The End of the Beginning & Our South America Recap

We spent our last few days in Brazil on Ilha Grande, an island south of Rio de Janeiro. We hopped on a ferry from the mainland and an hour and a half later, we were on the shores of Abrao, a small beach village on the coast which prides itself on not having any cars or ATMs. We spent three days hiking to Ilha Grande’s many beaches, including Lopez Mendes, one of Brazil’s “top 10 most beautiful beaches” (and Brazil has a lot of beaches).Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating with us and it rained for a good portion of our stay. We still had a great time walking around the small beach town, drinking the delicious local juices, eating the best burgers we’ve had on our trip and playing poker with our hostel roommates.

From Ilha Grande, we took a bus to Sao Paulo where we stayed for one night to catch our flight the following morning. We both LOVED Brazil and most definitely will be back again.

South America Recap:

After an incredible 99 days traveling through South America, we are headed to Africa!  Before we do, we wanted to do a quick recap of the past 3+ months and highlight a few trip stats as well as our favorite highs/lows.

  • Days traveled: 99
  • Countries visited: 8 (Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil)
  • # of Different beds slept in: 44
  • Flights within South America: 3 (Galapagos, to the jungle in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia to Chile)
  • # of Buses: too many to count

Favorite Country: Bolivia! There are so many incredible things to do and see, we could have spent months in Bolivia alone. They have it all – mountains, jungles, beautiful lakes, big cities and quaint remote towns. It was cheap, we ate incredibly well and stayed in some wonderful places.

Favorite City: Rio de Janeiro barely beats out Buenos Aires for our favorite city in South America. The gorgeous beaches, weather and lively culture pulled Rio to the top of our list.

Favorite Activity:  Our trip to the Galapagos Islands, the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia and hiking Machu Picchu all tie for our favorite activity. The Galapagos offers an up close and personal experience with wildlife while Uyuni transported us to a place that was so surreal we no longer thought we were on Earth. Machu Picchu was incredible because we’ve always wanted to hike the Inca Trail and it definitely lived up to our expectations. They were all unique and amazing in their own ways and the things we saw at each place were completely unreal! Honorable mentions go to the Potosi mine tour, the River Plate football match in Argentina, and our trip to the jungle in Madidi National Park, Bolivia.

Best Meal: Hands down, the best meal we had was at La Cabrera in Buenos Aires. The steak and chorizo was so good we ended up coming back again two days later for more. Plus, with 40% off all food and wine, it was a steal. Argentinian steaks definitely live up to the hype!

Best Snack: In Mancora, Peru, a woman wearing a big sun hat and pink skirt would walk up and down the beach selling homemade empanadas. The first day we bought one, the next day three and the last day we bought five. We’d impatiently eye her from across the beach with a soda in hand just waiting for her to come our way. The empanadas were hot, doughy, brushed with garlic and butter and packed with mozzarella, basil and tomato. So good.

Worst Food:  After hiking in Peru’s Colca Canyon for three days, we went to splurge for our first pizza in South America. We sat in a lovely restaurant overlooking the town square and were served the most disgusting pizza we’ve ever eaten. We didn’t know it was possible for pizza to be so bad. The dough wasn’t completely cooked, all of the toppings came from a can and the cheese and tomato sauce was foul. It was such a disappointment and the most expensive meal we’d purchased at the time!

Best Accommodation:  The hostel we wanted to book in Banos, Ecuador was full and they recommended that we stay at D’Mathias, a brand new hostel close by. For $6, we had a brand new private room and bathroom, TV, great in-room WiFi, balcony views, free tea and coffee all day and daily room service. We extended our stay from three nights to six nights because it was such a good deal.

Worst Accommodation:  We spent one night in Guayaquil, Ecuador, before heading to the Galapagos Islands. We found a hostel close to the airport and as soon as I saw our room, I wanted to bolt. You had to climb a narrow and dilapidated fire escape to get to our room which had eight beds and my bed had a cockroach crawling out of it. There weren’t any lockers for our belongings and the door to the room didn’t lock. The bathroom didn’t have a sink and the entire hostel didn’t have soap…of any kind. It was horrible.

Sketchiest Moment:   A popular South American scam occurs when an offender throws fecal matter or something foul on you and/or your bags. Another culprit, who appears to be nice and helpful, offers to clean off your bags. While you are distracted by cleaning yourself off, they rob you of your bags and belongings. Well lucky us…when we were walking to the bus station (which are always located in shady areas) to leave Buenos Aires with all of our baggage, a nice looking woman tells me I have paint all over the back of my pack and jeans. It took a moment to realize that we both had white goo all over our clothes and bags. Another man starts pointing and laughing at us while other people start coming over with napkins to help us clean the mess off. I looked at Chris and said, “these people are about to steal all of our stuff – just keep walking.” We walk straight through the crowd and into the bus terminal while ignoring the commotion.  Once safely inside, we cleaned ourselves off and successfully made it on to our bus without any problems. We were mad that these people did this to us, relieved we had escaped with all of our stuff, grateful that we knew what was happening before something bad happened and thankful the “paint” turned out to be a good smelling shaving cream and not something worse!

Wow – what an amazing start to our trip. We can’t believe how quickly these first 3+ months have gone! We have had such an amazing time immersing ourselves in the South American culture. Thanks for all of your love and support over the past few months, it means the world to us that we have such amazing friends and family to come back to at the end of this journey. We are still happy to be traveling and look forward to the next chapter!

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Beach Hopping and Border Crossing

We just couldn’t get enough sun and sand in the Galapagos, so after flying back to Guayaquil, Annie and I hopped on a bus and headed along the coast to the small beach towns of Montañita and Puerto Lopez. Montañita is a coastal town approximately 3.5 hours from Guayaquil and is a surfing mecca blessed with the country’s best waves and lively nightlife.  We scored an awesome cabana that was set into the nearby hillside overlooking the beach.  Thanks to the Waldkirch’s for the great cabana digs from our honeyfund! Annie and I enjoyed swimming and sitting on the beach people watching.  There was a constant parade of vendors selling everything from bootleg DVD’s to lamps to delicious baked goods. After Montañita, we headed to Puerto López for a couple of days.  Puerto López sits on a fishhook bay and is known for whale watching, especially this time of year.We took a boat trip which included guaranteed whale sightings, lunch, and a short snorkeling trip.  After only about 15 minutes on the boat, we spotted a mother humpback whale and her calf!  We’ve never seen a whale before this trip.  The whales must have known this because they decided to give us a wave with their fins when we arrived. The calf was very entertaining to watch – it jumped out of the water (unfortunately no picture) and swam directly under our boat, splashing some people along the way.  We quickly found out how hard it was to capture good photos of the whales when they surfaced. The sheer size of the mother humpback was incredible.  It was amazing how easily they could glide through the ocean on their way north to Columbia. The whale watching trip really was a blast.  Thanks to David, Amy, Noah and Simon Brown for the honeyfund – it was an amazing experience!

From Puerto Lopez, we took a bus back to Guayaquil to make our way to Peru. Instead of suffering for 28 hours on the direct bus to Lima, we decided to make one more beach stop.  The border crossing from Ecuador to Peru seemed pretty straightforward except that it was hot, packed and swarms of bugs were flying around our heads.  While waiting in line, the power went out and we stood there in pitch black darkness clinging to each other and hugging our belongings.  Annie worried we were going to die in this “ninth ring of hell.”

There is always light on the other side and luckily the other side was Máncora – our first stop in Peru.  We arrived pretty late that first night, so we spent the night in dorm accommodations.  The next morning, we splurged and upgraded to a beach front cabana for the next couple days. Máncora is a vacation destination for Peruvians and is also known for its good surf (and the most delicious empanadas we’ve ever had).  In the summer months, waves can reach three meters.  I rented a surfboard for two hours to catch some waves with the locals and it only cost 10 soles (less than $4). After three small beach towns, we’re headed to the big city of Lima!

You Can See A Lot Of Boobies In The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands provided a nice refuge from our first two weeks of traveling. Chris fully recovered from his stomach bug and we were off to spend the next five days exploring the Galapagos Islands by yacht.

The Galapagos Islands offers an array of different animals all viewable in their natural and untouched environment. On one side of Santa Cruz Island, we saw hundreds and hundreds of blue footed boobies. There were also marine iguanas, bright red crabs, flamingos and beautiful beaches. Genovese Island was a sanctuary for many different birds. We saw three types of boobies (Blue Footed Boobies, Red Footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies) as well as pelicans, owls, frigate birds, Galapagos doves and several other species of birds. The island has a gorgeous beach and was perfect for visiting with sea lions. The wildlife has not yet been threatened by humans so you’re able to get very close to the animals. We were even able to witness natural selection at work. A mother seal had abandoned her baby on the beach. Another mother seal barked at the crying pup while we sat nearby.Bartholomew Island and Santiago Island had volcanic landscapes with lizards, cactus and lava fields. Off of these islands, we snorkeled with penguins, white tip sharks, rays and hundreds of different colored starfish. On the other side of Santa Cruz Island was a mangrove ecosystem home to sea turtles, rays and sharks. We were lucky to witness two sea turtles getting their love on in the middle of the ocean! Dragon Hill, a colorful beach, had land iguanas, marine iguanas and more flamingos. There are only 500 flamingos in all of the Galapagos Islands so our guide was very happy to have seen eight on our trip. A trip to the Galapagos is not complete without seeing the land tortoises. Unfortunately, famous Lonesome George passed away just a few weeks ago. There was a posted placard in memory of George who was the last of his species. However, we were able to see other species of land tortoises that were just as large.

There were 15 passengers total (from the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands) and seven crew (all from Ecuador). We had our own cabin, private bathroom and although the quarters were small, it was clean and all we needed. We had three huge meals a day as well as snacks every time we came back on the boat from being on shore. It was all delicious and a nice change of pace to have well balanced meals prepared for us each day.

What an unforgettable trip! We have nearly 700 photos and more than 35 videos from our adventure so this is just a snapshot of what we were able to see in five days. A huge thank you to my dad, MJ, Aunt Aline and Uncle Steve for helping us with our Galapagos trip as part of our wedding and Christmas honeyfund. And thank you Aunt Betty and Aunt Pattie for the Galapagos snorkeling trip. It was one of the best snorkeling trips we’ve had!

We are headed to the coast of Ecuador to visit Montañita and Puerto Lopez for some more beach time before we are off to Peru!

Bunkering Down in Baños at D’Mathias Hostel [Review]

Sadly, we are pretty sure the orange drink seen in one of the last pictures from our Otavalo post made Chris sick. Although he was literally getting sick at the bus station, he still boarded the bus so we could head to Baños for the next few days. What a trooper!

As luck would have it, right when we were about to check into our hostel, we heard our names being called. We turned around and low and behold, there were two of our friends from Quito! Turns out Javier and Aliya were staying at the hostel next door to ours.

Our hostel, D’Mathias, is a gem in the backpacker town of Baños. We were referred here from another hostel and have been so happy with the accommodations that we’ve extended our stay from three to six nights.

D’Mathias is not even a year old and is owned and operated by Pamela and Jorge, a sweet Ecuadorian couple who take care of their guests. The hostel is located just one block from the bus station, making it safe and easily accessible for late night arrivals.

For a mere $6 a night per person, you can stay in a private room on a terrace with beautiful rooftop views of Baños.

Our room had its own bathroom (with piping hot water!), exposed brick walls and a flat screen television. They have free towel service and offer quick laundry service. Our laundry was washed, folded and returned to us within three hours for $1 per kilo (2.2 lbs). Upon request, your room will be cleaned each day. They also have WiFi on every floor, providing such a strong internet connection that you can easily Skype without any issues. So far, this is the best internet we’ve come across.

The common room and communal kitchen is a great place to meet other travelers. Plus, you can enjoy free coffee and tea all day in their lovely garden space. The entire hostel is very well kept and extremely clean. We’ve never seen housekeepers work so hard. Every five minutes, someone is mopping or cleaning the common areas. If you are ever traveling through Baños, we highly recommend staying here!

Not even a half a block away from our hostel, we hopped on a Chiva truck with Javier and Aliya to explore the surrounding waterfalls and do a little hiking. Jorge and Pamela can arrange a tour to all of the waterfalls for $3 per person. The chiva stops at several gondolas which can take you across the river for closer views of the more distant falls. There are also a few ziplines and bungee jumping stops along the way for just a few extra dollars.When in Baños, you have to visit the hot thermal baths. Water from the nearby volcano is pumped into the baths twice a day, providing a relaxing (poor man’s) spa-like experience.  A big thank you to the Waldkirch’s for gifting us the thermal baths as part of our wedding honeyfund! Our last day in Baños was beautiful. Chris, still not feeling 100%, accompanied me halfway up a hike. Once I reached the top, the view was gorgeous and the setting was so picturesque. Two small boys were flying kites over the mountain edge while horses grazed behind them. Baños offers an array of outdoor activities including horseback riding, mountain biking, white water rafting, canyoning and jungle trips. We couldn’t partake in all of these activities because Chris is still feeling a little under the weather but we still had an amazing time. The small city has a lot to offer and is the perfect place to relax for a few days.

We are off to Guayaquil tomorrow morning where we’ll stay one night before we catch our flight to the Galapagos Islands! Ciao!

Although we received free accommodation and services for our review of D’Mathias Hostel, these opinions and thoughts are our own.

Our First Country – Holá from Ecuador!

After a four hour flight from Miami, we arrived in Quito, Ecuador. By the time we landed, it was already dark so we took a cab directly to our hostel. We checked in, took a peak at the room and headed to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a few cervezas after our long travel day.  We are so glad we went to the rooftop that first night because we ended up meeting a great group of people. Traveling in a large group made us feel safe.  Plus, we were able to get a lot of good travel advice and explore the city with new people for three days. We miss you guys!!!

The next morning, Chris and I woke up and went on a quest for food. We headed to Mercado Central where we read you could find cheap and delicious Ecuadorian food. After meandering through all the food stalls, Chris ordered the papas con cuero ($1.50) and I had chorizo, eggs and a fried potato filled with cheese ($2). Let’s just say I made a better breakfast choice. We thought Chris’ cuero (pork) would be fried or grilled pork but it turned out to be pork skin, a lot of pork skin.
We also heard that it is typical to be served a soup with your breakfast or lunch so when they brought out Chris’ breakfast, I started eating the soup (left in the top photo above) while I waited for my meal to be ready. I thought the soup was incredibly flavorful and very spicy! A few minutes later, the waitress came by to take the “soup” to a different table. Turns out it was a really a bowl of aji (similar to salsa) and I was eating it straight out of the bowl…oops!

After lunch, we went to explore the city. We walked around Old Town and the Basilica del Voto Nacional.
That afternoon, we took the TeleferiQo (gondola) to the top of Quito for some stunning views of the city and surrounding Andes mountains, including Cotopaxi.We grabbed dinner ($3.00 for chicken or beef, rice, beans and fried bananas) with our friends from the hostel and went out for a few drinks before calling it a night. What a great first day/night!The next day we caught a bus ($0.40) for a 1.5 hour ride outside of Quito to Mitad del Mundo where you can visit the equator (or what we’ve been calling Middle Earth).That night, we went out to dinner with our friends from the hostel and scored the cheapest dinner we’ve found in Ecuador yet. For $1.60 per person, we had fresh guava juice, potato and cheese soup with pieces of pork, beef stew with rice, a potato pancake and salad. We went back to the hostel to play cards before everyone departed the next day for their respected destinations.The next morning, Chris and I caught a bus to Otavalo where we planned to stay for the next two nights. Otavalo is set in the northern highlands of Ecuador (about two hours north of Quito) and is very picturesque. The people are so nice and it’s been a great change of pace from the busy streets of Quito.Otavalo is famous for its large Saturday animal, crafts and food markets. We woke up and headed straight for the animal market. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. There were kittens, puppies ($1), guinea pigs, alpacas, goats, sheep, cows ($350), pigs ($90) and chickens ($8) all for sale. If a man was carrying a bag, there was likely a small pig or chicken in it. Women would have chickens and children strapped to their back at the same time.It was interesting to see ice cream and other food being sold right next to the livestock and animals.We’re pretty sure the food stalls serve some of the freshest pork and beef you can find.While walking around the food market, we saw a restaurant packed with people (always a good sign). We were led into the basement where we were clearly the only non-Ecuadorians. We both ordered the lunch special which included soup and were a little surprised when Chris’ soup came out with a full chicken foot in it. Yum! Good thing the rest of the meal was good (rotisserie chicken, rice and french fries for $1.50)!

Tomorrow we are hopping back on the bus to head to Baños, Ecuador. Hasta luego!