beach

6 Months in Central America

 

Advertisements

A Different Kind of Driftwood Trip

When my schedule was changed last minute and I found myself with two days off in a row my first thought was “I should go somewhere.” Then a few hours later, I was being invited to the beach for those exact days. Call it serendipity or the universe sending me a sign or call it nothing at all, whatever aligned at that moment I couldn’t say no. So I went back to Driftwood Surfer.

It was a totally different trip this time around. Polina, Virginia, and I were going to relax, decompress from Antigua, read books and give no fucks for a couple of days. It sounded perfect and it was.

We were happy to arrive to a calm Driftwood. The party starters weren’t there, the large group of rambunctious Aussies weren’t there, the friendship shots weren’t happening. Thank god. Instead we spent our days exactly as planned, taking long walks whenever we pleased, getting in some good hammock and book time, and, of course, hanging out in the pool at the pool bar. Even after day one I already felt like a different person, back to my chill self.

Of course we are the girls of Cafe No Se, so it wouldn’t be right to go three days without mezcal. Luckily Driftwood had a couple of bottles on hand, so we decided to lighten their load and take a bottle of Joven off their hands. For ourselves. Which we completely devoured over the course of 8 hours on day two. Bottle service of Ilegal Mezcal to the pool please and thank you.

By the time we boarded the shuttle back to Antigua on Wednesday I felt refreshed. It was exactly the trip I needed. Not just the escape from Antigua and time in the sun (my tan was entirely gone), but the company. I wish I had known earlier just how well the three of us got along. It was a joy to get to know Polina and Virginia beyond our work interactions. I feel lucky to call them my friends.

(Photo credit to Virginia)

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.

40 Days in Mexico

I ended up spending 40 days in Mexico. What was supposed to be just the gateway into Central America became an extended exploration of our neighbor to the south.

I didn’t expect to be in Mexico so long, but I didn’t know the variety that I would encounter there. When I used to think of Mexico two things came to mind: beaches and tacos. Which was totally accurate, but there’s also much more to it. The coast does have beautiful beaches, but they jut up against dense jungle that spreads far inland, before it transitions in Chiapas to rolling hills and pine forests mixed with limestone mountains around lakes and rivers. Tacos are the staple of Mexican cuisine, and they are absolutely outstanding throughout the country, but it would be a shame to just eat tacos when the gringas, quesadillas, panuchas, sopas, pollo asadas, moles, elotes, tamales, and so many more things I’m forgetting are also insanely delicious. I could eat Mexican food every day and not get tired of it.

Beyond the terrain and food there’s a cultural importance that permeates Mexico, both historic and modern. Mayan ruins aren’t just around, they’re everywhere, and they range in style from pristine tourist traps to majestic hidden archaeological sites. It’s actually possible to visit so many Mayan sites that you can’t fathom going to another one, but you don’t regret seeing as many as you did. Towns of interest vary as much as the landscape, from the modern, bustling, energetic capital of Mexico City, my introduction to the country that immediately started my visit off on the right foot, to the quaint, beautiful, and still bursting with options San Cristobal de las Casas, my favorite town in Mexico thus far, plus everything in between like tourist-central Playa del Carmen, expat haven Tulum, and often overlooked but charming in its own right Vallodolid.

Then there’s the people. Everyone hears about the negatives of Mexico – the dangerous drug cartels, the kidnappings, the clash between the Zapatistas and the government, the bus robberies – but the negatives just make headlines. What I encountered was the opposite. I met helpful people, people who didn’t care if my Spanish was beginner at best, who wanted to make sure I liked their country, who took care of me, who greeted me with a smile. Whenever I talked to travelers about why they couldn’t leave Mexico the welcoming people were always one of the main reasons.

So at the end of the day I’m not surprised that I agreed to repeat my route and stay in Mexico longer than intended. I was never in a rush to leave. I feel bad that I underestimated my neighbor to the south, and that I didn’t give it the time it deserved earlier. I will probably go back to Mexico when I have to do a visa run from Guatemala. Because this beautiful country captivates everyone who visits it. And because of the tacos.

The Campsite I Couldn’t Leave

After Mexico City I jumped to the coast. Originally I thought I would start in Oaxaca and work my way up to the peninsula, but once I cut Belize (budgetary reasons) and learned a friend would be in the Playa del Carmen area I changed my mind and flew to Cancun. The airport bus landed me in Playa for two nights – an okay experience that doesn’t merit its own post – from which I took a collectivo to Tulum to meet up with Karim.

All I knew from him was that he’d found a “gem” of a place on the beach near the ruins where we could camp. I looked up as much as I could about where this Pancho Villa Bar and Campground place was, which only seemed to exist on a Facebook page, and based on the Facebook map and his vague description set out to find it. Turns out the bar is only a year old and the campsite less than half a year, which explains its seeming nonexistence; the first tourist post at the ruins didn’t even know about it, but the second one proved more helpful with the advice to turn at Playa Maya. I actually found it easily, although by the time I got there I was sweating so much you’d think it poured rain on my walk, and secured a tent at a bargain price for three nights.

The campsite was a gem. It was right behind the bar on the beach, so every day we could walk out to the ocean whenever we wanted. Along with multiple plots where you could pitch your own tent or sleep in one of the ones for rent, there was a hammock area where we hung out for daytime naps and nighttime chats, a kitchen of sorts (if you don’t mind cooking over an open fire), and a bar/reception/hangout area where the activities happened and the guys who ran the place spent most of their time. That’s where I learned how to shoot a slingshot and make a dreamcatcher, which is now hanging in this area amid the collection that Juan made.

Juan, the owner of this campsite, has traveled the world learning things. He built every structure on this site, wove every dreamcatcher decorating the hangout area, carved every decoration including the totem pole at the beach bar entrance, and made his vision of this place a reality. He plans to do it again on an island next year. He is one of those people that you meet only in places like this, where good vibes matter and time does not. “Manana” was his favorite word. I stayed up late talking with Juan about travel and life in a mixture of English, German and Spanish. He taught me how to make the dreamcatcher, his new nickname for me, and I drove his stick-shift Jeep down to a friend’s place on the Zona Hoteleria for conversation over beers and tacos and an impromptu soccer game on the beach. He took me in and I promised I would return one day.

Everyone who worked at the place accepted me into their friendship, despite my inability to converse in Spanish. Owing to their good English, we still were able to have conversations ranging in topic from sculpture in ancient Rome to typical Mexican humor. I passed hours sipping beers shooting the shit with these guys, and if it wasn’t for the sand flies that decided I was the tastiest thing since pastor tacos I probably would have stayed longer. The sheer quantity of bites earned me the name Crocodile Woman, so after my fourth night I decided it was time to leave.

I have come across these chill types of places around the world – Nicaragua, Colombia, Laos – and have always moved on before I felt ready, having to be somewhere else. This time I didn’t have that need, I had all the time in the world. I was curious to see how long I would actually stay in a place like this. When I first arrived, I thought I might stay for weeks and just disconnect. In the end I lasted four days. I have openly blamed the oppressive heat and hungry bugs, but inside I just knew it was time. And the fact that I could come to that decision just by feeling instead of by schedule is what this trip is all about.

Pancho Villa was an important place for me. A place where I finally felt like I’m into this new chapter, and where I let the logistical traveler go. The people and the place came together at the right time for me, and from then one I knew I would be in the mentality I hoped for when I left again. As of writing this it’s been a week since my departure from Tulum, and I can say that it’s going well so far. And I sincerely believe I have the Pancho Villa campsite to thank for that.

The World I Saw

 

From Logging Roads to the Beach, My Trip to Vancouver Island

For six days I lived in a camper on the back of a 1990 pick-up truck, driving around on logging roads from deep forest to bright ocean, seeing what Victoria Island is all about with someone who knew it like the back of his hand. Before I left Hampi, Sam and I had discussed the possibility of doing a long road trip this fall – Vancouver to Panama – so we decided to do a trial run before I went back to the East Coast. This is how I ended up in British Columbia less than a week after setting foot on North American soil.

We started the journey in Victoria, a charming city with some classic architecture, a thriving port, delicious soft-serve, and, most importantly for us, Sam’s shack of goodies – two old VW vans, two 4×4’s that need some work, a couple surfboards, and countless tools, it was a window into a resourceful man’s world that I’d only heard about from Sam and would experience in the upcoming days. We grabbed what we needed and, after a few key grocery stops, left civilization behind.

Most of our trip was spent in the car, which probably sounds a lot more boring than it actually was. This was a test of road trip compatibility after all. We drove a ton, zigzagging across the southern half of Vancouver Island. I got very used to bumping slowly along gravel logging roads, swerving around potholes and letting the giant trucks hauling tree trunks have the right of way. We chatted, we listened to music, and I stared out the window, endlessly entertained by the gorgeous Pacific Northwest scenery.

The weather matched our route perfectly. It was overcast with a misty rain for our hikes in two old growth forests, first to Canada’s Gnarliest Tree and then to Sam’s favorite tree, which has to be the biggest tree I’ve ever seen – it was sprouting full size trees as branches. These forests have been around much longer than any of us; they are impressive, spiritual places that reminded me just how small we really are in this vast world. Then when we reached the west coast the sun came out to welcome us to the ocean. We had perfect weather for our Tofino day, which we thoroughly enjoyed by parking the camper in a lot right on the beach so we could cook and eat breakfast with an ocean view. Tofino was already Day 4 of our trip and the most time we spent in a town; after our beach breakfast we went to the Roy Henry Vickers gallery – a gorgeous collection by this acclaimed local artist – and the Tofino Brewing Company for a tasting flight.

Each night we camped at a different site. The first night we were seaside at Port Renfrew, the second on Lake Cowichan, the third at an official campsite in Ucluelet (with showers!), the fourth at a new site on Kennedy Lake, and the fifth on Salt Spring Island. While they all had their own charm, and were really pretty, my favorite by far was the fourth night. We were the only people in this lovely brand new campsite. We played our new favorite radio station loudly and had a fire going late into the night. Attempting to find our way out the next day, lost deep in nameless logging roads, we saw a logging chopper land (apparently a rarity judging by how excited Sam was) before stopping to ask a man for directions. He happened to be a very talented carver and showed us some of his projects, including an orca whale that had a baby orca inside it that could be lowered down by a rope, and a figure that would support the roof of his house. His work was beautiful and we were happy to have had the privilege of speaking with him about it.

Along with just enjoying the incredible scenery the trip was a lesson in self-efficiency. I learned that in Canada firewood is not purchased but cut up with a chainsaw on the side of the road. I then learned how to chop said wood with an ax and build a better fire. I also learned how to drive an old stick shift truck with a camper on the back, play a djembe drum in sync with Sam’s acoustic guitar, and new ways to cook salmon and bacon-wrapped halibut. Every night we parked at a new site and set to work making a fire and cooking dinner together – we cooked some great meals in that camper – and then hung out late into the night in the warmth of the flames. It was a great way of life.

At the end of my trip I was sad to return to a city. Vancouver Island is truly gorgeous and a perfect place to live a simple life out of a camper, wandering around at will. I can’t thank Sam enough for inviting me up to his home and adventuring around with me.

The Days of Goa

Goa was the last stop of our whirlwind two week tour of India. What better way is there to end a trip like this than with three days of beach, sun, shopping, and partying?

We chose to stay in Anjuna, the supposedly new hippie location in between party-centric Vagator and commercialized Baga. It had a low key feel (especially compared to busy Baga), with cows roaming next to night clubs and everything you could need within a short walk to the beach, or in some cases right on the beach. It was the vibe we were looking for, perfect for a short stint but not somewhere I would spend more than a couple of days.

Our time in Goa was meant to be relaxing, so we limited ourselves to one task per day. Our first day happened to be a Wednesday, the day of the weekly Anjuna Flea Market, so this was an easy choice for our one activity. Started decades ago as a gathering of hippies selling their possessions to raise enough money so they could stay in Goa, the market has since grown to be a main draw for tourists.

Massive doesn’t even begin to describe it. We wandered in and around this market for hours, getting lost in stalls of scarves, jewlery, clothes, incense, spices, and all sorts of trinkets. It was an easy place for Kwaz to finish up her souvenier shopping and I finally gave in too. I’ve been good about not wasting money or precious backpack space on souvenirs, but when I saw the Tibetan Yak Wool shawls I couldn’t resist anymore. I was first introduced to these beautiful pieces at Shambhala and was jealous of my friends who got them, so when I found a pattern that was nothing short of awesome and haggled it down to a price half of what they were in Thailand I just had to have it. By mid afternoon the market reached swealtering heat levels so we beelined to fresh air and lounge chairs on the beach. Beach, finally! And what goes better with beach than beers and gold fried calamari? Nothing? That’s what we thought too. Day 1 success.

The next day our one activity was the beach. We had breakfast at one of the restaurants right on the beach then moved next door to the lounge chairs at Jack and Jane’s, where we spent the next few hours loving their mojitos and their soundtrack (70’s throwbacks and some rock jams, a nice contrast to the trance everywhere else). The water in Goa is so warm and calm; there was no convincing myself that it wouldn’t be as cold when I got in, or waiting for a set of menacing waves to pass by, it was easy just to walk in and float under the sun. We swam, we chatted, we read, we napped – Kwaz and I and our new friends Raul and the Germans – and felt like we were really on vacation.

The last day we got a late start; around 1 pm I believe. But what do you expect when you get home at 8 am? Our one task for the day was a little different than the previous two days: we were going to get tattoos. Kwaz and I had talked about wanting new ones and possibly getting them together in India, but I think we were both not convinced this would actually happen until we found ourselves sitting in a tattoo parlor in Baga as they put the stencils on us. It was our last day together until who knows when and, even though our tattoos are individual to each of us, they will still be permanent reminders of our trip and, more importantly, our friendship. We were both so happy with the results and highly recommend Krish Tattoos to anyone thinking about getting one in Goa. Kwaz got an outline of India on her wrist, beaufitully drawn in an elegant thin line, which I will not explain the reasons behind (explaining a tattoo is for each person to decide themselves) but I will say that it is so fitting and I’m so happy for her for getting it. I got my trip commemorative tattoo, the one I knew I would get when I left but had no idea what it would end up being, hoping that the right design would come to me at the right time, and it definitely did. I love it. And I will explain it in a separate post.

We celebrated our new tattoos with glasses of wine and a repeat dinner of our favorite meal from our favorite place: gimlettes and chicken vindaloo with jeera rice and naan. This chicken vindaloo is the spiciest thing we ate in all of India in the best way. Freaking delicious, we couldn’t get enough of it (obviously since we had the same thing two nights in a row).

Kwaz left the next day. I still had a full day in Goa before I left on a night bus for Hampi, which I spent taking care of business and eating leftover vindaloo in the hostel. It felt strange to be in India without her. We may have gone 8 months without seeing each other but as soon as we were reunited it felt like just a week. It can be challenging to travel with another person for 2 weeks straight no matter how good of friends you are, especially in a place like India, but it never was with Kwaz. In fact two weeks didn’t feel like enough. Which is why, when I got a WhatsApp that due to a bad connection she had missed her flight home and was stuck in Delhi till Monday, the first thing I did was look up flights from Goa to Delhi to go hang out in the hotel with her till she could actually leave. I didn’t end up ditching my Hampi plans for my best friend and a pool, which in the end was probably the right decision for me, but damn was I tempted.

Kwaz, I know that you’ve wanted to go to India forever, and whether I was the excuse to see India or India was the excuse to see me, I am just so happy you came and had a great time traveling with you, even if India was a two-faced bitch sometimes.