funny shit frrrr….sunday.

I really really really wanted to say Friday again.. but it would have been a boldfaced lie. I think at this point there is nowhere in the world where it is actually Friday right now. And if there’s one thing I refuse to be.. its a liar. Anyways, enough about me. Scroll down. Laugh. Leave me a comment about how funny I am (or not). Happy Sunday!

IMG_5824This gem was found on the door of the women’s bathroom at the second hostel I stayed at in Lisbon, Portugal. It wasn’t until the second morning of my stay when my grumpy morning squinty eye face finally realized what was welcoming me to my first pee of the day.. In case I wasn’t sure what lady bits I needed in order to use the facilities, here was a lovely illustration to clear things up.

IMG_5743

I DONT GET IT. That is a lot of misdirected anger. I can’t imagine a situation in which unicorns would do something to deserve such a public call out.  Or maybe Unicorns is a person? Unicorns the person needs to stop giving unicorns the mythical beast such a bad name.

IMG_6449

Seems like a waste of the rest of the week, but I guess if you are going to announce it like this your Sundays are probably pretty busy. Is this like a ‘filling up the gas tank’ for the week to come, so to speak? (OMG SO MANY PUNS NOT INTENDED)

IMG_6358

I know there has been some dispute over Obama’s heritage, but I was not aware that he was also a supporter of British colonization in Africa, not to mention a restaurateur. WHAT ELSE ARE YOU HIDING FROM US OBAMA, IF THAT IS EVEN YOUR REAL NAME?
IMG_6308

If anyone knows a young strapping doctor named Robert Tessler, will you please let him know that his doppelgänger has a budding music career as well as a vested interest in dressing like Luke Wilson from “The Royal Tenenbaums”?

Many of you may know I have a strong affinity for all that is humorous in life, and I hope to keep these posts coming more (rather than less) regularly. As a totally unqualified medical professional, my prescription for your life is a dose of hilarity as often as possible. If you come across any photos you would like me to try and caption, send them my way! Tag me on Instagram @gbennett or email to bitesizepiece@gmail.com 

Advertisements

consider this “fievel goes west 2: the portugal hitchhiking days”

IMG_6100 1

Cape St. Vincent

*** if you don’t get the reference, here ya go: Fievel Goes West IMDB

After leaving the hostel we were working at in Faro, it seemed like our choice of where to rest our heads at night got weirder and weirder. First, we stayed with our buddy Cosmos in Lagos, in what was basically a flat with a bunch of mismatched bunk beds shoved into each room, and a shower that for some inexplicable reason was built for 2 (literally, it had two brand new shower heads… he said it was to save water?). Our next stop, Sagres- further west in the Portuguese Algarve- appeared to have little to no hostel presence, so we decided to wing it- worst case scenario we sleep on the beach cuddled together, using our backpacks for pillows.

Cosmos palace

Cosmos palace

 

After hopping out of the ride that picked us up for the last leg to sleepy, very confusingly urban-planned Sagres, we spent approximately 4 minutes wandering around like idiots before a wrinkly peanut of a woman (approx. age.. 109) cycled up to us with an offer we couldn’t refuse. Ten minutes and a lot of broken Portuguese later, we were set up in the cheapest hostel I’ve stayed in the whole time I’ve been in Europe. 25 euro for a double bedroom, private bathroom, TV and wifi… inside this woman’s house.

Sagres hostel/house

Sagres hostel/house

Don’t take this the wrong way- there are NO complaints to be had here. All in all, it was not only a case of ‘right place at the right time,’ but this lady’s sense of entrepreneurship should inspire us all.

We dropped our bags off, repacked a backpack with the essentials (wine, cans of tuna, more wine) and headed out to catch what is deemed “possibly the best sunset you’ll ever see” (<- seriously we saw that on a sign.. way to hedge your bets, tour operators).

IMG_6083 1

the stupid facial expression is due to the carton of wine in my hand

St. Vincent is located about 6km outside of the town of Sagres, and is the western most point of the European continent. As we drove in earlier that day, the clouds started to close in on us, so we didn’t really know what (if anything) to expect of the sunset spectacular that we hoped to see. By the time we made it out there (only one carton of wine deep by then!) we still had an hour or so to spare, and with the cloud cover thickening by the minute it was hard to tell if we would end up seeing anything at all.

Apparently in a game of rock-paper-scissors, sun beats cloud…. most of the time. The sunset was maybe not ‘the best’ I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely worth the trek out there.

my version of Fievel Goes West (a classic tale of manifest destiny and the mouse that wouldn't give up)

my version of Fievel Goes West (a classic tale of manifest destiny and the mouse that wouldn’t give up)

 

IMG_6102 1

I totally get why people used to think the world was flat

Because we were on a ‘lets see the sun do stuff’ roll, the next morning we snuck out of our little house at the crack of dawn to check out the sunrise- thanks to a noisy and hungry mosquito in our bedroom both of us were up at 4 am. In the same sun vs. clouds game (except backwards), the sun lost bitterly to the heavy cloud cover. Literally, the sun never rose… we just sat on the beach for about half an hour, giving each other quizzical looks as the world around us became a lighter and lighter shade of grey. After a while we just shrugged and headed off in search of a decent cup of coffee.

IMG_6108

in the meantime, I opened my own Portuguese restaurant

IMG_6109

and we knitted bike and tree cozies.

That morning marked the last day my Australian friend and I stuck our thumbs to the wind together- in Odeceixe, we hugged each other goodbye, and I made my way to Lisbon (ok guys.. seriously don’t worry.. I only hitched like 20 km on my own and got free baked goods out of it!) to spend my last night in Portugal at an ACTUAL hostel- complete with too few bathrooms, plenty of dudes with dreads and guitars, and a great group of people to chat with before I hopped on a plane back to SPAIN!!!!

 

Portugal, where I almost got airlifted to safety

I haven’t been writing much lately, although I can’t say its for a lack of content. In the last 2 months I’ve spent time with family in Liverpool and London, reconnected with friends and (host) family in Spain, and made my way through Portugal. This post is coming to you from a short pause for a long breath in a sleepy city called Faro, the capital city of the Algarve in southern Portugal, not too far from the Spanish border. After doing the traditional hostel-hop through Porto, Lisbon and Sintra, I finally found a Workaway position at a fairly new hostel in downtown Faro.

Faro train station at sunset

Faro train station at sunset

For some reason, my creative juices just aren’t flowing these days- not sure if that’s due to the fact that I’ve spent the last 2 nights working overnight (1am-9am) shifts at the hostel, or if I’m just not doing the right things to stoke the fires. I think the issue is that I don’t want this to be the type of blog where I just say “hey, look at this thing I did” and then post idyllic pictures of landscapes and the occasional selfie. I want this blog to portray my brand- I see myself as a bit of an eccentric, slightly off the wall, majorly sarcastic, with a healthy dose of adventurous spirit and an air of “well, that sounded like a good idea at the time.” The things you read here should reflect that. Anyone can fly into Europe, take a few photos of old stuff, recap their meals, and tell you how many bleeding Christ paintings you can find in the Prado (fact: its WAY too many).

That said, this is probably never going to be a typical ‘travel’ blog. Yeah, I travel. And I blog. But unfortunately, my specific type of travel blogging is probably not going to be a great substitute for your handy dandy Lonely Planet.

So…. Spain. but mostly Portugal. (I promise I will time-blog-hop back to my time in Spain at some point!)

Portugal is effing gorgeous. After living in the states for so long, you forget how OLD stuff is. Europe is old as fuck, and the architecture, urban planning and art reflect that. To be slightly more specific, according to Wikipedia, Porto’s origins date back as far as the 4th century. So when America was founded in 1776, Porto was over a thousand years old.

IMG_5720

streets of Porto

IMG_5724

view of the Douro river

After an altogether too short couple of days in Porto, I rushed down to Lisbon to catch the Optimus Alive music festival. Lisbon is like many European capitals- a juxtaposition of the old and new, one overlapping with the other in often ridiculous ways. I can’t help but giggle a bit to myself when I find a Zara store tucked next to a thousand year old church (which has been plastered with ads for an upcoming DJ set), or when the nearest Metro stop is located underneath a statue of Dom Pedro IV (one of Portugal’s kings). Then, to time warp my brain a little more, I headed to Sintra, home of castles, parks and old stuff galore. Although Sintra seems to cater largely to sightseers, its one of the few super touristy places I’ve visited that I feel is truly worth it.

Quinta de la Regaleira, Sintra

Quinta de la Regaleira, Sintra

However, because we all know I can’t adhere to norms (and I hate spending money when I don’t have to), I decided to say eff the tourist buses, and head up to the Castelo de los Mouros (est. somewhere between the 8th and 9th century) which happens to be located on a giant cliff overlooking the town of Sintra. Now, the 6 km hike up to the castle wouldn’t be that big of a deal.. if I hadn’t decided to take my own ‘shortcut’ which consisted of literally climbing up the face of the mountain.

if you go to sintra, this is NOT the path to the castle. at least not the path of least resistance...

if you go to sintra, this is NOT the path to the castle. at least not the path of least resistance…

The climb up was actually pretty fun. I got to find out if TOMS really are decent hiking shoes (for the record, not so bad) and I got to put my out of practice rock climbing skills to the test. In the end, I made it to the ‘top’. I use quotation marks because the top of the climb unfortunately did not coincide with the location of my destination. It did, however, have amazing views of aforementioned destination.

soooo… this is awkward. anyone see a road I could borrow?

soooo… this is awkward. anyone see a road I could borrow?

My ‘pat yourself on the back for a job well done’ moment lasted about 10 minutes.. long enough to snap some epic photos, a couple terrible selfies, and take a few deep breaths before realizing I had no freakin’ clue how I was going to make it from the boulders I was perched on to the castle 200+ meters away. If everyone is supposed to have a moment in their lives in which they strongly believe they will have to be rescued by a helicopter and possibly the foreign version of a SWAT team, this was mine.

 

but dat view doe…

but dat view doe…

Anyways, crisis (and panic attack) was averted, and eventually I squirmed through the bushes and over (and under) the boulders to make it up to the Moorish Castle. Moral of the story: next time bring climbing shoes… and, uh… maybe don’t take shortcuts?

Three days in Sintra and I managed to get my fill of old stuff.. although if I could have convinced my hostel to let me stay and work there, I totally would have. That place was awesome. (Nice Way Sintra Palace, FYI)

And that brings me to Faro.. kind of like Porto’s less old, not as picturesque, more lacking in wine’s younger brother. Which will be another silly story for me to share, and for my grandma to read (cause lets be honest… everyone else just looks at the pictures).

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)

IMG_4299

IMG_4306

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)
IMG_4358

view from the hotel rooftop balcony- its only redeeming feature

IMG_4390

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)
IMG_4463

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.
IMG_4730

Kokopelli bar

IMG_4732

the hostel is plastered with cool art like this

IMG_4733

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.

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

IMG_3637

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

IMG_4009

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..

three days up, down, all over and inside the colca canyon

So after my last blog bragging about how much fun I was having, I went and did it again. Colca Canyon was a blast- here’s what happened along the way!

Although I was super tempted by the idea of paying a tour company to pick me up from my hostel at 3 am and lead me (half asleep, of course) up and down the mountain, we (myself and 5 other crazies) decided to wing it and head into the somewhat unknown with no more than  3 completely useless maps, a bunch of snacks, and just enough sunscreen.

so many maps, so little time.

so many maps, so little time.

we decided to sleep in a couple of extra hours, and headed for the bus terminal in Arequipa around 5:15 am to catch the 6 am bus out to Chivay (about 3 hours). From what I understand, most of the tour groups head to Chivay after the trek to soak in the thermal baths for a bit, but we really wanted to mix it up and make sure to relax our muscles before climbing up and down over 1000 meters.

nice gloves, udders

nice gloves, duders

After finding a hostel (15 soles- about $6) we rented some mountain bikes and headed out  in the sunshine to enjoy the thermal baths.

thermal baths

thermal baths

After 4 hours in the sun at the thermal baths, we continued to get our tourist on with a van ride out to Mirador de San Antonio- which, like pretty much everywhere I’ve been on my travels, is impossible to capture accurately in photos.

south end of Colca Canyon

south end of Colca Canyon

what is possible to capture accurately, however, is how I managed to somehow surround myself with the tallest people I could find. Am I really that short?!?

stolen from my own insta

stolen from my own insta

We were starving when we got back, and everyone had one thing on their minds- ALPACA. I kind of feel bad about it, but that alpaca steak was damn tasty.

looks like steak, does not taste like steak

looks like steak, does not taste like steak

Next morning was a brutal 3:30 am wake up call so we could be the early birds and go catch some worms.. errrrr condors. Little did we know, condors like waking up early as much as we do. Luckily, 3 hours at el Cruz del Condor was not wasted.. they finally crawled out of bed to give us a pretty good show around 9 am.

sunrise at cruz del condor, that was kinda worth it

sunrise at cruz del condor, that was kinda worth it

for the record, it only tried to swoop me up and take me along for the ride once.

for the record, it only tried to swoop me up and take me along for the ride once.

A 2 sol (80 cent) colectivo ride later (complete with flat tire) we made it to the trail head and started our 1000 meter descent.

step 1

HOLY KNEES BATMAN. Then the fun really started. Like the Santa Cruz mountains, Colca Canyon is home to quite a few locals, most of whom live a pretty sustainable lifestyle.. others, like our friend Gloria that followed us around trying to get us to eat at her restaurant, have found their niche in catering to the many tourists that hike the canyon year round. It is the low season right now, so it seems like the local entrepreneurs are really putting the pressure on the tourists that actually make it down. Due to crappy directions from people that seemed less than excited that we weren’t stopping to eat,  we went the wrong way… twice. Instead of a 4 hour total hike the first day, we ended up trekking for 6, and I would estimate our total climb/descent to be about 1500 meters.

down, up, down and then back up again.

down, up, down and then back up again.

BUT THEN THIS.

can you see the blue water of the Oasis swimming pool?

can you see the blue water of the Oasis swimming pool?

See that tiny little blue speck in the middle of some greenery at the bottom of the canyon? That’s Oasis. And I definitely wouldn’t push for a name change. After 6 hours in the sun, getting lost twice, and then stabbing ourselves with cactus fruit spines, a dip in the pool, beers and giant dinner were very welcome. Not joking, best night’s sleep in 3 months. (note- 20 soles/about $7 each for dinner, a super comfy bed, and giant breakfast).

our little villas for the night

our little villas for the night

With the morning light also came the exciting part of the trek- 1000 meters (3281 feet) of climbing. Tough as it was, we all powered through the switchbacks in less than 3 hours! At that point I honestly couldn’t have imagined a better feeling than getting to the top, chugging water, taking off my drenched shirt, and posing for some ridiculous photos.

doesn't even begin to explain the steepness...

doesn’t even begin to explain the steepness…

 

view from the top!

view from the top!

guinea-pigging. its a new thing.

guinea-pigging. its a new thing.

OH NO ITS NOT OVER YET.

From there, it was still about a 20 minute walk through farmland to get to Cabanaconde, where we planned to eat as much food as we could stuff in our faces and then catch the next bus back to Arequipa. Well friends, plans for a giant lunch were foiled when we reached Cabanaconde and found to that the next bus to Arequipa was literally leaving RIGHT NOW, and the next one wouldn’t be for another 6 hours. This time, hot showers beat out lunch, and if, magically, someone that was on that bus with us is reading this right now.. sorry I’m not sorry about how terrible we smelled.

our bus buddy. she kept us entertained by beating the crap out of Val with an empty soda bottle

our bus buddy. she kept us entertained by beating the crap out of Val with an empty soda bottle

Definitely a great 3 days in the canyon, and we all agreed that it seemed like it was probably way more fun trekking on our own instead of with a tour group.. but the reality is, we will never know. Either way, I’d like to thank the Academy, a couple of Canadian jokesters, 2 European giants, and my favorite Zimbabwean for a great adventure!

 

 

i made it to Peru and the Mancora vs. Montanita debate

Six weeks, countless bus rides, twelve cities, countless almuerzos, two border crossings and one slightly overpriced plane ticket change fee later, i made it to Peru!

apparently in mancora the police are your friend

apparently in mancora the police are your friend

i am writing this from the beloved backpacker/surfer haven of Mancora, pretty much as far north in Peru as you can get without falling over and hitting your head on the border. three days here and I’m ready to get the hell out. as far as i can tell, people either love this place or hate it- similar to the opinions i heard on Ecuador’s transient beach party town, Montañita (which i ended up staying in for over a week!).

both of them are well known for their surf and party culture, and both have a heavy influx of travelers from within south america as well as international backpackers. both boast a wide array of different lodging options at all different price ranges, as well as a ton of drinking/dining options (both local and international). the beach in each location is not necessarily anything to write home about- a strip of sand and surf, lined by bars and restaurants, and the nightlife is pretty standard- cheap drinks, loud music.

so why did i love Montañita so much, and am bored stiff in Mancora?

lets get one thing straight here- neither one offers much in the way of cultural events, history or architecture.

the main reason i stayed in Montañita so long is based on the fact that i LOVED where i was staying. my days in were spent on the beach, in a hammock, or awkwardly trying to surf on waves much bigger than my skill level can handle. nights were generally a combination of cooking, eating, watching movies and relaxing with my hostel buddies (kiwi hostel, i miss you guys!). we had a pretty varied group staying there- most of whom had either stayed at the hostel before, knew the owner, or somehow stumbled upon the location by a stroke of luck (like me!). for a town known for its level of partying, i did surprisingly very little drinking in my 8 days there- only one ‘real’ night out.

view over montanita

view over montanita

in mancora, the actual town and nightlife aren’t a whole lot different. the beach may be slightly nicer, the food options a little more varied, and the marijuana smoking slightly more subdued, but the part thats missing for me is the family atmosphere i found in kiwi hostel. i am staying at kokopelli beachpackers– a smaller, slightly mellow version of the infamous loki hostels . the vibe is a little bit of a forced party- activities are planned every day, and most of the other guests are there to get their drink and tan on. it was definitely fun, but i am ready to move on.

mancora beach

mancora beach, the deserted end

mancora beach, the non-deserted end

mancora beach, the non-deserted end

montanita: 1 mancora: 0

I’ve been thinking about this for a while- as travelers, what is it that makes us love one destination and feel just so-so about another? Quito, for example, had amazing historical sights, but it was just ‘eh’ for me as a whole experience. Cuenca, on the other hand, was one of my favorite cities so far on any of my travels- and although it has beautiful churches, they aren’t nearly as grandiose as some of the architecture we saw in Quito.

Quito

Plaza in front of the Presidential Palace in Quito

for me, it is the balance between sights, people, and experiences that can make or break a place. Mancora has really been so-so in all of these respects, but ask the guy who showed up here six months ago and hasn’t left yet and I’m sure he will disagree with me. this part of what makes travel so fascinating- whether you travel alone or with friends, loved ones or newfound buddies, each experience is so profoundly personal.

anyways, off to Trujillo tonight, then heading off to do some trekking in Huaraz!

dorm beds, shared kitchens, i throw the toilet paper where?

sometimes i forget how much of an impact a shitty place to sleep can have on your experience in a place. on the flip side, you find a good hostel/hotel and they might have to pry your cold, dead fingers off the spatula in the shared kitchen, or tear you screaming from the comfy bed and just-fluffy-enough pillow. just over one month into my travels, I feel like I’ve had a pretty good sampling of what there is to offer. thanks to the joys of the internet and my affinity for taking recommendations from other travelers, I’ve managed to avoid anywhere with more roaches than people.

my home for the last week, and some of the crazies I've been hanging with

my home for the last week, and some of the crazies I’ve been hanging with

view from our patio- nightly ritual

view from our patio- nightly ritual

the last 5 weeks, I’ve added 5 notches on the proverbial hostel bedpost- some good, some GREAT. the problem is, the better the hostel, the harder it is to leave! I’m on my way out of montanita tomorrow to make my way down to cuenca (world heritage site, bring on the architecture!)- and i will miss my little kiwi hostel family here so much!

johnny, my surf guru and smoothie maker extraordinaire

johnny, my surf guru and smoothie maker extraordinaire

the last week has been filled with family dinners, beach time, a terrifying surf session (overhead waves on a 5’8 board, no thanks) and about a thousand movies. I’ve learned at least 6 ways to cook plantains, and only made my way down to the montanita fiesta madness twice.

blas, making us testicle soup (basically ecuadorian matzo balls)

blas, making us testicle soup (basically ecuadorian matzo balls)

its been a lovely, relaxing week, but i am ready to get out of lala land and back into adventure mode- i have a great base tan, have gone through an entire bottle of sunscreen, and am totally caught up on my oscar season frontrunners. ($1 movies, woot).

I’m getting hungry, so ill leave you with this- montanita is one of those places that is exactly what you want it to be- if you want to party your face off, you have this:

yup, that happened.

yup, that happened.

or if you’re like me and already went to a full moon party and now feel like you’re too old for that shit, you can lay on the beach, eat a ton of mango and ceviche, and catch up on your reading. *which i wasn’t able to do because i traded dune (amazing, btw) for the worst book known to mankind. i would seriously murder someone for a john grisham novel at this point..

 

baños, brain dump and beach time

although i haven’t been blogging as much as i had hoped, i promise i have a ton to share- what i am realizing about the whole travel blogging thing is the following:

a) difficult to find decent internet (ie. fast enough to add photos without me pulling out my hair)

b) hard to reconcile an hour away from beach/forest/hammock in exchange for sitting in front of my computer

c) tough to keep track of time! i feel like i JUST wrote a post about the amazon, and then i realize that the amazon trip was almost 2 weeks ago!

so now that I’m done whining about my tough life on the road, heres a little of the last week or so:

baños! nestled in a cozy green bowl of mountains, baños is arguably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and it doesn’t hurt that part of the draw of the town is a wide array of adventure sports.. rafting, climbing, canyoning (basically long zip lines across canyons), hiking, biking.. you name it.

coming over the bridge towards the Pailon del Diablo hike down to the waterfall

coming over the bridge towards the Pailon del Diablo hike down to the waterfall

unfortunately, my 5 days in baños coincided with my first stomach flu in years! i sucked it up for the most part and still managed to hike, check out the thermal baths, cycle to Pailon del Diablo and swing on the famous Casa del Arbol swing!

IMG_3797

baños view from Luna Runtun hotel (halfway down from the Casa del Arbol swing)

if you ever travel to ecuador, definitely do not miss out on baños. its definitely a touristy little town, but totally worth it.. i think i walked around with my jaw dropped the entire time.. some of the most amazing cloud formations, gorgeous montains and waterfalls i have ever seen!

on the bike ride

on the bike ride

pailon del diablo waterfall

pailon del diablo waterfall

chillin with la virgen

chillin with la virgen

(follow me on instagram @gbennett for more photos!).

and then what?

early saturday morning i hopped on a 6 am bus to Guayaquil (largest city in Ecuador) with the intention of heading to the coast! almost entire month after i began this trip, i was finally on my way to the ocean. i promise ill do a full beach post, but in the meantime heres a little brain dump of some discoveries, observations and realizations from the last 4 weeks..

-although ecuador produces quite a bit of coffee, it has been close to impossible to find a decent cup of coffee. I’m slowly sipping on a passable one as we speak, but most low end restaurants (I’m backpacking, remember.. no fancy meals for this girl) will hand you a mug of hot water and a jar of instant coffee.

-i have felt pretty safe this whole time, but ecuadorians and colombians have spent a lot of time telling me how dangerous many places across the two countries still are. apparently the male half of a newlywed asian couple was just murdered in manta (coastal city) a few weeks ago, and i was strongly urged to not stay in guayaquil due to safety issues. even cali, colombia- where i felt SO safe for a week- has one of the highest crime rates in the country!

-you can do pretty much anything with plantains.

-recommendations have become a way of life. most of the travelers in colombia and ecuador so far have been either heading south to peru or north to colombia, and many evening have been spent recommending this hostel or that trek. I’ve created a loose rule of thumb- if 2 or more people recommend the same hostel/trip/sight.. I’m probably headed straight there. so far its served me pretty well!

-rice. so much of it.

there is SO much more i want to share, but i think its time for me to head to a hammock for a nap.. questions? recommendations? concerns? email me! bitesizepiece@gmail.com