Bucket List- this is getting real.

I finally bought my ticket to New York for my little brother’s graduation- one step closer to the final (ish) destination.. England! As of May 20 I will be leaving San Francisco, the place I have called home for the better part of the last 3 years, to continue exploring, creating, learning and growing.

There are about a billion things I know I’ll miss about San Francisco- this city is pretty magical. Although I’ve had some pretty epic adventures in this city, there are still a few I have yet to experience, and others I would love to relive before I head out. As of TODAY, I have just over 4 weeks left to enjoy California, so I figured the best way for me to make sure I get through the ‘list’ is to actually write it down.

*** if you are available to join me for any of these mini-adventures, I WANT TO KNOW****

 

MY SAN FRANCISCO BUCKET LIST

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1. go to the beach! Yes, friends, this has been an epic failure on my part. Three years in SF and I have yet to lay on the cold, windy sand-sprawl of either Ocean or Baker beach.

2. check out sunset from Twin Peaks.

3. go to yoga on a Tuesday at Grace Cathedral.

4. go wine tasting.

5. explore space in music at Audium.

6. chow down on food truck grub at Off the Grid in the Presidio on a Sunday afternoon

7. run across the Golden Gate bridge

8. trampoline jumpstravaganza at House of Air

9. go to a Giants game! (this one I’ve already done a couple times, but think I need a last one before I leave)

10. drinks at the Tonga Room

11. dinner at Nopa (done it before, need to go again!)

12. brunch at Plow (ditto!)

13. picnic in Dolores Park complete with friends, mimosas, charcuterie and music.

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I am literally crying as I write this- for those of you that know me well, you know that isn’t something that happens often! I will miss so much about San Francisco- the people, the hilly streets, the always-sunny Mission, the sketchy as hell Tenderloin, amazing food on every corner, the hipsters at Dolores park and dirty hippies in the Haight… among so many other things. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience San Francisco in so many different ways- here’s to many more years and many more cities- some may be just as exciting, but none will be the same..

 

As it has been said before: “San Francisco, you have my heart.”

 

 

 

recently…

I’ve never done this before, but how about instead of chatting your little faces off you just get to feast your eyes on some of the activities this semi-gainfully-employed individual has taken part in over the last week or so?

So here ya go, in somewhat chronological order…

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lots of time spent in front of the computer, drinking delicious Stumptown coffee at this place

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Full moon at the top of Bernal Heights park- Someone just added swings in the trees!

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so much fun chatting, hiking in flip flops, and eating chargrilled quesadillas with these lovely ladies

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enjoying some sunshine in Jenner, CA (north of Russian River)

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Oakland adventures

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I moved out of the Mission! Officially a Noe Valley resident, at least for the next 5 weeks!

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Road trip home to Ojai- evening with Dad.

And in the next few weeks… COACHELLA! My birthday! New York to see the little bro graduate! and then THE BIG MOVE. yup, thats right friends, I’m leaving the country.

who am i? a non-existentialist asks herself meaningful-ish questions.

I have been really struggling with trying to figure out what I should write about next- I guess I am experiencing somewhat of an existential blog crisis. Is this a travel blog? Is it a lifestyle blog written by a traveller? A recipe blog that just got super off track? I could  just start fucking with you guys and go all minimalism on you while I work towards getting rid of as much of my worldly possessions as possible… or go back to posting twice a year and leave you all hanging until the next time I jet off into the sunset…

sunset over Chachani volcano, Arequipa, Peru

sunset over Chachani volcano, Arequipa, Peru

But I won’t. I think for now I’ll just keep writing when I feel like writing, about what I feel like writing about. And hopefully you (the nebulous ‘you, reader’) will keep coming back. I promise that when I travel again.. and I WILL travel again soon, that I will share my experiences!

maybe one day I'll buy a van and go on a road trip..

maybe ill go back to the dunes..

So what am I up to in the meantime? Getting rid of items I can live without, drinking a lot of coffee, listening to a lot of good music, doing more yoga, revisiting some of my favorite city spots, spending time with friends new and old, and enjoying the great weather we have had here in San Francisco lately.

Sutro Baths in San Francisco on a gorgeous spring day

Sutro Baths in San Francisco on a gorgeous spring day

 

california in peru.. that was a damn good cup of coffee

california in peru.. that was a damn good cup of coffee

Yesterday was my first day of a work-trade program at a local yoga studio, and I took my first free yoga class this evening from the chattiest yoga instructor I’ve ever encountered. This guy was literally talking about how annoying it must be that he wouldn’t shut up- it was the strangest, most confusing experience… If he was self aware enough to realize that we were sick of listening to him talk, why would he not just SHUT THE HELL UP?

Anyways, it wasn’t all bad. At the beginning of the class, he touched on the concept of being present. This isn’t out of the ordinary for a yoga instructor- It seems to be one of the common ‘yoga themes’ that comes up in classes, but tonight it really resonated.

now if only i could just do this all day...

now if only i could just do this all day… and yes, that is a thumb in the photo.

Here’s my take on it- In this moment, nothing but what you are present to exists. That may be the daydream you are currently in the middle of, the plans you are making for the upcoming weekend, or the memories of a trip you went on last year. However, the time we spend outside of the present moment is time lost- You can choose to be here, now, or live in the dream world of the past or future. The key is to consciously make that decision- will I meet myself in the present, or am I living in a time that either doesn’t exist anymore or has not happened yet?

We are in control of our thoughts, and our thoughts are what form our lives- how we connect to the world. I don’t think its possible for someone to always be present to each moment- life is more complicated than that- but it is a great reminder to slooooowwww down, just for a minute, and really take account of your thoughts. I love to daydream as much (maybe even more) than the next person, and definitely don’t plan on stopping anytime soon- but this is a choice that I make to step out of the present and into my dreamworld. Take a minute today to feel where you are, both emotionally and physically, and let that feeling sit with you for a bit. This exercise is a lot easier when we are in a new or unfamiliar environment (say, I don’t know, traveling in an unknown country), but in our day to day lives we spend a lot of time just sort of going through the motions, completing tasks while our minds are elsewhere- but I think even ‘the motions’ can be exciting and feel different if we recognize them in a new way.

grocery shopping can be exciting!

grocery shopping can be exciting!

Let me know if this works for you, or if you just think I’m full of shit :)

where i stayed- Peru

i left Peru for last and longest on this trip for a couple reasons- one, it was the farthest south (so, ya know, geographically speaking it just ‘worked’). two, it was the largest. three, Peru is arguably the ‘touristy-est’ of the three countries visited on this trip, and thus everyone has a strong opinion about what I ‘had’ to do while I was there (the list got long). I couldn’t pick between the recommendations, so I just took them all. And 5.5 weeks, 10 hostels, way too many bus rides and a whole lot of listening to other people’s snoring later, I am ready to provide you with a (somewhat) reliable idea of where you should stay in Peru.

you could always stay here… i didnt. seemed risky.

you could always stay here… i didnt. seemed risky.

It was super hard to leave Cuenca (the last city I visited in Ecuador)- I met some amazing people, hung out with my adventure buddy Val, made some great new friends, and ate more pan de yuca con yogur than I could have ever thought possible. So one sad Friday night, against strongly worded arguments that I should stay, I hopped on a bus to Mancora, Peru.

***side note: if you do this trip, DO NOT LOSE the tiny piece of paper that is your immigration card- they will give it to you at the border, and you may assume that since it isn’t stapled into your passport -like I assume all important documents should be- that you can just forget about it. yeah.. don’t.***

  • Mancora: some of you may have read my post on Montanita vs. Mancora  a while back- the hostel I stayed in definitely played a part in my deciding that Montañita won that debate. Kokopelli Mancora had nice enough amenities- the shower was hot (though about as forceful as a teeny tiny dehydrated baby peeing ever so softly on your head), the beds were comfortable, the internet kind of almost worked, and there was coffee and eggs for breakfast. All sounds good on paper, right? Well, in reality, the staff were mostly volunteers who were only interested in what kind of drink was being offered at happy hour, and the eggs had been cooked into a grayish, blobby mess of dry play doh. All jokes and mean jabs aside though, the hostel itself is in a great location (pretty much across the street from the beach), they have a pool, fun bar area (albeit totally disinterested bartenders), and cheap drinks, and if you stay in more than one Kokopelli location across Peru (there are 4), they’ll give you a little discount. (approx. $11/night with breakfast)
the beach at Mancora

the beach at Mancora, just as crowded as Montañita, but WAY tinier

  • Huanchaco: after escaping Mancora, I was ready for something a little mellower. I had heard rave reviews of the mellow beach town of Huanchaco, about 12 km outside of Trujillo (Peru’s 3rd largest city) and was ready to relax a little after the overstimulation of Mancora. We stayed at Surf Hostal Meri, a bright, sunny space with probably the best breakfast I ate during the whole trip (unfortunately not included in the price of the room, but totally worth it) just across the street from the ocean. Huanchaco is a great place to go hang out for a few days- the beach isn’t as clean as Mancora, but the mellow atmosphere totally makes up for it. After a traumatizing surf experience in Montañita, I wasn’t up for it again, but Huanchaco has some great surf if you can handle the strong current, and the hostel offers pretty much any type of board you can offer as well as cheap-as-hell lessons. In fact, I would have stayed here for longer, but I was rushing to get to and through treks in Huaraz before meeting my Dad in Lima for his birthday! (approx. $9/night)
I actually took a photo of the hostel!! go me!

I actually took a photo of the hostel!! go me!

sunset in Huanchaco- across the street from Surf Hostel Meri

sunset in Huanchaco- across the street from Surf Hostel Meri

 

  • Huaraz: Huaraz was one out of only 2 places in all of Peru where I didn’t stay in a hostel recommended to me by someone else- I found Hostal Alpes Huaraz on Hostelworld, and I figured that I could always find a new one if it didn’t work out! Luckily, my powers of online hostel review analysis prevailed, and it was great. I arrived at 6 am on an overnight bus from Trujillo, and the hostel owner (its family run- the owner will check you in in the middle of the night, his wife will get you breakfast, and their son will sell you a tour) immediately let me into my dorm room (a lot of hostels make you wait until ‘check in time’ to enter your room- SUCKS when you get off a 10 hour bus ride only to be told, yeah, you can hang out on the couch for the next 6 hours). Since it was low season when I was in Huaraz (most travelers head there as a jumping off point for trekking, and there are usually heavy rains through the end of February), the hostel was only about half-full, and I ended up having my own room for 3 out of the 4 nights I stayed there. The spot is located a bit outside of the city center, but at $7 a night, you can suck it up and walk a few extra blocks. I would definitely recommend this place-it is quiet, but not TOO quiet (always someone to talk to) and you can book tours through them too, although I would recommend going straight through the tour operator to avoid any mis-communication. ($7/night for a dorm and breakfast)
view from Alpes Huaraz's rooftop

view from Alpes Huaraz’s rooftop

i had to.. another beautiful photo from the Santa Cruz trek

i had to.. another beautiful photo from the Santa Cruz trek

 

  • Lima: instead of heading towards the ever-trendy Miraflores, I opted to stay in Barranco, Miraflores’s mellower, more bohemian neighbor. I got a great recommendation from one of the girls on my Santa Cruz trek to go stay at Kaminu, a converted family home right in the middle of Barranco’s happening Bajada de Baños. The hostel itself is pretty small- the first time I stayed there (they have since added another room for 4) there were 18 beds. For backpackers accustomed to giant party hostels with people coming out of the walls, this might seem a little too cozy, but I loved it. So much so, in fact, that I stayed there again (and brought 5 people with me)  when I headed back to Lima to wrap up my trip. Definitely not a party hostel, but the beds are great, the morning juice is ice-cold, and the employees are all super colorful characters, not to mention super helpful with things like booking bus tickets and giving recommendations of places to eat and hang out in Lima. Not to mention, they offered me a job the second time I stayed there- which I totally would have taken had my flight not been leaving in less than 24 hours! (approx $10/night for 10 bed dorm with breakfast)

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main square in Barranco, Lima

  • Paracas: Paracas was my little taste of  “what traveling is like when you aren’t trying to live as cheaply as possible.” Thanks Dad, for making it possible for me to have a pisco sour every night and stuff my face with ceviche. We stayed at Hotel Mar Azul, a mid-range hotel in the middle of the tiny tourist oasis that is Paracas. The highlight of this place was the rooftop where we ate our meager breakfast- other than that, this place had zero redeeming qualities. No ambiance, internet didn’t work, and the shower temperatures were spotty at best. After hanging out at the Kokopelli Paracas bar our second night, we agreed that we should have stayed there! Long story short, eff hotels, viva la hostel! (approx. $40/night for breakfast and private double room)
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view from the hotel rooftop balcony- its only redeeming feature

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islas ballestas- one of the main (and only) reasons people head to Paracas

  • Ica: Another unremarkable hostel stay. We spent a night in Ica Wasi Hospedaje, a decent enough, yet pretty much uneventful spot about 8 blocks from the Plaza Mayor of Ica. Ica isn’t really a travel destination in itself, and although I did enjoy the city-unpretentious and very much just a big city- the only sign that tourism is a big part of the economy is a few travel agencies in the main Plaza. Honestly, I was pretty neutral about this place in general, but it was pretty funny explaining to the hostel owners why my dad and I were not going to share a bed. (not actually sure how much it was- I think $18/night for a private room?)
Ica- Plaza de Armas

Ica- Plaza de Armas

  • Huacachina: Although a bunch of people recommended Desert Nights hostel, they didn’t have private rooms available, and I didn’t want to submit my aged (but still in great shape, no walker needed yet!) father to sharing a room with a bunch of degenerates for his birthday, so we booked beds at Bananas Hostel. Huacachina in general is a bit expensive- it is literally a desert oasis and tourist destination for both locals and international travelers, so budget a bit more for this destination than others. There are limited eating and sleeping locales, but it is close enough to Ica for a day trip if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t expect too much luxury though- when we arrived there was no water, and we weren’t able to shower or flush the toilet for 2 days. I can’t say I slept too well here either- the revolving fan in the 4 bed dorm emitted a high pitched squeaking noise every time it turned and one of my roommates snored like he was about to die, so in the middle of the night I took my blanket and pillow and made a bed on one of the couches in the courtyard. Bananas wasn’t bad though- the staff are nice, the food is great (and not too expensive) and they offer great dune buggy tours in the evenings (seriously SO MUCH FUN). (approx. $12/night for a 4 bed dorm)
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Huacachina, from the top of the tallest dune

  • Arequipa: When I first arrived in Huaraz, I met an Australian guy who had spent the last 6 months working as a bar manager at Wild Rover Hostel in Arequipa. Although my natural tendency is to steer clear of any hostel with the reputation of a ‘party hostel’ (and Wild Rover has one of the worst reputations of them all) I took his recommendation and booked a bed there. Yes, Wild Rover is pretty much party-party all the time- you will see the first beers cracked around 9 am, and any night of the week you can expect people dancing on the bar and returning to their beds towards dawn, but the beds are SO comfy, the hostel itself is super safe, the people I met were amazing, and its in a central location only 2 blocks from the main Plaza. I definitely think – as mentioned in previous posts- that the people you meet have a great impact on how you feel about a place, and this was no exception. There was no air of clique-y-ness at all here; everyone had a smile for everyone else, and I got to hang out with some great existing travel buddies as well as meet some new favorites!
the pool at Wild Rover

the pool at Wild Rover

  • Chivay: this only gets an honorable mention, because not a single one of us can remember the name of the hostel we stayed in!
  • Oasis de Sangalle, Colca Canyon: again, can’t remember the name of where we stayed, but it had a pool, little cabanas, and delicious meals- check out my post on the Colca Canyon for more info.
our room in Oasis

our room in Oasis- one of the best sleeps of my life

  • Cusco: the day I got to Arequipa, someone planted this idea in my head that I was going to go to Cusco, rent a car, and drive into the jungle. The second two things didn’t exactly happen. The first one did. I arrived in Cusco with two Argentinian friends, no hostel booking, and the goal of finding the cheapest place possible. We didn’t end up staying in the cheapest option, but we did find a decent place (Sumayaq) for about $6 a night. While basic, it was clean, the beds were comfortable, and they had a kitchen (that for some odd reason you were only allowed to use once a day), but it was lacking feeling- whether it was the fact that there just weren’t a lot of people staying there, or that the guy running the place was kind of a dick, I’m not sure, but either way I packed my stuff up after one night and headed for somewhere a little livelier. Although I wasn’t exactly smitten with Kokopelli Mancora, I decided to give the chain another try and moved into Kokopelli Cusco. This Kokopelli seemed to be what you would call a bit of a tighter ship- the people at the front desk were super friendly and organized, the breakfast was delicious (fluffy scrambled eggs), and the bar was the best kind of shitshow. And of course, it helped that I met some amazing new friends (as well as got to spend more time with friends from Arequipa!). I would highly recommend Kokopelli Cusco- yes, you can find cheaper and quieter places to rest your head, but I bet you can’t find hotter showers with better water pressure, super friendly volunteers and staff, and more beanbags that kindergarten.
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Kokopelli bar

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the hostel is plastered with cool art like this

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courtyard- view from the second floor

  • Back to Lima: if it ain’t broke, why fix it. My second time in Lima, I went right back to Kaminu without even thinking twice about it.
Bajada de Baños (where Kaminu is located) at night

Bajada de Baños (where Kaminu is located) at night

The next place I slept was on my Jetblue flight home, but I didn’t take a picture of that, and wouldn’t recommend it if you’re over 5 feet tall. I gotta say though, kudos to Jetblue for figuring out how to maximize the hell out of your floor plan- anyone larger than me must be absolutely effing miserable on these flights. My tiny legs were a-ok though.

Although I’m back and losing my tan more rapidly than I gained it, I am going to milk this trip for as many blog posts as I possibly can- keep an eye out for my take on llama treatment in the Andes, why I bought a fake alpaca sweater, and how to make people from other countries stop talking to you. Kidding, I won’t write about any of those things. Back to the drawing board for some better ideas.

hold please.

I am in the middle of drafting my “where I stayed- Peru” post, but thought I would interrupt with a few thoughts on returning home (mostly since the Peru part of the hostel recap is taking forever- I stayed at a lot of places.. and I have lots of opinions!)

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the first thing I thought when I walked into my room at home in San Francisco on Monday was.. holy shit, I have SO MUCH STUFF. seriously, coming back to my existing closet after 3 months of only wearing what I could fit in a 65 liter backpack was like stepping into my very own buffalo exchange, but I didn’t have to pay to wear anything and none of it smelled weird. (for you foreigners reading this, buffalo exchange is a second hand clothing store, but with nice stuff).

cause really, isn't all you need a hammock and a pair of board shorts?

cause really, isn’t all you need a hammock and a pair of board shorts?

I’ve officially started the cleaning out my life process. How on earth did I become the owner of so many items that are completely unnecessary to my day-to-day existence? Do I really need fourteen pairs of jeans? For the next few weeks, I’ll be working on minimizing.. because honestly, all I really want to wear is my alpaca sweater and yoga pants. (otherwise known as my travel uniform).

i need to do laundry so i can wear this outfit again..

i need to do laundry so i can wear this outfit again..

I’ve also spent almost every morning at my favorite coffee shop in the Mission. One of the few things that I actually missed about being home was the abundance of deliciously overpriced coffee that we have in San Francisco. I swear, you can’t turn around in this neighborhood without getting smacked in the face by a 3 dollar cup of hand-roasted fair trade small-batch coffee. And what goes better with a Macbook air and a self-serving amateur blog than fancy coffee?

pretty much sums up San Francisco

pretty much sums up San Francisco

Vegetables are freaking amazing. In the last seven days, I have bought and consumed no fewer than four bunches of kale. I think after three months of ‘almuerzos’, consisting mainly of meat, rice and potatoes, my body was craving home cooked food and plenty of greens. I feel great, although I do miss having the option to eat guinea pig or a whole trout for lunch.

after our hike in Cajas, Ecuador

after our hike in Cajas, Ecuador

I felt like I was pretty active on my trip, but there is definitely something to be said for having gym access and actually setting aside time for exercise. It feels great to be back in the groove of getting a real workout in every day, but I am taking it slow and not pushing myself too hard right off the bat. I pulled out the TRX for a workout on Friday and am still feeling it today- but it feels goooooooood. Not to mention yoga… sweet sweet yoga stretches. My hamstrings thank you.

the top of a 1000 meter climb.. talk about a workout

the top of a 1000 meter climb.. talk about a workout

Cant believe its already time to ‘spring forward’! Are we really already 1/4 of the way through 2014? For those of you in the states, how pumped are you to have an extra hour of sun today?

not SF

not SF

where i stayed- Colombia and Ecuador

I was going to try and write about all the hostels I stayed at in one post, but it would have been way too long, and I know you guys have Buzzfeed or Reddit or something else more interesting to get back to. So keep your eye out for hostels of Peru coming soon to a computer screen near you.

one of the reasons i love hostel living

one of the reasons i love hostel living

i wish i could say i was one of those super planners that was able to sleep for free in every city due to my unparalleled couch-surf-messaging abilities. I’m not. Pretty much the only thing I can successfully plan is what I am going to eat for breakfast tomorrow. So how did I figure out where to rest my head every night for the last few months?

A few years back, before the world-wide-web was truly worldwide, this process was a little riskier. Without reading 400 reviews of Hostel A on Trip Advisor, how would I ever be able to make an educated decision about whether or not it’s facilities were greater than or equal to Hostel B?  How could I know if Hostel A even had an available room for me, or if hey had hot water for showers? Luckily, in 2013/2014, all you need to do is comb through hundreds of hostel reviews, create a pro/con list and cost comparison, as well as poll all your friends and you’re all set!

Seriously though, picking a hostel is serious business. I’m going to make it slightly easier for you.. but only if you decide to do the exact same route through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as I did. Otherwise have fun reading all these somewhat useless reviews.

Feria in Cali- definitely part of why I stayed so long

Feria in Cali- definitely part of why I stayed so long

Lets start at the beginning:

Colombia-

  • I only stayed at one hostel in Colombia this trip- since I had originally thought that the entire trip was only going to be a month long, I was intent on making it to the coast of Ecuador as quickly as possible. From my friend’s house in Bogota (who I met through couch surfing in 2012), I took a bus to Cali in the south of Colombia, with the intention of catching a bus to Ecuador the very next day. Within 15 minutes of arriving at Colombian Hostel in Cali, I decided to relax and explore the city for a few days (ok, a week.) Located in a safe neighborhood with great restaurants and fun bars and just a bus ride away from the colonial center, Colombian Hostel is a converted family home with (I think..) 5 shared dorms. The beds are a little hard, but the owners (a brother and sister) are welcoming and friendly, there are free salsa classes almost every day, free breakfast, I never had to wait for a bathroom and the kitchen is open for use all day! approx. $10/night

Ecuador-

  • Quito: Based on a recommendation from a lovely Kiwi I met at Colombian Hostel, I booked a room for myself and an American couple I met in Cali for a few nights (including New Years Eve) at Community Hostel . Prices were a bit higher than normal due to the season, but still pretty reasonable (I think the most I paid for a night there was $15?). Although the actual facility was super clean, new and nice, there were only 2 single bathrooms for about 50 people, and you pretty much had to sit outside the bathroom door in order to get in to pee (I think they are building new bathrooms that should be open by now- I was there in Dec 2013). Also, like many hostels in South America, Community Hostel has a program that allows volunteers to stay at the hostel for free as a work-trade. Unfortunately, two of the volunteers that were working at the hostel when we stayed there (and the ones that were in charge of check-in/out) were super unfriendly and even rude at times. I am sure they are nice people, but in my opinion, if you are going to work somewhere where your entire job revolves around customer service, don’t be a dick. They do have a killer free walking tour of the old city with a great guide though- I was a little sad he was on vacation for the beginning of our stay in Quito! If I went back to Quito, I probably wouldn’t stay here again- but not so much due to the facilities or staff. The historical part of Quito pretty much completely shuts down around 6 pm, and nightlife is close to non-existent. I would recommend staying in the new town and spending a day or two exploring the historical center. prices $10-15 a night depending on time of year I think..
Heading to Ecuador!

Heading to Ecuador!

  • Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon Basin: based off another recommendation, we booked a 4 day, 3 night tour to the Amazon river basin (see post here) and chose the most economical option for lodging. Honestly, I can’t imagine how nice the other ones must have been, because Guacamayo Lodge rocked. As the only single lady on our particular tour, I ended up with a 3 bed cabana-style room to myself with a private bathroom (and hot water!). The lodge provided all food for the trip as well as guides, canoe with driver, wellington boots and rain ponchos (I am SURE I’m forgetting something here.. they took pretty good care of us). I would definitely recommend Guacamayo! $220 for 3 night, 4 day tour from Lago Agrio (transportation to Lago Agrio before the trip and from there afterwards not included)
in the jungle, the mighty jungle

in the jungle, the mighty jungle

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cabanas at Guacamayo

  • Baños: We had received a great recommendation for a hostel in Baños from a French-Canadian couple in the Amazon, but when we arrived there at 6 am from the bus terminal, they were full! The receptionist was nice enough to recommend another place just down the street, so we ended up booking beds at Princesa Maria  about 3 blocks down the street. In my opinion, Princesa Maria was a way better location (just 3 blocks from Baños’ main square) and probably a better value! Every room, no matter what size, has a private bathroom- which was a life saver due to the fact that I spent a lot of time in there.. eff you Ecuadorian stomach bug! Baños is FULL of hostels in every price range, but from the people I talked to, I think Princesa Maria was a great value, and the internet was some of the fastest I encountered in Ecuador. Yes, the shared kitchen got a little crowded at dinner time, and the walls were so thin I could hear people in multiple rooms having sex (thank you, couple who got it in and out in less than 2 minutes… fuck you, other couple that decided to argue for 3 hours at 4 am and then have extended make up sex), but all in all you can’t beat the price. $7 a night for a 3 bed dorm, $8 per person a night for a private room
not my hostel

not my hostel

  • Puerto Lopez: This may have been the lowest point of my trip. I couldn’t find a hostel online, so I figured I would just walk into one when I arrived. This proved to be a bit more difficult than expected, but finally I found Hostal Acapulco  (one of the ONLY places I could find with dorm rooms- most only had doubles or triples). After finding a giant bug in the bathroom and realizing that the huge group of Argentinians in the courtyard right outside my door were neither going to shut up or let me join the party, I was pretty much over the whole place altogether. I was woken up around 6 am the next morning (which was Sunday, mind you) by the radio being played at full blast right outside my door, so I woke up, took a walk through the small town, at some breakfast, and decided to get the hell out of there ASAP. Altogether, the amenities weren’t terrible- I’ve seen more disgusting bathrooms in my day, but I wouldn’t go back for a number of reasons. approx $10 for a 4 bed dorm
Kiwi Hostel, Montañita

Kiwi Hostel, Montañita

  • Montañita: I was fully prepared to hate this place. Touted as party central for Ecuadorian backpackers, I had it in my head that I would stay one or two nights then get the hell out. This is another location that makes it pretty difficult for solo travelers to find cheap dorms- most hostels are set up for doubles or triples, and weren’t very accommodating when I asked for a single bed (by accommodating, I mean most receptionists looked at me like I was nuts when I asked for a dorm room, and refused to give me any recommendations on where I could find one). After about 90 minutes of sad-turtleing around Montañita, I ended up at a place a little bit above the main road, across the street from the town. Kiwi Hostel was hands down the main reason I stayed in Montañita for over a week, and I had so much fun cooking, watching movies and hanging out at the beach with the people I met there. Not “technically” set up as a dorm-style hostel, they were awesome about accommodating solo travelers, and had a giant flat screen TV, at least 10 hammocks, 2 amazing hairless Peruvian dogs, and a lovely open kitchen. Although it was slightly more expensive than other places I stayed, I actually saved a ton of money while I was there because we cooked so much! approx $10-15 a night
love these ugly bitches

love these ugly bitches

  • Cuenca: After the shitshow I went through to find hostels in both Puerto Lopez and Montañita, I decided that from then on I wasn’t going to risk it with hostels- if I was heading somewhere alone, I would always book a hostel ahead of time, at least for the first night in a new city. In Cuenca, I actually booked 2. The first night there, I booked Hostal Hogar Cuencano- for the price, it was definitely nice! Quick internet, comfy beds, hot showers. But what was lacking was ambiance… the two other girls in my dorm room were really sweet, but other than them, I didn’t really even see anyone else the whole time! The hostel didn’t provide much as far as common space, so there wasn’t a good location for the residents to gather. I would recommend this spot for groups, but for a solo traveller, La Cigale was way more fun (not to mention cheaper)! The layout of the hostel is a little weird, but the showers are hot, the beds are comfortable, and the internet works most of the time. I think the main draw of this spot, though, is the restaurant it is attached to- it was one of the only places on my trip I was able to find legitimate chips and guacamole, and the $2 happy hour mojitos were addicting. Not only would I stay here again, but I was actually offered a work-trade there that made leaving so much harder! $7 for a 6 bed dorm with no breakfast, $10 with breakfast
more street art, definitely not where i slept

more street art, definitely not where i slept

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fun in the national park outside of Cuenca

fun in the national park outside of Cuenca

**** I am realizing now how few photos I have of actual places I slept on this trip.. I am a bad travel blogger and promise to do better next time****

It’s so much fun reliving the time I spent in these places over the last couple months.. especially while I’m sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, looking out onto the grey, dreary weather, wondering if its just going to rain a little, or if I need to sprint home ASAP before it starts pouring..

A week in Cusco. Or, the time I didn’t go to Macchu Picchu.

my favorite little park in the San Blas neighborhood

my favorite little park in the San Blas neighborhood in Cusco

After my adventures in the Colca Canyon, I was sort of at a loss for what to do next.  My ‘plan’ was to stay the hell away from, arguably, Peru’s most touristy destination (apart from Macchu Picchu itself). However, after very little convincing, I ended up there anyways. I figured, if I’m on the backpacker trail, I might as well gringo the hell up.

A little bit of background on why I didn’t even really consider going to Macchu Picchu. In 2008 my dad booked a whirlwind 2 week tour of northern Bolivia and southern Peru, which included all of the ‘typical’ sights you would expect from any responsible tourist’s visit of these areas- La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and of course, Macchu Picchu. I figured there really wasn’t any point in double checking anything off my bucket list, so I headed to Cusco with no plan at all.

see! i was there! (photo taken Sept 2008)

see! i was there! (photo taken Sept 2008)

So if I didn’t go there to do the one thing that everyone goes there for, what the hell did I do for almost a week?

A lot of this,

visit # 4 or 5 to Green Point vegan restaurant, home of the $3.50 4-course lunch

visit # 4 or 5 to Green Point vegan restaurant, home of the $3.50 4-course lunch

this,

waaayyyy too much time spent in the Kokopelli Cusco bar

waaayyyy too much time spent in the Kokopelli Cusco bar

this

sneak reading/internetting photo. for evidence.

sneak reading/internetting photo. for evidence.

and a little bit of this

getting our mise-en-place ready (yeah, i watch top chef)

getting our mise-en-place ready (yeah, i watch top chef)

action shot, mid pisco-sour mixing

action shot, mid pisco-sour mixing

Yup, Cusco is full of backpackers, tourists, and more souvenir shops than you can wrap your head around, but all of this makes it pretty conducive to a bunch of 20 somethings looking to do a lot of nothing in particular. On any given day, you can take your pick of day trips, tours, classes and all types of sightseeing (dying to take a photo of an adorable little girl and her pet llama? If you’ve got soles to spare, you can make it happen.)

i thought i was SO sneaky taking this picture, but she immediately hung up the phone and demanded money.

i thought i was SO sneaky taking this picture, but she immediately hung up the phone and demanded money.

One of the highlights of Cusco was definitely my cooking class, at a new location conveniently and quite literally named “Peruvian Cooking Class.” (I guess they really didn’t want to confuse anyone about the type of service offered.) For just 80 soles (a little under $30) I set off on a 4 hour culinary adventure culminating in way more food than I could stuff in my face.

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apparently, in peru, if you cannot hand-whip an egg white into peaks, you are not ready to get married. if thats what it takes, i may never be ready

first course, quinoa soup and pisco sour

first course, crema de quinua con pisco sour

second course, stuffed peppers, potatoes, yucca

second course, rocoto relleno con papa y yuca

third course, arroz con leche

third course, arroz con leche

Want some of this deliciousness? Buy me ingredients and I may just show you my mad skills. Hopefully next time I will remember that touching peppers then my face is a bad call. You live and you learn, right?

So just when I thought I had had enough and was ready to head back to Lima for some beach time before my departure back to (my) reality, someone else’s reality threw a wrench in my plans. The city of Cusco (well, the people) decided I (and everyone else, I’m not that special) was not getting out that easy. Transportation strikes shut down most of the city for the greater part of two days. Background: Due to some false promises made by the president during his campaign (surprise, politicians lie everywhere!) the people struck back by shutting down all transport and most business in the region.

the beginning- strikers heading to Plaze de Armas

the beginning- strikers heading to Plaze de Armas

Plaza de Armas, day 1 of the strike

Plaza de Armas, day 1 of the strike

I wouldn’t lie to you, for us gringos it was a lovely two days in which we spent as much time as possible walking in the middle of the street and enjoying the lack of constantly beeping car horns, although the many hardworking locals that lost 2 days of wages and spent valuable time participating in the strike would probably not agree. For some information that is a bit more well informed than what I can offer, check this out: Cusco news  (Note: These pieces are clearly written with a heavy bias towards the government- speaking to taxi drivers and local hostel employees in Cusco, it definitely seems like a grassroots movement that was well-intentioned albeit not very fruitful- also keep in mind my knowledge of Peruvian politics is limited at best)

Politics aside (I am way too under qualified and under informed to report on them), we managed to escape Cusco on Thursday (3 days later than planned) and enjoyed a lovely 21 hour bus ride to the great city of Lima.

all fun and games until hour 5 or so

all fun and games until hour 5 or so

Fast-forward three days, and I am on a plane hunched over my computer in the middle of the night, typing this post and wondering why I can’t sleep, am addicted to free snacks, and if my personal strike against reality will have changed anything in my world.

last Peruvian sunset

last Peruvian sunset

Don’t worry! Just because I’m back in the states doesn’t mean that this is the last travel post you’ll read in the near future.. I have some fun ones up my sleeve :)