A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rd2nowhere

Cambodia

posted by Mandy

sunny 90 °F

As many of you already know, our epic journey has come to an end. Kevin and I flew back to the states at the end of September and are staying with my parents in Placerville. We are slowly getting reaquinted with the real world and are looking for life's next adventure. We will have 2 more postings after this one~ Vietnam and Hong Kong, so stay tuned!

We spent about 2 weeks in Cambodia, starting in Siem Reap, next to the famous Temples of Angkor. I have been wanting to visit the Temples of Angkor for quite a while, so this part of our trip was very special for me. The border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia was a bit of a challenge because of the residual corruption from the Khmer Rouge era of the 70s. Everyone had their hand out and it was difficult to tell the difference between official border business and scams, including a fake customs office with fake officers giving out visas. We made it though, relatively unscathed.

For those who have not been to the Temples of Angkor, it is a massive site and cannot be navigated on foot, nor is it recommended to visit in just one day. We decided to get a 3 day pass and rent bikes to explore as much of the ruins as possible. The heat and humidity was intense, but we had a great time making our way through on our own pace. One of our favorite temples was Ta Prahm, which is overgrown with trees and jungle. Angkor Wat was amazing as well, as it is one of the largest and most preserved temples.
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After Siem Reap/Angkor we took a local ferry down the river to Battambang. The "6-12 hour" ride ended up being closer to 12, due to getting stuck in deep lily pads which our captain and noble passengers painstakingly dug us out of. Our eventful ride also included passing through narrow mangrove forests and we had to stand in the middle of the boat to avoid getting whacked with branches. We saw tons of local floating villages and locals, which was super cool.
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Battambang is a fairly large town next to some noteworthy temples and religious sites, but it doesn't feel as touristy as Siem Reap, so it was nice to spend some time there. One day we hired a tuk-tuk (motorbike taxi w/ carriage behind) to take us to all the sites. We visited Cambodia's only winery (no, the wine was not good), a "killing cave" where many Cambodians were dropped to their deaths by Polpot's Khmer Rouge and a beautiful temple on the mountainside. We also saw picturesque rice fields and small villages with friendly locals.
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Unfortunately, I started to get sick on the last day in Battambang, which ended up taking a full 2 weeks to recover. I felt well enough to hop on a bus to head to Phnom Penh, but stayed in bed for 4 whole days, including my 30th birthday. Poor Kevin had to explore Phnom Penh solo, but took good care of me, bringing me food and meds. I have to admit, if there was ever a time on our trip that I wanted to go home, this was it! Kevin enjoyed the craziness of Phnom Penh. He rented a bicycle and bravely explored through the chaotic motorbike laden streets. The years of cycling in San Francisco really payed off!
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Posted by rd2nowhere 22:40 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Thailand

posted by Mandy

sunny 90 °F

After a two month hiatus in the states, we got back on the road and headed for South East Asia. Lucky for us, our good friends, Amanda and Josh joined us for three weeks in Thailand. We met Amanda and Josh in Bangkok on Kevin's birthday to begin our journey. We celebrated by eating street food and going to a Muay Thai boxing match.
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The food was delicious and the boxing match was entertaining! Bangkok overwhelmed our senses; a crazy city, with buzzing traffic, sticky sweet food smells, sweat inducing humidity and brilliant colors. The rest of our time was spent eating great food, exploring the massive city and appreciating the beauty of the temples (or wats) and Royal Palace.
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We decided to head north via train to the smaller city of Chiang Mai. We loved the slower paced city and it's arty vibe. Unfortunately, we were hit with a monsoon rain on the first day, so the site seeing was accompanied with soggy clothes and rain gear. Our second day in Chiang Mai was spent at the Elephant Nature Park, which is a large open park where rescued elephants live and are taken care of by volunteers. We were able to observe the elephants closely, and even feed and bathe them. The large animals were for the most part gentle creatures, but we had a little scare when two of the males started fighting near Josh and Kevin. Video to follow!
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We then headed a couple hours more north to a small village called Chiang Dao, recommended by a friend. We stayed at a beautiful lodge in the jungle for a peaceful reprieve from the city. The monsoon rains followed us, but it didn't damper our moods. We explored the nearby temples, including one temple in a cave, soaked in hot springs, got our first Thai massages (oh my, what a treat!) and explored the village on bicycles. One of the highlights of our time in Thailand was in Chiang Dao, bicycling through the country side. We recommend to anyone who is goes!
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Off to the beach! We saved ourselves from spending 24 hours on a train and flew down to Phuket, to catch a ferry to Ko Phi Phi, a small island in the Andaman Sea. The island was breathtaking, exactly what you picture when you think of South East Asian beaches. The white sandy beaches were surrounded by massive limestone cliffs, with turquoise water and old wooden longtail boats along the shoreline.
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We didn't know this until we arrived, but apparently Ko Phi Phi is a big backpacker party destination. Our “hotel” was a trashy bungalow surrounded by garbage in the middle of the bars and clubs. Amanda and Josh definitely got the worst bungalow, as their walls were literally made of newspaper and they had a hole in their bathroom floor, all the way down to the dirt! Anyway, we made the most of it (we weren't there to hang out in our hotel anyway) and joined the party. We had a great time sunbathing by day and bar hopping by night. One day we hired a longtail boat to take us to remote beaches and snorkel spots around the island.
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After a few days, we took another ferry to the mainland for our next destination: Railay Beach. Railay was amazing! Similar beauty as Ko Phi Phi, but without the clubs. Also, the limestone cliffs are much more dramatic along the coastline, which has become a huge rock climbing area. Amanda and Josh partook in this and had a great time. We rented kayaks and explored the coastline and hung out on the beautiful beaches.
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After Railay, we headed to the Gulf of Thailand, to the island of Ko Tao. Ko Tao is known for their scuba diving and snorkeling and we went there for just that. Kevin got his scuba certificate, and Josh, Amanda and I did some of the best off shore snorkeling I have ever experienced. We saw tons of beautiful coral and fish and reef sharks.
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This was the last stop for Amanda and Josh and we were sad to see them go. Kevin and I spent a couple more days on Ko Tao (one of which was our 1 year anniversary!) and then headed to the island south of Ko Tao, called Ko Phangan. This island is larger than Ko Tao, with wider beaches and more remote accommodations. We spend a couple days on the north part of the island, then a couple days on the east side. Lazy but great fun! Time could easily have gotten away with us, but our one month visa was expiring soon, so we had to head out. We took the long trip back to Bangkok (6 hour ferry then 8 hour bus ride) and spent our last days in Thailand shopping at a huge street market and taking a Thai cooking class. We got lots of good wares and learned how to make our favorite Thai dishes. Can I just say, again, how great the food was in Thailand! Yummy!
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Posted by rd2nowhere 03:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Peru

posted by Mandy

sunny 80 °F

Better late than never! Hi blog followers. Sorry for the delay! Kevin and I flew back to the states on June 1st and we have been busy getting re-acquainted with the mother land. Our South American adventure ended with a good month meandering through Peru. We spent a week or so in southern Peru, visiting the surprisingly hip city of Arequipa
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then busing up to the second deepest canyon in the world, Canon del Colca. The bus ride was long and windy, with vertigo-inducing sheer cliffs dropping off the single lane highway. We went over one of many 10,000+ feet passes that caused a bit of altitude sickness, but nothing too serious. We fell in love with the lush green mountains and steep canyons, scattered with the famous agricultural terraces and hospitable locals.
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We stayed in the town of Cabanaconde and then trekked overnight into the canyon.
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On the hike down the canyon, we were passed by several locals, donkeys and alpacas, making their way home on the only available trail.
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At one point a woman, who was probably in her 70s passed us and was wearing tattered sandals and several layers of long dresses! She offered us some fruit that helped feed our thirsts. We made it to a tiny little pre-Incan village at the bottom of the canyon and stayed at a hospidaje for the evening, where we were fed and able to take a cold, but refreshing outdoor shower.
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We were in complete awe of how isolated the villages were and how resilient the Peruvians are! After a night of good sleep, we made our way to the "Oasis," a series of river-fed swimming holes available for tourists. We took a refreshing dip, then hiked up the canyon back to Cabanaconde.
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Our next stop was in Puno, Peru on one of the largest high altitude lakes in the world (12,500 feet), Lake Titicaca. We toured the floating islands of Uros, which are man-made islands formed by reeds.
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The pre-Incan people of Uros created the islands to escape persecution on the mainland. We also toured the island of Amantani, where another pre-Incan tribe lives and still holds ancient traditions of farming and weaving.
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We then made our way up to Cuzco, Peru, which was the capital of the Inca Empire. We both loved and hated Cuzco. Loved it, because the city was charming, with narrow cobble-stoned streets and beautiful architecture, rich with history and mystique.
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Hated it, because it was uber-touristy, which was a lot to handle so far into our trip. After a few days, we bussed/trained up to Aquas Calientes, the even more touristy town that is the gateway to Machu Picchu.
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We were apprehensive about Machu Picchu, as the areas surrounding it were so touristy and the price tag to get there was ridiculous! But we had to do it, right? We were in Peru! Machu Picchu proved to be as amazing as it looks in pictures! It was incredible!
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We spent the entire day touring the Incan site, and did the short hike up to the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail during the peek hours between noon and 2.
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Machu Picchu exceeded our expectations. We then spent a couple days in the nearby town of Ollantaytambo, to do some more Inca site seeing in the Sacred Valley.
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After surviving a couple more days in Cuzco (delayed a day because of a large protest blocking the main highway), we arrived in Lima, the capital city of Peru. Lima is huge and populous (9 million people!), but we enjoyed it non-the-less. We ate well, walked a ton, and shopped.
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Next stop, the small beach town of Huanchaco, where we spent a couple days hanging out on the beach and checking out an interesting pre-Inca city called Chan Chan.
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We made our way further north to spend a full week in another small beach town called Mancora. We were feeling a bit run down and just wanted to relax and chill out for a while. Mancora was the perfect spot for this. We were able to find cheap accommodations and the beach was picture perfect.
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After that, we crossed the border into Ecuador and spent a few days in Guayaquil before flying home to the states.
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We came back to take a break and spend time with family and friends. My sister, Courtnie had a baby girl on June 6th and our good friend, Inga got married on July 16th. We are leaving next Monday for South East Asia and are planning on spending 2 months there. We shall see though! Stay tuned for new updates! Also, don't forget to check out the rest of our photos from Peru. We uploaded a ton!

Posted by rd2nowhere 16:21 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Argentina Part 2 & Atacama Desert, Chile

posted by Kevin and Mandy

sunny

Feeling clean and well rested, we left our friends in Santiago and headed to Mendoza, Argentina. The road was long and windy, with jaw dropping views of the high desert landscape. The view was especially good and at times a little frightening because we were able to ride on the top front of a double-decker bus.
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As we made our way to Mendoza, we passed several vineyards and got really excited for our Argentinian wine adventure. At this point in our trip, we had started getting a bit lazy about reserving hostel rooms, and spent about 2 hours finding a reasonably priced open room. We finally settled on a mediocre hostel on a very busy city street. After checking in, we received news from our friend, Alicia diVittorio, that we would be spending the following night at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.
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Her treat, as a wedding gift. Woo hoo! The next day, we took advantage of early South American noon check-in, and spent the afternoon lounging poolside and watching cable TV. Our room was really nice, as expected, and was such a great relief from the dingy and uncomfortable hostel rooms. That evening, we decided to continue our day's theme of luxury travel by going out to a really good meal. The restaurant is called Azafran and would be good even by San Francisco's standards. We contemplated extending our stay at the Park Hyatt for the remainder of our trip, but realized it would cut it short and we would have to fly home a week later. Darn! The next day we toured the town, explored Mendoza's large city park, and tasted wine at an excellent wine bar called Vines of Mendoza (recommended by Alicia).
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Our last day in Mendoza was spent bicycling from vineyard to vineyard (called bodegas in S.A.). The experience was super fun and informative, and we tasted a few new wines that we really liked.
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That night we had another epic meal at a less formal parilla to chow down on some more bife de chorizo (steak). We reluctantly left Mendoza and experienced our first overnight bus to Cordoba, Argentina. We really liked Argentina's second biggest city, also referred as “the cultural capital of Argentina.”
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By chance, Cordoba was hosting a giant craft faire, so one night was spent rubbing elbows with locals, checking out cool artisan crafts. We also visited many of Cordoba's great art and colonial history museums. One that especially stood out and was a little creepy was a 17th century Jesuit catacomb, which was located underneath downtown Cordoba. As a stopover to northern Chile, we spent a couple days in the small city of Salta, Argentina. It was charming enough, with a few picturesque colonial churches and rolling green hills surrounding the city.
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We visited an Incan museum, which housed 3 mummified children that were sacrificed on a nearby volcano. The bodies are well preserved because of the high altitude where the sacrifice took place. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for some), we could not take photos. We met 2 ladies from Germany at our hostel, and spent the evening with them, eating our last steak dinner in Argentina and singing karaoke.
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Kevin made friends with a few locals and a family of 20 invited us to an asado at their ranch the next day. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it because their ranch was over 2 hours away. The next day we hopped on another bus and made our way back to Chile to the Atacama desert, which happens to be the driest desert in the world (so they say). This was one of our first experiences with extremely high altitude, as we went over a 4,200 meter pass. The route was just as spectacular as the ride from Mendoza, especially when we drove through Salinas Grande, one of the largest salt flats in the area.
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We stayed in the small, dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The town was a cross between the wild west and Jerusalem, with small white stucco buildings on tiny dirt avenues.
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We arrived on Good Friday, and again, didn't have a reservation. We were blindsided with the inflated hostel prices because of the holiday weekend, so we decided to camp instead.
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We attempted to have an asado for Easter, but were sorely unprepared, which caused the asado to fail miserably. Basically, all that we had was a wood grill (no utensils, no plates, nothing!) What were we thinking? In the end our bellies were full and we had a good laugh. That night was spent at a French-owned astronomical observatory in the middle of the desert. Because of the clear sky and no city lights, we were able to see an infinite amount of stars and learned about the constellations of the southern hemisphere. The next day, we headed out to a nearby salt lake and salt flat. Swimming in the salt lake was a crazy experience! The lake is 60% salt, which causes you to be completely buoyant. We felt like men on the moon, with almost no gravity.
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As we dried of, we realized how salty the lake really was!
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After, we drove to a picturesque salt flat, which sat below a series of active volcanoes. We enjoyed the sunset with a mango pisco sour and took many amazing photos.
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The last day in Chile was spend cycling through the desert valley and visiting pre-Incan ruins. We saw some spectacular views and rock formations.
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Our time in the desert was unexpected, but very memorable.

Posted by rd2nowhere 20:51 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Patagonia and Santiago, Chile

posted by Mandy and Kevin

As many of you already know, we drove a truck and camper from the lower tip of Chile to the capital city of Santiago, totaling over 4,000 kilometers. The idea stemmed from Kevin seeing a truck and camper from the same company in the parking lot at the Perito Moreno Glacier. Ten emails and one eight hour bus ride later, we found ourselves in Punta Arenas, Chile, located on the Magellan Strait.
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Our excitement turned into apprehension when we picked up the camper and no one from the company spoke english. The camper introduction, run through and contract process was entirely in spanish, including the maps and campground brochures. As we navigated our way out of the fairly large city, our excitement returned because we were off the “hacky sack trail” and had our own wheels for the first time! Our first stop was Torres del Paine, the most famous national park in South America.
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On the way into the park, we were completely amazed by the beautiful landscape. Every turn produced “oohs and aahs” and many stops were made.
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This became a common theme during our entire journey to Santiago. Our luck with weather continued and all of our days were nice and sunny, but the wind held up its reputation and the gusts were the strongest we have ever experienced. We hiked and camped and stared for three days. Back on the road, via the infamous route 40. We had to prepare for this stretch, as the “highway” was a bumpy dirt road for miles and miles, a no man's land, with very little petrol stations or human life. The landscape literally looked like the moon.
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After an overnight stop at a rustic “estancia,” which is basically a working ranch that provides meals and basic lodging/camping, we entered the Chacabuco Valley, a soon to be national park. This stretch of road was one of our favorite parts of the road trip. The landscape was varied ~ high mountain peaks sitting behind dramatic colorful buttes with lush green valleys and curving rivers, intermingled with desert patches and wild horses, flamingos and guanacos (Patagonian llamas).
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Picture this for six hours and only seeing 2 cars the entire time! Our night was spent in Cochrane, Chile and realized that the locals don't see many tourists and have never seen a truck and camper. With the recommendations by Scott Perryman, a Patagonian expert and one of Mandy's work associates, we headed towards the tiny town of Puerto Guadal on Lago General Carrera.
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Scott told us to stay on his friend's property on the lake, which proved to be a little difficult, as we had to figure out where exactly this property was and how we were going to open the locked gate from the road. To make a long story short, it took three stops, and the convincing of five people (two of whom spoke no english) to get the lock opened. The task was worth it, as we had a beautiful, private lake side campsite, with fresh veggies from a green house on the property. With local insight, we found out about a hike onto private property to an incredible waterfall.
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After, we were invited to an “asado” by friends of Scott's, to celebrate the completion of a “refugio” or rustic cabin. An asado consists of a slow roasted lamb, cooked for eight hours on an open fire. Once its ready, the lamb is placed on a large plywood board and hand devoured by guests.
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Kevin says that it is undoubtedly the best lamb he has ever eaten. The hosts and guests welcomed us with open arms and exemplified true Chilean hospitality. We then continued north, around the lake to take a quick boat ride around the “castillos de marmol,” floating marble formations that can only be conveyed in photos.
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Our journey took a detour and headed 50 km west, by Scott's recommendation to drive through the valley a dramatic mountain rainforest, with literally hundreds of waterfalls, rivers and lakes. After an overnight stop at a crazy German-run hospedaje, we continued north and ended up in the fairly large town of Coyhaique, Chile to regroup. The stopover included a dinner at a fire station restaurant, “Bomberos,” a few frustrating hours at a local police station, an argument with a local metermaid and several attempts at taking a hot shower. The drive out of town never felt so good. The next stop was Quelat National Park, a rarely visited park in Patagonia. We had the park to ourselves and hiked through a lush rainforest to a hanging glacier.
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The next day we made an impromptu stop to soak our sore muscles at a hot spring. The spot was one of a kind, situated on a fjord. Again, we had the place to ourselves for complete peace and relaxation.
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At one point, we observed a pod of porpoises swimming by. We convinced the owners of the hot spring to let us camp, then headed towards Chaiten, Chile to catch a ferry further north. Chaiten was devastated by a volcanic eruption in 2008 and unfortunately, has not recovered. The town was almost abandoned, as most homes and buildings were destroyed and ash still covered the area.
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After a night of “wild camping,” we hopped on the seven hour ferry toward Hornopiren, Chile.
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The ferry crew was intrigued with our camper, and much to their delight, Kevin gave them a tour of the inside. We felt privileged, as the other passengers had to hang out in the uncomfortable “lounge,” while we relaxed in the comfort of our rig. We decided to spend the remainder of our road trip in Pucon, Chile, which is in the lakes district of Patagonia, and included two full days of hiking, with incredible views of volcanoes and lakes.
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We then made the final stretch to Santiago, Chile, where we had to return our camper. We must mention that one of the nights on this stretch was spent camping behind a gas station, and Kevin realized that his lifelong dream of being a trucker wasn't his true calling.
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We must also mention that Kevin had to drive this rather large vehicle through the crowded city streets of Santiago. A wrong turn led us through the city center, but Kevin persevered, with help of his San Francisco driving experience and multiple honks of the horn.
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With a sigh of relief, we dropped off the camper with only minor damage and made our way to Evan and Lorena Smith's home in Santiago. Evan went to Chico State with Kevin and is now living in Santiago with his Chilean wife, Lorena.
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They were the most gracious hosts~ cooked us food, gave us our own room with endless amounts of hot showers and showed us around the area. They even took us to the coast, to visit the towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality! We got a good ol' dose of Americana one night, watching an entire Giant's game on TV and drinking good beer. Other days and evenings were spent exploring the city, and tasting traditional Chilean and Peruvian dishes, wine and pisco sours. A great ending to an eventful 3 weeks!

Posted by rd2nowhere 13:22 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Argentina Part 1

posted by Kevin and Mandy

sunny 80 °F

We took a red eye flight from Panama City to Buenos Aires to meet up with our friends, Katie and Ryan Yurcich. We were excited to see some familiar faces and a new part of the world. Katie and Ryan found a nice apartment near the center of the city, complete with a courtyard and traditional Argentinian parilla (grill).
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We spend our time walking the city streets, exploring the different neighborhoods,
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eating tons of steak, drinking amazing wine
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and enjoying the porteno way of life, complete with siestas. A highlight included going to a tango show in historic San Telmo.
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We both loved Buenos Aires and are hoping to be living there sometime in our lives.

After six enjoyable days in BA, we all flew south to El Calafate, Argentina to start exploring the Patagionia region. We spent one full day visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is one of the last advancing glaciers in the world.
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Our tour included a boat ride in front of the south face and hiking on the glacier with cramp-ons. Everyone was amazed not only by the magnificent sight of the enormous glacier, but also the loud cracking sounds it made. The next day we hopped on a bus and headed 2 hours northwest to El Chalten, Argentina to visit Glacier National Park and the famous Fitz Roy mountain. We stayed in a rustic "refugio" in town and hiked our butts off!
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We spent one very windy night in the park, at the base of Fitz Roy and tested the limits of our new tents. We heard from all locals that we were very lucky, as the weather was in our favor throughout our entire stay. We were able to see the top of Fitz Roy two days in a row, which is extremely rare. After four enjoyable and exhausting days, we headed back to El Calafate to have one more epic dinner with Ryan and Katie before they headed back to California. We were thankful that they made the effort to come down and meet up with us and we were very sad to see them go!

Posted by rd2nowhere 07:58 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Central America Best/Worst List

posted by Kevin and Mandy

As a homage to Central America, we compiled a best and worst list for entertainment, for debate, or for future C.A. travelers:

Central America Best/Worst List

1. Best Beach: Playa Hermosa, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
2. Best Food ~ Local Faire: Mexico
3. Best Food ~ Variety/International: Panama
4. Best Meal: El Camello, Tulum, Mexico
5. Best Public Transportation: Mexico
6. Worst Public Transportation: Costa Rica
7. Best Overall Hostel: Omega, Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras
8. Worst Overall Hostel: Hostel Liberia, Liberia, Costa Rica
9. Best Wildlife: Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
10. Best Ruins: Tikal, Guatemala
11. Friendliest Locals: Honduras
12. Best Local Beer: Belikin (Belize)
13. Best Local Liquor: Local Dark Rum (Belize)
14. Best Beans/Rice/Chicken: Kevin ~ Bus Station Food Vendor in Dangrigia, Belize; Mandy ~ La Jungla Soda in Uvita, Costa Rica
15. Most Overrated: Granada, Nicaragua
16. Most Underrated: Isla Bastimentos, Panama
17. Best Tour: Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
18. Best Score: $8/Kilo grouper fish bought on beach in Samara, Costa Rica that fed us for 3 days
19. Best Deal: $14/night room at Hostel Jaguar on Isla Bastimentos, Panama
20. Most Likely to Return to: Panama

Posted by rd2nowhere 11:25 Comments (1)

Panama

posted by Kevin and Mandy

rain 65 °F

Our first stop in Panama was in the volcanic mountain town of Boquete. The cool dry air was a welcome change from the typical Central American humidity. Upon arrival, we booked a tour at an organic coffee farm, owned and operated by an expat from Berkeley, California.
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The intimate tour was informative and entertaining. The owner explained the whole process, from growing to roasting. We even had a tasting and got to take home our own roast. The farm was beautiful, and overlooked the lush green valley of Boquete. The next day we went white water rafting on the Chiriqui Viejo River. We shared a boat with 3 intense guys from San Francisco. Our guide was insane and thought it was hilarious to lead us into dangerous rapids sideways and backwards. Everyone survived and we had a great time. Our last day in Boquete was a leisurely day spent at some natural hot springs. We then headed back to the Caribbean and ended up on the island of Bastimentos, near Bocas del Toro, Panama. We stayed in the tiny town of Old Bank, which had a truly authentic Caribbean vibe.
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The town consisted of a single sidewalk, no cars, no grocery stores, no ATMs, but lots of reggae, nice locals, and a crazy language unique to the island, which was a mix of creole and spanish. We found a charming over-the-water hostel for $14 a night, owned by the infamous Jaguar (no, really. When asked his name, his response was simply “The Jaguar”).
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We had bad luck with weather, as we were there during the end of their rainy season, but managed to squeeze in a couple of amazing beach days.
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The other days were spent drinking tea at a cocoa farm, eating at the only Thai restaurant in Panama, playing Jaguar music and “taking life cool.” We were truly sad to leave this island and hope to return one day. Jaguar gave us good transportation advice and soon we were on an 8 hour bus ride to Panama City. We were eager to check out the “best city in Central America” and excited about the prospects of Carnival. Our first day was full! Activities included morning at the Panama Canal, catching 2 large ships through the Miraflores Locks,
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afternoon at the Mercado de Mariscos, eating fresh ceviche and lobster,
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and evening strolling the streets in Casco Viejo, the oldest barrio in Panama City.
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The following days were spent attempting to walk around the city (which proved to be nearly impossible, as Panama City is not a pedestrian city), eating local and international faire and catching a couple of American movies. We spent one evening at the Carnival festival, watching live musical performances and locals shake their hips, while dodging confetti.
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Panama City was a great finale to our Central American adventure.

Posted by rd2nowhere 11:13 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Costa Rica

posted by Mandy and Kevin

sunny 90 °F

As we left the island of Omotepe, we had mixed feelings~ sad to be leaving Nicaragua, but excited about the prospects of Costa Rica, as this is a place we both have been wanting to go to for a long time. After some research and advice from friends, we decided to head to the Nicoya Peninsula for some relaxation on the beach, specifically, the small town of Samara. Crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica proved to be the biggest challenge of our trip thus far. In short, it started as a 3 hour bumpy school bus ride on a dirt road in Omotepe, and after a 2 hour wait for the hour long ferry, we putted back to the mainland, negotiated with a taxi for a 30 minute ride to the border, and then the real fun started. We stood in the sweltering heat for 2 ½ hours to exit Costa Rica (delayed because 2 freaks from the Oregon Circus cut in line and were on some sort of “list”). Then hopped on a 3 hour bus to Liberia, only to find that there was a local festival and it took checking with 5 hostels to find a room. We rewarded ourselves with Pizza Hut for dinner. The next day we finally arrived to the beach town of Samara. The next few days were spent lounging on the beach, taking long walks on the shore and mastering the art of surfing. Samara's small beach breaks were perfect for learning. We both took lessons, which helped Kevin improve and helped Mandy realize that boogie boarding is just fine. After 3 days, it was time to move south, to another small beach town, Montezuma. We met up with a couple from the states that we befriended in Samara and spent the day beach hopping on ATVs.
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Each beach was more spectacular than the other, but our favorite was Playa Hermosa.
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The ATVs were fun~ finally some transportation of our own! Only one small incident occurred~ crashing into an embankment when avoiding a massive pothole. No injuries, thankfully! Unfortunately, Kevin spent the remaining days laid up in bed, with a bad case of Montezuma's revenge. It quickly passed, just in time to hop on another bus to head further south to yet another small beach town, Uvita. We were fortunate to be able to crash at Mandy's friend, Kelly's awesome surf shack for a few days. Our activities included biking from jungle river waterfalls to the beach, and Kevin surfing some larger beach breaks.
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It was nice to be off the beaten traveler's path for a few days. Our last destination was the Osa Peninsula town of Bahia Drake, recommended by all Costa Rican travelers. We were amazed by the natural, untouched beauty of the area~ acres and acres of wild jungle, surrounded by sandy and rocky beaches, on the bright blue coastal waters of the pacific. The highlight was our tour of Corcovado National Park. Wildlife sightings included scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots and many other exotic birds, 3 different types of monkeys, wild boars, tapirs, crocodiles and dolphins. The Osa Peninsula is a majestic place that we would recommend to any visitor of Costa Rica!
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Posted by rd2nowhere 20:16 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

Nicaragua

posted by Mandy and Kevin

sunny 85 °F

We jumped on a 12 hour bus from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to make our way to Nicaragua. Mandy was battling the first stomach illness of the trip, so it proved to be a long and uncomfortable ride. The bus was heading to Managua, but Kevin decided at the last minute to jump off in Leon and managed to forget his iphone on the bus. Luckily, an honest American rushed to the front of the bus, and threw it to us as it was pulling away. Leon was a hot, dry, colonial town amongst several active volcanoes. Our days there included walking around, checking out the cool, unpreserved Spanish architecture,
Cathedral in Leon

Cathedral in Leon


as well as sledding down the side of an active volcano ("Volcano Boarding"). Mandy's speed was a mighty 14 KPH, and Kevin blew away the competition with a whopping 23 KPH. To put this in perspective, the fastest guy in our group clocked in at 68 KPH! We are pushing life's limits (hahaha).
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Off to the more famous colonial town of Granada. We navigated to Granada via minibus, where Mandy had to sit on Kevin's lap for 2 hours (we must add that it was a humid 90+ degrees). More of the same~ strolling the boulevards, eating & drinking Tonas at local "comedores," checking out cool architecture,
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and purchasing our first big souvenir, a wood block print done by a local artist. One day was spent at Laguna Apollo, a small crater lake on the top of a dormant volcano. Kevin, again, left his iphone on the bus ride up to the lake. It somehow managed to stay under the seat all day, until we found it on our way back to the hostel. Can you say lucky?! Anyway, the lake was beautiful and we had a nice, relaxing day swimming in fresh water and chatting with new found friends. We decided to move on to Isla de Ometepe in Lago Nicaragua. Ometepe turned out to be one of our favorite places on the trip so far! It is an island in the middle of a massive lake (that has one of the world's rarest fresh water sharks BTW), formed by two large volcanoes~ one dormant, one active.
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On our first full day, we hiked our butts off to the top of Volcan Madras, the dormant volcano. It was the toughest hike of our lives! 8+ hours of grueling muddy steep jungle humid sweaty hiking.
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But fun and so worth it! The days following included recovering by lounging lakeside, swimming, bicycling and observing a local weekly baseball game. It was the toughest place to leave thus far!

Posted by rd2nowhere 18:43 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Honduras

posted by mandy

sunny 85 °F

i'll make this short and sweet, as kevin is snoozing and i am a bit tired myself, but we are going to venture into non-internet territory i wanted to update you all! honduras proved to be gritty, beautiful, shocking, hospitable, friendly and completely surprising. we rolled in via 2 hour ferry (turned into 4 because of customs) from placencia, belize and both of us were amazed by the landscape. huge lush green mountains rolled one after the other right into the caribbean sea, with large fishing boats scattering the shoreline. bewildered and (me) seasick, we ventured into the small fishing village on the north coast called omoa.
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it was charming and gringo-free, but we were hoping for better beaches, so we only spent one day there, then made our way to the infamous bay islands. unfortunately due to weather and, as we found out later, a local political standoff, our ferry to utila didn't leave for 2 days in a row, so we headed to pico bonito national park just outside of la ceiba.
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lonely planet tipped off an incredible hostel/tour group called omega, where we stayed for 2 nights in a private cabina literally built over a creek. we rafted the rio congrejal (fun, class 3/4 rapids!), hiked up to a waterfall, and relaxed in the jungle. off to utila! another wobbly seasick ferry to the lovely island which was jam-packed with international backpackers, getting their scuba certifications by day and getting highly intoxicated by night. we were kind of put off at first, but made the most of our time there. kevin debated on getting his certification, but decided not to (and will probably regret). the tiny island consisted of 1 main skinny street, only taking up 10% of the island. we made it our goal to see the 90%. we rented a kayak and paddled our way through a merky mangrove flanked canal and found a massive private beach all to ourselves.
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we rented bikes and explored the dirt roads, jungle and unfortunately extremely polluted empty beaches.
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we snorkeled a ton on massive reefs.
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we enjoyed our time there, and found the living easy and oh so cheap! our private room on the water was a mere $25 a night! next time, i think we will do roatan though... anyway, love to you all! make sure to look at the photo folder, as we don't show all of them on our postings. we are hoping to upload all of them to snapfish or such soon, so we will keep you posted. oxox

Posted by rd2nowhere 20:13 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Belize + Tikal, Guatemala

Posted by Kevin and Mandy

sunny

We traveled from Tulum, Mx to San Pedro, BZ by bus and high speed boat and arrived to our house "Villa Incommunicado" on January 9th.
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We spent the next 5 days hanging out with 12 of our closest friends, relaxing by the pool, snorkeling, playing beach volleyball and a ridiculous game called dipple, which involved finding a toothpick in the swimming pool.
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Kevin thought it would be a good idea to shave a mohawk into his head, and Paddy turned this dream into a reality (much to Mandy's horror). The group took a snorkeling trip out to Shark Ally and Hol Chan Marine Reserve and saw large sting rays, nurse sharks, turtles, eels, giant grouper fish and loads of colorful coral. Quite possibly the best snorkeling we've experienced!
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The town of San Pedro was quaint and colorful, easily traveled via golf cart or beach cruiser. We enjoyed the locals, which included a diverse group of Garifunas, Mayans, ex-pats and Mennonites (yes, Mennonites!) The week went by too fast and before we new it we were on a boat to the main land, to enjoy 3 days in the jungle with Amanda, Josh, Becky and Paddy. The Belize bus system proved to be an adventure! The buses are converted old school buses, painted in bright bold colors.
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We arrived in San Ignacio, BZ on January 14th and spent 2 nights at the Parrot's Nest Lodge deep in the jungle.
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We were lucky enough to sleep in the tree house (unfortunately, no photo). We saw some local arts and crafts and tasted yummy food at the Saturday market, and afterwards Kevin and Josh decided that the mohawks were too much, and got their head's shaved in a barbershop. The $3.50 haircuts never looked so good! That afternoon we scoped out some amazing ruins, which we got to via a hand cranked "ferry" across the river.
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The next day, we said goodbye to our friends, and realized we were now on our own. We took a tour of an ancient Mayan site deep in a cave, which had other worldly stalactites and stalagmites, artifacts and human skeletons.
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The experience exceeded our expectations and a must do for all visitors to Belize! Next day, we crossed the intimidating Guatemala/Belize border and made our way to Tikal, Guatemala in a packed "collectivo," a van made for 12, but stuffed with 21 people. Kevin was crushing an 85 year old Mayan woman and the kids were forced to stand for the entire 2 hour drive. Tikal lived up to the hype and made the difficult journey well worth it!
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We decided to do the 4 am tour, so that we could watch the sun rise while sitting on Temple IV, the tallest temple in Tikal, which faced east. It was breathtaking to say the least! Experiencing the earie sounds of howler monkeys and 500+ bird species waking up cannot be put into words. Walking around in the morning fog with no one in the park was amazing!
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We are now in Southern Belize, after a 6 1/2 hour school bus ride, and spent 2 days in the lovely town of Placencia. Tomorrow, we are going to travel south to Honduras to spend a week or so exploring the Northern beach towns and Bay Islands. We are having the time of our lives and miss you all!

Posted by rd2nowhere 18:12 Archived in Belize Comments (2)

Tulum, Mexico

posted by Mandy

sunny

Week 1 started off without a hitch! We safely made it to Tulum and had a fantastic time. Our journey from San Francisco to Cozumel was not as bad as we predicted. The 6 hour layover in Dallas was quick and painless, thanks to our friend Nick who provided some comic relief. We spent one night on the beautiful island of Cozumel and then took a short ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, where we caught a bus to Tulum. The buses are nicer than expected~ clean, air conditioned and cheap! We were beginning to feel confident when Kevin almost got decapitated by the bus driver... don't worry~ not as bad as it sounds. He was getting our luggage out of the bus when the driver started pulling away and closing the luggage door on him. Luckily with my high pitched shriek, we were able to get the driver's attention and he stopped. Anyway~ lots of fun in Tulum! It's a laid back backpacker sort of town. We stayed at a great hostel across from the ruins. Our 3 days there consisted of beach time, ruins, cenotes, ceviche and tacos. It was a perfect way to kick things off! We really enjoyed experiencing Tulum with Nick as well.

Posted by rd2nowhere 11:37 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

Preparation

47 °F

the countdown continues... only 2 more days until we jump on a plane and head to the caribbean to began our 6 months on the road. the modern cellular leashes get turned off tomorrow, so take tonight to send your final text messages, or place those late night calls. we will talk to you soon.

"we're on a road to nowhere
come on inside
takin' that ride to nowhere
we'll take that ride"

Posted by rd2nowhere 17:50 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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