9 months. 13 countries.
There have been some amazing experiences en route. Some internationally renowned. Other’s perhaps not what you’d expect, but magical for their own reasons.
Here is a round-up of my Top Ten:
1. MAKING FRIENDS IN ANTIGUA
The colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala holds special memories for me. This charming little hub is buzzing with an excellent night life and vibrant social scene, thanks to the steady influx of Spanish language students. This is where I made some great friends in my six weeks residency, later re-joining them at various points along the gringo trail. It also allowed me to do what I thought was impossible. Learn a language. I had resigned myself as one of those people who didn’t have a talent for grasping grammar having flopped in secondary school with French.
With my excellent teacher, I managed to build the confidence and skill set to successfully navigate myself out of many tricky situations throughout the trip.
2. SUNNING IT IN MEXICO
Let me preface this by saying that I know there are more beautiful and less touristic beaches than Cancun. However for this pasty white Irish guy, it was just the tonic to a wet Autumn back in Dublin, suddenly stepping off the plane and entering the crystal white beaches dotted along Mexico’s coastline. I spent a week on Playa del Carmen, home of the lively bar and hostel backpacking scene.
My favourite beach was located in the North in a place called Tulum, which neighboured Archaeological ruins and had postcard scenery.
3. WORLD CUP FEVER
I entered Brazil just as the World Cup was kicking off. Although I never managed to sample a match, I was there long enough to feel the atmosphere and join in on the Fifa Fan Fest – big screens erected at the hosting cities for football fans to gather, drink, socialise and have some banter. I have fond memories of lying on Copacabana beach in Rio, waves lapping my feet and turning to one side and seeing thousands of cheering fans congregated around the huge screen celebrating the national team scoring against Croatia. Once in a lifetime experience to see the World Cup in Brazil.
4. DEEP SEA DIVING
The island of Utila is a tiny piece of heaven just off the coast of Honduras. The place is so small, that there is only one road which only accommodates scooters. It is a really chilled out spot during the day with a hedonistic atmosphere at night time which just sweeps you along with it. I spent ten days here learning to deep sea dive among other things!
5. FINDING ‘THE LOST CITY’
In the Northern Coast of Colombia, near Santa Marta was an excursion that came highly recommended by both Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. I lucked out by being thrown in with a great group as we trekked through the jungle for three days searching for an Ancient Mayan city called ‘La Ciudad Perdida‘. Sleeping in open air huts on hammocks at night, batting off mosquitoes and rodents by day. It might not have felt fun at the time, but it was a great experience that I wouldn’t swap.
6. MOUNTAIN BIKING DEATH ROAD
I enjoy thrill-seeking adventures and had no hesitation signing up to this little beauty located just outside La Paz in Bolivia. The ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road‘ shows no mercy and I was no exception. One of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had and when I came off the bicycle half way down the route, I was lucky to escape with only a broken wrist, cuts and bruises.
7. TAKING HALLUCINOGENIC MEDICINE IN A PERUVIAN JUNGLE
Single handedly the most exhilarating, scary, emotional, disturbing, spiritual, educational, uplifting experience of my life. To date.
8. MACHU PICCHU
My buddy and I climbed to the top and were treated to some amazing views after some initial concern that morning when the clouds threatened to ruin the picture. Magical, spiritual place and great to tick off one of the wonders of the world.
9. IGUAZU FALLS
It took a back breaking 18 hours by bus from Buenos Aires to finally reach this natural wonder. The views are incredible and it is easy to understand why it was recently installed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the Modern World.
I decided to only experience this force of nature from the Argentinian side because I wanted to get close to the action. I wasn’t disappointed and would highly recommend it for travellers.
Where do I start? Simply, the best country I visited. I spent two months in total and enjoyed every moment. Whether it was along the Northern coastline in Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga or Parque Teyrona, or further south like the town of Medellin which stole my heart, or the Salsa crazy bustling town of Cali, there was so much on offer and the people were incredibly warm and friendly.
I really took a lot of confidence from my time in Colombia because I felt very comfortable there, and found the dialect easier to understand compared to other countries. On top of that, food was cheap, the women were beautiful, the landscape was amazing with huge contrasts between North and South, and the weather was ideal.
Writing this post and reliving some of these memories has brought it all flooding back again, and someday I hope to return to these countries again. It really is true what they say though:
Travel is the only thing you buy which makes you richer.