Jennifer Diaz has always had a strong sense of adventure. Raised in the resort town of Coeur d’Alene in the mountains of northern Idaho, she hiked and camped weekly every summer. A shared love of travel was one of the things that attracted her to her husband, Biloxi native and now-former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz. She calls it “the travel gene.” The Germans- who seem to have a word for everything- call it “wanderlust.”
Travel has been a constant in the Diazs’ 36-year relationship, and as they have raised their family, they have tried to instill and nurture wanderlust in their children. They travel over holidays almost every year. “Several years ago, Jennifer and I decided that we wanted to give our kids experiences rather than things for Christmas,” Oliver explained in a December 2015 Facebook post. “We decided that making memories and sharing our love of travel and adventure was how we wanted to spend our holidays with our children.”
Now that both of their children are out of the house, the couple decided to surrender even more to their wanderlust and see the world while they still could. “We have always enjoyed traveling and like many others have dreamed of traveling the world,” Oliver says. “We have had friends who have gotten sick and they are no longer able to travel. We decided that we should travel now while we still have our health. Many places we want to go require certain physical abilities.”
They decided to begin in South America, and set off in September 2017 with little more than a broad outline in mind. “We planned to travel in South America for eight months,” Oliver explains. “Other than that, we did not plan the details. If we like a place we stay for a while. If we get tired of a place we move on. We know that we want to see certain things like Machu Picchu and we make our way there, but the details unfold as we travel. This allows us to be open to adventures we didn’t even know about in an area. We talk to other travelers and get suggestions and advice on the fly.”
They flew from New Orleans to Cartagena, Columbia. They visited cities, villages and a lot of wilderness before meeting their children in Santiago, Chile, for Christmas and New Year’s. Oliver and Jennifer then continued through South America until late spring. By the time they returned to the United States in May 2018, they had visited eight countries: Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
They departed for their second leg in September 2018, flying from New Orleans to Paris, France. They toured France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco before returning in December. They kept a blog and have both made regular Facebook posts along the way to keep friends and family updated.
Their adventures have been remarkable. They hiked up to glaciers in the Columbian Andes and went all the way down to Patagonia, the tip of South America. They hiked the Camino de Santiago- a pilgrims’ trail though Western Europe to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great- in France and Spain. They visited museums and cathedrals. They slept in five-star resorts, clean-ish hostels, and under the stars in sleeping bags. They saw humpback whales and even the Pope (although not in the same place).
Interestingly, Oliver says the highlights of the trips for him haven been the people he and his wife have met along the way. “Fellow travelers are generally interesting people who have something in common,” he notes. These fellow travelers have included Ivan, a 24-year-old from Mexico City who helped them navigate both the bureaucracy and the hiking trails of the Columbian Andes, and Alberto, the Medellin resident they met in Cartagena who took them with his family on a four-day excursion into coffee country. They also made friends with several fellow hikers along the Camino de Santiago.
The adventure has not been without its perils. After a particularly difficult hike in El Cocuy National Park in Columbia where Jennifer suffered from altitude sickness and the hikers were caught in a driving rainstorm, they returned to less-than-appealing conditions in a hostel where they were lodging. Jennifer wrote in the blog: “I was distraught, and wanted to get out of my wet clothes and into a warm shower. I was sure that I was hypothermic. (Oliver) helped me to our room and as we crossed the threshold we had to step over fresh wet chicken droppings. I started to break down and sob all over again.”
The next day was better. One of the things they learned as they traveled was that joy was often found in the little and the unexpected. When this would happen, Jennifer writes that she and Oliver would give each other a “mucho gusto” look. “We do this at least twice a day,” she wrote in their blog. “It usually happens after we order something in a restaurant and we are pleasantly surprised with what we ordered.”
The couple spent Christmas and New Year’s at home this year with family and friends, but look forward to jumping back into their adventure. “Americans are stuck in a cycle of working and paying bills and trying to make ends meet,” says Oliver. “There is so much more to life than this if you are only open to it.”