50 People #4: Backpacking with Gab & Maya

50 People #4: Gab & Maya

Musicians. Vegans. Travellers. You would think it impossible to find a more interesting couple than Maya & Gab from Quebec. They met whilst they were both still in school, and were immediately attracted to each other. Six years on, they’re still playing music together, doing shows and have just spent the last year backpacking through South America.

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Names: Gab & Maya | Currently In: Mexico

“This year was a year of experimentation and a lot of learning. We made so many mistakes!”

Travel is like that. It can be unpredictable and confronting. Every time something goes wrong, it can be easy to take a step back, to shrivel back into your comfort zone and simply, give up.

Although it can seem hard at times, the important thing is to remind yourself to keep going. Keep moving forwards.

One year ago, Gab & Maya headed to South America without any real intentions except to enjoy themselves and document their journey with a mini-series on Youtube. Backpacking their way across the continent, they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs, but they wouldn’t swap their experiences for anything in the world.

“We made so many mistakes and that is great, because we can carry these lessons with us now, and travel more optimally in the future.”

As their epic adventure draws to an end, I spoke to Maya who shared some of her stories from an unforgettable trip.

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What were you doing before you started travelling?

Before traveling, I had completed a Bachelor’s degree in Music with a minor in German language and culture, and was working full time as a piano and music teacher. Gabriel had completed a diploma in multimedia studies and was working full time at a web-marketing agency.

The initial plan for this year was actually to move together to Montreal and continue our studies. But around Christmas 2014, we decided we would finally embark on a journey we’ve been dreaming of for years.

What compelled you to travel to South America?

Ever since I was a girl, I have had a dream of travelling to Latin America. My dad always put different ethnic music on at home, and the music of Latin America particularly sparked my interest. My fascination with Latin American culture, music and language was definitely what compelled me to travel to Latin America.

As for Gabriel, he had traveled to Spain a couple of times and is simply in love with the Hispanic culture. He wanted to see a different part of this culture, the Latin side. He was intrigued to see the culture and flora/fauna differences between Québec and Latin America. If it weren’t for me, he would’ve gone to New Zealand, but he was totally on board!

That being said, we are both in love with the Spanish language and different Hispanic and Latin music genres, so we thought we could learn about both of these things during our travels!

Was it different to what you expected? Did you have any preconceptions?

We had so many ideas about what Latin America was before coming here. It is very easy to think you love or hate a place before actually arriving.

We, of course, had a few preconceptions. We thought we would be able to hear the traditional and folkloric music just walking around the streets, but that definitely did not happen! Most people listen to mainstream American music or their own country’s pop. So we had to actively search for the folklore musicians to really soak up the music culture of each city.

Another thing that surprised us was how laid back Latinos are. We knew they were easy going, but we didn’t know how much exactly. This has advantages, like how chilled-out the people are. But there were also some downsides. It would be frustrating at times with the lack of organisation, of punctuality, and things taking triple the time it usually takes in Québec.

We imagined Latin America to be a LOT cheaper too. I guess we were expecting South East Asia prices! Most of the time, it was a lot cheaper than in Quebec, but not really. We had to be very careful, especially for buses and accommodation! That being said, we really enjoyed the “bargaining culture” they have here, which we did not know that people like doing so much. Especially in Colombia – it is actually a way of bonding and a fun interaction between the buyers and the vendors.

11836928_10153055836237285_5904698761296152231_nFinally, people told us how impossible it was going to be for us as Vegans in Latin America. But there was so much fruit being sold everywhere, and many vegan restaurants. Even in traditional restaurants, the owners were always happy to adapt their dishes for us.

How difficult is it really to travel and maintain a vegan lifestyle?

SO easy! And we believe it is cheaper than eating animal products too. For us, veganism means eating an abundance of vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, etc), fruit (all the exotic fruit of different countries like mamey sapote, bananas, ataulfo mangoes, pineapple, etc), as well as starches (rice, corn tortillas, potatoes, sweet potatoes) and legumes (black beans, chickpeas and lentils).

These are all ingredients that you can find in abundance in Latin America (and they are often the cheapest things you can find)! We cook a lot and eating out was not really an option since we were on a backpacker’s budget. But whenever we felt like going to a restaurant, there was always an option. Even in Honduras, where we didn’t find a restaurant that was specifically vegan, the owner made us an amazing vegan platter just for us. It was delicious!

What’s the best thing about backpacking?

We don’t really plan ahead of time. In general, we even go day by day. Sometimes, we don’t even know where we are going to sleep the next day. The best thing about travelling the way we do is just that: the adventure of not knowing. This means spontaneity is very present, and we are constantly being surprised by places we didn’t plan going to. We also try to stop in less touristic, more local cities/villages in order to get a better perspective on the culture.

We crazily thought we’d be able to see almost all the countries in Latin America. But during our travels, of course, we had to skip many countries because of time and budget reasons. Sometimes, we’d spend 2 weeks in one amazing city instead of the 3 days we’d initially planned. So of course, it is crazy to look back at this year and realise how different the trip was from what we had imagined! Which is not a bad thing 🙂

And the worst?

The worst thing about travelling the way we do is (ironically) the spontaneity. It can sometimes be stressful. Sometimes we realised that our plans were more complicated and expensive than we originally thought, and we would have to cancel projects or invest a lot more money into them than we’d imagined… One time, we ended up having to take a plane from Colombia to Nicaragua just because crossing the Colombia-Panama border was that much of a hassle! We also ended up skipping Brazil because of the long and expensive visa application and cutting Costa Rica because of how expensive it is.

What’s the secret to backpacking on a budget?

Well, there are the obvious things like avoiding planes, restaurants and buying lots of stuff. Since hitchhiking didn’t really work for us in Latin America, we took the bus most of the time. But instead of taking the regular bus, we always asked if there were “colectivos”, big vans that can contain up to 20 people sometimes, and they are always a lot cheaper than buses.

Also, we always brought fruit with us, so we’d have bananas or even a diced pineapple in a plastic container. Definitely buy one or two plastic containers to keep some leftovers or fruit in to avoid going to restaurants! Going to restaurants is sometimes possible though: just find the traditional, locals’ restaurant and it will be cheap as chips. During lunchtime, they often serve the “menu del dia”, which is a set full meal and quite inexpensive.

As for accommodation, we often rented Airbnb’s, which was cheaper than being in a dormitory in a hostel! Sometimes it was in a private apartment, sometimes in locals’ home. This was amazing because we could speak Spanish with them and we would learn more about the culture of the country.

For a bit of extra, we did a couple of “workaway” volunteer jobs. Depending on the host, you will get free accommodation and some other type of compensation. In Puerto Varas, we stayed for one month working at a hostel reception and helping with renovation, and we got a private room in a beautiful German colonial house as well as got paid 46 000 Chilean Pesos each, per week. It was more than enough for groceries and we even made a bit of profit!

What has been the best experience so far?

Our favourite experience was definitely visiting San Marcos de La Laguna in Guatemala. It is on the side of Atitlan Lake, and it is a sort of “new age village”, with lots of things going on like artisans selling handmade bohemian jewellery, cheap yoga classes, cacao meditation ceremonies, herbal workshops, metaphysics classes, open-mics, so many musicians and artists, bonfires, and so much love.

We stayed there 2 weeks instead of 2 days! We made friends there and every day we had enriching conversations, we jammed and sang songs together, made common meals, laughed our heads off and had the best times of our lives. We went for yoga classes multiple times and we performed a couple of times. It is hard to explain why we loved it so much. There is just something really magical about San Marcos. It is one of the few places we want to go back to one day!

What’s next? What are your plans for 2016?

For now, we are in Mexico and heading to Cuba, which is our final destination before going back home for a few months. We want to prepare our next few years of traveling and solidify our plans a bit more.

We are going with the flow, so we are not sure where we’re going to be next year. Maybe the U.K for a big contrast with Latin America or South-East Asia, which was initially the first destination we intended to go to before deciding on Latin America! We also know that we want to plan our travels a bit better in the future, in order to get the most out of it as possible. We’d like to maybe teach English/French or even music. Or just participate in some projects around the world!

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You can join in on the fun of Maya and Gab’s backpacking adventures from the comfort of your own home, by checking out their Youtube channel here.

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Want more like this?

Loved this story? Read more interesting accounts about how and why people travel around the world in the #50people50places series here.


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