By Mallory Sherwood, Managing Editor
It wouldn’t have been a normal summer for most people, but for Aaron Bell sailing in Honduras, backpacking through Central America and hitchhiking across the United States and Canada was just another collection of stories to add to the rest of his adventures.
“I think I would just call it living,” Bell said, “or maybe living adventurously.”
His summer began when a family he met while hitchhiking in Key West, Fla., last summer invited him to sail with them along the Honduran coast.
The family was sailing around the world from New Zealand when he met them more than a year ago. Bell said he had no idea how long they had been sailing but that after their sail through Honduras, they would only have a year and a half left of their journey.
Happy for a place to begin his own journey, Bell agreed and set off three days after finals ended in May to sail in Honduras for five weeks.
Bell, junior communication major from Van, began traveling like this beginning at age 18, when he drove with a group of friends to California, so he knew what to pack. In his book bag he packed three shirts, two pairs of shorts, water shoes, snorkeling gear and four books he would later trade throughout his journey for books from other travelers at hostels in Central America.
While other students furiously hunted for jobs and saved money, Bell learned to sail a 50-foot sailboat, tutored two elementary girls in math, saw mountains on the coastline, swam 60 feet under turquoise water, watched eight killer whales swim beside the sailboat, was chased by four pit bulls off the coast of the president of Honduras’ island and was certified in scuba diving.
“What else would I do? Work? No,” Bell said. “A lot of people think they need to work to make money they are just going to waste on other things. It’s a matter of priorities.”
Central American escapades
From Honduras, Bell traveled to Guatemala, backpacking by himself for two weeks until he met up with a friend.
Kyle Wheeler, from North Greenville College in Tigerville, S.C., the school Bell attended his freshman year, joined Bell in Costa Rica half way through the trek.
“This is what we do,” Wheeler said. “We don’t want to get jobs for the summer, so we travel.”
Bell said the buses are cheap enough in Central America and that there aren’t many cars for hitchhiking, so he could afford to travel by bus.
Wheeler said this style of traveling on a low budget and not knowing where he is going keeps him coming back each summer.
“We have no plans, so much freedom and we can live on the edge,” he said. “We’re not locked into anything and, because we’re college students, we can find so many ways to enjoy ourselves with nothing.”
Wheeler said that both he and Bell grew up in smaller towns where friends from high school usually remained to work at the local drug store or bank. He said they both grew up thinking there was more to life.
He also explained that this life style is part of Bell’s personality.
“Aaron is extroverted and not held back by the limitations that most are,” Wheeler said. “He’s a natural storyteller and always looking for a laugh.”
Both tell stories about their Central American adventure including these escapades: visiting an alligator farm in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, where the two were told to go catch their own alligators by climbing over a fence and chasing three to four foot alligators; touring a Chiquita banana plant in Panama; meeting the goal of living on a $3 per day budget, horseback riding through rivers and across the countryside and jumping off of 25-foot-high rope swings in Costa Rica into a creek with 70 other people.
Bell said the two visited seven different countries, not including their month-long journey through the United States, and traveled through all countries in Central America except Belize.
The two stayed in each place anywhere from one day to a week, depending on the environment of the hostel and what the area offered.
Once the two took a wrong bus and ended up on the opposite side of Costa Rica in a town where no one had seen tourists before, Bell said. He said they stayed in the only hotel in town, where rats the size of puppies lived and where the sheets looked as though they had never been cleaned.
“We set up our tents on top of our beds so we could sleep somewhere, and every time we came into the room, we would flip on the light switch, chase the rats around while trying to catch it on video,” Bell said.
Other places left more favorable memories, like the outdoors of Costa Rica.
Their favorite place was the city of La Fortuna, Costa Rica, which was built around a volcano, Wheeler said.
He said the city had natural springs, waterfalls in jungle-like locations and volcanoes everywhere and it was action-packed.
It was also a city where most everything they could do was free, such as exploring the active volcanoes with guides, and swinging off of rope swings into rivers alongside waterfalls.
“If it was free, we did it,” Wheeler said. “That was our only limitation.”
The concept of doing things for free explains why they both love to hitchhike and backpack through Central America without money.
“People should hitchhike because it’s free and because it is a story,” Wheeler said. “The story you bring back is just as important as what you’re actually doing there.”
And so they travel to gather stories because it could be their future.
Both Bell and Wheeler said their dream jobs are to be adventure book writers, writing about their hitchhiking experiences across countries and continents. But they plan on taking different routes to get there.
Bell said he wants to be a high school public speech teacher when he graduates, so he can have the summers off to travel.
Wheeler, senior English major with a Spanish minor, wants to teach English as a second language to teenagers in a different country.
“Living there would introduce me to a network of people, who hopefully, out of all that we meet, one could help me in the future,” Wheeler said. “Right now we’re just waiting and building our story banks.”
Both agree that becoming travel writers for a living will be hard to achieve, but think if others can dream of being rock stars, they can dream, too.
A story they like to tell is of the night they ate fish tacos.
The pair had been traveling in Panama for several days and had not eaten much in two days because they had to save money for a hostel, which cost $5, Bell said.
They were hungry and tired and had just reached their hostel for the evening, a dilapidated surf-style house with yellow plank wood, bamboo walls and surf boards everywhere.
Wheeler said four men ran the hostel but the owner was a friendly American who only wore a towel because it was his place, and he could.
They had just laid their belongings down in their room, when many of the others guests began cooking something.
“We followed our noses and asked how much it would be to eat whatever they were making,” Wheeler said.
The owner told them to let everyone who paid to eat first, and then they could eat the rest, which amounted to 12 fish tacos.
“It was amazing,” Bell said. “They were fish and that was weird, but it was so good because we hadn’t had a meal for a while that we kept eating until it was gone.”
Unicycling through America
After a month of backpacking through Central America, the two arrived in Dallas, where they spent 12 hours washing clothes at Bell’s house, before they headed with family friends to a wedding in Toledo, Ohio. Besides attending the wedding, the two planned to attend the National Unicycle Convention two weeks later in Bowling Green, Ohio, just an hour away.
Instead of hanging out in one place, though, the two began to hitchhike to meet up with friends they had met the summer before during their journey through the United States.
They met friends in Bowling Green, Ohio and then hitchhiked to South Bend, Indiana, where they met up with a friend Bell had met the summer before. From there, they traveled to Michigan and met another hitchhiking friend, climbed sand dunes and swam in Lake Michigan. They then traveled to Chicago, Ill., and back to Bowling Green, Ohio for the National Unicycle Convention.
At the convention, Bell played unicycle hockey, basketball and musical unicycles, a spin off musical chairs.
After the convention, Bell hitchhiked to Detroit, Mich., and Wheeler left to hitchhike back to South Carolina. Then Bell headed to Toronto and Niagara Falls in Canada and then to Pittsburgh, Pa., to meet another friend and where he was photographed for a photo competition.
“My preferred method of travel is hitchhiking because it is free, and you meet a lot of people, and everyone is nice,” Bell said. He said he keeps a journal of his adventures and estimates he caught 20 rides while touring the United States this summer.
He said that hitchhiking has grown on his family, and his mom dropped him at an interstate rest stop for his first summer-long hitchhiking trip.
“People always make excuses for the summer, like they have to work or don’t have money, but you just have to make it happen,” Bell said.
He makes it work by sleeping at airports, networking with others he has met who will offer him a place to stay, buying day-old baked goods at donut shops, making lei necklaces out of hibiscus flowers and climbing coconut trees to gather coconuts for tourists and selling them on the streets
“Really,” Bell said, “it’s all about dreams and making something of your life.”