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The Jordan Roundup

14 Aug

*Right now we should be somewhere around Upper Pisang on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal*

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  5

Cities/towns visited – Wadi Musa (Petra), Wadi Rum

Number of different lodgings – 2

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 3

Boat rides – 0

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 5

Days of rain – 0

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $603.57

Average cost per day, per person -$60.36

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.29  We only stayed in one hotel (3 nights) and our 4th night was spent in the desert outside of Wadi Rum as part of a Bedouin overnight trip.  We had our own room/bathroom with just a fan in Wadi Musa (Petra), which was totally fine since the temperature drops significantly at night.  Breakfast was included.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.50.  Breakfast was included at the hotel, and they offered a great packed lunch service for about $5 which we took with us every day to Petra, and on the day we left since we had such a long bus ride to get to Amman for our flight. During our desert trip, dinner and breakfast were included.  We ate dinner out the other nights, at local budget restaurants.

The Best

Petra.  It’s just awesome.  This was the main reason we came to Jordan, and we were not disappointed by these ruins.  It’s got a hefty price tag, but it was worth it.  Do yourself a favor and spend at least 2 days exploring the site, but skip the ‘Petra by Night’.

The Treasury at Petra

The Worst

Wadi Rum and the Bedouin Meditation Camp.  We kept hearing about how great a trip to Wadi Rum was, and how we just had to go and spend a night in a Bedoiun camp.  I believe the words “magical” were used.  Yeah, well, we didn’t get it.  The deal is you take a fairly standard jeep tour of the area, then you kick back for the evening at a Bedouin style camp, have dinner, and sleep under the stars.  These trips don’t come cheap. The desert was nice enough, but not much different from some of the other desert landscapes we’ve seen.  Our guide was less than interactive, which was a huge bummer, and the camp itself was filthy with leftover food from the last trip rotting on the tables and counters, half-drunk water bottles strewn about in the sand, and used tissues littering the seating area.

The best part was sleeping out under the stars, which really is pretty awesome and on a clear night you can see basically the entire universe.  For the price, nearly $60 per person for less than 24 hours, we just didn’t think it was worth it.

To be perfectly honest, the other major problem we had, even in the very short 5 days, was the way I (Ashley) was treated by many of the men we encountered.  In the 110 degree heat, I wore long pants, and a long sleeve button up shirt the entire time.  Despite this, I was leered at nearly constantly, with the exception of when we were inside Petra.  In addition, many men did things like wink and lick their lips at me, or made mildly obscene comments as they passed me.  All of this was done right in front of Justin, who was angered, but didn’t really know what to do to stop it.  I want to point out that not EVERY man we crossed paths with behaved this way, but it was enough that I was ready to leave on day 3.

On the first day, we shared a taxi from the border of Israel, to Wadi Musa (a 3 hour drive into the desert where Petra is located) with two single girls, one of whom chose to sit in the front seat for the long ride since she is prone to motion-sickness.  At one point the driver reached over to her and began to stroke her hair and her neck, and we had to ask him to pull over so she could switch seats with Justin who was with me in the back.  She too was in a long skirt and long sleeved shirt.  It was wildly inappropriate, and I found it very bold that he would behave this way with all of us, including Justin, in the car.  We would have gotten a new taxi if we hadn’t been out in the middle of nowhere.

I was disappointed by these situations and felt a bit defeated, especially since we’d heard so many lovely things about Jordan.

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The Israel Roundup

7 Aug

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  12

Cities/towns visited – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, Jerusalem, Bethlehem (in the Palestinian Territories), Eilat

Number of different lodgings – 5

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Trains – 3

Boat rides – 0

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 2

Bike rentals – 1

Days of rain – 0

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,157

Average cost per day, per person -$48.22

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $22

Most expensive lodging – Our Airbnb stay in Tel Aviv was $33.50 per person, per night, but it was well worth it since two beds in a dorm room there would have been only slightly less.  Through Airbnb we were able to stay in our own air-conditioned room, in a fantastic area, in the apartment of a lovely couple who helped make our time in Tel Aviv so much better than it would have been on our own.

Least expensive lodging – $15.75 per person for a dorm bed at Corrine Hostel.  It’s got some crappy reviews on the hostel sites, but we didn’t think it was that bad.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.25  We had to really cut back on the food spending to compensate for the cost of lodging.  This doesn’t mean we ate less, it just means we didn’t go out to restaurants generally.  It’s super easy to grab cheap and filling shwarmas and falafel all over the place.  For dinners we mostly cooked for ourselves, which really means we ate hummus and pita by the kilo, and went to the market for fresh tomato, cucumber, cherries, apricots and olives.  It was fantastic.

The Best

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – This is the world’s largest Holocaust museum and memorial.  We went on a Friday morning since it was one of the few tourist things open on Friday, and our biggest mistake was not giving ourselves enough time.  We spent nearly 3 hours here before we had to leave because the museum was closing, and we could have spent easily twice as long.   It’s the most organized and thorough museum we’ve ever been to.  There are dozens of short video narratives given by a number of survivors, and those were really the highlight for me.  Their stories are incredible and heartbreaking.  In addition, the museum has amassed a huge collection of person items salvaged from the camps, or thrown from the trains that took the victims to the death camps.  They do a very good job of bringing light to so many individual stories, as well as providing a thorough historical overview. Give yourself twice as much time as you think you’ll need, and bring a package of tissues.

In Akko you can visit ancient underground tunnels that were only recently re-discovered!

Akko – A smaller city north of Haifa that not as many tourists include in their plans.  Akko has a lovely old city that’s really worth visiting if you’re in the area.  We went for most of a day as a side trip from Haifa and had plenty of time to see most of the old city.  We also had some fantastic falafel from a street vendor there.

Green Bikes in Tel Aviv – Tel Aviv has recently implemented a new bike rental system similar to what London has done.  There are bike stands set up all over the city and you can pick them up and drop them off at your leisure.  You can rent by the day, week, or month, and it’s very affordable, even on a tight budget.  For less than $5 each we were able to pedal all over the city!

Taking a dip in the Dead Sea – Incredible!  We had read all the stories about how you simply can’t sink, but to experience it for ourselves was so much better than we anticipated.  You really can’t sink!  We had a blast covering ourselves in the mud and watching crazy lines of salt dry on our skin.

The Worst

Eilat.  We had heard that Eilat was fantastic from a number of people, but honestly, we weren’t impressed.  We snorkeled one day, which was nice, but other than that, we found it kind of ‘meh’.  It’s a good stopping point if you are travelling between Israel and either Jordan or Egypt, but we didn’t need more than a day there as there’s not a whole lot going on and the beaches aren’t anything to get excited about.

Being Careful in India

31 Jul

Our mantra whenever we get off a bus or a train in India has been,

“Nobody here is trying to help us.  Nobody here is our friend.”

Do I like this mantra?  No, not at all.  Is it true? Yes. Absolutely.

We’ve had to be cautious upon arriving in new cities all around the world, but it’s really been taken to a whole new level in India.  We’ve never been so absolutely inundated by touts and scam artists as we have been here.  From the second we step off the platform, and in some cases even before we’ve done that, we are bombarded with cries of “Where you go?  You have a hotel?  You are going the wrong way! This way sir! Madame! Over here! You need taxi? Come with me! You need rickshaw? Exit this way!”

Rickshaw and taxi drivers will claim your hotel is full, roach-infested or burned down just to get you to go to a place of their choosing.  If you insist on your original destination, they often refuse to take you or double their prices.  On the occasions that we aren’t swarmed by drivers wanting to take us somewhere other than where we intend, we are quoted absurd prices for travel.  We once had a team of men attempting to get us to take a rickshaw to our hotel for 150 rupees.  After a few minutes of searching around, we found a driver willing to take us and use the meter for the rate.  The cost was 21.

At the New Delhi train station, one of India’s major transport hubs that has a fantastic foreign tourist ticketing office, the scams are so thick that the tourist office has signs all over the place warning you to not pay attention to those who attempt to lead you astray.

Scammers will attempt to steer you away from the tourist office and into a travel agency where you will be bamboozled into buying train tickets for far more than the actual ticket cost.  If you are particularly uninformed they may convince you that there is no train to your destination and you might wind up handing over absurd amounts of money for flights, luxury bus services, or totally unnecessary private car transport.  Another common scheme is to try to stop tourists at the security checkpoints and tell them that their train tickets need to be ‘validated’ for a hefty fee or you won’t be allowed to board.  There are dozens more tales of travelers being manipulated as they attempt to board trains – your train has been cancelled, your train is not longer going to this stop, your train is delayed 22 hours…come with me, I can help you make other arrangements!

Recently we had two separate sets of people attempt to tell us we were headed towards the ‘wrong’ exit for the train station upon arriving in Jodhpur, despite the enormous “EXIT” signs we were following, and the fact that literally everyone was headed the same direction.  Justin laughed heartily in the faces of these touts and we kept going our own way.

In another instance, we had gotten off a bus at a fairly large terminal, and I needed to use the bathroom.  As I walked up to the clearly marked women’s restroom, a man ran in front of me carrying a table.  He put it down right in front of me and demanded I pay him to go in.  I refused and walked away.  We’ve had to pay numerous times to use restrooms, but this time just seemed like extortion.  I really did need to go, so I went to the station manager’s office, asked where the bathroom was, and asked if there was a charge.  I was directed back to the bathroom I originally tried to use, and told that no, there was not a charge.  When I went back, the guy was nowhere to be seen so I went in.  As I was closing the stall door the man ran in after me and tried to come into the stall, demanding I pay him.  I yelled “NO! GET OUT!” and pushed back on the door harder than he expected, causing it to slam in his face. Justin came storming in as this was happening and dragged the guy out of there to the station managers office where he confirmed, no, we didn’t have to pay.

*I wrote this post and the next day we went to visit the Amber Fort near Jaipur and the bathroom thing happened AGAIN!  This time though, there was a huge sign right in front that announced it as a free bathroom, and a woman inside still tried to insist I had to pay her to go in.  Unreal. *

This kind of thing is both exhausting, and infuriating.

Hence our mantra.

One way to avoid the hassle of haggling with rickshaw or taxi drivers is to go to the pre-paid stands that are just outside most airports and trains stations.  Even then, you need to stay on your toes as we learned just minutes after arriving in Mumbai.  We had gone to the pre-paid taxi stand at the airport, where we were told it would be 480 Rupees to get where we needed.  It wasn’t until we were out of the terminal and into the taxi that we looked more closely at the receipt and realized it should have been 430.  The woman at the counter had written the ‘3’ so it looked sort of like an 8, and when we added up the charges, sure enough, it was 430.  Lesson learned – pre-paid services can be handy, but check the receipt CAREFULLY before you hand over your cash.

At this point, we try to always have a plan for where we are going before we even begin the journey to our next stop.  We contact local hotels and ask what we should be paying in a taxi or rickshaw to get to them.  When we’re in doubt or need help the ONLY place we go is to the police or the tourist office.  If someone tries to check our tickets, or charge an entrance fee for something, we only allow them to do so if they are in uniform, in an official booth, or if the guidebook says there is a fee.  If those things aren’t in place, we ask a security guard, police officer, or station manager if we should be paying extra.

It can be extremely aggravating, but by following these steps we think we’ve managed to avoid the worst of the scams, at least so far.

The Turkey Roundup

18 Jul

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  25

Cities/towns visited – Istanbul, Goreme, Kahta, Sanliurfa, Harran, Olympos, Selcuk, Kusadasi, Pammukale

Number of different lodgings – 9

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 11

Boat rides – 3

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 13

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $2,445

Average cost per day, per person -$49

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.63 – We generally stayed in private rooms, often with our own bathroom, but in simple guesthouses.  In Istanbul we stayed in dorms because of the high lodging cost.

Most expensive lodging – Shoestring Cave House in Goreme for $22.50 per person.  This was our splurge because we wanted to stay in a cave hotel, of which there are zillions to choose from.  You can do this much cheaper if you want to stay in a dorm.  We ended up being upgraded for free to the penthouse room with our own balcony that looked out over the town and surrounding countryside.  There was a good breakfast included, wifi, and a pool.

Least expensive lodging –  Dorm bed at Red River Hostel for $11.00 per person.  This was a good little hostel, brand new, near the Galata Tower in Istanbul.  It’s a bit off the main roads, so it’s nice and quiet, but still right in the area you want to be in.  Breakfast was included, and there was wifi.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $13.50 – Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed, but we ate out for pretty much all dinners and most lunches.  The food was such an interesting change from S. America that we couldn’t help ourselves!  You could probably cut this number in half if you stuck to kebabs or wraps, self catered some lunches, and ate at really basic places for dinner.

Best

The beach at Olympos

Olympos – The tiny village of Olympos is on the southern coast, near Antalya.  The thing that makes it so great is that it combines two of our favorite things – Ancient historic ruins, and awesome beaches.  At the end of the main road, which is really just a string of lodgings on a dirt path, is the ancient ruined city of Olympos, which dates back to, well, a very very long time ago.  You can wander around in the ruins for a small entrance fee and at the end is a gorgeous stretch of beach on the Mediterranean.

If you’re there for a few days, buy the 10 entrance pass, it’ll save you a bundle since you have to pay to enter the ruins even if you are really just headed to the beach.  Many accommodations include breakfast and dinner.  We were there at the very beginning of June, just before the peak season hit, and had perfect weather, and a fairly peaceful stay.  We hear it gets slammed in the summer, so if you are looking for a more laid-back time you should stick to the shoulder seasons.

Muze Pass in Istanbul – This was the best deal we’ve gotten on sightseeing in ages.  The Muze Pass gets you into a heap of different attractions in Istanbul and is valid for 72 hours.  If you get to 5 places, you’ll get your money’s worth, and if you hit up at least 6, you’ll be saving yourself some cash.  You can buy it at any one of the attractions, and having it lets you skip the sometimes obscenely long ticket lines.

Vardar Pension in Selcuk – Most places we stayed in Turkey were pretty good, but we liked Vardar Pension in particular.  Breakfast was served on the roof terrace, which had a great view of the countryside.  They provided nice fluffy towels, each room had a little balcony space with ample laundry lines, and the mattresses were temperpedic-like and super comfortable.  Finally, the bathrooms were IMMACULATE.  That rarely happens, and I really appreciate having a bathroom where I don’t feel like I have to wear my flip-flops to shower.  It was also very well located, right down the block from where the bus drops off, a half-block to the local markets, and walkable distance to all the ancient sites in town. The family who runs it is kind and accommodating, which is just a bonus at this point.

Tomatoes and cherries – Literally the best tomatoes and cherries we’ve ever had.  We bought them all the time from the fruit and veg stands.  We were there starting from mid-May, so perhaps it was the right season, but still….amazing. You can get more than 2 pounds of cherries for about $1.50!!!!

Justin totally made friends with the fruit stand guys

Pictures are just so much easier…

Ozturk Restaurant in Istanbul – Galipdede Cad #72, near the Galata Tower – This is really a pretty standard type of place, but it has consistently good food (we ate there three times…) and won’t break your budget.  We were drawn to it initially because the menus are actual photos of the food.  Normally this would make me avoid a place, but when you can’t figure out what anything on the menu is, it’s a lifesaver.  The mincemeat pide is particularly good.

Getting scrubbed at the Hamam – Hamams are old-school bathhouses that are found all over Turkey.  They come in every variation imaginable, from the super basic local operations to uber-expensive spas that cater to wealthy tourists.  The gist of it is that you go in, get mostly naked (they give you a little modesty towel for walking around in), get a mud mask, relax in a sauna for a bit, lay down on a marble slab, get covered in bubbles, and get the top 14 layers of your skin scrubbed off by a burly Turkish woman (or if you are a man, you get a male attendant) who may or may not shake a mitt full of your dead skin in your face and chastise you for being so filthy. Afterwards you can usually go for a swim or another round in the sauna.  I know, it sounds odd, but I swear, it was fantastic.  You can also get massages and facial treatments at most places.

Triple scoop dipped in pistachio. Justin is in heaven

Mado Ice Cream – I am fairly certain their secret ingredient is crack.  Justin and I both agree that this is hands down, the best ice cream we’ve ever had.  That’s right, ever.  It’s a traditional ice cream made with goat’s milk, kept in a big metal bin, and dished out on a huge stick by a guy who seemed to hate his job.  There are LOADS of imposter ice creams that are served in the same fashion all over Turkey, but the original, and clearly the best (we know, we sampled…a lot) is Mado.  On our Mount Nemrut tour it was actually a specific stop in the little town it originated in to taste it at the source.  We weren’t supposed to stop there again on the way home, but we all begged the guide and driver and they finally relented.

Worst

We don’t have much to say here about places or activities in specific.  There were things that were just ‘meh’, like the tour we took to Mount Nemrut…and really that’s just because we had a lapse in judgment and forgot how much we dislike being with tour groups…but otherwise, nothing stood out as really terrible.

Perhaps the thing that annoyed us the most was how despite the fact that most of the tourist parts of Turkey are pretty well organized, there is still a huge issue with littering, especially on the beach.  People just leave garbage ALL OVER the beach.  It’s awful.  Beaches where you pay to have a chair have guys that pick up everyone’s trash, but we watched numerous sets of people just leave all their garbage behind on the free beaches (including newspapers, food scraps, soda cans, etc) when they left.  We picked up after a bunch of people, but it really pissed me off that we were at this amazing place and there was such a lack of give-a-shit about leaving your trash everywhere.

The Ecuador Roundup

19 Jun

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  16

Cities/towns visited – Banos, Lago Agrio, Cuyabano (rainforest reserve area), Quito, Otovalo

Number of different lodgings – 4

Bus journeys –  21

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 3

Boat rides – 8 short rides

Days of rain – 4

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,295

Average cost per day, per person – $40.50

Average lodging cost per person, per night – $11  We generally stayed in private rooms with our own bathroom.  Staying in dorms would have cut our costs a little, but not enough for us to deal with the hassle of sleeping in a room full of randoms.

Most expensive lodging – $11.50/person for a double room with a shared bath in Quito

Least expensive lodging – $8/person for a kinda gross dorm room with a shared bath in Quito

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $15.51  We had some splurge meals that upped this total, you could get by easily on half this cost for a food budget if you stuck totally to cheap set lunches and street meat for dinner.  We were pretty sick of soup, rice, potatoes and low-end meat by this point though so we opted to spend a little more and get a better variety/quality of food.

Our biggest budget buster was a 4 day trip to the Amazon, which set us back about $450, and was so totally worth it.  We booked our trip through an agency in Banos, and ended up at the Jamu Lodge, which I’d highly recommend.  All our food and lodging costs were included for those days, along with an English speaking guide and all the activities.

The Best

HostelTraveller’s Inn in Quito.  Rooms are a good price, spotless, and a huge breakfast is included.  They also have a happy hour with $1 big beers, though keep track of your tab or pay as you go, we were charged for at least 4 more beers than we really had.

Food – The encebollado soup (like a seafood and onion soup, sounds odd, but is DELICIOUS) at Picanteria y Restaurante Tiburon on Gyuaquil at Montufar in Quito.  A gigantic bowl of soup will set you back about $3.50 and comes with a little bowl of popcorn and plantains.

TourJamu Lodge 4 day Amazon tour.  I’ve said before that we don’t generally do tours but you can’t go to the Cuyabeno Amazon Reserve without a tour.

Rainforest waters at sunset

It’s a protected area of primary rainforest, and had we known how much we’d love it, we would have done a week there.  We heard you see more animals on a pampas tour in Bolivia, and compared to jungle treks there, that may be true…but I can’t imagine seeing much more wildlife than we saw in the 4 days we were on this trip.  There were multiple species of monkey, pink river dolphins, caimans, anacondas (2!), all kinds of birds and fish and bugs and and and and and!

A brave friend attempts to lick a giant “spiney lobster cricket”….blech!

The lodge was very well run, clean, and comfortable.  Our guide, Dario, was excellent.  The food was good and plentiful.  We got a better price than on their website by booking in Banos, though we didn’t realize it was a better price until later.  There are a variety of different lodges you can visit, so check out your options before you book.  They all seem relatively similar though, and are all located in the same general area.  I’ll write a full post about it eventually, but if you are on the fence about a jungle tour while in Ecuador, just do it!  It ranks in the top 5 things we did in South America for sure.

The Worst

The bus rides.  People say Bolivian buses are bad, but I’m telling you, we had worse rides in Ecuador than we ever did in Bolivia.  Cramped seating, a total lack of air conditioning or circulation, and maniac drivers that I thought were about to drive us right of off the cliff’s edge numerous times.  The absolute worst ride we had in all of South America was an overnight bus from Banos to Lago Agrio that was so cramped even I had my knees smashed into the seat in front of me.  No one would open their windows and it was horribly hot and humid.  They also oversold the bus so there were people actually laying in the isles for the whole ride.  It sucked.

The Bolivia Roundup

11 Jun

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  19

Cities/towns visited – Tupiza, Uyuini, Potosi, La Paz, Coroico, Copacabana, Isla del Sol and various little settlements in the southwestern part during our jeep tour.

Number of different lodgings – 10

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 3 plus a 4 day jeep tour.

Days of rain – 3

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1497.36

Average cost per day, per person (excluding the visas, which cost $135 each) – $32.30

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $8 – We were able to spend most nights in private rooms with private bathrooms.

Most expensive lodging – Both places we stayed in La Paz (Hotel Avenida, and the Adventure Brew B&B) were about $11.40 per person for a private room with private bathroom.  Adventure Brew was a much better deal as they had consistent wi-fi, pancakes for breakfast, and a free beer every night.

Least expensive lodging – $3.50 per person in a nameless hostel in Coroico.  We had a 3 person room with a shared bathroom.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.35 We ate out for every meal, and drank like fish. We had a mix of street food and restaurant meals, as well as a healthy amount of snacks… usually in the form of pastry.

Best

Hostel Adventure Brew B&B in La Paz.  There are two Adventure Brews, almost right next door to each other.  We stayed in the B & B because it was more chilled out than the actual hostel.  We had a private room/bathroom for $11.40 per person including a pancake breakfast (REAL pancakes!) and a free beer for each person every night.  They had the most consistent internet of anywhere we stayed in Bolivia.

Food – The food in Bolivia gets a bad rap, but truth be told, we ate pretty well there.  Perhaps it’s that we went in with very low expectations.  Maybe it’s just that the value is just so great.  It could be that half of what we ate was pastry, which was delicious.  Whatever it is, we have lots to say in the ‘food’ category!

Falafel at La Mia Pizza in La Paz – A hole in the wall that serves some pretty good falafel at cheap prices (15 Bolovianos for one huge sandwich).  It’s on Calle Illampu near the corner of Santa Cruz.  It’s just past a big outdoor/camping shop.  Look for the crowd of hippies outside.

4060 in Potosi, Bolivia.  Named for the altitude of the city (incidentally, Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4,060 meters, which is 13,320 feet!), the food at 4060 is definitely one of the better meals we had in our last 6 weeks in South America.  It’s a tad pricey for Bolivia, which means a plate will cost you about $8.  They have a big variety of dishes, both local and international, as well as a variety of smoothies and desserts to choose from.  It’s just off the main plaza, going uphill on Hoyos.

Alamos  in Tupiza on Avaroa Santa Cruz –

This massive heap of food cost all of about $3!

The food here is average for Bolivia, but the portions are gigantic and the prices are dirt cheap. The biggest draw for me was the décor…which was insane.  Walking into Alamos was like stepping into another dimension.  There are knick-knacks everywhere, most of which are western themed.  A huge steer skull with glowing green lights in the eye sockets stares down at patrons from the top of a wall that is plastered with publicity photos of celebrities, photos of tourists sitting in the booths, old movie posters, random license plates, and all kinds of other junk.  It’s incredibly entertaining.  Huge meals with liter beers will set you back about $5.

Inside Alamos.

When you find this guy, you’ve found the best chicken dinner in Bolivia.

Chicken place in Uyuni – Uyuni is a shithole.  Sorry, but it is.  The most redeeming thing about the place (other than the salt flats) was the fantastic chicken dinner we had for…wait for it…about $2.  We had huge plates of the standard rice and french fries with 1/4 of a chicken.  It was some of the best chicken I’ve had, ever.  It’s roasted on a spit right outside the restaurant, and is perfectly cooked.  Go to the corner of Potosi and Bolivar.  Head down Bolivar going away from downtown until you see the guy in the picture.  There’s no name.  We were the only gringos in the place, and some of us (gentlemen, I’m looking at you here…) had more than one plate.

Carla’s Garden Pub in Coroico – Just off the main square, towards the bus station, there are stairs leading downhill from town.  If you go down them you’ll run into Carla’s Garden Pub, a lovely place to while away an afternoon.  There are snacks, cheap drinks, hammocks, a cat, and wifi!  It feels more like Thailand than Bolivia and we spent a few afternoons drinking Tequila Sunrises as we watched the sun set over the hills.

Activity

4-Day jeep tour to the Salt Flats – I will write an entire post about this at some point.  We took a tour of south-west Bolivia through La Torre Tours, and started from Tupiza.  We saw some crazy landscapes, culminating in the huge salt flats outside of Uyuni.  If you have the time, it’s a great trip.  If you don’t, get yourself to Uyuni and just do a one-day of the flats, it’s totally worth it.

Riding horses outside of Tupiza. Photo by Bryan of http://www.happytobehomeless.com

Horseback riding – You can’t ride horses for this cheap anywhere else in South America.  We went on a 4 hour ride outside of Tupiza, near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise.  Incidentally, make sure you check around and find a place that will give you helmets…our ridiculous cowboy hats would not have done us much good had we suffered a fall.

Worst

The worst is really a relative term in this case.  There were plenty of completely mediocre, and some downright awful, places we encountered…but…it’s Bolivia and that’s just how it goes.  There wasn’t anything in particular here that we could really single out as being more terrible than was tolerable for the situation.    Except maybe the freezing cold showers.  Especially the one in Uyuni.

The Argentina Roundup

28 May

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  43

Cities/towns visited – Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolson, Esquelle, El Calafate, El Chalten, Ushuaia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Salta, Humahuaca, Purmamarca, Cafayate, Angostaca.

Number of different lodgings – 12 hostels and a couchsurf

Flights – 1

Bus journeys –  26

Combi/collective/taxi  rides – 9

Bike Rentals – 1

Days of rain – 4

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $5522.62

Average cost per day, per person – $64.00

Argentina is not as cheap as it used to be.  Our ‘Local Travel’ category of the budget was by far the biggest chunk of spending here – long distance buses are triple the cost that they were in 2009, and flights are as expensive for foreigners on the domestic airlines.

Average lodging cost per night – $15.35 per person.  Hostels were pricey in Argentina compared to other places in South America.  We ended up in dorms often, though we went for a double room, even with a shared bath, in a few places.  You could do cheaper, especially if you are willing to stay in the party factory dorms, or sacrifice location or cleanliness.

Most expensive lodging – Reina Madre Hostel in Buenos Aires – a private room with shared bathroom was $23.25 per person.  The second most expensive was the Freestyle Hostel in Ushuaia which was $20.50 per person for a DORM.

Least expensive lodging – $9.30 per person for a dorm room in a little hostel in Angostaca.  We got stuck there overnight while on a road trip through northern Argentina.

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $14.30 – We consumed an obscene amount of cheap empanadas, usually for lunch.  We often cooked dinners in at the hostels because of the high cost of eating out.  We did go out for dinners sometimes though, or ate at the hostel when they had an asado night.

The Best

Empanadas!

Hostel Empedrado in Mendoza.  They have private rooms as well as dorms, clean bathrooms, TWO kitchens with plenty of cookware, a small pool, hammocks, free glass of wine every night, free empanada making class, good wi-fi…and FREE LAUNDRY!!!  It’s just an overall winner.  It is a little bit outside of downtown, but not more than a 10 minute walk.  You can book online, and if you’re headed there in the summer make sure to ask for a room with air-conditioning since some only have fans.

Hiking up to Fitz Roy in El Chalten. Looks like a fake background…but it’s not, it’s just a bad exposure!

El Chalten – Yeah, the town.  If you like mountains you will LOVE El Chalten.  There are multiple day hikes that get you way out into the hills with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery we’ve encountered.  Take your time and spend more than a hot second there, you won’t regret it.

Big Ice Tour in El Calafate – Even though we got ripped off by the travel agent who sold us our tour, this still goes down as one of our favorite activities.  It really was worth it, especially if you’ve never been on a glacier.  If the cost is too steep for you, look into a trek on the Viedma Glacier out of El Chalten.

Taking a break from biking in Bariloche

Biking around the Circito Chico in Bariloche – We haven’t gotten around to posting about this ride, but it’s a 25 kilometer ride around beautiful meditteranean colored lakes just outside of Bariloche.  You can rent a bike for the day and set out at your leisure.  There are many places to stop along the way for picnicing, swimming, or just gawking at the scenery.  The bike rental will only set you back about $18 and you can get there with public transportation.  Your hostel should be able to reserve you a bike, otherwise any travel agent in town can also, just make sure they don’t charge a commission for it.  You’ll get a map from the bike place, but don’t worry, it’s a loop and basically impossible to get lost.

The Worst

We really loved almost everything in Argentina, and the one major exception was Hostel Pudu in Bariloche.  We heard that it was fantastic, and perhaps it used to be, but now it’s just run down despite the bright and shiny website.  One of the hostel owners spent more time getting high with the guests than doing other things…like cleaning the bathrooms, which were disgusting.  There was a pretty high price tag for a dorm room, and I have to admit to sheer laziness or we would have moved after the first night.

The Uruguay Roundup

6 May

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  15

Cities/towns visited –  Colonia, Montevideo, Punta del Diablo

Number of different lodgings – 3 plus a couchsurf

Local bus journeys – 8

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 0

Boat rides – 2

Bike rentals – 1

Days of rain – 1

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – 1,228.50

Average cost per day, per person – 43.88

Average lodging cost per night – 38.40

Most expensive lodging – Hostel del Diablo – $41/night for a private room with bathroom and a patio looking out to the sea.

Least expensive lodging – Willy Fog Hostel and El Viajero  in Montevideo were both $13 per person for a dorm room, including breakfast

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $20.15  We ate out for pretty much every meal, and drank a healthy amount of beer and wine.  Lunches we generally had empanadas on the beach, but we went to basic restaurants most nights for dinner.  We could easily have spent a lot more on food and drink, but we chose mid-range restaurants with only a few exceptions.

Best:

Best. Empanadas. Ever.

* Empanadas – Kiosco Alba at the end of the ‘pier’ where there are trinket vendors.  These go down as the best empanadas we had in all of South America.  They are made fresh to order and are STUFFED with fresh fish, or ham and cheese.  They are fried, yet they aren’t greasy.  They are incredible, and there was always a wait, but it was well worth it.

Mmmmm…grilled meat….

*Parilla meal – Huge slabs of grilled meats are typical in Uruguay, especially in Mercado del Puerto.  It’s incredible just to walk around and marvel at all the grills going at the same time, and you have more than a dozen choices for lunch.  We ate at La Chacra with our couchsurf host, and had some of the best steak we’d had on the trip thus far.  A tad pricey, but well worth it.

We took a break from biking to take photos with the massive Montevideo sign

* Bike ride along La Rambla – Do yourself a favor and rent a bike at Bicicletta Sur on Aquilas Lanza and Durazno.  For a dollar an hour you can spend all day cruising up and down the coastline, stopping for ice cream, empanadas, and whatever else catches your fancy along the way (like the giant Montevideo sign above…).  There is a well maintained path for both pedestrians and bikes.

Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo

* Playa Grande in Punta del Diablo – It’s already a super chilled out beach town, but we hear it can get pretty crowded during high season.  To get away from the masses, head over to Playa Grande, just a few minutes walk up the coast.  You’ll find an expansive beach that you’ll have nearly all to yourself since most people don’t want to make the trek over the sand dunes.  If you walk all the way out to the end of the beach you’ll be at the beginning of a nature preserve where you can marvel at the foliage and maybe even spot some sea turtles.

Worst

* El Viajero Hostel in Montevideo.  It was clean, well located, and had a good breakfast but all of those things can’t make up for terrible layout and a bad staff.  The room we had didn’t have a window, which made it swelteringly hot in the night.  In addition, the rooms all faced the open courtyard where people hung out until all hours of the night – the noise was deafening.  The staff was indifferent at best, downright obnoxious at worst.  We left after only one night.

Living The Dream – Why We Chose To Leave It All Behind

1 Apr

Recently we met a young couple who genuinely didn’t understand why we embarked on this huge journey.  They wanted to know why we didn’t seem to miss our clothes, our home, our ‘regular’ lives.  Why aren’t we worried about what happens when we go back, or when we run out of money?  Why aren’t we worried about our careers? Why would we choose this unstable sort of life?

These are all valid questions, and some can be answered at least partially by checking out our “About Us” section.

We’ve been on the road for almost five months and we’ve thought a lot about the things that motivate us to travel, and the reasons behind the decisions that have landed us where we are in life.

I’ve started this post a dozen different times and discarded every attempt at an answer until now.  It’s a complicated answer because life is complicated.

Why do writers write?  Why do athletes compete?  Why do artists create?  Most of them will tell you that it’s because it is their passion.  There is something that burns inside of them and says “This is what you must do”, and so they do it.  If you ask Justin if he has a burning passion for travel he’ll say no, but he does enjoy it.  If you ask me, I’ll say yes, I have a passion for travel, but it’s not all encompassing.   We have a love of the world, a desire to see new things, to immerse ourselves in different cultures, to meet new people.  Yes, it can be frustrating  to not have a huge wardrobe selection, or to have to move every few days, or to have to sleep in dorm rooms with 20 other travelers, but the benefits of what we are doing far outweigh these minor issues.

This alone might be answer enough for most people, but there is more behind it.

We’ve lived fairly comfortable lives.  We had the opportunity to earn university degrees, we had careers that we enjoyed, family and friends we love, and we could have settled comfortably into a nice routine in Colorado and lived out our lives pleasantly…but…there’s always a ‘but’.

People talk about living life to the fullest, taking advantage of every moment, every opportunity.  Most people don’t follow that philosophy in their everyday reality though.  Life is busy, things get in the way.  All those responsibilities build up and we have a hard time looking through them to where those moments and opportunities might lead us.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of living like that.  The conventional wisdom tells us to work hard.  Save money.  Plan for the future.  We were on that path.  We were saving money for a down-payment on a home. I was pushing myself professionally to make sure my career path had an upward trajectory.  We were diligent about putting money aside for retirement.

Then, over the last few years, a number of things started to jolt us out of that cocoon of complacency.  A close friend’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  My mother was hit hard financially and lost her home to the bank.  A schoolmate from when I was a child died from a brain tumor.  A classmate from high school died from melanoma.  Three years ago today, one of my most dear friends was murdered by her ex-husband.

Everyone knows life is precious and fleeting, but these events sucker-punched me.  There were things that had been left unsaid, regrets, and ‘should-haves’ and the weight of them felt terrible.  We came to realize that while we had a great life, we weren’t actually taking advantage of what it could be.  It became painfully clear that despite the best of plans and the most careful of arrangements, it can all be gone in an instant.  We took a good long look at ourselves and asked, What is it that we dream of?  Why don’t we follow that dream and see where it goes?

That burning passion that writers and artists and athletes have for what they do?  Well, I don’t exactly have that, but the thing that burns inside of me says take the chance.  So we did.

Packing List Part 5 – Bags

27 Mar

We’ve made it to the final installment of the packing list series!  If you haven’t checked them out already, head over to our “Things We Carry” page and check out the rest of our lists – ‘Clothing’, ‘Medical and Toiletries’, ‘Electronics’ and ‘Miscellaneous Gear’.

We’ve got to carry all that gear around in something, so our final list is dedicated to the bags in which we carry our stuff!  We brought a mix of old comfortable bags, and new ones bought specifically for this trip.  This is the only gear category in which we are completely satisfied with everything we brought.

Head on over to the new page to check out our Gear Bags.

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