50 Experiences in 300 Days

Although there are some items on this list that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, at the same time, I wouldn’t take any of them back.


Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….


In less than a week, we will have been on the road, and away from Canada, for 10 months.  While everyday is definitely not perfect, there have been many more seemingly perfect days while we have been abroad, then we would have experienced back home. 

Letting go of all of our possessions has allowed us the freedom to live life on our terms.  To experience the world without a schedule, without anyone dictating our time or how we spend our days.  It has been an ebb and flow of trying to figure out what works for us.  What works in some places, definitely doesn’t necessarily work in others, but we adjust as we go.  We figure it out each and every time. 

It occurred to me the other day that we have had some pretty wild experiences in the short 10 months since we have been gone.  And it excites me to no end to know that we certainly wouldn’t have had half of these experiences had we have stayed in Canada. 

To me, this is what life is all about.  Life is a culmination of our experiences.  They are what shape us, they are what make us who we are.  Without our experiences to broaden our perspectives, we would be empty shells, robots in a sense.  I believe that having new experiences is what life is all about.  Only then do we grow and change as humans.  Only then do we become new people everyday. 

Traveling, to me, is the ultimate experience.  It creates a platform for new and different things to happen each and every day.  Around every corner, in fact, is a new experience that is waiting to happen.  Around every corner is an adventure waiting to unfold.  THIS is what travelling is all about!  This is what makes it exciting, challenging, and soul enhancing.  I crave these new experiences, and I will never stop seeking them out and searching for those ones, that I know, are just sitting and waiting, lurking in the corner, seemingly begging for me to find them. 

And so, in no particular order, here is a list of 50 experiences that we can think of that have happened in the last ten months to either one of us, or both of us, and I am sure we are missing many…..

  1. Had 2 hammocks break while we were sitting in them.
  2. Encountered 2 wild snakes, both more than 6 feet long.
  3. Saw 2 wild crocodiles in 2 different rivers.
  4. Ridden in boats across 2 different lakes, one of which we cross everyday from our rented house near Flores.
  5. Experienced 2 earthquakes.
  6. Had our house struck by lightening.
  7. Had food poisoning once.
  8. Been sick with parasites twice.
  9. Had an infection on my foot so bad that I had to seek out antibiotics.
  10. Watched a sea turtle dig it’s nest and lay eggs.
  11. Sat face to face with a sloth as it hung from a low branch.Hanging Sloth
  12. Walked with a sloth as it crawled along the ground after falling out of a tree.
  13. Seen numerous volcanoes, one that was actually smoking.
  14. Visited ancient temples and ruins.

    IMG_0463
    The ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.
  15. Had huge toads come into our rented house every night for 3 weeks straight.
  16. Painted a mural.
  17. Witnessed political unrest and war break out in Nicaragua.
  18. Crossed the Panama/Costa Rica border once.
  19. Crossed the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border twice.
  20. Been on 5 airplanes.

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    Painted over the course of a month while staying in Samara, Costa Rica.
  21. Rented 2 houses in local villages with Spanish speaking neighbours.
  22. Bought handmade tortillas, made that morning, from our neighbours that made them, in two different places.
  23. Housesat 3 houses.
  24. Took care of 4 dogs.
  25. Swam under the full moon, in the ocean, at midnight on New Years Eve.
  26. Went 24 hours with no water in our house.
  27. Experienced multiple power outages.
  28. Walked down the street with a propane tank in a wheel barrow to refill it for our stove.
  29. Ate tons of street food that was to die for.
  30. Made a bazillion new friends.
  31. Saw numerous Toucans, Parrots and Scarlett Macaws.
  32. Visited an epic waterfall.8BBB5219-322F-4492-91CC-AC41735D4BAC
  33. Saw numerous monkeys.
  34. Helped build an earth bag home.
  35. Got stung by a sting ray.
  36. Zip Lined.
  37. Volunteered at a Music Festival.
  38. Had a visit from a tree frog inside our house.IMG_0795
  39. Witnessed several incredible sunsets.
  40. Slept in our tent on top of our bed to keep the bugs and snakes away from us at night.
  41. Saw 2 tarantulas in the wild.
  42. Saw various scorpions.
  43. Rode in the back of numerous pick up trucks.
  44. Ate traditional Mayan food at a neighbourhood barbecue.
  45. Witnessed incredible handicrafts in Panajachel, Guatemala.  Literally mountains of woven textiles, carvings, beadwork and much much more!IMG_0870
  46. Attended a one week Digital Nomad retreat.
  47. Shopped at numerous local markets, buying our produce direct from farmers and other food producers.
  48. Opened numerous fresh coconuts to drink the water and eat the meat!
  49. Learned to make local dishes wherever we go.
  50. Ridden in numerous tuk tuks, buses and collectivos to get from points A to B.

Like I said……I KNOW there are many more, but you get the idea.  Life is an adventure, and each day brings new and exciting experiences.

Although there are some items on this list that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, at the same time, I wouldn’t take any of them back.  ALL of these experiences are shaping us to be the people that we are now, and they are making us who we will be in the future.

As the old saying goes “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” 

So true, so very very true.

What new and exciting experiences have you had in the last nine months?  I would love to hear all about them in the comments below.


Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!


Current Location: We are currently in Flores, Guatemala.  We have rented a house and expect to stay here until mid September at least.

Travelling Plans: We are considering the possibility of heading up to Mexico for a couple months after we are finished with our house here.  Then we will be returning to Guatemala to housesit for 6 weeks starting November 26th.

To head back to the beginning of our journey, and the moment we decided to sell all of our possessions to travel the world, click here.

To see many more travelling photos and videos,  and to learn about where we are travelling, please follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts by clicking on the appropriate icon in the right hand column.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, visit my Countries Page.

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To email me directly, please do so anytime at jillamatt@me.com.

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Off to Guatemala!


Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….


Although we have been content here in our hostel in Samara for 3 weeks now, we also realize that we can’t stay here forever.  We exchanged part of our stay for painting a mural for the hostel owner, but we are now living on paid time, and while the price tag is only $25/night, we also realize that over the course of time, that adds up.

A couple weeks ago I went online to find cheap flights up to Cancun.  Obviously, flying is not our travel method of choice, but since the roads are blocked in Nicaragua, civil war has broken out, and the country is at a standstill, there really isn’t any other option.  If we want to go somewhere, it has to be by plane. 

As we are to be housesitting in November in Guatemala, it only made sense to head North, and not South, to cut down on future travel expense and time. 

A couple weeks ago I researched flights up to Cancun.  We have our sights set on Merida, a beautiful colonial city that we spent only 3 nights at back in 2015.  It sits about 4 hours by bus to the west of Cancun, and is close to the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.  We fell in love with the city and vowed to return for longer some day.  Being close to Guatemala, makes it a good option for us to be close to our housesitting gig in November, and we can find apartment rentals for $150-$200 per month.  Good deal!

Screenshot 2018-06-29 14.58.40
Image courtesy of Googlemaps.com

When I did my my initial search, the flights were looking like they were about $200-$220 per person.  Not bad.  I researched many different days around the beginning of July, and found them all to be about the same price. So I figured that I would wait until we got closer, to see if any other opportunities came up for us around Samara, or in Costa Rica, before we committed to something solid. 

When living a nomadic life, booking a flight is a bit of a big deal.  When you are trying to live day to day, and take whatever opportunity comes your way, committing to some far off point can be stressful and a bit overwhelming.  But as everything in life, we have to make decisions, and once we do, new opportunities will arise that never existed before. 

Last night, feeling like our time is definitely up here in Samara, and in Costa Rica in general, I decided that I should sit down and find a flight and just book something.  We needed to make a move.  However, I was dismayed when I saw that all of the $200ish flights had now jumped to sometimes $350 or more!  If we wanted a $200 flight, it would mean staying in Costa Rica for another 2-3 weeks, which would negate the cost of the cheap flight anyways. 

Not to be deterred, I checked many websites and although I found the odd cheaper flight, most of them only allowed carry on bags and charged extra for checked bags.  Unfortunately, although we are nomadic, our bags do not match our nomadic lifestyle!  We have one complete duffel bag that is full of Chris’ tattoo gear, our tent, some thin sleeping bags, and (shudder) wool sweaters and cold weather gear!  We do plan to get to Ecuador eventually and these warm clothes WILL come in handy, but just thinking about them at this point makes me sweat!

PLUS we have an entire carry on suitcase that is dedicated to our art supplies.  This case in particular is a little worrisome as we have been adding heavy paper and other supplies to it making it quite heavy.  Even if it does fit in the overhead bins, there is a chance that they won’t allow it onboard the plane due to its weight. On top of all that we have 2 small back packs and another large backpack that contains both of our clothing. 

Like I said, one would NOT think we are nomadic with all of the stuff we are hauling around, that’s for sure!

However, this is a cross that we bear, and is why once we got down here we had resigned ourselves to bus travel only, at least in the near future.   But, with travel comes uncertainty, changed plans, and never really knowing what is around each corner.  So here we are, booking flights and stressing about our luggage!


I continued my searches through many websites and finally decided to switch things up a bit.  Previously, I had considered checking flights to Guatemala, and they had all been quite cheap as well, in fact cheaper than to Cancun.  I decided to throw that into the search engine to see what came back.  Right away it was obvious that flights were cheaper, but Guatemala City is so far away from Merida, it seemed silly to try to save the $100 when we would have to spend days travelling north from there.  Sure Lake Atitlan is nearby, a very popular destination and a “must see” Guatemala sight, but with the explosion of Volcan Fuego happening recently, maybe that wasn’t the best place to go.  I’m sure there is an economic spin off happening with that, tourism is likely down and possibly, there could be other problems.  No, we weren’t really interested in going there, at least for now, especially having just gotten over our shell shock from Nicaragua. 

However, as I typed Guatemala into one search engine, just to see other options, in tiny writing and in an obscure corner of the page, was an option for other airports.  Other airports?  I had no idea that there were other international airports in Guatemala!  I assumed that all international flights flew into Guatemala City, then connected from there (never assume….I know, I know.)  I quickly chose another destination, Flores, yes, that looked like a nice name, meaning Flowers in English.  Lets look there, I thought. 

Screenshot 2018-06-29 15.07.14
Image courtesy of googlemaps.com

Our German friend Nico, one of the same hostel family members that had been with us since we arrived in Samara, and who also left Nicaragua, had been to Flores.  He quickly announced “Oh yes, Flores is lovely, then you can go to Tikal.” 

Tikal???  What??  I have dreamt about going to Tikal for so many years, but it’s never been a solid plan, just some sort of far off fantasy.  One that would manifest itself one day when I ever got to Guatemala.  Well, all of a sudden this far off plan was suddenly manifesting itself before my eyes.  Chris announced “Book it!”, and Nico was immediately on his feet with enthusiasm, whipping out his Lonely Planet guide, pulling up maps on his phone, and showing me all sorts of things to do and places to go in that area.  I had to get him to slow down for a few minutes while I booked the flight, but I was pumped for his excitement.  Clearly this was a great place to head to!  Plus, it’s located in the Northern part of the country, which means getting to Merida, may be a little bit easier than it would be from Guatemala City. 

The flight to Flores is $160 each, and includes one checked bag each (now we just have to make sure they are below 24kg!).  BINGO!  In an instant our flight was booked and just like that we are off to Guatemala.  The hilarious thing, also, is that our flight is on the same day (July 5th) that our friend Nico’s is to Mexico City, and within half an hour of his.  So we are all going to travel to San Jose together, stay in the same hostel, and see each other off at the airport. 

In the course of a couple hours, we went from not knowing what we were going to do, or where we were going to go, or if we were EVER going to get out of Costa Rica, to finding a cheap flight, booking it, and planning our trip to Guatemala!  For the first time since leaving Canada, I am finally going to a country I haven’t been to before, and I couldn’t be more excited! 

We have no idea how long we will spend in Guatemala, we don’t really know anything about what we will be doing when we get there (other then going to Tikal of course!) but we are going, that much is clear!  It feels incredibly good to have a bit of a plan, and to know that very soon we will be in a new county, experiencing a new culture and seeing new sights. 

This is the life of a Nomad, this is what is exciting!  One day at a time, step by step we choose our futures.  It’s an exhilarating feeling and we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Pura Vida from Costa Rica (for only one more week!)

When nothing is sure, everything is possible


Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!


Current Location: We are currently in Samara, Costa Rica.  After having to leave Nicaragua unexpectedly due to civil unrest.  We have been in the El Dorado Hostel (highly recommended!) for 3 weeks.

Travelling Plans: Heading to Guatemala on July 5th!

To head back to the beginning of our journey, and the moment we decided to sell all of our possessions to travel the world, click here.

To see many travelling photos and to learn about where we are travelling, please follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts by clicking on the appropriate icon in the right hand column.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, visit my Countries Page.

To see all of my blog post headings on one page, (including all of the ones about letting our stuff go) head over to my Blog Post Menu.

To contribute to our Patreon account, please click here.

To email me directly, please do so anytime at jillamatt@me.com.

If you like my writing, and want to follow along on our journey, please put your email address in the right hand column to subscribe. That way all of my posts will go straight to your email inbox:)

Wandering in Varna, Bulgaria – Guest Post

A few days ago I found a request from a fellow blogger on one of the traveller Facebook pages that I follow. She was looking for people to contribute to her blog and write guest posts on one of their favourite travelling spots.

In 2015, my partner and I did a six week trip to Bulgaria, Greece and Italy. Although, we didn’t spend nearly long enough in Bulgaria, it was actually our favourite country to visit out of the three. I’m not sure if it was the laid back pace, the beauty of it, the friendly people, or the fact that it wasn’t on the Euro yet (which made it much more affordable against our Canadian dollar), but we absolutely fell in love with it, and long to go back someday.  Next time it will be in the summer months!

When I saw Emily’s request for posts on a favourite travelling spot, I couldn’t help but recall our experience in Varna.

Feel free to check out my guest post on her blog here.  Thanks for this opportunity Emily!

Also, if you would like to read more about our trip to Bulgaria, the first post is here.

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Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!

To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our Facebook page Just Some Wandering.

Please follow my Instagram Page Just Some Wandering by clicking on the bottom right hand corner of this feed.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

 

Traditional Living in Costa Rica – Part 1

Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….

We are on day 4 of our trip, and I can honestly say already that if we had to return home for some unknown reason, that I would be content with our experience. Today was everything that I had hoped to achieve on our travels, and more!

We are currently in Monteverde, a mountaintop community, located in Costa Rica’s northern highlands. “Green Mountain”, the translation of Monteverde, couldn’t be more accurate. Every direction you look, there are plants of seemingly endless descriptions and green mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. We know this for sure, as the Air BnB that we booked is perfectly perched on the side of one such mountain, and the vista below is absolutely breathtaking. We can see all the way west to the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the right light the “Golfo de Nicoya” (Gulf of Nicoya) in front of the peninsula, dances and sparkles in the sunlight.

Read on to hear about our experiences so far…….

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After spending 2 nights in Alajuela, the neighbouring city to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, and feeling that we had recovered sufficiently from our dreaded red eye flight from Calgary, through Toronto, we decided to head into the interior of Costa Rica, instead of hitting the beach. We will be house sitting right on the beach for 2 months at the end of October, so we will have lots of beach time to come. The mountains were calling us.

In 2004, my last visit to Costa Rica, I had visited a small mountain town called Monteverde. I had very fond memories of this place, but such as it was back then, our main motivation was to get to the beach, so we only spent a night or two. I longed to come back to explore more of this area, and to try and get a better feel for life in the highlands.

I did a search for Monteverde on my Air BnB app, to see what would come up. There were many options in many price ranges, but as I scrolled the list, one caught my eye. “Paradise House Monteverde #2 – Farmstay”.  The description definitely called to my yearning to learn more about the Costa Rican life.  Check it out below:

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Turns out that as it is the low season, and the internet had been washed out with the latest Hurricane, we got a discount and only paid $68 for 3 nights!

I quickly read it out to Chris and he said “Yes! Book it!”

Our plan was set! Here was our chance to learn about a traditional Costa Rican way of life. My goal with travelling is always to connect with locals, to see how others are living, to learn their way of life, and to share it with others. This sounded like a perfect fit! I booked 3 nights, knowing that would give us 2 full days to enjoy ourselves in a lovely, peaceful location.

3 nights = $68 CAD

With the help of our host in Alajuela, we booked a bus trip up into the mountains. Costing just $15 US (including a $5 booking fee for booking online), the bus would leave Alajuela at 3:00 and arrive at 7:00pm. In the tropics, every day of the year, it is dark by 6:00, so I knew that it would be dark when we arrived at our location. I messaged this to Orlando, our farm host, and he assured me that since they were located well out of Monteverde proper, he would arrange a transport to pick us up at the Bus stop.

The bus ride was a typical one, driving quickly down paved highways, weaving along the coastline of the Gulf of Nicoya, until all of a sudden we took a sharp, right hairpin turn onto a gravel road. After 2 hours on the road, we were finally headed into the mountains. Immediately there was a sign that said Monteverde 35km. I commented to Chris that surely it can’t take 2 more hours to go 35 kilometres. However, I was sorely wrong!

617FD645-D8D0-4B2D-A86B-CB5B42A1BB05.jpeg
Note:  It took us almost 4 hours to reach Monteverde.  Mind you, we were on a large bus, a private vehicle is likely quicker.

Within minutes, make that seconds, I could see that YES, this definitely could take 2 hours! The road was windy, narrow, steep and seeming impossibly small to accommodate the bus that we were riding on. As we were seated in the front two seats to the right of the driver, my favourite spot to “see it all” we got a full spectacle of what was to transpire. Corner after corner, sharp curve after sharp curve, we wound our way up the tight mountain road. With the recent rains of Hurricane Nate , having wreaked havoc with many mountain roads, we witnessed a few places where part of the road was washed away down the mountain. In these instances, the bus would slowly but surely, squeeze itself down the inside lane, hugging as close as it would dare to the inside ditch, without falling into it. We also watched the Humidity indicator that was located at the front of the bus go from 50% to 90% as we approached the clouds and entered an area aptly known as the Cloud Forest. We watched numerous small frogs leap across the road, scurrying out of the way of the large bus wheels, some we knew made it, others we weren’t so sure. Never the less, we cheered them on as we saw them.

Many times we would come across another vehicle going down the road, each time both of us would squeeze as tight as we could to the opposite shoulders of the road, literally inching past each other. However, in one instance, we came head to head with a driver of a commercial utility truck. It was now dark and drizzling rain and there was clearly no way for both vehicles to pass each other on the current stretch of road.

After both vehicles flashed their lights at each other a couple times, the driver of the truck finally realized that if anyone was to back up, it was him. He jumped out of his truck to survey the situation around him, and to come up with a solution, a way to pull over so that we could pass each other. After realizing that the other driver needed assistance in backing up (so that he didn’t drive off the road and over the cliff side) our driver jumped out to direct him. The amusement in the bus was hilarious as the locals chitter chatted back and forth laughing and carrying on about the situation. I couldn’t help but think about if the same situation would have happened in Canada; Number one, there would not be a public bus driving on a road such as this in Canada (unless of course it was guaranteed to be the only vehicle driving back and forth), and Number 2, if a bus load of people were held up in this way, there would be more than one very unhappy person. However, the mood was jovial, and everyone was just happy to have the entertainment.

Finally, as our driver helped the other driver back up down the windy road, and into a slightly wider section, another man, that we had picked up at a rest stop, and who had been chatting with the driver at the front of the bus ever since, jumped into the drivers seat and started driving the bus down to meet him. Chris and I burst out laughing, as we had no idea who this guy was, but trusted that he knew what he was doing either way. What little choice did we have after all? Thankfully, he safely drove us the couple hundred meters forward to pick up our other driver, but not before passing the transfer truck and another vehicle behind it on the cliff side of the road, with mere inches to spare between us (and I’m sure mere inches to spare with the side of the road, and in turn, the cliff as well.)

I mentioned to Chris more than once that I was thankful that it was dark because although we knew that we were driving up the side of the mountain, we were unable to see just how perilous and treacherous that it was if we were to simply slide down into the abyss below.

As we started to approach a more populated area, made obvious by the lights that now lit the road ahead of us, many locals would signal to the driver to be let off in various areas. Again, NOT something you would necessarily see in Canada.

Despite all of this, we arrived in Monteverde at about 6:50pm. We departed the bus and stacked our luggage against the wall. Other travellers scampered around grabbing taxis or staring into their iPhones to figure out their next move. Nobody approached us about a ride, so I poked my head around the corner and locked eyes with a man standing next to a van. He gave me a look of approval so I walked over to him to show him the address of where we were going. Before I had a chance to do that, and much to my surprise, he showed me a picture on his phone of Chris and I! I realized that it was our Air BnB profile photo, and that our host must have sent it to him so that he knew who to pick up. “Perfecto!” I announced and patted him on the shoulder. I ran off to grab Chris and our luggage, and we were whisked away into the darkness, along another bumpy and washed out gravel road.

Unfortunately, I never did get our drivers name, but he quickly realized that I spoke a bit of Spanish, and we were able to carry out a simple conversation. He explained to me that the reason the roads were so bad was because of the extensive rains that the hurricane had deposited on the area. There were many more washed out areas along the next section of road that we travelled, and even a couple of crews working late into the night to repair them.

After about 15 minutes, we pulled into a tiny gap in a fence, and his headlights illuminated our home for the next few days. It was absolutely pitch black, but we could tell by the lights in the distance and below us, that we were perched on a hillside of sorts. He helped us with our luggage, found the key and opened the door, and then wished us well. I asked about when we would meet our host, Orlando, and he said something about “Manana”. Good enough, we would see him tomorrow.

We quickly unpacked our food and got busy with making some dinner. The house was simple, with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen where we could make our meals over the course of our stay. We took turns running in and out of the front doors, both ecstatic with our location, and wanting desperately for it to be the next day, so that we could see the fantastic view that we knew was spread out before us.

But alas, we knew that we would have to wait. In the meantime, we ate our dinner, sat on our front porch, and stared off into the vast unknown. Tomorrow would bring the light and a whole new adventure!

** Thanks for reading! This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our page.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

Kayaking the Florida Everglades and The Bahamas-Part 1

**This is a multi-part series about a trip that I did with my ex-husband in 2001-2002.  Unfortunately, I do not have access to my journals that I kept during this trip, so this is all from memory.  Some dates, places and timelines may be slightly skewed. **

As Jamie and I pushed off from the sandy beach behind the kayak store in Key Largo, my parents stood on the shore and waved to us.

It was a surreal moment.

We had never kayaked before, but the guy at the Kayak shop assured us that we were buying the “Cadillac” of tandem touring kayaks, a Current Design Libra XT.

Most of our hatches were stuffed with brand new gear that was first stuffed into black garbage bags.

We literally had no idea what we were doing, but we had a plan!

South Carolina

We had arrived in the States a couple months earlier, shortly after 911.  It was October 2001.  We had worked our butts off all summer in anticipation of a winter of fun and adventure.  A family friend and his wife had purchased a72 foot sailboat that not only needed some serious repairs, but it also needed 2 new masts to be built!  The captain of the boat told us that if we came down there to work with them on the repairs, we could sail with them down to Florida, and crew for them on their planned charters from Miami to the Bahamas.

It sounded like a good gig.  We were in our early 20’s and were always looking for adventure.

We flew into Charleston, South Carolina.  Immediately, we were shocked by the presence of Army and Marine personnel at all of our travel stops.  Coming from Canada, the west side at that, we were a fair distance away from what had happened on that fateful day in New York.  The gravity of the event hung heavy in the air everywhere, but we had seen no physical evidence that anything had changed, until we touched down in the States.  As we sat in bus stops, we eyed up the soldiers that were headed off to Afghanistan.  Off to fight George Bush’s war.  They were our ages. They were young, full of vigor, with a huge life ahead of them.  The reality of what they were up to was not lost on us.  We were both thankful that we weren’t in their shoes, and happy to be heading off into a winter of fun and adventure.

Beaufort map

We arrived in Beaufort, a small town on the ocean, where “Paradise” had sat literally rotting for many years.  The boat, a 72 foot ketch, had been neglected by the previous owner.  Having lost both masts in a storm, he had managed to limp it back to the dock, where he lived on it for many years, never taking it out to sea again.  He also didn’t take care of it at all, or take it OUT of the water, meaning that the new owner, our Skipper, had to put it in dry dock to rid it of years of marine build up.  Apparently the above decks leaked so bad, we were told, that on rainy days it was a constant run around trying to keep the many buckets from overflowing that were catching the dripping water from above.  Thank fully most of the miserable work that was done on the hull, and the leaking decks, was completed before we arrived.

Beaufort close up
Beaufort is nestled in a vast network of waterways that line the shore of the Carolinas. 

 

Paradise
Paradise docked just outside of Beaufort, South Carolina

By the time we got there, Paradise was out of dry dock, and back in the water.  It was located in a prime spot next to a giant metal building, which was the perfect housing to build a couple masts.  The dockyard reminded me of where Forest started the Bubba Gump shrimp company from.  In fact, I would not be surprised one bit if the film was filmed right in that area!

We met some seriously interesting characters from our little marine perch.  One guy, his name was Jerry, came down to the dock almost every day, and was always maneuvering large pallets of bags that looked like dog food.  Jamie finally went to talk to him one day, and found out that it was actually bags of monkey food!  Just off shore, there was an island that held captive a society of monkeys.  Unfortunately for them, they were akin to lab rats, as they were used to test pharmaceuticals for future human use.  This was definitely an eye opener for us small town Canadians.  There were rumours that places like this existed, but not once did we think they actually did!  And certainly not in the United States!  I laugh now at how naïve we humans are as young adults.

monkey food
Monkey Food!

Jerry was in charge of feeding the monkeys, and we enjoyed listening to his Southern Twang as he regaled the most hilarious stories of his encounters with them.  However, it wasn’t all good news as many of them were very sick, likely from whatever they were being given for the “testing.”   We decided that it was best to not ask too many questions.

We had some great food, and a large share of shrimp for sure!  Some days we ate feasts of crab as fisherman would come in with their catches, and throw up a basket of claws just for us.  Nights like this were heaven!  We would feast on crab, garlic butter, and nothing else and just feel like life could never get better.Crab claws

Most of our days were spent working on the boat, but the odd time, we were able to escape into Beaufort, and even managed a short road trip to Savannah, Georgia.  We were fascinated with the Deep South.  The architecture is grand and moss hangs off the trees like long wisps of witches hair.  We vowed that someday we would return.

spanish moss
The streets of Savannah, Georgia

After a few weeks of some serious elbow grease, and the erection of 2 brand new masts, Paradise was ready for the trip to Florida.  She was all shined up with a nice paint job and a new beautiful blue stripe.  We never did get around to stringing any sails, so we knew that we would be motoring to Florida.

masting paradise
Stepping the Mizzen Mast
masting paradise 2
Stepping the Main Mast
ratlines
Hanging the Rat Lines!

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On the day we had decided to leave, they were announcing a small craft warning on the weather reports.  Typically this means, to many sailors, that it isn’t necessarily safe to go out in the open water,  but apparently our Skipper decided that we were bigger than a ‘small craft’, and wanted to get going, so get going we did.

sparkling paradise
All cleaned up and ready for the voyage!
heading to sea
Adios Beaufort!

We headed out around 3:00 in the afternoon, and had barely left port when the Captain asked Jamie to go down to the engine room to check on something.  We were motoring straight into the waves that were pounding down on us, making it feel like we were riding a bucking bronco.  Most sailors know that this motion is NOT good for those who may get sea sick.  Jamie had never really been out in the open ocean, save for one experience in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, not nearly the same experience as taking a head on beating by the wide open Atlantic Ocean.  Well, sure enough, within a couple minutes of him coming back up, he announced that he didn’t “feel that good.”

For 3 days we bounced along the coast, past Georgia and into Florida.  Jamie was a puddle on the salon floor for the majority of that trip.  We encountered some pretty interesting seas, but I had recently been part of a program for students called Class Afloat.  It’s truly a story for another day, but we essentially sailed around the world on a 188 foot tall ship, from the West Coast of Canada, to the East Coast…..the long way around.

I’m sure what I experienced at sea on that trip, had made this trip pretty easy for me.  I had seen a lot of crazy seas in that year, and this wasn’t really that bad.South Carolina to Florida

Florida 

We all took turns on watch duty.  It was supposed to be by couples.  Each couple would do 4 hours on, 4 hours off, so we could cruise non-stop through night and day.  By  the morning of day 3, the day that we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Jamie’s seasickness finally abated and he joined me on deck for the final watch duty.  I’m sure we were a sight for sore eyes as the rusty streaks, where metal had met seawater (and of which we didn’t know about until we got off the boat), melted down the side of our nice white paint job.   We caught our first glimpses of the city as we slowly maneuvered down the inland marine canals that connect everything together, like roads do in most cities navigating amongst multi-million dollar yachts and mansions that lined the water ways.

Ft. Lauderdale waterways
Back “alleys” were waterways that held the yachts.

Ft. Lauderdale opulenceFt. Lauderdale 2

Most mega mansions on shore, had equally extravagant mega yachts tied up in front of them.  Many of them also had multi car garages, and in one case, as told by a water taxi driver, the house had a 6 car garage, with a lift in each bay, meaning that they could store 12 vehicles in there!  And let me tell you, we saw some of these vehicles (accent on the plural), and they were nothing to sneeze at either!  The place was literally dripping in money!

Yup, we certainly WERE NOT in Beaufort anymore!

We anchored our boat (that was now coined a “rust bucket”), in a small 24 hour anchorage in Ft. Lauderdale, for what seemed like TWO WEEKS (although I can’t say how long it was for sure.)  Eventually we got kicked out of that spot, and had to go somewhere else, so the skipper opted to tie up at a dock for a night or two, then we would go back to the anchorage again for a bit.  We worked on the boat some more, trying like mad to get it looking good and ready for our first charter.

jill grinding decks
Grinding the Decks in Ft. Lauderdale

Finally, the big day came!  Our guests had arrived to charter the boat, and we were off to the Bahamas!

Florida to Bahamas Map
Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas.  It encompasses the entire chain of islands you see here. 

It was only a, really quick, week long trip, but we had a lot of fun. The clients were great, and although the deck was still leaking, (despite our many attempts to seal all holes), we managed to keep a solid rotation of dry sheets, at least keeping the beds comfortable below decks.  I’ll admit that it was a little rough, and at least one of our guests, a dainty blonde, was definitely not quite up to the adventure that this trip provided.  However, in the end, it was a great trip and a great introduction to the Bahamas for us.

rusted boat bahamas
I took very few pics on this first trip over.

The Bahamas is basically a series of sand bars, only 40 nautical miles off the South Eastern coast of Florida.  Because the land is very low lying, 207 feet at the highest point (Mount Alvernia), there is zero run off into the ocean.  The lack of sediment makes the water in the Bahamas some of the most perfect, clear, turquoise waters on the planet.  Couple this with its spectacular white sand beaches, and a whole different kind of Paradise was born.   It was love at first sight and we yearned for more.  But alas, it was not meant to be, we had to return our guests to the safety of the mainland so that they could get back to their normal lives.

When we got back to the hustle and bustle of Ft. Lauderdale, we were told that the next charter wasn’t for another few weeks.  We lauded the thought of hanging out in Ft. Lauderdale, the land of expensive things, for that long.

And so, shortly after hearing this news, Jamie and I decided that we were finished with our time on Paradise (the boat that is.)  Not only were we dreading staying in Ft. Lauderdale that long, multiple weeks of living in cramped quarters had taken its toll, and we had started to not see eye to eye with the Captain and his wife.  In short, it was time to move on.  Besides, we had the whole winter to travel, and it was only the beginning of December!

As we sat on the aft deck one evening, bobbing in the water in the center of the city, we hatched a plan.  We decided that we were going to cut our ties with Paradise, rent a car and head down to the Florida Keys to do some exploring.  I think we talked briefly about doing some kayaking, but we really had no idea what was to come.

Within a couple days, we were headed south.

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Key Largo is the first major city in the Florida Keys.  Right away we found a kayak shop that backed directly on to the Blackwater Sound, and Florida Bay beyond that.

Blackwater sound
The kayak shop backed onto the Blackwater Sound.  The ring around the outside is a thick wall of mangroves, and there was one tiny passageway through to get out to Florida Bay. 
Florida Bay Map
Note Everglades National Park in Green.

 

We immediately were drawn to the idea of kayaking around.  There was water everywhere and we just wanted to get in it!  Besides, we were on a budget.  What a better way to save money traveling then to cut out transportation costs all together!

After chatting with the staff in the shop, and having them show us the beautiful used “Cadillac” kayak that they had for sale, our idea was formed.  We were going to go kayaking in the Florida Everglades!  After purchasing a chart book and figuring that we could just paddle across the Florida Bay to get to Flamingo, the gateway to the Everglades, our plan was set.

We spent the next 3-4 days running around the keys, stopping in at Marine Shops to purchase a GPS, hand held radio, and any other boating stuff that we figured we needed.  We also grabbed as much camping gear as we could afford, which was not much more than the bare bones basics.  Not knowing a thing about kayaking, we stuffed all of our newly purchased gear into a few black garbage bags (those dry bags are expensive!), and then hastily stuffed them into our water tight hatches.  Who needs dry bags when your hatches are water tight!?

We were greener than green.  I laugh today, some 17 years later, at how astonishingly brave we were.  There was no talking any sense into us.  We had made a decision, and that was it.  How hard could it be?  We could learn to kayak WHILE we were kayaking right!?  No problem!  We HAD this!

Coincidentally, my dad had some business in Miami around this time.  Obviously they wanted to see what we were up to, so they drove down the keys to connect with us.  We hadn’t told them of our plan yet, although they knew that we were finished with Paradise.  I worried a bit about their reaction to the whole thing, but in fact, it seemed as though they were supportive.  My parents have had their share of adventures in their lives, so I never did hear any comments about trying to get us to change our minds, or asking us why we were doing this.  They just quietly allowed us to navigate this crazy plan that we had while simultaneously doing whatever it was that they could to help us along.  I’m sure, as they helped us push off from that Beach, on that December day, they must have wondered, at least momentarily, if they would ever see us again.

pushing off to the everglades
All loaded up and ready to go!

 

*Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for Part two of our adventure, coming soon!*

*My boyfriend and I are currently transitioning from a “normal” life to that of an adventurous one!  We are selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives.  If you are interested in reading about our letting go process, please read my first post here.*

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