Happy May! Even as I am buried in outlining for final exams, recovering from strep throat, and preparing for a summer abroad in Uganda (!), I find myself reminiscing hard about this week last year–when I left NYC for 3.5 months backpacking around the world!
As part of my frolic down memory lane (and exam procrastination…) I’ve put together my top ten list of A Southern Yankee Abroad posts from last summer. Enjoy! ❤
#2- Being lost on the back of a motorcycle in the rain surrounded by people who don’t speak English in Ho Chi Minh City is a memory I could never have planned, but will always treasure. Adventures in Saigon
#1 – I turned 27 years old on top of a rainbow in Peru…literally! This trek up Vinicunca Mountain with Sarah, Rachele, our guide Abel, and Rainbow the dog was the highlight of the entire summer. A Birthday Trek to Vinicunca Mountain
My three weeks in South America have come to an end, and boy, am I really feeling it. This trip has taken more of a physical toll on me than any trip I’ve taken before in my life. As I left my hostel in downtown La Paz yesterday morning at 5am in the pitch black cold, my bones literally ached.
1- For one, the cold there was more extreme and penetrating than anything I imagined. My Uniqlo Ultra Light Down jacket miraculously did the trick (these jackets are literally magical and everyone should buy one!), but just barely. Except for a few warm days early on in Peru, I was bundled from head to toe at every point–and my toes were often sore from coldness on a daily basis!
2- Secondly, Sarah, Rachele, and I exerted ourselves in ways we never have before, and proved to ourselves just how strong we are and can be. Whether it was trekking Rainbow Mountain in a record time at extreme altitudes, exploring Machu Picchu, sleeping on overnight buses, or spending three days in Uyuni without heat in below freezing temperatures, we did it all and had fun doing it.
3-Third, our sleep schedules on this trip have been unreal. Almost every day, we have woken up before the hour of 6am, with the earliest wake up call being 1:45am for Rainbow Mountain. This trip has not been about luxury and relaxation–it’s been about pushing ourselves to new personal limits.
4- Fourth, I fell down the staircase in our hostel in La Paz on our second night there. No, I had not had anything to drink! The staircase did not have a light and was pitch black, and I fell about 5 steps down hard on my right knee. Some of you may know I already have some issues with my knees when it comes to long distance running, so I am hoping it holds up for my 5k with Michael in Dublin this weekend! As for now, it is still very sore and adding to the overall feeling of being beatdown.
5- Fifth, my hands are severely wind-chapped from our time in the wild the last few days, to the point that they are bleeding (gross, I know…sorry!). I even wore gloves the whole time! One of the immigration officers even asked me if I was ok! Again…feeling beatdown.
I apologize if it sounds like I am “whinging” (another term I adopted from my favorite Brit, which means “to complain”!). However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t content to see this portion of the trip come to an end. I am flat out exhausted and in need of recovery! Also, I am incredibly excited to see several friends in Europe across the next few weeks, all while enjoying the warmer weather! Peru and Bolivia definitely hold a special place in my heart, but it wasn’t hard to say goodbye in the same way it was hard for me to say goodbye (for now) to southeast Asia.
My cab driver dropped me off at the airport around 5:30am yesterday in La Paz. He originally said 70 bolivianos when I got in, and then changed his mind to 90 bolivianos at the end. As I was all by myself before dawn in the cab, who was I to argue?! So I paid the higher price, begrudgingly, while saying “no justo.” While I wrote earlier about being happy to bargain lightly and pay up on goods to support the local economy, I do not agree with this style of “negotiation,” which in my mind is clearly not fair negotiation but rather an indication of a driver taking advantage of certain situations.
After a brief delay, I was on the plane from La Paz to Santa Cruz, where I went through Bolivian immigration to board my flight to Madrid. This was an intense experience, to say the least. I spoke with no less than 4 people, had my bag emptied, searched and sniffed, and was body scanned before I was stamped out of the country. They are definitely cracking down hard on what leaves the country in Bolivia!
The 11 hour flight on Air Europa from Santa Cruz to Madrid had no TV (!), so I finished my current book (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) and then tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. We arrived in Madrid just before 5am Madrid time. I had an 8 hour layover in Madrid, and given my current physical condition, thought long and hard about just napping somewhere in the airport. However, I learned my lesson about jet lag the hard way, so I left the airport and explored the city center for a few hours before heading back for my connection to Dublin. The subway system was easy to navigate, and it made me homesick for NYC!
The most exciting part of my day in Madrid was finding a post office to send some items home and lighten my pack a bit. I also ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and enjoyed indulging without fear of getting sick for the first time in 1.5 months. Madrid seems to be a relatively cheap European city, as I purchased a large bowl of strawberries, a large fresh salad, a coffee, and a bottle of water for all under 9 euros!
Instead of just 4 nights as I originally planned, I will now be spending a week and a half in Ireland. Why? Two simple reasons: 1- I feel very drawn to Ireland for some subconscious reason, and 2- My good friend and native Irishman Michael is an excellent salesman of the country, and highly recommended a few tours for me to see the countryside after our weekend in Dublin! Michael and I became good friends when we were on the same tour in Africa last December, and I feel like we are kindred spirits when it comes to traveling. He has been generous enough to offer to host me in Dublin this weekend! I cut down my time in Paris by about a week so I could spend more time in Ireland, and I feel very excited about this decision. Although I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I am looking forward to exploring all that Ireland has to offer, and hopefully piecing myself back together from my time in South America along the way!
After two full weeks of trekking, sightseeing, and taking in the Peruvian culture, the time came to say goodbye to Peru and move along to Bolivia. We had booked seats on Bolivia Hop, an overnight bus that crosses from Peru to Bolivia while making a few fun stops along the way. We showed up at the bus station in Cusco at 9pm, as directed, and the station was pitch black! Fortunately, our nice cab driver sat with us until the Bolivia Hop staff showed up. We then boarded the bus and settled in for a 7 hour overnight drive to Puno, a Peruvian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca.
At 5:30am, we got off at Puno and had a small breakfast before boarding a boat for a tour of the floating islands of Los Uros in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, and the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet. The altitude was evident, as it was freezing cold as we boated across! After about 30 minutes, we reached the village of floating islands–42 islands made by the Uros people from reed straw. The Uros people still maintain their unique Uru culture, but also speak Spanish and have some modern amenities (like motors for some reed boats).
The local ladies welcomed us warmly, and demonstrated how the floating lakes are built from living reeds, soil, straw, and rope, and are anchored in the lakes. These islands are maintained periodically throughout the year with fresh installments of reed overlays. It felt really strange to walk across the ground cushioned by reeds and to know I was floating! One local lady invited us into her hut, and explained how it was wired for electricity only 2 months earlier through the installation of solar panels. We even learned how to say hello in Uru–kamisaraki!
After the visit, we headed back to Puno via boat and boarded the bus for another 2 hours, before crossing the border over foot into Bolivia. We then boarded a new Bolivia Hop bus, and 10 short minutes later we were in the scenic Bolivian lakeside village of Copacabana. After a quick lunch, we then boarded another boat, and rode for 1.5 hours across Lake Titicaca to Isla del Sol.
Isla del Sol was absolutely beautiful, and I really wish I could have spent an extra night here! From the boat, we trekked about 40 minutes through the sun temple and small village on the island, soaking in the views all along the way. I stopped to do some shopping with a local vendor, buying 2 pairs of baby alpaca socks for just 60 bolivianos (less than 9 USD!). While I bargained with her a small amount, I paid her the amount she asked. The more I travel, the more I realize that tourism is the economic lifeblood for so many of these local places. I can do my part to support the local economy by paying up for some goods–even though I’m on a “student budget” now, I feel fortunate enough to be able to travel and afford these things, and it’s a privilege to be able to support the places I am visiting economically.
After our short trek across Isla del Sol, we boarded our boat again to make the 1.5 hour journey back to Copacabana. We then boarded the bus, and drove the 4 hours to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The ride was exciting for 2 mains reasons–1) At one point, we had to get off the bus and ride a small motorboat across a Lake Titicaca tributary, while our bus floated by on a ferry. We then reboarded on the other side. This experience was unique and fun, but made me appreciate bridges all the same. 2) We watched one of my favorite movies of all time on the bus ride–Interstellar!! Yes, I am not ashamed of my nerdiness. Once we arrived in La Paz, we were dropped off at the wrong hostel, but quickly found our way to the correct one. After over 24 hours on a bus, I enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed and slept for about 10 hours. Today, I am still really tired, but hope to see a little of what La Paz has to offer before heading to the salt flats of Uyuni tomorrow!
I leave NYC for 3.5 months in just 5 days, and it’s starting to feel real y’all. The nerves are setting in. Am I prepared to leave my life behind for 3.5 months? Have I remembered everything I need to do beforehand? Am I packing too much? Am I packing enough? Although I‘ve been planning for a few months, I’m starting to feel pretty jittery.
I had a phone conversation with a good friend earlier this morning about everything, and it made me feel so much better about this entire process. The truth is, traveling and moving involves a good deal of planning and organization that feels unnatural for my spontaneous, “ENFP” self. The chat made me realize that it’s good to discuss the details, and embrace each step in the preparation process. So, below are a few “last minute” things I am taking care of before I leave for Mississippi this Friday, then for Asia on May 10.
–A last minute visit to the Bolivian consulate in NYC. I am really kicking myself about this one! Based on prior research, I thought I could get my visa at the border. However, some last minute research and digging while I was out of town this past weekend revealed it is preferable to get your visa in advance. I went to the NYC consulate first thing this morning (Monday) with all of my many required documents that I collected as soon as I got back to NYC yesterday. Fortunately, the staff was extremely helpful and accommodating, and said my visa will be ready Friday after 12 noon, as it takes 5 business days to process. I will pick up my passport on the way to the airport to leave town Friday afternoon…talk about cutting it close!
–Vaccinations. I had received most of the vaccines I would need before my trip to Africa in December, but I still needed my third and final Hepatitis A&B shot. I was able to find a clinic that does the shot for $100 cheaper than my prior research revealed, mainly because they don’t charge as much for the “office visit.” Timing-wise, I am supposed to get this final shot at the end of May, but I will be in Asia then. So, I took the calculated risk of getting the shot early, as opposed to trying to find a clinic in Vietnam.
I also decided to not get the Japanese Encephalitis shot. The doctor told me that, while there is no absolute guarantee I will not be at risk or contracting JE, most people contract it after spending more than a month in rice fields. As I may spend 1-2 days tops near a rice field, I opted to save the $300 and not get this shot. Another calculated risk, in my opinion.
–Pick up malaria tablets. This is one disease not worth the risk to me!
–Mail in seat deposit for law school by deadline. I CANNOT forget to do this!!
–Final stages of packing and moving. I also picked up a few more (free!!) cardboard boxes this morning, and will finalize all my packing by Wednesday. I also need to visit my storage unit to pick up the keys, and confirm with my movers that I will still see them Thursday morning!
–Cancel gym membership, internet service, and electricity in apartment. Return apartment keys to landlord. Super boring, but I can’t forget to do this…
–Set travel notices with my banks. Having accounts frozen while traveling is very annoying.
–Purchase data plan for cell phone. I may wait to do this once I am home next week, but still an important to-do item on my list.
–Final salon visit for next 3.5 months on Wednesday! I’ll be getting the keratin treatment so my hair is easy to manage while on the road.
–Last dinners and drinks with friends (for a while). This is where I feel guilty…I am running out of time in the city and I know I am not going to be able to meet up with as many people to say “bye” to as I had hoped or planned. I started this process last weekend, but the truth is there are only so many nights before I leave. I am definitely trying to see as many friends as possible before I head out of the city. As I’ve told everyone already, I don’t want anyone to forget me over the summer! 🙂 I am really going to miss my NYC friends and all the fun stuff that happens over the summer months. I will also miss my friends and family from home..although we are already separated by many miles, being on the other side of the world is going to make it feel like I’m that much further away.
–Go for a few more runs in Central Park. I’ve decided to take a break from running over the summer, so I want to get a few last runs in CP before I leave. I know these will be my last ones until August, and the weather is so perfect in NYC now, so I want to make them long and good!
–Set mail forwarding address with USPS. I know I will feel much less anxious once I am in Mississippi this weekend. I will have my backpack ready and the rest of my apartment secure in storage. All I plan to do then is visit family and friends, go for some long runs, eat some good southern cooking, and fish! It’s going to be great. Until then, I am living the hectic NYC life for a few more days while checking items off of my to-do list.
Hi, I’m Gracie, a 28 year old New Yorker, native Alabamian, law student, and lover of travel. I’m excited to share my journey with you.
I started this blog to encourage and inspire people to travel, no matter their age, background, or prior travel experience. I left the US for the first time just a few years ago, and recently I’ve had the opportunity to travel across 5 different continents–just me and and my trusty backpack! I hope the information and stories I share will help readers travel with confidence and purpose. I also look forward to using this blog to share my thoughts about current events within the US and around the world in an effort to promote dialogue and understanding across the political spectrum.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – Sylvia Plath