The photos of the beautiful sand dunes of Peru are all over social media, and now you’re ready to make your way to the oasis. Huacachina is a small settlement, on an actual oasis lake, in the desert near the city of Ica, Peru. It’s only an hour from the ocean, and 4.5 hours from Lima (if you time it right).
In this post, we have provided a “how to” guide to get to Ica and Huacachina from Lima, and some good to know information for before you arrive.
There are no busses that go directly from Lima to Huacachina (the oasis), so you’ll need to get yourself to Ica first.
There are multiple bus companies that go all day to Ica, but finding where they leave from in Lima is the key. The “Big Bus Terminal” or Gran Terminal Terrestre in the Plaza Norte is closest to the airport, and would be a logical choice. It is not.
Busses from this terminal only leave in the afternoon, and they drive all through the city to pick up other guests along the way. The supposed 4.5 hour journey slowly turned into an 8 hour journey and was not enjoyable. However, if you’re staying in the area near to Plaza Norte, you enjoy shopping and don’t care how long it takes you to get to Ica, the mall is a good time.
There are multiple companies to choose from, with varying prices and levels of luxury. We went with Oltursa bus on the way there and it was $55 Soles ($17 USD) pp. The double decker bus had lots of leg room and 160 degree reclining seats. It was luxurious, but as I am prone to motion sickness, being on the top level was a nightmare and I felt every gust of wind along the way.
We took Peru Bus on the way home and tickets were $13USD pp. The bus wasn’t as new, and the seats didn’t recline as far, but they had individual mini screens like on an airplane, something Oltursa did not. Cruz del Sur is your cheapest company, and I imagine the busses reflect that, but they’re probably still not that bad. Plus, it’s a straight journey, so safety isn’t a huge concern.
Although the option of turning up to the bus station and hoping for the best is there, the better option is to pre book your tickets online. We found this out once we arrived in Ica, so we used RedBus to book our ride home with PeruBus.
Booking with RedBus was easy, but they never sent our e-tickets until 2 days AFTER our bus ride…thank goodness we didn’t actually need them. Only our passports and a digital copy of our receipt to get on the bus. I’m not sure if every bus company is the same so it may not be worth the risk.
BusBud is another option for booking online, or you can search for the bus schedule and just show up at the terminal or station an hour early and hope for the best!
Once you disembark in Ica, you will have no problem finding a taxi driver or a moto taxi, depending on how much luggage you have. A taxi should cost no more than $15 Soles from the bus station to Huacachina (it really should be only $10 Soles, but depending on your arrival time it could be up to $15), and a moto taxi should be no more than $7 Soles (generally $6 Soles).
It is recommended to have Google maps available, the physical address (instead of the name) of your hotel, and/or the general area of your hotel memorized, as giving directions to the taxis can sometimes be tricky. They are all super kind and friendly though, take normal precautions, but they will want to try and sell you tours so they treat you like gold.
There are plenty of accommodation options in the city of Ica or the oasis of Huacachina. We used booking.com and stayed at Hotel Hilroq, which we do recommend. Click on the booking.com link to get 10% off your booking, anywhere in the world!
Depending on what it is you are looking for, there will be accommodation to suit you. We chose our hotel because it was on the way out to Huacachina (a 10 minute walk to the oasis), but it was far enough away so we wouldn’t have to be amongst the party crowd we’d been hearing about. And it was well priced. The pool was just a bonus.
It turns out the party crowd is pretty much only at the hostels, so you can stay in Huacachina and still find tranquility. Unless party is what you’re looking for – then you’ve got a couple options. La Casa de Bamboo had real good vibes, we went there for drinks one night.
If you do stay in Huacachina, you will be paying close to double the price to what you pay for the same (sometimes better) accommodations if you’re just outside, or right in Ica (which is only a 5-10 minute moto taxi away).
We do recommend Hotel Hilroq – but a few things to note: the hot water was temperamental and there was a big echo, so if you like to sleep in, it may not be the place for you. Read the reviews and you can find what you are looking for, whether in Ica or Huacachina. We picked the best of both worlds.
We only spent 3 nights in Huacachina and we felt like we were able to get what we wanted to done there in terms of exploration and tourism, but we were ready to leave by the end.
The people trying to sell tours got a bit old, and the prices in the oasis were a bit high in comparison to other parts of Peru. We would go back, but it felt more like a weekend spot. We would probably stay at the beach in Pisco, an hour away, and do a day trip to the desert next time.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience and we highly recommend!
It pains me to say we almost missed this experience. It was always part of the original plan, but new plans got in the way and it became a bit of an inconvenience. However, I’m proud to say we listened to our guts, stuck to the plan, and made the trip out of our way back up the coast to camp for a night.
We had been living in Canoa, a small town with a lovely expat settlement, on the coast of Ecuador for two months, and when we finished, we decided to head south to Montañita for a few nights. We had wanted to camp earlier but it never worked out, so we just let it go. Our plans were to then go onward to Quito before heading north to Colombia, but our friend Pete reminded us of our camping plans, and was an expert at persuading us to head back north.
We tested out the Monkey Beach camping experience he now offers as a tour through Canoa Suites, and let me tell you, it is worth every penny! It is at the top of all of the experiences we’ve had in the past 15 months on the road, and man we’ve seen a lot. If you’re in Ecuador and looking for something to do, and you love doing things off the beaten track, look no further. And if you’re thinking about skipping Ecuador while traveling through South America, you’re crazy. It is the best part, and adding this adventure in will be the icing on the cake.
$80 pp gets you transport to the private entrance to the coastline, tents and gear, amazing food, and a boat ride back into town. The beaches are only accesible by boat or private land access (exclusive to Canoa Suites), so you are really out in the wild.
Leaving Canoa in a car, we had about a 15 minute drive north, and another 10 minute drive west through the private property. Natural dry forest surrounds the land with howler monkeys calling from the treetops. The car dropped us off and we put our packs on and got ready for the 6km trek to the protected bay.
We do recommend shoes, although we both made the journey in flip flops and survived! But we also got married in flip flops and live in them or bare feet so we wouldn’t really have done it any other way.
Along the coast there are incredible rock and shell formations. We saw the layers of earth, with fossils of sea life, and I was sure if we spent time digging, we would find dinosaur fossils too. It felt like we were on an archaeological site waiting to happen. It is one of the longest stretch’s of untouched coastline on the whole of South America, and our flip flop footprints lined the sand.
In addition to the dinosaur-vibes, there were ancient Kichwa fish traps, estimated at over 2000 years old, still standing and still used today by their descendants. We even had the pleasure of meeting one of them along the way. He had set up camp around the bay from where we were staying, and was living there for a short time, while collecting fish to sell at market. Boats would come in every couple of days to collect what he caught and he would stay behind. The traps were perfect storage, since there were no refrigerators!
After about an hour and a half of walking, we reached a bay that was sheltered from all of the wind, with beaches protected by rocks. It was us and a few fisherman about a kilometre down the bay from us. That was it. We hadn’t been expecting others at all, Pete was a little surprised, but he remained calm and so did we. Okay we were a little worried, but what can ya do?
Once we pitched our tents and decided where our fire pit would be, we felt it was important to meet the fisherman. If they weren’t good people, we wouldn’t be able to stay.
There was something so primal about walking up to a crowd of unknown people, on a barren coastline in Ecuador. Rarely do we experience these moments in the Western World. There’s often easy access to flee if things go wrong, or a cell phone to call for help. Entering a new country where you don’t speak the language, or a new community or new job, those are tiny moments of the primal feelings. But we’ve never felt anything like this before. Not even close. It was us and them. How do you offer peace without showing weakness, how do you know they mean what they say. You don’t. You just breathe, do what is right by you, and trust. We decided to go in with smiles.
And thank God we did.
As soon as we rocked up, they smiled back and greeted us with pounds and pounds of freshly boiled up crab that they had caught earlier! We stood around enjoying the view and the experience with them for awhile, learning about them and their work, and that sadly the reason they were camped on the beach was that pirates had been robbing them while they slept on the water a few weeks back. Another little primal moment, but we knew that the power in numbers on the beach would keep us safe. I’m still pinching myself when I think back to that day. What could have been, and what really was. It was such a lesson in bravery and being present. It was like a drug.
We watched sunset from an abandoned building deep in the forest on the hill while Humpback whales put on a show in the water and the howler monkeys sang us their growly lullaby. We spent all night chatting around the fire, solving all the worlds problems, and really getting to know one another better. Something about a fire in a natural environment really opens one up. When we finally said goodnight, sleep hit like a ton of bricks…for John. I was slightly on edge. We were in the middle of nowhere on the Ecuadorian coast, with a bunch of strangers. The voice in my head echoed “Trust. Be present.” And before I knew it, I was waking up at sunrise after one of the most peaceful sleeps I’ve ever had. And we were all alright.
We also had a chance to check out the campsite of the first fisherman we met. He invited us by and showed us how he weaved his own fishing net, which he used in addition to the traps.
Through our time in Canoa we witnessed many nets being made but never went up to actually watch the process. We had seen a few Dead Sea turtles wash up on the beach, and heard many stories of the local fishermen taking their anger out on the turtles that got caught in the nets, often bashing their heads in.
It was incredibly sad to hear and see, but after watching the incredibly tedious work of building these nets, and seeing the poverty the fishermen lived in, I found empathy. The education around sea turtle conservation was undoubtedly lacking, as well as the compassion for an animal who was potentially ruining a livelihood and preventing the fishermen and their families from eating. Essentially, people in glass houses should not throw stones. I’m not condoning their behaviour, but I empathize with the position they are in when they make those decisions. It was deep, to say the least.
Leaving the beach was a bittersweet experience. We really connected to Canoa, made lifelong friendships, and felt like this could be the spot we choose to settle down in. We had looked at purchasing land, and had become a part of the furniture in our short time there, joining in on every social activity we could, ensuring we had a place to call home. Being on this camping trip was a bit of a mindfuck as we played over our lives if we stayed and bought land, or if we stuck to our original plan and continued on seeing the world. In over a year we had never felt a home like this. To be honest, in over 6 years that we’ve been together, we’d never felt a home like this. We’ve loved everywhere we’ve lived, but something about Canoa stole our hearts and choosing to move on was hard.
But this beautiful experience was a microcosm for our journey. We almost moved on without following the plans we made because we found something a bit easier along the way. If we had gone with the new plan, we would’ve been happy, and we would never have known what we missed out on, but we would’ve wondered. And by taking the more inconvenient previous plan, we had one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in this life. So we must go on. No matter how inconvenient it may become, no matter how easy or exciting the new experiences life throws at us may be, we set out to see the world, and we’ve got so much more to go. We’ve hit all the spots we wanted to in South America, though we know we will be back to see more eventually, we can tick it off for now.
We are heading back to New Zealand for some weddings and Christmas this year, but we will be off again in the new year. It was a goal we set and a promise we made to ourselves, and we’re going to keep it, no matter what.
After spending the past six months in Ecuador, our extended visas were about to expire and we figured it was time to brave the land border and cross into Colombia. Everyone we have spoken to that has visited Colombia has said incredible things, and we wanted to join the crew!
To prepare for the dreaded crossing, we spent a few nights in Quito. Little did we know, this would be the easiest land border we’ve come across on our travels. We decided to look at it as a video game with all the levels to beat, and I’ll be posting soon with the steps to complete the journey in harmony. But until then, Level One is leaving Quito and making your way toward the border in style.
If you’re asking us, we would say no! It’s a long trip and there is so much to see north of Quito that you’d be silly to miss out. We were silly and only gave ourselves 2 nights north of the city, and found plenty of things we wish we had given ourselves more time to explore.
The famous Otavalo, known for its Saturday markets, is a Quitonian and expat hotspot on the weekends. If you want to join the crowd, head in on a Friday, but if you’re like us and want a bit of peace and quiet, weekdays work too. The market is slightly smaller but far less overwhelming.
The city and surrounding areas have many hikes, volcanoes and lakes to explore. We ended up staying about five minutes north of the city in a pueblo called Iluman, and I will go on further to share our amazing experience at El Tio’s Hostal, one we highly recommend to any traveler who wants to go off the beaten track. Don’t forget to use our Booking.com code PYSGRO26 for 10% off your booking (anywhere in the world), or click here to access the discount and start searching for your next holiday accommodation.
If you’ve spent any time in Quito, you will know the city’s great expanse. Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe is in the deep south, and Terminal Terrestre Carcelén is in the north. Carcelén is where you want to take off from—so consider this when you book your accommodation in Quito. We recommend El Andariego, a quiet, comfortable hostel close to the action but far enough away to not be bothered. An Uber from the CBD only costs about $5 in low traffic, however; ideally, don’t book a place near Quitumbe, or too far north.
We read a few blog posts that said that Carcelen was a bit dodgy. We were there on a Sunday morning and it was calm and friendly, completely contrary to what we were expecting. Just keep your wits about you, as you should when traveling anywhere in the world, and you will be sweet. Bus tickets to Otavalo range from $2.50 to $2.75, and basically all of the bus companies at Carcelen run northward.
If you have decided you want to do the journey in one day, get a bus to Tulcan. Our border crossing post will have more information on that, so stay tuned.
Once we were on the bus we told the helper that we needed to be dropped at Iluman instead of Otavalo, and we were lucky that they did this without an additional fee. A taxi from Otavalo to Iluman is approximately $3 so you aren’t breaking the bank if they say they can’t drop you five minutes further.
The bus trip is just over two hours, and it is an incredibly gorgeous one at that. Quito is at 2850m and Otavalo is at 2532m, yet somehow we felt the lack of oxygen and brisk mountain air far more in the Otavalo area. Go figure. (The equator is a strange place).
As previously mentioned, there are plenty of things to see and do in the Otavalo area, hiking being number one. Sadly, we missed out on any real ascents, but we stayed at El Tío’s, which was a bit of a hike up the Imbabura volcano itself, and was out on a block of farmland with a local family, so we felt like we got a true Andean mountain experience.
El Tío Hostal was off the beaten track, with the main office being in the pueblo of Iluman, where you will be dropped off by your taxi. Even if the bus takes you to Iluman, you’ll need a ride up the hills into town, which is $1-2, depending on your bartering skills. Then Tío drives you up the hill further with your luggage. The price for a private bedroom with private bathroom was $11/night. Not per person, per room! Not because we want travellers to pay more, but because we loved Tío and want to see him succeed, we recommended he raised his prices just a bit, or offer some interactive tours and experiences at a cost. He was one of the best hosts we’ve ever encountered and we so want to see his business do well!
El Tio’s was filled with dogs! So if you’re allergic or afraid, this may not be the place for you, but it was right up our alley. Tío told us that there were wolves in the mountains which was why he needed so many dogs, to protect the cows. Our first night we heard howls in the distance, and then the barks of the friendly dogs we had come to know and love—they were the most vicious sounding barks we’ve heard! Especially compared to the yappy beach dogs we’d been spending our time with. The barks were right from the bottom of their bellies, dogs we definitely wouldn’t mess with, but when they came back from protecting, they were just puddles of love!
The Hostal has a shared kitchen with a gas stove, no refrigerator (but the air and kitchen is cold in the day so things won’t spoil), and a fire to cook over if you’re keen. The private bathrooms have flushing toilets and cold showers, but there is one shared shower with hot water. No wifi is available up at the cabins, but 3/4G is and there is free wifi with couches to sit on at the shop, a 10 minute walk down the hill into town.
We were literally living with Tío’s family, making it more of a homestay than a hostel, but there were about 8 other travellers there with us (a few volunteering through workaway). Everything was built little. Kitchen benches, chairs, door frames. It felt a lot like Gulliver’s Travels. The Andean people may be some of the most adorable humans on the planet, not only for their petite statures, but for their incredible hearts and hospitality. They really taught us a lot about giving, even in our short two-day stay.
In the morning, Tío came up with the truck and packed our bags for us, and took us to the Hostal shop/office in town to say goodbye to his wife, Tía (if you don’t speak Spanish, tío and tía mean uncle and aunt), where they gifted us handmade woollen scarves, before taking us to the road to catch our bus northbound.
We were so sad to leave Ecuador, as the country and the people have been our home for the better half of 2019. We didn’t know how we would say goodbye, and Tío and Tía somehow gave us the perfect send off and encapsulated our experience. Warm, welcoming, friendly and loving people, just wanting to share their culture and provide beautiful experiences to everyone. And to top it all off, we met our amazing new friends, Courtney and Marco, a Canadian/Italian couple who live in Australia, with whom we successfully beat all the levels of the border crossing game. Check out their blog and Instagram @unsettledlife .
A huge chunk of our hearts has been left in Ecuador (metaphorically, we weren’t a part of any organ trafficking), and we cannot wait to be back. But until then, we’ve got so much more of the world to see! Thanks for following along, and if you have any questions about Ecuador or the border crossing, you know where to find us!
Sitting at 2060m above sea level in the Cuxibamba Valley in the south of Ecuador lies a hidden gem, in its cloud forest with two rivers running through it. Loja, formerly Ciudad de la Inmaculada Concepción de Loja (City of the Immaculate Conception of Loja), is the capital city of the Loja Province, and it surprised us during our visit, and has us itching to go back for more.
We spent only two nights in Loja and it was definitely not enough. There are plenty of things to see and do in the city and the surrounding area. The city’s motto, Loja Para Todo (Loja is for Everyone), rings true the second you enter the streets. For more on our experience in the city, click here.
This post is about some of the many fun things to do in the city of Loja and it’s surrounding area, but it’s just the start! We weren’t able to get even close to everything done in our two days, but if you only have a short amount of time, you won’t regret ticking these things off the list.
We stumbled across this modern-day food-truck foodcourt and found not only the best ceviche and jugo de coco (coconut juice) in town, but the most amazing hosts/owners. It was the perfect welcome into the city and set the scene for the wonderful hospitality Loja had to offer. Verde & Mar are on the bottom floor (underneath Shamrock, which is on Google Maps), amongst many other tasty spots, there’s something for everyone, but don’t pass on these guys!
We haven’t been able to find proper jugo de coco outside of the Loja Province, and we’ve tried to make it on our own but it just isn’t the same. If you do nothing else in Ecuador but eat ceviche and drink coconut juice, your trip will have been worthwhile.
Modeled after Loja’s Coat of Arms, which were presented by King Felipe II of Spain in 1571, the gate feels like that of a fairy tale. You can climb the clock tower, the gardens are kept to perfection, and the building itself has four galleries (two showcasing contemporary Lojano artwork; a cafeteria; and gift shop).
It may look like Disneyland, but there are no rides. It’s a cultural and historical site, and it’s free! We enjoyed the atmosphere and the coffee, all they needed was some minstrels and horse and carriages, and we would’ve been completely transported back in time.
There are multiple historic churches in Loja, and before you yawn and say “no way,” let me let you in on a little secret. Starting at La Puerta de la Ciudad, you will find a big orange stripe on the sidewalk. This is the Loja Board of Tourism’s way to keep the tourists interested in the Spanish-Catholic architecture. By following the stripe through the city, you will find yourself on a tour of all of the main historic churches and squares.
We didn’t do this (as we had little time and are not multiple-church enthusiasts), but we did visit The Church of San Francisco and caught a wedding, and saw the Cathedral of Loja from the outside. It was beautiful, but we only had so much time and there was plenty of food to be eaten.
There’s an endless supply of restaurants, bars ands cafes in Loja, a number of outdoor food courts, and marisquerías (seafood restaurant) galore, all very well priced. They even have a sushi stop, Sushi Cat! So good.
If you wander Avenida Orillas del Zamora or Calle Segundo Cueva Celi, where they meet, you’ll have great luck. But most spots open after lunch time. Once it’s dark is when it really comes to life.
Traditionally a coastal Ecuadorian dish, the city of Loja has become renowned for these crispy-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside treats. Made with dough of green (verde) plantains (a large, solid, starchy relative of bananas), and filled with cheese, meat, chicken or seafood, it’s a taste like no other. We almost wished there had been no Sushi Cat, then we would’ve been able to eat more empanadas!
If you speak Spanish or are learning, you’ll love this spot! If not, maybe opt for the museum’s cafe. But admission is free! So you can do a tiki tour and feel cultured, even if you understand very little.
The museum pays tribute to the history of music in the Loja area and their local artists. Free museums are our favorite kind, but sadly we missed out on this one because it was closed the weekend we were there! So do us a favor and check it out on our behalf, we’ve heard great things!
The Virgin of the Swan is a symbol of Mother Mary, and as the story goes, she protected a medieval knight by appearing in swan form. The statue itself was carved in the 1500s and lives in a Lojan town bearing the same name, El Cisne, for the greater part of the year. But each year on the 15th of August, about 500,000 pilgrims begin the celebrations in El Cisne and make the pilgrimage with the statue to Loja.
She stays in the main cathedral until 1 November, and then the fiesta reverses directions. So if you’re in the area during the pilgrimage, it’s worth doing, even if you’re not Catholic!
North of the city, Parque Recreational Jipiro sits on 10 hectares of land, complete with an amusement park, lake and a bird island. Swans swim around and you can paddle boat beside them. There’s little shops with snacks and a restaurant, or you can pack your own lunch.
They’ve recreated some of the world’s most famous structures amongst their incredibly groomed gardens, adding to the fairytale vibes. Sadly we missed this as well, due to gloom and rain. I can only imagine how fantastic Parque Jipiro would be on sunny day.
In the past year we have spent a lot of time in isolation from the “real world” and big cities, spending the majority of our time in nature or quiet towns. So when we have to pop into cities for transit, we tend to spend as little time possible surrounded by the concrete and noise. Rarely we feel as though we missed out by not giving ourselves more time to explore. Ecuador has surprised us however, as many of the cities we’ve passed through have left us wanting more.
Loja is at the top of our list of random cities to visit! If you’re in the area, definitely stop by.
Home to just over 180,000 people and two of Ecuador’s major universities, Loja city has a friendly, welcoming, upbeat vibe the second you enter the streets. Nicknamed “The Musical Capital of Ecuador,” it hosts a number of festivals, has plenty of street art and beautiful Spanish architectural buildings, and a reputation for its great restaurants and night life.
We stopped in on our way north to the Amazon Rainforest after spending two months deep in the alpine forest village of Yangana. After a two hour cab journey we arrived at our hotel, only to find we left our passports under the mattress at our last home.
We had to catch a flight out of Loja, but thank the Universe we had decided to spend 2 nights in the city, to revel in the hot water showers and eat some proper takeaways (sushi) before heading into jungle.
We learned that the people of the Loja province were even MORE wonderful than we experienced for the past two months, which was hard to imagine possible. Our cab driver made the drive back to us on his own with the passports in hand for $20USD. I doubled it and he reluctantly took it, saying “It’s ok it’s just my job!” (#lovethiscountry)
Although we had a bit of a panicked welcome to the city, it didn’t stop us. We we’re preparing now ourselves for the Ayahuasca diet, so we had juices and teas in some funky places, got our sushi takeaways, and had free front row seats to a football parade down the street outside our window.
The next day we wandered around checking out the markets, buildings and parks and eating ceviche. Blog post coming soon on Things to Do in Loja. It felt like we were in a fairy tale when we were in certain spots of the town.
We even caught the tail end of a catholic wedding at the church across the road from our hotel. So romantic. And our trip wouldn’t have been complete without checking out the shopping mall markets, complete with a vape shop and KFC. We didn’t eat there, but it’s always fun to take note of where KFC pops up in this world. We stuck to our SushiCat for the most part, because nothing says “Ecuadorian Adventure” quite like sushi rolls.
Loja will always hold a special place in my heart for reasons other than the view and cuisine. I have been working hard on my Spanish for months now but Loja was the first place that I realized I actually speak the language.
I had to ask for itchy bite cream at the pharmacy and spoke naturally in Spanish without thinking—so naturally that the pharmacist replied to me in Spanish so fast, I had no idea what was happening. I asked her to repeat slowly and we laughed and she told me (in Spanish) she had no idea I was learning because my pronunciation was perfect! That was a pretty cool moment, after 5 years of half-learning and 1 year of really trying, I can say I speak Spanish! Yo hablo español!
We found out after leaving Loja that one of the main reasons the Spanish founded Loja was to use as a departure town for missions through the Amazon Basin in search of the mythical and mystical El Dorado. Although we missed El Dorado, we did embark Loja in pursuit of Amazonia and the Basin. We did cheat a little by using air and land transport, but we did spend some time in on the rivers.
We stayed at Hotel Libertador, one of the city’s nicer accommodations. (Click here for 10% off your hotel booking anywhere in the world). It was outdated but comfortable, the breakfast was lovely (a buffet with an omelet chef), the weekday staff were absolutely wonderful, and there was a gym and hot water!
The only thing was, they ruined my clothes at the in-house laundry. I thought that by paying a bit more we’d have excellent service. Over time we’ve learned that more expensive often does not mean higher quality. The “clean” clothes came back with the same strange stain on almost everything, and the weekend staff said they’d knock $5 off my $15 laundry bill. I said I wasn’t paying anything as 90% of my clothes were now ruined, and the front desk lady thought it was a good idea let the laundry lady come into our room to yell at us in Spanish while telling us us she didn’t get the stain on all my clothes…if only I had realized I spoke Spanish a day later. Couldn’t plead expat ignorance, I had to argue in a foreign language. It was all really weird, definitely the strangest hotel/customer service experience we’ve ever had. But we enjoyed the breakfast a lot and got a late check out. And of course, we didn’t pay a penny for the laundry.
All in all, Loja was wonderful and we will definitely be back. Surrounded by forests, mountains and rivers, there’s more to explore outside the city, we barely even touched on it. They host many musical acts at little bars and bigger venues, and this November is their 3rd annual performing arts festival. They have plenty of cevicherias at great prices, and the locals are welcoming and kind. Go Loja!
We set in for our power nap around 4:30 that afternoon. Our minds may have been sound, but our bodies were exhausted. We woke up the next day at 9am, having had completely uninterrupted sleeps. We were fully recharged and rejuvenated, we turned lemons into lemonade. The world and San Cristobal were our oysters, and there was nothing that could stop us now. Enter Universe. Click here to read Part One.
We began the day with a new outlook on life and adventure. We were feeling open to the world around us and were ready to take it all in.
We caught breakfast and coffee at our “local” and decided to wander the streets open-minded. We were able to nail the transit-day back in Merida, so San Cristobal de las Casas would be an easy task. It had a reputation to uphold and within our first steps it was fulfilling our expectations.
We wandered into a little pox (pronounced posh) shop, which is a traditional Mayan spirit made of corn and sugar cane. We had been told to try it and couldn’t believe our luck to stumble across this boutique so near our hostel. It’s a traditional beverage, but it’s not widely marketed, so we took this luck and ran with it.
The owner chatted with us for over an hour about all the incredible sights to see in San Cristobal. He drew a map, told us the best places for Chiapas food, showed all the cheap and free museums and sites, and served up some amazing pox. We promised we’d return on our final day to fill him in on our adventures.
We found a travel company that had tours on offer at amazing prices to see the rivers, mountains and caves in the area. We knew we wanted to do an excursion but we weren’t sure which one, so we thought we’d ponder during our day over food and drinks and decide early the next morning. We only had to book the morning of, so it was perfect! Things were really turning up Cossie.
We explored the main square, perused art galleries and eyed up amber and jade exhibits. We took in the beauty of the street art and the creativity the city exuded. We were en route to Oaxaca, a city we cherished for its artistic expression, and we found a sister city we would need more time to explore. 3 days would simply not be enough.
We found a store selling Catholic goods. Icons of the crucifixion, statues of Mother Mary, candles with pictures of the different Saints on them, and incense sticks for different occasions.
If only we’d had the foresight to buy the ‘pure house’ incense. That, or literally anything with a smell.
Two beers here, two mezcals there, four enchiladas and a visit to the cacao museum brought us to the evening. We had an incredibly full day, we embraced the foreign city with all that we had, and decided over margaritas that we’d done good. We’d earned an early night in with some Netflix and comfort food. Subway was across the street.
During our travels we do our very best to eat local dishes, street food and test the best locally made burgers (of course). But after a long 48 hours, we wanted something that reminded us a bit of the western world: cheap dirty chain fast food. I don’t think either of us have ever been more excited to eat a meal. We felt like we’d run a marathon and those subs were our trophies. We’d get back into the local food tomorrow and we weren’t going to feel guilty about the gorge.
The air grew cold. I bought a poncho and we skipped home, sandwich bags swinging at our sides. We tucked into our little bed, turned on an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on John’s computer, dug into our subs and talked about our day.
“We can tackle anything,” I remember John saying between bites. “Another perfect day, just going with the flow. Nothing can stop us!”
“Let’s not jinks it,” I replied, knocking on the wooden windowsill.
We finished our dinner, finished a couple episodes, and were sound asleep by about 10. I mustn’t have knocked hard enough though, because by 3am we were both loudly awake.
The bedroom door slammed but didn’t shut properly and I woke with a startle. It wasn’t like John to leave a door open, so I thought to stand up to make sure everything was okay. Then it hit me.
My stomach, trapped underneath my rib cage, was on fire. Not hot and spicy fire, but deep, blue flame, pain. I could barely roll to the other side of the bed to close the door.
I forgot to mention that we decided in our infinite wisdom, we would be ok with a shared bathroom. It was only 3 nights and saved us about $15… In 6 months of travel this was only the 2nd time we made that call (the other time was a quick 10 hour stay in Mexico City) and $15 has never been an amount we’ve pinched pennies over so I really can’t defend our logic here.
I mustered up all my energy and walked to the shared bathroom, folding over trying to harness the fire inside. “Are you okay, John?” I hesitated. Nothing worse than being pestered while you’re on the loo.
“No,” he grumbled. So did my stomach. I didn’t need to use the toilet but I knew it was coming soon. I danced around the landing, still clutching my ribs, paced in and out of our bedroom, and was about to knock on the door when I heard the toilet flush and John came out looking grey.
“No time to talk,” I pushed passed him.
When I returned to the room, John was still awake. He was clutching his ribs and stomach, and moaning for the rubbish bin. It was a plastic basket with holes. Great. I double bagged it and handed it to him, and he began to spew. He NEVER vomits. Only once in the time I’ve known him, with a violent 24 hour flu. I could barely help him as I was also in agonizing pain. Mine just wanted to come out the other side. Back to the bathroom.
After about an hour of fun, we were both feeling drowsy, and as I was dozing off, I thought, yes, it’s over. I knew it wasn’t, I was just doing my best to use the “power of positive thinking.” It doesn’t always work, but damn it was worth a try.
John and I had been planning our worldwide honeymoon for about 4 years, 2 years properly. We talked about it with our friends and family, discussed places they’d each visited and talked about places we wanted to go. With our dear friends MeloraLyn and Joe (the best cat-auntie and uncle in the world), we talked in even more depth. They’ve traveled a lot of Asia and love street food…so they have experience in the fast-to-the-toilet moments.
The best part of hearing their stories was John’s adamant denial, “There is no chance I will get sick while traveling. It’s all in your head and I’m thinking positive,” he would exclaim. It was always received by roars of laughter and a promise from me that the day he was sick and/or shit his pants for the first time, MeloraLyn and Joe would be notified immediately. He’d laugh back, “It’s never gonna happen.”
Not a single laugh was had at his expense that morning. I was too sick to have a sense of humor. Call it luck, irony or both, but whatever you call it, we were both suffering. The chills set in around 530am, the sweats came shortly after. My new poncho wasn’t keeping me warm, but when I was warm, it was way too hot to handle.
Then the pain. Literally pain all over. Every joint, every bone, every muscle, throbbing. The only silver lining was that we were expelling out opposite ends to each other, so there were no scheduling conflicts on the toilet or rubbish bin.
9am rolled around and we were both thinking, this is a nightmare. There is no way it can get any worse. Famous last thoughts.
I stumbled to the bathroom to have a cold shower in the middle of a hot flash and went to turn it on. Nothing came out. That’s ok, I don’t need a shower. I can just wash my face. No water came out of the tap. Shit. Thinking of shit, I’ll just use the toilet then head back to bed. Looking back on my logic, it’s very clear I was unwell and my brain was completely unable to process a very simple problem.
As you’d expect, the toilet didn’t flush. I went back to the sink to try to fill the cup full of water to put in the back of the toilet to help it flush. Oh ya, there’s no water here. I panicked and went back to the toilet and tried to flush it, again and again and again and again. There was no water anywhere.
I rationalized that it must be routine morning procedure and left the toilet lid closed. There wasn’t much else I could do. I went back into our room to let John know and was hit with a powerful smell as I opened the door. The double bagging wasn’t working well and small amounts of expelled water were seeping out the bottom onto the floor. I threw our towel down and opened the window, but we both started shivering uncontrollably with it open, so we had to close it again and become one with the odor. It was at this time we were wishing we’d bought some of those incense sticks. Even “Call Client” would’ve helped!
None of it made sense. We were both in excruciating pain, had fevers and couldn’t keep anything in. We’d had a few drinks the previous night, but this was not a hangover. It seemed highly unlikely that it was a flu, but the possibility of food poisoning seemed just as unlikely, as we’d eaten “safe” food from a western chain restaurant. Up until this point of our travels neither of us had experienced anything like this, and we had been eating street food, chicken that had been on the counter all day, drinking tap water when advised not to, and not a single problem. How the hell was Subway the culprit here. That’s often how it is though, isn’t it. The things that should knock you down never do, and the things you least expect it take you down for days.
We soon found out that the water stoppage was not routine procedure, and there was no water in the hostel at all. And to make it an even better adventure, they didn’t know when to expect it on again. We’d only heard this through the door, as we didn’t want anyone to see (or smell) us in those states. So much for our day tour. Today we were getting to know ourselves and each other.
While John was trying to ingest fluids in hopes of keeping something down, I was too afraid to ingest anything because I wanted the bathroom use to stop. Neither plan worked, we were both slaves to whatever bug was infiltrating our bodies and no running water was the Universe flipping us a real stiff bird.
At around three in the afternoon, we swapped places. I hadn’t rushed to the toilet in nearly 2 hours so it now seemed a good idea to drink some Gatorade. John had kept the Gatorade down for nearly 2 hours, and now he was off to the toilet races. The plastic bags were becoming less and less useful (and were highly unuseful to begin with) and the white towel underneath the bin was becoming blue. The pains were all over and we had no idea if we were going to survive. At least it would be like The Notebook we thought, and we could run to the light together.
We both barely slept that day, despite being bedridden for hours, and around 11pm, as we were finally dozing off, we heard the toilet flush. Impeccable timing.
We were supposed to check out at 11am and explore the city before our night bus to Oaxaca city at 1030pm. Not happening. We were also supposed to share our San Cristobal experiences with the pox boutique owner, and taste a few new blends. Also not happening. We were not exerting any of the tiny bit of energy we did have, until an hour before our bus’s departure and that was that.
We paid for another night and apologized profusely for the toilet situation the day before. Looking back now, we really should’ve had THEM apologize to US and give us a night free for failing to provide us water for nearly 24 hours. I guess that’s the trade off for a $20/night room. When they’re great, they’re exceptional. When they’re not, they really are not.
We slept basically all day, kept a bit of water and Gatorade down, had a tiny bit of chicken stock soup with garlic and chopped up spaghetti for dinner, and watched a few cheeky episodes of Dr. Phil. Nothing like hearing other people’s problems to remind you that yours aren’t so bad.
We were on the mend slowly but the thoughts of our coming night bus loomed over us like ghosts. We tried to push them away and focus simply on the present. Being present is easily when you’re exploding from within, but once that subsided and all you’re left with is pain, there’s a lot of regret and bargaining. There was no time to laugh at the irony or search for the lesson. We just breathed through the pains and told our digestive systems to calm the fuck down.
We made it to our bus in time, put our bags down at our feet and looped our legs through them a few times. Not taking any risks this time, thank you. I took note of the passengers around us and shared smiles, in both trying to be brave from our past bus experience, and to trick my body and mind into thinking I was happy.
Sleep came on quickly but didn’t last long. The bus trip was windy as hell and felt incredibly unsafe, but neither of us needed to use the bathroom in almost 12 hours, so that was a huge win on its own. There was no energy left in us to worry about our safety or any left in me to be motion sick. We simply surrendered to the moment and held on.
We pulled to a halt in the ADO terminal just north of the historic center in Oaxaca de Juarez. We grabbed our bags, everything was still in check. We weren’t robbed! What a success. We laughed and celebrated the tiny win.
We decided to walk 2km to our apartment we would be in for the next 6 weeks, instead of taking a taxi. Our bodies needed movement and this pilgrimage was going to end by our feet.
If it had all been smooth sailing, it wouldn’t have been so spiritual when we arrived in Oaxaca. This was the city John wanted to finish his manuscript in (and he did) and the Universe was making sure we paid our dues before she provided.
It may sound airy fairy, but what is the alternative? Being mad at Mexico, closing ourselves off and ruining the rest of our travels? I don’t even want to think about how many amazing moments we would have missed if we decided to let those few hours define our experience.
Again we made the conscious choice to learn, and to come out happier and stronger on the other side. Was there a lesson in the seemingly endless vomiting and diarrhea? We struggled to find it, but over a big bottle of water and some fresh bread we found a few.
We became a lot closer after those few days. We’d witnessed each other’s lows, and worked together to pick ourselves back up. We had to be dependent, independent, compassionate and empathetic under high stress and pain. We learned our strengths, both mental and physical. We were reminded to be grateful for simple things like running water. We were reminded that we have a choice in how we perceive the world around us, and although it isn’t always easy to change the way we look at things, we were reminded further that the power is always there inside of us. We learned that when we ask for a challenge, the Universe is going to test us, but it’s only to make us stronger.
And most importantly, we learned that Subway was the wrong way, and we should’ve stuck to street tacos. We won’t be making that mistake again.
Travel often looks glamorous behind computer screens. The highlight reel – happy photos before beautiful landscapes, hair flowing through the wind. Rarely do you get a glimpse of the day to day, mundane and ever-so stressful.
We’ve been doing our best on our blog and Instagram to portray a healthy mix of both – although it isn’t always easy. It’s hard to talk about tough times without sounding ungrateful for the incredible position we’re in as travelers. And when shit hits the fan, the last thing we want to do is take a photo or write about it. Panic stations while rushing to bus terminals or airports leave no space or a steady hand recording from a cell phone camera.
To be fair, we’ve had a pretty good run thus far *touch wood*, but back in January we had a series of events that changed us. They seemed like a nightmare at the time but on the other side of it, we have been grateful for the experience and took the lessons to heart. Sometimes you need a little slap in the face to truly understand a lesson.
In the span of 4 days, we were robbed on a night bus, got an extreme case of food poisoning, had no running water at the hostel for 30 hours (while we were expelling from both ends), and had to catch another 14 hour night bus through Mexico.
I thought it was time to share the story. It’s a gentle warning to take certain precautions while traveling, a glimpse of the not-so-glamorous moments and a reminder to take each moment as a learning experience to grow from and be proud of. Not to mention it’s pretty funny. Buckle in, it’s about to get bumpy.
We checked out of our hotel in Merida and headed out to explore the town. You can read more about our exciting day here. We had a night bus booked to San Cristobal de las Casas. It didn’t leave until 20:40 and we had time to kill. There’s no nice way to put it, transit days are shit. You can never relax. There’s this stressful little voice inside your head, blabbering away as you stare at the clock. “Don’t look away or you might miss your departure time in 8 hours.”
We decided that this day would be different. We would find the positives and challenge ourselves to change our perspectives. I even made a bloody post on Instagram, which now just screams out the cosmic joke. Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
For real though. I wanted to preach about being strong, because I was able to be happy during a day spent in a beautiful Mexican city? Enter Universe.
After we boarded our night bus, I said to John, “I have a bad feeling.” I never say this, rarely feel it. But I got the vibes, and this time, I didn’t know how to trust my instincts.
Do we get off the bus because I had a “feeling?” Or could my serotonin and dopamine receptors have been overloaded from my “perfect transit day” and now I was just on the come down? I rationalized that the feeling was about the ride being dangerous, through the Mexican mountains at night, so I focused on trying to relax and fall asleep. I put my backpack on the rack above my seat and after about thirty minutes of breathing techniques, I fell asleep for about twenty-five minutes.
I have been super lucky, with my 10 + years of travel to wild places. My only theft experiences have been a cell phone stolen from my hands after I fell asleep in my hostel room in Hungary by another traveler who left before me in the morning, and an iPad case, which I left on the foot of my bed as a decoy on a night train in India. So needless to say, I’ve gotten a bit comfortable. I always take precautions with the important things (passport, money, phone), but I have trusted my instincts and it has worked. Other than on an airplane, I have literally NEVER, in over a decade, possibly ever, put a bag on the upper rack. They have always, 100% of the time, been at my feet. Except for this night. Of course.
Previous to this night, every night bus we had ever ridden, has been a Point A to Point B bus, so everyone boarded together and disembarked together in the same place. I unfortunately made the assumption that this was the same.
I was asleep for 25 minutes when I felt the bus roll to a halt. Some of the lights came on and I opened my eyes. My phone and money was in my bra and our passports down my pants. They were all still there. We were in the terminal for about 5 minutes, and the bus began to roll away. I decided to get my eye covers from my bag so I reached up above and felt the zipper was undone.
My heart fell to the floor. My mouth went dry as I tried to whisper to John I had been robbed. I didn’t need to check inside the bag, I knew someone had rummaged through it. I put my hand in to feel for the computer, but of course it wasn’t there. I didn’t want to make a scene but the adrenaline was flooding through my veins. My body began shaking. I said to John about ten times, as quietly as I could, “I was robbed.” Hoping that if I said it enough times it would become a practical joke that just went a bit too far.
I brought the bag down, John held my hand and tried to help me breathe. “The money, passports and phone?” he asked me.
“All on me, all here,” I tried to push out from chattering teeth.
We began inventory of the bag. No MacBook, no iPad, no DSLR camera, no zoom lens, no glasses (2 pairs), no NZ drivers license and no debit visa cards with my maiden name. My Alberta drivers license has my married name on it and there were no bank cards with my new name, so they left it behind. Now the inside contained only my favourite sweater given to me by my late grandmother, my favorite scarf bought in India 8 years ago, my meaningful jewelry I travel with for good luck, our marriage certificate and my wallet with some cards and photographs.
If ever there was such a thing as an ethical thief, it seemed as though it was he who we crossed paths with that night. But as I sat there on the bus, shivering cold, I was nothing but disappointed in the entire human race, myself included.
Everyone was a suspect. I looked at the family of 4 all cuddled up across the aisle and one row back. I was furious at them. Either they stole my stuff or they knew the guy who did it and didn’t stop him. I told the driver, and he simply laughed. He must’ve been in on it. After about an hour of high alert, I felt my body slowly shutting down. “I want to go home,” I whimpered.
I had to pee, which made no sense: I hadn’t had a thing to drink in 5 hours and had relieved myself before we hit the road. No matter how fancy the bus looks, the toilets will always have a sticky film of urine on the floor and smell exactly as you’re imaging right now. You really don’t want to use them unless absolutely necessary. We’ve trained our bladders quite well for travel, so this was out of the ordinary.
I walked to the bathroom, 2 rows behind us, and noticed that the 2 men that had been sitting in the final row when we boarded, were no longer there. It made sense, they hopped on at stop 1, robbed idiots like me that fall asleep with their electronics above their heads, got off at stop 2 and would never be seen again.
I sat on the toilet. Even though I felt like I had cracked the case, I was still angry, sad, confused, nervous and nauseous when I thought about every single person on the bus. All I could think was, they knew about it and let it happen. I stopped thinking for a second. I literally peed like a racehorse. The power almost lifted me off the seat. I had no idea what was going on.
I slunk back in my seat. Tried to relax, but it felt like I had just drank 3 Red Bull’s. 10 minutes went by, it happened again. I ran to the toilet and barely made it, barely able to stay sitting on the seat. Another 15 minutes, the third and final time. What the hell was happening? I sat back down, concerned, and John mentioned I was in shock, that my bladder was clearing out the adrenaline that had been surging through me. Relieved (both mentally and physically at this point), I closed my eyes and woke up nearly 9 hours later.
We were at another stop and were urged off the bus. I grabbed my virtually empty bag and held on tight. We were groggy and confused, but appreciated the chance to log on to some WiFi. Then the bus drove away.
I didn’t know what to worry about more, our luggage underneath the bus that had just disappeared, or all of the items that were absolutely, never ever coming back. I chose the latter and started making calls.
I don’t need to explain my frustrations with the call centers, you all know how they go. But seriously, wanting to cancel a card because it was stolen is not rocket science and is not the right time to try and upsell my bank accounts. I had lost all hope for humanity, and even the voice on the other line reciting “so your card was lost,” had me yelling back, “STOLEN.”
While I was in a panic, my lovely husband tried to figure out where our bus was. A gentleman from the bus approached me. I was uneasy as he came closer, thinking he was a part of the national mission to separate me from everything I owned.
He had his arm extended, his phone in hand. He opened to a Spanish-English translator reading, “The Bus is getting gas and will pick us up there.” He motioned to the other side of the terminal.
“Muchas gracias,” I replied, secretly thinking he was trying to distract me so I would miss the bus and he could take my big bag on the other side. Seriously, I was in full Negative Nelly, Debbie Downer mood and even the niceties of this stranger had me spiraling into despair. It was a huge turning point, I just didn’t know it in the moment.
John returned from the bathroom, with no information of the bus’ whereabouts, so I filled him in and shared my call center adventures and interaction with the Mexican Bus Robbers Mafia. As it was coming out of my mouth I realized how insane I was being. The bus pulled into where the man had showed me at the same time I was explaining this, and he caught my eye and waved us toward it.
I had been robbed, most likely by 2 men that left us 11 hours prior, and the gentleman with the phone was a wonderful person who truly wanted to help. After one bad interaction I had painted every person I saw as evil and almost missed the display of kindness right under my nose.
I snapped back into reality, and altered my entire perception. Yes, I had been robbed. Someone invaded my privacy and took things that I was unhealthily emotionally attached to. That same someone left the things that were truly meaningful to me behind and unscathed.
The things that were taken were replaceable. The things they left behind were not so easily, if at all. Our lives had never been in danger. Our physical strengths were never challenged. Life was going to go on, the world was not out to get us.
5 hours later we pulled into the terminal in San Cristobal de las Casas. Still a bit fragile, but feeling on the upward, we collected our bags, hopped in a taxi and found our hostel. Finally taking a moment to breathe, we sent birthday wishes to my Dad, and let our parents and a couple close friends know that we had made it safely but some of the electronic team weren’t on our travels anymore.
By the time I had finished notifying the bus company, changing passwords, and putting iCloud blocks on, it was just after 3pm, so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat, have a nap and the go some place nice for dinner. We’d earned it. Our lunch was at a restaurant around the corner. Informal, tasty and cheap. We thought we’d found ourselves a good local spot to frequent over the next 3 days.
We did our best to laugh about the night before. My shock symptoms, our stupidity for putting the bag up their in the first place (seriously, the first time ever), the Instagram post almost begging for a real problem to come our way. It wasn’t easy, but we forced ourselves to be grateful for what was left untouched and the lessons we learned. We were proud of who we were before we boarded the bus, but we were even more proud of who we were now.
We set in for our power nap around 4:30 that afternoon. Our minds may have been sound, but our bodies were exhausted. We woke up the next day at 9am, having had completely uninterrupted sleeps. We were fully recharged and rejuvenated, we turned lemons into lemonade. The world and San Cristobal were our oysters, and there was nothing that could stop us now. Enter Universe.
Stay tuned for When It Rains It Pours: Part 2, coming this Sunday, to read what happened next.