Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dealing With Stress

I don't think anyone who has met me can describe me as a calm person. I have a growing number of white hairs to prove it. Alas, I am prone to over-analysing situations which can often turn into an unproductive downward spiral of thought. I was somewhat hoping the the removal of my normal causes of stress - work, bills, driving through Sydney traffic, would help me become the serene goddess I've always dreamed of. You know the kind that wears flowy dresses and caresses swans whilst playing the harp. 

But yet another holiday illusion shattered. I am still that panicky, neurotic person that is uanble to fully function under duress. Take for example the time we had just arrived in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. Kevin had booked a lovely hotel room near the lake with great internet ratings. He had a map of the location and gave me the option of a taxi or walking. Since I was still weak from altitude sickness I opted to taxi it but the first guy we hailed didn't want to take us for reasons unbeknownst to us as we still hadn't learnt any Spanish  (terrible I know). Stuff it, let's just walk I said. Here's how that went.

I was actually trying to be really brave about it but I wasn't fooling Kevin who can always gauge how stressed I am by how fast I walk. I was walking REALLY fast by nightfall. There was nothing and nobody around and we had no idea where we were. We finally stumbled on small house who called a taxi for us who took us to the right place. Which ironically was just metres away from where we turned off but we hadn't seen the sign in the dark. 

So it actually worked out fine and the family who helped us were so nice but in my mind I had envisaged a Bolivian pyscomurderer just waiting for lost tourists to wander by. So that was a lot of stress for no reason and probably the best thing to do is just to have optimistic faith that things will work out for the best. Things like this happen all the time when traveling. You get lost on countless occasions, you lose things in hostels, you get a nasty abscess that needs a $400 visit to the doctor, you accidently back into someone's car whilst they're standing right there or you catch body lice from a horrible hostel. All these things have happened to us in the last 4 months and yet none have been so terrible to be permanently traumatising and a few are even kind of funny now.

So I guess my point is that life is a balance of good and bad and you can't control what's going to happen every moment, actually it's a complete waste of time and energy mullling over things you can't change. Now I'm off to wake the zen master Kevin so we can go out for macaroons, because some things you CAN change and tip them towards your favour.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Yes when I was a kid that's what I would call Yosemite Sam instead of Yo-sim-meaty as I now know. But I think my way is more apt because everything in this place is larger than life. Just a 5 hour drive from San Fran and the buildings dwindle away to little villages and the pine trees dominate.

Just driving into the national park you get stunning vistas filled with an ocean of green and gigantic boulders. Then you get into the park itself and there's so much to do there. We saw Yosemite falls which are the 6th largest falls in the world. Nothing in size compared to Iguazu Falls in Brazil but its got its own thing going on and was beautiful all the same. Unfortunately the massive crowds around it diminished my enjoyment of it a bit. But that's OK because we then went off amd did some trails including Mirror lake and the Mist trail up to Vernal falls which weren't as crazy busy.

As lovely as the falls were and to a lesser extent the lake was, the hightlight for me was the sense of serenity nature gives you. The peaceful silence that's occasionally broken by a bird singing. The soft crunch of your footsteps on twigs. Not another person in sight. Just appreciating the bounty of nature. There were deer and cute little squirrels chewing on their nuts. And some beautiful blue birds. No bear encounters but that's because we were bear aware and ddn't bring any food with us.

Just me and the trees.
And these guys.

This guy kept shovelling twigs in his mouth.
Turn and chew, turn and chew.

We also drove 90 minutes south from the main area to Mariposa Grove to visit the sequoia trees. These ancients are 3000 years old and up to 100m tall. That's older than Jesus yo! They were tall, wide, red and very very impressive. Kevin was so awed he made one called the 'Grizzly Giant' his god and kept trying to worship him. This guy was so big one of his trunks looked like a whole new tree was growing out of him! And check out the size of the pinecones.

Roots of a fallen tree.
Appeasing the Gods.

Now thats a big pine cone.
It tooks us three days to cover most of the park but I could happily go back again and do it all over again. Maybe with bikes. Thanks Yosemite, you gave us a much needed break from the cities and next up, the most city of all cities - Las Vegas.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Savouring San Francisco

We spent a good 7 days in SF and I felt it was a good amount of time to really get to know the city and not just tick off a list of tourist hotspots. Sure, we did some touristy things like bike ride over the golden gate bridge (on the windiest and foggiest of days) and checked out Lombard street (world's crookedest street) and the painted ladies at Alamo square which you might remember from Full House if you're from generation Y.

There's a massive bridge somewhere in that fog.
Joy as the fog cleared temporarily.

The bridge on a different day.
Lombard street, it sure is crooked.

Modelling my new H&M pants and North face jacket at the painted ladies.
But we spent a lot of time in the various funky neighbourhoods in Mission, Castro and Cow Hollow which were worlds apart from the central area of Union Square. These places had more of a Surry Hills feel to them and felt more genuine, as in you would actually see local people just going to their favourite hang out and it was always a gem when we would stumble upon one of these hidden treasures. Like finding Susie's Cakes in Cow Hollow which had the most amazing cupcakes but I just had to give my first key lime pie a go. And man, was it good! It was a struggle to share it with Kevin rather than just shove the whole lot in my gob at once. Yes, I must truly love him. But I digress. Then there was the time we were walking by Bar Crudo and found that seafood was their thing and they were having happy hour at the time where you can get $1 oysters. They were amazing and just what I needed after the vast dissapointment  at Fisherman's Wharf. Great find combined with perfect timing.

Mission district.
Susie sure makes good cakes.

My first key lime pie - great success.

So good we ordered another 6 after this.
Yes, my favourite memories of SF seem mostly food related but I will also remember the ever present smell of weed throughout the whole city and especially in our hostel. And my absolute bargain at finding a $90 North Face down jacket at Sports Basement (yes its a large boys size but it fits perfectly!) as well as a super practical pair of those zip off convertible pants (what? don't judge me). Also there are A LOT of bums on the street asking for money. One guy even grabbed Kevin which was frightening even though he ended up being harmless. But the awesome pad thai's and plentiful H&M stores made up for that.
This pad thai is definitely in the top 3 I've had.
Yes, SF had it all and if it wasn't for the calf clenching hills I'd be tempted to stay awhile longer. But the wilderness of Yosemite is calling.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

My LA family

So here it is, my first blogpost in the USA! It's taken awhile because there hasn't been widely available internet so bear with me folks. Now when my mum told me a month ago that my cousin owned a Pho restaurant in LA I've been dreaming of a big steaming, tasty bowl of those glorious noodles ever since. It was like a kid on Christmas eve. So naturally the first thing we did when we landed was head straight to Pho hut which was no easy feat as LA is a massive city and public transport is terrible there. After two hours, a bus, train and taxi ride later we had arrived!

Mind you we had never met my cousins before whom are the children of my Aunt 10 on my mother's side.  We must have looked like complete bums, coming into their lovely dining establishment with our backpacks but we were greeted so warmly by my cousin Kelly (one of my aunt's 6 children) who was waiting for us and made sure we got what we wanted. The restaurant even had a bubble tea machine which I got to operate, this day can't get any better! Kevin got a cafe sua da which was on his wish list too. My bowl of Pho was gigantic and I would not normally be able to eat such a large portion but I wolfed down that bad boy like it was my last meal. 

Kelly then spent the rest of the day taking us around to Hollywood boulevarde and the citywalk at Universal studios which were both touristy but we can say that we've been there now. Then, the final blow of awesomeness "I'm an accountant for Disney so tomorrow if you want I can take you guys to Disneyland for free". I mean, it would be rude to say no right?
Hanging out on Hollywood Boulevarde.

The happiest place on Earth.
But it wasn't just these perks that made me fall in love with my LA family. It was my Aunt's long talks about her past and the wisdom she wanted to share with me, my other cousin's Tien funny jokes and her great sense of kindness to others despite herself having 2 strokes, breast cancer and diabetes, my cousin's children Brian and Crystal who unlike most kids around 21 were really happy to talk to us old folks and took us out to their local  hang out for shaved ice and drove us around. My aunt even tried to give us $500 as a present and when we tried to return it and give her a $1000 wad of cash it ended up in an awkward wrestling match between me and my 70 year old aunt. She had me in  an arm bar at one point, refusing our gift. Old people are anything if not persistent. Luckily, my cousin showed mercy on my awkward position and took the cash, saying she will keep it til return in 3 weeks for safe keeping so I look forward to another battle then.

My Aunt 10 and my cousin Tien.

Green tea shaved ice, not quite ice cream not quite snow cone.
In our 4 days here we had all the Asian food we've been dreaming of - pork rolls, banh cuon, pho, yum cha, thit kho, char sui, hainan chicken and so many cups of bubbe tea. I love the Vietnamese community here, they have established themselves well and have their own tv stations, shopping malls and pork roll chains which offer 20 different types of rolls! LA has really allowed me to get back to my roots which is all about food and family. I have implored my LA family to visit us in Australia one day so we can repay them for all their kindness and generosity.

Tick of approval for American cafe sua da.

Nice Vietnamese mall.

Pork rolls from Lee's.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Budget for 3 Months in South America

OK, so our overall budget blew out to about double what I originally projected. For the two of us we spent $10 800 (not including expensive tours like Galapagos or Pantanal) which is about $1800/person/month and $60/person/day. Including those two expensive tours the total for us two was $16 700.Travelling South America was certainly not as cheap as I thought it would be and certain things would be just as expensive as in Australia if not more. We mostly stayed in hostels and splurged a bit on good food and some cool activities but the expensive tours aren't included in the total as they don't reflect day to day expenditure. 

Breakdown per country


We spent the 3 weeks in Brazil and spent $3785 for the two of us by far the most expensive country we visited. Transportation encompassed 57% of this as we had were booking flights relatively late.
Accommodation: $640, $15/person/night.
Transport: $2184, mostly flights and some buses. It's such a big country flying was a necessary expense.
Food: $500, $12/person/day. Cheap but not good food.
Activities: $382
Extra (not included in total): Pantanal 3 day tour, $1100 per person. Not worth the amount of money we spent on it and would have been better in the dry season.


We splurged a bit in the 10 days we spent in Buenos Aires, enjoy fantastic food and going out every day. Our quality of life was far higher than in Brazil and for much less.
Accommodation: $224, $11/person/night.
Transport: $303. Cheap public transport around the city, most of this cost was the bus ride for the both of us from Buenoas Aires to Santiago.
Food: $236, $12/person/day, awesome food for a bargain price.
Activities: $28, did lots of things like rollerblading around the park and went to a tango dance hall.


We got very lucky in Chile and got free accommodation and home cooked meals with our wonderful friends so this cut down on the budget for the first half but San Pedro, Atacama desert was expensive due to the high amount of daily tours we did. The outlined budget below is just for our San Pedro portion.
Accommodation: $108, $18/person/night.
Transport: $180, bus for two from Santiago to San Pedro.
Food: $135, $22/person/day.
Activities: $213, did 4 half day tours.

Bolivia was cheaper than other countries but e didn't find any three course meals for $1 like someone was telling us. Sadly I was really sick at this time and couldn't make it to a computer to budget properly but food and accommodation was relatively cheap.


Peru was a good combination of fun and affordable. We were living it large and thought we were splashing the cash big time but the figures end up being very reasonable. 
Accommodation: $188, $12/person/night.
Transport: $429, a few bus rides a lots of cheap taxi rides - about $2-5 per trip.
Food: $381, $13/person/day. We absolutely splurged on food in Peru and went to a few fine dining places which were still cheap for what we were used to.
Activities: $427, we did a lot in Peru and bought a few things like alpaca jumpers which added to this. Still a cheap place to do fun things.
Extra (not included in total): G Adventures 5 day Inca Trail for $934 per person, worth it considering the staff they bring along to support you and the service you get.

Relatively cheap place to travel around but honestly besides the Galapagos non of it felt like value for money after Peru.

Accommodation: $256, $16/person/night.
Transport: $104, mostly taxi rides including $25-35 taxi rides to and from Quito airport
Food: $282, $17/person/day. Cost more than Peru yet definitely nowhere near the quality. Disappointing.
Activities: $54, went to see the dolphins in El Morro and visit the middle of the Earth.
Extra: 5 day Galapagos Cruise + 1 day land tour on Isabella Island. Total for two people was $3484. Also spent an extra $436 on extras like entry fees, tips and snorkelling hire. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Itinerary for 3 months in South America

Now that we're on our North America leg I've really come to miss South America. I miss it for all it's uniqueness and vibrancy. We spent three months there in total but this isn't really that long when you consider we visited 6 countries which equates to only about 2 weeks per country. How can you possibly say you've come to understand a place in 2 weeks? I do feel that we managed to cover the most important places to us but there are certainly places we felt we cheated and plan to visit on the next trip. 

Brazil (March 2013)
In total we spent 3 weeks here where we mostly flew from city to city. I think that this was a good amount of time here consider how large the country is. It was the most expensive country we visited so staying too long can really squeeze your budget. We started in Rio and spent 4 days there. It was a great place to start the journey and there was so much to do there. We saw Christ the Redeemer and visited the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. We then made our way by bus to Paraty which was nice but the beach wasn't that great and I would have preferred to have gone to Ilha Grande which we heard many good things from other travellers about the beautiful beaches there. Another bus to the historical town of Ouro Preto where we spent two days, mostly taking photos of churches and walking up hills. We then visited Sao Paulo for four days. This a frenetic and over populated city where we had a great experience meeting some lovely locals but otherwise didn't find much to love about the acutal city. We then took a bus to Bella Horizonte then a flight to Salvador in the Northeast of Brazil. Salvador was one of my favourite cities and we spent 5 days there exploring the Afro-Brazilian culture and spent an extra two days in the small nearby beach towns of Imbassai and Praia do Forte. I'd skip the former but loved the latter, even though it was super touristy. We then flew all the way across to the Cuiaba where we started our 3 day tour into the Pantanal, large wetlands area known for wildlife. Due to it being the wet season (March), this was a dissapointment as there are more chances of seeing Jaguars and other cool animals in the dry season. I wished we'd saved our money instead and went to Bonito instead to see the wild macaws and do the fish swim instead. We then flew to Iguassu Falls and spent one full day on the Brazilian side and the next on the Argentinian side. Do both sides and do the boat ride as well. It's really really fun! Note: We applied for our Brazillian visa's in Australia a month before leaving.

Argentina (March/April)
We spent 8 days only in Buenos Aires which was a good amount of time. We planned on spending some of that time in Mendoza, wine country. But since we absolutely fell in love with the food and culture of BA and don't love wine we ended up going straight from BA to Santiago. This was a 24 hour bus ride but going over the Andes along the way made it feel like more of a scenic tour and definitely recommended even if going through Chilean customs takes ages. We would love to come back one day and see more of Argentina and do Salta and Mendoza as well. We hear they are both lovely. But I would still go back to BA for some more amazing steak. Note: You have to pay a $100 reciprocacy fee and print out the receipt before entering the country.

Chile (April)
We spent 12 days in Chile, 5 of those in Pucon. Stunning volcanoes and lakes with amazing friends, we had such a good time and I just wish we had more time to go further South to Patagonia and do the W trail in Torres del Paine but I hear that is a trip in itself and by April it would have been way to cold for unprepared travelers that  we are. We also spent four days in the northern tip in San Pedro doing daily tours in the Atacama desert. Our favourites were the salt lagoons and the Space tour. From there we started our four day tour to the Bolivian salt flats.

Bolivia (April)
I couldn't really enjoy Bolivia due to altitude sickness but the tour to the salt flats had some stunning scenery and of course the salt flats themselves are so special. We also then spent 2 days in La Paz and 2 days in Lake Titicaca. This was enough and I really can't say I overly enjoyed htis part of the trip.

Peru (May)
We spent just under 3 weeks in Peru and honestly I could have spent more. Such a stunning country with so much to do and great on the budget too. We spent two days acclimatising in Cusco before doing a 5 days Inca Trail trek with G adventures which was hard but infinitely rewarding. Another two days in Cusco afterwads recuperating and then two days in Lima, exploring the ceviche in Miraflores. We spent two days in Ica visiting the oasis town of Huacachina and sandboarding (exhilirating) and one day in Paracas looking at sea lions and penguins. Then another two days back in Lima, this time in Barranco district which is a bit less touristy and more interesting then Miraflores. 

Ecuador (May)
A 28 hour bus from Lima is the city of Guayaquil where we booked our Galapagos tour. This was such a stress point for me but worth it. We originally wanted to squeeze Columbia in before we went to Galapagos but realised that we wouldn't really be giving Columbia the days it deserved plus we weren't sure how long it would take to find a good Galapagos tour and didn't want to risk not having enough time to do it. So Columbia went on the 'next time' list. We spent two days organising the tour, one exploring the city and two days in Playas on the beach and checking our dolphins in the mangroves at El Morro. Honestly, with all the amazing wildlife and beaches that awaited at Galapagos we could have skipped Playas but we had time to kill. We spent 2 weeks in Ecuador but the best part was the Galapagos, the only major tour we did that not only met but far exceeded expectations. We spent 7 days at Galapagos with two of those in transit on flights. This was the perfect amount of time that allowed us to see everything without getting excessively expensive and repetitive. We only had one full day in Quito to visit the equator for a science lesson before we flew out to Los Angeles, USA.