Medellin. For the community. With the community. By the community.

From narco city to transformational city.

This is how I will always remember Medellín. This was supposed to be one of the most dangerous cities I visited during my 6 months travelling and it proved to be welcoming, inspirational and one of the best experiences I had in Colombia.

One of the things I liked the most about the city (which I researched about afterwards), is how it demonstrates “…the concept of cities as a solution, and not as a problem, to the global challenges we face”. But most importantly, the fact that in Medellin, the solutions to the problems the city and its communities faced were created, developed and implemented by the people, the community themselves.

It’s not often we see this level of ownership and commitment to finding solutions with and for your own community. It reflects how much the people from Medellin cared (and still care) about the city, how hard they were (and still are!) willing to work to change it into something they believe in and, how they want to ensure the city changes in a positive direction and shifts its “old school” negative reputation.

Throughout the walking tours (The City Centre Tour and Comuna 13 Tour), the tour guides said a few things that stuck with me:

  • “Peace is different than security”
    • At some point during one of the walking tours, our guide said that “Peace is different than security”. We were talking about the narco trafficking situation in Colombia (in general) and how even though the country is at (apparent) peace, that does not mean everyone feels safe. This then led to our conversation about internal displacement and how a lot of people in Colombia run away to the bigger cities, looking for what a lot of us take for granted. Security.
  • Internal displacement.
    • There are a lot of homeless people in Medellin, and you can see entire families on the street, including a lot of children. This made me think a lot about internal displacement. “Internally displaced people (IDPs) have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home. IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement.”
    • There’s a lot to be said about the issues related with the ‘drug industry” in Colombia (which I’m not well informed enough to comment on), but a lot of people run away from their homes in the regional areas to try to escape internal conflicts. Usually, families are actually trying to prevent their children from getting “sucked into” that life and becoming criminals.
    • So… my question is…. Will we start thinking twice before making assumptions regarding homeless people and why they are on the street? There’s always a story we don’t know about. We all have one, and it’s not always pretty.
  • “Education is about who you are, not a certificate on the wall”
    • During the tours, our guides shared a few inspirational stories from people in the neighbourhoods (one of the guides actually grew up in Communa 13). One of the stories was about a tourist losing their phone and the local kids actually going to extensive lengths to return the phone to the owner. (Yes yes, I know it sounds a cliche story, but hear me out). These kids were raised in what was one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world… and they still did the right thing, because they were educated to a standard that allowed them to make the right choices. That’s education. It’s about who you are, not a paper on the wall.
  • “Living from art in a place with social classes 1 &2”.
    • Social classes 1 &2 are the lowest social classes in Colombia, and people from these classes usually live in the mountains, far away from the city centre (the place with the best views! The opposite of other more developed countries). For anyone who’s ever worked in the arts, we know how difficult it is to make a living from it. Almost impossible in some places. But they did it! From dancing, to painting (some of the best graffiti I’ve seen are in Medellin), to music etc. These artists continued to develop their work and managed to persuade us (tourists) to engage with it. This led to more and more visits, which led to the community making an effort to making it a safer place as they understand this is a beneficial cycle for everyone. We (tourists) bring in money and other tourists (thanks social media), artists get to continue to work on their art, and we all learn a bit more about each other and become better people for it.

From some of the things I’ve read since my time in Medellin, a few stuck with me as well:

  • Cities do not make poor people.
    • People move to the cities looking for a better life, and in this specific case, a lot of people in Colombia were internally displaced from the rural areas as they try to escape quite a dire situation that more often than not relates with the narco traffic
  • Investing in infrastructure to support human interaction
    • In Medellin, one of the things that supported the development of the city the most was the investment in their metro, specifically their cable car. The cable car now allows the people living in the class 1 & 2 regions (mountains) to come to the city to work, shop etc., supporting them in being active citizens. This has had a profound positive effect in Medellin
  • Involving the local community
    • Involving the local community in deciding which solutions can work for them and to support the development and improvement of those areas. The people “on the ground” should always be involved in the decision making process, specially when they will be the most.

Medellin kept a little bit of my heart and I honestly can not wait to go back. I really wish to one day be able to spend a good 3 months there and get more involved with grassroots and community led organisations so that I can really try to understand the city’s past, and where they see it going in the future.

Some articles you might find interesting:

Medellin – where did time go?

I could have sworn that I only spent a couple of days in Medellin, but no… one week went by and I didn’t even noticed it. Apparently other people felt the same. The time just runs away from you in Medellin.

And yes, just like so many other people, I fell in love with Medellin.

I arrived on a Thursday and left a week later and when trying to write about it now, it is actually quite difficult to retrace my steps.

I did 2 fantastic walking tours, one of the city centre, one of Comuna 13. I went to Guadape with Matty boy and Tom. I had 4 hours of salsa classes.

I went to my first Pride and had an amazing time. I was reunited with some incredible people I’ve met in Cali and Bogota and met new amazing travellers.

However, an entire blog post will have to be dedicated to the amazing “community work” I became aware of and experienced first-hand when I was in Medellin.

It was during my city centre tour with Danny that I became a bit more aware of how Medellin went from one of the most dangerous cities in the world to one that is way safer than anyone thinks. It was during my Comuna 13 that I saw some of the grassroots work being done on the streets. And it was during my solo walks across the city that I met locals to whom I spoke with and discovered what a difference it makes to go to a place and see it for yourself instead of just hearing about it.

I could have spent weeks in Medellin and not even notice it. From all the places I’ve been to in Colombia, Medellin is definitely up there as one of my favourite ones, and I want to believe this was not the only time I visited.

The things I’d recommend you do:

  • City Centre Tour with BeyondBogota
  • Comuna 13 Tour with Zippy. Stay for a few hours afterwards and experience what it is like to be in what used to be one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. Appreciate the changes and development it experienced, done by the community, for the community! (A blog post coming up about this)
  • Go salsa dancing (and get some classes at dancefree)
  • Go party (hehe not sure I need to say it)
  • Take the time to walk around (in the day time) and just experience the city in your own time.
  • Talk with locals. Even if you have nothing to say.

I’ve got so much I could say about Medellin, but I don’t think it’s something it can fully be understood by words only.

I would say this is true about Colombia in general. You can’t just hear or read about it, you have to experience this marvellous country by yourself.

Bogota – an introduction to Colombia

Getting to Colombia was no easy feat.

It was an absolute shitshow at the airport, with 3-hours long massive immigration control queues. They then lost my bag, and after 1hour an Avianca staff member finally found the bag. Following these 4 hours delay and constantly texting my cab driver to tell him not to pick me up just yet, I tried to get money out and no ATM had any money at the airport, the exchange desks didn’t accept cards and I was honestly losing my chill. Luckily I had 50dollars with me, so was able to change it to pay for my cab.

On the 1st day I did a walking tour of Bogota in the morning which was super interesting. Walking tours are seriously underrated and it’s always something I tell all my fellow travellers. Wherever you go, do a walking tour! There’s so much history to Colombia and Bogota, it was an awesome experience.

After the walking I went straight to do a food tour in the afternoon with the same company (BeyondColombia). Although the tour was awesome, I’m still very undecided about Colombian food. The fruit and vegetables are amazing, but a lot of stuff is fried which my little stomach does not react very well to. Regardless, was very full at the end of it. During the food tour I met Matt, from Canada, who inspired me to go to Cali and forever changed my journey in this country.

On the second day I didn’t feel well at all so I had to take the morning to sleep. No idea if it was something I ate on the food tour or altitude sickness but it completely knocked me out. In the afternoon I went up to Monserrate mountain with Katie (who was in the same dorm as me) in the and then met people at the another hostel for drinks. Things got a bit out of hand at El Teathron and I can only say it’s a night to remember.

I felt like 2 full days was enough for me in Bogota and on the 3rd day Matt and I went for a fight to Cali.

To Katie, thank you for all your help and tips for Ecuador. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go but your suggestions were super useful. I’m not sure if I’ll see you again but I hope the end of your travels in Colombia are everything you hoped they would be. Traveling alone is an awesome and scary experience, and I hope you enjoy every bit of it before meeting up with your other half.

To Matt… I’m not sure there’s enough words for Matt just yet. We’ve just met up again in Medellin, so I’ll have to get back to the thank you’s to Matt. One thing I can say for sure is that your passion for Salsa and your enthusiasm completely changed my journey, and I could not be more grateful. Keep being you, unapologetically you.

La Fortuna & Monteverde – Costa Rica [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

La fortuna and Monteverde are some of the most touristy areas in Costa, and there’s a good reason for that. Both places are absolutely gorgeous, even during rainy season.

As usual, tips first:

  • Hostels selina… maybe I was just unlucky, but I think Selina chain hostels have a specific vibe ( at least La fortuna did). You are willing pay for everything & are not really in a budget or you’re between 18-24 and just want to party ( and do the good old.. buying cheap booze and partying at the hostel. It was not my vibe and in probably won’t stay at a Selina again. To overpriced for what it is.
  • Do the volcano walk, with or without a guide
  • Monteverde: the zip lining is worth it.
  • Your clothes won’t dry at all during rainy season (indoor or outdoor). Find laundrette with a drying machine. You’ll thank me later.

I arrived to La Fortuna by shuttle (still had to take two buses and a boat before that), and somehow didn’t feel the vibe of my hostel. The facilities were amazing but you had to pay for literally everything! I had chosen. 10 bed room and when I got in and saw the state of it (clothes and bags everywhere, you could barely walk), stinky smell, no window) I turned around and asked for a smaller room. Had to pay a small fortune for a 6 bed dorm. Anyway. (It was a tough long day… I fell over and sprained my ankle fairly badly, so nothing was in my favour that day).

Met Lauren on the first night and ended up doing the volcano and waterfall tour with her and Omar, our tour guide. It was expensive but worth every minute. The views we got of the volcano, seeing snakes, the explanation about the animals and plants etc. was just indescribable. That was a good day.

On the second day at La Fortuna I went to a coffee place to “work” and then did a coffee & chocolate tour! Omg I looooved that tour! Learnt sooo much about coffee hehe. Tried to make my own chocolate and failed spectacularly.

I decided to leave La fortuna earlier and go to Monteverde. The journey there was “interesting”. Took a “shuttle”, then a boat to cross the lake, then another “shuttle”. The road were and absolute mess andou swear I don’t know how the people here drive in this roads.

Monteverde was a short stop as well (as far as travelling goes). I met an amazing group of people there but unfortunately people seem to be leaving when I arrived.

Sam (from Holland), stayed for a few days and we were sharing a dorm. On the second day we were joined in the form by James and Tom (from the US) we did the El Tigre hike together, which was….. fairly difficult for me. There’s clearly something to be said about being the oldest and the less fit in the group. the boys seemed to be just fine doing the hike but I was exhausted!

Even though it started pouring down halfway through the hike and we were all soaked to the bones, it was a beautiful hike. The road was pretty awful to get there and on the way back Sam tried to teach James how to drive a manual car….. let’s just say that it didn’t work out very well.

Finally, before leaving Monteverde I went Ziplining which was pretty cool. One full morning of that and then I just chilled for the rest of the day which was very much needed.

Once again, La Fortuna and Monteverde were deffo cool stops on my journey, but I felt like I spent just enough time there and didn’t really need any more.

To Lauren… thank you so much for the company, the laughs and for making my time at La Fortuna so much better! It would have not been the same without you.

To Sam. Monteverde would have been way boring without you and your goofy mood. Thank you for driving us to the El Tigre hike and for sharing so much of your travelling experiences with me. I hope it continues to be great experience 🙂

Costa Rica, a summary [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

When I first planned going to Costa Rica I intended to stay for a month. I had big plans! Rainforest, hikes up volcanos, beach time and seeing loads of animals, sloths, sloths sloths and turtles.

After one week and a half I realised that actually, my plans to Costa Rica would probably change very soon.

The country is gorgeous and one month would never be enough to see it all. So why did I decide to cut my trip short from 1 month to 17 days? The truth is… I had very very high expectations for Costa Rica, and even thought the country is everything I expected it to be, there were also things that changed my mind about staying.

It is more expensive than I thought, and travelling between places takes a very very long time. This is obviously part of the adventure but after almost 2 weeks I felt that it was time to go.

In Tortuguero I took 4 days to try not to do anything, except enjoy nature. In Fortuna and Monteverde I did a lot of activities, from Ziplining to trekking etc. In Manuel Antonio I stayed for 7 days and had one of the best weeks ever, surrounded by incredible volunteers, trying to surf, playing with puppies, sloths and even a chicken.

I decided to not explore Costa Rica any further. I could have gone to Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Puerto Viejo. I could have done so much! But I didn’t. And half the learning process for me was actually to learn that I don’t have to do everything I had planned or everything other people suggest I do.

I was happy in Manuel Antonio. So I stayed. And it was the right thing to do.

People in Costa Rica are fantastic and I will miss them. The willingness to help is pure, and the laid back attitude can be felt everywhere.

Thank you, Costa Rica. You have been the beginning of what I believe will be a very long learning journey, and I could have not started with a better teacher.

Maybe I’ll come back. Maybe I won’t. But I do not regret one single second of the past 17 days.

Manuel Antonio – Costa Rica [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

Manuel Antonio…. The place where I started to really relax. And the place where I changed half my plans about the next few months. It was a beautiful adventure. I was only supposed to stay for 3 days and ended up staying for 7.

I met incredible people, saw sloths up close, a ridiculous amount of animals, baby turtles being released into the sea and was able to try surfing again. It also allowed me to get some headspace and rethink my travel plans.

In Manuel Antonio I stayed at Planet B hostel which was an absolute dream of a hostel. They had foster puppies, a chicken, activities ran by volunteers, free breakfast and a really good vibe created by all the guests staying there.

The initial idea was to stay for 3 nights and then go to Santa Teresa and up that coast… but everything I wanted to do in that coast I could do in Manuel Antonio, so I decided to avoid countless hours of rough travelling cross country and just stay put.

On the first day I immediately had to take my clothes to a local “lavanderia” (the hostel was not offering laundry service anymore but they try to support locals by asking the guests to use local services). It was really hot and humid and I was in a very bad mood after getting lost twice! Walking around in extreme humidity and heat, up and down hills is no joke.

As I’m complaining to myself (being the privileged little white woman that I am), I suddenly notice something on the side of the street… something greyish… moving very slowly. It was a sloth!!!! On the floor.!!! Right there. I couldn’t believe it. One of my dreams was to see a sloth up close and there it was. I’ll never complain about doing the laundry again! Lol

On my second day I went to Manuel Antonio National Park with Alex, a local guide who helped me identify and find loads of animals; Monkeys, sloths, lizards, spiders, iguanas, different birds… we saw it all! Thank you Alex!!

Following that, we had a couple of really bad rainy days which allowed me to rethink my plans for the next few months (not sharing what they are until it’s booked).

One of the nights we went to a local bar where they were having Karaoke and let me tell you… Karaoke in Costa Rica is a whole different experience! I loved it!

Having left Manuel Antonio, there’s a few special people I want to say thank you to: Dolina, Lies and Wihan.

Dolina for the hours and hours of chit chat and for being just like me when it comes to organising cupboards (lol). I don’t know what the future holds for you but somehow I know it will be good. It will be more than good, it will be fantastic. Seeing the way you care for others and always give 100% to whatever you do gives me this feeling that whatever happens you will be ok.

To Lies, for showing me (again), why I want to continue to work with young people. I will really miss your energy, enthusiasm and cheeky sassiness. If you ever read this, I hope you know that you are one of the most promising young girls I’ve ever met. You have within you such a pure combination for youthfulness, courage and trustwortiness that is very rare to find. Follow all those dreams of yours, continue to move forward and keep looking for all those things you want to do. They’re all possible, and if someone can do it, that someone is you. Thank you for the surf lessons, thank you for the chats, thank you for the time.

To Wihan, for being my company during that early morning meeting, and for showing an honest interest in everything I told you about my work and my volunteering adventures. Your ‘groundedness’ is such a calming trait, and I was very lucky to experience it first hand. Thank you.

What I re-learnt about “volunteering” in a hostel in Costa Rica

I’m currently on a 6-month sabbatical and even though this is not a research sabbatical and I’m definitely not working, I think it’s fair to say that when you love what you do, you’re constantly reflecting on it.

That’s what happened in Costa Rica.

During my time in Costa Rica I stayed at a hostel in Manuel Antonio which “involved volunteers” or “was run by volunteers”. I honestly don’t know which term to use.

A lot of travellers who wish to make some money whilst travelling use a website called “Workway”. I do not know enough about workway to make a full informed observation on how it’s run, but the way they describe themselves is: “The leading community for cultural exchange, working holidays and volunteering in 170 countries.”

As a lot of leaders of volunteering will know, there are significant differences between “volunteering”, “voluntary work”, “volunteerism”, etc., not to mention the differences between what is considered a “good” volunteering opportunity or a “bad” volunteering opportunity.

But without wanting to go down that specific rabbit whole and knowing that there are probably amazing, reliable and well-thought through opportunities within Workway website, I have my own thoughts on this specific one.

*note: these are my thoughts based on my experience in the UK, and considering UK employment law, good practice policies that are applicable in the UK and (as far as I’m aware) in a variety of others countries across the world, and my own experience as a volunteering manager and a volunteer myself.

For one week I was able to observe the dynamics of a hostel that “integrates” volunteers in the way that it’s run, and it gave me a lot to reflect on.

To note:

  • This is just an opinion about a specific place and not a representation of everything that happens in others places
  • As far as I’m aware, this specific hostel is not a charity or a not-for-profit organisation
  • The hostel in itself actually works really closely with the local community, fostered puppies before they are adopted and supported local businesses, which was fantastic to see
  • The owner really values the integration of foreigners within the local community (she is not from Costa Rica) and always gave me loads of tips on things to do with local organisations that needed help

As soon as I arrived I loved the vibe and how the staff (who were actually “volunteers”) brought everyone together, how kind they were, and how they helped you navigate the local area etc. The longer I stayed the closer I got to all of them and the more aware I became of how things worked. I was able to observe the day-to-day running of the hostel, understand the tasks that different people were doing, how the communication happened between the hostel owner and the volunteers, and how the “benefits” of being a volunteer actually worked.

So, I did find some things a “little bit” weird:

  • “Volunteers” did “volunteer” an exact specific number of hours per week in exchange for accommodation and a couple of meals
    • This sounds like the right thing to do, but each night at the hostel has a “specific cost” associated to it which means that this a direct swap of “work” for “accommodation”, which can be seen as not genuine volunteering.
  • “Volunteers” had a rota with specific days and times they had to do every week. If they didn’t, they had to pay a certain amount to stay at the hostel, just like the guests.
    • Once again, this sounds just like the right thing to do, but we need to be careful with only being able to run an organisation (hostel) with volunteers. If this is the case, and if they HAVE to be there, then they should be paid as staff, and not volunteers.
    • Volunteers are not “unpaid staff”. If an activity needs to be delivered, then staff should be paid to do it. The definition of volunteering includes that there’s no contractual obligation on either side, which means that a volunteer can simply not turn up (and we have to accept that).
    • Volunteers (just like anyone else) make mistakes and “having words with them” in a negative way will not help the situation. The same way they’re supporting the organisation, it’s important to support them in understanding the impact they have within the organisation and why we love for them to support us in delivering an activity. We want them involved because they’re important, not because they’re desperately needed to keep “the organisation running”.
  • “Volunteers” did all the “housekeeping” tasks, from changing the beds, cleaning the rooms, to making breakfast to all the guests, running some tours and activities.
    • The amount of value that volunteers brought to the activities they delivered was huge!!! Their cultural differences, their enthusiasm and motivation was like nothing I’ve ever seen. But all the housekeeping tasks (in my opinion) should be the responsibility of paid staff. Volunteers can support with these tasks, but they should not be solely responsible for doing something that literally keeps the hostel running.
  • Miscommunication between everyone involved
    • I experienced first-hand when there was a couple of miscommunications and one of the volunteers was not able to deliver one of the activities (a waterfall tour they had not even trained to do!), and was “told off” and put under loads of stress for not being able to do the activity.
    • There is a big difference between involving volunteers or working with paid staff. You can not demand that volunteers attend an activity and you certainly can not “punish them” for not showing up.
  • There didn’t seem to be a lot of awareness of health and safety for volunteers (or guests!), including when they were leading tours and the risk that it sometimes involved.
    • We did a waterfall tour when a storm started and which was run by volunteers. We almost didn’t make it back because the river bank flooded and we had to cross a river with water to our waists that almost dragged me a few times down the river.
    • When the volunteers spoke with the owner about this and how they didn’t believe this was safe to be done in this way, their suggestions was not taken on board.

A few last thoughts:

  • You can be a great organisation that does awesome work and still need to re-think and adapt the way you involve volunteers in what you do.
  • Volunteers bring a lot of value to your organisation! In this case, it included cooking classes, yoga classes, puppy fostering care, innovative breakfast etc., but you need to care for them, you need to support their development and be kind!
  • Volunteers bring people together. They’re not just part of the community, they are the community. When we start to truly understand this, we will lead and guide our organisations differently.
  • Volunteers have a better understanding of your community than we sometimes do. Be open, listen to them and integrate their knowledge in what you’re doing. It will be a win-win situation. They will feel heard, valued and respected, and you will be better equipped to deliver your mission

Tortuguero – Costa Rica [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

I’ve spent the past 4 days in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, One of the most remote places I’ve ever been to.

This is a quick summary of the past 4 days. Practical details at the top, and you can scroll down for “boring Mariana thoughts and experiences” & last minute tips at the bottom.

One of the trickiest things about Tortuguero is to actual get there. There’s soooo many blog posts about this and still…. Tough. So below is a description of what I did to get there and to go from Tortuguero to La Fortuna.

You take a bus, then a cab, then another bus, then another bus, then a boat. I know it’s all part of the experience, but let me tell you, it’s a very hot, sweaty, long and humid experience.

Summary:

You can do this your own way, by car, by shuttle etc. I decided to do half-half.

Loads of people will tell you that you’re spending money on shuttles when you can get anywhere by bus in Costa Rica and it’s really cheap. They’re not lying. You can get everyone by bus if you’ve got an extra 4 to 5 days to spend on travelling.

So for me, the best thing I did was ask for a lot of information, do one way by public transport and the other way including a shuttle. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth…. Yep yep yep.

From San José to Tortuguero

  1. San José Airport to Tulsa Terminal – city centre (bus)
    • Exit the terminal, turn left, walk around the parking lot and you will see a bus station on the main street. Wait for the Tulsa (big red bus) that says San José. Pay the driver in colones
  2. Terminal Tulsa to Gran Terminal del Caribe (by cab)
    • The bus to get to Cariari is not in the same terminal as the one from the airport, so you have to swap. It is fairly dangerous for a woman to walk alone in San José early morning or night. So take a cab outside the station. Go to the main road a choose an older driver (or so I was advised, and it was good advice!)
  3. Terminal del Caribe in San José to Cariari (bus)
    • I got to the terminal, got my ticket (less than 1000 colones I think) and waited until 9am for the bus. They told me “Gate 7” but then there was no gate 7, however, the driver will shout out “Cariari” so just be ready and near the buses area a good 30min before
  4. Cariari to La Pavona (bus)
    • Cariari terminal is very very small and buses to Guapiles are quite regular (every 20min or so). There will always be someone around, so do keep an eye out to when new buses are arriving for Guapiles and just pay the driver. They might sell you the bus ticket and the boat ticket together, it’s normal. I paid 5000 colones for mine. Then the guy didn’t give me change and I was too stupid/shy to ask, so “lost” 5000 colones there. Do ask for your change or give them the right amount!
  5. La Pavona to Tortuguero (boat)
    • There will be boats waiting there for you. There’s a cafe in La Pavona where they might try to ask you to wait there, in case you need something. Unless you’re starving, just go straight to the boat.
  6. Boat – Hostel (walk)
    • There was someone from my hostel waiting in Tortuguero for me and they took us to Aracari (the best hostel!!), but anyone can give you instructions if you’re feeling a bit lost.

From Tortuguero to San José:

  1. Tortuguero to La Pavona (boat)
    1. You can buy the boat ticket when you get to the boat terminal in Tortuguero. They tried to sell it for 4.500 colones but I said I’d bought it for 2000 on the way to Tortuguero and then he said it would be 3000. I didn’t have the energy to negotiate any more. (As a tourist they will do this, always! I’m learning how to not be shy and be quite assertive)
  2. La Pavona to Cariari (Collective car)
    • When getting to La Pavona you will be bombarded by Taxi Drivers or other people, Just assertively say: “No Taxi! Collective Car!”. I paid 3000 colones and I think the locals paid 2000 or 3000 as well, so somehow it worked.
  3. Cariari to Guapiles (bus)
    • Getting the bus is Cariari is super easy, just buy the ticket at the ticket office, should be no more than 500 colones (yep, that cheap) and the bus will come every 20min. It’s one of those that gets busy, so try to be at the front of the line if you want to sit down.
  4. Guapiles to Fortuna (interbus shuttle)
    • I booked this with Interbus and walked from the Guapiles station to Le Suerre hostel (go to the restaurant part to pick up the shuttle at 1.30pm). This meant I didn’t have to go to La Fortuna and take 2 other buses.

I hope the information above helps.

Now… what did I do in Tortuguero for 4 days? I learnt I’m awful at resting and doing nothing lol

I got there at around 3pm and went immediately to the beach to cool off. The water is surprisingly warm. Actually warm.

I booked a morning boat tour through the national park and saw soooo many animals, it’s actually ridiculous. Tortuguero is absolutely gorgeous and full of wildlife. In the afternoon I did the walk through the jungle and saw loads more lizards, monkeys, parrots etc.

After that… it was time for the to try to disconnect. I know there were other stuff I could have done, but I don’t have an unlimited budget and after having flown directly from LA to a 9hours journey to get to Tortuguero, the idea was always to rest. Guess how long it took me? Until the last day, of course.

The 1st full day I explored the national park and did tours.

The 2nd full day I was moody and annoyed because I felt I had nothing to do and no one to hangout with. Went to the beach, chatted with people at the hostel and did little else.

The 3rd full day I went for a walk on the beach, took loads of pictures and finally picked up a book for the first time in the past month. Took myself out for dinner (Budda Cafe – really nice, everyone was super nice, bit expensive, awesome music).

The 4th full day I left my phone at the hostel, went for a walk on the beach, met a few locals, played with a puppy for hours, took myself out for dinner again, packed and slept like princess.

I stayed at Arcari hostel and I could not recommend it enough. I was emailing them weeks beforehand about getting to Tortuguero, asked loads of questions when I got there, kept annoying the lady at reception and she was always (always!) incredible to me. Replied to all my emails, was super patient with my questions and even gave me allergy cream for my million insect bites! Thank you!!!

I’ve decided I like Tortuguero. A pain to get there, and it can be seen as quite a “boring place” for some. But I loved it.

Last tips:

  • If you love yourself, bring some insect repellent. They’re vicious.
  • Do stay at Aracari Hostel
  • Chat with people at the hostel about where they’ve come from and where they’re going. I got loads of advice about how to move around in Costa Rica!
  • Go to the beach and walk until you can walk no longer!
  • Say “Hola”, “Buenos dias” and “Pura Vida”. The locals are so so nice (except maybe the ones trying to sell you boat tickets lol)

From Vancouver to LA in 18 days – [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

I’m back (after not writing for ages)

The post below is a very brief summary of my past 18 days on the road with my friend Jess. I do intend to write a few longer blog posts about some of the places we’ve been to during the past 18 days, but currently I’m just too tired, overwhelmed and worried about my next few steps to write too much.

During the past 3 weeks my friend Jess and I did a road trip from Vancouver to LA. Jess planned the majority of the trip and did all the driving, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

> side note: This trip would have not been possible without Jess. She looked into everything, drove me around, planned it all and put up with me, my moods, my tiredness, my car naps, my lack of energy or willingness to go out etc. Nothing that I might do will ever be enough to put into words how grateful I am. So Jess, if you ever read this, thank you. You gave me a trip of a lifetime that few people will ever be able to do. Thank you. <

Doing the route we did in 18 days is not easy and Jess drove a a couple of 15 hour days, so as far as advice goes… I’m not sure I can recommend it, however…. I did get to see some incredible places that I can only assume are some of the most beautiful, magical and random in the United Stated of America (route below).

Below is a short summary of the places we went to, without much detail. I will try to write short blog posts about each place as soon as I can. (photos at the end of the blogpost)

  1. Vancouver
    • Just for a an hour or so, for lunch and a quick walk
  2. Whistler
    • We stayed here for 3 days to rest and do nothing. I was suffering from jetlag (again? Still? Who knows.) but is was awesome to just stay still for a bit
  3. Vancouver to Portland
    • First long drive for Vancouver to Portland with a quick 2 hour stop in Seattle on day 1 and a visit to the Multnomah Falls on the morning of day 2
  4. Portland to Crescent City (Coastal drive)
    • We went towards the coast and did a lot of the trip with a prime view of the Coast.
  5. Crescent City to San Francisco
    • I found one of my happy places on earth during this day. The Redwood Forest. The drive was difficult (I get motion sickness very easily) but I regret nothing and already know I’ll have to come back for at least a week to do loads of trails etc.
  6. San Francisco to Groveland (Yosemite)
    • Groveland and Yosemite are also some of my favourite spots. Our hotel in Groveland was awesome and there was an awesome pub (Iron Door Saloon) and Yosemite well… it’s Yosemite. Not sure I need to describe how incredible it was. On the way to Groveland we stopped at Columbia State Historic Park, a living gold rush town featuring the large single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in the state. It was like travelling back in time!
  7. Groveland (Yosemite) to Las Vegas
    • This one was tough. We got stuck for 3 hours in the highway due to a car crash and the temperature was … hot. Too hot! We finally got to LasVegas where we stayed for 2 days. Not, I’m not a millionaire just yet.
  8. Las Vegas to Page (Antelope Canyon)
    • During this drive we went through Zion Park and oh my god… Very few words. Although I got very very car sick, it was so beautiful! Long, hot and beautiful. On the second day we visited Antelope Canyon which is also one of my favourite places from this journey.
  9. Page to Flagstaff (through Grand Canyon)
    • On the way down to Flagstaff we went go Grand Canyon and yes… it is Grand. I was very surprised to feel so overwhelmed by the size of it and the fact that the Canyons come out of nowhere…on the ground. Usually you can see a mountain in the distance but you just don’t expect a massive canyon to open up in front of you on the ground. It is incredible. I also loved Flagstaff! Although everyone that we’ve met has been pretty nice, Flagstaff has the nicest people I’ve met until now. And the best Pizza!!
  10. Flagstaff to Anaheim (Disneyland)
    • To finish our trip, we booked 2 days at Disneyland. Both Jess and I are big fan of rides and Disney so it was amazing to just spend 2 days totally absorbed in a Disney world. Very tiring, but worth it! (Tip: The best hours at Disneyland are from 8am – 10am. Trust me on this one. It’s worth getting up early!)

I have now come to Venice Beach as my last stop before getting a flight to my next destination.

It will take me a little bit to process the last month and I’ve got a lot of sleep to catch-up on, so let’s see if I can do that during my next few weeks.

An unrequested list of things that will stress you out before travelling [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

During the last few weeks, before starting my adventure a few days ago, you could frequently hear me saying: “I’ve had a lil panic moment”. I know, I know. I’m overreacting. I’m over-planning.

But hear me out…. does no one else out there feels real “pre-adventure stress”? (Asking for a friend…)

It’s still Covid times, it’s a 6 month trip, and it’s me. Only me. For at least 4 of those months.

You might be asking….”Mariana… why is this that stressful? It should be an enjoyable trip, a one in a lifetime experience”. And it will be… I’m sure of if. But it can be quite stressful to find the most affordable ways of doing things which are also safe for someone travelling alone and that fits with my dates.

However…. forever thankful to my friend Google, and to all other bloggers out there writing reviews and blog posts. The world is an easier place (and a more confusing place!) with yer all in it. I’m still thankful though!

Apparently people like “blog-lists” these days, so here it goes.

A list of some random shit that might stress you out before travelling for 6 months (with no potential solutions being offered 😅)

The job that you’re leaving

  • Ok, I understand that for some of you it might be the exact opposite, and you just can’t wait to go, but if you’re in a similar situation as me (where you love your job and do intend (at least at this point) to go back to it) it is incredibly stressful to try to wrap up all the projects, do handovers, making sure everything is in place etc etc etc

Your flat / house

  • I’ve been the luckiest kid alive for having a landlord who has allowed me to keep my flat, but at some point I was not sure if I was going to be able to. I can not describe the amount of stress I went through just thinking about the packing, the storage, and the thought of having nowhere to come back to. Stress!

The health stuff

  • From vaccines to Covid, from last minute tonsillitis because you’ve overdone it, to your pharmacist losing all your records of all the vaccines you’ve done privately with them… honestly, I had it all. I’ll die of a stress induced heart attack before I die from all the vaccines I’ve doubled up on.

The friends / family farewells

  • If you’re anything like me, you’ll basically write your will/testament and will want to see everyone one last time before you go. Stress!!! And you’re setting yourself for failure. You will never be able to see everyone. The good news is that hopefully you won’t die, so you’ll get to see them all afterwards.

The overplanning

  • I have this thing where I stress out about the plans I didn’t make and the dates I didn’t book and missing out on stuff. I then go the opposite way and start stressing out about having booked stuff in the middle of a fully unplanned/unbooked adventure (like Machu Picchu, which needs advanced booking due to permits limits). What can I say, I’m a complicated woman.

The travel packing

Oh god, the travel packing. Honestly, what a shit show. I’ve got nothing to offer here. The amount of panic shopping I did (followed by panic returns) is not something I’m proud of and will forever need to apologise to the environment for doing. At the time it seemed like a good idea. It was not. I’m still sure I’ve over packed and probably packed the wrong things. Oh well… I’ll have to cope with it as I go.

Now that I’ve offered an unrequested list of random things that can stress you out before travelling, I’m here to say that I’ve got no solution or advice. We’re all different. The way you’ll pack will be different than mine. The way you plan (or not) will not match the same requirements as I have. You might not have a job or family and friends to say goodbye to.

So just grab your stuff and go (or don’t, I’m not your mother and you don’t have to go anywhere 😅).

Go with fear, go with stress, go with apprehension. Hopefully you’ll get to drop them on the side of the road at some point, and proceed with lightness, courage and a lot of unexpected adventures to talk about.