Matt's point of view in black // Clo's point of view in pink
I woke up as the sun rose brightly over the creek, blinked sleepily and looked out the back window of Wilbur. I was more than a little surprised to see a herd of goats nibbling the grass, flowers and shrubs all around us. Lots of adorable little baby goats, too. I coughed quietly, figuring this might be one of those times where Clo would be okay with being woken up in the morning. I think the sunlight in her eyes did most the job already, but her expression changed from slightly annoyed that I was making noise to being very excited as she saw all the animals outside.
It was rather adorable and pastoral, this little farm and camping area in the middle of the jungle outside of San Antonio Las Cuevas. There were about forty adult goats and at least ten or fifteen kids. Then after a few minutes of watching them, Clotilde started to quietly cry. One of the goat kids was limping around, as one of his rear legs was injured. We come across a lot of animals in our trip, but rarely are they wandering peacefully outside of our vehicle. Mostly they are on the side of the road as we drive by; cows, horses, dogs, pigs, they all wander along the side and often times across our path.
This was such a great vision of nature / animals doing their life right in front of us. I almost felt like a little spy enjoying their morning routine without disturbing them. I definately became more « emotional » over small things durig this trip. And also nature strikes me more and more as beautiful, strong and vulnerable at the same time. Feeling and emotions that are pretty new to me, and that I am still trying to tame.
We had arrived at night (one of the only three times we’ve driven after dark), spent about an hour trying to find the place, and then finally another twenty minutes waiting at the gate yelling “hola!” and waiting for the gentlemen to come down from the main house and open the gate. Then setting up Wilbur in the dark, with mud and wet branches and tall grass all around. It had been a long day of driving, waiting hours in line at a small ferry crossing, sweltering temperatures and trying to figure out where to stay.
Clo and I react very differently in stressful situations, and us being stressed at the same time is usually a recipe for a fight and a day or two of sulking. A big part of our regular planning involves things that reduce our stress and make our day to day activities as simple and straightforward as possible. When I am stressed, I prefer to be quiet and think through things more carefully (including making sure I know why I am stressed). This sort of withdrawal into myself is the opposite of what makes Clo comfortable (when she is stressed), so you can see how it can cause some conflict.
It’s very well described. And I think this trip is making us understand each other more and more. And better. There is no escape in the arguments. You have to understand the other or the same situation happens again and again. Wouldn’t matter if we were not 24/7 together, you just get over it and even forget about it, go for a drink with friends or go to work and focus on something else. Well there is no forgetting about it now ! You have to deal with the incidents right away to keep going with your day. Problems need to be resolved right away, no escape.
Since we began our travels in Guatemala, the trip has started feeling a little different to me. On one hand, it started out to feel like we were in the wild again after a few months in the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize. The first night we spent in Guatemala was inside parque nacional Yaxha, alongside the lake of the same name. We were completely by ourselves in the parking area, though not totally alone as the signs said it was prohibited to swim due to crocodiles in the water. Okay, no swimming. I also used a light before I went pee that night.
The Yaxha ruins themselves were also impressive, but by this time I was getting a bit tired of old Mayan cities. The first five or so were quite impressive (and some are very uniquely awesome), but they started to run together a bit. As we headed to Tikal, Clo and I were seriously considering skipping it altogether due to the fact it was yet another ruin and the most expensive of any we would have visited. Luckily we decided to still go!
As with most of the ruins we visited, we were there as the gates opened at 6am and even though this is the most visited of the Mayan sites, we were the first tourists inside (most tourists arrive by tour bus an hour or more later). For someone who is normally very unhappy to be awake before 9, Clo was extremely happy to wake up at 5:30 to go start exploring the ruins right at 6am. It was great we did! We saw the sunrise over part of the central ruins, were alone climbing to the top of most of the pyramids and left just as the biggest tour groups were arriving. It’s a lot of fun to explore new places with Clo like this, especially so early in the morning when I tend to have the most energy.
Very happy we did indeed. I think we are so spoiled that after 20 Mayas ruins, we were like… arghh one more, should we really ? A ruin is a ruin… once we have seen one you have seen them all. But really they are all different and majestic in their own way. And how not to feel overwhelmed by those cities from hundreds of years ago. The creativity, the architecture, the power, the shape, the organisation, the beauty … walking on the steps of those people that build those cities. It makes you feel very insignificant and put in perspective everything around you.
This is still very different than before we started our trip over nine months ago (amazing to think we've been traveling for that long already!). Clotilde has been a very different, relaxed and I think a happier person for most of these last nine months. It's amazing and fascinating to see how she has changed. I’m not sure if it’s the trip itself, being more active and occupied, or whatever; but it’s very noticeable. Besides things like seeming to enjoy waking up early to her less irritated way of dealing with bug bites, there are many things where she seems to have changed.
I often wonder how I've changed. I like to think that I am a rather self-aware person, but at the same time I also know that frequently I am totally oblivious to the impact my actions have on others. Especially when Clo and I are together 24x7, small things can become a big deal. I think we’ve learned a lot on how to quickly diffuse tense situations between the two of us, and I know I’ve personally worked a lot on knowing when to swallow my words and not make a difficult situation even worse.
We sometimes have causes for conflict when we arrive at a new place. Assuming we don’t arrive sweaty/tired/hungry, I would prefer to (in a neat and orderly fashion) set my things down in the room (or get Wilbur ready for the night) and then go find a coffee shop and/or sit and watch people. Clo often has a different idea and often wants to go do things! Right away! When we arrived in Flores after Tikal and she wanted to go for a “short walk” I knew this actually could mean up to an hour of wandering around. It’s not like I dislike exploring a city, but I just have a different preference as to when I do it. Taking a step back for a moment, this is actually one of my favorite traits of Clo; to just do it! It can be uncomfortable at first (for me) but often it ends up as a good experience.
I think I get excited faster than Matt. Maybe not faster, but I let it show more, and when we arrive in a new place I very often want to see it all right away !! Like if it was gonna go away ! haha. I always think we can sleep later. I like this enthusiasm about myself, I try to calm it down sometimes to adapt to Matt more peacefull « take your time » style. But we now pretty often find a good balance about it. Or I just go by myself on the spot !!
We really enjoyed our time in Flores, which turned out to be a super touristy. Lots of Americans too, which surprised me a bit. I didn’t realize how popular Guatemala was with folks from the states. Mainly backpackers, but plenty of “yoga lifestyle travelers”, which as you can probably picture is a bit of a stereotype. Its also rather accurate, and they are there in all age ranges! Some may not even have left since the 70s or 80s. As we moved south from Flores and arrived at Semuc Champey, it became more and more evident.
Even if there are things where Clo and I are very different, there are even more things on which we agree. One of them is our “style” of traveling. Not related to the way/speed/etc we travel, but our personal style. We both value being clean, dressed in non-smelly clothes, respecting the local culture (covering shoulders, no short shorts, no clothes with lots of holes, no offensive T-shirts, etc), being polite and remembering we are guests in the home(s) and countries of others. I think this has been a big help when we are crossing borders, getting stopped by police looking for bribes or asking people if we can park in their back yard. Unfortunately, I think I am ruining this a bit now with my as-of-yet-cut hair.
It sort of made me fit in more with other tourists in Semuc, though. Lots of backpackers and other tourists there, and for good reason. It was spectacular! We spent a couple days and enjoyed the magnificent scenery. After that we were on our way to Quetzaltenago (henceforth referred to as “Xela” as it’s called by locals, pronounced “Chella”) and for three days we didn’t see any tourist (or tourist vehicles) at all. The road there was total shit. For a solid three days we had the worst roads of our trip. Dirt (if we were lucky, it was the good parts), rocks, steep inclines and descents, terrible dust, big trucks and an average speed of about 15mph (25kmph).
Semuc was for me a kind of revelation about nature. Since the beginning of the trip we have seen some amazing scenery, but this place blew away all expectations. After 1 hour hike all of the sudden the jungle opens and offers you the most beautiful creation. For he first time I had that weird little tummy butterfly feeling. Almost dizzy ; how is this real, how is nature itself with no artifice so beautiful. I still can't really put words on it. Pure magnificence.
It was great to arrive in Xela; we spent over a week here, in a few multi-day segments between our volcano hiking activities. In the next ten days, we climbed five volcanoes. We started with a small hike to the sacred Mayan lake Chicabal, joining another overlanding couple from San Diego we met in Xela. The next trek was one of my top three of all time; Tajumulco, the highest mountain, volcano and peak in Central America at 4,220m (13,850ft). At the base of the mountain we met a couple of backpackers from California (a firefighter and a nurse) and ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the afternoon, then hiked up with them the next day. What a hike! Nothing crazy difficult, just long. The night was very cold though, almost dropped down to freezing. And the views… just incredible. Sharing it with Clo was very special.
Seeing how Clo has and is constantly evolving her perspective and opinion on nature and the outdoors has also been very special to be part of and observe. Five (or even three or four) years ago, there is no way in hell Clo would have been hiking with me and said, “don’t look over here!” and then squatted down to take a pee. Now it’s not even worth talking about, she’s so comfortable about it. Ok, maybe a little worth talking about since I am mentioning it here, but it’s no big deal now. She’s even mentioned once or twice she likes trees! I’m not sure she would want this fact published, but I swear it happened.
This is something I am still trying to wrap my head around. Something happened up there. Like in Semuc. Maybe it’s all that sweating while hiking that plays with my brain but I feel privileged that Mother Earth is offering me such a spectacle : its naked and untouched beauty just for my eyes to admire.
After Tajumulco, back to Xela for a couple days to rest our tired legs, then on to Santa Maria! You can look it up if you want to know about it. It was really pretty. While I may have gotten tired of seeing old Mayan cities and temples, I will never get tired of climbing mountains (or volcanoes) and being out in nature. Just like the connections between humans and animals, I believe there is an even more powerful connection between humans and “the great outdoors”. The ability of nature to make me feel insignificant, inspired, in awe and completely relaxed and calm all at once is something I treasure.
It’s also sad when nature gets spoiled by humans. Even as horrible as something huge in scale like climate change, I find it even more sad when you see a very clear and in-your-face example like Lake Atitlan. We went here to climb a few more volcanoes (San Pedro and Indian’s Nose) around this volcanic lake, and while the lake was gorgeous it has gotten so polluted (not that you can see it visually) it is right on the point of ecological collapse. If this happens (which seems likely), hundreds of species are at risk as well as the livelihood of everyone who lives in the area and relies on tourism and the lake for their income. It’s a sad reminder of how tourism can really mess things up. And we’re here contributing to it; hopefully not a lot but the irony of driving up in our gas-guzzling truck and say it’s sad to see nature destroyed is not lost on me.
After a few very relaxing and strenuous days in Panajachel (one of only cities around the lake accessible by vehicle), we headed towards Antigua. We planned to do the second tallest (and reportedly most difficult) peak in Guatemala, Acatenago, but Clo had a bit of a flu and cold so we just hung out in the wonderful little city of Antigua until we were ready to fly back to France for Christmas, New Years and a project for Clo.
Staying in Panajachel by the Attitlan Lake was pretty wonderful. We stayed in a small and cozy guest house and between the hikes : I went shopping !! It’s pretty rare that we stay in touristic cities with souvenir stores, but this was one of them. And Christmas was around the corner. You see it coming : the hunt for chirstmas presents begins !! Lots of little shops on the side of the streets, I think I spend an entire day going through all of them to find the perfect little souvenir for each of the person we were going to see in France the next week. Except food store we barely go to any kind of stores anymore. Being on the road and living with the minimum, we realize how much we live in a consumer society. Not that I miss it really but still feel good to take a few dollars from the savings piggy and go get crazy !!
I was very excited to go to France for a few weeks. Besides the obvious things like hot showers, bread, wine, cold temperatures, fast wifi and pooping in clean toilets, I was very happy to see Clo’s family and our friends (we had an amazing reunion for about a week at New Years in the French Pyrenees, and met other friends afterwards in Paris for an incredible weekend). Then at the last part of the trip I had a week by myself in Paris while Clo was working. It’s this last week where I realized how much loneliness I had been feeling in the past few months.
Not lonely in a social way, but for a lack of really stimulating conversations and/or arguments. We've meet some very interesting people, but rarely do I spend enough time with them to get to know them well enough to have a serious discussion. I love arguing about things and I miss that a lot. I think part of the feeling is also related to not working currently. A big part of my job was arguing (or discussing or whatever you want to call it; basically, trying to convince or explain to one or many people of a certain fact, opinion, process or position) and while it was often frustrating, it was also very stimulating.
I've also been thinking a lot about what I want to do professionally when we finish our trip, which is probably in about another 18 months or so. I'm pretty sure I've decided on the field (renewable energy), but it's a huge field and I am still doing a lot of reading and learning. It's nice to think about the different ways that whole work thing will go in the future.
Being by myself for a week in Paris in winter, when it’s raining, overcast and cold certainly gave me lots of time to think. I treasure my alone time, but it also gives me time to realize how important it is to have a balance. Like anything in life, too much solitude can be just as difficult as not enough. Thinking about this now over a month after it happened, it’s exactly these types of things that I was interested in when we started this trip. Learning things about myself. And the most important learning usually happens in the difficult situations.
I don't think I felt lonely since we started the trip. I thought I would but no (lots of assumptions I had about myself before the trip appears to be very wrong). I did often feel lonely when we were leaving in Singapore and Matt was working like crazy. How interesting, I felt lonely in a crazy busy city, and I feel completely fulfilled and serene now that we are just the 2 of us in the middle of nowhere most of the time…
I thing that I miss is a girlfriend to talk to about girly insignificant stuff or to talk about Matt !!
I was very excited to be with Clo and continue the trip. Back to Guatemala and one last volcano! And getting back into the rhythm of traveling again, which always takes a bit of time after leaving it. We started with a couple days in Antigua (perhaps in a large part to enjoy the amazing restaurant Rincon Tipico) and were ready to go when we drove a few hours to the farmhouse where we would sleep one night before starting bright and early for the long hike.
We were both really excited about Acatenango, but Clo was much more excited than me due to the amazing photo opportunities available at the peak. By this time, we had also met many people in Guatemala who had climbed it (it’s relatively popular, especially with younger and more fit people) and were very happy with their experience. From the top you can see the (arguably) most active volcano in the world, spewing lava a few times every hour, straight into the sky. It’s supposed to be magnificent and unforgettable.
So we were a bit excited. We woke up early, packed up Wilbur (we were driving directly back to Antigua after we came down the next day), said goodbye to the two dogs, one cat and four horses whom we shared the parking lot with over the night and started our hike around 7am. After a couple hours of hiking we were into the clouds, which is common for the morning and afternoon on the mountain. The conditions here are a bit special too, because most of the top of the mountain is a cloud forest. It doesn’t actually rain very much, but there is so much moisture from the clouds that it is effectively like you are in a downpour whenever you stand under a tree or bush or something on which the clouds can deposit their pee.
It also started to become rather windy. Gusts up to 60-100kmph (40-60mph). We kept walking. As long as we weren’t under any trees it wasn’t too bad. Walking, walking, walking. We were actually having a really nice time. We couldn’t see more than a few hundred meters but what we did see was beautiful and almost like being on another planet. When we finally reached our campsite around 3pm and the winds had died down a little. We made a nice pasta dinner and setup our tent. Unfortunately given the fact we were on the side of the mountain, there were many trees around. The wind started up again. The clouds were still everywhere. The clouds were supposed to break up around 7pm, so we decided to huddle in our very warm sleeping bags (thankfully) and wait.
9pm and still cloudy as shit. Sustained winds of about 50-60kmph and gusts up to 100kmph again. Every ten to fifteen minutes, a bomb goes off about 1000m away. Sometimes a train collides with another train. Every hour, a train collides with an exploding bomb. Thank god our sleeping bags are waterproof and so, so warm. It sounds like we are standing under a hose. For not actually raining, there sure is a bunch of water drenching our tent.
Around 11pm the tent blows over. Clo stays inside to try and hold it up while I rush outside (after putting on a few clothes) and spend about fifteen minutes finding a better way to tie it down. Amazingly at the same time I am doing that, a guide walks by on his way to another campsite and spends about ten minutes helping me out. Awesome! It’s wonderful to go back inside the tent and get naked in my sleeping bag again, because I was freezing (the actual temperature is about 3-4C/40ish F) and couldn’t feel my fingers. The tent now looks like the abdomen of a spider in their web and barely budges in the intense gusts.
Have you ever tried to sleep when there are explosions outside of your domicile every few minutes? I normally sleep rather easily, and I failed to do so here. Clo didn’t have any luck either. Somehow through all of this we are both in great moods and have a stupid grin on our faces most of the time (at least when we turn on the light and look at each other). Around 3am we sort of gave up hope the clouds would clear and started anticipating when it would be bright enough that we could start packing up the tent and start going down.
We made it down uneventfully and only for the last hour or so did we actually start to see the sky. After a few hours of driving and getting progressively warmer and warmer, we make our way to the very cute little hostel in Antigua and eagerly jump in the shower and start to dry the tent, our shoes, backpacks, all that fun stuff.
This will stay a wonderful memory in my mind. Mixed with the frustration of not seing Fuego spitting his lava into the air ! It’s in the adversity that me and Matt work the best together. Spending that crazy night upthere, we were both just happy to be together and laughing about it to not add stress to the situation. And stick together. One of the best moment of the trip.
I had mentioned earlier that one of my favorite things about Clo is that she is so eager to try things and on Acatenango was a superb example. It’s one of the memories I treasure most of our whole trip so far. It’s funny how these special moments sneak up on your when you’re busy with something else entirely. It’s an excellent example of why I feel so lucky to have found Clo and be doing all these amazing things with her. I didn’t notice it so much before we started this trip, but it is really surprising to me how often I hear “I can’t because of so-and-so reasons” in frequent and normal conversations.
Most of these are people just putting internal reasons for them not venturing outside of their comfort zones. People often exclaim that our trip must be so difficult and how could we cross all these dangerous countries and how in the world do we sleep in our vehicle so much and what do we eat and so many other questions. But the theme is frequently, “that sounds so difficult, I could never do that!” Besides the financial aspect, which does take some planning and time (but we have met plenty of long term travelers with NO savings who do just fine), you know the hardest part of our trip? Finding a place to poop. I’m not even joking. All of the logistical stuff (crossing borders, where to sleep, police bribery, etc, etc) just works itself out and becomes easier and easier as you do it, just like anything else in life.
That sounds a bit preachy. It fits right in to most of the countries in Central America. As common as the “chicken busses” and minivan taxis are, even more common is the reference to God, Jesus, Allah, Jehovah and all sorts of names in between – every single form of public or semi-public transportation is covered with artwork or stickers extolling the various ways God is protecting, guiding and (mostly) speeding them up and onwards.
We joined them on the highway as we left Antigua on our way to El Salvador. As per normal, we slept close to the border so we could arrive there early the next morning. After crossing, we headed towards the Santa Anna volcano. We arrived here in the afternoon and were spending the night here so we could climb it the next day; the hike was with a guide and only left at one time every day (unless you wanted to pay big $$ for a privately guided hike). We parked, setup Wilbur and hung out and watched people; perfect timing, as everyone was coming back from the trek to the top.
Clo went to get some papusas (perhaps the best value for money of the whole trip, I’ll rave more about these later) and met a young French couple who were doing a similar overland thing to us. It’s amazing the people we meet; these two were in their early 20’s and it seems about half of the long-term overlanders are around their age. Either right out of school or folks in their late 40’s/early 50’s who have time and decided to make some memories together. Anyway, Clo is always happy to speak French and these two folks were very nice. We hung out with them for most of the evening and went to take a little walk to watch the sunset.
It's always fun to meet new people, and mostly when they are overlanders: we looooove to give a tour of our rig to each other!! Haha. Sharing experiences with persons that have the same lifestyle is precious. For a few hours you feel completely understood and you can tell the weirdest anecdotes of the life on the road and they understand in a blink of an eye. I don't want to say that other cannot understand, but it's just like meeting people with the same hobby. The vocabulary is identical ;-))
They also had a drone, which was pretty cool; seems most of the younger folks have them. As Antoine was turning it on and explaining how it worked to me, he mentioned “every time you fly, you have to be prepared for it to be your last”; since the wind is always unpredictable. A very few minutes later, his words proved prophetic as the evening winds on the top of the mountain prevented their drone from returning to its launch point at the peak of the mountain where we were. It crashed down the side of the mountain in the trees somewhere. In the dark.
I need to back up a bit; on the drive up the dirt road to the top of this volcano, there are a few different viewpoints you can stop at to take some pictures and look around. We had seen many warnings NOT TO STOP BECAUSE YOU MAY BE ROBBED AT GUNPOINT. We didn’t stop. This younger couple knew the same things and didn’t stop either. This didn’t prevent them from handing us their camera gear and sprinting down a trail into the jungle, looking for their drone.
Clo and I looked at each and tried to decide when we should freak out. We took their gear back to Wilbur, made ourselves some tea and decided we’d go looking for the police to report them missing in about an hour. Thankfully in about forty-five minutes the two of them returned, sweating like piggies (apparently running uphill is tiring) and without their drone. That evening they found the location on the video where it crashed exactly and were able to recover it the next morning (in the light, and after telling the police they were going).
We sure meet some interesting people on this trip. The French couple were a lot of fun though, so we agreed to meet up with them in a couple days at the little beach slash surfing town of El Tunco. The next day as the frenchies were recovering their drone, we did the Santa Anna hike and then in the evening we headed towards El Tunco and the place we’d reserved for a few days. There was no question this was a touristy surfing town, but it was a really nice one and our place was on the outskirts. We had a nice evening hanging out and even enjoyed a few beers for the first time in a while.
We tried surfing... just tried!
We spent a few days here in El Tunco. We hung out with the French couple each day for a bit, and the day before we left we ended up watching the Super Bowl in the only bar who had it on TV. We explored more of the culinary delight known as papusas here, too. Let me tell you about papusas; they are basically tortillas filled with meat, cheese, beans or some combination thereof. This is not their genius though; the first ones we had were three for $2! We soon realized this was a ripoff, because if you were smart and depending on how far you wanted to walk, it was possible to get up to three of them for a single dollar. And if you ate at the establishment (a roadside stand), you were able to help yourself to the two accompaniments; 1) tomato sauce (don’t understand this, but okay… didn’t have this much) and 2) a sort of spicy fermented cabbage and carrots, similar to sauerkraut. This second one was where it’s at, I would normally eat a couple of bowls of this alone. AWESOME.
Leaving El Tunco, we headed inland to sleep one night near lake Ilopango before heading back to the ocean and another small town called El Cuco. We had a bit of an issue the morning we were heading to El Cuco though; the brakes started squealing. Looking to our friend Google and his buddy iOverlander, we found a well reviewed place not too far away in San Salvador. Turns out the brakes (just pads, thankfully) did need to be replaced, so we spent another night by Ilopango after the shop spent all day disassembling the brakes on each tire to inspect and polish them to a bright shine before replacing the pads. Awesome service, though dare I say a bit too much than what was needed. I’m not complaining too much though, it was great to see they were so thorough.
And they even offered us a mug of the shop! :-)
El Cuco was a totally different experience than El Tunco. We decided to stay for a few nights in Wilbur at a really nice place with spots to park underneath a bunch of palm trees and close to the beach. We relaxed a lot here, and also met an awesome Italian-Canadian couple who was on one of the fastest overland trips of anyone we met. They had driven from Calgary to El Salvador in about ten days, and were going to return to Calgary (after driving to Costa Rica) in about two more weeks. Crazy! They were amazing people though, and we already have plans to meet up in the future.
I think it is from El Salvador onward that we started meeting more people, probably of the kind of places we stayed at. We slept more often in Wilbur, used more of the iOverlander app to find campgrounds or hostel were you can park for cheap and use their showers. It is pretty interesting the different people we meet. For sure a super fun part of the trip.
I’ve mentioned it a few times in different places, but one of the things I find fascinating about this trip is the different people we meet; they generally fall into two categories. The first one is younger people, usually in their 20’s, who are either just out of university or were fed up with their job after a year or two. They decided to say heck with it, use all their savings (or work on the road) and go explore. The other half are people in their late 40’s or above who have already had a career, their kids often are out of the home and they are ready to go explore the world. There are a few exceptions we’ve met such as Mark and Becky, but generally they fall into these two categories. Oh, but I’ve forgotten a 3rd category, the bicyclists! We’ve met a few couples now who are biking this route (HUGE respect for these crazy people!), and all of them have been in the late 20’s to mid 30’s. Maybe we were meant to cycle instead of drive?
I find it interesting to talk to all of them, but I think I identify most with the younger ones (and the cyclists). They seem to be doing it more for the adventure and opportunities to experience new things. The older couples are definitely doing this too, but it seems they are often times more isolated? Less interested in meeting new people or taking risks? More in a hurry? More cautious? I’m not sure exactly the way to describe it, but it’s curious that the older and younger folks certainly seem to fall into these two very general categories. I think we are a mix of both; we have some life experience, we both know ourselves pretty well, but at the same time we are both rather adventurous and interested in meeting people and trying new things.
We left El Cuco and headed towards the Honduras border. Our plan was no plan at all, except we knew we would probably only spend one night in Honduras. We didn’t have any particular place in mind, but we decided to stay on the main highway corridor to make it simpler for us. We checked out a few places on iOverlander and eventually decided to splurge a little bit. We ended up paying about $35 for the room, which is a clear 2nd place for most expensive room we’ve gotten while traveling (1st place was an emergency in Mexico and it was a very poor value). This place, on the other hand, was paradise! Clean, fast wifi, air conditioning, breakfast included… we checked in around 1pm and didn’t leave until the next day at noon. These sort of breaks in our routine are awesome.
It also meant we didn’t actually see much in Honduras. This was certainly the country which we saw the least of, but it’s actually a feeling I have in most of the countries we visit. When we say we are taking a trip of a couple/few years it seems like, “wow, that’s so long!” but in reality it’s not nearly long enough. For each one of the amazing things we’re seeing there are at least ten other places, things, activities, cities, etc that we are totally skipping. And this is just the ones we know about! I think we realized very early in the trip we just wouldn’t worry about the things we weren’t seeing or not doing, because at least for me the real enjoyment is all about the journey and not the destination (or the 100’s of destinations in between the start and the end). We change our plan of destinations on an almost daily basis and just figure it out as we go along. Honestly, the vast majority of places we’ve been so far we had no idea we would visit when we started the trip. It’s great!
For sure our trip is more of an experience of a lifestyle and enjoying life together than creating a guide book of where to go and what to do kind of thing. I think we are doing our best to see a lot of different sites and cities, but we have no pre-established list of them or bucket list as people say.
Our first stop in Nicaragua was, unsurprisingly, a volcano. One of the cool things about Telica is that you could hike up to the crater of the volcano and sleep not too far away Wilbur. We arrived somewhat late in the afternoon, around 4pm; and our plan was to spend the night and wake up early so we could hike up to the top to see the sunrise. As soon as we arrived at the parking lot (after a fun little 4x4 road), Clo had a different idea entirely. Let’s go climb it now and see the sunset! Climb down in the dark? What about some water? Change to hiking boots? Often times Clo is very excited to just go! But neglects to think of a lot of the small details. And we had talked about doing it the next morning, so after a few hours of driving with about an hour up the side of the volcano on a rough road I was ready to relax.
Thankfully we didn’t. I may have been a bit grumpy at the beginning, but it was a relatively simple hike to the top and we made it there just in time for a stunning sunset. Seeing the smoke leaking out of the crater, lit from below from the lava was also rather surreal. This was a perfect example of one of the reasons why Clo is so perfect for me. We’re a great match in situations like this.
The next morning we woke up and packed up Wilbur rather quickly, as even near the top of the volcano the sun really warmed up our bedroom quite quickly. According to Google maps we had about a two hour drive to Leon, where we intended to spend a few days and explore the city and sleep in a real bed with a bathroom within a few meters of our bed. Anyway. As it has happened more than a few times, the route on Google was something other than a normal road. A few km down the rutted dirt road and we passed four boards nailed against a tree on the side of the road, covered in painted red X’s. We laughed nervously but continued on; there was definitely a road on the map.
The white line (i.e. unimproved road) continued for a mere three kilometers before merging into a yellow line (i.e. paved highway, which were amazing in Nicaragua!). Three km can’t really be that bad, right? Not right. Well, we did make it to the paved highway, but it took nearly two hours and Clo exited the vehicle three different times to take a few pictures and maybe a video or two while I drove a certain part of the route. It’s times like these that I am so happy we choose the vehicle we did, and performed the customizations we ended up with. These type of situations don’t happen so often but they are a lot more fun when I know if I go carefully, there’s no technical issue with completing the route. I don’t think Clo shares my enthusiasm, but she did get some really cool pictures.
This is the Google Trap: getting google mapped!
Finally we arrived in Leon for a few days of relaxation. Clo and I have different preferences and ideas on what it is to “relax”. For me, it’s to know that I have a certain amount of time where I have absolutely no responsibilities and can focus on what I want to do. Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s thinking, maybe watching people, maybe watching youtube videos, maybe playing on my phone; but I am alone and my time is my own. Surprising as it may seem, this is actually very rare on our trip. If we’re driving I am always thinking about the road, how to avoid the horses, dogs, cows, motorcycles, bicycles, semi trucks, pedestrians, cats and various other vehicles who are all driving much faster and more recklessly than myself. Then we have to decide on where to sleep, what I’m making for lunch/dinner, when to go to the bathroom and all those other basic daily logistical tasks.
So I like to have time where I don’t have to think about any of that. Like most people, I treasure the time I have purely to myself. It’s interesting how this has changed in some regards over the trip; now the ambiance or the location make a much bigger difference than in the past. I think I can relax in more places (I don’t need AC, or a nice view, or a cold beverage or anything like that), but I really appreciate a comfortable chair and a place (as table-like as possible) to put my computer. If there’s no black clouds of diesel bus exhaust I also really like that.
We left Leon and towards a lake in a volcano where we were going to meet our friends from Belize, Max and Marta. On the way there we decided to sleep on the shore of lake Momotombo. Great name, huh? We had no real idea where we’d sleep but we knew there were a couple of local restaurants (don’t take this word very literally; it really meant there were some covered areas with a few plastic chairs and you could order one or two dishes and drinks) by the shore of the lake. Well, it was Sunday night when we arrived. Sunday in this area of the world is the one day of the week with no work. This spot by the lake is apparently where all the people from the local villages went to hang out.
For about three hours we watched about thirty or forty people drink, laugh, go swimming in the lake, drink a few more beers, watch their kids play tag, turn the music up higher, dance with the really drunk old man, drink more beers and generally have a good time. It’s like a local bar in any small town, but with louder music (I really don’t understand this, it’s so loud!) and more dancing. It was an awesome evening.
It was a wonderful evening, easy, simple, a few beers, my husband, a great view (how often you hang out in a volcano crater lake!!), great mood, watching people having fun on their sunday fun day ! Those moments I cherish a lot. Simple and perfect.
The next few days have been filled with stunning landscape again;
The Masaya Volcano and its crazy lava!!!
And also the beautiful Cerro Negro black sand Volcano:
Then we arrived at Paradiso. It’s a hotel slash restaurant slash place-where-tourists-from-Grenada-come-to-hang-out-for-the-day slash our home for a couple weeks. It’s a very nice place on the edge of Lake Apoyo, which is a beautiful warm freshwater lake in the crater of a dormant volcano. We intended to spend only one night here to meet Max and Marta and then continue on to meet other friends and then head towards Costa Rica.
We had an amazing time the first day. When we left the next day, we already changed our plans a little bit and decided to come back here for a couple more days after meeting Mark and Becky so we could hang out with Max and Marta more. We met Mark and Becky as well as a couple on a motorcycle we had met in San Cristobal de las Casas and had a fun couple of days in San Juan del Sur. Then back we went to Lake Apoyo (so far this has been the only complete backtrack we’ve done on any part of the trip).
This is a pic of our photo shot on the beach with Mark and Becky!! I learned that the type of car is important on the road. You create some kind of a Toyota bond with others!!!! There is the Van community, the offroading, the cyclist, the ones in car but with roof tent. All this is pretty complicated and it looks like even there (like in life in general) people want to make you fit in a group. I am good with being in the Toyota Group tho. ;-))
I am so happy we decided to return. We spent a couple more very fun and relaxing days here. We met some really nice people. The day we were intending to leave (again) we were chatting with Max, Marta and one of the managers at the hotel. We were explaining our plans to go renew our vows in Costa Rica, and Annie (the manager) asked why don’t we just do it here in Paradiso? Clo and I looked at each other and we both had the same look in our eyes; why not, indeed? We hadn’t even considered it, but it made so much sense.
A few days later we renewed our vows on the shore of Lake Apoyo. The setting was beautiful. Clo was beautiful. The emotions were beautiful. It’s a bit difficult to write about because it was such an quick decision and it ended up being so much nicer and more special than I could have hoped for. Marta played music and read a poem, Max took the pictures, Annie was the officiant and we were joined at the afterparty by an older couple (Robert and Janine) from Olympia (a city where I lived when I was a kid; it’s not too far away from Seattle) whom we met a couple days earlier.
It's complicated to write how precious this day was. Maybe that's enough: it was a very precious day.
In a world of funny coincidences, this was a doozy; Robert and Janine knew the owner of the hotel where our parents stayed when Clo and I were married on Milos. A few days after our vow renewal they decided to do the same thing on Milos, the next year. We also had a few random strangers from the hotel come up and wish us good luck, take pictures with us and buy us a few drinks. It was a really special time.
I think it’s a perfect example of why I think this life Clo and I are living now is as simple as it’s turned out. We both value flexibility very highly and I think most of what we do involves a lot of it. And talking about changes and flexibility, we decided we wanted to try and do a workaway before we flew out of Panama City for Cannes. A day after we signed up, we were contacted by a lady in Costa Rica and we had a schedule to make.
The two weeks we spent at Paradiso were very, very special. I wonder where we’ll do our next vow renewal? For now, we continue our journey in Costa Rica.