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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Episode 7: Confessions of an inexperienced traveller

These past two months (since landing from Jamaica) I’ve travelled up through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico.

I suppose this is where I share my list of must-sees and wax lyrical on the wander-lust magic I’ve experienced.

The uncomfortable-to-admit truth is that my time in these countries has been more hard work than fun...more endurance than inspiration. I feel like I’ve failed...been a ‘bad’ traveller not LOVE such places teeming with exotic culture and beauty.  

I’ve identified the following key reasons:
  1. Urban Overload
  2. Language Barrier
  3. Travellers Fatigue

Herein I’d like to explore how they arose and what I could have done differently. With three months of backpacking the West Coast USA ahead, hopefully I can apply any lessons learned!

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Here’s a breakdown of my route - (* = top 3 must sees)
San Jose, Costa Rica (3 nights)
Granada, Nicaragua (5 nights)
*Ometepe Island, Nicaragua (10 nights) *Volcanic Island Magic
Leon, Nicaragua (3 nights)
Tegulcigalpa, Honduras (3 nights)
Coban Ruinas, Honduras (2 nights)
Antigua, Guatemala (1 night)
*Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (7 nights) *Hippy Lake Spirits
San Cristobal, Mexico (4 nights)
Oaxaca City, Mexico (4 nights)
Mesunte/Puerto Escondido, Mexico (8 nights)
*Mexico City (5 nights) *Megawondercity

1) Urban Setting Overload

The route I’ve taken is described by some as the ‘Gringo Trail’ a narrow path of locations well worn by Westerners...complete with lots of budget accommodation, prepared tours and transport links.  

It was easy with my jellyfish style of travel (see here for further explanation) to be swept along with the flow of fellow Gringos between one Colonial Hispanic town and the next.

I came to spend roughly half my time in such settings and (forgive me for being a philistine) if you’ve seen two Colonial Hispanic towns - you’ve seen em’ all! There’s the picturesque square...there’s the fifteen or so churches...there’s the hostel brimming over with drunken backpackers.  

Mexico City was a massive exception to this...being a fascinating Megawondertropolis that defies ennui with its vast size, vibrancy and cultural blend. As a Londoner born and raised - coming to such a place with its 24 hour buzz felt somehow like coming home.

2) Language Barrier

You might be thinking that I should have defied tedium by going off-trail...maybe hopped on a chicken bus into unknown rural climes. Well yes - perhaps I should have, but I’m fairly green to all this and crucially I have a very basic grasp of Spanish.

The language barrier has definitely limited the richness of my experience. It’s another reason why I’m still missing Jamaica - it was the last country in which I could communicate with locals freely. What a joy to be able to chat with the bus driver- learning about his city as he drove his route through Downtown Kingston!

I managed to self-teach Spanish to a decent basic level, but if I could turn back the clock I would have done an intensive week at the beginning of my the time it seemed expensive, but I now realise how it would have paid dividends as an investment.

3) Travellers Fatigue

Turns out this here life on the road is tough. Indeed the word Travelling roots from the Old French ‘Travailler’ meaning ‘To work strenuously/toil’. “There is a big difference between simply being a tourist and being a true world traveller.” -Michael Kasum

With the ongoing discipline of living on a tight budget, ever on the move with a bare minimum of possessions, little privacy, sometimes afraid, sometimes lonely, sometimes lost, sometimes sick, often hot and sticky, always braving the unknown.

Nevertheless I’m happy to have faced these difficulties and discomforts from which have sprung great insights, growth and strength.

I keep trying to explain this to my Nan who becomes crestfallen whenever I confess I’m not feeling great. I try to reassure her that life on the road simply reflects life back have your ups and downs just the same. The defining dualities that haunt our strange existence!

With hindsight I would have planned to stop after a few months and drop anchor somewhere. Recuperate my energies whilst doing some volunteer work in one spot for at least a few weeks.

As it was I drove myself on and on...and after around 4 months, at pretty much the exact midway point of this trip, I hit a wall. From then on (for the past month) I’ve generally felt like I’ve been battling.

Battling for energy and enthusiasm to explore, battling to be positive and social...battling to stay curious and open to the lessons of these places and people. Though now I’m pleased to report (I hope) that the battle is over!

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It’s taken me a long time to get my head around writing this's felt uneasy to address and admit to more negatives than positives. (I'll write about my Latin America highlights in another post I promise!)

But having finally articulated what I’ve been facing, I now feel as though I’m able to move into a new chapter - and regain my passion for this lifestyle.

Today I’ll begin the hunt for a volunteering/living opportunity somewhere here in California with the help of the excellent service:

The website allows for the advertising of various Hosting positions where volunteering travellers like myself can apply. 25 hours of work a week is usually the deal for free bed and board.

I’m confident that laying down roots for a few weeks will recharge my batteries (and budget) for this final exciting stretch of my journey...USA USA USA USA!!!!!

Wish me luck and thanks for reading!