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    North America Travel

    Charleston South Carolina – Southern Charm and Hospitality

    Location: Charleston South Carolina

    We were so lucky to spend a few lovely days visiting friends in Charleston South Carolina.  It’s a bonus when friends live in cities worth visiting and Charleston is definitely one of those.  Charleston South Carolina oozes southern charm and hospitality – you just want to eat it up.

    We had visited Charleston years ago, in fact about 27 years ago.  Boy time does fly.  And although the surrounding areas of Charleston proper including the town of Mount Pleasant where we were staying, have grown exponentially, historic Charleston has stayed much the same.

    The oldest town in the American south, Charleston dates to 1718 and is named for King Charles II of England.  Originally located north and founded in 1680 (location now known as Charles Town Landing), the town moved south to the strategic location where the confluence of the Wando and the Ashleigh Rivers meet Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

    The city today (population of the greater Charleston area about 775,000) is well-known for its beauty, colonial history, hospitality, exceptional restaurants, and surrounding recreational opportunities.

    We spent our short time in the area enjoying the company of our friends, and several sites around the region.  We did not go out to Fort Sumter, because we did that long ago.  Instead we walked more than eight miles all over historic Charleston.  Although the horse-drawn carriages are fun, Charleston is a pedestrian friendly town.  It’s perfect for walking; flat, safe and beautiful.  On our walk we enjoyed the magnificent historic churches (Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has so many church spires) and cemeteries. The colonial historic homes are enchanting, each so perfectly coiffed and dressed as if going to a ball.  The week we were visiting was the peak of the jasmine bloom – literally millions of jasmine blossoms on nearly every beautiful home, perfumed the air for miles around.  We visited Battery Park where the herons were nesting in the giant oak trees overlooking Charleston Harbor.  Of course we stopped for photos at Rainbow Row, the original commercial district and now the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the USA.  Our walk took us to The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston dated 1674.

    I really enjoyed the Historic Charleston Market, stretching for four blocks it has been a market of one sort or another since 1790 and operates in the beautiful and historic market hall.  Today the market is almost all arts and crafts, showcasing the region’s blend of Southern US, English, French and West African cultures.  My favorite was the spectacular handmade reed baskets known as Sweetgrass Baskets.  Made still today in the traditional manner by the descendants of West Africans, the baskets are works of art and sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Shem Creek Park north of historic Charleston, has a lovely park and nature preserve made for walking and enjoying the birds and beauty of the area.  This is also where you can see all the shrimp boats and pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner, which we did! Another beautiful walk is out the former bridge to Sullivan’s Island.  When the new bridge opened the old bridge found new purpose as a wonderful pedestrian park across the estuary and perfect for kayak launching, bird watching, fishing and picnicking.

    Boone Hall Plantation is definitely worth a visit even with the $25 entrance fee.  Boone Hall has been a working plantation for more than 350 years.  Although the current main house is not original (dates to 1936), it is beautiful and keeps to the authentic time period.  The row of brick slave cabins were really interesting, with each one focusing on interpretive information about the slave life.  Local docents offer short talks about the plantation and slavery, and a half an hour storytelling and singing presentation by a local Gullah woman was first-rate.  I am so glad we visited beautiful Boone Hall.

    I could write another entire blog about the delicious food of this region…but I’ll just end the post today with a shout out to pimento cheese and  pork rinds, cheeseburger with fried green tomato, BBQ Brisket and coleslaw, scallops with pesto and mushrooms and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. It’s a delicious city, one of its many, many charms.

    Charleston South Carolina, a perfect little package of southern charm tied pretty with a hospitality bow.  Visit soon.

     

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    Inspire

    Our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World

    76 Airbnb’s Under Our Belt

    I am writing this blog laying on the couch  in my SEVENTY-SIXTH Airbnb, my 603rd night sleeping in an Airbnb.  Whoa.  That’s a lot of Airbnb’s!

    With that many houses, huts, apartments, condos, lofts, shacks and cabins under my belt, I feel it’s time to give you a list of our favorites around the world.  Because even though we carefully research each and every Airbnb before booking, there are of course, some duds. So we like to give a shout out of the best of the best!

    Click on the image for a larger view

    If you are still hesitating about staying in an Airbnb I really encourage you to try it.  We have had outstanding luck using this hospitality model in our travels. Airbnb has changed and grown ALOT since we stayed in our very first one in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood in 2013.  The changes are mostly good.  For us it has been safe, simple and efficient. We use the following as our guide for choosing an Airbnb;

    1. Read the Reviews and look for Super Host and Five Star properties.

    2. Check the amenities that are important to you.  We always want a kitchen, wifi and good walkable location.

    3. Check where it is on the map…BECAUSE if you search Seattle it might show you a house in Seabeck (this happened to us). If you don’t know the area you would be pretty surprised when you try to find your Seattle house.

    4. Contact the host if you have ANY questions.  We have on a number of occasions negotiated a better price based on our long stay.  We have asked many questions such as neighborhood safety, parking, grocery stores etc. We’ve negotiated airport pick up, late arrival, chef service and other necessities.

    5.  Look closely at the pictures.  If you arrive and the unit is NOT what the pictures show contact Airbnb right away. But honestly if you have done steps 1-4 above that probably won’t happen.

    We do have one complaint about Airbnb…a complaint I have expressed to the company with ZERO response; As a loyal and frequent customer I would like to see the company AWARD me for my business.  Just like an airline frequent flyer program.  At the moment Airbnb has more of a focus on rewarding its hosts than its guests – even guests like me who use it almost every day of my life.  I hope they will acknowledge users more generously soon.

    Click on the image for a larger view

    Many of our Airbnb’s don’t stand out for anything in particular, but have served us in an efficient, clean, comfortable and functional way within our budget.  That’s all good.  That’s the case for the nice apartment we are in right now in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  It’s got all the comforts of home; kitchen, washer, two baths, a pool.  And it’s in a nice, safe and convenient neighborhood. Our hosts are helpful and even have a car available for us to rent.

    So since this apartment is our last Airbnb until next September, we thought this would be a good time to expound on our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World and what makes those stand out above the rest. We’ve provided link and photos when possible, in hopes that you can consider some of these little gems we have found along our journey. Here is our list;

    Most UniqueSan Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    San Marcos Guatemala

    We just left Guatemala and the Cave House we stayed in on top of a mountain in San Marcos was amazing.  It had some quirks, but nonetheless it was amazing. You got your built in work out throughout the day going up and down all those stairs.  We give it a big thumbs up.

     

     

    Best ViewSantorini Greece

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Santorini, Greece

    This Airbnb was three times what we usually try to spend, even while being one of the smallest Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Oh but that view.  Heaven on earth.  There is nothing like the crater view of Santorini and it was right outside our door.  Amazing.

     

     

    Best HostsRio de Janerio Brazil, Exmouth Australia, Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria and Sozopol Bulgaria

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

    We have had some really awesome hosts in our 76 Airbnb’s.  And we have had some crappy hosts, usually those who leave you to fend for yourself.  While we don’t want or need a host to manage our stay, we love it when we have a kind, engaged, thoughtful and hospitable host who is there for our occasional need. We have found that in many locations but the four mentioned take the prize.  In Rio our host was incredibly kind with gifts and food and wine.  In Exmouth we loved the darling family who provided us fresh ahi, yoga mats and much kindness.  Two Airbnb’s in Bulgaria introduced us to the most thoughtful Bulgarians who made sure we had everything we needed including a special oven pan when requested, fresh cherries and Bulgarian roses in our room.

    Best Bang for the BuckSozopol Bulgaria and Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria.

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Sozopol, Bulgaria

    Bulgaria overall is a bargain, and it remains one of our most favorite countries for many reasons including the prices.  These two favorite Airbnb’s were very large, multi bedroom units with full kitchen, exceptional hosts and awesome locations.  The one in Sozopol included  a giant deck with view and a swimming pool. We paid $30 in Veliko Tarnovo and $60 in Sozopol.

     

     

    Best Sunsets–  Mal Pais Costa Rica

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Mal Pais, Costa Rica

    We spent two wonderful, relaxing weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this unique and comfortable house right on the beach in Mal Pais Costa Rica.  For fourteen nights in a row we documented the most exquisite sunsets…a wonderful end to each wonderful day.

     

     

    Best Private Pool–  Ocotal Costa Rica, Koh Samui Thailand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Koh Samui, Thailand

    Having a private pool is a real luxury for us, not something that is usually in the budget.  Our two favorites listed here happened because we were sharing a house in these locations, so spending a little bit more for the luxury.  The Ocotal pool had an amazing view, while the Koh Samui pool was very secluded and lovely.

     

     

     

    Best Shared PoolHua Hin Thailand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hua Hin, Thailand

    The largest pool we ever had was the full Olympic size pool in Hua Hin Thailand.  Despite the fact the pool was closed for maintenance for an entire week of our three week visit, we still enjoyed it for swimming laps and relaxing pool side.

     

     

     

     

     

    Best Breakfast IncludedHoi An Vietnam, Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hoi An, Vietnam

    It’s rare to have breakfast included in an Airbnb, and so we took full advantage at these two favorite spots.  Each morning in both places breakfast was delivered to us.  In Hoi An it was eggs and fruit with the BEST coffee and in Hikkaduwa it was the local Sri Lankan breakfast of either Roti or Hoppers, both which we really fell in love with.

     

     

    Best Onsite YogaEl Tunco El Salvador

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    El Tunco, El Salvador

    Since I try to do yoga most everyday, I love it when we have an Airbnb with a nice open and comfortable place to do our own yoga.  But even better is when there are yoga classes available onsite, and Balance Yoga in El Tunco El Salvador was the best.  I have only taken yoga classes in Punta Cana DR, La Fortuna Costa Rica, and on a cruise ship, mostly because it has not been convenient anywhere else.  But in El Tunco it was right out my backdoor, there were multiple daily classes, it was inexpensive and it was exceptional.

     

     

     

    Best Nature WatchingMal Pais Costa Rica

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Mal Pais, Costa Rica

    We loved everything about our house on the beach in Mal Pais, but the unexpected and impressive daily nature show was a big bonus.  Laying in the hammock each evening watching the howler monkeys was truly fascinating…an activity many tourists pay big bucks to see on a tour.  Not us.  These monkeys came to us almost everyday and it was an incredible sight.

     

     

    Most Historically Authentic –  Siem Reap
    Cambodia and Lombok Indonesia

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Lombok, Indonesia

    In Siem Reap we stayed in a historic Khmer home, with the absolutely nicest family living down below.  Breakfast was included and the house was beautiful, historic and authentic.  In Lombok Indonesia we stayed in an authentic Javenese Historic wood house, that had been disassembled, transferred from Java and reassembled on the site of this very remote and small resort  we visited.  Very memorable.

     

    Best Daily Service –  Asilah Morocco

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Asilah, Morocco

    We adored our full-time housekeeper and cook who came with our Airbnb in Asilah Morocco.  Not only was it the first and only time we have had a cook and housekeeper on site, but she was so incredible.  I gained ten pounds I think during our ten days there.  We would absolutely go back to Asilah again and I hope we will.  Latifah was very special.

    Most RusticHikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    We have stayed in some pretty rustic places, but Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka takes the prize for the most bugs, snakes, and rodents living with us in our hut.  We felt like we were on Gilligans Island.  And yet, we absolutely loved our three weeks here for the wonderful hosts, the incredible beach front property, the great weather and the delicious breakfasts all at a bargain basement price.

     

    Best All Inclusive for the Price –  Huraa Maldives

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Huraa, Maldives

    We spent three weeks on the itty bitty Maldivian Island of Huraa.  We had a small room with bath, access to the beach, a great secluded place to do yoga and three meals a day all inclusive for $90…not $90 per person, $90 total.  Our time here was spent just kicking back, running everyday, going snorkeling, hanging in the hammock and all for a remarkable price, especially in the very expensive Maldives.

     

    FunkiestFunky Truck in New Zealand and Tiny Trailer in Bend Oregon USA

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Motueka, New Zealand

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Bend, Oregon, USA

    There are several Airbnb’s we could have given this award to, but these two experiences were so unique they win the prize.  We only stayed two nights in each place.  Both had outhouses and outdoor showers.  Though tiny, both were comfortable and the hosts for both were helpful and hospitable and happy to have us visiting their unique little piece of paradise.

    Best BeachMal Pais Costa Rica, Seabeck Washington USA and Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Seabeck, Washington, USA

    We have had access to a lot of beautiful beaches in our travels.  Our favorites listed here though all are because we could walk right outside of our door and enjoy a beach.  These three though were all very different; Mal Pais was a beautiful but unique beach just steps from or house made up of rocky pools that provided natures hot tub all day long.  Seabeck Washington was a stunning beach on the Hood Canal with spectacular Olympic Mountain view and although a bit chilly, great summer swimming.  And finally Hikkaduwa was a long beautiful stretch of golden sand beach with a bar right next door and our hut only steps away.  Perfect.

    Best Location for HistoryAntigua Guatemala and Malaga Spain

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Antigua, Guatemala

    Both Antigua and Malaga are gorgeous, historic and fairly compact cities and our Airbnb’s provided us a great location in the center of these towns to enjoy all the splendor they had to offer, along with the comforts we enjoy like kitchen and wifi.  In Antigua we also had a magnificent patio where we could see two amazing volcanoes and do yoga or just sit and enjoy our morning coffee.

     

    Best Place to RunEl Tunco El Salvador, Placenia Belize, Seychelles, Punta Cana Dominican Republic, Split Croatia

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Placencia, Belize

    Flat and safe are my requirements for running around the world, and we have run in nearly every country but not in every location.  Often there are dogs, cobblestones, snakes, mountains, crazy drivers or questionable characters that make running unsafe.  But while in El Tunco, Placencia, Seychelles, Split and Punta Cana we ran every single day – safely and with wonderful scenery to enjoy!

     

    Number One Out of Seventy-Six, Our Favorite OverallAntiparos Greece (Cover photo at top of this page is Antiparos)

    Our favorite Airbnb's Around the World

    Antiparos, Greece

    There are a few other’s we considered for this BEST OF moniker, but our three weeks in tiny Antiparos in this beautiful home with stunning view on the side of a mountain with a kind and lovely host is definitely our favorite experience, so far, of all our Airbnb’s.  It is the one place that we think we will definitely visit again some day.  As we go forward with our Grand Adventure next fall we have Airbnb’s booked all over; Asia, Africa, Europe.  Time will tell if this favorite in Antiparos can hold its position as Number One.

    If you have questions about our Airbnb adventures feel free to contact me.  Other blogs that might be of interest to you on this topic are listed here;

    Tips & Tricks with Airbnb

    Sleeping Around – Our Adventures with Beds, Baths and Beyond

    Preparing To Travel Full-Time

     

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    Everything Else Fabulous

    What’s in My Suitcase? My Travel Favorites

    What I Won’t Leave Home Without

    Location: In My Suitcase

    Note – it’s repost Sunday! Enjoy this one again from one year ago  

    When we head off again in August for another year of travel our suitcase will not look the same as when we left the first time 18 months ago.  We have learned what works, what doesn’t and what are our favorite things.  So here are some of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Battery Power Pack – possibly our most used and most valuable item. Mophie is the brand we have and we spent $40 on it. We use it everyday  it fits in a purse or pocket and holds a charge for several days. Definitely one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Packing cubes – not sure how I traveled all those years without packing cubes because they are now my best friend.  Especially as a fulltime traveler it’s so great to keep kinds of clothes and other items categorized in my suitcase.

    Cooler – our collapsible portable lunchbox size Igloo cooler was a gift from our niece and it is just perfect for our travel life, picnics and beach days.   We have even used it to keep things (Mayo, cheese, eggs) cold as we traveled by car from one lodging to the next. A very handy item and portable and one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Ice pack – purchased for $2 this ice pack fits perfect in our little cooler and really changed the way we travel.  Such a simple item with a big impact.

    Freezer Bags and trash bags – with endless uses for storage and packing we have used gallon size freezer bags and kitchen size trash bags to keep things dry, to keep things wet, to organize, to protect and to store. From wet shoes to dirty clothes and olive oil to medicines plastic bags make our life easier.

    Notecards and post it notes – having a package of notecards with envelopes and post-it notes has come in handy. I like to leave notes for our Airbnb hosts or tuck notes in a package I’m mailing or a multitude of other uses these small and simple items are one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Packing tape – our roll of packing tape has done a lot more than wrap up boxes.  We used it to fix a splintered iPhone cord and to make a cardboard sleeve for our butcher knife. We repaired a book binding and even a hat.

    Clothes pens – I initially packed these to use on the Camino but they have come in handy in so many ways.  As hangers when we don’t have any, to secure and close bags, to hold back mosquito netting on beds and to of course hang our laundry.

    Manicure kit – it’s not always easy to find a place to have a manicure, and I’ve learned over the years I need to care frequently for my nails or they get cracked and nasty.  So I carry a small manicure kit that serves my needs while on the road.  It takes no room at all and is one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Scrabble – since leaving the USA in November 2016 we have played more than 400 games of Scrabble. Wow that sounds crazy!  But we love the game and the only problem is we are now both really good at it and we find ourselves occasionally in a bit of a stalemate!

    Noise cancelling headphones – this is Arne’s Favorite item on this list.  We both have Bose headphones we use on the plane. Arne also uses his sometimes to listen to music off his iPad or watch movies.  He votes this as his travel favorite in his suitcase.

    French Press – we have a small REI VERY LIGHTWEIGHT titanium French Press and I love it.   Almost all the places we stay have a hot water pot and we love to make French Press each morning instead of drinking the usual Nescafé.  Traveling with a French Press is one of my travel favorites in my suitcase.

    Foldaway daypack – A few months into our journey we added this item and have used it a ton. It folds up into a little square but when open it is perfect for hikes or city walks when we want to carry a sweater, beach towels, water or just about anything for the day.

    There are things we have been carrying that we don’t plan to include any longer. This includes our kitchen knives, chess board, hiking poles, chamois towel and our giant toilette bag.  I plan to buy a smaller toilette bag and force myself to carry less.

    I’ll hold on to a few tried and true clothing items but plan to throw out many things and replace them with new, Comfy, loose-fitting clothes in mix and match colors.  I clearly know what works and what doesn’t now,  and I think I can bring fewer items while feeling like I have more.  It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

    What’s in my suitcase? My travel favorites, the bare necessities and the tried and true.

    This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you.

    Central America

    I Left My Heart in Guatemala

    Dejé Mi Corazón en Guatemala

    Location: Guatemala

    Entirely unexpected.  Completely beautiful.  So much better than I imagined.

    Dear Guatemala.  You had me at Hola!  I hated to say good-bye.  I left my heart in Guatemala.

    Once again, I approached another Central American country with apprehension, based solely on the information on the U.S. State Department website.  I should know by now not to allow that to sway me totally. I should heed the warnings for sure, and carry on with caution.

    Yes, Guatemala has some dangers just like every other country I have been too (and the USA too).  Pick

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Livingston

    pockets are a problem, although we did not have an issue.  Like always, whether in Central America, Europe or anywhere else in the world we are cautious.  There are definitely some horrendous violent crimes, rarely against foreigners.  Unless you go looking for trouble.  Smart and cautious travel with guides when possible is the best way in this country. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet there is a small population who hold extreme wealth while the rest suffer. There are some other issues in Guatemala, particularly government corruption.  However this is not something the average visitor will see.  The only thing we saw was one entry fee into the town of Panajachel that was illegal.  We also ended up paying twice for our boat on Lake Atitlan because the first guy was a scam.  This ended up costing us an additional $6.50.  Small problems – other than that we found the

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Semana Santa

    country no more dangerous than anywhere we have been.

    And the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.  In fact, I would put Guatemala in my top list of favorite places I have been.  And that is saying an awful lot.  Yes I left my heart in Guatemala.

    So Guatemala how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways;

    1. I love Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.  Being there for the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was an incredible experience.  Although I am not Catholic, the Palm
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Antigua

      Sunday spectacle we witnessed was so full of tradition, majesty, history and faith I was incredibly moved.  I think I became Catholic for a day.  We have had similar experiences in other places around the world where faith is such an important part of everyday life.  On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, in New Delhi India, in Istanbul Turkey, in Seoul South Korea.  A few examples of the places where we felt privileged to witness how faith, history and community converge.  Additionally Antigua offers gorgeous scenery, delicious food and incredible history.  Seeing lava spewing from the active volcano Fuego was a definite highlight. We enjoyed two tours with Antigua Tours and my cooking class with La Tortilla was a highlight.  I hope to visit again.

    2. I love Lake Atitlan.  Here we spent a week enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, and not doing much else.  It was one of the more peaceful places I have been in the world; a crater lake surrounded by three beautiful extinct volcanoes.  The small villages surrounding the lake are each named after one of the apostles.  We spent our time in San Marcos, a teeny village known for its holistic

      Our view Lake Atitlan

      offerings, yoga, health food and hippies.  Our airbnb was one of the most unique we have ever had…a cave dwelling nestled into the cliff.  Memorable for sure.  We hiked and swam and did yoga every day.  Heaven on earth.

    3. I love Flores.  We went to Flores so we could visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, about an hour and a half drive north.  Tikal was amazing…but the tiny town of Flores was such a pleasant surprise.  Situated on a tiny island in Lake Petenitza, the tiny town is colorful, historic, beautiful and yummy.  The town dates back to the 1400’s.  We enjoyed the very warm weather here and a highlight was a private boat tour of the very large and beautiful lake.  Muy bien.

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Flores

    4. I love Rio Dulce.  The region known as Rio Dulce encompasses Livingston on the Caribbean coast (Livingston is only accessible by boat) to the town of Rio Dulce on Lake Izabal.  A gorgeous stretch of water known as the Rio Dulce connects the two.  Our boat ride from Livingston to Rio Dulce was stunning as we

      Lake Izabal, Rio Dulce

      wound our way in an open boat through the narrow gorge, through which the Rio Dulce drains into the Caribbean.  Although VERY rustic, our accommodations in Rio Dulce served us well, and had some of the BEST Mexican food we have ever had.  From our tiny cabin in the marsh we took excursions to the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Lara, to the Agua Caliente waterfall known as El Paraiso and to the beautiful Boqueron Canyon, where we spent several solitary hours deep in the canyon on a beautiful sunny day.  We also learned the very humble ways of the

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      El Parisio Rio Dulce

      Guatemalan people and their use of the collectivos for transportation and saw our first manatee in the wild, although not as close up as we would have liked.

    5. I love a challenge. It’s a challenge getting around Guatemala, as it is still a developing country.  But some of those challenges made for memorable moments.  As mentioned above the collectivo experience in Rio Dulce was certainly unforgettable, riding in a van made for 12 with 23 other people.  During our time here we
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Many boats

      road in twelve different boats, mostly for transportation, but a couple for pleasure.  We also hired a driver for a private shuttle three times, and through that experience met a wonderful Guatemalan man named Alejandro who we hope to see again some day.  We felt safe in all of these situations and enjoyed the experience.  My least enjoyable experience was the plane ride from Flores to Guatemala city in a small 20 seat plane.  I got sick on this very bumpy and diesel-smelling ride.  Ugh.

    6. I love a bargain.  Guatemala is cheap.  Although we spent money on private shuttles, we could have  gone with less expensive non-private shuttles or public transportation known as chicken busses. We used the kitchens in our airbnb’s when possible, but eating in restaurants was very inexpensive
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Marsh cabin Rio Dulce

      and all the food we ate was amazing, fresh and local.  Our accommodations have ranged from $30 to $100 a night.  We loved our Antigua Airbnb for $80 a night and our spectacular Airbnb in San Marcos with lake view was $75 a night.  In Rio Dulce we paid $30 and Livingston was $70.  We ended up spending $100 a night at a Ramada in Flores after the hotel we booked was CLOSED on arrival.  That was something that had never happened before.  But all in all Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries of our travels. The gorgeous textiles made by the indigenous Mayan people are so inexpensive, buying the same thing online would cost five times as much. Alas my suitcase it too small…

    7. I love Guatemalan coffee.  Guatemala is known for its coffee, and I have to agree…it is now possibly my favorite coffee of the world.  Dark, rich and very flavorful, I am a convert.  Guatemala is also
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Coffee with Volcano view

      known for its chocolate.  Although I am not a big consumer of chocolate, the samples of chocolate I had were exceptional.  The Maya used cacao as currency once upon a time. More valuable than gold.

    8. I loved the people.  Everyone we met (except for the one guy who ripped us off $6.50) was amazing.  Few people spoke English and we actually enjoy being forced to expand our limited Spanish knowledge.  Many people however also didn’t speak Spanish, as the Maya who are my generation mostly only spoke their native tongue.  I loved the shy and traditional Maya, especially the beautiful women in their traditional dress.  These are not costumes but how they dress everyday.  The Guatemalan people
      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Mayan women, San Marcos

      were all very private yet friendly, hard working and religious, welcoming and helpful.  We enjoyed being a part of their culture and community.

    So I left my heart in Guatemala.  Possibly my favorite Central American country.  Of course our time in Mal Pais in Costa Rica ranks VERY high.  But Guatemala you are special.  Unique. Beautiful. If you have

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Mayan women selling palms

    every considered visiting Guatemala you should do it.  And do it soon.  Supporting these developing countries through tourism is the least we can do, especially since America’s abandoning Guatemala after funding of guerrilla warfare during the civil war has caused much of the current economic situation Guatemala suffers.

    Guatemala’s upcoming elections could be a turning point for the country…but perhaps things will stay the same, and the slow climb out of the devastation from a two-decade civil war will continue at a snail’s pace.

    We hope for the best for this country and its beautiful people, where we have left our heart.  We will be back.

    God speed Guatemala.

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America  --  Inspire

    “No Problem” Kayak, Camp and Fabulous Women

    Adventure Travel in My Fabulous Fifties

    Location: Belize

    It was convenient, since I was already in Belize.  When I heard about this kayak, camp Belize trip I asked Arne if he thought we might extend our time in Belize so I could go on this trip?  He said sure.  So it was really easy.  With the push of a few buttons I was onboard to kayak with a group of women coming to Belize from the USA.

    I didn’t  give it a lot of thought.  I just thought it might be fun.  But when all was said and done it was much more than just fun.  It was many things unexpected and rich, and more than anything, it was a fabulous adventure with fabulous women.

    No Problem

    Our amazing guide Eric became notorious for saying “no problem” for any question we asked or problem we posed.  He was amazing and made the journey so simple. Eric’s tour company Belizean Style (recoronald@gmail.com), was contracted by Kayak Belize to guide us through the week.  Bainbridge Island, Washington based Journey for a Purpose was the lead organization, who pulled together 12 women to experience this together.  The 12 of us, aged 30-72, came from many different backgrounds, places, professions and experiences.  And yet we fit together like a beautiful puzzle.  It was fate.

    Beautiful

    Sometimes I am hard to impress, given the amount of territory I have covered.  But this place – the cayes off the coast of Belize – is almost indescribable.  Azure blue, turquoise green, golden-yellow, royal purple.  These are the colors of the world-famous reef and seas.  Jungle green, sandy pink, cocoa brown, chalky white.  These are the colors of the tiny private atolls.  So much beauty everywhere you turn.

    Empowering

    I’ve had some amazing moments in my life that have empowered me, when I’ve found myself doing things I might otherwise turn to Arne and expect him to do for me or with me.  Everything from setting up a tent, riding my bike across the state of Washington, walking 487 miles on the Camino to climbing a mountain.  On this kayak journey, I found myself figuring out the logistics of equipment.  Paddling the single kayak without Arne’s help. Finding private time when I needed it.  As much as I adore my husband it’s always a good feeling when I’m left to my own powerful decision making.

    Difficult

    We had some big winds and some tough paddle days.  My back hurt and my arms felt like jelly but I made myself endure.  The high winds and rain also surprised us early one morning and our tents flapped and threatened to sail away.  But it was amazing how everyone worked together.  How Mr. No Problem Eric was there to help.  How we laughed about it after.  We were strong. Invincible. Fierce.

    Inspiring

    As a group we spent time each day in “circle”.  Here we practiced the art of listening, more than telling. Each woman had time to talk about herself, her background, her greatest challenge, her greatest achievement.  While each spoke the others listened intently with acceptance and support.  It’s not something I am usually comfortable with, but the format made me so.  It was open, acknowledging and welcoming.  It was real and refreshing and full.  It was inspirational.

    Peaceful

    The atoll we were camping at is Moho Caye.  It is about 13 miles out on the reef from Placencia. From 10am-3pm day trippers can visit the island.  Some days as many as twenty people might show up, while other days perhaps only five.  But from 3pm to 10am we had the entire island to ourselves.  We all agreed it was spectacular.  It was a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Castaway.  A remarkable opportunity to relish the beauty of a private island to ourselves.  We sung around the campfire and skinny dipped in the ocean.  This was our island and we embraced it and it in return it showered us with lovely memories.

    Hilarious

    There is absolutely nothing in the world so wonderful as belly laughing.  Laugh yourself silly.  Laugh yourself happy.  Laugh yourself healthy.  It’s cleansing and exhausting and wonderful to laugh fully with abandon.  And we did.  We laughed over stories. We laughed over songs.  We laughed over games.  We found so much to bring smile and laughter to our time together, even though we had known each other such a short while.  It was a happy and full experience of genuine spirited female fun.

    Positive

    Our wonderful leaders Spring and Maria from Journey for a Purpose found a variety of positive ways to bring us together as a group from snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles to kayaking to singing to sharing.  But in addition some of my most favorite moments were when we all did yoga together on the beach, creating an awareness within us as well as pulling the positive energy into our bodies.  We also spent time making beach art and describing our beach art to each other.  One day we walked around our island and brought back something from nature.  We then spent time with Mr. No Problem Eric and learned something about the items we found.  Then together we shared.  It was great fun as the items collected ranged from a gecko to driftwood, from coral to leaves and branches. Our island shared its deep natural history.

    Affirming

    While on our island, one of the women got the news that her father-in-law had passed away.  As much as she felt she should be home with her family, we became her family that day and showered her with love. We helped memorialize a man we didn’t know, but it was so easy because we were all on the same wave-length.  It was very affirming to me, to feel the love and joy being heaped on our friend and her departed kin.  But for me it was also affirming to my life’s mission of living each moment as if it were my last.  Of caring for myself in a way that gives me the strength to care for others.  And above all, being fully present.  A reminder to center myself and just be. This was a gift.

    Journey for a Purpose

    This is my second experience with Journey for a Purpose and I have loved both.  You can find more information about them at the website link above.  A few spots are still available for their Blake Island, Washington trips this summer.

    I recently stumbled upon this quote, and it epitomizes for me how I feel about my kayak camping adventure as well as my daily life;

    “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no man’s land.” – Pema Chodron

    I was thrown from the nest n this adventure and loved it immensely. Thank you for challenging me and loving me and for my new friends who I hope to meet again someday.  To Spring, Maria, Pamela, Susan, Suzanne, Eileen, Kathy, Nadine, Meg, Katie, Kelly, Ian (our cook) and Mr. No Problem Eric, I salute you.  I hope you find what you are looking for and I wish you joy.

    Fabulous!

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    Adventure Travel  --  Inspire

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Add These to Your Bucket List

    Location: Around the World

    We love Paris like everyone else.  But really that’s the problem.  EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost.  In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go.  Often these destinations end up being our most favorite.  And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes.   Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler.  We ask you to consider these options:

    Bulgaria

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Bulgaria

    Instead of Croatia consider visiting  Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to.  Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there.  We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits.  Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking.  The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding.  And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.

    Slovenia

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Slovenia

    Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia.  We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again.  Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor.  But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes.  Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly.  Oh and the seafood.  So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.

    El Salvador

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    El Salvador

    Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador.  We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it.  There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico.  Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating.  El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out.  Go visit El Salvador.

    Poland

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Poland

    Instead of Germany go to Poland.  Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination.  And it should.  We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall.  Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe.  The food is fantastic.  The people are warm and happy to meet you.  The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful.  And it is cheap and easy to get to.  We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel.  You really should visit Poland now.

    Bangladesh

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Bangladesh

    Instead of India go to Bangladesh.  I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh.  Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country.  Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world.  We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here.  We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.

    Sri Lanka

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Sri Lanka

    Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore.  So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead.  The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here.  Why not?  It is amazing.  We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited.  The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive.  The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible.  We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes.  Oh my.  It’s Sri Lanka for me.

    Namibia

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Namibia

    Instead of South Africa go to Namibia.  Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places.  This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world.  We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people.  And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered.  I absolutely fell in love with Namibia.  If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia.  You will be so glad you did.  Go see Namibia now.

    Seychelles

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Seychelles

    Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles.  First a word about the Maldives.  We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay.  But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead.  A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa.  We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it.  Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive.  The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious.  If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.

    Portugal

    Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To

    Portugal

    Instead of Spain go to Portugal.  I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry.  But we met very few Americans while we were there.  Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle.  But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language.  We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there.  The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic.   It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography.  Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun.  Visit Portugal.

    What is next for us?

    We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again.  Without really trying, we have noticed

    Hard to answer questions to a travel nomad

    Portugal

    a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy.  A trend towards staying longer in one place.  A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.

    I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there.  But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled.  It’s always the places with few western tourists.  It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go.  The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.

    One rare Bangladesh

    Bangladesh

    Our favorite destinations no one goes to.  Fabulous.

    Note – we have committed to the following destinations from September to January; China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, Kenya and Mauritiaus. Not confirmed but in the works for 2020 are;  Zambia, Uganda, Israel, Cyprus, Malta, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia,Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia, Belarus, Estonia, Finland and Greenland.

     

     

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    Central America

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

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