Live. Travel. Play.

The 8-Month Burnout?

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August 1, 2015, marked the beginning of our 8th month on the Pan American trail. Of those 8 months, 7 were spent living in our Westy in Mexico and Central America. Gregor and I had perfected the art of living and working in the van through ever-changing conditions in a predominantly Spanish-speaking world. We were loving nomadic life and we felt unstoppable.

All of that changed in August.

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Three Countries in One Day

We entered Nicaragua on the 1st of August, excited to explore a new country after spending two pleasant weeks in El Salvador. We heard that the beaches of Nicaragua were awesome and the colonial towns were not to be missed. We also heard that Nicaragua had excellent eco-tourist destinations similar to Costa Rica, only much cheaper and less touristy. It must be a traveller’s paradise, we thought.

We decided to motor through Honduras in favour of spending a month in Nicaragua, since we had already visited Honduras a few years ago and only had 30 days left on our CA-4 tourist permit.

Like many overlanders before us, we drove from El Salvador to Honduras to Nicaragua in one day. Our chosen route required us to cross two borders.

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Before the big border crossing day, we got a cheap hotel room in San Miguel, El Salvador, to research all the Immigration and Customs logistics and to make the many, many required photocopies of all our travel documents (we brought a portable printer/photocopier with us).

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Thanks to the instructional articles written by Martin and Nicole of My Overland Adventure, we were prepared to push mounds of paperwork all the way to Nicaragua.

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The line-up of cargo trucks crossing from El Salvador into Honduras at El Amatillo

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Leaving Honduras at Guasale and entering Nicaragua

The dual border crossing process normally takes 6-8 hours. Despite our early start (6:45 am at the first border), it took us 12 hours!

The problem:

We didn’t know that Salvadorans like to go to Nicaragua for their San Salvador holiday week (which kicked off on August 1). So we shared our dual border crossing with about a hundred vacationing Salvadorans bound for Nicaragua. Of those 12 hours between borders, 8 hours were spent sweating in Immigration and Customs line-ups.

We saw the two sides of humanity at those borders.

  • On the bad side: People pushing to cut in line, touts fast-tracking “paying customers” to the front, people yelling at border officials, border officials leaving for lunch – all at the same time.
  • On the good side: People relieving disabled seniors and pregnant women by sending them to the front of the queue, families keeping their spirits up in the unbearable heat, strangers cheering for other strangers who triumphantly walked out of the immigration building waving a fist full of completed paperwork in the air.
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Piles of paperwork generated from the dual border crossing

We finished at 6:45 pm, sweaty, hungry, and exhausted. Gregor drove to the city of Leon, Nicaragua, on a severely pot-holed highway in the dark – and in the rain. It was a terrifying drive, but we made it safely and found a hotel with secure parking that night.

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Leon

Gregor and I spent the next day exploring the streets of Leon and getting our bearings in the new country.

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Blast from the past! Of course we bought one.

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The Aftermath

For about two weeks following the epic border crossing, Gregor and I just didn’t feel right. We both felt under the weather and over-tired, despite getting about 9 hours of sleep every night.

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Tired, sweaty, grumpy Janice

By mid-August, we were both getting irritated by seemingly small things and were feeling lazier than normal.

Our morning coffee conversations started to sound like this:

Janice: What do you want to do today?
Gregor: I don’t know, what do YOU want to do today?
Janice: Well, I don’t really want to do anything.
Gregor: Me neither.

 

[pensive pause]

 

Janice: But we should probably do something.
Gregor: [exasperated] Well, what do you want to DO?
Janice: [frustrated] I don’t KNOW, what do YOU want to do?

And so it went on, until one of us couldn’t stand it any longer and finally got up to do a chore – like prepare breakfast, or clean up the van, or prep some gear for a day trip. And then the other would feel the pressure and reluctantly join in, sighing and grunting and making a big show of actually “doing something”.

We knew we were off kilter, but we didn’t know why. Still, we continued to explore Nicaragua, taking in the sights along the way.

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Chilling Out at Laguna Apoyo

Laguna Apoyo is located only an hour from Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua. It’s a clean, warm freshwater lake with no motorized boats on it – ideal for swimming and lounging.

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Along the lakeshore was Paradiso Hostel. There, we met up with overlanding friends, John and Paula (Our Bigger Picture), and Gorm and Eli (Bee-Individual).

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Left to right: Paula, John, Elis, Gorm, Janice, Gregor.
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Left to right: Paula, John, Eli, Gorm, Janice, Gregor.

For $26 CAD/$20 USD per night, we camped in the hostel parking lot and had access to beach chairs, kayaks, floating tubes, a lakeside restaurant-bar, clean showers, and fast wifi. It was a pretty good place to get some work done, but neither of us really felt like working.

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Sorting photos for the blog. I can barely contain my excitement.

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Anniversary in Grenada

On August 8, we celebrated 17 years of marriage in the colonial city of Grenada.

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Steak dinner at El Zaguan

Version 2

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Grenada is a beautiful city, but the place felt somewhat “sketchy”. It doesn’t really show in the photos, but the streets had an air of edginess.

We didn’t really find the people in Grenada to be particularly friendly. As we sat at an outdoor cafe drinking anniversary sangrias, we were approached by several relentless street kids who kept pushing their handicrafts across our table and just wouldn’t take no for answer. If it wasn’t my anniversary and if I wasn’t buzzed from drink, I probably would have blown my top on those kids.

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Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua that is formed by two volcanoes: Concepción and Maderas. We were able to ferry Lucky onto the island and drive its entire perimeter without any troubles.

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Ferry to the island

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Some of the roads are paved with patio blocks

The dirt roads took us to some pretty places
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The dirt roads took us to some pretty places

Renting motorbikes is popular on the island
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Renting motorbikes is popular on the island

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Volcan Maderas

Isla Ometepe has a lot natural attractions aside from its volcanoes. These include beaches, mineral springs, waterfalls, organic farms, and diverse wildlife.

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San Ramon Waterfalls
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San Ramon Waterfalls

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English signage for the gringos

Despite the growing tourism industry, there are many poor families on the island. For example, teachers on the island make less than $200 USD a month.

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In the town of Merida, there is a pre-school called the Bilingual School of Ometepe. Here, the kids have the opportunity to learn English so that they can have a better future in tourism. They also learn about the benefits of recycling – the school walls are made of recycled garbage packed in plastic water bottles.

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Every afternoon, tropical rain poured on the island – straight down, sometimes in sheets. Welcome to rainy season in Central America.

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Gregor found a little kitten shivering all alone, drenched by the rain. He warmed the kitty up and then put him in a safe spot where Mama Cat could find him again.

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The ferry back to the mainland

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Hitting the Wall

As we drifted through Nicaragua, we ran into a lot of the same things that we saw throughout the rest of Central America: chaotic street markets, run-down stores and houses, and questionable driving practices.

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Gregor annoyed at the wheel
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Gregor annoyed at the wheel

By late-August, the once “interesting and quirky” norms of Central American culture just became “downright irritating”.

We were tired of seeing piles of garbage and dog poop in otherwise gorgeous natural landscapes. Tired of having unclean facilities in places where we would expect the opposite. Tired of being woken up by packs of barking dogs throughout the night and incessantly crowing roosters in the morning.

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“If I hear another crowing rooster, I’m going to lose it”

Sweating buckets each day and swatting flies each night was getting old. So was dodging maniac drivers and indifferent pedestrians on the road. We had enough of villagers staring at us, vendors shoving their wares in our faces, and people getting into our personal space.

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We woke up one morning to find someone’s laundry hanging all over Lucky’s behind.

We didn’t want to eat yet another regional incarnation of chicken, beans, and rice. Or white bread. Or white processed cheese.

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Janice making grilled ham and cheese sandwiches again

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Needs ketchup!

The emaciated stray dogs, the begging children and seniors, the cranked-up pop songs blaring from over-amplified speakers – we were tired of that, too.

We were also tired of paying for services but not receiving them due to circumstances beyond the underpaid employee’s control:

“Sorry, the power went out.”
“We can’t process your purchase, computer system is down.”
“Router is broken, no wifi.”
“Pump is broken, no running water.”
“Sorry, we ran out of chicken” (Really? But the only things on your menu are chicken dishes!)

During our time in Nicaragua, it seemed like we had an irritating event occur every few days. Each time, we sucked it up and kept moving on, hoping to find something that would make us love Nicaragua the way other people loved it. After all, the country had a lot of beautiful sites, diverse terrain, and interesting wildlife.

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Playa Marsella

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Dry tropical forest at the sea turtle nesting grounds of Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor

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Sadly, we didn’t get to see nesting turtles, but we saw the remains of turtle eggs

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Happy sea crabs

Grumpy land crabs
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Grumpy land crabs

Despite Nicaragua’s beauty, it just didn’t draw us in and give us the warm fuzzies like other places did. Granted, Nicaragua is still recovering from years of civil war, corruption, and gang violence. But other Central American countries are doing the same and they appear to be somewhat more organized and friendly.

No matter how hard we tried, we just didn’t love Nicaragua. We only kinda liked it.

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Burning Questions

Gregor and I started to wonder: If everyone loved Nicaragua and we didn’t, then it must be us, right?

We didn’t miss home and we weren’t bored of traveling.
We weren’t sick of each other and we still loved the van.

So why were we feeling so unmotivated and underwhelmed?

We shared our feelings with our overlanding friends, John and Paula, who were also traveling in Nicaragua in August.

They talked about a phenomenon experienced by overlanders known as the “burn-out” phase. It occurs at around the 7th or 8th month on the road, and is associated with feelings of weariness, irritability, anxiety, and/or depression.

Moving around every few days in a foreign country and living/working in a confined space for long periods of time invites a special kind of stress to those of us who are programmed to settle. After a while, the stress piles up and the feelings of burn-out creep in. The stress is a little bit like being overworked on the job. If the stress goes unchecked, the burn-out takes over and life can go sideways.

Before this Pan-American trip, the longest that Gregor and I lived on the road was 6 months (in a white Westfalia van back in 2008). Now we were hitting a wall at 8 months. The burn-out theory made perfect sense. It was such a relief to know that we weren’t the only ones experiencing the madness!

As Paula says about overlanding: “It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, people!”

[Well, it’s mostly rainbows, with occasional unicorns :-)]

We don’t have to love every moment of our nomadic life. We just need to accept the fact that we don’t love every moment of our nomadic life.

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For the Record

I’m posting this article from a parking spot at Arenal Backpackers Hostel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Gregor and I just completed our 8th month on the road and are starting our 9th. With Nicaragua behind us and Costa Rica ahead of us, we’re keeping an open mind.

Still, we wonder:

If we had visited Nicaragua earlier in our trip, would we have enjoyed it more? Maybe.

Would we come back to the country and give it another chance? Probably not.

For the record, we did have fun times and interesting experiences in Nicaragua. Here are some pictures to prove it…

We partied on Isla Ometepe with the young folks at Finca Magdelena hostel:

Yup, that’s me on the top holding a bottle of rum in my hand.
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Yup, that’s me on the top holding a bottle of rum in my hand.

Gregor and I both learned to surf for the first time ever at Playa Maderas:

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Sunburnt and happy

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The waves spanked us hard. We were sooooo sore the next day!

We scoffed at the rain and turned Lucky into a laundry drying machine:

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This kick-started my obsession with photographing line-dried laundry:

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Gregor and I are very blessed to be able to discover the world through the windshield of our van. We’re also very fortunate to have a community that continues to support us in our journey. Special thanks to John and Paula, for sharing their perspectives and helping us to “keep it real” on the road 🙂

OK, Costa Rica, we’re comin’ in hot so let’s see what you got!

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22 thoughts on “The 8-Month Burnout?

  1. Rhonda

    hi guys.. Rhonda & Jim here.. We just came across your site recently through Our Bigger Picture. I had to say we so understand what you were feeling. Even as we are now planning to depart in December for our own trip down the PanAm, we backpacked around-the-world in 2007-2008 and remember all too well some days where it was all just too much and we were sick of hotels and sick of restaurants and sick of buses and trains and any other form of public transportation and just .. DONE. But, you’ll find that it will all come together again and you’ll be back to enjoying it all. Good luck and can’t wait to keep following along.

    1. Janice Post author

      Hey Rhonda and Jim, thanks for your message. We also backpacked in 2007-2008 (in Asia) and there are many similarities to overlanding. We also hit a wall back then, for the same reasons you described. But those are the things that make “travelling” different from “vacationing”. All the best for your PanAm preparations. Looking forward to reading about your adventures in the coming year.

      1. Rhonda

        lol… I wonder if our paths crossed at some point and we didn’t even know it, since we spent about 4 months in SE Asia 🙂 And you have an excellent point.. .one we’ve tried to get across to family & friends; that traveling is not the same as vacationing in any way except you are not at home! Hope you find the magic again soon and perhaps our paths will meet one day.

  2. Stewart

    Hopefully you are over your funk. Go do the 1km zipline near Arenal.
    Just to put things in perspective its 4C this morning in Edmonton, keep smiling!!!!!
    Stewart

    1. Janice Post author

      Hi Stewart, thanks for the boost! Good grief, 4C in Edmonton? It’s 27C in the van right now. Next time that tropical rain comes down on us, we’ll just remind ourselves that we could be wearing our toques in Alberta right now 🙂

    2. Stewart

      If you want a quite surfing beach with an out if the way hotel (thatched roof cabins) try Hotel Playa Negra, Los Pargos, Guanacaste, Costa Rica if you get to the Nicoya Peninsula.

      1. Janice Post author

        We’ll definitely check it out, thanks! Thinking of visiting Nicoya Peninsula in a week or so. Can’t wait to get some more surfing practice.

  3. Cheryl F

    I love your blog posts Janice, including the burnout bits! This is life baby.
    All the line-dried laundry photos made me smile. Big hugs to you both! xo

    1. Janice Post author

      Hugs back to you and Ted! Yes, this is life – in 80 square feet of VW goodness. Wouldn’t trade it right now, but dammit if I hear another crowing rooster…

  4. Emma

    So many people we have spoken to have told us that the best of this journey doesn’t really start until South America, so heading further south sounds like it will be the best cure for any burnout you’re currently facing. That and something other than rice and beans or beans and rice… Safe travels and remember, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorn poop!

    1. Janice Post author

      Hey Emma, we’ve heard the same thing about South America – can’t wait! Sounds like your Cuba was our Nicaragua. We also ended up spending lots of money in Nicaragua just to increase our enjoyment levels – sometimes you just have to do that. Glad to hear that you were able to get rid of Gregory! Love reading your stories and seeing your photos.

  5. Paula

    Janice, what a great post. You know we went through the same thing and I know it’s tough to write about it. So glad we were there with you guys though. It helps to vent too! I’m happy you guys are fired up for Costa Rica. We are too and we can’t wait to catch up again. Big hugs you two!!

    1. Janice Post author

      Paula and John, thanks again for just being there! Nicaragua would have been totally different if we hadn’t been stalking each other throughout August 🙂 And the last two days at Balcones were rejuvinating. You guys rock.

  6. Cameron

    Jacqui and I so completely understand. The clock is ticking on our 2 year anniversary on the road and I can say those negative feelings are a reoccurring theme. Granted, our conversations usually include the line, “Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?”

    For me, the only thing that ever seems to clear my mind is some big physical activity. All that sitting, driving, being indoors and what not is mentally exhausting but the body is still craving an outlet for all that energy that’s not being burnt. When my mind is racing and full of “Overlander’s discontent” I just have to exhaust my body till I’m too tired to think. 🙂

    Regardless, I know you guys are going to have a blast again soon. New things are around the corner. And thanks for telling it like it is. It ain’t all sunshine and buttercups!

    1. Janice Post author

      Wow, 2 years! You guys are pro – our hissy fits over crowing roosters holds no match to your vehicle woes! Great advice on getting some physical exercise – I’m definitely feeling like the inertia is affecting my mood. Now that we’re in Costa Rica, there are plenty of opportunities to hike. That said, we have to pay ridiculous entrance fees to do it, so we have to keep the budget in check. It’s about balance, right?

  7. Janice S.

    I love how you are keeping it real, sharing about your 8th month burnout. I totally get it. Still love hearing about your adventures. And, that’s awesome that you guys learned how to surf!!!

    p.s., Mel’s comment made me laugh out loud.

    1. Janice Post author

      Hey Janice, thanks for the comments. This was a really difficult post to write, because I didn’t want us to seem like those spoiled, complaining North Americans who expect things to be a certain way in other parts of the world. I also didn’t want to ‘dis’ Nicaragua, but really we were kinda underwhelmed and unimpressed. As Mel said, it doesn’t matter if you’re traveling the world or sitting at home, it’s not always fun and games. Oh, and we laughed at Mel’s comment, too.

  8. George Meredith

    Central America wore us down too. I enjoyed the surfing there but not much else. Once you get to Colombia things get WAY better in our opinion. Ecuador is also turning out to be great too. We are fully energized again for South America.

    1. Janice Post author

      That’s a relief! Thanks for the boost 🙂 Can’t wait to get to South America and get more of that mojo back!

  9. Melvin

    It doesn’t matter if you are traveling the world or living a “normal” life with a white picket fence, only children and crazy people expect everyday to be fun times. That being said I’d be feeling burent out if I spent a full eight months with Gregor.

    1. Janice Post author

      Hmmmm. I never considered the “Gregor factor”! Perhaps living together in a box on wheels after 17 years of marriage is a bit extreme.