Apologies for the delay in updates, I really did not expect that graduate school would dominate my life. However, we’ve done some really exciting things in the past two weeks and I’m excited to share! So, buckle in.
Week 7 started off with a dive near Punta Arena BCS, at a beach with water so clear that you could see your reflection. My dive instructor took me out to practice my navigation skills and explore a rock wall that is adjacent to an abandoned resort. I saw Moray eels, Tang, and nudibranchs among other invertebrates. I’ve officially decided that nudibranchs are now my favorite animal, especially after seeing so many colorful variations of them down here in La Paz.
The rest of week 7 faded into week 8, and I was drowning in work. I swear that somehow zoom school is more work than clases presenciales. Someone finally took my bike to the shop in Monterey, CA, and it is currently being outfitted for a cycle tour this summer. More details on that to come.
At the start of week 8, we did a little reflecting and realized that we hadn’t yet ventured to the Sierra mountain range even though it’s only two hours away. We decided to go to La Cascada Sol del Mayo, a waterfall located in an oasis in the Sierra mountains. On our way, we found a rustic little restaurant and rural tourism center called El Meson de Carlota.
We give the food a 10-10 rating. I tried Manta Ray for the first time. It was a bit too fishy for me, but apparently they have the best, hand-caught ray in the peninsula. If you’re interested, they have a back patio with an open bar where you can dance and drink under the desert stars.
We got lost in the little town of Santiago on our way to the waterfall. We were nervous about taking the Prius down bumpy dirt roads to get to the mountains, but she took it like a champ. Fortuntately we made it to basecamp with no issue, paid the entrance fee, and hiked down to the waterfall. It was worth the hike.
We even ran into someone who was releasing Bobcats that he had trapped on his farm:
To finish out week 8, we took a day to cycle from La Paz BCS to Playa Balandra. The large highway shoulder makes it an easy route to cycle, and the road wraps around the bay before taking you into the desert valley. My favorite part of the trip was stopping at all of the roadside celebrations of patron saints.
The park guards even let us into Playa Balandra even though they normally stop letting people in after 6 a.m. People are always friendlier when you’re traveling by bike.
“I stood in the water, toes in, looking out at the beautiful expanse of the world… and all I thought about was… Matthew McConaughey.”
Waking up to a Cabo sunrise on Valentine’s Day, after watching a sunset over the harbor the night before:
The way the colors diffuse through the sky like paper soaking up orange, pink, and blue watercolor will forever baffle me.
We decided to spend even MORE time in Cabo than planned. That gave us time to try some local cuisine, and drop our friends off at the airport. I opened a present wrapped in the local newspaper for foreigners: “The Gringo Gazette”. If only I had thought of that title for this blog.
As we drove away, leaving the airport in our rearview, Ben and I sat in the silence that our friends left behind. It was the first time that it was “just the two of us”.
These past two weeks were spent…working. (And watching beautiful sunsets with a few new characters from La Paz). We had Little Caesar’s Pizza three nights in a row. I went to La Ventana with a local friend- we watched the kiters and sat in the hot springs. Another friend showed me the best ice cream shop (next to the Chedraui in la colonia La Posada) and I found the best flavor in the world: pay de limon. All in all, it wasn’t a very eventful week.
I spent the week reflecting on what I want from life. I’m torn between creating a more permanent life in Latin America and settling in the USA. (TLDR; I’m pretty decided that I want to call Mexico home… I just don’t know how to find a professional job here.)
I started a certificate program with the Inland Ocean Coalition, an NGO gets landlocked states involved in ocean advocacy. A guest speaker told us about his book “Blue Mind” and explained how scientists should emotionally appeal to public audiences if they want to capture their attention on a hot topic such as climate change.
Ben and I went to a new beach. Everything is open now; pretty much all COVID restrictions lifted (even though the vaccine hasn’t arrived here yet?). I explored some tide pools, went for a dip in the cold Pacific, and found a new boardwalk.
I invested some time in a few long bike rides through the city, and met a cycle touring group that is headed from Mexico to the most southern tip of Argentina. They reminded me of the cycle tour I have pending for this June, and how little I’ve prepared for it.
Oh…and I turned 25. It was quite a calm end to a very shitty year. My very lovely, kitesurfing/Texafornian friend took me to Punta Arenas to go camping on the beach to celebrate. We basked under the full moon, ate Trix cereal, and listened to the loud BOOM of Mobula Rays flop in and out of the water. My Big Agnes sleeping bag worked like a charm during that cold desert night.
We started the week off strong with a socially-distanced Jam Session hosted by our neighbors, Dave and Liann [a retired couple that has been backpacking the world for the past 10 years]! They bought a boat in Washington and sailed it down to La Paz. Fast forward 8 months, and they’re still here. Apparently there’s a term for when a boater gets trapped in BCS, and it’s “La Paz’d”.
Sometime during the Jam Session, our teacup was stolen. This was a cause of contention in our household for the entire week, [it was my roommate’s prized possession], until one day I walked outside and found it neatly placed on the cement in the common area outside of our apartment. Spooky…
We’ve been consuming way too much water in our house (an expensive commodity). As you probably already know, you can’t drink tap water in La Paz, so whenever we’re thirsty we have to haul gallon jugs back home from the local Oxxo. On my endeavor to bring water back to the house, I dropped the jug in the middle of the street. I bent over, picked it back up, brought it inside, and THEN it decided to explode all over our floor. :). Here’s a “before” picture:
We saw a really amazing proposal and bachelorette party in La Paz. Something tasteful and well thought out. I’m still not very decided on how I feel about the concept of marriage, but this is how I would want to be asked:
Graduate school is a ton of work, no surprises there. I’m online all day, whether it be in Zoom University or doing homework. I was really conflicted on if I should take a remote internship for the summer, or cycle across the USA. I may come to regret this later, but I’ve decided that Mid-May I’ll be heading out from Oregon to D.C. (More to come on that.) I’ve also started my Portuguese courses through ROLA, and I’m having a blast.
It’s Saturday and we’re in Cabo (sponsored by the song “Sobbing in Cabo” by blackbear)! We decided to make dropping our friends off at the airport a weekend trip. Cabo is a more tropical flavor than La Paz, but no less beautiful. Mornings (and evenings) on our balcony are well spent.
We started off the week strong with a Sunday in Todos Santos BCS, a small surfing town an hour outside of La Paz. Our GPS misdirected us down a dirt road, but the Prius took the potholes like a champ. Luckily, at the end of the road we found a secret beach (COVID friendly!). The huge waves on the Pacific Coast took me by surprise (I’d grown too accustomed to the La Paz Bay), and I was attacked by a low-flying swarm of seagulls.
Afterwards, we went into town and found a huge bazar with vendors selling used clothes. The bazar was a nice accompaniment to the community art galleries that line the streets of Todos Santos. I bought a beach blanket from a local vendor. All in all, the day was a success.
The rest of the week was a blur; I fixed my bike’s tire, watched a few sunsets on the beach, and struggled to finish my schoolwork. We visited a few cervercerías in La Paz, nothing to write home about. The only exception to the mundanity was our trip to my new favorite place in Baja California Sur- La Ventana!
La Ventana is a windy town on the Gulf of California that’s mostly populated by foreign kiteboarders and kitesurfers. It’s not the best place for a beach day, but there’s an amazing restaurant called Baja Bite (try the shrimp tacos) and hot springs that are right on the shoreline. The drive from La Paz to Ventana is also incredible, and decorated with cacti of all shapes and sizes. We built ourselves a hottub and enjoyed the view of the mountains over the Sea of Cortes.
On our way back to La Paz, we swerved for a cow family that wandered onto the highway near sunset. You have to watch out for them; they hangout on the pavement when the sun sets (kind of like how deer come out at dusk).
I’m an early bird and a night owl, so I’m wise and have worms.
We decided to stay in an Airbnb during our first week in La Paz with a few of our friends in the area that we hadn’t seen for awhile. With more interest in a long term rental, we wanted to be able to check out the area before deciding on somewhere more permanent. We found a nice place in la zona central of La Paz, and took a few days to relax and catch up.
I quickly turned to Facebook Marketplace La Paz for leads on affordable housing in the area. There were quite a few dead ends, we ended up finding a furnished two bedroom apartment near the beach and boardwalk. (Yay!) We headed to the local Telemex to have someone come out and install internet in our new place. Pro-tip, always get to Telemex before it opens to get a good spot in the never-ending line. After waiting in line the entire morning, they turned us away because we brought passport copies instead of our actual passports. It was frustrating and we went through a few mood swings but, hey, that’s living in a new country for ya’.
To add insult to injury, we were pulled over by the police on the way home. Initially, they threatened to give us a pretty big fine for a fake traffic infraction, but then they suggested we come to a compromise. We left that interaction with $10 less than we started with. (Always hide your cash; I luckily didn’t have any big bills to show the police in my wallet.)
Long story short, we ended up getting internet and settled into our new house. Our neighbors have weekly karaoke sessions, and there’s a pool in our backyard. Life is good. We live right next to a really beautiful bike path that snakes around the Bay of La Paz. Thanks to (yet again) Facebook Marketplace, we were able to find decent mountain and road bikes.
We also discovered that we have a climbing gym right next to our house, so we’ve been trying to go as often as possible. It’s hard with the virus, but they keep everything clean and limit participants. (My hands are pretty callused.)
I joined a sea kayaking club! The club hits the water a few times a week, and everyone is so welcoming. On our first trip, we went around the Bay of La Paz and through the neighboring mangrove forest- it was breathtaking. (Thankfully, it’s way more relaxed than my whitewater kayaking experience.)
Other than that, we’ve just been working remotely. I caved in and got a pair of noise cancelling headphones. (They’re necessary when you’re working in a room with 3 other people.). My master’s courses have been good, although Zoom University is somehow even less enjoyable than it sounds.
During the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working on another dive certificate and kayaking. Aside from the hiccups, La Paz has been a phenomenal move for us so far.
When we found out our work went fully remote this past November, we made the decision to move to La Paz, BCS Mexico. We had read a lot about the digital nomad lifestyle and were eager to try it out!
Due to COVID, we decided to drive instead of fly. We started in Detroit and drove our Toyota Prius non-stop until we arrived in Houston. Upon arrival in Houston, we found a local Airbnb to rest in for a night.
After a night of well deserved rest, we were eager to get back on the road. Little did we know, Toyota Priuses are good for one thing, and one thing only: their catalytic converters. Someone had stolen ours while we were sleeping, and they didn’t even have the decency to leave us a note…
We quickly realized that there are absolutely, without a doubt, no mechanics that work on Sunday in Texas. Even though the car rattled and rumbled, we pushed onward towards Austin. We crossed our fingers and hoped that we wouldn’t get stopped by the police, but little did we know, that should’ve been the least of our worries.
The Austin area issued a winter storm warning even though the snow had only powdered the roads. Being Michiganders, we mocked the Texans as we flew down the highway. One thing we didn’t take into account is that Texas isn’t prepared for snowstorms; they don’t salt or clear the roads. We were reminded of this when we whipped a donut on the highway after our brakes failed. Luckily, we swerved out onto the side of the road and managed to save the car from flipping. It was really a miracle; we were 2 feet away from causing a 3 car pile up.
We were pretty shaken up after that, so we got some rest and found somewhere to fix our catalytic converter. To avoid having it stolen again, we just replaced it with a pipe.
The drive was boring from West Texas to Tucson, but boring is just what we needed. We celebrated our fourth day of driving by getting In ‘n Out in Tucson.
On day 5, we woke up early and booked it to the border crossing at Mexicali. We were nervous because we technically didn’t have a written “permiso”- the permission you need to cross the land border during the COVID era.
They stopped us at the border, pulled us over, and took a quick look at our car. Because we didn’t have a “permiso” we had to get out of the car and go inside the patrol station. They made us pay $33 per person to obtain a permiso and a tourist visa. They asked us our business (where we came from, where we were going, etc.) and then let us on our way.
We drove through the beautiful Baja Peninsula on the Highway 5. If you didn’t already know, the Highway 5 is pretty remote and passes through the desert. Although it was a beautiful drive, we were stressed out about the lack of “gasolineras”along the way (it was almost a close call).
Something we didn’t expect was to be stopped at military checkpoints. We were initially pretty nervous about being robbed (we brought all of our electronics, camping gear, etc.), but the men who searched our car were very professional and waved us on after we let them check the back.
There are pretty much no towns in between Mexicali and Guerrero Negro, so we only stopped whenever we passed a gas station, of which there are few. Actually, we also stopped at a few pull-outs to admire where the desert meets the ocean.
We decided to spend the night in Guerrero Negro, because you can’t drive during the night. Apparently, the cattle wander onto the roads at night and cause accidents. We didn’t want to take the risk. There are many lodging options in Guerrero Negro, but we stayed at Hotel TerraSal at $30 USD per night.
The following day was day 6 of our road trip, and we continued heading south on the Baja’s Highway 1. This part of the trip was possibly the most beautiful driving route I’ve ever taken. The highway curves through the desert and gives you spectacular ocean views. If you want, you can even camp on one of the breathtaking beaches. We ran into a lot of RV tourists from the States and, just so you know, the highway is paved and well-maintained.
Once again, there weren’t towns, only small villages. Gas was available, but there were definitely 100 mile stretches without any gas stations in sight. We passed many more military checkpoints. They checked all parts of the car, and even made us get out to check the seats. It is a bit uncomfortable to have your car checked but, overall, it went smoothly.
After 6 days of driving, we made it to our rental home in La Paz, BCS.
There is definitely a learning curve when driving in Mexico. Here are some helpful tips.
When someone wants you to pass them, they will put their left turn signal on.
When someone wants to turn left, they will stick their arm out of the window and wave to let you know.
The “topes” AKA speed bumps come with no warning as soon as you enter a small town, so please slow down unless you want your head to hit the ceiling of your car (I do not recommend).
Go with the flow of traffic, no matter what
If it looks like a 4 way stop, it is (even if there’s not a visible stop sign)
In college, we were mandated to take two semesters of a language. I wasn’t too crazy about the idea until I realized that I could study abroad to meet the requirement. I’d always wanted to leave the USA, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity. At the time, I was 20 going on 21.
I decided to go to Costa Rica to study tourism and environmental science. I never had a desire to go to Costa Rica, but it was the only option I was given, and anything was better than getting stuck in another Midwest winter.
Upon arrival, we immediately started Spanish courses in small groups while living with Costa Rican families. I didn’t speak any Spanish at all, and various misunderstandings ensued throughout the semester. I absolutely hated making mistakes, but with every hiccup and embarrassing mistake, I became more fluent.
I quickly realized how much more of the local culture I had access to by understanding the local language. My social circle expanded, and I went to different readings, concerts, and clubs that I would’ve never discovered.
Once I gained confidence in my speaking abilities, I decided to backpack through Central America. Instead of staying in hotels and hostels, I was able to venture off the beaten path. I stayed with host families on banana and sugarcane plantations and worked as a waitress in bars through Workaway, all while improving my second language. Without having learned Spanish, I would’ve been totally confined to the “Gringo Trail”.
Fast forward to now. I’m fluent in Spanish and have traveled throughout Central and South America. Through investing in language learning, I was able to have a budget friendly travel experience. Being bilingual has afforded me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of an area: where to shop and sleep on a budget, how to hitchhike and use public transit, and where to work for extra cash. I’ve formed relationships with strangers who have since become some of my closest friends, and I’ve been able to navigate hitchhiking in Colombia and Mexico. Having a second language has enhanced my travel experience. I feel more at ease socializing and am now confident enough to open a bank account, rent a house, and pay bills while living abroad.
If you are interested in having an experience like mine but don’t know where to start, visit my travel planning services page and shoot me a message. I can help you get started on planning your next backpacking trip with a free consultation.