Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

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Have Camera, Will Dream.

Last year around this time, maybe a month earlier, I bought my very first SLR camera. I am a huge fan of buying myself Christmas presents, I always get what I want that way! I didn’t go top of the line, but I wanted something to take me close to professional. I had been exploring cameras since my first trip to Hawai’i when I was about 11 years old. My Nonna took me on that trip, which changed my life in so many ways, and one of those being discovering my love for photography. I got to have not only 2 disposable cameras, but also a disposable underwater camera to use on my very first snorkeling adventure!!

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Fast forward to Christmas 2014, I have my very own fancy-pants camera, a Canon! I got it right in time for some big traveling. I went from Arizona, to Peru, to South Africa all within that year, and of course everywhere I went, attached to my hip was my Canon. My dream was to do something with these photos, share them, sell them, something. I dreamt, and I dreamt big, and I dreamt often. That, my readers, is the key. It is something I so easily forget, but it is the secret to breathing life into your dreams, if you have a dream it must consume you for it to come true.

Knowing what you want and envisioning yourself getting it everyday is exactly how you are going to get there. Now I’m not advocating sitting on a meditation cushion and willing a trip to Madagascar into reality (maybe some folks have that power of manifestation… I’m not quite there yet). What I am saying is that when your dreams are always in the forefront of your mind, with every decision you make you will clearly see if it serves your dreams or not. Soon you will be effortlessly and automatically only following paths that lead you closer to that dream.

Learning to clearly define your dream, trust your intuition, and have the courage to jump blindly after what you want… is so freaking hard!! Just because I know what to do doesn’t mean I am good at always doing it. Yet, I do get lucky from time to time 🙂

Not even a full year after the first time I used my camera, I was hanging my very first photography exhibit. “Footsteps of a Nomad” was a huge success, it was so much work, and worth every ounce of stress! I sold 4 photos during my opening reception, and I even got to have my family there with me. I took my show down after a month, and the day I took it down I hung another show up at a local bakery, and they will be showing my photos for 2 months! Two shows and counting, only a year after manifesting my big-girl camera!

After hanging my very first photography show!

 

My show at Heavily Brewing Company in Montour Falls, NY

 

My second show is now up at a local bakery in Ithaca, NY

 

The Triphammer Ithaca Bakery

 

Featured Artist for the next 2 months!

 

When there are no words left, all that remains is gratitude. I am so grateful for all the support of my family and friends, the opportunities made possible only through collaboration, and I am grateful to myself for believing and being courageous when I needed it most. If you have something beautiful to share with the world, go for it!! Share it under this post as your first leap of bravery!

Mom, Dad, Sisters!! All came to support me!

 

My fellow teachers, and one of my students (the baby in my arms), came to show support!

 

Flowers from my loving grandparents!

 

Footsteps of a Nomad

Every time I travel, I bring back enough gifts to fill a separate suitcase and I think everyone should support local artists wherever they go. Yet, there are some places where the best thing to take home are just memories. Beautiful and wild places where there are no stores, no vendors, no souvenirs. For me photos are the way I can share those memories. In those wild places, those natural spaces, I leave only the trace of my footsteps and take only photographs.

This weekend I have the amazing opportunity to share my photography with my community. I will be showing my travel photos at a local brewery! If you are in the upstate area, it will be at Heavily Brewing Company in Montour Falls, NY from 4-6pm! Having this show has really gotten me to put more thought into why I travel, into why I LOVE to travel. I know this is a passion of mine, but what do I want to share with others through my photography?

As of last year, I have been to every continent aside from Antartica, and explored countless cities, towns, and villages in 10 different countries. I have a passion for exploring new cultures, and meeting people who have a completely fresh outlook on life. Two big drivers for my travels are the people I meet and the communities they create; I love how you can find similarities amongst them all and yet in other aspects we are all worlds apart. The further I travel the more I realize what a “global community” we are, and how we have a communal responsibility to protect all things natural and beautiful in our world. I share my photographs because I feel that what I capture in my images can bring the viewer closer to the beauty of the place I visited. The more connected people in this world feel to those far off lands still full of natural wonders, the more likely they are to protect them. I hope my photos inspire people to travel more, get outdoors, and celebrate the beauty of nature, culture, and tradition. From our own backyards to Amazonian waters flowing through Peruvian villages, there are still so many things natural, beautiful, and wild that need our protection.

Following the Birds South

First let me confess, I’ve been less than active when it comes to my passion of travel writing. Yet, here I am at the keyboard with new vows of dedication and rekindled fires for my dream to share my journey as I wander around this world in a state of wonder. I think an important part of this confession, for all those other aspiring travel writers reading this, is that making this dream real is NOT always easy. Before you are a successful (money-making) travel writer you have to survive somehow, and sometimes that means working 13 hour days… and at times the reason why you are working so hard gets forgotten. That’s OK! Just pick up where you left off, and don’t get down on yourself for losing focus. One step at a time is how I am going to reach my goal of becoming a full-time nomadic travel writer, but when those steps start getting wobbly and I’m not sure which way is forward and which way is back… I take a break, find myself, and refocus my passion to fuel my dreams! This time I knew I needed some sunshine, a change of scenery to kick my butt in gear, and to avoid the first snowfall in Ithaca, NY. So I flew south with the birds… well technically I drove.

I didn’t have to go far to find some sunshine.  Just about 5 and a half hours away from Ithaca, I found myself in a town that is actually the definition of quaint. Coming from what some would call a “small” town it’s not easy for me to find smaller, but I did it… in a big way! At a grand total of 88 friendly souls Hillsboro is one of the tiniest towns in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This happened to be a big weekend for this compact slice of sunshine. The weekend of  October 16th and 17th happened to be Hillsboro Heritage Day, a day packed full of local food, drinks, and crafts. Not only was it an impressive display of local talent, but also a trip back in time. This second annual festival is a benefit for the Historical Old Stone School, a centerpiece of this tight-knit community. The school, which now serves as a community center and town hall, was built in 1874, at that time called The Locust Academy was one of first public schools in Loudoun County. There was an awesome turn out to enjoy the local offerings, and watch presentations on crafts of the past like paper making, weaving, and spinning.

Hillsboro Heritage Day!

Hillsboro Heritage Day!

Amy Newton a Pillar of the Community, Dressed to Impress... if it were 1874

Amy Newton a Pillar of the Community, dressed to impress… like it was 1874! (Photo by Amie Ware)

My fun was just beginning with this weekend full of old-time Virginia festivities. My next post will be about the other ways I explored and enjoyed this lovely and welcoming town. Home to the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast (owned by my Great Aunt), some incredible wineries, and a handful of hidden culinary gems… Hillsboro is a place you can’t judge by the size of its cover!

Enjoying what seems to be remnants of summer at the Fieldstone Farm!

Enjoying what seems to be remnants of summer at the Fieldstone Farm!

I’m Back in Action and Equipped with Glowsticks!

Im back in action! After Peru I went through a whirlwind of physical and emotional ups and downs, trying to “figure my life out”… I feel like every once in a while I go through these phases where I don’t feel complete in what I’m doing… Usually it’s more like I feel that the important people around me don’t see me as succeeding or living up to my full potential. It’s always different… grad school, settle down, get a “real job”, but it’s never what I’m doing at the moment, and so I stop what I’m doing and momentarily follow someone else’s dream for me. Then I remember how the only thing that made me unhappy… the only thing that made me feel incomplete, was their opinion of my trajectory. I was perfectly loving life when I was just doing me and carving a path all my own. So that’s what I’m going to do damn it!
Although the move back has been rough at times I am so happy I relocated to Ithaca, and will have it as my home base as I continue to see the world… the whole world! Starting with… my home in the desert BURNING MAN! This summer I have been rocking through the festival season, I have been to the local and classic Grassroots Festival, which will always be a favorite music festival for me. Right in my backyard, Grassroots is homegrown with an international flavor. The music comes from everywhere but it’s still small enough to feel like a family, and as an organization they hold social justice close to the heart. A yearly tradition for me that I hope all my readers will look into enjoying some day, they also have satellite Grassroots in Miami and North Carolina! After Grassroots, I hit up the Finger Lakes Cheese Festival with my mama which pretty much explains itself and pretty much explains why it’s amazing. It was very well attended event and a super fun place to take my mom when she came for a visit.

 

Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad (Grassroots)

 

Big Mean Sound Machine! (Grassroots)

The last two festivals I hit up were both run by friends in their backyards out on beautiful pieces of land in the country. The first, Seedstock, was a sweet and family friendly bundle of local vibes! Taking place in Cortland, NY it was an awesome display of small town local bands and nationally known artist from the larger neighboring towns, mainly Ithaca. The highlight was hands down the epic silent disco in the forest behind the house. Yes, it’s just what you think… it’s a dance party… that is silent, but I’m not that into mind altering drugs, there may not have been sound but there was music. I wasn’t running around with 100 other people dancing to the voices in our heads.. Haha! Everyone has a pair of headphones with two channels and there are two DJs transmitting their sticky sweet jams to your noggin! The only thing better than seeing 100 people dancing like maniacs in a silent forest… is seeing them all dancing to different beats! It was a blast! The weekend after Seedstock I hit up, for the first of many more times to come, Gourd Fest. A tiny, invite only, free festival put on by a friend of mine who is an amazing DJ. This weekend of debauchery takes place in the mystical Adirondacks and is typically attended by 60-70 people. For those people, and now me, this is a family! It’s like a reunion of best friends and like minded people where they can let go, live free, and make up all their own rules. There is nonstop music, phenomenal food, each year is themed, and all of this is done by the group of friends attending so everyone can enjoy and participate for free. This has been going on in this otherwise quiet slice of the Adirondacks for 21 years, the kindness, openness, and pure uninhibited fun blew my mind!

Seedstock!

 

Rookies partners of the year, for making zero rookie mistakes! (Gourd Fest)

 

New Friends Forever (Gourd Fest)

 

Gourd Fest Sunday Crew!

 
Gourd Fest was the best prep for the mothership, the festival of all festivals, my home land, where my new year begins every year… Burning Man. That little festival in New York reminded me of the many reasons I adore the Burn. The inclusiveness, the freedom, creativity, genuine kindness, and of course the debauchery! Today I am on my way to spend a week getting my ass good and dusty, a week breaking things down to the raw matter, burning it all to the ground, building myself back up, and starting my new year brand new! I am so ready to remember what I love, and who I am, and and the power we all have to create! I am ready to manifest my destiny, and revel in the possibilities… Burning Man here I come!

 

So Ready to Burn Baby Burn

 

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!

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.