Month 32: Travel Summary and Statistics


It’s been eight weeks since I last stepped outside for a reason other than to eat.

I can’t tell you why.

Not yet, anyway.

So let’s start again. Month 32 has been challenging. My emotions have been all over the place. One minute I’ve been bursting with joy, excited for new opportunities, and the next I’m curled up under my bed, crippled with self-doubt.

I’m working on the biggest project of my life — one that’s had me working 14 hour days for the past few months without a day off. I hope I’ll be able to reveal all soon. And, I’m sorry for the #vaguepost. I’m also sorry for the lack of updates on Never Ending Footsteps. Things are getting back to normal now, though. I promise.

Here’s how month 32 played out.

Working in Placencia, Belize
Work, work, work, work, work…

I kicked off the month with a late Christmas present from Dave — a few nights on the gorgeous Mexican island of Isla Mujeres! It was… touristy, busy, noisy and expensive, especially when compared to other parts of Mexico, but I loved it nonetheless.

We stayed in a fancy guesthouse, ate delicious street food, rented a scooter to ride around the island and spent most of our time relaxing on some of the best beaches I’ve ever visited. I know I say it a lot but the beaches on Isla Mujeres were stunning. I loved that I could wade out 50 metres into the ocean and still have it level with my knees.

Beach in Isla Mujeres
Shallow ocean waters on Isla Mujeres
A scooter trip in Isla Mujeres
Back in my happy place: on the back of a scooter

After Isla Mujeres, it was time to leave Mexico after six incredible months. I wasn’t ready. But, our visas were up and I wanted to see more of Latin America.

Our bus ride from Cancun to Belize City wasn’t fun. With only one bus making the journey per day, we were stuck with an 11pm to 7am ride, complete with 3am border crossing. As an aside: entering Belize was one of my most nerve-wracking border crossings yet! The official was stern and scary, asked lots of questions about why we were travelling for so long, and seemed convinced we were entering Belize to work. It took half an hour of questioning for them to decide whether to let us through or not.

Beach in Isla Mujeres
One of my favourite beaches in Isla Mujeres

I had been in Belize City for thirty minutes when I saw my first dead body.

Blearily climbing aboard the sweaty, dusty bus, I slumped in my seat to nap, dozing off for the next few minutes. When we reached the outskirts of the city, the bus screeched to a halt and I watched as dozens of people began rushing to one side with smartphones in hand. Traffic had stopped, people were outside their homes and staring down the road, sirens were wailing. It wasn’t until we continued driving that I managed to see what had startled everyone so much.

A man sprawled across the road, towel over his head, t-shirt ripped to shreds, limbs twisted in awkward angles. A thick smear of blood and organs stretching from one side of the tarmac to the other. A smashed scooter resting by the side of the road.

It was a sobering experience, especially as Dave and I opt to spend so much time on scooters when we travel.

River ferry in San Ignacio
River ferry in San Ignacio

We arrived in San Ignacio with no further incidents, and I was surprised at how different it felt to Mexico.

Instead of Spanish, the predominant language was English, with Creole widely spoken, too. It felt odd to order food in English after doing so in Spanish for the past six months — I almost felt guilty for doing so. It felt more like the Caribbean than Mexico ever did — there was a laid back vibe, the music was different, the food was now primarily rice and beans. Belize felt poorer, too, with shabbier buildings and rundown buses, though it was far more expensive than anywhere I visited in Mexico.

San Ignacio was our base for exploring the ruins and jungle of Belize. Our first stop was Xunantunich, somewhere I’d never heard of before. Shockingly, then, this turned out to be my favourite Mayan ruin and I couldn’t believe how little you hear about it. My favourite part was climbing the 40 metre high El Castillo pyramid, and looking out over the ruins and listening to the sounds of the jungle. I soon discovered that howler monkeys make one of the most terrifying sounds. For such incredible ruins I was surprised at how few people we saw. We visited at midday — usually a peak time for visitors — but still never saw more than about ten people at once.

Ruins at Xunantunich
Ruins at Xunantunich

Next up, the ruins of Cahal Pech, which were even more quiet than Xunantunich. While the ruins aren’t very large, we managed to choose a time where we had the entire area to ourselves. They were probably the least impressive Mayan ruins I’ve visited, but having them all to ourselves made for a wonderful experience.

Ruins at Cahal Pech
Ruins at Cahal Pech

From Belize, we hopped the border into Guatemala, where we received the funniest, half-hearted attempt at a bribe at the border.

“You must pay 20 quetzals to enter Guatemala.”

“Really? Why?”

“It is the entry fee.”

“Right. Well, will I be able to get a receipt for it?”

“… Erm… It’s okay. You don’t have to pay. I have sorted it now. No entry fee!”

And we were in!

Our main reason for visiting Guatemala was to visit Tikal National Park, arguably the most famous of all the Mayan ruins. While it didn’t quite top Xunantunich for me (mostly because of the crowds of people), it still didn’t disappoint.

The Jaguar Temple at Tikal
The Jaguar Temple at Tikal
The sunset in El Remate
The sunset in El Remate, where we based ourselves in Guatemala

As we wrapped up our fleeting visit to Guatemala, I began work on my Big Secret Project. My plans for the rest of my time in Central America were quickly shelved in favour of writing. And writing. And writing. It was time for me to sit in front of my laptop and gaze longingly at a beach I could not spend time on.  

First, however, I had to deal with one of the most unpleasant travel days to date. To get from San Ignacio to Placencia we would have a reasonably simple six hour travel day. A bus to Belmopan, a bus to Independence and a ferry to Placencia.

We arrived in Belmopan without incident and quickly joined a queue for the bus to Independence. It came once an hour. The next one arrived, three people slipped through the gates and we were left waiting in the oven-like bus station for another hour. The next bus arrived, more people pushed and shoved their way onto the bus, and we were left waiting for another hour. The next one arrived and we finally made it on board! There weren’t enough seats so we’d have to stand the entire way, but by this point we were just glad to leave the boiling hot station of doom. And then the driver decided he didn’t want anybody standing on the bus. So he took us off and led us back to the station for us to wait another hour. The bus station was hot and sweaty, there were people everywhere, we were pushed up against the cage-like doors as everyone fought to get near the front. It was so frustrating that I very nearly considered the taxi driver’s offer of $150 to get us to Independence.

Four hours later, we finally made it onto the bus. Of course, now we’d spent so long at the bus station that we’d missed the final ferry to Placencia.

Fortunately, we found a  friendly guy who was heading over on his boat and were able to make it across with him. Finally, twelve hours after leaving San Ignacio, and with 4018 litres of sweat lost from my body, I made it to Placencia.

The Beach in Placencia
The Beach in Placencia

Placencia seemed like somewhere I would like if I’d had more of a chance to explore. It was laid back, the locals were friendly, there weren’t very many tourists. I liked it a lot.

Next up was Caye Caulker — somewhere I’d been looking forward to visiting for years! Due to project commitments, I was unable to see any of it aside from at mealtimes. I stayed inside and worked as Dave wandered off to explore. I didn’t take a single photo from my time there.

So, Belize. It’s hard to form an opinion when I didn’t get to explore much, but it’s probably the first country I’ve visited that I have little desire to return to. It was expensive.  We couldn’t find a room in a guesthouse for under $50, and even those rooms were basic and bad value for money. Dinners were $20 in restaurants and street food didn’t seem to exist. We were paying similar to US prices to have an unremarkable experience. I wasn’t a fan.

So, for once, it was without a heavy heart that I left Belize for Portland. The second I arrived, I felt like I had returned home, and that changing my travel plans around so that I could visit Portland was absolutely the right decision. In fact, Dave and I soon found ourselves saying that if it were possible, we’d stop travelling to live in Portland. I would commit to spending five years living there in a heartbeat, without any second thoughts. Portland is the place I want to settle down in long-term but, sadly, is also one of the few places I can’t. Yay for visa issues!

Onto the statistics for the month!

Travels for Month 32

Countries Visited: 4

Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, United States

Places Visited: 8

Belize City, Cancun, Caye Caulker, El Remate, Isla Mujeres, Placencia, Portland, San Ignacio.

Distance Travelled: 7322 kilometres

Photos Taken: 753

Highlight of the Month: Watching the sunrise at Tikal. Arriving at 6am, Dave and I decided to scramble up the face of one of the taller pyramids and wait in silence on a small platform at the top. As the sun rose, the mist in front of our faces began to clear and the jungle gradually revealed itself to us. We watched in awe as we spotted ruins poking up from the top of trees, spider monkeys swinging through the trees and butterflies dancing in front of our noses.

Lowlight of the Month: Seeing a dead body ranks pretty low on my scale of awesome things to experience.

My Favourite Photo:

Ocean in Isla Mujeres
The ridiculous colour of the ocean in Isla Mujeres. This photo is unedited.

Money Spent:

Accommodation: 

  • 4 nights in San Ignacio: $100.00
  • 2 nights in El Remate: $56.00
  • 4 nights in Placencia: $92.00
  • 5 nights in Caye Caulker: $137.50
  • 10 nights in Portland: $250.00

Transport: 

  • Ferry from Isla Mujeres to Cancun: $10.21
  • Bus from Cancun to Belize City: $37.20
  • Bus from Belize City to San Ignacio: $5.00
  • 2 x Taxis from San Ignacio to the Guatemalan border: $6.44
  • 2 x Collectivos from the border to El Remate: $14.00
  • Transport to and from Tikal National Park: $20.00
  • Bus from San Ignacio to Placencia: $15.00
  • Bus from Placencia to Belize City: $13.00
  • Ferry to and from Caye Caulker: $17.50
  • Taxi to Belize City airport: $15.00
  • Flights from Belize City to Portland: $405.71

Entrance Fees:

  • Xunantunich: $5.00
  • Cahal Pech: $5.00
  • Tikal: $20.00

Food: $981.96

Total amount spent: $1706.52

 

The Next Month: 

Month 32 travel map

I have three weeks to eat as much food as possible while I’m in Portland, and then I’ll begin my slow jaunt back home. I’ll be meeting my parents in Washington DC, spending a couple of days exploring Iceland and then arriving in London. It’s been two years since I last spent any time at home, so I can’t wait to catch up with friends and family.

Oh, and this month I celebrate 1000 days on the road! I’m planning a big celebratory post for it.

 

Looking to follow along with my travels through my monthly summaries? You can read the previous month’s summary here, the next month’s summary here, or head on over to the monthly summary page to read from the very beginning!

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55 Comments

  1. Jennifer
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Yeah… when I was in Belize one of the things I was told over and over DO NOT rent a scooter, there are dozens of accidents a day.

    I am so jealous you saw Tikal, I spent a week in Antigua in January and it is was the one thing I wanted to do most, but just didn’t have the time to do it, since I only had a week.

    Your photos as ALWAYS are amazing! Can’t wait to hear all about your top secret project!

    Have fun in DC it was one of my favorite cities in the US because it packs so much of our limited history in one tiny space!

    Go to the zoo, they have pandas! hahaha probably not a big deal to you, but it was one of my favorite parts of my last DC trip! Plus the zoo is free… at least it use to be :)

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Pandas are a big deal to me! I’ve never seen one in real life before! :-)

  2. Adam&Amanda
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Awesome Post! I love that in the end you break it all down! Have fun In Oregon!

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      Thank you!

  3. Catherine
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    So glad you’re back :) As usual it sounds like quite a month! Never hear people talk too much about Portland, am very intrigued as to what makes it feel so much like home. And talking of being intrigued, can’t wait to find out what the big secret project is!

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      It’s good to be back! Portland… for me, mainly, it’s the food. I’ve never been somewhere that has so much incredible food. I can pick a restaurant and have it pretty much guaranteed that by the end of it I’ll be saying “oh my God! That’s the best [food name] I’ve ever had in my life!”. Every. Single. Time. So there’s that. Also, we’ve found a neighbourhood outside of downtown that we love. The houses are cute, it’s near the arts district, it’s quiet, there are lots of great restaurants nearby… When we rent an Airbnb place, too it feels like we actually have a home, and by the end of our month there, we’re regulars in our favourite restaurants and everyone starts to recognise us! It’s so great :-)

      • Catherine
        April 24, 2014
        Reply

        Wow, that does sound pretty amazing :) You’ve made me want to visit now! Will start by looking it up on a map as my knowledge of the city is actually so limited I have no idea where it is, other than in the USA!

        • Lauren
          November 26, 2015
          Reply

          :-)

  4. Lisa - Wee Wanders
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Each month I am amazed at the detail you manage to share and record and it is much appreciated! The incident in Belize sounds awful… I saw something similar at home recently.

    Looking forward to finding out more about your big announcement!

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Lisa! I’m so pleased you find it all helpful :-)

  5. Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Love your pics, Lauren – it’s good to see that beautiful Isla Mujeres hasn’t changed :) I hope you enjoy being home again, and that you’re able to relax.

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Miriam! I’m definitely much more relaxed now :-)

  6. Adventurous Kate
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Lauren, I know this latest project is a new development in your work life — but from what you’ve been sharing publicly, you’ve been working crazy hours freelancing long before this came to light.

    Are you happy working those kinds of hours, only leaving your house to eat, as a long term plan? Is there a point to traveling this much if you don’t even get a day off? (Or did you? Were any of these travel days in Belize and Guatemala a break from your 14-hour days?)

    If you’re happy with that schedule and that lifestyle, that’s fine. And if you acknowledge this as temporary circumstances with an end date (or a tentative end date if you don’t know for sure), there’s nothing wrong with that.

    But I’m going to guess that this isn’t what you envisioned when you left the world of work to travel long-term.

    Take time to stay in one place while you work on the project. In the meantime, it might not be bad to sit down with a notebook and reevaluate your lifestyle. You might not be in the position to travel full-time anymore with the amount of work you have on your plate these days, and that’s okay. We all evolve, whether we want to or not. Just adapt your travel to your work — become a serial expat with occasional trips in the region. You always talk about how you wish you could stay a few months or longer in certain places — NOW’S YOUR CHANCE. Make it happen!

    Because if you don’t actively work to make your lifestyle better, it will get worse. Your physical health will suffer. Your mental health will suffer. (Trust me when I say I know what I’m talking about.) Take care of yourself, girl. The older you get, the more difficult it will be staying healthy with a lifestyle like this.

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      Yep, you’re right. A reassessment is exactly what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. I always viewed our jaunt through Latin America as the final stint of fast-paced travel before beginning the serial expat thing but, uh, I don’t think now is the right time. I no longer have the time to dedicate to properly exploring places, especially an area so huge in just… eight months! And, well, it’s expensive and I’m not sure I can afford trips to Antarctica and The Galapagos right now. So, I’m putting it off for a few years to stop moving, stop working so hard, get some rest and start building my savings. I’m sure it won’t be hard for you to guess where I’m going to move to :-)

      • Adventurous Kate
        April 25, 2014
        Reply

        There’s only one place when you want to live on the cheap and get tons of work done!

        Good, I’m glad to hear this. :-)

  7. Allison
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Wow, your photo of the ocean at Isla Mujeres is an absolute stunner! Sorry about your time in Belize. At least you could say that it was an experience!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Yep, I think I should have gone in with lower expectations.

  8. Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    receipt? ummm ok no fee for you! lol nice try at the bribe buddy! that’s too funny.

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      It was hilarious!

  9. Claire @ZigZag On Earth
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Mexico is very high on my list right now.
    Nice shots!
    Thanks for all those info

    • Lauren
      April 24, 2014
      Reply

      Mexico is very high up on my list of favourite countries :-)

  10. Ashley Hale
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Wow, I cannot imagine seeing a wreck like that. I would be so sick and upset for a long time after.

    I can’t wait to hear what your secret project is!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      It was so eye-opening.

  11. Carmen
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Great summary of your month! Awful about the scooter accident. The way you described it gives me shudders… I still haven’t seen a dead body and that would be the most awful way to see one.

    Thanks for the rundown on Belize too. I’ve heard there’s great diving there so we were thinking of making a stop (we’re in Ecuador now). But after what you’ve written about how expensive it is, we might re-consider.

    Can’t wait to find out about the secret project you’re working on!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Carmen! I would recommend maybe heading to somewhere like Honduras — it still has great diving but is cheaper than Belize.

  12. jennifer
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Aw, I would offer to trade passports with you so you could be an American and I could be British, except I hate to queue :)

    • Lauren
      November 13, 2015
      Reply

      Hahaha! :-)

  13. Laura
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    I thought Isla Mujeres looked amazingly beautiful, but then I saw your caption on the last photo saying it was unedited, and…WHOA. Seriously, seriously gorgeous!

    • Lauren
      November 13, 2015
      Reply

      Yep! The colour of the water was so unbelievable!

  14. Amanda
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Good to have you “back,” Lauren. I’m very curious about this huge project you’ve been working on! Pity that it kept you from really enjoying Central America, though. :(

    But, can I just say WOW to those photos form Isla Mujeres! I WANT TO GO TO THERE.

    • Lauren
      November 22, 2015
      Reply

      You should!! :-D

  15. Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren
    April 25, 2014
    Reply

    14 hour days! I can’t even imagine. Also, congrats on your 1000 days! Your pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels :)

    • Lauren
      November 13, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Lauren!

  16. Laura
    April 24, 2014
    Reply

    Isla Mujeres has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen! Sounds like a nice relaxing few days there, but I don’t envy your crazy work schedule! Hopefully it’s only going to be temporary!

    Such a shame about seeing a dead person in Belize, and especially picturing all the people on the bus cramming over to take photos. I saw the results of a fatal motorcycle crash once in Brazil with a body by the side of the road covered with a blanket and I’ll never forget that image.

    • Lauren
      November 22, 2015
      Reply

      Ugh, it’s awful, isn’t it?

  17. Ryan
    April 25, 2014
    Reply

    Wow, you’ve been wildly busy lately Lauren! But seems like you’ve bee to a few stellar locales too! That is insane that you are working 14hr days now, my legs swell and my bum hurts when I pull 8-10 hrs in a cafe like I have been lately.

    By the way, I love these updates, next month I’ll be doing my first travel expenses report (because I NEED to track it) and I’ll be going from Thailand to the Czech Republic and I want to compare prices.

    Anyways, rock on! Loving the new layout too!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Yeah, it’s been tough, but hopefully it’ll be worth it!

  18. LD
    April 25, 2014
    Reply

    Finally! I’ve been visiting Neverending Footsteps regularly for ages in hopes of finding a new post ^^

    The pics your took are stunning! I was kinda glad you didn’t endorse Belize, though. I’ve always wanted to go there but refuse to until they decriminalize homosexuality.

    I’m looking forward to finding out what your secret project is! Keep up with the good work :)

    • Lauren
      November 13, 2015
      Reply

      Sorry about the delay, LD!

  19. Jonny
    April 28, 2014
    Reply

    Nice to have you back Lauren, although it does seem like you need a break!

    I was also asked for some quetzales when crossing from Guatemala into Mexico. I knew there was no such “leaving tax”, so I, like you, asked for a receipt – and the border guard got really aggressive with me. He started shouting at me: “Oh, you want a receipt, huh, want a receipt?!?” Before taking my passport into another room…I was worried when I got to Mexico they’d tell me that I’d been denied entry for not bribing the border guards in Guatemala! But I made it to Mexico and I didn’t have to pay the bribe, so…win!

    • Lauren
      May 3, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Jonny! I’ve been having a lovely break for the past few weeks and it’s been SO enjoyable! :-) I love that story — I think the Guatemalan border guards need to work on their bribery skills!

  20. Monnette
    April 30, 2014
    Reply

    It must have been really hot working without air conditioner… lol :-p

    • Lauren
      May 2, 2014
      Reply

      Hahaha, the prices I pay… :-)

  21. Tom Bradshaw
    April 30, 2014
    Reply

    Phenomenal post with amazing photography. I would love to travel to
    Mexico soon ! Looking at your pictures, I feel that I shouldn’t have been holding my travel plans for Mexico for so long. !!!!!

    • Lauren
      May 2, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Tom! It’s definitely worth paying it a visit :-)

  22. Helen G. Dickerson
    May 3, 2014
    Reply

    I so love this post! The photos, the information and all. Looking forward to see more of these travel posts.

    • Lauren
      May 3, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Helen! :-)

  23. Jackie
    May 4, 2014
    Reply

    Hey Lauren! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I love it! I rarely comment on blogs but I admire your crazy adventures. I’m also very paranoid and full of anxiety whenever I travel, but I still love it and can never stop. Glad we can still conquer the world with our neuroses. :)

    Hopefully, your Month 33 stats won’t include any mention of a dead body!

    • Lauren
      November 22, 2015
      Reply

      I hope so, too! Thanks, Jackie :-)

  24. Joanna
    May 6, 2014
    Reply

    Great post. I love how you break it all down. Do you normally plan a strict budget prior to arriving or just play it out each day?
    Can’t wait to hear about your secret project!

    Joanna

    • Lauren
      November 22, 2015
      Reply

      I’m not strict at all — I just buy what I want and keep an eye on my bank account balance to check I’m going to at least break even each month. I’m pretty relaxed about it all!

  25. Bella Vida Letty
    May 13, 2014
    Reply

    I just found your blog and am so entertained by reading about your journey. Congratulations on your 1000 days of traveling that is quite a feat. I look forward to reading about your adventures.

    • Lauren
      November 13, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Bella! Hope you stick around :-)

  26. Kristin Addis
    May 14, 2014
    Reply

    I loved Caye Caulker so much! Of course this was back on my investment banking salary and I only went for a week – it’s all I could take at a time from my job. I wonder how I’d feel about it now with such different circumstances.

    Also, Belize City is the worst!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      I wish I’d been able to enjoy it more. Hopefully next time! :-)

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