only to find the address we had been sent to was a closed/abandoned warehouse in a nice dodgy part of town. Lugging ourselves back to our hostel and back to wifi the hosts tried to provide us with a different address but we were hesitant to trust this information. After about 4 hours waiting and no response from either the host or the Airbnb staff we decided we probably wouldn’t be staying there. This was one of few times we had felt the pinch of not having a phone. So it’s about to get dark in a neighborhood in Colombia we’re not at all familiar and not really that comfortable with. What do you do? Find a decent enough hotel that still has availability and bunker on down for the night. Whether it was our exhaustion or our desperation or our happy go lucky ‘how bad could it be?’ attitude but neither of us thought to read the reviews and just booked what we could.
Let me tell you, this place made a sleepless sweat-pool night in a hostel or a less than inviting Airbnb look lush. It was an absolute sh*t-hole. I don’t even want to use that language but it is the only word suffice. But, we are tough travelers, we’ve endured our fair share of roughing it and the room itself was not so bad so we decided to just lock ourselves in and stick it out for the night. Fast-forward to leaving briefly to get dinner to find the ‘reception’ filled with police officers and ‘unsavory types’ for want of a better term. But still, all that yelling and commotion doesn’t effect us, let’s lock ourselves in our room and turn the tv on and try and get some rest. Before we know it there was literally a man peering in to our room which was no easy feat given the window was at ceiling height. Brendan, horrified rushed outside the second time he spotted him to find him standing on a bucket to look over the sheet we had hastily put up as a blind after we caught him peeping the first time. He chased him to find the room number of the peeping Tom’s and we were outta there. It was the first time on this trip I can honestly say I felt scared. I could barely get the Spanish out to explain to the staff and police why we were leaving. We high tailed it to a more touristy area and after a few full places we found a hostel which was an absolute haven and spent a few nights there just to recover. We even shared the dorm with an Italian guy who was able to perfectly articulate the challenges associated with long-term travel, like tiredness, feelings of uselessness from not having a job etc and even getting over seeing new things all the time. He finished it off perfectly by saying ‘don’t you kinda just want to sit down and watch an entire Netflix series?’ Yes I actually really kinda want to just do that Italy, thank you so much for noticing. So I did just that and not much else for a day or two.
So that brings me to right now. I’m writing this from my bed for tonight which happens to be a hammock with the ever important mosquito net in the middle of a pristine national park with the sound of the waves in the background. Safe to say for now our luck has turned. We have both managed to see the bright side and be thankful to be out of the situation. It has definitely brought us closer at a time we were both struggling and after a lot of respective solo travel we are both really able to appreciate that having one another here is really the biggest asset that we have. I wouldn’t change my experience for the world but I wanted to share some of the tougher sides for those who are looking to travel long term or even short term really anywhere in the world. I certainly don’t think that difficulty or danger when travelling is limited to developing countries. I will be writing a blog soon including my top travel tips for packing, maintaining sanity and budgeting. But for now I’m going to stop and enjoy this beautiful peaceful moment to build my strength for the next round of chaos!