travel

The Sun Will Always Rise Again

If I have found one constant around the world it is this simple fact: the sun will always set, and it will always rise again.

I have watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Andaman Sea, Lake Yamanaka, Laguna Bacalar, the Wörthersee, and the Amazon River. I have watched it rise over the Himalayas, the Kaikoura Ranges, Mount Rinjani, Volcan de Agua, the boulders in Hampi, the Temples of Angkor, the Temples of Bagan, the skyline of downtown San Francisco, and the rolling hills of Vermont.

The end of the day, the beginning of one. Sunsets and sunrises are events that encourage reflection, or at the very least taking a pause and admiring the beauty of nature. Sunsets are beautiful scenes, but I have discovered a personal preference for sunrises. The start of something new. The chance to begin again. When the sun sets on one phase, it rises on another.

If I have found one preference around the world it is this: I like the mountains.

Anyone who has read my posts over the past two years knows my affinity for rocky terrain. I love a good beach trip as much as anyone, but I can only last there for so long. Put me in a tiny mountain village, surrounded by nature so impressive all you can do is look up, and I will be happy. If there is water near by – a lake surrounded by hills, for example – I may never leave. From my family’s roots in Vermont and Austria to my homes in San Francisco and Antigua to some of my favorite travel destinations in New Zealand and Myanmar and Japan, the constant is mountains, often accompanied by water.

So it should be no surprise that, two days before leaving Antigua, two days before I uprooted a life in search of the next adventure, I got another tattoo memorializing all of this. Two years of travel, two years of not knowing where I would end up next, two years of the sun setting on one place and rising on another, in a lifetime of the sun setting on one phase and rising on another. My Antigua phase was over. My Travel Abrodge felt like it was coming to an end. I was hoping to return to stability, a hope I never knew I would want again but there it was. My sun was setting on my nomadic life. But it will rise again on another.

I never want to forget how important this philosophy has been to me. And now I never will.

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6 Months in Central America

 

The Expat Ending

Last year when I came back through the United States I knew I had a series of wrap-up blog posts to write – photo projects, how my planning worked out, how it felt to be done with that trip and moving forward, highlights of places I visited. The list was long and comprehensive.

This year I feel like I should do the same, but I don’t have a list. I don’t really know how to neatly wrap things up like I did before. Going through some pictures the other night I was reminded that my Central America adventure started much like my round the world trip, hopping from place to place seeing the sights of a new region. But in December that got derailed when I decided to stay in Antigua for an unknown amount of time. Over the next six months I built a life there, and that’s what has defined this part of my Travel Abrodge. I became an expat.

And I couldn’t imagine any better way to end this adventure.

One thing that I craved when I set out again in September was to get stuck somewhere. I’d encountered places in my first year that were tempting but I was so set on my moving itinerary that it wouldn’t have been possible to really enjoy stopping. This time though that wasn’t the case. I was intrigued by what it meant to be an expat, to get to know a place on a deeper level. Antigua became that place.

Antigua, the expat haven. It’s not a unique choice for this kind of experience, but maybe that’s also why it was appealing. I entered a place where expats were a huge part of the community. For better or for worse, I wasn’t alone.

I straddled a line between expat community – Cafe No Se – and Guatemalans and backpackers – Lucky Rabbit – in a way that made me feel like I got a pretty well-rounded experience of what living in Antigua was like. And on top of that, I had a more grounded life than I had maybe ever had before. I had a house, I had a relationship, I was caring for two dogs, I started to know people in town, was invited to parties in the city, became a person people would come visit at the bar, and couldn’t walk around without running into someone I knew. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a real home and it was in Guatemala. A little bubble of Guatemala called Antigua. But it still had the market and the water issues and the language and the characteristics of being a town in Guatemala.

It was everything I didn’t know I was looking for, and even though it came to an end somewhat abruptly, I will forever be happy I experienced that life. My first year away was world exploration, constant movement, the backpacker life. My second year was dominated by this expat life. It’s the best combination that really made me feel like I’ve done it all now. Of course it’s not possible to have “done it all,” it never will be, but without that expat time I would not feel like I could come back to the States. Come back to a job. Come back to a life I never knew I would want to return to. It’s because of Antigua that I realized I did want to return to it.

Thank you to Antigua – to everyone there for making me feel so welcomed, so at home, and to the town itself for being the picture perfect place to stay.

Over the next couple of months I will probably write a handful of posts on concluding thoughts from the past two years. I don’t know what form they will take yet or where they will lead me. I just know that I can wholeheartedly say that I have just lived some of the best years of my life. It is bittersweet saying that it’s over, but if I’ve learned anything from it all, something wonderful still lies ahead. It always does.

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)

Early Morning Musings

I woke up today thinking about New Zealand. I have no idea why. I couldn’t remember the name of that grocery store that I was so in love with, the one that had cheap fresh products perfect for the backpacker budget. New something. New Lands? No, that’s the Justice song I put to my Fraser Island video. New… New… World! New World! Yes I wrote a post about it. After Kaikoura, when I woke up to see the sunrise with tea. Tea sounds nice. I’ll go make some tea and read my post about New World.

That led to watching my road trip video to the boat video to the oceans video to the sandboarding video and I felt myself enter a downward spiral of reminiscing and nostalgia. I knew I didn’t actually want to be on the road again, but I will always miss the lifestyle I had that year.

I’m just shy of a year away from the end of my 300 days around the world, so maybe that’s a contributing factor to this feeling of uncertainty about settling into a single place for so long. Every Timehop that shows me where in Japan I was a year ago is just a countdown to the end of that trip, to the time my first year of travel was over, to that feeling in the Seoul airport when I had a panic attack about going back Stateside. I’m not Stateside now but I am stopped. I live and work in one place, something I haven’t been able to say for almost two years.

And I just got back from San Francisco, the last place that I did live and work. It’s been a rough adjustment since I got back a week ago. I do owe you a blog post on my time there, and that will help explain this a bit, but suffice it to say that reentering my old life for two weeks has put my new life in serious contrast and I’m not sure how it will play out. Yes I am still happy in Antigua, yes I still believe this was the right choice for me right now, and yes I am still staying for the foreseeable future. For the foreseeable future. What lies beyond the seeable I don’t know yet.

I do know that for now, I must make the most of my time here. Many of my friends are on their way out or have already left. Sometimes I feel like I’ll outlast everyone. But then I remember how many people have left and come back and are still around and I am still just getting to know and I know that there is still more for me here. But what some of these friends have said about their final days in Antigua is how much they’ve come to appreciate it at the end, almost like seeing it for the first time again. That instant love that we all felt when we got here, that made us stay here, seems to return when you’re about to leave. So instead of waiting for that moment when I decide to leave, I will try to remember every day how wonderful this place is and make it my own. It won’t be my permanent home, so in a way every day I’m here is like a day on my way out. Even if that final out is still months away.

But for now, I will indulge my nostalgia and watch a few more travel videos. And why not? Those first 300 days remain 300 of the best days of my life. Why wouldn’t I want to relive and remember them any chance I can?

A Chicken Bus Adventure from Antigua to Lake Atitlan

10 days after I arrived in Antigua I finally tore myself away to the next Guatemala destination on my list: Lake Atitlan. I had already begun to talk to people about staying longer in Antigua but felt like I needed some time away to wrap my head around this decision to stop moving. So I moved. On chicken buses.

Chicken buses are the generally accepted name for old school buses that have been on Pimp My Ride Latin America. They’re colorfully painted, decorated with stickers on the windshield, and outfitted with speaker systems that blast the local Latin music in your ears for the whole ride. People are packed into the seats six across, forcing the middle two to sit with half a butt cheek on a seat and the other hovering in the aisle. The classic joke “how many people can you fit on a chicken bus?” “one more” is entirely accurate. Speed limits don’t seem to exist in Guatemala in general, but even less so for chicken buses. On one winding mountain road it was a full body workout to keep myself from crushing the people on either side of me as I stood at the front of the aisle. The bus took turns like a rally car driver, forcing everyone to either hold on for dear life or play jello. Even the driver had to hold on on the turns.

The way to San Marcos La Laguna took four chicken buses and a boat. I started at the local market in Antigua and found the first bus to Chimaltenango. I sat in the last row on the bus so I could quickly jump out the back door when it was my turn to exit. I didn’t realize just how quickly I would have to jump. When we got to Chima a nice old man tapped me on the shoulder and pointed that it was time to get out. We were on the side of a busy highway intersection on the edge of town, was this really my stop? The back door swung open and someone asked me, “Donde vas?” “La Escuinta!” “Si aqui, la cruz a La Escuinta. Aca!” And he pointed at a bus that was hovering on the main road perpendicular to us. I threw my backpack on my back and jumped out the back of the barely even stopped bus and ran to the door of the next one. “La Escuinta?” “Si!”

I stepped onto chicken bus #2 as it started to accelerate to see that it was packed to the rim. My backpack found a home underneath the dashboard, held in place by a Guatemala police officer, as I found a place standing in the front of the aisle holding onto the metal rails. This was the workout ride when I thought we might go careening off the road at any turn. Every time someone passed me to get off I had to do a yoga move just to let them through.

The La Escuinta stop was another highway intersection. I jumped off one bus and found the bus to Pana (Panajachel). Finally I could calmly board a bus and wait for it to go. However this was not the bus to Pana but a bus to halfway to Pana, so without warning everyone got off and switched to another bus. Not calm anymore. Finally I made it to Pana.

The bus goes into the center of Pana to the market, but the boats are at the edge of town, so with the direction of “abajo” I walked 15 minutes back to the water’s edge. I don’t know why I expected more of a port – probably because Pana is the main tourist town on the lake and boats run from here to every town – but when I arrived I was slightly surprised by the small, rickety docks and boats. One final mini conversation consisting of location name and pointing at transport and I was on the boat to San Marcos. 30 minutes on rocky waters later I had arrived.

4 buses, 1 boat, 4 hours of travel, 46 quetzales, aka US$6.

It may sound stressful, but I actually found it entirely entertaining. I was laughing to myself most of the way. The chaos somehow works, and it made for a much more interesting ride than the shuttle.

The way back I took the same route with 4 buses, although the next time I was at the lake I had the patience to wait for the bus from Pana straight to Chimaltenango, cutting the ride down to 2. It was much easier that way for just 5Q more. But I’m happy to have done it the chaotic way the first time. Now I feel like I can go anywhere on these buses.

 

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 Next Chapter: Antigua

I still have a handful of posts to write about my adventures over the past month, but I felt like I had to write this first. I have decided to move to Antigua.

Considering that I haven’t even written about making it to Guatemala yet I’m sure this comes as a bit of a surprise, but once I get to those posts it’ll become apparent how quickly I fell in love with this town.

From the moment I set foot in Antigua I knew it was different. There’s a charm that captures you immediately, and a small town familiarity that keeps its hold on you. The cobblestone streets, the colorful low-rise buildings, the perfectly manicured Parque Central, the abundance of cafes, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops, offering something for every taste, the bustling local market for all your needs, the tuktuks and vividly repainted old school buses, the scenery, with three volcanoes visible from the town including the incredibly active Fuego shooting lava into the sky, the nightlife, the people – Antigua has it all.

It helped that I was introduced to the local’s Antigua through Brayan and Ale. I quickly knew people and favorite spots; I never felt like a tourist. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like I had a new family here. They are a huge part of the reason that I stayed.

The other part is the magic of Antigua. It has a way of making it impossible to leave. Any time I questioned whether I would really stay here this town offered up something that made my concern disappear. A spontaneous overnight at Hobbitenango with friends ended with talk of finding a home together – something that became a reality just two days ago when we moved in together. A stop by a bar for a happy hour beer turned into a possible job opportunity (more than once). A drive down a mountain road led to rescuing and caring for two puppies.

I left town for almost a week to try to wrap my head around what to do. When I started the journey back to Antigua I thought I had a plan for how I would proceed – there was one condition under which I would stay and if it didn’t work out then I would move on. Then I returned and felt like I’d come back to an old friend. There was a big event in town – the burning of the devil, a strange Christmas tradition – and that night I ran into so many people who asked where I’d been and welcomed be back that I realized I already had a life here. I stopped thinking about logistics, got out of my head, and it all became clear.

I never really thought about leaving Antigua. From the day I got here I thought about staying. Suddenly the rest of my trip seemed less exciting than what a life here could be like. I had craved stopping but misleadingly focused my attention on Vienna. Everything I wanted there I already had here. And for the first time in my travels, I was in the proper mindset to actually stop and see what it would be like to live in a place that captured me like this. It may sound unexpected that I have ditched the plan to go all the way to Colombia but it also may not. This was always possible, that I would find somewhere that made me never want to leave.

So I decided to go for it. I have moved into a house and am working on finding a job. I can actually say that my travels have stopped (for now) and that I have a home. I live in Antigua, Guatemala.

Now it’s time to work on my Spanish.