TRAVELIRVANA’S TOP 7 MUST SEE AND DO IN THE BAHAMAS

God said the color “blue” is just not quite good enough for us here on earth and so on the 8th day he created The Bahamas. Here the color spectrum includes blues never seen by me before and I’ve been to the Maldives, Zanzibar and Belize so that is saying a lot! Here you get to swim in the divine – the water of the Gods themselves. It is so clear near the beaches you can see iridescent fish with the naked eye.  Admittedly, the Maldives is either equal to The Bahamas or a very close second.

WHERE TO STAY IN NASSAU?

There are many ways to enjoy the hundreds of islands in The Bahamas but you will pay for this privilege unless you stay away from Tourist Highway also known by me as America’s Playpen i.e. the resorts. My choice, and I would make it over and over again, is BahaSea. It’s peaceful and relaxing here. Read a book in the hammock or lay out on the balcony, go for a delightful swim just down what seems like your very own steps to another world and while there, witness Nelly, her daughter and Akeem ready to step up and help you in anyway they can.

Shop for groceries down the street and cook your own culinary feasts in the kitchens provided for your use at BahaSea or stop at Marcos Pizza and enjoy probably one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had (the secret is in the crust this time not the sauce although that was delightful too); however, be wary of the cost of certain groceries i.e. a bag of pistachios costs $24 USD in Nassau. Although groceries can be expensive here too, they are certainly cheaper than any food you would buy at the resorts by a VERY long shot.

Venture by public bus safely to downtown Nassau or anywhere on New Providence Island for a mere $1.25 each way because the taxis are not affordable here. This way you can perhaps afford to catch a quick day trip to Exuma Cay and swim with the pigs or, if your budget won’t allow it, Akeem at BahaSea will let you swim with his two piggies.  Also, bless yourself with a trip to Eleuthera and Harbour Island to swim with celebrities if you prefer them to pigs or try dolphins or sharks – it’s all here in The Bahamas  – a bucket list trip for anyone I assure you.

BELOW IS A QUICK LIST OF MY TOP 7 SEVEN THINGS FOR A FIRST TIMER IN THE BAHAMAS:

1. Swimming with the pigs in Exuma.

2. Glass bridge in Eleuthera.

Photo from www.bahamas.com

3.  Pink sand in Harbour Island.

Photo from the Travel Channel

4. Dolphins at Atlantis.

5. Day at the beach in Bahamar.

6. Conch salad, Sky Juice and junkanoo dancing at Arawak Cay a/k/a Fish Fry.

7. The Queens Staircase in Nassau.

If you have any questions or can add something about The Bahamas, I would love to hear from you so submit same via the form below. Then go unlock the Travelirvana in you.

LEAVE THE RESORT FOR DOWNTOWN NASSAU AND ARAWAK CAY

Wrench yourself from the beaches for a half or full day and meander around the small downtown of Nassau. Finish the day at Arawak Cay a/k/a Fish Fry and you will see the pastel colored buildings which decorate this souvenir filled corner of the world and you will take notice of how the kindness and charm of the locals will refresh you in the heat. Be aware though that here in Nassau there are a number of dilapidated properties as of late.  Admittedly, it made me a little sad to see them looking so forlorn and lonely until I saw what some of the locals want to do with the buildings 😉 (See below.)

So without further ado, stop in the following few places on your day into town and you will get a much better feel for what Bahamian life is all about and pick up a little history lesson or two.

Continue reading “LEAVE THE RESORT FOR DOWNTOWN NASSAU AND ARAWAK CAY”

Travelirvana’s Top 5 Things to See on a City Tour of La Paz, Bolivia

It’s a Tale of Two Cities here in Bolivia and by that I mean the straightforward question of what is the capital of Bolivia is not so straightforward. While most believe that the capital is La Paz, there are strong sentiments that it is, in fact, Sucre and La Paz at more than 3,500m is merely the administrative capital.  Interesting huh?

  1. Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley

Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley brings to mind the famous Psalm “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” especially given it’s “sister” property known as “El Valle de las Animas” a/k/a The Valley of the Souls which is said to be an important site in Boliva for the famous holiday – Dias de los Muertos a/k/a Day of the Dead. Valley de la Luna; however, is a mere 10km from downtown La Paz and can easily be reached by taxi or the famous La Paz Mi Teleférico (more specifically, the green line of La Paz’s famous cable car).  Here you will find a truly unique landscape of tall spires of clay formations and caves caused by persistent erosion of the mountains near La Paz from wind and water over time.  It lends itself to a view like nothing I’ve seen to date and is absolutely worth a visit when in La Paz.  In fact, in a city surrounded by dramatic terrain, Moon Valley is undoubtedly La Paz’s piece de resistance. It is also the home of “Espiritu de los Andes” or the Spirit of the Andes statute.  The entry fee is a mere 30BS or $4.30USD and worth every penny.  Alternatively, you can get some incredible views of Moon Valley while playing the back 9 at the La Paz Golf Club and, in particular, at the 12th hole.  The backdrop of this lunar-like terrain is bound to make any round of golf special regardless of how over par you are on any given day. The price is a hefty 400-560BS or $57USD to $73USD for 18 holes depending on what day you go but that is only your green fees and doesn’t include club rentals, caddies, golf carts, etc. Make sure that you bring some khaki’s and a collared shirt though or you won’t be allowed on the golf course.

  1. Mercado de Las Brujas or the Witches Market

Where does one go when one needs spiritual advice or a potion to exact revenge on a cheating lover, some llama excrement for some Aymaran ritual or llama fetus to honor Pachamama (Mother Earth) or maybe just to purchase an alpaca sweater? The Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia, of course.  I was fascinated during my saunter through the various stalls in and around Sagarnaga Street near Iglesia de San Francisco.  I had my eyes wide open looking for the infamous Witch Doctors (also known as the Yatiri) which are often seen in these parts and are allegedly powerful enough to cure illnesses and perform spells to address money problems or fertility issues and the like. The closest I got to this was a Senora de Pollera a/k/a Chola (don’t call them this) and a native asking for money which I gladly gave, in part, in hopes of getting a photograph of her.  While she was happy to take the money, she refused to allow me to photograph her in her authentic dress.  And while I did not purchase any fetuses or other sundries, I did find a hat which I quite like.  While you are there, you will find Richard at All Transport Travel Agency located at Sagarnaga Street 229, Paraixo Gallery Office 10 and he will take care of all your tour needs including, without limitation, a very risky trek up Huayna Potosi and a not so risky trek down to Salar de Uyuni. Now, remember, when in the Witches Market be respectful of the culture of the locals and ask permission before taking photographs and don’t just touch things to touch things.  You never know what kind of spell could be placed on you if you do.

 

  1. Mí Teleférico

Mi Teleferico brings the public transit system to new heights.  It is an aerial cable car urban transit system providing fast and reliable transport between the city’s major attractions. Operating at 4000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, the world’s highest cable car ride has revolutionized the way locals travel between La Paz and El Alto and every place in between.  As of March 2018, the system consists of 20 stations along six lines: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, and the new White line (which opened about a week before I arrived in La Paz) with a lot more scheduled to come on line soon.  In fact, Mí Teleférico is the first urban transit network to use cable cars as the backbone of the public transportation network.  As educational as that is, what I was most interested in was the views of the city and the surrounding landscape that make up La Paz and boy did I get some stunning views of this lovely city.

  1. Iglesia de San Francisco

Seeing this historical landmark is one thing but seeing it during Semana Santa on the heels of the Pilgrimage that leaves this lovely church for its annual procession to Copacabana is a whole other thing.  The Pilgrimage begins here at the church on Good Friday and 157km later ends on Sunday in the church in Copacabana where the Bolivians’ patron saint resides – The Virgin of Copacabana.  It is said that some 35,000 penitent souls make this march.  Impressive huh? Anyway, the Basilica of San Francisco – which is in the center of La Paz in the Square that bears its name – was built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in the so-called baroque mestizo style. It was built on this site originally in 1548 one year prior to the founding of La Paz itself but, was reconstructed 200 years later after it collapsed under the weight of, if you can believe it, snow.  The Square is generally covered in tents with vendors selling just about anything you can imagine but, during Semana Santa, you are likely to find more chocolate bunnies and colored eggs than any other items. (Last photo is compliments of the Latin American Travel Association and a pictorial representation of the Pilgrimage.)

 

  1. Murillo Square

The Plaza Murillo is the central plaza of the city of La Paz and the open space most connected to the political life of Bolivia. Prominent buildings on the plaza include the Presidential Palace which has been gutted by fire twice, the National Congress of Bolivia, and the Cathedral of La Paz.  The Plaza was named after Pedro Murillo who was a signatory on the document establishing Bolivia’s independence.  One of the coolest things I learned here was that the US Dollar has two symbols on it that came directly from the decorative façade of the Cathedral of La Paz.  Moreover, I learned that despite all the government buildings being in La Paz, the actual capital of Bolivia is Sucre.  Surprisingly, most people don’t know that. Finally, I encourage you to have a seat Indian style in the plaza, have some helado (ice cream!), feed the pigeons and people watch.  It is quite a dichotomy to be surrounded by such history including political battles such as the unfortunate hanging of a President from a lamp post back in 1946 vs. the current tranquility you will experience today as children play and locals socialize.

Where to Stay in La Paz:  Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa is hands down the best hotel I have stayed at for under $100/night in all 80 countries to date.  Every whim….every need….every desire….was met by the staff at Stannum.  I’ve never had this kind of service at any hotel ever.  You cannot buy service that good even though you are technically buying it by spending the money to stay there.  If I needed something from the store, the staff went and got it.  If I needed a SIM card, it was taken care of.  If I needed food, a tour set up, a taxi, a laugh, a smile, whatever, it was provided.  Stannum also had great water pressure, hot showers, spot on wifi that never missed a beat, comfortable beds and rooms with views, an incredible yet tranquil ambience, fantastic decoration and good food.  The location is superb. It is central to everything and is on top of a mall so if you need anything from groceries, to fast food, to a movie, to an ATM machine or a pharmacy, it is an elevator ride away. It just doesn’t get any better than the Stannum for the price especially if you are coming from other parts of Bolivia.  I highly recommend this hotel on every level.  Stay here.  Period!

That’s all for now so send your questions and comments if you have any and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in You.

 

Caye Caulker, Belize: Day 1

At 4:00 a.m., I took the bus for 150 quetzales from Flores to Belize City and for another 150 the Belize ferry to Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Caulker I learned at the border) where the carribean waters of cerulean blue and turquoise are Unbelizeable! There are 3 roads on the island – Front Road, Back Road and you guessed it Middle Road. Golf carts and bicycles and feet are your forms of transportation. And where do you want to go in this heat? Straight to the ocean. Here in the center of the island there is infrastructure but few trees unlike Little Corn, Nicaragua so be prepared to roast.  In fact, my last sunburn abroad was my first one. What I mean is when I started my journey 15 months ago in Sri Lanka, my skin burned something awful as it was my first time out there in coastal towns and on beaches in a very long time but in Belize my already dark skin after 15 months of traveling burned yet again! That’s how hot the sun is in Belize.

IMG_5485

After settling in at Juan in a Million Hostel, I went to Auntie’s Restaurant for pollo y arroz that will knock your socks off assuming you were wearing them which, of course, you would never do in this sweltering heat. (Nothing like Huay, Vietnam though. In Huay, I was sopping wet within 5 mins of leaving my hotel room and I asked the girl at the hotel – What is the temperature? She said in perfect English “It is unseasonably hot today. It’s 48 degrees Celsius.” I asked her what is it normally this time of year and she said 46! After I picked myself up off the floor, I eventually stopped laughing at her nonchalance about 46-48 degree weather! (Celsius that is!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a quick (and free) short boat ride to Cocoa Beach – the best beach in Caye Caulker – and a refreshing swim in the ocean, I returned to my hostel (only 25 quetzales a night by the way) and there I met one of my favorite couples of all time – Ebba and Johannes from Sweden. Interestingly my other 3 favorite couples in my travels are from the same area! One from Sweden, one from Finland and one from the Netherlands. Not to take away from my other new friends in Belize – Morton from Denmark and Laura and Miles from the U.K.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We all went out to Auntie’s again for dinner as it was THAT great and then went to the sports bar on Front Street  to hear the drummers play live and to learn how to punta. Punta you ask? Oh yeah. It is very popular both on mainland Central America and the Creoles love it on the islands. As foolish as I looked doing it, it was a blast. The whole night was but largely because of the non-stop laughter and story telling. Ebba and Johannesburg (that’s what I call him) gave me the perfect itinerary for my trip to Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. I gave Johannesburg the trick to winning Ebba over if she ever got mad at him 😉 I told him to whisper the name of the capital city in Honduras – Tegucigalpa – in her ear. If you don’t believe me, just try it on your significant other! It is a very sexy word and it totally worked on me 😉

That’s all for now from Unbelizeable!

 

Copan Ruinas, Honduras: Day 7

IMG_5382I’m in love with travel, hiking and exploring the natural beauties of the world, learning new languages, trying things like surfing, scuba and skiing and getting all sweaty dancing to sexy Latin music in the form of bacchata, among others, so you can only imagine what happened when I met an American working in Honduras who has been traveling the world for years like me, can ski, surf and scuba, is hands down the best dancer I’ve ever danced with in my life, whispers song lyrics in Spanish in my ear, is strong and smart and well, in essence, the male version of me. Yes that would be correct! I smothered him from head to toe in mud at the Jaguar Hot Springs outside of Copan. How did you guess? 😉

My two new friends, Lisa and Sean, and I took the 45 min shuttle ride from Copan to Jaguar at a cost of $22/each for entry into the hot springs and roundtrip transport all the while questioning our collective sanity as it was over 100 degrees outside and we are going to get in water that is like 80 degrees at the springs or something borderline unbearable like that. When the water is steaming and the sun is burning, get your head checked. In fact, we probably should “just say no” to getting third degree burns from two

separate sources at the exact same time. But march on we did and it was actually amazing. The springs were shaded by the jungle trees and there was a cool breeze that enveloped us. It was quiet out there. Not many, if any, people were in the various springs we entered. One of the springs was like the Thai ocean – a very luke warm water likeIMG_5385 bath water. One turned my skin hot pink and I laughingly pretended to claw my way out of that one. The mud bath was extremely nourishing to the skin not to mention how entertaining it was slathering each other with mud. We ended the perfect outdoor day excursion with an outdoor massage. The massage tables are way on top of the hill above the hottest spring out there so the steam opens all your pores and permeates your nostrils and lungs while you lay there in the middle of a jungle being serenaded by the surrounding wildlife drifting into a state of utter euphoria with each rub of your tired muscles.  Not a shabby way to spend a Saturday if I do say so myself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After dinner we three got are proverbial dancing shoes on and I got to try out my new bacchata and salsa lessons on some of the locals but, more importantly, on Sean. And when I say on, I mean on. If you have never seen these folks dance then you haven’t seen sex between two people with their clothes on. It is quite something. In fact, the Honduran and Cuban dancers I’ve seen could infiltrate and take over the porn industry. Watch them and no one will ever need to rent porn again 😉 Anyway, hard to believe a muscular man with unparalleled masculinity like Sean could move like that and to bacchata ballads no less, but suffice it to say I got swept off my feet for sure.

But you know the old saying  – “nothing good happens after midnight (unless you are already in bed of course which none of us were)? Well we proved this once again to be true. Being the only gringos, it’s not surprising that we attracted a bit of a crowd leaving the Sky Bar and a drunk crowd at that. The walk to the hotel was short but a lot can happen in a block or two in a foreign country after 2:00 in the morning. We, of course, were followed by the winners of “The Drunkest Loser” – Honduras Edition. I think the goal was to get a rise out of the strong guy to my right which I absolutely did not want to happen, however, some things can’t be avoided. One of the drunk Honduran guys actually grabbed me in between my legs and tried to lift me off the ground. I’ve been here before – sad to say – when I was a young child – and the fighter in me emerged. I kicked him in his ass and hard (sounds silly and when I think back on it more like a scene from a cartoon, but he was a drunk punk and that’s what I did) and I yelled at him loudly and assertively to go away and never touch me or anyone like that again but he wasn’t stymied in the slightest and came back at me. Sean had no choice but to lay him out and with a “tap” on the nose he went down like a sack of potatoes. SOOOOO much blood! I thought he hit his head on the concrete but it turns out when you are that drunk you bleed profusely. If he was hurt, it didn’t show except in his even more pronounced stagger. As I said though, my fear was that was exactly their goal i.e. to enrage Sean and the next thing you knew, all the locals would come to defend their Honduran brother and distract Sean fighting and attack us girls or something. Or that Sean would get picked up by the policia and thrown in some third world cell, key thrown away for good type thing. The good news is my worst fears did not come to fruition. The guys in the pick up truck in front of us saw the whole thing and stopped their “brother” from causing any more trouble and we calmly returned to the hotel. Whew what a night!

That’s all for now from a special production of Honduran MMA – Mud Fights and Street Fights.

 

Copan Ruinas, Honduras: Day 5

IMG_5366

Today I learned I get to extend my stay in Honduras and make my way to Guatemala and perhaps even Belize as my hearing set for tomorrow was passed and reset for May 5th. As such, I took a flight from Roatan to San Pedro Sula for $73USD, a taxi to the Gran Bus Terminal for 240 lems (aka lempira) or $10USD after a massive fight as I knew it only cost $8-10 and they wanted $45 and I had just had it with this crap. They gave in saying tranquilo, tranquilo. Usually, I don’t negotiate as much as I should but I’m low on funds and they were really trying to shake me down instead of just trying to get a little more from the gringa per usual 😉  Don’t be me…NEGOTIATE. Don’t be most travelers…Negotiate but only A LITTLE. In other words, don’t ruin your interaction with people and know that the extra few dollars means little to us and can save lives in the rest of the world.  But when they want more than four times the price, get your guns up as THAT is ridiculous and frankly quite offensive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway, I then took the short bus (short in length is what I mean although arguably I belonged on the “short” bus given the lack of a/c or suspension for such a long drive on a potholed covered road and on a hot and sweaty Honduran day…Ha!). For an economic ride, take Casalosa who will deliver you straight to the plaza in Copan Ruinas for 140 lem or $5USD. Gustavo and Rene from Casalosa were very helpful and kind and I met the most precious four year old boy named Fernando who told me it was his birthday and offered me a piece of his own chewing gum…how cool is that! The bus took 4 hours and was a tight sweaty squeeze but I felt like I was back in my element hanging with the locals leaving my kind behind in Roatan.

IMG_5363

When I arrived I found myself in the Ravello of Honduras with its charming stone streets nestled high in the mountains with a small plaza in the center and filled with gracious locals and colorful little shops and just a few kilometers from the Copan Mayan ruins which are the only ruins that I’m told actually have Mayan writings in the stone and is where we learned directly from them their history in lieu of just guessing from artifacts found centuries later by archaeologists or, in the case of Joya de Cerren in El Salvador, bulldozers 😉

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am staying at Via Via where Sinda suggested I stay. Here you have a delightful garden and the pleasant Hector and for only $10/night you get your own private room and bathroom with hot water and wifi. Plus, the Redbull and Marlboro Reds are only 45 lem or $1.90/each on mainland Honduras and the internet/data is a mere 100 lems for the week or $4USD and you can recharge your broadband stick for your computer or tv or your phone at pretty much any store you walk into.  Now if these prices and the history we are about to dive into this week aren’t a good enough reason to get out of a Roatan resort who knows what is. But, just to let you know, you can also take Hedman Alas bus from San Pedro Sula for $24 (or $36 for first class) and you will be a great deal more comfortable if you aren’t ready for four hours on the equivalent of a chicken bus. Taking Hedman Alas luxury buses are recommended for longer trips like the one I’m taking to Antigua in Guatemala.

That’s all for now from the garden of Via Via in Copan Ruinas, Honduras.

Santa Ana, El Salvador: Day 3

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early wake up call to catch the 248 bus from Santa Ana centro station (if you can call it a station as it’s really just a street) at 7:30 a.m. to the Santa Ana Volcano with my new friend Eric who I met at my hostel yesterday. The bus ride was $.90 cents and approximately a 2 hour transport. There are these 3 volcanoes right next to each other (Izalco, Cerro Verde and Santa Ana) so we started at the top of Cerro Verde and hiked down to El Tibet in the valley between Cerro Verde and Santa Ana and then hiked up the bit more treacherous side of the valley to the top of Santa Ana. It took 4 hours round trip and probably a 13 km hike to summit at approximately 2380 meters or 7800 feet but that stunning panoramic view was really worth the work and the nasty bee sting I received. (Not allergic I learned which is good given I was on top of a volcano when it happened! The real question is do bees hang out on top of volcanoes…I guess so.)

The broad summit of Santa Ana has these concentric craters with crescent shaped rims which we actually got to hike on. The mouth of the volcano is massive and filled with a Robin Egg Blue colored water (according to Crayola) akin to that which I saw at Mirador Del Torres in Chile but here you can see actual steam venting off the water caused by the volcano’s heat. I wondered whether there was more steam today as a result of the earthquakes from yesterday and will have to check up on that.  The last real eruption occurred a little over a decade ago on October 1, 2005 when Santa Ana spit out car-sized lava rocks and a flood of boiling mud killing several people and causing the evacuation of thousands.

After a few Kodak moments, we finished the trek back at the top of Cerro Verde where for the first hour during our tamale snack (so good) we had the most incredible view of Izalco including its concentric crater but while sitting there I witnessed this magical and eery fog drift in and the volcano and the valley below disappeared right in front of my eyes and for that matter my camera lens as did we – at least to the rest of the world. From the peak I was sitting on, the clouds appeared to be dancing around to the beat playing in my ear phones. It was increíble and my favorite part of the day…dancing in the clouds.  Now that’s saying a lot because the view into Santa Ana’s belly and the view of the picturesque Lago de Coatepeque were magnificent. The cost for this adventure today was $3.00 for entry into National Park, $1.00 for wristband and $4.00 for tour guide and the policia turismo. Plus $1.50 for breakfast (pupasas and fresh mango and bottled water). I spent another $1.50 for the tamales and a Coca Cola was an additional $.50 cents. This whole budget travel thing is amazing! I’m actually enjoying a little contest with myself to see how cheap I can make this trip and pass the data on to you.  FYI – you can just get off bus 248 at El Tibet, join a group going up at approximately 11:00 a.m. and avoid the $3.00 entry fee and a portion of the hike if you have a car or private transfer and want to sleep in a little.

Now back on the $.90 chicken bus back to my hostel for work and then SLEEP. Last couple days have been exhausting but oh what a view! Very different than the Masaya volcano with the flowing lava and very different from the volcano boarding at Cerro Negro – both in Nicaragua. This one you must see. It’s astonishing! And unless you are really disabled, grab a walking stick tailored made by the nearby trees and go. You can make it!

That’s all for now with a wow or two from Santa Ana, Cerro Verde and Izalco.

Cabo Polinio, Uruguay: Day 1

I headed to Cabo Polinio – the place where time stands still – via Rutas del Sol bus. It’s 4.5 hours and 598 Uruguayan pesos or approximately $20 USD from Montevideo and worth every minute and every penny and believe it or not even the loss of my new Go Pro Hero 5.  Yes, after saving it a mere three days ago from a Mack truck on the Paraguayan Bridge and promising we would be so “Happy Together” until we had visited all 196 countries, someone else had a different opinion. I turned my back for literally 60 seconds to meet Ines and Susanna from Spain and someone on the bus stole it. But as I said my heartbreak was short lived. God reminded me that just like everything else, the Go Pro is just a thing. It doesn’t matter. Someone clearly needed the money they would get for selling it more than I needed it and I needed a lesson on what is truly valuable and I got it in Cabo Polonio. In fact, I learned another valuable lesson in Cabo Polinio from an Italian  friend, Olivia, which goes hand in hand with the prior lesson and that is that the more things you travel with, the more insecurities you have. As such, I left a handful of really cute clothes behind for my new friends and will look yet again for yet another smaller pack moving forward as I’m clearly insecure!! Didn’t think I was but my suitcase/pack is huge. Not as big as the suitcase I carried for the first 9 months of this journey – which I lovingly call the Hulk as it was green, huge and physically abused my poor tiny frame carrying it up cobblestone steps like those in Granada, over beaches like those in Thailand and those darn train stations in Southern France with only stairs.

So you should know right off the bat that there is no place on earth like this place. You are dropped at the terminal 7km from your actual destination where you purchase a ticket forIMG_7067.JPG 300 Uruguayan pesos ($10/USD) to take a huge dual level white and red or yellow 4×4 truck to your final destination as this is all that can drive through the massive sand dunes. Ride on the top deck just because it is a little scary and a bit dangerous which inevitably means could be fun. Ten minutes or so later you enter a different world where there is no running water (only comes from wells), no electricity (the locals obtain from renewable energy sources), about 70 inhabitants, mostly wooden rustic and very colorful shacks (some adobe -the newer, more modern ones – but not to worry as new construction is now completely prohibited under the law which I’m truly grateful for).

Cabo Polinio is on a sliver of sand extending into the ocean and is surrounded by water img_6926on three sides. You will find welcoming laid back locals, a handful of horses grazing on the green grass, a beautiful white and red lighthouse which has the only steady supply of electricity and which you can climb for 20 pesos, a rocky seaside home to a colony of hundreds of lobos (sea lions), perhaps an eccentric expat or two and a eclectic few handfuls of tourists in November. Está muy tranquilo.   In the dead of summer i.e. December and January there will be many more tourists; however, less than you will find anywhere else is my guess as this place still remains mostly a secret and part of me didn’t want to tell you about it but then what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t share.

Your first order of business will be to find accommodations. I chose Lobo Hostel because a handful of people who I met on my bus were headed there. The cost for a bed in the 8 person dorm was $18USD, 4 person dorm $21USD and your own room with a double bed in the attic is $41/USD. There are hostels that are newer and bigger for half the price but Marianna and Gaston are iconic fixtures in Cabo Polinio. Plus you will love love love that paint job. And yes Lobo Hostel has a generator if needed but put your damn phones away or you will miss the most authentic and natural experiences of your existence where the stars, moon light and the faro will guide your way in the night. Second only to the Saharan desert (perhaps even better than) is the Cabo Polinio night sky. Wishing on a falling star and constellation naming is found around the cozy campfire over a glass of wine or a beer, some mota (if you are into this), with a guitar or two, an eccentric harmonica player and, of course, your new lifelong friends which you will meet there. It is impossible not to make a connection with people in this environment where there is little, if any, interference with God and nature from the outside world and peace is the name of the game. My new friends are Susanna and Ines from Spain (students of business administration), Simon from Chile (neurosurgeon), Juan and Weather from Spain (global travelers), Olivia from Italy (child psychologist), Claudia and Caroline from Germany (mid-wives), Matio and Maya from France, Anna from Germany, Mauro from Montevideo (accountant), Manuel from Argentina (engineer) and several others from São Paulo and other nearby places. It is hard to remember and spell all of their names correctly but I will never forget them.

For longer-term stays, rent your own house. That’s what I will do when I go back. See if you can get one seaside with a balcony facing the sunset. You won’t regret it. And for groceries or other sundries, head to one of the two mercados where you will find wine, beer, water, fresh eggs and vegetables, etc. so you can make your own meal. If not, then head to Leon’s for an incredible pizza milanese and some of the best tasting papas fritas you can find. Trust me! Keep in mind that pizza in Uruguay and Argentina can be more like carne con queso con carne. In other words, instead of bread, your pizza toppings are on top of fried meat! For activities, in addition to sunbathing, swimming, walking on the beach or hiking through the forest trees, you can ride horses, fish and surf.  I just wanted to soak it all in too just be.

img_7112While I know God (or whatever you call your omnipotent being) is ubiquitous, his presence during my trek to see the sea lions, my climb to the top of the lighthouse, the sunset on the beach, the swim with the dolphins, the camaraderie over seaside meals and the sunrise strolls on the playa was certainly more palpable here than any place I’ve been since perhaps Bali and India.

Know this – you will emerge with a few mosquito or other insect bites (and in my case all over my face!), a new appreciation for the niceties in the modern world, a fervent desire to return to this special place and perhaps emerge a more enlightened man or woman…changed for the better.

That’s all for now. With love and peace from Cabo Polinio.

Montevideo, Uruguay: Day 2

I’m finally trying to practice my Spanish. I know a lot of words in Spanish and yet I know nothing! But the one thing us Norte Americanos need is people to practice with and what better place than Sude America. So today (and the rest of my time here) I will willingly make a fool of myself and give it the old college try (which is probably one of the last times I spoke it barring my trips to Mexico and Spain). Of course, the downfall is if you try and speak it, you are going to have to listen to it as well which in my opinion is way more challenging. Just remember these two phrases “repites por favor” and “mas despacio” and when this fails try “no entiendo”.

Today I am walking the streets of Montevideo to do a little sight seeing and relaxation at La Rambla which is the South Bay of Montevideo – a great environment for jogging, kite flying, biking, fishing and sunbathing. It’s not Rio but it is a nice 20km of beach nonetheless.

First, lunch which I was disappointed to learn is extremely expensive yet again. For a coke and pasta it was $20 USD or 590 pesos plus tip. Second, a walk through the little outdoor market on the main avenue in Ciudad Vieja. I followed the sound of a lively street performance somewhere in the near distance and all I can say is when you hear a rich baritone belting out a ballad in Spanish repeatedly singing “mí corazon” arms outstretched in your direction, you will be moved. Thirdly, I took a short walk to Plaza de Independencía to see the old gate (the citadel), the Palacio Salvo and the large equestrian statue of General Artigas prominently displayed nearby. Turns out that the tango originated not only in the whorehouses of Buenos Aires but also across the pond in Montevideo. In fact, the most famous tango song ever recorded was the La Cumparsita and the first place it was ever performed was in Montevideo where the Palacio Salvo stands.  You should know the Palacio is only open from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so plan around this if you want to see this. Also, note Cuidad Vieja shuts down around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday until Monday unfortunately.

Next I had to do some errands just as I always do when I land in a new country. It is one of my favorite things to do. I take public transportation and I try to figure out where everything is involving the locals in chats at every turn. It makes me feel like I am a part of the country and not just a tourist. So off to Tres Cruces via bus I go where I can get everything I need done in one place.  I will say the disparity in prices for certain things is astonishing here. For instance my bus ride to Cabo Polinio cost less than my lunch at $20 USD. My Uruguay SIM card (or chip they call it here) with 1.5 GB for one week of service was a mere 165 pesos i.e. $5.67 USD but a tube of mascara was $27 USD. Didn’t even realize it when I spent the money. It better be Chanel on crack for that much money is all I have to say. Also did a little grocery shopping before heading back to my two-story room at the Hotel Plaza Fuerte which is over a century old and one of my favorite hotels due to its age and authenticity, helpful staff and the added modern necessary amenities like the mini fridge. It is the best of both worlds – old and new.

For dinner (which is much later for Uruguayans than Americans i.e. between 8:30 and 11:30), I headed just a few meters down the street searching for the renowned Dueto which boasts savory dishes from around the world. In route, while the rain turned into a drizzle, the wind was whipping so strongly through the narrow streets that I learned exactly how Mary Poppins flies! The wind almost lifted me by my hot pink umbrella right off the ground. The umbrella then flipped inside out and was dragging me down the street right past Dueto like a magnet and as I stopped fighting it or it stopped fighting me and I was able to change directions, I saw the second most beautiful sunset I had seen in my travels (the first being Bang Tao Beach in Thailand). Sometimes let the earth, wind, water, whatever pull you as you never know what might be around the next corner. I could not, despite considerable effort, photograph this sunset for you in large part due to how far away it was and the fact I only had a narrow view of it between the buildings lining the street but I can tell you that Bang Tao emanated orange and gold like no other sky I had seen, but Montevideo tonight had the purple and fuchsia Crayola meant to create. In fact, I have never seen a sky these colors before. I so wish I could do it justice on film. After the gawking stopped I made my way back to Dueto and enjoyed one of my top ten meals in all my travels.

So perhaps you will enter a city and the city itself doesn’t contain the perfect ingredients for the perfect recipe, you don’t get the tug at your heart strings, there isn’t a vibration seeping from the streets, or a small town charm. When this happens open your eyes a little wider and dig a little deeper as it could be the sum of all its parts that can add to your time there like the baritone in the streets, the phenomenal breadsticks at Dueto, the kindness of Jorge the taxi driver or Guillermo behind the reception desk, the allure of the old world hotel and/or the turning one final corner and seeing a sky that came straight from a Leonid Afremov painting!

I’m off tomorrow early in the morning for my next adventure. Did you just say no electricity, no roads, only well water and about 70 inhabitants except for one of the largest populations of sea lions??? YES! Tune in later this week to read about this next adventure.

That’s all for now. With love from Montevideo.

Montevideo, Uruguay: Day 1

An extremely expensive plane ride on LatAm from Foz through São Paulo to Montevideo Uruguay (Country 61) at $448 and a close call as I ran at warp speed to make the connection due to 1) a 20 minute delay out of Foz; and, 2) the fact you have to go out and back through security and customs in a different terminal at GRU airport in São Paulo when flying internationally so keep this mind. Also, remember it is absolutely necessary out of Foz to arrive 2 hours early…not an hour 45, not an hour 50…at least 2 hours due to numerous long lines and several bag checks.

I selected Hotel Plaza Fuerte for what originally was going to be a 11 hour sleepover in Montevideo before heading to Cabo Polonia at a cost of $70 USD from hotels.com. A quick reminder of some of the differences between hotels.com and agoda.com and booking.com. One, like today, is Agoda is cheaper. I completely forgot that even though the prices look the same on the other sites, they aren’t. I have Agoda set to show the price for all nights and with taxes and fees included. And Agoda generally just charges my credit card and I never have to worry again (plus many other advantages to using this site); however, there are zero rewards for using Agoda unlike hotels.com where you can get a free night stay after 10 nights booked through them. Given how much I travel my initial instinct is that free nights could add up rather quickly but does it really help if the cost (with taxes/fees) for the room is $14 or more over the price of Agoda or Booking for each night on hotels.com? So much for “secret prices”. Anyway, I am now set on investigating this for not only you but me as well moving forward given the cost of traveling in South America and the need to cut expenditures wherever I can. (By the way, first lesson learned about hotels.com came when I arrived at the hotel and extended my stay one night. Not only is hotels.com overpriced compared to Agoda, it is $30 USD more than the hotel itself is charging.) Booking.com, by the way, is Agoda under another name. I don’t know that it is as user friendly as Agoda but Booking does in many instances offer cancelation of your reservation at zero cost and doesn’t always require a credit card to hold the room. Another good thing about booking is it is very easy to contact the property via email to ask questions like “Is there an airport shuttle?” or “Can I have a balcony room facing the ocean?”.  Just an FYI.

Back to Uruguay, I’m staying in Cuidad Viejo a/k/a old town as it is alleged to be the closest to the must see sites in the capital and relatively close to the rambla, the Pocitos playa, Plaza de Independcía and Punta  Carretas where good dining, shopping  and other delights are available.  It, just like everything else, is very far from the airport though just to let you know.

On arrival, I can say the hotel is pretty interesting thus far. It has certain old world charm to it. It was built in 1913 and the stairway, hallways, and most especially the elevator are original which is really quite cool. It’s in the heart of Cuidad Viejo and while extremely noisy on Friday nights and probably Saturday too (I’m still awake and it’s almost 3:00 in the morning), it should be a great location for sightseeing in Montevideo before leaving the capital and really seeing Uruguay. My room has a huge balcony and it has two floors in the room. We shall see how tomorrow goes but I already, as aforementioned, extended my stay for one more night.

In any event, will do a quick walk thru of the capital tomorrow before scheduling my bus ride to my real Uruguayan destination.  Ruta’s del Sol bus leaves daily at 10:10 a.m. arriving Cabo Polonio later that afternoon so perhaps I can catch it Sunday. I also want to make a quick stop in Punta del Este if possible to see “the hand” and perhaps Colonia as well if time permits!  Will tell you all about it later.

That’s all for now. With love from Uruguay (and excitement as the wheels touched down on the runway in Montevideo).