It has now been twenty months since I left Sydney on what was meant to be a one year trip – and I’m still going.
It’s not ‘The Big Trip’ anymore – this is my life now. And damned if I don’t feel incredibly lucky to get to live this way. I decided to change the title of my monthly round ups to ‘Digital Nomad Life’ – because that is what I am now. A Digital Nomad. I still can’t believe it.
Month Twenty was an action-packed travel fest that saw me travel more in Mexico then pop back to the US for a bit before flying home to New Zealand.
We kicked it off in Tulum, Mexico, a chilled out beach town that is easily reached from Cancun via the Cancun to Tulum Shuttle.
Tulum was a town that I found very hard to leave, due largely to the excellent hostel we found ourselves in. With a beautiful pool, free yoga, free cocktails (this turned out not to be such a good thing, see lowlights), free breakfast, hammocks and awesome travellers of all ages – The Weary Traveler was just awesome.
There is also so much to do around Tulum and along with visiting the Tulum ruins – my second time there – and the beach, we also hit Gran Cenote, and many of the delectable eateries around town.
Tearing ourselves away from Tulum, our next stop was colourful Valladolid. It seems that most people that come through Valladolid either visit as a day trip from Merida or stay for a night or two, but we chose to base ourselves here for five nights, and I am so glad we did.
Valladolid is just stunning and I very quickly fell in love with this small colonial city.
We explored the area surrounding Valladolid, hiring a car from Merida (this turned out to be a nightmare – see lowlights) then visited the pink lake at Las Coloradas, the ruins at Chichen Itza, a number of cenotes, and the beautiful yellow village of Izamal.
After Valladolid we headed to Merida where we stayed a couple of nights, exploring the gorgeous historic old town of the city and driving out to the excellent ruins of Uxmal – our favorite of the trip.
We then night-bussed to Chiquila from Merida on the bus from hell, where we then took a ferry over to Isla Holbox for three nights, which didn’t turn out to be the island paradise we had dreamt about although it wasn’t all bad.
Our last stop in Mexico was back to where we started, Cancun, where I got some work done after the crappy wifi on Isla Holbox, along with squeezing in one last visit to Cancun’s perfect beach before catching a Cancun Airport Transfer to the airport and flying back to the US, arriving into Fort Lauderdale in the evening.
The plan was to spend three nights car camping in Key West after a night in Fort Lauderdale but things don’t always turn out to plan and we ended up flying back to Denver instead, which we were actually kinda glad about although Key West would have been awesome.
Our week back in Denver was pretty blissful, catching up with everyone and relaxing. It was just what we needed.
I wasn’t ready to leave Colorado yet but it was time to return to my other home for a bit: New Zealand!
The rest of month twenty was spent mostly in Auckland City, getting out into the glorious sunshine, spending time with friends and family, and trying to sort out a temping position so I can make some extra money while I am back.
There was also a quick trip up to one of my favourite places, Matakana, to visit my Aunties and relax in this small country town that has been part of my life for so many years.
And that about wraps it up.
Now onto the Stats:
Countries visited: Mexico, USA, New Zealand
- Mexico: Tulum, Valladolid, Las Coloradas, Merida, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Isla Holbox, Cancun
- Florida: Fort Lauderdale
- Colorado: Denver, Idaho Springs
- New Zealand: Auckland, Matakana
Islands visited: Isla Holbox
National Parks and Monuments visited:
- Tulum National Park, Mexico
Best meal: I ate some delicious food this month but the meal that stood out the most was one that I have had many times at Mukunda’s Hare Krishna Restaurant in Auckland. I went with the paneer curry with pakoras (seriously, the best pakoras in the world), dal soup and halva dessert with creamy custard. So cheap but so damn delicious. Also a shout out to the vegetable Massaman curry I had at the Thai Tulum Restaurant in Tulum, Mexico. I was craving Thai food and it was pretty authentic – we ended up going back there twice.
Worst meal: Probably the overpriced pizza we had on our last night in Isla Holbox. I don’t even know the name of the restaurant but we pretty much only went there because it was one of the few places that took credit cards as we were out of cash. It was made from a frozen base with not much toppings or pizza sauce – disappointing.
Best craft beer: It was SO good to be back in Colorado this month, the land of amazing craft beer. I had some awesome beers in the week I was back but I am going to go with Mountain Sun Brewery Blackberry Wheat Beer – there is a slight sourness which I loved and a definite but subtle blackberry flavor.
- Hobson Bay Walkway and Parnell in Auckland, New Zealand 5 miles/8km
Yep, this was not a month of hiking, although I walked for miles exploring Mexican towns and ruins.
Reading: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. My first book by Theroux and it definitely won’t be my last – I absolutely LOVED it! Incredibly well written with some well-defined and interesting characters, The Mosquito Coast is about a family who is moved to remote Honduras by the father due to his disillusionment with American culture.
Watching: Backstrom. A cop show about an anti-cop who drinks too much, Backstrom is like CSI, but funny.
Cenote-hopping in Mexico
The thing we were most excited about for our trip to Mexico (other than tacos)? Cenotes! Toby would tell anyone that would listen about how we were going to be going cenote hopping and that is exactly what we did.
Together we visited five cenotes – Gran Cenote where we swam with little turtles and through a cave tunnel, Cenote X’Keken and Cenote Samula which were both underground in caves with amazingly clear water, the cenote at the Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman which had large roots hanging down and a rope swing to swing into the dark blue waters, and Cenote Ik Kil with water cascading down and over the many roots that hung from around the large hole open to the sky.
They were all incredible and I wish we had been able to go to even more. Next time.
Falling for Valladolid’s Colonial Charms
Valladolid is one of my Mexico favourites, and is a thoroughly charming city full of colorful buildings, peaceful squares, cobbled streets and it even has a cenote right in town.
Valladolid is one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages – and it is one of the most peaceful and beautiful colonial cities I have visited and well worth at least a few days.
Pleasantly Surprised by Merida
No one I spoke to about Merida seemed terribly excited about it so I wasn’t expecting to be either. But it turns out that the old town of Merida is actually quite lovely.
The historical centre of Mérida is a vibrant place, full of striking architecture, leafy plazas and so much charm, especially at night. I am so glad we went there.
Izamal – Life in Yellow
On the way to Merida we took a slight detour to the glorious yellow colonial town of Izamal. I love the colonial towns throughout Latin America, and I have been to a lot of them – but this was my first yellow one.
I loved wandering the cobbled streets, past the beautiful yellow buildings, and to the top of the ruined pyramid right in town. Horse and carriages line the main square adding to the fairytale vibe. It is definitely another gem in the Yucatan.
Exploring the Impressive Ruins of Uxmal
We had heard good things about the Uxmal ruins from fellow travellers, and they absolutely lived up to the hype. I loved the style of the temples, how they were grouped close together like a complex city, the intricate brick designs, the fact you could climb the largest temple, and the lack of people there.
They ended up being my favourite ruins in Mexico – on this trip at least (I also loved Palenque and Teotihuacan).
Cancun Beach Early in the Morning
The beach at Cancun is really beautiful but the masses of people and deck chairs crowding the sand can definitely take away from the experience. We remedied this by visiting the beach early – and there were barely any other people there. Bliss.
A Week Back Home in Denver
It wasn’t planned but the week back in Denver was exactly what we needed after a full on 2.5 months of travel. We caught up with the kitties, friends, and Toby’s family, ate out, drunk lots of delicious craft beer, went to Karaoke and played board games. It was so good to be home.
A Colorado Winter Day Out
We did do a couple of touristy things while we were in Colorado – venturing out to Golden for the amazing buffet at Sherpa House and to visit the excellent American Mountaineering Museum, a museum I had wanted to visit since it featured on ‘Mysteries at the Museum’, before heading further into the mountains to the super cute mountain town of Idaho Springs where we explored the main street and soaked at the historic Indian Springs hot springs, located in a green house surrounded by tropical vegetation. What a perfect day.
Returning to One of my Favourite Places: Matakana
Whenever I come home to New Zealand I also make sure I schedule at least one visit up to Matakana, one of my favourite places in the country. It is a little country town with one of the best Farmer’s Markets in the country, and a handful of delicious restaurants and cute shops.
It is also where two of my Aunties live – my Grandma also lived there before she died as did my Dad in the past – so I have strong family ties here and it is somewhere I have been visiting for almost twenty years now.
Winning a $100 Bar Tab
I love Pub quizzes and I generally do pretty OK with them – I know a lot of random shit – but I have never won first place. Until now. A group of us went to the first ever Quiz Night at Caluzzi’s in Auckland, a Bar and Cabaret, and absolutely killed it! I am looking forward to returning next week to defend our title and to spend the bar tab.
Catching up with Friends and Family
This one comes up often on my highlights list and it will always be something that gives me great joy – catching up with friends and family. So many of my close friends live in New Zealand, along with almost all of my family, so it’s one of the reasons why I get so excited to come home. I’m looking forward to lots more catch ups and summer fun over the next month.
Worst Hangover in the History of the World
My God are free caiprihinas dangerous – just add lack of food, and mix with beer and you have yourself the hangover from hell. Trust me, I know. I spewed in the bed then could barely move the whole next day because I was so sick. I didn’t drink for a week because that is how long it took till I felt completely normal again. So bad.
Like last month, month twenty was stressful with bad wifi, moving too fast, so much to see, and lots of work to do. I have trouble with FOMO and find it hard to say no to things I want to do in an area when I don’t know if or when I will be back, and even though I knew I should be spending more time working and also working in some chill out time, there just weren’t enough hours in the day. This left me feeling stressed out and spread too thin #digitalnomadlife
Rental Car Woes – Not Once, but TWICE
Urgh – dealing with rental car companies was the bane of my existence last month. Our first bad experience was with Budget in Merida. We took the bus for two hours to get there from Valladolid to be told that there were extra taxes – even though we had a lower quoted final cost on our confirmation.
Then after looking around for something cheaper and failing, we went back to Budget and the rude lady behind the desk said she had already rented out our car and that she didn’t have any others – bullshit.
So we booked a rental car through the airport office of Budget for even cheaper – $7 for four days TOTAL! – took the local bus out there then were told that we would either need to purchase insurance which was $20 per DAY! or put US$7000 on hold on my credit card – just ridiculous.
My credit limit isn’t that high so we had no choice but to pay the insurance making our total cost $92 with added taxes and a bad exchange rate – more than a 1000% increase. So, so annoyed at those swindling bastards!
Our second rental car run-in was in Fort Lauderdale. We showed up to pick up the car and were told that if we were driving to Key West we had to have a toll pass which would cost $10 per day even if we wouldn’t need it every day.
Then we were told we had to purchase excess insurance – at $33 per day – because it is the law in Florida. Same shit, different country. It would have more than doubled what we were expecting to pay so we decided to just change our flights and fly back to Denver that night – we were already on the edge of our budget anyway.
I have never had trouble with rental cars in the past so to have two rip-offs in a row was disconcerting.
Underwhelmed by Chichen Itza
I kinda expected this. I didn’t visit Chichen Itza the last time I was in Mexico – choosing other Mayan ruins instead because Chichen Itza just sounded way too commercial and overcrowded.
But this time around Toby and I decided that we would visit anyway – it must be popular for a reason right? Well… it was nice, but I honestly would put it at the bottom of the list of ruins I have visited in Mexico.
It doesn’t have the grandeur of Teotihuacan, it doesn’t have the Indiana Jones, lost city in the jungle feel of Palenque, or the incredible sea views of Tulum, and I found the layout and design of the temples a tad boring compared to Uxmal. One thing I did like was the detail of the rock carvings on some of the temples, but otherwise I was generally unimpressed.
Horrible Night Bus Experience
When we booked our night bus from Merida to Chiquila we thought it was an ADO bus – one of the best in Mexico – but turns out we were wrong. It was a crappy local bus with no toilet on board, and it stopped at every small town along the way to drop people off and pick up more, with the driver turning the lights on whenever we stopped.
I got maybe 20 minutes of sleep the whole night. It didn’t help that we got to Chiquila and took the ferry to Isla Holbox when it was still dark – meaning we had to wait a couple of hours once we arrived till anything was open. Nightmare.
Ripped off Every Which Way on Isla Holbox
Located where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico, the water surrounding Isla Holbox is murky, but the beaches are known to be fantastic, as is the laid back vibe, colorful buildings and the sand roads.
And I did like Isla Holbox – it’s just that I couldn’t help feeling like everyone was out to rip us off. We met some very friendly locals but the prices on the island are VERY high, especially the accommodation – it took us hours of wandering around to find something that was available and in our price range, hardly anywhere accepts cards and there is only one bank ATM on the island which frequently runs out of money.
There are other private ATMs but you can only get out US dollars (with a US$8 fee), which various businesses are happy to change for you.. at a truly bad exchange rate – seriously, WTF. Also, I didn’t love the beaches, there are much nicer ones in other parts of Mexico.
It seems that this once undiscovered, hippy paradise has cashed in big time now that so many tourists come there, and it just left a bad taste in my mouth.
Still higher than I would have liked but when I take into consideration that almost a third of this total are website costs that don’t come around too often, it isn’t so bad.
The Caribbean was great but it was so nice to be in Mexico where everything costs so much less, then back in our home countries where we had people to stay with. Now I am settling back into New Zealand for a bit, my spending next month will be even less.
Now this is more like it! Mexico accommodation was certainly cheaper than the Caribbean and then we ended up back in Colorado earlier than expected where we stayed with Toby’s family, and now I have been staying with my own family in New Zealand.
Food and Drink $367
Significantly less than the last couple of months due to the same reasons as above – Mexico is cheaper and we had a lot of home-cooked meals when we were staying with our families.
- Singlet top $24
I don’t include International flight costs in my round-ups
- Taxi to Gran Cenote from Tulum $1.50
- Bus from Tulum to Valladolid $6
- Merida Taxi $1
- Bus to Merida $6.50
- Merida city buses $1.50
- Car hire 4 days from Merida $46
- Toll road between Merida and Tulum $4
- Petrol for car $22.50
- Night bus from Merida to Chiquila $13.50
- Ferry from Chiquila to Isla Holbox $7
- Ferry from Isla Holbox to Chiquila $7.50
- Taxi from Chiquila to Cancun $11.50
- Cancun buses $2
- Taxi from Cancun to Airport $9
- Uber from Airport to Airbnb in Fort Lauderdale $7.50
- Ubers from Airport to Fort Lauderdale beach return $19
- Flight taxes from Fort Lauderdale to Denver $14
- Petrol in Denver $10
- Parking in Auckland $2
Cheaper than last month and actually not too bad at all. If I included my international flights in this it would be A LOT more.
- Bike hire in Tulum $4
- Tulum National Park and ruins $3.50
- Entry into Gran Cenote and locker hire $8.50
- Entry into Cenotes Dzitnup $8
- Bike hire 4 hours from Valladolid $2.50
- Entry into Cenote at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman $2
- Chichen Itza ruins entry $12
- Entry into Cenote Ik Kil $3.50
- Uxmal ruins entry $11.50
- American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado for two $10
We did a lot of paid activities this month but because almost all of them were in Mexico, it meant that they were so cheap.
- Toiletries $9.50
- Amazon books for Kindle $5
- Handcrafted leather handbag $25
- Laundry $2
- Gifts for family $35
- Website Hosting renewal for two years $288
- Site lock security for website for one year $24
- Phone top up $22
- Tailwind for one year $89
Ouch. All my website costs came up at once, as they do. At least I will be set now for the next year.
What’s in Store for Next Month
The next month probably won’t be the most exciting month for you guys to read about – I will largely be staying put in Auckland, working my butt off and squirrelling away money for my next stint in the US and beyond.
But I am actually pretty damn excited for it. I need a base for a while, I am exhausted. Although I will still be doing a few weekend trips and will hopefully be working full-time, it is still a break from almost three months of full-on travel and it is just what I need.
Month 21 of Digital Nomad life will begin in my other home town, gorgeous Tauranga, where I will be catching up with my Mum and Step Dad and having some beach time.
After a few days in Tauranga, I will head back to Auckland.
Along with working, there will also be dinners out with friends, hopefully a visit to the Bird Sanctuary Island – Tiritiri Matangi, visiting my cousin and her new baby, and a trip back up to Matakana to visit the famous Sunday market and maybe do a day of hiking on Kawau Island.
I will also be heading to Wellington for a long weekend to visit my friends Tom and Jolie and we have booked the Saturday night at a remote hut near Cape Palliser, south of Wellington, where we will have to hike two hours just to reach it. I am pretty excited about this, it will definitely be an adventure!
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here