Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bulgaria – Sofia, A gem nestled in the Balkans

“Bulgaria! Why are you going on holiday to Bulgaria?” That was the questioning exclamation that everyone posed us when we said we were planning a trip there for 11 days. And our answer was: “That is exactly WHY we are going to Bulgaria!”

It’s not on anyone’s bucket list; it’s an off-the-radar-kind of destination. Bulgaria is relatively undiscovered…well until now. So now that the cat’s out of the bag, we’ll divulge our secrets.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Colombia – Bogotá, gold and gloom.

This blog is dedicated to the god of procrastination. We have had trouble ending the blog update of our journey that ends in Bogotá. Could it be the fear of the finality…we have to surrender to the fact that our 9 month journey is actually ending? Well finally here (with a 2 month's delay) is our final post for Latin America.

Yes, we made it unscathed to the end of the road. No mishaps of any consequence. No encounters with robbers, no major health issues, and all our gear is still working – at least hanging in there, like our scratched up camera lens, sunglasses, etc.

The only "surprise" on our journey was that we discovered we actually felt homesick.
Being travelers, it’s tough to admit that we are homesick… But keep reading.
We are both longing to return to a country/region that is not reflected in either of our passport origins. Yes, we missed Asia: the food, lifestyle, safety, climate, scent, chaos… We realized how much we bonded with the Asian culture. Now we are ready for our Latin America segment to end. We reached Latin lethargy. We need some change again!

And why end in Bogotá? It just happens to be a city with good flight connections to Europe and US… more on that later.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Colombia – San Agustín Rocks, but not really

Stonehenge, Easter Island and now San Agustín...these are legacies of the "big rock" cultures. We haven't been to Easter Island to compare these stones carved into human likenesses, but there are a lot of them here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Colombia – Tierradentro, Tomb raiders

Burial places seem to be the recent theme. No, we haven't turned into vampires or werewolves haunting "haunted grounds." Strangely though, we've gone from Maya to Inca ruins in the beginning of our trip to now cemeteries and burial caves. What an ending to 9 month's on the road.

Follow us now on a rough and rugged journey from the colonial city of Popayán to San Andrés where the site Tierradentro is nestled.

Our lovely guesthouse owners in Popayán informed us that there is only one bus per day reaching this far outreach in the jungle. Otherwise we could walk the last 2 kms and take another couple buses. Still not many buses reach this remote area. We read on the internet that it can take 5-10 hours from previous travelers. In the rainy season, this road is a nightmare...well, all year this road is a nightmare, but the only difference is that it can be your worst nightmare. So we decide to store our big backpacks at the guesthouse and bring just the bare necessities, just in case we need to the walk some part of this trip.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Colombia – Popayán, A ghost town

Okay, we arrived on a Sunday night, and once again as South America seems to prove, there’s barely a soul in sight. It’s a ghost town dressed in white. The stark whiteness makes it seem even more lonely but this whiteness is also what makes the city famous. It’s known for the white washed colonial buildings.

It is dark and we’ve been on buses all day. Our supply of sandwiches and pastries has run empty and our bellies are growling. We quickly check in at "", the closest Guesthouse to the terminal and head straight out to find a nice meal. We read that Popayán is famous for its culinary dishes so off we go.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ecuador doesn't want to let us go

Are they praying that we stay
longer in Ecuador?

It's time for yet another dreaded long border crossing...from Otavalo in Ecuador to
Popayán in Colombia. Although it's not involving as many transport change-overs as our last crossing it will still take two days to reach Popayán.

Thankfully, we will be able to break our journey in Tulcán, a mid-sized city with plenty of hotels, food choices and even a famous tourist attraction: the cemetery! First we need to find a decent place to stay which is usually challenging in a negligible border town, but to our surprise, Tulcán is not a dingy, hell hole. It's got a decent vibe and plenty of nice hostel choices. Julane had ransacked the internet for recommendations on where to stay. Yes a few people have chosen to stay and write about Tulcán, but too few people ever tell if they find decent accommodation. So let us be the first now to help out our fellow border hoppers. We choose "Hostal Frailejon" smack in the center and $1 taxi ride (2kms?) from the bus terminal. It's got all the amenities including large clean room, paint that isn't peeling off the walls, a large TV and decent bathroom, plus a Buena vista.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ecuador – Otavalo, the market stampede

We decided to continue traveling like the locals do and using Quito's fantastic local transportation to get to the Northern bus terminal seemed like a good idea since it was simple from the southern terminal. Well, not this time. There should have been a direct bus but we ended up at the town with the same name (Carcelén) as the terminal. Actually in the end, we think we should have gotten off the bus earlier at the end terminal for the trolley bus, but everything is obvious in hindsight.

So now it's a 20 minute walk uphill to backtrack towards the Carcelén terminal. We go through a neighborhood that we have no idea about... heading towards an unknown bus terminal. Yes, in one of the most dangerous cities in Ecuador. Not a smart idea, at all (but it is mid-day, if that is a good excuse). Sure, we broke all the cardinal rules of safety in a short period of time. Verdict: $8 taxi versus 50 cents is perhaps worth the investment. Or ask better questions. Locals are always helpful.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ecuador – Quito, charmingly dangerous

Welcome to Quito
Quito is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in South America and the second highest capital on the continent after La Paz. This UNESCO world heritage site attracts a lot of tourists, be it as entry/exit point to Ecuador, transit point to Galapagos or as a base to learn Spanish.

We came to Quito to explore the beautiful cobblestone streets and colonial architecture in Old Quito. After reading several warnings about robberies and theft from hotels, we decided to stay in a "safe house" in the new part of Quito (although it seems that the new town is even more dangerous after dark). After researching for way too much time, Julane selected Casa Helbling. It is Swiss/German owned and run. We figure if you can't trust the Swiss and Germans in protecting your valuables and money, then you might as well go home.