Christmas: December is generally one of my favorite months of the year - the holiday parties (and corresponding dresses and shoes), the magic in the air, the food, the decorations, the general sense of cheer - I love all of it. I mentally prepared myself that this year was going to be different (cheap blinking LED lights and tacky decorations while it’s 90+ degrees are exactly what Martha Stewart envisioned for Christmas, right?). In my head, I was scared different meant bad because this is the one time of year I get nostalgic for traditions (and we have some pretty amazing family traditions), but instead, different turned out to be surprisingly wonderful because we got to share it with incredible friends (even despite some crazy plot twists - see ugly) . Dave Press arrived on 12/16, Kelly McGroddy (Press) arrived on 12/20, and Jenny Becker arrived on 12/22. Our group, the Fantastic 5, just clicked as travel companions. It didn’t matter if we were in the worlds best hot tub at our amazing pad in Medellin, struggling through a surprise bachata dance class (we thought we were going to a much easier salsa class), or hiking in the pouring rain and staying in a hostile in Cocora Valley, everyone was just happy to be together and exploring a truly incredible country. This group also got to cruise with us and we were excited to show them our day-to-day life. We were especially excited that we all made it to Steelhorse for Christmas dinner to introduce them to our road family. Steelhorse is run by a couple who did our exact trip on motorcycles a few years ago. They were so inspired by their trip and Colombia, they bought a piece of land a year ago and are actively building a hostel specifically catered to the overland community. We arrived mid-day on Christmas, in the pouring rain, to a group of 8 overlanders anticipating our arrival with open arms - and maybe a bit of a head start on the Christmas wine ;) Our road best friends, Taylor and KP, greeted us with Santa hats, a bottle of sparkling rose, and giant hugs (these two might be two of the best humans we have ever met!). An hour later, we sat down to a beautiful English Christmas dinner with 25+ people and toasted to how fortunate we all felt to be together. Thanks to Jenny Becker and her amazing sherpa skills, I did manage to sneak in one Bristol tradition. She brought down 30 English crackers for all of us to pop together in order to wear the paper crowns while we ate. It made me smile and made the 6 English overlanders feel like they were at home too. Nick and I haven’t done anything normally, why would our first Christmas together be any different?
Kite Surfing: While I am generally not a fan of either early or late holiday presents (this is my mom’s doing), life on the road requires flexibility. And Nick didn’t need a thing for his birthday this year, he needed a new experience. Almost 4 months later, I was finally able to give it to him just north of Cali, Colombia at a Kite Surfing school on Lake Calima. We spent 5 days learning a new sport together and became instant addicts. We wanted to learn to kite surf because it’s the perfect compliment to surfing. When the waves are good, the wind is bad. When the waves are bad, the wind is great! So here is the thing. Nick is naturally good at everything (insert obligatory eye roll). It should be no surprise that he was instantly good at kite surfing too, but I will say, I did relish the ONE DAY he experienced the struggle of being a beginner at something. It was very short lived, but given my journey with surfing, I needed to see him fight through the hard too. He did and at the end of the 5 days, he was cruising full speed back and forth across the lake. I was starting to get up consistently and cruising left (me and right still have some work to do) so I still need 2-3 more days of lessons before I’ll feel fully confidant on my own out there.
Colombia: Please ignore every bad thing you have heard about Colombia. Please. The days of the country being run by drug cartels are gone and have been replaced by a strong sense of national pride from its people eager to show you the New Colombia. Are there still dangerous areas? Yes. But we can say that about North America too. Here are a few highlights by region:
San Gil: Class 4 & 5 rapids, caving, mountain biking - this area is an adventure seekers paradise.
Lake Calima: Mellow mornings with kite surfing every afternoon - the kite school guarantees it!
Medellin: Our neighborhood felt like SF, NYC, and London all in one, it was perfect! We highly recommend the street food walking tour via Tasty Town, El Cielo dinner reservations, and dance classes.
Villa De Leyva: A gorgeous colonial town with the Latin America’s best bread. We just had bread for dinner one night - it's that good.
Cocora Valley: Wax palm trees at insane elevations have a way of capturing and captivating you. This area is known for its coffee tours too. We didn’t get to go on Christmas Day (see ugly) but our friends did and said it was amazing.
Cali: The birth place of salsa! You can’t deny the vibrancy of this place. We only got a night here, but we tried to make the most of it.
Money: We just did an end of year trip and financial audit to see where we are at after 7 months on the road. We are happy to report that we are tracking well and have decided to stay on the road until December 2018, with a brief trip back home in late August/early September (my dog heart can't talk about it right now). Also, we have set an intention to live in one, if not two, spots for 2 month periods to actually kick off some projects and begin the process of getting money coming back in. We are going to try and reduce our monthly burn rate by $500/person as a challenge to ourselves since we both have zero discipline when it comes to actually living by a budget. We want to build up that muscle and this is a good forcing function for us. As we looked to where to trim, a really easy win will be gas. We have driven just under 11k miles and spent approximately $3000 on gas, averaging about $3/gallon. We are very excited to see gas drop to under $1.50 in Ecuador which will make reducing monthly expenses pretty easy - because Nick knows he can’t take away good food, wine, or the occasional hot hotel shower away from me.
Sick: What is worse than spending a night hugging a white porcelain god? Not having a white porcelain god to hug and repeatedly throwing up with your head hung out of tent, dangling 7 feet off the ground, with your partner an ear shot away. I got the flu and it was not fun at all. There is something about being sick that instantly makes you crave the comforts of home. I wanted to time travel back to my bed with my favorite doggie companion refusing to leave my side. Instead, I didn’t leave the tent for a full day despite the 90 degree heat. Nick held onto my feet to make sure I didn’t fall out of the tent during each episode, kept the wash cloth cold for my head, and made sure my chicken stock water bottle stayed full. It made both of us very grateful for the good health we both generally enjoy day to day. No more or that please.
Distance: If you look at a map, Colombia doesn’t appear to be *that* big. However, we ended up spending much more time in the car than we anticipated because Google maps didn’t quite calculate into the algorithm the never ending one-lane mountain roads that required death defying feats to pass the long line of extremely slow semi trucks. It took us 4 hours to go 20km one day. Generally that’s not a big deal and we try to take it in stride, we are just cruising after all, but we were on a bit of a schedule for the month of December so more time in the car meant less time in the fun places.
Bikes: Oh you thought we were done with bike rack stories? That’s cute. Nick and I drove into Villa de Leyva on a Thursday evening. We thought we would spend a quiet weekend in a charming colonial town known for its French bread and croissants - a welcomed treat after months of dry, soulless bread (I love you Mexico but figure out pastries already). However, we instantly realized we had arrived for their biggest festival of the year, The Festival of Lights. This was a 3 day extravaganza that included a 2 hour nightly fire works display. Each 2 hour show was like a 4th of July finale in the US, it was nuts. Anyways, when we arrived, the streets were packed with pedestrians. We got routed down a tight colonial street (see GBU vol 1 for our thoughts on driving in small colonial towns) that should have been a one way road. But it wasn’t. As a car approached us from the other direction, we inched over to the right to try and get out of the way and BAM - our extended bike rack made friends with a roof. Apparently, the roof was in need of a friend too because it gripped on tightly and refused to let go, breaking our locking mechanism to the outside bike rack. It was stressful. It was a scene. We wanted to be instantly transported away. Instead, we drove around all weekend with a piece of the roof on our land cruiser hood. For some reason neither of us knocked it off and it refused to fall off. It felt like it stuck around to mock us, you idiots and your bikes.
Speed/Routines: The month of November and December feel like a bit of a blur. We have been going too fast and our NYR is to slow back down. Less places for longer periods, fewer commitments, and a reestablishing of our routines. Where did exercise, healthy eating, and lots of sleep go? We don’t know either, but we are claiming them back in the New Year. We have a full year to do South America and we are skipping Brazil completely, it’s time for cruise mode again.
Wheels: It was Christmas Eve and the Fantastic 5 were caravanning from Medellin to Salento to meet the overland gang at Steelhorse - we were actually ahead of schedule and excited we were going to get there before sunset. It was going to be a night of Love Actually, too much wine, and the last of our Oaxacan mole we wanted to share with the gang. Doesn’t that sound lovely? We thought so too. But none of that happened. Instead, all plans changed when we saw our right side trailer wheel fly off to the side of the road. 6 hours later, Nick and I followed the tow truck to the closest town while the other 3 continued forward, hoping we would follow in the morning. We are so thankful for the mechanic willing to work 4 hours on Christmas morning, for Nick’s foresight in buying an extra wheel bearing before we left, and that we made it for Christmas dinner with everyone. Nick and I had an extra hug on Christmas morning and I did my best not to turn into the Grinch. Bah humbug.
Thanks to Jenny Becker, we are currently obsessed with the "Reply All" podcast. Listen to episode #102 Long Distance and #79 Boy in Photo (fun fact, our wheel broke off with 15 minutes left to go in this episode. You'll understand why I was more traumatized by stopping the episode than the tire being gone if you give it a listen)
Tim Ferris still rises to the top. We recently spent an entire day pausing and unpausing an episode with Chris Young from Chef Steps. Give it a listen.