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Her Gypsy Soul- Our 1972 Vintage Airstream Renovation Project

by Wednesday, June 28, 2017

With the trending tiny house movement, and the popularity of living a nomadic lifestyle in recent years, renovations of vintage airstreams to live in, has been all the rage. I happen to have jumped on that bandwagon too, sort of.  I do not necessarily want to live in an airstream, but I must admit, the thought has crossed my mind.  Can you imagine the money we’d save? Wow! But can you imagine how crazy we’d go? lol thewanderlustyogi.net

However, what I did want to do was find a vintage airstream and renovate it. I wanted to keep some of its original character and  charm, while also updating it with my own personal touches and adding a few modern upgrades. That way, we would be able to travel throughout the USA in a fun and quirky style, while saving money on hotels and being able to bring along our cherished fur babies.

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Gabby and Bernie. Our two Boston Terrier dogs.

Now, I’m not a person who likes campers or camping even (I’ve gone a total of three times my entire life), but with airstream, it’s totally different. I fell in love with these shiny, moving milk cans forever ago and for some reason I don’t even look at them as a camper. I especially went gaga over them when browsing through the amazing renovations people have posted on Pinterest and YouTube.  (If you do the same, you might catch the vintage airstream fever?  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

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I was so inspired by these makeovers, I just had to do one myself. I also thought about how I travel all around the world, but haven’t experienced hardly any of my own amazing country. I’ve never even seen the Grand Canyon! By having a house on wheels, it’d be  like having my very own mobile airbnb. We could go anywhere the road could take us!   And last month, that’s just what my husband and I did!thewanderlustyogi.net

Here’s Our Story:

For the last two years we have been searching off and on for a vintage airstream to renovate. On our quest we quickly learned that they are really expensive, hard to find in our area, and many are in far worse condition than we wanted to take on. We also learned that airstream literally has a cult following, making it even harder to find these much sought after unique relics, that look like a cross between an airplane and a submarine.

The criteria for the airstream we were looking for had to be; under $10,000, not completely gutted and within a few hours from where we live.  This was an almost impossible checklist, until last month.

One evening while watching tv and browsing the web for airstreams, we stumbled upon one that seemed to meet our requirements. It was located only a few towns away, the pictures of the trailer showed it to be in pretty decent condition, but the price they were asking was $11,000.  This was a little over budget, but I decided to go check it out anyway.

The next day I drove to the location and toured this 1972 Sovereign Land Yacht 31 foot beaut! She needed a little TLC and some upgrades, but overall, she was in good shape for being forty-five years old (same age as me, and I hope the same assessment 😉 ).  I immediately broke out my phone and took a little footage to show my hubby.  From what he could see in the video, he thought it was in acceptable condition too, but the price tag was a bit higher than we wanted to spend, especially factoring in renovation expenses.thewanderlustyogi.net

So, I had to work some magic.

I took note of all the things that were wrong with the airstream. Some examples were, the awning was missing, the A/C needed to be replaced and there was evidence of past water damage in the bathroom. I made sure to point out all of these things to the owner, and found out that this has been for sale now for eight months, so I’m sure our interest motivated him a tad more than it would have a few months back. How did we miss this listing all these months? 

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Her Gypsy Soul in the Airstream of Nashua parking lot, just sitting there waiting for us to take her home.

Anyway, my husband never even saw it in person and here we were, putting in a very low-ball offer of $7,000.  We knew that was way too low, but we wanted to throw it out there anyway to see if he would bite at all.

He came back and told us that he could not let it go for that low, stating that he was originally asking $13,500, had just put in all new electrical, plumbing, replaced the bathroom floor and sink, got a new stove-top, new tires and bought a new door lock that ran him $500.  However, he said he could work with us a little.

After a bit of haggling, we came to an agreement of $9,000 AS IS.

And she was ours!

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airstream keys and owner’s manual

We took her home, gave her a name (Her Gypsy Soul) and started mapping out our renovation plan. The very first thing that had to go was this ugly red table that looked like it came from a pizza parlor. Nope, that was not the vision I wanted at all.  I wanted the style to be comfy and cozy with a sort of bohemian/ shabby chic feel and everything light in color.

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the ugly red pizza parlor table I had to remove

My husband was the planner of the technical things, such as being sure the water heater was in good working condition, installing flooring, water sealing the entire trailer,  sealing the windows and door, adding a back-splash in the kitchen, changing out all the outlets and painting (although my mother-in-law and I did most of that). He also had to learn all about the black water tank, how to dump it and so forth, discovered that we don’t have a gray water tank because of how old she was,  and learned how we could get a tote and store portable one instead. All I can say is thank goodness for YouTube tutorials. They were a lifesaver. I think we watched every single airstream video that was ever made! It really helped us understand the workings of our old gal and how we could upgrade things.thewanderlustyogi.netthewanderlustyogi.net

 

 

I was the planner of the more fun part,  interior decorating. I planned the design layout and the decor, which was so much more challenging than I anticipated.  I had to remind myself over and over how small the space was, how the weight of items was an important consideration (the lighter, the better),   how the walls are curved  like an airplane, and when in transport, breakable things wont survive.

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Had to use like 10 coats of primer over everything before painting this entire girl white (Valspar semi-gloss in Hush, Hush)

We worked tirelessly for a month on nights and weekends and gave ourselves a due date for when we wanted to have her completed and road ready. We thought a fitting and kind of ironic day would be my 45th birthday, June 17th. We could celebrate her and my 45th year together on our shared maiden voyage.

Since this would be our first camping trip in a vintage RV, we thought it would be best to not go too far,  just in case.   So we chose our local seacoast.  This would be beneficial for a few reasons:

  1. If anything went wrong we would have help nearby.
  2. My adult kids could join us, even if they didn’t want to sleep overnight.
  3. We could host a Father’s Day cookout for our dads at our camp site by the beach.

What a perfect way to kick off summer!

The time crunch was getting close and we almost thought we wouldn’t be ready in time, but luckily we finished!  Although there were little things here and there that we still wanted to do, she was ready enough, to set out on the open road.thewanderlustyogi.net

June 17th came and as I was shopping at the grocery store to pick up cookout foods, snacks and drinks to stock the airstream, my husband was at home packing last-minute items and hitching up Her Gypsy Soul to his truck.  To his horror, while connecting the hitch he noticed severe rust on his 2004 Ford F150, and when he attached the two he heard a loud crunch noise!

He knew he had some rust, and was planning on upgrading to a newer truck soon, but had no idea how much, especially there!

I got home and noticed an odd look on his face and immediately asked him what was wrong.  He explained what he discovered and said it wouldn’t be safe for him to haul the airstream with his truck and he didn’t think we could go!!thewanderlustyogi.net

“What?? OMG!”  This was so unexpected and I was in disbelief.  “Was all that hard work for nothing?  And what were we going to do?”  I mean, my son was already at the beach waiting for us (him and his girlfriend were joining us to celebrate).  My daughter was coming up for just the day too, we had a Father’s Day cookout planned for the next day,  and it was MY BIRTHDAY!  Such a bummer!

So, we had our cool vintage airstream all pimped out and ready to go, and realize it may never leave our driveway, ever!

I walked into the house in kind of a daze.  “Should I call my son and tell him the weekend is cancelled? Should we try to rent a truck? Should we try to borrow a truck?  Was getting this airstream a mistake, since now we have no way of actually going anywhere with it?   All of these thoughts were flooding my head and it triggered an instant migraine. I went to my bed and laid down, hoping this wasn’t really happening.

Then, a new plan was made.

Thankfully my wonderful in-laws offered to let us use my father-in-law’s truck.  He wasn’t using it and was already up at the beach too, but was driving their jeep. We would be meeting them also the next day for Father’s Day.  Crisis diverted! Well, at least for this trip anyway.

We finally made it to our site, later than we originally planned, but we still made it!

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Her Gypsy Soul connected to my father-in-law’s truck

My daughter came for the day, but couldn’t sleep over because she had to work in the morning. My husband, myself, my son and his girlfriend, plus my two Boston Terrier pups, all had our first overnight in our vintage airstream.

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We made it!!

 It was so much fun!

My dogs have never been able to vacation with us and now with Her Gypsy Soul, we can take them along with us sometimes.  Not to mention, they absolutely loved it!

The following day we celebrated Father’s Day with my dad and my in-laws.  That night,  just my husband, pups and myself slept over and we left the following morning.

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Me and my dog Bernie hanging out with my dad on Father’s Day at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, Massachusetts

It was a very nice weekend getaway celebrating with our family. 

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watching the sunset at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, Massachusetts

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Overall, our trial run went great.  All except the truck fiasco, that is! We took note of all the things that we forgot and things that we might change.  For instance, the papasan lounger chair I chose, now that we used it, isn’t quite as practical as we thought.  It looks pretty, but it is bulky and we discovered it’s hard for people to sit in, especially my dad!  I ended up taking it out and making a little reading nook in my bedroom with it.  It actually looks better there.  We are thinking that we could put a small futon or a twin trundle-bed in that spot instead eventually.thewanderlustyogi.net

I think the more we use Her Gypsy Soul, the more we will get a feel of what our style of camping will be? With experience, we will learn what things we absolutely need and what things we really could do without. Working out the kinks and having all the necessities you don’t think about, takes time. But, we will get there.

And as far as how and when we will ever get to use her again?……

I am happy to report that my husband just upgraded his truck to a 2015 Ford F150-platinum, and it will haul Her Gypsy Soul with ease.  He is super psyched because he wasn’t going to do this until winter and now, this summer, he is driving a beautiful new truck with massaging, air-conditioned seats! Are you kidding me? 

I can’t help but to wonder if this was all in his master plan. 😉

But seriously,  this was a lot of work, a little stressful, but so much fun too! We have big plans for awesome adventures in Her Gypsy Soul and look forward to making many happy memories traveling our beautiful country with our dogs.

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tuckered out pups

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Bernie up and ready for a new day!

If this is something you are considering or have any questions about our 1972 vintage airstream renovation project, feel free to reach out to me.  I’d love to help in any way I can.  Just remember, when you become an airstream owner, you become a member of a very exclusive club, and we feel very lucky to be in it.

 

It’s not camping, its glamping!

 

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My hubby’s new whip!! And I’ll share his favorite airstream saying, “It’s not a camper, it’s a land yacht!” ha ha ha

 

 

BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS

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kitchen BEFORE

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kitchen DURING

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kitchen AFTER

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living area BEFORE

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living area AFTER

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bedroom BEFORE

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bedroom AFTER

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bathroom BEFORE

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bathroom AFTER

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bathroom AFTER

 

 

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Things to Know Before Going to Cuba for Americans

by Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Big changes between America and Cuba have come since President Obama and President Raul lifted the embargo December 14, 2014, with plans to normalize relations after more than 55 years as adversaries. The news intrigued curious Americans who wanted to be the first to visit, before this frozen in time, island country in the Caribbean, is morphed into a modernized version of its former self.  Although it is now legal, with restrictions,  there are things to know before going to Cuba for Americans.thewanderlustyogi.net

I just returned from my first visit to Cuba and I wanted to share what I learned while it was still fresh in my mind. Cuba is so much larger than I had imagined so I wasn’t able to see even one-fourth of it, but I did spend time in Old Havana and Varadero, which are probably the two most popular areas to visit.

Here is a list of some things to know before going to Cuba for Americans.

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ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Just because it is now legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, doesn’t mean any American can just jump on the next flight from Miami with a suitcase and passport in hand. There are still firm restrictions for travel to Cuba for Americans and tourist activities remains prohibited. Americans who wish to travel to Cuba must fall into one of the 12 category reasons authorized by the Cuban government.

  1. family visits
  2. official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain governmental organizations
  3. journalistic activity
  4. professional research or professional meetings
  5. educational activities, including people-to-people exchanges open to everyone
  6. religious activities
  7. public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. support for the Cuban people
  9. humanitarian projects
  10. activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  11. exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  12. certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines

I used journalistic activity because of my travel blog, but most use educational activities or people-to-people. When getting the visa documents at the airport, the reservationist handed me the paper to fill out and told me to just choose #5. I thought it was strange because she clearly had no idea if I fell into that category.  The airline workers seemed as if it was just routine to choose that category for literally everyone and it was all very informal.  I, on the other hand, was kind of freaking out that I should have not used journalistic activities now, but instead used educational activities. I was going to change it, but I already used journalistic activities when purchasing my plane ticket online and was told to “stick with your story”.  And most importantly, whatever you do, to never, ever say your visit was for tourism, if asked. My husband kept joking that if they asked him he was going to say for smuggling.  I was going to kill him! This is not a joking matter, especially in this still sensitive time of transition. I also wasn’t aware that the visa for entry into Cuba was $100.00. I did know that they require everyone to get Cuban health insurance, which is $25.00, but most airlines cover the cost in your ticket price.

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Before I left, I spoke with a lot other travel bloggers and friends and family who have already gone to Cuba and they all said its super easy to get in, the only issue may be coming back into the United States, that you could be questioned by customs and immigration, but most likely you won’t. Lucky us, on our return, we were asked!

 

This is how it went;

immigration officer: “What were you doing in Cuba?’

me:  “journalistic activities”

immigration officer: “What were your reporting on?”

me (gulp): “my husband and I run a travel blog.”

immigration officer: “Okay, did you bring any tobacco or alcohol back with you?”

my husband: “Yes, a box of cigars (starting to open his suitcase to show him)

immigration officer (to my husband): “No worries, you don’t have to show me. Welcome home.”

 

Phew.  I nearly shit my pants! Within those few seconds thoughts spun in my head, “I should have just changed it to educational activities, damn it!”, ” I’m going to be fined!! Ahh!”. “OMG! I’m going to Cuban prison!!” But thankfully, I was just freaking out for no reason. He was just going through the customary questions and wasn’t making a big deal about it.  I was! So, my tip to you, just choose category 5, everyone else does. Since it’s the most common category chosen (seems like the only one), you probably won’t get asked a thing.thewanderlustyogi.net

 

 

MONEY

When it comes to money, cash is king. You won’t find any places in this country that will accept American credit or debit cards, so keep your VISA and MASTERCARD at home. With that said, keep in mind that when you try to exchange USD to their currency (CUC), they will charge you a 10% fee. The best way to avoid this is to exchange your USD to CAD or EURO before you leave the States. The conversion rate is better and you won’t be slammed with that fee on top of it.

Another thing to consider when it comes to money is because plastic or USD isn’t taken in Cuba, you have to carry the amount of cash you will need for your entire trip with you. I admit, this was very difficult to figure out how much to bring since we didn’t really know the prices of things and the amount can vary so much depending if you stay in hotels or casa particulars, if you like to go on tours, if you want to buy souvenirs like cigars and rum, if you want to travel to a lot of different areas, if you dine in hotel chains or paladars, if you want to sip on mojitos everyday? All of these things need to be considered so you don’t end up penniless and stranded for a ride back to the airport on your last day. Lots of planning and budgeting must be done beforehand.  One valuable tip to help alleviate bringing large sums of money is to book accommodations in advance. Although you could save money by just showing up and renting a casa particular for around $30 CUC/night, which are virtually everywhere,  for added peace of mind, this can be done through AirBnB and a few online companies. You won’t find hotels on your normal go to travel websites such as http://travelocity.com, http://priceline.com or http://expedia.com (not yet anyway), but in my research I did find a few that will work with US credit cards.  We booked through http://elvoline.com and http://skoosh.com through a website all about Cuba called Cuba- Junky(http://cubajunky.com).  Make a point to browse over their website before you go. There is so much great information in it.  Please note, hotel rates in Cuba are extremely high and if they have a 5 star rating in Cuba, they most likely will more like a 3 star in the US, Canada or Europe. In Old Havana, they run between $400-$500 USD/ night for a standard room, bare minimum with no view. Ouch!

SAFETYthewanderlustyogi.net

After reading the last section you may be thinking that it could be unsafe walking around Cuba with a bunch of cash on your person. I instantly thought of that too. I thought that by being an American, the locals would know this and we would be a walking target for getting pick-pocketed. Thankfully, from word of mouth of other Americans, talking with the locals and my personal experience, that was not an issue at all. In fact, Cuba is extremely safe and has hardly any crime. The first few days while strolling along  alleys of slum neighborhoods, I had a hard time not thinking the worst, especially at night.thewanderlustyogi.net However, once the culture shock wore off and nobody harassed us, I understood this to be true. Oddly enough when speaking to the many locals, they would ask us why we have so much violent crime in our country and boasted how they are such a safe country with no gangs and a very low crime rate. The irony.thewanderlustyogi.net

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

I traveled to Cuba with my husband who is not as an adventurous traveler as I am. In other words, he is a bit on the high maintenance side. This means he prefers hotel living over AirBnB rentals or homestays. In Cuba, the best and the cheapest way to stay is renting a casa particular, which is a phrase meaning private accommodation or private homestays in Cuba, much like a bed and breakfast. You don’t even need to book them in advance, actually you can’t with most, but some use AirBnb to advertise their place.

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If you are new to AirBnB and want to save $40.00, use this link to book http://www.airbnb.com/c/jedith

There are signs virtually everywhere you look for rooms for rent and they will only run you about $30 CUC/night in Old Havana, and even cheaper outside of the city. On the other hand, if you want to stay in hotel, you are looking to spend easily $400+/ night. These extremely high western prices for hotel rooms don’t exactly give you western standard accommodations. Most hotels are very run down and out-dated and only have the bare essentials.

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This is the symbol for casa particulars where you can rent a room. They are everywhere.

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The pool at night at Parque Central, Havana, Cuba. We would have loved to stay here, but there was no availability. We waited until last minute to book because we weren’t sure what kind of accommodations we were going to choose.  I think it’s the nicest hotel in Old Havana. It is an Iberostar property.

  • The positive of staying in a casa particular is saving so much money and experiencing the true culture of Cuba. Most casa particulars offer dirt cheap meals too and you get to immerse with the locals.
  • The negative of staying in a casa particular is you will not have wifi, won’t have a television, and probably wont have air-conditioning either.
  • The positive of staying in a hotel is you will usually get breakfast included, television, wifi (with a charge of $2.00-$4.50 per hour), air-conditioning, restaurants, and maybe even a pool. Also, if you prefer booking ahead of time, this is the best way to do it. Furthermore, if you book ahead you will now only have to bring spending money with you.
  • The negative for staying in a hotel is the high cost for subpar standard rooms and not getting to know the locals.

In hindsight, I wish we would have stayed in a casa particular. Maybe if I go again without my husband, I will?

FOOD AND HEALTHthewanderlustyogi.net

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If you visit Cuba, you may have a hard time finding foods you like if you are kosher or a vegetarian. Their main source of protein is pork, with more pork on top of pork. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but the menus have numerous pork dishes and you will find whole roasted pigs at every restaurant and paladar you visit.  A paladar is a restaurant run by self-employers, unlike a hotel chain or a government-run restaurant.

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Eating at my first paladar called Europa. The location was great (right on a main tourist street called Obispo), and had extremely low prices, but the food was just okay.

If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to avoid them, or only go to ones that are recommended, because you will not be positive of food handling safety. However, if you aren’t too concerned and want an authentic, cheap, Cuban meal, it may be your best option.  If you don’t like pork, you may like one of the national dishes of Cuba made from beef (more commonly lamb at paladars) called ropa vieja.  It is made with shredded meat, a tomato based sauce and vegetables. It’s usually served with rice and beans.  I tried this at two places. The first was at a paladar and it was very chewy and tasteless, but then I had it again at Parque Central Hotel (http://hotelparquecentral-cuba.com) and it was delicious. (Make sure you visit this hotel and go to the rooftop pool and restaurant. It’s a great way to take a break from the heat and chaos down below and it has an amazing view of the El Capitolio and the city. This is true for the Saratoga Hotel(http://hotel-saratoga.com) as well, which is where we stayed on our first night.) 

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my husband at the rooftop pool of Hotel Saratoga (where we stayed our first night)

Vegetarians may be disappointed with salad offerings. Most of their vegetables are canned and salads are mainly made of chopped cabbage, some shredded beets, green olives and ham. So if you do order a salad, make sure you mention,  no meat. The same goes for the fruit. They generally have canned fruit and the fresh fruit doesn’t look too appealing.  We saw this at all of the hotels and restaurants we went to and were very surprised. I would have thought in a tropical location there would be an abundance, but this wasn’t the case. They did have some street vendors selling fruits and vegetables but there were very slim pickings.

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vegetable stand in Cuba

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If you like protein bars, snacks or nuts, you will not find them anywhere. Same goes for hair conditioner and sunblock.  If you can find them, they will be super expensive. If you know you will want these items, make sure you pack them with you.  Also remember like any 3rd world country, it is not safe to drink the water. Always use bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. Keep in mind, if you are drinking coffee with milk in a paladar, they use unpasteurized milk, but hotels will have pasteurized milk. Same rule applies to ice as with water in paladars, so stick to no ice or canned drinks, but in hotels you will be fine.

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ropa vieja

TRANSPORTATION

Just like any big city, Old Havana has taxis everywhere you go. What’s so special about Cuba is you may end up in a classic 50’s car. These cool cars make you feel like you are in a time warp. The reason they are still around is because of the embargo with the United States. Since 1961, during the Cold War, the United States blocked any US companies from trading with Cuba, leaving Cuban people holding on to their vintage American cars, patching them up and using any parts they can get from other countries to keep them running.  Walking around Old Havana you feel like you are in a classic car museum. It was one of my favorite things about Cuba. You will see newer Japanese and German cars, but Fords and Pontiacs will be from the 1940’s and 1950’s.thewanderlustyogi.net

If you are spending the day strolling around Old Havana, you find out quickly how large the city is. For a fun and inexpensive way to get around you can take the hop-on-hop-off bus for $10 CUC/ per person/per day. They also have them in Varadero for $5  CUC per day/ per person. It’s especially fun getting on top of the open air double-decker bus. Keep your eyes peeled for low branches.

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Cuba coco taxis

They also have horse-drawn carriages and little yellow taxis called Cuba coco taxis, prices range depending on how far you go.thewanderlustyogi.net

There are many places to visit in Cuba, each with its own unique charm. People don’t realize until visiting Cuba, just how large it really is. I surely didn’t. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and it is a little smaller than Pennsylvania. It is 760 miles long and 55 miles wide.  It will take you 12 hours to drive from one side to the other. Because of this, I wasn’t able to go to two places I had originally planned on.  Trinidad (a colonial town that was highly recommended and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988), which was 4 hours away by car, and I could have gone to Vinales (the valley where they grow tobacco and was told how gorgeous it is) since it wasn’t too far from Old Havana (could be visited for a day tour), but we ran out of time.  We were also shorted by one day due to snow and delays from de-icing our plane.

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Old Havana, Cuba

Besides Old Havana, we split the week in half, spending three days in Varadero at their pristine white sand beaches and perfectly turquoise ocean water, which was a two-hour drive from Havana. Going there you will not find any culture, as it is void of locals, but full of Canadian and European tourists and all-inclusive resorts. I knew this before visiting the area, but we wanted to spend a few days relaxing on the beach and getting some much-needed sunshine, especially coming from two major blizzards in our home state.

 

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swimming at the beach of Royalton Hicacos Resort, Varadero, Cuba

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Walking on the beach at Royalton Hicacos Resort, Varadero, Cuba

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My husband taking it all in, sitting on a beach bed at Royalton Hicacos Resort, Varadero, Cuba

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Waiting hours for check-in at Royalton Hicacos Resort, Varadero, Cuba. This is the running theme everywhere in Cuba. The service is very slow, or otherwise known as “island style”. We waited for 4.5 hours to check into our last hotel in the Miramar area of Havana (this is the fancy area where all the embassies are and where Obama stayed on his visit), at a place called Memories Miramar, La Habana. I won’t even go into the details about that place. Let’s just say an Australian couple we met at check-in told us they call it “bad Memories”

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If you weren’t prepared with some knowledge on the distance of places, not to mention the high expense for the transportation to and from them, you could be very disappointed. Mapping out your itinerary ahead of time may help you organize your trip better.

Here are a few examples of typical cab fare from Old Havana to popular cities:

Old Havana to Varadero is $120 CUC one way

Old Havana to Trinidad is $160 CUC one way

Old Havana to Havana airport is $30 CUC

Old Havana to Vinales is $100 CUC one way

Old Havana to Santa Clara is $140  CUC one way

To save money on transportation, you may choose to use their bus system. Taking the Viazul bus from Havana to Varadero is only $10.00  CUC, from Havana to Trinidad its only $25.00 CUC. (To see their schedule you can check out their website at http://viazul.com, they leave  four times per day to many cities nation wide.) This is a huge difference, but don’t forget that you need cab fare to and from both bus terminals and they are not always right where you want to be when you get to your destination. Also, it takes longer and you will not get to make any stops if you see anything of interest on your way.  We were going to take the Viazul bus from Havana to Varadero, but once we got to the bus station, we were approached by a cab driver who was willing to make a deal with us and another couple. We ended up sharing a cab for $20 CUC each ($80 CUC total), and was delivered straight to the front door of our hotel.  The cab driver was also kind enough to help find a casa particular for the other couple who didn’t have a reservation anywhere. It was high season and at first he had no luck finding a room at the first few places we checked, but low and behold, he found something for them. So remember this if you have no hotel booked ahead of time and need a place to stay. The cab drivers always can find a room for you and are happy to help. I think they get a finder’s fee for it too? (another way to help the Cuban people).  It may have been a little more money but when we figured the $25 CUC we would probably spent to and from each bus terminal and the $10 CUC each for the bus equaling a total of $70 CUC, what was another $10 CUC for the convenience? Plus we made friends with a really nice Serbian couple and talked the entire ride. They may even come for a visit to stay with us in New Hampshire. They love skiing and are planning a trip to New York City soon.thewanderlustyogi.net

One place that is a must-see on your visit to Cuba is the hottest new spot in Havana. It is Fabrica De Arte Cubano (www.fac.cu), which is an art museum/club/ restaurant.  There is no dress code and you will find people of all ages there with a mix of locals and tourists. It’s super trendy and seems like something you would find in New York City. The place opens at 8:00 pm, but be sure to arrive early because the lines get extremely long.  Also, we didn’t get to do this, but there is a restaurant right next door that is supposed to be good, and if you dine there beforehand, you get VIP entrance. It is an old peanut factory that offers Caribbean, Latin and Cuban food and it is called El Cocinero (elconcinero.cuba). Reservation is needed. thewanderlustyogi.net

Another thing worth mentioning, (even though I didn’t try it myself) is La Guarida restaurant (laguarida.com). By word of mouth, it is supposed to be the best restaurant in Havana. I heard about this and knew it was going to be very popular so I would need a reservation. I booked it for the last night of our trip.  During our visit we weren’t having the best of luck with food, so I was even more excited to end my week with a delicious meal.  When we arrived the hostess said she could not find my reservation. I told her I booked it online last week and she went back to check her computer. Still nothing.  At the same time there was another couple from Ireland who ran into the same issue. We were all so disappointed. We talked to them and they told us about a cool new art place and restaurant they were told about (you know the one).  Then, we bumped into a young American girl from Minnesota who asked if we were eating there. We told her our story ad she said the same happened to her, but she ended up getting a table on another day.  She was visiting Cuba for 18 days and will be spending quite some time in Havana with her husband and baby, Juddah. She said the meal was so good and they only one she really enjoyed since she has been there, that she booked lunches for the rest of the week there, since they are much easier to get.  She loved the place so much, she changed the location of her casa particular purposely to be next door to it! If that’s not a good recommendation then I don’t know what is? So, obviously booking online for a reservation is a joke, but if you go there in person right when you arrive, they will probably have availability to dine there at least once on your visit.

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on the stairs of La Guarida before we found out we didn’t have a reservation

I didn’t cover a whole lot on Varadero, Cuba and the reason is because its your typical all-inclusive beach resort area.  You really wouldn’t know if you were in Cuba, Bahamas, Dominican Republic or Mexico. If you love white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water, this is a perfect stop for you. If you want a ton of culture and history, you won’t find it here.  We spent three days at the Royalton Hicacos Resort( http://hotelroyaltonhicacos.com). It was said to be the best resort in Varadero. It was nice, but if this was the best one, I can’t even imagine the worst one. It used to be a Sandals property, but they sold it to Blue Diamond resorts company. Our time there fell on Valentine’s Day, so it was really romantic at sunset on the beach.

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Sunset on Valentine’s Day at Royalton Hicacos Resort, Varadero, Cuba

They even offered a special Valentine’s dinner on the beach for an added fee.  We didn’t do that because the food at the resort wasn’t good.  I actually was supposed to teach yoga there through a company called NRG2GO (http://nrg2go.net) two years ago, but at the last-minute the company cancelled because they had a problem getting me a work visa.  I was so disappointed because this was right at the beginning of Americans being able to travel to Cuba and I thought this was my in, but due to this, it was too complicated for them to want to deal with. They ended up hiring a Canadian yoga instructor instead.

After a few days of eating the lackluster buffet-style meals at the resort, we wanted to get off the compound and find a restaurant in town, and explore Varadero a little. We took the hop-on-hop-off bus to the center. There were shops and horse-drawn carriages, a few restaurants and bars and of course, the beach.  We stood in front of a restaurant reading it’s menu and we were stopped by a nice Canadian man who is always there for business.  He noticed that we were looking for a place to eat and suggested the best place called Varadero 60 (http://varadero60.com). He said it may not be as good as food in the States, but it’s the closest you will find in Varadero. I’m so glad he suggested it because he was right and if he didn’t tell us we would have never found it since it’s location was on a back street a few blocked away from the main road. Also, we would have never gotten a reservation because it is so popular, but because we went so early, at 5:00pm, the dinner crowd hadn’t come yet. Their reservations start at 6:00pm. We had a lovely meal and at the end, they gave me a red rose. It was a nice touch.

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Varadero 60 restaurant in Varadero, Cuba

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After we ate a nice meal at Varadero 60, we went to the Beatles Bar to hear some live music.  It was a really cool place and if you are a Beatles fan, you will love it!

 

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The Beatles Bar, Varadero, Cuba

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hanging out at the Beatles bar in Varadero, Cuba

Then, we obviously had to go check out the beach. It was just as pretty as the beach at our resort.

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town beach in Varadero, Cuba

Cuba is an amazing place to visit. It’s like nothing I have ever seen.  It is a mix of old-world charm, rumba music, dance, art, history, culture, classic cars, cigars, beaches, valleys, colonial towns and friendly people, but, there are things to know before going to Cuba for Americans. I hope I covered the most important ones in this post.  If you are planning on visiting Cuba and have any other questions I’d be happy to help if I can. My biggest piece of advice I can give you,  is to go now,  before there are McDonald’s and Starbuck’s on every corner.

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Varadero, Cuba

 

 

 

 

Sleeping in a Capsule Hotel for one Night: My Out-of-this-World Experience!

by Monday, May 9, 2016

You might be thinking? “How did you end up sleeping in a capsule hotel for one night?” I know. Crazy! It was really simple actually. My daughter and I were traveling on EVA Air (aka the Hello Kitty airline), which is a Taiwan based airline, and we had a 21 hour layover in Taipei on our way to Bali, Indonesia. We wanted to figure out an easy and cheap way to get a little rest, instead of waiting it out in the airport! That would have been horrible, especially having a 15 hour flight to JFK-New York City, once we got to leave Taipei. Ugh!thewanderlustyogi.net
I started to look for a discounted hotel around the airport by using my usual goto sites, like www.kayak.com, www.booking.com and www.agoda.com.  While browsing, I came upon this hotel called, Hey Bear Capsule Hotel. It first caught my eye because of it’s funny child-like name and theme of Teddy bears and other animated animals.  What is it about Taiwan, that everything is cartoony; Hello Kitty airlines, Teddy bear hotels?  Its so funny!  Then, the term “capsule” was something I didn’t quite understand. So, because of my curiosity, I clicked on it.
I started perusing the hotel information and reviews. It appeared to be a hostel type hotel, but the unusual part was it had individual sleep capsules for each guest to sleep in. The reviews were “excellent”, scoring a 9.0  out of 10 and the pictures made me scream with laughter!
As I laid on my hotel bed of our last night in Bali,  searching on my iPhone for a perfect place to stay the next evening, I yelled to my daughter, “I think I found where we are staying tomorrow night in Taipei?” She said, “Okay, where? Is it near the night market?” As I answered, I couldn’t help, but giggle the whole time. ” What do you think about staying in a capsule hotel? We each will get our very own pod or coffin, ha ha ha, and, we not only will have a totally unique hotel stay, but its right near a night market! Do you want me to book it??” My daughter squealed, “YES!!! This is going to be so cool!” So, for $26.00/ per capsule, I booked it!
The next day we took our 5 hour flight from Bali, Indonesia to Taipei, Taiwan. As we prepared for landing, it suddenly occurred to me that we are sleeping in a capsule hotel! This thought made me feel excited and giddy,  but also a little nervous. Not that I was scared to stay at the hotel, but I wondered if I would feel claustrophobic or not like it? In any case, we were only staying one night. I mean, it couldn’t be that bad? It’s a hell of a lot better than sleeping on an airport floor. Been there. Done that. The worst!
Now, I really knew nothing about Taipei. It was never on my list for a place to visit. On a quick overview of the city, I realized that of everything this city has to offer and with our short amount of time we had there, we had to at least;

  1. Go to a night market.

  2. Eat dumplings.

If I did those two things on our quick little layover, I would feel accomplished on my visit.

TAIPEI, TAIWAN:
We got through customs in no time and stepped outside into the taxi line. We noticed that we were not only, the only non-Taiwanese for miles around, but we were also the only English-speaking people around. This could pose for some struggles. Most places I have traveled, someone around me could speak English (the privilege we have as Americans only knowing the Universal language-cringe), especially people in the hospitality business such as taxi drivers, hotel workers and restaurant workers. Not in Taipei! This was going to be so much harder than I thought. I tried to say the name of the hotel to the taxi stand worker, “Hey Bear Capsule Hotel”. Then again slower, (this time just) “Hey Bear”, but for some reason my Boston accent came out full fledge. It does that every once in a while, even though I try my best to control it. (lol) My daughter caught it and she smiled, as to call me out.  She always does that to me and teases me about it. Brat!   I sounded ridiculous and knew I was wasting everyone’s time. He has no clue of what I was saying.  I looked around me, searching for a sign that someone knew what I was saying and could translate it for me. Nope! Not a soul.
Thankfully, for some reason, (something I’ve never noticed before) www.agoda.com, whom I booked the hotel through, had a pop-up message that said,  ‘”show this to a local language speaker to ask for directions”.  It was a picture with Taiwanese writing.  I couldn’t read it of course, but I assumed it was the name and address of the Hey Bear Capsule Hotel. I screen shotted it, just in case.
At last resort, I remembered that I took that screen shot and pulled out my phone and showed the taxi stand man.  He glanced at it quickly and boom, hailed over a taxi, told him where to take us and we were off! Just like that. So, another great tip I learned and wanted to share; for anyone staying in a foreign country that can’t speak the language or even say “hello” in their native tongue-Get your hotel information translated into that country’s language. I don’t know what we would have done? Thank you www.agoda.com. It was a total life-saver!thewanderlustyogi.net

CHECK-IN:
We arrived at Hey Bear Capsule Hotel. It was in a regular building with other businesses. It had eight floors, with the hotel being on the top floor. thewanderlustyogi.netThe elevator doors opened and there was statues of teddy bears and other cute animals at the entrance. We laughed. We continued into a common area room with tables, computers, a coffee machine, a hot water machine (for ramen/tea naturally), video games, and a front desk. We went up to the front desk and was greeted by a young man. He couldn’t speak English at all. I showed him my passport and he filled out some papers, handed me two key cards and smiled. I smiled back and showed myself to the door that had a pink teddy bear on it. It was a male or female dormitory hostel. I presumed I was headed in the right direction. I also saw two young girls walking in that door, using their key card to access it while I was checking in.thewanderlustyogi.net
I took my key card and pressed it near the sensor. It opened. We entered into a locker room, with lockers and a bench, and a door to our right, leading to a bathroom,  and a row of doors to our left, with numbers labeled on each. I looked at my key card and saw that I was 805-1, my daughter’s was 805-2. I looked at the doors and found 805. It was the first door. I used my key card for access and it opened. The room was small with 4 pods on the left and 4 pods on the right. It looked like a space ship or some sort of coffins of the future. This was going to so hilarious!thewanderlustyogi.net
thewanderlustyogi.netWe each found our pod. Mine was on the top (sort of set up like bunk beds) and my daughter’s was in the one directly beneath me. We met a girl named Ivy, who had just arrived too. She had never stayed in a capsule hotel either. We all used our own key cards to access our pods and all of us were chatting and cracking up as we explored our little sleep cubicles.
When you enter, you couldn’t help but notice the blue neon light that felt almost soothing. They also had baby music pumped throughout the place that sounded sort of like a lullaby. I think its to calm you and make you feel sleepy? It’s a little creepy in a way.  I guess it was all part of the ambience?thewanderlustyogi.net

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My daughter in her capsule with iPhone in hand. Shocking!

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Me getting used to the idea that I will be sleeping in this thing!

Each pod had a basket with slippers, a bottled water, remote control (for the TV), headphones and a small towel. The bed was soft and all the linens where white. There was one pillow and underneath the pillow was a white comforter. The pod was equipped with a TV, lighted mirror, outlets for plugs and USB ports, a port for headphones and buttons for different lighting choices (back light, reading light, mirror light etc). Also, there was a button that was to lock your pod.thewanderlustyogi.net
For some reason, seeing the lock button, made my stomach feel a little uneasy.   All I thought about was, “What happens if I lock it and it didn’t open and I was stuck inside!?”  I needed to not think like that. It was going to freak me out.
I first took some video footage and pictures so that I could share this unique hotel experience with my friends, family, and my readers, but then thought it would be a good idea to see how it was going to feel, really sleeping in this thing.thewanderlustyogi.net
I laid down and pulled the blanket over me. I put the light on back light because that seemed the most like a night-light. I put the TV on and put the headphones on. Lastly, I hesitantly closed the capsule door until I heard a click. I checked it. Yep, it was definitely locked. My heart started beating a little faster. Let me just press the button to be sure it opens. I pressed it. The door made a click noise. I reached over to slide the door and it wouldn’t open! I tried again. Still nothing. I started to panic a little, but then after my third attempt, it opened. Yikes! That was a little nerve-wracking, but it was all good. “I think I’m just being a little paranoid?”,  I say to myself.
The bed felt very comfy and since I was so tired anyway,  I didn’t think I would have any trouble sleeping in this capsule at all (as long as I didn’t think about the door locking too much). The size felt bigger than you’d think and mostly anyone under six feet tall would fit perfectly fine inside with plenty of room to move around.
HOTEL/HOSTEL AMENITIES:
Besides our individual pods, we also had access to a common area that had tables and seats and computers, a bathroom that was equipped with showers, dressing rooms, mirrored vanities and restroom (Eastern-style and Western-style options-thank goodness!). Each capsule also had an assigned locker to keep your belongings in. The pod would be way too squishy if you had to store all your luggage in it with you.thewanderlustyogi.net thewanderlustyogi.netthewanderlustyogi.net
The one thing that stood out by far was the cleanliness of this hotel. It was absolutely meticulous and there was always someone cleaning the whole time we were there. It was not only clean, but was very modern as well. Like I said earlier,  you feel like you are in a space ship!  Its ultra-new age! The hotel itself, just opened in 2016.

CHECK OUT:
Additionally, the staff members at Hey Bear Capsule Hotel were very friendly, even if we mainly only communicated by hand gestures and smiles. The owner was a sweet women, who spoke English, and was very excited for us to recommend Hey Bear Capsule Hotel to our friends and family and she asked if we would come back. We told her we loved it, thought it was so fun, complimented the cleanliness, and even bought T-shirts of the hotel, as a keepsake. Our flight wasn’t until much later than check out, and she was kind enough to let us store our bags there until we left for the airport.thewanderlustyogi.net

Overall, sleeping in a capsule hotel for one night was a unique and fun experience that I will never forget. I’m not sure if I would recommend it for all travelers, especially for an extended period of time, for people with confinement issues (claustrophobia), for an older traveler, for someone traveling with small children, or if you are trying to have a romantic night’s stay (aka honeymoon) It’s one person per capsule.  However, if you are a free-spirit, young and able, love adventure, trying new things and not afraid of small spaces; this is surely something you will want to try at least once in your life! I never thought I would ever find myself sleeping in a capsule hotel for one night, but my experience was out-of-this-world!

Do you think you could ever sleep in a capsule hotel?

On a side note: Taipei, Taiwan was a fun city to visit with super friendly locals and would be a foodie’s delight.  We felt extremely safe and would recommend it for a female solo traveler.  We did go to a night market and ate dumplings. Two thumbs up for both! Now that I spent, almost a day there, I wish we could have stayed longer.  I hope to be able to go back some day.

Before You Rent a Car in Costa Rica: READ THIS!

by Thursday, February 18, 2016

I  just got back from Costa Rica a few weeks ago and there were many things I wanted to share about my experience. However there was one component that was most pressing. It’s in regards to renting a car in Costa Rica. From my experience and first hand observations, I wanted to inform travelers to consider not renting a car when visiting Costa Rica.  This may sound like an overstatement and must make you wonder why I feel the need to say this or even suggest this? To better clarify, I came up with ten reasons you shouldn’t rent a car in Costa Rica.

This is the one topic that came up continuously on my trip to Costa Rica and what my travel companions said I must share with people.

We rented a car because we knew we would be exploring many areas and figured it was the most economic and easiest way to get around. Boy were we ever in for a surprise. Even right from the start there were unexpected issues.


10 REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T RENT A CAR IN COSTA RICA

1.There are hidden fees at car rental companies in Costa Rica.

Before heading to Costa Rica and planning on renting a car, I was aware that it was highly suggested to get the extra insurance when doing so.  Thus, while booking my car rental through Expedia, I opted for the extra insurance, which was another $11.00/day. This was no big deal I thought. The price for the car rental was only $7.00 per day (which I thought had to be an error because it was so cheap), so when you add the extra insurance, it still only came to $18.00/day. I usually spend around $35.00/day for a car rental, therefore I thought the price was great and the extra sense of security would be worth it. However, when we got to the car rental place, that all changed.

They told us extra insurance or any insurance, for that matter, from a company in the USA  did not cover for anything in Costa Rica. What? How is that even possible and why would they offer it then? This is one of the hidden fees that I feel is so wrong. They use this loop-hole to pressure you into buying extra insurance, through them, and propose that you also give a $500.00 flat fee, to cover anything, which is (btw) non-refundable. So much for the great deal I thought I was getting! This was supposed to be $50.00 (for the car rental)+$77.00 (added insurance)= $127.00. I knew that was too good to be true. It was.  

After we said we didn’t want to cough up the non-refundable  additional $500.00, he told us, then he would  have to hold $2,500.00 on a credit card in case of damages.  So basically, even their insurance covered nothing! That was on top of my extra insurance through Expedia and my extra insurance through them!  It seemed completely ridiculous!

We ended up spending $408.00 for the week for all the added fees, GPS, hotspot, and extra insurance through them, and they held $2,500.00 which was released 48 hours after the car return. I really don’t understand how they can advertise such a cheap price on the internet, when it’s a total lie. This is even worse if you are a budget traveler. We saw four young backpacker guys renting a car at the same time as us. When they were explained all the hidden fees, especially the $2,500.00,  they were flipping out. That was all of their money. They didn’t have a credit cards, only debit cards. This could absolutely ruin someone’s vacation if they weren’t aware of this and didn’t have the money.  They ended up scrambling the $500.00 flat fee between them, but you could tell they were already upset about the unexpected spending that they were trying to avoid, and they were only there for less than an hour.   $125.00 to a young backpacker is a lot of money. Welcome to Costa Rica!

2. Costa Rican drivers are very aggressive.

 

I’m not trying to say the locals (or Ticos as they are called in Costa Rica) are not nice people. They are just the opposite. Every Tico or Tica I met was warm and friendly. It’s just that their driving is very aggressive and there seems to be no road rules that people follow. Now I’ve driven in New York City and other extremely intense driving situations, but nothing compared to the chaos that is felt on a busy traffic street in San Jose or a dirt cliff road in San Raphael, Costa Rica. Actually, that isn’t necessarily true, India was way worse, but nobody rents a car in India. That would be considered suicide! Luckily my husband was the one driving and he is a much better driver than I, but he agreed that they were the worst drivers he has ever dealt with.

3. The road conditions in Costa Rica is very bad.

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we had no idea how bad this road was going to get

The road conditions in Costa Rica go from bad to worse, depending on the area. If you are in the city of San Jose, the traffic is nuts and the road construction and potholes in the street make for bad driving conditions, not to mention the way they drive. If you get out of the city and feel relieved that you got away from all the craziness, it is almost worse in the mountains, but in a different way, especially if you are afraid of heights, like me. Many of the roads are dirt and have huge rocks throughout and if its raining, turns into muddy conditions, that without 4-wheel drive vehicle, it would be almost impossible to drive through. Then, you add the cliff drops on both sides of the road, shared bridges and the constant passing of cars, its enough to give anyone a heart attack. If that’s not bad enough, there is also fog when you get to higher elevations that is so thick that you can’t see one foot in front of you?  We experienced this near Monteverde and the Cloud Forest. This area is eerie, beautiful and almost mystical to witness, but driving in it is so scary.

4. The risk of car theft in Costa Rica is high.

Everyone told us over and over not to leave anything in our rental car because it will be stolen.  We figured since we would be moving around a lot that we could keep all of our valuables in the trunk.  “No way!” a Tico told us. “Everything will be stolen!” That was a huge inconvenience, especially when we were leaving one hotel, going on our day trip, and then checking into another hotel later that day. “Were we supposed to take our laptops and suitcases hiking with us?” It was awful. In certain situations we had to park and leave our stuff. We really had no other choice. We just took our money and passports with us and crossed our fingers. Fortunately, nothing was stolen, but the worry it would cause us, while we are trying to enjoy a nice hike through the amazing jungles of Costa Rica, kind of dulled our enthusiasm bit.

5. Driving in Costa Rica is so stressful.

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“cloud forest”

For most people, when you are on vacation you like to relax and enjoy yourself. The thing with driving in Costa Rica is you are always feeling stressed, whether you are scared while driving, hoping not to get into a car accident or drive off a cliff, or you’re worrying about the car getting broken into. How is this a fun and relaxing vacation? It’s not. On our worst day of driving, we had been on a four-hour drive from Jaco to La Fortuna and we drove literally over a mountain. It was the scariest, most intense car ride I have ever experienced. Being in the fight or flight response mode for that long was overwhelmingly exhausting. Once we arrived and were relieved that it was over and we didn’t die, we all were mentally and emotionally drained. I had a migraine and none of us barely spoke at dinner, we felt traumatized.  It was really that bad.

6. Driving in Costa Rica is time consuming.

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Most likely when you go on a vacation you have only so much time. With that being said, would you want to spend most of your one or two-week, hard-earned vacation in a car, fearing for your life? Me neither. I think one of our biggest mistakes about Costa Rica is how far each area was to one another. On a map, locations may not appear to be too far from one another, but if add the road conditions, construction, and traffic, you will most likely double the time you were initially expecting your journey to take. I think the best way to explore Costa Rica is to choose one area, and not four. If you are really keen on seeing more than just one area, then booking a tour might be the best option. That way you can leave the driving to the bus driver, who is used to these conditions and you can just sit back and relax.

7. The chances of getting into a car accident is very high.

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This one is an obvious one due to all that I mentioned above. The car rental place basically said to us that we were more likely to get into a car accident than not. Awesome! How is that for reassurance? I also had read about this and heard about this from others, which made me a little worried, but I thought it might be an exaggeration or at least I hoped it was. We hadn’t even gotten the rental car and we were mentally preparing ourselves that we would most likely get into a wreck. That seemed crazy to think like that, but we did. My head was spinning.

Thank goodness we didn’t get into a car accident, but there were numerous times that we came uncomfortably close to one. Each time it happened I thought, “Welp, here it is. They were right!”, but for some reason though, we narrowly escaped from any. I like to think it was because of my reiki energy protecting us and my husband likes to think it was because of his Nascar style driving skills. Maybe he is right? lol

8. Addresses in Costa Rica don’t always exist.

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If you do, after reading my warning about renting a car in Costa Rica, decide to give it a go, make sure you get a GPS and even better, one with a hotspot. If you don’t,  you will definitely get lost. Even with the GPS and hotspot that we opted for, there were some places that just didn’t have an address. Some places may have coordinates, but no physical address.  This was extremely difficult for finding things. So, what I would also suggest is if you have a place you want to go to and they have no physical address, try dropping a pin in the area you think it would be.  Then, drive to the pin and keep your eyes peeled for signs. It’s much better than driving through the mountains or jungle aimlessly. That just reminded me of another tip. If at all possible, don’t drive at night. It’s hard enough to drive during the day. Driving at night would just add to your anxiety and stress and if you are lost, it would be a total nightmare.

9. Parking in Costa Rica is sometimes a challenge. 

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Parking for TICOS ONLY

Parking is another tricky thing to deal with because some areas have nowhere to park, while others have parking, but you aren’t really sure if it is safe. The last thing you want to do is come back from an activity and find your rental car is gone or broken into. There were many times that we skipped stopping to see something just because we didn’t know where it was safe to park.  A total bummer.

10. They try to scam you out of more  money at car rental places when you return your car. 

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I met a women while we were at a dentist office in San Jose, for our dental tourism story, who was from Alaska and this was her fifth visit to Costa Rica for dental treatment. We of course discussed the driving and how nuts it was!  She learned as we did, that driving in Costa Rica was for the birds. When she comes to Costa Rica now, she refuses to rent a car. “The stress of it all is just too much!”, she said. She gave me a really good tip,  that I’m so glad she did before we returned the rental car.

She told me that the car rental companies (not all, but many in Costa Rica) have a sneaky way of adding charges at the end. She said it happened to her, a few of her friends, as well as to people that she has met along the way through her travels in Costa Rica.  She didn’t want it to happen to me.

THE SCAM

What they do is check the car for damages after.  That’s the usual part. It could be anything from a scratch to a dented bumper. They look, jot a few things down and then ask you to sign the release form without saying anything and while you are signing, another worker takes the car off the lot.  What’s unusual is, then when you get back home you may find a charge for $100.00 for damage to a rental car, taken straight out of your deposit that you signed for.  By that time, going through all the steps to remove it becomes such a hassle that most people don’t bother fighting it.

She suggested you stay with the worker while they are looking and when they ask you to sign, look at what they wrote, even if they say, “it’s just signing that you returned the car.” Also, if possible, to have someone stay in the car. That way they can’t use the excuse,“Well there was a scratch on the car but now its off the lot so you can’t see it”  That’s what they did to her and they knew she was in a rush to get to the airport and didn’t have time to wait for them to go back and get it. How convenient.

They, in fact , tried to do this with us. I stayed in the car while my husband walked around with the worker, he wrote something down and asked my husband sign. My husband asked what he wrote.  He wrote that there was a scratch and they were charging us $50.00 for it. When my husband asked,” Where?”, the guy couldn’t produce a scratch. He was pointing to an area of the car that just had some dirt on it.

Luckily, he knew we were on to his scam and didn’t charge us for it, but otherwise, I’m sure the same exact thing would have happened to us.  Can you imagine how much extra income they make from this little scam that unknowing tourists fall for on a daily basis?


thewanderlustyogi.netI hope this warning will help better inform those who are considering renting a car in Costa Rica. Even after reading this, you may still decide to rent a car, which is totally fine, but I’m convinced that learning these tips and words of caution beforehand would be very beneficial. I know I wish I knew what we were getting ourselves into in hindsight.

In closing, I  want to express, although I would never rent a car again on any upcoming visits to Costa Rica, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love this country. It was a gorgeous country with so much biodiversity. This place is absolutely beautiful and offers so much in one small country. Costa Rica is literally a nature lovers dream. I will be going back in six month for my husband to finish dental work he is in the process of getting in Costa Rica. On this next trip, however, we will leave the driving to the Ticos. You live and learn.

 

15 Things You May Not Know About Belize

by Monday, December 28, 2015

I just returned from my first solo trip to Belize last week. It was a whole new experience for me in so many ways. I am in the process of writing a few blog posts about it, but with the holidays and working in dental for the next few weeks, I’m sure I won’t get it out until the New Year. In the meantime however, I came up with a post about 15 things you may not know about Belize.

I sure didn’t have any clue about most of these fun facts until I visited myself. How I discovered this information was by means of; accidentally on my own, by locals, by research, by expats, and by other tourists. If you are ever planning on visiting Belize, specifically the islands of Belize, as I did ( Ambergris Caye to be exact) then these facts may be useful to you.


1.Belize’s barrier reef is amazingly gorgeous with vast amounts of marine life and the second largest in the world. The largest being the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I went kayaking and snorkeling to it. The magnificent coral formations and tropical fish appeared so eye-popping and brilliant with color, through the crystal clear, 84 degree Caribbean sea, it almost didn’t look real! It is definitely worth seeing.

Please note: (something that our kayak rental place didn’t warn us about, but locals and frequent divers of the area told us, after-the-fact) If you go out to the reef, you must not bring your boat into the reef for the purpose of protecting it. Also, be extremely careful while swimming and snorkeling in it. You can easily get cut or reef rash from the tall spiny coral. I did. It was very shallow and the waves made it hard to avoid large areas of coral. Also, and MOST IMPORTANT, by all means, don’t try to swim past it. The drop in depth creates an undertow that can sweep you out to sea. Many tourists have gone missing that way. 

Finding this out after totally freaked me out! I really wish we were told this before going out there. My kayak mate wanted me to swim out past it with him. Thank goodness my gut told me not to. He ended up turning back too. It was so choppy and difficult to maneuver around it.  Yikes!thewanderlustyogi.net

thewanderlustyogi.net


2.Belizeans love their hot sauce made by the famous Marie Sharp. They put this shit on everything!  Seriously!(my favorite version is the “smokin” Habanero. It’s so hot, but so good!) I even brought some back with me.

thewanderlustyogi.net


3.The Great Blue Hole is here, a giant sink hole that is circular in shape, over 984 feet across and 407 feet deep.  This may be a super cool natural wonder, but according to the divers I met, they said it was overrated. They claim the marine life is so much better closer to the surface and by the reef, not to mention the Great Blue Hole is so deep, that once you get to the depth you are allowed to dive to, you only have a total of eight minutes to explore, which they feel is a waste of a dive and it’s super expensive. Something to consider if you are a diver. I only snorkel and I can say first hand that it was beautiful at the surface!

thewanderlustyogi.net

Aerial of Blue Hole.


4.Bug bites are on a whole new level in Belize. I’ll say it again. Bug bites are on a whole new level in Belize.  Yes, it’s really that bad! If you forget bug spray, I encourage you to get it as soon as possible (like at the airport!!). I didn’t bring any and I was bitten alive by the, well-known to Belizeans, no see-ums (aka sand flies). They are exactly what they are called, you can’t see them, so you don’t even realize you are getting bit.  Then all of a sudden you are bit from head to toe, with swelling and itching you have never experienced before. I felt like I had chicken pox. I’m actually still extremely itchy today and my legs are a mess. Be prepared!

PS If your lodging has a mosquito net covering your bed-absolutely use it!

thewanderlustyogi.net

My leg after over a week later. I’ve never had worse bug bites before this. I know. Bogus! Also peeling. (this is embarrassing, but I’m sharing to help) I still wake up scratching myself. It’s not fun.

thewanderlustyogi.net


5.How about this one. I bet you didn’t know that Mennonites have made Belize their home? Yep, it’s true!thewanderlustyogi.net


6.Here is another good one: Leo DiCaprio bought a private island in Belize, called Blackadore Caye. He plans on building an eco-lodge for the rich and famous and is adding a private airport right on the island. Man I wish I could see that place. Or maybe it’s just him that I want to see? In any case, how awesome!thewanderlustyogi.net


7.Taking a yoga class with Kirsten at Akbol Yoga Retreat and Eco Resort will literally rock your chakras. Kirsten and her husband, Milio (expats from Chicago, USA), own and built this resort themselves.

She is an experienced yogi who teaches B K S Iyengar inspired yoga, that emphasizes on detail, precision, alignment and pranayama (breath control), as well as including the eight limbs of the yoga sutras in her class.  People from all over come to join her world-renowned yoga retreat. With her classes being taught on a papala atop the ocean, accompanied by the waves beneath, and the the tropical breezes kissing your skin above, its no wonder that the students all feel a sense of surrealism. You really can’t get much more zen than that.

Her classes are open to the public and is well worth the $15.00 USD (almost 2 hours in length). Many students like to stay and eat breakfast at their restaurant after practice. I not only stayed here for most of my visit in Ambergris Caye, but I took her classes and was downright blissed out!

thewanderlustyogi.net

thewanderlustyogi.net

papaya smoothie at Akbol’s Soul Kitchen after yoga class


8. Did you know that John McAfee, millionaire and the inventor of the computer anti-virus software, lived in a mansion in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize with seven, much younger girlfriends? Well, he used to anyway.  This eccentric and paranoid man had an ongoing feud with his neighbor about his barking dogs, and is thought to be the one responsible for the shooting murder of him in November of 2012, in revenge for thinking the neighbor poisoned his dogs. While the investigation was underway by the Belize authorities, McAfee fled to Guatemala, to later be deported back to America. He is a free man today, living in Lexington, Tennessee and is still considered a “person of interest” by Belize officials in regards to the murder of 52-year-old, Gregory Faull. (I included a Dateline episode of this twisted story for your enjoyment)


9.Taking the San Pedro Express water taxi is an experience in itself. You either can take the water taxi or a small airplane with Tropic Airlines, to get to the islands of Belize (Ambergris Caye and Caulker Caye). For $35.00 US each way, you can be packed in like sardines for the 90 minute ferry ride. However, locals and experienced Belize island travelers (mainly the divers), usually prefer the much less crowded, and quicker, 20 minute ride, by air, on Tropic Air, for around $80.00 per way. It may be a little more expensive, but from my experience on the ferry, I think it may be worth it?

In April last year, over Easter weekend, they overloaded the water taxi with far too many passengers, that the pier collapsed from the weight of all the people. I took the water taxi, not knowing all of this and already bought a round trip ticket. You live and learn.

thewanderlustyogi.net

thewanderlustyogi.net

Even if you are nervous about small planes, I highly suggest you take Tropic Airlines to the Belize Islands


 

10.Belize gained independence from Great Britain in 1981, but is still a protectorate. Also, making this the only English-speaking country in Central America.

thewanderlustyogi.net


11.Forgot to exchange currency at the airport? No worries. The US dollar is accepted everywhere in Belize. It’s also very easy to figure out the exchange. USD is double the Belize dollar. This tip is a very convenient one I’d say. thewanderlustyogi.net


12.Every Thursday night at 7:00 pm, the Wahoo Lounge in San Pedro, hosts the chicken drop. Sort of like bingo, you pick a square with a number from 1-100 for $1.00 and if the chicken poops on your number, you win $100.00! It seems pretty silly, but the locals and tourists for some reason, love it!thewanderlustyogi.net


13.Belize is home of one of the loudest animals in the world, the back howler monkey. Hearing one of them at night while sleeping in a eco-hut in the jungle can be sort of scary.thewanderlustyogi.net


14.Flushing toilet paper or anything else in the toilet in Belize is frowned upon. Belize is a very eco-friendly place, so be mindful of this when visiting. It seemed pretty gross, but when in Belize, be like the Belizeans. 

thewanderlustyogi.net


15.When in Belize (mainly the islands), don’t rent a car. The roads are very narrow and crowded and many are only dirt roads. What you should do is rent a golf cart. It’s easier to access cramped streets and parking and it is kind of fun. Renting a bicycle is also a great way to get around the island.  It will cost you around $60-80 USD/day to rent a golf cart and around $8.00 USD/day to rent a bicycle (depending on the company and if you rent it for a longer period).

thewanderlustyogi.net

 


Belize is a beautiful country with friendly people, but may have a few challenges for some travelers. I enjoyed my time in the warm and tropical island of Ambergris Caye, in San Pedro, (otherwise known as La Isla Bonita from the popular Madonna song). I was especially fond of spending time on the ocean, with kayaking, snorkeling, and stand-up paddle boarding, the yoga, the food; fry jacks, salbutes, pupusas, panades, rice and beans, and of course Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, and I can’t forget to mention the kind locals that I met.

I do plan on visiting again someday, probably spending some time on the less built up island, Caulker Caye. If I do, I will be sure to:

  1. book a flight on Tropic Air
  2. bring bug spray (tons of it!)
  3. be more cautious around the reef
  4. buy a square for the chicken drop
  5. keep my eyes peeled for Leo (you never know?)

 

 

 

I Took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at Sunset and This is What Happened

by Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I was in New York City for a quick 24 hours, or actually, even less than a full day, to be exact. I did a few things during that visit; I toured a college, had lunch at the Seaport, got a mani/pedi at Spring Nail Salon for only $22.00 (I still can’t believe it was that cheap!), but I also did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at sunset and this is what happened. 

location and information for Spring Nail Salon

I walked along the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, along with hundreds of others, seeking to take in, that chance warm evening, and wanted to trick ourselves into believing that winter would never come.

Carriages were being pushed by young mothers. Eldery couples were walking at a snail’s pace.  There were new lovers walking hand in hand, flirting playfully with one another. There were bikers, trying to make their way through the stopped crowds. There were tourist from all over the world, speaking languages that I didn’t recognize.

And then there was ME.

thewanderlustyogi.netI was alone on this walk. I have wanted to do this for a while now, but for some reason or another, I never got the chance on all of my previous visits to the Big Apple.

I didn’t mind being alone. I wasn’t afraid or anything. There were people everywhere. I actually used this time to see how it would feel to be a real “solo traveler”, which I was aiming to become. It was a little experiment, I guess you could say?

A link to my thoughts about how solo travel might be

How I ended up here, was my daughter and I toured Pace University (http://www.pace.edu/) and then she did an overnight in the dorms, staying with a student that she knew from high school, who was currently a student there.

thewanderlustyogi.net

My daughter, Maddie and her friend Ally in front of Pace University

I stayed at my cousin’s apartment in the Eastside, sadly unable to visit with her, due to a previous speaking engagement she had at a medical conference in Washington DC. She is a doctor. I’m very proud of her. However, I did have the company of her handsome cat, Rafi. It also made it very convenient for me and saved me some money, which I was extremely grateful for.

thewanderlustyogi.net

My cousin’s cat, Rafi

After dropping my daughter off to the dorms, I tried to think of something to do. I was pretty wiped out from the last two days of college tours, driving, and all the walking we did, but I wasn’t ready to turn in just yet.


On a side note: one of the colleges we toured was  Marist College(https://www.marist.edu/), where my uncle is the Dean of the Math and Computer Science department.  It is in Poughkeepsie, New York. After comparing the two colleges we toured (Pace University and Marist College), it was clear that Marist College offered so much more, for what my daughter was looking for, with her college experience, and she really could see herself fitting in there. She decided that Marist College was her number one choice and wants to apply for this upcoming Fall semester. She is hoping she gets in and is accepted into their amazing Florence Freshman Experience (FFE) program, where she could study abroad in Florence, Italy for her entire freshman year.  She also has the travel bug and would absolutely love an opportunity such as this. We are crossing our fingers. 

thewanderlustyogi.net

My daughter, Maddie, excited about our tour at Marist College


The location of Pace University was directly in front of the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. It seemed meant to be. I have always wanted to walk it, it was freaking 75 degrees, in November, the sun was about to set, and I had the time. It was perfect!

As I made my way through the crowd, I, at first, felt a little awkward. I was looking around at all the people who had “their people” with them as I was there, flying solo. This was still a strange feeling for me, but I’m forcing myself to get used to it, especially since I will be doing my first official “solo trip” in one short month from now, to Belize!


I Took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at Sunset and This is What Happened:

I learned Three Benefits of Solo Travel:

  1. You can do whatever you want!-I took my time and stopped to take pictures. What did it matter? I wasn’t holding anyone up. It was nice to not have to discuss with anyone else, how long we wanted to stay or not stay. I just did whatever felt right to me. It was kind of freeing.
  2. You are completely “in the moment”-Everything felt so surreal and I’m not just saying this for dramatic purposes. It really did. I didn’t know why, but I think I was more able to be completely “in the moment” because I didn’t have any other distractions as I would with another person, with conversation, non verbal communication and just their presence in general? I loved that feeling.
  3. People are So Much more Friendlier When you are Solo-Then there was the people. I don’t know if I’m just making this up, but everyone seemed so much more friendly towards me, being alone. (other solo travelers have shared this exact sentiment) This was crazy to me. I mean, I was in New York City, where, if you know their reputation? -Not super friendly folks. (This is kind of a stereotype, but it’s what they say. Just like they say Southerners are friendly.) Yes, this could be because I was mostly around tourists, but I could absolutely tell, people were approaching me more, because I was alone. It must have made me more approachable. Which makes complete sense. If you are with others you seem to be more closed off and in your own private world. People will sometimes interact with you, but mostly respect your space. When you are alone you are open to engage with everyone and anyone. I met and spoke with more strangers in that hour  I spent on the Brooklyn Bridge, then I think anywhere else I’ve ever been? People were chatting me up about the weather, asking me to take photos for them and just paying attention to me, smiling at me, as if to say “Hello, I see you.” I felt a real connectedness with total strangers that I have never felt before. It was awesome!

    thewanderlustyogi.net

    My token headstand picture, for my 365 day inversion challenge (this one was number 134) taken by a sweet couple, that I think, thought I was nuts for doing it!

http://www.thewanderlustyogi.net/yoga-inversions-around-the-world


I took a Brooklyn Bridge walk at sunset and got so much more than I ever intended out of it.  I not only got to observe some benefits of solo travel, but I also got to be alone with my thoughts and was able to reflect on my life; all of the good and bad events that I have gone through, that has brought me to where I am today. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Even the bad. For it has molded me to be a stronger and wiser person and made me really appreciate what was important in life.thewanderlustyogi.net

I never thought if I took a Brooklyn Bridge walk at sunset, that I would be able to receive such unexpected joy. I was filled with gratitude, so thankful for my existence and everything I have experienced thus far in my life,  and it made me even more excited for Belize, and traveling solo.thewanderlustyogi.net

By taking that walk on the Brooklyn Bridge alone, I sensed a real connection with other humans and I encountered a feeling of self-awareness and empowerment, which only made me long to explore these feelings more, through solo travel.  I don’t think solo travel will end up being my favorite way to travel, since I do enjoy sharing these experiences with my loved ones, but I realized that solo travel is a very different and authentic way to travel. I feel that solo travel should be experienced by everyone, at least once in their life.

If you are ever in New York City and have a chance to walk to Brooklyn Bridge, I highly suggest it, whether alone or with others. You may get even more out of it, than just burning a few extra calories. I know I surely did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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