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

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

 

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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Check out our other Blogs about Bolivia:

Way too Wanderlust Recommends:

www.wildroverhostels.com

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

Way too Wanderlust Recommends

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