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Driving In Northern Peru: Cities to Stay in, Where to Eat Vegan, and Hostels to Stay in

Northern Peru is enormous. As such, there were many—and I mean MANY—times when we either had to buck up and do really long ride days, or stay in random cities multiple times in a week. We did a combination, and here is a route of where we rode, where we stayed, and what the driving was like. Oh, and of course, how vegan friendly Northern Peru is or isn’t.

Where To Stop Between Major Cities When Driving in Northern Peru

  1. San Ignacio; 2. Chachapoyas; 3. Leymebamba; 4. Cajamarca; 5. Huanchaco
1. San Ignacio; 2. Chachapoyas; 3. Leymebamba; 4. Cajamarca; 5. Huanchaco

*Drive Times do NOT include stops. They are a calculation of drive time only.

1.  San Ignacio


We stopped in San Ignacio because the drive from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas (our first intentional destination in Peru) was far too long. San Ignacio is not very big, but it is very busy. There are tuk tuks and people everywhere, and for a minute I thought I was in India or Southeast Asia. There isn’t much to do here besides stay the night. We recommend visiting Piconi, a café with a super nice owner and delicious, piping hot coffee.

DRIVE RATING: 2/5 TIRES, 1 Hour From the Border

It took us about 3 hours from Vilcabamba to the border, and the roads were twisty and unpaved. The views were, however, stunning. Unfortunately the Peruvian Immigration system was “down” all day, and we weren’t able to get stamped in. We had to drive the hour to San Ignacio, stay the night, and return to the border the next day for our stamps. The roads in San Ignacio are steep and narrow, and tuk-tuks run rampant. So be very aware while driving.


Yikes. No vegetarians here. there are a couple chinese restaurants where you can get vegetarian pastas or rices, and there is a fruit market as well. don’t expect to eat super healthy.

ACCOMMODATION, Gran Hotel San Ignacio  2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $25 for a private room with shared bathroom. Full restaurant, breakfast included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a basic hotel in San Ignacio with a restaurant and clean rooms. Don’t expect any ambience or travelers. There is a big lobby and a small courtyard in the back (where we parked our motorcycle). The restaurant is open all day and has a fairly full menu, but not much for vegan/vegetarians.

2. Chachapoyas

 View of Chachapoyas from the Mirador at sunset.
View of Chachapoyas from the Mirador at sunset.


This is a very cute town with small, walkable streets, a big central square, and white white white everything. this is a jumping off point for several day tours, including Gocta falls, Yumbilla falls, and the Kuelap ruins. There are tons of small cafes and a central market with fruits, veggies, cooked beans (VEGAN WIN), nuts, and candies. A very cute spot in the Amazon, but it is not a backpacker zone so don’t expect much social life.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 5 hours from San Ignacio  

The drive from San Ignacio was both gorgeous and rough. the first three hours we were in scorching heat, but the views were incredible. we traversed tropics, rode next to a bright blue river for hours, and saw dozens of mountains, each different than the one before.  The streets of Chachapoyas are all one ways and subject to random closures, so navigating in town with a vehicle is slightly stressful.


There is a vegetarian restaurant in town with Almuerzos and a la carte items, which is cheap and fairly tasty. we also frequently visited a café on the main square with a few vegan items on the menu and the best soy milk I’ve ever tasted. They also have a nice ambience and sell beer/wine/liquor, so it makes for a nice dinner spot. The markets all sell pre-cooked beans (garbanzo, chocho, pinto, and more) which make for a cheap lunch or great snack.

Favorite Lunch Spot:  El Eden
Favorite Dinner Spot: Café Fusiones (the great soy milk spot)

ACCOMMODATION, Hostal el Angel  2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $15 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is not a hostel, it’s more of a cheap hotel that travelers stay at. The owner is very sweet, but speaks no English. The rooftop is the only true common area, but don’t expect a typical hoste. This is someone’s home with a hotel built in. The rooms are very small, but the showers have hot water so that’s a plus. It’s also very cheap. Good location, only two blocks from the main square and one block from the stairs to the mirador.

3.     Leymebamba

 The square in Leymebamba at 6:30am
The square in Leymebamba at 6:30am


Leymebamba is a very small town that doesn’t attract tourists. There are several expensive eco lodges nearby which I imagine draw retirees and wealthy Peruvians, but these are nestled high up on the hills out of town. Leymebamba was simply a stopover for us, and the town reflected that sentiment.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 2 hours from Chachapoyas  

We drove here from Chachapoyas and stopped in Keulap on our way. The road was a single lane, windy road along the river with some speed bumps and a few unpaved sections, but overall an easy road to drive on. Leymebamba doesn’t have many cars, but many one way roads. It was easy to navigate.


Good luck getting anything other than rice, beans, and French fries for dinner here. That’s all.

ACCOMMODATION, Hospedaje Virgen del Carmen 2/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $10 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a basic Peruvian hotel. The room was big and we had our own bathroom, which was nice. This hotel (and many others in Leymebamba) is not bookable online, we just rode up and asked for a room. The streets are loud all night long, and we heard all of it. We were also woken up at 4am by someone accidentally coming into our room.  

4.     Cajamarca


Cajamarca is a large, busy city. Tuk tuks and collectivos blast down the one way streets. Women wear large white top hats and sell chocolate on the corners. The central square is enormous and very well kept. Other than walking around the streets, we didn’t do much in Cajamarca, and we felt like we didn’t miss much. To be fair, we were exhausted from so many ride days and used this as an opportunity to relax for a few days.

DRIVE RATING: 2/5 TIRES, 6.5 hours from Leymebamba  

We read a lot about the ride from Leymebamba to Cajamarca, and since I was having some health problems, we decided Josh would make the ride alone and I would take the bus. The bus was more like a van, and took almost 9 hours with all the stops we made. Josh told me when he arrived in Cajamarca that the road was the scariest/sketchiest he had done—the single lane road wound it’s way 13,000 up into the mountains (with stunning views mind you), where he had several close calls turning blind corners. The temperature dropped and rose dramatically, and there were few towns to stop in for a bathroom break or snack.

In Cajamarca, the roads are insane. We can barely cross the street by foot without getting hit by something on wheels. Driving in this city would be hectic, and all the one ways would make it even more impossible. We were glad to be staying outside the city and avoid riding the motorcycle inside the bustle of it all.


There is one vegetarian restaurant in Cajamarca, but it was closed the one day we tried to go so we didn’t’ get to try it. Any other restaurant we found on Trip Advisor or Google Maps ended up being permanently closed or simply not at the stated address. We ended up eating at Salas Restaurant, a chain restaurant in the city that had several side options we could eat (sweet potatoes, rice, steamed veggies, yucca) and vegetable soup and salads.  

We also found the only lady inside the Mercado Central selling pre-cooked beans and lentils, and we bought three dinner’s worth of legumes for less than a dollar. To find her, enter the Mercado (the entrance is in the middle of Jr. Amazonas street, not on the corner as indicated in Google Maps) and immediately turn right, then left, then right again. She is hiding between some of the meat stands, so look the other way!

ACCOMMODATION, Tetem Backpackers Hostel  3/5 OHMS

Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $22 for a private room with shared bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a family run hostel in Baños del Inca, a 20 minute collective or taxi from Cajamarca. The hostel has enormous private rooms, a kitchen (shared by the family), and a jacuzzi-style pool. There were only two other guests here, and as this is one of only two hostels in Cajamarca I got the vibe it’s not a very backpacker-y city in the first place.  

 View of Playa Huanchaco from Atma Hostel’s rooftop.
View of Playa Huanchaco from Atma Hostel’s rooftop.

4.     Huanchaco/Trujillo


Huanchaco is a sleepy surf town in Northern Peru. The main boardwalk is sprinkled with souvenir stands and there are a several restaurants and tiendas along the way. This time of year it’s quite overcast and foggy most days, but you’ll still catch surfers in wetsuits catching waves. There isn’t much to do here besides visit Chan Chan and chill on the beach, but we enjoyed the quiet beach vibes.

DRIVE RATING: 4/5 TIRES, 5.5 hours from Cajamarca  

The ride from Cajamarca was scenic and diverse. We dropped out of the mountains on a windy road and ended up in the desert. The majority of the ride is on a major highway, with some small roads in small towns interspersed on the ride. Huanchaco is easy to navigate as it is quite small and not very populated.


There are several restaurants in Huanchaco that serve fully vegan and vegetarian meals, and not just rice and beans folks! We’re talking veggie burgers, burritos, curry, and thai food. Hell yes. There are also dozens of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Trujillo, the neighboring (giant) city.

Favorite Lunch Spot: Moksha
Favorite Dinner Spot: Mi Casa Thai


Parking: Yes for motorcycles
Cost: $22 for a private room and bathroom.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This is a well decorated hostel just a block off the beach. With many common spaces, bathrooms, a shared kitchen, and daily yoga, this hostel is giving lots of goodies for the price. Our private room was spacious and the bathroom was new and clean (hot water too, yippee!). They also sell vegan treats and homemade peanut butter (yum!). No complaints here!

Have any questions about driving in Northern Peru? Want to know more about eating vegan in Latin America? Let us know in the comments!

Staying Fit While Traveling: Our Favorite Workouts, Gear, and Apps for Staying Healthy on the Road

Traveling full time, Josh and I have figured out exactly what products, clothes, gear, and even snacks are the best for being on the road 24/7. Fitness has always been important to Josh and me, and we wanted to make sure we were able to stay fit while traveling even if we didn’t have a gym membership. We are compiling lists of our Favorite Things, and this post is exclusively dedicated to our favorite fitness thangs. So, let’s get right to it.

We have both experimented with dozens of “at home” workouts: Yoga DVDs, P90X, Kayla Itsine’s BBG, Ab’Sanas, Bowflex Adjustable Dumbells, the list goes on. We have both found what works for us, and we want to share our favorite ways to workout while traveling.

The following are our favorite workouts, gear, and apps for staying healthy on the road.

  1. Pvolve

Rachel’s Favorite Workout

What it is:

Pvolve is like pilates meets barre class meets old school aerobics. Using mostly my bodyweight and incorporating packable tools like gliders, bands, and ankle weights, the moves are designed to lengthen and tone muscles and keep things super low impact.

Why I love it:

Low Impact: I have had three knee injuries, a broken toe, and lower back pain. Read: I’m injury-prone. Pvolve is low impact—no burpees, no jumping, no potential for me to hurt myself.
It Works: Low impact doesn’t mean it’s easy. The movements are precise and controlled, and if you’re doing it right, your ass will burn. My legs look longer and leaner, my core feels longer, and I have more control over my movements in yoga and when I run.
It’s Cheap: for only $29.99/month, it’s the cheapest membership I’ve ever had. And you don’t HAVE to have the equipment to do the workout (it makes it better, but it’s not required). They also offer student discounts and 15 days free before signing up, so you have nothing to lose.

Cost: $29.99/month, with discounts if you commit to more months at a time. The equipment costs range from $14.99-$59.99, and you can bundle to save on equipment. Click here for a free trial!

2. Bodylastic Workout Bands

Josh’s Favorite Workout

What they are:

Set of rubber resistance bands varying in different degrees of resistance. Also includes handles and a few different attachments so you can workout just about anywhere. Why Bodylastics? They have a cord in the middle so they will not over stretch, or snap if they break. They are well-designed, inexpensive and have a great warrantee. My bands have lasted years and I use them a lot.

Why I love them:

Portability: I’ve spent a lot of time lifting weights, and now prefer to use bands exclusively. The first reason is portability. It’s obviously much easier to carry a small bag of bands on the motorcycle than a full set of dumbbells.
Better Workout: Second, I find that the bands actually give me a much better workout- the reason being our muscles are like a rubber band themselves and research shows they are as much as 7X stronger near the contracted point than when fully stretched. The bands get harder to stretch throughout the movement, while your muscle moves into a stronger position. Lastly, with weights, you are only resisting gravity which tends to move in one direction (thankfully). With the bands, you can resist your movement in practically any direction.

Cost: The price ranges from $24.95-$124.95 depending on how many pieces you want— I purchased the 14 Piece Set for $37.95. Check them out here.

3. Altra Running Shoes

Josh’s favorite shoe

What they are:

Altra shoes are running shoes based around two main concepts. FIrst, “zero-drop” which means the heel isn’t higher than the toe like a traditional running shoe. And second, that a shoe should be shaped like a foot. I know, crazy.

Why I love them:

Two main reasons I love these, and one reason I don’t.
No Knee Pain: First, the zero-drop makes it much easier to run without a heel strike. I have had some knee pain running in the past, and always read heel-striking was bad. I tried barefoot running which was good for about 100 yards. I tried minimalist sandals which I still use for walking, but I couldn’t run in them like some people do. The Altras really help me run with better form and avoid knee pain.
Toe Health: Secondly, they have a really wide toe box so my toes aren’t crammed into an unnatural wedge shape. That makes them much more comfortable to run in, and again avoid pain. That’s also the only reason for my only gripe: the wide toe box makes them a little less-than-stylish, so I wear them for running or workouts only. They’re not that bad, but definitely function over form.


Rachel’s favorite yoga

what it is:

This isn’t actually a yoga per say—it’s actually core work and wrist prep for handstands and inversions. I love yoga, and I can usually make my own flow if I want to move through sun sal’s or get my flexy on. But where I really struggle is with building the core and upper body strength it requires to do inversions, and specifically handstands. This e-book is designed to build that strength and get users able to do handstands.

Why I love it:

It Works: After using this literally for one week, I was able to hold a handstand without any wall-support for about 5 seconds. That’s huge for me. I’ve also noticed definition in my abs that never existed before. Big bonus, my yoga practice has improved ten-fold because my core and wrists are way stronger.
It’s Cheap: The e-book is only $14.99, which is super affordable.
You Don’t Need an Internet Connection: Unlike other streaming workouts, this is an e-book. Once you’ve downloaded it, it’s on your phone or computer for life. This means no matter how remote of a location we’re in, I can get a good 30-40 minute burn.

5. Map my run

Rachel’s favorite fitness app

What it is:

This app tracks your runs or walks. It also shows you routes that other users have done, so if you’re in a new place and aren’t sure where to go, you can follow someone else’s pre-made run route.

Why I love it:

It’s Free: Do I need to say more?
I Don’t Have to Think: Being in a new city almost every two days means I rarely know the streets of where I am. This can make it hard to plan a run route that makes sense, because I don’t know if there are hills, how far to go before turning around, etc. This app has routes that other users have already run, and there are users everywhere which means I can usually find a pre-made route that fits my mileage. If I want to just go out and run without a route, I can set the app to alert me every pre-determined number of miles (I like half-mile intervals), so I know when I’ve run as far as I want to.
Customizable: I can link up my own music, have a trainer’s voice turned on or off, and customize how often I want alerts (or if I want them at all).


We hope this was helpful for anyone who likes to work out from home or travels full time. If you have any apps, gear, or workouts you think we should check out while traveling, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Rachel + Josh

Driving in Ecuador: Cities to Stay in Between and in Major Cities 

Ecuador has proven to be the most drivable country we have traveled in over the last 10 months. The country is small and hot spots are within a day’s drive, which meant there were few nights we were forced to stay in the middle of nowhere.

The following is (in order of the route we took), the cities we stayed in, our impressions of that city, and an honest review of our accommodations. We also put together a map for you visual folks out there (eyo!) so you can see the route we took and the distances between each location.

  1. Quito; 2. Machachi (Cotopaxi); 3. Banos; 4. Isinlivi; 5. Quilotoa; 6. Montañita; 7. Ayampe; 8. Alausi; 9. Cuenca; 10. Vilcabamba
1. Quito; 2. Machachi (Cotopaxi); 3. Banos; 4. Isinlivi; 5. Quilotoa; 6. Montañita; 7. Ayampe; 8. Alausi; 9. Cuenca; 10. Vilcabamba

1.  Quito

 View of Quito from El Panecillo
View of Quito from El Panecillo

Overall Impression: 5/5 stars

Quito was a perfect introduction to Ecuador and we highly recommend visiting this city despite it’s size. Nestled in a bowl-shaped valley, the colorful cobblestone streets are paved with fruit vendors, indigenous women in felt hats, and friendly locals.

Drive Rating: 3/5 Tires, 4.5 Hours From the Border

Just 4.5 hours from the border, Quito was our first stop in Ecuador. We stayed in Ipiales, Colombia the night before our border crossing, which only tacked on 30 minutes to our commute. The Colombia/Ecuador border was, like all other Latin America border crossings we’ve done, tedious but relatively painless and line-free. Driving in Quito is like driving in most big Latin American cities, and you can expect to be stuck in traffic, weaving through small roads, and navigating lots of one way streets.

Vegan Rating: 4/5 Bananas

Vegan/vegetarianism is widely understood and accommodated for when ordering in local restaurants. There are also several fully vegan and vegetarian restaurants (we suggest using Happy Cow to find them.) Soy/almond milk is sold at Supermaxis and some cafes (Sweet & Coffee is a chain coffee shop that has almond milk) have almond or soy milk available.

Favorite Lunch Spot: Ari Comida Sana
Favorite Dinner Spot: Tandana

Accommodation: Community Hostel Quito, 5/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes and No. We were able to park our motorcycle in Marco’s (the owner) mother’s shop downstairs, but it’s not guaranteed to be available so if you’re driving/riding it’s likely you’ll need to find parking elsewhere.
Cost: $30/night for a private and shared bath
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: Fucking rad. We stayed at Community Hostel in Quito twice: before we returned home for the summer and when we returned. Both times we were equally impressed with their commitment to community: $5 family dinners introduced us to friends we met up with countless times over the rest of our time in Ecuador. Each night there were free activities like quiz night, karaoke (Rachel’s favorite) salsa lessons, and more. A tour company is connected to the hostel on the main floor, so it’s easy to set up day trips with the hostel. Our room was enormous—if you get a private room try to request a corner room facing the street. You’ll be happy.

2. Machachi (Cotopaxi)

 Volcan Cotopaxi, view from the Lagoon in the National Park
Volcan Cotopaxi, view from the Lagoon in the National Park

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Cotopaxi itself is a MUST, and to us worth the overnight in the random city with no vegetarian food. We stayed overnight in Machachi in order to have close access to Cotopaxi National Park. Most backpackers will stay in Latacunga or Quito and take a bus to Machachi on the day of their Cotopaxi excursion. Since we had our own vehicle, we chose to stay in Machachi. There is not much happening in this town, and it’s not a backpacker’s scene. But if you have your own vehicle, you can drive yourself the 30-45 minutes to the North entrance of Cotopaxi Park. 

Drive Rating: 4/5 Tires, 1 Hour from Quito

You can’t bring motorcycles into the park, but you can bring cars in. If you have a car, you can drive right into the park and explore on your own. If you’re on a motorcycle (or arrive on the bus), you can walk through the park and hitchhike really easily in the park. Machachi itself is small and quiet and easy to drive through.

Vegan Rating: 0/5 Bananas

This is the kind of town where people think all that vegetarians or vegans eat is salad. It’s also the kind of town where “salad” means shredded iceburg and tomatoes. We ended up buying bread and peanut butter (pasta de mani) and drinking some beer for dinner.   

Accommodation: Hotel Casa del Montanero, 3/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes.
Cost: $30/night for a private and shared bath and breakfast included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: There were no other guests when we were here, so it was a little too quiet. There was a restaurant/common area with what looked like a bar, but no one was ever working there. Breakfast was decent and they accommodated for us as vegans (toast, jam, fruit, granola, coffee.) The rooms had space heaters and some shelves but were rather small.

3.     Banos

 El Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall in Banos
El Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall in Banos

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Banos is a lovely valley town surrounded by green hills and waterfalls. It was misty and rainy most of the time we were there, but that didn’t stop us from hiking, checking out the giant swing, and experimenting with unique spa practices (picture sitting in a personal sauna with your head sticking out). If you like activities like river rafting, rock climbing, and zip lining, Banos is an excellent place to go. It’s also a jumping off point for many Amazon tours, which you can book almost anywhere in town.

Drive Rating: 5/5 Tires, 2 Hours from Machachi

The streets are well paved and not busy at all. Banos is easy to get to and the drop into the valley is gorgeous. There’s only one lane to get to town, so if you get stuck behind a slow truck you’re sort of screwed as the road is windy and there are few opportunities to pass. But if you’re bold, it’s doable.

Vegan Rating: 4/5 Bananas

The hostel we stayed at had vegan options for breakfast and dinner, and we ate most of our meals there. There are several restaurants in Banos that have vegetarian and vegan options, as well as a couple exclusively vegan restaurants.
Favorite Lunch Spot: Buquét Fast Food & Gourmet
Favorite Dinner Spot:
Casa Hood

Accommodation: Community Hostel Banos, 5/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes.
Cost: $28/night for a private and bathroom included. Free coffee & tea all day, breakfast not included but available for purchase.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: Similar to the Community Hostel in Quito: Fucking Rad. We met many more travelers at this Community Hostel than any other hostel in Ecuador. Community dinners were delicious, breakfast is exquisite, and the staff are unbelievable. This hostel doesn’t boast as many activities as the one in Quito, but I believe it was because of lack of volunteers at the time (no free yoga, some nights didn’t have activities). Still, the vibe was undeniably social yet respectful of quiet time at night and in the morning.

4.     Isinlivi

 Llullu Llama Lodge in Isinlivi, Ecuador
Llullu Llama Lodge in Isinlivi, Ecuador

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Isinlivi is not a destination town. It’s very dead and seems to only exist for trekkers who are stopping along the Quilotoa Loop Trek, a several day hike to Quilotoa Lake. Other than the Lodge we stayed at, there is really nothing in town. We only came here because the Lodge was so highly recommended to us, and while it was a beautiful accommodation, I don’t know that you need to go out of your way to come here unless it’s on your way.

Drive Rating: 2/5 Tires, 4 hours 50 minutes from Banos

We drove here from Banos, so we came north and then cut northeast over Quilotoa Lake to get here. The first half of the ride was on a major highway, which boasted views of Volcan Cotopaxi, but otherwise was not an interesting highway. The second half of the road was quite complicated. Initially, we were on a one lane paved highway with beautiful sights. Eventually, in the middle of nowhere (and without service and only a hopefully accurate map), the road we were meant to take was under construction. We had to take the word of the only guy in the mountains and backtrack to an unpaved mountain road, which wound and zigzagged up and down the mountains for another two hours. If you plan to take this road, you should have a vehicle that can handle loose rocks and sand on the edge of a mountain.

Vegan Rating: 3/5 Bananas

We stayed in a lodge that offered vegan breakfast and dinner options, which were delicious. Other than the lodge, there are no restaurants in the small and sleepy town of Isinlivi. At lunch we struggled to get the kitchen to cook us something vegan, but we didn’t starve.

Accommodation: Llullu Llama Lodge, 5/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes.
Cost: $24 for a private room with bathroom. Free coffee and tea all day, breakfast and dinner included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: For $24 a night, we were getting a shitload of bonus features: Free access to a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room; free breakfast and dinner, full bar, free coffee & tea all day, books and games available, free morning and afternoon yoga, option for paid massages, and a stunning view of the valley. The lodge is a stopping point for travelers who are making the Quilotoa Loop Trek, so we felt a little bit like outsiders as most people arrive late at night and leave right after breakfast. The lodge is quiet and empty during the day, so we don’t recommend staying longer than one night. If you’re doing the Quilotoa Loop, you must stop here.

5.     Quilotoa

 Quilotoa Lake
Quilotoa Lake

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Quilotoa is a small town on the crest of Lake Quilotoa, which is an unbelievable lake at the base of a giant crater (where a volcano once was). If you stay in Quilotoa, you’re literally five minutes from the edge of the cliff that encompasses the lake. There are mostly hotels, restaurants, and touristy shops in Quilotoa. Not much else. You can walk the rim of the lake in about five hours, and you can also walk down into the basin and rent kayaks along the lake. It’s stunning and we recommend either doing the trek to arrive here or simply driving to Quilotoa for the day/night.

Drive Rating: 3/5 Tires, 30 minutes from Isinlivi

We drove here from Isinlivi, and the roads improved significantly on the southwest side of the lake. The first part of the drive was unpaved, but it quickly became paved again. The temperature dropped significantly as we arrived at Quilotoa, which impacted us on the motorcycle but not so much if you’re in a toasty heated car.

Vegan Rating: 2/5 Bananas

Our hotel was able to accommodate us for dinner and breakfast, we just needed to let them know in advance. There are some restaurants in Quilotoa that offer Almuerzos, and if you ask for a vegetarian/vegan option they’ll struggle with you like anywhere else to figure out what to make, but eventually you can get rice, plantain, french fries, salad, and if you’re lucky some beans.

Accommodation: Martita’s House Hostal, 3/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes (uncovered/unsecured)
Cost: $44 for a private room with bathroom. Breakfast and dinner included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumps Up.
Environment: We were the only guests, save the two french girls we met at Llullu Llama and told we were staying there the following night. The rooms were fine and there was a common area with a fireplace which was nice for the evenings. They sell snacks and beer/wine which was a plus.

6.     Montañita

 The Donkey Residents at Kamala Hostel in Montañita
The Donkey Residents at Kamala Hostel in Montañita

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Montañita is…where you go to party. That’s the deal. The beach has white sand. The surf is easy for beginners. And the clubs stay open 24 hours a day. At least we think they do—we never went. This is the beach town you go to if you are hoping to do some drugs, party until after the sun comes up the next day, and never be judged for it. Just be mindful of what time of year you go, because it’s only sunny about 25% of the year, and we only had one true day of sun.

Drive Rating: 3/5 Tires, 7.5 hours from Quilotoa

The ride here was long. The road was a major highway almost the entire way, so the views weren’t spectacular. We drove through Guyaquil and had to deal with some city traffic there. The temperature fluctuated greatly as well, from hot and humid to cold and windy, and back to warm again. Once we got to the coast we were on a single lane road that passed through small towns with a LOT of speed bumps, which are Josh’s favorite-hate.

Vegan Rating: 4/5 Bananas

Our hostel had a full bar and restaurant and many vegan options. In town there are several vegan and vegetarian restaurants and cafes, so we had no problem finding good food.

Accommodation: Kamala Surf Hostel, 4/5 Ohms

Parking: Yes
Cost: $24 for a private room with bathroom. Breakfast not included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumps Up.
Environment: Kamala is a really fun place to chill, socialize, and party. The restaurant/bar area has a sand floor, pool table, darts, beer pong table, and many areas to sit and relax. They have a volleyball court and pool as well. It’s far enough outside of the main town (20 minute walk on the beach or $1.50 cab ride) that you won’t be bothered at night by the clubs. There were tons of travelers our age there and we had an easy time making friends and socializing. The rooms are ok—we had a private cabana and bathroom which was spacious, but the bed wasn’t the best and we only had a sheet to sleep with. We asked for a blanket at the front desk which helped. We heard the dorms were nothing to write home about, either, but if you consider your bed just the place you sleep then everything else was perfect.

7.     Ayampe

Overall Impression: 2/5 stars

Ayampe sucked. Sorry Ayampe. Ayampe felt like a wannabe hippie community without legs to stand on. There were a couple cafes and hotels, but no real center to speak of. The weather was terrible, and apparently it stays terrible 8 out of 12 months of the year. By terrible, I mean cloudy, dark, foggy, misty, and not in a cute PNW way. That’s right. More depressing and cloudy than Seattle in December. It’s possible that during the 4 sunny months of the year Ayampe is paradise. Just make sure you come during those months, and no other time.

Drive Rating: 4/5 Tires, 30 minutes from Montañita

The drive to Ayampe from Montañita was only 30 minutes. The road wove through the jungle-y mountains and was quite beautiful.

Vegan Rating: 4/5 Bananas

The hotel we stayed in had a fully vegan restaurant, so we always had options. The food was delicious and healthy, and portions were good. That being said, the menu was expensive and the only place for miles with vegan food, so we were sort of stuck.

Accommodation: Hostal La Tortuga, 3/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: Yes
Cost: $40 for a private room with bathroom. Breakfast not included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: If it was hot and sunny, the environment may have been more appropriate. But for a place with clouds, fog, and rain 8/12 months of the year, I feel these guys should build some type of enclosed area for people to hang out in. Every common area was an open-air concept, meaning no walls or protection from the wind, rain, and cold that was Ayampe. There weren’t many travelers here and it was not a social atmosphere. We felt like it was halfway between a romantic getaway and an upscale backpacker’s spot, but without the amenities of an upscale or romantic accommodation. The weather may have severely impacted our view of this place, but we weren’t sure why we were paying $40 a night to stay here.

8.     Alausi

 The train from Alausi to the Devil’s Nose—the main attraction of this small town.
The train from Alausi to the Devil’s Nose—the main attraction of this small town.

Overall Impression: 4/5 stars

Alausi is an adorable, colorful, and quiet town in the Andean Highlands. People come here for two things only: The Devil’s Nose, and the Transandine Railway. The Devil’s Nose is a mountain ridge that can be reached by hike or viewed from the train, and we did both. The train leaves from Alausi each morning at 8am and 11am and does a two hour loop in the valley. Though it has become quite a touristy experience, it is still worth boarding the train. The town itself has a major grocery store, tiendas, restaurants, gift shops, and street vendors. It is most alive in the mornings when tourists come to ride the trains, and quiets down around 2-3 o’clock.

Drive Rating: 3/5 Tires, 6 hours from Ayampe

The ride to Alausi COULD have been epic, but we were caught in the craziest fog either of us have ever seen. The ride started on a major highway off the coast, followed by small roads through flat jungle that reminded us of Bali. Finally, we spent two hours high up in the mountains on single-lane windy roads, unable to see more than five feet in front of us. We were freezing cold and wet the entire time, and there were moments we wondered what we would do if we couldnt’ make it through before dark. Luckily we did, and when we came down out of the fog we were met with the most spectacular mountain and valley views as we ascended into Alausi.

Vegan Rating: 3/5 Bananas

There are no vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Alausi, but several restaraunts are used to accommodating vegan and vegatarian customers. We didn’t have trouble getting a vegetarian meal, but it also wasn’t anything unique (think vegetarian pasta or rice and potatoes).

Accommodation: Community Hostel Alausi, 4/5 Ohms

Use our code 28853dfc at checkout for $25 off your booking if using the link above.

Parking: No, but it’s super safe to park on the streets.
Cost: $35 for a private room with bathroom. Breakfast available but not included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: Run by Marco’s dad, this Community Hostel has a different vibe than the others. The city of Alausi doesn’t attract enough backpackers to classify it as a backpacker’s town, and as such the Community Hostel here doesn’t have enough traction to do family dinners or activities nightly. Even so, we were impressed with the cleanliness, size, and comfort of the hostel. It feels more like a hotel, as there isn’t much social atmosphere. Marco’s dad is a hoot, if you stay here make sure to take some time to talk to him in broken Spanglish.

9.     Cuenca

 Streets of Cuenca
Streets of Cuenca

Overall Impression: 5/5 stars

We stayed in Cuenca for two weeks, and we weren’t mad about it. Cuenca is big enough to have everything you need, but small enough to feel like you aren’t being swallowed. The narrow streets have a European feel. Beautiful churches pop up around every corner. The mountains surrounding the city and the river that runs through it keep the city fresh and alive. This is the most religious town in Ecuador, and Sundays the entire city shuts down, and you can have the streets to yourself. Food and accommodation is cheap, and nightlife exists along Calle Largo’s cobblestone-paved street. We spent hours in coffee shops, walked everywhere, and tried every vegan/vegetarian restaurant we could find.

Drive Rating: 3/5 Tires, 3 hours from Alausi

The drive to Cuenca was gorgeous, but once we got into the city we were reminded of Quito’s many one-way one-lane streets. It’s faster to walk wherever you want to go than to drive, and don’t even think about trying to use a cab to cross the river if you need to, as there are dozens of footbridges that will get the job done much quicker.

Vegan Rating: 5/5 Bananas

There are dozens of fully vegan and vegetarian restaurants (we suggest using Happy Cow to find them) in Cuenca. Many of them offer cheap menu del dia style almuerzos, while others have menus with intricate and unique vegan dishes. Soy/almond milk is sold at the Coral Supermarket and some cafes (Goza was our go-to corner coffee shop that has almond milk) have almond or soy milk available.

Favorite Lunch Spot: Govinda’s Vegetariano (we suggest ordering off the menu instead of doing their menu del dia)
Favorite Dinner Spot: Namaste Indian Restaurant

Accommodation: Pumamaqui Airbnb, 5/5 Ohms

Yes for moto, no for a car
Cost: $37 for a loft studio apartment.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This Airbnb is perfect for a couple or individual staying in Cuenca for an extended time. The accommodations are clean, well decorated, and very spacious. The location could not be beat—right across the street from two amazing restaurants (EAT and Thai Connection) and one block from Calle Largo, the cute cobblestone road that runs along the river’s edge.

10.  Vilcabamba

Overall Impression: 5/5 stars

We planned to stay two nights and stayed a week. Vilcabamba is small town in a valley of breathtaking mountains. With a desert-like feel, this area is warm and open. Not too hot, not too dry. The town itself has a small square with a few grocery shops and restaurants. There are many hikes nearby where you can get an incredible view of the never-ending Andes. It’s a gorgeous place to get stuck for a while.

Drive Rating: 5/5 Tires, 4 hours from Cuenca

The drive from Cuenca to Vilcabamba was one of the most beautiful rides we’ve done in Ecuador. We started high in the mountains where the views overshadowed the cold. We dropped down into warmer weather, and the mountains grew more orange as the sun came through the sky. The roads were clear and well paved, and it was spectacularly sprinkled with flat and pointed mountaintops the whole way.

Vegan Rating: 5/5 Bananas

Vilcabamba is a place where many Westerners come to retire, and it seems to attract vegan retirees. There are a few vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and several restaurants that have vegan and vegetarian dishes on their menus. You can find acai bowls, veggie tacos, or vegan Venezuelan food in town. Hosteria Izchayluma, where we stayed, also offers a dozen vegan/vegetarian dishes on their menu.

Accommodation: Hosteria Izhcayluma, 5/5 Ohms

Parking: Yes
Cost: $26 for a private room with shared bathroom. Full restaurant, no meals included.
Location/Safety: 2 Thumbs Up.
Environment: This hostel is the reason we stayed so long. With free yoga every morning, a spa, pool, bar, restaurant, and dozens of accommodation types from dorm rooms to apartments, this felt more like a retreat than a hostel. Izhcayluma is perched on a hilltop overlooking Vilcabamba and the surrounding mountains. The hospitality is felt throughout the compound: yoga teachers not only guided us through beautiful classes daily, but they joined us for meals and made us feel like part of the Izhcayluma family. Guests range from backpackers on year-long trips to families from far away to Ecuadorian couples. The mood here is romantic yet playful, peaceful yet full of energy, and accepting of all kinds of travelers. We fell in love with the sunsets, the food, and the community feeling this place provides. And the prices cannot be beat.

The Altitude is High, and So Am I

Aha sings “Take on Me” in the background. Outside the sun finally peers out over the valley, but the smell of rain remains. The chalkboard on the wall in front of me reads: “LUNES: Hamburger night. DIENSTAG: $1 drinks,” and on…the weekly night activities of our hostel in Banos, Ecuador. The ride here was cold but bearable. I cried a little—in a good way, in a joyful way—in an I-am-having-the-adventure-of-a-lifetime way. For miles to our left, the volcano Cotopaxi smiled through the clouds. Her snowy peaks peeking through as if to say, “yes, my love, this is where you’re meant to be.”

My heart has felt full this past week. She felt full when we landed in Quito and everyone greeted us in Spanish. One cup. She felt full when we were greeted at the same hostel we’d slept in two months earlier with, “welcome back!” One cup. Full, when buying a sim card for my phone culminated in photos with the three locals who helped me understand how to complete the process. One cup. Filled still, when we visited the equator and spent twenty minutes using our GPS to locate the exact equator line together. One cup. Brimming when we hit the road for the first time in two months, and the rules of the road were once again ours. One cup. Overflowing when we entered Cotopaxi National Park at altitude so high that I felt high myself. One cup. She was so full today, wondering how to hold the abundance of joy that has consumed her. All that was left to do, was let it out. 

On our ride today, I let it out. Welling up in my helmet, I was reminded of our first ride in San Fransisco eight months ago. Then, I felt a similar (but almost innocent version of) this feeling. I often feel happy these days (I say these days, because there was a long period of time in my life that I was very unhappy). The happiness I feel most of the time is slightly fleeting. The feeling I get when I am spending the evening with friends or seeing a play: the feeling is real and present, but once the play is over—once I go home, the happiness begins to wear off. Like a high, it burns away until the next time it can be turned on. This is different than joy. Joy, to me, is an all consuming happiness. A feel-it-to-my-core and can’t ignore happiness. The feeling I got when I fell in love with Josh and saw him walk into a room. An inescapable, un-concealable, gut-kicking feeling. My heart overflowing kind of feeling. This is what poured out of me today in every visceral way possible. Pure and utter joy.

Compounding the joy is a raw sense of awe and pride in myself. I’ve said this before, but I had only been on the motorcycle three times before we left on this trip. After several months, there were probably as many bad ride days as there were good ones. But still, I chose to continue on. I wanted to. When we went home in May for our “two month break”, I was terrified that I wouldn’t want to come back to the bike. What if I get home and I realize I was fooling myself down there? It quickly became apparent (like two weeks in), that not only did I want to come back to South America, but I longed for it. As if it had become home. 

Three days ago, we rode to Mitad del Mundo, meaning the Middle of the World. This is where the equator line is, along with a big statue where you can get your passport stamped indicating you in fact have been to the middle of the world. In what Josh and I have been calling “Part One” of our trip, (pre-USA break), I wouldn’t have considered bringing my DSLR camera to take a photo at the monument. I wouldn’t have thought of it as “instagrammable,” and therefore didn’t need to worry about getting a nice picture. Phone pics would do. I didn’t realize it until three days ago, but in having that thought process, I was inadvertently diminishing the entire experience of wherever we were going. Thinking “this isn’t worthy of an instagram post” conversely translated into “this isn’t a worthy outing.” This frame of mind bled into how I experienced wherever we went.

 The Middle of the World. For our grandkids.
The Middle of the World. For our grandkids.

On our way to Mitad del Mundo I found myself thinking about our future kids, and how we’ll tell them all about the day we visited the Middle of the World. And we’ll point to a framed photo on our bookshelf, where we took a beautiful (or goofy) photo together at the monument. We’ll tell them how we turned in circles three blocks away, searching for the real equator, and how we found it. I didn’t know it until that moment, but I needed that two month break. I needed it to reset my priorities. To remember my intentions. To rediscover my love for travel and adventure, and to remind me that this is an incredible adventure we are on. I had forgotten this at the tail end of Part One. I was consumed by instagram followers and making a name for ourself. I had forgotten what we were doing, and that it felt so good to do it. 

I’m so grateful for our break. I learned more about myself, Josh, and this trip because I had the chance to remove myself from it. I had the chance to see it as a third party, like an X-Ray viewing my bones rather than being the bones themselves. And now that I am the bones again, I feel stronger. Sturdier. In place. Beautifully aware of how I am built and where my parts connect. I imagine, that somewhere down the road, I will become jumbled. Dislocated or fractured. That I will be so caught up inside my skin I will lose sight of the bigger picture. That will be okay. Because it means I will have another chance to rekindle and heal. And I will come back again even sturdier. That has been this whole process, after all: Start strong; fall; break; rebuild. And baby these bones were made with resilience, and they won’t stop moving now. 

Back to the Bike, Back to the Blog

We vow to write more blogs on part two of this motorcycle adventure! We have gotten sidetracked and lured over to writing long captions on Instgram because of the instant feedback and dopamine release that it provides. We write long blogs and never know if they get read, but when we post a picture on “The Gram” we start seeing those little red heart notifications, and we are high all day! 

But it was brought to my attention when we were at home this summer that people do read the blog even if they don’t write a comment. It also allows us to get a little deeper on what we are thinking about or feeling without worrying about hitting a certain character limit or not being able to fit in our #hashtags. Rachel and I both use writing as a way to process our emotions and find out what how we really feel. Most of the time I’m surprised by what ends up coming out. All this is to say- WE’RE BACK TO THE BLOGGING!

 At the airport heading back to Quito!
At the airport heading back to Quito!

We landed in Quito, Ecuador last night a little after 11pm. We eventually found our loose rear tire that we had checked and caught a shuttle to the very same hostel we left back on May 23rd. This post is a little of what happened in between and a little about how it made me feel. 

We parked our motorcycle with a company in Quito who does motorcycle tours and rentals. It was a safe place, and we thought our bike would like to be surrounded by other bikes so it wouldn’t get lonely. We are like the people who drop their dog off at doggy daycare and get sent videos and updates on how well it’s playing with others. We flew overnight through Houston to Seattle, where we were gracisouly greeted at the airport by Rachel’s dad Stephen. We went back to his house (I had left his driveway November 17th, 2018) and I took a shower. Stepping out of the shower, I had a really strange sensation of sameness creep over me. I had that feeling like I was grasping for a dream, desperatley trying not to forget it. Had the last six months really happened? We rode a motorcycle through Mexico for three months, crusied through Central America and Colombia… Right? I wasn’t completely sure! We saw all four of our parents, and the day passed in a blur. Looking back now I think I was pretty much in shock. I could stick to a few good talking points, but I was not running on all cylinders. But I didn’t have much time to worry about that (lucky because I may have imploded) because the very next day we boarded a flight to Bali, Indonesia.

 At the Korea airport, not knowing what non-vegan food we may end up eating.
At the Korea airport, not knowing what non-vegan food we may end up eating.

We stopped in Korea for a few hours of layover fun. The Asian culture was a stark contrast to our Latin American experience, but somehow the fact that it was still non-USA made it seem like a half-step back into our original reality. In the Seoul airport it felt like we had launched from the past, skipped the present, and had landed in the future. We connected on to Bali, and met our friends who’s wedding we would be filming the coming weekend. We basked in the luxurious villa the groom’s family runs as a rental property and immersed ourselves in the flavors of the food. Oh the flavors!! You know how you’re not supposed to tell your kids which one is your favorite? Well, Asian food is so much better than South American food—no qualms about it. South American food knows it too. Indonesia (maybe Bali specifically) is the birthplace of tempeh which is something vegans eat instead of animals. Tempeh can be good or bad, but either way it’s usually rare to find. Not so in Bali, it was everywhere and everywhere it was it was good. We filmed and photographed the wedding and questioned whether we could ever go back to our hostel lifestyle after being put up in villas and and amazing resort. We got spoiled. 

 Our friend’s family villa in Bali.
Our friend’s family villa in Bali.

After the wedding, we had a week to explore the island. We loved the culture of Bali and rented a small scooter to see as much of it as we could. Bali is majority Hindu while the rest of Indonesia is Muslim, so Bali is a different thing entirely I’m told. We stuck to Bali. The manuverability of the scooter had me daydreaming about selling our motorcycle and finishing the trip to Argentina on two separate scooters. Rachel seemed eager to try to ride it, so one day after lunch we switched places and she promptly drove the scooter into a ditch. The dual-scooter dream evaporated as I pulled her up out of the small concrete ditch she was lying in. Even covered in what we hoped was mud, I could still see that her leg was bleeding quite a bit. Some men nearby generously offered to hose her down and pointed us to the “hospital” down the street. It turned out to be a walk-in clinic but we were grateful because within eleven minutes, Rachel was getting eleven stitches on her right knee. She was in a lot of pain, but she was a trooper and we still enjoyed our last couple days in Bali.

We flew back to Seattle, and I know we again stayed at Stephen’s house (we probably owe him rent by now) for at least a day.. We did an Eastern WA trip to take some photographs, see some friends, visit my brother, and get Rachel’s hair done. Then it was back to Seattle to get ready to fly to Hawaii.

We rented a soft-top Jeep and began our tour around the Big Island. We were on a photography assignment taking pictures of campsites for a website that connects land owners with campers. We bit off a little more work than we expected, and by the end of the week we were exausted and had spent zero time on the beach. We met some wonderful people on the island, and have decided Hawaii itself isn’t for us. If we want tropical locations, we will probably head to another spot. Chalk it up to a learning experience!

 The road blocked by lava in Hilo, Hawaii
The road blocked by lava in Hilo, Hawaii

We flew straight from Hawaii to Walla Walla, WA for Rachel’s best friend’s wedding in which she was a bridesmaid and I was a videographer. It was one of the best weddings I’ve attended and we both felt overwhelmed to be surrounded by friends. 

We then had two weeks to house-sit in Seattle, which was perfect timing. We liked having our own space but being still for that long was something we weren’t used to. On the trip, movement feels like progress and productivity. Once we were still, my existential anxiety began to creep back in – what am I doing? I should be starting a business (Josh you have two weeks..) I should be writing a book! (See previous parenthetical notation). So instead, while Rachel edited wedding videos I delivered food for Uber Eats and several other food delivery services. It was pretty fun, good excerise on my bike, but probably not my full-time future career path. I’ll probably get an ebike and do it for fun on the side though!

We made our way up to start our Island Tour. Rachel’s mom lives with her boyfriend on Lopez Island and my parents live on Whidbey Island- both part in the same region of Puget Sound. Both places are gorgeous and it reminded us of when we originally left last year. We had done a very similar Island Tour and suddenly our summer mentality shifted from re-adjusting to being back in Seattle to gearing up for the next half of the adventure! But it wasn’t on to Quito just yet, first we had to make a stop in Montreal. Obviously.

Rachel’s family has always amazed me with their ability to gather and to know their second and third cousins, once twice and thrice removed. It all comes back to a property outside Montreal with a small lake and four houses that has been in their family for years and has served as a glue or at least a magnet to keep everyone together. I had never been to a family reunion before complete with t-shirts and branded napkins and I found myself extremely grateful to feel like it was my family too, not like I was an outsider crashing someone else. 

After a tour of Monreal Sunday and a night in a wonderful airport hotel, we were on our way back to Quito and it feels like we never left! We are both excited and energized to see what the second leg of this trip has in store for us. We promise we will share whatever that is right here on the blog! 

Colombia, My Heart

I wish I could say I was “in the zone,” ready to write awesomeness and divulge the last two weeks of our travels with color and zest. Alas, I am not, and I have been doing everything but writing since I said I was going to write this blog post three days ago.

I’ll write anyways.

We are currently in Salento, Colombia. We visited Salento five years ago, when we bought tickets to Colombia on a whim. Returning to a city is comforting. The familiarness breeds a sense of belonging, which we often lose track of while being on the road.

We were nervous coming to Salento, as the buzz surrounding this quaint coffee town indicated it had become overrun with tourism. We’ve seen many small towns along our travels where tourism has hit like a tornado; where we can imagine that once were quiet coffee shops and serene views are now lines of souvenir shops, loud bars, and dreadlocks galore. We feared the Salento we remembered would be gone, and it would have lost it’s charm that drew us in five years ago.

Bogota and Medellin didn’t seem to change a bit. We started in Bogota, the capital. A giant city of brown buildings, sky scrapers, and enough people and square footage to fill 10 Manhattans. Our first time around, we dismissed Bogota as a big dirty city, and jetted out of there as quickly as we could. We spent several days there, trying to give the city a second chance. We are so glad we did. The small neighborhood of La Candelaria where we stayed was bustling with young college students, travelers, and locals. Vibrant murals took the place of graffiti. Restaurants kept lit by candlelight. Live music flowed freely, and so did the booze.

After Bogota, we decided to head north before cutting west to Medellin. We had heard great things about the district of Boyoca: charming colonial towns, mild weather, and untouched by tourists. Villa de Leyva was just that. With nothing more than a giant square at its center, Villa de Leyva made good on the promise of its district. We only heard one English speaking person in our three days there.

Our mantra heading into Colombia was to “Slow down, take our time, and trust that everything that is supposed to happen, will.” In the past, we may have skipped a spot like Villa de Leyva, or considered it a “stop over.” We likely would have bypassed Boyoca and the northern districts all together, as they weren’t theoretically on our southern-bound route. But we chose to slow down, take our time, and head north.

After a visit to a winery and incredibly built clay home, we headed further north to Barichara, a small town in the district of Santander. This town was beautiful. High sloping streets cascaded downhill into the main square. Here, we watched the Easter processional, which I’ll admit I didn’t quite follow. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a quiet respite in this quiet town, preparing ourselves (not well enough, I might add), for three days of riding in a row.

I didn’t realize that to get from Barichara to Medellin we would have to traverse tropical heats and humidity again. Nor that there would be few if any cities to stop in for more than a day. I had a doctor’s appointment in Medellin that I was hoping to make (don’t worry mom, I’m ok!), and as such we needed to ride three days in a row.

The heat was overwhelming. We were riding in 80-90 degree weather. Most places we stopped were not tourist destinations—for locals or foreigners. Finding food we could eat was difficult, and we ate a lot of fried plantains, french fries, and rice. Our hotels were basic: sheets for covers, no windows and no hot water. I understand these are luxuries that Josh and I are lucky to have on our trip. I do. And I am beyond grateful for them, and the privilege to travel in the first place. But after riding in the heat, eating like crap, and talking to no one but my helmet and my husband for three days, I had no ounce of gratitude in me. I was angry. Irritable. A pure joy to be around.

I was so miserable on our third ride day that I started to shut down. Physically and emotionally. I felt depressed to my very core, for no reason at all. I was so angry with Josh. He hadn’t done anything, but I hated his guts. My body felt so beaten up. Tired. I just wanted a vegetable, a hot shower, and place to go other than a dark hotel room. Our ride to Medellin—our last day of riding—was one of the most beautiful we had seen thus far. But I could not enjoy it. Instead I had a pity party inside my helmet, population one. At one stop, I sat on the ground in silence. Josh asked me to talk to him, and I started crying and shut my helmet over my face. I flipped the sun visor down inside my helmet so I could really hide. (If you can’t see them, they can’t see you, right?) I just wanted to escape into nothingness and wake up when it was all over.

When we arrived in Medellin, the familiarness calmed me. I was relieved to see that not much had changed. The neighborhood we were staying in, El Poblado, seemed identical to how it had been five years ago. Our hostel was beautiful. Miguel greeted us at the front desk with a big smile. Our room was enormous. With a view. And hot water. This was enough to open up my heart enough to see the damage I had done on our ride that day. I told Josh I wanted to talk about what happened, why I had acted how I did, and how we could move forward.

That day we talked for hours. We had to take a break in the afternoon and return to the conversation later that night. There seemed to be more to talk about than just the bad ride day. About how my mental health was affecting Josh. Whether I could handle riding as much as we were. Whether he could handle the fact that I might not be able to. We talked at length. It was painful, scary, and I thought for the first time in our relationship that we might not make it.

I realize the challenges I presented earlier don’t seem to line up with a discussion of this caliber. But the culmination of times when I have struggled so deeply after ride days, the times Josh has felt paralyzed with uncertainty of how to help me, the moments where we feel frozen and unable to communicate with eachother, add up. None of these times are or were signs of a relationship falling apart. They were moments when each of us faced intense personal challenge, and the other was challenged with channeling empathy and support.

The amount of internal growth, change, and deep work that has happened to each of us as a result of this trip is immeasurable. Going through it is painful, and at times I want to give up. Not only am I going through my own growth, but I am watching my partner, the person I love most in this world, go through it to. I am watching him feel pain as he faces parts of himself he’s never met. I am supporting him as he discovers truths within him he didn’t know. And he is doing the same. Feeling all of it, digesting all of it, all the while holding me while I swallow my own evolution.

In my life, there has been no greater challenge to how I see myself than travel. This trip is a cataclysm of growth, change, breakdowns, heartbreak, disappointment, euphoria, and self-discovery. In a pressure cooker. Without a place to call home. In a foreign place. And the most immediate, safe, and comforting outlet to process it all is my partner.

So, the discussion we had in Medellin was inevitable. As will the future discussions I know we will likely encounter. And they are a part of the growth. They are the part that reminds us to be kinder to eachother when we’re feeling the growing pains. To remember that we have other outlets and support systems, and its ok to lean on them too. To build up our communication skills and make new ones when they break down.

After that night, we booked eight days in Medellin. We reminded ourselves of our mantra, and decided to really stick to it. We spent a week finding a routine, checking in, moving our bodies, writing gratitude lists, reading, and exploring the city. At the end of the week, we felt rejuvenated. Slowing down was paying off.

We headed south to Jardin next. Jardin is a colorful colonial town about three hours south of Medellin. It’s difficult to get to, and as such there are mostly local tourists and the occasional western traveler. We enjoyed the quiet nights, the bustling square, and the muy fuerte coffee.

The ride from Jardin to Salento was berserk. The first two hours were on a narrow gravel road, complete with pot holes, mud slides, and cliffsides. Josh and I prepared ourselves for the ride: I created an intention for the day (have fun, find joy, and be bliss!) and Josh planned to be present, slow down, and remember there was nowhere to rush to. We had a great ride on a day that in weeks past would have sent me into a mental spiral.

Now, we are enjoying the quiet familiarness of Salento. Gleefully soaking up the square that hasn’t changed a bit. Visiting restaurants where we’d dined five years ago. Tomorrow we plan to take a coffee farm tour. Slowing down feels good. Understanding our lives are forever changing because of this trip is ever present in our minds. And Colombia is just as beautiful as we left it.  

Fear, Dare, and Build

It’s 8:05pm. I’m sitting in 26F, a window seat. Josh is in 27B, middle seat one row behind me. The clutter of people trying to change seats with other travelers on Wingo, the Ryan Air of Latin America, led us to decide it would be easier to sit apart for the short 1.5 hour flight from Panama City to Bogota. Looking out the window, I can see the Bridge of the Americas brightly lit against a dark sky and black canal waters.

As I watch Panama City glide below me, I hope to feel something monumental. A surge of emotion. Pride, maybe. Satisfaction. We have made it so far. This place is symbolic in our journey. Shouldn’t it feel more so? Shouldn’t I cry like Josh did as we crossed the canal on our motorcycle two days ago? Aren’t I the more sentimental of us two after all? No rush of emotions overcomes me. Instead, I feel a pang of worry. We are running out. Out of money. Out of time. Out of something.

This month has been particularly expensive, with the cost of shipping the bike to Colombia, booking flights from Ecuador to Bali, Bali to Seattle, Seattle to Montreal, then finally back to Ecuador in August. Our Summer is quickly filling up with weddings, family reunions, and gigs. To get ahead of all the changing cities we chose to pre-book flights and solidify our plans. In doing so, our bank account has taken a beating, and we are more aware than ever that at some point, we will be out.

Money. Savings. Earnings. Ah. The forbidden and taboo topic. The one thing you don’t bring up with friends or family, besides of course politics and religion. It’s a no-no at the dinner table. A potentially relationship-ruining investment. Something not to be mixed with the personal. Strictly business. Professional. Private.

Well, shoot. If only I were a more private person.

Josh and I saved up for a year to take this trip. Well, mostly Josh. His job paid the majority of our income, and I made some contribution through photography gigs and working at a yoga studio. My grandfather had put money away for his grandchildren’s college tuition, and what remained from my college funds would be a part of what would take us through this year on the bike.

Saying this aloud, I am already cringing. What will people think? How spoiled. How ungrateful. He left her college money and this is how she is spending it? Josh left a career-path job to blow it all on going to the beach? Think about your future. Where is your sense of sensibility?

Over the course of my adult life I have cultivated my own values around spending. Around what I think is worth paying for. Whether that means the type of thing I purchase or the value I associate with the actual object and how much I consider its value to be. I recognize that people don’t share the same values as me, or eachother. Josh and I in particular have wildly different values associated with spending. This does not make one better than the other, or “right.” It’s just different.

I value spending money on experiences. And on material items. But the types of experiences and material items are ones that I believe will improve my quality of life. Experiences that will improve my relationships. Material items that I can use in ritual or daily routine. Things and to-dos that give my soul life and fill my heart.

Boiled down this might look like buying a plane ticket to see a friend. Spending money on skincare or bath products so I can practice self-care and self-love. Taking a vacation. Buying a dress I love and wearing it out and feeing absolutely fan-fucking-tastic. Going out to a romantic dinner with my husband and enjoying the ambience and good conversation. Because of my values around spending, my outflow typically goes to the same places over and over again, and rarely in other directions. And when it does, something doesn’t feel right. My gut knows the purchase didn’t line up with my values. I feel icky. Regret. Guilt.

Because Josh and I have different values around spending, we have had to come to a lot of negotiations as a couple. How much he can spend on gadgets. How much I can spend on a trip to the salon. How much our dinner dates will be. The difference in our own values around spending are so apparent, that we are acutely aware of how different the values of others—people who we don’t ever talk to about money—are likely to be. And how quickly we are afraid others might judge us for how we have chosen to spend our money this year.

Throughout this trip I have tried to be incredibly candid with my stories. I try to be transparent in all of my writing. I don’t see any other way to write about my life than to be honest and open. If you’re reading about what I’m doing, I imagine you want to read the truth. So I try to deliver. Now, we are in a position where the truth is that we have spent more than half of what we had saved up for the year. We hoped to end the trip with some money left over. Neither of us liked the idea of going home with nothing. So here we are. On what appears to be the tail end, the draining, the ringing out.

Can this really be where we are? Or is there another way? Didn’t all of this start with a single statement—We are going to ride our motorcycle to South America? And from that utterance, desire was born. Desire paved the way for passion. Work. Dedication. Until the time had come and enough money was in our pockets. Our belongings sold or stored. So what if this isn’t the ringing out? But instead, the moment where we once again utter the words, We are going to ride our motorcycle to South America? Whatever it takes.

I know what we are going to do. I just haven’t figured out how. We are going to finish this trip. On May 24th, we fly to Bali where we have been hired to film and photograph a wedding. On June 10th, we fly to Seattle, where we will visit loved ones and attend a friend’s wedding at the end of June. On August 1st, we fly to Montreal for the biggest family reunion my family has ever had. And on August 4th, we fly back to Ecuador, where we will ride our motorcycle to the bottom of South America. Just like we had always planned. Whatever it takes.

As the plane drifts into the dark night, all I can see are stars. I think about the men who slaved away to dig a canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. About the doctor who killed every last mosquito in Panama to fend off the Yellow Fever that took the lives of hundreds of workers. About the audacity of Teddy Roosevelt, who fueled a revolution in Panama so he could carry out his vision of uniting the seas. Preposterous. And yet, the stars in the sky did not blink an eye. Build. They twinkled. See if we try to stop you. Those same stars, glimmering beyond the plane’s wing. Daring me. Build. See if we try to stop you.

I am not sure how we are going to make more money. Or how we will get to the end of our journey with something in our pocket. But nothing is stopping us from trying. From doing. From building. The how is not important now. The what even less so. We have a why. We have a reason. This is our life. Our values. Our choices. We want this life to mean something. For it to be memorable. To turn our dollars into experiences that fuel our values and purpose. To look back on it all and say, “yes, that is how I wanted to do it.” Whatever it takes.

Dang Diabetic Defalcator

Not a defecator, you guys. A defalcator. In a sad turn of events today, my phone was stolen from our hostel lobby. This morning Josh and I were planning to ride from Boquete, Panama, to Santiago. Around 10:30am, we finished up our coffee and bananas and decided we better pack up as check out was 11:00am.

Most of the rooms don’t have outlets, so the main lobby has a large outlet port for travelers to plug in all their electronic goodies. As we had a three hour ride planned, I wanted to have full juice in my phone so I could listen to music (ok, who are we kidding, I download episodes of the O.C. on Netflix and listen to them like they’re podcasts).

While I plugged my phone in, Josh listened to the plight of a man who had come into the hostel asking for money. He was probably in his mid-50s, with a bad leg and intense bandaging around his neck. He had a wooden box of random junk he was selling. He said he needed help as he was diabetic. Josh generously gave him a five dollar bill (USD is the currency in Panama), and we went to our room to pack. Twenty minutes later, we had lugged all of our packed belongings to the lobby. While Josh went outside to pull the bike around, I went to retrieve my phone from the outlet port. All that was there was my charger, still plugged in to the port. But no phone. Maybe Josh grabbed it? I ran outside where he was starting up the bike and shouted, “Josh, did you take my phone off the plug?” “No, why?” “Shit. Someone stole it!”

  The saddest notification.
The saddest notification.

Frantically we looked around the outlet spot with no luck. We quickly notified the hostel, and through many language barriers, they eventually understood what was happening. The younger girl who had been working the front desk that AM looked mortified. I could tell she thought we might blame her or get angry. While she tried to locate Gina, a senior employee who spoke some English, we tried to locate the phone on my laptop using the “Find my iPhone” feature.

I logged into, where theoretically if the “Find my iPhone” feature is turned on, I should be able to locate the position of the device. While I knew I had the feature turned on, I couldn’t locate my phone. I stared at my computer screen, where was showing my phone as offline. Shit. I had my phone in Airplane mode this morning. This meant Find my Phone’s features, such as pinging the phone with “play sound”, going into “lost mode” which allows a message to pop up on the phone screen, and showing it’s location, are completely unusable.

I kept refreshing the page. Maybe the person who took it would walk by a spot with WiFi, or they would somehow turn it off airplane mode. Sadly, as Google and Reddit kept informing me, thieves tend to put the phone into airplane mode as soon as they take it, as they know this immediately estranges the owner from its wherabaouts. So I basically did the thief’s job for him. Whoops.

Twenty minutes later, Gina arrived. When we asked her if we could review the security tapes, she said she had to go to the bank first because they closed at noon. Somewhat baffled by her priorities, Josh and I kindly nodded our heads. We would hold down the fort at the hostel, frantically refreshing iCloud. com to see if my phone came online.

We decided to think outside the box. Get creative. There must be a way to track it still. GPS? Google Maps? Find my Friends? We tried anything we could think of. I tried connecting to the phone using bluetooth at the suggestion of my brother, but no go. I e-mailed several friends who track me using Google Maps and Find My Friends, asking them to try and see my location in their apps. Sadly, the last known location they could see was the hostel, and my icon showed as “offline” on their apps. Hundreds of google searches, and everything pointed to, “you’re SOL.”

Josh looked at me and said, “we should get on the road. It’s three hours to Santiago.” I looked outside and it was raining. I looked at Josh, who looked angry and defeated. I looked at the girl behind the front desk, who looked apologetic and forlorn. “Josh, I don’t think we should ride today. It’s raining, we’re both upset, and it feels irresponsible to ride right now.”

We booked another night at the hostel, hoping that maybe in the next 24 hours we would either be calm and prepared to ride, or my phone would turn up.

When Gina returned from the bank forty-five minutes later, she called the hostel manager to try and get the security footage from the two cameras in the lobby. Apparently the manager had forgotten his password to the security login, and was unable to login for twenty minutes. “No hemos tenido ningún problema durante tres años.” They hadn’t had any crime in three years, and hence he just forgot his password. He was going to keep trying.

Finally, Gina returned to the lobby, asking if she could speak to me in Spanish. “Si.” She sat down next to me, and in her clearest and simplest Spanish told me she believed the man who Josh had given $5 to was the person who took my phone. She informed me she had called the police, who were on their way. Her face told me so much. She felt guilty. Scared. I realized how much power Josh and I had in that moment. A theft had occurred on her property. In an instant, with a bad review, we could impact the future of their livelihood. I kindly thanked her, hoping my face expressed forgiveness and appreciation as fervently.

An hour later the police arrived. One officer stayed outside, while the other came in to get a statement. His uniform was a black and white camo print, which seemed more for style than function. Through some translation and broken Spanish, the police informed us the man lived in a neighboring town. They could file a complaint to that police office, but since it was Saturday, it would take three days for them to be notified. “Es muy difícil recuperar un iPhone.” We couldn’t quite understand why they couldn’t just call the neighboring town’s police officers and have them be on the lookout for this man, who apparently they knew, but at that point we had concluded it was a lost cause. In three days we would be in Panama City, and the larcenist (I plan to try on different words for “thief” for the remainder of this post, you know, to keep it interesting) would probably have sold it. We resolved to let it go and file a claim with Apple Care. 

Having no phones to our name now (Josh lost his in Costa Rica), we decided we needed to buy a burner. We went to the only mobile store in town to buy a cheap phone and sim card. There was a couple behind the desk eating lunch. We told them we needed a new phone because my phone was stolen this morning. The man immediately perked up and said, “What kind of phone?” “Iphone—” “A guy come in this morning and try to sell me an iPhone. Pink!” I pointed to myself. “That’s mine!” “With a small crack in here?” He pointed to the bottom left of his own phone. “Yes!” “We did not buy. If you come in here earlier, we could have taken it or call you. Sometimes when they take phone they come here and try to sell, but we don’t buy. So if someone gets the phone taken, they come tell us. He was asking us for unlock it and then buy for parts. He say he find it two weeks ago on the ground.” Dang swindler! “What did he look like?” “Big, dark skin. He had big here.” He pointed to his belly. “Did he have something here?” We pointed to our necks, where the man from the hostel had a very visible bandage. “No. Backpack and hat. I did not see his face.”

This was a different man. The cat burglar must have passed it off to a more agile smuggler. At first we were excited by this clue. Maybe we could get the phone back after all! Slowly though, we realized that if the peddler had come in at three hours ago like this guy was telling us, he was probably long gone by now. David City, the closest major spot to Boquete, had dozens of cell phone stores. He was probably already trying to sell my phone to cell shops there. Even if he was in town, what would we do? Hassle every dark skinned fella with a backpack? Yeah right.

We bought our burner and returned to the hostel, defeated and tired. We e-mailed our folks to let them know what happened, and to give them our burner digits. And then, we went on with our day. We exercised and showered. We hugged eachother, alot. We messaged our friends and checked our e-mails. I don’t know why, but I think this happened for a reason. Maybe we weren’t supposed to ride today. Maybe the rain would have come down as we were mid-way through our ride, and the roads would have been slippery. Maybe we weren’t supposed to get to Santiago until tomorrow, helping us fend off something there that might have happened today, something worse than a missing cell phone.

No matter the reason, we both know it’s just a phone. We are both ok. No one is hurt. And it will just be another story for our travel files. And it doesn’t make Boquete or Panama dangerous. The purloiner was about as harmless as he could be. He could hardly walk. He wasn’t threatening. There was simply opportunity. That’s all theft usually is: desperation and opportunity. Not malice or evil. Our views of Panama haven’t changed. Nor of our hostel or the people running it. We’re simply down a device, and we are lucky to even have the means to replace it at all. And hey, look at this great story I got to write. Tomorrow is another day. So, onward.

Josh Rides Solo

A lot has happened since our latest blog post, which I think was written from Guatemala. Rachel flew out of Guatemala City to New York City and I (Josh here!) rode quickly through several countries. We reunited in San Jose Costa Rica after a week apart and we’re already in Panama! 

We never plan too far in advance, so we didn’t really know where we would be when it was time for Rachel to be in New York. As it turned out it lined up with what were considered Central America’s “more dangerous” countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. I had the idea to spend the week riding through them alone in part to “protect” Rachel from the danger and partly to have something to do besides twiddling my thumbs.

El Salvador was first, and one that some people had warned me was crazy to enter. I considered adding five hours to the trip to go around through Honduras, but other people had warned me about Honduras so it seemed like a wash. I was very pleasantly surprised by El Salvador. I stuck mainly to the coast and was greeted by tropical beaches and very friendly locals. When I told some of them that in the US people warned me El Salvador was dangerous, they laughed. 

After El Salvador I planned to ride through the Honduras and Nicaragua border in one day. Google Maps showed this to be a five and a half hour ride, not counting any border crossings. I’d read sometimes these borders could take up to eight hours. There is a part of me that wants to suffer and this was the perfect opportunity to do it without making Rachel suffer too. Oh, and it was going to be 105 degrees. The borders went relatively smoothly, although expensively. I paid for helpers and some of them got the better of me, but I think in the end it was worth it. These borders were the most confusing I’ve crossed. The helpers are there not just to help translate, but also because there are about twenty different windows and people that need copies of passports and motorcycle titles and copies of stamps in passports and receipts and copies of receipts… Yes, they could be navigated alone but only if one is looking for the eight hour crossing I’d read about. 

The section of Honduras I rode through was dry and unremarkable. I only saw one town, and it was hot and dusty and a place I don’t expect to revisit. I rode into Nicaragua and took a much needed rest day in Leon, another hot and dusty city. I would later tell Rachel she skipped the right part of the ride- mainly referring to this day. It would have taken us at least two days and neither would have been the most fun. So while I never faced any danger, I did “protect” her from that portion of the trip!

I travelled down to Grenada, which was a picturesque colonial town. We’d been watching Nicaragua closely since last summer when the government had faced protesters and responded with violence and live bullets. In the end, at least 300 people were killed by the government and many more imprisoned. Thousands more fled the country. A lot of this happened around Managua, the capital. The weekend before I entered Nicaragua, after months of quiet, there were fresh protests this time demanding the release of the people arrested the first time whom were still in captivity. I meant to avoid Managua, but due to a missed turn I found myself riding right through it. After reading all about the governmental murders, I was shocked at what I saw in the city. First a large modern office building for rent, looking like it had just been completed. Next, a Walmart, then down the road a Hooters! This looked like any suburb in America. This wasn’t a war-zone, but it had just been made one temporarily. And recently. It was jarring to think of a government killing it’s citizens in a place that looked so much like home. I rode through with no problems. I saw no protesters, just people going about their lives as usual. 

In Grenada, I met a man named David who said he’d learned English just by talking to travelers who’d visited from the US and Canada. I told him I was impressed and he said “Well I’m an old man now”. When I asked how old I was surprised to hear him say “59”. Either he lost count of a few years or life in Nicaragua is even harder on the body than I imagined. I rode towards Costa Rica alongside the massive Lake Nicaragua. It was windy enough to make waves and it looked just like an ocean coastline except for the two massive volcanos jutting up from the center of the lake. I felt like I could spend more time in Nicaragua; there was something endearing about the people. And as a recovering cheapskate, the prices matched what I had been expecting to find along this trip. With bananas being sold for 3 cents, maybe it wasn’t just the people that made me want to stay longer.

 My “59” year old friend
My “59” year old friend

I stopped one night in Liberia, Costa Rica. Nothing eventful happened there until I went to leave in the morning. I needed gas and cash and there was a station less than a mile from my hostel that offered both and was right on the highway to San Jose. Somewhere between the gas pump and the ATM I dropped my cell phone. I spent an hour looking for it, and even went upstairs with the boss to review security footage, but we couldn’t tell where I’d dropped it or who might have it. The phone wasn’t a huge deal, but the frustration of not understanding how it had happened was worse. That and I knew it was also my only tool of navigation and I was on my way into San Jose, a city of 339,581 people. 

 Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I stopped several times to ask directions to our hostel, sat in traffic for two hours, and after a much longer day than I’d planned I found our hostel. Northern Costa Rica was at the end of its dry season, and things were much browner than I expected. It was still hovering around 100 degrees as it had been since entering El Salvador. Rachel arrived from the airport that night and we were happy to be back together! 
We decided to head to the beach and couldn’t decide between the Western side and the Caribbean side. Eventually we decided Caribbean since they don’t have a dry season, and we were rewarded with a lush green ride out to the coast. When we arrived we realized we were only 45 minutes from the border with Panama, and we had planned to spend a couple weeks in Costa Rica. We felt like we had “skipped” Costa Rica, even though I’d ridden diagonally across the whole thing. 

We entered Panama and it was as green or greener than Costa Rica. The people were very friendly, and we happily rode to Almirante and parked the bike and covered it. We took what we’d need for four days and jumped on a water taxi out to the town of Bocas del Toro. It was dark when we got in a taxi for a forty minute ride to the North side of the island. When we woke up in the morning we found our bed and breakfast was perched right on the beautiful turquoise water looking out at Bird Island. 

We’ve been trying to get grounded and ditch the feeling of rushing through destinations. We had been looking forward to Costa Rica, and ended up not experiencing our expectations. Conversely, we planned to rush through Panama because we didn’t think there was anything to see here and our expectations have been blown out of the water. That’s been fairly consistent so far: our enjoyment of a country seems to be inversely proportional to our expectations of it. Maybe something for us to think about and integrate into our “real lives” too!

Goodbye Guatemala

It’s 7:09am. I think it’s central time, but I’m flying from Guatemala to Miami, so who could really say. This morning, I woke up at 4:30am in Guatemala City with Josh. We put my bags in a taxi, and I said goodbye to him. While I spend the next six days in New York celebrating my friend’s bachelorette party, Josh will ride on without me. After spending every day together for the last four months, I have a feeling six days will feel like an awfully long time. 

Before I answer any logistical questions (“are you going to go back?” “How do you feel about him riding alone?” “Where will he ride?” “How are you going to meet back up?” “Just, what!?”), I want to share as much as I can about our time in Guatemala, as I realize we’ve only written one post in this country, and it deserves so much more attention than that.

I’d like to think we haven’t written while we were here because we enjoyed ourselves so much that we really didn’t have much time to sit down and write about our experiences. I think that’s true, and I also know that we have been using Instagram as a source of storytelling and thoughtful soundbites from day to day. Even so, this blog is still one of my favorite outlets for diving deeper into these stories. Not to mention the ability to share more without the constraints of character limits and use italics & bolds which I so love.

My dear friend Katie said it best: Guatemala is magical. The scenery constantly took my breath away. The land appears untouched: lush and green and well hydrated. Volcanoes decorate the hillsides like classical paintings; hung effortlessly against the sky with an intimidating yet inviting elegance. Rivers trickle beside the roads, weaving intricate patterns between small villages where families bathe or fish. 

The people of Guatemala are equally enchanting. Delicate smiles bounce from face to face as their mouths chant cheerful “Buenos dias”-es and “Passen adelante”s. Friendliness—as we found in Mexico—flowed more freely than any other currency. 

Our time in Guatemala went as such: Flores to Semuc Champey, Semuc to Antigua, Antigua to Lake Atitlan, and Atitlan back to Antigua. Each of these cities boasted unique qualities: Flores, as we’ve shared, was a small island town on a lake, which most travelers use as a jumping off point to see the incredible pyramids in Tikal. Semuc Champey is cluster of fresh water pools, nestled amongst waterfalls and rivers in a lush and tropical valley. 

Antigua boasts a gorgeous colonial-style city with a small population but vibrant and modern social life. Set against an active volcano, travelers flock here to hike it’s steep, slippery back and still enjoy the nightlife and shopping of a great backpacker city. 

Lake Atitlan attracts meditating yogis on one end and hardcore binge drinkers on the other. Small boats service the small lakeside towns as public transport, and it is really the only efficient way to get from place to place. 

For our first stint in Antigua, we took full advantage of the comforts of its backpacker-friendliness. We ate unbelievable vegan meals, did laundry that was long overdue, and drank beers on the Antigua Brewery rooftop where we witnessed the eruption of a volcano in the distance. Our plan was to recharge before heading to the Lake, where we hoped to find some peace and quiet, practice some yoga, and enjoy the beautiful views.

On a Thursday we arrived in Panajanchel, the “jumping off” town in Lake Atitlan. We stayed there one night to recover from our ride. The next day, we took only what we would need for the next five days, and took a boat to Tzununa, the small town where we had reserved our stay at a Yoga center. We left the motorcycle in a secure parking lot with the rest of our belongings. 

Lake Atitlan is absolutely enormous. I imagined a small lake in my mind, one that would take 10 minutes to cross by boat at max. As we boarded the small speedboat, I couldn’t see to the other end of the lake. On my left, across the water, I saw San Pedro Volcano simmering under the fog. The boat hugged the coast to our right, and we stopped at three docks before reaching our port. Every port is the same: one small dock where passengers load and unload, and only a few steps off the dock you’ve arrived at the main road of the small village. 

Tzununa, our new home for the week, was tiny. When we arrived there were a few tuk tuks offering rides, and we grabbed one to our accommodation. I realized it was our first tuk tuk of the entire trip, and suddenly realized how easily we were able to get from place to place by having our motorcycle. After asking the 13 year old boy driving our tuk tuk to stop for some bananas, we arrived at Doron Yoga. Besides this retreat center and two others, there was nothing much in the way of activities or even food options in Tzununa. Luckily the center offered three vegetarian meals daily, so we knew we wouldn’t go hungry.

We spent the next few days exploring different towns around the lake: San Pedro was erupting with plastic signs and mildewed billboards offering cheap beer and awesome WiFi. Santiago confused us with its maze-like road of never ending fabric sales and craft shops. San Marcos attracted the yogis and foreigners who’d traded their 9-5 jobs for selling handmade jewelry on the street, and we spent the most time here as it had the majority of vegan food options on the Lake. 

When we weren’t stuffing our face with food, we were lounging at Doron Yoga. We were there between retreats, so it was only us and the 5 work-exchange volunteers who lived on the property. We practiced a little yoga and a lot of hammocking. After 5 days, we were ready to be reunited with our bike. 

I never thought I would miss a motorcycle. But when we got back on the bike and rode out of Pana, I found myself fist bumping the morning air and howling in my helmet. Who am I, Josh? I was so happy to have the freedom back that our bike brings us. I knew logically that having the motorcycle offered us a kind of flexibility that many backpackers don’t have, but I never fully appreciated how much freedom she provides us. 

Being back on the bike, I realized how lucky we are to be able to see the world this way. To come and go as we please. To not be at the whim of any bus or boat schedule. To stop when we want. To change our plans in an instant. I believe this luxury has been a huge reason we’ve been able to sustain travel for this long. If we don’t feel comfortable in a city, we can leave. If we don’t want to travel in the dark, we don’t. If we love where we are, we stay until we’re ready to go. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for our bike in that moment, and ever since. 

Once we left Atitlan, we rode back to Antigua for our final week in Guatemala. We planned to take care of some logistic items like what I would take with me, what paperwork Josh needed for his upcoming rides, and general loose ends before we parted ways. We also hoped to climb Acatenango, the 6 hour, grueling overnight hike that would allow us to see the eruption of the active volcano, Fuego. As we continued our research, Josh learned of a different hike, Pacaya, that included less exertion and equal lava sightings. He also started to feel a nagging sensation in his knee (the one he injured while getting a little too low at a friend’s wedding many years ago), and felt a shorter hike might make things easier. 

When he went to book our overnight trip with the travel company, they informed him we were the only ones going and therefore they couldn’t do the trip. Even though we had been assured the day before that if it was just us they would still do the hike, they regrettably said no, and suggested we do the Acatenango instead. Having only his sandals and converse for footwear, Josh scoured their gear closet for some type of shoe that could make the 6 hours doable. Nothing. The guy working at the shop told him he had a pair of Vans Josh could borrow, and smartly, Josh told him he’d have to talk to his wife first.

We talked at length about our options. Josh was in pain simply going up and down the hostel stairs. If we hiked the volcano the next morning, he risked injuring his knee more, potentially badly enough that it could ruin the rest of our trip (and lives! Just kidding). If we didn’t, we would both feel severe disappointment in not doing the one activity in Guatemala we had been told not to miss. 

Since Mexico, we had worked up the hike in our heads. It would be the culmination of our time in Guatemala. It would take place on the day of our 8 year dating anniversary. It would happen just days before I would leave for New York. Symbolically, it would be the perfect way to round off this chapter.

We knew what the smart thing to do was. We knew what our future selves would thank us for. And still a small voice inside us suggested we do the hike anyways. Don’t be a sissy. What would your friends think? You came all this way and DIDN’T hike the volcano? It’s just your knee, suck it up. Other people have done it! You’ll regret it. 

This is the sneaky traveler voice that creeps in. The one that wants us to think there is a “right” or “best” way to travel and see the world. But our guts have grown strong. Our egos have been checked regularly. Our intuition and sense of perspective has developed wisdom. We chose to forgo the hike, acknowledge our disappointment, and simply say, “we’ll just have to come back, won’t we?”