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The Best 10 Moments of Our First Year on the Road

September 18th, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in About | Canada | Celebrations | Costa Rica | Guatemala | Honduras | Mexico | Nicaragua | The Places We've Been | United States

For the last year we have opened our lives to the people, environments, customs, and experiences of a range of different places within North and Central America. These various aspects of the locations we’ve temporarily called home have gifted us with countless incredible memories and extensive mental reminders of our journey thus far. Now, as we celebrate our one year travelversary, we challenged ourselves with selecting our top 10 moments from our first year on the road. The first draft was quite long, so we opted to write about our top 10, and then also include 40 honorable mentions for good measure. In chronological order, they are:

#1 When the Crowd at Cadillac Mountain Gasped

Every fall and winter morning when the sun rises over the United States, the first people in the country to see it do so from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. We were staying in Winter Harbor at the end of September 2012, a town about an hour away from the portion of Acadia that houses Cadillac Mountain, so one morning, we woke very, very early and made the drive in the wee hours of day. It was quite cold, and like everyone else there, we were bundled tightly as we climbed out of our car and up onto the rocks to find a place to sit and wait. There was a quiet hush that can only occur in a group of people when that crowd is sitting on top of a mountain in the cold before the sun has come up. Some invisible force then slowly began painting the sky. The deep navy background was carefully covered in layer upon layer of lighter blues and then subtly, oranges and pinks were woven in as well until soon the image before us was so beautiful that I’d almost forgotten that we were still waiting for the sun. The horizon grew brighter and brighter until all of the sudden it happened – a small sliver of that giant ball of fire peaked over the edge – and 100 strangers gasped in unison. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I have heard.

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain

#2 When Regina Spektor Sang to Us

Okay, she didn’t sing specifically to us as much as she serenaded the packed house at the Metropolis in Montreal, Quebec in Canada, but when we walked out of the hot theater and into the brisk October air at the end of the night, you might have thought we had been treated to a private show. Our minds were blown, and the fact that I could see only a blurry, glowing circle that appeared to be her head for the majority of the concert didn’t matter much either. Regina Spektor is a remarkably talented singer, songwriter, and pianist, and to experience that uncommon and exceptional genius in person was easily a high point for us both.

Short Person View of Regina Spektor Performing

#3 When the Sun Rose over the Badlands

On our long drive across the northern United States, we stopped late one night and set up camp in the dark at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Then we packed our tent back up just as the night was beginning to melt away and light was creeping into the jagged spires around us. I had no idea what we’d driven into the previous evening, and it had been years since Ian was there either; it was like waking up to snow after falling asleep without it. We saw no other cars as we wound through the park, admiring the formations and the wild animals that called them home. After a bit, we pulled off near a series of craters and ridges, walking out onto one until it felt like we were standing in the middle of an ominous and impassable territory. It was hard not to imagine riding up to the Badlands on a horse or in a covered wagon and being stopped dead in one’s tracks. There was so much peace standing there at the edge in the quiet of the early morning, and we gratefully soaked it up before continuing down the road.

Badlands at Sunrise

#4 When the Stars Lit Up the Montana Sky

I’ve never seen so many stars. We just stood there, holding hands, necks craned towards the seemingly endless abyss above that came to life in our eyes as the constellations waltzed through the sky. It was really something.

#5 When We Spent Time with Our Loved Ones at the Holidays

For the four years we lived in North Carolina, the longest visit we had with our friends and families in Kansas was just over a week, and even then our time was (is) always split between multiple households in separate towns. For six full weeks over the 2012 holidays though, we made the Midwest our temporary home again and got to enjoy some every day quality time with the people who mean the most to us. From our Friends-giving Turkey Day in Denver to annual mid-Decemeber aebleskivers at my Grandparents’ house, we were getting to partake in holiday traditions that we’d missed out on all together for the last four years. Just as special were the simpler occasions: laughing with Ian’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law around Dane’s backyard fire pit before a Trivial Pursuit rematch with the updated game, watching my mom try to thank a waiter in Spanish for a glass of milk after she ate a fiery jalapeño in one bite (Buenas Noches! she said with heat tears streaming down her red face), mini-touring Kansas City and perusing an impressive featured exhibit at the Nelson Atkins museum with Ian’s dad, scooping up delicious gravy soaked fries in Jane’s homemade poutine, painting nails with one sister, trying to find lost car keys with the other, and enjoying the camaraderie of our much-missed friends at indoor soccer games, over pizza, and by the candlelight of a Winter Solstice Celebration. No matter how far we travel or how many amazing and beautiful things we see, many of our best moments will always be those spent with our friends and families.

Our Friends and Family Rock

#6 When the Water Glowed at Playa Santispak

This experience was quickly one of the first that we both agreed must go into our top ten. Our consistent awe at the entire overnight we spent at our Santispak campsite was summarized in a February blog post that said:

“We ordered another round to go and played in the sand with the dogs near the warmth of the fire. Just before climbing into bed for the night, I bent down at the barely visible waterline to wash my face. To my astonishment, the water responded to my touch, lighting up around my hands! I must have been drugged, I thought. Maybe I am drunk or maybe my brain is more fried than I was aware. “I think I’m seeing things,” I said to Ian. He bent down with me and looked as I ran my hand through the water another time. His vocal and flabbergasted response told me that I was in fact not crazy at all, and we were suddenly both locked in to trying to figure out what these incredible organisms were. All attempts to hold or photograph the light were unsuccessful, but with a Google search the next afternoon, we learned that what we had seen were bioluminescent dinoflagellates, marine plankton that use their flashing light as a defense mechanism when physically stimulated. Whaaaat?! We know, our minds were blown too. Here is a sweet video from someone who was able to capture the affect their hand had on the water and another that a person took of such protists responding to their kayak. Needless-to-say, we were thrilled with the beautiful gifts of nature that Playa Santispak had bestowed upon us, so when we awoke the next morning just before sunrise to watch another show of lights in the sky, we knew we were just plain spoiled. From the door of our tent we could see it all, a kaleidoscope of vividly painted colors overlaid with ornate designs of amorphous clouds and all reflected in the still water below. The silhouettes of small boats stood boldly amidst the massive rock formations that seemed to hold back the sun. We breathed it all in silently, thankful and connected.”

Morning at Playa Santispak

#7 When We Celebrated My Birthday with Friends at Atítlan

Ian’s list of best moments at Atítlan started with “the first jump off the dock” and then two seconds later was added to with “every jump off the dock”. Needless-to-say, we ended up with a lot of wonderful moments from our month in Guatemala because in reality, we just had so many of them. All of those great things came together though on, in my opinion, one practically perfect day at the end of May. Two of our very best friends were visiting. We awoke, as we did every day, to a breathtaking view of volcanoes across the serene lake. We all had our coffee quietly and then enjoyed breakfast together on our veranda before heading down the lake to lay on the dock and play in the cool, clear water. It was a picturesque day followed by an equally fantastic evening spent playing cards over beer and pizza in the nearby village. It wasn’t anything crazy; it was just so much fun. We took an unprecedented number of selfies, many of them with cookies. We talked ourselves into one too many tequila shots. We laughed and laughed and laughed some more. In fact, I am fairly certain that I laughed more on that evening than on any other day since we left the states. Thanks to Amelia, Nate, and Ian for making my birthday one of the very best days of our first year on the road.

Laughing with Amelia

#8 When It Rained on Us in the Rainforest at Pico Bonito

It was a pretty average hot and humid June day in La Ceiba, Honduras when we headed out to hike up to a waterfall at Pico Bonito National Park. The peak itself sits just 10 miles from the Caribbean sea, but reaches a height of over 2400 meters. For reference, Cadillac Mountain discussed above barely reaches 465 meters, and it is the highest point with 25 miles of the US Atlantic Coast. Off we went along the narrow rock and leaf-covered path into the jungle, climbing gradually and stopping periodically to observe an especially interesting organism or watch a snake slithering through its camouflage. Then, about 45 minutes in, it started to rain. In the rainforest. The sounds were fantastically magnified as if someone had given us headphones and turned up the volume on a Sounds of Nature CD. We stopped just before crossing a small creek and let the falling water drench us as we looked around at the bright green vegetation in every direction and the canopy above, which was having small holes poked in it by drops of rain that were now too heavy for its leaves to hold. All we could say over and over through our giant smiles during our brief rest was, “It’s raining on us. In the rainforest.” Aaaah.

Entering Pico Bonito

#9 When San Juan del Sur Pulled Us In

Horses were prancing around all along the road into town on the day we pulled into San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It was our first glimpse at what would later have us completely engulfed in the kicked back fun of the small backpacker party village. After unpacking the car and settling into our apartment for the next few days, we headed out to explore the nearby blocks and take a peak at the beach. The energy and vibe of the place was quickly evident and about an hour later we found ourselves in the middle of a large crowd of happy people watching the hípica (horse parade) go by while pictures were snapped and many, many cans of Toña were finished off.  For most of our stay in San Juan del Sur, the town’s wireless internet was down, which is a big blow to us and usually something of a deal breaker. Not this time though, not after we’d been sucked in to the laid-back, easy-living, fun-or-bust attitude of our temporary home. For Ian, the hípica was the highlight. For me, it was a night on the beach watching strong bolts of bright lightning stagger down from the sky and into the ocean with a boldness I thought was only reserved for Midwestern thundestorms. For both of us, it was the power of those experiences to coax us into letting go that we found so impactful and memorable.

San Juan del Sur from La Terraza

#10 When the Monkeys Visited Our Yard in Zancudo

We left Playa Zancudo, Costa Rica seven weeks ago, but we still wake up many mornings thinking, hoping, that perhaps we just heard the deep wailing of a howler monkey outside of our window alerting us to a new dawn as part of his morning routine. Of course, we never do, but the almost soothing bellows hold more firmly in our memories than even the sight of them. Many times over the course of the month, we would hear the trees shaking outside of the window and step out onto the porch to see whole troops swinging by or stopping for a snack. The first time the monkeys visited our yard during our month long stay in the remote jungle town, we followed them from tree to tree with our jaws dropped in astonishment. We could not believe what we were seeing, so wild and so close and right there outside of our house. They looked down at us like strange creatures in a zoo. Maybe that’s what we are.

White-headed Capuchin Monkey in Zancudo, Costa Rica

And our honorable mentions, also in chronological order are:

11. Driving away from our North Carolina home

12. Sampling the tourist favs, beignets and cafe au lait, in New Orleans

13. Swaying to the music at the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street

14. Working on Kate and Bart’s front porch in Brevard

15. Playing with my sister and her goats in New Jersey

16. Arriving at our Maine cabin to “What a Wonderful World” on the radio

17. Watching the rain from our Maine porch

18. Driving through the fall foliage between Maine and Quebec

19. Sharing a pitcher on Rue St. Denis

20. Tasting poutine for the first time

21. Capturing a golden eagle and a rainbow in a single photograph

22. Walking the seawall at Stanley Park

23. Devouring pumpkin bread with the Mattiones in Seattle

24. Strolling down the gray Oregon beaches

25. Finding the world had disappeared below our Oregon cottage

26. Feeling tiny in Stout Grove in the Redwoods

27. Tasting teas in San Francisco

28. Ordering delicious Mexican carry out in Evanston, Wyoming

29. Moving Russell Mann

30. Losing power in Guerrero Negro

31. Celebrating New Years Eve alone on a beach in Mexico

32. Engaging in conversations around our San Juanico fire pit

33. Surfing and beach days at Scorpion Bay

34. Getting our Mexican Tourist Cards

35. Sleeping on the deck of the Baja Ferry

36. Drinking tequila in Tequila

37. Unexpectedly getting hooked on papas con chile

39. Looking over Guanajuato’s city lights from our apartment on our first night

40. Spending a day at a public pool in Oaxaca

41. Exploring Palenque

42. Enjoying dinner on a balcony in San Cristobal

43. Riding water taxis at Lago de Atítlan

44. Waking up to the lake vista at Atítlan

45. Finding the neighborhood baleada stand in La Ceiba

46. Running through the rain in Casco Viejo

47. Pedaling on a bicycle built for two on the Amador Causeway

48. When Ian said July in August

49. Spotting a sloth in Soberanía

50. Arriving in Colombia with our dogs

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