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

Keeneland, My Kentucky Derby

~By:  Amanda

I make fun of “fly over” states all the time; however I can’t really talk, as I’m from a fly over state. Anna and I were both born and raised in Kentucky. I know what you are thinking: there is literally nothing there. True, some parts are not worth spending more than the five minutes you would need to gas up your car and grab a bag of Cheetos. However we do have our claims to fame, including by far the best college basketball team in the country– I am not biased, google it! Bourbon, which speaks for itself, no explanation needed! Finally horses, specifically horse racing. This is not a post about the Kentucky Derby, it’s about my favorite place in Kentucky, located just outside of Lexington, Keeneland Race Track.

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Keeneland is one of the most beautiful horseracing tracks in the country, with much of its original 1930’s style architecture. Every April and October, they showcase live horseracing and in my opinion surpasses the beauty of the twin spires at Churchill Downs. For most Kentuckians, Keeneland is an event, so dresses and ties are the favored dress code. Just don’t wear a hat, as those are for the Derby. We will know you are from out of town even before hearing your accent. Everyone shows up early to tailgate, complete with cocktails and homemade southern style appetizers, before the first post at 12 noon.

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Every time I return, nostalgia pulls. This is where I spent most of my Fridays when I attended the University of Kentucky, skipping that last afternoon class. As you enter you almost feel as if you are pulled back in time; the grounds have been perfectly maintained since the track was constructed in 1936. My first stop is always the “Sports Bar” on the second level, which is the prefect place to grab a Bloody Mary and make your bets for the first race.

The $5 general admission grants you access to most of the grounds and the free seating on the benches at the racetrack’s edge. It’s incredible to watch the horses fly by. To sit in the fancy box seats, located in the covered Grandstand, you better know someone. These boxed areas are pre-owned and are passed down though families from generation to generation. You can also purchase Grand Stand Reserved seating or make reservations in various dining and club venues. Its the bougie way to go and should be booked in advance, since reservations go fast.

I am a weirdly traditional person, so my day here always starts with a Bloody Mary first, and then moves on to bourbon, which pairs well with a beef frank with spicy mustard for lunch. However, if you are a Kentucky virgin, I highly recommend the burgoo, a delicious stew. I always end my day down near the long finish at the Equestrian Bar–this is where my father and his friends typically set up post. At this point I have spent all my money on bets and I can usually count on a cocktail or two from him, citing that I am unmarried and therefore still his responsibility.

I rarely win, mostly because I solely choose my horses based on their names. However this place is still magical to me, maybe because it transports me back to those treasured days I spent at university or maybe it’s because the sights and sounds are the feeling of home. For me it’s not about winning, it’s about the atmosphere: Keeneland embraces the true Kentucky spirit.

 

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Teaching your 9 month old nephew to gamble, totally normal!

Check out  Keeneland from one of their own’s prospective… my dear friend Isaac Hickman from the Broadcast Department at Keeneland created this video titled “Family and Friends”

https://www.facebook.com/keeneland/videos/10154249380567186/

 

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

Keeneland Racetrack:  4201 Versailles Road, Lexington KY 40510 www.keeneland.com

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/

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

 

Australia Day at the Wild Rover Hostel, La Paz

~By:  Amanda

If you ever have the opportunity to experience Australia Day with Australians, do it, you will not regret it. Planning to meet a friend in La Paz, we booked bunks at the same hostel, The Wild Rover. These dates just happened to fall over Australia Day on January 26 and Wild Rover plans one hell of a party. We arrived smack in the middle of the pre-party on the evening before Aussie Day. We quickly changed and jetted to the bar, ordering several rounds of Bolivia’s finest pilsner.

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The Wild Rover hostel is located in central La Paz and is easily accessible from both the main bus terminal and the international airport. This party hostel is gigantic, with a plenitude of 26 rooms, a bar and three courtyard sections. The hostel offers the typical free breakfast of bread and coffee/tea, WiFi and laundry by the kilo. However, the main focal point is the bar, which offers several happy hour specials. It has an amazing atmosphere and several themed nights to keep everyone entertained. The hostel also offers a full service restaurant until 9pm, with amazing food; seriously, I did not have a bad meal over the 4 days I spent here. The chicken quesadillas are by far our favorite and if you prefer something lighter, go for the chicken soup.

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The staff is more than accommodating, our first night here our friend went missing. Due back from his Death Road Tour at 7:30 pm, he was still MIA after 9. After later finally receiving a phone call that tour group was stuck behind a landslide, the wonderful staff sprung into action calling other hostels to inform them their guests would be delayed. Even when I misplaced my laptop changer (total catastrophe for a blogger), the staff worked together and were able to locate it; hence how I am writing right now. My only complaint would be the lack of power outlets inside the rooms. Wild Rover does offer locked power stations inside the reception, however many of those plugs were stripped. I guess everyone has one tragic flaw.

Now back to Aussie Day, because this was by far one of the most entertaining days of our South America trip. The night before at the pre-party, there was a bomb shot ceremony at midnight where they staged up 118 shots in green and yellow. My primary question is how do they have this many cups? This required 236 glasses to make this happen. I guess they went to IKEA.

Fast forward to the next day, everyone started early, ordering breakfast beers at 11 am. The sun shown bright and at 1 pm the hostel started playing the Australia’s Triple J Hottest 100 list, which apparently is a very big deal. Beer pong lists began to pass around and we entered the tournament knowing we were doomed against this group. Outside on the patio we ate grilled meat ‘on the barbie’ and drank draft beers. Somehow later we were convinced to sign up for some game which involved drinking from a shoe.

As the day bled into night the party moved back into the bar. We finally made it to the number one song, ‘Never Be Like You’ by Flume featuring Kia. The DJ spun into full gear and everyone started dancing. Ended up on the bar, but sometimes that happens. I blame the bourbon shots, but when you learn one of the bartenders is also from Kentucky, this is bound to happen. According to my friends I was doing some crazy dance, which can only be correlated to one of those blow up air signs used for marketing. I blame it on the Aussie surfer boy I was dancing with but I really don’t remember.

My favorite part of this day was being around the Australians. So many quickly welcomed us to our group and treated us as Aussies for the day. Everyone turning their chairs, creating more room, making new friends at every turn. This culture has it down– they accept everyone; nobody is a stranger!

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Throwback Thursday: Hvar, Croatia

Croatia never sat of on the top of my must travel list. What I knew about Croatia was mostly from news casts about the war when I was a child. I was too little to understand. Fast forward many years later, my current roommate Aida, a Bosnian, shed light on that part of the world. After hearing her powerful story, I became curious; after she showed me pictures I was ready to get on an airplane. Croatia was where her family had vacationed before the war. All three roommates decided to go together with Aida as our local guide. I fell in love.

With our heart set on traveling to Hvar, we found accommodation at a guesthouse which checked off all of our must-haves in our price range on booking.com. After climbing what seemed like 100,000 stairs with a backpack, we were greeted by the sweetest old lady. Her English was limited, but Croatian and Bosnian are essentially the same language. She was over the moon when Aida greeted her in familiar words and immediately asked us to join her for coffee and cookies. Our stay was wonderful and we promised to come back….. And we did; a year and a half later, we booked the same apartment and that wonderful lady immediately remembered us.

On the morning of our second day, we decided to have a group run to the fort on the hill overlooking Hvar town. It was an uphill battle, but we conquered. As we were leaving the apartment, the owners’ son waved hello. He ran a car and moped rental business attached to the guesthouse. We noticed a cooler lined with beer for sale: our planned reward for after the workout. Upon our return we ran over to quench our thirst on crisp cold Ozujsko. The group had grown with men from the neighborhood settling down for their afternoon gossip. We sat down with our beers and joined the group’s conversation. We tried the best we could to understand everyone using half English, mixed with some Croatian, some German, some Italian, some French. Essentially everyone shared a common second language and well, laughter and smiles are the same no matter what you speak.

Soon enough rain clouds closed in and we all huddled together, opening more beers, each person taking their turn buying another round. We spent three hours making new friends and laughing at each others half understood jokes. The family dog Dzeko (Jako), a silly black lab, was running back and forth to each new friend hoping for a treat. My favorite was this little old man; he and I both spoke some German, so I learned about his life. He had seen it all– WWII, the Russians coming into former Yugoslavia, and then the Yugoslav War itself. His demeanor was so light and pleasant. Every once and a while he would sneak off only to return 20 minutes later in a new outfit complete with fun hat. Eventually a bottle of Greek liquor was produced and sticking with proper European etiquette, we were all expected to take a shot. It tasted like paint thinner, but how could we say no!

This is why I travel. These memories are the ones that will stick with me until I’m that sweet old lady, sipping bourbon in the afternoon with Anna and Julie, of course. Hopefully then too, I can sit with a group of young tourists and laugh for an afternoon. Tell them my stories and adventures, tell them personal accounts of what they learned in history class. While seeing the castle, going to the popular museum or hiking that trail can highlight a trip, it’s when you get to know the people and truly see the culture, that you have graduated from vacationer to traveler.

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~By:  Amanda

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Apartments Bodlovic: SimeTome Buzolica 9, Hvar Croatia 21450 booked via http://www.booking.com