Hard to believe it's been 365 days since we left home in Seattle. In a few short days we'll be crossing into Bolivia, our 13th country, after 19,000 miles on the road. Here's a recap of some our highlights, hi-jinks, hilarious encounters and generally horrible experiences.
Here are a few of the highs and lows of the past year of travel. It's not all rainbows and unicorns, but as I like to say: when it's all said and done the good times become great, and the bad times become great stories.
This was our first campsite, exactly one year ago. As you may recall, our tale of intrigue and adventure began with a wedding in the charming town of Gearhart, Oregon. Approximately 30 minutes after we pitched our tents the sprinkler system kicked on, giving us a preemptive chance to test the waterproofing on our tents.
We were in Gearhart to attend and help cater our cousin's wedding. After ten hours of cooking, which largely involved two twenty pound rib roasts in separate ovens three blocks apart, catching the end of the ceremony, and serving dinner to a couple hundred guests, it was time for the after party! As you can see, things got a little out of hand that night.
Our second campsite of the trip was at Honeyman State Park in Oregon. This is why people don't go camping in the Pacific Northwest at the end of October. At this point the phrase "Are we in Mexico yet?" was an hourly utterance.
One of the biggest highlights of our trip through the American southwest was hiking five or six miles up The Narrows in Zion National Park. Nothing like getting up at 7am to walk in knee-deep water that's barely above freezing! The experience remains unforgettable, mostly in a good way.
After crossing into Mexico and experiencing a bit of culture shock and whole lot of lost in translation we settled into a groove on the beaches of Baja. We learned to make proper tacos, caught some fish, hooked a seagull and a pelican in the process, and generally lounged the days away while trying to combat the sand flies.
In mainland Mexico we chow down of on the best food of our trip. Rarely a day goes by that we don't reminisce about the great eats in Mexico. Tacos al pastor, moles, Oaxacan cheese, tamales, the list goes on and on. "Mexican" restaurants in the US are forever ruined for us. Suffice it to say, Mexico: we will be back!
In Guatemala we spent seven weeks living with a family near Antigua. The most patient and welcoming people we've met on this trip. We miss Faviola's home cooking so much!
For the first time in months our days developed into a routine as we spent nearly two months volunteering at a local non-profit organization and taking Spanish classes in the morning. We left wiser in the ways of constructing concrete paths, roofing patios and conjugating Spanish verbs.
While in Antigua we witnessed a few eruptions of Volcan Fuego from our rooftop lookout. At night the mountain would glow red, and during the day it would shoot up ash clouds. Maybe a bit too close for comfort, but awesome nonetheless.
In northern Guatemala we took a tour through the Candalaria Caves. Certainly one of the highlights of our time in Central America.
Rarely do we ever drop money for a guided tour, but it's safe to say this time it was absolutely worth it! Words cannot express how surreal and beautiful these caves are.
From El Salvador we drove directly through Honduras and into Nicaragua. In the process we encountered the world's sketchiest border crossing. Nothing like standing on a wooden pallet in a bombed-out lot waiting to get your passports stamped. Our time in Honduras can be summed up with one statistic: 14 police checkpoints in two hours.
In Costa Rica we found some of the best campsites of our trip. On this beach we were completely alone, except for the flocks of scarlet macaws that would invade the surrounding almond trees every morning. Does it really matter that the list of amenities started and ended with a dirty "freshwater" hose on the edge of the beach?
Costa Rica was also the only place where we fell victim to a criminal act. At the fanciest and most expensive hotel we'd stayed in to date our two backpacking stoves were stolen from the porch in the middle of the night. We like to think there's an ignorant Costa Rican out there with first degree burns on his hands and face because he has no idea how to use a liquid-fuel backpacking stove. Karma's a bitch.
Two days later we have the best experience of our trip to date: hiking the Corcovado jungle on the Osa Peninsula. River crossings, crocodiles, mosquitoes, grasshoppers that could eat mice, spiders the size of your face, and more monkeys than you can shake a stick at. In three days we hiked 24 miles in rain and sun through jungle and across scorching beaches. Unforgettable.
After all we went through in the jungle, Osa still wasn't quite ready to let us go without a fight. On the way back from the park we crossed through this waist-deep backed-up river. Kobus and Blue made it through without a hitch. Tourists clapped, and I might have peed a little. Google "hydrolock" and you'll understand why.
In Panama we stopped for a week to work on a super-secret project: a book. For six days I poured every ounce of our experiences into 50,000 words that we are now giving away for free. A combined group effort of several hundred hours of work. Are we crazy? Yep. Should you download our book? Hells yes, you should.
In Panama we faced the biggest logistical challenge of the entire trip: shipping our car to Colombia, around the Darien Gap. After a couple days of wrangling with paperwork, and a few brushes with disaster, we had Blue safely locked inside a container in Colon, Panama - one of the most dangerous cities in Central America.
In the stifling heat of Cartagena, we repeated the paperwork shuffle. After four days of waiting in an air conditioned hotel room, we had Blue out of the clink after two days of bureaucratic finagling. As Jessica's face can tell you: NEVER AGAIN!
Whatever headaches we suffered getting our car onto South American soil, Colombia quickly cured. Fantastic weather, beautiful scenery and five of the best campsites we've stayed at after nine months on the road.
Also, coffee. Colombians love their coffee. We couldn't stop drinking the stuff, whether it be from 60-year-old antique espresso machines or thermos-touting merchants on the street corner. They say the coffee gets worse as you head south, but the wine gets better. The verdict's still out on how we feel about that transition.
Another hit in Colombia were the incredibly friendly people. Random strangers went out of their way to make sure we saw the best their country had to offer. Hotel owners would bring us coffee in the morning, and without fail our campsite hosts bent over backwards without the slightest hesitation to make sure we had everything we needed, and more. For these reasons alone Colombia currently sits on top of our list of countries to return to.
In Ecuador we got our first taste of the Andes. We camped at 12,000 feet in the shadow of Mt. Cotopaxi in an environment unlike any we'd experienced. At this point on trip we started to realize just how far we'd come, and how much different (in mostly good ways) that South America is from Central America.
For one, we got to wear sweatshirts for the first time in four months. And we actually went several weeks without applying a liberal coat of bug-repelling DEET to our skin. It's the little things in life.
In Peru we ran the gauntlet from deserted Andean hideaways, to crowded and dusty coastal villages, to metropolitan cities and everything in between. Just last week we passed a major milestone on our trip. Not only did we visit Machu Picchu, but we did so without strangling any tourists! If you know us, this is quite the feat.
We tend to go out of our way to avoid tourist traps, but every now and then you just gotta do it. Was it worth? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Not on your life.
During our year-long drive south to Peru we've had a few reoccurring themes that we like to look back on with much fondness. Touring ancient civilizations, visits from friends and family, and making lots of new acquaintances along the way.
We've seen quite a few incredible Pre-Colombian ruins: Maya, Aztec, Inca, Olmec, Chimu, Moche, Sican, Norte Chico, Zapotec, Toltec...the list goes on. Needless to say we now have an appreciation for the peoples who settled Mexico and Central and South America before the Spanish showed up with their gunpowder, horses and smallpox.
Palenque was our first encounter with camping in the jungle, and with Mayan ruins. This site sticks out as one of the top three. It may have been crowded and full of biting bugs, but it certainly will remain a favorite.
In the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico we went to four or five amazing Mayan ruins. Uxmal was one of the best, largely because it was off the beaten track which made it easy to explore for hours without having to deal with the usual tour group mobs. Has overlanding made us tourist snobs? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Speaking of tourist mobs, Chichen Itza was perhaps the most overrun Mayan site we visited. I spent fifteen minutes sorting through photos to find one that didn't have lines of vendors or masses of zip-off-pant-wearing milk faces. But much like Machu Picchu, it was still worth it. It's just a shame to see such a magnificent historical site turn into a mass-produced money-grubbing tourist trap.
In Tulum we perfected the art of visiting on-the-beaten-path locales without letting the tour buses ruin our day. The trick is to get up at 6am and be first in line at the gate. One hour of walking around this beautiful site without having to stop for someone to take a picture in front of you was all that we needed.
In Guatemala we visited the grandaddy of all Mayan Ruins: Tikal. We spent five or six hours wandering around this gigantic complex, watching the parrots fly through the trees from the top of the tallest pyramid in the Americas.
Along the way we've also been lucky enough to have friends and family come to visit. Not only was the time we spent with them a welcome reminder of home, it also (selfishly) gave us way to stock up on more mosquito repellent and tent repair kits!
In Mexico Jess and Jared's mom came to visit in Cabo San Lucas. We spent the time being tourists: lounging by the beach, frequenting the swim-up bar and drinking our fair share of mango margaritas. An awesome way to unwind and catch up with mom for a week.
In Guatemala our friends Whitney and Amanda flew down for a week. We immediately harangued them into an afternoon of slave labor mixing cement. We spent the week touring Antigua, learning how the pros taste test coffee and checking out the Semana Santa (Easter) festivities in town.
A couple months later Jess and Jared's dad and step-mom Ruthann came to visit for ten days. We toured central Costa Rica, climbed up to the top of an active volcano, cooked piles of good food and spent a lot of time lounging in our ridiculously nice rental house.
We've also made quite a few new friends who are overlanding down south. Fellow Americans, a bevvy of Europeans and more than one group that we've run into on multiple occasions.
Our first encounter with other overlanders heading south was when we met an Australian/English couple the night before we crossed into Mexico. We met them again two months later walking down the street on an island in Belize. This is a theme that has continued: random meetings, fun times, a hug goodbye and a "we'll see you down the road".
Throughout Central and South America we've been leap-frogging friends on our way down the Pan-Am. Camping, cooking, drinking, swapping stories and planning our way ahead. Some of our best and most memorable nights have been spent in the company of the few and the brave who choose to pack up and drive to the end of the earth.
It's been a fun ride so far, and it's far from over! We still have quite a few thousand miles in front of us until we reach the end of our journey. Did someone mention Brazil? There are sure to be plenty of stories to share before we wrap up this crazy ride.
We hope you've found our website useful, our stories entertaining and our shenanigans cheeky and fun. Thanks to everyone who has wished us well, shared stories, sent us some love, gave us advice, vicariously followed us online or bought us a beer.
¡Salud from Life Remotely!