The Ugly Face of Tourism

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 A Journal Entry written while traveling in Peru 

 (Ollantaytambo, Peru)

It's so sad looking around me... the little old lady with her sidewalk stand selling little cheese sandwiches, mate, coffee, etc honestly for one sole. Smiling at passerby's. All around are numerous restaurants catering to tourists, large signs written in English, "American Breakfast". These restaurants selling the same little cheese sandwiches and coffee, yet on nicer plates and fancier chairs, for ten times the price. And the mindless tourists looking for the comfort of home. Those tourists who travel for the sites yet never look at the culture and beauty that lies right around those sites. Those who balk at the "uncleanliness" of local food. At the little lady that washes our coffee cups with her little bucket of hot water on the side of her little sidewalk stand instead of in a large commercial mass produced dishwasher. The tourists keep flocking in like sheep to their massive tourists restaurants eating and drinking for ten times the price, throwing their crisp bills at these money hungry tourist restaurants, surrounded by other gringos and closing their eyes to all that surrounds their closed little perfect world within mass tourism. All the while the little old lady catering kindly, honestly, and patiently to anyone that wants to stop and share a story or two or listen to a few tales while eating their cheese sandwiches and drinking hot coffee. Locals and tourists alike, treating all the same, complaining about the cold, scolding us like a sweet grandmother for not finishing the last drop of our "pachi" (hot mashed bean drink) because the last part has all the vitamins... honestly and kindly with her worn and torn shoes, constantly with a honest, sweet smile on her face.

Please share similar experiences below! 

Why you should travel with a baby

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We have now taken Leila our 20-month-old to 11 countries traveling with us. She has been on 28 planes, couchsurfed, hitchhiked, countless trains, buses, taxis and motorcycles, played with children in villages, been passed around during traditional ceremonies, celebrated Ramadan, blessed by a Hindi holy man, and much more. She will not remember it so why take her?

 Before we had a child, everyone said, “just wait, once you have a baby you won’t be able to continue traveling like you do”, “kids are expensive”, “kids are difficult”. So other than just wanting to show people that yes, it is possible and yes you can enjoy it we also want to continue experiencing the world its sites, nature and people so why wouldn’t we bring her with us?


Here are just a few reasons to travel with a baby:

1) It does not cost more. Under 2s are almost always free. They do not cost that much extra especially if they are breast feeding. Transportation they are usually free or way cheaper, they do not have to pay entry fees or need an extra hotel bed and they really do not eat much,

International plane rides are almost free just pay taxes and fees and usually people will accommodate you to have an entire row! 


2) You are less likely to get ripped off. People love babies and toddlers and are more likely to help, give up their seat, etc. and very rarely going to charge you more.


3) You will make friends with locals. When you have a baby, people are curious. They want to say, “hi”. Having a child with you removes a barrier and automatically gives people a reason to come chat. If kids are around your child will automatically be drawn to them thus throwing you in with the locals. If you, like us, want to travel to understand the culture and life of locals this makes it so much easier.

Not only are babies free in transportation but you get lots of free babysitters (aka locals super excited to play with the baby)


4) You will see things differently. You do things you would not normally do- stop at playgrounds, stop so a local can tickle your baby, stop at zoos. You see things through their eyes and your joy also comes from seeing their joy.


5) You will take it slow. With a baby you slow down, look at the little cat or flower, stop for naps, etc. You will also get more time to enjoy your little one.


If you want to travel with you kid(s) do not let the naysayers convince you otherwise. It is possible and it is worth it!


Only negative part of traveling with a baby: It's harder to take pictures and hold a baby
Only negative part of traveling with a baby: It's more difficult to take pictures while holding a baby


Somoto, Nicaragua (With a baby)

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We had not planned to stop here at all but after hating Esteli plus all the hotels being full we had to find some place not too far away. At the end we were super glad that the misfortune of Esteli gave us the fortune that was Somoto.

Somoto is most famous for the nearby Somoto Canyon which was discovered I believe by Czech and Nicaraguan scientists and has only recently become a visited sight. We originally decided not to come here thinking it would be heard to reach, expensive and not possible to visit with a baby, but boy were we wrong. Not only did it take less than 1.5 hours to arrive from Esteli but we were able to visit the canyon with a baby too!

We loved Somoto from the moment we arrived. It was small, cute, and friendly. Plus, we only saw a handful of other tourists the whole time. There was a small local place that was always packed that made specialty. 

Beer on the balcony

Where to stay: We literally checked out EVERY hotel in town (to husband's chagrin, and wife's usual on a mission to find the cheapest and the best). As often happens we settled on the first hotel we visited (after visiting 20 more haha and returning to the first). Take a left out of the bus station and it is directly on the left. It was 400 cordobas per night that we negotiated down to 700 cordobas for two nights in a country extra hard and not so the norm to negotiate this made bargainer wife happy and merited a short eye roll from annoyed after walking 10 km to find a hotel only to return to the original one husband. In Nicaragua we learned most hotels would rather lose $15 per night instead of $2 by a simple negotiation. Anyway, the room we ended up with was HUGE with a private bathroom and even a nice sitting are on the second floor. It was brand new.

We did some early research on this website and found out that the easy tour with a 6 km walk would be possible for us. When we did the tour not only was it beautiful, not only was it only a 6 km walk which is better with the baby but our guide used blow up rafts that are provided and literally pulled us through the water and we just walked the difficult parts so that we were actually floating through the canyon. I think it was $30 or $40 for the two of us but it was definitely, definitely worth it, amazing and awesome to do for kids or with babies! Leila loved it too.

Verdict: Don't miss Somoto and bring the little ones there. Read about Nicaragua with kids here.

Have you been to Nicaragua? What was your favorite place? We hope to go back again soon so would love any new places we may have missed! :)

Traveling During Covid-19

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 Empty airports, face masks, and social distancing

Very few people are traveling now. There’s a world-wide pandemic of a fast spreading corona virus. But greater than the virus itself is the new world-wide fear. Thanks to an unlimited access to media including TV, social media, etc the fear has spread everywhere, as if the actual fear was the virus itself.

Our arrival to Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport we were in shock at how empty the airport was compared to what we expected. There were no lines and hardly a soul walking around. It was almost like we stepped into some dystopian film. Our flights were less empty though probably at 30% capacity. We first flew to Amsterdam an 8-hour flight approximately, an 8-hour layover there, and then a second approximately 9-hour flight to Dar Es Salaam. On our first flight things were a little lax. Masks were not really enforced, and food service was limited but we got two hot meals and snacks. No alcohol unfortunately. On our second flight we were given a bag of awful sugary snacks and Diet Coke and masks were enforced.

At Atlanta Airport, most people and employees wore masks, though not everyone did. In Amsterdam on the other hand, all passengers wore masks, and signs everywhere told us to wear masks, but almost zero employees wore masks which was odd to us. Luckily, in our lounge where we spent our 8 hours most people didn’t wear masks and we felt comfortable. We get to have unlimited lounge passes thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card’s Priority Pass, which I fortunately learned about when we spend $200 for a 24 hour lounge pass when we came a day early for our flight one day accidentally and a guy gave us information on a whole new world especially for people who fly super often with cheapo tickets and many long layovers. So, I realize our view isn’t the same as everyone’s when it comes to mask freedom. We respect the rules and wear our masks when required and if masks aren’t required AND most people aren’t wearing a mask we won’t.

Once we arrived in Tanzania the Covid-19 requirements were so strange and almost felt like a show. Enforced 1.5 meter social distancing, employees checking that everyone had their masks securely, mandatory usage of hand sanitizer, and temperature checking. The show part was that there were a large handful of maybe employees filming and taking pictures of this. Totally seemed like a photo op to show how well Tanzania is responding to the Corona Virus. But as soon as we passed the doors to the arrival hall we did not see a single mask! 

Tanzania is one of the few, maybe the only country that never closed its borders, businesses, or prevent tourists from entering. In banks and public institutions masks are suggested and there’s a temperature check at the front door and hand sanitizing station but other than the occasional person you will not see anyone with aa mask or social distancing or distancing at all haha. So as each month brought our dreams of an annual summer backpacking adventure to an end, some vigorous research later we found a super cheap flight to a country we always hoped to visit and one that would allow us to do so during a time when so few feel safe to venture past their front door.


11 reasons to travel Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is on one hand one of the best countries to travel and on the other hand at least for those who want to get off the beaten path one of the more difficult ones.

First why you would want to visit Ethiopia:

1)      It is SUPER cheap. 30-50 cents for a large beer even in the fancy places, 15-30 cents for the most amazing coffee prepared right in front of you, less than a dollar for an amazing meal, shared taxis across town less than 10 cents and hotel rooms for less than $10 and all of this without another tourist in sight.

2)      The food- not only is it super cheap but it is so amazing, varied and delicious. Forgot about the daily rice and beans of Central and South America the Ethiopian cuisine for the price is on par with our favorite foods of South East Asia and India. There is so much variety from vegetarians to meat lovers you can find something to excite your palate. Each meal you can try something different and never get bored. Also, we loved feeling like we were getting so much healthy nutrition with each meal as there was such a variety of vegetables and legumes. When you want meat it is taken off the goat, lamb or chicken in the entry of the restaurant (I guess to prove its freshness) and cooked directly in front of you or in some instances put in a stone bowl on the table with herbs and spices. 

3)      The coffee. I do not care where you've had coffee in the world, but you haven't experienced coffee until you've had true Ethiopian coffee. It is the best coffee in the world that we've tried from the famous Sumatran coffee, to the Honduran coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Lebanese, Turkish, Italian, nothing compares. The green coffee bean is roasted fresh each time they make a cup of coffee. It's roasted in a special pan until the beans become perfectly roasted with a coat of oil. They are then hand ground and then prepared with a special coffee urn and hot water. Oh and the macchiatos- the super strong coffee with a touch of milk are also perfection. And all this at a few pennies. Also, each time the traditional coffee is made incense is burned at the same time and popcorn popped fresh because popcorn and coffee honestly two of my favorite things why not enjoy them together? 

4)      Beer- Do you like beer? We LOVE beer. The beer here is not only mega cheap from 15 to 50 cents even in a fancy place but decent too and with a range of selection from their quite delicious lager to a nice dark beer. Also, people are always out drinking with their families, little ones, and friends so we enjoyed being able to go out for a beer feeling comfortable and not getting the “’Oh, you bad parents’ stink eye”. And unlike in many Asian countries the women drank as much as men often going out just women which was a bonus for me.

5) The fresh juice and smoothies! Fruits are plentiful here and for less than 50 cents you can get a huge glass of fresh juice. Papaya, mango, avocado and more! 

6)      Wherever we go as obvious foreigners there are people who try to rip us off, charge us a bit more and as super frugal backpackers our main goal is to avoid it at all costs. In Ethiopia NO ONE (except one random lady at a coffee stand who charged us 15 cents instead of 7 cents) tried to rip us off. Hotels, transportation, restaurants, shops event though we did not speak the language or look like a local we were always charged the same as locals and no one even assumed it would be otherwise. Now we visited the southern less touristy part of the country so we will have to return and explore the touristy north to see if the same holds true there.

7)      The history! Ethiopia has such a unique history with being the cradle of civilization, the connection between the Arab and African world, and having such a tolerance and mix of religions and peoples. This can all be seen and easily discovered while exploring this unique country.

8)      The people- friendly, lively, and interesting. We were never hassled or hustled. When we went out we were not given so much attention as in Asia. People pretty much ignored us or were just super friendly. We were left at peace in public places without the usual gawkers, not that we have a problem with that it was just a nice change especially when we were in places that obviously weren't used to tourists we were still treated equally. They are also so beautiful and unique in appearance with subtle but amazing differences between regions.

9)      Unique culture: As the only African country not colonized by European powers (minus a brief 5-year stint with Italy- thanks for the Macchiatos?) their culture remains their own. The languages, the writing, even the way of thought is more Ethiopian than influenced by the outside world.

10)      Safety- probably one of the safest country in Africa.

11)  Transportation- Cheap, easy, and effective.

Though for the most part Ethiopia is one of the best places to visit there are some things making it difficult, especially for budget travelers. As off the beaten track travelers there is not much to see or do without a guide or a lot of money and the tourist infrastructure just isn't there. Also, tourist sites are few and crazy expensive considering the prices of the county. As a side note, we didn't visit the more touristy north so there it may be a bit different.

We do highly recommend visiting Ethiopia and think no one would be diappointed!

A baby and a backpack: Nicaragua

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After a trip to France and Italy when Leila was 2-4 months old and continually being on the road for work in the states a backpacking trip to Nicaragua with the little one seemed like a piece of cake.


Best Product Brought: Lillebaby Airflow Complete

Since we were always on the move my favorite baby carrier (I have like 7) came in handy. It's mesh so very breathable. Extra comfy for baby and lots of padding for us. The mesh head cover is great for naps on the go or to protect from the sun and the front zippered pocket is a great place to stick money and phone.

Product we should have left at home: KidCo Peapod

Though we do love this quick popup tent since we were always moving we only used it once. It also took up half of our backpack space. This would be more useful for a beach trip where outdoor naps would be more common.

Product we wish we brought: Mountain Buggy Highchair

We ate out 2-3 meals per day. Restaurants don't have highchairs unless you go to fancy places so holding the squirt with one hand while trying to eat wasn't always easy. Luckily there were lots of friendly helping hands around but the seat would have made it easier.

Itinerary: Managua-Masaya-Ometepe-Leon-Matagalpa-Esteli-Somoto-Poneloya-Managua


Traveling with a baby in Nicaragua

As our first true backpacking experience with Leila, aka Leilita, Nicaragua is a super easy country to travel in general but even more so with a baby. Everyone REALLY loves babies here and everywhere we went she was quickly plucked out of our hands, passed around and played with. For parents carrying a baby around 24/7 this is a very welcomed respite. If on the other hand you find yourself to be prudish parents that freak every time someone glances at your child: stay home. In full buses someone always quickly gave up their seat for mom (or dad) and baby and every walk down a street every shopkeeper and passerby happily smiled at us and looked into the baby carrier exclaiming “que linda!”, “la preciosa”, and more endearing phrases.


Budget: For the16 days we had we planned a budget of $640 which was $40 per day or $20 per person per day. We ended up spending exactly $600 which was $18.75 per day. We did not couchsurf and as it was our first real backpacking trip with Leila we took it easy not really hitchhiking either and we definitely enjoyed our fair share of beers and activities. We could have easily spent less or more but this is an easy backpacking budget.


Sleeping: Lodging was way more expensive than we were used to in our previous Asia and South America trips at around 10-20$ (300-600 Cordobas) per night. This is with us searching the entire town to find the absolute cheapest place and negotiating on top of that. Without doing hardcore searching you can find hotels on the lower end at $15-$20 per night. The guesthouses we stayed at were usually run by a very friendly family or staff with a bathroom, fan and lots of windows.


Food: Though Nicaraguan food probably won't be winning any awards it's cheap, and satisfying. We loved finding markets where we could pick exactly what we wanted for about $1 for a vegetarian meal of fried eggs, beans, avocado, cheese and tortillas.

Verdict: Amazing place to travel with kids

A Baby and a Backpack in Masaya, Nicaragua

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Masaya, along with Matagalpa, Somoto, and Poneloya one of our favorite cities in Nicaragua. There's a plethora of things to see and do nearby plus its super close to Managua yet very few tourists. Masaya has everything we love about a town: few tourists, lots to do, cheap, friendly people, and very lively.

Getting There: We arrived at Managua International Airport and crossed the street to the mainroad where after enquiring with a few locals we hopped on a bus written “Huembes” to go to Managua's main bus terminal which serves most southern destinations. Terminal Israel serves the northern locations and UCA has minibuses (around the same prices as the large buses) that go to Lyon, Granada, etc. The local bus from the airport to Huembes cost 2.5 cordobas. At the terminal we quickly found the bus for Masaya (final destination “RIVAS”) which cost 15 cordobas per person. Buses that don't end there or go to the terminal will drop you off on the highway really close to the city center.

Sleeping in Masaya: After hours of walking around enquiring at several hotels, hostales and hospedajes we found HOTEL CENTRALE which funny enough we had looked at before arriving on and The super friendly young guy that runs the place and his sweet family immediately made us feel welcome and showed us a clean room with a window and private bathroom for $12 per night. We happily accepted and immediately washed off under a cold shower and laid down under the fan and took a nice long nap after the long journey of plane rides, sleeping in airports, bus rides and hotel searching.
The guy that runs the hotel has plenty of information on what to do in the area and speaks decent English. He will happily help with anything, let you boil water, use the fridge, etc. His mom loved Leila and we pretty much had a permanent babysitter there as she pulled out all her old baby stuff from the attic.

What to Do:
Laguna Apoyo (Crater Lake): 13 Cordobas on the bus from Masaya. Bus says “Laguna Apoyo” on it specifiy “la baja” as not all go to the bottom of the crater. There are two buses per day. One at 7:30am and one at 10:30 am and one back at 4:30 pm but ask to make certain while you're there.

After a long windy road with killer views down the crater the bus arrives at the bottom of the crater and the road forks where the bus will continue left. We got off there (there is also a cheap tienda there if you need snacks, drinks, etc) and walked to Apoyo Resort where I wanted to spend my birthday. There is no entry fee but guests must spend a minimum of 200 cordobas each. Beware they charge around 20% for taxes and tips on top of the high prices! Food is super expensive but beer isn't too high. We split a nacho appetizer which was enough food for two people and had a few beers. At Apoyo Resort there's a small pool and a nice beach area. It's not bad. The pool stunk of chlorine and I'm sure we could easily find a free beach by walking around but we wanted a nice place to relax. A nice bonus was this resort doesn't really cater to foreigners so we were the only foreigners there- all the better for us!
The other place we knew of was Monkey Hut where foreigners go to party- not our scene- there's a $7 entry fee which includes kayak usage for an hour and free coffee.
Our Kidco Peapod came in handy here and luckily they had a highchair.
Nachos plus 5 beers- 488 cordobas (a little less than $15). 

Our table at Apoyo
On our way back we ended up hitching a ride with three cool guys from Managua as we went to the bus stop at 3:30 and the bus doesn't come til 4:30 (we didn't ask ahead of time). It was a great experience meeting these three guys and it was Leila's first time hitchhiking plus we made it all the way back to our hotel in Masaya super quick and free. Happy Birthday to me :)
Verdict: Laguna de Apollo: Don't miss it.