What I re-learnt about “volunteering” in a hostel in Costa Rica [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

I’m currently on a 6-month sabbatical and even though this is not a research sabbatical and I’m definitely not working, I think it’s fair to say that when you love what you do, you’re constantly reflecting on it.

That’s what happened in Costa Rica.

During my time in Costa Rica I stayed at a hostel in Manuel Antonio which “involved volunteers” or “was run by volunteers”. I honestly don’t know which term to use.

A lot of travellers who wish to make some money whilst travelling use a website called “Workway”. I do not know enough about workway to make a full informed observation on how it’s run, but the way they describe themselves is: “The leading community for cultural exchange, working holidays and volunteering in 170 countries.”

As a lot of leaders of volunteering will know, there are significant differences between “volunteering”, “voluntary work”, “volunteerism”, etc., not to mention the differences between what is considered a “good” volunteering opportunity or a “bad” volunteering opportunity.

But without wanting to go down that specific rabbit whole and knowing that there are probably amazing, reliable and well-thought through opportunities within Workway website, I have my own thoughts on this specific one.

*note: these are my thoughts based on my experience in the UK, and considering UK employment law, good practice policies that are applicable in the UK and (as far as I’m aware) in a variety of others countries across the world, and my own experience as a volunteering manager and a volunteer myself.

For one week I was able to observe the dynamics of a hostel that “integrates” volunteers in the way that it’s run, and it gave me a lot to reflect on.

To note:

  • This is just an opinion about a specific place and not a representation of everything that happens in others places
  • As far as I’m aware, this specific hostel is not a charity or a not-for-profit organisation
  • The hostel in itself actually works really closely with the local community, fostered puppies before they are adopted and supported local businesses, which was fantastic to see
  • The owner really values the integration of foreigners within the local community (she is not from Costa Rica) and always gave me loads of tips on things to do with local organisations that needed help

As soon as I arrived I loved the vibe and how the staff (who were actually “volunteers”) brought everyone together, how kind they were, and how they helped you navigate the local area etc. The longer I stayed the closer I got to all of them and the more aware I became of how things worked. I was able to observe the day-to-day running of the hostel, understand the tasks that different people were doing, how the communication happened between the hostel owner and the volunteers, and how the “benefits” of being a volunteer actually worked.

So, I did find some things a “little bit” weird:

  • “Volunteers” did “volunteer” an exact specific number of hours per week in exchange for accommodation and a couple of meals
    • This sounds like the right thing to do, but each night at the hostel has a “specific cost” associated to it which means that this a direct swap of “work” for “accommodation”, which can be seen as not genuine volunteering.
  • “Volunteers” had a rota with specific days and times they had to do every week. If they didn’t, they had to pay a certain amount to stay at the hostel, just like the guests.
    • Once again, this sounds just like the right thing to do, but we need to be careful with only being able to run an organisation (hostel) with volunteers. If this is the case, and if they HAVE to be there, then they should be paid as staff, and not volunteers.
    • Volunteers are not “unpaid staff”. If an activity needs to be delivered, then staff should be paid to do it. The definition of volunteering includes that there’s no contractual obligation on either side, which means that a volunteer can simply not turn up (and we have to accept that).
    • Volunteers (just like anyone else) make mistakes and “having words with them” in a negative way will not help the situation. The same way they’re supporting the organisation, it’s important to support them in understanding the impact they have within the organisation and why we love for them to support us in delivering an activity. We want them involved because they’re important, not because they’re desperately needed to keep “the organisation running”.
  • “Volunteers” did all the “housekeeping” tasks, from changing the beds, cleaning the rooms, to making breakfast to all the guests, running some tours and activities.
    • The amount of value that volunteers brought to the activities they delivered was huge!!! Their cultural differences, their enthusiasm and motivation was like nothing I’ve ever seen. But all the housekeeping tasks (in my opinion) should be the responsibility of paid staff. Volunteers can support with these tasks, but they should not be solely responsible for doing something that literally keeps the hostel running.
  • Miscommunication between everyone involved
    • I experienced first-hand when there was a couple of miscommunications and one of the volunteers was not able to deliver one of the activities (a waterfall tour they had not even trained to do!), and was “told off” and put under loads of stress for not being able to do the activity.
    • There is a big difference between involving volunteers or working with paid staff. You can not demand that volunteers attend an activity and you certainly can not “punish them” for not showing up.
  • There didn’t seem to be a lot of awareness of health and safety for volunteers (or guests!), including when they were leading tours and the risk that it sometimes involved.
    • We did a waterfall tour when a storm started and which was run by volunteers. We almost didn’t make it back because the river bank flooded and we had to cross a river with water to our waists that almost dragged me a few times down the river.
    • When the volunteers spoke with the owner about this and how they didn’t believe this was safe to be done in this way, their suggestions was not taken on board.

A few last thoughts:

  • You can be a great organisation that does awesome work and still need to re-think and adapt the way you involve volunteers in what you do.
  • Volunteers bring a lot of value to your organisation! In this case, it included cooking classes, yoga classes, puppy fostering care, innovative breakfast etc., but you need to care for them, you need to support their development and be kind!
  • Volunteers bring people together. They’re not just part of the community, they are the community. When we start to truly understand this, we will lead and guide our organisations differently.
  • Volunteers have a better understanding of your community than we sometimes do. Be open, listen to them and integrate their knowledge in what you’re doing. It will be a win-win situation. They will feel heard, valued and respected, and you will be better equipped to deliver your mission

Tortuguero – Costa Rica [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

I’ve spent the past 4 days in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, One of the most remote places I’ve ever been to.

This is a quick summary of the past 4 days. Practical details at the top, and you can scroll down for “boring Mariana thoughts and experiences” & last minute tips at the bottom.

One of the trickiest things about Tortuguero is to actual get there. There’s soooo many blog posts about this and still…. Tough. So below is a description of what I did to get there and to go from Tortuguero to La Fortuna.

You take a bus, then a cab, then another bus, then another bus, then a boat. I know it’s all part of the experience, but let me tell you, it’s a very hot, sweaty, long and humid experience.

Summary:

You can do this your own way, by car, by shuttle etc. I decided to do half-half.

Loads of people will tell you that you’re spending money on shuttles when you can get anywhere by bus in Costa Rica and it’s really cheap. They’re not lying. You can get everyone by bus if you’ve got an extra 4 to 5 days to spend on travelling.

So for me, the best thing I did was ask for a lot of information, do one way by public transport and the other way including a shuttle. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth…. Yep yep yep.

From San José to Tortuguero

  1. San José Airport to Tulsa Terminal – city centre (bus)
    • Exit the terminal, turn left, walk around the parking lot and you will see a bus station on the main street. Wait for the Tulsa (big red bus) that says San José. Pay the driver in colones
  2. Terminal Tulsa to Gran Terminal del Caribe (by cab)
    • The bus to get to Cariari is not in the same terminal as the one from the airport, so you have to swap. It is fairly dangerous for a woman to walk alone in San José early morning or night. So take a cab outside the station. Go to the main road a choose an older driver (or so I was advised, and it was good advice!)
  3. Terminal del Caribe in San José to Cariari (bus)
    • I got to the terminal, got my ticket (less than 1000 colones I think) and waited until 9am for the bus. They told me “Gate 7” but then there was no gate 7, however, the driver will shout out “Cariari” so just be ready and near the buses area a good 30min before
  4. Cariari to La Pavona (bus)
    • Cariari terminal is very very small and buses to Guapiles are quite regular (every 20min or so). There will always be someone around, so do keep an eye out to when new buses are arriving for Guapiles and just pay the driver. They might sell you the bus ticket and the boat ticket together, it’s normal. I paid 5000 colones for mine. Then the guy didn’t give me change and I was too stupid/shy to ask, so “lost” 5000 colones there. Do ask for your change or give them the right amount!
  5. La Pavona to Tortuguero (boat)
    • There will be boats waiting there for you. There’s a cafe in La Pavona where they might try to ask you to wait there, in case you need something. Unless you’re starving, just go straight to the boat.
  6. Boat – Hostel (walk)
    • There was someone from my hostel waiting in Tortuguero for me and they took us to Aracari (the best hostel!!), but anyone can give you instructions if you’re feeling a bit lost.

From Tortuguero to San José:

  1. Tortuguero to La Pavona (boat)
    1. You can buy the boat ticket when you get to the boat terminal in Tortuguero. They tried to sell it for 4.500 colones but I said I’d bought it for 2000 on the way to Tortuguero and then he said it would be 3000. I didn’t have the energy to negotiate any more. (As a tourist they will do this, always! I’m learning how to not be shy and be quite assertive)
  2. La Pavona to Cariari (Collective car)
    • When getting to La Pavona you will be bombarded by Taxi Drivers or other people, Just assertively say: “No Taxi! Collective Car!”. I paid 3000 colones and I think the locals paid 2000 or 3000 as well, so somehow it worked.
  3. Cariari to Guapiles (bus)
    • Getting the bus is Cariari is super easy, just buy the ticket at the ticket office, should be no more than 500 colones (yep, that cheap) and the bus will come every 20min. It’s one of those that gets busy, so try to be at the front of the line if you want to sit down.
  4. Guapiles to Fortuna (interbus shuttle)
    • I booked this with Interbus and walked from the Guapiles station to Le Suerre hostel (go to the restaurant part to pick up the shuttle at 1.30pm). This meant I didn’t have to go to La Fortuna and take 2 other buses.

I hope the information above helps.

Now… what did I do in Tortuguero for 4 days? I learnt I’m awful at resting and doing nothing lol

I got there at around 3pm and went immediately to the beach to cool off. The water is surprisingly warm. Actually warm.

I booked a morning boat tour through the national park and saw soooo many animals, it’s actually ridiculous. Tortuguero is absolutely gorgeous and full of wildlife. In the afternoon I did the walk through the jungle and saw loads more lizards, monkeys, parrots etc.

After that… it was time for the to try to disconnect. I know there were other stuff I could have done, but I don’t have an unlimited budget and after having flown directly from LA to a 9hours journey to get to Tortuguero, the idea was always to rest. Guess how long it took me? Until the last day, of course.

The 1st full day I explored the national park and did tours.

The 2nd full day I was moody and annoyed because I felt I had nothing to do and no one to hangout with. Went to the beach, chatted with people at the hostel and did little else.

The 3rd full day I went for a walk on the beach, took loads of pictures and finally picked up a book for the first time in the past month. Took myself out for dinner (Budda Cafe – really nice, everyone was super nice, bit expensive, awesome music).

The 4th full day I left my phone at the hostel, went for a walk on the beach, met a few locals, played with a puppy for hours, took myself out for dinner again, packed and slept like princess.

I stayed at Arcari hostel and I could not recommend it enough. I was emailing them weeks beforehand about getting to Tortuguero, asked loads of questions when I got there, kept annoying the lady at reception and she was always (always!) incredible to me. Replied to all my emails, was super patient with my questions and even gave me allergy cream for my million insect bites! Thank you!!!

I’ve decided I like Tortuguero. A pain to get there, and it can be seen as quite a “boring place” for some. But I loved it.

Last tips:

  • If you love yourself, bring some insect repellent. They’re vicious.
  • Do stay at Aracari Hostel
  • Chat with people at the hostel about where they’ve come from and where they’re going. I got loads of advice about how to move around in Costa Rica!
  • Go to the beach and walk until you can walk no longer!
  • Say “Hola”, “Buenos dias” and “Pura Vida”. The locals are so so nice (except maybe the ones trying to sell you boat tickets lol)

From Vancouver to LA in 18 days – [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

I’m back (after not writing for ages)

The post below is a very brief summary of my past 18 days on the road with my friend Jess. I do intend to write a few longer blog posts about some of the places we’ve been to during the past 18 days, but currently I’m just too tired, overwhelmed and worried about my next few steps to write too much.

During the past 3 weeks my friend Jess and I did a road trip from Vancouver to LA. Jess planned the majority of the trip and did all the driving, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

> side note: This trip would have not been possible without Jess. She looked into everything, drove me around, planned it all and put up with me, my moods, my tiredness, my car naps, my lack of energy or willingness to go out etc. Nothing that I might do will ever be enough to put into words how grateful I am. So Jess, if you ever read this, thank you. You gave me a trip of a lifetime that few people will ever be able to do. Thank you. <

Doing the route we did in 18 days is not easy and Jess drove a a couple of 15 hour days, so as far as advice goes… I’m not sure I can recommend it, however…. I did get to see some incredible places that I can only assume are some of the most beautiful, magical and random in the United Stated of America (route below).

Below is a short summary of the places we went to, without much detail. I will try to write short blog posts about each place as soon as I can. (photos at the end of the blogpost)

  1. Vancouver
    • Just for a an hour or so, for lunch and a quick walk
  2. Whistler
    • We stayed here for 3 days to rest and do nothing. I was suffering from jetlag (again? Still? Who knows.) but is was awesome to just stay still for a bit
  3. Vancouver to Portland
    • First long drive for Vancouver to Portland with a quick 2 hour stop in Seattle on day 1 and a visit to the Multnomah Falls on the morning of day 2
  4. Portland to Crescent City (Coastal drive)
    • We went towards the coast and did a lot of the trip with a prime view of the Coast.
  5. Crescent City to San Francisco
    • I found one of my happy places on earth during this day. The Redwood Forest. The drive was difficult (I get motion sickness very easily) but I regret nothing and already know I’ll have to come back for at least a week to do loads of trails etc.
  6. San Francisco to Groveland (Yosemite)
    • Groveland and Yosemite are also some of my favourite spots. Our hotel in Groveland was awesome and there was an awesome pub (Iron Door Saloon) and Yosemite well… it’s Yosemite. Not sure I need to describe how incredible it was. On the way to Groveland we stopped at Columbia State Historic Park, a living gold rush town featuring the large single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in the state. It was like travelling back in time!
  7. Groveland (Yosemite) to Las Vegas
    • This one was tough. We got stuck for 3 hours in the highway due to a car crash and the temperature was … hot. Too hot! We finally got to LasVegas where we stayed for 2 days. Not, I’m not a millionaire just yet.
  8. Las Vegas to Page (Antelope Canyon)
    • During this drive we went through Zion Park and oh my god… Very few words. Although I got very very car sick, it was so beautiful! Long, hot and beautiful. On the second day we visited Antelope Canyon which is also one of my favourite places from this journey.
  9. Page to Flagstaff (through Grand Canyon)
    • On the way down to Flagstaff we went go Grand Canyon and yes… it is Grand. I was very surprised to feel so overwhelmed by the size of it and the fact that the Canyons come out of nowhere…on the ground. Usually you can see a mountain in the distance but you just don’t expect a massive canyon to open up in front of you on the ground. It is incredible. I also loved Flagstaff! Although everyone that we’ve met has been pretty nice, Flagstaff has the nicest people I’ve met until now. And the best Pizza!!
  10. Flagstaff to Anaheim (Disneyland)
    • To finish our trip, we booked 2 days at Disneyland. Both Jess and I are big fan of rides and Disney so it was amazing to just spend 2 days totally absorbed in a Disney world. Very tiring, but worth it! (Tip: The best hours at Disneyland are from 8am – 10am. Trust me on this one. It’s worth getting up early!)

I have now come to Venice Beach as my last stop before getting a flight to my next destination.

It will take me a little bit to process the last month and I’ve got a lot of sleep to catch-up on, so let’s see if I can do that during my next few weeks.

An unrequested list of things that will stress you out before travelling [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

During the last few weeks, before starting my adventure a few days ago, you could frequently hear me saying: “I’ve had a lil panic moment”. I know, I know. I’m overreacting. I’m over-planning.

But hear me out…. does no one else out there feels real “pre-adventure stress”? (Asking for a friend…)

It’s still Covid times, it’s a 6 month trip, and it’s me. Only me. For at least 4 of those months.

You might be asking….”Mariana… why is this that stressful? It should be an enjoyable trip, a one in a lifetime experience”. And it will be… I’m sure of if. But it can be quite stressful to find the most affordable ways of doing things which are also safe for someone travelling alone and that fits with my dates.

However…. forever thankful to my friend Google, and to all other bloggers out there writing reviews and blog posts. The world is an easier place (and a more confusing place!) with yer all in it. I’m still thankful though!

Apparently people like “blog-lists” these days, so here it goes.

A list of some random shit that might stress you out before travelling for 6 months (with no potential solutions being offered 😅)

The job that you’re leaving

  • Ok, I understand that for some of you it might be the exact opposite, and you just can’t wait to go, but if you’re in a similar situation as me (where you love your job and do intend (at least at this point) to go back to it) it is incredibly stressful to try to wrap up all the projects, do handovers, making sure everything is in place etc etc etc

Your flat / house

  • I’ve been the luckiest kid alive for having a landlord who has allowed me to keep my flat, but at some point I was not sure if I was going to be able to. I can not describe the amount of stress I went through just thinking about the packing, the storage, and the thought of having nowhere to come back to. Stress!

The health stuff

  • From vaccines to Covid, from last minute tonsillitis because you’ve overdone it, to your pharmacist losing all your records of all the vaccines you’ve done privately with them… honestly, I had it all. I’ll die of a stress induced heart attack before I die from all the vaccines I’ve doubled up on.

The friends / family farewells

  • If you’re anything like me, you’ll basically write your will/testament and will want to see everyone one last time before you go. Stress!!! And you’re setting yourself for failure. You will never be able to see everyone. The good news is that hopefully you won’t die, so you’ll get to see them all afterwards.

The overplanning

  • I have this thing where I stress out about the plans I didn’t make and the dates I didn’t book and missing out on stuff. I then go the opposite way and start stressing out about having booked stuff in the middle of a fully unplanned/unbooked adventure (like Machu Picchu, which needs advanced booking due to permits limits). What can I say, I’m a complicated woman.

The travel packing

Oh god, the travel packing. Honestly, what a shit show. I’ve got nothing to offer here. The amount of panic shopping I did (followed by panic returns) is not something I’m proud of and will forever need to apologise to the environment for doing. At the time it seemed like a good idea. It was not. I’m still sure I’ve over packed and probably packed the wrong things. Oh well… I’ll have to cope with it as I go.

Now that I’ve offered an unrequested list of random things that can stress you out before travelling, I’m here to say that I’ve got no solution or advice. We’re all different. The way you’ll pack will be different than mine. The way you plan (or not) will not match the same requirements as I have. You might not have a job or family and friends to say goodbye to.

So just grab your stuff and go (or don’t, I’m not your mother and you don’t have to go anywhere 😅).

Go with fear, go with stress, go with apprehension. Hopefully you’ll get to drop them on the side of the road at some point, and proceed with lightness, courage and a lot of unexpected adventures to talk about.

The Canadian Rockies in 9 days – Louise the Lazy, Jasper the Gem, Banff the Busy [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

For those who can’t be bothered to read the “stories” bit, I’m explaining my route and writing a “suggestions” at the top of this post, I hope it’s helpful:

Route

I went from Calgary > Lake Louise > Jasper > Banff > Calgary; but you can start in Calgary and finish in Jasper Airport as well (or the other way round. However, I will say that driving the Icefields Parkway twice (both ways) was super worth it.

Suggestions:

– if you can, rent a car. Honestly, the money is worth it. It will allow you to go on further away treks and will allow you to stop wherever you want when you do the Icefields Parkway

– drive through the Icefields parkway. That’s it. That’s the advice

– visiting during low/ shoulder season might mean you can’t do everything you want, but it allows you to see the area without the crowds. And it’s cheaper!

– the weekends will always be busy. Book the hostels in advance for those days

– go to the visitor centres and ask about the trails , the area and the bears 😅 honestly, do ask.

– get yourself some nasal spray. Trust me on this one. The air is so so dry that I’ve had nose bleeds every day and the same has been happening with other people.

– prepare for snow, prepare for rain, prepare for sunny days. The rockies put on a show for me during the 9 days I was there and it was everything I could have hoped for

Louise the Lazy, Jasper the Gem, Banff the Busy

No time will ever be enough here, or in a lot of other places on this earth. Just going to start by saying that.

Knowing full well it’s low season, which means ski closing weekend and a lot of iced lakes and closed trails, I still had the best time.

I booked these 9 days as a way to try to disconnect before continuing my travels during the next 6months, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

From not doing my Electronic Travel Authorisation (and sitting on the floor of Heathrow airport for 30min trying to do that) and renting an automatic car when I can not drive one (and having to get taught how to drive as I’m renting the car…. ) there’s been a bit of everything happening to me already lol

Oh and bears. Which I completely disregarded as something I had to worry about lol. I did have to worry about them!

Anyway, continue to read below for some more details (and a few other adventures)

Louise, the Lazy (3 nights)

  • Hostel: HI Louise
    • Really cute hostel with an awesome restaurant downstairs. Really big self-service kitchen and good location. Rooms were good, but a bit small.
  • Coffee place: Trailhead Cafe
    • Omg what a place! Great coffee, great food, the nicest people! Thank you!

I wanted to stop in Lake Louise to begin with as I knew I’d be suffering from jet lag… (didn’t expect it to last for the majority of my 9 days at the rockies, oh well). Louise is a lazy village. Not to say there’s nothing to do, but there’s definitely very little during the low season. The lake is amazing (even if frozen) and the trails are beautiful. I stayed for 3 nights which was more than enough for me (I arrived at 7pm on the first day).

Thank you to Anna and Ivona for some of the travelling tips and for the chats at the end of the day in our dorm. It was really lovely meeting you and getting to know a little bit more about your journey for the next year. I’m sure we’ll meet again somewhere in South America

Jasper, the Gem (3 nights)

  • Hostel: HI Jasper
    • Amazing hostel, really big and with a lot of indoor and outdoor open space. When you first arrive it seems like it’s a bit far away from town and in an industrial area, but it’s actually really close to town and the rooms are fantastic. All the facilities are excellent, highly recommend
  • Coffee place: Andromeda
    • Went there on my last full day in Jasper and really regret not going sooner. Coffee and cakes are to die for.

Jasper was the first place in Canada to steal a little bit of my heart. The town is super cute and the trails are just breathtaking. I stayed for 3 nights but could have easily stayed for another 2. With a car you get to drive to some of the further away lakes and do some of the walks a bit further from the city centre, and you will not regret it

Thank you Ina for being an absolute legend and helping me figure out some of the trails I should do in Jasper. Also, thank you for taking me to Andromeda for the best coffee I had in Jasper.

Banff, the Busy (2 nights, 3 days)

  • Hostel: HI Banff
    • Nice Hostel with a ‘rustic’ / cabin feel to it. It’s nice but you can see it’s a bit old (which I don’t mind whatsoever). Location is on the way up the mountain and not in the city centre, which I also like.
  • Coffee place: Evelyn’s Coffee Bar
    • This was a recommendation from the receptionist at the hostel and it didn’t disappoint. Coffee was amazing and staff was super nice, deffo recommend.
  • Food Place: Nourish Bistro
    • I very rarely go out to eat, but Nourish had a full vegetarian and vegan menu and I just couldn’t not go. I ended up spending more money than a backpacker should, but I really recommend it.

I spent 2 nights in Banff and was able to do a few walks and visit a few sites, but just like in Lake Louise and Jasper, I could have spent more time in there for sure. Doing my time there I went down to Bow River and then went up Tunnel Mountain which ended up being a really good day of hiking with Liz (my new friend from Banff). Before leaving Banff we stopped at Lake Minnewanka and two Jake Lake and omg, what a show stopper.

Thank you to Julie and Marc-Olivier for the company during my last night in Banff. It was lovely to chat for a few hours and hear about your own adventures, even though I did the majority of the talking (sorry!)

Thank you to Liz for making my time in Banff a lot better and filled with activities. Liz is an 18 year old German girl, who I met in Canada, but was born in Lisbon (Portugal), where their parents got inspiration for her name. A lot of my work as freelancer involves supporting young people, and it was incredible to be with Liz for these two days, hear about their hopes and dreams for the next few years, going to university, a wish to travel more etc. To Liz: “you’ll be able to do it. Whatever you set your mind to, you’ll be able to do it. The undergraduate degree, the postgrad, the research, the exchanges, the travelling. The fact that you’ve had the courage to come to Canada on your own for a period of time at the age of 18, and the way you’ve been able to meet people, ask for advice, listen and also suggest different things to do, just shows that you’ve got it all in you to accomplish whatever you feel you’d like to. It was an honour to share the moments we did together”

Driving the Icefields Parkway

If you start in Calgary, you’ll reach Banff first, then Lake Louise and further north you’ve got Jasper. To get to Jasper you have to drive through the Icefields Parkway which is, arguably, one of the most scenic routes to be driven. You can do it in 3 or 4 hours, but it took me 7. And I made sure to do it twice…. It’s that beautiful!

To anyone coming to the Rockies I would say this is as part of the journey as visiting the the towns themselves and it should not be missed.

I have left the rockies feeling like it’s a place I want to come back in the summer to really see the (unfrozen) lakes, but I can not fully put into words how beautiful this place is. I loved that I went in low season, I loved not having to deal with crowds and I loved that I actually met a lot of Canadians and not just travellers.

Before we begin… [The Americas – #chronicles 2022]

We all talk a lot about our travels whilst you’re doing it and after we’ve come back, but very few people talk about what happens before you go (unless is to talk about how to pack, what to buy etc). I could talk for days about that as I’ve had my fair share of challenges recently when it comes to what to buy, but this is not a post for that.

This is my first long trip. 6 months. I currently work full time and asked for 6months unpaid leave. It was granted. I knew It was going to be a busy period before going, I knew I’d be stressed, I knew I would be very worried, but I was not ready for the fear, the apprehension, and the mild panic moments.

I could write about all of that, but I pay a therapist to listen to that :p

This post is about saying thank you to those people who hold your hand before your trip, who reassure you, who help you understand where your fear is coming from and remind you that you have the tools to deal with it. It’s a thank you to those who make your life easier by helping you in small and big ways, which allow you to be reassured it will all be ok.

So… Thank you to….

  • Ben, the best landlord anyone (literally anyone!) could ask for. I’ve got no words for how much your help and kindness have been instrumental for me to be able to take this trip. Thank you.
  • Poppy, Tim & my cousins for always being there. Always.
  • David for being one of my travelling inspirations and for always having time to hear my stories. (He says I don’t bore him, I don’t believe it )
  • To Jessica… omg to Jessica! For planning out US road trip and allowing me not to have to think about it. For listening to my ideas, for reassuring me and for being an inspiration
  • To Grace and Ali, who will be looking after the department when I’m gone. I would have not left if I didn’t feel that you two were one of the best things that happened to this department in a very long time
  • To my manager Kay, for everything she did to make this trip a reality. I know it was a lot, and I will forever be grateful.
  • To Em, Danny and the boys, for my amazing farewell party and for supporting me beyond measure.
  • To Marije, the sister that has changed my life forever and continues to remind me that I can stop, I can say ”no” and I can follow my dreams.
  • To my newly found lil family, Sami, Speja and Vedran, for waiting for me. Not everyone would have, and I’ll never forget they you are. It means the world.
  • To the Portuguese crew…. All of you. Because….”All that Love. All that crazy love”
  • And to my work gang… for never finding me ‘too crazy’, just crazy enough to follow my dreams. Thank you for the support, the enthusiasm and for the best farewell. I will miss you all

If not now… then when?

In exactly one month I will be going on my next adventure, and even though I don’t usually write before going travelling (only during or after), this adventure deserves an introductory post.

Let’s face it…. the past 2 years have been a bit of a shit show…. Covid, shit Brexit Deal, a “closer to home” war (adding to all the others). For me, all this has led to not being able to see friends or travel, to overworking and ultimately … burnout.

Back in October 2021 it was all too much and I actually had to be signed off work for 2 weeks due to burnout (yes, I’m being open about it, no shame). During that time, and in part thanks to therapy (which I’ve been doing for over a year), I’ve decided that it was time to stop.

And this is where it gets interesting…

I’ve decided that buying a house is not for me (not yet). I decided that having a family is not for me (just yet). And I’ve decided that the timing will never be right for the things I want to do. I just need to go for it….because… if not now, then when?

I asked for a sabbatical at work and decided that 6 months away was just what the doctor ordered.

On the 30th April, exactly 1 month from today, I will be going on a little adventure for 6 months. As it is my style, I’ll be travelling (mostly) alone, with a backpack, a fair bit of fear and all the dreams a short girl like me can hold.

My work place calls it a career break. Or Sabbatical Leave. Some people call it an extended holiday. Others called it a “break from life”. For me, it’s non of those.

It’s a break from my day job, but certainly not a career break. As per “Le Google” …. career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.“… and I see this as one of the biggest opportunities I will have to progress and learn as a human being.

This adventure will be an opportunity to open my mind, to allow my body to forget its daily routine but mainly an opportunity to feed the soul.

I’m excited and scared. I have no idea what will happen or if I’ll be able to go to the places that I’d like to go to.

But hey…. if not now, then when?

*more blogs on how the trip is going in the future and you can follow @mariana_v_rocha (instagram) for live updates.

(Day 365) // 1 year mark – The End

We got here… with good and challenging moments but we got here.

If you’ve been following the “Bye bye bunions” series you might have seen this post coming, if not… well…. Take some time to read through the story of my feet surgery on the 12th Nov 2020 and its progress until now here.

So… the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the before and after!

After one year, the few things I’ve got to say are:

  • Still one of the best things I’ve done (specially considering the amount of pain I was in)
  • Still one of the most painful things I’ve done
  • If you’re quite self conscious about scars and how something looks, then deffo invest in some daily scar massages with bio-oil. I didn’t and you can definitely see the scars very well. To be honest it’s not something I care about, but if you do, then keep those massages going
  • Still one of the things in my life that has provided a high level of entertainment and some pretty funny stories
  • Still one of the things in my life that made me appreciate even more what my body can do and how much I enjoy exercising.

After one year…. There’s absolutely no regrets!

Scotland 2021 – a dream trip

I considered writing several posts about this trip, it definitely deserves it. Maybe one day I will. But for now, I’m just trying to cope with my travelling blues and the fact that I’m about to leave what has become my 2nd favourite country in the entire world.

In a time of Covid-19, and after working for a year and a half with almost no holiday, and a cancelled trip to Portugal, I decided to book a last minute roadtrip to Scotland. I’ve always wanted to do it and was thinking about doing it at the end of August but doing it during these 2 weeks (10Jul – 26Jul) was the best thing ever.

The sun shone for 80% of the time. I got sunburnt…. IN SCOTLAND. Crazy times.

Anyway…. I got a train from London to Edinburgh (which got cancelled and I was then put on a different train), on a Saturday and stayed in Edinburgh for only one day.

If you’re considering going to Edinburgh, check what you want to do and book in advance! Due to Covid-19 restrictions they’re not allowing same day bookings for anything.

Picked up the car on Sunday and the next week was all about driving. I drove for hours. For days. And I can not put into words how amazing it was. There’s a lot I can say about all the places I’ve been, but to make this particular post as short as possible, I’ll just say:

  • Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been to. The mountains, the coastal walks, the sights… I can not put it into words and pictures make it no justice
  • The people. Scottish ‘folks’ are up there with Kiwis as the nicest people I’ve ever met. The funnier and the most helpful
  • The roads are actually pretty good!
  • Yes…. there are more sheep than humans. And you know what…. on this occasion, I was fairly happy about this
  • The different types of ‘green’ are only comparable to the ones I’ve seen in New Zealand
  • You breathe differently in Scotland

Some of the highlights of my trip were:

  • The Castles (all of them!). I mean… is this even real life? It did feel like a fairy tale at times.
  • The drive to Inverness through the Cairngorms National Park. I’ve got no words for it.
  • Getting to Inverness and visiting Culloden was incredible. The history behind it and what led to it was fascinating and gives you a really good idea of the issues between England and Scotland at the time. Also a really good insight into the Jacobite risings. (however…. bear it mind it can be quite a overwhelming experience to be at a place where so many died).
  • The drive up to Thurso showed me how incredible the Scottish Coast is. With an average temperature of 22degrees during that week…. the beaches were full! Yes… they have white sand beaches in Scotland
  • The drive from Thurso to Ullapool (through Scourie) is incredible. Again… I can’t say much as the words fail me, but there were times were it looked like the mountains were just coming out of the ground, as if born when you drove past. And the greens!! ❤
  • The Isle of Skye is beautiful but it rained for the 2 days I was there…. so …. I guess I’ll have to come back ‘aye? What a shame (hihih)
  • I did not plan or intended to go up Ben Nevis, but guess what? I did. It’s the highest point in the UK and I’m actually super proud I did it. The only complaint is that I did not expect it to be 24degrees and backing sun in Scotland. So I removed all 3 long sleeved layers and well…. the portuguese lass got sunburnt (badly!)

After this, I got to hang out with Jayme at her Caravan park (unashamed plug: https://immervoulinpark.co.uk/). Let me tell you… there’s something about this park. I slept an average of 8 hours a night, without waking up during the night for 5 night in a row. I also got to meet her friends Kristy and Lucy and we had the best kayakying adventure, BBQ and ‘oregano’ times with our Teeny Weeny Beeny Panini (or Chaos, Jayme’s dog)

I met Jayme in Laos when we were both travelling and this beautiful friendship we have is a gift that keeps on giving. Spending time with friends you make when travelling is one of the best things that can happen and really shows the strong connections you can make as a traveller.

And to prevent this from getting too long…. I’m just going to say that I’ve had the best 2 weeks. I’m thankful

  • For the weather
  • For not crashing the car lol
  • For the people I’ve met
  • For all the landscapes I got to drive through and explore
  • For everyone at Immervoulin park for being so welcoming and immediatly accepting me as part to their community (and what a community it is!!)
  • To Jayme and her mum. For everything. You’re the absolute best!

Thank you.

(Day 200) // 28th week – 6 months since surgery – I got lazy // 29th May 2021

Although the 6 month mark was a few weeks ago I’ve only just been able to take a decent picture of the feet and take some time to write about it.

Overall everything is ok, and I’m doing everything I used to do before surgery… well.. more or less.

In the past three months I got fairly lazy and haven’t really been doing all the physio exercises I should…. and that’s very noticeable on the toes mobility. To be honest…. it hurts a fair bit to do the exercises and since I’ve got not one to push me to do it I simply don’t. Not a good thing and I need to do better if I want my toes/feet mobility fully back.

Other updates are:

  • they very rarely swell up these days
  • The scars are still quite “hard” which is a result of not massaging them at all
  • They occasionally hurt, mainly when I run on jump around

I do not regret at al having the surgery, which is still the main question I get. The pain was too much to handle before and now there’s barely any pain (and i expect there to be pain until the 12months mark anyway)

Not sure if my dance moves will ever be the same but hey…. I’ll keep practicing