Author Topic: The Americas!  (Read 4374 times)

Offline dandegoat

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The Americas!
« on: Aug 16, 09, 08:26 AM »
Hi everyone!

The wife and I have a travel blog at http://danyilin.blogspot.com, featuring our travels through the USA, Caribbean and now, South America. Please feel free to look through and leave comments.

I have also started on another project to help travelers share knowledge of bus and taxi fares in places where prices are not. quite. fixed. I'm looking for contributions from anyone who ever had to bargain for lower bus/taxi fares to leave comments on http://befaretotourists.blogspot.com

Thanks lots!

Offline Karel

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #1 on: Aug 16, 09, 01:39 PM »
i saw your post about Villa de Leyva. i loved that place !

and if you're travelling north to the coast, than check out the small colonial town of Barichara. it's 45min west from the bogota-bucaramanga road at San Gil.
« Last Edit: Aug 16, 09, 03:04 PM by lion »

Offline travelbug

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #2 on: Aug 16, 09, 02:28 PM »
Hi dandegoat

Welcome to the site! Quite a number of us have read about your blog from local papers a few weeks ago and are really inspired!

South america is never easy to travel, hope to hear more!

Offline weecheng

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #3 on: Aug 17, 09, 10:49 AM »
Welcome too!  I am reading your blog with great interest.  When you are back, do share with us tales of your adventures!

Offline dandegoat

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #4 on: Aug 18, 09, 03:48 AM »
@lion Yeah, we visited Barichara. Maybe our expectations were unduly raised by Lonely Planet, but we really found nothing of much interest there. It's colonial, it's pretty but it's really quite boring if you are not planning to take the Old Spanish Trail (which we weren't). Raquira, which is an hour from Villa de Leyva is much more interesting to walk around. We'll be doing a post on that once we find a faster internet connection!

@travelbug Thanks! South America is not easy to travel... and apparently not a easy place to find hot water showers too! Showering in cold water in single-digit climes is definitely no joke!

@weecheng Definitely! We'll be glad too! And thanks for telling us about this forum!

Offline aycanela

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #5 on: Aug 18, 09, 05:34 AM »
Hahaa...  Oh yes... I remember I always asked 'tienes agua caliente?'   And they always go, "sisisisisisisi..."

Sometimes, they bluffed... BUT have you seen those 'heater' with some sort of wires attached to the shower-head to heat the water and then, you get nice, hot shower... and suddenly kena electrocuted halfway!!?!?! 

No joke, man!  I experienced this twice in Peru...  Heng, never die...  otherwise, a bit embarrassing to have your scorched naked body discovered by the cleaning senora the next day.  Imagine the news.

Anyway, since then, I am always a bit afraid of this type of supposed 'agua caliente'.  If you see that, wear rubber-soled flip flops while showering. 

Die another day.
"It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end." -- Ursula K. LeGuin

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Offline Karel

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #6 on: Aug 18, 09, 08:19 PM »
Granted, Baricharra is not exactly hopping, but I thought that was part of the charm of it.

And I do NOT agree : LATIN-AMERICA IS ONE THE EASIER PARTS OF THE WORLD TO TRAVEL !!!
I hope I'm not stepping on some sensitive toes here, but could it be that this perceived difficulty to travel in Latin-America is at least partially due to the strong difference between Asian and Latin-American mind sets ?
« Last Edit: Aug 18, 09, 08:27 PM by lion »

Offline dandegoat

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #7 on: Aug 18, 09, 10:37 PM »
@aycanela Oooh... good tip. We'll remember that!

@lion The post on Raquira is up. It is a marked comparision with Barichara, but different strokes for different folks, I guess. Perhaps it is wrong to say that South America is not an easy place to travel. Granted, the people here are mostly friendly, and once you get used to it, you can get around pretty easily. But we face hurdles of language (despite 30 hours of Spanish lessons in Bogota, we sometimes cannot understand what the locals say) as well as the comfort of safety and security that we always take for granted in Singapore.

Lastly, we really hate being taken for a ride by the local bus companies, which is why we have set up a new website for travelers all over the world to share the bus and taxi fares that they have gotten. This new website is not merely for South America, but for the world over. So, hopefully, I will see some contributions from this forum too.

That being said, is there any way to link http://befaretotourists.blogspot.com to this forum? I would be glad for a reciprocal arrangement!

Offline kolya

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #8 on: Aug 19, 09, 03:44 AM »
south america (at least colombia and ecuador) have been the some of the easiest travel destinations i've ever been to.
besides friendly people, the layout of the smaller cities/towns make it easy to navigate - in square-grid pattern, though can be frustratingly confusing after an evening of inebriation.

the relative ease of the language is a huge advantage. colombians, in my opinion, actually speak clearer and slower spanish than the ecuadorians, especially the coastal ecuadorians.

my only complaint about colombia is that the buses are like iceboxes. but have never been taken for a ride.

had no problems with safety/security in colombia. felt much safer there than in ecuador, where i'd actually witnessed a pickpocketing attempt. be wary of spectators gathering around to watch street performers, there are pickpockets lurking around preying on the captivated audience. and the locals often pretend not to notice if it happened to someone else. i had alerted a fellow commuter but he just shrugged his shoulders and looked away. only warning i got was by the tourism reps in cartagena who mentioned about recent guerilla activity in cali, which i was recommended to avoid, as well as the eastern llanos region. but this was more than 2 years ago, so most parts of colombia is probably safe for travel now.

and only take official taxis (i.e. avoid the often unscrupulous touts,) and don't hand over the address if you happen to have one. they would pocket it, take you to another place where they get commission from, and claim to not have your address when you did pass it to them. but this happens everywhere...
« Last Edit: Aug 19, 09, 03:50 AM by kolya »
Half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness...

Offline aycanela

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #9 on: Aug 19, 09, 04:27 AM »
Quote
And I do NOT agree : LATIN-AMERICA IS ONE THE EASIER PARTS OF THE WORLD TO TRAVEL !!!
I hope I'm not stepping on some sensitive toes here, but could it be that this perceived difficulty to travel in Latin-America is at least partially due to the strong difference between Asian and Latin-American mind sets ?

Hi lion,

I think it is a matter of getting used to the place.  I don't know what mind-set I have (should be Asian?) but I had no idea how to take inter-city buses in Bangkok, and my Russian colleagues actually were the ones who sorted out for us.   ;D

The other point of concern in Latin America is SAFETY.  With my track record and travelling alone, I think I am entitled to watch over and watch out a bit more.  So, the constant 'stress' of having to loop your arm or leg around your backpack and daypack at all times (sleeping in buses, waiting at stations, eating in restaurants, etc...), and keeping your money and passport close to you *and consequently, having to touch yourself all the time* (esp when travelling around the city centre) can take its toll after a while.



But having said that, I also agree with you and kolya that, for me, Latin America is one of the EASIEST PLACE to travel.  Let me count the ways...


1) BUS TRAVEL

Many cities have a gigantic bus terminal or 'rodovaria' where it is a one-stop place, usually quite central as well, for you to go and buy bus tickets, compare prices, find out schedules.  It has everything... restaurants, shops, internet cafes, telephone cabins, TV screens to catch up on your Brazilian soap operas, seats to sleep on, bathrooms, visitor's information centre.  And the buses go e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, with lots of inter-country buses as well.  Absolutely brilliant!!!!

Buses of many countries are super fantastic, super comfortable.  Special mention to bus travel in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.  Depending on the type of buses, e.g. on the LUXURIOUS ones, you get massive seats that recline to near horizontal, pillow, blankets, stewardesses to serve you tea, cookies, sometimes dinner, TV (but may not always work), toilet, etc...  (Even played Bingo once on the bus, organised by the stewardess!)  Quite close to Business Class travel.  Heaven.

And haha, kolya mentioned Colombian buses being iceboxes.  True.  But the Venezuelan buses are even worst!  Everyone gets on the bus with woollen hat, scarf, sweater, jacket, gloves and even blankets!

The other thing is... you pay the same amount as the locals for the same seat.  Can't say the same for *some* countries.


2) NAVIGATION

As kolya said, many cities are built up like square grids with buildings numbered in the 100s for every block, and every block is about 100 metres long.  E.g. if you are going to Rivadavia 600+ and you are at Rivadavia 300, you know it is 3 blocks away.  If you are going to Rivadavia 2800+ and you are at Rivadavia 300, you have 25 blocks, or approx 2500 metres to walk.

There are street signs everywhere, at every street corners.  

This makes navigation so easy, I tell you!

Also, many cities (not all) have a central square, a Plaza de Armas, Plaza Independencia, or Plaza [one of their heroes, usually Bolivar] which makes orientation around the city easy as you have a clear reference point.  And you are likely to start there first, and you can find everything around there, shops, restaurants, hotels, etc...

Many maps are also free.  Since when is anything free in Europe?


3) FOOD

Too easy.  Everywhere.  Just follow the smell.  The markets offer cheap good food, hygiene optional.  Many eateries have cheap Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day) or Ejecutivo (Executive Menu), so you just pick it if you don't know the language and are not too picky with your food, and you should get something not-too-bad and definitely substantial.  Brazil has Pay-By-Kilo buffets everywhere, so you can pick the food you recognise and pay the amount you take, and not have to point-and-pray.

Don't get me started on trying to find food in Uzbekistan!



4) ACCOMMODATION / MONEY EXCHANGE

Cheap hostels and hotels are everywhere.  Some visitor's information centres have a bunch of name cards and you can take them all and decide where to stay.  Sometimes in small cities, people wait at the bus drop-offs to hand you brochures to get you to go to their homes.  

ATMs everywhere for you to withdraw money.  Money exchange everywhere as well.  If these are closed already at night, in many places, esp Peru, got a lot of black market money exchange guys sitting on stools with a stack of money in one hand and a calculator in another.  *be a bit careful, but usually quite OK*



5) LANGUAGE

OK, so the signs, menus, etc... everywhere are in Spanish or Portuguese (or French / Dutch in the corner), but at least they are in LATIN alphabets which you can easily recognise and can attempt to pronounce, and not in some strange doodly scratchy characters that totally blow your mind away.

The only 'gripe' might be that many of the tours (besides super touristy places like Peru) are conducted in Spanish / Portuguese, so if you don't know the language, you can get a bit lost.



Aiya... can faint.  Nostalgic again.



Quote
Lastly, we really hate being taken for a ride by the local bus companies, which is why we have set up a new website for travelers all over the world to share the bus and taxi fares that they have gotten.

@dandegoat: Actually, I find it interesting that you have issues with bus fares.  Shall read your blog to find out your challenges.  I never had any problem with bus fares in SA.  I always pay the same price as the locals because the prices are clearly stated at the bus terminal.  When I work out the price / km, it's cheap.

For those colectivos in small cities, I don't even care.  I just hand over some money and wait for the change to come back.  And they are always honest.  Sometimes, because I am the only tourist in the colectivos, they put me in the front seat so that I don't have to end up with several Peruvian or Bolivian aunties stacked on top of me.

But taxi fares is another story.  No matter what, this is something you can't win as a tourist.  Esp if you are travelling from the bus terminals or airports or at night.  This one I don't ever fight it, I just accept it as a 'business cost' of travelling.
"It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end." -- Ursula K. LeGuin

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http://blogs.bootsnall.com/trisha/

Offline Karel

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #10 on: Aug 20, 09, 07:20 PM »
@dandegoat : 30h or class and lots of practice on the road ... your language problems will soon disappear, don't worry. But it's a fact, English is useless in Latin-America (apart from Costa-Rica).
(raquira seems like a nice place indeed)

@kolya and aycanela : i was quite curious for your reaction, and i totally agree with you guys.

@aycanela : Those Brazilian por-kilo restaurants, I've never understood why they haven't caught on in other parts of the world !

Offline aycanela

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #11 on: Aug 21, 09, 03:04 AM »
@dandegoat: Just curious, in your 30 hrs, did you learn preterite tense, imperfect tense and (present and past) perfect tense?  If you only learnt present tense, then, do understand that you will struggle.  So, don't be too stressed or discouraged by it. 

Most people speak in past tense to tell you something, people ask you questions in past tense to find out what you have done, where you have been to.  Instructions can be done in present tense, but most of the times, they use imperative tense.  I find present tense quite useless, to be honest.

Aiya... until you kick-ass with all the various TYPES of past tenses (they are used in different manners) AT LEAST and the corresponding conjugations, you can't really handle conversations swimmingly. 

Imperative tense takes some getting used to.  Future tense is not so often used, they usually just say, "I am going to..." instead of "I will go...", so no need to worry.  BUT subjunctive tense is another planet.  Nevermind that now.

Don't worry.  Sometimes, if you don't stress over each and every UN-UNDERSTOOD word, and just let your brain naturally take in the UNDERSTOOD ones, you may more or less guess what they are saying. 

That's how I had a 'conversation' with a little Russian old lady (based on guesswork, eye contact, and gestures and catching the odd word that sounds similar in English) when I had like, at most, 50 words of Russian on me...  and I was able to doing translation work between English tourists and Brazilian tour-guides although I don't speak Portuguese (but with Spanish, I could do some brain connection and fake my way along).

The beauty of South Americans is that most of them give you 100 points already just for trying.  They beam with pride at your attempts (no matter how brutal your massacres are) and try their very best to communicate with other creative means.  This can't be said for some nationalities, e.g. Russians who would just not speak to you!


Quote
Those Brazilian por-kilo restaurants, I've never understood why they haven't caught on in other parts of the world !

@lion: Hmmm... I wonder too.

I think the idea of buffets, at least here in SG that I know of, is a long meal (hours!) with a luxurious spread created for the purpose of stuffing themselves silly non-stop of rich amazing food that they normally would NOT eat.  And then, they go to hungrygowhere.com and complain about it.

The buffet-por-kilo idea is just a normal lunch for people to grab a meal, taking what they need to eat and paying just that for it.  The food served are 'normal' food, like those in the 'Economy Rice' stalls.  So, it's a small paradigm shift for people here.  It's a different sort of meal. 

But if we can do it for 'Yong Tau Hu' (pay by per piece), I don't see why we can't do it for 'Economy Rice'?

Anyone willing to and capable of writing up a Business Plan? 

Don't wait.  Create.  Heheee...
"It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end." -- Ursula K. LeGuin

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Offline dandegoat

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #12 on: Aug 21, 09, 04:37 AM »
@aycanela and @lion: Yeap, we conjugated verbs in past tense, imperfect, etc etc. I still need lots of work on my listening and vocabulary skills, that's all. But you're right, the more I use it, the faster I understand the people here now. They still have to take their time to speak slowly to us, and use simpler words though! We had something like 7 touts surrounding us the moment we got off the minivan at Tulcan (after we crossed the Colombian/Ecuador border) all shouting and pulling at us to take their bus. That was seriously scary! Good thing we had made friends with another local on the ride to Tulcan, and she helped us out!

And again, you're right in an earlier post. Spanish is at least in Latin alphabets. And I have a pretty decent English vocabulary to relate to since I play Scrabble quite a bit! Thank goodness for little blessings  :)

@ kolya: Actually, I read about the traveling ice-boxes bit too. So everytime I board the bus, I have 2 jackets on hand. But have been really disappointed so far. More often than not, I would rather have the windows open to get some air circulation going!

Offline travelbug

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Re: The Americas!
« Reply #13 on: Apr 25, 10, 03:37 PM »