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4 years of travelling and living in Latin America

October 13, 2017
Posted in On the Way
October 13, 2017 Tomas

4 years of travelling and living in Latin America

This article is kind of a condensed overview of my experiences and adventures in Latin America I’ve been regularly blogging about here on this blog in the past few years. 

It’s sunny Friday here in Prague, the kind of mild-climate late-summer day when the sun is still strong but once it hides behind the clouds it gets quite chilly. So chilly that it makes me think “perhaps I should get me some shoes.”

The best shoes for the tropics!

The thing is that flip-flops have served me exceptionally well in the last four years as I was living mainly in the tropics of Central America. But wait, let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve been always traveling. First Europe, then the Middle East and Southeast Asia. However, I was always coming back home. I was literally taking (long) holidays and thinking actually how it feels to leave your home country. I mean to leave, to cut off all lines, without the necessity to come back. So having finally finished my studies in 2014 I decided to figure it out on my own. At first, I was living in Malaga in Spain, then in London and finally I made it to Mexico as I always wanted to speak Spanish.

Arriving in Mexico

When I arrived in Mexico I thought:

Damn, here I am, in Mexico. What am I going to do here?

Cenote in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico

I mean I’m not good at planning much ahead of time. I did the big step, left my country but did not feel much excitement. I had always been traveling so arriving in Mexico I knew what’s going to happen. Find a hostel, grab some food, check out local attractions and move on. At that moment I couldn’t figure out what’s happening to me.

Mexico looked so civilized so I though: perhaps I need more adventure.

So I made it to Guatemala

Guatemala was great, I was traveling around for a while and was actually enjoying it. However, I felt a bit stressed at that time as I was still supposed to steer my company (Koongo — Multichannel Marketing Tool). That turned out to be more and more difficult over time because I was moving a lot and couldn’t focus well on my work.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is surrounded by active volcanoes.

So once I made it to Rio Dulce, which is a small village on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, I decided to stay and work for a while. Or, perhaps I stayed because I had met a girl here? Who knows. And then it happened!

Introducing Magico, a 28 ft long sailboat

Sailing has been my passion since 2009 and I was always thinking about having own boat one day. I knew that Rio Dulce is the kind of place where sailors gather because it’s a safe anchorage during hurricane season. But I didn’t plan originally on buying a boat, I just wanted to see the place.

And a few weeks later I found myself buying a sailboat. It was so exciting!

That’s how Magico looked like when I bought it.

I didn’t know at that moment that I’m going to spend a whole year fixing the boat and preparing it for THE voyage! But I was having sooo damn good time in Rio Dulce. I realized that actually, I don’t want to travel; I mean in the way I was always traveling as a backpacker. I became a sailor. But more than this I was having a home again, a floating one but still home. And also friends and girlfriend. And I was working, both fixing my boat and steering my company over the Internet. So time went really fast and finally, THE day arrived.

Arriving in Utila, Honduras

This was THE trip, the first trip with Magico across the seas. It’s only 150 nautical miles but most of the time against the wind and waves. I took two friends with me and took us about 48 hours of non-stop sailing to get there.

Roatan island off the shore of Honduras.

I spent several months in the paradise of The Bay Islands — Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja. And in the pure paradise of Cayos Cochinos.

I was mainly diving, sailing and doing some charter trips with backpackers. NoStress at all!

Then the time to leave came again, this time because I wanted to catch up with my brother coming to Cancun in Mexico. Again, I took some friends aboard to help me with sailing across the Caribbean sea. So we loaded our stuff on Magico and set sailing towards Belize with the destination Cancun.

Change of plans along the way

At the beginning of the journey the weather was fair but then storms started to appear and the conditions became shitty. In the night we lost the mainsail and boom fitting got damaged. The engine was also not reliable. So I decided to change our plan and from Belize, we sailed back to Guatemala where I knew I can fix everything relatively easily and cheap.

The crew working on the backup mainsail.

So instead of arriving in Cancun, we had arrived in Guatemala and our paths diverged. I stayed in Guatemala fixing the boat and my crew got on the bus going to Mexico.

Anyway, a few days later I got on the bus too and made it to Cancun to share couple of beers with my brother and his girlfriend. It was such a good time!

Drink time in Cancun with my bro Peta and his Marketa.

Spending New Year in Holbox, Mexico

And then, I went on to Holbox, an incredible sandy island close to Cancun, to visit my old crew. I spent a couple of days there and then returned to Guatemala, to finish all the work on Magico because I was planning a sailing trip to Cuba. Then I returned again to Holbox and spent Christmas and New Year there (from 15′ to 16′). It’s a long way from Rio Dulce, about 50 hours on the bus. And I did this trip actually 5 times!

Main street in Holbox Island, Mexico.

Anyway, I finished all the work on Magico, including the installation of a new engine, and did all I could to prepare it well for the ultimate trip to Cuba. However, before that, we were traveling a bit around Mexico as the hurricane season had not finished yet.

Living on the beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Puerto Escondido is a small town on the Pacific coast of Mexico in Oaxaca state famous for surfing (Zicatela) where we were living in a small community called La Punta de Zicatela, literately right on the beach and few minutes walking from a surfing spot.

So for the next couple of months we were just living on the beach and learning to catch the waves.

Breathtaking sunsets on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The sunsets were very special events every day. I had never seen so spectacular sunsets as here on the Pacific coast of Mexico. That’s something I will never forget.

Having more surfing experience now I see that La Punta de Zicatela is not good learning break for beginners. Anyway, the hurricane season was about to finish so we started bussing down towards Guatemala, Rio Dulce, where Magico was waiting.

Sailing from Guatemala to Cuba

This was the ultimate trip for me from the moment I bought Magico — sailing to Cuba! Two Czech friends joined us for the trip so we were 4 which seemed to be okay for 28 ft boat. However, the atmosphere became quite quickly kind of dense and I realized that the boat is going to be quite small for 4 sailors planning to spend together several weeks on the cruise. But as it turned out there was actually no need to worry about it because … guess why? Well, we set off and 2 days later the transmission box broke! I couldn’t believe it! The button line is that I changed the engine but not the transmission box! So again, we had to return back to Guatemala. I spent so much time and energy to prepare Magico well and then another thing failed.

The long-time planned sailing trip to Cuba was over, actually even before it had started. I felt really sad. And also tired.

Beaching and scuba diving in Cuba.

So instead of sailing we flew to Cuba from Cancun and spent there over a month. It was a quite unique experience for many reasons; challenging at times due to the fact there we were traveling in a group of 10 friends. However, overall I enjoyed Cuba very much and I’d like to come back one day in the near future.

Jumping back home for a visit

From Cuba I decided to go home, to old good Europe, for a while, to visit my family and friends and to organize a couple of other long-time postponed business things. It was actually just a short visit in the summer of 2016, with stops in the Czech Republic, Italy, Corsica, Italy, France, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen.

California Experience

After spending the summer in Europe I was seriously running out of money. After three years of traveling the time to get back to work had arrived. So I got on the plane and made it to California where I spent several months working until the end of the year. Apart from working, we were having fun sailing the SF Bay with some friends or exploring the redwoods and surrounding mountains. The nature in California is stunning!

Sailing the San Francisco Bay.

One important thing happened while I was in California. I mean, I decided to sell Magico. It was very difficult decision as with Magico I was living the dream, literally.

However, on the other side, there were lots of troubles, like broken transmission box being just the first thing on the fix list. I was also spending way too much money for a boat that did not fit well into the ongoing plan.

Arriving in Argentina

I mean, the ongoing plan was to spend Christmas and New Year (from 16′ to 17′) in Argentina and later to travel through South America in a car. This plan sounded very compelling to me so I decided to sell Magico and buy a car instead. It turned out to be a quite complicated endeavor for a foreigner to buy a car in Argentina so I bought it in Chile. The thing is that I did not realize what does it mean from the practical perspective to travel in a car around South America. That means it was not so much fun for a number of reasons. So I sold the car pretty quickly. You can check out suggestions for a road trip through South America on my blog for details. So once I sold it I decided to return to the Caribbean.

Roaming Mendoza province in Argentina.

The thing is that nothing was waiting for me in Guatemala anymore. Magico was sold already.

Crossing the Andes is usually a highlight of any trip in South America I guess. However, in my case, I had to cross the Andes three times in the course of three weeks! Not bad! But no more, please!

On the way back to the Caribbean

Although Magico was not waiting for me in Guatemala anymore I decided to leave Chile and head north because the summer in the southern hemisphere was over and it was getting cold. Time to return to the Caribbean!

Beach Naufragos in Florianopolis, Brazil.

But first I made it to Uruguay and later to Florianopolis in Brazil where I was surfing and thinking about my next move.

The idea came quite quickly — I always wanted to see the Amazon jungle!

So I made it to the heart of the Amazon jungle. And its a long boat ride from Manaus, about a week against the stream to the Columbian-Peruvian-Brazilian border Tabatinga-Leticia. The boat went by day and night, almost non-stop. Whatever you were doing, the boat kept moving. It was actually very refreshing as I had nothing to worry about — I had my hammock hung on the deck and the simple food was served three times a day. A good deal!

Surfing and diving in Santa Catalina, Panama

I spent some time in the town Tabatinga-Leticia and surrounding villages, in the heart of the Amazon jungle. The thing is that the only way how to get here or get out is by boat or airplane, there are no roads in this jungle world. Due to the devastating floods in Peru, I changed my plans and instead of heading along the river further deep into the Peruvian jungle I got the plane bound for Bogota, Colombia.

Catching waves in Santa Catalina, Panama.

In Bogota, I had to solve a dilemma — stay here on the Caribbean coast of Colombia or return to Central America. But I didn’t have to think about it for very long as I got an opportunity to work in a dive center on the Pacific coast of Panama.

The village Santa Catalina where I was staying for about two months is actually an entrance point into the stunning marine national park of Coiba which is a world-class diving spot. I was there during the rainy season so the visibility under the water was not so great but it was still obvious that the ocean here teams up with lots of underwater life.

Apart from being famous as diving spot, Santa Catalina is also famous world-class surfing spot. There are numerous breaks for surfers of all levels — from barrels breaking in shallow water above reefs to tens of beach breaks perfect for learning and gaining experience.

So that’s what you can do in Santa Catalina — dive and surf. Not bad at all. The only thing is that I was there in the (very) low and rainy season so there were very few opportunities to socialize and meet other people. I don’t need big crowds but from time to time it’s nice to hang out and have some beers.

Where the jungle meets the ocean. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

While surfing in Santa Catalina I was already thinking about going home for a while. Anyway, I got a chance to stay and volunteer in a yoga retreat center in Costa Rica. So I made it to Puerto Viejo, a small village on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where I stayed for about two months. The place is called OM Cashew Hill and is located at the doorstep of the jungle.

A typical jungle-beach scenery in the Caribbean part of Costa Rica.

I found myself totally immersed in yoga for the whole time being there. Without exaggerating it was the kind of experience you never forget. But yeah, the call for going home was getting stronger and stronger so Costa Rica was my last stop on my 4 years long journey through Latin America.

Practicing yoga every day in retreat and jungle lodge in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

It’s absolutely stunning place with an amazing community of yogis and I feel I was really fortunate to find such a magical place with so much energy, spirit and inspiring people.

Being back home. I mean, for a while! 🙂

So yeah, those four years have passed really fast. Now I’m back home, in the Czech Republic. And it feels strange to be home. I mean good but also strange. So many many things have happened in the past years both in my life and the life of my ‘old friends’ here in Prague. It’s not like it used to be when I was living and studying in Prague. I will blog about my mixed feelings in one of the future posts.

Anyway, I think I won’t stay home for very long. The thing is, I’m actually already taking steps toward leaving Europe and possibly returning back to Latin America. I shall see soon what the future has got in store for me!

The Golden Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The beginning of autumn, when trees turn yellow, orange and red.

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