adventures

There It Went

As a year that is despised by most ends and a new one begins, countdowns and resolutions have taken over the internet. I have been guilty in the past of naming years – “2014 Year of Travel” and “2016 Year of Possibility” (at the time I didn’t think possibility would turn so negative) – but this next year I will not name. I will just let 2017 be whatever it decides to be as it happens, because living in the moment is one of the best lessons I can take away from this whole adventure. As for a recap of the past year, I don’t think anyone needs another rambling post from me about what ending my trip, dealing with cancer, getting a job, and moving back to New York City was like. I don’t even know if I could write that post. Suffice it to say that I did not expect last year to be what it was at all, and it has not been easy on me. But that is not what this post is about.

This post is about that time three years ago when I started this blog. My first official post was on January 30, 2014, but in the month leading up to that first post I had already told everyone in my life of my grand plan, including my job, and started preparing for my departure. I promised myself that I would document it all, from the planning stages to every location to my eventual return, whenever or if-ever I did return. From that day until now I have been halfway around the world and back, I have boarded two one way flights out of the United States and two unexpected one way flights back, and I have found myself settled again in a place I never would have predicted when I started this journey three years ago.

I started TravelAbrodge to document my Round the World trip. Then I continued it to document my Round the Central America turned Life in Guatemala time. And then I used it when I didn’t know any better way to update everyone on my experience with a sarcoma surgery. It has been one hell of a ride.

But some part of me always knew that ride would end. That one day, my TravelAbrodge would be a part of my past, and I would re-enter the stable working world. My blog would have to end with it.

Now that the time is here, it’s been hard for me to actually shut it down. Not only is it a clear sign of the drastic change that has occurred in my life – from a nomad who could take off on a moment’s notice to a project manager who reports to an office 5 days a week – but it is something I grew to depend on in a way. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I would always take time to sit down and write about it. Some posts were short and some were way too long, some were factual and some were deeply introspective, but all were a part of me.

I have enjoyed sharing these parts of me with you. My experiences, my thoughts, my challenges, my elations. And I thank you – truly and sincerely thank you – for reading along. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

And with that, I say farewell to the blogosphere. I know I will have many more adventures and miss writing about them here, but they are for another time and place. This story is complete.

Adios my friends.

– Kristen, aka Brodge

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6 Months in Central America

 

The Ladygang Invaded Antigua

One of my main concerns about leaving home was the strain it would put on my relationships with people. I remember a wine-induced breakdown that my friends would forget about me, and immediately being scolded for even thinking such a thing. Throughout the time I’ve been away I have been constantly impressed and pleased by the amount I have been able to keep in touch with people. Of course there are ups and downs, but in the end I know that we still have a relationship and that is what matters. It matters so much that I flew from Japan to Arizona to see some of these people who mean so much to me. So when I decided to stay in one place I naturally extended the invite to come here this time. But I still never imagined that my 7 closest girlfriends from San Francisco would all come together. But that’s exactly what happened. And it was amazing.

It was a whirlwind five days that went by too fast. I tried my best to show them my Antigua, and judging by Amy’s enthusiastic “I love your life here!” I think I did a pretty good job of it. From our first lunch at Rincon Tipico to our last lunch again at Rincon Tipico (a crowd favorite) I took them through the local market with picositas in hand, to brunch at the delicious creperie Luna del Miel, to see the carpets and processions of Semana Santa, to the artisan market for souvenirs, to my favorite rooftop at Zoola for happy hour shots with our feet dangling in the hot tub, to the bars where I spend most of my time, Lucky Rabbit and Cafe No Se, and to the La Piscina pool after party where we danced till the early morning hours to house music.

And I took them up Acatenango. We should not have gone out so hard the night before, but we were just too excited to be all together again that there was no stopping the fun tornado. So we sweat out our hangovers on a 6-hour uphill trek. At times it was pretty miserable – honorable mention to Amanda for keeping her and our spirits up the whole climb – but everyone agreed, as I knew they would, that the view from the top was worth any amount of struggle. We arrived at the campsite around 4 pm, which meant we had plenty of time to sit around with snacks and wine and truly catch up on life. Those hours remain my favorite of their visit. I am so impressed by the group of women who came here, and am honored to call them my best friends. They are motivated, smart, beautiful women who have achieved so much already in our young years and I know that they will go far in all aspects of life. I can’t wait to see what happens with everyone.

When night fell Volcan Fuego put on a show better than I have ever seen it do before. In just one lava-spewing mountain-covering burst it proved its strength and outdid any man-made fireworks show. At dawn we watched the sun peek up through a blanket of clouds as Fuego continued to boom and smoke. We took an obligatory jumping photo and started the trek down. The difficult and hilarious trek down. Almost everyone fell as we navigated the steep descent, I tried to learn how to slide down, and by the end we’d mastered the trot. At the bottom we got celebratory Modelos.

When we got home we ordered Dominos, showered, and took a nap. Everyone was exhausted and sunburned, but happy. Acatenango proved its status as one of the top things to do in a visit to Antigua. And if anyone else ever comes to visit, I will happily recommend a tour guide to go with. Twice was enough for me.

The goodbyes came too fast. It was great having my friends around again, and I knew I would miss them immediately. The only thing that tempered the sadness was the fact that I would see most of them again soon in San Francisco. And that Jessi stayed with me until my flight to the States. And convinced me to get a tattoo honoring our time in San Francisco, some of the happiest years of our lives so far. 1851 Hyde is now forever on my body, reminding me not just of those incredible times we shared in SF but also this visit to Antigua.

I don’t know when I’ll see these girls again, but I know that whenever it is it will be just as wonderful as this was, as September was, as Arizona was. I am no longer worried about my relationship with them. I know that this group is for life. I love you all.

We (Barely) Survived Driftwood

A couple of weeks ago something unexpected happened: Lucky Rabbit closed for 2 days. Why? Because the owners are awesome and decided that we all needed to take a break and go to the beach together. So on a Monday morning 11 people and 2 dogs piled into a shuttle. Two hours and one convenience store beer stop later we arrived at The Driftwood Surfer at El Paredon.

To the people who have never been to Driftwood, a beach vacation may sound like a relaxing break from the bustling bar scene that is Lucky Rabbit. To the people who know better, it was not. It took less than ten minutes to go from beers in the shuttle to friendship shots in the pool bar. Lucky was not working, so what better way to celebrate than continue to do what we do best: party.

A pool, a swim up bar, a floating beer pong table, more friendship shots, a run to the beach, a jump in the ocean, back to the pool where Julio had set up his DJ equipment… The first afternoon was a blur of debauchery and fun. We were taking advantage of this day off.

The sun went down and everyone ran into the ocean. That’s when it all went wrong. The riptide is strong at Paredon, especially at dusk, and a friend got carried out too far. We heard the shouts for help and two people had two different but equally important reactions – Julio went into Driftwood for help, Brayan swam out to Javi. I won’t go into details, but it was a tense time when no one on shore could see what was happening in the ocean as darkness quickly took over. We walked the direction the current was moving and finally saw Javi crawling to safety, but Brayan was still out there somewhere. From the beach no one could see the surfboard rescue happening in the waves, but when the approaching shadows turned into friends the relief was beyond anything I can write. Everyone was okay. Exhausted, scared, and suddenly sober, but okay.

The next day people were tired, some opted to leave, but those of us who stayed had a tamer but still great time enjoying another day of freedom. A long walk on the beach and a hearty breakfast bolstered the afternoon at the pool bar, and this time sunset was enjoyed on land only.

By the time we went back to Antigua we felt like we’d truly escaped for a few days. Although we weren’t rested by any means. Dominos delivery and chill time at home were in order before the week could carry on. It will probably be a while before I return to Driftwood, but do not be deterred by our fairly traumatic experience, it is still a worthy escape from Antigua.

Hobbitenango

After San Marcos I spent a week in Antigua not thinking. I had been too in my head and decided I would let the universe tell me what to do. The universe was very clear, something I wrote about in my post announcing my decision to stay here, and an integral part of that decision was Hobbitenango.

I want to take everyone who comes to Antigua to visit Hobbitenango. All I knew when we set off on our mission was that we were going to a farm in the mountains with great views. We grabbed snacks and a tuktuk to take us part of the way up (we had underestimated just how long of a walk it was) before jumping out to hike the rest on foot. And I mean hike. If you choose to walk to Hobbitenango you will sweat and earn your beer at the top. But me being me, I wanted the physical challenge, and of course found the views to be worth it, so I enjoyed the trek.

When we reached the sign announcing our arrival at Hobbitenango I finally understood where we were going. It is pronounced by most here as “hoe-bee-ten-ango,” but seeing it written I realized it was actually “hobbit-enango,” as in Hobbiton mixed with Acatenango. Looking up past the sign I saw three main buildings built into a mountainside and one more off to the right. Two had circle doors. We were in a fantasy land.

Hobbitenango is actually much more than cool Lord of the Rings-looking buildings. It’s an eco-restaurant/bar/hotel that is built from materials sourced on the land and runs sustainably. It’s been under construction for over 2 years and it will be many more until it’s completely done, but the progress they’ve made so far is wonderful and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow.

Brayan and I had planned to stay just for the afternoon but on our way in we ran into Debbie and Pato, who had to go to work but told us to stick around for the night, they were coming back. That sounded good to us, so on a whim we decided to stay too.

We continued with our leisurely afternoon by grabbing a beer and finding a viewpoint up on the top of the hill from which we could see the volcanoes and green landscapes all around. We chilled on a blanket and watched the nature around us. It was beautiful. Right before sunset we went back down to the main area for another beer and watched the sky turn brilliant colors around a smoking Volcan Fuego from a log that had been carved into a bench. It was a gorgeous sunset. I sat there watching it, thinking only “how could I possibly leave this place?” It was paradise. I was in love with it.

After dinner and the best hot chocolate ginger tequila and chile drink I’ve ever had, Debbie and Pato arrived. We hung out in the dorm living room with the volunteers until the early morning hours, drinking wine, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. In the morning we ate brunch looking out at the still incredible view and went for a walk around the property. We talked about what it would be like if we all moved into a house together. Debbie, Pato and Brayan all wanted to find a new place and I needed one. After the past 12 hours we were convinced it would be the best idea ever. This was the foundation of how I ended up in a house with these awesome roommates.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the paradise of Hobbitenango, but we had to go back and face the realities of work (at least they did). Not before one final moment that would seriously contribute to my new life in Antigua. On the way back down we slowed for a dog that was standing in the road at a steep curve. In the grass next to her we saw two tiny puppies cowering in fear of our car. The mom, we assumed, did not look good, and these pups were bloated with parasites and covered in fleas. Brayan jumped out to see them and the mom disappeared. It was like she stopped us so we would take them away. It didn’t take long for everyone to agree that we would give these dogs a better life than they ever could have on this mountainside, if they even survived, so Brayan dropped them in my lap and home they came. This is how we got Molly and Mary.

The 24 hours of Hobbitenango were pretty damn perfect. Halfway through my “let the universe decide” week I had this experience, which ended with roommates and dogs. The universe was being pretty clear. Stay, it was saying. And I was listening.

Hiking Acatenango

One of the things I wanted to do most when I made it to Antigua was hike Volcan Acatenango. I’d heard through the travel circuit that there was some great hiking in Guatemala, and this tough trek up a now inactive volcano was one of the best out there. What makes this hike extra special is the view from the top of its neighbor Volcan Fuego. Fuego is still active, so some lucky hikers get to see lava shooting out of it. Lately those lucky hikers are almost everyone – the past couple of months Fuego has been more active than it has been in years.

Typically people who want to hike Acatengango go through a hostel or tour company to book a guide, rent equipment, cover food and transportation, etc. I did not do this. Brayan had been before, so he, Matt and I decided we would go it alone. We packed up our backpacks, borrowed sleeping bags and a tent, got enough Subway sandwiches to last us three meals, and set off on a local chicken bus to the base of the trail.

I underestimated just how tough the hike would be. The first hour was all climbing uphill on soft volcanic dirt. Think what it’s like to run on sand but up a steep incline. By the time we reached the ranger station we had to pause to remove layers and take an energy-boosting swig of Quetzalteca. We carried on, continuing our uphill walk, through the varying forest of the mountain. Acatenango is a beautiful, fascinating hike. It goes through four different temperate zones: high farmland, cloud forest, high-alpine forest, and volcanic. The changing scenery is a great distraction from the physical exertion. If we weren’t racing against sunset we could have easily stopped more and longer to take it all in. One place we did have to pause for a while was at the juncture between cloud forest and high-alpine forest. It felt like we were on top of the world as we watched the clouds swiftly moving over the land below us.

The normal hike levels off after the cloud forest, taking people around a crater with a view over Antigua before resting at a camp on the east side, ideal for watching the sunrise. Again, we said fuck being normal, and took a right instead of a left to keep walking on the sunset side to a newer camp someone had told Brayan about. This meant we had no idea how long we had to hike to get to camp or what it would be like. We had expected it to level out like the other side, but we were very wrong. This way kept climbing, sometimes requiring actually scaling up rocks. At one point we were walking along a foot and a half wide path in volcanic ash shrouded in clouds. It was eerie and awe-inspiring and challenging. We were getting anxious to find camp since we were quickly running out of sunlight, but when we reached the other side of the volcanic ash and were back in a forest the clouds broke enough to see a brilliant sunset. This view was one of the best of the hike.

Suddenly we heard a rumble. Fuego. We quickened our pace and within minutes found the almost abandoned camp, just as the final moments of sun expired. Camping on Acatenango is a whole other challenge. It is freezing cold. We set up our tent as fast as we could with our now numb fingers. I put on every layer of clothing I had with me – 2 pairs of pants, 2 socks, 3 shirts, 2 jackets, scarf, gloves, hat – and even then we had to huddle close together to try to stay warm. The three of us slept like sardines just to make it through the night. But Fuego rewarded us for our suffering.

Fuego didn’t just erupt a little bit; it shot lava into the sky for hours. We joined the other four people who had found this camp around a tiny campfire for dinner and a show, the show being the lava. The reason we decided to go to this side instead of the normal side is because of the lava trails. Most of the lava of Fuego runs down the west side; the east side doesn’t usually get to see where the lava goes. So we saw fire shoot into the sky and then bright red lines streaming down the mountain. It was breathtaking. Fuego conveys a sense of power. I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible force of nature that was in front of me. I also had to thank my camera for being a great machine that could capture this sight.

The next morning I woke up with the sun. The sky was every color of the rainbow. Fuego was still erupting in front of us, and the moon was hovering over Lake Atitlan in the distance. It was gorgeous.

The Acatenango hike is absolutely a must do for anyone visiting Antigua. I’m already talking to friends about going back up soon. I am considering making it a personal goal to go at least once a month.