There is a series of questions that every backpacker is asked when they meet another backpacker on the road. Like an untaught code of conduct, it just happens.
One: How long have you been traveling?
Two: Where did you start your trip?
Three: Where have you been?
Four: Where are you going next?
And, as an afterthought . . .
Five: By the way, what’s your name?
When I first met Judith, a 24-year-old German traveling alone in San Agustín, Colombia I had immediately wanted to talk to her about her travel experiences. For some reason you can tell a lot about a person by the way that they answer these very basic, very simple questions. In just a few minutes I knew the basic arch of her trip, without knowing any of the details. She had just bought a tent for about 12-14 dollars in a supermarket and was taking advantage of the beautiful gardens by camping at Casa Francias, the hostel where we both were staying. She had started her trip in Mexico and traveled throughout Central America and was continuing her trip south from Colombia for an undefined amount of time . . . basically until she ran out of money. Because I had just interviewed two other girls from Amsterdam and I felt like I would be seen as some creep if I started asking everyone to sit down and recount their travel experiences into my i-phone, I didn’t ask Judith if she would be interested in talking to be about her trip for this blog. I immediately regretted that decision the next day when we both packed up and left San Agustín for two different cities. She was headed to Mocoa and I was headed back to Popayán, ready to make my way to Ecuador.
But strange things happens when you travel for an extended period of time . . . like seeing familiar faces in different cities; and in Judith’s case a different country. Once I left Bogotá and reached Santa Marta on the northern coast of Colombia, I repeatedly saw other travelers headed in the same direction . . . either in different hostels, wandering around museums, or just walking around whatever town we both happened to be in at the moment.
As I was ringing the buzzer for a hostel in Quito, Ecuador, I turned around and saw two girls right behind me. One of the them was Judith. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, I immediately asked her if she would be willing to share her traveling experiences with me.
Here’s Judith’s story:
Name: Judith Rimmele
From: Vogt, Germany
Languages: German, English, a little Spanish
Length of trip: 6 months, maybe more depending on budget
Can you tell me a little bit why you wanted to take this trip? Why I wanted to do this trip? Yes. Because I love traveling. Because I have time at the moment and because I have a little bit of money so it’s a good moment to do this trip. And, um I was traveling before, I was in South Africa for volunteer work for half a year and there I started to travel in countries that are a little bit foreign and different from Europe. So after the volunteer work, I studied sociology. I finished my bachelor’s degree, and I said when I’m finished I will go traveling again for maybe half a year or something and I was thinking about Africa or South America. And, yeah I want to learn Spanish so I decided on South America.
What about South America appealed to you? Because a lot of friends of mine have been to Peru and Colombia and talked about it and yeah, it sounded like a country where people are really friendly and they love their life. And I love the sun and the heat, so I wanted to go where it was warm.
Where did you start in South America? I started in Central America, in Mexico and I came all the way down to Colombia . . . now we are in Ecuador and I will go to Peru and maybe Bolivia and then I will . . . yeah, I don’t . . . I bought a one-way ticket because I don’t know how long my money will last.
You said earlier that you love to travel, what is it about traveling that you love? I like the freedom, because when you are traveling you are always flexible and free to go where you want, and if you like a place you can stay and if you don’t like it you can go further away. If you just go for holidays to some place, you are just in one place. I love being flexible and deciding where I want to stay and to be able to go forward and to see a lot of things.
Did you do a lot of research before you started this trip? No.
Have you been traveling alone predominately? Yeah, I started alone in Mexico and I met a girl in Costa Rica . . . Lisa. And we were going the same way and we traveled together for like one month and sometimes we split up because I may have done couch-surfing or maybe she wanted to go to another place and now we have met up again here in Quito and we will start traveling again together. Because, yeah . . . she is a good friend now and its more fun to travel togetheCan you tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had from Mexico and Central America? Hmm, yeah I really loved Nicaragua and Guatemala. I went there and a lot people tell you the countries are so . . . that people are . . . that it’s dangerous and stuff like this. But, nothing. The people are so friendly there and they are beautiful countries. It was really easy to travel there alone. I met a lot of nice people and had a good time.
Now, I saw you originally in . . . San Agustín. San Agustín in Colombia and you were camping. Now we’re in this huge city, Quito. Do you have any preference traveling in rural areas or large cities? Yeah, I love the country because I’m from a small village in Germany so I’m used to being in small villages. I always feel lost in big cities like this because you can’t just walk outside of the town and be in nature.
And to go back to us meeting in a different city . . . or country even . . . randomly running into each other here, does that often happen to you often? In Central America, yeah. I saw people like three times in different cities, because I think there were more backpackers in Central America. In Colombia, there weren’t that many, I don’t think.
How was your experience in Colombia, because it’s another country that people say is unsafe and often people will say, “are you sure you want to go there?” I was there for six weeks and I loved it. It’s a really really amazing country. It’s beautiful and I just had good experiences with the people there and I did couch-surfing . . . I told you. The family that I stayed with was so friendly. It was like, “mi casa, es su casa” and stuff like that. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I was just in the places from the Lonely Planet. I think if you go to the Amazon, it’s more . . . I don’t know . . . it’s not on the tourist path.
Have you generally had good experiences with couch-surfing? It was my first time here in South America. I’ve done it in Europe a lot of times, but here it was the first time. It was nice, but my Spanish is not that good and the girl couldn’t speak English, so it was a little bit difficult to understand, but yeah . . .
How has your experience traveling as a single female been? It’s been okay. Sometimes there are guys that tell you things like you have such beautiful eyes and blah blah blah . . . stuff like that, but nothing bad. It’s really easy. Normally, people are really helpful.
Are your parents concerned about you traveling for so long? Yeah, at the beginning they were, of course. Mainly because I’m traveling alone. I think that was the worst part for them. I think now they are . . . I told them it was cool and easy because there are so many backpackers . . . and now I am with Lisa. So, now I think they are used to it.
What do you miss from home? I miss the bread and the cheese. Yeah, I miss my friends. But it’s okay, because I know I will go back and I will see them and we will have a big party, so I will try to enjoy the time here now so yeah, its okay.
If you could give advice to someone who was considering a doing a long trip across Latin America, what would you tell him? I would tell them that they shouldn’t make a lot of plans. They should just go there and see what’s happen and ask other travelers where’s nice and just go with the flow. Just don’t make too many plans and stuff like that.
Have you learned anything about yourself that maybe you didn’t know before you started this trip? Well, I love nature. I knew this before, but yeah, now I know this more. I’m also thinking about what I’ll be doing when I go home. I’m not sure if I will continue with this (sociology) . . . I am learning on this trip what are my preferences . . . maybe it will be something with the nature or the environment. I don’t know yet.
What’s your experience been like with other backpackers that you’ve meet? Good Experiences. I don’t know. In Central America, I would meet people and we would travel 2 or 3 days together because we have the same route and then we would . . . ah that was something that was a little bit sad, because you get close and then you part and you’re alone and you’re like . . . oh. But, yeah you get used to it . . . you know when you meet people backpacking that you wouldn’t get close like the friends back home, but its okay. It’s another type of connection, it’s a good one.
If you had to pick the greatest experiences so far, what would it be? My God, that’s difficult . . . the couch-surfing experience was awesome. With the family? Yeah, and in Popayàn, I met in a park a 70 year-old man who spoke German with me because he lived in Germany for six years and then we went together to drink beer. It was also like . . . yeah you didn’t plan this, but I think the people who I’ve met have been the best part.
Any other thoughts about traveling that you want to share? Thoughts on traveling . . . just that your home is where your bed is for the night.