This has been one of the most challenging and rewarding years, and most of my clearest memories are of the moments that were similarly both difficult and beautiful. Here are some of the year’s stickiest memories.
Chiapa de Corzo fiestas (January)
This was the only event that I planned on attending the entire trip, after my Chiapan roommate showed me photos from it. I can be sort of blase about festivals, but being in Chiapa de Corzo reminded me of how no photo can ever truly capture an event. Traveling the winding road to this small town and being surrounded by the chanting and the dancing is something worth traveling for.
From siesta to fiesta
Getting work done on the road
I gave myself a deadline earlier this year to finish a novel I’ve been working on for almost five years. We set up office in the Oaxacan beach town of Puerto Escondido for ten days so I could focus on wrapping this thing up. It was hard to let go of it, but I did it on the beach, freeing my mind up for other things.
Also in Puerto Escondido, we had our hearts broken by some tiny puppies.
Then, in October, I drafted an entire first book of a trilogy in three weeks, mostly while we were stuck in Quito with van problems. I finished the book at ten in the morning, and then proceeded to have one of the most wonderful days of my life. I now know why most writers write in the morning–nothing is better than finishing a novel before you have lunch. It’s a way more intense version of that smug feeling of accomplishment you nurse all day after exercising in the morning.
Our cabin in San Cristóbal (March-April)
San Cristóbal was the first place we set up for more than ten days, and what an idyllic, peaceful place to do it…! I jogged and did yoga and we met tons of other overlanders and in the afternoons I would sit in the house making stews that we would enjoy by our little fireplace. Now, instead of thinking of the sofa we jettisoned when leaving San Francisco, I think of that sunny little treehouse in San Cristóbal.
Our first real breakdown (Cobán, April)
The breakdown is the overlanders’ worst fear, other than violence and total robbery. We had a breakdown on our way to Bug Camp in Cobán, Guatemala, after an awful night of driving through rain and fire and crumbling roads. After Juan spent a few hours trying to diagnose the problem at the service station, we popped the top and slept there. At that time it seemed liked the worst possible thing in the world, but when we woke up in the morning, everything felt manageable. That night made me really begin to feel like the van was our safe haven, no matter where we were, and even if it wasn’t running.
Highland to highland
Visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala (April)
I had never heard of Semuc Champey until one of the guys at Bug Camp told us about it. It is a beautiful series of limestone pools that is located at the end of a very bad road. This was a big decision for us–how to get there, if we should take the car, if we could make it, and the responsibility of determining the capabilities of our vehicle was pretty stressful. In the end, we decided to go for it, and we made it in an out of the bad road without any drama. The pools were incredibly beautiful, and Milo even got to go for a swim, making this one of the highlights of our trip. I only regret that we didn’t stay longer, but Juan was anxious about making sure we could leave in the case of any rain.
The Cayos Cochinos in Honduras (May)
Sort of similar to our experience of Semuc Champey, getting to these islands in Honduras was not easy. Visiting the Caribbean coast was about a week-long detour. But setting foot on these tiny islands a choppy boat ride off the shore made me once again feel far away from everything I knew.
Volcán Masaya (June)
This volcano is unlike anything I’d ever seen, and the lurking threat that it could blow at any moment made quite an impression on me. This was also one of our most miserable nights, as Milo consumed our dinner–almost an entire chicken, including every last bone of it–and then we ourselves were consumed by black flies all night.
Bits and bites, nine months in
Crossing the Darien Gap (July-August)
Our extended stay in Panama City was one of the low points of our journey. It was hot and miserable and we just couldn’t leave. The moment we were about to get on the plane and then had to get off was my real moment of insanity. I felt like we were never going to leave that awful place and I was so grateful to Juan for handling the decisions because I truly had a mental meltdown.
Getting to Colombia (August)
After all the heat and headaches of Panama City, getting to the Colombian highlands felt like arriving in heaven. The agricultural protests prevented us from moving very far, and we were only too happy to spend two glorious, sweat-free weeks in the lovely mountain towns of San Gil, Barichara, and Villa de Leyva.
Getting farther and farther away and yet feeling more and more at home (October)
Our hosts during our breakdown (and novel-writing frenzy) in Quito really made us feel at home. They gifted us these two coffee mugs–one from Chalo’s favorite soccer team, and the other from Sandra’s office–which came in handy when we had coffee with some of the locals in the Tungurahua valley. Talking to them made me realize how far away from home we were, even though we had this lovely home-away-from-home just nearby in Quito.
and visiting home
Happy New Year to everyone, and may we all experience some pleasure in the unknown this year.
Oh, and Happy FORTIETH Anniversary to my wonderful folks.