03 Jan 2018 travel round-up and plans for the New Year
Happy New Year! We spent the final days of 2018 in the UK, visiting family for the festive period. We’ve been busy gorging on vegan treats, getting to know our new nephew Barney and going on wintry dog walks. Before we return to Portugal at the weekend, I thought it was time for a 2018 travel round-up and a look at what we have in store for the brand-new year.
2018 travel round-up
January – early March: UK, Florida and Colombia
It’s hard to believe that this time last year we were preparing for South America. It began with a quick stop-over in Miami, where we had our worst airport experience to date en-route to colourful Cartagena in Colombia. We stuffed our faces with huge avocados in this historic port town and came to terms with the fact that we definitely weren’t backpackers anymore.
The tiny mountain town of Minca was much more our scene. Set in the Sierra Nevada, we trekked through forests dotted with waterfalls, spotted tropical birds, toured cacao farms and stayed at a rustic retreat complete with scorpions in the open-air bathroom. Oh, we also experienced our worst bout of food poisoning in five years of travel.
Right from the start of this trip, I struggled to balance travel with almost full-time freelance work. South America was more expensive than we’d expected so we decided to head to Medellin to rent an apartment and work for a month. We didn’t exactly hit it off with this gritty city, which was once the most dangerous in the world, but after taking some local tours we grew to admire its resilience.
Despite its dark past, Medellin is in the throes of a staggering transformation. We learnt about this on a graffiti tour in Communa 13, a Real City walking tour and a trip to the Moravia neighbourhood, which has a flower-topped hill that masks a huge toxic trash pile. We also grew to love the more touristy El Poblado neighbourhood, where we found some vegan eats, and took an overnight trip to stunning Guatape.
To finish off our Colombia trip, we spent a week in the capital Bogota and visited an incredible Salt Cathedral buried 180 metres underground. We also took the bus out to Villa de Leyva, a pretty rural town, for some peace and quiet before flying off to Peru.
Late March – April: Peru, Bolivia
Lima was a great, comfy city to spend a week working and travel planning in. We caught a bus to Paracas National Reserve, known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos’, where we explored desert landscapes and took a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands to spot penguins, sea lions, staggering rock formations and huge flocks of birds.
Climbing steadily in elevation, we flew to La Paz in Bolivia where we adjusted to the altitude before flying to Rurrenabaque for a dream Amazon trip. We stayed at Madidi Jungle Ecolodge in one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet and had an incredible guide, Cheo, who took us on walks through the jungle and boat trips.
We were lucky enough to spot tapirs, a caiman, all types of tropical birds and monkeys, plus so many bugs and insects. Cheo taught us about the medicinal qualities of Amazon plants, got us temporarily lost and introduced us to the notorious bullet ant. On a night walk, we marvelled at all the huge spiders.
Our Bolivia trip continued with a week in the small but beautiful constitutional capital Sucre, where we caught up with an old friend from our Vietnam teaching days. Climbing higher in elevation we took a winding bus trip to Uyuni, a desert town and the jumping off point for tours of the largest salt flats in the world.
We opted for a three-day 4×4 jeep tour of some of the most inhospitable and unique landscapes we’ve ever visited. Along the way, we were awed by the never-ending desert of salt crystals, had so much fun taking crazy perspective shots, saw cacti-studded islands, thermal springs and red lagoons home to hundreds of flamingos.
To finish off our Bolivia tour, we headed to peaceful Copacabana on the shores of South America’s largest lake, Titicaca. La Cupula was one of our favourite hotels, with stunning views over the lake, complimentary hot water bottles and a garden with resident alpacas. One day, we took a boat trip to Sun Island for a hike.
Lake Titicaca straddles Bolivia and Peru, so we were able to catch a bus over the border to Puno for an Uros Islands tour. These floating reed islands are home to the Uros people, who originated from the Amazon and live on the lake, fashioning islands and houses from tough totora reeds.
Needing to catch up on work, we headed up to ancient Cusco for a couple of weeks. We got to know the city’s cobbled streets, found a great vegan restaurant and planned our trip to Machu Picchu. Rather than take an expensive trek with a tour group, we opted to visit this sacred site independently by train and bus, for less than £200 each.
The trip began with a scenic train journey through the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes. From there, we caught the bus up to explore the famous ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain. We were lucky to get clear views of this world wonder and despite the tourist crowds, were awed by this ancient Incan city in the clouds.
Heading back on the train, we spent a few more peaceful days in Ollantaytambo, taking treks to lesser-visited ruins. We loved this quiet town, which had more of a local feel and grid-like cobbled streets.
After a horrible overnight bus journey, we arrived in Arequipa, a white-stone city full of Spanish colonial history. We made a quick stop to climb sand dunes in the desert at Huacachina before circling back to Lima for our final few days in South America.
Our road trip around California was my top experience of 2018. June was such a happy month driving around this beautiful state, joined by my friend Jo, gorging on the most amazing vegan food I’ve ever tasted. Although LA was seedier than we expected, I had the time of my life visiting Universal Studios.
We drove up to the coastal town of Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, then swiftly fell in love with San Francisco. We spent days wandering the cinematic, calf-busting streets to Fisherman’s Wharf, the rainbow-flag-lined Castro district and trendy Haight-Ashbury where we stumbled across Veganburg, a delicious plant-based eatery.
Our other San Fran highlights included visiting the Muir Woods, photographing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and taking a tour of Berkeley College. Next up was the national park portion of our trip, starting with our highlight: Yosemite. From hulking granite domes to the largest trees in the world, flowering meadows, waterfalls and glassy lakes, this truly was the most beautiful park I’ve ever been to.
We also stayed in our favourite Airbnb of the year, an RV near beautiful Bass Lake where we enjoyed BBQs, campfires and star-filled skies. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks had just as much to offer, including giant sequoia trees over 3,000 years old, diverse wildlife, the USA’s deepest canyon and glacial rivers.
At the end of our California trip, our five-week housesit in Oregon fell through and our final stop in San Diego was ruined as we scrambled to change our travel plans. Eventually, we headed to Portland anyway and spent a few days wandering the city, which we’d expected to love. While we appreciated the bohemian vibe and vegan food, we were surprised to find that we didn’t fall for Portland as hard as we’d expected.
Instead of staying put, we decided to rent an RV near Bend for a couple of weeks, in central Oregon. This was a great decision as we loved this peaceful, outdoorsy town. From trekking in Smith Rock State Park to visiting the extraordinary Newberry National Volcanic Monument and lava-carved caves, we got to see much more of Oregon than we’d planned.
At the last minute, we managed to land week-long housesit back in Portland looking after a gorgeous, energetic Belgian Shepherd Chloe. She was a great companion for road trips to Mount Hood, the coast and Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. The scenery in Oregon is just unreal. I still have lots of blog posts to write about our adventures on the west coast of the USA.
July and August: UK
As usual, we spent the summer back in the UK, dog sitting in London and visiting family and friends in South England and Wales. We also completed a house sit in Bristol, our university city and headed up to Scotland for a freelance job at an adventure company. I love Scotland and was excited to make a couple of stops in both Edinburgh and Glasgow to check out their vegan offerings.
Set near Aviemore, this rural job pushed me well out of my comfort zone as I had to plunge into icy rivers for canyoning, tubing and white-water rafting adventures. It turned out to be a great experience, both personally and in terms of expanding my freelance portfolio. We also got to attend a five-day yoga retreat where we stayed in bell tents, had camp fires on the beach and visited an eco-village.
September – December: London, Portugal
We spent the first half of September at our regular Chiswick cat sit, catching up with London friends and soaking up the sights in our favourite city before setting off to start a new life in Portugal. Over the summer, Andrew landed a job at an international school in the Algarve, so we committed to spending a year near Faro.
Things quickly fell into place and we found a great apartment soon after arriving, Andrew settled into school life and we enjoyed the nice weather in September. We spent afternoons by the pool and walked down to our beautiful local beach, Vale do Lobo.
My parents visited in October and we explored some the Algarve’s treasures, but around this time the weather also started to cool-off. As we sunk into November, it became freezing in our apartment and although I had a lovely visit from my friend Heather, I was finding it hard to settle into life in the Algarve.
One upside of being in one place for an extended period is that I’ve had time to get into a proper working routine. I’m now increasing my freelance workload and was finally able to tackle the re-design of this blog – a project we’ve been putting off for years. I’m hoping to finally get through my backlog of blog posts from 2018 over the coming months and we’re focusing on building up our savings after an expensive year of travel.
2019 travel plans
As I mentioned in a previous post, I haven’t been my happiest living in Portugal, so it’s been great to take some time out over Christmas in the UK. We’ve been talking a lot about possible plans for the future and evaluating different places we could potentially live later this year once Andrew’s school contract finishes. All we know so far is that we’ll be in Portugal until the end of June.
I’m sure when the weather warms up again I’ll feel much better about living in the Algarve, we also have more visits from family and friends lined up. During Andrew’s Easter school holidays, we’re going to hit the road and head north to explore some of central and northern Portugal.
Our big adventure for 2019 is a summer trip to South Africa. We really want to shake things up and start exploring different regions of the world, especially our least-visited continent: Africa. We’ve already put together a wishlist itinerary and are looking at booking flights later this month.
So, that’s it for now. Thanks to everyone who has followed our 2018 travel adventures, we’re looking forward to sharing more with you this year. What are your travel plans for 2019? Let us know in the comments below.