Our arrival at Lake Atitlán was awful. We both got the flu (we think). We were vomiting and not sure if we had food poisoning. Which brings me to the first downside of nomadic living I am going to write about here.
Getting sick or injured and medical treatment in general
Getting sick is never fun, but being in a strange country, where you don’t speak the local language and don’t know the local health system and facilities, makes it even worse. If you don’t know anyone in the town where you are staying, then you are also your only support, which means that one partner has the added pressure of trying to stay healthy to support the other partner. If you get sick shortly before the move to the next place, you wonder if you’ll miss your flight–or bus or train or ferry–and if you’ll need to book a hotel for a few days or whether you’d be able to extend the current accommodation until you are well. So far none of that luckily has happened to us.
Bee got stung by a (non-deadly) scorpion on our second-to-last night at Lake Atitlán, which was a pretty painful, and scary, experience too…
As a nomad you naturally don’t have any trusted doctor either. I went to a dentist in Granada, Nicaragua, but will go for another check-up soon because I was just not sure if the suggested treatment is necessary.
Not knowing who to trust, scarcity or no availability of information
We skipped one intended short hike at Lake Atitlán because we were told that on that route there are rattle snakes and coral snakes and an antivenom might not even be available in the healthcare facilities around the lake. Often the information you can find on the internet is scarce or simply unavailable and it is hard to know who to trust, since different people assess situations differently. In Ometepe I was told that accessing one of the waterfalls there is dangerous, which could be the case if you’re not used to walking on rough terrain, but wasn’t the case for me at all.
What seems dangerous to you crime-wise might feel totally secure for others. How reliable are reports about crime in any given place? It can be really difficult or impossible to find reliable data. Generally it’s of course good to trust your gut feeling and to always be safe rather than sorry. In places like Medellín, where you find lots of reports of tourists/expats being robbed at gunpoint, it makes you worry and that takes away a lot of the joy. Crime is generally frustrating in the ways that it can restrict your movement. In some places it is advised to not leave the house after dark. Some of the towns around Lake Atitlán were only safely reachable by boat because the streets are too dangerous to drive on since vehicles get stopped and robbed. We were advised to get a police escort for such trips or a hike up to San Pedro Volcano.
Moving from country to country is also a challenge food- and beverage-wise. You never know what the grocery stores will be like. What products will be available and at what price.
It’s not that these downsides are really a big issue. When I write about not being able to eat a certain kind of food or drink a certain kind of beverage, I’m totally aware that these aren’t real problems. After traveling for over 14 months, you just recognize which kinds of things you miss most and what gives you comfort or makes you feel at home far away from home.
I am a chocolate addict and it is difficult for me to come across my favorite chocolate – Milka, which is lots of times unavailable or extremely expensive in Latin America. Bee was just able to secure me a few of the big bars (270 g / 9.5 oz) in the duty-free shop on the ferry to Montevideo. They cost $7, when in Austria I would usually buy them on sale for less than $3. I often miss various varieties of European cheese here too in Latin America, since I grew up eating a lot of different cheeses. I do love craft beer and often it is not easy to get a good IPA on draft. I love a good cup of coffee, but so far we had only one espresso machine, in our 11th month in Panama City. After 6 months I luckily bought a portable tiny espresso maker in Berlin which helps immensely, but every country also has a different choice of coffee and it can be difficult to find a coffee variety you like. Finding a grocery store which has the right balance of quality, choice and price is sometimes also difficult and can take a few shopping attempts until you find the right one, when you actually just want to do a quick grocery shopping of basic items.
Another not so comfortable aspect of living every month somewhere else is that you need to time your food purchases so you don’t run out of things but don’t waste things either, which is rather difficult with some items.
We’ve come across cockroaches in four apartments where we’ve stayed so far. Luckily twice, only a single one and the other two times towards the very end of our stay, so it didn’t matter that much. Naturally we are always wondering how clean is the place to which we arrive. All our accommodations were clean so far, but in some places that didn’t matter… I’m unaccustomed to roaches, since we don’t have any in Austria and therefore I am used to keeping food out in the kitchen, which I have been avoiding since our first encounter with cockroaches in Marseille in month 3 of our travels.
Space / Personal Space
Space and furniture can also be an issue. Sometimes the descriptions of the accommodations are intentionally or unintentionally misleading. As a couple who works/studies from home, it is important that everyone also has enough space for themselves, which has not always been the case.
We love a good comfy couch and frequently have to put up with not so comfortable ones. Some of the beds we slept on were also rather hard and you never know what the pillows and bedding will be like.
The internet speed in Marseille and Laké Atitlán was not very good and this can get on your nerves as well. While we were able to use the same cell phone sim card throughout Europe, with sufficient data included to use it also as backup for our laptops, having to get a new card for your phone in every country in the Americas gets tiring too. Especially when you arrive late at night, after a long travel day, in a new country and you have to figure this out, before you have the necessary data to actually be able to order a car on a ridesharing app to bring you to your accommodation. Ridesharing apps are usually the preferred method to getting a taxi, since the drivers are registered with the app and therefore it is (usually) safer. In Bogotá, when hailing a taxi from the street you can end up on a “millionaire’s ride” where someone else enters the taxi with a weapon and they force you to drive from ATM to ATM withdrawing money. Recently we were able to make it easier by getting e-sim cards in advance, which have at least enough data for the first few days, but they are not only costlier, they also didn’t always work.
English and German books are often hard to come by. We would love to support a local bookstore rather than giving business to a billionaire and I generally prefer to read a print book rather than on an e-reader.
In the end it depends on you, how much these inconveniences let you drag yourself down and of course it will depend on the day how you feel about some of them. Right now I am ready to head out to go on a coffee “hunt” since the one we purchased in the local grocery store tastes horrible.
All these downsides are outweighed by the excitement we feel for each destination ahead of us and by the joy we experience when exploring them. In the end comfort is only secondary to happiness and we gain so much more by giving up some of it.
After three months of living in smaller towns and on an island, Bee and I were both looking forward to big city life. We just love living in big cities and enjoy all the things they have to offer, namely a variety of all kinds of art, concerts, food and an open-minded urban crowd. All of which Montevideo seems to offer!