Tag Archives: RTW planning

Travel And Your Creature Comforts…Store or Sell?

16 Apr

In light of the fact that we have spent the last three days moving into our new apartment, it seems like the perfect time to address the question that all long-term travelers have to deal with at some point.

What are you going to do with all your stuff while you’re gone?

storage

We knew we were coming home in less than two years, and we also had planned to settle in Colorado, so we chose to get rid of the stuff that we didn’t think we’d want/need later, and we drove everything else out to Colorado and loaded it into a storage unit.  The biggest argument long-term travelers have against storing everything is that, well, it can cost a fair amount of money.  Depending on where you are, and how big of a unit you have, you could be spending anywhere from $50-$200/month.  If you are living in a city, your best bet is to drive out, usually a half-hour will do it, and you’ll find rural storage units that can cost 1/3 of what you’d spend in most major cities.

It might seem, at first glance, that the $1000-$2000 needed to keep your stuff could be better used towards travel, especially when you factor in the money you could make selling it all!  The thing is, if you know you are coming home, you need to realize that you still are going to need a bed, dressers, bookshelf, couch, TV, dishes, towels, sheets, silverware, cups, pots and pans, a microwave, etc… when you return.

We have a really nice mattress that is only a few years old.  We have basically brand new dishes, pots, pans, glassware and kitchen appliances, most of which were wedding presents.  We bought a new TV just two years before we left.  Realistically, we would have had to spend far more money to replace these items than we ended up spending to store them, even taking into account what we might have made if we sold them.  If you don’t have high quality items, or many items at all, then storing things might not be worth it, especially if you have family or friends that are willing to keep a few personal items for you.

If you go the storage route, there are some things you can do to make packing, and unpacking it all just a bit easier when you get back.

  1. Bike boxes, usually free from bike stores, are great for flatscreen TV’s or artwork/mirrors.
  2. Shredded paper is fantastic for packing material.  Just start shredding everything you’d normally recycle.  You can get a cheap shredder for $20 that will do the job nicely.
  3. P1140359Number your boxes.  Then, make a list where you give a basic description of what’s in each number box.  For most things it can be as simple as just labeling the room the box should go in.  There are a few things you’ll want to name specifically though – like your wifi router, or the corkscrews…
  4. Tape up all the edges of the boxes.  It’s a pain, but it’s incredible how much dust can sneak into boxes from those edges that weren’t taped.
  5. Make sure you have a super thick, high quality mattress protector.  In addition, wrap your mattress (and box spring if you have one) in another layer, or two of thick plastic.  If the plastic isn’t thick enough it will tear, which leaves your mattress open to moisture (and mold…ick) and bugs.  If you are going to bother to keep it, keep it right.
  6. If you store your mattress upright, make sure it is exactly upright, and stack boxes flush with it so it doesn’t sag.
  7. Cover the furniture in some kind of sheet or cloth in the storage unit.  We didn’t.  It was a mistake that required many hours of cleaning.
  8. Put wooden palates down on the floor of the storage unit.  This will give you some protection in case of minor water leakage inside the unit.

Storing your belongings isn’t for everyone, but if you know you are coming home eventually, and you have even a few expensive items that you’d like to keep for the future, it might be worth it in the long run.

If you are a long-term traveler and have a different solution for dealing with your ‘stuff’ while you’re gone, let us know in the comments!

Advertisements

The Cambodia Roundup

30 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –   4

Cities/towns visited – Siem Reap, Chong Kneas, Kompong Pluk

Number of different lodgings – 1

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 1

Boat rides – 1

taxi  journeys – 1

Rickshaw rides – 7

Bike rentals – 1

Attempted extortion by border officials – 1

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent –$ 348.60 including $40 in visa fees

Average cost per day, per person -$43.58

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $7

We only stayed at one place during our time in Cambodia – The Phrom Roth Guesthouse – $14 for a HUGE room with AC, private bath and wifi.  The only room they had was for 3 people and cost slightly more than we would have paid for a double room, but we arrived at night and didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching for a place in the dark.  We had already looked at a few other places in a similar price range, but this was easily the nicest.  They also had a FREE water re-fill service which saved us probably $8-10 during our stay so it worked out very well in the end.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $9.75  You can eat at anything from local street stands to very nice Western Restaurants.  Some days we spent $12 each on food, other days we spent $6.  We also drank a lot of beer here as there were .50 cent draughts all over the place.

The Best

Angkor Wat – This really goes without saying, but if you are in Siem Reap, this is what you are here to see.  This was my second trip and it was just as awesome as the first time, even with the HUGE increase in tourists.

Too many people to deal with pre-dawn…

FYI, if you want to get the classic reflecting sunrise shot at Angkor Wat, you will need to battle for your spot in the massive crowds that gather along the edge of the little reflection puddle.  We took one look at the mob and opted to go to the other side of the road, skipping the classic shot, but still seeing a lovely sunrise.

Breakfast at Temple Club – This was a pretty good deal for a hearty breakfast.  The cheese omlette is large and comes with a huge baguette, fried tomato, and a tiny little juice for $2.50.

Pumpkin curry from the local food stalls that line the market.

We heart cheap beer.

50 cent mugs of beer from most places in town.

Hammocks and beer.

If you rent a bike you can ride the 11 kilometers out to the boat launch for the incredibly touristy floating village Chong Kneas.  We rode out there, but didn’t end up taking the boat since we found what we consider to be a much better option for whiling away the afternoon.  All along the road before the village are little local restaurants where you can lounge about in a hammock with a beer and a great view of the rice fields.  With the bike you also get the chance to see the villages along the way.

The Worst

The border crossing at Poipet can be a pain in the ass.  If you pay in Thai Baht you are getting ripped off.  If you let someone buy your visa for you ahead of time you are getting ripped off.  If you pay the extra ‘fee’ the border officials ask for, you are being ripped off.  The visa costs – for US citizens at least – $20, payable in USD.  That’s it.  Don’t pay more. When we were asked for extra I smiled politely and shook my head ‘no’.   There is a ton of info about the crossing on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum as well as on Travel Fish so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

We found the ‘tour’ of Kompong Pluk, a stilted village, to be a bit of a rip off.  The village itself is interesting enough to see, but it takes about 40 minutes in a tuk-tuk (about $15 round-trip) to get to the boat launch, then an hour in a little boat to get to the village itself.  We were taken around in the boat for about 20 minutes through the main town area, and then returned to the boat launch.  In the guidebook the price was listed as $8 per person, but when we arrived it had risen to $20 per person.  We balked at this and turned around to leave but it was low season so we ended up getting a ‘discounted’ price of $25 total.  It just wasn’t worth even the discounted cost for how little time you actually spend in the village, especially considering our boat guy didn’t say a single word to us the entire time.

The Nepal Roundup

23 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  31

Cities/towns visited – Kathmandu, Bhulbule, Ghermu, Karte, Chame, Upper Pisang, Manang, Ledar, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom

Number of different lodgings – 16

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 3

Taxi  journeys – 11

Rounds of antibiotics – Justin-1, Ashley-5

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1289 including visa fees of $80 for the two of us and $188 for air tickets from Jomsom to Pokhara.

In addition, we incurred $1500 in hospital bills.  Our insurance paid for everything except the overnight fees, which were far more than the maximum covered amount of $50 per night that World Nomads provides.  We didn’t include that bill in the general roundup cost breakdowns since it was more than we spent otherwise for the entire month.  Incidentally, if you get very ill while in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic, just across from the British Embassy, is the place to be.  It’s clean and staffed with mostly Western doctors who speak a variety of languages.

Average cost per day, per person – $21.50 If you take the plane tickets out of the equation (you can take busses that will save you nearly the entire cost of the flight…though we felt the cost was WELL worth it considering how scary the bus rides were) that number drops to around $18.  If you only ate at cheap local places and really hunted for the most basic economic rooms, you could probably live on $12 per day.

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $2.70

Most expensive lodging, per person – $5.60 for a double room with bathroom and AC at the Karma Travelers Hotel in Kathmandu.  We booked this online specifically because they included an airport pickup and it was recommended in the guidebook.  We stayed only two nights before we found better, and cheaper accommodation elsewhere.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $.56 for a double room with shared bath at the Hotel Nilgiri in Manang on our Annapurna Hike. This place had fantastic yak cheese and fresh bread for sale.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.90.  Breakfast was not included at any of our hotels and we generally ate three meals per day.  Accommodation is cheap on the Annapurna Circuit, but you spend quite a bit on food.  In Kathmandu we ate at more Western-style restaurants, which were more expensive, but it was what we were craving after 13 day of Dhal Baht on the trail. We had only four beers the entire time we were in Nepal as it was relatively expensive and we didn’t drink while trekking.

The Best

Rooftop at the Hotel Backpackers Inn

Hotel Backpackers Inn in Kathmandu – We stayed here for 2 nights before our trek, and then for two weeks afterwards.  We left our luggage there during the trek, including our computers, and there were no problems since they have lockers that you can store your valuables in and you are responsible for the keys. Pre-trek our room was $9 per night for a double room with a fan, private bathroom, TV, and wifi.  After the trek we negotiated a rate of $6.75 per night since we knew we were staying for longer than a few nights.  Prices would definitely be higher during peak season.  The managers were very kind and helped Justin with contacting the embassy for doctor recommendations when I was sick.

OR2K in Kathmandu – This restaurant has good Middle Eastern food, including a mezza platter that was big enough for Justin and I to split.  They also make really good salads.

Beef Noodles

Chinese (Sichuan) Restaurant next to Hotel Backpacker’s Inn in Kathmandu –  An excellent spot for a cheap meal, they have some hilarious menu translations that include things like ‘Tiger Skin Fry Pepper’ and ‘And Pulled A Red Leather’.  We ate a variety of things there, but our favorites were the Rice with King Pao Chicken and the Beef Noodles, which is a HUGE and delicious vat of soup.

Northfield Café in Kathmandu – Justin has a burrito problem.  This was the only place we had been in the last few months that served a burrito that was even close to what he wanted it to be like.  They have a good mix of food, nice outdoor seating, and live music every night.  It’s a little pricey, but that’s what you have to expect if you want passable Western food.

Monsoon season? I don’t see any monsoon!

The Annapurna Circuit – We dove right into this classic hike, despite the fact that it was the middle of the monsoon season and we were in no kind of shape for a trek this big.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives and I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing, leeches, blisters, dramatic meltdowns and all.  We met wonderful people, pushed ourselves harder than we thought possible, and fell in love with the spectacular scenery.  If you are in Nepal, make time for a trek, even if it’s a short one.

The insanity that is the backpacker area of Thamel in Kathmandu. You can buy just about anything here…

Shopping – We didn’t do much shopping here, partly because I didn’t have the energy after I was sick, and partly because we don’t have any room in our packs.  However, if you want cheap mountain gear, this is the place to be.  There are literally hundreds of stores selling knock-offs of everything you can imagine, from backpacks to down jackets, to sleeping bags and poles and water bottles and….the list goes on and on.  Certain things, like backpacks and boots, I’d be wary of since they won’t fit or function as well, but otherwise you can get some great deals here.  We rented knock-off sleeping bags for the trek (at a whopping .50 cents per day) and they were fantastically warm and comfortable.  We could have bought a down “North Face” sleeping bag for about $20. When we come back I’m going to arrive with an empty suitcase and just buy all my gear there.  Make sure you bargain, the first offer price is usually very ambitious.

The Worst

Typical crowded bus

The bus rides.  I mean, we thought we took some scary rides in S. America, but the rides in Nepal were literally the most terrifying experiences of our lives.  I am not kidding when I say that more than once I thought we might actually tumble down a cliff in one of these death traps on wheels.  In fact, according to some statistics (please know that in a place like Nepal the statistics are a bit vague, so don’t think these numbers are carved in stone…) there are over 1,500 deaths per year due to buses tumbling off the sides of the mountains.

On our bus from Kathmandu to Besi Shahar to start the Annapurna Circuit, we saw the wreckage of one bus that had already crashed down the cliff to the river below AND we passed a dump truck that had just started to go over the edge, fortunately it was only half off the cliff and I’m pretty sure that was only because the back end was full of rocks.

We took a smaller bus to another little town that same day and it was swaying back and forth as it tried to go up a tiny cliff-side road that was completely washed out in some places, and so muddy and rutted in others that the wheels were spinning and we were almost sliding backwards at one point.  The bus was completely overloaded with four people in seats made for two, and yet more people packed like sardines into the isle.  In addition, there was something like 15 people on the roof (which, as it turns out, might be the safest place to be since in a fall you can just fling yourself off the bus and hope for the best instead of tumbling all the way down the mountain inside it), along with everyone’s luggage, a goat, three or 4 baskets full of chickens and 8 or 10 full propane tanks.   I was having a visible panic attack at this point and a little boy next to us decided this would be the perfect time to pipe up and proclaim “This very danger part! Sometimes the bus fall down…”

We had a choice of transport – airplane or bus – to get us from Jomsom to Pokhara at the end of our trek.  We know a couple who opted for the bus route back to save money, and after one day they decided they would just walk for the next four days to get back rather than risk one more minute on the bus.  We went for the plane, which brings me to the second worst thing in Nepal.

Our itty bitty plane

The tiny 15-seater propeller airplanes that fly through the mountains – we took one of these from Jomsom to Pokhara to avoid two or three days worth of bus rides like the ones I just described, and it comes in a close second as far as scary moments go for us.

The flight in and of itself turned out not to be so bad, but the anticipation was pretty awful since we could see the wreckage of a flight that had crashed into the mountain right above the town just a few months before.

Not my favorite thing to look at while heading down the runway.

It freaked me out just having to look at it from the town, but when we got into the plane and I realized I could see it out my window as we were heading down the runway I just about lost it.  I’ve never had so many panic attacks as I did in Nepal.  The woman sitting behind Justin had a death grip on his shoulder and was praying vigorously the entire flight.  Still, given the choice between this and a bus, I choose this.

Photo Friday – Carved Figures in Cambodia

12 Oct

Ankgor Wat is undoubtedly the biggest tourist draw for the temples outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, but there is so much more if you have a day or five to explore.  There are dozens of smaller temples in the surrounding area and most of them boast intricate carvings, some of which are very well preserved.  These particular figures can be found along the walls near the Elephant Gate, and we were fascinated by the different colors each figure had taken on despite the fact that they are all basically exposed to the same natural elements.  Some were simply grey as the stone they’d been carved from, others were shades of green and red.  Each figure is unique, and we spent nearly an hour wandering along the wall and inspecting the the details.

Road Trip – Bolivian Salt Flats

21 Aug

*If the weather held up, we should be done with our trek and chilling out in Jomsom.  We might even be on our way back to Kathmandu!*

The salt flats in Bolivia seem to go on forever!

For a country that is quite small in comparison to some of its neighbors, Bolivia has a lot to offer in terms of travel possibilities.  There are mountains, volcanoes, jungles, lakes and deserts, and it’s relatively easy to move from one place to another.  We were intrigued by the possibilities and one of the major ‘must see’ items on our list was the famous salt flat near Uyuni.  There are a myriad of ways to visit this area, but since we were making our way up from Argentina, we chose to do a 4 day jeep tour that began in Tupiza, and ended in Uyuni.

We’d already been travelling with our friends Kristin and Bryan from Happy To Be Homeless and were planning on meeting up with another friend, Eric from Ric and Roll, in Tupiza.  It’s easy enough to cruise into town, especially with a ready-made group of 4-5 people, and book a trip leaving within a day or two. We set out early in the morning, our packs strapped to the top of our Landcruiser, ready to see some of Bolivia’s highest lakes and desert formations.

Over the next few days we drove hundreds of kilometers on roads that often weren’t really roads at all, sometimes on ledges that were terrifying, or through dry riverbeds dotted with massive rocks. We spotted small villages, huge lakes, towering volcanoes and tons of flamingos.  That’s right, flamingos.  As it turns out, something about the altitude and composition of the mineral lakes (some of which are poisonous to humans) makes a perfect habitat for flamingos, of which there are thousands.  It was fascinating to see the bright bursts of pink these birds  provided in the otherwise stark landscapes.

One stop had us soaking in a hot spring, which was especially nice after being quite cold for most of the trip.

One of the most surprising sights was the huge amount of quinoa that dotted the landscape.  It’s a colorful crop and farming it is one of the major sources of income for locals in this area.The other common income source is raising llamas, which were also quite abundant.  Many of the animals have “pierced” ears, with different color poms that serve to identify them as they wander around the plains.

At our highest point, over 5,000 meters, there were amazing sulfurous hot mud pits that boiled and gurgled like a horrible stew.  It was both terribly smelly and oddly fascinating.

As we neared the end of the trip we wandered among huge rock formations that seemed to come out of nowhere.

When we finally arrived in Uyuni we took some time to visit the train cemetery before tucking in for the night since we had to wake up before dawn to make it to the salt flats before sunrise.  This was much more interesting than we anticipated, with all kinds of old trains abandoned and sunk into the ground.  Some clever folks even created playground equipment, including see-saws and a swing, from old train parts.

The salt flats were just as incredible as we had imagined, and we couldn’t have asked for a better sunrise.

After driving far out onto the flats to have space all to ourselves, we spent hours, literally, taking fun optical illusion photos with the expansive white background.

For more photos, check out the slideshow below.  Click to expand it to full-screen in flickr, or to see the individual photos.

Word On The Street

—————————————————————————–

There are loads of different ways to organize a trip to Southwest Bolivia and the salt flats.  It’s a huge tourist draw, so there are literally dozens of companies clamoring for your dollars, which is all the more reason to be really clear about what you expect from a trip.  You can do the four-day trip that we did from Tupiza, but you can also go from Uyuni and do it in the opposite direction.  We used La Torre Tours and were really happy with them.  Tupiza Tours is another company we looked at that gets good reviews from travelers.

With our group of 5 we paid about $150 per person for the whole trip, excluding the park entry fees and tips for the driver and cook.  Our driver was excellent, and though he spoke no English, he made a serious effort to communicate with basic Spanish and to speak slowly for us.  We were able to understand him most of the time and if you have a basic level of Spanish you should be fine.  If not, you can pay more for an English-speaking guide.  Our cook was very sweet, and the meals were basic, but plentiful.

If you arrive on your own, you can either meet up with other travelers and form a group, or shop around and get a space in a partially filled jeep.  Tours leaving from Tupiza usually have 4 people per jeep, while those leaving from Uyuni tend to cram 6 people in.

If you can’t, or aren’t interested in a 4-day tour, you can go for shorter routes from either Tupiza or Uyuni.  If you are really short on time, just head into Uyuni and sign up for a one day tour of the salt flats, it should be cheap, and totally worth it.

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.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: