My Solo Backpacking Adventure So Far
I’m in a swaying hammock on a beach in Colombia staring out over the ocean and thinking about how I ended up here. Two months into a five-month trip, I feel simultaneously like I’ve just started and like I’ve been gone forever. So much has happened since I left Seattle in November.
When I knew I’d be traveling for such a long period of time I thought I’d have so much free time for writing, reading, and watching tutorials—but living and new friendships have gotten in the way and that’s not something I can regret. Traveling to me is the art of being truly alive and making each moment matter. It’s about being present. You can come away with more stories in a week than you’d accumulate for months at home and it’s so beautiful.
So since I’m so far behind and don’t know where to begin, here are my favorite moments of the last two months.
Exploring a new part of Mexico
Before December, I’d never been to the Yucatan Peninsula but can officially confirm that it’s worth all the hype. I was supposed to just pass through on the way to Belize but ended up staying for a week and could’ve easily stayed for a month.
Afternoon sessions of volleyball with locals, swimming in cenotes, and eating tacos for every meal felt like heaven and within a couple of days, my homesickness and fear of what was ahead was lessened.
Finding my inner Darth Vader in Belize
My first breath under water in my scuba gear was, I imagine, eerily similar to Darth Vader’s first breath—a tentative gasp for air, a moment’s panic that this wasn’t a natural way of breathing, then a flooding relief that it worked and I wasn’t dead. The raspy noise that seemed so bizarre for the first few breaths, eventual became the norm and I relaxed into my new role as a member of the Dark Side, I mean… a scuba diver.
I didn’t find the droids I was looking for, but I did get my scuba certification and my first real dive was about as magical as they come. I saw dolphins skipping in the water above me, swam alongside a sea turtle, past a barracuda, and spotted so many tropical fish. It was surreal and every bit as amazing as everyone had led me to believe.
Almost every moment in Guatemala
The second I entered Guatemala, I loved it. After a week on an island, I was more than ready to have the open road in front of me again. My first stop was in Flores and I think I still consider it the most charming city I’ve visited so far. With houses built into the hill and flower-lined streets everywhere you look, it’s idyllic.
From Flores I visited the ruins of Tikal and watched sunset with new friends from Melbourne. Then I slept all alone in a hammock in the jungle and had one of the longest, coldest, scariest nights of my life. Queue the sounds of howler monkeys and the advances of a rather creepy bartender. But it was amazing because I felt alive and like I was living a real adventure.
Arriving in Antigua a few days later, I experienced a new Christmas tradition: fireworks every moment of every day. At first I felt like I was in a war zone and nearly jumped out of my socks with every explosion. By the end, I only jumped half as high. I spent Christmas Eve with friends from my hostel watching fireworks in the central park and then playing ping pong into the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t with family, but I wasn’t alone.
I found my happy place at Lake Atitlan. I’ve never before arrived somewhere and felt no desire to leave even to do activities nearby. But the view from my hostel was nearly as unbeatable as the friendly souls that inhabited it. Family-style dinner every night was a way to constantly make new friends and the talent at their open-mic night was so impressive that I thought a band must’ve run away together and ended up at Lake Atitlan. I decided to stay for a week and take Spanish lessons and it was the most lazy and chill week of my adventure so far. Bringing in the new year here just felt natural and watching fireworks burst into the air from all directions around the lake was unforgettable.
Exploring sea caves in El Tunco
Unlike Guatemala, El Tunco, El Salvador wasn’t one of those places I immediately fell in love with. It’s a surfer’s paradise but since I’ve never surfed and the instructors kept trying to volunteer to teach me by saying, “Hey sexy, come here and I’ll teach you to surf” with an awkward wink, I was too weirded out to take lessons.
Then I met a girl who was struggling a bit due to a recent breakup and we hit it off. Together we discovered sea caves and ate oysters on the beach. We talked through issues we were both going through and helped each other gain a new more positive perspective. At face value, El Tunco didn’t seem like much and when I met my friend, I thought she was just the type that liked lazing in bed all day. Digging deeper into both and giving them a chance ended up revealing the beauty and story underneath.
Being happy as can be in a rundown city
I set off from El Salvador before I’d planned to and missed doing a volcano hike I’d been dying to do but when you meet someone you click with and they’re moving on, you follow like you’re joined at the hip. It ended up being one of the best decisions ever.
We arrived in Leon, Nicaragua in the middle of the night after a 12-hour bus ride filled with people we’d end up spending the next few days with. I went straight to bed thinking I’d wake up early and do the volcano surfing but ended up joining my bus mates on a Sunday Funday trip to the beach. Spending the day playing games, swimming, and eventually dancing was just what we all needed to recoup from the long journey.
The next morning we all signed up for volcano boarding—a sport invented by the original owner of the hostel where you ride a sled down an active volcano. We hopped in the back of the truck for a bumpy ride to Cerro Negro and had to stop a few times for our guides to zealously whack branches out of the way with machetes.
After hiking to the summit with our boards, we were given a tour of the active volcano and told all the ways we could get hurt on the sled ride down. The anticipation was daunting but forged bonds of friendship. I was the last to surf down and managed to not crash but some of the group had some pretty big wipeouts—one guy’s ear even had to be stitched up.
After watching a beautiful sunset, we headed back to our hostel and went out to dinner together. I’d made a new friend and we both decided to delay moving onto our different destinations the following day so that we could hike another volcano and visit the nearby beach.
That Wednesday, I was finally supposed to head further south into Nicaragua but ended up catching the 2am bus back to El Salvador with my new friend instead. I wasn’t supposed to have been in Nicaragua yet so everything worked itself out and sent me back in the direction I’d come.
A second chance at El Salvador
With another chance to visit Santa Ana Volcano, I wasn’t missing it. We went back through El Tunco long enough to get a smoothie from my favorite juice shack from the whole trip and to change busses toward Santa Ana. Along the way my phone, debit card, and cash were stolen. Some friendly locals tried to help us track everything down but it was too late for them to do anything but redeem my faith in mankind.
In Santa Ana, we gorged ourselves on every type of vegetarian papusa a street vendor could make while marveling at what a nice country El Salvador seemed to be despite the mental image of a murder zone we had in our mind.
The next morning we hiked up Santa Ana Volcano led by guards with machine guns which was such an odd experience. The view from the top and the fresh-fruit popsicles a man sold us on the way up made rerouting my trip completely worth it.
Revisiting Guatemala and checking off my fourth volcano
Another day of exploring Santa Ana and eating more papusas later, we caught a bus to Antigua. At this stage, I’d given up on catching my flight home out of Honduras and was fully committed to just seeing where I ended up the day I needed to go home for a mini vacation with my family and booking a flight from there.
I’d been kicking myself for not hiking up Acatenango (the must-do volcano in Guatemala) so we decided to remedy it. Our fourth volcano of the week turned out to be by far the hardest and by the time we got to our campsite near the top, I was dying. Views of Fuego erupting every five minutes nearby made all the pain, altitude sickness, and lack of sleep worth it.
We recouped for a day in Antigua after the hike and ate our weight in street food before heading to Lake Atitlan to chill for a couple of days before we both had to go home. I got to stay in a hotel that I’d been dreaming of since my previous visit to the lake and it was the perfect end to the Central America part of my vacation.
Taking a vacation from my vacation
My entire family decided to take a trip from Florida to North Carolina for a family vacation and when my dad asked me to join, I couldn’t resist. NYM! So I caught a flight from Guatemala City to Atlanta and was greeted at the airport by my parents, niece, nephew, and, you guessed it, Nym. The next hour no one bothered trying to talk to me because Nym was too busy kissing my face and they could tell I only had eyes for her.
We spent a magical weekend together and hiked to a waterfall just like we always do. With my family, I cooked, played card games, and caught up on what’d I’d missed while away. Saying goodbye on Monday was tough and I spent my flight to Seattle trying to hide my tears from the flight attendants.
Being in Seattle without Nym there was so weird but I had a great time catching up with my friends and volleyball team while waiting on my new debit card and some essentials to be delivered. After a taco party on Friday, I went to the airport to catch my red-eye flight to Colombia.
A new continent and my 33 country
Originally, I’d planned on returning from my mini vacation to Central America, but at the last second, I decided to head to South America instead. For the last week I’ve been exploring Colombia—staying in huts, lounging by the beach in hammocks, exploring Cartagena (a colonial city), and hiking to some waterfalls near Minca.
Today is officially the two-month mark for me and I have three months left (in theory because who knows what will happen). Looking back, I can’t believe that Mexico was two months ago, it feels like it’s been a lifetime since then. The trip has had its ups and downs. Sustaining daily energy on a longterm trip has proven much more difficult than on a short trip. But, I felt from day one like this was an adventure I needed to have for myself and still feel that way this far in. It had been nothing like I imagined (for better and for worse) but it’s been an exciting journey all the same.
If you’re thinking of visiting anywhere I’ve been so far, just shoot me a message and I can give you tips on what to see and do there. If you have any tips for me about how to keep the energy going for three more months, I’d love to hear those as well!