Category Archives: just silly

Nightlife in San Pedro de Atacama

Based on the subject of this post, this is a short one. The altitude does not combine well with an active nightlife. Were bars and restaurants busy? Sure, but imbibe with care. The hangover wouldn’t be worth it. Altitude and alcohol are not the best combination.

San Pedro is a jumping off point for tours and trips to see the landscapes of the region – which start during the early morning hours and throughout the daylight hours.

Nightlife consists of travelers going to the ATM…seriously. We quickly learned that you can expect a 30-45 minute wait each time. In this photo, we’re pretty close to the front, after an extended wait. At this point you’re just hoping there’s still cash in the machine by the time you get to swipe your card.


After securing cash and food, heading back to the hotel is up next.


Once you leave the confines of the few streets making up the ‘town,’ there are no streetlights. None. Laugh all you want at the headlamp (my friends did) but this headlamp was a lifesaver (probably literally too) on our walk back to our hotel in the pitch dark.


Valparaiso, you’d love it or hate it. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

As I mentioned, I had been warned you’d either love Valparaiso or hate it. Well, Valpo, as it’s lovingly called, was a total win for me. After two nights I loved it and decided to stay longer.

Except when I went to extend my reservation for another two nights at breakfast the next morning, I was told this hostel was booked. So breakfast became quite productive for planning my day and my sleeping arrangements.

First,  I had to make a plan to change hostels since the one I was currently in was booked. It happened that there was another traveler who wanted to stay longer as well so one owner of the hostel made a call and two of us were going to transfer to another hostel.

Over breakfast, all the travelers at the table shared our plans for the day. Mine was not really a plan but I wish that I was keen to visit the wine region. In conversation, I found two other travelers who were hoping to do the same.

And, in nearly one fell swoop, I had one owner calling to find two of us another hostel and the other owner was about to plan the day for the three of us.

Three of us asked the other owner to book us on a tour. He told us that’s not how it works; yet, after making just one phone call, he confirmed that we’d be driven out to one of Chile’s most accessible wine regions, the Casablanca Valley, later that morning.

Planning? Sometimes it’s just for the birds!


Change: The Search For (coins) and Departure From (budget travel)

Before I had departed Buenos Aires, I had reasoned with myself…

Since this was my first long-haul bus ride, I would reward myself with a <gasp> hotel room for the night.

I figured there would be internet in the bus terminal and I could just check TripAdvisor, find a nice, centrally located hotel that wouldn’t be outrageously priced.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of myself — but here’s the imagery:

I had disembarked an overnight bus a few minutes prior. I am sitting with my rucksack and a daypack at a computer in the bus terminal. I wrote down a few addresses from TripAdvisor’s top reviews and am comparing them to the location on a physical map (you know the kind, they are folded nice and neat but once you undo them, it’s a mess to get back together) trying to determine which hotel’s location was ideal.

I tried to check availability on a few of the sites and because it was a reservation for that evening, the message said ‘contact hotel.’ Without a phone, and hardly in the mood to think about Skyping, I decided on the Azur Real Hotel and tucked the address into my pocket and went to pay for my internet time.

I didn’t have enough small change to pay my total bill so I went to the ATM. Took out large bills and as I soon as they spit out of the machine, I remembered that changing big bills is a feat in itself. Of course when I got back to the counter, the guy didn’t have change. He told me to go and get some. My exhaustion came out front and center.

I handed over all the Argentinian pesos in change that I had, I found a few Uruguayan pesos in my bag and handed them over. I asked him if it was okay. He shrugged and took the coins without protest.

I thanked him profusely and headed to the taxi line. Yes, the taxi line. Hopefully my driver would have change for my paper bills.

If I’m departing from budget travel for a moment, at least I can take a taxi to (what I hoped would be) my hotel.

Lightening My Load


You haven’t really travelled until you’ve taken on South America…The challenge is deciding where to begin. With so much choice, it’s as though the continent was built for travel; a place that excites, thrills, challenges and infuriates…Brave a white-knuckle bus ride down  Peruvian slopes and be astounded by endless Andean vistas…South America, however is not just about breathtaking sights – its stunning soundtrack is sure to leave your feet a-tapping long after you’re back in the day job…Argentine  folklórica (folk music) trickles out of truck radios in the pampas and the jolting rhythm of cumbia making those Andean bus rides even more absurd.

However, when it comes to experiencing this incredible land the real reward  is undoubtably the South American spirit. The entire continent approaches life with the enthusiasm of an old-fashioned road trip: windows down and stereo blaring. South America is a continent that engulfs you and changes you – your state of mind, your outlook on life. As soon as you step foot on South American  soil, the transformation begins.

Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring

I love guidebooks. They are my souvenirs and my notebooks. I have folded over pages and I have made notes on the white space as I learn information about a place while I’m on the go.

I have a shelf in my bookcase with guidebooks from all of my travels — starting with a Let’s Go Europe: 2000, Lonely Planet Switzerland, Fodor’s New Orleans, Lonely Planet Costa Rica, Frommer’s and a Lonely Planet both from Italy, Lonely Planet Croatia, Lonely Planet Argentina and more.

I was hoping to put my Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring back on my bookcase.

It took less than a week carrying around my book to decide that the book would need to come apart.

This guidebook would not make it home in one piece to take it’s earned spot on my bookcase.

I had seen other backpackers do the same and I had to join them. I was carrying around dead weight and pulling out this huge book every time I needed it wasn’t going to work for me. In fact, I wasn’t pulling out the book because it was so cumbersome.

The prospect of ripping my book apart broke my heart, although, temporarily. It was adding to the load I was carrying on my back but I didn’t want the book to go to waste.

There was so much information on these crisp, brand new pages and so many places to explore! My friend Romina was preparing for another trip to Brazil, which was the biggest section of the book, and which was not a destination for this particular trip. Romina told me that reading the pages of the other sections would also help her practice her English (which was already superb). Knowing that the remaining part of my book would go to a good home lessened the blow.

I took a deep breath, ready to deface a book. I pulled out the pages for Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Romina gave me five paperclips to put together my new, and lighter, ‘guidebooks.’


And I left Romina the rest of the guidebook, still pretty much intact, for her use.


Leaving Town and Looking Like a Madman

In the morning, I talked with the hostel owner. I told him what kind of beach town I was looking for and it wasn’t Punta. Not for this trip anyway.

He suggested La Pedrera and Cabo Polonia. Each were a few hours to the east and the buses would take me along the southern coast of Uruguay, which I had originally planned on seeing anyway.

The owner gave me some bus schedules for the afternoon, and as I wasn’t going to waste the afternoon on a bus, I would head into town, and to the beach on a Saturday in January! He called me a cab and I went to the bus station. I found the bus company he had found the schedule for, bought my ticket to La Pedrera later that day and I checked my rucksack at left luggage.

So it was me and my daypack off to explore, lay on the beach and dip my toes in the Atlantic!

I hadn’t even made it out of the bus terminal and the man behind the counter who had just given me my left luggage ticket was running after me.

He was speaking very quickly and gestured for me to come back to the counter with him. As I had just dropped my bag and not knowing exactly what he was saying, I followed. As we returned to the counter, I understood why.

But I didn’t know what I had packed that would be making such a noise. My mind racing, I was scrambling to figure it out.

Oh. The battery-operated doorstop with an alarm.

Yeppers. I had packed an electronic doorstop. With a battery.

I can tell you, it worked. Clearly his concern was why my bag was armed with an alarm. He granted me permission behind the counter to find out what was happening.

As it would, the doorstop was buried somewhere near the bottom of my bag. The noise seemed to be getting louder and louder the longer it took me to dig for it.

After what felt like an eternity, I found the culprit, simply removed the batteries, thanked the man behind the counter, and, finally, headed towards the beach.

Pasar un Viernes por la Noche en el Verano en un Supermercado!

Title translation: Spending a Friday night in the Summer in the Supermarket.

The bus pulled into the terminal at Punta del Este late afternoon. I had booked a hostel before I left Colonia and took a taxi from the terminal to the hostel.

I checked into a room with three bunks and a single bed. I looked around and saw bags everywhere. I took the last bed, which basically meant, I dropped my bag next to said bed.

No one was at the hostel aside from the owners and I had a few hours left of daylight and headed out. The supermarket was on my list and I figured I’d make my way there.

Supermarkets always provide me with entertainment. I actually underestimated how much entertainment.

It was just before 6 on a Friday night, in a beach town, in the summer.

It was the biggest chain in town and the supermarket was packed with South Americans on vacation. Remember, Punta is only a few hours from Montevideo so plenty of people were down for the weekend. Dinner wouldn’t start for at least five hours, so they could very well be getting the essentials for dinner later that night, as well as stocking up for the weekend.

I did a fair amount of looking in people’s carts. Various meats, snacks and alcohol overflowed the carts. Not so different from supermarkets at the Jersey shore on a summer weekend, right?

As for me, I wasn’t picking up steaks for the night. I knew I was heading to more basic towns after this one, so I wanted to wander to see if I needed anything I hadn’t already thought of. And dinner. I wanted to grab something to bring back to the hostel for dinner.

And this is where I discovered drinkable yogurt. I know they have it in the States but something just tasted different. It was actually good.

The Car That Followed Me Around Town

The title of this is much more interesting than the story behind this post.

As I explored Colonia on my first day in town, I saw this car at least five times. I don’t know if it was the same car, or if there are many, but it kept popping up all day and finally I just took a photo.

I’m not sure why but this photo makes me smile and I just wanted to share.

The (Impossible) Search for Change

The ferry to Uruguay was a quite enjoyable ride. You may ask if I knew I wanted to start my journey in Uruguay, why didn’t I fly into Montevideo?

Here’s why. I can sleep well on flights, and there are no direct flights to Montevideo from New York. I chose to fly into Buenos Aires on a direct flight and start in Colonia. I highly suggest this option as the ferry was quite nice as was the (nearly) uninterrupted sleep.

I also suggest getting small change prior to boarding so you can get something to eat or drink on the ride over because…

Once aboard the boat to Colonia, all I wanted was an apple juice. Remember, I had basically just taken an overnight flight, raced to the ferry and finally collapsed in my seat.

Back at the airport I had been so focused on getting Argentine Pesos for the taxi that I never thought to break them into smaller bills.

I also knew I was going to Uruguay so there would be no need for Argentine Pesos until I returned sometime the following week. So I had taken out only what I knew that I needed for the taxi fare. I was left with only 100 Argentine pesos, which is about $25USD.

On board, while the concession stand took both Argentine and Uruguayan Pesos, I couldn’t get change of 100 Argentine Pesos for such a small purchase. I even offered to add a bag of chips and a banana (my standard travel fare), still no luck.

The man at the register told me to check in with the duty-free shop on board to see if they could change my bill.

I walked into the shop, which had two floors, and it was like Black Friday in there.

How much chocolate, perfume and alcohol do people need?

As soon as the announcement had come on that duty-free was open, people rushed to the doors and I didn’t think much of it. Until I had to go in and try to change money.

I could hardly get to the register because of the number of people jammed between myself and the register, I was nauseated by the overdose of perfume in the air and I was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to shop. I wish I took photos because I had to laugh. It was crazy in there!

I quickly gave up on mission: apple juice and went back to my seat to enjoy the view of my river crossing from Argentina into Uruguay.

It’s like playing a game of Paperboy

Do you remember playing the game Paperboy? I had it as a Nintendo game way back in the day. Loved that game! But I digress.

It might be different from a playing Paperboy on a bike in a suburban neighborhood but I feel like walking through parts of NYC are similar to that game.

You’ve got to dodge tour groups trying to assemble, crush of rush hour workers scrambling to get lunch, sandwich board people directing you to sell your gold, people handing out flyers (which I once did), pop up pocketbook stands, people posing for photos, groups of three walking on a narrow sidewalk, rogue bike messengers and homeless people begging for money. And on a rainy day…you can add in bonus points to dodge those golf umbrellas.

How do you deal?

Celebrate #indie30

Here’s prompt number seven for BootsnAll’s 30 days of Indie Travel Project — celebrate!

It was December 2006. The boyfriend and I had been in Italy for just a few days and we arrived in Florence in the morning on December 31. We had nothing planned. Just our accommodation — a room in a bed and breakfast that a former colleague had recommended which was half a block from the main square and the Duomo.

As we tried to figure out our New Year’s Eve plans with only a few hours to go, the owner of the B&B had told us there would be a large outdoor celebration with music and fireworks in the square at midnight. He had suggested we get to a nearby restaurant early, to try and get an impromptu table for the first seating and then head to the square for the party since everything else inside would have required advance reservations.

This outdoor party appealed to me 0%. While on a smaller scale, it seemed like it would be like New Years Eve in Times Square. Which is not something I ever want to partake in unless I am holding a glass of champagne looking down at the action on the crowded streets below from a heated high-rise building with access to toilets. Big public street parties with large crowds of people do not have any appeal to me at all. And to the boyfriend, even less.

We took the owner’s advice, we went to the restaurant early. We had a surprisingly short wait and were seated with another couple, both Italians. Just before we ordered, I had decided that we would slowly order appetizers, dinner and drinks, stretching our meal over several hours to get us to midnight to avoid the party in the square.

We were really taking our time and probably had just ordered our dinner when the couple seated with us had finished their meal, paid the bill and left. The owner came over to our table and I thought for sure we were going to be asked to hurry up and leave. Not so. Instead, he politely asked if we would mind if his nephew and his girlfriend could join us.

Um?! What? Of course! We’re taking over a table for four with no reservation, we are visiting your country and it’s a money making holiday for restaurants. The owner was delighted that we had agreed that hesent over a round of drinks for the table.

We ate and drank and talked to our table mates. The guy spoke some English, his girlfriend only Italian. With my Spanish and better language skills as a result of the alcohol the boyfriend and I were able to hold a conversation with the guy as he translated for his girlfriend.

The boyfriend ordered a bottle of champagne for the table and to share with the very generous owner.

After the clock struck midnight, we made it onto the streets. At this point we should have probably gone back to the B&B and to bed.

This was nearly five years ago and we have still only been able to piece together our evening with a lot of holes that will probably never be filled. To start, the next day we found wrappers from Italian chocolates in our pockets. Neither of us recall eating them.

We had a few unplanned days later in our trip and we both vaguely remember chatting with some people on the streets trying to figure out where to spend those extra days as we made our way back to Milan. Neither of us are sure how we met these people, or how we started talking or what else we talked about.

As a result of (over) celebrating, we spent the better part of New Years Day, oh, who am I kidding, we spent all day in bed. We left around dinnertime to get some dinner. If I recall, it was ginger ale and rolls.

Once we got home we developed our photos eager to see what we may have missed. We had not yet gone digital so we didn’t know until another week or so what had transpired. The photos helped piece together some of the evening … red wine stained teeth, photos with our table mates, the owners, the waiter – as if we had known them forever and then photos with random people on the street.

So even though we can’t remember all of it, it still made for a very memorable New Years Eve celebration!

* Public safety note: We were young and dumb. We’re also very thankful we were not arrested, injured or robbed while we were less inhibited.