May 14, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Crossing two Borders in one day (and running out of money)

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Cost/day: $100/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

We left El Salvador and crossed the Honduras AND Nicaragua border in one day with our five kids (and ran out of money at the Nicaragua border.) Oh, and I’m six months pregnant.

Describe a typical day:

This was an untypical day…  after being unable to find a house we wanted to rent in El Salvador, we decided to head to Nicaragua to find a place. Since there was only a small portion of Honduras we needed to pass through, we opted to cross both borders in the same day.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There’s something special about being on the road, on the move. It feels good to see new places.

Dislike: Literally, the moment we crossed the border into Honduras we were stopped by police who attempted to get us to pay a bribe. Then we were stopped 5-6 more times that day before reaching the Nicaraguan border… not cool. (But we refused to pay one single bribe, so that’s good.)

Describe a challenge you faced:

There was a little bit of cash left in our wallet, but most of it had been spent on groceries. If necessary, we planned to withdraw any money we would need at the border. When we arrived, the entry into Nicaragua was more than we had remembered/expected ($12 per passport, and there’s seven of us.)

My husband attempted to withdraw money from the ATM to pay the fees, but the machine ONLY accepted Visa… and the only cards we had were Mastercard. We could not access our money, and the nearest ATM that accepted Mastercard was an hour into Nicaragua, or a couple of hours back into Honduras. What were we going to do?

Soon my husband spotted some European backpackers and thought he better take advantage of any opportunity he might have. He struck up a conversation, then asked them if he could offer them a ride to León, Nicaragua, in exchange for a loan to pay our visa fees (and a promise to pay them back as soon as we found a Mastercard ATM.)

Thankfully, they agreed. We paid the fees, then made room for our new friends and drove into Nicaragua. By this time, however, it was getting dark and starting to rain. The drive was a little intense, with lightening flashing, pedestrians walking in the rain, and the reflection of headlights off the wet asphalt.

At last we made it to León, made a withdrawal at the first ATM, paid back our friends then dropped them off at a hostel.

What new lesson did you learn?

Always have enough cash on hand before you arrive at a border crossing.

Where next?

We’ll be renting a house in the beach town of Las Penitas.

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 Dennings Antigua Guatemala

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 7, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Exploring Luang Namtha, Laos and overcoming sickness

Cost/day:  $20-25 per person

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?  There is a type of vehicle in Luang Namtha that I have not seen anywhere else in Laos or Southeast Asia. The locals call it a tec-tec, which I’m assuming is onomatopoeic because that is the sound the extremely loud, water-cooled engine makes.

Tec Tec

Describe a typical day:  As with all of our days, no matter where we are, the day usually starts with work and homeschool. On the days I wasn’t sick, we would ride a motorbike outside of town to explore rivers, mountains, waterfalls or temples on our own. Riding a motorbike outside the town to the local villages was the highlight for us. Just watching daily life along the river, being invited for dinner into a home or watching children play with toys of their own creation were special moments. We also spent time with guides kayaking and hiking through the Nam Ha, a protected forest with small villages and stunning mountainous and river scenery. We had no means to cook our own food so all meals were eaten at one of the local restaurants, including the night market where we would eat dinner. We had no problems sleeping in the surprisingly cool night temperatures after all of the exploring we did during the days.

Kayak Trip

 

Luang Namtha 2

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:  Our guide on a kayaking trip explained that often schools are very far from some of the villages, requiring children to spend a considerable amount of time away from their homes. In his case, he lived so far from his school that he and his father built a hut next to the school. He slept in the hut during the week, only to return home on the weekends. This, he said, was not all that uncommon in the area(more…)

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

April 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: The coast of El Salvador

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Cost/day: $55/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

Between my husband and my son, they were stung three times during the one week we were in El Salvador!

Describe a typical day:

We’re driving most days, exploring the coast and searching for a place where we could possibly rent a house. Stopping at towns along the way, such as El Zonte, San Blas and Liberia, we check out the beaches and rental prices.

The roads are windy along the coastline in the north, with cliffs that offer vistas of the sea. Sunshine reflects off the ocean. The breeze blows, the windows are down and our favorite tunes are playing on the radio. It’s great to be alive, exploring this big, beautiful world!

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There are no speed bumps! After being in Guatemala for so long and their countless tumulos it’s refreshing to be able to drive without slowing down for speed bumps.

The people are super friendly, and love the children. They are constantly coming up to us every time we stop and asking questions.

We also found a great little place to hangout in El Cuco… a great campground with a pool and a short jaunt to the beach.

Dislike: We’re shocked with the prices here — food is about 20% more than Guatemala (we’d heard it was cheaper), and rental rates are outrageous! Prices are high, but the ‘niceness’ of accommodations are not. This was not at all what we expected. We can only surmise that rates are being driven up because the coast of El Salvador is very popular for surfers.

Describe a challenge you faced:

We’d hoped to find a house to rent for a month or two, but all rental rates were outside of our budget, and even if they hadn’t have been, nothing we found would work for our family of seven (soon to be eight.) Given my condition of being 6 months pregnant, I was disappointed by having my expectations unrealized.

What new lesson did you learn?

Expect the unexpected. You never really know what a destination has to offer until you hit the ground. Besides, everyone’s desires are different, so it can affect what their experience is like.

Where next?

We’re heading to Nicaragua where we hope to find a house on the beach that we can rent for a few months.

Download 101 FAQs about our travel lifestyle, connect with me on Facebook, or learn step-by-step how to fund travel.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

April 2, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Motorbike exploring outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand

Cost/day:

$50-55/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Without question it is Wat Rong Kuhn, otherwise known as the White Wat. I read plenty about this wat, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and even saw dozens of pictures. Words and pictures alone did not prepare me for the grandeur, beauty and strangeness of this place.

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Describe a typical day:

In the morning I work for a couple of hours and then we set out on the motorbike for the same place we go everyday for breakfast. We  always change up where we eat lunch and dinner in a city, but once we find a good breakfast spot in town we seem to never deviate from it.

After breakfast we generally hop on the motorbike and go outside of town to places like a massive tea plantation, Buddhist caves, various wats, museums, waterfalls or hiking trails.

After our daily adventure we head back to the hotel for homeschool and to finish work for the day. We then go to the night bazaar where we see the various local and imported wares for sale, mostly to tourists.

For dinner we go to one of the many local stalls selling a type of broth soup that is cooked at your table in a clay pot with noodles, vegetables and meat.

Tea Plantation

Chiang Rai Juxtaposition

Chiang Rai Market


Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I found it interesting talking with the manager of the hotel about various locations to see outside of town. After going through her list of recommendations, I asked which were her absolute favorites. She answered that she had not been to any of them. When I asked her why she said she didn’t have time to go due to her work and family responsibilities.

It was humbling and a great reminder just how fortunate we are to travel and see sights that often many locals are not even able to see. It’s just another painful reminder how unfair the world is.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like the ability to quickly get outside of the town and see very beautiful sights. I like that the town and surrounding area are not overrun with tourists or owned and managed by tour agencies and large companies. It feels like the locals’ town.

I do not particularly like the town itself. There is not much about it that I find unique.  Even this, though, has a type of charm when viewed through a certain lens. I would just advise renting some form of transportation when in Chiang Rai because the magic in this area lies just outside the city in the hills, caves, rivers and surrounding villages.

Buddhist Cave

River Thoughts

Describe a challenge you faced:

I got extremely sick due to questionable food while in a village outside of town. I have eaten unidentifiable street food from Istanbul to Bangkok without even a hint of stomach troubles, but I guess I was due. The worst part was that we had to take a bus for six hours the next day.  This experience will not soon be forgotten.

What new lesson did you learn?

I was reminded that I tremendously enjoy having my own transportation, even it it’s just a 110 cc motorbike. Being able to get off the tourist trail and stop where we want has given us some of our most memorable and enjoyable moments. Simple things like finding a game of sepak takraw outside of town was just an unforgettable moment and really allowed us to see the daily life of the locals, something we always seek out.

Sepak Takraw

 

Motorbike

Where next?

Luang Namtha, Laos for hiking and kayaking.

 

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 26, 2014

Field Report: Ayres Rock – The beauty and the culture of the red centre

A big red rock, Kangaroo Dancing, Thorny Lizards and beautiful sunsets
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Cost/day:
In our fist 3 day stay at Ayres Rock Resort we must have spent about $30 a day, give or take, on food and drink. This however doesn’t include the $25 for a 3 day pass to the Uluru National Park or the $72 we paid for the first 3 night stay on the campground. If $72 sounds affordable that’s because it is but we were lucky to have gone at the end of the winter season. This is when the resort offer 3 nights for the price if 2 on camping pitches.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Have you ever seen a Thorny Devil? A lizard with spikes all over its body. It’s harmless and if you get near, it stands still hoping not to be seen. The friendly lizard absorbs water from its feet to it’s spikes across the top of its back for consumption. If you were to pick one up and place it on your arm you’ll feel the suction on your skin. They are cute but a bizarre looking reptile.
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Describe a typical day:
all activities on the site are included in the price. I would wake up and cook some poached eggs on toast from the camp kitchen. Catch up on some daily news with a coffee. I like to write before midday, an hour putting pen to paper. Get washed and ready and stroll into the town centre. A great indigenous man named Leroy can take you through some bush yarns (stories) about male and female roles in a mob (tribe/family) and talk you through aboriginal weapons and hunting equipment. He is a really interesting man and will happily spend time after to answer any questions you have. I don’t think I quizzed him once without getting a thorough answer – a very knowledgable man.

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Soon after weapons it’s time for Udarki (didgeridoo) playing with the Aboriginal Wakagetti team. Again some really great, wise, friendly people who take pride and enjoyment in their work. Be aware that the Didgeridoo is regarded as a mans duty amongst certain aboriginal folk. I loved this as it’s the first time someone has taught me how to really play the instrument unlike my raspberry blowing I did at school!

 

 

 

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Once finished its time to make my way to spear and boomerang throwing. This is a great deal of fun, hosted again by the Wakagetti team. Yet another great way to learn some really intriguing facts about aboriginal hunting. If you’re good at the boomerang throwing it is often advisable to duck, they come back fast! It is very enjoyable to watch all other participants climbing over themselves to escape the incoming missile!

Lunch time would be spent at the Kulata Deli where the best sandwiches are made by the resorts indigenous training team. We loved the sandwiches here, my favourite being a turkey and bacon grilled panini stacked with all the salad. This is more than enough to fill this hungry little man!

After lunch it’s a cool down with a swim in the campground’s pool and catch up on my tan. I was looking vaguely like Casper the ghost before I set out in this journey!

After chilling out I would head back into town to take part in the Wakagetti Indigenous dancing. They offer a tutorial taking you through various aboriginal dances. This is then followed up with a fantastic performance from the team exhibiting genuine cultural dancing. I couldn’t resist finding myself up on stage to show my best Kangaroo dance – a great deal of fun.
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Then it’s getting time to drive out to the Rock’s viewing point to watch a magnificent sunset over Uluru. This cannot be missed in my opinion – it is a far better sight to behold than a sunrise. If for any reason it’s a cloudy day don’t be down hearted, the most beautiful colours light up the sky and add an array of beauty to an already magnificent view. It can also be a very romantic setting where a cuddle or two can be shared.

Back to camp kitchen for goon (cheap cask wine) and food, typically a barbecue and to converse with the hive of travellers that congregate around the barbecue. Then it’s time for bed. Word of warning – try to hold back on the wine if your planning a sunrise trip because it can be a very early start.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
The most interesting conversation I had was with a local who worked out of the brilliant Uluru Cultural Centre. When I used to imagine an aboriginal person, I would see a tribal black man. The conversation allowed me to learn that Aboriginal or Indigenous people are not this typical stereotype we often see in books, TV etc. What I came to understand is there are a variety of colours amongst mobs and I was asked to understand that to be an aboriginal man is about being close to the culture you were raised in, to understand and love your upbringing and engage and learn the knowledge and stories of your elders.

I am ever inquisitive and we spoke for quite some time on this subject. I realised that I had a misguided representation of just what it means to be aboriginal. This is often overlooked and can still be misinterpreted.
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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I love the beauty of the surroundings. The desert is fresh and untouched. This is where millions of years of nature continues to thrive. The red sandy plains reflect the years of natural formation of its beautiful vast landscape. I am yet to find a place that has such varying beauty. The changing skylines give various backdrops to fantastic desert views. There are many beautiful sunsets to be experienced watching the skies light up night after night with the most vibrant reds, purples and oranges. In contrast to this is the powerful lightening storms that can occur. Large thunderous clouds sweeping the skies, lighting up the desert for miles around, often silhouetting Uluru on the horizon. The clear nights offer you a chance to gaze upon the starry cosmos. This leaves you with the euphoric feeling that we as humans on this planet really are just floating on a rock in the large nothingness of space.

I would enjoy watching many creatures that live amongst the bush lands. From the suspicious dingoes to a wondering thorny devil. The trees filled with Brolgas and Magpies to the Goannas that plod along on the land below. Moths the size of your hand, to the angry little Praying Mantis who would offer you a fist fight if you came too close. It is fantastic how all the elements here live and breathe together as one, each knowing there own place in the world.

The only thing I would say I disliked is the endless repetitiveness of the journey here. It is a long drive with very little in between and when your van was as rickety as our van was, you often imagine being stranded in the middle of no where. However I would do it all over again for a chance to relive this experience.

Describe a challenge you faced:
the biggest challenge we faced was the distance from anywhere. The van was in good condition for a motor of its age. The driving hours are long whichever route you take.

What new lesson did you learn?
Being here in the red centre allowed me to understand a very significant part of my English history. As an Englishman I felt ashamed by what had been done to the natives of the land. I was able to grasp a true understanding of what culture, friendship and respect really means. The strength of belief and companionship, the pride of knowledge, what it means to be alive and treating the world around you with respect. I learnt to be at peace with the world. I have found out a lot about myself in my time here. These are lessons and understandings that have helped me as an individual understand what is important in life and what we often miss in the modern western world.

Where next?
It’s off to Sydney!

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Category: Oceania, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 19, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: The Morocco most people won’t see

Welcome to Guelmim, Morocco, the gateway to the Sahara!

Market in Guelmim

Cost/day: ~$24

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Camel meat is a common ingredient in the southern area of Morocco. There are 3 types of camel, and each color has its own function. White camels are special as they can smell water from 30 km. Dark brown (referred to as black) camels are used for work, and the lighter brown ones are used for meat. When you visit a butcher to buy your camel meat, you will find their legs hanging up. Younger camels are used for chops while older ones are more suitable for ground meat. It can be a little disconcerting to see a bunch of legs hanging in the air.

Describe a typical day:

Guelmim, admittedly, doesn’t have a lot of tourist activities. It’s best for those who wish to experience rural Morocco, a slice of life they will never experience in the more commonly visited cities of Marrkech, Fez, Casablanca, etc. However, it is easy to arrange a Bedouin experience in the desert from here. Guelmim is also within easy reach of some great beaches that are not overcrowded and packed full of tourists.

We enjoyed getting breakfast from our favorite cafe (ask for kulshi) and watching the world go by, which is a national hobby. Sip on your wonderful mint tea and savor the ritual that comes along with preparing it. Dip your pieces of bread in the wonderful argan (it tastes like almond butter) until your eggs come out on a sizzling platter. Rip off a piece of bread and use that and a finger to scoop up some egg. It’s a delightful way to begin a leisurely morning.

And no one does leisurely quite as well as the Moroccans.

Supermarkets do not sell fresh foods, so to get supplies you’ll need to visit a few vendors. Spend any amount of time here, and you’ll soon have your favorite vendor for produce, meat, chicken, bread, and so on.

Fruit vendors

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

One of my fondest memories of our time on the nearby oasis was sitting down and chatting with a local about a number of things, one of which included attitudes about dress for women. It was a discussion that really challenged my way of thinking in a way I had not anticipated. It really forced me to reconsider my judgments regarding how women dress there.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I loved the slow pace of life. It was really fun building relationships with all my regular vendors. Whenever I went into town unaccompanied by son, they would always inquire after him. It was easy to feel like you were part of the community, even if my French was limited and I only knew 4 words of Moroccan Arabic, 3 of which had been taught to me by our favorite bread vendor. He was a wizened man who always had a big, mostly toothless smile and who delighted in hearing me use the words he taught me.

I was not a fan of the mini buses and shared taxis. I don’t enjoy being squished into vehicles.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Communication was the biggest challenge. English is not commonly spoken. In fact, I found more people who spoke Spanish than ones who knew more than “Hello!” in English. My French was pretty limited, and many of the locals didn’t speak that language either. But they were never impatient. We always figured out how to communicate, and when we finally figured out what the other was saying, we would both laugh heartily.

What new lesson did you learn?

Never make snap judgments about a cultural norm. You don’t really know what’s behind it, and once you discover the history and its meaning it may not seem so strange, unusual, or awful as you initially thought.

Thanksgiving on the oasis

Where next?

London! I can hear my bank account crying already.

You can follow along or learn more about our adventures on our blog and by connecting with us via Facebook.

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Category: Africa, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 12, 2014

Vagablogging Field Report: Extreme Bungee Adventure in Guatemala

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Cost: $22/adults $12.50/kids

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately?

Extreme Bungee!! Get strapped into a harness and shot into the air with up to 4G forces pressing against your body… basically you’re a human catapult. That’s extreme bungee.

Describe the experience:

We are picked up by Lionel who owns and runs Xtreme Bungee. He drives us a few minutes outside of Antigua where he has an incredible human catapult machine set up.

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One by one, all the members of my family (except for the two youngest and me, the pregnant mommy) take turns being shot into the air, reacting with screams and funny facial expressions while G forces press against their bodies and free falls turn their tummies. (The video is hilarious!)

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What do you like about the experience? Dislike?

I loved watching my kids and husband as they experienced something new and faced (and overcame) fears and uncertainties in order to create great memories, build confidence and have unexpected fun!

I did not like the music that was played at the site. It was in English and inappropriate for children. However, the owner has since stated that he will be more aware of that in the future.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Convincing my oldest son that he could not have more than two turns!

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What new lesson did you learn?

Giving children an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and try something new is ultimately what travel is about. It helps their confidence to grow, and expands their minds.

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Where next?

Next we’ll be heading to El Salvador.

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

Rachel Denning Lake Atitlan 500

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

January 15, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Sydney to Cairns, Australia

Cost/day:  $50

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
A duck-billed platypus. Though sadly, it was only in the zoo. My friend and I were constantly on the lookout for one in the wild and we were let down big time to never come across one.

(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Field Reports

January 8, 2014

Vagablogging Field Report: Antigua Guatemala

antigua guatemala

Cost/day: $40/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Sidewalks! Living in Latin America for the past year and a half, sidewalks are unseen and non-existent… but not in Antigua, they have sidewalks to walk on, even if they are skinny and crowded.

Describe a typical day:

In the morning we head out to walk around the city’s (cobblestone) streets. We explore the cathedrals and other colonial buildings, and gawk at the nicest McDonalds we’ve ever seen. Later, we visit the large local market to shop for produce and to eat lunch. In the afternoon we watch a procession celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I love the overall cleanliness of the city, and the colorful homes and buildings. Antigua takes pride in it’s city. I didn’t dislike anything about our visit.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Trying to decide whether to stay an extra day so that we could do some extreme bungee action. (We decided to stay.)

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What new lesson did you learn?

The city life can be a refreshing change after living in remote places for awhile. It’s good to have a mix.

Where next?

Next we’ll be heading to the border of El Salvador and Guatemala.

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

denning family

 

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

December 25, 2013

Vagablogging Field Report: Christmas in Nicaragua

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Cost/day: $32/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

It’s ‘strange’ to observe the traditional celebrations of another culture as an outsider. Our family of seven is currently observing the holiday traditions of León, Nicaragua (and Las Peñitas, the nearby beach town.)

Describe a typical day:

The atmosphere in the city of León is becoming more festive as Christmas approaches. When we drive in (from Las Peñitas where we are renting a house), there is definitely and increasing hustle and bustle. Many weekends are busy with celebrations, starting with Griteria which is on the 7th of December. Shops are setting up selling fruit (especially apples and grapes), toys and other holiday trinkets.

Nicaragua christmas

leon nicaragua

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Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

Our family was invited to the home of a local Nicaraguan family, where we visited and learned about local customs and traditions. Some of them include making a traditional dish called pollo relleno (stuffed chicken) that has potatoes, carrots, and raisins (another Nicaraguan family shared this dish with us on Griteria and it was very good!)

Nicaraguans usually celebrate more on Christmas Eve, having a meal with family and friends, opening some presents, and perhaps lighting fireworks. Christmas Day may be spent at the beach. (We drove into León on Christmas Day to watch Frozen — in Spanish and 3D — and there were few shops or vendors out.)

The family we visited showed us much love and kindness, and even gave gifts to my unborn child.

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A typical Nicaraguan home

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

We love the colonial experience here in León — lots and lots of cathedrals and historical buildings. We love the beach and surfing (the family is just learning) in Las Peñitas. This is a great area!

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Not a lot that we dislike. Costs are generally cheaper here than in El Salvador or Guatemala (except for apples!) Housing is a bit more expensive however.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Not having enough time to practice surfing this week, before we head to Costa Rica. :)

What new lesson did you learn?

It’s often those with less that are the most generous and giving. Time and again we are amazed by the liberality of people in developing countries.

Where next?

Soon we’ll be headed to Costa Rica where we will be having baby #6!

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports
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