Two years ago, Karin and I left behind our lives. Between us, we had three nice cars, a house in East Nashville, thriving careers, close friendships and a mountain of belongings we thought were imperative for happiness.

In 2015, we sold our cars, our home, our mountain of belongings, left our careers, bought a 1997 Toyota Landcruiser, a rooftop tent and hit the road with a plan of driving across the United States, through Mexico to the tip of South America, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina.

Why did we do this? Any outsider looking in would think our lives perfect. I suppose if working 10-hour days and coming home to television and takeout, and fitting in occasional Sunday-Fundays makes you happy then, yes, we had perfection.

But for Karin and for me, this just couldn’t be “it.” When we looked back at a year of our lives and couldn’t distinguish one day from the next, for us it was time to make a change. The wild, liberated parts of each of us had been forgotten and replaced with appointments, deadlines, monotony and a false sense of fulfillment from the acquisition of things.

Our wake up call began with a medical crisis. Karin developed a rare disease called Eagle’s Syndrome. An extra bone growing in her neck pressed on her carotid arteries causing a litany of life-threatening problems.

It was a difficult year spent figuring it out. Karin was suddenly unable to work or function. 29 doctors, 10 months and 2 major surgeries later, life again became manageable but also reflected the emptiness we had both been feeling and would no longer tolerate. We now understood the fragility of life and that it can change on a dime. There is literally no time to waste.

We weren’t independently wealthy, neither of us have trust funds or inheritances. It would take letting go of everything, of dinners out and drinks with friends, new clothes, everything, including security. We started researching low-budget travel options and came across a world of people traveling full-time, camping in their cars, and moving through countless countries as a way of life. I found the idea of being constantly in motion and flux oddly comforting. The dream started to crystallize.

After 6 months of planning, saving, and selling, we pulled out of our driveway onto I-40 West with the plan of entering Mexico through California and continuing south down the Panamerican Highway. With cliché road-trip music blaring through our speakers, we set off, car packed to the brim with supplies for every “what-if” and every item we imagined necessary for surviving such a long trip.

Karin and I were not experienced campers: we both loved the outdoors but neither was particularly “outdoorsy.” We had heard every horror story about Mexico and places like Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Fears of “cartel” and “sex trafficking” danced ominously in my brain. It’s possible that fear led to our procrastination in crossing the border. After leaving Nashville, we spent two months exploring the Western United States until finally, it was time to bite the bullet and head South.

Our Mexican journey began in Baja California, Mexico. Among adventure travelers, Baja is known as “Mexico 101” or “Mexico Light.” Filled with deserts, cactus forests, travelers from all over the globe, breathtaking beaches, and an abundance of campgrounds, Baja was a perfect training ground. It’s the quintessential road trip.

I’m thankful both Karin and I had done substantial traveling in our lives. The difference, to me, between being a tourist and a traveler is the ability to quickly adapt to the world around us, the capacity to watch, learn, breathe in, and coexist in communities and cultures incredibly different from ours without imposing ourselves upon them.

We learned about military checkpoints, water purification centers, and the importance of basic Spanish phrases like “Despacio” and “Dónde esta el baño?” We perfected beach-camping skills like fire-starting and digging for clams. We slept under the stars, swam with sea lions, and touched an albino grey whale at Ojo de Liebre. No matter what, we tried not to break the number one rule for traveling safely by car in Mexico: Don’t drive at night. Not only because of potential crime but due to poor road conditions and animals (cows, donkeys, chickens) on the road.

There was no cable to watch, no delivery service. There were campfires and talks with new friends; there was quiet and discovery. With each passing day, I found myself feeling healthier, stronger, less afraid, and more at peace. I was capable. Although sometimes the space in the car was a little lean, we fought very little, having only mini-battles about this decision or that. With each passing day, Karin and I grew closer. She was capable. We were a team.

After two months it was time to cross into Mainland Mexico. We took a 16-hour, overnight cargo ferry across the Sea of Cortez to the city of Mazatlán. Believe me, it was as cool as it sounds. Our companions, primarily male, Mexican truckers were curious about us and what we were doing.

Along with everyone else we knew, they might have believed us to be insane. Polite and chivalrous, they showed us the best place to park on the ship, petted our dog, and shared sunrise coffee with us on the main deck. This was our experience with Mexican people, in a nutshell, summarized by the words: kindness, curiosity, hard work.

Mazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa, known most famously for being the home of El Chapo. The State Department warns US travelers against entering this state (the whole state!) but we found it to be both beautiful and touristy, never feeling unsafe. Our first life lesson of the trip: You know nothing, Juan Snow.

Over the next six months, we made our way through Mexico to its opposite coast. Along the way, we spent time in many of Mexico’s major cities: Guadalajara, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Oaxaca, and Puebla. Guadalajara came to be called GAYdalajara, boasting 26 LGBT bars and a thriving hipster art scene.

Nothing was what we expected. We hiked deep into the canyons and jungles of Chiapas. We camped in remote, gorgeous places and often-dusty parking lots. We swam in the cenótes of the Yucatan and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. The people we met, both local and fellow travelers, will forever inspire me. We met people from every walk of life and I believe those friendships will last a lifetime.

Mexico is an endless journey of unimaginable magnificence. A lifetime could be spent exploring and you could never experience all of it. Unfortunately, the Mexican government did not give us a lifetime but only 6-month tourist visas. We used every single day of six months before we were forced to cross our next border.

Our journey wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows (there WERE a lot of rainbows). Some days were incredibly difficult. Nomad life is exhausting. Constant stimulation, constant learning, constant guilt you’re not seeing as much as you could, combined with homesickness and worry about obligations you left behind. Always researching and adjusting. Never knowing anyone, not knowing the language. That low-grade fear every time you move on to a new place.

What will road conditions be? What if we break down? Will our phones work? Do we have enough water? What is the currency? WHERE IS A GAS STATION?

There were days I cursed at the sky, wondering why we had done this ridiculous thing. Sometimes, I couldn’t find any answers I actually believed. After wiping tears and taking a breath, we would get back in the car and move on. Something in each of us kept pushing forward. Something kept us on the road. Without fail, every day on the road after a bad day was better than the last.

We spent two years collecting memories and growing stronger from the lessons and strain. It turns out that when there is a lesson to be learned, the road doesn’t sugarcoat it. But it does give as much as it takes with sunsets that steal your breath and unexpected beauty in every direction.

Our time in Mexico was nothing if not transformative. We were sad to leave. Belize, English-speaking, stunning, and well-known for tourism was next in our lineup. We packed the car, changed our money, readied our border documents, and poured over travel blogs.

And then we found out it was still illegal to be gay in Belize.

We had Mexico in our rear-view mirror and Belize in our sights. After six months of day-to-day fumbling and struggling with our mediocre Spanish, a few weeks in an English-speaking country was a welcome respite.

I was imagining a young Tom Cruise behind a beachfront bar, flipping glasses, with UB40 playing in the background (only people over 35 will get that reference).

Belize is a popular tourist destination and was our first Caribbean country. We knew it would be incredible: breathtaking, culturally diverse, and easy to navigate due to its small size and full community of American and Canadian ex-pats.

Crossing international borders by land, in your car, or with a dog, can be dizzying. Each border is different, with a variety of paperwork requirements, wait times, and levels of chaos. Belize was only our second border crossing of the trip, and we were not yet pros. Days preceding were spent organizing documents, preparing, and getting excited. The night before our crossing, we did the obligatory Facebook post announcing our plan to cross the border in the morning.

“I would never go to Belize. They still put gay people in jail there,” came the response to my post. It shook me. I’d researched gay laws in all of Central America and had been pleasantly surprised. We went to many gay bars in Mexico and generally felt safe to be who we are. Old ideas were making their way out.

I suppose, because of Belize’s reputation for having a high volume of American tourists and retirees, I had assumed progressive attitudes. I had assumed incorrectly. As it turned out, Belize was the last country in Central America to have anti-gay laws on the books. A string of acts of violence against LGBT people had been plaguing the country for months.

We agonized over whether or not to continue with our plans. You may be wondering, why not just be in the closet? It wasn’t quite that simple.

First, we have our website on our vehicle. One look at the site will tell you we are a couple. Second, I have served on many boards of gay rights-centered organizations. I was President of the Gay and Lesbian student association at my law school. These are the bits of information that you find when Google searches my name. Then there is the question of whether or not we wanted to spend our money in a country that has such a negative attitude towards gay people.

In the end. we decided to go. Our choice was to not limit ourselves only to the comfortable or safe and certainly not to be told where we could and could not go. But we WOULD be careful.

We took down the “About Us” page on the website, put together a story about why we were two women traveling together, and caravanned with other traveler friends. We knew the most difficult behavior to keep in check would be the things you don’t think about: the way a couple looks at each other, unconscious touching of each other’s waists, sitting with our legs touching. There would be no room for mistakes.

Our first night did not go so well. Belize was far more beautiful than we could have dreamed—lush and green, with waters bluer than the clearest sky. Our first stop: the border town of Corazol. We stopped at a local bar, did the traditional first toast of a new country, and set up camp in a park at the center of town, on the water’s edge, called “Rainbow Park.” The irony was not lost on us.

Keep in mind, that we had spent 6 months of driving and camping in big, scary Mexico and not one bad thing happened. There wasn’t a single moment where we felt uneasy or as if we were at risk. We were in Belize for less than a few hours when a man approached our tent in the middle of the night. Our friends woke and chased him away but it was terrifying. And the night wasn’t over.

Fast forward a few more hours to sunrise, when another man parked his car as close to ours as possible. We looked out of our tent window to find him happily masturbating in our direction. He wasn’t deterred by discovery: he just waved, smiled, and kept going. It wasn’t the most welcoming experience.

Right then and there, Karin and I considered simply turning around and re-entering Mexico, traveling a few hours east, and going to Guatemala instead. I’m glad that is not the choice we made.

Instead, we continued forward with our friends, despite raw nerves and the sour taste in our mouths. On a trip like this, a day—and how you feel—can turn on a dime. Our second day in Belize was full of adventure, backroads, and hand-cranked ferry crossings.

We arrived at our next campsite, a place called Backpacker’s Paradise, in Sartaneja. It was owned by a French woman named Nathalie. Walking to her office, I saw it, like a beacon: Everything I needed—a rainbow sticker on the door. As it turns out, Nathalie is a DJ and had DJ’d Belize’s only gay pride celebration, the previous year. She educated us about the growing gay movement in Belize and the brave people there fighting for equality. We were encouraged.

Over the following weeks, we explored the many towns and beaches of Belize. Towns bore names like Crooked Tree, Indian Church, and Orange Walk. We encountered our first, though certainly not our last, crocodile-infested rivers. We camped at the marina in Belize City and traveled to the islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro, we put our toes in as much white sand as possible, and we swam in as much blue water as our sunburnt skin could handle. We snorkeled and scuba-dived and ate fresh lobster brought in by fishermen on tiny boats. In Caye Caulker, the motto is “Go Slow!” and that is what Belize taught us to do … to be patient, to wait. Good things are almost always on the horizon.

This sort of trip, however, is nothing if not unpredictable and just as we were getting acclimated to the heat, sandflies, and salty air, we received news of a hurricane on the horizon. We were camped in the parking lot of a beachfront hotel in Placencia, a small coastal peninsula. Surrounded by water on all sides, we had no choice but to head to the mountains and look for shelter.

A little-known fact about Belize is that it has a large Mennonite population. And let me be the first to say, Mennonites make fantastic cheese. They also seemed to have the nicest and most affordable Airbnbs in Belize.

After buying groceries, liquor, and charging all devices, we set off for the mountain refuge we had found on a Mennonite cow farm. Upon arrival, we found a stunning, two-story chalet … that had absolutely no protection from the coming storm and was surrounded by large palm trees with plenty of coconuts that could be propelled like sky bombs!

The next several hours were spent boarding windows with whatever we could find and relocating our vehicle to the higher, palm-tree-free ground.

The storm was everything we had anticipated, wild and roaring. We lost power early in the night and did not regain it for three days. Roads flooded, livestock was lost, and many buildings lost roofs. Finally, after a week, the water receded and it was safe to travel.

Nathalie, the DJ from Backpacker’s Paradise, told us about Belize’s second-ever gay Pride celebration, scheduled for the following week. With trepidation, we decided to attend. We arrived in the city on the parade’s scheduled day and found neither rainbow flags nor drag queens. There was no thumpa-thumpa in the air and no glitter on the street.

I emailed Nathalie and asked what had happened. We were told that there had been violent protests because the US Embassy in Belize City flew a rainbow flag for Pride month. This bold action led to attacks against the local LGBT community. The celebration had been canceled.

Disheartened again, we returned to exploring and set out to make the best of our last days in Belize. We drove the famed Butterfly Highway and explored the ATM Caves. We learned how to open coconuts without spilling the water and that coconut oil mixed with baby oil is the best way to stave off mosquitos and sandflies. Nights were spent crab-hunting with pepperoni and paperclips (you had to be there).

Two days before we left Belize, the Belizean Supreme Court struck down their law against gay relationships, eliminating the final law of its kind in all of Central America. We were proud to be present in the country when it happened and, of course, had drinks to celebrate! Although Belize has a long way to go, this lifted some of the shadows that had been hanging over our time there.

Belize turned out to be a wonderful country with unmatched beauty, diverse in races, religions, and cultures. We do not regret going. The Belizean gay community exists, albeit quietly, and there are efforts to change Belizean attitudes. Progress will always happen. Love will always win. Everywhere.

Guatemala

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… So much happened during our time in the country known as Guate. We rode in our first tuk-tuks, swam in the pools of Semuc Champey, Karin almost died tubing on the rapids of the Cahabón river, and we visited towns so numerous that we can’t name them all.

We camped at a coffee farm on the side of a volcano, celebrated Halloween and thanksgiving with friends, witnessed the Burning of the Devil, and worked out at the gym with the Costa Rican rugby team. We became close friends with a chocolate-making Mayan priestess and the owner of Frida’s Restaurant—a mecca for gays in Guatemala—went to Gay Pride in Guatemala City, and spent six weeks nursing our sweet dog, Gracie, back to health when her intestinal cancer took a turn for the worse.

Guatemala’s country motto should be, “Expect nothing because nothing will be what you expect.” We expected so little that we only planned for a few weeks in Guatemala. Five months later, we were considering moving there.

Guatemala was similar to neither Mexico nor Belize. Just over 60 percent of Guatemala’s population is of mixed Amerindian-Spanish descent. The remaining 40 percent belong to one of 23 Mayan ethnic groups, making Guatemala one of the countries with the largest indigenous populations in Latin America.

Except in large cities, most women wear traditional Mayan outfits, unique to the towns and villages they are from. Outrageous and campy chicken buses line every road. There are a few well-maintained highways but by and large the “roads” of Guatemala were in far worse shape than anywhere we had been thus far.

We began our trip into Guatemala by stopping in Flores, a small town in the middle of a lake that seems to be every traveler’s introduction to the Guate way of life. Flores was more developed and metropolitan than we had expected—most travel around Flores is done by way of tuk-tuks or small boats called lanchas.

Most people visit several ruins, particularly Tikal, while in Guatemala, but we had seen so many in Mexico and Belize that we just couldn't take any more for a while. From Flores, we headed south to a volcano-fed (there are seven active volcanoes in Guatemala and 26 inactive ones) hot spring, called the Cascades de Paraiso, that turned into a boiling waterfall feeding into a cool pool.

Guatemala was not as well set up for camping as Mexico and Belize had been. The weather was scorching, the air was sticky. I was homesick. This was all a recipe for the complete meltdown I had, almost ending our trip early. But, it wasn't the first, wouldn't be the last, and at times like this all you can do is call home, cry, get a hotel room or Airbnb, take a hot shower, sleep in a real bed, shake it off and keep going.

We needed something amazing, scenery that would blow us away. After seven hours of the roughest road of our trip to date (and one of my favorite adventures!), we finally made it into the town of Lanquin where we set up camp at a hostel called Utopia.

The next day we hiked to the remote and hidden world wonder that is Semuc Champey. A series of crystal blue mineral pools that have formed a limestone bridge over a raging river, it is easily one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

From Semuc Champey we went to a few other small towns and then to Lake Atitlan, known to be a spiritual energy center, the lake, surrounded by three volcanoes, is full of American hippies and new-ageists. The lake is said to have magical healing properties. Here, we attended a cacao ceremony, practiced yoga and enjoyed silence—this trip gave us the opportunity to explore all the sides of ourselves that the real world had little patience for.

After a couple of weeks at the lake we were ready for a city and past ready for an Airbnb. To Antigua we went. The colonial city, seated at the base of a volcano, is popular among artists, writers, and, frankly, the most interesting people we met our entire trip. Full of beautiful, grand old buildings, some ravaged by earthquakes but still standing, and cobblestone streets, Antigua is miles and miles of wondrous walkability.

We could feel it in the air—the high vibrato a city gives off when there are gays nearby. We just had to find them. We joined the local Facebook page for expats and asked where we could find our people. Across the board, every commenter pointed us in one direction—to Frida’s Restaurant and its owner, Maggie.

Frida’s hosts weekly dance parties and a once a month VIP Night, specifically for the gays. And wow, do the gays come out! We also learned of five other gay bars in Antigua, far more than we expected for such a small city. On a particularly random VIP Night at Frida’s, we ran into Daniela Sea, “Max” from *The L Word*.

In Antigua, we also met GG, a wise and mouthy photographer from Brooklyn who relocated to Antigua a couple of decades ago, only to become a Mayan priestess and launch her chocolate-making empire. With GG, we hiked barefoot in the sacred mountains outside of Antigua. She taught us enough Mayan words to say hello, goodbye and to offer someone a ride into town.

Antigua was the second place on our trip (Guadalajara, Mexico being the first) that we felt could be a potential forever-home. With Antigua as our base, we explored the southern beaches of Guatemala, with black sand and freezing water, and visited the nearby city of Xela, which blew our minds with the rainbow “gay friendly business” stickers on retail storefronts.

It was difficult to leave Antigua. We lived in a nice apartment for the majority of our time there. A personal trainer was $8 an hour for both of us, so we went to the gym daily. We had friends, straight and gay, we went hiking and exploring regularly. It was comfortable without being predictable. Under the care of a talented veterinarian, Gracie thrived again. The people welcomed us into their daily lives and it was easy to feel at home.

However, after five months and with heavy hearts, it was time to move on. It was time for El Salvador. Don’t Go There. It’s Not safe. You’ll Die. These were the worried cries from friends and family when they found out we were heading to the murder capital of the world, home of the infamous MS-13.

After a laidback border crossing, we made our way down the Ruta de Flores (the Route of Flowers) towards our first destination, the sleepy surf village of El Zonte in La Libertad.

El Salvador

El Salvador continued to teach us the most repeated lesson of the trip: that we know nothing, about anything at all. We found no heads hanging from bridges, no masked men lurking behind every corner. We heard no gunshots and in the six weeks we spent in El Salvador, never once did we feel unsafe.

El Salvador was quiet, laidback, stunning and unassuming. Its people were friendly, welcoming and grateful that we were there, giving their beautiful country a chance. They know its reputation and it saddens them.

Gracie was recovering from the surgery she had in Guatemala, and we knew our sweet girl’s time on this Earth was getting short. We were determined to fill her days with runs on the beach and swims in the ocean. Her nights would be full of treats and belly rubs around a campfire.

In El Salvador, we camped on the beaches of El Tunco and El Cuco. We each tried

our hand at surfing. Neither of us were very good at it. We spent quiet days at the Laguna de Alegria, a turquoise lake in a crater on the top of a mountain. We watched a baby turtle release.

Because real, day to day life is part of this kind of fulltime travel, I needed to see a doctor for swimmer’s ear and the car needed some attention. This meant we would have to go into the city of San Salvador, said to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Looking back, our fear and trepidation makes me laugh out loud. We found San Salvador to be clean, modern, hipster, metropolitan, and, generally, safe. Our first meal was at an Olive Garden. That is not to say there aren’t suburbs of the city or areas at night that we would recommend not walking around.

We stayed in a health-centered, yoga hotel for the couple of weeks we were there. While Guatemala was defined by chaos, El Salvador was defined by chill. It was “muy tranquilo, siempre.”

Tune in next month for the final installment of our four-part series about the Vagabroads 2-year journey through Mexico and Central America. We will tell you about staring into the caldera of an active volcano in Nicaragua, then surfing down the side of it, almost sliding to our death off of a jungle mountain in Costa Rica, and swimming with sloths in the islands of Panama.

El Salvador was difficult to leave. With its cliffs, warm ocean waters, soft sands, pupusas, and modern capital city, it had all of the makings for a long-term or even permanent stay. There is no telling how long we may have lingered if not for a housesit in the southern zone of Costa Rica that we had secured.

Housesitting is one of the tools we learned to use for more affordable and interesting travel. Essentially, there are websites that you subscribe to that allow you to connect with families that need people to watch their homes while they are away. Sometimes this involves taking care of pets or pools and gardens, but usually, it’s just maintaining a presence in the home.

The downside: there were two countries between El Salvador and Costa Rica—Honduras and Nicaragua—and we had roughly 7 weeks to get thru them.

We made the decision to explore Honduras on our route home, and for the first time, we crossed more than one international border in a single day, reaching Nicaragua late in the afternoon. On our way to the border, we also experienced our first real shakedown by the local police. We had been stopped and harassed before but had always been able to quickly diffuse the situation, usually with laughter. This was different.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t scary, we weren’t being threatened, but this police officer was standing his ground and insisting that we were breaking a variety of laws. We weren’t. In these situations, the most important rules are that you are in no hurry and that you speak as little Spanish as possible. Once again, this proved to be the right strategy, and we went on our way, reaching the border with little delay.

To this point in our trip, we had experienced heat—sweaty, sticky, heat. What we had not experienced was the standing-at-the-gates-of-hell-begging-to-be-let-in-to-escape-the-heat kind of heat that we found in Nicaragua. Y’all, it was HOT.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua is home to the famed “ring of fire,” a giant circle of active volcanoes. Our first night was spent camping next to the youngest active volcano in Central America, Cerro Negro. The next morning, a grueling hike on steamy, black gravel brought us to the top, where we put on heat-resistant suits and rode heavy wooden boards (volcano boarding) back to the bottom. It was a bucket-list experience, one that I’m glad we did and that I probably don’t need to do again.

We made the most of our short time in Nicaragua, visiting several volcanoes and many beaches along the famed Mosquito Coast. For the second time on our journey, we camped among howler monkeys. Nicaraguan howler monkeys were smaller and less aggressive than the howlers we had encountered in southern Mexico, but they

were more abundant. It was hard to walk under any tree without fear of a monkey urinating in your direction.

The tourist centers of Nicaragua are the sleepy, surf town of San Juan Del Sur (SJDS) and the colonial city of Granada. SJDS is breathtaking, with warm blue waters and surrounding cliffs lit up by hillside homes. We tried our hand again at surfing and were not much better at it.

In SJDS we came face to face with crocodiles for the first time since Belize and had to abandon several potential campsites because of hand-scrawled signs saying things in Spanish like “Lagartos Peligroso!” or “Dangerous Lizards!” We knew what that meant.

In Granada, we stayed at a grand hotel owned by an elderly American woman who spent her free time traveling by motorcycle through Mongolia and creating independent films. Granada, an artist mecca, has a healthy gay community, complete with a gaggle of drag queens passing by us towards a party we became eager to find.

In Nicaragua, no matter where we went, there was music playing, the smells of traditional foods in the air, neighbors socializing, senior citizens sitting in rocking chairs on the sidewalks, all side-by-side with abject poverty – the result of a people egregiously neglected by their own government. It was the first place we encountered where being poor truly equated to poverty and hopelessness.

Finally, we headed south again, to Costa Rica. We had been to Costa Rica previously, on short vacations. It was the country that inspired us to travel thru the rest of Central America. Coming back felt like the closing of a circle—a return to the beginning.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica never disappoints. Although it is touristy, the real Costa Rica is as vibrant with local culture and can be as inexpensive as many of the other countries we had visited. Within seconds of crossing the border, the leaves became greener, the air became cooler, and the roadside tropical fruits became more abundant.

We were excited about the house sitting in Costa Rica because it was a mansion, with a pool, on a jungle mountain, overlooking the ocean—by far, our fanciest housesit to date. But we had a few weeks left to explore before needing to head south.

We began on the Nicoya Peninsula. I contacted a guy that I had been following on Instagram, a Costa Rican overlander named Christopher. I suggested to him that we go camping together at his favorite off-the-beaten-path spots.

Christopher spoke very little English and us, very poor Spanish but despite this fact and him knowing nothing about us, he drove four hours to meet us the next day, and we spent the next several days camping in some of the most beautiful and memorable places of our trip.

This is the biggest distinction between the people we met in Central America and the United States: there is an openness and trustfulness that we, as a culture, simply do not have. So many times, we pulled up to the home of a stranger and asked if we could camp in their yard for a night, and never once were we turned away. Often, we were invited inside for dinner and given Wi-Fi passwords or a plug to charge our laptops. The hospitality was endless.

After our time on the Nicoya, we headed for the city of San José. Before this journey, we had paid close attention to the safety warnings and advice of others to stay clear of San Jose, but now we had learned that those warnings are almost never accurate and often meant missing out on the best experiences. San José was no exception. IT IS A GREAT CITY. It has a vibrant restaurant and art scene, with more than forty gay bars and dance clubs and gay couples openly holding hands on the street.

From San Jose, we did the surrounding, more well-known tourist activities like Arenal Volcano and Lake, the cloud forest at Montevideo, and Manuel Antonio, another LGBTQ hotspot where we stayed at an all-gay resort called the Villa Roca. Although catering predominantly to men, when we showed up we were welcomed and immediately became the belles of the ball.

Oh, and there were more crocodiles. Costa Rica is the wildlife epicenter of Central America. Scarlet macaws fill the skies and treetops, iguanas run in and out of buildings at will, and sloths are regularly seen hanging from electrical wires. Toucans zoom past your face like fighter jets heading to battle. And monkeys GALORE: white-faced capuchins, small squirrel monkeys, playful spider monkeys, and, of course, howler monkeys.

Finally, we reached our destination of Dominicál. Dominicál features beautiful beaches and is heavily populated with Americans into new age, “conscious” philosophies and practices.

As I’ve said before, this trip was a unique opportunity to explore the parts of yourself that the real world has so little patience for. While in Dominicál, we did a lot of yoga, slathered ourselves in volcanic blue clay, and swam in crystal clear rivers, and I participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony that changed my life (for the better). We also tried, at the prompting of our raw-vegan chef housemate, a completely raw diet. I was cynical but after seven weeks of eating this way, with the abundant tropical fruits and vegetables of Costa Rica, I can say I’ve never felt healthier.

Before leaving Costa Rica, we traveled to the Caribbean side of the country, Puerto Viejo, with all of the islander, and rasta culture of Belize, but none of the sketchiness. From there, we ventured down to Bocas del Toro in Panama, where we stayed in a jungle treehouse overlooking crystal blue waters.

Upon our return to Costa Rica, we went to the Bahia de Drake, a peninsula and protected area that can only be reached by boat. We spent a total of 90 days in Costa Rica and two weeks in Panama. Having breathed in more freedom and personal growth than I can explain, we were not ready to leave. We tried everything to extend our car import permit for a longer stay but it proved impossible. With the Darien Gap between us and South America, the only thing left to do was turn around, head north and do it all again.

To learn more about our journey and upcoming adventures (Canada and South America are next up!), please follow us on Instagram @thevagabroads, or check out our website www.vagabroads.com. We have a book coming out next month called I Can. I Will: Women Overlanding the World, which can be purchased through the website.

Photo courtesy of KimChi Chic Beauty

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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Photo courtesy of ANIRUDH on Unsplash

Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.