I’ve been thinking about a moment I had a few weeks ago in Colombia. After a long bus ride (16 hours) from Cartagena to Medellin we took two nights to recover in The City of Eternal Spring. This moniker refers to Medellin’s climate, which is always a soft 70-75 degrees. It really did feel like spring, as we walked down clean, modern streets perfumed by the flowers that seemed to be everywhere, a hint of rain riding the air. Medellin felt fresh and we wandered into several cafés, drinking fun varieties of Colombian coffee. I can’t even express the delight I felt when we walked past a donut shop later that evening, man I’ve missed donuts.
It was on a soft Wednesday morning that I relaxed into a comfy chair, chatting, thinking a little about upcoming travel plans, reading about South America. In a sort of unexpected turn of events, I had become one of the people I had once been so curious about. Those people who sit in cafés drinking a cappuccino on a work day.
Only a few months ago, I had wondered who these people were, if they had jobs, what they were doing. I wondered if I was to sit, unemployed, in a café instead of going to work, would that make me feel like I was wasting my time, my life somehow? I suppose I have my answer now. It feels lovely, super extra lovely. As if these coffees taste…more somehow, like when your mother makes you a sandwich and it’s always better than if you make it yourself. Except these coffees taste of stolen moments and dreams that are suddenly within reach.
I thought at this point in the trip it might feel like I was done traveling or that I was ready to come home. I had wondered if I would regret it. I didn’t exactly know what I would do with all the time, would I be bored? I’m certainly feeling none of those things. It’s not like a vacation exactly… It doesn’t feel like a break. It feels valuable. It feels peaceful. It feels normal. I feel content. Our days have developed a rhythm and never once have I regretted the decision to travel. And the time, I don’t know what I ever did without it. This ability to pause and reflect, to stop and enjoy a moment is incredible. Suddenly a subtle, quiet pressure on my time has been released. When we were home there was always pressure on the time that was mine, the time that I wasn’t at work or obligated, to do something. Relaxing felt like a waste of time and if I did chill, I felt guilty. It was exhausting. Now, it feels like I can finally breathe, as if I’d been having a low level asthma attack for so long I thought it was normal. I feel like I’ve found my inhaler, like I can exhale completely. Suddenly all of the time is mine and it’s so much more precious. Sometimes I think about what I would be doing if I was home, I’d usually be sitting in my cubicle, and I feel really, really grateful.
Other thoughts: (Brilliant transition, I know)
What do we do all day? Most days are not spent breathing in a coffee shop. We wake up around 7 or 8 and eat breakfast at the hostel or go find a little café that was recommended to us or we saw online somewhere. Most days we take lessons of some kind or do an activity specific to our location such as mountain biking, a coffee tour, kayaking, salsa lessons. We might spend the morning packing and then traveling to the next place. Every few days we take a down day to stop and write, or work on the blog a little, or wander around a town eating in fun little places or planning upcoming travels.
We spend a lot of time trying to figure out little things that we never had to think about at home. How to navigate, buses, taxis, horses, which streets are safe to walk on, how to order coffee, pay for dinner, everything is a little different in every town. Things like doing laundry this week, buying a pair of socks, finding somewhere that sells shampoo, locating an ATM, trying to understand differences in language (Spanish varies even between the regions in the same country, the accents are especially rough for us as we don’t have an easy familiarity with the language) all require a little extra effort and more time. The days never drag, they always fill themselves.
A big part of our time is spent trying to learn and improve our Spanish. Constantly searching for a way to translate your thoughts into language, working at tasks that we used to take for granted, solving little puzzles all day long, is both wonderful and exhausting. It wears you out on a mental level and I honestly feel like my brain is tired after. I think this is my favorite feeling at night, the satisfaction of having sorted something out brings a very pleasant kind of exhaustion.
How’s the packing situation? As expected this didn’t exactly go well. To the person on the internet who made me believe that wearing the same drab, multifunctional, thing every other day was a good idea: you ma’am can go straight to hell. I’m in a city, with people who look nice and smell good and CARE about their appearance and you know what? I want to feel like I look nice, I want colors and soft, comfy, fabrics. I want options! Also I didn’t pack enough for cold weather. Four days in the relatively chilly Salento and I was begging my mother to send me a package, which she did. God bless you mom and dad.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t go full minimalist. I tried but I’m ready to admit this to myself now, I need more. After nearly 10 weeks my backpack is stuffed to the gills with the things my mom sent and a couple shirts I bought. I bought a little 20L day pack which has been super handy and Matt traded out the messenger bag for a backpack. If we could go back in time we would have definitely each brought a daypack and hiking style backpacks and we’ve already ditched the packing cubes as they seem really inefficient. My bag is a total nightmare to pack.
I had initially decided against a hairdryer but had my mom send me one and it was the best decision ever. No more freezing cold nights or mornings waiting for my hair to dry!
How’s the budget working out? Okay… so we’re over budget. Our target was $100 for both of us per day and we were actually hoping to come in under that in Colombia, one of the most affordable countries in South America. We are averaging $132 per day. I’m not too surprised, the $100/day number wasn’t extremely well thought out and I think our style of constantly doing thing and taking lessons isn’t conducive to that tight of a budget. Food and accommodation are really affordable but we’ve done tons of activities. We got our Advanced Open Water and Nitrox Certifications in Taganga, Colombia and while this is one of the cheapest places in the world to get your scuba certifications it still pushed us over our budget. We also doubled our budget for a week to take kitesurfing lessons in Cabo de la Vela. Spanish lessons, mountain biking, salsa lessons, paragliding, sightseeing, are all really affordable but beyond our budget. I’m not convinced $100/day is realistic. I mean yes, we could save money by doing less activities and having more coffee shop days but why, when we could just do that at home? We’ve come to the conclusion we’d rather burn up some money and do more things at the expense of a little time, than extend our time and not do as much. We’re still aiming for $100/day but I don’t expect us to stick to it as we treasure all the cool things we’ve done.
Where do we stay? We’ve been staying in private rooms in hostels, sometimes we have an ensuite and sometimes we walk down the hall to shared bathrooms. We’ve been averaging about $30 per night with our room in Cartagena jumping up to almost $70. Since there are two of us its often only $3-$7 more to get a private room than buying two beds in a dorm. We like to have our own space and you always get a free towel with a private room! Totally justified.
What do we eat? We eat out a lot. We’re still in the early stages of travel and when you’re comparing prices of everything to prices back home, it seems incredible cheap! I know, I know, we need to start cooking in the hostels. We will, eventually. Many of our breakfasts have been included with the hostel and are usually eggs and an arepa or eggs and toast. Recently we’ve been splurging for $2.66 breakfasts of fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and coffee. We tend to eat a late lunch out, often a traditional Almuerzo or Almuerzo Ejecutivo which is a huge set lunch costing between $3-$6 and consisting of the usual Colombian fare of meat (chicken, beef or fish), rice, fried plantains, potatoes, maybe some kind of salad, soup and juice. There are also tons of other options for dining out like pizza, hamburgers, waffles with vegetables or pasta. These are of course a little pricier and we often average $15-$17 for both of us to eat. Luckily we’re usually too full for dinner and just eat some snack from the grocery store. I’m in love with the Colombian version of Froot Loops. There’s also one other tiny problem for us, our sweet tooth. We also have a habit of stopping in these super cute cafes that only sell desserts and fancy coffees. We eat a lot of postres and so much café, I wake up in the mornings already in a state of caffeine withdrawal.
Some Random Logistical Details: We do our laundry through hostels, its usually $3-$5 every time and we need to do it about every 10 days. Everything gets washed together and everything gets put in the same dryer. I’ve lost a few pairs of underwear, although no socks! We stop at ATM’s every day or every few days and pay for almost everything in cash, credit cards are subject to fees here and are not widely used. We save them for reservations. We’ve been traveling so far almost exclusively by bus and its incredibly comfortable, simple and cheap. Ok it might be more complex but everyone in Colombia was incredibly kind and helpful, other passengers have directed us to the correct doors and given us advice on who to book with several times. Our longest trip was over 12 hours and cost about $17 per person. Buses in Ecuador has proven to be a little riskier and more expensive, theft is really common on them. Any special purchases like the small make-up mirror in San Gil or the day pack in Santa Marta are found by inquiring at our hostel and then wandering in the general direction. We haven’t had any trouble finding Dramamine, shampoo or padlocks in the various little shops lining many streets. I’ve bought SIM cards for my phone in Colombia and Ecuador and they are super easy to use and refill so we always have internet access in case we get lost or need to pull something up on my phone.0