Today, Neil and I will have been on the road for one year. I thought an academic or teaching year went fast, but life on the road goes at ludicrous speed. We’ve amassed thousands of pictures and published over 150 articles on World Winder. On this trip, we’ve visited eleven countries and eaten our weight in empanadas and sweet Roma tomatoes. We’ve lived in Bolivian hostels, Ecuadorian home stays, and rented apartments along the way. We’ve bought wine out of a carton, by the handle, and off the farm. After 365 days, we’re ready for the second half of our travels. But looking back, I am so tempted to say “Let’s do it all again!” Here are the highlights of our first 12 months backpacking in the world which at a second glance makes me want to add even more! For more pictures and info on each destination follow the subtitles!
On our second to last day aboard the MV Evolution in the Galapagos Islands, the agenda seemed to go as planned. We boarded our pangas for a little tour of an island. Suddenly, everything changed when our guide Rafael spotted a white column of sea spray. A humpback whale on the horizon! Calling for another person to follow him, Rafael jumped into the next dinghy. I don’t know why but I followed, clumsily flopping into the next boat and shooting off across the bay at top speed. I will never forget this moment in my life!
One of the hardest and most rewarding days on our South American trip. We started in sleet and hail conditions, sharing the road with trucks and passenger cars. Fighting rocks and rubble on my double-suspension bike, I wound my way through 4700 meters of pure adrenaline that included a landslide, rivers on the trail, waterfalls, and tough uphill finish.
The best scenic tour I had ever taken! The sand dunes surrounding the desert oasis of Huacachina are a special place to meditate, camp, and scream your head off as you plunge over the precipice into a deep ravine of white sand. An extreme snowboarder’s dream, the dunes reach up to the sky and drop off into the mouth of hell. Feel free to scream and discretely drag your feet in the sand to slow down. You’ll still hit Mach-5.
On a lazy afternoon in Huanchaco, Peru, Neil and I met our friends Hans and Anouk from Belgium. Over a hilarious ceviche lesson that was choreographed by our hotel owner at Oceano Hospedaje, we had classic Peruvian ceviche, made with care by our redheaded friends. Added bonuses to the beach town of Huanchaco: seaside eateries, breezy happy hours and cheap surfing lessons all day long.
We love slow travel and in Baños, Ecuador, time just stopped. Waterfalls surround the hot spring town. Trails wind up into the mountains toward the best views of town. Food is amazing and the local brewery taps its craft beers made from the local springs. Rent is cheap and live music available almost every night. Neil had a chance to give English lessons, and we made some friends at the BIB and all around town. Other Ecuador highlights include the short hike out of Otavalo to the weaving village of Peguche. There we visited the famous Andean family of singers: Nanda Manachi!
Iceland was a wild card. Infamous for inflation and high touristic prices, Reykjavik was a free stopover on our trip to Amsterdam. Based out of a cheap homestay in the 101, Neil and I organized an amazing road trip that included the Golden Circle and the South Coast. In just a few days we saw the famed Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier, and the small town of Vik.
It’s the little things that count too. Anyone who knows us knows that we are big fans of carbonated water. We love seltzer and even have a machine at home (thanks Abe and Dave) to make it 24/7. So when we arrived in the middle of summer in Italy, I was happy to find ample water fountains to quench our thirst. But when I stumbled upon the seltzer fountain in Signorina Piaza in Florence, I jumped for joy (and possibly cut the line in my excitement). It’s cold and bubbly, just the way I like it!
Visiting the Catacombs of the Martyrs at Domitilla
My brother says I like dark and twisted things. I think he’s right especially after our trip to see the Domitilla Catacombs in Rome. Tight corridors wind through thousands of years of burial chambers, frescoes, and the remains of two Roman soldiers who (although guaranteed a good life as pretorians) proclaimed their faith and died for it. Creepy dark, the tunnels are very damp and sound is naturally muffled giving new meaning to “quiet as a grave.”
Two lovely days at Iguazu National Park! The first day’s admission is full price and with a stamp, the second day is half price at the Iguazu Falls. Organized trails make it very easy to visit the upper and lower circuits around the waterfalls. Signage lets you know if water levels are too high to visit the inner island and how to navigate the park with efficiency. Monkeys swing from trees as you walk along. Don’t feed them! We hate when people do that, not to mention there are signs warning you not to do so.
A super-highlight of our European leg. Lucca is a small medieval town complete with walls, towers, and rustic food to make you want to move here just to eat. Even better, few tourists currently clog tiny cobbled streets and twilight flushes out the rose hue of the stones. Vineyards dot the area, offering a great day trip from Florence. We chose a longer itinerary with Tuscany Ride a Bike, which allowed us a leisurely wine tasting stop at one vineyard and a super-relaxed lunch at an agriturismo.
Probably one of the craziest New Year’s celebrations of my life, New Years Eve in Cusco was a convergence of friends from the travel trail and volunteers from Aldea Yanapay, fireworks in the sky and at our feet, and an all-night dance party at the home of our homestay host. The rain didn’t even hamper the night nor did would-be pickpockets!