I recently had the opportunity to ask ten questions to Jess and Alex from the blog The Spice of Life Travels. Their blog is an amazing source of inspiration for those who have plans to explore Latin American countries. I have been a fan of their content and found their blog so helpful when researching my own travels to Guatemala.
I hope you enjoy reading their answers to my ten questions. Here they are!
It looks like you love to travel in Central and South America. What are three things you love most about Latin American countries and what inspired you to choose that region for travel in the first place?
Yes we do! After an eye opening short holiday to Peru in 2014, we just had to go back and see the rest of Latin America!
It’s difficult to generalise about what is great about Latin America as it comprises two continents, many countries and huge cultural differences, however, we do love these three traits that, in our opinion, many Latin American counties share:
- In our experience, Latin Americans are just so wonderfully hospitable; they are welcoming, helpful and patient with travellers, often going out of their way to make you feel part of the family. We, like you, believe in sustainable travel, and try to always stay in and use local and family run businesses. Out of all countries, we would give Cuba the first prize for hospitality.
- Indigenous cultures & surviving traditions. Many countries in Latin America still have strong indigenous populations and traditions which remain relatively untouched by the Spanish conquest and globalisation. It’s fascinating to discover their ancient wisdom, belief systems, closeness with the natural environment, ways of life and traditional dress.
- Colour. Coming from grey England, it’s a breath of fresh air to see so much colour around you even in the most mundane of situations. From the colourful walls in remote villages in the Andes and well preserved colonial towns, to modern graffiti in urban centres and vibrant local markets, colour abounds and it can’t help but lift your spirits!
You live in London, England. What are two of your favourite places to visit and adventure to around your home?
We live in a suburb of London called Kingston upon Thames, and as the name suggests, it is on the riverside of The Thames. So, we have a lot of riverside to explore and we also live within walking distance of the famous Richmond Park, which contains many noble deer. Living close to London means that we can always go to see concerts, shows and exhibitions, but we are also close to major airports when we feel the need to escape!
What do you enjoy the most and the least about traveling as a couple?
An advantage of travelling as a couple is that we did things that we wouldn’t have thought of if we were alone, simply because we have different interests. This led to us visiting places and experiencing things that we may not have picked for ourselves, but enjoying them nonetheless. For example if it wasn’t for Alex we wouldn’t have visited the mines of Potosi and Ushuaia at the end of the world, and if it wasn’t for Jess we would not have visited so many archeological ruins!
A disadvantage is that it’s difficult to find enough personal space when you are travelling, as you are often stuck in a small bedroom together. We also found that we often disagreed about what and where to eat! We solved this by trying to stay in places equipped with a kitchen, which is beneficial for the wallet too!
What are the best and worst things about traveling long term?
Long term travelling means that seeing amazing things really becomes your life, time dilates and you almost forget that one day it will be over. Life just becomes a constant adventure and you kind of get addicted to the thrill of discovery.
The flip side is that in order to see those amazing things you might have to take a 20 hour bus or trek through a mosquito infested swamp! Also, not having a home and moving around and eating weird things all the time can be quite draining.
The story of how you began traveling is really inspiring as you quit your jobs and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. Was this a difficult decision for you to make and how did you find the courage to go through with it?
Yes, it definitely was a difficult decision to make because we were both leaving very secure jobs and other grown up responsibilities, but once we had thought about doing it, we owed it to ourselves to follow through! There were many hitches to overcome before leaving, but if one of us was feeling down or overwhelmed, the other would make sure that they recovered and pushed forward. In terms of courage, we made a point of not letting our fears get the better of us and followed our hearts.
Where are you going on your next travel adventure and why did you choose that place?
We are off to the High Tatras mountains in Slovakia to do some trekking. We are going because we have a Slovakian friend whose family owns a cabin near to the national park, and we are very excited to see the natural beauty in springtime.
Having traveled most of Latin America, what are some hidden gems that you discovered along your journey and would recommend to travelers heading to this region of the world?
- Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. This national park is less visited and situated in the nicely undeveloped Caribbean town of Cahuita. We had so much fun there! It is a stretch of jungle along the coastline and you can spot so many animals, it’s unbelievable. For example, Capuchin monkeys, eyelash vipers and sloths.
- Mompox in the hot, sleepy interior of Colombia is a town stranded in another era. It feels like you have stepped into a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Its colonial buildings are so well preserved and the atmosphere is very slow and relaxed.
- The Scared Valley of Peru. Go to Machu Picchu, but don’t just go to Machu Picchu! The Sacred Valley near Cusco is teeming with Inca sites, some just as impressive as the famous citadel, and you can have them almost all to yourself.
Throughout all of your travels, what has been your scariest experience, how did you handle and what did you learn?
Thankfully, nothing really frightening happened to us and we generally felt safe whilst travelling.
We did actively choose to put ourselves in a scary situation when we signed up for a tour of the working mine in Potosi, Bolivia and it was certainly an eye opening experience of how miners still have to work in appalling conditions. We wanted to visit so that we could understand the importance of the mine today and throughout history on Bolivia and its population.
We also spent a lot of time trying to choose a reputable company with whom to take the tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia as there are some horror stories. It’s important to do your research and make sure that you are comfortable with any remote or extreme activity.
You travel for long periods at a time. What are some tips you can give to long term travelers with regards to budgeting and packing for this type of travel?
Luckily we’ve written a post about budgeting! But, generally speaking, you need to find the right balance between ticking off the classic sights and travelling for longer. Sometimes it’s better to focus on a smaller areas, go off the beaten track and search out a more authentic and local experience. It will probably be cheaper and often just as, if not more, rewarding.
In terms of packing, we would say have a practice run and then cut it by 20%. You WILL take too much stuff. Once you’ve found the best place for each item in your rucksack or backpack, try to always keep it there to make finding stuff easier and packing up quicker. If you are in a pair or more, make sure that each person knows what high value items they are responsible for, like computers, cameras and ipads. This will save a lot of fighting and blaming down the line!
Your travel photography on your website is incredible! What type of camera do you use and what are some tips that you can offer for aspiring travel photographers to take amazing photos?
We are so pleased that you like our photography! Jess uses her iphone 6 to capture day to day events as it actually has a camera which is as good as most non-professional small cameras, and before setting off for our big trip Alex decided to invest in a semi-pro DSLR camera, a Nikon D7100.
It was a great buy as its auto mode takes sharp pictures on its own, but it also has a huge level of flexibility in terms of manual settings. You can learn as much as you want, at your own pace.
However, a camera is only as good as its lens. Here we had to compromise as long term travel is difficult with an extra bag full of heavy and expensive kit. So, we got an ‘all in one’ lens – AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300.
Despite the fact that the lens struggled a little with autofocus and isn’t that great at close range shooting we were happy with it. It’s sturdy, captures clear and sharp images and its zoom is excellent for shooting wildlife. Definitely recommended for people who can only carry one lens!
I would like to say a huge thank you to Jess and Alex from The Spice of Life Travels for answering these questions. I really enjoyed reading your answers and learning more about you. Make sure to check out their blog and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.