The Last Wonders of Bali: Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur

As they say, ‘save the best for the last’, and thus the two best places were saved for the last day of my Bali sojourn. Both the Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur were quite a distance from Kuta and I had to start off very early to have enough time to reach and explore these beauties.

Gates of Heaven 

The Lempuyang Temple nestled amidst the slopes of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali is probably the most photogenic place I have seen so far. Also called The Gates of Heaven, it does take a lot of determination, strength, sweat, and toil to overcome almost perpendicular roads, around 1700 steps and reach the height of 1175 m above sea level to knock on the Gates of Heaven, on Earth!  It takes skills to climb up to the temple from the mountain base where the Agung temple is situated; but there are facilities for car parking, local transport and shared transportation making life easier for tourists. The entry to the temple costs 20,000 Rupiah per person. Being a temple, it is also mandatory to wear a Sarong, cover the shoulders and tie back your hair.

The Temple is so named because it seems as if beyond the doors of the temple one would enter the portal to heaven. The altitude and sky-touching height give it an illusion that one is nestled between the clouds.  It makes for a very popular tourist destination in Bali and clicking a photograph here is a must.  There are also special photographers whom you can hire to take your photos. The film is developed and handed over instantly. But, mind the line it often amounts to hundreds waiting in the queue.

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Way to the Temple 
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Gates of Heaven

Mount Batur

Never did I ever think that while studying volcanoes in Geography I would be able to see one with my own eyes. What was instantly thrilling and scary at the same time was the fact that the Batur Volcano was an active one and the last eruption was not so long ago.  It takes almost 2 hours to reach Mount Batur from the Gates of Heaven. Bali in October can be really hot but Mount Batur’s ride uphill made up for it- it was freezing cold! Do carry warm clothes even if you visit during summer for you would need it.

The first documented eruption from Mount Batur took place is 1804 and then again in 2000. In September 2012, it was declared as a UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It is interesting to note that there are settlements surrounding the volcano. I was not so daring as to visit the volcano from these villages but it was still a beautiful sight, seeing it from the mountain slopes. It almost resembled the mall roads of Indian hill-stations.

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Mount and Lake Batur 

Lake Batur

It is the volcanic Crater Lake formed due to the multiple eruptions in Mount Batur. The settlements around the Lake influence the agriculture and aquaculture of the region. It is also a source of several hot springs.

Batur Geopark Museum  

Previously called the Museum of Volcano Batur, it was renamed after Mount Batur was given a status among the UNESCO sites. It showcases the history of the region through dioramas. The entry fee for the museum is 20,000 Rupiahs. It is open Mon to Fri – 8 am to 4 pm, and Sat and Sun 8 am – 2 pm. If you are interested in Geography or Geology, then a visit to this museum is a must.

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Batur Geopark Museum 

Rice Fields

I had previously written to you about my experience visiting the Tegalalang Rice Fields. While that was a touristy experience; this was a rustic chanced sighting of the entire harvesting process. On my way to Kuta, I just happened to see numerous men and women working on the rice fields tending to it. The various different processes opened up in layers in front of me. What more, I could go closer and take photographs.

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Work in the fields 

Bali Foodgasm

Food in Bali varies to a great degree reflecting cosmopolitanism. You would find small shacks serving meatballs, soups, and rice with vegetables and meat; and you would also find pubs, restaurants, and branded cafes and hotel chains. I would personally recommend meatballs, sticky rice, and pork ribs. These three were my favorite. Another interesting find was flavors of drinks and snacks from known brands – Grape and Apple Fanta, SeaWeed Lays, etc. Of course in India, these are unheard of, probably because the market has not been very welcoming to them.

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To the best Food in Bali – Smoked Pork Ribs 

And with a planeload of memories and experiences, it was time to bid goodbye to this beautiful island. My departure coincided with Halloween and it was a wonder to see costume flash mob at the Bali airport. Young men and women were dressed up as witches, wizards, draculas, and widows to entertain the passengers. This time too it was Malindo Airlines with their perfect hospitality. A three-hour journey from Bali to Kuala Lumpur; and then another four hours to Kolkata- to home. It was almost past midnight when I landed in Kolkata- the streets were vacant and peaceful but in my head, numerous thoughts were buzzing about Bali, about the experience, about telling my close ones about the stay and of course, about writing it down on my blog!

That was all about my Bali Travels. I would soon be back with other travel stories. Due to the global crisis of the Novel Coronas Virus, it is an unsafe time to travel at the moment. In a country experiencing Lockdown, this is the time to think about self-improvement, spending time with family and pets, catching up on reading and some tips for self-sustainability. Till the situation is better, take care and do catch up on my book reviews from next week.

Bali: Up Close with Scenic Marvels, Thrilling Bridges and Shoppers Paradise

You bat an eyelid and days go by during vacations. After going on a whirlwind sightseeing spree in Ubud, it was time to explore places closer to Kuta and go down south. Breakfast was noodles as usual and before the clock struck 10 am, I was on the road. Though the number of destinations might be lesser than the day before but the travel time and the quality of the destinations made up for everything.

Bali Zoo:

It is the home of conservation, smart education, research, and recreational activities. With over 450 species of animals housed in the zoo, it is the perfect place for getting close with your favorite animals. The regular entry fee for an adult is approx. INR 356,500 Rupiah. This apart, there are several special packages which include special activities like ‘Breakfast with Orangutan’, ‘Night at the Zoo’, ‘Elephant Mud Fun’, animal presentations and birthday celebrations. Each package is differently priced and would have different inclusions like hotel transfer, zoo entrance, special activity and the like. The activities require pre-booking and are usually open from 6:30 am. For more information on the Bali zoo, you can check out their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Tegenungan Waterfalls:

Waterfalls are truly a beauty. Adding another one to my list of sightseeing, The Tegenungan Waterfall which remains open every day from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. The entrance to the same is 15,000 Rupiah for adults and 10,000 Rupiah for children. Should you not want to take a bath, do not worry. You can enjoy the scenic beauty, take a walk around the land; bathe, soak, swim; take great display photographs for your social media; try the waterfall swing or jump, and of course indulge in some local food and shopping.

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Tegenungan Waterfalls

Bali Bird Park:

If you love your feathery friends, then the Bali bird Park should garner a mandatory visit. Housing over 1000 birds of around 250 species, the park reflects the natural habitats of Indonesia, Latin America, Africa, Australia, and other places. To satisfy your hunger pangs there exists a restaurant and a café within the precincts. Informative documentaries and short films are screened in the 4D AC cinema hall. Special activities with birds can be pre-booked. The entrance fee for the park is 385,000 Rupiah for adults and 192,500 for children. For more information, you can visit their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Bali Toll Road:

If anyone was to ask me about a near-death experience, I would probably say this toll bridge. It’s a scientific marvel and also scary for a first-timer traveling on the bridge surrounded by pristine waters around as far as your eyes can go, planes zooming right above your head and cars and bikes swooshing past as if you are in a race arena. If you love thrill and adventure, then the Bali Toll Bridge is a must for you. Built over the Gulf of Benoa this 12.7 km long bridge was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September 2013 and has been busily used since then by thousands of locals and tourists.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana:

The Garuda or the eagle is the national emblem of Indonesia signifying freedom from oppression. The 120 m height of the statue of Vishnu on Garuda makes it one of the tallest statues in the World. The structure has been designed by renowned Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta. The park is situated on a hillock with the car parking area quite a distance away from the main statue. Car/bike parking costs 10,000 Rupiah while the entrance fee is 125,000 Rupiah. You can walk down the entire stretch or avail the timely bus services provided by the Park between 8 am to 9 pm daily. Vishnu and Garuda are two important mythological icons shared by Hindu-Balinese culture. Here, both adorn Gold Mosaic Crowns. More information about Garuda Wisnu Kencana can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

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Garuda Wisnu Kencana

Going on a Shopping spree:

Bali can be called Shopper’s Paradise.  You would find beautiful curios in the alleyways and shopping lanes of Kuta and also designer dresses, multi-cuisine restaurants and branded cafes and hotels in places like Ubud. Hereunder is a list of things that caught my eyes and some of them made it to my suitcase back home.

  • Colorful Dream catchers
  • Bali Fridge Magnets
  • Sleek and Chic Side Bags
  • Knitted Shrugs
  • Bali curios- Tshirts, Postcards, Caps, Bags, etc.
  • Last but not least local snacks.

bali shopping

It’s that time of the vacation when your heart starts pounding over the thought of having to leave it soon. With only a day left for me to spend, I wanted to spend it well and wisely.  If there was anything about volcanoes that I had read about in the geography books but could not practically see it before- I was about to witness the same. Also, did I mention it’s an active volcano?

More about it next week. . . . . . . .

Bali Day 4

Exploring Ubud: The Culture Hub of Bali

I completely do not agree with time when it zooms by during holidays. With a day gone I had only three more days to spend on this lovely island. Without wasting even a minute I set off for Ubud. Situated around 34 km North of Kuta, there are lots of attractions in and around Ubud which are a must-see during your visit.

Bali Swing:

One of the most popular attractions in the country is the Bali Swing. Though you would find a swing in almost every tourist spot, but this is the best! The Swings are of 10m/15m/20m/78m above the ground. They come in various shapes and sizes including Hanging Nests overlooking stunning views. Most people come with friends or families to sit and relax and take great photographs up in the air. The Bali Swing is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm and the entry charges come in packages 150,000 Rupiah onwards.

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Bali Swing

Campuhan Ridge Walk:

This 6 km Ridgewalk stretched over cobbled roads, water streams, lush fields, and thick foliage is ideal for trekkers. Campuhan translates to the convergence of two rivers. Along the walk, you would come across the Gunung Lebah, a temple at the site of the convergence. Should you be lucky you can also witness the holy ceremony of offerings being performed there. Since this is a trekking road, it is recommended you carry water bottles, boots, wear light but covered clothes, caps and the camera.

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Ridgewalk

Campuhan Waterfall:

Not sure when was the last time I witnessed a waterfall –up close. The Campuhan Waterfall is free-flowing, beautiful, picturesque and armed with of course a Bali Swing. There are special lockers to store your clothes should you be willing to take a dip. The entrance fee is 10,000 Rupiah per person.

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Waterfall

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:

This isn’t my first tryst with monkeys, but definitely the first with well-behaved ones. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a place that speaks of economy, religion, education, and conservation. With over 700 monkeys and 186 species of biodiversity; the sanctuary welcomes people every day of the week from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. The entrance fee for adults is 80,000 Rupiah and children, 60,000 Rupiah. It runs on the philosophy of ‘Tri Hita Karana’ or happiness among three parties- humans and humans; humans and environment; and humans with the Supreme God. The conservatory holds three temples- Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji and Pura Prajapati. Sharing a quick tip, should you want to save money on entrance fee just ride past the sanctuary on a bike and you’ll almost every time spot monkeys crossing the road.

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Spot the Monkeys!

Goh Gajah (temple):

The Goh Gajah Temple or the Elephant Caves were a 9th-century marvel. This elephant sanctuary depicts Hindu-Buddhist faith motifs throughout the temple structures. The entrance to the temple complex is uniquely marked by seven statues of ladies holding water pitchers. It is said that these ladies depict the seven important rivers of India- Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Sindhu, Kaveri and Narmada. The Temple is a site of archaeological interest as it was re-discovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923 and the bathing pool was unearthed in 1954. Wearing a Sarong is a must in the temple. Although it is available for hire, but remember I got my own. The entrance fee for the temple is 10,000 Rupiah.

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Main Temple Entrance
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Bathing Pool

Tegalalang Rice Terrace/ Bali Rice Terrace: rice Fields:

If you are looking to spend time amidst a picturesque location, swing on the relaxing Swings, walk along the rice-fields during sunrise/ sunset or shop and eat overlooking rice fields, this is the place for you. With an entrance fee of 20,000 Rupiah per person and a parking fee of 5,000 Rupiah, the fields make for a perfect destination for lovebirds and nature lovers. It is open every day from 7 am till sunset for the visitors.

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Rice Fields

Tirta Empul:

This Hindu-Balinese water temple comprises the main temple, holy spring, and the petirtaan or the bathing structure used for ritualistic purification. It is where the people come for ritual purification. I was lucky enough to witness the same. From children on their mother’s laps to the old, everyone took a dip in the waters of this holy spring. Built around 962 AD during the Warmadewa dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu. A hill overlooking this temple houses a villa built for President Sukarno’s visit in 1954, which now hosts important state dignitaries.

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Main Temple complex
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Holy Spring
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Ritual Purification at petirtaan or bathing pool

Ubud Palace:

Built during the 1800s by Late Ida Tjorkorda Putu Kandel, the Ubud Palace is the house of the rulers of Ubud. It boasts of intricate Balinese architecture complete with a beautifully pruned garden. Today, it is the cultural hub of the city and hosts various cultural shows. Entry to the Ubud Palace is free and open to all from 9 am to 6 pm every day. However, the various cultural shows might require an entry fee and this can be enquired at the entrance.

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Inside Ubud Palace

Ubud Writers Festival:

Unfortunately, I was one day too late. Nevertheless, I would be happy if someday I could return to the Festival. Started in 2004, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is one of the most celebrated literary festivals. Conceptualized as a healing project after the 2002 Bali Bomb blasts, the themes of the festival are drawn from the Hindu-Balinese philosophy. In 2020, the Festival is scheduled from 28 Oct- 1 Nov and the theme is Mulat Sarira or self-reflection.  More information about the Festival is available on Twitter, Instagram, and Website.

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A Glimpse of the hoarding for 2019 edition

Despite traveling for almost 70 km and more there were still many unexplored areas. My third day in Bali was close to Nature, Culture and the Roads! Leaving some glimpses behind.

Bali Day 3

Bali: The Land of Temples and Beaches

A new day refilled me with the zeal to explore this beautiful city and the best way to do it was to go for a walk, just to familiarise myself with the surroundings.  I noticed how despite having a robust nightlife, the city woke up early and completed the Morning Prayer rituals. On the doorstep of each building, you would find prayer offerings for good luck.

The Essentials in Bali:

Right outside Sekhar Bali homestay, you would find many eateries and restaurants offering breakfast.  But if you are on a budget trip then entering the INDOMARET/ MINIMART or ALPHAMART would be the right thing to do. You would get a variety of food in each of these stores (The prices may differ) – fruit cups, muesli, cup noodles – things that cause less hassle. It is recommended to stock up your inventory, should you be staying in Bali for a few days.

My next aim was to find a cheap and sustaining SIM Card. Since I was traveling internationally, it was cheaper to buy a Balinese SIM than pay the huge roaming charges deducted by my local SIM back in India. You get a number of SIM cards but I chose to opt for simPATI. A SIM card would cost around 20,000 -30,000 Rupiah. Some stores might ask for more and it is up to you to settle for a higher price or negotiate.

For traveling at ease one would require personal transport.  Bikes can be hired at 60,000-75,000 Rupiah per day (a little negotiation is required here!). There are options for hiring cabs from hotels/ resorts for sightseeing or you can opt for package sightseeing tours. All these options would depend on how much are you willing to spend.

Another MUST HAVE is a Sarong. It is a traditional lower body garment that needs to be worn by men and women when entering temples. Though all temples and religious sites have the provision of lending Sarongs to the tourists; but I chose to buy one- more as a memory. They come in different price ranges but mine cost 30,000 Rupiah.

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Colorful Sarongs for Sale 

With a ready backpack full of tour essentials – dry food, water bottle, Sarong, SIM, mobile charger, Purse, Cap/ Straw Hat, and medicines, I set off on my Bali tour.

Tanah Lot – The Land in the Sea:

Located around 30 km from Denpasar, Tanah Lot literally translates to Land in the Sea since during high tide; the temple seems to be floating on water. The area is surrounded by many Caves thought to have been created by Sea Snakes. Tourists are not to disturb the caves or the snakes (if spotted). Legend has it that the temple was built in the erstwhile village of Beraban in around 15th-16th century to honor the teachings of Dang Hyang Dwijendra by his disciples from the village. The original inhabitants of Beraban believed in monotheism until touched by the teachings of Dwijendra. The Temple Festival takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese Calendar.

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Tanah Lot Temple
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Walking across the Caves 

Since I happened to visit during low tide, I could walk around the place. It is advised to wear sneakers or sturdy shoes as the land is quite muddy and slippery. However, being situated right beside the sea, it has a great view which is utilized by every tourist by taking numerous photographs. The land around the temple has been developed for tourists and now hosts numerous eateries and souvenir shops.

Nusa Dua Beach:

My lunch consisted of one of the finest meatballs and fruit ice tea I had ever tasted and all under 20,000 Rupiah!  My next destination was the Nusa Dua Beach meaning ‘two islands’. Nusa Dua was developed as a tourist destination since the 1970s. The beautiful beach often becomes the hotspot for day trips as numerous eateries, water sports and resorts have developed nearby to provide all the amenities to the tourists. Should you be lucky you can also find a shell or two – like I did.

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People at Play 

Kuta Beach:

It was nearing sunset and I decided to head back near the homestay and explore the Kuta or the Sunset Beach. Formerly a fishing village, Kuta is now a developed tourist destination as it accommodates budget travelers and is near to the airport. Kuta is a bathing beach and visitors are allowed to have a gala time till around 5/6 pm. Souvenirs and drinks are also available on the beach; however, to keep it clean, food is not! But not to worry, cross the road and you would find some of the biggest food brands and shopping pavilions to indulge yourself in.

Bali War Memorial:

My last stop before I retired for the day was the Bali War Memorial. Back in October 2002, the city was a victim of terrible bombings which saw almost 200 deaths. The victims were of different nationalities and to pay homage to those who lost their lives, the Bali War Memorial was built on the site of Paddy’s Pub, one of the sights of the bombings; on the second anniversary of the bombings in 2004.  The Memorial consists of a large plaque made of marble with the names and nationalities of the victims written on them.  The monument also has the flags of all the nationalities who lost their lives. The Kuta Karnival is a ceremony and celebration held in October to honor the lives of the deceased. Over time, the activity became a major tourist attraction and a PR-able event. During the Karnival most pubs and the Kuta beach have various activities; water sports competitions and something for everyone. It embraces and celebrates peaceful diversity.

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Bali War Memorial 

I ended my day happy and satisfied with the sightseeing so far. But was also excited for all the mesmerizing sights I would see the next day. I leave you all the glimpses of some of them.

More coming up next week. . . . . . .

bali_2

Setting out on an adventure to Bali

My travels have mostly taken me to the West – in terms of residence or academics- but I got my first opportunity to travel to the East rather South East when Bali came to be on my travel charts. The Island of Bali, in Indonesia, reverberates scenes of romantic holidays in the first go, but it is much more than that. During my initial research, I found almost all kinds of geographical landscapes (except deserts) to be present in Bali. From pristine beaches to freezing volcano; from mesmerizing waterfalls to trekking ridges – you name a place and it is there! Being an international destination, and one which cannot be visited very often (call it time restraints or financial), it needs good research and planning before actually laying foot on this scenic terrain.

Research Essentials:

  • Dates
  • Flight options
  • Visa Formalities
  • To check the Weather and pack your luggage accordingly (Cannot be 100% accurate but we can always go with an idea)
  • Hotels/ homestays booking
  • Exchange rates and convert some INR to Indonesian Rupiah
  • International SIM cards
  • In-land transport options
  • A bucket list of places you really want to visit, their timings, entrance fee etc.
  • To check the local Traditions and Rituals and dress code if any
  • To make a list of Emergency Contact Numbers (including embassy etc.)

Planning your visit:

With a hectic work schedule in events, I hardly get time for holidaying around. But October being a festive month with a large number of holidays was my chance to sneak away to a much-needed vacation. Settling for 25th – 31st October 2019, the next immediate step was to scout for budget flight options. For this, Malindo Air was chosen. We had a 12-hour halt in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International airport before catching the connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali. The best part was since it was only a journey of 6 days; I did not require a Visa with an Indian Passport. Clearing immigration was enough.

Malindo Plane

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Accommodation and In-Land Transportation:

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Sekhar Bali Homestay

The weather in Bali during October would be hot and dry during the day but cool during the night. Surrounded by water bodies on all sides gives Bali a pleasant climate throughout the year.  This was a complete budget trip; the best in the lowest was my motto. After checking many options which at one-time included a villa I opted for Sekhar Bali Homestay, in downtown Kuta. Kuta is the most happening place in Bali, two-minutes from the beaches and the most envious nightlife you could ever imagine. The best exchange rate was from Dollar to Indonesian Rupiah and hence I converted the INR to USD to IR. Exchange Rates differ and it is best to check right before you are planning the trip so that you can get the best returns.  Like every place you have the options of hiring cabs and taxis- Grab and Blue Bird; but what most individuals prefer is to hire a bike that is available from 60,000 IR to 75,000 IR a day (oil on the individual).

Making a Bucket List:

Bali is a country to be geographically lauded for. From rice fields to forests; to palaces to islands; from volcanoes to museums; to beaches and waterfalls to temples – such diverse scenic landscapes to see everywhere. I jotted down quite a few places to visit but then not everything was physically possible nevertheless I have seen at least one tourist place from every category- from the famous Bali Swing to Ubud Palace; from Kuta Beach to traveling on the toll bridge; from Goh Gajah Temple to Monkey Park. Bali is a country steeped in rituals and hence in all religious places women are expected to cover their bodies and wear a Sarong.

Setting out on an adventure:

The common notion is that an adventure begins when you reach your destination; I believe the real adventure is during the planning phase, it just culminates when you reach your destination. Thus on a rain-washed evening, I set out with my back-pack to the Kolkata airport to catch a flight to this unknown destination. International flights are often scheduled in the evenings to post-midnight- a trend which I have generally seen. My flight was at 12:05 IST with Malindo Air. This was my first time with them and they were truly hospitable. In fact, they upgraded my seat to a Window seat with more leg space and a fine view. What More, they even added a meal to it!  The first leg of my 4 hours journey from Kolkata to Malaysia was smooth and without any turbulence. I reached Malaysia at around 8 in the morning (remember time zones change). Since I did not have a transit visa I had to wait for the connecting flight at the airport.

Malaysia Truly Asia to Bali:

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Model Planes at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 

Kuala Lumpur International airport like most international airports is cosmopolitan. With branded shopping arcade to clean toilets and huge waiting areas, especially for transit passengers – the airport provided all facilities to the visitors. After almost a 12-hour wait and several cuppa noodles later I caught the connecting flight – again a Malindo Air – to Denpasar.

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Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar

A three-hour journey later I reached Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar well past midnight. The view from the window was beautiful- twinkling lights and risings waves in the high tide! Of course, it was too dark to see anything properly but I did have the next four days to explore. After clearing the immigration and booking a Grab through the Free WIFI at the airport I reached Sekhar Bali homestay – my home for the next five nights. It was indeed a long journey and it was best to sleep it off to reenergize for a new day where many adventures await.

Lastly, I give glimpses of my travels ahead but would talk about them in greater detail in the subsequent blog posts.

 

In Search of the Forgotten Fort- Sisupalgarh

Orissa! Odisha! Bhubaneswar! Kalinga! No matter by which name you call the city, all names flash a vivid image of a land steeped in heritage and culture; a land that has played pivotal roles in Indian History;  a land which was the focal point of a battle, which mentally coerced a King to accept the path of Buddhism. Bhubaneswar, ‘The Temple City’ is one of the oldest cities of India and around 8 km from the main city lies the ruins of the once flourishing kingdom of Sisupalgarh.

Scouting for the ruins

It was during my first trip to Bhubaneswar (work not leisure!) that I could visit Sisupalgarh with a colleague and popular travel blogger Indian Vagabond. Just the brief of the place housing ruins of an old kingdom got me interested to visit it. Honestly, at first sight any visitor would be disappointed with a place surrounded by thick foliage, in the middle of nowhere and what seems like a place for merrymaking! The encroachment of modern houses within the land has almost made it impossible to locate the ancient ruins and its structures. But, after scouting the area and asking people, Google Maps, (and a dog!) the ancient ruins were located.

This is where we should rewind to find out about the place which stands so neglected and decadent today!

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The path towards Sisupalgarh
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Once a mighty kingdom . . . . .

Going back in Time

Sisupalgarh is nationally protected under the Archaeological Survey of India. Several excavations have taken place within the space which helped trace its plausible history. In 1948, Archaeologist B.B Lal analyzed that the defensive fort existed around 4th-3rd Century BCE. The most recent excavations by M.L Smith and Prof RK Mohanty date it from 5th Century BCE to well past 4th Century BCE. Apart from excavations, the kingdom might have a reference in the inscriptions of the Hathigumpha Caves in Udaygiri which mentions a certain Kalinganagri; and The Asokan edicts which refer to certain Tosali. It can thus be concluded that Sisupalgarh was a flourishing kingdom even prior to the establishment of the Mauryan Empire.

Maybe Harappa wasn’t the only one. . . .

A must-have chapter in all history books is that of the Harappan Civilisation. But the more I find out about this ancient fortress, the more I realize how much India has to offer to its people outside the pages of the books.

From the multiple excavations conducted in and around the area, several conclusions were drawn. The fortified area was a perfect square surrounded by a defensive water moat complete with earthen and brick walls built a few centuries later. It is suggested that the population would have been around 20000-30000 – more than that of Athens! Further, since temporary settlements were discovered near the gates of the fortress, it could have been that traders and businessmen who were not allowed inside the fortress built themselves a temporary shelter. Due to the lack of disastrous natural/man-made calamity, it has been analyzed that the inhabitants chose to migrate towards ‘The Temple City’; however, the exact reason for the shift is yet not known.

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Counting the steps of time
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Tales hidden under the foliage
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The fields leading to India’s Stonehenge?

Wanderings of the Mind

India is a country rich in history. With the help of analytical minds and technology, the past can be discovered and analyzed. However, these are the only recreation of the past and cannot be predicted to be one hundred percent accurate. In fact, I hope in days to come more would be unearthed about the fort and it would be given its righteous place in the pages of history.

Behind the Scenes

Sisupalgarh is located in the Khurda district on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. It is well connected by Uber and even local transport. Ideally, it is best to visit during the winter as the scorching sun would not peel your skin away. It is always advisable to wear lots of sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes, if possible sneakers, for you might have to do some scouting for the place. The stone pillar of the fort can be reached after meandering your path through a water-filled rice field (Beware of Snakes!). It is suggested you look where you are going because the area is damp, swampy and wet (and no one wants to fall and break some bones right!)

Sisupalgarh is definitely an offbeat place to visit. If you have a knack for heritage and history then this is the place for you to be. For me, this was my first and only sightseeing in the city of Bhubaneswar. I hope to go back soon someday and visit all the places I have missed out on.

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Only time will tell. . . . the stories those pillars hide

Charismatic Coimbatore

Coimbatore taught me how work trips can be combined into a gutsy travel adventure. All we needed was some extra cash, a mobile translator and good radio taxi service network. Armed with the zeal of discovering a new city; and also the city where my parents used to live twenty years ago, my adventures began as soon as I reached the Coimbatore airport. Taking an afternoon flight, we reached quite late in the evening. Our cab driver turned guide suggested that we eat outside since there was no provision of food at the guest house. We followed suit at Shree Anandhass Vegetarian Restaurant which served a variety of local South Indian dishes. Being very tired due to a hectic journey, we hit the bed with a vow to complete as much sightseeing as possible in the next two days during our off hours. I would not elucidate much on the nature of our work but rather describe the places we visited during our trip.

ISHA FOUNDATION/ ISHA YOGA CENTRE

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Some sights on the way to ISHA

Situated at the foothills of Velliangiri this was my first visit to a meditation center. Described as a space for self-transformation, I could see devotees visiting the place in hundreds. This vast center-cum-ashram had various places to visit inside, all pertaining to rituals of meditation and yoga. From the bathing room of the Shivalinga, to the meditation room where all one could hear was the gong of the drums amidst absolute silence, does not fail to transport each devotee, tourist and residents to a completely different world. Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden and we had to surrender all our equipment’s before entering, hence I do not have any photographs of the place. But one can log onto their website – www.isha.sadhguru.org – to get all the necessary information.

THE BUST OF ADIYOGI

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A short walk from ISHA would lead to the 112 -feet Adiyogi (Shiva) bust. Deemed to be the ‘largest bust sculpture’ in the world by The Guinness World Records, it was indeed a mesmerizing sight. Regular prayers are offered to the sculpture by the pundits and devotees in a prayer hall situated at the base of the bust. Cast in pure steel, the Adiyogi was designed and established by the founder of ISHA- Sadhguru– who pays homage to Lord Shiva- the first yogi and the originator of yoga. The adjoining areas have some spectacular viewpoints that cannot be missed.

GASS FOREST MUSEUM

The Gass Forest Museum is inside the forest training Institute. I still remember when the cab driver took us right in front of the training Institute thinking we were new recruits! Established by Horace Archibald Gass, the museum was inaugurated by the then Governor Lord Ampthill in 1902. The present museum building was opened in 1915 by Lord Pentland. The Gass Forest Museum happens to be the largest and oldest forest museum in India. Over 4000 exhibits are kept within the premise ranging from specimens of wildlife, botany, timber, woodcrafts and covering the scope of geology, ethnology, mycology, entomology and forest engineering. The highlights of the museum are:

  • A magnificent stuffed Bison presented by the Raj Pramukh of Mysore.
  • A 456 years old cross-section of Teak in a girth.
  • Sandal tree weighing 1.75 tonnes and 10.2 meters in height.
  • A vast collection of butterflies and moths.
  • Different kinds of Mica.

It honestly seemed that the museum did not attract a lot of visitors and thus the eyes of the care-taker lit upon seeing us and he personally gave us a running commentary regarding the museum, its establishment and the artifacts in it.

ARULMIGU MARUDHAMALAI MURUGAN TEMPLE

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This popular hill temple is situated around 15-kms outside the city. Dedicated to Muruga, the God of Mountain and mountainous region in Tamil Literature this temple is one of the most colorful and intricately worked architectural wonders, I had laid my eyes on. This temple on the Marudhamalai Hills is known to be one of the holy abodes of Lord Muruga. Visiting on one of the rainy days we had to be careful walking barefoot on the slippery, rain-washed, marble staircase; but the grand view offered by the temple-top made it worth taking the risk!

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View from the temple top

VINEYARDS AND FRESH FRUIT JUICES

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Another point worth mentioning would be a short visit to the vineyard next to our guesthouse one morning. The fresh grape juice sourced from there for our breakfast made us curious to visit this place of wonder. Long wooden pillars supporting thick foliage of grape creepers and the dangling bunch of fresh grapes were a sight of beauty worth experiencing. Also, when in South you have to indulge yourself in fruit juices- musk melon, melon, watermelon, mango, pineapple, orange- you name it they have it. Thick, frothy, fresh and filling!

The trip to Coimbatore was an enriching experience, although there is much that is left to be seen. To sum up my feelings for the ‘Manchester of the South’; I can only quote Luis Barragan, ‘I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery, and mystery.’

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Leaving South via Chennai

Stratford Upon Avon: Home of the Bard

William Shakespeare is an unforgettable part of English Literature. For generations before us and for generations after, his tragedies and comedies would continue to inspire people. It would illustrate the relevance of his characters composed in the sixteenth century compared to modern-day people. Sharp orators like Octavius, shrewd and cunning wives like Lady Macbeth, over ambitious betrayers like Macbeth would come and go but what would remain sacrosanct is the literary predictions of these personalities that Shakespeare made centuries ago. To understand his literature, it is equally important to understand the man himself and what better to know him from his birthplace Stratford-Upon-Avon.

My passion for both literature and travelling lead me to Stratford-upon-Avon on a bright sunny day. This adventure, in true sense, was my first solo trip in the UK. Upon looking at the itinerary at the International Society Website, I immediately booked a ticket for myself. Thus, we set out on a bright sunny morning from Manchester to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a two and half hour journey down South to reach our destination. After reaching the city, we were left on our own to explore this beautiful place for the day. Stratford is a small town pertaining mostly to the ideologies of Shakespeare but there are a few other amazing places to visit too. This post would highlight only regarding Shakespeare while the next would deal with the other amazing places to see in this city.

I had chosen four very specific places to visit: – Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft and Shakespeare’s Grave apart from having an exterior view of the Theatres while walking around the city.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace:

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The first Shakespeare property that I visited was the house where the famous bard was born. The aura and charm of the house was so sophisticated dated back to the century that he was born, that it almost felt like a portal to the past. Upon entering the gates, at the reception area, excerpts from his dramas were being played. A large display screen showed clips from movies as well. I entered the garden walkway on leaving the reception. The garden was unique in the most interesting way possible. A large board across the garden had all his dramas shortened and visually represented for the visitors to see and read.img_5031

A large pulpit was constructed at one side where actors dressed themselves up as the characters of his play and entertained the guests with monologues and scenes from Hamlet. The ushers in the main building were dressed up in Tudor costumes and narrated the rich history of the house to the onlookers.img_5035

The main highlight of the house was the room where Shakespeare was born.  In fact, the window of this room has been specially preserved. Many actors who have played any character from his dramas have actually come and signed on the window making it all the more special.img_5047

The reconstructed window now overlooks an all year Christmas Market on the opposite footpath. This market is opened 365 days a year selling Christmas curios to the tourists and locals.img_5016

Another interesting display of this house was the glove making chamber. William Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker. His chamber was filled with glove making equipments and ready gloves basking in the sun. The last stop in Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the amazing gift shop which had postcards and books with phrases and scenes printed from his comedies and tragedies.

Shakespeare’s New Place:

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Most of us knew Shakespeare as one of the greatest playwrights the world could ever be gifted; but very few know that he was a family man too. Not only did he marry Anne Hathaway and have three children, but also he was a loving husband and a doting father. He was born in his father home (Shakespeare’s Birthplace) but created his own family home a little further from his childhood home. This family home dated from 1597 to 1616 is called Shakespeare’s New Place. The entrance to this house has been reconstructed to give it the form of a modern-day gate. But I could very well feel the vibe of crossing a threshold on which stood the main gate to this house years ago. Upon entering I found myself strolling on the garden. This garden was huge and various trees were planted in it. It was also interspersed with various sculptures. His chair and desk, sitting on which the ideas of many a great tragedies and comedies came to him was also on display. I had thought the garden ended here, but to prove me wrong the path extended and lead to another garden, bigger than the former. This one called, the Great Garden was the largest surviving structure of the original house.img_5067

After exploring the gardens at leisure I walked into the house itself. The house has been converted into a museum and hosts permanent and temporary display throughout Shakespeare’s days as a writer. From rekindling his way of working to the inspirations behind the characters he created all found a place in this exquisite museum. In fact, some of the displays even contained actual objects from the house before its re-construction.

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Shakespeare’s Will 

Hall’s Croft:

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Further down the road from the New Place, I found myself standing outside the beautiful cottage of John Hall’s Croft. This was the house of Shakespeare’s son-in-law and daughter Susanna. It was active from 1614-1951 before finally being given away to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; the organisation responsible for the maintenance and tours of the Shakespeare properties throughout this city. The house mainly had day-to-day objects in display reflecting on the lives of his daughter and son-in-law. But the major highlight was the room in which Susanna gave birth to her daughter Elizabeth.  

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 Shakespeare’s Grave/ The Holy Trinity Church:

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A two minutes walk from Hall’s Croft lead me to the most coveted destination of my trip Shakespeare’s Grave inside the Holy Trinity Church. The moment I entered the church grounds, the beautiful walkway surrounded by numerous graves on both sides greeted me. The interiors of the church were strikingly beautiful. The atmosphere was filled with peacefulness and solitude. The many visitors inside the church were admiring the wall murals and frescoes.img_5114

I wondered about the church in awe for sometime before realising that I had come for the grave. But I was taken for a surprise when I saw Anne Hathaway, Susanna and Hall Croft’s graves as well lying beside that of Shakespeare. His tombstone said,

                                “Good Friend for Jesus’ sake Forbear,

                                  To Dig the Dust Enclosed Here.

                                  Blessed be the Man that spares these stones,  

                                  And cursed be he that moves my bones. “

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 Theatres:

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I must admit that it took me a while to get out of the beauty of the church. But I had to move onto my next destination. Though, I did not have the time to actually go and watch a theatre but that was no excuse for not having even walked past the Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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Gower Memorial:

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The roads lead me to the Avon Canals and to my last Shakespeare related destination: The Shakespeare Memorial. This memorial was a unique columnar structure made of five sculptures. Sitting in the middle of the structure was Shakespeare himself peering over the mighty characters of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hamlet, Falstaff and Prince Hal that he created. Built in 1888, it is also known as the Gower Memorial. Each sculpture represents a theme- Lady Macbeth represents tragedy, Falstaff represents comedy and Hamlet and Prince Hal are the symbols of Philosophy and history respectively.

Other places to see: Apart from the ones mentioned above, the two other heritage sites to see are Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. In fact, you can actually purchase an all property entry ticket which would enable you to visit all five of Shakespeare’s properties in town. In case you would want to visit only the three I have visited you can settle for a different clubbed ticket too. Their prices would vary depending on the type of tickets and entries to the number of properties you are looking for.

My travels in Stratford -Upon- Avon certainly did not stop at these Shakespeare’s properties and I would be back soon with the non-Shakespeare related things to do in this lovely city.

 

Manchester: Sculpture Walk, 2016

Manchester is a city of wonders. Every where you look, the buildings are beautifully constructed. From colonial architecture to gothic spirals and domes, you would find them on all houses. Even the contemporary apartment buildings have been made on the grounds of erstwhile important commercial markets or have unique designed which need to be noted. I am not an architecture student, but definitely am interested in the atistic architecture of the houses of Manchester. In fact, each architecture and sculpture has its own story. While some are symbols of power, some have been gifted and others are lone remains of flourishing trade. This post is on the Sculpture Walk of Manchester where,  I travelled to some of the known and unknown alleys of the city and captured the sculptures and its histories. I have done it only for Manchester, but every city has something to say through its sculptures and it can be conducted anywhere on Earth. 

Manchester pubs are really cool places to be in. You can sit inside on cold and windy days and enjoy the view over a glass of wine and a delicious platter. You can sit outside on the chairs provided in the pavement on sunny days and enjoy the rare natural warmth of the weather. The third thing that you can enjoy, is the architecture of the pubs. Some of these pubs have been built in the original infrastructure of the buildings. Thus, even if the interiors are modern, the outside architecture has sculptures and artworks all over it. The one taken above is from a restaurant in the Northern Quarters (It serves awesome pizzas BTW 😛 ).  This beautiful sculpture appears at the entrance to this eatery. 

This has been shot from the wall of an under-renovation building off Rochdale Street. The walls of this building is adorned by beautiful graffiti’s  and artworks.  The vents (as the one  above) has semi circular sculpted patterns. 

Travelling back to 1872, the Smithfield area, now known as the Northern Quarters housed the wholesale markets dealing in fish , vegetables and fruits. There was not a moments peace in the area . The whole street got busy since the wee hours of morning in loading and unloading items. The hustle and bustle of those markets only added to the vibrant and lively atmosphere of the place. These markets were relocated in 1973 to the Openshaw area and what remains today are the sculptures and gates of the erstwhile market. This photograph (above) is from one of the gate. Today, large modern apartments have been built to accommodate the growing population of the city beyond those gates. 

When in Manchester, do not forget to scan the buildings around you quickly. You never know which building has beautiful sculptures engraved into its walls. These sculptures were found on the walls of an office building just off the Picadilly Gardens. In fact, it is not unusual to have sculptures of the buildings’ founder’s engraved on the walls . For instance, the University of Manchester as a sculpture of its founder and so does the Town Hall of Manchester. 

This floral pattern has occupied most of the walls of another office building near Picadilly Gardens. This long column joins the ground floor with the top floor balcony. Columns are important parts of the architecture here and why waste the space by leaving it blank when you can fill it with beautiful artwork? 

Queen Victoria needs no introduction. Known as one of the longest reigning monarch of the UK, many sculptures and statues have been built to honour her. One such statue is the one sitting at the Picadilly Gardens, Manchester. The erstwhile Queen herself sat for the artist Edward Onslow Ford so that he could build her a beautiful sculpture. Unfortunately, the Queen’s statue was unveiled only ten months after her death in 1901. Today, there are other sculptures besides The Late Queen in the Gardens  but she stands tall as an overarching sculpture in a raised platform. 

This sculpture has been shot from the gates of the Hidden Gem or the St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. This is called the Hidden Gem because it is situated in a narrow alleyway away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life. In fact, it did take me quite a few rounds to find it, the first time I went there. 

Taken outside another eatery in St Anne’s Square, this sculpture deserves a place here because of its neat details and intricate carvings. I especially, liked the two cupid styled sculptures ‘up in the air’. 

These four sculptures and work of arts are scattered around the city. I found them very unusual and thought that they deserve a place in this post. The first photo (from the left) is of The Big Horn on Tib Street and Church Street junction. It symbolizes the introduction of development and newness in the city. It is built by David Kemp. The second photo is unusual as it is a sculpture made of cardboard box cartons. The third is a beautiful artistic impression constructed on the walls of a building. The fourth, is a lovely walkway in Exchange Square. It feels really nice to walk on those disorderly pavements but care must be taken with children lest they fall down and get hurt.  

I hope you like this new endeavor of mine and would support me the same way in which you like my travel posts. Do let me know  which is your favorite among these sculptures.   I would be back soon with another adventure of mine in no time. 

GUEST POST : The South American BackPacking Diaries

Caitlin with her husband, Sam
Caitlin with her husband, Sam

Last February, my husband and I look a leap of faith. We quit our jobs to travel.

And now, a year later, I’m here to report that we’re okay- great, in fact! Quitting your job can be a scary thing, especially when you don’t have a real plan or a ton of money. We didn’t have a plan, and while we had saved for a few years, we also didn’t have tons of money. But we knew we wanted to do it, and we were at a turning point in our careers where we knew we wanted a change. So rather than transition like most people do from one job straight into the next, we decided to quit together, take a break by backpacking through Central and South America, and then start a new job once we felt refreshed and motivated again. It was VERY doable, and I STRONGLY recommend it to anyone who is considering it.

Below is a summary of our trip and where our adventures led us. As I said, we didn’t really have a plan. We made (most of) it up as we went. We knew we wanted to go to Guatemala to practice our Spanish, to Buenos Aires to see the big city culture, and to Machu Picchu to see one of the Wonders of the World. But outside of those things, we were winging it. Once we started traveling, we met lots of awesome people who guided us to incredible cities and sites, tons of delicious restaurants and street food vendors, and to getaway locales we didn’t even know existed. It was a magical trip.

During our travels, I wrote a personal blog that chronicled our trip and our experiences mostly to keep friends informed of our whereabouts (and to ensure our parents that we were safe). When we returned, I realized that I liked and wanted to continue blogging, so I brainstormed about the type of travel website that could be useful for other people- and especially for travelers like me. And eventually, I decided on the concept that is now Trust the Locals (http://www.trustthelocals.com). Trust the Locals aggregates travel advice from locals around the world to provide quick, concise tips on what to see and where to go in the cities you’re planning to visit. Because most of the time, locals know the secrets and the cool new spots that aren’t in the tours or haven’t made it to the guide-book yet! I hope you’ll check it out before your next trip, and if you don’t see the place you’re about to visit, send me an email and we’ll find a local to interview!

Isla Verde Hotel in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Isla Verde Hotel in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

GUATEMALA- ANTIGUA, QUETZALTENANGO AND LAKE ATITLAN
Guatemala is an incredible country. Arriving there set me into “travel mode”; it was so strikingly different from the world I know in the US. We started our trip with a weekend in Antigua, and then drove to Quetzaltenango (nicknamed ‘Xela’) for a week of Spanish lessons. The people we stayed with in Xela were incredibly warm and welcoming, and they taught us so much about Guatemalan culture and history.  After a week in Xela, we spent a long weekend lounging at Lake Atitlan (an AMAZINGLY beautiful lake surrounded by volcanos) before heading back to Guatemala City and then flying to Montevideo.

 Important Lessons from Guatemala:

Take Spanish lessons here! There are many programs throughout Guatemala, and they are cheap! We picked Celas Maya in Xela based on a recommendation, but there are also programs in Antigua and Panajachel that offer classes and private tutoring. The Spanish in Guatemala is slow, clear and “traditional”, making it a great country to learn the language.

Take probiotics! Or eat lots of yogurt before you go. The bacteria in foods there is different, and sometimes the veggies aren’t cleaned as thoroughly as they are at, say, Whole Foods. You’re still likely to have an upset stomach from time to time, no matter how careful you are. Nothing pepto can’t handle:)

Favorite Accommodations: Hotel Isla Verde; Santa Cruz La Laguna- at Lake Atitlan

Favorite Restaurants: Slow Food Cafe at Hotel Isla Verde- Breakfast, lunch & drinks a la carte, or 3 course dinner. Santa Cruz La Laguna, Lake Atitlan,Sabe Rico– Beautiful outdoor dining in Antigua, Guatemala

Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay

URUGUAY- MONTEVIDEO
We only had a few days in Montevideo- enough to spend time at the beach, wander the streets and the parks, go to a few restaurants, and then take the ferry to Buenos Aires. It was a STARK contrast from Guatemala. Uruguay, in comparison, is a very wealthy, developed country, and Montevideo is the biggest city in Uruguay.

Favorite Restaurant: La Cocina De Pedro, Barrio Sur, Montevideo

Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, Buenos Aires
Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, Buenos Aires

ARGENTINA- BUENOS AIRES, BARILOCHE & MENDOZA
Argentina was the country I most wanted to visit, and once we arrived, it was hard for me to leave. Buenos Aires is a massive city, and wandering through it, I sometimes forgot where I was. A bit like Europe, but with brighter colors, more sun, and of course, the tango. Before leaving for our trip, my husband and I did some credit card point research, and we were able to book a few luxury hotel stays in places we knew we’d be visiting.

The first stay was in Buenos Aires, using a combination of Hyatt points and cash. Arriving Buenos, we were able to head straight to the five-star Park Hyatt in Recoleta, known as the Palacio Duhau. The hotel was a welcomed luxury after staying at a cramped hostel in Montevideo, and provided every amenity we could have imagined, including a marble bath tub, plush robes, an espresso machine, turn-down service, and complimentary shoe shines, plus, three restaurants, an on-site florist, whiskey bar, and a beautiful terrace with tango performances each night.

After checking out of the Palacio Duhau, we decided to book an Airbnb in the MicroCenter so that we could stay a bit longer and check out more of the city, including San Telmo, La Boca, several museums, an electronic tango called Fernandez Fierro, and of course, a steak dinner at Fervor.

And, even after three more nights in the city, we decided we hadn’t had enough, so booked one last stay at another Air Bnb back in the Retiro neighborhood, close to the Recoleta Cemetery.

Although we didn’t have the hiking equipment in our packs to visit Ushuaia or to hike the W, we did want to get down to Patagonia, so decided on Bariloche. The concierge at the Park Hyatt thought we were crazy, but because of the cheaper tickets, we opted to take a 22 hour bus ride instead of a flight. I’ve seen many photos of Patagonia, and I’d heard about Bariloche, but hadn’t done much research before arriving. Thankfully, it was fairly easy to navigate the small town once we arrived; the tourist office in the town center helped us pick a couple of hikes, including Refugio Frey and Parque Municipal Llao Llao. We also took a chair lift called Cerro Otto to a restaurant that gave us an aerial view of Bariloche.

Although I’ve traveled all over the world, Bariloche continues to be one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The landscape has the best of everything. Turquoise blue lakes, purple mountains, lush green hills and clear blue skies. Plus, crazy views of the Andes mountain range, hikes to hidden lakes, and forests with rare, giant trees. It sounds cliche, but these views on our hikes took my breath away.

Another 20 hour bus ride northwest took us to Mendoza, where we decided to spend one day relaxing at our hotel- the Park Hyatt- and then the next two days visiting wineries. Tasting wine in Mendoza was very different from any other wine region I’d visited, and spending two days with private tour guides at Mendoza Wine Camp taught us a lot about these differences. Because wine makers in Argentina don’t follow the strict guidelines that the French do, there’s lots of creativity and unusual blends that you don’t hear about in other parts of the world. And, while the Malbec is the star of the region (and were all delicious), we left with a new favorite- Torrontes, a crisp, bright white wine.

Lessons from Argentina: Eat the steak! This advice is on every Buenos Aires travel blog for a reason. Fervor was the restaurant we chose, but if you can’t afford a restaurant and have a kitchen to cook in, the meat is also cheap at the grocery- we estimated that our 10oz cut of ribeye from the grocery was $4. Expect very different eating schedules- breakfast in Argentina is small or non-existent, lunch is at home, followed by a nap. Tea is around 4 or 5pm, followed by dinner at9pm if you’re staying in, or at 10-11pm if you’re going out. If you’re going out, dinner can also be at midnight, followed by drinks and bar hopping starting around 1pm. If you’re in BA, “going out” can continue until sunrise.

Bariloche has incredible chocolate (Rapa Nui was our favorite shop), and Mendoza produces more than just Malbec. Who knew!

Favorite Accommodations: Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
& Mendoza Park Hyatt

Favorite Restaurants: Fervor– Steak and Seafood- HIGHLY Recommended! in Recoleta, Buenos Aires; Cafe Tortoni– Oldes Cafe in Buenos Aires, Balvenera, Buenos Aires; Antares Brewery, San Carlos de Bariloche; 1884 Restaurant Francis Mallman– Winery/Fine Dining/Patio, Godoy Cruz, Mendoza; Nadia O.F./ BRÖD City Center, Mendoza

Favorite Wineries: Giminez Riili– Uco Valley, Mendoza; O. Fournier– Uco Valley, Mendoza

Wine tasting in Santiago, Chile
Wine tasting in Santiago, Chile

CHILE- VALPARIASO & SANTIAGO
The third 20+ hour bus ride we took was from Mendoza to Valparaiso, a port town in the northeastern part of Chile, known for street art and colorful hills created by the painted houses built along the coastline. Valparaiso was a city of contrast- the port was dirty, fishy, and dangerous, while the wealthiest, most beautiful houses and restaurants were nestled high on the hills. In my mind, it was the San Francisco of South America, but without the bridge to wine country or the expensive real estate.

Our favorite spots in Valparaiso were Cerro Alegre and Cerro BellaVista. We also visited Pablo Neruda’s home high above the city, and learned a bit about the famous Chilean philosopher and poet.

Leaving Valparaiso, our bus ride to Santiago felt incredibly short- only 5 hours! In Santiago, our plan was to site see, get some exercise and sleep in, and regroup before heading to Peru. Highlights in Santiago were Cerro Santa Lucia, Centre Gabriela Mistral, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and Parque Forestal. We also went on a wine tour at Concha y Toro, but it was too touristy for my taste.

Lessons from Chile: You cover a lot of Valparaíso in three days. Visit Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Bellavista. Wander the graffiti-filled streets. Ride an ascensor. Go to Viña del Mar to soak up the sun on their beautiful beaches. Then head to one of the many other contrasting landscapes that this skinny country has to offer.
Pay attention to your surroundings in Valparaiso- petty theft is common. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry- l left all of my flashy earrings, necklaces and even my wedding rings at home!

Favorite Restaurants: Tiramisú– Pizzeria/ Dinner/ Local Spot in Santiago; Café Bijoux- Lunch/Live Music/ Dinner on Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Coastline of Lima , Peru
Coastline of Lima , Peru

PERU- AGUAS CALIENTES (MACHU PICCHU), CUSCO & LIMA
We planned to go to Peru because of Machu Picchu, but many people told us to spend time in Cusco as well, so we flew into Cusco, took the Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes, hiked Machu Picchu, and then went back to Cusco to explore that city afterwards. Our return flight to the states was from Lima, so we also spent a few days there before the end of our trip. It was a bittersweet final few days, as we realized it was a city we wished we had more time to explore. Just like with Patagonia, we didn’t have the gear or the time to do a full trek in Machu Picchu, so we instead hiked up to the ruins and then hiked up Huayna Picchu to experience a bit of how the trek would have felt. In all that day, we hiked 265 flights and walked 11 miles! And we saw one of the Wonders of the World!!!!!!

Lessons from Peru: Go to Machu Picchu. Soon. It’s only getting more touristy. The proof of the beauty is in the pictures you see all the time, but it’s much better with your own eyes. Also, Don’t skip Lima! Pisco Sours, the beach, Miraflores, and a burgeoning foodie scene make this city worth a stop for few days before or after your Incan trail trek.

The elevation in Cusco can get you- the city’s elevation is over 11,000 feet! Many places offer tea with cocoa leaves to make you feel better. Drink with caution though- it made my husband sick. And last side note- bring toilet paper with you wherever you go… as it’s not always readily available in public restrooms or even in private bathrooms! This tip is true for almost all of the places we visited on our trip.

Favorite Accommodations: Casa Suyay, Miraflores, Lima

Favorite Restaurant: El Mercado– HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! in Lima

Caitlin
Caitlin

Author Bio: Im Caitlin. I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri but now live in Denver, Colorado with my husband. Last year, I had an amazing experience backpacking through South America that inspired me to start a travel blog, called Trust the Locals (http://www.trustthelocals.com). Today, I work at a startup in Denver from 9-5, and then blog in my free time. When I’m not working, traveling or blogging, you can find me exploring Denver in search of an appetizer better than Osteria Marco’s burrata or a treat sweeter than Little Man’s Salted Oreo ice cream.