Let’s Go Everywhere, Man

mmw_letsLet’s Go Everywhere

-Medeski, Martin, and Wood

“When you’re tired of your toys,
And of your games, and of the television,
When you’re done with chores and homework
Then it’s time to make a big decision,
You might need a change of scenery,
It might be time to go
Over mountains, over oceans,
Through dark jungles down below
On an airplane, on a railroad
On a tall ship with the tide
All you need’s a little music.
Howzaboutit, whaddya say you buckle
up and we go for a little ride?
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
We’ll go to
Bombay, Taipei, Mandalay, Bora Bora
Deauville, Louisville, Whoville, Glocca Morra
Havana, Montana, Savannah, Varanasi
Bermuda, Barbuda, Or Yehuda, Tallahassee
Khartoum, Rangoon, Cancun, Saskatoon
Kowloon, Cameroon, Brigadoon, to the moon
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Cairo, Shiloh, Moscow, Chichen Itza
Krakatoa, Shenandoah, Mauna Loa, Tower of Pisa
Hamburg, Frankfurt, Beantown, Montecristo
Cayenne, Salt Lake, Cocoa Beach, San Francisco

Saigon, Amman, Dijon, Yokahama
Tijuana, Grand Bahama, don’t forget to call your mama
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Xi’an, San Juan, Pusan, Sri Lanka
Chambertin, Canton, Avalon, Casablanca
Warsaw, Aqaba, Shangri-La, Transylvania
Nome, Rome, Stockholm, Lyon, Mauretania
Hong Kong, Guangdong, Haiphong, Tonga
Salamanga, Rarotonga, Cucamonga, sing-a-long-a
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Xanadu, Kathmandu, Timbuktu, Santiago
Tasmania, Slovenia, Rumania, Pago Pago
Sedona, Pamplona, Daytona, Patagonia
Winona, Bologna, Barcelona, Caledonia
Bangkok, Sliding Rock, Antioch, Tuba City
Sun City, Cloud City, Emerald City, ain’t it pretty
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.”

Thoughts on 10 Months on the Road

Over the last 10 months of travel (wow, have we been gone that long?!), we have been fortunate to visit many fascinating places.  We have also had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a lot of different folks during our travels like Raghu and Gita, our friends’ wonderful parents who live in India, or Sam and Pip, our guides during our 3 weeks of biking from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, or or Snehal and Falguni who worked with Chris years ago when we lived in Singapore or Claudette who hiked the Machu Picchu trail with her son, Calvin, or Marko, our kayaking guide in Croatia, and Ana and Ivan who joined us kayaking for 1 week in Croatia.  At the same time, we have obviously kept in touch with family and friends back home. People back in the States and abroad are often curious about the details of our trip and the dynamics of our daily lives while on the road. They wonder about our planning, our favorite spots, our challenges, our relationship while traveling.  So here are some thoughts on the frequently asked travel questions.

Before you left, did you plan the whole journey? How have you been managing the travel planning?  We did not plan the whole journey before we left.  While we wanted to make sure we did not waste any time and had a vision prior to leaving, we also wanted to make sure we had flexibility to make adjustments.  So when we left on September 29, 2015, we had plans thru January 5, 2016 knowing how we wanted to kick off the trip, and we also wanted secure plans during the busy December holiday season (when travel would also be crazy).  After that, we have tried to plan travel 1-3 months ahead depending on where we were headed, weather, goals and experiences.  We also wanted to stay in warm climates most of the year which had us following the summer season around the world.  From a planning perspective, Europe has been and is a little different.  Europe is crazy in the summer as Europeans take their vacation seriously, and the rest of the world seems to descend on Europe during the summer months.  So we started planning for the summer in Europe about 4 months out.

In terms of managing the travel planning, we did a lot of online travel research before we left the States and also a lot on the road.  The online sites that we have relied on and/ or found particularly helpful in terms of planning are The Clymb Adventure Travel, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com, LonelyPlanet.com.  Travel sites such as Conde Nast Traveller and Afar are in our feeds, and we are reading these on a daily basis.  We have also made it a point to find local adventure companies wherever we are traveling- Old Towne OutfittersKerala Cycling Trips, Malik Adventures, Meridien Ten, Valencia Travel.  The local travel/ adventure companies know the areas that they operate the best, and most of the time, adventure travel companies in the States outsource or work with these local companies.

What are your favorite spots?  We have enjoyed so many spots that we have been able to visit.  For the most part, we have tried to visit new countries. It is hard to pick favorites because there have been so many different experiences.  We both really liked South Africa and Vietnam. Colombia also ranks high on our spots we have visited. Peru and the Inca trail were awesome and probably our biggest surprise.  Central America was probably our hardest travel, but we are both glad we visited.

What do you miss the most?  We have not missed a lot (which I am not sure what that says about our lives back in Seattle;>). We certainly miss the time we spend with family and friends the most.  Cooking in our home is probably high on the list – both the act of preparing a meal (especially the big ones on Sunday evening with its leisurely pace and accompanying wine) and the joys of eating healthy, home-cooked meals (we have spend a lot of time in restaurants this year).  We have not missed our cars (it is amazing how much you walk and bike without one) or the time spent in them. We do miss Seattle and its surroundings – the mountains in the winter and the islands and water in the summer – but we know that it will all be there when we return.

How have you managed laundry?  Thankfully, in most of the places we have traveled with the exception of France, we have found fantastic drop off laundry services.  We drop our laundry off in the morning and typically 3 hours later, we have washed, dried and folded laundry ready for pick-up.  In Asia-Pacific, drop off laundry services are on every corner it seems and inexpensive- USD $.50-1.00 per kg for washing, drying and folding.  In Ho Chi Minh City, as an example, we found a wonderful laundry service that came to the lobby of our hotel and returned the laundry to our hotel 3 hours later.  We found this laundry service just by doing a search on Google Maps searching for “laundry services near me”.  The internet is a fabulous tool.  We found the same wonderful drop off laundry services throughout South America and Central America.  In South Africa, we had an Airbnb apartment on the front end and back end which had a washing machine so not sure if South Africa offers a similar model.  In France, laundry has been a little more of a challenge.  However, we found a chain in France, 5 a sec.  5 a sec was quite good in terms of service but a lot more expensive.  I think we paid $22 euros for same day service for about 5 kgs of laundry.  Unfortunately, 5 a sec is not everywhere in France.  So in lieu of a drop of service, we have used a laundromat a couple times and found a fabulous one in Annecy, France run by an lovely couple who keeps the laundromat is excellent condition and monitors the laundromat so users can go off and do other things.

It is interesting to reflect on the cloths we have worn for the year – it is not much.  A couple handfuls of tee-shirts each, one pair of jeans, a few pairs of shoes (and sandals of course), a lot of quick dry items that can easily be washed in a hotel room plus a few dresses, skirts and shorts.  We also have some running and biking clothing.  For me, Athleta clothing has been good to me.  It travels well and they have some nice skorts and dresses.  And most clothing items are black which has also been key to our packing strategy.  The warm weather helps, but it does make you wonder, in general, about how much you need (and we have new found respect for Steve Job’s and others’ minimalist approach).

What have you been doing for hair cuts and color?  This has been pretty straightforward as well with the exception of India (although I just made sure I got my hair cut and colored before India and right after).  Again, the internet has been key-  some online research looking for reputable hair salons in walking distance wherever we are has worked well.  The best hair cut and color, so far, was in Ho Chi Minh City at YKC Beauty Spa & Hair Salon.  YKC is a fabulous spot (an oasis) in HCMC.  The owner is great giving fabulous cuts as well as color and speaks fluent English.  In between hair cuts and colors, I have picked up L’Oreal color (yes, L’Oreal or Garnier are available in most places we have traveled) which has been working great. Chris does not have to worry about either one too much.

Did you buy a round the world airline ticket?  Given how competitive the airline market is  coupled with the restrictions on round the world airline tickets, we did not, and we are glad we did not buy one.  Before we left the US, we bought our tickets to Bangkok (cashed some miles) and our ticket to Spain and Cape Town, South Africa, but all the airline tickets we have bought have been purchased on the road and has been quite easy to do.  We use Expedia, Kayak and Rome2Rio quite a bit when buying airline tickets. Skyscanner and Skypicker (recently renamed kiwi.com) are also awesome sites and apps, if you have flexibility.  Our American Express card has come in handy as well. We leverage their travel site from time to time and their lounge access. In the past, we have not been able to justify their yearly fees, but we have used the card a lot this year (no international fees or spending limits), and it came with 100K miles which should pay for the ride home.  We have taken 33 flights since we left so far and flown about 60 K miles. We did not expect to fly so much but the low-cost carriers around the world really make flying more attractive in many situations – especially in Europe where flying is now often cheaper than train travel (we would prefer to take the train from a convenience and comfort perspective).

Where are you staying- in Airbnbs or hotels?  We have only spent roughly 6% of the nights on the road, so far, in Airbnbs.  Most of the places we have stayed have been hotels.  Airbnb, typically only makes sense for us, when we plan to be in a place for an extended period of time.  As example, in Cape Town, we knew we were going to stay for 3 weeks over the holidays so we booked an Airbnb but we have also stayed in Airbnb apartments in Nicaragua, Mexico City, Scotland, Madrid, and Majorca – the ability to cook (which is not always realized with the apartments) are the key attraction.

As a couple, how are you guys getting along?  100% of the time together for a year is a long time.  We find this to be a fascinating question and often consider it.  Chris and I have been married for 19 years on May 31, 2016 (and have been together for more than a few years before that).  We have been fortunate to a strong relationship that just keeps getting better. Like most married couples, we do not have perfect days together all the time, but we genuinely enjoy each others company and share common interests.  So neither of us was worried about this before we left and today, we are still not concerned about it. We have been enjoying the time spent together.  We do not have too much stress which makes things a lot easier. For sure, there are days when we are confronted with some travel challenges that can create stress but when we consider where we are and what we are doing, we can only be thankful. Occasionally (and it really is only occasionally for both of us), we may need some time alone so we may head off for a run alone or to run an errand.

Are you worried about the re-entry back into the real world? We are not too worried. We know there will be an adjustment and it will likely be really hard initially. But we also know that we have been fortunate to have a year to explore the world and we have experiences that we will remember forever. Exiting our careers for a year may have created some risk, but there is always risk with rewards. A few years ago, while kayaking in the San Juan Islands one week-end, we bumped into a crusty-old, Canadian kayaker out there paddling alone.  He was a bit gruff but departed with some wisdom that we could not agree with more “you cannot get the days back..[so enjoy them]”.

Have you found the answers to life’s questions yet? No, definitely not. We have had no major epiphanies. Our travels have certainly reinforced our belief that we have it very good in the States. It is not a perfect country, but it is also not a perfect world, and there are many out there that are suffering and challenged on a level that we cannot even consider in the States – even with some of our challenges there. This is certainly not a new revelation, but one we will continue to reflect upon.

Are you coming home?  We think so:>

What do you think about the Presidential election?  Do you think Trump has a chance of winning?  This is probably our least favorite question. It is very often asked and often delivered with a smirk. We used to laugh it off.  While we have not be in the States for the last 10 months, we both have been following the election closely.  10 months ago, we did not think Trump had a chance of being the Republican Presidential Nominee.   The fact that an individual who is so crass, inarticulate, lacking details on plans and any experience with public service, no military experience and a questionable business record has attracted so many followers back in the States and has gotten as far as he has is both perplexing and frightening.  There certainly does not seem to be any rational supporters overseas that we have encountered during our travels.

Politics aside, it has been a fascinating trip so far  – spending time with so many different people with varied backgrounds, cultures, languages, and perspectives.  Most have been great, but we have certainly met some characters as well.   My personal favorite question is the question about spending so much time with your partner and my least favorite is about the Presidential election.

We are still together and having a ball! Stay tuned for more!

Road Tripping in Uruguay

“We’re the best of friends.  Insisting that the world keep turning our way.
And our way is on the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again”

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again Lyrics

NY Times article  on Uruguay more than 5 years ago piqued my curiosity on the country, and I have been longing to visit ever since.  I am not sure if it was the description of its coast as a down to earth, natural and unspoiled place or the gorgeous beaches or the lulling sounds of the ocean, but after the last few months, mostly in cities, it sounded like the perfect place to spend some time exploring.  So we rented a car and headed out from Montevideo for a 10 day road trip to La Pedrera, a tiny, surf town with a gorgeous stretch of beach and Colonia del Sacramento, a small, historic town and UNESCO site on the “other” coast of Uruguay.

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Uruguay is a small country about 175K sq kms and 3.3M people with roughly half of the population residing in Montevideo, the capital.  The vibe is slow and casual with a bit of a European feel.  One gets the sense, things have not changed much in the last few decades. Out on the coast, it is even more slow and sleepy.  And the cars are even older than the ones in the city.   At one spot on the coast where we stayed, the owner’s only transportation was a Studebaker that was decades old.

And nothing happens quickly here – especially out in the country side.  If you go, check US efficiency and speed at the border. When checking into hotels, there is paperwork. Checking out at supermarkets takes a long time, and older people are moved to the front of the line (which is a nice gesture that we saw frequently). Dinners are late and lengthy, and servers will never bring you your bill.

Driving is also laid back and slow in Uruguay. After driving in South Africa and not even considering  it in India and Vietnam, we enjoyed being the most aggressive drivers for awhile.  Driving is slow, courteous and passive.  It is similar to Seattle but in some cases, Uruguayan drivers are even slower and more passive than Seattlelites – which would have been quite hard to image if we had not experienced it.  On the rambla in Colonia del Sacramento, 20 mph was the standard speed (despite the limit being close to twice that).

As we drove out of Montevideo, the scenery quickly got rural, and  Chris and I found ourselves to be only two souls out on the road.  It was bliss after spending a month in the second most populous country in the world just a couple weeks ago.

The roads were in great condition too.  While the drive to La Pedrera should have only taken about 3 hours, we took a slight detour to Punta del Este.  We knew La Pedrera was pretty remote, and there were no major food chains, no major supermarkets and no big box stores.  (Exactly the way we like things.)  So in addition to wanting to check out the “St. Tropez of Uruguay”, we wanted to stock up on some vino and snacks. We also stopped at an ATM for some pesos suspecting that there would be limited options at our destination.  As we stepped out of the ATM, we encountered 6 security guards sternly staring us with sawed- off shotguns and full riot gear waiting.  Apparently, they were just there to refill the machine, but it definitely gave us pause.  Although there was a nice stretch of beach, Punta del Este had its share of high-risers.  Seeing the high-risers off in the distance, we were both glad our destination was La Pedrera.

La Pedrera is a beautiful, seaside village of only about 225 people and 750 homes on a gorgeous beach at the end of Calle Principal (the main road in town). It is a surfing and kite-boarding hot spot and a popular spot for backpackers and cycle campers. There looks like more than a few gypsies out there living off the grid baking bread and making pasta for sale to tourists.

The beach appears to go on for miles and was a beautiful place to run every day.  The town itself consists on one main street with a handful of restaurants and tiny places to stay. Most people come here to surf and kite board although we arrived at the end of the summer down here so the kite-boarders have all left town.  The surfers were still hanging for a few more waves.

The peak summer season typically only lasts three months from December to February. We visited at the beginning of March, and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.  The weather was perfect- 80+ degrees during the day and 70 degrees at night. La Pedrera was unbelievably peaceful, and the only sounds we heard for the five days were roaring waves, cicadas and some great music. They love their music down here in Uruguay.

We found two interesting places to stay: Pueblo Barrancas, a small, ecolodge with a private beach and Posada de San Antonio, a small inn on a gorgeous piece of property.  Both properties were unbelievably remote and made for some of the best stargazing we have ever seen.

The owner of Posada de San Antonio is a great cook too.  We ate at the posada two dinners during our stay.   It was like having a wonderful, home cooked meal, but someone else cooked and cleaned. We had the whole posada to ourselves until the last night when it was fully booked (all four rooms).  And we made a new friend, Olivia, a loving dog at the posada.  She followed us everywhere during our at stay- went on walks with us and slept at our door in the morning waiting for us to wake up.  We miss her already.

From La Pedrera, we headed to the west coast of Uruguay to Colonia del Sacramento, a small, UNESCO town of about 27,000 people.  Located on the Rio de la Plata, Colonia del Sacramento sees more tourists than even Montevideo. Most tourists take a short ferry ride from Buenos Aires for a day or two to visit Colonia del Sacramento.

Founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, it is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay with interesting, colonial architecture.  The Portuguese and the Spanish were regularly fighting over this city in the 17th – 19th centuries until in 1826 when Uruguay took possession.

Uruguayans are crazy about their Yerba mate (aka mate) which is made from the naturally caffeinated, holly tree.  The loose leaves are put into a gourd which is filled with hot water (not boiling) and a straw is used to drink the mate.  (During our bike ride in Buenos Aires, the guide made some mate for us to try.  It has a bitter flavor.)  We saw folks walking around grocery stores or hanging out on the rambla from 6-8 pm in the evening hugging a thermos and sipping mate from a small cup. It appears to be a daily ritual here probably not unlike coffee for some folks.

Colonia del Sacramento had some gorgeous sunsets overlooking the rambla.  The locals congregated on the rambla to watch the sunset, drink mate and catch up with friends and family.  Our hotel,Costa Colonia, was right on the rambla which was great for runs and sunsets.  But we have not adopted the mate ritual, yet.

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After spending a few days in Colonia de Sacramento, we drove back to Montevideo (about a 2 hour drive) to catch our flight to trek to the Lost City. I have been reading a fabulous book titled The Last Days of the Incas and really looking forward to the trek to Machu Picchu. We will be back with the book review and details of the hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty Secrets, Dirty War

Here is another good book for those interested in understanding Argentina’s dark history, and specifically, the Dirty WarDirty War from 1979-1983.  Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Robert J. Cox is the story of Robert Cox, the editor of the English language newspaper, The Buenos Aires Herald, during this time.  It is a biography written by Cox’s son so it offers a single perspective and one that is biased for sure. However, it provides a lot of context around the politics of the time in Argentina as well as details of an extraordinary human-rights crisis that is well worth understanding.  The Buenos Aires Herald was the only newspaper in the country that defied government censors and wrote about the heart wrenching stories of the “disappeared”.  Incredibly, Robert Cox risked his life and safety of his family for years to be one of the few voices to make the atrocities known within Argentina and around the world.  Ultimately, his defiance forced his exile.

The book can be a bit repetitive in spots, and the information sometimes feels a bit disorganized, but the story is gripping and the heroics of Cox make it a compelling read. This is a war that needs to be understood and remembered.

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron

When visiting the Recoleta Cemetery where the graves of Argentina’s powerful are located including Evita Peron’s, it was interesting to see all the flowers and handwritten notes for a woman who was a very controversial figure in Argentina.  Today, 68 years after her death, she still evokes a lot discussion and emotion from people.

 

Her husband, Juan Peron, is infamously credited with totalitarianism and bankrupting a rich country.  At the time that Peron became President of Argentina in 1946, Argentina was the richest country in South America and one of the richest countries in the world.  Britain owed Argentina $2B after WWII.  Interested to learn more about South American politics and this female icon of Argentina, I read Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron by Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro.  Evita published an autobiography before she died in 1952, but I was looking for a third party perspective.  Eva Peron.jpg

This biography is a fast and engaging read about Evita- the person, the actress, the wife of Argentina’s President, Juan Peron, women’s rights and political activist.  Maria Eva Duarte (Evita) was a poor and illegitimate child.  In 1935, she left home at sixteen traveling to Buenos Aires with aspirations to become an actress.  Before marrying Peron, she became one of the best paid, radio soap opera stars.  However, controversy surrounded Eva while she was an actress as well.   Since actors and actresses were paid poorly at that time in Argentina, prostitution was a common way to supplement one’s income.

Early in her career, Eva had no interest in politics.  However, at a festival to raise money for victims of an earthquake in Argentina, Evita and Peron met.  Then, she marries Peron after living with him for a period and becomes First Lady of Argentina at 26.

At the start of her role as First Lady, it appears she struggled, and it took her some time to mature into the position.  Once she matured into the role sometime after an historic trip to Europe, Evita developed some missions and fought for women’s suffrage and the poor.  In 1947, Argentine women were finally given the right to vote after a series of bills failed from 1911 to 1946.  (Women’s right to vote in the US was ratified in 1919.)  Then from about 1946 until she died in 1952, Evita worked tirelessly for the poor.  Initially, she distributed clothes and food to the poor, and eventually, leveraged her position to secure donations from workers and companies, to the point, where a sizable Foundation (estimated at over $3B pesos or over $200 million at the exchange rate at the time) was established.  In 1948, the Maria Eva Duarte de Peron Foundation was created and given legal rights by her husband, the President; however, the name was eventually changed to Foundation for Social Assistance.  The achievements of the Foundation are significant.  For example, 12 hospitals and 1,000 schools were built in the poorest areas of the country.  Evita took a very personal and hands-on approach to the Foundation and engaging with the people. There is one story about a visit she made to a poor neighborhood where she is approached by a crying women with eight children asking for a home.  After Evita verified the women was in need, a check was written for a home and basic necessities for this family. Unfortunately, the achievements are not without controversy, especially in terms of how the money for the Foundation was acquired.  There were allegations of extortion.  Many other interesting details, some controversial and some not, about Evita and her husband are covered in this book as well.

Nonetheless, the way in which the book is written makes for a quick and enjoyable read (if sometimes general and high level) about a fascinating woman who played a substantial and controversial role in Argentine history.  Unfortunately, she was likely not able to achieve her full potential. She died at the very young age of 33 after suffering from cancer.

 

(Monte)video Killed the Radio Star

After our week of Spanish classes in Buenos Aires, we hopped on a ferry to Uruguay where the official language is…Portuguese.  But we quickly learned that there seems to be as much Spanish spoken here as Portuguese so it will be a good practice ground for us.

We took the Buquebus ferry which left from a port in Buenos Aires and delivered us to the heart of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in just under two and a half hours.  We rode on the Francisco ferry which is one of the fastest in the world. It holds 1000 passengers plus 150 cars and can reach speeds over 100 kms/hour. It is a massive ship with three different passenger compartments, and a duty free area that has to be at least 5000 sq. ft. filled with locals avoiding the high taxes in both countries.  There are 3 classes for passengers; we sat in economy class which is the equivalent of airplane travel with a lot more leg room and space, in general, for walking around on the boat. It was a great way to travel.

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Montevideo is a smaller city with about 1.3 million people and about 1.8 million more in the metro area. It feels a bit more run-down than Buenos Aires, and there is a lot less to see and do there. A friend who lived here for a couple years told us to expect older cars, generally older buildings, and people wearing older clothes.  It did feel a little bit like going back in time a few years.  We were also told before Cuba opened up Montevideo was often a stand-in location for Cuba for movie makers.

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4×4 Niva

The city and country is very progressive despite their choice in clothes.  It was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana. It also has significant corporate tax benefits that attracts companies from all around the world looking for a location for a South American HQ. For example, both Dell and John Deere are based in Montevideo.  Uruguay is also the playground for the South American elite – although, they mostly travel to the coast to places like Punta del Este rather than Montevideo.

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Bumped into a taxi strike outside the Presidential building just when we were looking for a taxi.

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We enjoyed our visit to Montevideo. We found another small hotel, My Suites, in the neighborhood of Pocitos that had a number of small restaurants in walking distances and was only 2 blocks from a city beach.

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School Bus

 

There is a promenade that stretches on for 20+ kilometers and offers a great place for a morning run or walk. The city is surrounded by sandy beaches with good surf and wind for kiteboarding and surfing, but the raw sewerage smells that we picked up on our runs had us wondering if you really want to get in the water here.

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We took a couple hours one day to check out the city’s sites – the Plaza Independencia, the old city, the Teatro Solis, and a museum dedicated to the survivors of the 1972 Andres plane crash (that inspired the book Alive).

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While here, we discovered a new (new to us) wine grape while visiting – the tannant – which is a full-bodied, fruity and a big red. It has paired well with all the grilled beef that is down here.  It is grown in the US and France, but Uruguay considers the varietal their national grape.  It is often blended (we had it with Merlot) but is also produced as a single varietal.

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Radio is alive and well down here. Montevideo did not kill it. US classic rock, and specifically Heart, seems to be popular here. At least, we have been hearing it a bit on the radio in taxis. We had a fun chance meeting with some young hipsters down here.  I blew their minds by turning them onto Shazam, and in return, they introduced us to a number of jazz and other musicians from Uruguay including Eduardo Mateo, Opa, Ruben Rada, Hugo Fatorusso, and Jaimie Roos. We are still plowing through all the back catalogs but Eduardo Mateo’s stuff is great.

Montevideo was an entry point for Uruguay, and we are planning to take another road trip heading up the remote coast to hang out with the surfers and gypsies for a few days. We are both concerned about having the right color thongs for the playas.  We shall see this week – stay tuned.

 

 

Thoughts on Travel Gear for an Around the World Adventure

It is hard to believe it has already been 5 months on the road. Roaming around the world can make time accelerate. Life is good.  We are having a great time, meeting all sorts of interesting folks and exploring fascinating lands. Apart from spending time with family and friends, we are not missing too much – at least not yet. We would love to be able to cook a little bit more and miss “Sundays”, but we may book into more AirBnB spots during the rest of our trip so we are expecting more opportunities for both.

Our gear is working out well. After 3 months or so, we shipped about 5 lbs. of extra clothes and some extra electronics accessories back to the States. We also shipped a water filter and mosquito net back  – these were just not necessary for our travels.

On the electronics front, we no longer have any doubts that a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and two Kindles are the right amount. It felt like a lot initially, but we are using everything regularly. Apart from a smashed iPhone screen that I replaced in Capetown, everything is working great. We have been 100% Wi-Fi and have used Skype, Whats App, WeChat and e-mail for communication. We have not bought a single SIM card while on the road. Being completely independent of any telecom or cable company is WONDERFUL. Wi-Fi is prevalent in most countries now and usually free.  Asia has had the best.  Wi-Fi was free and fast. South Africa had the worst Wi-Fi experience.  It was pay-for the most part and relatively slow.  India tended to be free but very constricted and often unusable in public spots.

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For keeping everything charged, we use this universal charger from Monster with a universal adapter that has worked everywhere (with the exception of some spots in South Africa).

 

 

It is a pretty tight set up – only 2 pieces and can charge up to 5 electronics at once. (It gets a little hot when you load it up that much though.)  We shipped all our iPad and iPhone charges back to the States to minimize the load. And when we absolutely need a mobile charge, this Jackery travel charger has done the job. It is not small and a bit heavy, but it packs the watts to get both our smartphone and tablet fired up and rolling quickly (although their mobile app is a bit wonky providing time-based notifications, not charge-based, reminding you to charge it).

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The laundry gear outlined in our previous post here has worked very well. The soap tabs didn’t work well so we just use shampoo when we wash in sinks (which also limits what we need to lug around with us).  The clothesline is working fantastic and we are both very careful not to leave it behind in a room (easy to do given it is usually out on a patio or balcony).  To date, we have both only left one item each behind in a hotel room – incredible given the number of hotel rooms where we have stayed, and we were able to recover one of the items.  However, mostly, we have been using laundry services as they are readily available and inexpensive in all the countries we have visited so far with the exception of India.  (It is quite a luxury  to drop laundry off some where in the morning and pick it up that night smelling fresh and in some cases, ironed.)

Most importantly, the luggage is working really well.  Susan would like something a bit larger, but the packs feel like the right size for balancing manageability with storage space. We love the wheels, and they have only challenged us once – in Northern Thailand where we had a 300 m walk on dirt road with a bamboo bridge. But the pack’s duffel handles make carrying them short distances very easy.  The day packs are being used constantly for countless reasons including day hikes, carrying groceries, being students or just roaming around cities visiting the sites.  The bags are holding up relatively well – no broken zippers or holes yet.  The waterproof coating is falling off a bit. I suspect that it does not like as much sunlight and heat as we have thrown at it.  Eagle Creek has agreed to replace (lifetime warranty), but we need to be in a country where they are actually sold.

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We bought some travel organizers that we both love. I was a bit skeptical and thought they were a bit gimmicky at first, but they solve the issue of locating items in a duffel bag by allowing you to sort your cloths, keeping things well organized and nicely pressed (relatively).  We are now big fans and highly recommend. They are lightweight and, the large one has a plastic board that keeps shirts from getting too wrinkled.

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We are also using a couple of these compression bags for dirty laundry. They keep dirty and wet laundry away from everything else, and the compression is great when it has been a couple weeks since the last wash. They do not look too sturdy, and the “ziploc” closure has fallen off a couple times, but it pops back on and the bags are holding up. We also highly recommend these.  They really are the perfect laundry bag.

 

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When you are literally packing and unpacking on a daily basis for weeks at a time, these bags make all the difference and help you “breath in with the smile and breath out with the happy”.

We are heading into the mountains of Peru and Colombia in March so we expect to do a bit of re-configuring but likely only temporarily.  We are planning to buy larger day packs that could support 3-5 day outings, are better equipped for longer hikes of 6-8 hours and have a bit more waterproofing, if we are in sustained rainy situations. We have a bunch of colder weather gear that we need to purchase because our shipment from the States with our hiking gear got stuck in Argentine customs, and we could not get it out.

This guy has been invaluable for so many reasons but especially the scissors and cork screw. We have been using the original Huntsman, but the updated version has some nice new features.

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Unfortunately, we had it confiscated at the airport when a last minute reconfiguration of our gear was required and we left it in our carry-on bag.  Luckily, we borrowed one from Raghu in Pune for the remainder of our trip (and we have already used a dozen times since then).

We are settling in to life with much less.  It is amazing what one does not need. Of course, when you are not going into an office or seeing anyone twice in the same week, you need a lot less clothes.  But even so, we suspect one outcome of this trip will be downsizing in a number of areas.

We are thinking about buying a better camera, but there are some benefits to the one we have.  We are making do with an iPhone 6 Plus and a 10+ year old Cannon Elf.  The nice thing about the Cannon is that it is fast and manageable with one hand so it is great for biking. It is also small, tough and survived many drops. It is bullet-proof and ours has a tremendous number of dents and divots to prove it.  An SLR with bigger lenses would definitely give us better photos, but it is another thing to lug around and worry about. So at this point, we are sticking with what we have.

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But perhaps my favorite travel gear is my Civilian Rewind Duo Retractable Cable Security Wallet. For someone who loses things regularly and has been traveling in “pickpocket” countries for sometime, this also provides peace of mind. There are only two spots for it – 1) hooked to my belt or 2) hooked to the inside pocket of my backpack.  When it is not in one of those two spots, there is drama, but that is rare.  It is thin, lightweight and holds cards and money. Carrying cash is something different for us. We have been accustomed to plastic in the States, but cash is still king in many spots. (South America, where we are now, is very cash-oriented).

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So that is it.  This is the gear with which we are traveling. Apart from clothes, we don’t have too much more.  We are compiling our thoughts on clothes for an around the world adventure so stay tuned for Susan’s “Steve Jobs” approach and our arguments in favor of polyester.

 

 

 

Estudiantes de Espanol en Buenos Aires (BA)

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” – Confucias.

With that in mind, we left Asia and Africa behind where we have spend the last 4.5 months and hopped on a plane to South America heading for Buenos Aires, 15,000 km away. Our plan was to swap our bikes (not entirely) for textbooks and study a bit of Spanish. After the 40 hour journey from Mumbai, our little hotel, Awwa Suites & Spa , tucked into the leafy neighborhood of Palermo was just the spot to hibernate during our first day in Argentina.

Palermo is a  quaint, European style neighborhood with tree-lined, quiet streets, beautiful parks and plazas including Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays, Parque Tres de Febrero, Jardín Japonés  (perfect for running), lovely Italian restaurants and Argentinean cafes including Mishiguene, Malvorn, Bella Italiaa dry cleaners with laundry service, wine shops, supermercados and one single hotel.  The area is wonderfully residential.  It was also a beautiful, 25 minute walk to Vamos Spanish Academy where we took a week long, crash-course in Spanish.  Perfecto!

Buenos Aires has the look and feel of an elegant, European city. Its architecture is similar to both Paris and Madrid. Its parks, plazas, and monuments could fit nicely in any Spanish or Italian city. The eating and nightlife is also very Spanish – light and late breakfasts, big lunches with wine, very late dinners which can last for hours.  This is not too surprising given the city’s history and the European immigration 100 years ago.  The second largest immigration of Italians went to Argentina from about 1850 to 1940. (Only the US had a larger number of Italian Immigrants).  Curiously, Argentina also had a significant number of both Eastern European Jewish and German Nazi immigrants. And you can see and feel their influence.  Jewish delis are scattered throughout the city. We had one of the best Reuben sandwiches we have ever had (we had to go back twice) and also a tasty bowl of varenikes (which are Argentine pierogies) at Mishiguene.

Argentina has had a very tumultuous past with many different governments, dictators, military juntas and plenty of civil unrest. The recent “Dirty War” of the late seventies, the financial crash of 2001, and the additional economic issues of 2008 have made life challenging for the typical Portenos (as people who live in Buenos Aires are called). There is also a very noticeable division between the poverty of the indigenous people and the extreme wealth of “the Europeans” as well as the foreigners that continue to hide wealth in over-the-top real-estate projects on reclaimed land in new neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

Argentina has recently elected a new president, Macri, in December, and there is both hope and apprehension in the air.  The financial issues will take some time to solve, and there will be pain before resolution. Inflation is climbing and is expected to be in the 30-40% range this year. The black market for US dollars has been eliminated only within the last month or so. We met people whose rent has increased by 80%. Taxis are increasing their fares this month by 20%. The change is big, but it appears that Portenos just roll with it – they have seen so much in the last few decades.

Since we plan to spend a couple months in South America, we thought a week of studying Spanish at the  Vamos Spanish Academy was a good idea.

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We were a little apprehensive, at first, about taking the Spanish course and spending 8 days in Buenos Aires, but we are so glad we did.  At the end of the week of study,  we could navigate daily tasks much easier in Spanish, and we met some nice people.  There were only three other people in our class- a couple  from England about our age who are also traveling the world and were in South America on their way up to visit their son at school in California; and a young hipster from Istanbul who is currently living in Austria but visiting Argentina to learn Spanish and working on getting accepted for some extended study in Chile.  The class was held for four hours every day, and speaking only Spanish was encouraged.  Basically full immersion for half of the day, a great way to get up to speed quickly.

But before we started class on Monday, we had a chance to get an introduction to Buenos Aires. With its 100 miles of recently built bike lanes, there is no better way to see the sights than on cycles. And Chris found a great cycling company, Biking BA, which offered a seven hour cycling experience .  We saw most of the key neighborhoods, sights and had a fantastic lunch that included a bondiola completa, a killer sandwich with pork, egg, cheese and all sorts of condiments including chimichurri, hot sauce, tomatoes, carrots, scallions, onions.

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The cycling started in San Telmo neighborhood which is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires and used to be the wealthiest neighborhood before an outbreak of cholera drove out the wealthy elite up the hill to the neighborhood of Recoleta.

After cycling through San Telmo, we cycled to La Boca, a working class, colorful barrio, home to La Bombonera where the world famous Boca Juniors play futbol (soccer) and where Tango initially started.  Football is crazy popular over here but also extremely dangerous.  Games are often delayed or canceled.  Although there was a game the first night we arrived, we opted to catch some of it on TV and visit the stadium during the security of daylight hours.  Indeed, we learned from someone the next day that there were “small riots” on the streets after the game.

From there, we rode on to Puerto Madero, a barrio with a completely different look and feel as it was created with reclaimed land and has a lot new, modern buildings – most apparently built with money of questionable origins.  Puerto Madero also happens to be the barrio  where Messi, a famous futbol star, has a home.

We wrapped up our cycling in the Recoleta barrio where the Recoleta Cemetery is located. But on the way, we passed a grave site of hundreds of victims of the “Dirty War”.  Human remains were found while digging a new extension to a highway. It turns out that the previous site was an athletic club used by the police. During the war, they used the basement for torture and killing and buried the victims  next door not expecting the site to be excavated in the future.  Over 30K people “disappeared” during the troubling times between 1976-1983.  Many of the tortured people were drugged and thrown out of planes over the Rio de la Plata. In fact, it was one of these pilots who was responsible for bring these grisly details to light.

Recoleta Cemetery, a much different grave site,  is an interesting place and takes graveyards to a whole new level. Supposedly, a grave site costs millions and there is a 10 year waiting list.  Many of Argentina’s rich and powerful are buried here in some of the most grandiose temples, houses, mausoleums.  Evita Peron, Argentina’s First Lady and wife of President Juan Perón, is among the rich and powerful Portenos ( as Argentina folks are called) buried here.

The cycling was a great way to see the city in a day and also meet some more interesting people.  We met other travelers from the UK, Canada and the US as well as a number of locals who were very friendly. In fact, we found most of the folks in the city to be very friendly and willing to help. Also, they were incredibly honest.  On the day before we were leaving, we realized that we had left USD $100 in a shirt that we dropped off at the local laundry.  We did not realize we had left the dollars in the shirt until later that evening when we went to pick up the laundry (washed, folded and wonderful smelling  – so nice).  When we initially inquired about the money, the woman at the shop suggested that we check with someone else in the morning.  The following morning, Chris and I went to laundry shop thinking it was an exercise in futility.  But to our surprise, as soon as we walked in, a young lady was waiting for us.  She knew immediately that we were the crazy foreigners that left the dollars hanging around in our shirt pocket.  She smiled as she pulled out the freshly laundered Jeffersons that she had carefully tucked away in the accounts book for us. With our faith in humanity restored (or at least strengthened) and our clothes freshly laundered, we headed out to our next adventure – a high-speed ferry to Montevideo!

We will miss Buenos Aires.  It has been a wonderful week filled with kind and interesting people, education, dinners with new friends and an old grad school buddy, great food and vino.  We both wished we stayed for two weeks to continue the Spanish classes and spend more time in the city, but we are looking forward to Uruguay (where they speak Portuguese not Spanish:O).

 

 

 

 

Under the Goan Sun

With 15 days of cycling the tea plantations and rice paddies of Southern India, we headed north to the former Portuguese beach colony of Goa where we immediately noticed a completely different vibe. There is less traffic and not as much honking. People move a bit slower and there are a lot more visitors and European snowbirds living in the area.  Goa has been attracting backpackers and “hippies” for decades since the state gained independence from Portugal in 1961. Today it is a very popular spot for both locals and foreigners looking for a few days of beach or a few days of festivities.  There are two common ways to visit Goa – head south for some beautiful beaches and a slower pace or head up north for the night life and the strips of beach bars and restaurants.

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We opted for the former and settled down at a yoga retreat in Varca for a week. The beach in Varca is 26km long and one of the cleanest spots that we have seen in India so far.

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The twice-daily yoga sessions (one at the pool and one at the beach) was just the thing to work out the knots and aches from the days of cycling. Unfortunately, the rest of the experience was a bit bizarre and not exactly what we were expecting. The retreat ended up being more of a “home-stay”\hostel that we shared with a nice young British woman, 6 India guys from all over India who were working at the abode, and a crazy, anti-social dog that constantly growled at everyone and attacked chairs and table legs at every meal.  It was not a great experience but travel doesn’t always go as planned. It cannot always be rosy and magical like the articles of the in-flight magazines (where many of our blog posts could live nicely;>). But we have been pretty lucky so far with hiccup free travel and great stays for 4.5 months.  Actually, it has been less luck and more the incredible, detailed planning and scrutiny of Susan. Her tireless travels through the inter-webs and up-and-down TripAdvisor reviews is  a big reason for our smooth travels so far.

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The guys making dinner.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t so bad  –  we managed to practice  a lot of yoga over the week, learned to cook a few new Indian dishes, and met some good people.  When the power went out, or we lost the water in the middle of a shower,  or got too creeped out at the local massage parlor, we simply chanted our newly learned mantra “Breath in with the smile, breath out with the happy” and all was good.  At the end of the day, these were mostly “1st world problems” and not worth getting too worked up about…although that dog was really crazy.

While in the south , we had the chance to visit  Cabo de Rama where we explored some castle ruins that pre-dates the Portuguese and spent some time on a gorgeous and deserted beach.

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After yoga, we headed north to the larger city of Panjim and used up some of our hotel miles to book into a spot on the Mandovi river for some dog-free, hot showers and a little room for ourselves.

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Laid back Goa with relatively little traffic
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The Other G&T

At the end of the day, we enjoyed Goa and it’s laid back pace and beautiful weather. It was a nice place to take a break and spend some time in one spot after the busy travel schedule of the last few weeks. We are closing in on 30 days in India and have a few days left to spend in Pune and Mumbai before we move on to other parts of the world.

 

 

 

Love on the Backwaters of Kerala

We wrapped up our time in Kerala hill country with an overnight stop in Kuttikkanam where we stayed on a 600 acre tea and coffee plantation perched on a spectacular ridge line. We did a little exploring of the property before heading out of the mountains on to the rice paddies and backwaters of Kerala.

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Giant Bamboo

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Mahindra

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Susan being stalked again

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While exploring the tea and coffee plantation, we came across the local plantation workers weighing the Arabic coffee beans.  After the coffee was weighed, it was sent down the hillside and then rolled onto drying platforms for 3-4 days of drying before being sold to local roasting companies.

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When leaving the plantation the following day, we faced another monster downhill  as we descended to sea level and the backwaters of Kerala. The temperature quickly rose and the landscape changed dramatically as rice paddies replaced the cardamon and sandalwood forests where we started. After a morning of cycling, we hopped on a houseboat for a 24 hour cruise around the backwaters of Alleppey where in the not too distant past, the primary mode of transportation were boats and canals.

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The waterways were teaming with people fishing, cleaning, shopping and generally moving about.

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Not everyone appeared happy to see us.

Hundreds of pleasure boats cruised with tourists up and down the river. It was quite a scene during the day and yet another traffic jam, but at about 6 pm, all the large boat movement stopped to allow the local fisherman to cast their nets for the evening and that is when the river became magical.

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Kingfisher

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It was a beautiful evening and morning on the water exploring the local villages , but we both sensed the approaching end of our cycling and looked forward to the last couple days of pedaling through rice paddies and along the beach to our final destination of Fort Kochi.

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More Christians live in Kerala than other parts of India. Churches are everywhere.

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Stopped by a local house on route to witness magic. This women was making rope out of coconut husks. We still don’t know how she did it.
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Chinese Fishing Nets

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Traditional Kerals Thali lunch served on a banana leaf with a bunch of wonderful dishes to sample.

Fort Kochi Beach is quite the happening spot on a Sunday morning when we visited.  The fishermen are busy with their Chinese fishing nets.  Tourists and touts are about and there are many pick-up football and cricket matches.

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Fort Kochi on a typical Sunday morning is a happening spot with many pickup football and cricket games.

On the way to town, we had lunch at a local home with some folks with connections to the cycling team at Xava. They were spending a month at their home during their annual leave from their work in Kuwait These lovely people cooked a “Thanksgiving” size lunch for us with many, wonderful Kerala dishes such as  olan, seer fish molee, sambar, kerala rice (a wided rice than basmati), chapatis, cabbage, carrot thoran, and even some homemade wine. Many folks from Kerala are working in the Gulf States sending money earned back to India .  In fact, we were told 100’s of millions of dollars flow back each year to the state from the Middle East, UK,  Canada and the States.  The local area is quite prosperous in relative terms. We saw a lot of kids on bikes, beautifully maintained churches, new roads, and many, many large homes.

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And that is a wrap. 14 days, Bengalaru to Kochi on the cycles.  Now we are off to a yoga retreat in Goa for some twisting and stretching to loosen up the hip flexors! Namaste.

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