Dublin

~By Amanda and Julie

I fly to Dublin often enough for work trips, however I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the amazing night life. When you have to be on your A game at 9 am, one can not stay out drinking pints and fine Irish whiskey all night. Julie and I decided we needed a long weekend in Dublin just to see this awesome city without a curfew. Warning! This post is pretty much about eating, drinking, dancing and sleeping. The most cultural thing we did was listen to Irish music and enjoy a run though Phoenix Park. However, it does contain a list of amazing spots in Dublin to enjoy all the above mentioned activities, including quite a few outside the normal tourist circuit of Temple Bar.


(Julie’s story)
I’ve always had an unusual bucket list, and at the top of the list was to get in a real Irish bar fight. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually want to hurt anyone; I’m a giant wimp whose bark is bigger than her bite. However, breaking a wooden stool with beer splashing everywhere and people yelling in Irish accents just did something for me. I flew to Ireland a few years ago with Anna, who couldn’t let me do this alone so she signed up to join the adventure. Once we got to the bar, I tried everything with anyone to pick a fight. I was being so difficult, but I learned that day that the Irish are the absolute best people! Every time I was indifferent to someone they bought me a beer. I was told a story about an Irish man who didn’t wanna fight, but was being called outside to prove his masculinity. He kept a telling the guy he didn’t wanna fight. So when it was time to go outside, he just stripped down bare naked on the street and lifted his fists. Who wants to fight a naked guy?!

The Irish have good hearts and adore fun. Somewhere on the internet there is a picture of me holding 4 or 6 full beers at one time looking dumbfounded. I fell in love with the Irish that day and someday I’ll find a way to smash a wooden stool without being a jerk.
(Amanda)
Trying to maintain a budget, we jumped onto Hostelworld.com and searched through the lists of available bunks. I have a gift when it comes to comparing accommodations and was quickly able find a place near the city center with the right price tag. Kinlay House sits just outside the Temple Bar area and is walkable to most major points in the city. This gigantic hostel has several floors of rooms at variable price points; it’s clean and provides the typical amenities. My only complaint is they close the common room. In all my travels I have never seen a common room closed every night for cleaning at 1:30 am. Being still on NYC time, we found ourselves with no place to go after the bars and pubs dimmed their lights for the night, not quite ready for sleep.

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We arrived in Dublin exhausted, but ready for excitement. As opposed to sleeping, we elected to stay up most of the flight, enjoying the complimentary red wine and watching Beauty and the Beast. I think we are both mentally about 5 years old. The most efficient and cost effective way into the city is by Airline Express Bus. Just outside of Terminal 1 arrivals you will find the ticket sales stand, where the agent will direct you to the correct bus for your hotel or hostel. For 7 euro, we expected a long and gruesome ride, however twenty minutes later we are swinging onto the sidewalk into the sunshine.

Our first priority was breakfast, which in our world means beer and a plate of fries. Don’t judge, we were in vacay mode. By random chance we found ourselves across the street from Doyle’s Irish Pub, which happens to have the exact same name as our second home in Astoria, New York, a bar named Doyle’s Corner. We immediately plopped down at the bar and befriended the owners. They were intrigued by their “sister bar” in NYC and provided a Doyle’s Dublin hat as a gift for them. We are basically ambassadors now. It graces the panel just over the bar in Astoria now. Fueled and happy we set off to our hostel for naps.


Darkey Kelly’s Bar & Restaurant

From our hostel bedroom window we spied a cute little Irish pub with a garden patio. It was the perfect place to grab a pint and wait for friends. The staff here is incredibly friendly and we made it our meeting point and breakfast beer rendezvous spot for the remainder of the trip.

(Julie)

The best part about traveling is meeting people. The hard part is saying goodbye. About 10 years ago I became friends with a girl online from Brazil. I was able to meet her face to face again finally in Rio, then again in Amsterdam, Stockholm and NYC. Our paths crossed over the years and when we decided to plan a Dublin trip, I remembered my friend had moved there to work with Puffins (how do I get this job)! We met her and her boyfriend at Darkey Kelly’s and headed over to a tapas place they had tried before and highly recommended.

Salamanca

(Amanda)

Always take the advice of locals, they hardly ever steer you wrong. Dublin has amazing food, if you choose the right places. I will never say no to tapas– why only choose one item from a menu when you can sample 4 or 5? The ambiance of Salamanca is just as amazing as the food. As usual, we over did it and ordered way too much food, because decisions are hard. The Pollo Renello and the Patata Rellena are both incredible choices and I could not stop sneaking bites of the Pate de Pollo, even after my stomach ached from fullness. With a bottle if Spanish Rioja, the meal was complete.

Anseo

We followed our friends down Camden street to Anseo. The bar was dark and divey, just the way we like it. The older DJ was spinning classics the traditional way; actually carrying around a record collection, props to you Sir! This bar is just how you would expect it, with a nice chill vibe away from the tourist tangle down in Temple Bar. We ended our night here, initially planning to seek out another divey local place. However, we found ourselves back at the hostel in the common room, drinking a bottle of red we had acquired; that is, until we were kicked out at 1:30 am…

Day number two brought in our friend Kmo from NYC, stopping over on his way to Italy. We met him at out our new hangout Darker Kelly’s for breakfast drinks. While he napped from his trans-Atlantic quest, Julie and I headed out for late lunch.


Toscana

With a craving for cheese and charcuterie we stumbled upon Toscana. Their appetizer portion was more than enough for two small girls to share. Of course red wine was ordered to accompany this meal of the gods; because really these entire three days are about drinking and how can you have cheese without wine? Our little seat tucked next to the window was the perfect place to people watch. Here, we realized we had yet to eat anything that was considered typical Irish food and in reality we didn’t for the entire trip.

Turks Head

Sauntering down towards Temple Bar we decided if we went back to the hostel we would just get tired. From outside we noticed the amazing decor inside Turks Head. It was like Alice in Wonderland meets The Little Mermaid, which pretty much has Amanda and Julie written all over it. The bartenders were awesome and let us bring outside coffees to pour in shots of Bailey’s, since we needed a little pick me up. Kmo finally woke from his beauty sleep and joined us for a pint to plan the evening.

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The Original Backpacker Pubcrawl

We decided to join the pub crawl which was advertised all over our hostel. Included was a welcome drink and specials for 10 euro. We added a new friend Lizzy, an American backpacking though Europe for the summer, who was in the same room as Kmo. This is why I love hostels: every trip brings a new friend. We were directed to Badbob’s Temple Bar, which was the meeting point and claimed our free drink, which was a beer. We bounced from pub to pub around Temple bar, I am not quite sure which places we even visited, however this was an amazing opportunity to meet friends and for 10 euro, why not?!

Hanger

Since bars and club close early in Dublin, especially compared to NYC, we headed for Hanger around it’s 11 pm opening time. It was time to dance. I respect the Irish for their lax dress code at clubs. They only require you to look presentable, no heel requirement, which suits my converse-only lifestyle just fine. The doors open initially to a smaller area playing hip hop mixed with top 40. Later a second room opens, spinning progressive house and trance. This is where I belong; I stayed and danced for the remainder of the night. My only issue with Irish bars is that they close early at 2-2:30, but I guess you can’t have everything!

Korkoro- The ramen bar

Casually mentioning ramen the previous day, we now all three of us had the craving etched in our brains. Through Yelp, we determined Korkoro was the best place in the city to curb this desire. It was the perfect brunch, the bowls of noodles and broth were served up steaming hot and held to the traditional style of this amazing cuisine. I chose spicy pork and it did not let me down; was the perfect thing for my stomach after a late night out. Afterwards we wandered around the city, stopping at George’s Street Arcade. The local covered market was home to several vintage, indie gift shops. This victorian style covered market is one of the oldest in Europe.

Dawson’s 37

We had planned a chill evening of dinner and a couple of drinks before settling to bed for early flights. Famous Last Words. My favorite place in Dublin is 37 Dawson Street and not just because they have a life-size sparkling pony guarding the entrance. Arriving for a late dinner, there was already a DJ spinning and the downstairs seating area had been converted to a dance floor. We were doomed to stay. I have eaten here several times and the food and beverages never disappoint. We shared another cheese and charcuterie board and an appetizer sampler. As we finished dinner, the music transitioned from lounge to dance. One more glass of wine became another, somehow gin and tonics got involved. Time to dance and the deal was sealed, we were staying. Around two we headed back to the hostel and creeped in for a quick 3 hour nap before heading to the airport.

I know this blog makes us look like alcoholics, but we really aren’t and we had fun, so don’t judge. 🙂 People think of Dublin and Irish food and pubs immediately come to mind, which are both amazing when done right. However, Dublin is often forgotten as a diverse city with so much to offer besides the initial first impression. There are several more restaurants and bars which I frequent on my work trips, which unfortunately we did not have time for this trip. So now we have go back again and we are so upset about it…….

On the other coast of Ireland

Check out our blog about the Cliffs of Moher

 

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Kinlay House: 2-12 Lord Edward Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 www.kinlaydublin.ie

Airlink Express Bus:  www.dodublin.ie

Doyle’s Pub: 9 College Street, Dublin 2 www.doylesintown.com

Doyle’s Corner: 4202 Broadway, Astoria NY 11103 www.doylescorner.com (Because by now you likely want to be friends with us.)

Darkey Kelly’s Bar & Restaurant:  Fishamble Street, Christchurch, Dublin 2 www.darkeykellys.ie

Salamanca:  1 St. Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2 www.salamanca.ie

Anseo:  18 Camden Street Lower, Saint Kevin’s, Dublin 2

Toscana: 3 Cork Hill, Dame Street, Dublin 2 www.toscanarestaurant.ie

Turks Head:  Paramount Hotel, Parliament Street & Essex Gate, Temple bar, Dublin 2 www.paramounthotel.ie

The Original Backpacker Pub crawl:  www.backpackerpubcrawl.com

Hanger:  Andrews lane, Dublin www.hangerdublin.ie

Korkoro-The ramen bar:  51 Williams St. S, Dublin 2 (no website found)

George Street Arcade:  between George’s Street and Drury Street, Dublin 2 www.georgstreetesstreetarcade.ie

37 Dawson Street: guess what the address is…. www.37dawsonstreet.ie

Miami Ultra

~By:  Amanda

Sometimes the stars align, dates line up and days collide. While vacationing in Ibiza, stretched out in the sand with my Bloody Mary, I discovered that Miami Ultra would transpire the same weekend as my birthday next March. If you have read some of our past posts, the three of us definitely enjoy our share of house and trance music. For me it’s a true love. My soul marches to the beat and establishes me in my true spirit. It took approximately three minutes to convince the usual clan to go.

Music festivals are everything! For a multi-day festival you had better come armed and dangerous with a liver of steel and a small fortune in savings. Based on the line-up from the previous year, we knew per-purchasing the $350 three day ticket would be well worth it. Conveniently Miami Ultra sells tickets with a payment plan option. Therefore, if you don’t have tons of cash sitting in your savings you do not have to miss out. If you are looking for the most cost effective way to go, the earlier you purchase the ticket, the cheaper the cost. Don’t fear, if you are a last minute decision maker you can purchase tickets by the day through outside “retailers,” which is how most of our local Miami friends attended each day.

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The tickets arrived in a shiny box with all kinds of toys, about three weeks before d-day. If you ask me this was a little extra; just mail me the tickets. I do not need hot pink ear plugs or any for that matter, I was ready to hear every manner of sound these DJs would conjure. About a week before the show the time schedule was released on Ultra.com. Deciding who to see, when and where was one of the most difficult life decisions I have made to date. We booked a King room at the Hampton Inn Brickell; this was the most convenient location in our price range, giving us the ability to walk home. Miami is a gigantic sprawling city, so if you plan to stay further than a mile away or in South Beach, expect a challenge getting home at night. My motto is go with whatever is easy, so I will gladly pay $25 a night to make life simple.

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The festival itself was a shitshow, compared to any festival we had attended in Europe. It felt like a group of 5 year olds had planned the event. Arriving on Friday night we waited over an hour to enter the event, have the security staff check our bags and scan our tickets. I feel like Europeans could make millions on teaching classes to Americans on how to organize events. The port-a-potty situation was so insane; we all thought fondly back to the Flying Dutch festival in Amsterdam where there was only a 5 minute wait time for the toilet.

 

We parked ourselves at the main stage, where the line up was incredible. Arriving later than planned we were just in time to catch Armin van Buuren, who has achieved god status in my mind. We spent the rest of the night parked under a tree, slightly away from the crowd. By finding a home base in this area we were able to enjoy the music, without being suffocated by the huge crowd surrounding the stage. Also this convenient spot gave us the opportunity to make several amazing new friends. When I get the itch to be in the middle of everything, I’m always thankful for Julie, who will spend a few minutes deep in the crowd dancing with everyone!

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After the festival we headed back towards Brickell down S. Miami Ave, which was stacked with bars. Considering the state we were in we decided on the Fadó Irish pub and refreshed with cold beers. Perfect way to end the night. Everyone settled off to sleep….except ME. Someone (who shall remain nameless) in our group was sick and snored like a old Scottish man and I had been assigned to snuggle with her. I’m the lightest sleeper on the planet, so my solution was to grab a blanket and sleep in the closet. Do not judge me…. the door closed and blocked out the sound and I was fast asleep!

SATURDAY, before heading out we dropped by Coyo Taco on the corner for some tacos, breakfast of champions. The group goal of the day was to see Axwell ^ Ingrosso, the two remaining members of Swedish House Mafia. Having missed the opportunity to see the trio preform and living thought their podcasts, they were the essentially the missing piece of my life. The day was packed with Afrojack and Tiesto, amazing! As always, Tiesto opened his set with “Split,” and coincidentally Julie and I were right in the middle of the crowd at the main stage, jumping with everyone from the adrenaline. We kept our home-fort under the big tree with the neon orange decorations. As the afternoon changed to evening the sky opened up with a torrential down pour, many people ran under the various vendor tents to seek shelter from the rain. Thankfully our tree provided a decent amount of protection. I try to never let rain spoil my day, as you cannot control the weather. I even found an inflatable kangaroo to kiss. As the night closed we finally got to see Axwell ^ Ingrosso, they finished their set with “Sun is shining” as the clock passed into midnight and it became my birthday. As they finished their set, the whole crowd of old friends and new, erupted into “Happy Birthday”….best birthday moment ever!

After another closet “nap,” we headed to bay brunch. Wandering out in the far too bright Florida sun, we luckily ran into the Batch Gastropub right next to our hotel. They offered a weekend Brunch special with unlimited mimosas or Bellinis so we committed before even bothering to look at the food menu. However breakfast was delicious and it’s kinda hard to complain with bottomless fizzy drinks. Always a good idea to get one steady meal in our stomachs before heading out, I get so into the music I forget to eat. There is always this excitement/sorrow feeling when attending the last day of the festival. If I ever become a DJ (actually working on that) I wouldn’t want to close, because as amazing as your are, its still the end. Nobody wants to go home.

That didn’t stop us from enjoying every minute of that Sunday. My only regret is missing Showtek. Getting this many girls on my level of energy is incredibly difficult and no one was prepared to leave early enough to see the set. Remember what I said about finding a place and making it yours? We parked ourselves under that same tree again. At this point all of our friends from the past two days knew where to find us and we all settled down into our little village of happy. DJ Snake closed the night, maybe I was just sad Ultra was over, but I’m still trying to determine why he decided to close one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world with “The Middle.”

The saying goes, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened.” The next day I boarded my flight home with those little white apple headphones hanging from my ears the whole way– my playlists were my attempt to keep reliving the weekend. My Uber driver told me there was a continuous 24 hour after party at Space Night club still raging on, but not even I am that crazy. Everyone should attend a multi-day music festival once in their life; there are so many to choose from for every genre of music. So grab some friends, wave your freak flag and be ready for the weekend of a lifetime.

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Check out our other festival blogs

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Miami Ultra:  www.ultramusicfestival.com/

Hampton Inn Brickell:  50  SW 12th Street, Miami FL 33130 www.hamptoninnmiamibrickell.com/

Fado Irish Pub:  Mary Brickell Village 900 South Miami Ave. Miami, FL 33130 fadoirishpub.com/miami/

Coyo Taco:  1111 SW 1st Ave Miami, FL 33130 www.coyotaco.com

Batch Gastropub:  30 SW 12th Street, Miami FL 33130 www.batchgastropub.com

Cairo, Egypt

~By:  Julie

In 2011 I received the opportunity to travel to Cairo, Egypt, one of my most memorable trips even to this day. I was only given a small window of time to prepare before the trip and I didn’t know when I’d ever return, so I hired a tour guide/ driver to take me and a couple of my co workers at the time to see the things you are supposed to see. Our hotel was directly on the Nile River, with the most incredible views that immediately gave me the warmest feeling. It’s been 6 years and I’m still pinching myself about this opportunity.

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A few things that surprised me:
1. The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza are located right dab in the middle of Cairo. No joke. When we were flying into it, I saw a huge city with bare land in the middle like an abandoned dusty golf course and upon closer look I spotted the pyramids and the Sphinx from above. It still blows my mind.

2. Now, I had a certain expectation of camels when I came to Egypt… I figured I’d see one… but I really didn’t think I’d get to interact with them. They are really the oddest looking creatures and call me crazy but I couldn’t stop looking at their weird butts.

3. I’ve now stood in front of the giant stones that are the base of the pyramids and I really do question how they got there. ET? I’ve crawled underneath the smaller pyramids, touched the hieroglyphics, and was thankful for the shade of any shadow from the torturous sun. I came as close as possible to the Sphinx and she’s entirely much smaller than I anticipated, which doesn’t happen often to me based on my size. But all of it is a wondrous marvel.

4. I learned to not judge a book by its cover in Egypt because no house is finished. They never finish the top floor or roof of the house in order to avoid paying taxes. I was told the dirtiest looking places can really be the most valuable palaces inside. From the street you really get a different perspective on things.

5. After a necessary food stop for street-side doner Kabob, a voice came over the public loudspeaker chanting in a religious tone and the entire city paused in the most eerie way. No one made us feel uncomfortable for not practicing the way they did. We just kept quiet and reserved to the side out of respect until it seemed ok to continue our journey.

The video is long but I’m so grateful I have it after so much time has passed.


I had plans to return to Egypt to visit Alexandria before things became tense… I’ve lost some of the memories. But I still wear my cleopatra cartouche, display my papyrus paintings with pride and can’t wait to explore the rest of this incredibly mysterious country.

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San Blas Adventures: Love, minimalism… and rum

~By: Amanda

One day I woke up and realized I didn’t need any more ‘stuff.’ As the sun rose over the Caribbean and pierced the cerulean sky, I knew everything I needed fit inside a backpack. The ‘stuff’ that humans of our day have determined important, such as electricity, WiFi, and constant cell phone service, are all actually unnecessary. All you need are the basics: food, shelter, love and a little bit of rum. All mixed together on a pristine white sand beach with the tropical waters of the Caribbean lapping in the sunset. From an early age, especially as Americans, we are taught ‘stuff’ is important. Whether it be from various marketing channels or our peers, the social lesson we have embraced is that we need things to make us happy. At the end of our South American tour we learned with just how little we could live with and just how liberating that could be.

We first learned about San Blas Adventures from two of our Dutch friends; these guy are true travelers and claimed this was “best trips they had ever done!” Hearing that, it was inevitable we would go. Cap-stoning the end of our backpacker trip we each paid the hefty price of $450 for the four day, three night trip. Little did we know the experience we would gain would far outweigh the money spent.

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San Blas Adventures operates speed boat tours through the islands of the Kuna people, who flourish here off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The Kuna people fled to the islands from the mainland after the Conquistadors invaded. Here, they found not only had they rid themselves of the Spanish pests, but the blood sucking kind (mosquitoes) as well. You can book a tour online in either direction between Panama City, Panama and Colombia by boat and see one of the most amazing cultures and beautiful archipelago of islands in the world. There are not many ways to transverse the border between these two countries, as the only other option is off-roading through one of the most dangerous jungles on the entire planet. Forget the lions, tigers and bears, this is one of the most highly trafficked drug routes in the world. Your other option is the sea route, by sailboat utilizing other tour companies. While tranquil, you receive much less time on the islands, and more time on the sailboat. Other travelers told us horror stories over beers in Colombia about boat captains kicking off  their passengers and changing itineraries for the company of hookers.

 


San Blas Adventures was one of the first companies to operate boat tours between Panama and Colombia. One of the three owners of the company is a member of the Kuna tribe, so to book the most authentic experience and to incur the least amount of speed (wave) bumps possible, we highly recommend this company. When pre-booking online one is required to pay a $100 deposit. With this deposit comes multiple emails of the most specific set of instructions I have ever seen for a vacation. Read them once, twice, maybe ten times because these are imperative for your enjoyment for the next 4-6 days, well that, coupled with Poseidon’s temper.

These are some of the points I can not stress enough…

  1. Money: Read all points specific to money. While the deposit is paid in credit card, the balance is paid in cash, specifically USD. San Blas Adventures operates out of Panama, which barters in green dead presidents. Why you might ask, because the remainder of the money is paid to specific Kuna people, for our accommodations on each island, to our boat operators, for food etc. For the Kuna, “Visa is not everywhere they want to be;” their culture operates on cold hard cash and that’s what is easiest for them. Remember you are a visitor on their land. Basically show up with a minimum of $600, it will save you drama later.
  2. Also understand that regardless of departure point, your balance is paid in USD. If leaving from Colombia, pre-plan to have the money exchanged ahead of time. We traveled from Medellin and exchanged our money at the Bank of Colombia in the bus terminal. This process took over an hour requiring passports, signatures and fingerprints. The last possible point to obtain cash on the Colombian side is in Necocli (and will still need to be exchanged from Colombian Pesos to USD), there is NO ATM in Capurgana or Sapzurro.
  3. Bring only the Basics: all you need are a couple of swimsuits and dry clothing for evening time. It will all fit in your day pack. Flipflops are all that is necessary. I didn’t wear makeup for 5 days and it was fantastic; however, deodorant and a toothbrush will keep you from being “that person.” Pack a sweatshirt, it’s insane how cold a hammock in the Caribbean can be. It’s advised by the crew to keep all valuables and breakables in your day pack. Apparently the Kuna are not so gentle with the transport of your big backpacks. For electronics, double bag them, we brought super size zip-locks from home. You can buy bin liners (garbage bags) to cover both your day pack and your larger backpacks to try and keep them dry during the journey. You won’t actually see the larger backpack again until it’s time to say goodbye.
  4. DO NOT BRING DRUGS: Your guide is not playing around. A few months before our tour a German man was caught with 2 grams of Colombian powder at the check point into Panama. Word on the street is, he is still in Panamanian Prison. You are checked entering Panama, you are checked leaving Panama. This is just not worth it; I assume South American prison is not fun, so just enjoy your rum and life!
  5. Charge everything before leaving civilization: While you won’t have signal…less time for Snapchat, more time for bonding with new friends. You will want to capture the beauty of this paradise you get to call home for four days and all the memories in tow. Charge up your mobiles before leaving the for the islands. We did have electricity available in Sapzurro the night before we left, so leaving Colombia this is your last chance. A back up battery pack is also a good idea and in our opinion a must for every traveler. If you are a GoPro user, maybe 2 back-up batteries—you know.
  6. Don’t be a squirrel: Be nice to your guides, as they are there for you. Please and thank you go a long way. At the end of the day they are not here to change your pampers or fix your personal travel mishaps; but keep you safe and introduce you to the wonderful Kuna culture.

As much are nobody likes rules, the ones mentioned above are important, because this trip will change your soul if you come open minded. Starting in Necocli, you take the 8 am ferry to Capurgana. We spent the previous night in Punta de Aguila hotel in Necocli. This hotel had one of the best reviews on booking.com, and a triple room set us back around $8 per person, including breakfast. The ferry is your first taste at what the next few days will be like. The ferry boats are larger than the boats you will use to transverse the San Blas islands to Panama, but the waves are the same. One of the guys on our tour watched someone vomit on his backpack. Upon arrival in the colorful coastal town of Capurgana you will have a few hours to kill before the tour group briefing.

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Around 12 everyone huddled together at the San Blas Adventures office for our official tour meeting. Here is where we met Pedro, our Brazilian guide and his assistants David from Switzerland and Julia from Germany. Pedro broke down our plan for the next few days and gave us the 411 on what to expect. He collected our passports to stamp us out of Colombia, while we set off to buy important provisions like rum. We later poured the contents from our glass liter bottles into empty plastic water bottles–a more effective way to transport when riding 10 foot waves. The ferry between Capurgana and Sapzurro were the smallest boats I have ever seen deemed sea-worthy, considering the size of the waves beating up against the hull. On the 10 minute ride we managed to get insanely wet as we clutched to our day bags for dear life.

Once in Sapzurro we headed to our pre-booked hostel. I highly recommend staying with the hostel Hotel Triny that San Blas Adventures utilizes. We pre-booked Hilltop Sapzurro hostel in advance with fear that upon arrival, we would not find accommodation for 8 people last minute. Upon arrival we found the hostel a mess, without proper beds for our party. One bed had a random store of knock-off perfumes and condoms; I guess everyone needs a side business! We evacuated after it was confirmed that Hotel Triny recommended by San Blas could easily accommodate us.

We awoke the next morning ready for adventure. While traveling we refuse to use the word ‘adventure’ in the present tense. Doing so has lead to an immense amount of crazy situations, including but not limited to running away from a tsunami, multiple credit cards losses and a terrifying boat ride though the Straits of Malacca. So when we booked with a tour company which used the word adventure in its title, we knew we were doomed. We boarded our trio of speed boats, not really knowing what to expect. Boats one and two kicked to life, but ours didn’t, the motor refused to turn over. The Kuna drivers tried again and again and finally the boat surged to life; we were on our way.

“Catch me at the border….I got visas in my name”  (Paper Planes, M.I.A)

Our first stop was the Panamanian border, which we reached within 20 minutes. Our guide David pointed out the actual Panama border– a cliff of black rocks which jetted out into the ocean. I was surprised how quickly we changed between the two countries and how soon we were docked on Panamanian soil. As briefed, the border guards wanted to inspect all our luggage after checking our documentation. After the lead customs official apologized for the ‘inconvenience,’ a barking German Shepard we named “Sugarplum” was let out to sniff our bags. See we are not playing around, listen to your guides, its just not worth it…

“I’m on a Boat” (The Lonely Island, ft T-pain)

This tour is different from the other tours of the San Blas islands, because as opposed to sail boats, San Blas Adventures utilizes speed boats. This gives you much more island time and less chance for sea sickness; although some members of our party had their fair share, blame it on the rum. The boat time between islands each day is approximately two hours and the ride can be correlated to riding a wave runner. The speed boats travel in a pack of three for safety, two for passenger and one for supplies. These boats are not huge; they ride the waves of the Caribbean like a rogue cowboy.

It’s insane to look over at your sister boat and see it flying out of the water, skimming the top of the waves and realize you are doing the exact same thing. Our second day on the water the waves reached over 10 feet. Sea water poured into our boat and all I could think about was the Titanic, but sadly we were sans Leonardo DiCaprio. I walked off the boat that day soaked from head to foot, and my eyes stinging from the salt water. I have never seen Anna be so green in my life, meanwhile her cousin Josh seated on my left belted out an excited shout every time the boat peaked over a wave and became airborne.

Our guide Pedro said this was the worst he had ever seen the waves, hence our arrival was delayed a day. If the waves are deemed unsafe, extra days might be added to the tour, at a cost of $25 a day. San Blas Adventures highly suggests giving a minimum 2 day cushion on the back end of the tour for delays. This means it’s in your best interest to not have immediate flights booked or onward travel plans set in stone. Plus you get extra island time #winning!

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“The sun is shining and so are you….” (Sun is Shining, Axwell ∧ Ingrosso)

The plan each day is to split between two islands. The first island is typically deserted and reserved for sun, relaxing and splashing in the waves. Later you move on to a nearby island to have dinner and sleep. As we docked on our first island, our souls entered paradise. The day time islands are your perfect white sand beach island covered with palm trees, which shaded us from the hot Caribbean sun. As usual, we lasted about three minutes before jumping in the waves. Here is where lunch was served, all washed down with fresh coconut water mixed with rum; it was the perfect way to start every afternoon. The beach contained a volleyball net, snorkeling areas and shallow waters to play. San Blas adventures carts around a huge bin full of sports and water equipment for you to play with and there is plenty of snorkel gear to go around. Let’s just leave it at Julie and I are an epic fail when it comes to volleyball.

The second and third islands followed similar pattern. Day two includes a trip to Monkey Island, home to a pair of spider monkeys. They each had their own unique personality, one loving to cuddle while her rambunctious brother stole Julie’s sunglasses. On our final day we stopped at Pelican Island, which you can walk the circumference in 3 minutes. In the shallow clear waters surrounding the island, you can find hundreds of starfish resting in the sand. Careful with these fragile creatures though, as too much time out of the water will kill them.

“I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel, with the capers on a square plate.” (Broccoli, D.R.A.M)

I can still describe every bit of food they served us on this tour. This is mostly because everything was delicious and the portions were huge. Us girls often found ourselves scraping our plates over to a guy friend as we could not finish. Considering the cooking circumstances, I was highly impressed with the meals our crew served. They can also accommodate a wide range of dietary requirements, if notified in advance. According to our guide David, he had never seen a group go through so much hot sauce. Pretty much the only thing missing from my life in those 5 days was pizza, but the rum helped me cope.

Our first night at dinner, to get everyone mingling instead of staying comfortable in their own cliques, the guides started up a game that we would play out til the end of the trip. It’s the perfect icebreaker as you form alliances with people and start bonding over diabolical schemes.

Water, soda, beer and coconuts are sold by the Kuna people at a price of $1-3. The Kuna on each island keep a running tab in a notebook and you settle up at departure time. They usually have plenty to get you throughout the night…. unless someone named Josh decides to be bougie as hell and buy the entire cooler of beer for a shot-gunning party. On some islands you can purchase liters of rum. Your guide will know–plan ahead, no one likes an empty bottle.

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“Blame it on the Night….” (Blame, Calvin Harris)

There are thousands of islands inhabited by the Kuna people. Some of the smaller islands are home to 1-2 families, while the larger islands are covered with a “Kuna city.” These house several families, have schools, shops and some even restaurants and sleeping accommodations. Our sleeping quarters varied from wooden bunk houses built over the water to hammocks in a thatched hut on the beach. Each provided their own unique twist on island living. Don’t expect luxury accommodations, this is basic; however I was comfortable and slept well every night. Bucket showers are a thing and a bottle of water will take care of your teeth, otherwise just pretend you are a mermaid and live in the moment.

 

“24K Magic” (Bruno Mars)

Our last night our guide promised us magic…..We arrived at a small island which was inhabited by just one family and claimed our hammocks, which were lined up under roofs made of bamboo. We filled the rest of the afternoon with our usual games: playing on the white powder beach, relaxing in the hammocks, and card games of course. This was paradise, how could we ever want go home? Our fun was broken up with a call for pictures, as Pedro wanted a girl group photo for the company’s website. Following though in typical girl spirit, we concocted several creative poses, including a three tier pyramid. We learned that it was all just a rouse; as we rounded back to the beach, we saw one of our own, Dano’s boyfriend drop to one knee and ask her to marry him, as the golden sun dipped into the horizon.

If that doesn’t start a party, then I do not know what will! The only thing missing was Champagne, but this is the middle of nowhere and you can’t have everything. It was our last night and we determined to make it a memorable one. Our guides gave us access to the leftover fruit salad from the morning and we attempted to mix up some sort of sangria. This somehow generated a beer shot- gunning and log wrestling contest; I think the boys had some insane idea of making this the island version of American gladiators. Dinner came soon enough consisting of a lobster feast which made Red Lobster look like a biotch. So much lobster stacked on top of each other, it was a tower of heaven.

The bonfire was lit and the speakers were hooked up; we spent the rest of the night dancing around the fire and sealing our new friendships– it was magical. As I settled in my hammock, swinging in the night breeze, my only regret was that  I couldn’t stay here for longer. I could have spent another five nights in that hammock and another five days swimming around that island hanging out with my new friends. I was not ready to go home….

Why I would go back again tomorrow

I was not ready to go home, I was not ready to go back to civilization, the constant beeping of the phone, the loudness of the billowing city, I was happy in my bubble. “Everything I need, I now know for sure, I can fit in a backpack.” This is from my favorite book “Grounded” that I have read six times. It’s true, every time I take a trip like this I learn I can live with less and less. Some clothing, my pair of Converse chucks which are ripping at the seams, and a stuffed black lab puppy that I cart everywhere (to remind me of home). However, we have been tricked into thinking we need things to make us happy. More and more I realize it is experiences, travel, friendships and love (and maybe a little bit of rum) that are true happiness!

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Our soundtrack for this adventure, prefect for island dreams and rum coconuts Julie’s Hammock Playlist, here is the Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/julie.kristine/playlist/03xGmhGzlpYZVNnevjhSuy

Check out our other Blogs about Panama:

Way too Wanderlust Reccommends

San Blas Adventures:  www.sanblasadventures.com

Hotel Punta De Aguila Necocli:  Calle 50, Necocli Colombia, 057870 www.hotelpuntadeaguila.com booked via www.booking.com

References

 

  1. M.I.A. “Paper Planes.” Maya Arulpragasam, Wesley Pentz, Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Joe Strummer. “Kala.” London, XL Recordings and Interscope Records, 11 Feb 2008, digital download.
  2. The Lonely Island. “I’m on a Boat.” Andy Samberg, Akiva Schalter, Jorma Taccone, Wyshmaster, T-Pain. “Incredibad.” Universal Republic, 3 Feb 2009, digital download. 

  3. Axwell Λ Ingrosso. “Sun is Shining.” Sebastian Ingrosso, Salam Al Fakir, Axel Hedfors and Vincente Pontare. Single, Sweden, 12 June 2015, digital download.
  4. D.R.A.M., Lil Yachty. “Broccoli.” Roget Chahayed, Julian Gramma, Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith, Miles McCollum, and Karl Rubin. “Big Baby D.R.A.M.” Atlantic Records and Empire, 6 April 2016, 7″ and digital download. 
  5. Harris, Calvin. “Blame.” Calvin Harris, John Newman and James Newman. “Motion.” London, Deconstruction Fly Eye Columbia Records, 5 Sept 2014, digital download.
  6. Mars, Bruno. “24K Magic.” Bruno Mars, Christopher Brody Brown and Phillip Lawerence. “24K Magic.” Atlantic Records, 18 Nov 2016, digital download.
  7. Stevenson, Seth. (2010). Grounded. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Buenos Aires

~By:  Marco

As we are waiting to board our plane to Buenos Aires, I have a scroll through the pictures of the past few days. The views still fresh in my mind. I feel absolutely spoiled. How can anyone not like traveling? How can you prefer a holiday where you just get drunk and lay in a chair for 10 days in a row and still be $2K down. With not knowing how you actually spent it. How do people go to the same place every year, over and over again? How can someone be satisfied with oiling up and their only goal be getting the best tan for the coming two weeks?

Walking 20 km a day totally disconnects you from everyone and everything. No phone service. No Facebook. No Instagram. Just an endless road of rocks and dirt in front of you. Surrounded by trees and mountains. That feels like relaxing. I feel I start to appreciate my surroundings a whole lot more. Nowadays, everyone is constantly on their phones. At school, at the bus stop. During their lunch break. Strangers hardly talk to each other, nobody even smiles or says hello anymore. Then suddenly, if you are doing a 20 km hike in the middle of nowhere, with people you don’t know, you’ve never seen before and most likely will never see again, you start to say hello, “How are you? How was your day?” Weird isn’t it?

After having one of my philosophical moments on the plane again we got this little treat from mother nature. Although I have seen many sunsets and sunrises, they always stay beautiful.

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Our last hostel was located pretty much in the center of Buenos Aires. Rock Hostel & Brewery is located right on ‘Plaza del Congreso.’ A beautiful area surrounded by parks, historical buildings and great architecture.  Furthermore, it has a great atmosphere to meet new people with a bar in the middle of the communal area with large sofas and cool artistic decorations. As the hostel name might suggest, every dorm room has the name of a famous rock artist and throughout the hostel ‘the rock’ is visible through the art on the walls. The hostel has a good rooftop to relax and get away from the noise of the city. The view isn’t great, as you cannot see over the walls (even us tall Dutch guys couldn’t) but great to wind down with a beer and escape the madness of the city. Talking about beers, one of the areas we tried out for nightlife is ‘Palermo.’ Later, I found a video on my phone featuring six people in a taxi yelling (you could barely call it singing) Oasis’s Wonderwall. I believe we had a decent night out.

 

The following day we decided to be a tourist. As the tourists do, we visit La Boca, which is known for its colorful houses. As you might expect, it wasn’t as amazing as all the beautiful Instagram pictures. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, I can definitely recommend going. However, don’t expect the world. Go there for an hour when it is sunny and enjoy the walk and the city. A nice tick off the box, but absolutely not a ‘must go’ if your time is limited.

 

What I do recommend is eating the ‘Menuas Dias,’ which are what the locals eat. Try some of the amazing local dishes for real South American prices. You’ll find them pretty much everywhere in the city and are absolutely worth trying.

On my last day we got invited to an Asado by a fellow colleague who used to live in Argentina and now works for the same airline I do. As I stated in the beginning, the people in this part of the world are absolutely amazing.

Often people ask me, “What is the best destination you go to?” Or, “What is your favorite place?” I always say, “The crew makes the trip,” and I would say this is very applicable for a country or city too. The people make the country. To finish this trip with a typical Argentinean ‘Asado’ (barbecue) was the cream on top. The Argentine’s know how to do asados. I’ve never seen so much meat accompanied by no salad or anything green at all. Just lots of meat and lots of red wine. What else can you ask for on a last day? Well, it would be nice if I could actually understand a bit of all this Spanish. Hey, always keep room for improvement! Another thing travel has taught me.

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Check out parts one and two of Marco’s South American adventure and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram at Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I Love Pucon Hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Traveler Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Rock Hostel & Brewery – Buenos Aires
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part 2: Down Volcano Villarrica

~By:  Marco

PART TWO: DOWN VOLCANO VILLARRICA

When we packed our big backpacks at the beginning of this trip, I was wondering what the big round piece of plastic was used for. Due to my lack of Spanish, I had no idea and no one bothered to translate into either language I spoke. Now, all the pieces finally come together. We are going to slide down. With a big piece of plastic under our bums and the ice pick in our hands to steer (and brake!), we slide back down the volcano. As long as it took us to climb it, is was much faster sliding back down. A-MAZING! I reach the bottom with snow in my mouth, snow in my shoes and everywhere it can possibly go. Wauw!

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After being out and about the whole day, we peacefully fall asleep in our hostel. Soon, we are back on the road continuing our way further down south.

At San Martin we cross the border with Argentina, to finally reach Bariloche. As the weather was horrible we decide to make it a quick pass through and only stayed for one night. We quickly book a hostel through Hostelworld and are sorted for the night. After a short night of sleep behind us, we quickly prepared ourselves for the 25 hour bus drive which will bring us to El Calafate. Twenty-five hours.  I don’t think we realized how long that actually is. To sit. On a bus. Even after not seeing each other for over a year we could not fill the 25 hours with endless talks. Music, various naps and foremost Pisco, helped us get through the hours. The main reason why we are going to Calafate is because of the Petito Moreno Glacier. I can tell you everything about it, however, some things are better conveyed through pictures. The one thing I can tell you, it was definitely worth the 25 hour bus ride. Pictures tell a thousand words, right?

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The sound is unlike anything I have ever heard when those massive, massive, blocks of ice make their way into the water. Imagine thunder and then multiply that times ten. In-credible. Full stop. We stood there for hours. Carefully watching how those massive blocks of solid ice reacted with the elements. The continuous sounds of ‘thunder’ all around us. We all know that light travels faster than sound. But to actually see it for yourself, seeing those blocks of ice falling into the water and literally five seconds later hearing that massive ‘bang’. Very impressive. If you ever visit Patagonia, this glacier is highly recommended.

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As Calafate is more expensive than we budgeted, we decide to move up to El Chalten, which is about a 4 hour bus ride away. Nothing compared to our last ride. Funny, how travel shows you perspective. While a 4 hour bus ride before seemed tiresome, after those 25 hours it felt like a walk in the park. In Chalten hostels are cheaper, (and so are the beers) plus, there are a lot of free hikes. What’s not to like?

To start off easy, we began with the 18K hike of Torres Del Paine. The weather this day wasn’t on our side unfortunately. Very cloudy, which pretty much killed the view. Luckily, it’s just the start of a series of hikes and we can’t have it all, I’m afraid. Traveling wouldn’t be as satisfying either. You can’t always get what you want. All those Rolling Stones fans know what I am talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S94ohyErSw)

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After we get back to the hostel, we quickly go to the local supermarket to buy some well deserved beers. And some dinner, don’t forget dinner. If you’re hiking around 20K a day, you will be hungry.   Bright and early the next day we got ready for our adult hike, the Fitz Roy Mountain, only 20.2 km.  After yesterday’s hike we slept like babies, or was it because of the beer?  I don’t want to bore you with our Dutch conversations. I mean, it’s not even a real language. Anyway, what it is was all about: the crazy views!

 

Sad as I was to leave those amazing views behind I was excited to move on to the last bit of our South America adventure. Buenos Aires! It will be a transition from those stunning views, relaxing atmosphere and long hikes, but I was sure it wasn’t going to disappoint.

Check out parts one and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs from Chile

Check out Marco’s adventures on Instagram: Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I love pucon hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires-Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.

PART ONE: CHILE

At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.

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On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

 

 

How to hike Machu Picchu: A guide to survival

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~By:  Amanda, with salt bae and history facts from Anna and Julie

Last week someone told me that, “everyone visits Machu Picchu!” I imagine they are probably correct. It’s a relatively short flight from the United States down to Peru, as opposed to other destinations. I have always believed that it’s not if you do it, but how you do it and what you gain from the challenges and obstacles that you overcome. Often, one does not always appreciate things as much until they are able to reflect on them later.

There are many ways to tackle Machu Picchu (MP), and it all comes down to the correlation between your budget, time constraints and hiking abilities. First get to Cusco, an Andean city built over the historic capital of the Incan Empire. Cusco is ground zero for all Machu Picchu and Inca Trail tours. While there are options to pre-book online, we found it is much cheaper to make our way to Cusco and then book locally, which also gives your body time to adjust to the high altitude.

When I initially researched from my couch in NYC, I concluded a day to MP would cost around $300. Peru Rail and Inca Rail both operate trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (AC), the small town located at the base of MP. These trains are pricey– an advance ticket will run you $80-100 each direction. Tack on the Machu Picchu entrance fee of $70 and bus tickets up and down the rock face at around $30 round trip and you have a three hundred dollar day before even considering food, guide or celebration beers.

After careful research we determined the cheapest route involved booking what we named the “backpacker route.” Be ready, as this is a no-frills option involving a 5-6 hour bus ride on probably the windiest road in the world, two 11 km walks between Hydroelectrica and Aguas Calientes and a grueling vertical hike between base and summit of Machu Picchu. Through our hostel Pariwana in Cusco, we booked this package which also included a hostel for the night in AC and an English speaking guide, for just over $100. With plans for being on the road in South America for over the next month, this seemed like the only acceptable option for our budget.

The tour meets in the main town square in Cusco in front of the McDonalds.  For our two day trip we opted and definitely recommend leaving your larger backpack locked in the hostel bag room, as you will have to carry everything you bring for 11 kilometers. Layers are the key for packing for this trip; the temperature and weather variances change rapidly. One minute you are enjoying the warm sun, and the next minute the wind kicks up and the sky opens in a downpour. I have decided this is how the ancient Inca gods mess with the tourists tresspassing on their sacred land. Also, make sure to bring enough bug spray to supply an army. The mosquitos in Agua Calientes are brutal– they leave scars. I’m pretty sure those Incan gods are responsible for this as well.

Packing list for Machu Picchu:

  • Layers, Layers, Layers: workout tanks and tees, a fleece and windbreaker or waterproof outer layer. For ladies, leggings (how can we live without them) and for men workout or hiking pants.
  • Hiking boots or running shoes with proper socks, which dry quickly
  • Swimsuit and towel for the hot springs
  • Three days worth of undergarments
  • Flipflops for the hostel shower
  • Pajamas (unless you’re that hostel mate we all talk about)

Our small bus held 19 passengers and they pack you and your luggage in like sardines. Once outside of Cusco, the driver takes you down one of the most terrifying roads I have ever experienced. The switch backs are threaded together without a moment’s peace from the twists and turns. We drove through waterfalls and speeds that make your stomach church. Don’t worry, the guard rails won’t ruin your Instagram photos– they are not present! So as you climb over and down each mountain you stare out your window at a terrifying shear drop down the mountain right beside the bus wheels. If you have ever experienced motion sickness in a car, Dramamine will be your best friend for this ride. For six hours I quietly leaned my head against the window and let those little pills keep breakfast from revising. This is the least I have ever spoken over a period this long.

After spending half a day cramped in the van on “hell road,” you arrive at Hydroelectrica definitely ready to stretch your legs. Here you have the option to either hike or purchase tickets for the over-priced train to Aguas Calientes. The first 10 minutes of the hike are a bit challenging climbing around the dam, but it straightens out to flat even terrain as you follow the railroad tracks. The total distance here is about 11K and will take 2.5-4 hours depending on your pace and abilities. Vendors and restaurants dot the side of the tracks selling necessary water and beer, so make the most of it and enjoy a couple cold ones as you walk in the afternoon sun.

We arrived later than expected in AC, having stopped for sandwiches and beer along the way. Ecopackers Machu Picchu Hostel was included in our tour package and was both clean and included free breakfast and WiFi. With only an hour to spare before closing time at 8 pm, we quickly changed into our swim suits and headed to the Aguas Calientes Hot Springs at the top of the town. The entrance fee was about $5. There are several man-made pools at various temperatures of heated natural spring water. It was not the best hot springs I have ever seen, but super effective at soothing the muscles of our exhausted legs. If you are planning to do any hiking while you visit MP, the hot springs are a good idea just for therapeutic reasons. They will also deliver you drinks poolside, for an additional charge.

Our group was scheduled to meet our guide at 8 pm to brief for our MP tour the next morning. As small as AC is, its easy to make a wrong turn and end up lost. Trying for a shortcut, we ended up 10 minutes late for our meeting. We were instructed to leave the hostel by 4:30-4:45 am to ensure we allowed enough time to climb the steps up the vertical face of Machu Picchu. Little did we know we would need all of that time and then some…

We awoke the next morning to the sound of raindrops beating down outside our window — yay a hike in the rain. In a last minute effort to avoid the rain, a group decision was made to attempt taking the bus to the top. I am pretty sure everyone else in Aguas Calientes had the exact same plan, because the line for bus tickets snaked around the bus terminal building and out of sight down the road. With that plan scratched, we only had one option: hike in the rain.

What awaited us was a trepidous hike up a mountain approximately 1,280 feet or 390 vertical meters. The hike is up, straight up, and stone steps are etched into the mountain to make the path slightly easier. I run about 20 miles a week and this hike kicked my butt. We had to stop several times for others to catch up who were slower and had asthma problems, or to try and adjust rain ponchos. All attempts to stay dry completely failed, there was too much slippery mud and torrential rain.

By the time we scrambled up over the last stone step, we felt like we had conquored the world. Soaked through and exhausted we met with our guide and the rest of our group. The entrance into the ruins was a hot mess; thousands of travelers crowded before the turnstiles in no apparent order or line (typical South America), pushing towards the entrance. You need both your passport and ticket with you in hand at this entrance point.

The weather continued to play hide and seek, with it raining one minute and the next getting too warm. It was a consistent peeling and replacing of layers. Our guide walked us through the ruins explaining the mysteries of this ancient culture. There are three large stone windows by symbolic rocks that line up perfectly once a year on the day of the summer solstice. The Inca loved three favorite animals: the condor, the puma, and the snake. As part of Incan mythology these animal symbols are often carved into stone walls and buildings. They also highly prioritized three favorite values: love, knowledge, and hard work.

 

It was fascinating to think how advanced this civilization was hundreds of years ago. There were several llamas roaming freely throughout the ruins that I badly wanted to pet until we determined these furry creatures can spit, so we kept our distance. The pictures speak for themselves,  and also don’t do it justice, as I cannot properly convey how amazing this culture was to have created this civilization in the sky.

After our adventurous morning climb, we decided to buy a bus ticket back down to AC for $13/person. We were ready for the pizza and beer we had earned from our morning hike in the dark and rain. At the bottom we found a cute little restaurant where we ordered our steady favorite combination, warming ourselves at the restaurant’s brick oven. Considering we took far longer than we originally planned to hike to AC, we decided to also book a train ticket back to Hydroelectric. Buying a ticket last minute was very difficult and we were lucky to have a Spanish speaker with us. The ticket was well worth the money and we climbed into the clean and comfortable train; settling down with a complimentary coco tea.

The bus ride back to Cusco however was equally as crazy and I settled into my Dramamine induced haze, Spotify playlists ready.

How to plan your trip?

If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu know your limits. Looking back, the sense of accomplishment I feel from hiking to the top is gratifying, but at the time I wanted to die! OK,  being a little dramatic here. If I could plan it again, I would take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The sickness I experienced on the drive is enough for me to dig a little into my savings and fork over the extra money. If your budget won’t allow, come mentally and physically (pills) prepared for motion sickness. I have several friends who chose the train route and they definitely enjoyed the safety of the luxury train over our white-knuckle ride through the Peruvian mountains.

Stay two nights in Aguas Calientes! The hostel we stayed in was perfect and I believe about $10 a night. I would have enjoyed a more relaxed itinerary. The scenery surrounding AC alone was worth the extra time, as well as the multiple cute bars, I wanted to have a Pisco sour in them all. But hike Machu Picchu, and skip the bus. The feeling of accomplishment you will receive is worth it…

Our hearts and love go out to all the people in Aguas Calientes and Peru effected by the flooding. You are in our prayers!

Checkout our other blogs about Peru

Way Too Wanderlust Recommends

Pariwana Hostel:  C. Meson de la Estrella 136, Cusco Peru +51 84 233751 www.pariwana-hostel.com

Ecopackers Hostel:  Av Imperio de los Incas 136, Aguas Calientes, Peru +51 84 231800 www.ecopackersperu.com

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Bolivia: Embracing the middle of nowhere.

~By:  Amanda, Anna and Julie

Nobody likes early mornings, but at least with this tour you awake at 0 Dark 30 to a glorious breakfast prepared for you. We were on the road by 7:30 am. Besides being friendly, our favorite thing about Miguel was that he kept us on a good schedule. We were always the first group to arrive at many of the stopping points along the way. On our way out of town we hit up a convenience store, where we grabbed a few Coronas, because what’s vacation in the middle of nowhere without breakfast beers?

Our first stop of the day would be a hidden gem in the middle of the desert, where hundreds of boulders are stacked on each other. The scenery was breathtaking and we were able to take more unforgettable pictures…noticing a pattern?

 

Pulling up to Laguna Canapa, we spotted several black specs sprinkled thoughout the water. As we neared the shore, we realized these were the promised pink flamingos. The real thing, not the tacky plastic decorations that Floridians like to use as lawn decor. Miguel let us off on the far shore to enjoy the birds while he prepared lunch. Getting close to these creatures was tricky. They are quite docile animals and there is a parameter set up around the lake to keep visitors from getting too close.  Our picnic lunch was set up next to a hotel on little tables covered with thatched straw roofs. The adjacent hotel promised wifi for a small fee, however it was in-operative. In actuality, most of us were happy to stay in our little bubble off the grid.

As we set off, our surroundings transformed into a red rock desert. There was no road, only rows of tire tracks etched in the sand. Miguel knew the way, as he has driven the route hundreds of times; he’s probably able to trace the path in his sleep. Based on our GPS, we realized the line of mountains skimming by our right side window was the border to Chile. This is where we get diabolical. Miguel knows Julie grew up in Chile, having immediately peppered her with questions upon learning this gringa spoke perfect Spanish. We asked hopefully, “Can we go to the border?” After a moment of consideration he mentally made a couple small adjustments to the itinerary and determined it was possible. He also made the recommendation that for the equivalent of 5 dollars more we could stay in a better hotel that evening, which would also make more efficient use of our time. We immediately agreed.

Today we got as high as 15,650 feet elevation! We had kind of became obsessed with checking our elevation. Snapchat and the iPhone Compass app both show accurate elevation, even when your phone is in airplane mode. At one point Miguel stopped the car to hand over a bag of coca leaves. We all took a few even though we felt fine, determining do as the natives. This was the highest point of elevation any of us had ever achieved outside of an airplane. We used to see lots of alpaca herds when at lower elevations, where there was an abundance of more greenery. The natives live off the alpaca herds for everything. But up here we are in complete desert; we we keep describing it as being on Mars, because of the red color and all the martian rocks scattered over the landscape. We really haven’t seen any wildlife other than a few odd looking ducks and a few wild alpaca. They look almost like antelope, they are very thin and lanky and only white and cream colored. Miguel called them cuña. Who knows what they survive on because there is very little vegetation. 

After cruising along the endless red sand for hours, we entered the national park, which costs an additional 150BOB. Be careful! One of the sneaky officials attempted to keep 50BOB in change he owed me, when I handed over 200BOBs. Once again thankful for Julie’s Spanish, I walked back out with my cash… my beer money for the evening.

Just past the park office is the Laguna Colorada, an amazing red colored lake home to more flamingos. We learned the lake receives its color from mineral deposits which generate a red hue. This is also how the pink flamingos are so uniquely colored, as their primary food source also contains these same red minerals. Sitting on the rocks overlooking the laguna, we all had pensive solo moments. When your eyes capture something this beautiful, silence takes over….

Our final stop for the day was the geysers. We parked first at the smaller of the two, a small plume of white smoke jetting out from the tiny hole in the earth’s surface. You are actually able to touch the vapors evacuating from this small geyser and we all took turns jumping thought the warm vapors. Two minutes further down the road, a larger geyser gushed searing hot steam from the vent in the rocks. We were careful to steer clear of the mist as it was hot enough to cause serious burns.

Exhausted, we arrived at our accommodations for the evening. We played cards as we waited for our afternoon tea and those amazing cookies. Dinner was served with a complimentary bottle of wine and the food was as equally delicious as the night before. It was all clean, wonderful and locally grown. This is where we made our mistake. We had originally planned to visit the hot springs adjacent to the hotel after dinner. However, we all developed food comas, and coupled with the long day and the freezing temperatures outside, no one could muster putting on a bathing suit. Instead we quietly returned to our room and snuggled under our warm blankets.

Our final morning started with pancakes! What better way to start a morning then pancakes? — is Anna’s philosophy on life. Our first stop was the Laguna Verde, but to be quite honest it was not too exciting. Later we googled it and found pictures online with much more intense colorization, so perhaps we arrived during the wrong season. We started debating the difference between lagoons and lakes–  no cell service for three days brings on some strange conversations. We concluded, thanks to Anna, lakes have to have a fresh water source. Finally on to Chile…

 

I have never been to Chile…based on a group consensus we determined if you make a memory in that country you can claim it. Figure out a better way than to grab hands with one of your favorite people and illegally run across a border, likely no! I also did a cartwheel, just in case. So in my mind it counts and I guess that is all that really matters, country number 60!

The rest of the day was mostly spent in the car, we made a few stops including the Desert of Dali, which was named after a Salvador Dali painting. We keep spotting small herds of the Alpaca-Antelope far across the empty fields. Every time a big huge truck passed us going in the opposite direction, we held our breaths going through the large dust clouds, generated as they speed down the road. We hoped those big trucks were carrying road paving supplies.

Our final stop before Uyuni was San Cristobal. Historically this town laid further to the west, however when an Australian mine company wanted to drill the mineral rich land; the town was re-located to its current location. The caveat was the beautiful church must be moved stone by stone and precisely re-erected. San Cristobal also has an amazing market, of course we found a stall with a working refrigerator and grabbed a couple of beers for our ride back to Uyuni.

We rode into Uyuni on a dust cloud and Miguel dropped us off at the bus station to drop our bags. We said a remorseful goodbye to Miguel. We will never see him again, but will never forget the magic he showed us in this beautiful and often forgotten part of the world. We settled down for dinner of pizza and beer before heading back to La Paz. We are so predictable! Coming back into “civilization” and having cell phone signal was not even all that grand. I called my mom, assured her of proof of life, shared a couple photos and resigned to not really caring about being reconnected with the world.

This was by far one of the most incredible trips we have ever taken. Absolutely a once in a lifetime kind of experience; I can’t believe we only paid $130 each. Still, we rather roughed it. We learned that electricity, running water and flushing toilets are luxuries in many parts of the world. We toured across the country in a Nissan Prado through salt flats, shallow lakes, heavy mud, creeks, prairie, roads of solid boulders, mountain tops and desolate dry desert. Arriving back in Uyuni completely covered in dirt, having lived and learned  a little more, experiencing an amazing new culture and with fuller souls.

See part one of our adventure: Bolivia-The “road” less traveled and our other Bolivia blogs

 

Bolivia: The “road” less traveled

~By: Amanda and Julie

When booking anything in a third world country you must take everything as “alternative facts”. Things get lost in translation, drivers veer off on personal agendas, and pictures on pamphlets rarely meet expectations. That being said, it’s almost always worth it and the experience will often exceed your expectations in ways you’d never comprehend.

A couple of weeks ago we were going through the extensive paperwork process of crossing by land from Peru to Bolivia as U.S. citizens. We booked a 3-Day Salt Flats tour from our hostel in La Paz and the only expectations we had were 3 meals a day and accommodations on the tour.  Beyond that, alimg_5217l we knew is we would see the Uyuni Salt Flats and we were promised pink flamingos.
We took an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni and arrived around 5am where a man with a sign appeared out of no where in the dark with our names, escorted us through the empty town to a tiny cafe for breakfast. It had spotty wifi but the breakfast was filling and most importantly a wall filled with outlets to charge everything we owned, since electricity would be scarce the next three days. We basked in the heat of the fire burning oven and drank copious amounts of coca tea to prepare ourselves for the journey with no seeming itinerary.

 

IMG_9714Around 10am a lady from the travel agency next door came to find us, escorted us to our 4×4 jeep and introduced us to our driver. He was less than pleased that we showed up for a three day trip with our large backpacks filled to the gills for an entire month of traveling. He had to tie our big backpacks to the top of the jeep; we hadn’t been informed to pack lightly or to leave our bigger bags behind. Julie explained to him our dilemma and after many under the breath remarks about packing gold bricks, he tied down our bags under a tarp on top of the jeep. Plan to leave your larger backpack behind, stashing everything you will need for the tour a day pack. Our simple packing list includes:

 

  • Three days worth of warm clothing, we highly suggest packing layers.
  • Comfortable running shoes or hiking boots
  • Flip flops for the salt flats, the white salty residue stains.
  • Warm clothing for sleeping, no electricity means no heat. Our accommodations did provide warm bedding.
  • Back up chargers fully charged, we did not see electricity for over 48 hours.
  • Gallons of sunscreen
  • Toilet paper and hand sanitizer, it was not typical to find a bathroom with toilet paper or a sink
  • Swimsuit for the hot springs
  • Maybe some Xanax or melatonin

 

We all piled into the Nissan 4×4 with only a hint of our itinerary, we knew our first stop was the Cementerio de Trenes (the train cemetery). Expecting an hour drive, we were surprised when we pulled up 10 minutes later. Several rusting steal trains lay in the sand, like an abandoned children’s toy. Our driver warned us the structures were not exactly stable and to use caution. This did not stop us from exploding out of the jeep and running towards the trains like a bunch of 5 year olds who had just be released for recess. With a ‘Carpe Diem’ attitude we immediately threw caution to the wind and jumped on to the warm steal. Climbing the old trains was no easy task, however we were able to get several amazing pictures and laughs. Our 20 minute time allowance closed all too soon and we headed back to the jeep; next stop, the salt flats.

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A couple of years ago I found a picture online captioned “where heaven meets earth”. I immediately clicked on the link and learned it was the Salar de Uyuni (the Salt Flats of Uyuni) located in Bolivia. My research began here, it would be a journey, but it was promptly moved to the top of my bucket list. As we headed out of town we spied hints of our impending destination, floating mountains and mirroring pools of water in the distance. Pulling into the salt flats, my heart skipped a beat… I had made it.

We scrambled outside, excited for our first view, ready for our feet to touch the sparkling white ground. This is where I believe our driver’s feelings for our group changed from unenthusiastic to the beginnings of a new friendship. He knew we were ready to fall in love with his country and now he was excited to show it. For our tour we had selected to only use a Spanish speaking local guide, an English speaking guide would have set us back an additional $75 each, definitely not in the budget. Luckily, Julie is perfectly fluent in Spanish and was able to translate the important information and facts. If no one in your group has a decent grasp on the Spanish language, I would recommend springing for the English guide.

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Our first stop was a brief one, our guide knew we were itching to get our first experience inside the flats. He showed us where the clay underneath the salt flat was “breathing” as it bubbled up to create pools of water; it felt like we were on another planet in a far away galaxy. Our guide promised after lunch he would take us to the best locations on the flats to get those amazing pictures we had been planning for weeks, so we begrudgingly got back into the jeep.

We soon arrived at the hotel where we would have lunch, settled in the middle of the salt flats. It was an oasis surrounded by miles of white. The tour drivers bring and prepare all the food for the three day trip. So we clicked away with the Go Pro, while our new friend, Miguel, set up lunch. At this point the three year olds inside of us couldn’t help ourselves and Anna and I tried a bit of the salt; it was everything we hoped it would be. Julie still thinks we are weird. Inside we found our driver had spread out a feast, including llama steaks, a first for everyone. They are amazing and my taste buds compare it to a gamey steak.

 

Driving into the heart of the salt flats was just as it was captioned, straight into heaven. You are surrounded by pure white, the ground covered in salt which reflects off the sun like fairy dust. The entire 11,000 sq km flats is flanked by mountains which seem like a mirage in the distance. Once a prehistoric ocean which had dried up millions of years ago, the salt deposits are all that remains. During the rainy season in January enough water collects to create mirrored surface. It’s incredible the way the sun reflects off the mirror, unlike anything I had seen before.

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Moving on to the dry part of the Salt Flats, it was time to take those crazy pictures. Armed with a Go Pro and an array of props you can use the flatness of the area to create an optical illusion in depth perception. I highly recommend when you plan your trip to utilize google to gather ideas and then bring toys and props to make amazing pictures you could not re-create anywhere else. We brought mini dinosaurs, a corona bottle and a Pringles can, which we danced out of. Use your imagination and get creative. Luckily our driver Miguel knew how to line up the props to create the best photos. Leaving the salt flats with brilliant memories and a slight sun burn (SPF or cover up) my soul was happy.

After a few words in Spanish, we talked Miguel into letting us plug his aux cord into our phones and run our music for a while. Cruising through the mountains we let the breeze whip through the windows as we captured pictures of gigantic cactus as the topography gradually changed.

We pulled into our hostel in San Juan around 5pm, the accommodations were basic and traditional. The walls and beds were made from salt and the roof was covered with straw. Afternoon tea was planned for 5:30 and we settled down to refresh with tea and cookies! Afterwards we were able to pay 10 BOB ($1.45) for a hot shower.  Having not bathed since La Paz and caked in salt, the hot shower lifted our spirits after the long day. Special note if you take this tour, this is likely your last chance at a shower for the next two days. So unless you want to be responsible for the funky smell in the jeep, scrub up!

Dinner was served around 7:30 and both nights included an appetizer of the traditional Bolivian soup. I wish I could duplicate this soup at home… I love soup. The hostel sold beer and wine, which if you know anything about us, its how we start and end the day. After a couple of bottles of red and taking the opportunity to gaze at the stars uninterrupted by light pollution, it was time for sleep.

The continuation of our epic tour  Bolivia-Embracing the middle of nowhere and our other Bolivia blogs

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO OF THE TRIP ON YOUTUBE!