using my inside voice

Day 167 - 5 Things That Rule About Traveling

Travel | November 14, 2009

Here are five things that rule about traveling. I haven't included the obvious ones, such as meeting new people, seeing new places, trying new food and drinking too much rum/wine, because I think those are all givens of any trip abroad. Instead I have tried to highlight some of the more unusual positive experiences of traveling, in the hope of providing at least a vague picture of what we spend our time doing here in Central America.

Maybe this will also win back some of those readers that decided I was an ungrateful wench after my last post...

1) Riding in the Back of Utes

For those non-Australian's out there, a ute (or utility) is basically a pick-up. And, in most countries in Central America it is a-okay to cram as many people as humanly possible into the back of any old ute (along with their chickens, small children, sacks of vegetables, machetes and other farming paraphernalia), thus creating a viable means of public transport where none exists.

In the back of a ute in Guatemala

Once the trayback is sufficiently full to warrant a trip to wherever this particular ute goes (which, by the way, you probably have no way of knowing without asking the driver, and even after asking you will probably still be confused). You then get driven at break-neck speeds along narrow and winding roads, stopping occasionally when someone bangs on the roof or whistles at a high pitch to indicate they wish to be let out of the sardine-tin like confines. It's awesome fun.

There's just something about the wind in your hair and a Mayan in your armpit that's inexplicably exhilarating. It's real-life dodgems, where you have no control, no safety-net, and only a machete-wielding, gumboot-wearing young lad for cushioning (and, come to think of it, I'm not sure how effective that machete would be at cushioning in the event of an accident).

In Central America, for the most part, there is no such thing as workplace health and safety, proper road rules/etiquette, or waiver forms.

Where else could you go on a tour through a series of caves, wearing only a bikini and your foot-slappers (tied on with string), swimming and slipping your way through tunnels, waterfalls and wide, deep pools, with only a candle to light your way (that you have to somehow keep lit and above water the entire time).

Where else could you careen down the side of the youngest, most-active volcano in Central America, wearing shorts and a tank-top, with a board made of plywood, moments after observing the steaming, sulfurous gas rising from the volcano's crater?

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua, on Cerro Negro

There is almost no end to the number of stupidly dangerous activities on offer here, so come down adventure seekers - the risks are abundant and exhilarating.

2) Napping in New Places

Anyone who knows me well, knows I place a high value on a good nap. Sleeping ranks up there in my list of favourite things to do. And, on this trip, I have found a veritable treasure trove of new and exciting places to nap.

Napping in Lanquin, Guatemala

There is nothing like going off for a good nap, and waking up to realise you are in Costa Rica with a beach down the road and a monkey at your windowsill.

Number one on my list of new and exciting places to nap would have to be in a hammock.

When you first jump in you begin your napping session with a series of hardy swings, pushing off any available surface to get a serious amount of momentum going. After a four or five intense swinging sessions you lay back, close your eyes, and let the movement of the hammock lull you into a peaceful slumber.

Now, novices out there may think that swinging in a hammock is an easy task, but there are many and varied types of hammocks that all affect your optimum sleeping position. On top of this, not all hammocks are hung at their correct distance and height, which also requires slight adjustments to your napping pose.

But, after a while, all visitors to Central America have got their technique pretty much down pat. I have not met one traveler that has not enthused to me, "I LOVE HAMMOCKS! I am going to buy a hammock and set it up in my living room when I get home, all you need in your house is a hammock, it is a chair, bed, workstation... everything." And indeed it is. All Central American travelers are enamored by hammocks within days of venturing to these hammock-laden shores.

Hammocks in a hostel in Nicaragua

Other good napping places to try out on your next trip include: the beach (of course), beds/chairs/couches that are outside - because napping outside simply rules, buses, planes, airports, but NOT, my worthy readers, bus stations. Bus stations are easily the worst place to nap. Not simply because the chairs are always made of cold, unyielding metal, but also because it is the most likely place for getting yourself robbed.

Happy napping!

3) Learning Patience

Somehow I have become addicted to the game of patience (also known as solitaire). Any spare moment I have, while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, while waiting for the water to boil, while waiting for the bread to heat in the oven (and instead burning it to perfection) I seem to start playing a game of patience on my computer.

Waiting for a bus...

I have also learned another brand of patience on my travels, and that is patience to wait out almost any situation. Many people that know me are aware that patience has not always been a virtue I have possessed in spades. But, when traveling in places like Central America, if you don't have patience and the ability to simply go with the flow, you will swiftly and surely lose your mind.

Here are some times when you require more than a small modicum of patience:

  1. The driver of your coach in Cuba stops every 10 minutes to trade fruit and other items with various residents that live along his route. You have a connecting bus at the next station, which you may or may not catch, depending on whether he has factored in his enterprising venture to your travel time.
  2. You are told that your shuttle is 'direct' when in fact you stop 4-5 times, change shuttles 3 times, and drivers twice. There seems to be no logic to it, but you soon learn that they have somehow worked out a system that operates with controlled chaos, so you just sit back, let them move your packs (and you) wherever they want, and somehow end up in the correct town, with all your things, just a few hours later than originally anticipated.
  3. You are sitting in a restaurant, observing that there are at least 3 staff members sitting idly picking their nose, talking to each other, staring intently into the distance, or performing one of a variety of tasks that are completely unrelated to their actual job. You are going to wait at least 10 minutes before service of any kind is offered, and another 20-30 before your food will arrive. It's just the way it is.

So, you learn to be patient. And, while at first you might find these situations frustrating, in the end it is a good lesson that things don't have to happen when you want them to.

You also start enjoying yourself much more. If you can be happy simply sitting waiting for something to happen, taking in all the other things around you that you have probably never seen before, and will likely never see again, then life is a much more pleasant experience, and traveling so much more rewarding.

4) The Moon, the Sun and the Stars

How often do you look out your window, or up at the stars, and marvel at the beauty that is above you each and every day? Not often I'd wager (or at least I didn't used to when the tedium of working life was oppressing me).

Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Now, however, I find myself constantly watching sunsets, sunrises, moonrises and the stars at night.

I've realised the importance of paying attention to the world around me and staying tuned to what it's doing at any given moment. Each sunrise is a little different, each sunset projects a new array of colours, and it's really a privilege to have the time and leisure to observe it.

Even the rain hammering down on our tin roof carries its own fascination, despite the fact that it's happened each day we've been here. There's something so powerful about an intense downpour, as it fills potholes and drenches you on your ride home. I used to hate getting caught in the rain, but now it doesn't bother me at all, and I only use an umbrella if we're in transit and I have my computer with me.

I'm not sure what started this obsession with being on the beach at sunset or staring out the window at the moonrise. Since leaving North America we've spent close to no time in large cities, and I suppose that brings nature to the forefront, because you're so close to it all the time when you're in a small town or on a Caribbean shore.

5) Spontaneity

Freedom is one of the things I craved so badly in the lead up to this trip. Some mornings, on my Skytrain ride to work, I would find myself wishing that I could just hop off at another station and spend the day reading a book at a coffee shop, wandering round Vancouver, not doing anything of import, but also not going to work. But, that sort of spontaneity does not exist when you have a job to go to. You can't just hop off half-way along your bus trip, grab a coffee at one of the best cafes in Vancouver, and sit watching the world go by.

But, when you're traveling you can.

If you arrive in a town that is not to your liking, you simply leave the next day, doing a bit of research to find the next place that might take your fancy.

Luke and I have been traveling for 5.5 months now, and after becoming somewhat travel weary, we decided to sit still for a while. So, I jumped online, performed a few Google searches, found a wee house that was to my liking, booked it for two weeks, and here we are, loving every moment as we sit on the deck with a cup of coffee and jam on toast. If we wanted to stay here until we left for Australia we could, or, we could spend our last two weeks traveling to any place in Panama or Costa Rica that we pleased.

That is the beauty of travel.

Another important thing you learn when you're traveling is to do what you really and truly want to. Sounds simple? Well, it's not actually as straightforward as you might think.

When you arrive somewhere new, after reading your trusty Lonely Planet, you realise there are a myriad of sights to see, activities to partake in and tours to nearby locations that apparently most people at the hostel have already done, and are raving about.

You start feeling obliged to do these things too, even if watching a giant turtle lay it's eggs at 11pm that night isn't at the top of your agenda of things to do while in Costa Rica. What you really feel like doing tonight is sitting on your bum and finishing that trashy novel you've been reading for the past three days. So, that's what you should do.

A friend in Vancouver told us that on his European adventure it took him quite a long time to start doing what he really wanted to do, instead of what he thought he was supposed to do. If you want to sit around the hostel all day eating bakery goods and drinking coffee, then that's what you should do. Sometimes you need time out and you shouldn't have to feel the need to justify it. It's spontaneous not to do the activities too right? You can either not do them at all, or do them on another day, just make sure you're doing what you really want to do.

I had a vague notion of doing my Open Water Dive course here on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro. Now, I have not only completed it, but also started on my Advanced Open Water course, because I have the freedom to decide what I want to do from day-to-day, with few to no other plans getting in the way.

That's all part of the wonderment of traveling. Once you get a job again, you can't just decide to sit at home on any random day, so do it now!

So... there are my top five rad things about traveling. I hope they have once again restored me in your esteem, and you re-key my email address into your contacts list post haste, re-friend me on Facebook, and feel justifiably bad about judging me so harshly in the first place.

If you have any other things that you love about traveling I would LOVE to hear about them in the comments.

More soon...


1. Jason on November 14, 2009

"I hope they have once again restored me in your esteem, and you re-key my email address into your contacts list post haste, re-friend me on Facebook, and feel justifiably bad about judging me so harshly in the first place."

Perhaps all but that last one... :-)

2. Elizabeth on November 14, 2009

Oh Bay... those are indeed some very profound things that rock about traveling. And those are precisely the souvenirs that you'll incorporate into your daily life in Oz.

And by the way, that photo "Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua" is absolutely killer. KILLER!

3. JD on November 15, 2009

No Sunset here, It is Gray Season.

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About Bay Oliver

Bay's career has been many and varied due to a penchant for traveling the world. After completing a double degree in Business Management and Journalism at the University of Queensland in 2002 she was lucky enough to land herself a job at Brisbane's Quest Community Newspapers. A year of roving reporting brought the epiphany that journalism and Bay didn't jive.
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Creating an economically viable entity where lack of original thought is handsomely rewarded creates a rich, fertile environment for parasites to breed. And thatʼs exactly whatʼs been happening. So now we have millions upon millions of human tapeworms thriving in the Western World, making love to their Powerpoint presentations, feasting on the creativity of others.

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Categories of Published Work

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