Time to Go Home

The year is up and its time to go back home.

Home, back to Tokyo.

Tokyo

Today, I took off from LAX, Los Angeles International Airport.
I am on the plane writing this with many mixed feelings.

Firstly, facing the incredibly scary separation from someone that has come to be part of me over the past few months in my trip and in my life in LA. It was a surprising turn of events that lead me to this but I followed my instincts and my heart and everything fell right into place. I had a routine, a life and a home in LA and now that I am leaving to… go back home, it really feels weird. So where is home right now? I’m not sure. So obviously there is a dark cloud above me for this leaving and I expect it only to get worse in this aspect. Ugh.

And then there is the anticipation of all the reconnecting that I will do in Japan. With friends and family I haven’t seen in one year. I am excited to see them and see what has been going on, what I have missed. But also anxious to see how they will respond to me coming back. Will they be interested to know about my experiences and stories? Will they ask the same questions and expect a  completely changed me? Will I find different perspectives in relationships and will I still feel at home? I have heard from other travelers that sometimes they feel so out of place initially when they go home. Like time has stood still and you just don’t fit anymore. Let’s see how that goes.

Then, there is the realization personally that the year of my dreams, hopes and freedom is coming to an end. I will probably never be able to have this kind of freedom for a while, if ever, and it makes me a bit sad, but mostly, I am filled with a deep happiness and satisfaction that I was able to do this in my life. Now this trip is something that defines my character and will forever be part of the person that I am. I am proud of it and it will always make me feel good and courageous so though the year may come to an end, it was completely well worth it.

There is also a warm relief and happiness that I am still in one piece,  safe, sound, healthy and happy and coming back home. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of things on the way and my luggage surprisingly is smaller than when I started, but I have gained something exponentially much more valuable. “Experience”, to sum it up in one word yes, but it is new connections and meaningful friendships I’ve made along the way. It is the love for learning and absorbing new things like Spanish, it is the exposure and knowledge to so many unknown things that make me think differently and appreciate what I am and where I come from. It is the memories of new challenges like surfing, kite surfing, 4 day hikes, salsa and cumbia, jumping off cliffs, climbing glaciers, laying in the valley looking up at the stars.  It is the instincts and skills I gained to protect myself and survive on a budget which gave me an appreciation for the value of a dollar. It is the new appreciation for new foods, new rhythm, new habits and new lifestyles. I am carrying all these with me and don’t have anything to show for it, but I feel much more heavier with happiness and confidence from this all.

So all these emotions are mixing and putting me into a happy, sad, excited, terrified, anxious, calm state on this plane ride, but I think it is in fact a great way to end this one year journey. I am not just on a high with the trip that I am dreading going home or I am not sick of traveling and dying to go home. I have had my fun and feel fulfilled and have had enough time to process it that I feel comfortable to transition back into reality and look at life through new refreshed eyes.

So what’s next? Well I will be back in Tokyo for now and thankfully I am fortunate to have a job to slip back to. I am excited to start up the life again (and make some money for a change!!) and see it in a new perspective. Hopefully I will approach things a bit differently and it will be a new experience.
I also hope that I will continue to pursue the interests and passions I have gained in the year and to keep the momento up in my daily life in Tokyo.

As for the blog I have not been very good with updating all of my travels, so I hope to start working on filling those in. There’s still so much more stories I have not shared!

Thank you for those that have taken the time to follow me and read my amateur blog.

As I sit in the plane, I feel a lot of emotions come and go but surprisingly I am calm and it does not feel bad at all.

I think I’m ready to go back home.

Queretaro, Mexico – Couchsurfing 2

My first Couchsurfing experience was amazing and I was convinced to try more.I had wanted to stay in Queretaro and was waiting to hear back from a bakery I wanted to volenteer at, but with no luck.

So reluctantly, I was on my way out to try to find my next journey when I received a message from a couple I had contacted initially on Couchsurfing that they would love to host me if I was still in town. I felt like I had pretty much seen the city in the week and a half but I loved the city and I believe in never turning down a kind offer so I said, Yes! I’ll do it! And it turned out to be of course, one of the best decisions ever.

Elena and Fernando (E&F)

They were a couple from Ukraine and Mexico.

They had met a few years ago in Queretaro and after a long distance has gotten married and moved to Queretaro. I read in Elena’s profile that she had had a busy career in law and after quitting her job, had traveled (using Couchsurfing) and then has made a big transition to her life here in Queretaro. What an interesting story I would love to learn from!

They have impressive careers and backgrounds they themselves are travelers having traveled together to Ukraine, Dubai, US, Cuba and many more plans for the future.

Elena was a lawyer amongst owning other businesses and speaks 5 languages. 5 languages!!! and I mean fluently! Fernando, born and raised in Queretaro is also a lawyer has experimented with his own business, worked for the government and now works for his parents’ business, and speaks Spanish and English.

The great thing for me was that I would get deep insights of culture of Queretaro and Ukraine but in Spanish because their common language in the home was Spanish with English as a suppliment when I needed it! A great relief compared to only having Spanish as an option.

E&F – Why they host

You think couch surfing and some people may imagine a couch in some “One world One Love” hippie’s couch, But that’s not reality. Real people that are themselves traveler or will be in the future host because they recognise how valuable meeting local are in travel.

Also open minded people that are genuinely interested in other cultures and want travellers to have a genuine experience in their home turf host. I guess it almost like having travel come to you at home when you’re not traveling.

The Home + Dogs

The small but cozy home was up on the hill overlooking the Queretaro, convenient location from the city centre in a nice neighbourhood.

DSCF0016

Beautifully decorated cozy home with memories of their travels and Elena’s collection of her travels.

DSCF0008

2 cute hyper dogs that are just begging to be played with.

IMG_0842

My Room

Seriously, have I just hit the jackpot or what? I had my very own beautiful room, a queen size bed, a computer. After being used to sleeping in dorms with sometimes 4, 6, 8, 10 people, this was unbelievable.

IMG_0794

Clean towels, and Elena was kind enough to lend me some “for the city” jackets too because you know, I only have backpackers attire. Thank you!

And NETFLIX! on a big screen. ….. I think I will stay here for a long time….

I felt like I was “checking-in” to a B&B because they had treated me as if I was paying guest with a proper reservation. I had to wonder if I really did have the concept right. Was this Air BnB? or Couchsurfing?! I had completely hit the jack pot in Queretaro.

Breakfast

I woke up to this breakfast.

IMG_0893

What had I done right in this life to deserve this?

The food and them were so beautiful and lovely that it felt like I had literally entered into this TV show that is in Japan called “Breakfast around the world” which shows newly wed’s breakfast around the world. See sample it here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNBTiCFBL6g

And might I add that Elena also did my laundry (I insisted to do it, I swear!!) while we ate. Seriously! What did I do in my life that was so great I deserved this! or was it possible there were really people this nice?

Activities and Meeting Friends

Friday night, we went to a lovely restaurant on the top of a hotel, No name and no indication hence a tourist could never find it.

IMG_0797

Fernando explained to me the “tales and legends” of Queretaro passing through the historical area. That’s the thing about Mexicans, they always have tales and legends in every corner of their streets. They assured me that I would be meeting a “historican” and he could tell me anything and everything about the history of Queretaro.

Oaxaca drinking traditions

IMG_0806

Party at GAD – (Gracias, ADios) – beers and more mescals with the historian and his girlfriend.

San Miguel

Poker Night

Going to the Lake

Going to the Fair

IMG_0931

Cooking at home

I wanted to cook for them to show gratitude and so I cooked Japanese Curry rice and some veggies. I was surprised that they really took a liking to bean sprouts! Simple home cooked dishes but glad it won their hearts.

Next day, Elena cooked Ukrainian Borsch. The color was absolutely beautiful and the flavour was so savoury and healthy! Apparently it changes flavour every day.

This type of cultural “food exchange” is what I most look forward to when I stay at someone’s home. Tasting their food and learning about cooking and introducing mine. A precious experience I could never get at a restaurant.

Oh and I should add Fernando adds to the table “strawberry water” – which is a delicious alternative to water. Strawberry + water + a little bit of sugar. Yum!

Mexican (slangs) and Culture

Because I had a chance to hang out with their friends, I learned all kinds of “Mexican” (as opposed to Spanish.

  • Many cultural slang (bad) words – which I loved saying because it would drive them crazy laughing
  • The best Gorditas in town

IMG_0980

  • Real Narco homes – on top of the hill and humungeus.
  • Different neighbourhoods, the very rich, the old rich, the new and the poor.
  • Development in the city of Queretaro – its booming now and many industries and people are going in from overseas and from DF.
  • 8 people in a car – no problem

Everyday was filled with activities, meeting new friends and cultural experiences and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I had planned to stay for a few days but I ended up staying for 5 nights and I could have stayed longer, or forever.

The last day, Fernando help me look for a camera.

Not sure why but I had somehow gotten it in my head that I needed a camera NOW and Fernando took me to 4 pawn shots, 3 consumer stores during his work hours to find the perfect camera.

The Good Bye

On the last day, Elena gave me a necklace of a Sun from Mexico. What a surprise, it was ME that was planning a gift to give to THEM but she outdid me with the necklace.

IMG_1011

Now I was a bit embarrassed to give my gift but I bought a box of chocolates and Sesame seed oil, which I had mentioned in conversation and thought they could use in trying out new dishes along with a letter and some Japanese coins.

They work up early to drive me to the bus station before work and said our good byes.

They were no longer my hosts but my good friends and my family in Queretaro, which I will think about often in my travels and which I will come back to visit.

12295246_10153288277421732_2800574297923429245_n

One day I hope to meet them back here or back in Japan or another place we live. But what I gained from this experience is not just a place to stay but rich experiences and a friend, but also an open thought in my head of the concept of receiving and giving back and the willingness for me to be like that too.

Thoughts on Couchsurfing

I felt I hit the jackpot at first but perhaps it is exactly just what the concept is about. I received and felt genuine kindness and passing that on to the next traveler could be the way to make this world a better place. It has opened my mind to wanting to “Pay it Forward” in the next chance I get.
To make sure travelers are comfortable, they get some rest from their travels, to have them taste the best of the food my town has to offer, to have them meet my friends, to help them in any way they need.

I had seen the concept and how beneficial it was from a traveler’s perspective but now I kind of see how awesome it would be too as a host. It would be an absolute pleasure to do that one day because of the great experience I’ve gained already from them.

IMG_0835

Thank you Elena and Fernando for the experience and opening up my mind. And thank you Couchsurging for this concept.

I think these things are what make the world a better place.

Love Queretaro and love even more the people that I met.
I will be back.

Now off to Sierra Gorda, a mountain range ouside of Queretaro which came with high praise from everyone I met in the city.

Xela, Guatemala – Finally learning some Spanish

Hmm where to start. It’s been almost a month and a half since my last post and the journey has been going full speed.

From Medellin airport finally successfully flew to Panama City. In Panama City relaxing and chilling at a friend’s apartment for a week then a day stop in Costa Rica then to Mexico. Mexico was condensed excitement because I was accompanied by a friend from Japan here for only 2 weeks so we zipped through Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, San Cristobal. Then after her departure, I decided on making my way south to Guatemala.

So this blog, I want to start with Guatemala and I’ll get to the others a little later, I hope.

I always decide my next destination based on what I hear from people and my decision to go to Xela, Guatemala was inspired by one Japanese girl I met at San Cristobal. I was waiting for inspiration to hit because I had no idea where I wanted to go next, and then you just meet someone and it’s decided. I love that feeling. She told me about studying Spanish in Xela and I said, that’s it. That’s what I’ll do. And that is exactly what I did.

Now my Spanish level, after 6 months of travel and minus 1 1/2 months in Brazil for Portugese was 4 1/2 months. I learned through conversation and using iphone apps (+Chegg flash cards) and I had the confidence to get by traveling. I can ask where to go, what I want, give a quick summary on my background and my travels. But anything deeper was challenging. But with the help of gestures and expressions, I thought I was doing pretty good in communicating. I just had no proper grammar or sentence structure, I was just throwing words out there, like “I, want, go, bus, station. Very, hurry, please”. Well I’m a traveler and I think people applaud me for the effort, but it was starting to get embarrassing when you’ve been traveling for 6 months.

So now was a good time to get this properly sorted.

Guatemala is actually a very popular spot for foreigners to learn Spanish. It is an exotic location and for the immersion in Spanish you can get for the affordable prices. (5 days of classes (5 hours/ day) + 1 week of home stay including 3 meals is around $180 – $220!)

Xela, formally known as Quetzaltenango is the 2nd biggest city in Guatemala and is a popular choice to learn because they say that there are fewer foreigners and is rarely safe.

A beautiful town that sits in the middle of a valley surrounded by volcanos.

IMG_2637 IMG_2676

The cobblestone streets.

IMG_2938 IMG_2647

Bustling markets and Chicken buses

IMG_0097 IMG_0095 IMG_2587

A 8 hour bus ride from San Cristobal through the green valleys and mountains and I landed in Xela.

IMG_2584 IMG_2586

The first thing I did was research schools. There’s a ton of schools here and its really hard to judge just by the internet. I wanted to see for myself the atmosphere of the school, the people, the students and the activities they had. Usually it is 4- 5 hours of classes then in the afternoons, the schools offer activities for the students to learn about the culture or just to have fun (like chocolate making classes, Guatemalan movie viewing, city tour, hikes etc.)

I looked at 8 schools in total asking the same questions and taking the atmosphere in. Since it was low season (not summer or spring break when the students flood in) so having a group of students to do the activities with was important to me. Some schools only had 1-3 students in this low season.

I could be a dork sometimes, I rated and ranked the schools that fit me and decided on Sol Latino. It was cheap and it had a lot of students and the atmosphere seemed fun.

IMG_3239

For the next 2 weeks, I would go to classes from 8am – 1pm, 1 on 1 classes with a Guatemalan teacher then communicate with my host family breakfast, lunch and dinner and do activities with fellow students.

In my first class, I took a exam and was so shocked and my ego hurt to be classified Primary I. That’s a total beginner. Embarrassed that I’ve been traveling this long and thinking I was doing quite well communicating the truth was, but I hadn’t even got to first base…Oh well. I put my ego aside and decided to start from scratch.

My teacher Sheny, a lovely Guatemalan lady with years of experience teaching Spanish. and the view from our school (volcano erupting).

IMG_2809 IMG_2807

We would have conversations about everything, from politics to economics to men to food to culture of Guatemala and Japan to guess what I did yesterday?! It was all part of getting used to speaking and applying what I’ve learned. It felt really good to be able to have insightful and deep conversations as well as talking and venting about whatever we wanted to talk about. Almost like an every day therapy session (for me and for Sheny) but in Spanish. I enjoyed the conversations but hated the grammar.  Especially the verbs with its multiple “irregulars” popping up everywhere! I would whine to Sheny with “Porque necessito? Porque? Porque” (Why do we need it?) but she would just shrug and say, I don’t know, that’s the way it is.

The more I learned, the less I could speak because I would have to think in advance if the word was a male or female, or if the verb was for me, you, he, we, they and conjugate accordingly making me more conscious of what I was saying and less confident. I was definitly more confident before the classes just throwing words out there however I pleased.

5 hour classes everyday was pretty intense, especially if you haven’t been in school for over 10 years… I would have to take an afternoon nap to rest my brain and then whip myself to study what I’ve learned. Respect to students. Its exhausting.

In the afternoon, I tried various activities planned by the school like chocolate making, a tour through the cemetery, visiting the indigenous weaver and movie night. There are other activities like salsa dancing or cooking.

Chocolate making! Peeling the skin off the roasted cacao beans and pounding the cacao powder to form chocolate.

IMG_2792  IMG_2790

Visiting an indigenous family for weaving. We learned the process from cutting the sheep fur to threading, colouring, and weaving. They also treated us to tortillas in their kitchen. What a precious experience!

IMG_0122 IMG_0136 IMG_0128

The other wonderful aspect of the 2 weeks was home staying with a Guatemalan family. The mother (Ana Maria) and her 22 year old son, Manuel welcomed me warmly into their home. They’ve been hosting students for years and it’s an essential part of their income. Manuel tells me that he’s there’s been students in the house ever since he was a baby. What an interesting influence to have growing up. The mom cooked for us every day 3 times a day while jugging her work and house chores.

Eating together was one of the best experiences for me. Being able to try home cooked means and asking what was used and how it was made. Typically a Guatemalan meal consists of frijoles (beans), some sort of eggs and tortillas almost always. The frijoles can be arrange to be solid, pureed or as a soup, and the eggs in scrambled, sunny side or as an omelet. Also, dinner was typically really light, with frijoles, eggs and tortilla, maybe a soup or some vegetables.

Frijoles, Eggs and rice.

IMG_2630

Other meals with vegetables and meat. Typically the biggest meal was at lunch.

IMG_2841 IMG_2811

IMG_2873

My mom even showed me how to make frijoles. Which was actually pretty easy, sort out the beans, wash, add garlic and onions and put on pressure cooker for 1 hour. No wonder it comes in every meal.

IMG_2876 IMG_2878 IMG_2883

Another day, I showed her how to make Omu-rice, which is a ketchup rice omelet dish in Japan.

IMG_2824

It was a lovely living from home rather than from a hostel for a change, having your own room, being able to spread your things out of the bag and in dressers. I don’t think I could home stay for long term but it it is definitely a cost effective and an experience rich in learning about the culture and customs.

IMG_2932

2 weeks went by really quickly but with a lot of gain. I have absorbed the basic understanding of Spanish but have a long way to go in terms of applying it and using it in normal conversation. 2 weeks is not nearly enough to get to that level but I feel happy that I now I have a foundation. I will continue my studies while I travel and hope to join a Spanish school again somewhere.

My last day of school. They gave me a diploma and cake and I made a speech of appreciation.

IMG_2872IMG_2862  IMG_2860 IMG_2868

I will miss all the people that I met, my teachers my school mates and my Guatemalan family.

Thank you and hope to see you guys again!

Now beginning my trip again and headed for the lake for some downtime!

Santa Marta, Columbia – Seriously Insanely Hot

I LOVE the beach and I love the heat. My choice of Miami for a college education shows where my priorities lie (well at least back in high school) So I was really really looking forward to the beautiful beaches of Santa Marta, Columbia at the very top facing the Caribbean.

santa-marta-paradise-condo-columbia-map

A one hour flight from Medellin on Viva Columbia and I landed in the middle of the heat in Santa Marta.

Viva Columbia is a low-cost carrier in Columbia with incredibly affordable prices. The one way flight cost me 79,000 Pesos ($25) but the only catch is that you can only bring 6kg of luggage on flight so you want to pay for the additional 20,000 Pesos ($6) online beforehand to secure up to 20kg of extra luggage. Yeah I know it doesn’t sound like much, but in S. America, $1 goes a long way so you get really careful about how to spend them.

The heat hit me really hard at the airport. No AC and only a fan, and immediately I felt like melting ice cream.

IMG_1293

The hostel I stayed at was off the city and at the beach of Playa de Ritmo. right on the beach and awesome location, but the only thing (and the BIGGEST issue) was that they did not have AC. Now I may sound like a high maintenance princess for saying that but really, it’s a life or death situation here. No AC could ruin the whole trip.

The rooms were equipped with fans, but what’s the point when the fan is only shooting you how air over and over again? The room had the windows open to let the little hope of night breeze in but what it really let in was the mosquitoes attracted to the fresh blood. So my stay there was not the relaxing resort by the beach I had expected, but rather fighting with sneaky mosquitoes in a pool of my own sweat.

I realised that when I say I love beaches and the heat! I mean, I love the beaches and heat with a near by escape to good AC. Lesson learned. From here on, AC in hostel will become a top priority in booking.

Santa Marta was a little beach town, maybe a much smaller and less developed version of Miami?! The buildings felt very Miami style. But let me just bring this up again because I can’t say it enough, It was very hot and humid, almost suicidal to walk around during the day so Ot kind of kept me from enjoying the city much.

So how about the water? Well it wasn’t the crystal clear and white sandy beaches of the Caribbean I had imagined but rather dark blue with some tourquise in the sun. Yes, nice but excuse my lack of enthusiasm here, perhaps my eyes have gotten used to the incredibly clear waters after being in the untouched beauty of the beaches in Galapagos. Oops! 

IMG_1295

The only places people can take refuge from the heat on the beach were little huts and tents for shade (which I was too hot to take photos of) so pretty much it was dangerous to lay out or walk around there too. I was surprised how little people there were, and how quite it seemed, but l learned later that the locals come out to the beach AFTER sun down.

See? Locals know how to enjoy the beach. Only tourists try to go to the beach during the day I guess.

IMG_1300  IMG_1317

Seeing the beach in the sunset and the locals with their family and friends really enjoy the water was lovely. Drinking beer, playing games in the water, playing soccer. I really loved how the people enjoyed the given enviorment and seemed to enjoy their lives here.

Me, now able to enjoy the beach at sunset.

IMG_1328

The beach got really busy with vendors of every kind. Beer, souvenirs, massages, hair braids. I applaud the effort really, but it was really hard to have a conversation without being interrupted every minute.

IMG_1327 IMG_1299

One of the lovely encounters I had in Santa Marta was a karate teacher from Venezuela. He had visited Japan a number of times for his training and we shared fun stories of Japan, even sang his well learned Karaoke songs in Japanese! I had not met any Venezuelans on the trip so he talked to me about the economic and political chaos that is happening in his country and how many are fleeing outside because there is no things to buy, only in ridiculously inflated by hundreds of percent prices in the black market. Its such a pity because it did sound like a lovely country with amazing nature and resources. Maybe I’ll try to go visit him while he is there.

IMG_1302

Hot but fun day in Santa Marta.

Afraid to do anything in this heat, but next is to Tayrona Park for the jungle and beaches!

Quito, Ecuador – Getting over Travel Burnout

It’s been over 4 months now that I have been living out of a backpack/ roller.
I’ve been to 4 countries, 27 destinations with 5 flights, 16 long distance buses, and 2 cars.

Yes, I’m having the time of my life! and I’m ecstatic!

But the thing is, after 4 months, I was starting to lose that feeling.

The enthusiasm, the “I’m on top of the world!” euphoria feeling, the want communicate in Spanish with the locals, the want know about everyone’s story and ask questions about everything. I still had it to a certain degree, but i can feel myself losing it.
Things were starting to annoy me a bit more. I would notice the not so nice about the culture and people, becoming less patient with other traveler and not so helpful locals. I reflected back a lot back home and remember how easy I had it.

Have I taken in too much excitement for one trip?
Have the getting to new places and experiencing new things become repetitive?
Was I tired? or even worse, was I bored?

The past few weeks, I’ve had these feelings and have been slowly digesting and trying to make sense of what was going on.
I talked to a lot of traveler and even searched online and concluded that I have gotten the case of a “Travel Burn out”.

Yup, there really is such a thing. And yup, I know how luxurious that sounds to those that don’t get to travel this much.

Travel Bun out, Travel Slump, Travel Tiredness.
Believe it or not, it is a thing.

It happens after you’ve been on the road for a while, and packing, unpacking, getting to know a place, adjusting and leaving, meeting new people, connecting and saying good bye. Then doing the same routine in the next place. It does get exhausting.There’s a lot of work involved.
Researching where to go, how to get there, the routes, the cost, the maps. Figuring out where the local go-to spots are, the supermarket is, the laundry is and where the not to go spots are.Greetings at the hostels of who you are, where you’ve been and where you are going.

All these things were so exciting to me, but when you do it for 27 locations, it is undeniably exhausting.

For the past few weeks, I was still moving forward, but a part of me wanted to stay in my room, read a book or watch a movie by myself. I wanted to not go eat out but rather cook something simple and comforting. I wanted to connect with friends that I knew already and not go out of my way to introduce myself. I wanted to avoid new conversations in Spanish, but stick to the Spanish intros that I already had mastered through constant repetition. I was missing home more, and thinking about friends and family. Missing an environment that people know you already and not be a representative of your own country and culture.

I realised this this and I needed to get myself out.

And in Quito, I think I got it.

One of the bigger factors was finding a comfortable stay.
And Boutiquito Design Hostel in Quito was just what I needed.

IMG_7044 IMG_7195 IMG_7279

It was clean, homey yet luxurious not often found in hostel budgets. (dorm: $12)

The hostel provided a beautifully designed atmosphere, clean white sheets, big pillows, good pressure hot showers, clean and equiptment-full kitchen, even a movie room, enough lounge space so people can have their own space, an outdoor space and yes, super hi-speed wi-fi. In addition, it had a breathtaking view overlooking the mountains of Quito giving you space and tranquillity.

I was tired of the constant change and taking in too much new things, so I tried getting myself into a routine.
Kind of ironic that you travel to get your self out of your routine, but I needed a routine to feel secure and to connect myself to meaningful things and taking control where I can.

Routine building:

  • Running in the morning – getting up early and clearing my head. Seeing locals get up and exercise made me feel like I was part of the community. Also a good way to seek out new places and parks.

IMG_7193  IMG_7251

  • Cooking – Being able to control what you eat, rather than ordering from a menu you don’t know what you will get was comforting. I missed some home food and that wasn’t easy to find treating myself to a nice healthy meal made me feel in control and doing good for my body.

IMG_7308 IMG_7302

  • Living like a local – Getting to know the neighbourhood and going to the same supermarkets and bakeries everyday. I also limited my activities to 1 or 2 touristic things a day and enjoyed more things like going to the park to read a book or getting coffee at a local cafe. Spending quality time without being overly excited with the new.

IMG_7310 IMG_7191

  • A spa – I treated myself to a hot spring in Cuenca and sweated out the stress away. It’s been a while since a dip in hot water and boy did it feel good.

IMG_6908 IMG_6911

Feeling comfort:

  • Reconnecting with friends from home – Catching up and speaking Japanese with my friend from Japan on her way to Galapagos was great. Made me miss home more, but it was nice to joke around and not feel like a foreigner for once.

11800443_924800827592457_2077427838175376431_n

  • Travel buddies – 2 girls from Holland I met in Peru, we ended up meeting up 4 times through my trip. It was comforting to do a “catch up” like friends back home and not start from “Hi. I’m Rieko and I’m from Japan”. I felt like they were friends I’d known for a long time and just simple girl talk or deep life talks really made a difference.

IMG_7235

  • Connecting back home – Preparing post cards and gifts for my loved ones made me think and connect with them, imagining how they would react when they get it made me feel good.
  • Feedback from friends – encouragements from friends on what a courageous and outrageous things I was doing reminded me of that yeah, this is awesome and i am awesome.

Feeling in control:

  • Catching up on my to-dos & research – There’s a million things to research but never enough time when you are traveling. You are always distracted by the excitement or people and can’t sit down to plan. Boutiquito gave me the space, the time and the fast wi-fi to plan my trip for the next two months and what a relief it is to actually have a plan!
  • Photo organisation and blogging – Blogging is so painfully slow with slow wi-fi so this was great to get things done swiftly re-organize, re-think and blog the trip!
  • Financials – A dark cloud constantly in the back of your head, how much your are spending and how much you have left to afford the things you want to do. Getting a grasp was shocking and concerning but needed to be done.

In addition, the sunny days in Quito brighten my mood and got me in a productive mode.

IMG_7184
I’m not sure if I am over my burnout yet, but I feel more relaxed and more in-control and feeling good and ready for the next journey ahead.

Now, off to the country side of Cotopaxi for a few days of nature!

Summer again to Floripa (Florianopolis) : Day 64 – 69

Florianopolis (aka Florida) is an island in the state of Stanta Catalina, south of Brazil which came with strong recommendation from many Brazilians. It is an island famous for its beautiful beaches and a central lake, with nature and plenty of activities to satisfied the vacationers from all over Brazil and the world.
 florianopolis-panorama-small-new2
Florianopolis Wikipedia – “The city has 42 beaches and is a center of surfing activity. The New York Times reported that “Florianopolis is the Party Destination of the Year in 2009.”[2] Newsweek placed Florianópolis in the “Ten most dynamic cities of the world” list in 2006.[3] Veja, a Brazilian publication, named the city as “the best place to live in Brazil.”[4] As a result of this exposure, Florianópolis is growing as a second home destination for many Paulistas, Argentines, North Americans, and Europeans.”
  IMG_4281 Florianopolis_hss
From Curitiba, I took a bus for about 5 hours, a comfy and sleepy ride. Once I landed, I was shocked to see a bustling city with many tall building, busy cars, buses and people. I had expected much less, a small beach town with cute little beach houses and beach stores and restaurants like the little village in Itacare but this was civilzation and full blast. As it turns out, this was downtown Florianoplis and the island has more beach town-y feel but it seems the charm of this place is the balance between civilization and the island life in close vicinity.
My hostel was on the top of the hill looking over the Lagoa (lake) and I was greeted with a gorgeous sunset as per its name, Backpackers Sunset. It was beautiful and the clouds and the colours changing every minute was a great sight to follow. The hostel offers a good atmosphere and a decent selection of beer, so I knew it was going to be a good few days.
IMG_3945 IMG_3951
IMG_4335
It is low season now (June) so not too crazy and crowded but I hear in high season in the summer (Dec – Mar) and around events like New years and the Carnival (which is predominantly gay in Floripa) it gets pretty crazy and expensive. It was still hot enough to lay out on the beach and just a bit chilly at night and not too cold so I think definitely picked a good time to check the island out.
I was originally thinking 3 days but Floripa worked its magic on my and I ended up staying for 6 days. A very satisfying 6 days. Here is what I did.
Day 1: Sunset + Drinks at the hostel. Met people from the UK, US, Germany and Brazil. Easy to meet over the beers and the caipirinhas at the bar.
IMG_3944
Day 2:  Hike to Lagouinha beach.
A half an hour bus ride from the hostel to the south east of the island and a good 1 1/2 hour steep hike up.IMG_3956IMG_3962
To Lagoinha beach. Due to its access, if did feel like a secluded beach, with only few people despite being a three day weekend. The water was cold the current was strong so not ideal to play around in at this season but there seemed to be good waves for the surfers.
IMG_3977IMG_3970
The best part of the beach is this hike up to the mountain to the right of the beach. WHY?
IMG_3975 IMG_3986
Because for this! The million dollar shot. BOOM!!!
IMG_4049 IMG_4036 IMG_4463 IMG_4026  IMG_4021 IMG_4001
A beautiful day of hiking, beaches and making new friends.
Day 3: A road trip down south to Amacao and Ponta das Campanhas, again to the south east part of the island. Jumping off the dock and enjoying a nice relazing day at the beach.
IMG_4064IMG_4075
So happy, can you tell?
IMG_4468
Bar do Arante – a must go seafood restaurant with great food and notes posted everywhere by customers.
Of course we posted ours too.
 IMG_4108 IMG_4107
Lovely sunset at the beach.
IMG_4126
Day 4: Jaquoina beach. This was my favourite beach in Floripa.
A beautiful beach which reminded me of Rio with its luscious green mountains and the white sand beaches in contrast. Beautiful, just beautiful. The surfers waiting for their perfect ride.
IMG_4167IMG_4177
And the sunset.
IMG_4195
The shocker was the view on the way to get there, There is a sudden appearance of a desert (or sand dunes) and it is magnificently beautiful with its dramatic white sand and cool because you can sand board on it! Only 25R (US$8) for an hour and incredible fun!
IMG_4151 IMG_4199
IMG_4211IMG_4240IMG_4236IMG_4246
So dramatic at night too.
IMG_4197
And my try, not as cool but fun!
Day 5: Praia de Mole, the beach 5 min. walk from my hostel.
Strong current and waves and I couldn’t even get past the first waves but seems to work well for the surfers and stand up boarders / surfers. For me Jaquoina beach was better.
IMG_4204 IMG_4202
Day 6: Oysters!!!!! Floripa is apparently famous for their oysters from the south west side, Ilha de Riviera and I went all out and ordered a dozen to myself!!!!! But it was only 28R (US$9) can you believe it!??
A bit of lime and olive oil and the jewels of the oceans made me love Floripa even more.
The oysters were small and light.
IMG_4294IMG_4298IMG_4299
And the best 10R ($3) that I spent on the island, maybe even in Brazil was this boat ride in the lake.
1 hour of beautiful lake scenery and even a jump into the lake from the slide of the boat.
IMG_4301 IMG_4318
Very quite lake so paddling with your dog is possible. Jumping off the boat on the slide.
IMG_4314IMG_4310
So, Floripa was great. Relaxing if you want it to be and adventurous if you choose.
But the best as always is meeting great people and on this trip, I was fortunate to meet and spend quality time with people from Brazil, US, UK and Germany. Great to meet you all.
Next stop, Iguasu Falls!
IMG_4339
Here’s Agata and Hayley from England with their whole life in their backpacks traveling with them to Iguasu.
A special feature because they said my blog is great! Thanks!
Really looking forward to the 14 hour bus ride to catch up on a much needed sleep.

Day 45- 47: The Beach Coastal Lines of Brazil + Road Trip! (Gunga, Maragogi, Praia de Camerios)

Day 45-47: Gunga, Maragogi, Praia de Camerios to Porto de Galinhas

This is the beach portion of the trip and every day was a new discovery of yet another amazing breathtaking beach. I thought I’ve seen the most beautiful beach, but the next one was more beautiful and more interesting than the last.

Day 45: Gunga Beach

This is a popular beach, easily accessible from Maceio and many tour companies offer a combination day trip with other close by beaches of Frances and San Miguel. The day package I joined was only R30 (US$10) and it gives a brief stop at the 2 beaches then about a 5 hour stay at Gunga. It is about a 30 min comfortable (and comical – though I didn’t much understand) ride.

The beach is of course incredibly beautiful with the beautiful white sand and clear waters. It caters well to the tourists with its restaurants by the waters, tropical drinks and various water activities.

White sand, blue sky, turquoise waters. What more can you ask for?

Gunga_9690Gunga_9703Gunga_9688 Gunga_9723

I was ecstatic to have my first Brazil oysters. The sellers come by and shuck the out of the shells. Small but strong flavor. Yum! Oysters_9700Oysters_9699

This was really cool, A boat flying high in the sky.

Flying Boat_9683

A rubber boat literally with wings and an engine. Ready for take off

Flying Boat_9709Flying Boat_9713

Apparently imported from Italy, the ride was 100R(US$32) for 5 min, not bad at all in Japan standards, but that’s almost my budget for the day as a budget traveler so not this time….

I had a wonderful time with my new mates I met from the hostel Natan and Doug. We had many many Skols (beer), Mouqueccas and Batata Fritas all day and it was … Paradise.

Gunga_9736Friends_9734

Day 47: Maragogi

Maragogi was what everyone raved about and the strong recommendation from Paulo and Claudio in Chapada as the most beautiful snorkelling  / diving spot so it was simply a must go. Day trips including a 2 hour transportation from and to Maceio + snorkelling was at around 80R – 100R. I decided to stay over because I was headed up north anyways on the way to Recife and I wanted to spend more time in this amazing place.

6am depart and 2 hours and we’re at Maraogi. Very small town compared to Maceio, but I prefer beach towns to be this way.
Quick breakfast by the waters and we’re on a boat to reach the corals.

Maragogi_3203Maragogi_3238Maragogi_3217Maragogi_3204

The water is so clear that you can see everything. The Corals are very shallow that you can even stand and very easy for first time snorkelers. Apparently there are 300 different kinds of fish to be found, but I spotted maybe 10 or so, in frequency. The fish are very used to tourists and don’t scare off easily, They come and feed from the staff that has some food. Its almost like they come out as their day job to entertain us tourist.

Maragogi_3216Maragogi_3212

Unfortunately, I don’t have the photos from underwater, but Richi, if you read this, please send the photos from your Go-Pro!

It was a fun snorkel, but not too intense with variation of depth, but a fun dive.

A nice lunch on the shores and checked into tonight’s hostel. It is the same Brazuka in Maceio, right infant of the beach.

The rest of the afternoon, we spent knocking back 5R (US$1.50) Caiperinas with new friends at the beach. 5R!!! I love it here! Later that night, I was taught how to make Caiperinas by the locals and was fed home cooked Panqueccas by the friends.

With our new buddies we we decided to take a road trip the following day heading up north. Well, actually, the correct record is that they discussed in detailed and decided and planned and I was informed that I was going on a road trip tomorrow! Works for me! Its too bad I don’t understand Portugese but I guess my smiling and nodding and gestures to communicate has land me a seat in this road trip with 4 other Brazilians! Awesome!

Day 48:  / Porto de Galiniha

So it is the start of the road trip, and of course I am not really comprehending when what where, but know that we are leaving and going somewhere for the next few days. All I can do is trust these people and hope I get to Recife in time.

1 rented tiny FIAT, 1 engineer from Critiba, 1 millennial marketer from Sao Paulo, 2 nurses from Rio de Janeiro and 1 job-less Japanese and we’re ready to go!

Road Trip_3256Road Trip_3261Road Trip_3263

ROAD TRIP!!!!!!

Road Trip_3265

The first stop is Praia de Carmine. We (thPraias de Carminerey) negotiated our own boat to take us to the shores and enjoy the sun!

Road Trip_3269Road Trip_3316Road Trip_3314Road Trip_3274

We on a boat!!!

DSC02660DSC02697DSC02672

A couple of stops to enjoy the water and beaches

Road Trip_3299Road Trip_3298 Road Trip_3301  DSC02745

In one of the stops we were given white mud to slather all over ourselves. Apparently good as of course sunblock up for exfoliating, oily skin and even for stress relief.

We ended up looking like Zombies and it was hilarious as hell (and it literally looked like we had just woken up from hell) and I wish I had the photos for it, but I need to post it up later.

We made our way up to Porto de Galinha later that day, but a beautiful beautiful day.

https://youtu.be/JhRH9tyhLKA