Tag Archives: ecuador

Even if You Go Solo, You are Not Alone

“Here was something I already knew to be true about myself: Just as there are some wives who will occasionally need a break from their husbands in order to visit a spa for the weekend with their girlfriends, I will always be the sort of wife who occasionally needs a break from her husband in order to visit Cambodia. Just for a few days!”  — Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

The story of the New York wife, mother and solo traveler, Sarai Sierra, has gotten a lot of press around the world and especially here on the local New York media.

Once I heard the story that she was traveling alone, I got nervous, and sad. I figured all the nay-sayers would say things like ‘She shouldn’t have been traveling alone’ and ‘Why would she go on holiday without her family?’

After reading just a few articles, and their comments, it didn’t take long to see the point of view I feared.

Hold on a minute.

Not travel alone? WHY?

Sarai was supposed to go on this trip with a friend. Her friend cancelled. Was Sarai expected to cancel as well? No, of course not.

Every time I turn on the news, I see stories about assaults, shootings and stabbings and that’s just my local news. Should I never leave my home since these things are happening in my own backyard? I think not.

I traveled alone in Europe as a recent college grad and I traveled alone more recently in South America for eight weeks in 2012.

Before I left on my trip, I had read countless tips from Janice Waugh who writes the Solo Traveler Blog. With a little common sense, being a solo female traveler is not a problem. In fact, I found that people went out of their way to help me when they found out I was traveling solo.

Did the man I met on the ticket line at the Buenos Aires bus terminal advise me to hang out in the crowded and loud terminal for a few hours so I could take a later bus that would allow me to arrive in Cordoba at seven am instead of three in the morning? Yes.

Did I have lunch with a man in the cafeteria of a local market in Valparaiso, Chile where I never would have gone? Yes, and I would not have gone, not because I was afraid, but because I would have never known about its existence otherwise. (It was above the market, not in the market and I was the only gringa in there. Clearly a good, local find.)

Did a French man see my confusion in a time of chaos just shy of the Chile/Argentina border? Yes, and he kindly translated for me that our bus ‘might not make it’ to our destination 11 hours away and if I wanted to get off, now would be the time. (After a quick assessment, I didn’t see anyone else get off the bus so I stayed on.)

Did I say yes to an offer for a tour of Maipu, Argentina and its vineyards with a local man and his partner? Yes. (This offer was made in the Cordoba airport when our flight to Mendoza was diverted, cancelled and rescheduled.)

Did I accept an invitation to drink mate (and have dinner with two Argentinian guys I met at a cafe overlooking the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca earlier in the day? Yes, and they even walked me back to the hostel afterwards.

Are you shaking your head in disbelief? Are you raising your eyebrows? Are you thinking ‘Is she crazy?’

Would you have batted an eye if I said I stayed with a girl from California in her apartment in Mendoza, who I met in a tasting room?

What if I told you I traveled in northern Argentina and southern Bolivia for nearly a week with an Australian girl I met at a hostel? At her father’s request, we introduced our families via email (who were around the globe from one another) with our whereabouts.

What about the girls I met at the beach in La Pedrera, Uruguay who invited me into their homes in Montevideo when I arrived in the city? (One of whom accompanied me for an emergency eye doctor appointment at the British Hospital).

What about the couple from the US who I met at my hostel in Valparaiso? We spent the day at wine tasting at a vineyard in the Chilean countryside. That day trip had the added benefit of the discovery that I like Chardonnay so long as it’s not in an oak barrel.

What about the group of Australian girls, and one girl from Colorado, traveling together that I met at the hostel pool in Huacachina, Peru? Not only did I join their small group for dinner that night, but I met up with them a few days later in Lima.

What about the two girl friends from Ecuador that I met in Uyuni, Bolivia who, before they got on their bus, took me to a local market to sample local pastries and api, a thick local beverage made from purple corn served piping hot, that, according to them, I had to try. (Good call, it was delicious.)

What about the two Austrian girls who I met at breakfast and then spent the better part of two days with them as we hiked, shopped and went sightseeing in Salta, Argentina and the surrounding areas?

What about meeting a girl from Andorra because our current hostel had no vacancies for each of our individual requested extra days because we both fell in love with the same city. Together, we moved hostels, became roommates for two nights and shared a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner in Valparaiso?

What if I told you I made my way alone from my hostel to a restaurant to meet up with my newfound friends from Amantani Island, Peru – from Canada and Brazil – for dinner in Puno, Peru?

What about the group of solo travelers from Canada and the US – who were all traveling solo – in Paracas, Peru? Even when our tour left us at the bus station in Ica, Peru, we counted on each other to make our way back to our respective hostels in Huacachina.

What about the Dutch couple who I met at breakfast in the hostel in Tupiza, Bolivia? They were witness to the first time I publicly cried on my trip. And I had just met them. I traveled with them from Tupiza to Uyuni, Bolivia on a harrowing bus ride. In Uyuni, we shared a dorm room, and raised beers to the craziest bus ride we each had ever endured (and they had been in Bolivia for a few weeks at that point).

What about the Australian guy/Canadian girl couple who I met at the ‘airport’ in Uyuni, Bolivia? I did not have accommodations booked in La Paz and they invited me to join them in the taxi to their hostel to see if I could grab a spare bed. There was, and we had a great, albeit mostly out of breath, day in the highest capital city in the world. Oh, and together we discovered amazing Indian food in La Paz.

Now you’re probably not even batting an eye.

But guess what? All of these people were strangers when I first met them.

Did I say yes when my seatmate from a 12 hour bus ride wanted to share a taxi from the bus station to my hostel in Salta, Argentina? He didn’t have a reservation and it was after midnight. I had spent nearly half a day in his company in the seat next to his and I had a weird feeling. So I went with my gut, and my own taxi.

Sure, there are risks. There are always risks. But isn’t the bigger risk not to go at all?

I had the opportunity to spend the night with a local host family on Amantani Island, an island situated on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca where most of its inhabitants speak Quechua. Three women and I were assigned to the same host family. We were all in our thirties and we were all traveling alone. The four of us represented Canada, France, Argentina and the US.

As we got to talking about travel, and more specifically, solo female travel, we shared the reactions of our friends and families once we had announced that we would be traveling alone. For four girls from four countries, the reactions we received weren’t that different. The net net: We all had nervous moms and dads awaiting our safe return.

And then, on a little island where lake front property is a given, eating locally is the only option, and there’s no electricity on the island, I realized that I wouldn’t be traveling alone for the next two days and thanks to everyone I had met along the way, I hadn’t been alone most of the time I had been ‘traveling alone.’

So I say, to any woman (or man) that may have some hesitation about taking that solo trip, you should go. Because even if you go solo, you are not alone.

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This time last year…

This time last year, nearly to the minute, I was enjoying my business class upgrade, enjoying fine wine and a nice dinner before drifting to sleep under a down comforter. I was headed to Buenos Aires to start my South American adventure.

I know I’m still taking my time telling my stories here on my blog, but all you have to know is that it was a decision I do not regret and there are some good stories, so stay tuned!

Even though I had shitty bus rides, bad nights of sleep and bouts of loneliness, I met wonderful people, tasted amazing food and experienced life as a local in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

With that said, and with freezing cold temperatures here in the Northeast US tonight, I wish I was headed back to South American summertime once again!!


12 of My Favorite Places in 2012

Full disclosure: I started writing this post in 2012, but I finished it in 2013. I’m going to go back in time to let it post in 2012. Forgive my tardiness.

Following the lead of Katie at Katie Going Global, and her 12 Favorite Places list, I decided to create a list of my own favorite places.

While it may not be the most representative photo of a place (or the best photo), the photo and the place struck a chord with me.

In chronological order, 12 of my favorite places in 2012…

1) Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

This coastal village, accessible only by a 4×4 truck, is a 30 minute ride from the nearest road. Cabo Polonio has no electricity, a dusty supermarket and a peaceful way of life. Just a handful of residents make Cabo their home year-round, including sea lions. As you’d expect, the population peaks throughout the summer with those looking to disconnect.

En Route to Cabo Polonio

2.) Montevideo, Uruguay

I saw four new capital cities on this trip and of those, Montevideo was my favorite. The architecture in the old city is beautiful. Beaches line the Rio de la Plata in the middle of the city. I was fortunate to have new friends as local guides and saw many neighborhoods, and a brief stop at the British Hospital. I was there during the festival celebrating Yemaja, the Queen of the Water. Even though Montevideo is a major city, donkeys still help with garbage collection.
Montevideo

3.) Maipu, Argentina

Vineyards always make me smile. This was a really fun day in a really beautiful place not far from the bustle of Mendoza. This particular vineyard’s property extends to the trees in the far back of the photo. I had always thought I don’t like chardonnay because of it’s oaky taste, but I learned that there are options and I do enjoy a chardonnay from a stainless-steel barrel.

Maipu

4.) Valparaiso, Chile

Before arriving, I was told that everyone finds that they either love it or hate it. From the art on the streets, literally, to the spectacular views, I fell in love with Valpo. I had only planned on staying one night only because I couldn’t figure out where I was heading next yet I wound up staying in Valpo for four nights. Art covered the streets, there’s a lively community and the sea breeze doesn’t hurt.

Valparaiso
Valparaiso_2

5.) San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. When I arrived, it was experiencing the worst flooding in over a decade.  Here’s a shot of my bus driver calling to find a different route since, yes, that is a river flowing through it. Buildings in town were mostly covered by thatched roofs. Outside, they were mostly covered with layers of plastic tarps to prevent any more water. Inside, buckets were set up to catch the water.

San Pedro de Atacama

Two of my friends arrived in Chile and we spent an amazing few days together navigating the new normal of San Pedro.
SPA2
6.) Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The world’s largest salt flat is simply surreal. I was there in the rainy season which creates a mirror effect from the salt and the flooded flats. You can play with the perspective but the scenery around you is simply jaw-dropping and reminds you how little we are in this thing called, Earth.

Salar de Uyuni

7. and 7.5.) Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca, Peru

I guess I hit on a few superlatives during my travels and here are two more. Lake Titicaca is considered the highest lake in the world, and the largest in South America. Bordered by Bolivia and Peru, I spent time on both sides of, and on, the lake. In Bolivia, I happened to be in town during the weekly blessings of vehicles. In Peru, I stayed with a local family on Amantani, an island on the Peruvian side of the lake.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia Bolivia

Lake Titicaca, PeruPeru

8.) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Accompanied by a guide, I felt like I was on a school trip. The coolest one ever. I learned so much. Wildlife and nature are pristine in this paradise. Animals and plants found here are found nowhere else on earth. Here, a blue-footed boobie.

Galapagos 2

9.) Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Nashville has my heart. I love country music, I love live music and I love Southern hospitality. I have never had a bad time in Music City and there’s something to be said about traveling with your girlfriends.

Nashville

10.) Taormina Mare, Sicily, Italy

A beachside town just a few miles away from the tourist mecca of Taormina, this was the start of the off-season. Restaurants were filled with locals, the beaches empty since it was a little chilly but the scenery and the weather excellent for sightseeing, relaxing and just taking in the views.

Taormina Mare

11.) Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy

Driving from the autostrada in Sicily, you can’t help but notice the mountain as it gets closer. And then as you head up, it gets colder. But the height gets you above the clouds and reminds you of the past explosions. If you kick up some dirt and feel the ground, it’s warm from the cauldron bubbling inside. Super super cool.

Mt. Etna

12.) Gozo, Malta

Malta is an archipelago situated just 90 miles south of Sicily and just north of Tunisia in Africa. Gozo is one of the three islands in the Maltese archipelago and is surrounded by water, rolling hillsides and amazing formations like the Azure Window.  Villages dot the island each offering delicious meals, warm locals and stunning views. The pace of life on Gozo is noticeably slower and more relaxed than on its larger neighbor, Malta.

Gozo, Malta

And the trouble with lists, is that I can’t include each and every place.

Just because I left you out – La Paz, Bolivia; Mendoza, Argentina; Arequipa, Peru; Salta, Argentina and Santiago, Chile – doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy you. As for Minas, Uruguay; Vina del Mar, Chile and Villazon, Bolivia, well, I’m probably not headed back your way anytime soon, but thanks for the memories – including the trying time to get my Bolivian visa.

Thanks for reading! A happy and healthy new year to you and your family.


Printcopia Giveaway Results

Click the link to see the Printcopia Giveaway Results courtesy of Random.org.

Congratulations KATHY!! Check your email for details on how to claim your 8×10 canvas print!

Thanks again to everyone for entering.


Help Me Pick a Photo and Enter for a Chance to Win!

I was recently approached by Brendon at Printcopia to create an 8×10 canvas print of one of my travel photographs in return for a mention on my blog. I was super excited because after spending eight weeks in South America earlier this year, I have plenty of travel photos to choose from! Too many!

In order to take advantage of Brendon’s generous offer, I need to pick a photo to create an 8×10 canvas print.

But I just can’t decide which photo to use and I need your help. I’ve narrowed it down to seven photos — one from each country I visited in the eight weeks and one bonus shot. The seven semi-finalist photos are below.

And, here’s a bonus for you, my readers!

Let me know which photo you think I should use in the comments below. Your comment serves as an entry for a chance to win an 8×10 canvas print from Printcopia with ANY photo you wish. Once I place my order and receive my print, I’ll also write up a review of my experience. It’s a win-win!

Just let me know in the comments which photo you think I should have made into an 8×10 print. Then you’ll be entered for a chance to win.

It’s that easy.

Thanks for your help, and good luck!

Photo 1 | Cabo, Polonio, Uruguay

Photo 2 | In the sky from Santiago, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

in the sky

Photo 3 | Valle de la Luna, Chile | Moon Valley

Chile

Photo 4 | Cerro de los Siete Colores, Argentina | Mountain of Seven Colors

option 5

Photo 5 | Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia | Uyuni Salt Flats

bolivia
Photo 6 | Paracas, Peru

peru

Photo 7 | Island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

 ecuador

I realized I really, really, really love the sea and the sky!

I did some research and learned that Printcopia has sister companies that sell vinyl banners, car magnets and lawn signs. Please note that I have never used any of these other companies.

Disclosure: This post, and my subsequent review, is written on behalf of Printcopia who is providing me with complimentary product. The opinions expressed herein and photos used in this post are solely my own.

Rules: You must be at least 18 years old and a legal resident of the continental United States to participate. You may enter between 12.01am EST on December 12 to 11.59pm EST on December 16, 2012. Each comment constitutes an entry and will be assigned a number in chronological order starting with ‘1.’ I will use Random.org to select a winner. You may enter as many times as you like. Winner will handle their order directly with Printcopia. By entering, you release me from any and all claims. I am not responsible for human or mechanical errors. Rules are subject to change at any time.


10 Ways to Get a Great Galapagos Deal, originally published on SmarterTravel.com

I wrote this post for SmarterTravel.com. It appeared there first.

There are four classes of travel to choose from when sailing the Galapagos. They are Luxury/Deluxe, First Class, Tourist Superior, and Tourist.

I wound up sailing the Galapagos on a First Class boat and was able to get a deal that included airfare. How? I booked the day before.

Two of us together paid less than what one of our fellow passengers paid. The boat I chose had a capacity for 90 passengers but was just one-third full. Was this a terrible company to book with? Not at all. In fact, we found out later it’s one of the best.

Below are 10 tips to help you secure a similar deal, questions to ask, and what to watch out for.

Do your research. As you get closer to departure, ask around. Know the going rates for the dates of travel and the class you want to travel. You will be able to gauge if there is a fair amount of availability or if boats are at capacity.

Understand it may not be possible. I’m sure it can be done, but you’re going to have to work harder during the high season as more boats will be filled to capacity. I was able to pull this off mid-March. That’s considered shoulder season.

Be realistic. The Galapagos National Park has assigned all of the boats a 15-day itinerary. Unless you plan on doing one of these, you will not see every island. You can, however, choose your cruise by geography. The islands are categorized into the Western, Northern, Southern and Central routes.

Prioritize. Do you want a boat that offers hot water? Do you want a private bathroom? Would you prefer a doctor on board? Decide what you must have and what is negotiable. Then make sure your boat meets your needs.

Remember this is nature. It’s not a theme park. If your heart is set on seeing something specific, like albatross mating season, you will need to do additional research to ensure your itinerary includes the island of Española for several weeks in April. That said, this is nature and it’s unpredictable.

Set expectations. Remember it’s an expedition, not a cruise. I can only speak for the boat I took. We were well-fed, but if you are expecting a 24-hour buffet, casinos and Vegas-style shows, you will be disappointed.

Negotiate. I was originally offered a cabin with two twin beds. I asked if it I could get a full or queen at the same rate. The travel agent made a quick call and got the okay to secure my preferred room type at the same rate. 

Talk to other travelers. I had been traveling around South America for six weeks before I made it to Ecuador. Any time another traveler said they’d been to the Galapagos, I asked a ton of questions. And, in true traveler fashion, they were happy to share their experience. This came in handy as I started my research. 

Find out what’s included. Snorkeling was included, as were the mask and the flippers. Had we needed wet suits we would have been charged extra. Find out what is included in the cost. Hint: You don’t need a wetsuit in March.

Ensure that there are bilingual naturalists. This is quite possibly the most important piece of advice I can share. When you’re on land, you will be spending most of your time with the ship’s naturalists. Make sure that you will understand them. You can practice your Spanish with the bartender back on the boat.

Do you have any Galapagos trip tips to share? Have you had success using any of these methods? Tell us in the space below.


Final Packing List

What did I take for two months in South America?

Click here to read what I had originally thought I was going to take. Keep reading this post to find out what actually came with me!

And here she is, in all her glory, all packed and ready to head to JFK!

Deuter 60L +10 rucksack
Eddie Bauer foldable daypack

What’s inside you ask?

Here goes…

To make digging through my pack easier:

Eagle Creek Packing cube (1 quarter cube)
Eagle Creek Packing sac (4)
Eagle Creek Compression sack (1)
Mesh bag (for underwear, bras, socks and bathing suit)

Clothes:


Tank tops (3)
Short sleeves (3)
Long sleeves (1)
Sundresses (2)
Shorts (1)
Convertible pants (1)
Yoga pants (1)
Pajamas – tee shirt and bottoms (1)
Socks (3 pairs of Old Navy ankle socks)
Underwear (10)
Bras (2 regular, 1 sport)
Jeans (1)
Fleece (1)
Scarf
Bathing suit (1 top, 1 bottom)

Shoes:

Keen Voyageur trail shoes
Reef flip flops

Toiletries:

Liquids 30z or less (as seen in Ziploc photo above)

Shampoo (1 travel size)
Conditioner (1 travel size)
Toothpaste
Face wash (Kiehl’s samples)
Body wash (1 travel size)
Hand/body lotion (1 travel size)
Toner (small container)
Moisturizer
Eye makeup remover
Hair stuff (1 travel size)
Chapstick (1)

Non-liquids:

Razors (2)
Biore Facial Cleansing Cloths
Cotton balls
Q-tips (1 travel pack)
Deodorant
Toothbrush
Floss
Concealer
Eyelash curler
Mascara

Eye care:

Contact lenses (4 pairs each eye)
Contact solution (2 travel size)
Contact case (4 cases)
Dry-eye drops (2 travel size)
Glasses (1 pair)

First Aid Kit:

Chewable Tylenol
Chewable Pepto Bismol
Neosporin
Band Aids
Ayr gel
Bio Freeze (sample sizes)
Girly stuff
Sunscreen SPF 30+ (1 travel size)
Mosquito repellant DEET 30%+
Prescription medicine and notes from the doctors saying that I take it
Zithromax
Cipro
Malaria pills
Chewable Immodium
Pill crusher
Travel powder packets; Go Greens Veggies and Benefiber

Electronics (anything with a battery):

Netbook, case and charger
Camera, battery and charger
iPod, charger and earplugs
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp
Alarm clock
Watch

Stationery:

Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Notebook
Pens
Moo cards

Important Documents:

Passport and copies of passport
Passport photos
Yellow card
Credit cards (2)
Debit cards (2)
Travel insurance cards and information

Miscellaneous:

Travel bath towel
Silk sleep sack
Travel clothesline
Sunglasses (2)
Money belt (1; just big enough for my passport)
Money belt (bigger one when I would need to put more stuff in it)
Waterproof money holder for pool/beach
Decoy wallet
Hand sanitizer (1 travel size)
Wet Ones hand wipes
Gloves (1 pair)
Whistle
Electronic door stop
Locks (2; 1 retractable PacSafe cable lock and 1 REI combination lock)
Hair ties
Shoelaces
Packets of Tide one load detergent
Packet of tissues
Plastic bags
Cheap earrings; wear in my ears
Travel toilet paper (2)
Duct tape; wrapped around a pencil
Carabiners (2)
Sleep eye mask
Ear plugs

I also mailed the following to A, so she could restock me when we meet in Chile.

One more travel contact solution
30 more Biore Facial Cleansing Cloths
Another travel size tube of suntan lotion
Go Greens Veggies and Benefiber powder packets

In retrospect:

Did I pack light? Yes.

Could I have done with less? Absolutely.

Did I use everything? Almost. If you are wondering why some of these things made the list, it will make sense as you keep reading along…