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South America Trip: Hey We’ve Got A Plan

WHEN you embark on a trip you’ve really got two options, you can plan the whole thing out or you can accept a laissez faire approach and leave it up to the will of the travel gods.

Both have their benefits. The idea of rough and tumble, “local’s only”, style travel where you glide around like a nimble thief in Prince of Persia has an appeal and a rather romantic air to it. One imagines plenty of hopping in the back of pick up trucks and grabbing the final train car railing as the conductor let’s out the departing howl and the wheels shake free.

There is the other option though. The planned and booked sort of travel where each hotel, travel stop, tour, etc., are all planned out and ever so correctly plotted. The ease and effortlessness is easily imagined. A smartphone holds the answers to every question: a simple thumb tap and the itinerary “folds open” on your screen and a demure finger swipe checks you into the next accommodation or summons Le Uber driver. Of course, a true travel gentleman would never break a sweet and each departure would come and go without cause for a single grey hair.

Hmm perhaps such as:

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Or actually no, more like this (Yes Sir Michael Cain has it down):

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Now, I have always thought myself as one who would fancy the rustic and unplanned. The choice would be easy. I’d wing it. Grab a duffle and see where the wind decided to shift next.

This time around, I’ll be in a group of 3 and the fact that as I write I’m in San Francisco and my friends are up in Seattle, has started to force a bit more planning and a bit more precision. It has been hard to discuss or get questions going back and forth, or at least it is not as simple as talking it all over a beer. We’ve emailed quite a bit and have a Google Doc running to track who has bought what.

Last you heard, I was planning a trip with friends to hit Machu Picchu and embark on the touristy Top 10 thing to do. 

This time around I’ve decided to piece mail a trip together using all tools at my disposal. Starting with the known dates: September 28th until October 22nd. I then focused on the major event – the hike – and made sure to reserve from October 3rd through the 6th.

Then we did various flight searches on United, Avianca, American, etc., and tried to understand the best deals, the flights with the fewest connections, the best time to arrive each new city (Pro Tip: Don’t fly into a new city late at night. It’s dark, you don’t know where you’re going…best to arrive during the day).

We ended up piecing together the flights and then bought on Expedia as a multi-destination route.

Our flights will leave from Seattle and San Francisco and transfer in Houston, TX, then arrive in Bogota, Colombia.

I know what you’re thinking….wait…Colombia? When did that get added to the plan.

When did this become the plan?

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Ok so that’s not the plan!

But all sorts of Travel magazines are calling Bogota a big hit and a must see for it’s history, art, coffee and culture. So naturally, a few history buffs like us, felt it made sense to fly into Bogota then fly to Cusco, Peru (near the Machu Picchu hike and Sacred Valley). That flight was more direct (less time waiting in airports) and cheaper, than flying from the USA to Lima, Peru, and then flying from Lima to Cusco.

So while we are very excited to check out Colombia we feel very sorry to miss Lima, Peru. (Although I’ve heard good and bad about the fine colonial city and I hope to visit another time).

To make sense of all these flights, as well as our modest hostel accommodations, I have been using TripIt, an app by SAP / Concur, that can lay out your plans as you forward the confirmation emails from airlines, hotels, etc., www.tripit.com

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So as the planning continues, we’ve folded in a stopover in Bolivia to visit the Salt Flats. We have some more research to do about our time in the capital city in Bolivia, La Paz. But if Bolivia seems strange, remember it was listed as the #8 place to go last year!

But in the coming weeks I’ll be filling in the rest of the trip and making sure we are in for smooth sailing.

Got any ideas? Or feel missing out on Lima will be life shattering? Please let us know.

#Keeptraveling

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Gone for the Weekend: Down Highway 1

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEKEND? THE END OF THE WORK WEEK IN SAN FRANCISCO OR OAKLAND CAN BRING MANY OPTIONS.  In each direction you’ll find somewhere that could blow up your Instagram and leave friends jaw-dropped.

Every direction you’ll find something to consider. Of course there’s Lake Tahoe. You then have the experience of the Russian River, Sonoma, Napa, and neighboring wine country towns that are all a B&Bers Disneyland. Head East? You’ll find the famed Yosemite National Park and ancient sequoias trees, ripe for hiking and camping and climbing.

Been there, done that?

This past weekend we mixed it up and decided to head south down Highway 1 and do a bit of Glamping. Yes, that’s Glamping with a ‘G’ and there’s a whole website directed to this new form of outdoorsy travel without sacrificing luxury (no joke). www.Glamping.com

You want to turn off the cell phones. You want to get away. You want a small slice of Freedom….You do not want to pitch a tent (or poop in the outdoors, for that matter). Hooray, Glamping is for you!

Michelle did the searching and booked a few nights at the Costanoa Lodge, an eco adventure resort, as their webpage states and had me pick her up after work on Friday.

The first thing I needed to do was get some wheels, so we rented a Zipcar for the weekend. The Suburu Impreza AWD got the job done and was much more fun to drive than a mini-van or anything Hyundai. 

 

The drive from SF or Oakland is nothing to bash your head about. If you leave before rush hour you can head south, pass through Half Moon Bay and keep following the rugged coastline and admiring the crashing waves. Door to door, we arrived under 1.5 hours.

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Once we arrived at the Lodge, we checked in and took a look at our bed / cabin / tent / house, or whatever you want to call it. The bed was flat out comfortable and it sure beat camping. There was also a heated electronic blanket so no suffering was endured.

The lodge had a couple of fireplaces, a hot tub, a restaurant, a small shop for groceries or trinkets, and the site itself was sprawling: a mix of an RV / camp site, many of these little tent / house things, and a few larger actual hotel rooms connected to the main lodge.

But like I said, we were looking for a laid back and rustic weekend and our bed hut did the trick. So on Saturday, we grabbed a coffee and looked over the hiking trails. We picked the Ohlone Ridge Lookout trail and it did not disappoint. The hike is only about 1.5 hours but the views were kick-ass and it felt good to get away from it all, and feel the sun and the crisp breeze off the Pacific Ocean mix.

At the top, we found a stunning 180 degree vista and four chairs placed perfectly for a bit of sun bathing. You can take a look at the Instagram worthy pic I snagged here.

But sitting in the chairs and reclining back was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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When we got back to the lodge, the next plan was to head to Pescadero, the neighboring town with a self proclaimed historic feel – a small grocery store, local bakery, and a restaurant famous for a soup.

All around the town there was a craze – nearing all out madness – for the local bakeries prized staple: Fresh Baked Artichoke Bread.

I know what you’re thinking. Bread? Artichokes? Calm down. But when you mix the bready, doughy goodness that is fresh baked bread, and fold in a few fresh artichokes into the middle, prior to baking, you start to get a whole ‘nother animal. When you then add drips of olive oil as it leaves the oven and place all of this goodness into the hands of a young, famished, hiker, lookout. I mean lookout fingers! Because that is a delicious and you want that immediately.

But I digress, we grabbed this wonderous bread, some goat cheese, sliced turkey, and a few beers and hit the beach to get our grub on.

As we left Pescadero, a grey smattering of clouds, fog, wind, and salt water, all rolled into Bean Hollow State Beach. But we had beer, we had bread, and we watched local fisherman stand around and catch something that I am sure was mandated to be returned to the sea on account of it’s puny size and ugly face.

Back at camp we took it easy, reading books and kicking back the rest of the afternoon. But at night before dinner, we walked from the Lodge, across Highway 1, and took a beach path all the way to the water and found a pretty incredible beach with no one near and a lighthouse in the distance. Highly recommend this walk to anyone who visits.

Sunday was time to pack up. The girlfriend got a massage, we made a pit stop for some flower picking (definitely not my idea!) and then we headed back along the coast and back up to the real world.

The whole trip was a nice respite from the Bay Area and the weekend was a success. Really anytime you can get to the coast or beach, get some sun, you are hitting all the high notes. If you can add in somewhere new and exciting then great!

If by chance you are able to enjoy wine and Doritos, then my friend, you have done it incredibly right!

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Until next time,

#Keeptraveling

Bucket List Publications

After breakfast on day three in Bulgaria with VisitBulgariaOn, we set off to a close village to see the restored monastery and visited the famous monastery of St. Kuzma and Damian which is open for people to stay over and enjoy the fabulous peace and quiet as well as the magnificent views overlooking “The Valley […]

via 6 Days in Bulgaria with VisitBulgariaOn – Day 3 — Bucket List Publications

Florence: Where to Stay

Located outside the hustle and bustle of the city, Alessandra’s suite is tucked away within the rolling hills of the countryside and it’s BEAUTIFUL! The grounds stretch across 3 acres of land…

Source: Florence: Where to Stay

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Sayulita, Mexico: Just What You Need

Tucked up into the rustic Pacific coast in the Nayarit state, Sayulita is just what you need and nothing you don’t.

Surprisingly – at only 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta – the swarms of Tourists and all the trouble that comes with them are nowhere in sight. Instead, when you amble around in your flip flops, you’ll find: surfers, families, hippie Americans that moved down 10 years ago, tourists from Seattle and Vancouver, BC.,

So it’s not touristy? No no no. I didn’t say that. In fact, it’s very touristy. But the type of touristy that I think you may actually welcome.

Let’s say you arrive for a 5 day vacation and forgot to pack something. The main square and local streets will have everything you could need. There’s a few small grocery stores, corner stores, and even a convenience store built on the beach so you will never, ever, go without a cold beer.

Now that all your most basic needs are met, you can sit back and relax. Without a care in the world you can stroll the entirely walkable small town. Nobody drives a car, though some rent golf carts. Note to anyone reading: you do not want to be one of the people with the golf carts. Let the senior citizens use those. You can walk. It’s good for you.

So what should you do in Sayulita? For most, it’s as simple as lounging on the jaw dropping beach and then an unabashed procession of sipping beers and tequila, snacking on fish tacos and snacks, maybe admiring the sunset, then repeating.

Part of your trip should include a boat ride / snorkeling trip to the Marietta Islands, admiring the local arts and artesian gifts, and a bit of surfing. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a top 10 list.

WHERE TO STAY:

There’s a bevy of great Airbnb houses you can find and VRBO has many options. There are not hotels or skyscrapers, so you should look for a comfortable house or apartment and weigh the following: pool, distance to the beach, view of the ocean. (What else matters in life really?)

My recommendation is hands down the Casa Diem at the luxury beach condos, Pajaro de Fuego. Melanie is the owner and she replies promptly and will make sure you have no issue reserving your trip. When you arrive the condo staff are very kind. It’s the perfect mix of your own apartment and a hotel with staff, security, nice pool, etc.,

 

 

So while you are enjoying the amazing views of the blue Pacific, here’s a look at some of what you’ve gotta do in Sayulita.

1.) Explore the beach and head away from the surfers to the remote area of the beach for some rustic jungle trails.

2.) Eat as many fish tacos as you can handle.

3.) Make sure you slow down. Maybe turn off the phone. Sip a few Pacificos before you do anything else.

 

Been to Sayulita before? If you have any other recommendations let’s hear them below as comments.

I’ll be heading back at the end of the month to explore Sayulita in more detail.

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

 

5 Most Interesting Craft Beers in the World — Gamin Traveler

Alright beer drinkers, this one is for you! In the last few years, I’ve noticed craft beer blowing up all over the world, in a very localized, artisanal way. And the momentum of these craft breweries doesn’t seem to be slowing down, either! It’s not just in western places like the USA or Europe – craft brew…

via 5 Most Interesting Craft Beers in the World — Gamin Traveler

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Machu Picchu: An Idea, Nothing Else

It started as a simple idea. More of a joke, really. Nothing else.

Then slowly, but surely a conversation started to pick up and include a few texts, an email with a few articles, (we looked at the calendar), and then the excitement kicked in.

We were talking about a trip to Machu Picchu and now we have very little planned, but this much we do know. We’ll be trekking along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu from October 3rd to October 6th.

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TakeYathere on Instagram

The group we’ve got going is a bit random. But it could be the perfect pairing. My old childhood best friend Tim, his frat bro Tom, and me – the traveler and part time travel writer.

Three seems like the right number. We’ll be agile enough – able to hop along, swoop into a last minute hotel or hostel – but with three, we can keep the conversations going and avoid a disastrous feud or girly hiss fit. (If it was just two, a week would be the likely boiling point)

So what have we planned so far? The most important item was selecting the tour group we will entrust on our trek and make the proper reservations to secure our passes from the Peruvian government. There are plenty of horror stories on the web and in travel forums that detail how a group waited too long and tried to do the Inca Trail without realizing that passes can sell out up to 6 months before your desired date.

To give you an idea, we originally were brainstorming of doing the hike in September to join a few other British friends I know will be down there, but by April, the month of September was clean sold out.

So we grabbed the first week of October and put down a deposit of $300 per person. (Hey, nobody said this trek was going to be cheap)

When it came to selecting the tour group we could have used any one of a myriad of options to pick correctly:

1.) Ask friends and relatives who have gone before

2.) Search Google and TripAdvisor for the highest quality and cross with reviews

3.) Turn to Travel Books, Guides, and Websites

4.) Pick the funniest sounding name

Of course, no one with a functioning head mounted on their shoulders would go with option #4 right? Well we did. And we went with Llamapath! Yes Llamapath! You can check out their high quality website here.

Once we got the confirmation emails we then turned to planning what else we may do while down in South America.

To date, all we’ve added is a trip to Bolivia to drive through the dessert to see some salt flats and a trip to Colombia with the promise of coffee plantations, cigars, and of course, wild nights!

While the planning continues we have all been texting each other and checking items off our packing list. Thus far the group has been half jokingly going off an incredibly detailed packing list  but we can get serious once we book our flights and solidify where we will be going.

Alright, back to the planning. In the meantime:

#keeptraveling