Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Let me surprise you about Iran!

May 9, 2013

I’ve been to my share of exotic places, but nothing roused the curiosity of my friends and colleagues more than Iran. And for a good reason. All we know about Iran are terrorism, nuclear plants, third world, etc. etc. Perhaps some are aware that Iran was once part of the Persian empire, which is majestic and amazing in its own way. But present Iran? No, all it provokes are fear and skepticism.

I was lucky I had a friend who went, and reassured me that Iran is a pleasant, safe place to visit. I am even luckier that I have an equally adventurous family to go with. So off we went, not knowing exactly what to expect.

In a nutshell, Iran is practically the opposite of what you think it is.

Misconception # 6. It is a war-zone. Stay away or you’ll get shot!

Any of the cities, Tehran, Esfahan, or Shiraz, is probably safer than most big cities. I observed that our tour bus driver rarely locks the bus when he steps out. You walk on the street and people will not harass you. Things don’t get stolen from the hotel. And no, apart from the occasional checkpoints in the highway, there are no remnants of it being a war city at all. No, people do not carry guns! Although their posters depict people carrying guns. But that’s about it.

"Army" poster - amidst a beautiful snowcapped backdrop

“Army” poster – amidst a beautiful snowcapped backdrop


The "infamous" Supreme Leader!

The “infamous” Supreme Leader!

Misconception # 5. Persian food must suck. Or at the very least, you must get tired of eating kebab day after day.

I loved a lot of the food we ate in Iran. One unforgettable dish is the saffron baked chicken which is absolutely yummy. The restaurant is an old Persian mansion adorned with mirror mosaics. And you know it is not a touristy place because it was packed with locals on a weekday lunch!

My favorite dish during our trip. Saffron baked rice stuffed with chicken!

My favorite dish during our trip. Saffron baked rice stuffed with chicken!


Kebab galore!

Kebab galore!


Hmmm... which is which...

Hmmm… which is which…


Kebab!

Kebab!

Misconception # 4. Cities in Iran must be dirty. It is such an underdeveloped country.

The three cities I went to are all very clean. There is absolutely no trash, and people are very disciplined about it. The only thing that “litters” their streets are rows and rows of flowers, especially roses!

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The garden in our hotel is full of what else??? Flowers!

The garden in our hotel is full of what else??? Flowers!


Garden in our beautiful hotel in Esfahan

Garden in our beautiful hotel in Esfahan

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Misconception # 3. Don’t think Persian or modern Iranian art is that big of a deal

Iranians are naturally artistic and their expression of art is all over tourist sights and their establishments. Even their bus stops are cute!

BC art in the National Museum in Tehran

BC art in the National Museum in Tehran


Restoration

Restoration

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Even the cutlery display is creative!

Even the cutlery display is creative!

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Typical Persian art - in Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan

Typical Persian art – in Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan


Artist at work. The artwork on the intricate vases are drawn by hand. We bought one!

Artist at work. The artwork on the intricate vases are drawn by hand. We bought one!

Never saw a prettier wall!

Never saw a prettier wall!

Even an old door is beautifully decorated

Even an old door is beautifully decorated

Trying to hail something. Actually, just posing for the camera :P

Trying to hail something. Actually, just posing for the camera 😛

This is a bus stop!

This is a bus stop!

Intricate drawings in Golestan Palace, Tehran

Intricate drawings in Golestan Palace, Tehran

Misconception # 2. There must be nothing to see. If there are, they must have been destroyed by the wars.

See for yourself 🙂 I am thankful that there are not much tourists, so we were able to almost monopolize the sights!

Azadi square - the icon of Iran

Azadi square – the icon of Iran

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Milad Tower with a beautiful display of Iranian flags

Milad Tower with a beautiful display of Iranian flags

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I like the chandelier! Hmmm... will this fit into my room?!?!?

I like the chandelier! Hmmm… will this fit into my room?!?!?


Golestan Palace

Golestan Palace


Another angle

Another angle


Fascinating interiors of the Golestan Palace in Tehran

Fascinating interiors of the Golestan Palace in Tehran


Milad Tower in Tehran. The best place to see breathtaking bird's eye views of the city

Milad Tower in Tehran. The best place to see breathtaking bird’s eye views of the city


Another shot of Imam Square

Another shot of Imam Square


One of the beautiful bridges

One of the beautiful bridges


I love the beautiful arches

I love the beautiful arches


Mosque in Imam Square

Mosque in Imam Square


This square is so beautiful, I can sit here the whole day!

This square is so beautiful, I can sit here the whole day!


Bird's eye view - I had to brave a construction site to take this shot!

Bird’s eye view – I had to brave a construction site to take this shot!


Imam Square during the day

Imam Square during the day


Typical Persian interior design

Typical Persian interior design


The famous and beautiful Imam Square in Esfahan at night

The famous and beautiful Imam Square in Esfahan at night


View from my room in Esfahan

View from my room in Esfahan


Tomb in Pasagard

Tomb in Pasagard


Little bazaar in Shiraz

Little bazaar in Shiraz

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Woman in prayer. She was actually crying.

Woman in prayer. She was actually crying.


Mirror mosaics!

Mirror mosaics!


You think this is pretty? Wait til you see what's inside

You think this is pretty? Wait til you see what’s inside


The walls are just beautiful

The walls are just beautiful


The family taking off their shawls for the picture

The family taking off their shawls for the picture

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Wall near the entrance in Persepolis

Wall near the entrance in Persepolis


Persepolis! If there is one sight you have to go, it is this!

Persepolis! If there is one sight you have to go, it is this!

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Hmmm... I forgot what this is called.

Hmmm… I forgot what this is called.


Mosque in Shiraz

Mosque in Shiraz

Misconception # 1. The people must be violent and harsh! It’s understandable, they’ve lived in that condition for such a long time

The Iranians are the friendliest people I know. And it really takes a big deal for me to say that because Filipinos’ friendliness is hard to beat. But yeah, finally, after visiting 80 countries, I concede. They are cheerful, helpful, and just naturally nice. Since they do not see a lot of tourists, they are fascinated with Asian “exoticism” and would politely request for pictures. I felt like a celebrity! Here are some pictures with the amazing locals.

Met the one and only Filipina during our whole trip. She was with her family - she married an Iranian guy and they have a son. And their common language? Japanese! They now live in Bacolod, Philippines but met while living in Japan.

Met the one and only Filipina during our whole trip. She was with her family – she married an Iranian guy and they have a son. And their common language? Japanese! They now live in Bacolod, Philippines but met while living in Japan.


The boys are cute, too!

The boys are cute, too!


Goofing around before the teacher "caught" me!

Goofing around before the teacher “caught” me!


Posing with school children

Posing with school children


School trip

School trip


Isn't the woman stunning? Mind you, she requested for the picture with us!

Isn’t the woman stunning? Mind you, she requested for the picture with us!


The kids are so beautiful!

The kids are so beautiful!

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Peace everyone!

Peace everyone!

When to fight for stuff and when to let go when I travel

April 1, 2013

One thing I am reflecting on recently is what makes an awesome travel experience. What I learned is when I travel, most things tend to not go my way. It is a fine balance between letting things go and fighting for what I deserve.

This balance is very different for everyone. But it is very healthy to know your own balance. And where do you lean towards. Are you the type to nearly always let things slide, or are you like me, a fiery soul whose first instinct is to fight for what I deserve?

Over time I tried both sides. And I had hits and misses. What I learned is that things are worth fighting for if they are these types of situations:

1. Unsafe hotel conditions

I remembered booking an aircon room in a B&B in Rome. It turned out to be a portable air conditioning unit which required the window to be open so that the vent is positioned through the window. What made things worse was the electricity tripped every 5 minutes because the building wasn’t capacitized for all aircon units to be turned on at night. We prepaid for 3 nights. I fought for it and checked out after one night and got our money back.

2. I didn’t get what I paid for and the experience between the two options is vastly different

I don’t have to recall too long ago. During our stay in Hue, we booked two beach villas. When we got there, only one was facing the beach. One was facing a villa!!! I told them there is no way I would accept the second one as that is a garden villa and not a beach villa. We got moved to a beach villa. The experience is totally different! Reading a book listening to waves and feeling the cool breeze are only possible with the beach villa!

3, I get shortchanged by being a woman or being Filipino or Asian

Sad to say this still happens. On one of my most recent trips to Bangkok, I was held up because I didn’t keep my boarding pass, while everyone else had already passed immigration. Why would I keep a boarding pass on a flight I already completed? I made a big deal out of it and the supervisor ended up apologizing. I make a big deal out of it because complacency has its implications. It means discriminating against people like me is fine. And they will do it again. What I did will not ensure otherwise, but provides a warning that not everyone will keep quiet.

4. When people lie and promise something they never plan to do

During my stay in Ho Chi Minh I had an argument with the owner. I won’t bore you with the details. But I gave up and told him if it is possible to check out one day earlier and refund the one night. He agreed, almost too easily and too fast. I demanded he write a note which he did. Lo and behold, he went back on his word and only refunded 50%. I scanned the letter to Agoda and they believed me and refunded the total upfront and they will take it up with the owner. These service providers do not deserve to be left alone.

When do I let go?

1. When fighting for it means I lose time on what matters

During my trip to Bolivia, the agent assured me that there are bathrooms and showers in each hostel, and it will only be shared with people within my party of six. Totally untrue. But fighting for it means I have to spend time when I’m in Chile calling them when I am on tour. Totally not worth it.

2. When they’ve done good service recovery and ensured it won’t happen again

During my trip to Chile the local tour operator forgot my private transfer twice. After mentioning it, they immediately made sure to confirm my transfers, gave me a free lunch, the manager called me personally to apologize. Given the situation, I think they did the best they could. I didn’t escalate it further even if it caused me a lot of stress!

3. When fighting for it head on means you’re just “playing the piano in front of a cow” (in Chinese, 對牛彈琴)

When I was in Easter Island, the driver, greeter, and reception staff are very passive aggressive and disrespectful, not to mention inefficient. However, I read in Tripadvisor that the manager is just the same, so there is no point escalating it. I focused my attention on what really matters and let it go. My situation will not change and I will just get even more upset. I just wrote a really bad review in Tripadvisor instead.

4. When the compensation needs to come from the staff’s own pocket

When I realize this means the staff needs to pay for it, as much as I can, I’d rather not. I will try to ask the manager if the hotel or restaurant can shoulder for it, if not, I just let it pass. I do recognize that these people are paid very little. Hopefully they will be more careful next time.

I think it is helpful for me to be conscious of my own balance to make the most of my vacations. This means I am happy with what I fought for and do not care enough for things I let go.

How to have a full time job and travel around the world

March 31, 2013

A fried of mine suggested I write about the overall theme of my blog. Yeah I guess it’s about time I did 🙂

I’ve read so many blogs of people who quit their jobs and start traveling and blogging full time. While it sounds so “sweep-off-your-feet” romantic, it is not practical for me, and I believe it isn’t for most of you as well.

While I am single and do not really have much responsibility than taking care of myself, I hate the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead or where my next meal will come from. I also do not like traveling on a shoestring. The Filipino-Chinese in me is not comfortable asking for donations of some sort, especially since this is purely my selfish conquest. And last but not the least, I do not want, or at least not yet ready, to give up the daily intellectual challenge from my current banking job. So yeah, as a Chinese saying goes, my feet are in two boats (腳踏兩條船).

How do I do it? It’s really no rocket science. I just need to ensure I have enough energy, funds, and curiosity to keep me going.

1. Plan ahead

Those reading my blog for a while will be tired of this – but planning ahead makes sure I get everything relatively cheap, go to my first choices, and maximize my experience. Have an excel calendar of all your travels.

2. Put some variety

Anything monotonous will be mundane. I think the reason why I love traveling so much is I spice it up with variety. Shopping in Hong Kong, nature in South America, architecture in Europe, food in Southeast Asia, animals
in Africa – these are just a few of the themes I play with when I plan my travels.

3. Allocate leave dates to far locations.

One of the main constraints everyone has is the number of leave days from work. So if I can take off for 9 days, I don’t go to Thailand or Vietnam. I leave that for Europe. If I have three weeks, I’ll go to South America. That’s the only way I can maximize my opportunities to go to farther places.

4. Travel on all long weekends

I don’t let any opportunity pass. There is no chill long weekend for me. If there is a holiday, I am somewhere!

5. Choose a job that will make you earn enough to support your passion, but not enough to wear you out

This is a bit tricky. But what I learned is even if I have the opportunity to travel, working 80-100 hour weeks will just wear me out, leaving me no energy left to pursue my travels. So balance is key 🙂

6. Be fit

I also cannot stress this enough. My energy comes from 4-5 times a week of cardio, and 3-4 times a week of yoga. When my friends ask me where my energy comes from, my fitness routine is the answer 🙂

7. Make sacrifices

Traveling often means I have to put off a big ticket purchase, or not shop as much. But it’s all worth it!

8. Read, read, read

Why don’t I run out of places to go to? I read. My favorite books are DK eyewitness books and Lonely Planet. I have the Tripadvisor app. Yes, I am a travel nerd 😛 But the kick I get of traveling to off the beaten track places is just amazing!

9. Join travel groups

Sharing experiences with people who have the same traveling passion as you do keeps you going. If my schedule permits, I attend the presentations of sgtravelcafe.com because they present off the beaten track places and experiences. Most of the time, the places are not my cup of tea, but they make me realize what types of travel I prefer and understand my traveling preferences better.

10. Just go. Period.

When I talk to people one of the reasons they can’t go to a place because of considerations that stop them. Oh, our company’s travel advisory told us not to go. Not sure if it is the right season. I will just do it next time. Procrastinating means you travel less, and let go of opportunities. Talk to locals, make your judgment. If I survived Brazil, remote Indonesian provinces, and hopefully Iran and Africa this year, you will, too!!!

Let me know if you become a part time traveler like me, too 🙂

A single gal’s trusted travel gadgets

March 30, 2013

Hello from Hoi An, Vietnam! While relaxing by the pool I thought to share some travel tips on what to bring to make your trip fun and relaxing, even when traveling alone!

Traveling alone is a daunting task. Sometimes it is even more challenging for a girl. Let’s face it – we have less physical strength than guys. Furthermore, sometimes we do feel lonely traveling by ourselves.

Through my travels, I learned to love some of the stuff I bring with me. They make my travels easier and worry-free.

1. Four-wheel Samsonite suitcase

This is the second-best luggage a girl can have-if you do not want to spring for a Rimowa version. It makes lugging it around so much easier. I have it in three sizes. The hand carried version for my weekend trips, medium for a week, and large one for my long trips. Don’t skimp on this one. Your arms and back will thank you for it.

2. Deuter backpack with wired frame

I bring this in combo with the large suitcase for my long travels. If you have a bad back like me, your back is protected with the frame. No need for something big. Just 22 or 24 liters would do. I put my essentials there. And if I do an overnighter and leaving my large luggage somewhere else, I put my overnight clothes here.

3. Tripod

Get the lightest and tallest one you can afford. This will make sure your solo pics look awesome and are not just the products of someone feeling obliged to take your photo. You are in control of the composition of your pictures. Also, you will get better night shots! It will also serve as your weapon of choice. See my post on Krabi 😛

4. Bose Quietcomfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones

If you travel so much like I do, and just hate noise, this will be the smartest USD400 you will ever spend on. A baby crying on the plane? It doesnt bother me now!

5. Le Sport Sac overnighter

In my European trips, this sturdy, lightweight, and really cute bag folds nicely into my suitcase. When I fly home, it is filled with my loot! The zipper works really well, and it is reasonably waterproof. No fakes for me!

6. Kipling sling handbag

This is a girl traveler’s beat friend. Put it in front of you always and your stuff will be safe! And the slingstrap is so comfy on your shoulder, too! Zipper will never fail you. This beats a Prada nylon bag anytime! And I sling this first, then put the Deuter knapsack on top, so I have two hands to lug my large suitcase, or hold on to something. Handy!

7. Tablet

On long plane, bus, and train rides, I am entertained with many TV shows. This makes surfing easier too.

8. A good compact camera, and a spare

I never lug my DSLR around anymore. It is too heavy. But a normal compact camera is not good enough. My two faves: Canon G1X and Sony RX100. Portable and good for low light. It is worth investing in a camera worth more than USD 500! And I bring both, especially on long haul trips. I learned the hard way. My Canon S90 then konked out when zoomed in during one of my trips to Spain. Not fun!

9. Kindle

There is nothing better than curling up with a good book when I am in the mood. Books are heavy. Kindle is light, compact, and glare-free!

10. Medicine

In my long haul travels, I carry the essentials: paracetamol, non-drowsy cold medicine, betadine for wounds (I’m a klutz!), white flower oil for headaches, backpain, or insect bites.

11. Swimwear

It doesnt matter how cold my destination is. I bring a pair at the least. You never know if there is a good pool. It is light and does not take up space. You will be bummed if you cant enjoy the water just because you did not bring your bikini!

12. Shades

For the glaring sun, that cool look, and the prevention of more wrinkles 😛

13. Flipflops

For the pool, doubles as your bedroom slippers, and I bring them in the shower if I end up in an unforeseen icky hotel. Triple purpose!

14. Long-flight gear

For long haul flights, my perfect comfy warm attire. T-shirt, leggings, socks (when I am on my seat), comfy jacket.

These are my essentials. What are yours?

Why travel like a mad woman when you are single in your thirties

March 24, 2013

Here I am taking in the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City while savoring my Pho Bo and fresh coconut, and despite the noise from motorbikes I don’t know why I started reflecting on my recent travels. Perhaps this is from a recent conversation with a female coworker. When she saw me lugging my trolley last Friday afternoon, she said, “Traveling again? Where are you off to?” I said, “Yeah! Ho Chi Minh.” She said, “So envious! How I wish I can do that! I am too scared to travel alone. I know I just can’t do it!”

The past year and a half I took traveling to an even higher level. Granted there was a personal event triggering this, but after I was way over that, I learned something. I cannot stop traveling like a madwoman.

And I would like to encourage all single people, not just women, to do the same. My special mention to women, because just like my coworker, 9 out of 10 times the reason they tell me why they don’t is not the lack of desire for it, nor was it because they did not have the money to, but because they cannot find people to travel with, and traveling alone either was just not their cup of tea, or it just scared the wits out of them.

So I dedicate this post to all my fellow single gals in their thirties. Why should you travel as much as you can, even if you travel alone? And most of the time you will be alone, because other people cannot keep up with you!

My answer. I do, because mad traveling in my thirties keeps on doing this to me:

1. I go to places I never thought I would and this opens my mind away from my misconceptions

Because I run out of places to go for my weekend trips, I went beyond my usual Bangkok, Bali, Hong Kong. Weekend trips have limited choices, so I started revisiting Vietnam,
which I realized changed so much since my horrible experience around 10 years ago. I am not saying everyone is kind and helpful now, but people smile more now and the communist stigma is faint or even gone.

This means that that part of my mind that is always judgmental is disproven and challenged, time and time again.

2. I feel free to do whatever I want and learn about myself in the process

Don’t get me wrong. It would be great to travel with friends, family, or a special someone. And through experience i know they are special in their own way. But now when I travel so much, and mostly alone, I wake up as early as I want, and go to places without the need to ask someone else. It is empowering and liberating in a way that is hard to explain. And if you do it often, you will keep on discovering things about yourself.

3. Being in your thiries, and single, mean you have more funds

I am not saying that I have, or everybody has, unlimited budget once they reach their thirties. But being single in my thirties means I have only to spend for myself, and only myself. And gone were the twenties where I could not afford this or that. So I enjoy this as much as I can. When you have a boyfriend, you need to plan together. When you have a family, you even have more considerations. Those are fun too, but enjoy this unique moment as much as you can.

4. I become smarter

Traveling, just like any hobby or skill, takes practice. Nothing keeps me more on my feet better than being in a tricky situation where I do not speak the language on top of being bullied by men. I have gotten what I want in hotels, in airports, you name it, because fortunately, or unfortunately, I was stuck in these situations again and again. And there was no boyfriend to help me resolve it. No friend to ask for advice on what to do. So I had to rely on myself.

Just two nights ago, I had an argument with the owner of the B&B that I stayed at. But i was quick on my feet and got a refund on my second night of stay. Now I am staying in a new one and could not be happier.

5. I become more humble

Okay, my friends know I am not the first to come to mind when it comes to humility. But traveling reminds me that I do not know-it-all, there is so much to understand, and seeking help is perhaps the best solution I have when something goes wrong. And since I travel so often I do this often. And i am constantly reminded to be humble 🙂

6. I learn to appreciate what I have

Being in so many places, I realize how fortunate I am and while I travel almost every weekend, there is no other place I want to go home to. Singapore has been my second home and there is no other place I want to live in right now.

7. It curbs my shopping

I believe i am not the only one trying to curb my shopping 🙂 Because I travel so much, I have to save up for it and this is a good reason to cut down. And it is easy because I do not have the time to shop anyway. Okay, I still do, but not as much as before 🙂

8. I am constantly reminded that the world is beautiful

It is not everyday that I see flying flamingoes in a red lake, like I did in Bolivia, or the most beautiful cliff in Laredo, Spain, or fly in a chopper in Iguassu Falls. Closer to home, I realized that Macan Island, two hours by boat from Jakarta, is a very pretty beach!

9. I have so much to share with friends and family

I constantly have so many experiences to share with them. Whether it is the latest boo boo, the most awesome experience, or the best food in town. Sometimes, it is nice to know-it-all 😛

10. Because you only have one decade you can call your thirties

With “some time” left, I am very happy that I can look back and say I have made the most of it and will do until i reach the next one (gasp!) What I learned is how we travel and what we treasure changes as we grow older. And there are some things that we will not be able to experience in the same way when we are older.

I went to the Rio carnival recently, as most of you know, and my good friend Jeanette and I were so glad we did it now. I do not think I will be in the same mindset (and stamina) when I do this when I am a lot older. It is one of the most awesome travel experiences and I am glad I enjoyed it in its full glory!

I believe that I will enjoy traveling just as much, or even more, when I am older, but it would be of different things and a totally different perspective. So don’t dilly dally and let opportunities slip away!

My last note to my fellow gals in their thirties, carpe diem, travel like mad, and do not wait til you’re forty 😛

Many firsts in Bolivia: Being cheered on while p’ing in the wild and doing an Oscar-worthy performance in Bolivia

March 21, 2013

Even if I love traveling so much, I have my boundaries. I do not like sharing my room with more than 1 person, I need my clean private bathroom. And I do not go to places (or return to them) when they are known to be dirty and filthy (hence my country blacklist).

These boundaries are crossed over time and time again during my 3 day trip to Uyuni in Bolivia. You see, usually it takes me one picture to decide where to go. In Bolivia, it took this:

Uyuni%20Salt%20Lake%202

So I started inquiring. I learned that I will see a slightly different view. Since February is rainy season, I would see reflections from the water. Cool!

Apparently, there is no tour which does not rough it if you want to have a tour beyond one day. I was assured that even if I will be sharing a room, the bathroom and showers would be clean, and all meals will be provided with quality. And it also helped that the last stop was so close to the Chilean border, San Pedro de Atacama, where my next stop is. So rather than flying in from Santiago to San Pedro, I would just cross by land from Bolivia. Convenient! (Or that’s what I thought!)

I was promised with spectacular sights beyond my imagination, and I was told that the tour will be reasonably comfortable.

“Reasonably” is an arbitrary word, and here’s why:

1. First time to eat meat as hard as a rock

I didn’t even take photos of the food because it’s just too sad. But I was in the  middle of nowhere with no other choice. Beggars can’t be choosers!

2. First time to stay in dirty hostels filled with noisy, haven’t-taken-a-bath backpackers

It’s good that my fellow travel mates were okay, but the rest of the people staying in the hostels are not. Given that the bathrooms are shared, it’s as disgusting as it gets. And one hostel we stayed at didn’t even have a shower. Even with cold weather, I just could not bear not showering for a day. And they are noisy. Good thing I have my noise cancelling earphones with me!

3. First time to p in the wild – with cheering squad!

We would go for hours and hours of traveling and there are no toilets. Mind you, even when I was crossing the border to Chile, you would expect there is one, but no! Apparently, building a toilet is rocket science. So what did I do, do what the Romans did – did my business in the wild, in the middle of open space!!! It’s a first – and hopefully not to be repeated. My most embarrassing moment, while doing my business, was when a car filled with young guys suddenly zoomed by and started cheering! Oh well, I will never see any of you anyway!!!

4. First time to deliver an Oscar-winning performance

Bolivia is sadly South America’s poorest country. And it is easy to realize that the minute you land. And baggage comes with people who live in very poor countries. They are slow, inefficient, and for those who have just a bit of power over you, they would try to take advantage of it.

When I was checking in on my flight from La Paz to Uyuni, the staff insisted I have to show the credit card I used to make the booking. I told them I lost the card, and would willingly call Citibank to verify and talk to them. They refused. I asked if there is anything else I could do instead, the answer is no. They just wouldn’t let me fly unless they are shown the card.

What can I single Asian girl who does not speak Spanish do in such situations (with the flight 1 hour away)? Cry. Yes, cry to the top of my lungs even if I didn’t feel like it. I knew it would be resolved, but I am so tired with a 10+hour flight from Brazil. And it was 4,500m above sea level. I need my boarding pass fast. So I managed to shed tears, break down, and pretend I couldn’t breathe as I am not used to the altitude (which later turns real!). I was ignored by the staff, so the drama went on for another couple of minutes.

Then a kind-hearted Western couple argued with them, saying they were unreasonable, and there should be another way. Lo and behold, I was handed a form I just need to fill in.

Boarding pass issued. Too bad there is no Oscar trophy 🙂

I later apologized to the couple, as well as the Americal girl beside me, about the drama. The couple did not mind at all. The American girl even laughed, “Oh – you had to, dear! If you didn’t do that, they wouldn’t have given it to you.”

5. Second (sorry this is not a first) time for my breath to be taken away – literally! (First time in Peru!)

I knew this coming in. Flying into a place 4,500 meters above sea level will leave you breathless. I realized you will only feel this around 4-6 hours after you land. So I was fine in La Paz, but altitude sickness hit me in Uyuni, and hit me hard. I was lucky I traveled with a really kind-hearted family – who helped me carry my things all the way.

So was Bolivia a total disaster. Ironically, not so. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime amazing experience I will never forget. I experienced so many FIRSTS:

1. First time to be stretched way beyond my travel boundaries

Breaking my boundaries, physically and emotionally, made me realize how much I can do. I am not saying I will be signing up for the next camping trip. But this made me realize how much I can endure. Sounds funny, but it is really true.

2. First time to be “adopted” to the most amazing family

Each tour group consists of seven people – the group I was with was a French family (and their friends) and they knew each other before joining the trip. They welcomed me with open arms from the minute they saw me, and treated me like family. My friends know that I do not like sharing space with strangers that much, and this showed me that perhaps, I should start trying. They did, and they made my trip really fun!

My wonderful family for 3 days!

My wonderful family for 3 days!

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My French family at the hot springs. It was too cold for me to jump in!

My French family at the hot springs. It was too cold for me to jump in!

3. First-time jaw dropping sights

This is why I joined the tour in the first place – to see the salt flats. That is amazing in itself, but the sights are out of this world. Absolutely no civilization, and pure beautiful nature. Flamingoes flying around a red lake, green lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop, the list goes on. Here are some highlights.

Uyuni salt flats

Uyuni salt flats

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Typical scenery on my way to the Chilean border

Typical scenery on my way to the Chilean border

Geysers at sunrise

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This was worth the strong winds and long walk

This was worth the strong winds and long walk

As close as I could get

As close as I could get

Green lake. Laguna Verde to be more precise 😛

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More llamas

More llamas

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I had to pose anyhow!

I was breathless here!

I was breathless here!

Yes, you have a cute butt!

Yes, you have a cute butt!

Run, llamas, run!!!!

Run, llamas, run!!!!

Salt mounds

Salt mounds

Would I go back again – to this area, no. To Bolivia, not in the top of my list. But was I glad I did it, YEAH!

Falling for Iguassu Falls: Top 5 travel tips

March 18, 2013

It’s so easy to be awed with Iguassu Falls – and for a reason – it is breathtaking and majestic. It is the second biggest falls in the world, only second to Victoria Falls in Africa. I visited the Brazilian side in 1996, as part of a South American trip. It is so beautiful that I decided to go there again. This time around,  I stayed for two days, one day to visit the Brazil side, and another to visit the Argentina side.

You have to fly from almost everywhere to get to Iguassu- but it is worth it. Not even Niagara Falls can compare to it! If you are in this part of the world, don’t miss out on this natural wonder.

Here are some tips when you plan to go to Iguassu Falls:

1. See both sides

I read numerous forums before deciding whether to do only the Brazilian side or the Argentinian side as well. I got mixed reviews, which makes it a bit harder to decide. A lot of people choose only 1 side due to lack of time. I was glad I decided to see both, as the two sides give totally different experiences, and see different aspects of the falls.

The Brazilian side gives you a panoramic view – you can walk through several platforms, and at the very end it leads to an elevated viewing platform. It is a very short comfortable walk. You can do it in half a day. This you can do by yourself. Ask the tourist information for the buses – it’s so easy to get around.

 

Brazilian view

Brazilian view

 

Side view of the Brazilian side. If you think this is a close view, wait til you see the Argentina side!

Side view of the Brazilian side. If you think this is a close view, wait til you see the Argentina side!

 

The Argentinian side, on the other hand, provides you an intimate view of the falls. You can get up close and personal with the Devil’s Throat. You need a full day to walk all the paths. You can book your tour from the Iguassu airport in the Brazil side – it’s cheap – around USD 1o0 – and it will take you to a guided full day tour to the Argentinian side. It’s too much of a hassle to figure out how to get there by yourself.

Near Devil's Throat!

Near Devil’s Throat!

Up close and personal

Up close and personal

As close as you can get!

As close as you can get!

2. No need to book expensive accommodation. Save it for something greater (this encourages you to read on!)

Unless your room opens to the falls – choose a basic and clean accommodation. I did. I paid USD 30 per night in a simple clean hostel and the staff are helpful and friendly. The breakfast is awful though, but there was a supermarket around the corner where I bought my food.

3. Wear as little clothing as you’re comfortable of wearing!

You will get wet! If you didn’t then it just meant you did not go close enough! Buy a disposable raincoat, and underneath, wear as little clothing. Because wet clothes are uncomfortable. I am not saying to wear just a bikini, but a tank top with short shorts would work! And wear flip flops with back straps, no closed shoes!

 

So drenched!!!

So drenched!!!

 

4. Book the boat tour that goes up close to the Falls

It’s an exhilirating experience to get so close to the Falls. Yes you get as wet as you can, but it’s part of the fun!

Approaching the falls from the boat - too bad can't get anything close!

Approaching the falls from the boat – too bad can’t get anything close! You need a waterproof camera!

5. Here’s the splurge you should not miss. Book a chopper tour.

Don’t skimp on this, you will regret it! It’s the highlight of the Iguassu trip. You get to see the bird’s eye view, and the chopper dives down to give you different angles! You won’t see anything on the plane (in 1996 they actually fly you across the Falls and goes around, not anymore!) so the chopper is the only way to see the same view. I wanted to do a second round but it started raining! But luckily I manage to do it once! Do it early in the morning for the best light.

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This trip is so spectacular that I think it will be hard for me to be impressed with another waterfall. So I chose the largest as my next destination. See you Victoria Falls in August 2013! Hope you’ll look forward to my blog entry then 🙂