Traveling for eight years straight, we’ve gained a treasure trove of memories. We’ve seen the sunrise over 20,000-foot peaks, walked the streets of ancient civilizations, and met hundreds of people we now call friends. Countless moments brought a smile to our face, though there are a few that have left a deep imprint on our heart and soul. Of course we included our first days in Amazon-jungle survival school and the Kenyan cheetah jumping on our car, but we’ve also added a slew of never-told tales. Here are some of the funniest, wildest, most romantic, and favorite travel stories from 3,000 days on honeymoon.
Polish Hospitality in a Pandemic
We are currently COVID-quarantined in a rental camper in Poland. While this campervan has virtually everything we need to be self-sufficient and we are seasoned RVers, it started to get tricky when all public facilities closed and we were running dangerously low on water. We turned to our faithful camping app and saw that a nearby family farm was listed as friendly to RVers. Using Google Translate, we texted the farmhost about our plight and like a miracle on so many levels, she wrote back, “Sure, come by.” When this petite grandma opened the gate, we expected her to point us to a corner of the yard; instead, she greeted us with pure smiles and insisted we join her for coffee and her homemade goat cheese. Of course, we know the social distancing guidelines, but how could we say no to such fearless generosity? With the magical powers of Google Translate conservation-mode, we shared stories from our journey and learned about her farm-life and goat cheese business which she runs single-handedly. When we told her of Mike’s Polish roots and pierogie Christmas dinners, she invited us back for a cooking lesson. We stuffed cabbage with lentils and put them in the oven. The next step she said, “We must bake it for an hour and drink wine while we wait.” We spent five incredible days on Eva’s farm, learning to milk goats, watching her newborn horse practice its trot, and gathering around the table for traditional Polish meals. Before we left, we translated our guest book entry about “Eva the Travel Angel” and, COVID be damned, it ended in a weepy-eyed hug. She sent us off with her “antivirus,” a bottle of homemade quince vodka and her motherly love.
The Grand Slam of Whale Watching
Our Alaska Expedition ship pulled into Chatham Strait, the deepest glacier-carved fjord in the world and a favorite spot for humpback bubble-net feeding. This is a learned behavior, known by only a few hundred whales in the world, and most commonly seen in Southeast Alaska. The captain saw the telltale sign, dozens of birds swarming around churning water, and immediately threw the morning’s itinerary out the window. The crew lowered the hydrophone into the sea and we listened to the humpbacks calling. There were seven whales “cooperative feeding,” a process of encircling a school of fish while blowing a “net” of fine bubbles, then simultaneously shooting to the surface with mouths agape to swallow them in one dramatic swoop. Watch this video to see how this phenomenon played out—not once, but nine times!!!
The Wrath of a Volcano & Kindness in El Salvador
Extreme winds had closed the trail to Santa Ana Volcano but a Salvadorean-Dutch family of hikers wasn’t going to accept such news from the ranger. They had done this route many times before and convinced him that we could safely ascend as a group. After 20 minutes of cajoling, he said, “Well, I guess you aren’t hiking with small children and no one’s been drinking, so you can go–but at your own risk!” We were off to a great start in the forest, not realizing that the trees were softening the harsh winds and reality of the weather conditions. Zigzagging up the cone, we encountered a group of college kids with mussed hair and wide eyes; they suggested we turn around. Two of our group members took their advice, but our lead Dutchman, Johannes, was determined to press on. And if he was doing it at the age of 65 (and in loafers), we were going to join him at the top. About a quarter mile from the peak we were sprinting between boulders, using them as shields from the flying pumice stones. When there was nothing to protect us from the debris and the wind was too strong to stand up straight, we crawled on our hands and knees all the way to the crater—an abyss sadly socked in with clouds. Just when we felt like we risked our lives for nothing, a huge gust revealed a beautiful emerald body of water. It may have only been for a few seconds, but the wind gods rewarded our adventerous spirits and we couldn’t have been more thankful. After surviving such an experience together, Johannes asked us “Where are you guys sleeping tonight? And in the same breath, “You should stay with us.” We already had a guest room booked and had no idea what kind of lodging situation this family was offering, but we knew we just survived the single craziest hike of our lives, and we needed to celebrate together. Their house turned out to to be a mansion straight out of the Real World, with four stories, expansive terraces, and a pool overlooking the country’s largest lake. We all cracked open Suprema beers, as we watched the sun set over the volcano we had just conquered and felt good to be alive.
A couple that read Ultimate Journeys for Two reached for extra housesitting tips, and eventually asked if we would be their sitters during their six-country trip. They said, “We live within two hours of six national parks and monuments, have a view of the Abajo Mountains, and are backed up to a red rock canyon and pond. Plus, we’re park rangers so we can show you the best hikes and hidden archaeology sites.” Sounded amazing to us. Then came the part about their 2 dogs, 3 cats, 7 pet turkeys, and 24 chickens. We aren’t intimidated by much, but 36 pets and 2 bee hives gave us pause. We looked at each other as the silence grew louder on the interview call and said, “What the heck, let’s do it!” A month later, we had turkeys for best friends, were making our own kombucha and sourdough bread, hiked trails you’d have to be a ranger to know, and lived as a local amongst Navajo and Mormans in one of the most culturally complex areas in the the country. We love housesitting because it allows us to try different ways of life, learn new skills, and give pet-owners the chance to go and explore the world.
British Columbia Breakdown & Pick Me Up
We blew a head gasket in a remote British Columbia coastal village and the nearest mechanic was 17 hours away by ferry with a three-day layover on Bella Bella Island. We limped off the boat in an embarrassingly thick cloud of tailpipe smoke, and found the nearest plot of land to spend the night. In the morning, we found out we were on private property, and the Heiltsuk tribal council would have to decide where to put us (since there are no hotels or RV parks on the island). In the middle of the meeting, one of the council members, Pam, chimed in “Just stay at my place. I’ve got a big yard with ocean views.” We pulled into her driveway, not too concerned with the 2×4 planks covering a puddle—until one of them flipped up and disconnected our gray tank! We were spilling waste water (from the kitchen, thankfully) all over this nice lady’s yard and were convinced she’d rescind her invitation upon seeing this hot mess, but no. Instead, she invited us in for a traditional Heiltsuk dinner, introduced us to the tribe’s language keepers and canoe carvers, and took us to the island’s one bar where we sang and clinked glasses with new friends into the night. On our final day, Pam made sure we reached the ferry and the mainland mechanic safely. Enter the Team at McCarthy GM. They spent days reworking Buddy’s engine and rolling him out of the garage each evening so we’d have a place to sleep. Our last night at the mechanic was also day #2,000 of our trip and when our GM friends got wind of this…they said, “You will not be spending this milestone day in our parking lot. We’ve booked you into a hotel downtown, our treat.” Already flabbergasted by the nice gesture, we were floored by the ocean-view suite, a bottle of bubbly, and note that said, “Happy 2,000th Day.” You how everybody says Canadians are so darn nice? It turns out they’re even nicer.
Reaching the Arctic Circle
“I had a dream of RVing Alaska,” said our mechanic and camper namesake, “Buddy”. With a slurry of health issues, work, and grandbabies keeping him close to home, this forlorn 72-year-old man instilled an Alaskan wanderlust in us from our very first day of RV ownership. We had to get there for him and ourselves, we just didn’t know if this 1985 four-cylinder relic could make the arduous journey. Two summers of road tripping went by and, save from the southernmost ghost town of Hyder, the Last Frontier evaded us. We’ll admit, it sounded intimidatingly far, rugged, vast, and out of our league, but you never know until you try. Giving Buddy the Camper the best possible odds, we got new tires, a brake job (by Mike), and a full tune-up. By July 6th we were crossing the Canadian border and heading for the Alaska Highway. Scaling the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and braving the rugged roads of the Yukon, Buddy took the slow and steady approach. But after driving to the base of glaciers, boondocking on riverbanks, and blazing the gravel trail into the Arctic Circle, Buddy finally made it!
While standing in a campground/hotel lobby in Glacier National Park, we overheard a pair of French cyclists sounding distressed. They had just biked 70 miles over the Canadian border to the Many Glaciers campground only to find their reservation was canceled due to bear activity and the nearest campground was a 20-mile ride away. The hotel front desk attendant was not sympathetic to their situation or pleas for a reduced room rate, even as the young woman was on the verge of tears. Mike and I looked at each other, thinking of all the incredible people around the world that have helped us in a pinch, and we decided to invite them to stay in our camper. We gave them the caveat that we were camping semi-illegally in a parking lot, only had 104-square feet for the four of us, and we wouldn’t be offended if they declined the offer, but they gave us a resounding, “Oui, yes, merci!” We cooked dinner together, shared stories, and had an awesome time hosting our first camper-couchsurfers. If the road has taught us anything, it’s that there is a circle of giving and it feels so good to take your turn.
Amazonian Life Skills
It was day four of this eight-year trip around the world, and we were in the middle of the Amazon jungle with a canoe, hammock, machete, and fishing line. Our guide Cristóvão hopped in for a dip (in the same water we just caught a dozen hungry piranha!) and we thought, “Maybe we aren’t ready for this?” Cristóvão was born and raised in the Amazon. His actions seemed effortless—building a rain shelter from palm leaves, whittling a blowdart gun, foraging for fruits, and navigating the unknown. His way of life was completely different from ours back in the States, and we had so much to learn from him. In our five days together, he taught us to adapt to our environment, be resourceful, and be patient. At the time we thought he was teaching us how to survive in the jungle; we later realized those lessons were preparing us for our journey around this wild world.
Close Encounters of the Cheetah Kind
We marveled at a cheetah gracefully moving across the savanna, searching for a higher vantage point to find her prey. We locked eyes and she changed course toward our safari vehicle. Excitement was quickly morphing into fear, then pounce! The cheetah leapt onto the rim of our open roof. Our hearts were lodged in our throats, as she kneaded her paws on the hot metal. Not wanting to scare her (or make her slip!), but needing to capture this unfathomable moment, I reached for my camera. Just after I started filming, as if on cue, the cat walked inches from Anne’s head, and sauntered down the hood. We took our first breath in what seemed like an eternity—thanking our lucky stars we didn’t turn into cat food and that we caught the whole thing on video!
Tet New Year with our Red Dzao Family
We were scouting a language program in the mountains around Sapa, Vietnam for the Do Good As You Go, an organization that connects travelers with no-cost volunteer opportunities. To do this, we signed up as teachers for the week—and not just any week, but the days leading up to the Tet New Year. The Red Dzao students were so grateful for the English lessons, that they thanked us with multiple invitations to pre-Tet dinners and a very exclusive spirit cleansing ceremony. Standing shoulder to shoulder with our students, as the high priest threw smoking embers in the air, chickens were sacrificed, and men danced in a hypnotic state, we ushered in the New Year as a Red Dzao family.
Wadi Rum Party Bus
In the Petra parking lot, we decided to board a bus full of Jordanian women…going in the wrong direction. We didn’t know exactly where they were headed or when they’d make it to our destination, but we knew it was going to be an interesting ride. We climbed the metal stairs and were immediately offered tea and zaatar-butter sandwiches. Then the music cranked up. “Annie! Mike!” “Come dance!” The bus was going 50mph around hairpin turns, but they didn’t care. These seemingly conservative woman, cloaked in hijabs, were ready to cut loose and we weren’t about to hold them back. Chanting our names and spinning us round and round, we laughed until our cheeks hurt. Little did we know the party was just getting started. We reached the Wadi Rum desert as the sun was setting over the red mountains, and we couldn’t understand why they would want to see this legendary landscape in the dark. Then we saw the strobe lights bouncing off the dunes. Two dance floors were set up, one for men and another for women. Our ladies ordered three hookahs for our table, further extending the invitation into their worlds. There wasn’t a single westerner at this party…and we felt so honored to have experienced the light and warm-hearted spirit of the Middle East.
Renegade Island Hopping the Philippines
We flew to Busuanga to join Tao Philippines’ popular tour across the Palawan archipelago, but it was booked solid. Determined to make the five-day island-hop, even though everyone said there was literally no other way, we went to the docks and sweet-talked a bangka captain. With a kayak, snorkel gear, fishing line, and a bottle of rum, we charted our own waters, guided by little more than a gut feeling. Stopping whenever we saw a reef or deserted isle that called our name, we explored at will and without limitations. We free-dived for our dinners, grilled over bonfires, told stories under the stars, slept on beaches, and woke up with the sun. When we made it to El Nido harbor, we felt like Captain Cook and a merry band of pirates, with hidden treasures no one could take from us.
Landing on Our Seventh Continent
We swung our legs out of the Zodiac and set foot on mainland Antarctica. We practically ran up the steep mountain, enjoying every slippery step and bits of hail that pelted our faces. We reached a rocky outcropping above the glacier-lined Neko Harbour, and it felt like our four years of traveling around the world were culminating at this one moment. This called for champagne. We popped the cork, and the wind sent sparkling wine into the air and up our noses. Giggling from the tickly bubbles, utter joy, and complete awe, we drank in the milestone moment.
A Bath in a Meteor Shower
“Follow me to your couples massage,” said the hostess of Verana, a glamping retreat above the beaches of Yelapa, Mexico. She showed us to the outdoor spa on the cliffs and over a hundred candles were shimmering around the steaming bath, massage tables, and flower-covered bed. Then she said, “It’s yours for the night, enjoy.” Giving each other massages and soaking in the aromatic bath, as we watched shooting stars fall around us, sent us swooning for days.
The (Im)Possible Route to Zanzibar
Google Maps said the coastal route from Ibo, Mozambique to Zanzibar, Tanzania was nonexistent. But it was less than 500 miles straight up the coast–how hard could that be? So we set sail in a dhow boat, hitchhiked on top of a banana truck, slept in a mud hut, waded through a river, rode in a gin-smuggling pickup, and after 14 legs of transit and 4 days on the road, we made it. It was far from easy, but an unforgettable journey and one that showed us there is always a way.
Our Back Roads Angel
On a 400-mile loop through the mountains, rice paddies, and villages from Chaing Mai to Pai, Thailand, we opted for a shortcut over jungle-covered mountains. We were bobbing, wobbling, and slipping all over the place and just as we are nearing the top of a hill, smoke started billowing out of the engine. There went the clutch. We were 200 miles from the bike shop, we didn’t have cell service, hadn’t seen a house for miles, and it was getting dark. Trying not to have an emotional breakdown, we sat put and hoped somebody would eventually come to the rescue. Enter our Back Roads Guardian Angel, Pepitome! He was clearly intoxicated and void of mechanical skills, but Pepitome was determined to help. He flagged down the next driver and we caravanned back to Pepitome’s house, where he insisted we stay until our bike fiasco was fixed. His family set us up with a bed, cooked us a bountiful dinner, and invited over half the neighborhood to greet us. We shared three more meals, communed with their farm animals, practiced English with the kids, and enjoyed two days in a village we would have never found without a breakdown and the incredible kindness of strangers.
It’s Not About the Bucket List
On our way to one of the deepest canyons in the world, hugging the curves of the Andes and yielding to cows, a fiesta of elderly Peruvians appeared in the middle of the road. We crept forward, assuming they’d move to the side, but instead a woman wearing a traditional embroidered dress knocked on our window. “Come dance!” she said in Spanish with a smile. “You may not pass, until you dance!” Mike and I looked at each other, and then simultaneously swung open our doors. The partygoers cheered and the band of wooden instruments got louder. She took our hands and pulled us into a circle of twirling ladies. Around and around we went, with leg kicks and hip shakes, until the shot master appeared with an earthen jug. He poured us an overflowing chicha corn brew, and we toasted with an exuberant, “Salud!” Arm in arm with our new amigos, we danced until dark and happily never made it to the famed canyon. (This story is actually how Ultimate Journeys for Two starts…and that’s just the beginning of a book of unforgettable experiences.)
We hope these travel stories gave you a smile and reminder of all the good in the world—even in hard times! What was your favorite moment from our 3,000-day journey?