Peru Protest: Stranded in La Joya

One day we were basking in the beauty of the breathtaking oasis of Huacachina, Peru and sandboarding head-first down 1,400 feet high sand dunes.  Two days later we found ourselves stranded in the Peruvian town of La Joya. The name translates to “the jewel”. Believe me, this place is no gem.

From this …
to this.
Are We There Yet?

Our tour bus was making good time through southern Peru on our sixteen and a half hour overnight trip from Huacachina to Arequipa. The bus stopped at 5:30 am and we were all awakened. We thought we were at our destination. We soon found out that we were still one hour away, and that most likely that hour would become many.

What The Heck Is Going On?

The reason for the delay was a strike by the residents of La Joya and other towns in the Tambo Valley in southern Peru. The residents were protesting the granting of a construction permit by the Peruvian government to the Southern Copper Corporation for their proposed Tia Maria copper mine. The protesters are concerned about the mines effects on the environment and the agriculture of the area. You can read more about the issues here.

Remnants of burning tires.

Unfortunately, they decided the best way to make their point was to block roads into and out of towns along the Pan-American Highway. Large rocks and small boulders were strewn across the roads for many miles. Hundreds upon hundreds of protesters lined the roads, making the option to remove the obstacles unwise.

And we wait. At least we had nice weather.

We heard that the protests could last for up to 72 hours and that most of the local businesses were remaining closed in support of the protesters. We wondered where we would get food and water.

We Have Priorities People!

But there was a bigger problem. There was a restroom on our luxurious double-decker bus, but it was only to be used for urine. Where would we go if Mother Nature had other ideas? We looked around. There was a sign that said “bano”. This is Spanish for what we needed most. Several of us walked over and encountered a young woman who indicated that she would open up for us. Part of her business was providing a public restroom for 1 peso (about 30 cents U.S.). The other part was a restaurant. Eww. Especially since there wasn’t a sink between the restaurant and the toilet.

This is where it gets interesting. She opened the half-sized door that is so common in Latin America and led us in. The dark, narrow hallway led to a very primitive toilet. A young woman ahead of me was the first to enter and quickly announced that it was just a “hole in the ground”. Actually, it was more than that but very little more. There was no seat and or flushing mechanism. Once you were finished you had to get a bucket of water from a huge barrel and hopefully flush what you had produced.

That poor woman used three buckets of water then gave up, apologizing to her friend who was next in line. By the time it was my turn I learned a valuable skill. You must thrust the water into the toilet if you hope to force anything down. I am happy to report that I perfected my technique that day.

And Now We Wait

The rest of the day was not nearly as eventful as our early morning experience. We read and dozed on the bus, walked the streets aimlessly, and kept our ears open for news, any news. Our tour company arranged for a large restaurant in town to provide lunch for all of us. This was no mean feat since virtually every business remained closed throughout the day.

On The Road Again

After fourteen frustrating hours, the roads were clear enough for trucks and buses to pass. However, they had to go slowly to avoid the remaining rocks and small boulders still left in the road. We arrived in Arequipa sixteen hours behind schedule. Most importantly we never felt like we were in danger and we did eventually arrive at our destination.

Our very dirty bus.

When you set out on the road you know things like this will happen. If you are fortunate they will happen infrequently and will not prove to be dangerous or costly.

We are very fortunate that our travel plans allow a lot of flexibility. Many of the people on the bus had planned to ride straight through to Cusco, an additional twelve-hour drive, to start their Machu Picchu adventures. Because of the delay, many of them missed out on pre-planned and often quite expensive activities.

It appears as if the protests had the desired effect. Here is an article about the status of the mine permit as of July 25, 2019.

Happy traveling,

Linda

 

 

 

 

Is The Ugly American Dead?

We’ve all heard about ugly Americans. Tourists from the U.S. who talk too loud, wear garish clothes, compare things in other countries to how it is done in the U.S., and expect everyone to speak English.

A Case in Point

Many years ago I was sitting at my daughters’ soccer practice when a very loud man told a story of his experience in Paris. When he and his wife arrived at their hotel, their room wasn’t ready. They expressed displeasure about this and were upgraded to a suite. The hotel manager told them to help themselves to anything they wanted from the minibar.

He then bragged about how they consumed everything in the minibar. He was proud. I was appalled.

I Am What I Am

At this time the only foreign country I had visited was Canada. But I had heard about ugly Americans and how the rest of the world disliked us. I had also heard that some U.S. citizens who visit foreign countries imply that they are from Canada to avoid being painted with the ugly American brush. Again, I was appalled.

I vowed to never hide where I was from. People will have to take me as I am. If they have any preconceived notions, maybe I can help dispel them.

And as a side note: I don’t tell people I am American, I tell them I am from the U.S. Why? Because there are 35 countries in the Americas. All these people are “American” too.

Maybe We’re Not So Ugly After All

The good news is that after traveling internationally for more than a year I believe the ugly American may be dead, or at least on life support.

In 2018 Steve and I visited seven European countries. I never felt we were being judged negatively for being from the U.S. That doesn’t mean that some people didn’t have those feelings, but if they did, they either avoided us or were very good actors.

Many of our conversations were with Uber drivers. The vast majority of them were fluent in English and loved to talk about the U.S. They knew a lot about our politics and separated their feelings about the acts and options of our president from their opinions of us.

Not to be too mushy, but I often felt like we were welcomed with open arms.

Pleasant Paris Peeps

We met a wonderful pharmacist in Paris. Like most of the Parisians we interacted with during our month there, I found him to be friendly and helpful.

I had lost my mouth guard, and he spent quite a lot of time trying to track down a replacement. He also patiently helped us with other medical issues.

On one visit he disappeared into the back room for quite a while. When he came out he was carrying a small travel bag and several perfume samples as gifts to us. What a wonderful feeling to know that two groups of people who are often stereotyped, ugly Americans and snooty Parisians, saw only the good in each other.

Making Friends is Fun

We also met wonderful people in Bucharest, Romania when we attended a series of group talks at a local hostel. Again we got only positive feedback from the Europeans we met, and are happy to have added several of them as Facebook friends.

We’ve also made friends with several people we met in restaurants and one young woman we met on the grounds of a church in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

A delicious dinner with our new friend Maya in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
The Trend Continues

Our 2019 travels took us to Latin America where we found more positive reactions. Although far fewer people in these countries speak English, we never felt ignored or unwelcome.

In Quito, Ecuador we stayed in a building that had 24-hour security.  All the guards were friendly and helpful, but one stands out.

Daniel always had a smile on his face and insisted on taking heavy items up for us even though we had an elevator. He enjoyed answering my faltering question of “como estas?” with his equally awkward “very good”.

I will not soon forget the way he waved like a little boy one evening when he saw us coming back home. His openness and good vibes are characteristic of what we found in Quito.

You Get What You Put Out

I was reading a blog in which the author complained that the people in Quito, Ecuador were very rude, and bashed the city he had spent only four days visiting. Someone responded that he did not have that experience as a tourist. The author then replied that because tourists bring money, the locals are nice to them, but are rude to each other.

I did not see this rudeness during the four weeks we spent in Quito. The locals were extremely polite to us, and to each other. They often went out of their way to be helpful and friendly.

I felt compelled to add a comment of my own stating that I totally disagreed with the author’s opinion and you get back what you put out.

Putting In Extra Effort

I do find myself going out of my way to be gracious and not make assumptions based on how we do it in the U.S.
We were in one apartment where the neighbors were throwing loud parties every day beginning in the afternoon and lasting through the night. People were coming and going at all hours and had no consideration for those who were sleeping.

I could have gone to the guard complaining about the noise. Instead I asked what the rules about noise were in the building. Fortunately, he said any noise that bothers other tenants is not allowed. He knew exactly who was causing the problem.

He was our go-to guard as the partiers continued to disobey the rules until that wonderful day when they were evicted! We showed our appreciation for all that guard’s help with a bottle of scotch.

Except When We Don’t

I did have an ugly American moment of my own. We were in Panama City waiting for a prearranged Uber to take us to a ferry dock.  Since we were staying in a gated community I had sent directions, in Spanish, on how to get to us.

We used the app to watch the Uber driver pull up to the guard gate, then we watched him turn around and drive away. Repeated messages to him to turn around and to come back, again in Spanish, went unanswered.

I became frustrated because we had a time constraint. As I called for a replacement Uber driver I exclaimed “and he probably won’t speak English either”.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew how entitled they made me sound. Luckily Steve was the only person who heard them, and it has not become one of our inside travel jokes.

What a Wonderful World

We have found most people to be friendly and helpful. Perhaps it is because we are seldom rushed and therefore more patient, Uber tantrum aside. This makes us more pleasant to be around.

Perhaps it is because we try very hard to be gracious and courteous, and learn some basic phrases in the local language, that has resulted in many positive experiences.

Seeing famous sites, strolling through great museums, and enjoying the vibe of each city are some of the rewards of traveling. But some of my best memories are of the interactions with the people we have met along the way. I hope that we have left equally positive impressions.

Happy traveling,
Linda

 

Featured image by Ayo Ogunseinde

 

 

Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?

Have you dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands? I certainly did. It was right at the top of my bucket list. Then in the spring of 2019 Steve and I spent four weeks as land-based visitors to these famed islands. This was one of our most anticipated trips and our most expensive to date. In spite of having many wonderful adventures, it did not live up to our expectations. We found ourselves counting the days until we flew to Quito.

In this article I will discuss a few of our wonderful experiences and illustrate what life is like in the largest town, Puerto Ayora. Hopefully, it will help you in deciding if a land-based Galapagos trip is right for you.

A Little Background

Do you know that there are two ways to visit the Galapagos, ship-based and land-based? Ship-based tourism is tightly controlled by the government and is currently steady at about 73,000 visitors per year.

Land-based tourism is not being controlled and has grown to over 200,000 visitors in 2018.

Since Galapagos cruises are notoriously expensive, and we would be there for four weeks, we chose to be land-based.

I had never given any thought to the fact that there are towns in the Galapagos, let alone seen a picture of one. We arrived in Puerto Ayora with no idea of what to expect.

Land-based Activites

From our home base in Puerto Ayora we were able to enjoy many of the wonders the islands have to offer. These are just a few of our memorable experiences:

Walking down secluded paths flanked by large lava rocks and cacti to arrive at nearly deserted postcard-perfect beaches alive with marine iguanas and sea lions.

I had hoped to swim with the sea lions but had to settle for a beachfront visit.

Riding electric scooters to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve to see some Galapagos tortoises. The coolest thing about them is that each one has a unique look on his wrinkled old tortoise face.

One of the residents of the tortoise reserve

Seeing blue-footed boobies perched on a cliff and later sharing the waters of the Pacific Ocean with them. Their numbers had been declining but are now on the rise. This article from the Galapagos Conservancy, Inc. explains the reasons. Surprisingly they don’t seem to be manmade.

Watching the pelicans and frigate birds looking for handouts at the fish market. The pelicans waited patiently for scraps. The birds took every opportunity to dive down and peck at unattended fish.

A pelican and his reward.

Heading into the highlands (again by electric scooter) to discover a privately owned lava tunnel. We explored the one-kilometer long tunnel, climbing over piles of rocks that had fallen from the walls and ceiling. Then heading further down the road to a corny little family owned attraction that featured an edge of the world swing, a petting zoo, and a working sugar cane press powered by a donkey.

Steve enjoying a fresh sugar cane drink
The Positive Side of Puerto Ayora

The people were very friendly and accommodating. As long as you had a smile on your face you were greeted with numerous “buenos dias”, “holas”, and even a few “hellos” while walking down the street.

The town is small enough that you can walk anywhere. If you don’t want to walk a taxi costs only $1.50 anywhere in town.

Laundry services called lavanderias will wash, dry, and fold your clothes for peanuts. Seriously, we spent $8 a week to have clothing for the two of us laundered. This and the taxis are about the only bargains you’ll find.

There is a wonderful bike path that travels the main road out of town to the highlands town of Santa Rosa, 13 miles (21 km) away. This is where the tortoise reserve is.

A horse on the bike path

The hostels and hotels all appeared to be well built, clean, and relatively comfortable, at least from the outside. And of course, if you’re willing to pay the price, you can stay at five-star hotels like the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel for more than $400 per night or the Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn for $300 per night.

The Other Side of Puerto Ayora

Despite the high price tag associated with a Galapagos trip, this is a poor area. Buildings alternate from being well kept to ramshackle, often on the same street.

A well kept apartment building at the end of our street.
A construction supply depot at the other end of our street

Sidewalks and street are dangerously uneven. It is not unusual to have to avoid holes a few feet deep.

A sidewalk on our street – seriously!

Air conditioning is truly a luxury. We were lucky to have it in our bedroom. Not even the stores, restaurants, or the gym are air-conditioned.

Bodywell gym. $3 per visit, no air conditioning.

Litter is everywhere. The beaches and natural sights we visited were pristine but the town was not.

Litter big
And litter small

The word that kept coming to our mind was squalor. We realize this comes from our experiences as middle-class Americans and in the context of Puerto Ayora, this is normal. None the less, it was a compelling contrast to the image we had of the Galapagos.

Another thing that surprised us was the strong smell of car exhaust on the main streets. Even though traffic is light compared to most towns, there is a constant parade of white pickup trucks, the local taxis, circling the town. Most of the time 80% of them are empty. Great if you need a taxi, not so great for the environment.

Tourism’s Impact

An Internet search will lead you to many articles outlining the pluses (financial) and the minuses (environmental impact) in the growth of land-based tourism. The area, like many, is struggling to find the sweet spot of tourism.

In 2017 Fodors published this article telling people not to go to the Galapagos in 2018. I am not sure if seeing this article or others like it would have led us to make different plans, but I would like to think it would have.

This New York Times article from June of 2018 asks if land-based tourism is threatening the islands.

My advice is to do what we failed to do. Find out as much as you can about the islands and the type of trip you plan to take beforehand. We fell for the romantic idea of the islands but got a lot the unromantic reality.

In Hindsight

This trip taught us something about ourselves. We are city folks who love being where there is action, art, parks, and all the services we have grown accustomed to. A day trip here and there to a wild area satisfies our nature yearnings. Toward the end of our trip we had run out of things to do and were actually counting the days until we headed back to the mainland.

I am glad I got to visit one of the places that has called to me for so long. However, if I had been more aware of the impact of land tourism and what life is like in the towns I either would not have gone or would have taken a much shorter trip.

Happy traveling,

Linda

How It All Began

Photo credit Stephanie Gerbec
We’re Not Having Any Fun

Perhaps you’re like me. Your life is pretty good. You’re in a good relationship. Your children are grown and doing well. You live in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. You have friends and family you enjoy spending time with and can count on. You have a job that is challenging and rewarding without being too demanding. You pay your bills on time and even save some money, but you’re not having any fun.

After you put in your hours at work, tend to the household chores, and set aside time for adequate rest and relaxation, there doesn’t seem to be enough time or energy for much else.

This is the situation in which I found myself in 2015. Even though I felt life was good, I knew there had to be something more. My husband, Steve, and I found ourselves saying “we aren’t having any fun” quite often. We decided to do something about it.

Our Mission Statement

We discussed ways to lighten our workload including hiring a lawn service and a pool service, we scheduled outing days, and we considered downsizing now that our children were grown up. Our soul-searching resulted in this mission statement:

Vision: Live of life of adventure, enrichment, and discovery

Mission: To provide a lifestyle of simplicity with ample time and resources devoted to achieving our vision

Values: Family, Financial Security, Free Time, Health, Time in Nature

The Sentence That Changed Everything

In the fall of 2015 my husband, Steve, and I decided to look at apartments in Jacksonville with the intention of downsizing. We wanted to be in a part of the city where we could walk to stores and restaurants, and leave the energy-sucking maintenance of home ownership behind. We saw several nice places, but there was no wow factor.

While driving home after one day of apartment hunting we discussed how none of these places felt like our future home. How we weren’t “feeling it”. Without thinking I blurted out “we should just sell everything and travel the world”. Steve said, “I’ll do it”.

An Obsession Is Born

Sounds like a wonderful dream, doesn’t it? But people like us don’t do things like that. How could we possibly ever afford it? Traveling is expensive, isn’t it?

The idea wouldn’t leave my mind, so one day I Googled “travel blogs”. Imagine my surprise when I saw a result for the top 50 travel blogs. Not just 50 travel blogs, but the top 50!

A quick look at a few of them showed me that there are a lot of people traveling full-time. Some of them, including Simon Fairbain and Erin McNeaney from Never Ending Voyage and Shannon O’Donnell from A Little Adrift, had very generously shared their costs. See Never Ending Voyage’s 2014 budget here. A Little Adrift’s 2008-2009 budget can be seen here along with a 2019 update.

Again imagine my surprise when I discovered that a couple could travel the world on around $3,000 per month (excluding medical insurance). That day I became obsessed.

For weeks I dreamt about what it would be like. I started planning in my head. When would we do this? What would we do with our house and cars? How much time would we spend in one place? And how much time would we spend out of the US?

After weeks of obsessing, I told Steve what I wanted to do. I was certain he would tell me I must be a little crazy, but to my surprise and everlasting appreciation he said: “let’s do it”.

Where Did That Come From?

You may be wondering what made me blurt out those life-changing words. And the simple answer is I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the lingering memories of a book I had read many years earlier titled One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen. In his book, David describes in delightful detail the year he, his wife, and their three young children (2,7, and 9) traveled the world. Perhaps I was ready for a really big change in my life. Whatever the reason, the seed had been planted

Setting the Plan in Motion

We set February 1, 2018 as the target date to leave the US. We spent 2016 and 2017 learning about world travel and divesting ourselves of at least 80% of our possessions. Steve retired from his job as a sales manager in January 2017 and spent the year getting the house we had lived in for 30 years ready for sale. I retired from my job as an accountant at the end of 2017 and joined Steve in working on the house.

We decided to go from Florida to Europe by sea, so we booked a 15-day cruise to Barcelona. The cruise didn’t leave the US until early April, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we spent all of February and March finishing the house preparations.

On April 7, 2018 we gave extra-long hugs to our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, and set sail towards our new life on the Norwegian Epic. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you, and hope you will be inspired to follow your dreams.