Have you traveled abroad on your own? Or wanted to go on a trip but didn’t want to go alone and couldn’t get a friend/partner/other to go with? Or maybe you’d like a dream vacation….somewhere? Where? You just don’t know where to go to or how to start looking. As a single “gal”, I’ve found myself in all these categories. I’m here to tell you all is not lost!
Activity based vacations could be the answer for you! Travel to an event on your own or join a ready-made group that’s going to one. Biking, salsa dancing, running, obstacle course races, golf, yoga retreats, get a scuba diving certificate, wine tasting ….if you can think it, there’s probably an event for it. The possibilities are endless!
It’s been a while since my last post! Here’s why. Here’s my story….
I love travelling to cities I’ve never been to and exploring! I love running! Ok, maybe “love” is a bit too strong a word to describe my feelings for running, but with the amount I do and lengths I go to, I’m hard pressed to explain myself any other way. And of course, I love to write so I’m combining all three passions and sharing my experiences. International races, indeed travelling to international countries to race affords me the opportunity to travel, explore, learn about other cultures and just let my spirit animal roam free…..without the data charges of course.
In August 2016, I ran the Angkor Wat Empire half marathon – Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia, South East Asia – the largest religious monument in the world! It is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Centre. I travelled to Vietnam first, then Cambodia where I met up with friends for the race, then retreated to Laos post-race.
My friends who lived in Hong Kong at the time, invited me to run this race with them. Initially I thought….”WHAT”? But I was coming to the end of a project with a demanding schedule, my thinking changed to “why not make a trip out of this and take a break”? So I did. Where there’s a first, there’s always a second!
Fast forward to 2018, on May 5th, I returned from Mexico, where I ran the Rock n’ Roll half marathon in Oaxaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another one! In keeping with my new travelling tradition, my first stop was Mexico City, then Oaxaca for the race and finally Cancun for another type of “r and r” – rest and relaxation.
I traveled ALONE on both cases. To countries where English is NOT a first language! How did I do it? I couldn’t say. I honestly couldn’t. I don’t think much other than…”ooh that could be nice”, once the opportunity materialises. Maybe that’s the key – don’t think it. Don’t give your brain a chance to overthink. Just think positive thoughts……
Let’s start with Mexico. 9 days in Mexico, 5 flights, 3 cities, 2 days spent in the air at various times, 1 fantastic experience! I bought a round trip from the US to Mexico and separate domestic flights (I used Interjet).
I had the most AH-MAZ-ZING time!! I saw some of the most incredible sights, WONDERS of the world, things you only get to DREAM about! As someone who moved to America from England six years ago, Mexico is a far away exotic country that I could only dream of visiting, one day. If I add growing up in Nigeria, I probably couldn’t dream of it! Mexico shares a border with Texas, the US state I currently live in people! How amazing is that?!
1. Mexico City
I arrived Mexico City about 10am with a 7 hour layover en route to Oaxaca, I was prepared. I hopped into a taxi and went to the Frida Kahlo museum. This is the house Frida Kahlo, renowned Mexican artist was born in, grew up in, lived with her husband Diego Rivera and later died here. The museum contains a collection of her art work, sculptures, hand drawings, also that of her husband and other artists along with Mexican folk art, photographs and other memorabilia the couple collected all displayed AS IT WAS in the 1950s, even her studio. She was gifted in so many ways!!! The entire house, also known as “La Casa Azul” (the Blue House) is ART. Every room flows through each other, the flowering courtyard is just joy and energy. Reminds me how much your environment can shape you or break you. I plan to watch the movie of her life “Frida” (2002), played by Salma Hayek.
Museo de Frida Kahlo
On my next layover in Mexico City, enroute to Cancun, I opted for the metro bus, straight from the airport into downtown and just walked around this historic city – Bellas Artes garden with its sculptures, El Zócalo, the main public square also known as the Plaza de la Constitución, and into the national cathedral bordering it, an absolutely stunning structure. Finding my way back to the bus stop and getting the bus back to the airport was a “challenge” but hey, what is life without a challenge? At the time of travel, the exchange rate was US $1 to 17/18 + MXN Pesos. The bus was about $2, even less in UK pounds!
Costs = Metro bus 30 MXN; Entry to Frida Kahlo museum 200 MXN
What I learnt? Airport taxis are expensive regardless of airport or country
Southwestern Mexico, officially called the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, known for its colonial buildings and home to archaeological sites Monte Alban, and Mitla. Lovers of culture you need to visit this place el pronto. My connecting flight was delayed by an hour and I arrived at my Airbnb lodging about 10ish on the Friday, it was a loooong day. I slept well.
The next day, Saturday was, “packet pickup”, this means going to the expo centre to get your race bib and final instructions for the race. That was not without its challenges seeing how long it took me to order breakfast, on account of my lack of Español. You’d think I’d get a guide book or a translation app (hello roaming charges?), but why must life be linear?
Time for breakfast. Mayordomo, La Chocolateria – restaurant and chocolate making all in one, Airbnb host recommendation.
I either forgot or didn’t know what “eggs” are in Spanish. I finally figured it out after several attempts, ok I pointed at something. The brownish sauce is “mole negro”, an Oaxacan delight (chili peppers, onions, garlic…..and chocolate!), which I thought I said “no” to over my omelette apparently not. It was delish though! I’m terrible at languages, I hardly try anymore but I do make sure I don’t act the ignorant type. When people apologise for not speaking good English, I say “you are BETTER than me, I can’t even speak your language badly”. The onus is firmly on me.
The expo was in a FRENZY when I arrived, paparazzi everywhere. Apparently, the Governor AND his wife were in the race too and there to collect their bibs! This is the first time Oaxaca was hosting this race. Way to go to support your city! I decided to get in on the jolliness, stepped and said hello and he obliged with a photo. I went up to his wife at the start line, she recognised me and we had a chat! I realised I was easily noticed anywhere I went.
Sunday, race day! Said race was at 8pm, so I went on a tour, to Monte Albán,, an ancient Zapotec civilization, just 15 mins away! I seize every opportunity to do more in the few days I have. Breath-taking, words and pictures can’t describe the feeling. My heart will indeed go on.
Monte Albán, Archaeological Site, Zapotec
Costs = Transport to Monte Albán and back 55 MXN; Entry to Monte Alban site 200MXN.
I made a friend while I was exploring the site! Mexican, English speaking, also going to the race. Good thing to. As friendly an outgoing as I am, I do spend a fair amount of time in my head, We chitchatted. She informed me the race was now at 7pm, that there were leaflets circulated – all in SPANISH I realised. Dear me, here I was, proud of myself for surviving two days in the language matrix. We ended up going to the race together later on. Thank you Lucy!
Oaxaca was agog with excitement that night! Everyone lined the streets cheering, the energy was infectious. On the course, there were lots of hilly cobbled stoned streets that seemed to go on forever. As usual I was glad when it was over…..and of course when I got my race medal.
Post-race, spectacular with Lucy! Rock ‘n’ Roll Oaxaca, Mexico done, I’m a world runner!
Three blogs ago, in the The Madness of March!, I had just run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas (Texas) half marathon. For running a second “Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon” and in a different country, I received an extra medal with “world rocker” emblazoned! I was so thrilled!! It’s the little things. The race course ended in the baseball stadium which hosted a concert, headlined by “Inspector”, a popular Mexican band. We were all rockers that night.
Funny story. I had friends who flew in just before the race. Their flight was delayed and they panicked they wouldn’t make it. The flight attendant calmed them down, “you’ll make it”, she said, sure of herself, “the pilot is running too”! You couldn’t make this up.
On the Monday, my new friend and I went on an all-day guided tour, through 5 sites. The perfect post-race treat.
- Arbor El Tule, home to the “widest” tree in the world, Ahuehuete, a montezuma cypress tree. Its trunk has a circumference of over 42m/137.8 ft. In 2001, this was placed on the UNESCO tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
- Teotitlan del valle, to see a traditional wool rug making factory where the master weaver uses only plants and seeds for the range of vibrant colours he uses in his carpets, incredible!
- Mitla, another Zapotec archaeological site, famous for its mosaic geometric patterned stone temples. You have to wonder, HOW did they carry the stone from the mountain way in the distance?
- Fabrica de mezcal, a “mezcal” tasting and production site. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave cactus plant, typically native to Oaxaca
- Hierve el Agua, a mountain with a natural rock formation resembling a waterfall and Cascada chica, natural spring pools in the mountain beside it – both are classed as natural wonders and must-sees!
Costs = 200 MXN, Guided tour, excludes lunch
What I learnt? The Aztecs were primarily in central Mexico, what is now Mexico City; the Mayans were southwards, in Yucatán and the Zapotecs (dating back to around 500 B.C) only lived in Oaxaca, which is why they are not commonly known.
I registered for this race last year. I got an email that said “inaugural race in Oaxaca”! I signed up immediately and decided I’ll figure out where Oaxaca is later. I try not to get bogged down by minutiae. Imagine my alarm when I “learnt” there were tourist killings in Cancun THIS YEAR! It’s a good thing I’m not swayed by popular opinion. I like to make my mind up about a place and its people without undue outside influence. Do you speak any Spanish? Oh you’re going alone? Well-meaning friends asked me. If I can find my way travelling through Vietnam without knowing how to say “hello”, I’m sure I can survive Mexico with “hola” in my back pocket. I said that to myself, of course.
Saying that, I have to add I am EXTREMELY CAREFUL when I travel. Care and adventure are not mutually exclusive. There’s a difference between bungee jumping off a cliff (not that I have done that) and wandering through the dodgy/seedy part of town at an unholy hour brandishing your apple watch and other first world trappings. It’s very easy to get carried away….away from home….where nobody knows your name. Bad things happen everywhere and it can happen in your home too. When in foreign lands, carry yourself with care people! It’s easy to say I know. Also respect the local laws and ways, you’re in their home.
I loved Cancun right from the tree lined streets leading me away from the airport to my hotel with the gorgeous views! I opted to stay in the Hotel zone, about 15 mins away from the airport. From the name you’d think it was a network of hotels on top of each other and rowdy tourists in a very corner, not at all! Each hotel, well resort really is almost its own planet, with everything to cater for its guests.
Views from the hotel lobby, view from my hotel room (above)
I asked for a room change to get a better view. Yes people, you can ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I stayed at the Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort and booked through Expedia. Most hotels have an airport shuttle, call or email the hotel to arrange if you don’t feel comfortable navigating your way in an airport taxi or if you are arriving late at night.
What I learnt? Cheap and pricey are “relative” terms. Pricey can end up being cheap, cheap can disappointingly give you cheaper, cheap can surprisingly give you priceless!
4. Isla Mujares
As I was checking in, sometime after 4pm, my “concierge” gave me a rundown of hotel benefits and some activities I might be interested in. I was told there’s an island with a beach where the sunset is incredible and……..ENOUGH. Just tell me which side of the road I need to be on to get the bus to the ferry and spell the name please.
Got the right bus, made it to the ferry.
The sun is weary and gone to sleep
The clouds, a blanket, at its feet
The moon, soon wakes to take its place
To smile and watch over the human race
It was lovely walk around the island, watching the sunset. It was dark by the time I got back to the ferry, everywhere was well lit though, families with kids, fellow tourists happy with their day. A 15min crossing. I was back to my hotel in no time, all perfectly safe and sane.
Cost = 12 MXN bus ride up/down the hotel zone, Ferry 250 MXN
What I learnt? There’s always two sides to every story. Keep believing the good things and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by goodness! I’m glad I didn’t let “fear” take a hold of me and paint a bias for Cancun.
5. Chitchen Itza
The pièce de ré·sis·tance! One of the new seven wonders of the world! Whaaaaat???!! These days I travel only to see and/or experience something spectacular, something I won’t see or find anywhere else. It all adds up when travelling and, yes, life is life, there are bills to pay. One has to make wise decisions. Mayan ruins I thought. I conferred with a dear colleague and friend, Felipe, who’s from Mexico and he recommended all these places I’m talking about here. Thank you friend! I was looking forward to Chitchen Itza. This Mayan city thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Our guide said 3114 BC was the Mayan period, till now. He’s Mayan and says they are not extinct, they just don’t build temples anymore. He had quite a wit about him.
Chich’en means the “mouth of the sink hole” and Itza was the name of the family of rulers. Chich’en Itza translates into “the mouth of the sink hole/well of the itzas” or “wise men of the water. So we went to see a sinkhole.
I booked the trip to Chich’en Itza, through the hotel. The agency they use offers a deluxe package for $119 USD. It’s over 2hrs away. Whaaaat?! I didn’t spend that much on my entire 3 days in Oaxaca I thought!! Then I received a 39% discount for joining the hotel’s loyalty programme ($72). Then, I was told, if I attend a timeshare sales presentation, I get $50 credit to use anyway I want. Score!! I paid $22 (US) to see ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD – transportation, meals, drinks AND entry fare to the site. Wow! It costs MORE for tickets to Madame Tussaud’s to see wax (fake) figures. Could I be any more EXCITED?!! The bus picked me and dropped me back at the hotel too.
What I learnt? The famous Mayan calendar is made up of 19 segments of time, every segment is divided into 18 of 20 days except a short period of 5 days. Mayans were known as the masters of time. Guess what? 18 x 20 + 5 = 365. Wow, wow, WOW!!!!!!! Yes I was taking notes from our tour guide!
Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly? – Frida Kahlo, Mexican self-portrait artist, Feminist icon, Political activist
There was no end to the sights and wonders of Mexico, but all good things must come to an end. I needed sedation on returning home.
I’ll travel with a buddy for my next race though. I’m glad I made a friend that day, it made all the difference to have someone share the pains and joys of the race with. I had no expectations of this trip but it exceeded my expectations! I had the most enjoyable trip and I hope you’ve enjoyed this story and it inspires you to live one of your own. If you have any questions, leave a comment or send me a message.
Have you been on a runcation or vacation that totally surpassed your expectations? TELL ME! I need ideas 🙂
Get your passports people, get shots if you need to, and get going if you can! See the world. Know the world. Create the world you want to live in! Take that key and open the door to your dreams!!!
Stay tuned for more travel tales and tips from my Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos journey! Next time on…..Travel. Run. Rest. Repeat.
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- Cover image: Pixabay
- Photo credits: all mine