20th SEP – 28th OCT : MEXICO PART 1.

Holy heck, I know this is a common statement, but where has the time gone. It is almost November which means it is over 5 weeks ago that I left Antigua and ventured North into Mexico; and what a ride it has been. Three nights in San Cristobal, just less than four weeks in Puerto Escondido, three nights in Chacahua, three nights in Mazunte, and now four nights here in San Jose del Pacifico before we continue on to Oaxaca City for the Day of the Dead festival.

It’s the first time since my last post that I have finally found time to do some writing. And my gosh it’s the most perfect setting for it. We just checked into a place called La Puertas del Sol where you can book your own little cabin with a fireplace and a goregous view of the mountains and valley below. The others have gone adventuring so here I am lying in the sun with the sound of the breeze and the birds all around me, making the most of the peace and quite. So time to get some words down.

Here goes…

Let’s go back to the end of September, 20th to be exact. It was a 5am start that morning to catch the shuttle bus from Antigua to San Cristobal, Mexico. Two of the Aussie boys, Dan and Blaino, were also on the same bus, so as promised the night before, I woke the two dusty lids up so they didn’t miss it. Two hours into the 12 hour day we were stopped 2 hours from the border due to an organised protest. I haven’t done the research but from catching different conversations it sounded like the people of Guatemala were protesting against the President and some of his recent decisions; for instance removing the UN’s anti-coruption unit that was implemented into the government without consent from the people of Guatemala, sounds like early stages of a dictatorship to me. Anyway, we were stopped in the most bizarre location by a bunch of Guatemalan’s who had cordoned off the road with one big rope. We waited for about an hour and half in the peak heat of the day before we were allowed through.

Eventually we arrived into San Cristobal around 8pm at night and went straight to Puerto Veija Hostel to check in, shower, dump our bags, before heading out to get cash and dinner. We ended up walking about 7 blocks from the main square to a local corner of the town in search of a restaurant called Taco el Meson that a friend had recommended. As we got close I started to question if the place was going to be open, it was 9pm and majority of the shops were shut. Then I started to see some lights and hear some chatter, the place was huge and full of locals, there wasn’t a single tourist in sight, that’s when you know you have found the best cheapest food in town. We had the tacos, my first taste of Mexican food, and they were out of this world, I definitely would recommend.

I ended up spending three days in San Cristobal which was timed perfectly with a friend Rosa from back home and a few of her friends who were also in the area and staying at the same hostel. It was the first time in 3 months that I had been around so many kiwi’s, it was a nice change from the aussies. San Cristobal is a beautiful town with gorgeous streets, and an incredible variety of food; you could literally stay there for a month and always eat out somewhere new. Most of my time there was spent eating, having a few drinks with friends, watching Rosa attempt an eating competition, people watching from the side of the street, and absorbing the Mexican culture. I was even lucky enough to time my stay with one of the town’s street parade, a parade like no other. At first I was confused why I was seeing so many people walking past carrying huge tyre inners, the type that we would use for tubing down the river, but as soon as the parade began, I quickly caught on. It was incredible, I swear there was no costume the same, and it went on for hours, probably half the day. By the end of the day I was pretty over it, squeezing my way through the crowds. Among all this I even managed to find time to attend a yoga class, my first class in Spanish, it was quite the experience, thankfully the teacher was kind enough to translate a few things to English.

Then on the evening of the 23rd of September, I had one last dinner with Rosa before boarding my overnight bus to Puerto Escondido, a town on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, well known by surfers for it’s huge swell. Again I was lucky enough to time my arrival into Puerto with an Aussie couple (Tanita and Stu) who I had meet at the Doozy Koala hostel back in Antigua. They had caught up with a few of their friends from back home and had pitched in for airbnb for a week in La Punta, the southern end of the main beach, and were kind enough to offer me their couch to sleep on. So when I arrived early the next morning I had somewhere to go, and holy it wasn’t an ordinary airbnb, it was a mansion. Four storeys, each with a huge balcony, a rooftop with a view out towards the horizon, 3 huge bedrooms, 2 living areas, a big kitchen and a pool. It was luxury. I slept on the couch which was more comfy than alot of the beds at the hostels I had stayed at. Most of my time at the AirBnB was spent hanging out in the pool, watching movies, doing yoga with Tanita or cooking something up in the kitchen. The odd night we went out for dinner, mainly to Pepe’s which quickly became my favourite place for fish tacos. I think I ended back there for another 7 or 8 times during my time in Puerto. The coconut battered fish tacos are to die for.

We even had a go at catching ourselves some fish. One morning our group of 6 from the AirBnB and one other went out at 7am on a fishing charter, consisting of a tiny ‘lancha’ boat trawling for 5 hours for sail fish, as big as the Marlin we catch back home. We had a few runs but unfortunately nothing that stuck. Thankfully we saw dolphins and alot of turtles, even two mating, which made up for our lack of fish.

When we checked out of the AirBnB we all went and stayed at a hostel in La Punta called Akumal, basic accommodation but great vibe and it had a rooftop. The following two nights after Akumal I booked in to stay at a hostel recommended to me by a friend called Bonobo Surf House. It is located on the opposite end of town with a cute beach called Carrizilillo that is great for beginner surfers. The main reason for the shift was to separate myself from the group to get some admin done, figure out the rest of my trip, when I’m going to meet up with brother, where I’m going to be for the Day of the Dead festival, where I will be for Zac’s anniversary and where I’m going to go in the states to start my J1 visa beginning 4th of December. All was fine not planning anything for the beginning of my trip, but now I needed to figure out some logistics.

But before I left for the other side of town, Tanita and I went for one last coffee at Cafe Ole in La Punta where through just talking to one of the waiters and then to the manager I organised to volunteer at the cafe when I return after my two nights at Bonobo. This way I could help out in the kitchen 5 times a week, 5 hours each shift for free accommodation which would also give me a place to be while I did some planning. Our accommodation was also in the most perfect spot, two doors down from the end of the road and close to the popular point break surf spot in La Punta. It felt good at least having a short term.

After my two nights in Carrazilillo, I ended up working at the cafe in the kitchen as one of the su-chef’s. It was alot of fun. We made all sorts of things ranging from panacotta to pizzas to peach chutney to curry and more, but unfortunately my second shift in that’s when I was thrown probably one of my biggest challenges on the trip, one that ended up lasting roughly 4 weeks. I could tell something wasn’t right with my body, that morning I had done a workout with a friend but surely I shouldn’t be this tired just after that, I mean yes I’m unfit, traveling does that to you, but I could hardly stand up for the full 5 hour shift. Then during the night I had a fever, something wasn’t right. The next day was the same, I rested majority of the day and then went to the cafe to work from 5pm till 10pm. Again I could hardly stand up for majority of the shift, to the point that I was using a stool in the kitchen. That night we were all finished and cleaned up by 9.30pm just waiting for 10pm to roll around, then my friend Shai said I should ask if I can go home early very aware that I wasn’t feeling well. So I got up and went to go talk to the head chef and manager who were sitting at a table with the big bosses girlfriend. I hadn’t meet her yet but apparently she was like the CEO of the cafe. Immediately I regretted asking if I could head off early, the head chef explained the situation to the CEO in Spanish as she didn’t know much English. Then I stood there for what felt like a good couple of minutes while she thought about it, there was just no sympathy, something that I have never experienced before, all my bosses back home have always been super understanding in situations like this and probably would have already sent me home and told me not to come back tomorrow. Eventually she said something in Spanish which translated to “it’s okay tonight but it shouldn’t happen again”. I was gobsmacked, immediately I felt like I had done something wrong, there was no sympathy at all, no feel better soon comment, nothing, and we only had 30mins left of the shift. So I walked off, there was no point in trying to explain myself, and I was furious, I swear I could have yelled at her. I think it was one of those moments where something happens or someone says something that opens the gate to a whole heap of other emotional shit that is being stored. And to be honest I had just moved into the volunteer accommodation where majority were from other parts of the world, majority spoke Spanish, and it was the first time that I really felt like I was on my own journey, it felt pretty lonely. And then there was the feeling sick part, and the missing Zac part, and the fact that I will never see him again part; everything just piled up, i couldnt hold it in any longer that I just balled my eyes out in the shower that night, to the point that I was hysterical. It was horrible but also a satisfying feeling having the chance to let it all out, I was obviously overdue for a big cry.

The next day I took myself off to the doctor. Thankfully one of the girls at work had a recommendation for a guy who speaks English, and he was great. I explained to him my symptoms, initially he spoke about sending me off to get bloods done to test me for Dengue Fever until he looked at my throat and immediately he could tell I had an infection, so antibiotics it was. After the first few pills I started feeling so much better, I had energy back, I could actually start to have conversations with the other volunteers, it was such a relief.

At the end of my first week volunteering, Nat and Brig, my old flatmates and really good friends from back home, flew into Puerto Escondido from Mexico City. They had booked a nights accommodation at Bonobo Surf House so I went there to meet them on arrival. It was so nice seeing familiar faces, especially after the week I just had. They dumped their bags and then together we caught a taxi back to La Punta so I could show them the beach, where I was living and working, and then we went for dinner at Pepe’s with Dan and Blaino, the two Aussie boys I traveled with from Antigua. It was their last night in Mexico, and because it was my first night reunited with Nat and Brig, we ended up having bit of a Doozy. Unfortunately it was a Monday night so not much was going on, but after dinner we ended up back at the boys hostel with beers and mezcal where we parked up at the bar playing pool and talking majority of the night. In no time it was 4am in the morning and so the girls and I decided to head home. What I didn’t realise until we got to the main street was ofcourse there was going to be no taxi’s at that time of the morning which could take Nat and Brig back to their hostel. So instead they came to stay with me, I had my own room with a double and a single bed, it seemed like the only logical option, and our only option.

That morning I had work at 10am in the cafe. When I got there I was surprised with how many people were asking how my night was; apparently we were very noisey when we came home that morning, waking up majority of the volunteers. Then that’s when it clicked, I suddenly remembered the three of coming home, drunkenly laughing and talking in the common area as we chowed down some of my leftover pesto pasta. We definitely were the gossip that morning. Anyway, my shift was going just as normal until the CEO came to talk to me. She was coming to tell me off for breaking two of the rules of the volunteer accommodation, staying up in the common area after 12pm and having guests over, which was apparently an absolute no no. One of the volunteers must have mentioned being woken up to one of the bosses that morning and then next minute they are checking the security camera’s for evidence. I couldn’t believe how ridiculous it was, the fact that they were checking the camera’s, I found it pretty funny to be honest. I didn’t even try to explain myself and the dilemma with the taxi. Then long story short the big big boss who I hadn’t even meet yet came up to me towards the end of my shift, he said he had heard what had happened and that they won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour and t
told me “your out”. I couldn’t believe it, I had just been fired from a volunteer position. I mean it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly, I was only going to be volunteering till the end of the week and instead it gave me more time to hang out with Nat and Brig.

So that afternoon I packed up my bags and we went and stayed at Akumal Hostel for the rest of the week. It worked out perfectly, it gave me the time to find a job, book flights to the states and also figure out the rest of my trip here in Mexico. Aside from the admin the rest of our time was spent watching the surfers at Zicatela, trying different restaurants, hanging out with fellow NZ friends Meg and Finn, and even releasing some baby turtles into the sea.

At the end of the week Nat, Brig, Finn and I ventured an hour north to a place called Chacahua. It is a small beachside village at the mouth of a lagoon which is also known for it’s surf. Aside from surfing there isn’t much else to do there apart from read a book, swim and siesta three times a day in one of the many hammocks. Unfortunately due to a few evening storms the waves were no good so we just ended up relaxing to the point that your almost tired from just doing nothing. Coming from a girl that use to cram a thousand things into a day, sitting still use to come as a challenge; but since starting my travels I am quickly becoming an expert.

When we returned to Puerto Escondido we ended up staying in a different part of town, away from the beach and close to the markets in a hostel called Puerto Dreams. Unfortunately when we returned, a suspected ear infection that had been bugging me for the last week started to become unbearably painful. For a second time I took myself back to the doctor, this time to Hospital Angel del Mar that was just a few blocks away from my hostel. When I arrived the place was full of locals, no one on the reception was able to speak english and so it looked unlikey that I was going to get a doctor that spoke any either. However Dr Venus was great, her English was worse than my Spanish so we just ended up speaking the length of the appointment in Spanish, it was super interesting, Google translate was definitely our friend. As expected my ear was overly inflamed and infected, so I was prescribed antibiotics ear drops and given the stern word that I wasn’t allowed to swim for 10days. I followed all the rules but it wasn’t a fast recovery. A few days later I went back again, eager to get it all sorted before we hit the road, my glands were up and the throat infection obviously hadn’t budged, so a second lot of antibiotics were prescribed.

The next day Nat, Brig and I hit the road, making our way an hour south to Mazunte, another little town by the beach with a similar chilled out vibe to that of La Punta. Arriving in the afternoon, in the peak heat of the day we wandered around the town for about an hour until we finally found ourselves a cabaña only a stone’s throw from the beach. It was such a relief and exactly what we needed, all three of us were starting to fall apart, it was one of those classic traveling moments; I was battling an infection, Brig just found out she had head lice and Nat’s bowel movements definitely weren’t normal. Looking back on it now we can laugh, but at the time tensions were definitely high.

We ended up spending 4 days in Mazunte, it was beautiful, super relaxing and with good food options what more could you want. However it wasn’t the most ideal place to be suffered from an infection; no swimming, no sun, and no beers, it was a hard reality, especially when we went and visited my friend Gen at her airbnb that she had booked with a bunch of friends. It was an absolute mansion, the photos don’t do it justice. In celebration of the incredible views I decided to treat myself to a beer while I sat on the poolside, it just felt rude not to.

Unfortunately after a few days being in Mazunte, the infection ramped up, my tonsils were huge, grosely infected, and now painful. My plan after Mazunte was to head up into the mountains to go visit a friend in her little village, so with that in mind I messaged my doctor, sent her a photo of my tonsils, and straight away she recommended that I return to Puerto Escondido to get a throat swab so they could target the infection. So early that next morning after a collectivo and shuttle bus, I was back in Puerto. I found the laboratory, got my test done, and then it was a waiting game, the results weren’t going to be back for four days. I was absolutely guttered, traveling while your sick is hard work, not just physically, but mentally. I craved to just be back in NZ, in the company of family and friends, where I could lie on the couch and mum could stroke my hair, or spoilt with Zac’s lemon honey drinks. So instead of hanging around in Puerto which was the initial plan and making small talk with strangers in the hostel, I decided to make my way back to Mazunte where I could lean on Nat and Brig for comfort. Thank god for them. We also had another friend from back home join us, Joey, and so together we made a plan. We ended up staying one more night in Mazunte, mainly because the girls were hungover, and then headed up into the mountains to a little town called San Jose del Pacifico the following day. We stayed two nights in a hostel called La Cumbre before availablity popped up for a cabin where I write from today. The mountains are beautiful, the air is refreshing, we actually had to wrap up, it was a nice change from the constant layer of sweat you wear when down by the beach, and hot showers and a fireplace, it is luxury.

Anyway, enough rambling, tomorrow we head to Oaxaca city where I plan on heading straight to the doctor for the fourth time. I have never been more excited for a doctor appointment. This time I will have my test results and we can kick this infection once and for all. After that we will have two days before we move into an airbnb with some of Nat and Brig’s friends from Australia ready for the Day of the Dead festival, apparently it goes off, but I will fill you all in on that next time.

Happy days!

16th AUG – 20th SEP

Well, Antigua really stole my heart when I first visited the city with Phil almost 2 months ago now. It has beautiful, bright colonial streets, incredible architectural ruins, and is surrounded by some of nature’s most impressive wonders, those mounds called volcanoes. After traveling quite fast around Guatemala and all the way to Utila with Phil, I was eager to park up in one place for a wee bit and volunteer, one to save money, but two, to also have the opportunity to learn some Spanish. So that was my plan, spend a few weeks in Antigua before making my way up into Mexico.

Volcan Fuego + Acatenango.

Volcan Agua.

Plaza Central.
Guatemala Independence Day.

I ended up spending 5 weeks in Antigua and loved early minute of it. Unfortunately I did no blog writing while I was there and I have no idea where those weeks went, so apologies if this post is bit of a jumble or ramble. So to begin I will go back to where I left you from with my last post where my friend Rahul and I had just arrived to the Doozy Koala Hostel in Antigua after travelling 2 days from Utila in Honduras.

Seeing as we arrived late the night before, my first morning at the Doozy was meeting the crew and discussing volunteering at the hostel. The hostel is owned by four guys, two Australian’s, and two Guatemalan’s, and you can probably guess by the name Doozy Koala that they attract alot of Australian’s, so I was signing myself up for a very authentic Guatemalan experience (sarcasm noted). At that stage I wasn’t too worried about surrounding myself with Australians because I knew that I would be getting my cultural fix through my Spanish classes, and it actually worked out that I meet almost the same amount of locals as I did Australians, or more. Anyhow, that Friday morning I spoke with the Doozy manager Jake who agreed that I could start my volunteer role after the weekend. That gave me a chance to relax, soak up the vibes of the hostel, explore a new corner of the city that I wasn’t familiar with, and meet a bunch of the other volunteers and people associated with the hostel. At that time there were 7 volunteers, 4 of them from Australia who after the weekend were going to be moving on, and I was going to be stepping in. It worked out perfectly having that weekend with them before they departed us as it gave me the opportunity to catch their tips and recommendations and also to have someone to introduce me to the friends that they had made while being here.

So in a nutshell the weekend consisted of joining Rahul in a salsa lesson before he departed Antigua, visiting the beautiful markets at the organic Caoba farms, getting my yoga fix, and heading to Picnik on Saturday night with some of the volunteers and their friends. The Picnik was being held just outside of Antigua, and consisted of an outdoor bar, multiple DJ’s playing electronic music, and a bunch of people ready to dance their way through the night. It was a good chance to meet a bunch of the locals and foreigners that live here. I took it pretty easy that night and caught an uber back to the hostel around 12pm with the intention of getting up early for a yoga class.

On the Monday I started my first shift on the bar which is where majority of my time was spent as a volunteer. It is only a small bar and is pretty easy to manage. The bar opens at 7am in the morning and closes at 11pm at night. There were three different shifts that we worked, 7am – 12.30pm, 12.30 – 6pm, and 6 – 11pm. As a volunteer we work 5 × 5 and a half hour shifts a week and in return got free board, one free meal and five free drinks while we were working, discounted shuttles, and free accommodation at a few of the other hostels around Guatemala, it is a pretty good gig if I say so myself. Once the other volunteers had left there was only 4 of us left; Kent from Texas, Christoph from Austria, and Kevin from El Salvador, and we all shared the staff dorm. Initially I wasn’t bothered being the only girl, until Genevive arrived from Australia to volunteer for the last two weeks and I realised how much I missed having the company of another girl.

Jake + Kevin.

Ana + I.

Our receptionist Edgar with the ladies.

Other than working on the bar at the Doozy I also managed to check out a few of the Spanish schools around Antigua. Although they are cheaper than learning Spanish back home I was still not sold by the prices, especially if I was going to be spending possibly 2 or 3 weeks learning. So I decided to ask around some of the locals whether they had any contacts. Then one morning when I was having coffee at a cafe, Bella Vista, a local man came up to me, gave me a coffee card full of stamps and started talking to me, asking me where I am from and what I am doing here. I explained that I was volunteering at a hostel and that I was hoping to learn some Spanish. He said he had a contact for a Spanish teacher and asked for my WhatsApp number. At first I was a little hesitant by his generosity, but decided to give it to him anyway, what could really go wrong. Later that day he sent me the details for his contact. I messaged Paulina and organised to meet her at the central park the following morning to discuss starting classes and to negotiate a price. What I didnt realise until I meet Paulina in the morning was that she doesn’t speak much English, she definitely understands it just doesn’t speak it. Thankfully I had some basic Spanish already under my belt so we could negotiate a price for the classes and when we were going to start. She was lovely and agreed to teach me Spanish for 30 quetzals ($6 NZD) per hour for 20 hours a week. I was pretty happy about this as that was 20 quetzals less than the cheapest Spanish school. Initially I was a little nervous that she doesn’t speak any English but later I learnt that this was the best way to learn as I was forced to speak and practice my Spanish. I ended up doing 44 hours of Spanish, 20 hours the first week, 15 hours the second week and 9 hours the third week. It was really good but also very intense, especially when I was doing 5 and a half hours at the Doozy and then 4 hours of Spanish afterwards. I was usually pretty brain dead after a class, but it was also really great to focus on getting the grammar right, learning the different verbs and how they change depending on who your talking to. After the first two weeks I had a break so I could just practice and absorb the present tense verbs I had already learnt, and then during the third week we focused on learning past and future tense. Paulina is amazing, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have found her. We had alot of fun, laughed alot, and we even managed to have some more serious conversations in Spanish about Zacs passing, grief in general, about our female prime minister, and New Zealand’s extortionate housing prices. It was an amazing few weeks and became very difficult to say goodbye to my new Spanish professor and friend.

The first few weeks at the Doozy we had a really great bunch of travellers staying with us, majority Australian, and majority were surfers making their way down the Pacific coast. We had alot of fun, it made working at the bar super enjoyable. By the time Saturday came around we had an epic group ready for a big night out which was the perfect opportunity to head to the famous pool rave. The rave is about 15minutes drive out of Antigua in a random field where they have an empty pool and a DJ set up playing electronic music. We started the night with some drinks at the Doozy, then put on our tight and bright and headed to two bars in town after we shut the Doozy at 11pm. We danced and had some more drinks before the bars shut at 1am. At that point our group of about 12 piled into a shuttle and we made our way to the pool party. We pulled up and parked in a field where we all tumbled out of the shuttle and walked into the party paying 50Q on entry. Climbing into the pool I headed straight to the dance floor where I spent majority of my night. It was alot of fun and a good place to release some steam. Before I knew it, it was 7am, the sun was starting to come up and I was just heading off to bed. It’s hard re-telling a night like this, it’s one of those times when you really just had to be there.

Unfortunately I had a shuttle booked for 9.30am that same morning to El Paredon on the Pacific coast where I was going to spend my two days off from work. So after 2 hours sleep I managed to throw a bag together, get a smoothie to go and then I was in the shuttle on my way to the beach. When I arrived to the hostel, Driftwood Surfer, I crashed and slept for another 3 hours. It wasn’t until later that afternoon I ventured out of bed to the beach where I parked up in one of the hammocks. Once the heat in the sun eased I went for a walk along the beach, swam in the sea, and sat on the beach watching the local boys shred up the surf. One of my friends from the Doozy was DJ-ing in one of the shacks on the beach which set the mood for the most gorgeous evening playing football with the locals and watching the most beautiful sunset. It would have made an amazing photo opportunity but seeing as there was no WiFi at the hostel my phone and camera hardly ventured out of my bag the whole trip; which just added to the blissness of the place.

I was in awe of El Paredon and those that lived there. It was incredible observing the passion that the local boys had for the surf and the simple life they lead. Back home I played maybe 8 different sports at school, we were so spoilt for choice that it wasn’t until that moment on the beach that I had a full appreciation of that. But to see these boys so content with surfing and football, even more so than I probably ever was playing any of my sports, just made me light up. It goes to show that the simple life is truly the good life.

El Paredon.

After the two days of relaxing at the beach I headed back to Antigua. The shuttle ride is only 2 hours drive and takes you through ground zero, the area most affected by Fuego’s eruption. It’s devastating what I saw, just ruble. I even managed to meet a girl while in Antigua who is a paramedic volunteering at ground zero. What she has been doing is incredible, but she also made it very clear that the government isn’t making it easy for them to recover the missing bodies for the families still searching for their loved ones. You could tell she was absolutely heart broken when she told me that their permit to continue searching was coming to an end and the government wasn’t going to be renewing it. This meant that the only thing they could do was let the families continue to search and as soon as they would find any sign or remnants of a body they would call in the team of paramedics to recover and identify the missing family member. I can’t even imagine what that must be like, but what I do know is how much closure it gives you to know where your loved one is. So here’s hoping they manage to find some more of the missing bodies, but unfortunately as sad as it is, things don’t look promising. My paramedic friend said that as the sun continues to get hotter it is becoming increasingly harder to find any remains that can be indentified, I can’t even imagine what that must be like for the families. Here is a short video I took while driving through ground zero.

The rest of the week, like majority of the other weeks at the Doozy, I was learning Spanish, working on the bar, exploring the town, and drinking too many G+T’s. Then again that Saturday night we attempted to go to the Pool Rave, but unfortunately this time when we got there the place was swarming with police, apparently this was pretty common for the party to be shut down as it drains people from the bars in town, or thats what I got told. Anyway that didn’t stop us, we followed the crowd and someone’s great idea to climb the fence, a 5 meter high concrete block wall. We made it into the party where the music played for literally 10minutes before the police started appearing from all corners. The music was cut and there was no arguing we were on our way out. We waited a few minutes on the way out as someone said that the guy that runs the party sometimes pays the police a hefty amount of money to allow for the rave to continue, but unfortunately this time we weren’t so lucky. It’s all bit of a strange system if you ask me, but was an experience that’s for sure.

The Doozy Crew.

The following week on my days off from the Doozy I ventured to San Marcos on Lake Atitlan to go visit my friend Hineana from NZ. She was volunteering and teaching yoga at one of the hostels there, so I took the opportunity to catch up with her. It was nice seeing a familiar face from back home. I spent one night back up at Fungi Academy where Phil and I had stayed previously and then one night in the hostel Hineana was working at. Majority of my time at the lake was spent with Hineana, attending her yoga class and lying on the wharf soaking up some sun and reading my book. It was another perfect getaway from the Doozy vortex.

San Marcos, Lake Atitlan.

When I returned to Antigua, a group of friends from back home were visiting; Lara, Polly, Josie and a few of their friends. The shuttle dropped me close to their hostel so I went straight there to surprised them. A few quick drinks catching up and then I went back to the Doozy to drop my bags before meeting them at Chermol, an amazing Argentinian restaurant, for dinner. It was so lovely being in the comfort of kiwi’s, and with people from home after being so disconnected from that part of my life for the last month. The Doozy was the first place where I was totally disconnected from what had happened to Zac last November, it was the first place where no one knew what had happened or what I had been through unless I told them. I have always been really open with what I’m going through, but it was the first time where it wasn’t on my mind all the time and I actually enjoyed having a break from talking about it. Ofcourse during the 5 weeks at the Doozy I told alot of my close friends about what had happened, but apart from that I actually felt like I was moving on with my life, which is scary in itself because I never want to forget Zac and I still miss him everyday, but it actually feels like time is doing it’s thing and making each day a little bit easier. So it was really nice checking in with friends back home, introducing them to the Doozy and showing them around the town.

Aside from all this, the rest of my time was spent sitting in my friends beautiful cafe El Local, visiting the Caoba Farms, swimming at Finca el Pilar, attending the odd yoga class at Shakti Shala and playing football on Wednesday nights for the Doozy Koala team; now that was a whole other experience. I didn’t really think so much about it when I offered to be their token female, meaning I had to be on the field at all times, but football is the number one sport in Central America so they take it pretty seriously. We were playing 5 aside for 45mins each half. It was definitely a good run around, but unfortunately having played no football before apart from that one season for that very social team at high school, I had little to no ball skills. And then there was the fact that I couldn’t understand anything that the ref was saying, I eventually caught onto ‘esquina’ meaning corner, but other than that I had to guess the rest of the time. It also meant that I couldn’t participate in the ridiculous amount of chat the teams give each other, there was only a few near fights, nothing serious. I ended up playing 4 games for the Doozy, leaving just before the final round, but I definitely feel like it completed my Central America experience.

Hanging out at El Local.

Caoba Farmer’s Market.

Finca el Pilar.

The Doozy Football Team.

All in all my time at the Doozy was more than I could have ever wished for. I made some life long friends who made it incredibly difficult to leave, I even had to start telling everyone when I was leaving as a way of talking myself into it and even then I managed to postpone my D-day 3 times. Anyway I managed to say my goodbyes and now here I am in Mexico soaking up the sun on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca trying to figure out where I head from here, just taking each moment as it comes…

…but more on Mexico next time.

Alfrunso saying “Adios”.

10-15th AUGUST 2018

After a big few days of travel, Phil and I finally landed on the island of Utila in Honduras. We even had one of Olivias friends, Joel, waiting for us at the dock which was a super lovely surprise. We followed Joel back to Parrots Dive Centre where he showed us our accommodation and sat us down to discuss our scuba diving itinery for the 5 days of us being there. Both Phil and I had done our open water dive course, Phil a year ago, and me three years ago in Cambodia with Zac, so a quick 2 hour refresher course and we are on our way to doing some fun dives. I hadn’t really thought about the diving until we got there, it was just one of those things that if I was travelling with Zac then I know for certain that we would be there in a heartbeat, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. I was/am adamant to continue doing those things that Zac encouraged me to do that were out of my comfort zone, and one of those was scuba diving, so there we were all signed up for our refresher course and 6 fun dives.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, catching up with friends and family, discovering the cafeteria and the beach, and meeting some of the Parrot’s Dive Centre family. Later that night Phil and I wandered down the road and found some incredible fish and shrimp tacos for dinner before I joined some of the crew in a Beer Pong competition at one of the other dive centres down the road. Having had no practice in beer pong for a wee while, and unfortunately getting matched against one of the best competitors, my partner and I were very close to walking the plank naked for not sinking any of their cups. Thankfully my partner came to the rescue and managed to get the ping pong ball in one of their cups on one of our last turns, saving ourselves from getting humiliated in front of about 40 people. It definitely wouldn’t have been the best start to my first night on the island, and something I’m sure my friends wouldnt let me forget about. Soon after the game finished I returned to our hot box of a room which Phil and I were sharing. We had three fans in the room which didn’t do much other than push around the air that had heated up over the day. It definitely wasn’t the nicest feeling going to bed sweating, but after the first few nights we slowly got use to it.

Sleeping beauty.

The next morning my body clock was wired to get up at 5.45am, so instead of trying to fight it I decided to get up and attempt to go for my first run in a couple of months. For the next 4 mornings I started each day with a run and a swim off the dock. It was super nice getting up early and finding time for myself before the island kicked into a buzz.

At 9am we meet our dive instructor to begin our refresher course. We covered off the basics of the open water dive course, quickly going over how to use and prepare our gear, then hopping in the water and going down only a few metres to practice some of the different skills. This brought up quite a few memories of when Zac and I did the course. Zac was an absolute natural, whereas I struggled with some of the skills, especially clearing the mask, I can’t stand having water in my face, so this took a bit of getting use to.

After the course we had a Baleada from the cafeteria for lunch before heading to Neptunes beach for the afternoon with some of the others from Parrots. It was beautiful, a stunning beach with the most incredible clear water. The afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun and doing some snorkling.

The next day we went for our first fun dive at 1pm. Each time the boat goes out we do two dives, a tank and a different location each time. I hadn’t really given the whole thing much thought so it was only about an hour beforehand that I started getting a bit nervous, mainly about what it might bring up for me emotionally after Zacs diving accident. I’m not sure why I throw myself into these situations, maybe it’s a way of coping. My dive instructor was incredible though and was super supportive. The first dive I was distracted by my mask fogging up so alot of the time was spent trying to clear it. But for the second dive I swapped my mask and it was a thousand times better. It was the most incredible dive that when I got back on the boat I was grinning ear to ear with so much adrenalin and what I know was Zac’s energy pumping through me. The diving on the island was something else, we saw amazing coral, tropical fish, stingrays, barracudas, lobsters, and even a turtle which Phil managed to spot tucked away among the coral wall feeding. The next thing to see will be a shark. We also got to go spearfishing for lionfish which are considered a pest on the island.

Our time on the island was super memorable, basking in the sun, swimming on average 10 times a day, and the people at Parrots quickly became like family. You can see why alot of people end up going there initially for their open water dive course and end up staying to become dive masters.

Phil unfortunately had to leave after 5 days on the island to race up to Belize to meet her Mum, so before I got sucked into staying I decided to hit the road and make my way back towards Antigua with the intention to eventually head up into Oaxaca, Mexico. So we caught the early morning ferry back to La Ceiba with our new friend Rahul who was also heading to Antigua. From there we caught a taxi to the bus stop where we were to catch our bus to San Pedro Sula. In the taxi we meet another guy, Alfrunso, who was also heading to Antigua via the Copan Ruins, so we ended up travelling with him as well.

When we arrived to the Metropolitan station in San Pedro Sula I said a very sad goodbye to Phil. That girl is amazing, we had so much fun travelling together, we laughed and we cried, it was so lovely having had those 6 weeks together. She was there when I needed someone to talk to or when I needed someone to cry with. I value her friendship so strongly and I take my hat off to her for agreeing to travel with me.

From San Pedro Sula we caught another collectivo bus to Copan which is close to the border of Guatemala. The bus ride took about 4 hours quickly pushing our trip to a 12 hour day of travel. The shuttle was very cramped and the funniest part was definitely when we stopped next to one of the markets and one of the guys ordered a bbq corn cob through the window of the shuttle. Next minute he was taking orders for everyone on the bus and we had money being passed around in exchange for corn cobs. I myself couldn’t miss out on the buttery salty snack so I also put in my order. It was the most bizarre snack, especially when you get left with this big as gnarled corn cob that you have to somehow dispose of.

When we arrived into Copan, the three of us walked to a hostel nearby where we were to stay for just one night. We went for dinner and then it was early to bed after only getting three hours sleep the night before.

The next morning Alfrunso and I got up early, went for breakfast and then caught a tuktuk to the Copan Ruins. We spent about 2 hours wandering around the ruins. It was a lovely morning, not too hot, and Alfrunso knew a fair bit about the history of the Mayan Ruins so he fill me in on some of it. The most interesting part for me was the basketball court where the Mayan’s use to verse each other and whoever won the match would be sacrificed. It seemed backwards to me, but apparently it was a sign of glory and it would help your family move up the ranks.

Then at midday we caught a shuttle back to Antigua. It was a long ride so we didn’t get in till late at night. Rahul had booked the same hostel as me so together we walked a few blocks from the central square to the Doozy Koala Hostel. I had spoken to some of the guys who run the hostel when I was in Utila and they were looking for volunteers so I decided to check the place out. I have now been volunteering at the Doozy for almost 3 weeks, and I am loving it. It is super nice to just stop for a bit and really get to know the city. I have also meet some amazing people that have made this place feel like home for a bit. But more on that next time.

09 AUGUST 2018

The morning after our visit to Semuc Champey we hiked out from the hostel leaving at 6.30am to catch our shuttle to Rio Dulce. There was about 8 of us all leaving that morning, and again it was one slippery walk. Phil being the clever chook that she is thought it might be best if she wears her sandals to save her shoes from getting all muddy again. It provided us with some early morning laughs, exactly what we needed to start a long day of travel.

After 30mins of walking we popped out onto the road where we all crammed into the back of a ute. A 40min drive and we were back in the little village of Lan Quin, in time to catch our shuttle. The roads to Rio Dulce were something else, it felt like we were driving down a really long windy gravel driveway with a ridiculous amount of potholes, and it took 5 hours. It was one of those days that I wish I had worn a bra. We also had to stop multiple times to pay what I thought might have been a road toll. It consisted of a few guys on the side of the road with two big long branches that they would put across the road to stop traffic going through. Once we had paid, they would then remove the branches and let us through. It was very unusual and did not seem legit at all.

‘State highway 1’, he said. Yeah right.

Our arrival into Rio Dulce was timed very well with one of the local street parades. It was very colourful, vibrant and pretty funny to watch; but after a long shuttle ride we were eager to get to our hostel, so we weaved our way through the stilt walkers to our hostel called ‘The Shack’, and it was literally a shack sitting over the lake. The hostel consisted of one room and a few beds that sat above a bar. After the long shuttle we were craving a cold drink so we went down to the bar, and I swear we just found where all the redneck American’s from Alberkey, New Mexico go to retire. The bar was packed full of old white men with their strong American accent. They were telling us that they all live along the lake and that they boat around to the shack on Tuesdays and Thursdays for happy hour. They were absolute characters, dressed in their tropical shirts for tropical Tuesday. There was one American lady who had been on the lake for several years now and was complaining about how expensive the place is becoming. Sounds like they all go to the lake to retire early, and live what they see as being the good life, hey good on them.

Our original plan for staying in Rio Dulce was to use it as a stop over point before attempting to travel to Utila all in one day. The shuttle buses from Rio Dulce to La Ceiba were charging $90NZD which promised to get you to the ferry terminal in time for the afternoon ferry. There was no way we were willing to pay that ridiculous price, so instead we took the advice from a guy on trip advisor that said you could get from Livingston to Utila all in one day via the public transport system, and it was going to be quarter of the price of the shuttle. Now that’s winning.

So the following day we decided to head to Livingston on the 9am boat. It was a 2 hour boat ride across the lake until we reached the Caribbean coast where the small village is located. Unfortunately a storm passed through on our journey, so when we arrived we looked like downrats. The rain clouds can come and go very quickly, and when they open up it’s a torrential downpour, the kind of rain where you will be wet right through to your knickers within a few minutes. So as we arrived we took shelter for 15mins until the rain eased. In that time we got to observe the African culture of the Carribean town and we also saw a full on dog scrap, now that easy scary; especially coming from a country where dogs are seen as domesticated animals and are rarely vicious. Here you will often see a bunch of male dogs following around a female dog on heat, and then on the odd occasion there will be a fight when one of the male dogs challenges another for the female. I guess in New Zealand we fix our dogs so there is none of that carry on.

Boat ride Rio Dulce to Livingston.

Our time in Livingston was brief, and because the weather wasn’t pleasant, we didn’t see much. Instead we spent the time prepping for our big day of travel, which mainly consisted of heading to the bank to try exchange some of our Guatemalan quetzals over into Honduran lempira. So there I was standing in front of the bank teller with my Spanish guide in one hand and a bunch of quetzals in the other. Thankfully one of the young bank tellers down the line heard me trying to speak broken Spanish and came to the rescue. With his aid we quickly realised that they didn’t have any of the Honduran currency and our best bet was to exchange our quetzals for US dollars. After overcoming that issue we then realised that they didn’t have any notes smaller than $50 US and no way was a border crossing going to have that much US change. That’s when the situation got interesting. Next thing we know the young bank teller was telling us he had some smaller US notes at home and that he could meet us after work to exchange them for the bigger notes. Blown away by his generosity we were a little bit hesitant at first until we realised that it was really our only option. After agreeing we realised that our new friend from the bank, Mauro, lived right next door to our hostel so it was easy for him to pop over after work to do the exchange.

On our walk home from the bank, we were blown away again by the generosity of strangers. Phil managed to get talking to some travellers who gave us the last of their Honduran Lempiras. On a high after our luck, it was time for dinner, and after we grabbed a tuktuk back to our hostel to skip the rain and get back in time for our meeting with the bank teller.

Mauro showed just before 7pm. He was the most loveliest human, you could tell that he was excited to be able to help us. He had one cordless ear phone in one ear which I didn’t question at the time but later realised that he had someone on the phone helping him translate our English to Spanish and vice versa. The translator ended up being Mauro’s boyfriend who lives in New York City. After we did our money exchange we ended up talking to Mauro for at least an hour. We even passed the ear phone around so we all got to speak to Stephen. It was a very strange but lovely encounter, one that I can’t imagine would happen back home.

That night we packed up our bags, made sure everything was waterproof and locked up in preparation for a big day of travel.

In the morning we woke to our alarm at 4.45am. Our first boat was scheduled to leave at 5.30am from the main dock to Puerto Barrios. We quickly put on some clothes, chucked on our backpacks and walked 15mins in the dark to the dock. The boat to Puerto Barrios took 40mins. It was a very smooth ride and we even got to see the sun rise up behind the main port where the Dole (banana) export boats are located. From the dock in Puerto Barrios we wandered a few blocks up through what seemed like a ghost town until we managed to find our first collectivo that was to take us to the border. A collectivo is a shuttle bus except there will always be one guy hanging out the door yelling our destination at people down the street. We will then make multiple stops picking up and dropping off people as we go. It’s definitely not the fastest form of transport but it is the cheapest.

When we arrived to the border we went to one of the buildings where we lined up at the window to get our exit stamp and then lined up at the window next door to get our entrance stamp. It was one smooth border crossing.

We then walked 200 metres up the road in search for the next bus. As we got close a bus in the distance started reversing towards us and a guy popped open a door out the back of the bus and yelled at us in Spanish. We managed to catch our destination among the yelling so climbed in through the door and fell into a seat with our bags on and everything. We then had a full on conversation with him in Spanish about how much we owed him. It worked out that for two of us to Puerto Cortes, our next destination, it was going to cost 118L, 2L less than what the strangers in the street gave us yesterday. Lucky for us because there was no way they were going to accept our US dollars.

After an hour and a half on the bus we got dropped at our next stop to catch a collectivo to San Pedro Sula. We were ushered out the back of the bus and there waiting was another man, again yelling our destination at us. We crossed the road and hoped in his van and off we went to the next place. It all happened super fast, no need to wait at the bus stop in this part of the world. Seeing as we were out of Lempiras and they wouldn’t accept our US dollars, our driver showed us to an ATM when we arrived at the metropolitan bus terminal. Once we paid the driver he showed us where we could get our tickets for the next bus. Here we negotiated the price of our tickets, each of us laughing as we slowly came to an agreement. Unfortunately we just missed the 12pm bus and so we had to wait until the next one at 1pm. This was a good chance for us to grab some lunch before the next leg of the journey. The terminal was huge, busy, and there was only one other white person in sight. It was a little uncomfortable the amount of people staring at us, especially some of the men, they obviously didn’t get taught that its rude to stare.

Unfortunately our next bus was running an hour late so we didn’t end up departing the terminal until 2pm. This meant we were going to well and truly miss the afternoon ferry to Utila and so we would have to stay in La Ceiba. We were both a little bit guttered we weren’t going to get to Utila in one day, it felt like we were on the amazing race and we had just failed. However, we did get to experience the public transport and also saved a good chunk of cash. We even found out later that someone who had paid for the shuttle didn’t even get to the ferry on time and that it was all a big scam. That made us feel better.

The next bus was the most interesting one yet. About 5mins into the trip we picked up a bunch of locals off the street that were trying to sell food and “agua”. We even had two clowns hop onto the bus that were busking for money. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand anything they were saying but there was no dount about it, it was very bizarre. On top of that I witnessed an accident scene out the window, and then the bus started to leak when we hit a rainstorm. It had been a really big day, and I remember thinking how much I would love to be on an interlink or naked bus from back home right now.

The bus dropped us just outside of the centre city of La Ceiba so we grabbed a taxi to our hostel. Unsure about the safety of the city, we quickly walked a block to grab some street food and then headed straight back to the hostel. It was our first taste of the famous Baleada, a local speciality. Soon after dinner it was bed for us.

The two P’s at the end of a hectic travel day.

The next morning we jumped in a very run down taxi and headed straight to the ferry terminal. The ferry was a quick 1 hour ride to the island of Utila, we even managed to see some dolphins in that time. Utila was where my old flatmate Olivia lived for 4 months earlier this year and so it was from her recommendation that we had decided to head to the island to do some diving. It is also roughly quarter the price of what it costs to dive in Belize. As the island came into sight it just looked like paradise, beautiful blue skies, and turquoise water. It was hard not to get excited, especially after having had so much rain. It took a long time to get there but my god it was worth it. But more on Utila in the next post.

07 AUGUST 2018

In leaving Antigua, we made our way towards Lan Quin where we were to spend two nights before heading to the Carribean coast of Guatemala with the intention to eventually carry on to Utila in Honduras. Lan Quin is a small village in the middle of Guatemala that is on the tourist trail solely because of its close proximity to the famous Semuc Champey.

It was a long day of travel on a shuttle to Lan Quin so we didn’t arrive in till 6pm. The hostel we had booked was recommended to us by two brits that we had spoken to for a total of 5mins at Lake Atitlan. What we didn’t realise at the time though was the extent of the journey to get there, and it was quite some journey especially after already being on a shuttle for 9hours and arriving into Lan Quin as the sun was going down made it interesting. So when we hoped off the shuttle we grabbed our bags and jumped on the back of one of the local trucks. One of the locals had been organised to pick us up and drop us off at the beginning of the walking track where we were to hike 30mins into the jungle to reach the hostel. We quickly came to understand that this is the typical way the locals get around in rural Guatemala, they all cram onto the back of a ute. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, there were so many potholes and as we drove further and further away from the town and into the dark of the night, both Phil and I suddenly had a thought that we should have told someone back home exactly where we were going. After a bumpy 20min drive we arrived at a “Tienda”, meaning shop in Spanish, which was the home of our guide. Our guide was an 18 year old local boy called Freddy who knew little English. We weren’t at all prepared for the walk we were about to endeavour on. We tried to ask with our little amount of spanish and sign language whether we needed to put our walking shoes on, but they said that our sandals would be fine. We quickly worked out about 5mins into the hike that shoes definitely would have been preferred. With my big pack on my back and carrying two smaller bags I managed to slip over only once. We walked through different crop fields and past local homes following the light of Freddys torch. It felt pretty safe until Freddy handed me a stick when the dogs started barking at us. As we arrived at the hostel we really had no idea what to expect. The place was beautiful, even in the dark. Everyone was very relaxed, lazying around in hammocks. And they had even included us for dinner which was homemade linguine pasta and marinated watermelon steaks. It was exactly what we needed after the big journey, straight after a shower that is.

The next day we decided to take it easy and decided not do one of the tours on offer of Semuc Champey. Instead we decided to make our way there on our own schedule which was a whole experience in itself. After a late breakfast we hit the same track we walked the night before, although this time it was even muddier than before after it rained all night. Phil and I were slipping all over the show, it had use in fits of laughter, and then we came across two huge turkeys in the middle of the track. A little nervous by the gobble gobble sounds the turkeys were making, we slowly walked off the track and around the birds. I managed to catch two of the local women watching us as we did this, both letting out a little giggle at how stupid we must have looked to them. It was a beautiful walk past the different crops and the local homes, all until the last 10 minutes where we managed to take a wrong turn as it started to pour with rain. We eventually found our way back to the Tienda, but unfortunately by that point the damage was already done, we were drenched and our shoes had lost all grip as we now had pancakes of mud on the bottom of them. Thankfully the rain slowed and the local family at the Tienda offered to drop us to Semuc Champey on their motorbike. So one at a time Phil and I both hoped on the back of the bike for a 10min ride to the entrance of Semuc Champey.

The famous terraced pools were beautiful, one of nature’s wonders. Again I missed having my personal geologist to help explain the formation of these pools. Majority of the water flows underneath the terraces which must be why the pools are so clear, and I imagine the terraces must also act as a natural filtration system. I still need to do some Google research on that one. We climbed to the lookout which was a decent 30minutes of stairs, it was tough but worth it for the views. We then spent the rest of the time bathing in the pools before we had to meet Freddy our local guide and some of the others from the hostel at 3pm to tube down the river. By that point the sun had come out and it was turning out to be a nice afternoon. We all jumped into our tubes and started floating down the river. It was the perfect way to finish the day, and to top it off I made a comment about how good it would be if we had a beer right now, one of those flying comments that you say expecting that it won’t come true. Next minute Freddy our guide yelled back to his buddies and soon enough one of the boys jumped in behind us on his own tube with a bag of beers, paddling hard to try and catch up to us, it was the funniest sight, one of those moments only to happen in Guatemala.

Being from New Zealand where outdoor adventures like tubing comes naturally, meant that it came as bit of a surprise when some of the dutchies and germans started getting nervous about what we saw as the smallest rapids. So Phil and I reassured them that they would be fine, as our guide Freddy couldn’t say much more than “lets go” or “follow me”. There was only one rapid that looked a bit dangerous, and seeing as one of the girls had already grazed her knee and one of the guys had already fallen off his tube going down it, Phil put her guiding hat on and told everyone that we are getting out and walking around. All in all it was a fun way to get back to the hostel, although I was well and truly a prune by the end of it.

Again we had dinner cooked for us by the hostel, and then it was straight to bed as we knew we had a big few travel days ahead making our way to Honduras.

04 AUGUST 2018

Since we last spoke, Phil and I have now climbed Acatenango, one of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua with its peak at 3976m above sea level, and neighbour to Volcano Fuego which erupted in February this year. The day started at 7.30am when we were picked up by shuttle and taken to the tour companies family home in the closest village to the volcano. Here we were able to rent any warm clothes that we still needed, pick up the prepared food, and a walking stick for the journey.

The hike to our base camp took roughly 4 hours and was a hard slog uphill. The gradient of the first two hours was steeper than the second so it did get easier, but it was definitely a wake up for the old fitness level.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best when we arrived at base camp and we couldn’t see a thing, so we had an early dinner, roasted some marshmallows on the fire, and then it was off to bed with the hope of getting up at 3.30am to fine weather so we could climb the extra 200metres to the summit for sunrise.

As you do when you know you have to get up early for something, I woke up every hour, and unfortunately it didn’t sound like the weather was getting any better. I even heard multiple thunder strikes in the distance and two which I thought were a lot closer but in the morning learnt that it was actually the rumbles from Fuego.

Unfortunately the weather hadn’t cleared by 3.30am so our guide decided it was best not to climb to the summit. Initially I was feeling pretty gutted about this, I know it’s on a totally different scale, but I can definitely see how frustrated those guys must get when they get so close to summitting Everest and have to turn back because of the weather.

Anyhow, it ended working out in our favour because when we popped our heads out of our tent at 5.30am, the sun was just starting to rise and the clouds were starting to clear, opening up a beautiful view of the volcanoes in the distance. My biggest surprise was how close we were to Fuego. It felt like we could just walk along the ridge that joins the two volcanoes and submit Fuego instead. Our guide Santiago didn’t know much English but we did manage to quiz him a little bit about the recent eruption. He said there were 6 different lava flow paths. Three on the side we were looking at and three on the other side. He said that two of their guys were even setting up our base camp when it erupted and that they grabbed the small air inflatable mats and ran down the mountain with those over their heads. You could see at our camp were the molten rock had landed and melted through the tarpolines. It was pretty incredible that all that happened in February and a month later people were back climbing Fuego. From just talking to the locals it sounds like the volcanoes are such a big tourist attraction, that the government downplayed the total death count, and even turned away people offering aid at the border, all in the hope that it wouldn’t affect their visiting numbers. Pretty crazy if you ask me.

Anyway, we had a quick breakfast (cornflakes oh yeah) and then descended the volcano in about half the time it took to climb up. We were back at our hostel well before lunchtime.

When we arrived back into wifi, I turned on my phone and started receiving a whole heap of messages from friends sending me their love and support. Today, the 4th of August, was Zac and I’s anniversary; six years since he swepted me off my feet at the uni hall ball. I was in awe, how did all these people know our anniversary date. Even Zac had to put a memo on his phone to remind himself. I looked at Phil, and immediately her facial expression told me that she had been up to something. She knew that she wasn’t going to be able to keep it a surprise for much longer, so she went to go grab something from her bag. As I opened a homemade card made from magazine cuttings and strapping tape my eyes started to well up. The card had a whole bunch of names from friends at home that had all pitched in to make my day a little bit better. They were going to cover the cost for my volcano climb, my accommodation that night and they were shouting me to a full body massage and dinner and drinks for the night. The love that I felt in that moment was just so overwhelming, it was the first time that day that I had really let the water works flow. I couldn’t help but think of Zac and how much he would want to be here at that moment, every moment really but this one inparticular. It was a day full of mixed emotions, both a day to celebrate Zac and I’s love for one another, but also a day of sadness that he isn’t here to celebrate it with me. Even typing this makes the tears roll in. The most amazing thing is when times are hard, friends and family are always there. And I seriously can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for the friends that I have surrounded myself with. They have all been incredible especially over the last 9 months. So I just want to say a big thank you to you all. For all the messages of support and your generosity and love.

The massage was very relaxing and we went to a beautiful wine bar before dinner. It was so nice to finally have some good wine, can’t believe how much of a wine snob I have become, I guess living in New Zealand where good wine is plentiful, will do that to you. We then went to a restaurant recommended to us by two guys at the wine bar called Angie Angie. They had amazing food and we even managed to get the best table in the house, right in front of a guy on a keyboard playing some amazing blues music. After dinner we headed back to the hostel for a relatively early night as we were due to get up early to catch a shuttle to Lanquin which is smack bang in the middle of Guatemala where a lot of tourists go to visit the famous Semuc Champey, but more on that next time.

02 AUGUST 2018

So we have now been in Guatemala for over a week. We originally flew into Guatemala City on the 25th and caught a shuttle straight to Antigua. We didn’t arrive to our hostel until late so it was straight to bed for us.

In the morning I had a good look around the hostel and my god it’s the nicest place I have ever stayed, so if your ever visiting Antigua, make note, Barbaras Boutique Hostel. From the rooftop terrace I got the most beautiful view of the town and the surrounding volcanoes, and to top it off it was the most beautiful blue sky sunny morning. It would be rude not to do some yoga on the roof.

We had 3 days in Antigua where we just relaxed back at the hostel, soaked up some sun, explored the beautiful streets and cooked some delicious food. It was a wonderful feeling having no plans, especially when everyone around us were hectically trying to do as much as they could in the short amount of time they had. Instead we weren’t trying to tick any boxes, that isn’t why we (speaking for myself here) are doing this trip. I want to give myself space to write, reflect, grow, meet new people, share my story, and listen to other people’s stories. And already travel has given me so much of that. It seems a lot of people decide to go travelling when they hit a crossroad, so I have been meeting some really interesting people, all with their own story and challenges.

However, we did tick one of the boxes, climbing Volcan Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes. We saw this as a practice climb for the much bigger Acatenango climb which we were planning to do in the days to come. It was just a half day trip which involved a shuttle bus from Antigua leaving at 2pm, then an hour and a half walk up the volcano. Leaving later in the day meant that as the sun was going down we could see the glow of the lava erupting from the crater, it was pretty incredible and the whole time I was just picturing Zac and how much he would have been fizzing at the sight of lava. It is times like these when I really do miss having my personal geologist lecturing me about rocks.

On day four in Guatemala we caught a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel where we then took a boat across Lake Atitlan to San Pedro, one of the little villages around the lake. We stayed there for one night and in the morning caught a boat across to Santiago in search of a flea market one of the expat locals had recommended to us. The boat ride in itself was interesting enough, cramming in as many people as we could fit before taking on water.

Unfortunately we couldn’t find the flea market however we did manage to find ourselves in the middle of one of the local markets, full of Mayans, and not a single white person in sight. We definitely stood out. There was both an indoor and outdoor market. In the indoor market there was meat stalls all along the edges of the square and fruit and vege stalls in the centre. Unfortunately I didnt take any photos as I didnt want to stand out any more than I did, but it was definitely an experience. We even managed to get into a game of charades trying to figure out why there was a big long line of Mayan woman queuing for what we figured out was chicken.

We then boated back to San Pedro where we managed to sneak in a swim off the rocks before venturing to the docks to catch a boat to San Marcos, another little village around the lake. Souzie had recommended we visit Fungi Academy, a community that she had stayed at last year. So without questioning it we caught a tuktuk up a very steep and narrow road. Our driver dropped us off at the closest point possible and then we had to lug our bags another kilometre stopping every 100 metres. We really had no idea where we were going, we had done no research so didn’t really no what to expect. But we managed to stumble across a few buildings perched on the side of the hill with the most amazing view of the lake. Thankfully the community managed to find room for us to stay as there was no way I was going to be carrying my bags back down so soon. We ended up staying for two nights at Fungi which was absolute bliss. We ate food similar to that at Punta Mona, fresh and tasty goodness, and then just spent majority of our time overlooking the lake reading our books. However, one afternoon we did venture down the hill into the village for gelato and a swim.

We are now back in Antigua after a quick overnight stop in Panajachel. We have had the last two days here where we have again just been strolling the streets and enjoying our time here at Barbaras. Although today we did venture 15mins out of the town on our first chicken bus to go visit a family run Macadamia Farm.

Tomorrow we are leaving early in the morning to start our overnight hike of Acatenango, will fill you all in on that in my next blog post.

17 JULY 2018

There is no such thing as a typical day at Punta Mona, there is always new things happening, but to give you a brief idea of what I got up to for 3 weeks, here is a run down of just one of the days there.

  • 5.15am wake up followed by a quick skinny dip in the sea to start the day right. My room was in one of the shacks right by the beach so I would religiously start the day with a swim and then quickly rinse off from one of the big barrels that collects the rain water right outside my room. Felt like I could have been in a country western film minus the beach scene.

  • 5.30am breakfast duty. This involves putting the kettle and a big pot of water on the stove so the yoga group that have been staying with us could have tea before their 6am class. Then I would light a fire to heat more water and to cook breakfast on. This would sometimes take a decent half hour to get going with how damp everything has been after the constant rain.
  • 6.00am Start prepping for breakfast. There is always three of us making breakfast so we would split up the different jobs. On this particular day I was tasked with making the coconut milk. This involves cracking open either 2 or 3 coconuts, grinding them, then soaking the threads in hot water before massaging them with a muslin cloth to extract the milk. It is bit of a process but fresh coconut milk is to die for, especially in a hot coffee. We would then either discard the threads for chicken food or savour them to make an exfoliating scrub. The coconut shells would also be saved for the next day to use as fire starters. After this I would help out with any other breakfast prep that is required, typically cutting up fruit.



  • 7.00am Yoga class. If we were onto it with breakfast we would have everything prepped so we could squeeze in a quick one hour of yoga with our personal yoga instructor Steve.
  • 8.00am cooking of eggs and any other hot food for breakie.
  • 8.30am Breakfast!!! My favourite time of the day, especially if the rain has stopped so we can eat by the beach.

  • 9.00am Kitchen clean up. Involves half of the staff and volunteers with compulsory music.
  • Rest of the morning and early arvo is either spent sitting in a hammock, reading my book, drawing or painting, swimming in the sea, learning spanish, making medicine with Souz or harvesting food from the farm.

  • 4.00pm Cacao ceremony with staff and volunteers. Allie made cacao bliss balls and so we had a small ceremony in the loft. The cacao is grown on the farm, harvested, seeds are roasted and then peeled. I’m not an expert on cacao but my understanding from the ceremony is that it is very sacred and is used as heart opening medicine. Back in the day it was traded as money.

  • 5.00pm Dinner prep. Majority of the preparation was already done by Ivete who is one of the locals from Guandoca, so all I had to do was cook the plantain. This is a fruit that is easy mistaken as a banana and is typically used to make Patacones in Costa Rica. It is bit of a labourous process when your cooking for 40 people but what you do is fry thick slices of the green plantain in a lot of oil until they are slightly soft. You then remove them from the pan and flatten them with the end of a jar, or something similar, and then return them to the pan until they are brown and crispy. Add salt and you have a delicious potatoe chip alternative.

  • 6.00pm Dinner
  • 7.00pm Kitchen clean up + music with DJ Wes = dance party with yogis in the kitchen.
  • 8.00pm Took the party to the stage which is about 500m into the jungle where we lit the fire pit. It was turning into a fun evening until the most unfortunate thing happened. As I was leaning to grab something from a black plastic bag I felt a sharp sting on my wrist. I had no idea what is was, all I knew was it hurt a lot. Looking around trying to find the cause, all of a sudden this gigantic wasp flew out of the bag. Automatically I began to panic. The first week I was at Punta Mona some of the locals who maintain the farm had spotted a hive of deadly bees. So my first thought was it could have been one of those. Taking no chances, I quickly ran to Souzie and explained what happened. Being the amazing nurse that she is and after seeing how panicked I was, her first instinct was to grab hold of my wrist and put pressure just above the sting to slow the process if it was something serious. We quickly walked back to the Apothercary together with Allie who when we got close ran ahead to start getting the EPI pen ready just in case. By the time we got there both Souzie and Allie knew that whatever had stung me wasn’t anything serious otherwise I would have been experiencing much different symptoms. So I just drank some Echinacea to boost my immunity, took an anti-histamine, applied a bit of balm to the sting, and all was well.

  • After all that excitement combined with the 5am start, it was bedtime for me. A great finish to another day at Punta Mona.

And because the food was unreal, here are a few snaps for you all…

And then we had jungle puppies…

And then it was time to say goodbye.

15 JULY 2018

I don’t even know where to start, so much has been happening recently that I want to write about. I have started writing a few different blog posts as different things happen but they never seem finished. I guess there is no dramatic ending, punchline or moral to the story that you typically see in most writing. Instead these posts are just different thoughts and experiences, all apart of this never ending journey that I am on, and so I am just going to post them as they come, unfinished.

09 July

I’m writing this blog post as I sit up in the tree house at Punta Mona swinging side to side in a hammock, literally looking out and watching two creatures climb up one of the trees in the distance. Being short sighted im struggling to make out what they are, initially I thought they might be gigantic lizards based on the way they were crawling up the branches, but then I saw their big long tails. A flashing thought was maybe possums, but my final guess is that they are the howling monkeys that have been waking me up every morning.

Weather is turning and rain looks like it’s coming, story of living in a rain forest, so I better dash before I get caught out. Also that last tea has gone straight through me and I don’t think I’m quite jungle enough to squat from the tree house, yet.

10th July

Since I started writing this post yesterday it hasn’t stopped raining. According to the locals that work here we are expecting a week of serious thunder and lightning storms along the Carribean coast. Already this is day three of the storms and they are nothing like I have ever experienced in New Zealand. Maybe it’s because we are living under shelter with no full enclosure to lessen the flashes of lightning and thumps of thunder. It’s pretty thrilling at night time watching the lightning flashes and then waiting for the thunder which literally sounds like someone is stomping around upstairs, the thumps resonate the whole way through the building and through my body. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the rain is stopping any time soon.

Today is my day off from working in the community, which mainly includes cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, harvesting salad for lunch and dinner, and making up beds for the big groups that come to stay. Since iv been here we have only had two big groups come through which apparently isn’t many compared to the high season where they might have three big groups come in all at the same time. Currently we have a big group of about 30 (majority female, 1 male and 6 kids) that have come here for a yoga training for the next three weeks. It’s been pretty interesting having lived here for the last week where it’s been pretty much just us, full time staff and volunteers, and the vibe of the community has been so strong, everyone happy and so grateful towards one another, and then to have a big group come in and see this place transform into a retreat centre. We have all been working super hard to accommodate for the group and make them feel comfortable in a not so comfortable environment, which is always challenging. But unfortunately not everyone is cut out for the jungle, we have already had 3 yogis leave us in the first few days of them being here and a few of our volunteers have slowly started to peel off too.

13th July

Yesterday afternoon was the first time I left Punta Mona in 2 weeks. Phil was arriving into Puerto Viejo in the afternoon and there was a boat going out so I decided to go meet her. There was also a few others heading out to attend a festival further north and Steve was also heading out to do the weekly food shop. Majority of the food comes from the land but when there are big groups someone usually pops into town to pick up a bit more fruit and vege from the Saturday market in Puerto Viejo. It’s also a good chance to fill up the gas bottles and pick up any other necessities.

So we headed out on the boat in the afternoon and unfortunately didn’t time it very well with the storm. It’s a bit nerve racking when the local boys driving the boat start saying “we need to go now, storm is hitting!” So I put my togs on, put my bag in a rubbish bag, knowing that we were going to get drenched. The waves were huge, and it was pouring with rain so it didn’t take long for us to loose sight of the shore. Thankfully there wasn’t much wind so we could just float over the waves, until we reached Manzenillo and they were breaking right where we needed to go into shore. So the boys waited for the right set of waves that weren’t breaking and as soon as an opportunity arised we boosted it so we could ride the waves into the shore. It was the knarliest boat ride I have ever been on.

I arrived into Puerto Viejo about 7.30pm to find Phil had already checked into our hostel and had gone for dinner assuming that I wasn’t going to make it because of the weather. I managed to track her down, and it was the best feeling to finally be together, and in Costa Rica!

The rain didn’t stop pouring that night. When we arrived back to the hostel we had to wade through ankle high water to reach our room, and I could tell it wasn’t going to take long for the water to make its way into our room. Thankfully there was another room free that we could move into which was a little higher lying. So we went to bed thinking we were safe, then at about 12pm there was a racket of noise coming from people in the bottom bunks and from the neighbouring rooms. Water was quickly flooding into the room, with a strong smell that it was mixing with the sewer system. The hostel manager assured us it was only rain water, but we were definitely skeptical. So again we quickly packed up our things and waded through the water that was up to our knees and in some places even up to our mid thigh. Thankfully they had an upper level which we could resort to for the night. It was definitely a restless night and so I was happy to be returning to the jungle where the water drains naturally and flooding isn’t really an issue.

The Journey Begins…

Whenever I have gone travelling I have always had great intentions to record what I do each day. Unfortunately that never happens and instead of trying to force it, I have decided just to write and reflect when it feels right. I also usually write in a diary format but this time I have decided to record this trip as a blog. Mainly for myself and my friends and family that want to keep up to date on my whereabouts.
But before I start I just want to remove any expectations that this is going to be one of those amazing travel blogs. I have never been a great writer and not the best speller, I guess you can only improve with practice, but I just wanted to state for my own peace of mind that this blog is going to be very raw, and very much in my own voice. When I have posted things publicly in the past I have always gotten caught up in what people might think that I end up re-reading what I’m to post before doing so. But not this time, this blog is very much going to be my journal. Which is always scary, it’s difficult opening up something like this to the world, but the few times I have shown vulnerability I have always been rewarded. So hear goes…

Most of you already know this but incase for some reason someone is reading this that doesn’t know me, my world was rocked 7 months ago. My partner of 5 years passed away in a tragic free diving accident. Zac was the love of my life, we meet in my first year of university and had been falling more and more in love the longer we spent with each other. For the last two years of our relationship we had been doing long distance while Zac was working in Taranaki and I was finishing off my studies and starting my first job in Wellington. Surprisingly the long distance worked for us, which amazed me after the things my friends had said about the distance. But it gave us both our own independence and the chance to focus on our own careers. It also gave us the space to realise that we wanted to start considering our futures together. This year was meant to be our year, Zac was going to be moving down to Wellington in January and in the two months prior to the accident we had even put in two offers on sections with the aim to design and build our own little home. Shit was starting to get real. And we were both so certain of it.

Unfortunately life doesn’t go to plan, and that was the case for us.

Now that I have given you bit of background you will understand why I decided to go on this trip. Only two weeks after Zac passed away I went straight back to work in Wellington. It was a bizarre feeling, everything went back to normal but it wasn’t normal, and I knew it, so that’s when I decided to book a flight, to Bogota in Colombia of all places. Zac and I had always discussed travelling Central and South America so it only seemed right to do this for both of us. It also worked out well with my friend Phil, who is also a Philippa, and was also planning to travel. So we decided to make the most of the opportunity and booked flights together.

So, three weeks ago I started packing up my life in Wellington. It was a hectic two weeks, packing up my flat, finishing up with projects at work, saying goodbye to friends and family, and my life for the last 6 and a half years. And while this was all going on, my travel buddy Phil managed to catch an unknown virus on her return from India where her doctor gave her a no fly for at least 2 weeks with only 1 week to go before our D-day. I quickly reviewed the options and calmly decided that I was to go ahead with the flight by myself and just go straight to Costa Rica where my friend Souzie was living. After having gone through losing Zac this problem was nothing in comparison.
So on the 24th of June I flew from Auckland to Bogota via a 12 hour stop over in Santiago. While I was in Chile I heard from my friend Souzie that she had missed her flight from South Colombia to Panama City, on her way back to Costa Rica. This worked perfectly for me as she decided to make her way up to Bogota and meet me there only arriving 2 hours after my 5.20am arrival into the city.
On arriving into Bogota airport, I had thankfully organised for someone from my hostel to pick me up. So there he was with my name on a board as a walked out of the terminal. Unfortunately he didn’t know any English and with only 8 weeks of Spanish lessons, there wasn’t much I could say, so I just followed him to the car in silence, it felt pretty weird.
Souzie and I had two nights at a beautiful hostel called Botanico in the La Candelaria district, where we chilled, enjoyed morning breakie and evening red wine on the rooftop overlooking the city. It was bliss to just relax. The only touristy thing we did was visit the Gold Museum which was so worth it. The detail in the ornamental pieces of gold was very impressive.

Then on the 27th of June, Souzie and I flew to Panama City where we arrived just as the sun was going down and a storm was brewing. We caught a collectivo taxi which took us straight to the bus station and because our flight was delayed we were definitely pushing catching the last night time bus. As we arrived it was absolute miracle that the last bus was running late and we managed to catch it after its departure time. Souzie and I both popped a sleeping pill which helped us to sleep majority of the 12 hour bus ride. When we woke we were in Boco del Torso which is very close to the Costa Rican border. From there we jumped on a local bus which took us right to the border crossing. We got our passports stamped and then walked over a bridge where the river defined the border. We then got our passports stamped on our arrival into Costa Rica and from there waited about an hour for a bus to take us to Puerto Veijo. After about an hour and a half bus ride we arrived into the reggae surf town on the Carribean coast where we stopped for lunch and connected to the WiFi before catching a tuktuk to Manzenillo where we were to catch the boat around to Punta Mona. We managed to track down some of the local boys which were happy to take us on the boat. The boat ride was rough and so when we arrived to the community we were drenched. As expected due to the lack of contact from anyone in the community over the last few days, the internet was out so no one knew that we were coming. Everyone was lovely though and super accommodating. Punta Mona is a premaculture farm run by permanent staff and volunteers all young and in their twenties. Souzie had lived there for a month prior to undertaking a course in the south of Colombia and was returning to take on a permanent role as being the lead herbalist.
It didn’t take me long to get among the community activities. Soon after we arrived and after a swim, I ended up lathering my hair with the rest of the staff with an oil that is meant to act as a lice preventative. One of the girls had just that day realised she had hair lice so everyone was taking precaution. My second community activity was processing a jack fruit as a meat alternative for tacos that we were having for dinner that night.

I have now been at Punta Mona for almost a week and there is no doubt about it that the first few days were super challenging. We are very much in the jungle here, no hot showers, no walls and doors, composting toilets, no internet meaning no connection to the outside world. It truly feels like we are on an island, and the mosquitos and sand flees have been particularly bad. Its us against the jungle. And then there are the noises. My first night we had a thunder and lightning storm which amazing when sleeping in an open loft, and in the morning I was woken by the sounds of howling monkeys, crocking toads and the farm rooster. There are cockroaches and geckos everywhere, and apparently some very poisonous snakes and even jaguars further up in the jungle. It is pretty different to what I have just come from, and I think that’s what made the first few days so challenging. Its so out of my comfort zone and I think the hardest thing of all is that in the past when things have gotten tough I have always had Zac to turn to. It was the first moment that I have really felt alone on this journey. I think it also didn’t help that I had no idea what I was doing here aside from seeing Souzie, especially when everyone else in the community seems to have some sort of purpose.

However, the last few days here have been amazing. I feel like I have started to gel with the community, started to get the hang of the all different fruit and veges, understanding the different farm chores, swimming on average 3 times a day, practicing yoga in the mornings, painting with Souzie; it has been bliss, super relaxing. And the community here have been amazing. They have even given me my own room. And the best thing is that the internet came back on! It has been really nice having a break from checking Instagram and Facebook each day, but it was also really nice to finally get in touch with Phil and make a plan from here. Thankfully Phil is on the mend following her virus and has booked a flight into San Jose where she will make her way towards Punta Mona. We will then look at hitting the road in a weeks time. Its amazing how having a plan in place, even if it is rough, has made me feel so much better and given me a bit of purpose for my time here at Punta Mona.

Punta Mona is absolute paradise, but like with anything good, there are always challenges.