Our Round-the-World Backpacking Adventure

On January 18, 2017, my boyfriend Andy and I said goodbye to the U.S. and embarked on our round-the-world backpacking journey.  We’ve now been traveling for over two months, and I intend to catch up and post about each destination! First, though, some notes about the trip itself.

The Reason

From infancy, I’ve always been a curious person, and starting flying on planes before my first birthday.  An interest in travel was all but guaranteed.  My family traveled domestically (and later, internationally); I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain; I taught abroad in Daegu, South Korea, post-graduation.  During all of these pursuits, I met others from around the globe and was inspired by many of their (seemingly ordinary) travels.  Being an American office-worker, trips of over 10-11 days seemed out of reach… something only a European or Australian could really dream of.  I was working as a DC fundraiser and wanted to see more of the world, and for longer stretches of time – so I could really dig deep into the local food, culture and countryside.  And so – a plan was born… Andy and I would go backpacking around the world.  Consider it a sabbatical from the working world.

backpacking, travel
Us with all of our possessions on our backs.
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A Perfect Day in Minca, Colombia

Colombia’s Magdalena department has more to offer than Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park‘s beautiful beaches; it is also home to Minca, a small village located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Some people choose to spend a few days in Minca, enjoying the slow pace of life, but it is also a great option for a day trip from Santa Marta or Taganga.  Hire a taxi to take you to the cool mountains, and you’ll be there in no time.  I’ve outlined a full day of Minca activities, after the jump.

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The Beaches of Tayrona National Park

La Piscina Parque Tayrona

After the boat ride from hell (seriously – take the horses or hike!!), we finally arrived at Cabo San Juan.  I wish I had a photo of our first glimpse of the cape, because it was stunning.  Turquoise water, white sand, lush palm trees, mountain backdrops, and flocks of pelicans flying overhead.  It felt like we had stepped back through time.

The surf at Cabo San Juan is strong – I merely went for a quick dip and felt like I could have easily been pulled out to sea.  Our merry little band walked through the jungle to get to La Piscina, the nearby swimming beach.

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Up the Colombian Coast: Santa Marta & Taganga

Early morning in Taganga, Colombia

I definitely shouldn’t have tried to start blogging again during the holidays.  Now that they’re over, stories of Colombia await.  Up first: Santa Marta.

Santa Marta is an improbable city nestled between the bright blue Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevadas, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.  Palm trees and cacti dot the landscape.  The winter winds blow ferociously.

This port city is the site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.  It’s also one of the best jumping off points for nearby Tayrona National Park and the 6-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s lost city that predates Machu Picchu by 650 years.

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Taejongdae Park

Understatement of the blog: winter in Korea is cold.  Really cold.  Hailing from the northern US, I thought I knew what cold was, but I had never really walked for long durations outside before.  We regularly get cold fronts from Siberia (it sounds like a joke, doesn’t it??) paired with icy winds.  Can you say brrrr?

Overlooking the pebble beach

Regardless, a little cold won’t stop me from enjoying all Korea has to offer. 

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Bukchon Hanok Village

One of the touristy draws in Seoul is the Bukchon Hanok Village.  Hanok is traditional Korean architecture.  At one time, all homes in Korea were built in this fashion, but tradition gave way to more modern apartment buildings.  A group of residents in Bukchon protested renovations in the 1960s, and their homes were preserved.  Today, 999 hanok homes stand as a testament to the former lifestyle.  I’m happy they’re still around – they are much more beautiful than high-rise complexes.

the start of the hanok
walking up to take it the view
most doors were ornately decorated
many galleries and workshops are located in the village
Andy overlooking Seoul – you can even see N Seoul Tower!
Milk delivery
lots of pretty details
a peek at the courtyard past the front door
Seoul’s mascot, Haechi
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Freaky Food: Yukhoe Bibimbap (육회비빔밥)

Every region of Korea has its own culinary specialty.  A group of friends and I found ourselves in Jinju (Gyeongsangnam-do) last weekend, and we decided to sample some local flavor.  Jinju is known for yukhoe (pronounced yook hway) bibimbap – raw beef mixed rice.  While some people may have eaten raw beef before, I hadn’t.  In Japan, I had a dish with raw egg and felt squeamish… surely I would contract salmonella or worse! But it was fine (and delicious), and part of being a traveler is trying new things.  Otherwise, why bother?

A new Korean friend took us to a local market where we could find a few restaurants, including one that specialized in this dish.  There was literally a line out the door and around the corner, always a good sign!

We went upstairs.  Sat down.  Looked at the neighboring table.  They had ordered an entire plate of raw beef, which looked pretty scary.  Hesitantly, we ordered our dishes and awaited our future food-poisoning…

But then this came:

yukhoe bibimbap - raw beef mixed rice in Jinju, South Korea

It was delicious.  The bibimbap alone was really great, with lots of veggies and other goodies, but the meat was super flavorful.  The beef seasoning included soy sauce, sesame oil, and even Korean pear, which is pretty traditional.  I ate an entire bowl and half of Andy’s!

This particular restaurant also served a bowl of beefy, oniony soup with each order.  The banchan were radish kimchi, pickled radish, and ojingeojeot (fermented squid – sounds gross but is amazing).  All in all a great place!

Freaky Food: Yukhoe bibimbap (raw beef mixed rice)
Verdict: A must-try!

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Travel Updates

hanging out at I'm Ddeokbokki

It has been a long time since I last wrote! In lieu of a real post, take this bulleted summary of my life:

– This week, we changed schedules at our school.  Formerly, we worked 1:30-7:40, but now we work 3:00-9:50.  I teach middle schoolers as well as elementary, although they are much better behaved so I don’t really mind.  Our school is also starting its mini summer semester (July, August, part of September), and so we are focusing on conjugating different verbs in different tenses.  The goal is to get the students on board with using the right tense in a sentence – they mostly cannot do this yet, so hopefully by spending all summer on it they will be able to.  They are also on public school holiday, but still have to come to academy – poor kids! (And poor academy teachers!)

An example of what I mean: “Everyday, I go to school” versus “Everyday, I going to school” and things of that nature.

– This coming weekend, what seems like all of the foreigners in Korea will be descending on the Boryeong Mud Festival.  Boryeong, a beach city on the west coast of Korea, annually hosts a massive mud festival.  It was created to promote the cosmetic properties of mud from nearby mudflats, but now the festival is associated with revelry of the messiest kind.  We are leaving from Daegu with an organized trip and staying one night in Korean style lodging… a room with a floor.  Should make for an interesting experience.

– In two weeks, Andy and I will be spending our summer vacation in Thailand! Bangkok and the beaches on the west coast (Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta perhaps).

– We also just booked our Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) trip for late September/early October… Japan! Probably mainly the Kyoto area because transportation to Tokyo is crazy expensive.  Japan is notoriously the most expensive country in Asia and definitely one of the most expensive in the entire world… hopefully we’ll be able to save some money but I predict it will be the most costly trip of my life – still worth it though!
hanging out at I'm Ddeokbokki

– Also, I got a haircut.

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