A listicle of our 24 hours in transit to Oaxaca

After nearly 24 hours of straight travel, Spencer and I made it to Oaxaca City around 5 p.m. this evening. Later, I’ll regale you with some of the things I’m excited about and the sights and sounds we’re seeing, but since I’m exhausted right now, I’m going to cheat and do a listicle thing.

So, here’s 10 Things You Learn As a Budget Traveler in Mexico That Might Surprise You (now with photos because the internet started working at a normal speed again):

1) Two hour layovers at LAX seem generous, until you realize your connecting flight is in a terminal that requires you to sprint across 4 lanes of LA traffic and re-clear security before you can get to your gate. Flying separate airlines = cheap as hell ticket, but man was I sweaty when I got on the plane.

2) Watching The Imitation Game and Finding Nemo can, in rare instances, substitute for a full night of sleep.

3) If you and your significant other are planning to take separate flights to a foreign country, you should definitely not assume your cell phones will be able to send or receive texts when you land, even if your phone company explicitly promised you otherwise. (I had to sweet talk some federal police to even be allowed on the shuttle to Spencer’s terminal since I didn’t have a boarding pass: “Tengo que recoger mi novio. El no habla espanol.”)

4) Also, you should designate a more specific meeting place than “arrivals,” especially at a large international airport you’ve never been to.

5) That said, there are few things more exciting than seeing your significant other’s dorky backpacking clothes across the room from you and running over yelling “SPENCER!!!! SPENCER!!!!” after you’ve been searching for 15 minutes and had started to give up hope.

Most of our 7 hour bus trip was pretty rural, though the vegetation changed from this to desert.
Most of our 7 hour bus trip was pretty rural, though the vegetation changed from this to desert.

6) You get what you pay for with a second class bus ticket. In our specific case, that meant unexpectedly pulling over about two hours into our seven hour trip and waiting for half an hour before learning our bus had a radiator issue and would not be going anywhere. Another bus from the same company came to pick us up, though, and we ended up with more leg room and a working bathroom on board, so I’d call that a win.

All the repairs!
All the repairs!

7) Double-check your final destination. We got off the bus in what we thought was Oaxaca City (we’d been sleeping and weren’t super attentive), only to discover from a cab driver that we were actually in Nochixtlan, about an hour away. Fortunately, the bus hadn’t left yet, so we were able to get back on after giving the driver a sheepish grin.

8) Nine times out of ten, if your cab driver says, “Eh, I think I know where that is,” you’re actually going to be fine. So just chill. But maybe also bring a map with you.

9) Even if you’re starving because literally all you’ve had to eat all day is an energy bar and some almonds, it’s still worth wandering around the plaza and downtown for a few minutes before settling on a place to eat.

10) Beware of retreating to the roof terrace of your hostel to write after a long day of travel. The view is gorgeous, but you will be eaten alive by mosquitos.

See what I mean about the view?
See what I mean about the view?

Pre-adventure planning

I’m pretty sure this isn’t news to anyone who knows us well, but Spencer and I are one week away from a three-month around the world travel extravaganza!

Rachel and Spencer
The intrepid adventurers on a previous trip to Smith Rocks State Park near Bend.

I was fortunate enough to get a sabbatical from my new(ish) job at the Spokesman-Review, and Spencer is starting grad school in the fall in Gonzaga’s mental health counseling program, so we’re taking this chance to see the world a bit before we settle down.

We’re both hoping to update our respective blogs regularly from the road, though time and internet availability may vary from place to place. But for those of you who want to follow along, here’s a quick overview of what we’re doing.

Stop 1: Mexico

May 19-June 6

This was my pick – I’ve spoken Spanish for a while and spent a lot of time on the Arizona-Sonora border, but have seen little else of Mexico. We’re flying in and out of Mexico City and spending about three days there visiting the National Museum of Anthropology, checking out architecture and visiting a few friends.

I’ll finally get to meet Reed Brundage, the man behind Mexico Voices, where I’ve worked as a translator for about two years now. It’s an awesome blog that takes news and commentary written by Mexican journalists, mostly about politics and the drug war, and translates it into English.

The bulk of our trip will be spent in Oaxaca, a state in southeastern Mexico with a large indigenous population (and not the site of any recent violence or unrest related to the murdered Ayotzinapa student teachers, drug cartels or anything else, for those of you who like to worry). We’re taking a bus shortly after arriving and returning to Mexico City for the last few days of the trip.

map of Oaxaca
Oaxaca relative to Mexico City.

Oaxaca is known for its crafts, mezcal (a spirit distilled from the agave plant that’s similar to tequila, but often has a smokier taste) and delicious cuisine. We’re planning to sample mezcal, tour women-owned businesses through Fundacion En Via, a microfinance group, and go on a four-day hiking tour of rural communities in the mountains.

Stop 2: Return to the States

June 6-June 15

Following Mexico, we’ll fly back to Seattle and spend a few days visiting our respective families in Seattle and Portland. My cousin Zoe is graduating from Issaquah High School on June 12, and my cousin Hannah is graduating from Western Washington University on the 13th, so naturally we had to come home for the festivities!

Stop 3: Italy

June 15-June 27

This trip was my mom’s graduation present to Hannah, so Spencer and I are tagging along to spend some time with them. We’ll be visiting Venice, Florence and Rome and seeing a lot of artwork. I’ve been using Duolingo to learn some Italian, so I’m hoping I might have a vague idea of what’s going on once we arrive.

Stop 4: India

June 27-July 28
trip backpack
I’ve already planned the entire backpack out. (Not all the books are coming.)

This is perhaps the most exciting, daunting and as-yet unplanned portion of our trip. We’ve got a full month to explore the vast Indian subcontinent – no small task, given its massive size.

I think a lot of maps are bad at conveying relative size and distance. While planning a route around the country, I often found myself looking at two Indian cities and thinking, “Those look like they’re pretty close together…” before asking Google Maps to give me a route between them. Whoops – turns out they’re 15 hours apart.

We’re flying in and out of MumbaiĀ and have had a somewhat shifting itinerary. Originally, we planned to spend most of our time in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, figuring it’s impossible to see all of India in one trip, so we’d leave Delhi, the Taj Mahal and the sites up north for another time. But in the past week or so, we’ve realized that our original plans to visit some forested areas may not work since we’re going in the height of monsoon season, so we’re now reconsidering a leg up north. Stay tuned for more on that.

I’ll expand more on this later, but for folks with a knowledge of India, our rough planning currently includes a few days in Mumbai, then traveling by train to the caves at Ellora and on to a tiger reserve near Nagpur. From there, we may fly to Delhi and see the Taj Mahal and possibly Varanasi, a Hindu holy city on the Ganges River. From there (or from Nagpur), we’ll fly to Bangalore, then take trains to Mysore, Kochi, Alleppey and Madurai before flying back to Mumbai.

Whatever we end up doing, I’m sure it will be exciting and beautiful, with a touch of traveler’s diarrhea and abject fear about train schedules thrown in. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

r & s
We’re both excited, even if we’re still not 100% positive this will all work out.