Monthly Wrap #20: The Final Wrap

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568 days earlier… fat faced (not to mention clean faced) and fancy free!

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Nineteen months later and she still hasn’t had enough of me (or can at least feign a good smile for the camera)!

To quote a little Boyz II Men “Although we’ve come, To the end of the road, Still I can’t let go, It’s unnatural…”

Talk about weird, the prospect of some sense of routine (although living out of a backpack and exploring transportation options did become somewhat routine), of coming home, of finding new jobs…

Fear not, the travels will continue, however their frequency and duration will surely be tempered.

But before we take off our puffer coats (with some relief) and relish the options that selecting clothes from a wardrobe presents, let’s cast our mind back over the journey with one last monthly wrap.

The ‘Final Wrap’!

Countries Visited:                           37 (USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, Iceland, England, Morocco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, FYRO Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, China)

When we left home, all those many months ago we had a ridiculously loose plan and three countries we’d pencilled in as our must visits.

Cuba, Morocco and Iran.

We ticked those off and a whole lot more.

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What 37 countries looks like in almost 20 months…

Total days on the road:                   568 Days

Nights in a dorm room:                  261 nights

Nights in a private room:               254 nights

Nights spent in transit:                   53 nights

Favourite Country:                          Mexico

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When you spend three months out of almost twenty between one set of borders, there’s gotta be something about the place.

Sure, it is vast.

But it truly has it all.

Warm people. Amazing food. Deserts, beaches, mountains, jungles, cities, ruins… wonderful and tragic history.

In truth, we could have happily stayed longer!

Scariest Country:                          U.S.A

Now don’t get me wrong.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time for the most part in the States.

For all our trepidation when it came to Latin America however, nowhere did we feel as unsure or uneasy than at various times in this vast country.

Walk one block over in San Francisco, and suddenly the vibe has changed.

As we walked home from the baseball in Chicago and witnessed a cop car demand a carload of African-American youths get out and our first thoughts were “If these cops start shooting, do we duck or run?”

That’s what an insane and out of control gun culture can make you think…

Most Surprising Country:                  El Salvador

Too many gringos skip this little Central American gem.

It’s so compact, you can cross it’s length and breadth in less than a day.

It has a reputation for violence and being a bit of basket case.

But when people come up to you and thank you for visiting their country.

When the locals want to take their photo and share a cerveza (beer), and at the same time happily advise you to not be out after dark.

On the coast we had the thrill of releasing baby turtles into the ocean.

We climbed another volcano… visited the ‘Pompeii of the Americas’ and stayed at a pay by the hour hotel.

Ate incredible seafood on the Pacific Coast and had people preach to us and try to sell everything from juices to earphones on the buses.

Total number of flights:                 20

These were mostly international.

A few exceptions were our return flights from Managua to the Corn Islands (in Nicaragua) and our flights in Chile from Santiago to Easter Island and back.

Peru also saw a flight from Piura to Iquitos, as well as a a scenic flight over the Nasca Lines.

The most different however would have been from Las Vegas, when we took a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon!

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Flying La Costena to Big Corn Island where even we got weighed!

Borders crossed by boat:                 2

We hadn’t done this in a number of years, however it was how we left Nicaragua for Costa Rica, whilst a far longer journey saw us ferry overnight from Panama to Colombia.

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Floating our way out of Nicaragua…

Total number of different beers sampled:                   328

That’s just the total number of different types/breweries.

As for volume consumed… incalculable!

Best Beer:                             Blue Mountain Kolsch

You might wonder how we managed to remember such a detail?

For posterity, we were clever enough to create a list!

This little number was one of many we sampled at DC Beer Week!

Items lost:                               2 (at least two confirmed)

Incredibly, not too much was lost.

A rogue tee-shirt of Chris’ and at some stage late in the piece, his travel pillow also went AWOL (we did annoyingly have a 6 pack of beers stolen at a hostel in Uvita, Costa Rica)

Number of times Sarah’s mum met us on our travels:          2

She first met us in Cuba, then later in our adventures she joined us in New York, travelling with us through parts of the US, Iceland, England and Morocco!

Not only was she a familiar face from home, she was incredibly kind to us, splurging money on meals for us we otherwise wouldn’t have had, such as Peking Duck in New York (oh how we’d missed that taste), Fish & Chips in Reykjavik or as close as we could get to fine dining in Hali!

She also brought us things from home, as well as took home in her already bulging suitcase, guidebooks we no longer needed and the odd trinket we’d collected!

Thank you so much Julie!

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A pre-haircut dinner in Trinidad (Cuba). This caption will make more sense after the next statistic…

Total Haircuts:                                 5

And not a single one for Sarah!

One in Mexico, another in Cuba (also the only beard shave of the trip), one in Panama.

I snuck in another in Argentina, just before we left Latin America and one last trim in Bosnia.

The beard, well it did indeed get pretty big!

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My Cuban barber. This guy was a smiling assassin, rorting us on the price (but hey, he needed the money even more than us)

Number of times we got food poisoning:               1

We managed to develop iron guts pretty quickly, but there was one occasion we were both felled (this ended with one horrible, exhausting night in Papantla, Mexico)

As part of our recovery, it also saw us indulge in our only KFC (okay, so we had some of their chips in any case) during the entire journey (in Veracruz) where we realised for the first time that only in Australia do they have chicken salt on their chips/fries!

Volcanoes climbed:                       3

We count count the thermal wonderland that is Iceland, however we still saw a few each of them different in their own way.

Volcan Pacaya, Volcan Masaya and Volcan Santa Ana all gave us something different (we even toasted marshmallows at Pacaya) and we even climbed a couple of them in flip flops (we’re a bit crazy, we know)!

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Volcan de Santa Ana, El Salvador

Longest bus journey:                     4 days…

Or more accurately, 5,400 kilometres from Toronto to Whitehorse, and we did it in reverse as well! Oh Canada…

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These sorts of views made the sleeping upright, the excess of Tim Hortons and the lack of a shower somewhat worth it!

Longest boat journey:             4 days (yes again)

If we can get almost across the entirety of the North American continent by bus in 4 days, how far could we get committing 4 days to a boat? How about 388 kilometres!

Think stunning sunsets, lots of relaxation, the odd card game and sheer boredom (we should have brought more booze)!

But it felt like a real adventure!

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Hammock class on the Eduardo IX. We had a cabin (think overheated, steel box… but it had a lock on the door!)

Number of weeks spent studying Spanish:                  3

Given the length of time we expected to be in Latin America, this was a no brainer (after the first day, Chris threw his hands in the air and claimed he’d never be able to learn a thing).

We ended up spending a week in Puerto Escondido in Mexico, then another two weeks on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Birthdays abroad:                    3

By the third attempt, I’m not certain we’d finally nailed the birthday abroad thing?

The first happened to be mine and after an overnight bus in Mexico, we were pretty knackered. We were in Zihuatanejo and managed to stay awake long enough for pizza and a burger.

Ten months later in the depths of the Argentinean winter, we rose at 5am and took a bus for twenty hours, essentially missing all of Sarah’s birthday!

A couple of months later, hot and tired in New York, we celebrated my second birthday on the road in our AirBnB room with a six pack of beers and a packet of crisps.

Memorable indeed!

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5am at the Zihuatanejo bus station. A stellar way to ring in a 35th birthday!

Cheapest Bed(s):                            Unknown Hostel, Isla del Sol, Bolivia $50.00 Bolivianos ($9.23AU)

The bed with no name…

A far more fiercely contested title (there were a lot of hostels/hotels in that $10-12.00AUD range, especially through Latin America), but few would have had the views to match this place!

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Isla del Sol: A cheap bed. Red wine, sunshine and views of the Andes!

Most Expensive Bed(s):                Skyrhúsid Guest House, Hali, Iceland €149.00 EU ($245.30 AU for 3 people)

For a long time this dubious honour was worn by our first bed of the trip, the Sweden House Hotel.

Trust Iceland to come along and smash it out of the ballpark!

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Our most expensive night got us a bed here… at least we saw the northern lights for a third time!

Homes we shared with friends we never knew before we left Australia:       6

Forget the convoluted header, essentially these were peoples homes in which we stayed gratis (for free), out of the goodness of their hearts.

People whom we met on shared journeys, and with whom we were so fortunate to be welcomed into their homes in some amazing locations.

The most random of those being the sister of an Argentinean we’d befriended.

When we turned up at the arse end of the world (Ushuaia) and she appeared to meet us at the end of a long bus journey, this was the first time we’d actually even met Daniela!

Aforementioned sister, Carolina and her boyfriend Nacho gave us their bed for a week in Buenos Aires.

Eli and his family gave us a bed in Toronto, whilst in the stunning far north of Canada (Whitehorse), Dave & Cyd not only homed us for two wonderful weeks, they fed us, served as local tour guides and even loaned us a vehicle so we could better explore their little pocket of paradise!

Josh gave us a home in Pennsylvania and although it took us an age to find, Lou and James gave us a bed in London (after essentially knowing each other for a mere 2 days prior).

Then there are those who offered, yet our journey this time didn’t allow us to see.

To everyone, an immense thank you, and we cannot wait to return the favour!

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Dia de la Independencia in Buenos Aires with our family of friends

Facebook friends added:                          91

Wow, that’s an incredible number.

The very fist were the sister Rachael and Natalie Ellis, whilst the lucky last was on the journey home, George Vainaru!

So much easier to stay connected than the old pen friend days!

Number of Dives:                                18

When we left home, neither of us had any diving qualifications (although Sarah had experienced an intro dive years ago on the Great Barrier Reef).

We return to Australia having submerged ourselves nearly twenty times, and with Advanced Open Water certification, having dived in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

Highlight:                                          Iguazu Falls

It was the highlight of our first 365 days on the road, and even looking back, it remains the most memorable single day, amongst many, many memorable experiences.

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Raw power. A natural highlight

Lowlight:                                           Seeing a Magellanic Penguin mauled to death

We were so fortunate we concluded our adventure with for the most part, happy and memorable recollections.

Sure there were times when we were tired and it probably all felt like too much, but this was the only moment of true distress.

We’d been hanging out to see a Magellanic Penguin in the wild, we just never expected to see its demise moments later, as a play thing in the maws of a local dog…

Favourite New Food:                    Patarashca, Peru

Wow, what a challenging question to answer.

You could fill a top ten list with Tacos in Mexico alone!

Delicious Ropa Viejo in Cuba… Pasul me Mish in Kosovo.

What about Choripan in Argentina? Or salty pork love in Colombia’s Lechona?

For the sweet tooth, there’s Persian Gaz, or Marriage Bliss in Iceland…

We’ve settled on the delicious Peruvian dish of Patarashca, so delicious we ordered it three nights in a row…

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Patarashca, a delicious meal, 10 years in the waiting…

Most impressive Church:              Is it possible to choose?

As challenging a task as it was to narrow down the food options, this was as equally difficult.

From grand cathedrals, glittering mosques or cute and colourful churches, for a pair of non religious types, for us it was all about aesthetics.

We toured monasteries in the Balkans.

Turf roofed churches on the far side of Iceland.

In fact, for all the grandeur of places like Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, or the Masjede Jāmé of Esfahan, my favourites would likely be picked from the wooden churches or Chiloé  Island, or those sod packed affairs from Iceland…

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The turf covered church Víðimýrarkirkja

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One of Chiloe’s many UNESCO World Heritage listed churches, the Iglesia de Nercon

Bucket List Items:                           10

Ah, the list that never ends (and ever grows)

We ticked off a few it is true, and added a few along the way.

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Easter Island, one of the items ticked off the list

Sports Events:                                   7

We’d have loved to have seen a game of baseball in Cuba, but it wasn’t to be.

Nevertheless, four of the seven sporting events we got to happened to be baseball games, (three US MLB contests in San Francisco, Chicago and Boston and one in Nicaragua).

I’d harboured ambitions of sneaking north from London to get to a football (soccer) game in Newcastle, however the cost was ridiculous on our backpacking budget.

As such, we managed only three.

A couple of domestic matches in Mexico City & Belgrade respectively, and an international in Tirana.

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Seeing red in Belgrade

Highest Elevation:                          5,000m            Pastoruri Glacier, Peru

This was also the first and only time we’d ever experienced altitude sickness.

Admittedly we stupidly rose to the elevation of 5 kilometres in the space of a day with next to no sleep…

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When you stupidly ascend from sea level to 5,000m in one day…

Days in thongs (flip flops):           371

You might think us a bit nuts, but we even comfortably ascended and descended volcanoes in our footwear we affectionately dubbed our ‘hiking shoes’!

As I also pointed out to someone recently, they’re also waterproof…

Somehow, we managed to flip flop our way around the world, wearing these 65% of the time!!

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We even got a surprising amount of wear in the winter months!

UNESCO Sites:                                 102

We visited a lot.

The first was within our first few days on the road.

Yosemite National Park in the U.S.

Our last was in a country, at least politically opposed to the regime of the first.

The Masjede Jāmé of Esfahan, a mosque within the Islamic Republic.

With so many covered, I’m not even going to begin to highlight a favourite, but rather highlight what is perhaps one of the least visited (well, at least the country itself was the least visited by other tourists on this grand jaunt).

That country would be Kosovo, and the listing itself is the Medieval Monuments in Kosovo.

The problem is, it was original in Serbia.

And Serbia and many of its allies refuse to recognise Kosovo, therefore stymieing there chance to join the UN in their own right…

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Gračanica Monastery, part of the Medieval Monuments in Kosovo listing… under Serbia!

 

Random Experiences/Facts:          

  • Sampling horse meat at a beer and burger festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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Beer and a little horse!

  • Diving into a dumpster to try and find Sarah’s Chilean tourist card so we could exit the country…
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…the lengths I go to allow Sarah to get out of Chile

  • Running into a girl for whom Sarah used to be a boss in a random hostel in Sofia (Bulgaria)
  • Seeing the Northern Lights for the first time… on the plane at night from Boston to Reykjavik!
  • Going several months without a hot shower (it was Central America)
  • In Ocosingo (Mexico) we happened to be the only gringos in town during Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) where we got to watch a Miss Ocosingo pageant and men climb a pole to retrieve toasters…
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Miss Ocosingo?

  • We slept through an unexpected bus transfer in the south of Argentina to find when we got to the next transfer town in the morning, our bags had been transferred and were no longer on the bus!
  • Chris getting a marriage offer with the option of either granddaughter from an elderly lady in Esfahan, Iran.
  • In Mexcaltitán (believed to be the birthplace of the Aztecs by some) where we were again the only gringos and at the only open restaurant being served shrimp three ways… (ceviche, empanadas and fried shrimp)
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I hope you like shrimp…

  • In the middle of the Salar de Uyuni (the Bolivian salt flats) we ran into Kurt and Iris, a German couple we hadn’t seen in 7 months!
  • Visiting an artisan chocolate shop in Baracoa (Cuba) that had run out of chocolate…
  • We became quite fond of a grapefruit flavoured soft drink (soda) called Fresca (known as Quatro in some countries) through Latin America which is unavailable in Australia.
  • In a random city in Peru (Chiclayo), we ran into a random local man wearing a Melbourne Victory cap (our football team from back home)
  • Meeting a Norwegian at a campground near Venice who’d come to Italy with the specific goal of losing weight. As he was about to tuck into a lasagne large enough to feed 4, it was little surprise this was not proving a success…
  • Tossing lead weights from about 20 yards at small metal rings dressed with gunpowder during the Colombian sport (or is it a drinking game?) Tejo

 

There are so many more that could be included (this list could easily get out of control), but hopefully a few of these moments can add a bit more colour to what was for us, an incredibly rewarding and at times challenging adventure.

We’ve returned home, aware of how incredibly privileged we are to have been able to have such a sabbatical at this time, and at this age.

Our travels are by no means ended, but for now, it’s time to settle back in and begin this new chapter of our lives.

Buen Viaje!

 

 

This entry was posted in Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Cuba, El Salvador, Iceland, Mexico, Monthly Wrap, Panama, United States of America, Uruguay. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Monthly Wrap #20: The Final Wrap

  1. J.D. Riso says:

    What a wrap up for this epic voyage. I’ve really enjoyed following you two around the planet. I can imagine how strange it is to be back in a “normal”life after so long living out of a backpack. The mind needs to be shifted into a different way of thinking, which can be an adventure in itself. You sure hit a variety of places and your posts have been helpful to me in my own adventures, especially Easter Island. So…what’s your next voyage going to be?

    • Chris says:

      Glad our adventures can be of use beyond our own recollections!

      Given how slow I’ve been wrapping up, more appropriate might be where have we been since! Lol

  2. David says:

    It’s the end of an era! Great wrap up – and we’re looking forward to you returning the favour of showing us around your home soon!

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