5 Money Saving Travel Tips for Your EuroTrip

So you are off on a European holiday too? Ahhhh, living the life huh… 20 something trust-fund baby, with someone else’s credit card, floppy hat blowing in the wind, sipping a cafe latte on the balcony of a hotel on the French Riviera. Yeaaaaah, unfortunately… NOT my life story.

Not you either? OK then read on for some tricks I have learned along the way, so that I can persevere my limited European budget for the things that really matter in life, like… fantastic cheeses. Here are my TOP 5 MONEY SAVING TIPS that won’t leave you breaking the bank for whatever you are most excited about doing/seeing in Europe, be it trying a plethora of cheeses or that cafe latte on the bank of the French Riviera!

  • Use Public Transportation OR Walk

This one is an oldie but goodie. I know it is common knowledge to use public transportation while traveling to save money, yet so many of us cave and take a taxi to/from the airport (this adds up people). I find it is usually due to lack of planning, and my trick is to always look up the route to/from my lodging and the train terminal or the airport before I arrive. I also make sure I have exact change for the bus or metro, this takes a little extra planning. Maybe navigating a poorly created government website in some Eastern European language sounds terrifying to you as well, don’t worry the info is out there, typically just a quick search away on The Google.

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Prague has the longest escalator ever!! FYI

  • Book “Alternative” Accommodation

These days staying somewhere other than a hotel no longer means sleeping in funky, possibly infested, too small for even the average human- beds of a youth hostel. Times are changing and hostels have become the trendy alternative to hotels. Many hostels in Europe have private rooms in addition to the traditional dorms, and sometimes they even have free breakfast (rare). Yeah, sure you won’t get tiny shampoo, but you will save a few bucks on that bill. I say a few bucks because with their rise in popularity, and increase in standards, the prices are now more comparable to that of a crappy hotel and the price gap between hostel and hotel is narrowing. That said, if hanging with often rambunctious 18-30 year old strangers is not your thing, Air B&B is always an option. Air B&B, a site to find accommodation in someone else’s home, is now world wide. The prices vary widely, as does what you get. You can find everything from a couch in someone’s living room for $10 a night, to an entire 3 bedroom home for a week. Typically it can save you money, especially if you are traveling with another person or two, but it does require quite a bit of research and booking well in advance. The last option, also the cheapest, is Couch Surfing. Yup, it is what it sounds like… staying on a strangers couch, or sometimes floor, or sometimes even their guest bed room. The thing about it is, IT IS FREE. Yes, I said FREE. Although, it is the “booking” process that requires the most time and effort in order to do it safely, and to find reliable couches… to surf on. I will do an entire post, or two, dedicated just to explain what the hell this is, but in the simplest of terms its an online interface for finding free lodging with a local, in exchange for a type of ‘cultural exchange’… just for the love of travel and exploration.

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Disclaimer- NOT in Europe. This is from my trip to the Amazon of Peru, but it is by far the most alternative I have experienced for “accommodation”. Spent almost a week on this epic cargo ship trip down the Amazon.

  • Take the Bus When Possible OR Fly on Budget Airlines

If you plan to visit more than one European country, which I assume most people do. Getting from country to country can get pricey, but fear not there are plenty of ways to get around this. I know people talk a lot about the Euro-Rail, but that wasn’t even in my budget, it can still get quite expensive. The bus is really the cheapest way to go, but 12 hour bus rides are really not for everyone, I understand. If you can tolerate it, or if your cities are relatively close, I recommend OUIBus and FlixBus, they have been the cheapest so far. If the distance between your cities is short and a popular travel route, there is a ride-share site called “Blah Blah Car”. This is a site you have to register for, so you will know who your driver is and the other passengers, and gives you an interface to communicate (have not tried it myself yet). If you do need to fly, there are numerous budget airlines in Europe, the most popular being RyanAir. Careful with these airlines, they are only cheap if you are traveling light, they have fees out the wazoo! Be sure to look up the fees, they sometimes charge checked bags by kilo, add different fees for booking with card or not paying for your bag in advance… read those fine lines!

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Bus rides are perfect for daydreams!

  • Go on FREE Walking Tours

These are everywhere in Europe! I am typically not a fan of huge guided tours, I do not think they are the most intimate way to get to know a new city. That said, I have found a few amazing companies that offer free tours of both typical tourist sites, and behind the scenes places with real local flare. It is as simple as google searching “free tours” in the city of your choosing, check their reviews and ask how many people they limit it to. These tours run off of tips, so if you have fun then let them know! I am on a budget (which is why I am on a free tour in the first place), so I usually give 2-5 euros and let them know I will write a glowing review on tripadvisor… That is of course only if I enjoyed it, which I have every time. “SANDEMANs” and “Free Tours By Foot” can be found in many cities, if you are in Berlin look up “Alternative Berlin”. I took their free tour, and also paid (12 euros) for their “Anit-PubCrawl”, which takes you to local watering holes rather than the usual touristy pubs.

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My adorable Tour Guide in Prague!

  • EAT STREET FOOD

This is my absolute favorite money saving tip!! There are so many yummy places to eat in Europe, I very easily find myself going overboard… more cheese please. This tip keeps me in check. I see eating in a sit-down restaurant like a treat (or in really cheap countries save it only for dinner), but rest of the time I try new dishes on the street. Be it munching on ‘pommes with oorlog sauce’ in Amsterdam, eating ‘curryworst’ or ‘schnitzel’ in Berlin, or the most amazing creation… ‘trdelník’ in Prague. I know you can’t survive off of fried dough treats… but you are only a loser if you don’t try, right? Of course if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, which if you are following tip #2 you are, you can cook for yourself. I personally cook all the time when I am home, and I see traveling as a chance to eat as many new things as humanly possible… then when I go home I try making them myself.

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Curryworst in Berlin!

I hope this helps you save some money as you gallivant through Europe! I like to always keep in mind though, these experiences can sometimes be once in a lifetime, and so it is always about priorities. Budget first, so that you don’t have to say no to something that will leave you with a memory you will think on later in life that will fill you with joy. Those are always the best souvenirs to take home from a trip!

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6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Europe!

I am off again, galavanting. This time through Europe! It will be my first time solo traveling in Europe, and I plan to see somewhere around 8 countries. The thought of planning a 3 month trip through 8 different countries was frightening to say the least… but I did it! Here I am half way through my time in Europe, and starting to reflect. I put together a list of the 10 things I wish I knew while preparing for my trip. Getting ready for a big trip can be a mountain of a task, especially if it is a destination you have never been to. Hopefully this guide helps to point you in the right direction. Be warned some of them are totally embarrassing things, that I know good and well I should have known, but I am not here to be an expert. I am here to give you the honest truth, as I make my way on this journey. Giving it to you real: The Good, The Bad, and The ‘Wanderful’.

  • Seasons Don’t Change Slowly in Europe

This lesson was a hard one to learn myself! I did not look closely enough at typical weather patterns for all the countries I was visiting, and for this I froze my buns off for the first half of my trip. I started in London and the weather was fantastic, warm and sunny every day around 80 degrees fahrenheit (Side-note, I just realized I have no idea how to spell fahrenheit, I was spelling it so badly even autocorrect had no idea what the hell I was trying to say, and so I had to google it). I figured I would have at least 3 weeks of “transitional weather” before it got really cold… wrong-o. The temperature dropped 30 degrees from when I left London to when I got to Germany, which was within a week. Despite the fact that I was wearing almost every article of clothing in my bag at once, I was still under-dressed for the weather in Amsterdam and Germany especially. If you are traveling in a transitional season, bring warm winter clothes. Better yet don’t travel in a transitional season! Its a pain in the butt. Pick a season, and you will thank me when you don’t have to pack both your bikini and your parka.

  • Not Everywhere in Europe Uses the Euro

Ok yes, this one is a little embarrassing… I knew not EVERY country used the Euro, but I thought all the Schengen Countries I was visiting on this trip did. First of all, this is great info to know when budgeting, and planning when and where you will exchange your home currency. I never exchange all my money at once, especially if my trip will last over several months because the rate can always change (hopefully in my favor). Also if you are bussing into another country, and you arrive late at night, and only have Euros… and they don’t use Euros, no bueno for you… Trust me I know. So here is what I learned, it has nothing to do with Schengen countries, it is much easier to think about it in terms of the EU. All of the European Union countries use the Euro except: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK (I knew this one!).

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Don’t forget to spend some GBP on the London Eye, its worth it!

 

  • WiFi is NOT Readily Available All Over Europe

This came as a surprise to me, it really depends on the country but I think it is best to prepare with the thought that you may need to hunt for wifi. I especially found this to be true in Germany. I would say to be on the safe side insure your accommodation has wifi, that way you know you will be able to use the world wide web at least once a day (for research, chatting, or working purposes). Typical places that have wifi: cafes, “coffee shops” (in Amsterdam), some restaurants, and large malls.

  • Laundry Facilities are NOT Always Easy to Find

If you are traveling for more than 2 weeks, the only way to pack light is to do laundry along the way (I guess you could also commit to wearing dirty clothes over and over… but for the sake of making new friends I went with the less smelly option). When traveling in South America I found this very easy to do, there was a ‘Launderia’ around every corner. Not so much in Europe. Most Europeans have washers in their apartments and hang their clothes to dry, and so a laundry mat in the city has been hard to come by. When booking accommodation I would say every 2-3 weeks attempt to find a place near a laundry mat or ask if they offer laundry services at your hostel/hotel/airB&B/etc.

  • Your Travel Schedule WILL Change… At Least Once

I know it can feel mildly stressful for some not knowing where you will be next, but that is half the fun of this! Over the course of 2 weeks I have added and subtracted at least 2 destinations from my itinerary. I would say have an “outline” of what you want to see and about how long you want to stay in each place, but don’t book transition-travel right away. If there is somewhere expensive (or not continental) it could be beneficial to book a flight in advance. For example, I knew I wanted to go to Greece, and the only cheap way to get from there to Spain was to fly and stop in Malta, so I booked that about 1 month ahead. For all the other places between Germany and Greece where I knew I was going to take a bus, I budgeted for the average price, but waited to book the ticket. I have added Budapest and Vienna to my trip since I booked my Greece flight and getting cheap bus tickets 2 days in advance has been no issue.

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I stubbled upon the Signal Festival in Prague! You never really know what is going on until you get there!

  • Budget for Public Transportation

For some reason I did not factor into my budget getting around, once I got there… Silly me. Do not make my same mistake. While public transport is reasonable easy (depending on the country) and affordable, it still adds up! If you are going to be staying in a city for any more than 2 days, it might be worth looking up prices per trip for their metro system and making a per day budget for transportation. Even if it is just 5 euros a day, that is an extra 280 euros needed for a 2 month trip. Most cities have a 1/2/3 day pass, and some even week long passes geared towards tourists.

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Always worth it, even if you aren’t counting pennies. Public transport in Europe is an awesome experience!

Hope these help you while preparing for your big trip! Any tips you have for pre-trip planning? Let me know in the comments, or if you have specific questions about… anything, ask away!

With Love From PRAGUE,

Olivia

Machu Picchu!! The Poor Man’s Adventure Trek.

As you might have already guessed, I enjoy the wilder side of things… and so when it came to visiting Machu Picchu I was on the search to find a more “exotic” route to take. Rather than the much traveled and quite pricey (but phenomenal and classic) Inca Trail, I booked the more economical Inca Jungle Trek. What not everyone knows is that there are actually two trails traveled by the Incas to get to Machu Picchu, well technically one wasn’t traveled by the “Inca” because Incas were actually just the royalty or ruling class. The commonly known trail is the route the royalty took to reach Machu Picchu, but the common people or Quechua people took a route through the Andean jungle. This isn’t a beautifully crafted stone walkway like the images conjured by the mention of the Inca Trail, it’s a winding overgrown footpath through the thick of the jungle. To go on this wild adventure with a tour company, there are usually 3 and 4 day options offered, but to do it as cheap as possible yet still have enough time to explore I chose a 5 day plan that was all walking and buses… rather than enjoying the comfort of taking the train. The first day consisted of a thrilling and slightly terrifying mountain bike ride down from a peak in the Andes into the jungle below, with the option to go whitewater rafting in the valley for an extra $30. The second day was a 6-8 hour hike straight up and over a mountain then ending the day in a natural hot springs. The next morning there was another $30 option to go zip-lining and then take a car to the town of Hydro Electrica, if you don’t go with that option you do save 30 bucks… but you have a 4 hour hike bright and early to get to Hydro Electrica in time to meet up with the zip-lining crew. After having lunch together at Hydro Electrica, everyone does the 3 hour hike along the train tracks to the town located below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes (or as it is now being called… Machu Picchu Pueblo). The next morning at 5am pretty much the entire town begins the 2,000-step climb to the top. Once at Machu Picchu, halfway through the day most people doing the jungle trek have to leave and hike the 3 hours back to Hydro Electrica in order to catch their 3pm bus to Cusco, the lucky ones take the train that night. I didn’t want to sacrifice a second of sunshine at the top, and I could barely walk after 4 days of hiking nonstop, so I spent one extra night in Aguas Calientes and slept in before my 3 hour hike to catch my 6 hour bus back to Cusco. I went on this incredible trip my last week in Peru with the last of my funds… and so I opted for the most basic plan, which was mountain biking, hiking, hot springs, and a visit to Machu Picchu!! The company I used was called Aita Peru, the woman running it was amazing and thorough… tailoring the trip to the individual needs of every person (I highly recommend them as I shopped around a lot beforehand and was so happy with my decision). I couldn’t have asked for a more adventurous, inspiring, and motivating end to my journey through Peru.

The bike ride was by far the most adrenaline-junkie part of the trek. We got all geared up and then went barreling down a mountain road for two and a half hours. My heart would feel like it was going to explode every time I was passed by a bus or construction vehicle while making a hairline turn on one of the many switch backs. Starting up at 4,000 m above sea level where I had wished I put another layer on under the odd “biker” jacket we were supplied with, we ended the ride in the valley surrounded by lush jungle and I couldn’t wait to strip down to my tank top. The most amazing part for me (being more of a naturalist than a crazy thrill chaser), was the incredible change in foliage over the 2.5 hour ride… and being able to see the way the plants have adapted to a completely different environment all on the same mountain!

All geared up and getting instructions on how NOT to die...

All geared up and getting instructions on how to NOT die…

The following day we set out on the toughest hike, up and over a mountain. During the hike we stopped at the Monkey House, which was a working coffee plantation where tours can stop for a break and learn about cacao, coffee, and coca. We marched on after that delightful break, over rickety bridges, back and forth along insanely narrow switchbacks, and ended in the hot springs!

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

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Yucca, fresh coffee beans, jungle liquors, cacao beans, and purple corn!

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Beautiful Valley!

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That silver bunch of buildings by my elbow… yeah I came from somewhere near there that morning. BAMF-status!

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My companions for those glorious 5 days.

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You see that red speck in the center of the photo?? That’s a person…

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Rickety Bridges… not for the weak of heart!

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Nothing like a bucket pulley over a raging river.

The third day only two of us opted out of zip-lining in the morning, and so we were each other’s hiking buddies for the first 4 hours of the day. Our guide stayed with the other six and drew us a crude map that looked like something you would follow to get to Narnia… “You go down this ladder, around the mountain, over this bridge… there will be a guard then blink twice say my name and you’ll be there”… ok not quite that weird but pretty close. It’s a shame the other 6 people got to take a car for this section of the trip because that 4 hour hike was truly beautiful! After lunching all together, we finished the day with a 3 hour walk along the train tracks to finally reach the town of Aguas Calientes.

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Gorgeous bridge in the valley surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

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Beautiful waterfalls showered the mountainsides.

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This is the first time my friend and I came across another hiker during those 4 hours…   can you spot the stranger-danger?? LOL

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Train tracks to Machu Picchu.

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As I was grumbling about the pain in my legs… getting this shot made me remember how good it is to be on foot instead of rushing past in a train.

The next morning at 5am, I pretended that every inch of my body was NOT in pain, and I jumped out of my bed like it was Christmas! I headed to the line and waited my turn at the bottom of Machu Picchu to get my ticket checked. When you look up it seems to be a sheer cliff face, and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone… let alone little asthmatic me… could get to the top. Then I did it! I hiked up those nearly vertical 2,000 steps huffing and puffing, but I made it!!

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise... it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise… it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people for the Incas to reach Machu Picchu.

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people, during the time of the Inca empire.

Finally up at the top and through the gates Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Finally up at the top and through the gates, Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

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Before we went off to explore on our own, we walked around for 2 hours with a guide who explained the history of this incredible site.

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In all its splendor!

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The only building with a rounded wall… believed to be a temple of the sun.

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It is thought that this was an architectural design to keep Machu Picchu from sliding off the top of the mountain, but another theory is that they were used for agriculture… and some say these terraces were for both.

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“Don’t touch the ruins!” Im not touching… I’m thinking!

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Breathtaking!

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Machu Picchu… The Land Of #Selfies

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On top of the WORLD.

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Don’t forget me! The llamas at the Machu Picchu site are actually there to maintain the grass!

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Channeling the essence of the Picchu… actually I was fixing my hair for the pic, but meditating makes it seem like I’m making a much cooler face!

This was one of the most incredible things I have done in my life. I made memories and friends I get to keep forever by going through the amazing tour group Aita Peru, but I still had that time I need when I visit a place to sit and be with just myself. I like to say that when I travel I never “sight-see”… I commune. Machu Picchu proved to be one of those incredible places where as I stand in awe, my soul expands to connect with the land and I am forever changed… elevated and never to be the same.

Happy place! Happy face!

Happy place! Happy face!

Travel Tip of The Day!

Nothing like waking up to the sunrise from the airport floor! I love to travel and fortunately enough for me I honestly don’t mind red-eye flights or layovers sleeping on airport seats. The way I can travel so cheaply has a lot to do with the dirt cheap flights I find that have the worst layovers possible. Not everyone feels the way I do, and often times for travelers, getting there is by far the hardest part. For all those that fear the airport floor, there are a few things I always bring that make my airport stay a bit more comfortable. When my layovers are short I try to bring nothing more than a small bag, but traveling around the world requires something more substantial. I typically pack one carry on, and the easiest is by far a small backpack. If you are a backpacker then your 10-20 liter daypack will work great. To make my comfy airport bed I bring an eye mask, ear plugs, a small sweater, another sweater I use as a pillow, a lite weight sarong just to cover the seat or floor, and a small blanket (mine is actually an airplane blanket I “collected” a while ago). A book and headphones are critical, and I always bring a change of clothes (thin fabric to save space) and my toothbrush so I can arrive in a new place not feeling like I’m covered in thousands of other people’s germs. One last thing I bring that I don’t think is on most people’s airport list is peppermint oil, rubbing some on your tummy helps with nausea on the plane not to mention it smells a lot better than stale airplane air! Before I head out I often check tripadvisor for the restaurant ratings in the international wing to make my decision of where to eat easier when I’m starving and my legs are wobbly from sitting for 7 hours. If you are ever in the Bogotá airport, Orleans- American Bistro is pretty tasty… but aside from Tabasco there is nothing there that reminds me of New Orleans, that said their chowder is incredible. They also play great movies (on mute), and awesome 90s music videos at a reasonable volume during the day… at night you might mistake it for an empty discoteca. I hope this helps make it a little easier on those that loath the overnight flight, if you really need to save some bucks go for that dirt cheap flight with terrible hours and make the best of it. Happy Traveling!!

La energìa de Cusco

My arrival in Cusco is off to an amazing cosmic beginning!!! I was bombarded by taxi drivers at the airport giving me fares between 30-15 soles… And I stuck it out like a champ and found colectivo buses which cost me .70 cents! Once I arrived in the center I got a map and asked about cheap hostels, which here in Cusco will run you 20 soles a night. I walked and walked but everything was either full or more than I wanted to pay. I was getting very far from any touristy areas and figured I would have to settle… When a gorgeous man appeared in front of me out of nowhere. He was clearly an artisan carrying a board with handmade trinkets.  “You couldn’t find a hostel”, he says as a statement rather than a question. I’m little weirded-out that he knew exactly what was going through my mind, but I know how the universe works so I smiled and told him I was still searching for something cheaper. He wants to know where I am from and I tell him the Caribbean, The Virgin Islands. To which he responds that he is from Puerto Rico!! I have yet to meet anyone other than sailers who know where my hometown is in the Caribbean, and here is a man that lives on the next island over. I felt so at home suddenly. He tells me that there is a place around the corner where he is staying called “Sol Latina” or Latin Sun, and they have backpacker beds (aka multiple bunk beds in a room) for 8 soles a night. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me, because this is less than any hostel I have come across in the 2 months I have been here in Peru, he gives me directions to the building with green balcony… which is completely unmarked. It looks like a regular home, no sign… nothing, but everything in me knows this is a gift from the universe. The door opens and inside, sure enough there is a busy hostel. Filled with true “travelers”, everyone is from some South or Central American country, the majority are artisans with their crafts traveling as a lifestyle. The air rings of Spanish spoken in so many different accents, it’s beautiful. Everyone is loud and happy, welcoming me warmly… The most beautiful Argentinean women embrace me and kiss me on the cheek. I can not believe this wonderful warm secret found me, the energy in Cusco in strong… filled with warmth and wonder.

Three Tomatoes, Two Bags of Rice, and a Can of Tuna 

I recently spent 5 days camping in the Amazon, this is the tale of my culinary journey through the jungle. I was definitely not planning on having a global gourmand story come from my camping trip, if anything I was hoping to lose a few lbs after eating my way through Lima for 2 weeks, but to my surprise it would prove to be the foodie trek of a lifetime!

Disclaimer before I begin… I have so many amazing vegetarian and vegan friends I love and deeply respect, and so I would like to just take a minute to alert anyone who would be offended, that there are photos in this post of fresh uncooked wild game. If seeing this would make you feel uncomfortable, but you would still love to learn all about the delicious fresh foods I enjoyed in the jungle, message me and I will send you the article without those photos.

Onward!

To paint the scene of what I was expecting to be eating on my trip, I have to get a little into the details of the tour I signed up for. This jungle trek was an unusual offer, it was by far the most rugged and pure experience available. Most multiple-day tours of the Amazon in Iquitos take your group of 2-6 people to a lodge with the majority of amenities you would find in any rustic retreat. Obviously there is no wi-fi… But there are beds, and running water, and a bathroom, and maybe even electricity. Yeah the trip I opted for… Not so much. Although I must say I am rather partial to a bed, I knew I wanted a more unadulterated experience in nature. We sat down with the organizer for the trip in his office… aka his mom’s house (who I sat and had some juice with… Turns out she is 96!), and he basically asked my friend and I how much we could spend and how “authentic” we wanted this trip to be. He showed us where most tours go, where all the ones we had looked into had lodges, and explained its just a river lined with lodges and a few villages nearby who keep jungle animals as pets to insure that every tourists who visits gets to “find” and “touch” a wild animal. According to him this area is commonly referred to by the guides as “Gringolandia”. He offered us a 5 day trip that goes to a different river and deeper into the jungle, where we will have the chance to see primary forest and waterfalls. He let us know that it wasn’t going to be comfortable living, and that when it comes to animals he can’t guarantee a thing… because it isn’t someone’s backyard filled with pets. A little rugged trek in the wild was just what the doctor ordered, I was sold! In total there were 4 of us, my friend Trent (who I met on the 5 day river boat), Humberto our naturalist guide, and Manuel our local guide (and medicinal plant specialist) who lives with his family in the jungle close to where we began our adventure.

Along with modern comforts like refrigeration, went the potential to bring with us much in terms of fresh produce. When we met up with our guide we did some last-minute shopping in a small town along the river. For the couple of nights we would be sleeping on the jungle floor, he picked up 3 tomatoes, 2 bags of rice… and a can of tuna. As I thought of the different combinations of those ingredients I decided I wanted nothing to do with any meal that resulted. I was set to turn this trip into a 5 day cleanse… fasting, exercise, the whole 9 yards.

Our first task, after settling in, was to set out our net or “trampa” to catch tomorrow’s lunch.

Seeing as we just set the nets I was dreading that the first meal would surely involve that can of tuna. When we got back to base camp I offered to help in the kitchen, as I stood there chopping a single tomato for our “salad” Manuel came in beaming. He tells us he is giving us a gift for dinner, he will be selling the rest of this “gift” at the market but for us he saved a piece… and then right next to me he slaps down a foot…

… A very scaly foot.

Manuel had caught an alligator in his trampa at home, and by the looks of his foot it was a sizable one. I’m not into eating possibly overfished jungle animals… but it would be really rude not to accept this gift, and I am always preaching about eating local. (I actually don’t eat meat at all unless I am traveling, and I do so then mostly to gain the most out of a cultural exchange… and to make situations like this enjoyable rather than awkward or culturally offensive). The alligator which I thought was called a caimán is locally known as lagarto. The funny part about it all was I  couldn’t for the life of me remember why the name lagarto sounded so familiar, until we sat down to eat it… and then I realized it was what I had for dinner in town the night before we left, and I had been raving about how delicious it was to Trent all day! I was told it was a type of “pescado” at the restaurant, which means fish NOT reptile. Fried up over an open flame in a jungle kitchen, or served gourmet in a complex cream sauce… lagarto is one of the most delicious meats I have ever eaten. 

The menu for the following day would consist of what we could find in our trampa… which I was praying wouldn’t be an anaconda. The good news when we pulled out the net was that we would be getting to try piraña… the bad news was there wasn’t much of a variety of other things, thanks to the pirañas. It looked like our net had become a piraña “all you can eat” buffet! The few that did manage to survive were bokchico, lisa, and a few pirañas.

On the way back to our base camp, another critter almost ended up on the menu. As we floated downstream Humberto spotted something in a tree… an oso peresoso (a sloth)!! Of course it took me like 10 minutes to find it, and by then we were so close I could just about touch the tree he was hanging out on. Manuel insisted on pulling it off, which did not make Mr. Sloth a happy camper. It was only until I started taking photos that i learned the true reason we got it down from the tree. “Mmmm, vamos a comer” says Manuel… “Ummm I don’t think so” says I. No way I was eating a sloth, “ok, princessita” Miguel said as he grudgingly put him back. I don’t think the sloth was very happy about posing for pictures (I could tell by the growling), but it was that or the grill so I think he got the good end of that deal.

Side note: All those adorable photos you see of people with “jungle” sloths on their hips hugging them close… Pets! If I had turned this guy around so his arms could reach me I am most certain I would have some pretty awesome scars to show for it.

Lunch was delicious fresh-caught fried fish with tomato salad, plantains… and of course bread with another kind of bread because carbs are always served with more carbs in Peru.

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After lunch we set off for the deep jungle, and a wilder side of the menu. After a 2 hour or so walk into the jungle we stopped to make camp and began our hunt for supper. First on our list was piwaillo, it is the fruit of a palm tree and comes red, white, or yellow. Manuel fashioned a hook-shaped stick to another stick with some vines and we all took cover as he plucked the fruit down from a lethal height. To be honest I’m not sure if these are fruits, veggies, or something else entirely but they were pretty tasty. We boiled them up and pealed the skins, which revealed a fibrous starchy inside. The taste was nutty with a slightly bitter aftertaste… which totally could have just been the bug spray on my fingers… Let’s hope otherwise. This is commonly called jungle bread,  I said before Peruvians need their carbs typically two a meal but we had to compromise being in the jungle and all.

Next for some churo and chonta! Churo is a commonly eaten jungle snail… Yes I ate a giant jungle snail! I actually ate quite a few of those yummy things, and Humberto made an awesome necklace out of the evidence. We waded through the muddy flooded areas near a stream to find the churo, which were the exact same color as dirty wet leaves and thus quite impossible to find. Humberto’s strategy was to stomp and smack his machete around until he heard something like the crunch of a shell, which I didn’t like very much… despite the fact they would all be dinner soon. The churo was reminiscent of conch with a less sweet ocean flavor and a more murky mud-puddle taste… to be honest it was pretty delicious, basically jungle escargot! We also hacked up a fallen wacrapona tree to look for suri, a grub worm that makes its home in the wood causing the center of the tree to be soft and sweet-smelling. Although the center of this tree is soft, the outer ring is some of the hardest wood in the jungle, we used it to carve traditional spears later that day. “Unfortunately” we only found one tiny suri, which Trent was brave enough to eat. Suri and churo are both served grilled on sticks in the surrounding jungle towns and even in the big jungle city of Iquitos.



We also got some chonta for our meal, or as you most likely know it… heart of palm. It was nothing like I expected, practically tastes like it’s of no relation to the final product pickled in a jar that I am accustomed to. It had the most delicate flavor and a delightful texture, soft and slightly sweet. Humberto peeled it thin like a pasta and… unfortunately cooked it with the damn can of tuna! It actually didn’t turn out too bad considering it was canned tuna. Overall I have to say my dining experience was quite nice… and the meal was well-rounded, aside for all the bugs doing nose-dives into my food… more protein right?

From there we trekked onward to the next site about 3 hours away… in a torrential downpour.

Yes I am wearing a hot pink poncho… and I love it, I can still be girlie and kick-butt hiking in the jungle! My nickname became princessita… Not because I acted like a princess, but because I could get down and dirty in the Amazon and still look like one 😉

Most of our other meals were composed of fresh fruit. One of my favorites was granadilla, an orange fruit resembling a maracuya (passion fruit) in structure, a shell outside with small seeds surrounded by jelly inside. It has a much milder taste as opposed to the sour bite of a passion fruit, that is until you crunch down on the seeds… each one erupts into a sharp citric explosion on your tongue.


Also there was mame, a red fruit with an odd shape but the tree blossoms the most incredible neon-pink flowers. The fruit was the texture of an overripe pear with a gently sweet watered-down taste, reminiscent of a fruit from my childhood in the Caribbean. I am pretty certain it is the same fruit we commonly call cashew on the island of St. Croix.

Another favorite of mine was chari chuelo a little yellow ball bursting with flavor, honestly if I could get these at my local grocery store I would never buy candy again. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, these reminded me of sucking on a jolly rancher… without that toxic unknown element taste.

To my surprise we stumbled across a random pineapple… I couldn’t believe pineapples were growing wild in the rainforest, but then I saw another and another. 

What the hell, I began to feel like I was in The Truman Show… we had been told we were deep in the jungle but maybe in reality there were condos around the corner filled with locals having a laugh at our “jungle expedition”. I questioned Humberto, he laughed at my suspicions and assured me we were at least 3 hours from any other people… that would be a really creepy statement if it weren’t the answer I was looking for. He explained that farmers hike 2-3 hours into the jungle to make small plantations, otherwise their crops would all be eaten by their neighbors. I thought to myself, that going that far just to hide your crops seemed a little excessive… that was until we turned the corner an came across a small patch of sugarcane, Humberto must have been reading my mind because as I stood there mouth-watering he handed me a freshly cut piece. Then I realized why it was all the way out here, if I was going to plant a field of candy sticks I’d prob have to hide them from my neighbors too. While I stood there sugar juice dripping all over my face, I heard Manuel scream from some distant bushes something about guaba. My heart skipped a beat hoping he was referring to the delicious “guava” I grew up eating in the Caribbean… and then he walked out with an oversized green bean 😦 Despite my initial disappointment, this guaba quickly became my new favorite jungle fruit! To get inside you simple wring the pod as you would wet clothes and vuala! Inside are giant purple beans that are all beginning to sprout, each bean is surrounded by a fluffy white coat of deliciousness! These white clouds of awesome are just thick enough to make you feel like you are actually eating something substantial, but airy enough to be reminiscent of cotton candy… so juicy and sweet I couldn’t get enough! Due to my horrible self-discipline, between all the guaba and sugarcane I ended up eating, I spent the rest of the walk feeling as if I had been drugged with amphetamines.

On the final day, as we said a few sad goodbyes, we loaded our packs with mounds of fresh jungle fruit for the boat ride. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected all the tantalizing flavors awaiting my taste buds in the jungle. This was a culinary experience unlike any market could provide, it was a deliciously wild ride in La Selva… that I can’t wait to taste again.

The Day the Jungle Tried to Keep Me

So anyone following my blog for a while will know I wrote a post several years ago when I was working in Bali, Indonesia titled “Typical Me”. It was a dramatic saga of how I arrived late for my flight to Australia… a day late, and then I nearly missed it the second go around. I guess I never learn, but this time I had some jungle juju on my side.

Last Saturday was the day I set off to leave the jungle, I bought a flight out of Iquitos to Tarapoto two days prior and from there I would head by bus to the northern coast of Peru. A part of me really didn’t want to leave… and apparently the jungle didn’t want me to go either. I started the day in a way my mother would be proud of, packing very neatly my two packs, and organizing everything I needed for my flight. I even checked in for my flight before I had breakfast. As I was all packed and ready to go I figured I could do one last outing, there was something I really wanted to see before I left. I made plans with a fellow traveler in my room to go to the Mariposaria, the butterfly garden, that doubles as an animal rescue center where they have a rescued jaguar!! My flight was at 4pm, and I was checked in, so I figured I’d leave the hostel at 2:40 and I would be fine, I was told the drive to the airport was 10 minutes. I headed out for the butterfly garden around noon, giving me about 2 hours and I thought I was playing it safe. My friend and I jumped in a mototaxi and headed to the port where there are boats to the garden were located. I figured 15 minutes for the taxi ride then 20 for the boat. I’m golden on time… I foolishly thought to myself, and then the fun began.

I opted for the more economical colectivo boat rather than a private one, and so we sat in the port until they had gathered enough passengers. Shortly after the little motor boat left the port the 10 of us passengers began to realize something was not quite right. Odd sounds were coming from the motor, and the guy steering us had a far from confident look on his face. Several times the motor stopped completely and the capitan fiddled with a few things to start us going at a snail’s pace… until a few minutes later, then it would fail again. Finally after about 3 other colectivos whizzed by us, we started to get a little antsy. Several locals began to grumble, and soon we succeeded in flagging down a passing boat to rescue us from having to paddle the whole way there. That 20 minute boat ride became something more like a 40 minute affair. Finally in the town we had to endure a brutal 15 minute walk in the heat to find the place.

Seeing as my flight was in less than 2 hours, and the tour of the center was 45 minutes, the guide took pity on me and did all the animals first. The animals could not be visited without a guide, mostly due to the less than comforting quality of the fence between you and a full-grown jaguar… Understandable. Only the butterflies could be visited unattended. I was thoroughly enjoying myself (I will do another post with photos of these incredible animals!), and around 2:30 after seeing all the animals my friend looked over at me and said “I really think you ought to go”…. At least one of us was being responsible. I said my goodbyes and swiftly left the park. The first set of boats I came to were the private boats that go directly to the park not the ones a 15 minute walk away at the town port… Of course they wouldn’t take me because I hadn’t come in a private boat. I had to get to the port and fast, now in a slight state of panic, that 15 min walk turn into a very goofy jog only broken by minutes of panting due to the intense heat. When I got to the port there were no passengers, which would mean I would have to wait for 9 more random people to join me… Not happening. I pleaded with a driver saying I had a plane to catch, he took pity on me and offered me a 15 soles private ride. Even in my state of panic I know a scam when I see one, I talked him down to 10 and we were off. I took that time, which seemed to last forever, to say goodbye to the river and the jungle.

As we docked I basically tossed the soles at him and ran! It was now about 3:05, and my flight departs (not boards… Takes off the ground) at 4:05 exactly. I have to navigate my way down a narrow walkway through a flooded barrio made of wooden boards nailed together. They are barely floating above the water, and to either side is the filthy river water where all the houses that are partially flooded dump their waste… All of their waste. Sprinting on a wet wooden plank… Not the most intelligent thing I’ve ever done. Of course I slip, both feet out from under me and I am soaking wet. No other choice but to shake it off, I giggle just to keep from crying and continue. I get to the road and hop in the nearest mototaxi… Still soaking wet. It’s the youngest driver I’ve ever seen, but I am hopeful that means he drives fast…. Wrongo! It seems like every time I get in a taxi here, I just entered a NASCAR race, but when I actually need to be driven like that I get in with the most rule-abiding driver in all of Peru. I explain my urgency several times, each time growing more frantic, he nods as if he understands but continues with his overly cautious driving. When we finally arrive at my hostel to get my bags I have only about 25 minutes until my flight leaves.

I figure if it only takes 10 minutes to get there, maybe they will still let me on the flight. I want to change drivers but there isn’t another taxi in slight so I have to settle. When I ask him how fast he can get me to the airport he says… 30 minutes! I am doing my very best to stay calm. I run into the hostel for my bags, luckily I have already paid I’m just grabbing things out of storage. A friends sees me and her eyes grow wide, “you are pretty late” she states the very obvious. Then I start considering not even going because I see no way possible to get there on time if I have 25 minutes and it takes 30. She tells me to grab my bags and go, “at least try.. Otherwise you will burst into tears” she says. Knowing that she is absolutely right I grab my big bag and jump in with the slowest driver in Peru. I tell him he needs to go faster than before, and get me there in 15 minutes. He seems to be more inclined to speed now, and soon I realize why he had been taking his time earlier. There was a bang from under the bike, I am begging in my head that we don’t stop… But we do. The chain has come off the wheel and he fixes it rather quickly, but about 2 minutes later it’s off again. I think he realizes I’m either going to switch taxis without giving him any money… Or I’m going to steal his taxi and drive myself, so he doesn’t stop. He just instructs me to put all my weight on the side with the wheel that is dangerously close to falling off… At this point I get out my jungle seed pod I was giving in the market for good luck “buena suerte”. I am clutching it close and just praying I make it alive, I could care less about the flight now.

I get to the airport at exactly 3:48, and no one is at the desk. I stand there shouting for someone to help me, and as I do several onlookers come over to tell me the flight is closed… None of whom actually worked at the airport. Finally an attendant comes out to tell me sorry you needed to be here two hours ago. Suddenly my ability to speak Spanish is amazing, and I remember the word for checked in… “Soy checkeable, soy checkeable!” She takes my passport and says she will see what she can do. When she comes out with a printed ticket I begin to relax, but it doesn’t last for long. She tells me they can’t take my pack and that I have to take it through security with me.

I arrive at security with my small airplane-ready backpack, and my giant 50lb traveling pack which is essentially my house… laden with liquids and Goddess knows what else. They put both on the belt and from the security belt I can see the line for my plane, at least they are still boarding. I turn back around to see the 4 security people at the screen pointing and mumbling. Oh no. “Cuchillo, donde esta el cuchillo”, they are demanding to know where my knife is. As the boarding line winds down to only a few people I am panicking and so nervous I can’t even remember if I have a knife. Then I remember my Swiss Army knife, but I think it’s packed in a bag with my liquids… and if they see those will they take them all away?? I also happen to have a giant bottle of jungle booze… Totally not allowed. They begin tearing my bag apart, and finally I grab the Swiss Army knife and hand it over. They put the bag through and angrily say to me… There is another one. Oh my goodness, I’m ready to scream, everything is out of my pack thrown on the floor and table. They are pointing at a pocket that supposedly has the mystery knife, and all I can do is yell “Its only my undies!”… in English because my Spanish brain is totally broken. I honestly have no idea what they are talking about, and now everyone has boarded the plane. “I need to go” I shout, and proceed to reiterate that I honestly don’t have another knife, one man looks at me and asks me if I’m a liar! I’m going to peruvian prison for sure. I am almost ready to give up, and then one officer pulls a small purple pouch out of a pocket up against the inside of my pack… “Yes!” I scream, way too excited for someone who has been telling the police they have no knife, and the police just found it….

I tell them I forgot I had packed my dive knife, and urgently asked them to take it and let me go to my flight. At this point the pilot is literally shutting the door and turning on the plane, and I can hear angry Spanish followed by my full name on every walkie-talkie near me… And over the intercom. All 4 of us begin shoving everything into my pack, four people stuffing the pack that took me an hour to organize this morning… We got everything inside in maybe 20 seconds. One of the security staff threw it over his head and instructed me to run. We get outside and he runs for the back of the plane and points for me to head for the door, which is shut. I’m sprinting full speed for the stairs up to the plane hoping the door opens or I will be having my second collision for the day pretty soon. Magically the door opens and I run up the stairs into the welcoming cool airplane air. I find my seat, sit down on my soaking wet barrio-water pants, and I kiss my little jungle seed pod! As the plane starts driving down the runway, all that I have just gone through hits me… and I am suddenly laughing uncontrollably. I am starting to believe sometimes things happen just so that you have an outrageous story to tell.