Summary: one year of travel, check out where we’ve been, how we travelled, the highlights of our trip, our ups and downs.
Here we are, celebrating our first year of traveling around the world—our first year of continuous travel and adventure. Time flew by so quickly! One year ago I was still living in Toronto and Bassel was in Cairo finishing his paperwork. We agreed to meet in the mythical city of New York, where we started our trip.
During this first year of travel—with the exception of some small details—we stuck to our original plan, which was to do the United States, two countries in South America (Ecuador and Bolivia), and later Europe (France specifically). When we booked our round trip ticket in Los Angeles, it turned out that it was cheaper to do Bolivia followed by Ecuador, and then end in Madrid (which we added to our plan with no regret at all).
Each country had a different taste—whether it was a couchsurfing in the US and Spain, staying in hostels and renting in South America, or staying with family and friends in France.
Couchsurfing in the US —from east to west, visiting seven cities in between—was a real great experience that allowed us to learn not only about the country, but also about Americans. It was also very interesting to be there during the 2012 presidential campaign so that we could follow the debates on TV or radio and ask people about their opinions. Our trip to the US was definitely based on human relationships, as we found American people very open—always willing to learn about you and to share their ideas, their culture and their way of living.
After two and a half months, we headed to Bolivia, where we stayed for three months. This was our first real cultural change, as the US was pretty similar to Canada, where we lived for two years before we started our trip. We didn’t CouchSurf in Bolivia, so we didn’t get to know the people as well as we did in the US. And because we don’t speak Spanish as well as we speak English, it was more difficult to communicate. Still, we enjoyed the country very much—the landscapes, the fauna and nature in general—and met very nice people.
We didn’t have a plan when we arrived in Bolivia, so I think we made some mistakes, like staying a whole month in Cochabamba (which can be done in one week and is a bit boring). Still, we were able to save some money. I wish we could have stayed longer in La Paz. We spent Christmas in Oruro, New Years Day in the national park of Sajama, and we finished our trip in the tropical town of Rurrenabaque.
We arrived in Guayaquil on the 29th of January and hopped onto the first plane to the Galapagos, our main target in Ecuador. We had the opportunity to spend two months in the archipelago. The Galapagos are not about people. Maybe they see so many tourists coming for only a few days and then leaving that they don’t make any efforts to create a relationship with you that isn’t based on business. It is true that we came to see the wildlife, but it would have been a plus to have nice people around.
Nevertheless, we had the most unforgettable wildlife experience in the Galapagos. We then came back to the continent and spent three weeks in Baños, a very laid back Ecuadorian town where we enjoyed the landscape and tried all the adventurous activities in Baños.
We flew back to Europe and arrived in Madrid on the 25th of May, where we were welcomed with very cold temperatures. But we found what else Madrid has to offer: great food and very warm and nice people. We totally enjoyed our 10 days in the Spanish capital. As I mentioned, this stop was not planned, but it has been a real plus in our trip. We hope we will be able to come back to Spain for a longer time.
Finally, we arrived in France, my native country. We planned this stop for two main reasons: first, to see friends and family who we always miss a lot, and second, to finish some paperwork. We have to get a new passport for me and establish residency for Bassel so that it is easier for us to carry on with our trip.
In addition, during these three months we have the opportunity to visit different parts of the country (especially Normandy) with our travelers’ eyes, and bring back photos and comments about Bernay, the Mont Saint Michel and Rouen, where we’re currently staying. So for us, France is a kind of break that will give us some time to plan the continuation of our ongoing trip around the world.
Though we feel that we missed a lot of things in each country because of our budget and because it is difficult to see everything in a country anyway, we did see some amazing things. First we went to New York (who doesn’t want to visit New York?).
Then we visited (not without a lot of challenges) Walnut Grove, the hometown of the famous writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, who got her almost world wide fame with the seventies series “The Little House on the Prairie.” The small villages (New Ulm and Walnut Grove) in Minnesota were some of the only places in the US where we felt the deep soul of the country. It was an unforgettable experience.
Then we also loved Las Vegas, where Bassel wanted to go—and that surprised me, because I thought I would hate it. Vegas is definitely unique!
Then in Bolivia we visited the beautiful national park of Sajama located high in the Cordilera, where, despite the cold, we could feel and enjoy the real sense of being alone in the nature. With only 80 families as inhabitants, the village is surrounded by mountains, volcanoes and hundreds of llamas and alpacas.
In Bolivia also we took a tropical three-day trip in the Pampas, and there we saw an unbelievable quantity of animals like we’ve never seen before. We hope we’ll do it again one day!
In Ecuador—although we enjoyed Baños a lot—the highlight of the country was of course the Galapagos Islands, for their incredible and unique fauna and flora. The best we did was the trip to Kicker Rock near San Cristobal Island, where we could swim with turtles, sharks, rays and sea lions.
I suppose that if we had stayed longer in Spain there would have been other highlights, but discovering Madrid was a real revelation.
Thus far there is nothing new for me in Normandy, as it is my native region. Still, the eternal beauty of the Mont Saint Michel always amazes me—and for Bassel it was his first time to the Mont Saint Michel and he loved the place.
We both know the city of Rouen, where we’re currently staying, but we had never lived in Rouen. I must say that we don’t regret having rented a flat for a month so that we could enjoy this incredible city (this is my favorite in France). Monuments, museums, shops and events—there is a lot to say about Rouen, but you have to come and feel the city by yourself.
We feel we’ve missed a lot. In the US, we would have liked to have visited Washington, to go to more places in the country and to visit other states like Texas, Arizona and Florida. We also missed the Grand Canyon in Las Vegas and the Mississippi River in the south.
In Bolivia we missed Copacabana, Lake Titicaca, the Salar de Uyuni and Sucre.
In Ecuador, we didn’t see Quito or Cuenca, and I wish we could have visited more tropical regions.
In Spain, we hope we’ll come back soon to visit Toledo, Granada, Barcelona and Andalusia.
Thanks to God, everything has gone perfectly, except for some delays (the worst being the nine-hour delay of the Megabus from Toronto to New York! But in general we don’t consider delays to be difficulties, but just part of the travel.
We found traveling to be physically tiring, even if we are slow travelers.
What has been the most difficult for us was to constantly have to make decisions together—not to always liking the same places or the same things.
Our last CouchSurfing experience in Paris, where we were thrown out in the street because of practicing our religion. France is not only a laic country, but it has also laic extremists!
The typhoid that Bassel caught in Rurrenabaque was also a challenge, but while the hospital was pretty basic, the doctor was great and very competent.
The first thing we appreciated was working for ourselves and not having to report to anyone. Being your own boss is great, even if it was not always easy to make decisions and to be organized and concentrate on our work.
We also appreciated the absence of routine—being the masters of our time and doing whatever we wanted. Not having to wake up at the same time every day (which doesn’t mean that we don’t work, but that we work when we want, which is sometimes at night) is also great.
We enjoyed the freedom that travel provides in regards to places we want go to, how long we want to stay or what we want to try! And we also enjoyed the fact that traveling is always a source of inspiration.
The real jewel of our travel remains the people we have met along the road. Even if it was for a short time, we appreciate the friends we made, the friends we had and the friends we met again.
We are now staying in France, waiting for our papers and planning for the next stage of our travels.