Category Archives: travel

Managing Your Money on the Road

(null)I opened my eyes and looked out past the lace curtain on my time-capsule 70s hotel room. Without needing to leave the warmth of my bed and its four layers of thick blankets, I could watch the morning fog roll down the side of the mountains surrounding my hotel in La Paz, Bolivia. My eyes strained to make out the silhouette of the teleferico station perched at the edge of the plateau where El Alto begins, and the tiny cable cars rolling up and down the steep hillside, like toys.

My time in Bolivia was drawing to a close and I was contemplating how much money I would need for my last few days in the country. It’s always a tough balance – you never want to have too much, but of course you don’t want to run out either, so I in my sleep-haze I began attempting the mental addition to figure out how much I’d need to settle my hotel bill, book a tour in Salar de Uyuni to see the famous salt flats, and to get myself to the Chilean border in the next few days.

I reached down to the floor to rummage around in my purse for my wallet to see how many Bolivianos I had left after dinner the night before.

My heart nearly stopped – my ATM card was missing!
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100 Days

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New Year’s Day 2015 at Machu Picchu

Today makes 100 days since the day I landed in South America.

A whole new continent, a whole new language and a whole new world of adventure. I’ve learned so much about the people, places and of course food culture of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and now Bolivia. I’ve made friends from all over the world and I have left pieces of my heart in so many places.

I’ve watched the clouds swirl around the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, climbed 700 steps to the top of La Piedra in Guatape, spent Thanksgiving with new friends in Ecuador. I’ve filled my belly with ajiaco, choclo mote, ceviche and empanadas. And surprisingly, I’ve done it all in my limited – but improving – Spanish and I’ve learned to get by on a daily basis out in a world where things often feel quite foreign.
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Colombia by Bus

The bus careens around another hairpin turn and I’m met with a cold blast of mountain air from the window in front of me. Behind me, a child continues happily banging on my headrest and I consider pulling on my headphones to listen to a guided meditation for patience. Or at least Jack Johnson. Something — anything — to pass the next two hours quickly.

But I don’t.

To put on my headphones and drown out the world around me would be a shame. (Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD, right Kim?)

Bus rides through the clouds in the rainy season

Bus rides through the clouds during the rainy season

It’s been just over a week since I’ve been in Colombia, my first destination in what will be at least nine months on the road. This has actually been one of the shorter bus rides so far, and truth be told, I really do enjoy them.

So instead of pulling on my headphones, I pull my scarf a little tighter. I watch as we pass small country fincas with cattle grazing mountainous terrain, like goats. The driver veers a bit to avoid a random horse in the road. Eventually the winding country roads we left in Guatape curve into a two lane highway. As we near the city of Medellin, semi trucks and motorcycles whiz past. It’s October, one of the two wettest months in Colombia and as the rain begins to pick up, the woman in front of me finally closes her window. Ahhhh, warmth!

Beautiful views from Bogota - Medellin

Beautiful views from Bogoto – Medellin

Less than a week ago we followed this same road on a 10+ hour bus ride from Bogota. Colombia is way more mountainous than I’d realized, so most of that ride also had me gripping my seat as we sped up narrow mountain roads and into winding valleys, just barely escaping collisions on what felt like more than a few occasions.

On that trip, around 1am as the lights of Medellin spread out below us at each curve, I remember being in awe that so many dwellings were pushed so far up into the mountains, glowing like landlocked stars. They say Colombia is famous for the magical realism made popular by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and in that moment I could feel why.

Colombia really is magical!

Colombia really is magical!

For the next two weeks, Kim and I will be slowing down a bit – today we are catching a bus for Salento in coffee country and then we will move further south to visit friends in Cali, the Salsa Dancing Capitol of the World! As I work on restructuring the blog and catching up on a few non-blog projects to pay the bills, the best way to follow along is via social media, as I’ll be posting frequently there.

>> You can find me just about daily on Instagram and Twitter, and photo albums will go up on the Shoyu Sugar page on Facebook.

Me photobombing Kim at the top of La Piedra. (pc: Kim On A Whim)

Me photobombing Kim at the top of La Piedra. (pc: Kim On A Whim)

And now, a proper introduction for Kim, who has been my travel companion all over the world. We met in Bali in ’08, took a cruise to Greece & Turkey later the same year, attended TBEX conferences in Toronto (’13) & Cancun (’14), went hot air ballooning in Utah, and now we’ve reunited in Colombia!

We will be heading separate ways later this month for (badly needed) Spanish language classes, then meeting up at some point before March, when we both head to South Africa. Once a corporate attorney in NYC, now a globe-trotting travel blogger, she is doing a fantastic job at keeping her new blog updated, so I highly recommend you take a peek!

>> Follow Kim’s Whims at Kim On A Whim.

Ghost of the Train

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It’s just after 4am and the train stops in Chico, CA. We’ve now crossed the 13 hour mark, almost halfway into my 30-hour train ride. I’ve gotten maybe five straight hours of sleep, which is quite amazing and more than I’d hoped. I’m sure I’ll nap again before the journey is up, but for now it’s sort of fun to be the only one awake.

I walk as delicately as I can through the aisle en route to the restrooms downstairs, careful to keep my balance as the train sways gently. Passing each row, two seats on each side, I’m amazed at the variety of creative sleeping positions into which passengers have contorted themselves.

There are some crunched into fetal position over two seats that are more than spacious when sitting but just a bit too small for a horizontal position. A teenager with his hoodie pulled over his head is draped over the armrest of his seat, spilling into the aisle as if he’d passed out after having too much to drink. He reeks of weed as I turn sideways to pass and I wonder if it’s for his benefit that the train staff keep making the announcements reminding passengers that smoking – anything, regardless of whether or not you posses a permit, ahem – in the train bathrooms is a federal offense.
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Visiting Rain Room at the MoMA

You might say I’m crazy. I just waited over three hours – in the rain – to stand in a room full of artificial rain for all of ten minutes. Oh, the irony. Sweet, sweet irony.

Was it worth it?

I have to say that it was. But not for the reasons I thought. I thought that I would get some amazing photos. I studied the live stream of photos from Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr with current images to see which angles worked best and to get ideas. I tweeted @MuseumModernArt to get advice on how early to wait in line. (They tweeted back, great customer service!) I planned on being first in line to reduce my wait to the minimum of three hours I’d been hearing was the norm.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

I won’t lie, it was pretty miserable. The weather was cold and rainy as remnants of a tropical storm headed for Manhattan. We started the line around 8:30 on the nonmembers side, while lucky MoMA members and their guests lined up for the members only hour which started at 9:30.

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Once the nonmember line was allowed to join the members who had been there for the preview there was still another hour or more of waiting ahead of us in front of the exhibit. Glad to be at the front of the line, we chatted with a few others behind us who had attempted to get in before, but given up as wait times approached five hours. Five hours! Yet they came back.

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Once you get to the front of the exhibit itself keep in mind there’s still another line inside. It took about 15 minutes to get to the front – only ten people at a time are allowed to walk in the actual rain. Once you walk out of it, you must leave. Signs posted around the front (and the security guards) will remind you to keep your visit to ten minutes or less as a courtesy to those waiting behind you.

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Tips for visiting the MoMA’s Rain Room Exhibit

  • The entrance to the exhibit is on 54th between 5th and 6th, but closer to 6th
  • If you know someone who is a member, this is the time to go! Members and their guests get a special hour starting at 9:30 before the exhibit opens to General Admission holders
  • Lines begin forming around 8am or so, and you should try to get in as early as you can even if you’re a member. Only ten are allowed to view the exhibit at a time, so wait times creep up quickly as the line gets longer
  • Rain Room runs til July 28, 2013 at the Museum on Modern Art in New York City. Details here.

    >> For where to eat in NYC, check out my collection of restaurant recommendations here.