This month’s featured interview is with one of my favourite writers, Cristina Luisa from The Chronicles of a Travel Addict. Her writing and travel experiences are not only informative but most importantly, inspiring and motivational. The first time I read one of her personal stories she grabbed my attention with a question we should all ask ourselves: “We all live, but are we alive?”
She’s an avid traveler who’s had the pleasure of playing with Spectacled bears in Ecuador, going solo into the Pantanal forest in Brazil, and most recently experiencing the remarkable beauty of Hạ Long Bay. Let’s find out more about this eclectic travel addict!
Cristina, thank you for giving us some of your time. Please tell us about your self.
Thank you so much for having me! I am thrilled to participate in this interview and contribute to the I Will Travel Blog.
My name is Cristina Luisa, and I am a travel addict who does not want to be cured. I am also a multilingual freelance writer aiming to fuse my love for writing and travel within a travel writing career. Here are some words that may describe me: Humanist, animal rights advocate, feminist, free spirit, truth seeker, wanderer, nature lover, city girl, vegetarian, book worm, aspiring minimalist, and realistic optimist. Overall, I’m just a human being, filled with gratitude, who has been given a second chance to pursue the life of her dreams.
I grew up in San Jose, CA, in the United States. Also known as the Silicon Valley, my hometown is an average place, but its familiarity and predictability began to bore me early on. Aside from the locale, I come from a family with solid morals and a tenacious work ethic. My “alternative” lifestyle is commonly misunderstood by those who love me, and I am the family member (and friend) who keeps everyone on their toes.
The way I like to travel is slow, minimally planned, whimsical, solo, and on a budget. Even if I had all the money in the world, I think I’d still be frugal, just to make sure I could travel a bit longer. Most of my years traveling, I stayed in hostel dorms with shared bathrooms- the cheaper the better. However, as I’m getting older and have to dedicate much time to writing, I prefer more of a guesthouse atmosphere, or at least a private room in a hostel. I still love to mingle, but I can’t be as carefree as I used to be.
I avoid all-inclusive packages and like to design my own trips. I’m not big on tours or tourists, so I try to get to know the locals as much as I can. Frequently, I go out of my way to wander outside the “safety” tourist zone in order to encounter people who don’t speak English, just to get to know what the country or city is really like. I don’t want to travel half way around the world to be served up an Americanized version of foreign life. Another component is trying to reduce my carbon footprint and making an effort to shop/eat at local places, rather than fund wealthy global chains.
What did you want to be as a kid growing up?
From my earliest memories, there was no doubt that I wanted to be an artist. I would entertain myself for hours on end creating any way I could. Since there was always so much going on in my imagination, I believe that I subconsciously sought to express all I saw and felt through drawing, coloring, painting, and writing.
When did you first realize you were addicted to traveling?
In the summer of 2006, I quit a rather lucrative job in San Francisco. I had spent close to a year researching graduate schools, studying for the GRE, and applying to several universities while working full-time. Meanwhile, I was also taking Japanese classes for my trip to Asia.
Once I got to Japan, my love for travel took hold of me again, grasping me tighter than ever. I had promised myself that, if I were accepted to the program I wanted, I would return to the United States, move to San Diego, CA, and earn my Master’s Degree. Two weeks passed and I still had not received any notice of my acceptance. Hoping that I had been rejected, I decided that I would go to Australia after my friend and I finished our trip through Japan and China. Who needed a Master’s degree anyhow, especially when all I wanted to do was see the world? Since I had been saving for school, I had the funds. There was nothing that could stop me.
Just when I started to lay out my plans, I received the foretelling email: an acceptance letter from SDSU’s Latin American Studies Program. My heart sank. I didn’t want to go. Furthering my education no longer mattered. I was out in the world, doing what I wanted to do, learning every day, meeting new people, seeing wonderful sites, and experiencing real life outside of the cubicle, out of the bubble. I didn’t want it to end.
Up to that point, I suppose it didn’t occur to me just how important travel was. For the past four years, I had been traveling all over Latin America, acting in what some may consider irrational or irresponsible ways. I’d get a job, save up, take off and travel until my money ran out, then come to the States and start it all over again. Even then, it wasn’t until that moment in Japan, at 25 years old, that it dawned on me: Travel wasn’t a passing phase; it was an essential part of my life and my identity. I was addicted to traveling.
When was your first backpacking trip and what places did you visit?
The first time I went backpacking was possibly my most extensive journey. Since I’d moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I’d taken side trips to Puerto Madryn, Uruguay, and even throughout Chile. My cross-country trip from Argentina to Chile was my first valid solo trip, right around the time of the US presidential reelections and Bush won. Yet. Again. It was a harsh time in which people from the United States were equated to their government. Discrimination, not to mention hatred, ran rampant.
Nonetheless, after I returned from Chile to Argentina on my first solo trip, I knew I had to see more. One of the German guys I’d met in Chile wanted to do the same trip as I- Buenos Aires to Northern Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. I had never really gone backpacking before, and didn’t know how long I’d be gone or what to expect, but what did I have to lose?
I met up with my new friend in Buenos Aires. We traveled by bus- all the time. From Buenos Aires, through the Quemada de Humahuaca, into the borders of impoverished Bolivia, to the salt flats of Uyuni, to mining towns and La Paz, Copacabana, and the ruins of Isla del Sol. I wasn’t always given a warm welcome in Bolivia, but those experiences were doubtlessly etched in my mind.
From there, we crossed into Peru, discovered the “White City” of Arequipa, the curious Nazca lines, Cuzco, the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu, the frenetic energy of Lima, not to mention its beautiful museums and ever-persistent children begging, to the playas of Trujillo and Mancora, where we spent a majority of our time.
After we left Mancora, we once again crossed borders (this time, I was so sick that I could barely move or eat, but we had to continue forward) into Cuenca, Ecuador. We absorbed the beauty of the city and its architecture, despite the constant rain, exploring as much as we could while trying not to slip across the breadth of the city. We then took a rooftop ride along La Nariz del Diablo, or The Devil’s Nose, beginning in Riobamba, witnessing the charming, fairytale-like mountainscape and farming countryside of central Ecuador.
It was there that my original travel partner, and another guy who’d joined us some time in Bolivia, decided that we would take different travel paths. Up until then, I’d taken refuge in traveling with people who wanted to see the same places as I did. But that was no longer the case. I wanted to see Guayaquil, Quito, and volunteer at La Hacienda Santa Martha in Tambillo. They wanted to shoot straight to Quito and then to Colombia. At the age of 23, the thought of going out on my own again, in a land I knew nothing of, made me nervous. There were things I had seen, and experiences I’d had, along the road that made me grateful I wasn’t traveling alone. It was a matter of either following others simply to be accompanied, or of solitarily pursuing my interests.
We parted paths, and I embarked on an eight hour bus ride from Cuenca to Guayaquil, where I witnessed some of the most beautiful greenery, amongst thick fog, along the endless winding roads. During the day, I went out and explored, and come night fall, I took refuge in my hotel room, writing stories and wondering what would happen next. I then went to Quito to visit one of my good friends- my previous roommate in Buenos Aires- who showed me the beauty of her hometown. In Tambillo, I spent time with rescued exotic animals, playing with Andean bears, feeding lions and lionesses, petting jaguars and getting my pockets picked by sly capuchin monkeys.
This was my first true backpacking experience. It was a major trip, throughout four countries via bus, over a three month period. When looking at a map of where I was and all I saw, the vastness of the experience seems overwhelming. The impact, even more so.
What are you favorite places and why?
This is always a difficult question for me to answer. I enjoy most places I visit, for one reason or another. There are very few places I’ve been that I’ve absolutely hated. As such, I have to categorize places according to the reasons why I connect with them.
Familiarity, including friends and family living there:
-San Francisco, CA, USA
-Los Angeles, CA, USA
Vibrant city life:
-Buenos Aires, Argentina
-Sao Paulo, Brazil
Spectacular, jaw-dropping nature and landscape:
-Perito Moreno, Patagonia, Argentina
-Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
-Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Just plain good vibes:
-Cahuita, Costa Rica
-Machu Picchu, Peru
-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
What draws you to a place? How do you decide where you are going to travel next?
When it comes to traveling, I tend to get hooked on regions. I first went to Latin America to become fluent in Spanish, but an obsession was thereby spawned. I returned every chance I got, whether it was to revisit cities, or to discover new territory- be it Mexico, Central America, or South America. I forced myself to travel to Asia in 2006, because I knew that, otherwise, I’d never go anywhere but Latin America. These new adventures in the east opened my eyes, exposing me to yet another region I’d fall in love with.
Most often, whenever I decide where to travel, I just get a gut feeling and go with it. Something about the culture, the history, the landscapes, or the people, draws me in and I know I have to go. This has proven true with Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Malaysian Borneo, Thailand, and Vietnam. So far, my instincts have been spot on. Places that I’m currently drawn to are Spain, India, Iceland, and Russia.
What has been the most adventurous thing you have done on your travels?
I’ve done a lot of crazy things on my journeys. I’ve bungee-jumped, hitch-hiked, white water rafted in class 4 waters, run from enraged macaques, slept in the most inhospitable locations that ranked of piss and shit, stayed with people I’d never met in person, and tried extremely exotic foods. I’ve also fallen in love in foreign countries, and gone to insane lengths to try to make a relationship work.
However, the most adventurous thing I’ve ever done (and will never do again), is eat a live snake heart in Le Mat, Vietnam, for my 32nd birthday. As a vegetarian, I don’t know what possessed me to do it. Thinking about it in retrospect, I feel sick to my stomach; it absolutely disgusts me that I could’ve done something so barbaric. The heart was still beating when I bit it out of the snake’s neck and swallowed it whole. I wanted to do something completely out of my comfort box to celebrate my life. I think I outdid myself that time.
How do you deal with the addiction to traveling?
Ha! Good question. I’m still trying to figure that out. After all, I’m pursuing a career in travel writing.
Why do you write?
I write because I have to. Writing is not an option, let alone a hobby, for me. I don’t do it because I get paid for it (though, fortunately, I do more and more nowadays). It is my main artistic outlet, and a way to expel the thoughts from my mind to paper (or screen). That being said, not much has changed throughout my life since I was a child- I still need to express myself in creative, concrete ways, and writing has become my necessary medium.
The secondary (and not less important) goal is to have people be able to relate to me, and realize that their journeys are not isolated. I have experienced many things that I believe others are embarrassed about or ashamed of. I take it upon myself to expose the different experiences I’ve gone through and to highlight how I have overcome or dealt with these situations. It’s easy to get down on yourself, to get depressed, to believe that you’re a failure due to decisions you have made in the past, but that’s just not true. Every moment of every day, we can recreate our lives, and thereby our futures.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
I do! Thank you for asking. My freelancing work spans social media promotion, resume writing, proofreading, editing, marketing, copywriting, risk analyses, travel writing, and much more. I am currently open to receive new clients for 2014, and my writing portfolio can be found at www.thewritingchronicles.com.
Aside from writing, I also offer unique jewelry that I personally hand-selected throughout Latin America and beyond. My aim has been to gather the most unique, colorful, quality, hand-crafted jewelry throughout my travels. I thereby support the local working class economy while providing people who can’t travel access to these distinct items. You can find my jewelry website at www.lovesparkfire.webs.com, as well as facebook.com/love.spark.fire.jewelry.
Are you back in the U.S. permanently now?
No way! I have spent the last two months in the SF Bay Area in California, USA, and will be relocating to Portland, Oregon, at the beginning of January 2014. However, by no means does that signify that I’m here to stay. I have plans to visit Mexico this coming spring, and I’m hoping to get to Europe by summertime. While the U.S. will always be my home country, it is very likely that I will eventually become a permanent expat.
Finally, how do we find out more about you?
If you’d like to find out more about me, and about my travels, the first place I’d recommend is my main website, www.chroniclesofatraveladdict.com. There, you can read about various destinations, learn about my life story, see photographs I’ve taken throughout my journeys, and find some straightforward tips regarding solo travel, budget travel, vegetarian travel, and more.
You can also connect with me on the following social media outlets:
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+cristinaluisa
Travel Dudes: http://www.traveldudes.org/user/chronicles-travel-addict
If you simply want to contact me, send an email to: email@example.com.
Thank you so much for having me, Will!