Looking Back on the Incredible Year that was 2019

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It’s beginning to look a lot like… well, anything but Christmas to be honest.

The air is thick and humid. Everything is green and the flowers are in full bloom. The sky is a patchy grey and white. And the towering palms sway in the hot wind, between intermittent flash rainstorms.

Unseasonable weather aside, there isn’t a Christmas tree anywhere in sight, and as far as we can tell, it’s business as usual here on the Colombian island of San Andres. Yet confused as we are, the year — and decade(!) — are coming to an end. And it’s time once again to take a look back at the past twelve or so months.

This year, for the most part, we moved considerably less. We slowed down and explored places more deeply. Yet while we only visited eight countries the entire year (four of which we’d been previously), we certainly didn’t stop moving. In the last five weeks alone, we’ve taken 35 different buses.

From two of England’s greatest cities to a Spanish island, the sands of Africa, volcanoes of Guatemala and El Salvador, and some much-needed time back home in Canada: here’s looking back at the year that was 2019!

Palm trees blowing in the wind near a beach
A Six Minute Walk from our current home in Colombia – Now if only the weather would cooperate

The Highlights

As I’ve mentioned in the past, this wild ride of a life we’ve chosen is a highlight in itself. Yet there are always a few moments, sometimes for subtle reasons, that stand out.

Reaching ever so slightly into 2018 and spilling into January, our month living in Bristol is easily the first thing that comes to mind. House and pet sitting for a couple of artisan cheesemakers — keen to share their work — was a dream come true. And even though the rather misbehaved dog, Mikey, could be a headache at times, we fell in love with him.

As well, several visits to London saw us catching up with some wonderful friends; both old and new.

During our time on Mallorca, having some of the best beaches in the world, completely to ourselves, was hard to beat. As was the gluttonous binging of tapas in Barcelona that followed.

Another highlight was renting an apartment and living in Essaouira, the windy fishing village on the coast of Morocco. Though it was the few days spent in the Sahara that we remember most fondly of our time in Morocco.

Then there was our triumphant return home to Canada, where we spent an incredible few months with our wonderful family and friends. And while this isn’t so much a travel highlight, it’s one of the most impactful from the year.

Our love with Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan was rekindled upon returning to the road in November. As was our appreciation for the stunning beaches of El Salvador. And to finish it all off, hiking to the top of Santa Ana volcano is one of the greatest moments in recent weeks.

But hey, as the saying totally doesn’t go: “Life isn’t always Bristol and Volcanoes.”

Sand dunes and a blue sky
Visiting the Stunning Sahara Desert was one of the most incredible moments of 2019

The Inevitable Lowlights

Sometimes things just don’t work out, and travel is no different. Like a game of dice, no matter how you stack the deck, you don’t always get a strike… or something like that.

As stunning an island that Mallorca is, we didn’t enjoy our time there as much as we could have. Staying as part of a work-exchange with some ex-pat residents, while the overall experience was fine, some issues left a bad taste in our mouths. Most importantly the fact that the jobs we were doing weren’t typical “help out around the farm” tasks commonly associated with such exchanges. Instead, they were construction jobs that could (and should) have been done by a local — for pay. It has us questioning whether or not to use this type of service again in the future.

In Barcelona, two days inside a hotel room with food poisoning from warm street-juice ruined our otherwise phenomenal food adventures. Thankfully it cleared up before our less-than-wonderful ferry journey across the Mediterranean.

Returning to Canada was one of the greatest decisions we made during the year, though it wasn’t without issues. Following 18 months of travel, readjusting to a life of routine became trickier than anticipated.

When the joyous time came to hit the road once again, our initial plans were tossed from the outset when Kylee’s backpack was lost in transit to Guatemala.

And then there was the dickhead hostel owner who ruined our first day in El Salvador (a story for later). Thankfully, he was the only exception to the fact that Salvadorians are some of the kindest, most wonderful humans in the world.

Two people sitting on a rock with boats in the background
We don’t often take photos of the bad times – so here’s a random photo of us in Mallorca!

Food, oh the Glorious Food!

This is the hardest part. It always is. How is it possible to narrow down the best food from an entire year? I could write a post weekly highlighting our favourite foods. It’s likely the reason for my current weight gain (thank you pupusas!).

England is far more than fish and chips or bangers and mash. And while we ate a shitload of those while in Bristol, we found so many more artery-clogging delights. Yorkshire pudding wraps, anyone? And did I mention we house sat for cheesemakers?

Tapas in Barcelona. ‘Nuff said.

We explored the cuisine of Morocco, something relatively unknown to us. And it blew us away. From grilled Merguez sausages to pigeon pies, literal piles of fresh seafood, and a shockingly delicious (and oddly KFC gravy-esque) camel confit, we tried it all. But it was the rich, dried fruit-heavy chicken and game tagines that truly shined.

Proper Portuguese egg tarts during our unexpected layover in Lisbon.

Real home cooking — mom cooking — during our time in Canada. Alberta beef, and access to almost anything we wanted, when we wanted. It was nice being first-world spoilt for restaurant options.

Back on the road, we were amazed at the budget-friendly food options in Antigua.

And of course, the almighty pupusa. I think our pupusa count is somewhere in the 70s after our month in El Salvador (my third chin nods in agreement).

Ham and melon ball on a plate with wine in the background
Delicious Tapas in Barcelona

Where We’ve Called Home

Dirty sheets, no sheets, lumpy pillows, no pillows, mosquitos, cockroaches and a scorpion. We’ve had some truly uncomfortable sleeps this year. But that’s what we do. This life of travel doesn’t happen by staying in five-star resorts.

That said, we’ve also stayed at some phenomenal accommodation. Slowing down helped with that as well. Finding a spot to stay for a few weeks at a time, being able to unpack and have the same bed for more than a couple of nights, is hard to put into words.

Our place in Bristol happened to be on one of the trendiest streets in town. It made for a lively month, to say the least. And Mallorca had its issues, staying put for two full months, and having our own car for the stay, allowed us to live as locals.

In Morocco and El Salvador we spanned the spectrum. While we generally lived in basic comfort, there were also a few dives. Though along with the dives, we treated ourselves well on occasion.

Even here in Colombia, weather issues and all, our little house is the perfect home for the holidays – especially after the busy month prior.

Colourful houses in a harbor with a boat in the water
Daily views from morning dog walks in Bristol

Lessons Learned

  • Last year we mentioned that it would be nice to take things slower. We moved at a ridiculous pace last year and we struggled with burnout on many occasions. This time we took our own advice and slowed down. Stopping for two months in Spain, one in Morocco, and several in Canada. It felt good, allowed us to breathe and feel at home.
  • It’s ok to go home. Many long-term travellers have this idea in their minds that going home is somehow failing. I’ve been part of that tribe myself. But going home is one of the best things we’ve done on our travels. We spent time with family and friends. It gave us a chance to reconnect, to recharge our minds and bodies — and bank accounts.
  • Returning to familiar territory makes travel better. On this current journey, we’re not visiting any new countries. At first, as travellers and travel writers, that seemed counterintuitive. But it makes sense, we want to dig into some of our favourite places even more. And doing so makes visiting these destinations easier. We arrive with previous knowledge and experience; which leads to more confidence and comfort.
  • As we’re away with a set return date, our minds are more at ease. We’re only away for around six months this time. The last time we left for an extended period, we had a certain amount of money to last an indefinite amount of time. It meant we had to pinch pennies every moment of every day. This time we can spend a little more freely knowing our budget. On top of that, saying farewell to family and friends came with less pain. We’ll be seeing you all again soon.
Volcano beside a lake
It felt good to return to familiar territory – Like the beautiful Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

If We Could Do it Again

And upon that next visit, we vow to spend more time with family and friends. We took our time at home for granted, forgetting how quickly time passes when you’re in a routine.

I wish we’d have practiced our Spanish. I mean, we’re not bad — and by not bad I mean that Kylee is pretty good and I’m awful. Considering the amount of time we’ve spent in Spanish-speaking countries, we should both be fluent. The problem is that we move on, go home, and stop trying.

So here we are, one year later, listening to the wind cut through the thick, tropical air. Another year has passed, filled with pleasures and pain. And countless new experiences falling across the emotional spectrum.

As before, we still have no idea what we’re doing, or what lies ahead.

But that’s ok.

It’s been a good year.

Two people as silhouettes in a cave overlooking a beach
Soaking in that Salvadorian Sunset
 
About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

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