Monday, 13 April 2015

Adjustments To Home

All totalled, we were in Central America for just over 4 months, although it easily felt like 8 because of the multitude of experiences crammed into such a short time frame. It was difficult to accept that our trip was over, especially due to the financial restraints the Canada's floundering economy placed on us. However, on our flight home we were truly ready to return to family and loved ones. In a lot of ways it felt like we had finished a long arduous race as the last two weeks in Mexico pushed us to the limit. For the first week we slept, a lot, realizing just how tired we were from the constant travel. Backpacking, although an absolutely incredible experience is not a holiday as we attempted to convey through this blog. It was amazing and frustratingly annoying how many times people inferred that we were on vacation or holidaying and that sparked us to really try to inform people what life is really like while backpacking.

It is shocking how quickly we can get caught back up in the rat race of North American life. For the first while I didn't want to look at pictures or reflect on our trip, still grieving I guess the reality that our long anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed journey came to an end. At the same time we often find ourself smiling and laughing with each other about little memories or things we catch ourself doing such as wanting to speak in Spanish and throwing our toilet paper in the garbage. Then there is the more difficult adjustments, such as the first time we went to Costco and the mall and felt completely out of place and disgusted with our culture of wealth and mass consumerism. Now I look at an item and wonder who made it, who packaged it and are they being paid fairly. Questions I sadly can not answer but internally have my doubts that those on the other end are being treated fairly due to the low price I get to pay. 

On the other hand, home has filled our heart with gratitude, gratitude for the privilege we share in living in such a safe and beautiful country. Gratitude for all the wonderful people in our lives including our new backpacking friends. Gratitude for our soft bed, variety of healthy food at our finger tips, warm showers and the freedom in owning a car. Our first time driving was absolutely exciting and terrifyingly and was in stark contrast to the crowded, loud bus rides, the only form of transportation many of the Central American people know. Being home has also brought challenges, little did we know before we left that employment in our province would become more difficult, something we previously took for granted. Although I am working on being patient and waiting for the right opportunity to come along, it is difficult at times. With such a long gap now since I have been employed it makes me a bit nervous to start again. Even though it would have been easier to have stayed with my previous job I do not regret our decision to leave it all to explore a small piece of Gods amazing earth. With our hearts happy to be home, a piece of us still longs to explore more of the world and I trust our love for backpacking will never leave us. 

Thanks to those of you who have shared with us about your enjoyment of our blog. We were happy to share a bit of our journey with you in this small way. 


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Oaxaca and Mexico City: Home Stretch

At 9pm we boarded the night bus from San Cristobal to Oaxaca, dreading the 12 hour journey ahead of us. With no other option to leave the city we opted to pay for the best bus possible which included reclining seats, pillows and a blanket. Although this was our most comfortable bus we had experienced yet, the bumpy, winding roads didn't allow for a very restful night. Arriving in Oaxaca with our friends from Hong Kong, each one of us completely exhausted from our journey, we stumbled our way to our hostel for some much needed rest. Soon after laying down, Travis began to feel sick and for the first time on our trip, we looked forward to home. There is nothing quite like the comforts of home when you are not feeling well and with only days left it became a little harder to push forward. With Travis unable to get out of bed or talk, I had to make the daunting trip out to get supper for us. At the beginning of our trip, Travis and I made an agreement that I would never leave the hostel without him and this was the only exception we had made on our entire trek. Even though I went out with our friends, my heart was racing and I was feeling very nervous as we hadn't been separated from each other for more than one hour in 4 months. Once I was finally able to relax and enjoy myself, I shook my head thinking about how much of an adjustment we will go through at home when we have to do things on our own again. 

After getting a full nights sleep, we headed to the Zapotec ruins with our friends. Travis was still feeling ill but didn't want to miss this famous site and realizing these were our final days, he pushed on. From the site we could look down on the city and the view was incredible with land and sky stretching for miles. The sight of big open sky reminded me of home in Alberta and caused me to get a little sentimental or perhaps it had more to do with the fact that home was fast approaching. My heart was filled with gratitude for our big open blue sky, something our Hong Kong friends said they will miss when they return to China. While exploring these unique ruins we thought about our niece McKinnley, as it was her birthday. With our friends help we decided to make her a video singing Happy birthday in English, Spanish and Cantonese. It was this moment that really drove home the fact that traveling doesn't simply open your eyes and heart to the country you are visiting, but also to other places around the world through the people you meet. Although China has never been high on my list to visit, I now feel a small connection and desire to go there someday, not only to visit our friends again but to get to know the people and culture. The four of us finished our time in Oaxaca by walking around the city that evening. We visited the large, impressive Cathedral with gold ordaining every inch of the interior, I can't fathom the wealth that went into the building. Oaxaca is also known for its chocolate and while I was able to enjoy a malt with our friends when travis had been sick, I was afraid he would miss out. Just minutes before we were to hop on the bus headed for Mexico City, Travis spotted a store selling the same malts! I was happy he was able to get in on our experience and I may have had a sampling or two from his as well.

With one last all day bus ride before us, we took it on with grace in order to arrive at our final destination. The highlight in reaching this location was meeting up again with our wonderful Swiss friends whom we met in Panama and journeyed through most of Nicaragua with. Ending our trip with four dear backpacking companions, both old and new, more than made up for the lack of time we had to explore this grand city. Our final night with them could not have been better as we soaked in the city centre including the Cathedral, colonial parliament buildings, Mexican food and music. Now we could say "we did it!", we completed our journey from Panama to Mexico City! With hearts full of gratitude we said good bye for now to our friends and turned our gaze towards home. 

Our final travel day home on Friday, February 27, 2015 included many feelings; sickness, sadness, excitement, stress, thankfulness, exhaustion and peace. Climbing into our bed at midnight felt sureal but was a welcomed feeling of comfort, both internally and externally. Over this next week we will rest, recover and reflect on our past four plus months of backpacking. Please check back in once more for the final blog entry which will include our overall thoughts and adjustments to home life. 




Sunday, 1 March 2015

Campeche, Palenque and San Cristobal in a Flash

Continuing with our Mexican theme of moving on every two nights, our next stop brought us to Campeche. This colonial city along the coast was picture perfect behind its protective walls. Everything has been perfectly restored, from the buildings with bright coloured walls to the orderly cobble stone streets making it all feel a little fake. By this time we had been moving along so quickly we hadn't made friends for awhile, so I was hopeful this city would introduce us to someone new. In the comforts of our hotel my wish was granted when we met a lovely Mexican family who was house hunting in Campeche. They were excited to learn we were from Canada and even with our limited communication we built a connection with this dear family who wish to visit Canada some day. Also, to our delight we happened to be in Campeche for Carnival. The music and costumes were stunning, especially against the back drop of the Central Park which came complete with a stunningly restored Catholic Church. Couples both young and old were crowned as King and Queen, warming my heart to see the people's respect for their seniors.

Back on the ruin hunting trail we landed in Palenque on a dark and rainy night. Without a hostel booked we tagged along with a backpacking couple from Hong Kong. Their companionship was most welcomed as our walk through town in the rain was very uncomfortable as the locals glared and swore in our faces along the way. This was the first place on our trip where the whole town seemed unwelcoming. It made me sad to think how people before us must have wronged them in order for them to hate us so. Thankfully, our friendship with the couple from China grew quickly which afforded us the opportunity to celebrate the Chinese New Year with them in a small way. To top things off, we discovered our plan to fast track Mexico was identical to theirs, a welcomed discovery with 3 more long bus rides ahead. Our purpose in coming to Palenque was to visit the Mayan Ruin site which once again was very impressive. The ruins left behind by the ancient Maya never cease to amaze us in their architectural scope and grandure. With some buildings at this site taking nearly 4 centuries to reveal their final form, it is nearly unimaginable to think that 10-12 generations of people witnessed this structure grow from beginning to end. 

Glad to be leaving a city that definitely did not want us there, we were back on the bus with our friends for an all day journey to the mountain city of San Cristobal. This colonial mountain town had a cozy feel and the people were very friendly, a welcomed relief after Palenque. However, the poverty appeared to be greater than we had seen in many of our past stops making us more than happy to do a little more gift shopping in the street market to support the local people. In San Cristobal we enjoyed many delicious meals at some of the cheapest prices we had seen on the trip, most of which we enjoyed with our kind friends. Even while in a beautiful setting such as we were, the ugly side of travelling doesn't end and we found ourselves spending too much time finalizing our flight home. Although we were happy with the result of our time spent working on our flight, it was difficult to swallow the precious time wasted which could have been used to explore the many magnificent sights San Cristobal had to offer. With our final days of this trip fast approaching we booked a night bus to Oaxaca and said goodbye to a city we never were able to fully appreciate. Such is life on the road.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ruins, ruins, ruins...: Tulum and Chichen Itza

After Tikal we were faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to go to Belize. Our plan at the beginning of the trip was to visit every country in Central America and we had been looking forward to snorkelling at the second largest barrier reef in the world. After much debate, we reviewed our budget and humbly accepted that Belize was more expensive than we could afford. Although we were very disappointed, we took consulation in the thought that we would be able to fly to Belize someday when we can afford to do it up right and then turned our determined gaze towards Mexico.

After another long day of travel we crossed our last border into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. As we reflected on our border crossings over the past four months we were thankful to be done for a while as border crossing always take a fair bit of effort to navigate. Thankfully, this crossing was well laid out and we were the only ones crossing, marking this the easiest border on the trip. Our first destination was Tulum, where we were overwhelmed by the amount of tourism, even though we knew it was a hot spot for vacationers. We felt out of place and uncomfortable being a part of the majority for the first time and definitely experienced culture shock. We walked along the zona hotelera until we found a 'cheap' place on the beach where we grabbed ourselves a simple cabana. The colour of the water was remarkable as the turquoise and jade hues made it appear fake. Our plan was to snorkel here as we had heard it was well worth the financial investment, however the weather conditions conspired against us and we were sadly bound to land. We shrugged our shoulders at our misfortune and headed for the ruins of Tulum. Arriving at the gate we were greeted with something we had not seen at a ruin site yet, a lineup. The sheer mass of tourists was shocking and caused us to search for a way to ignore them. I found my distraction a few steps into the site, iguana's! They were everywhere, with many making their homes in and on the structures. Looking for Iguana's helped to keep our minds off the swarms of people and although we felt uncomfortable with the crowds it made us even more grateful for our time at Copan and Tikal. 

After a couple nights we carried on to see the remarkable Chichen Itza. We stayed at an old hotel that was overrun with dogs and cats and had most likely seen its heyday in the 70's. The silver lining for us though was that it was walking distance to the Ruins. Learning from our experience at Tulum we made sure to be at the gates when they opened to avoid some of the crowds. In order to do so we settled for convenience store breakfast that included a hot dog, yogurt and cookies. Walking into the centre of the site our jaws dropped at the grandure of El Castillo. The early morning light cast stunning shadows over the perfect structure, taking our breath away. We proceeded from there to the largest Mayan ball court in existence. Although the court was enormous Travis and I were able to stand on opposite sides and carry a conversation as if we were standing side by side. Within 2.5 hours we had soaked in everything Chichen Itza had to offer and turned towards the exit. As we made our way through incoming crowds we laughed to ourselves at all the vendors hawking their wares. Their sales tactics consisted of them offering their products for "almost free". Once away from the oppressive crowds we began the 2.5 km walk back to our hotel satisfied with our time at one of the seven man made wonders of the world (our first).


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Tikal: Shock and Awe

The ride from Semuc Champey to northern Guatemala with our friends from California was an all day event, leaving us a little road weary as we arrived in Flores. Thankfully, the first hostel we tried had one room left with four single beds, so we snatched it up, threw our stuff down and headed out on the town. Flores is a picture perfect little town on a small island in a medium sized lake. We are happy to have got here when we did as the lake is rising at an alarming rate and is beginning to overtake the road that encompasses the island. We walked along this road doing our best to navigate around the water until we came across the most impressive display of street food we have seen on this trip. Nearly every local dish we have enjoyed during our journey was available at absurdly low prices. Burritos, taquitos, fresh Jamaica juice, tres leches and more cakes and deserts than we could handle! Together we laughed and feasted, sampling appetizing foods from different ladies. Although we thoroughly enjoyed this cute little town and the local flare and cuisine it offered, our purpose for being in this lovely place was short lived as our goal was still one hour away; the mighty Tikal.

Travis and I had been anticipating Tikal, the grandest Mayan Ruin site, our entire trip. Unlike Copan, Tikal is in the heart of the jungle and is quite spread out. For six hours we walked around, covering many kilometres, trying to take in the extrodinary experience one temple at a time. We were extremely impressed by the height of the temples as more than a few extended beyond the confines of the jungle canopy. One thing we did not realize before coming to the site was how many buildings are still waiting to be excavating and deciphered. Our admiration for archeologists is now extremely high as we witnessed differing stages of their work in progress. We saw more than a few Mayan structures as completely overgrown, simply appearing as just another hill amidst the dense jungle background. It would have been easy to walk right by them without realizing what lie underneath the foliage if it wasn't for Travis's keen eye. The years of tedious work to reveal just one ruin is unimaginable. Travis and I enjoyed climbing to the top of every structure that wasn't roped off and each time we did the views were stunning. Exhausted after exploring, we left the site and headed back to the tent we had rented for the night where we visited with our California friends once again and then crashed hard.

After a solid sleep, Travis and I were back up at 3:30am to head back to the ruins, marking the earliest I have ever woke up on my birthday. We stumbled out of our tent and headed for our guided sunrise tour of the ruins. The temples took on an entirely new dimension when viewed only in the light of the moon. They loomed like giant monoliths piercing the jungle roofline, defiant against the surrounding nature. Having the place to ourselves also added some mystery to our tour, even though we had seen most of the temples just a few hours earlier. Our guide demonstrated how a clap made beside one temple reverberates off another, echoing loudly through the sky. This phenomenon gives Tikal its namesake as it is known as the 'city of whispers'. We climbed up Temple IV to silently watch the sunrise with the upper portions of Temples I,II and III gracing the skyline with their prominence. This is also the view that appears in Star Wars Episode IV as the hidden rebel base on Yavin IV as Travis made certain to point out. The best part for me though was the mist resting over the far off hills and the birds singing as the sun rose higher in the sky. Our hearts were filled with gratitude to experience this beautiful place. Afterwards we finished what we had missed the day before and made a video for our new niece who arrived later that night. Although we were sad not to be home for Charlee's birth it served to build our excitement for going home sooner than planned. Also knowing I get to celebrate my birthday with her for years to come fills my heart with joy.