Costa Rica: Chapter 3

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The La Fortuna waterfall is probably Costa Rica’s most famous waterfall – every tour stops here for lunch, which is why you want to get here at 8am or 9am  to enjoy your hike down the steps to the falls and go swimming before you’re interrupted by throngs of people. Six years ago, there wasn’t a park ranger, much less a life guard. You used to be able to swim behind the waterfall. Now, it appears there’s a park ranger watching over everyone.  Each time I tried to swim behind the waterfall, I got whistled at. Whistled at. You know, with a loud summer camp whistle with that dreaded hand motion to get back here NOW!  I lament.

It’s one of the few things that’s difficult to miss if you’re driving yourself, because there is signage everywhere. Follow your Costa Rican GPS.

You can bring food and I encourage you to, because it’s a nice, somewhat slippery trek down to the bottom and you’ll probably get hungry by the end of it. If you’re the planning type, you’ll bring a waterproof / water resistant bag for a change of clothes, or at the very least, shoes, because no one wants to schlep back up the side of a mountain in soggy shoes.

The thing I always forget when I get close to a waterfall is how loud it is. It’s a solid THWACK of water against water and it is thunderous. It’s windy, too. We had to coordinate our photos to make sure our tripod would stay upright in the water. Mist sprays everywhere. We’re lucky both of our cameras didn’t get obliterated with the mist. The water was chillier than I expected, with the trees and midmorning cloud cover blocking most of the sun.

Get to the waterfall before 8:30am, for a view all to yourself.

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You can climb all over the rocks, swim in the river, and have a beautiful morning to yourself. Be prepared to leave around 11am, which is when the tours start arriving for lunch. And if you decide to bring your food, please bring a bag for your wrappers. This is a beautiful place that’s existed for eons – keep your human traces to yourself.

Did we swim? Hell yes. I swam everywhere I was allowed and everywhere I wasn’t. This was my first original happy place. The first place I felt at one with the world and completely, totally at home. Waterfalls are kind of my thing. When I go again, (really early in the morning), I’ll definitely bring a dry pack and wear Teva sandals instead of the Nikes.

Next up – La Fortuna (the city) and our ziplining tour! Next on Costa Rica: Chapter 4

Costa Rica: Chapter 1

October 2 – 6, 2014

Mark’s 26th birthday, recapped after two glasses of wine.

Highlights – Tenorio National Park / Rio Celeste, renting a car / driving in Costa Rica, Volcan Arenal, Ziplining Arenal, town of La Fortuna, ATV 4×4, La Fortuna waterfall, won free night in 5-star resort from chatting on an airplane

This was our first trip to Costa Rica together and I wanted it to be special. October’s a fine time to go because it still rains a bit but it’s shoulder season so you enjoy smaller crowds and lower prices. I also wanted to see as many waterfalls as possible because Costa Rica is rugged, volcanic and full of dramatic cliff faces – all of which are very fun to look at but less so when you’re driving your own vehicle.

Mark insisted on driving and I said that as long as we did not drive at night that I’m cool with that – it isn’t that you’re going to get taken hostage in the middle of the night – it’s that there is no signage, direction or street lights to help move you along. Add in a couple marginal passes around a mountain bend and if you so much as sneeze you’re falling 1,000 feet and abruptly ending your vacation.

So, no night driving. When we picked up our tank of an SUV we opted for full coverage because, as the salesperson put it:

You can total the car, drive it off the cliff, set it on fire, whatever, and we will come bring you a new one – no charge.

How could we argue with that? We also opted for the GPS in the car because our phone GPS could not track us as fast as we needed to veer / make turns / drive otherwise recklessly.

Our first stop was Tenorio National Park. It’s a few hours away from San Jose – it looks deceivingly close on a map but here’s a Costa Rica tip: Take whatever time Google maps tells you and multiply it by 3. 1 hour? Means it’s 3 hours. The roads are very narrow 2 lanes at best, sometimes over 1-lane rickety wooden bridges, prone to flooding and trucks breaking down.

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This was the bridge we took on our way to our hotel / cabanas, just outside Tenorio National Park.

We arrived to our humble abode about dusk, and exhausted from our day’s journey, prepared for an early rise. Food and coffee is wonderfully fresh, refreshing and well flavored. You can get either an American breakfast or go with the Tican breakfast, which we highly recommend.

Tenorio is nothing short of a natural wonder. It’s far flung which means you won’t get hordes of tourists but it’s big enough that you can spend a whole day here. The paths are well marked and you will see the water change from crystal clear to a brilliant aqua blue.

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The minerals in this pool of water give it its brilliant blue color. Due to the sensitivity of the habitat, swimming or playing in the water is not permitted, but we’re fine with that so long as it preserves this incredible view. Below is the Laguna Azul, aptly named Blue Lagoon.

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For more on Tenorio National Park and the best of La Fortuna, go

Onward to Costa Rica: Chapter 2

Week 1: Purchasing Our Bus Conversion

Many things went into our decision to purchase a bus. We considered size, space, minimum amenities, and price. We had a budget constraint of $2,000 and required a minimum 125 square feet of workable space. The vehicle had to be high enough to accommodate standing room throughout and have enough roof space for potential solar kits. The engine also had to run. It could have some problems, need a tune-up, have a leak, but it had to run. We weren’t going to pay for a trailer or for someone to bring it down from wherever it was currently sitting. Also, a bit of an odd request, we strongly preferred a vehicle that had already been gutted. A blank slate, to cut down on demolition time and disposal cost.

We scoured the internet: Ebay, Craigslist, RVTrader, and even looked at some half-complete bus conversions we thought we could make work for our needs.

We got our bus from a Craigslist ad buried among the commercial ads with a list price of $2,800. We read the ad and really liked that it was an older shuttle bus, a stoic white fiberglass exterior and a near-empty interior. The listing said it ran and it needed updated but was in otherwise good condition. We thought it was possibly too good to be true, that it had surely already sold, but saw that the listing had been posted only an hour earlier. We reached out to him immediately, requesting more pictures.

The gentleman was very kind and forthcoming with the maintenance needed to get it working properly, and sent over a dozen pictures of the interior. He was using it as storage space, and offered to empty out the bus completely and clean it before we drove the 2 hours to go see it. We made a viewing appointment the next day.

It was in better condition than expected when we arrived. It was parked toward the back of the lot in what is probably the only neighborhood of this tiny Florida town. We scoured the inside for mold, rot, mildew, leaks, rust, and damage to the engine to best estimate renovation costs. Overall we were pretty pleased and told the guy we’d mull it over the rest of the weekend and let him know during the week.

The next day, Mark gets a message from the guy who’s now offered to drop the price to below our $2,000 maximum budget. Mark tells the guy to consider it sold – we drove up against the next weekend, test-drove it, and took it home with us!

Endnote: We were told there was a power steering leak, and the bus took 5 quarts of power steering fluid to make it the 180 miles, but we did, and the demo has just begun!

 

Caribbean Islands Visa Requirements for Americans

This is information for each country regarding American visa requirements for all countries in the Caribbean. This is current from the State Department as of September 2016.

Bahamas: No visa required.

Turks and Caicos: No visa for less than 90 days. Visas required for longer stays and is renewable once.

Cuba: Visa required. Initial 30 day stay, renewable once for 30 days. Travel is only permitted for 1 of 12 reasons as listed by the US Government. We are looking for legitimate, reasonably priced Cuban travel operators and will update this page when we have found one we would use.

cuba-travel-permissions

Cayman Islands: No visa required.

Jamaica: No visa required.

Haiti: No visa for less than 90 days.

Dominican Republic:  No visa required, but a tourist card ($10) must be purchased before or on arrival. Tourist card covers up to 60 days.

British Virgin Islands: No visa required for less than 30 days.

Bonaire St, Eustatius, and Saba: No visa required for less than 90 days.

St Kitts and Nevis: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Anguilla: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Sint Maarten: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Antigua and Barbuda: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Montserrat: No visa required.

Guadeloupe, Barbados, Martinique (Collectively the French West Indies): No visa required for less than 90 days so long as you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket and proof of funds.

Dominica: No visa required for less than 180 days (6 months).

St Lucia: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

St Vincent and the Grenadines: No visa required.

 

 

90 Days of Schengen: Free-Travel Countries

This post contains a list of countries in the Schengen area, where you are free to move about anywhere among these countries. For Americans, this free-travel time is limited to 90 days per 180 days (3 months/ 6 months). Once you enter one of these countries by rail, plane, or foot, the 90 days starts ticking. It’s kind of like tag. Entering Austria, for example, will tag you “in” and your 90 days in Schengen starts. You won’t be tagged out so long as you travel to any of the other countries on this list, and your 90 day counter will continue to roll.

If you leave Austria and travel to the UK (a country not in Schengen), you will be tagged “out” and your 90 day Schengen counter will stop until you tag yourself back “in” by returning to another Schengen country. You will go through passport control every time you leave and re-enter the Schengen zone.

Do not test this 90-day limit and try to overstay your time in Schengen. As of this post, the following countries are in the Schengen Zone. Due to the refugee influx, some of these countries have imposed border controls regardless of prior arrangements.

Austria
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

24 Hours In: Brussels

Disclaimer: Language. Mostly because I’m into my second glass of wine and feeling passionately about this.

Hottest city I’ve ever been in, which is saying a lot coming from someone who’s lived in America’s armpit (Florida) for three years. The average temperature in Brussels in August is allegedly 22C / 72F. There’s so much bullshit in this claim I could fertilize Texas with it.

It wasn’t 22C. It was 36C (97F for the Americans). Intolerable heat. Not enough water in the city’s free water fountains to cool you off heat. Legs sticking to each other, hair matted to your face, sweat beads racing down the small of your back, kind of heat.

Are you feeling this yet? Here’s another layer of heat. The Airbnb we stayed at had “nature’s” aircon: open the windows, get the breeze, y’all be fine.

Except there wasn’t a breeze. And we weren’t fine. We were staying right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway so exploring on foot was easy. We found city hall and marveled at how old everything was, and got a postcard-perfect shot in front of the Godiva store. We did that for about 2 hours, and then found ourselves in the food district.

The food district is a place to go if you want to be aggressively guided into a restaurant. Don’t dare look at a menu because that’s your way of saying you want to eat there. I don’t remember where we wound up eating, but I do remember day drinking.

We got chatting with our servers whom were all from a country other than Belgium. I appreciated that about the city. We learned the drinking age in Belgium is 14, that it was uncharacteristically hot, and most people speak four languages which is absolutely mind-blowing. We day drank outside and people watched.

Day drinking has a way of leading into a 5 hour nap, which we took, because we were feeling a heat-induced buzz. When we woke up, it was dark, and the sheets and the bed were soaked in sweat. Hair was wet. Pillow cases were wet. The window in our room was like a prison window, a narrow horizontal opening about 6 feet up from our bed, unreachable without standing on tip-toes.

I opened it expecting healthy gusts of wind, and got nothing.

Twenty minutes into sizzling we decided it’d be cooler outside than it was in our abode. So we put new clothes on to instantly sweat in and went out night-drinking. Would you believe it, the temperature dropped to 30C/ 86F. What a fucking relief.

The rest of the night is a blur but it basically ends up at a place called ‘Delirium’ which isn’t just one bar but a  whole row of bars and each bar has its own alcoholic theme: vodka, tequila, huge ass beers, whiskey, and more.

Summary of Brussels: 2 days is enough for it, avoid August, and prepare for liver obliteration at Delirium.

Travel Diary: Random Selection and US Border Control

13 hours later with Kiev in our airline rear-view mirror…

we arrive at JFK, and begin the slow-mo shuffle down to passport control. For some reason, people in New York thought it was too cold outside (It was 45 degrees…) so the heat was on in the airport. Heat on. Five planes arrived at the same time and emptied hundreds of people into the same border control. One by one, the passport control booths empty of the control agents, until it’s just one person at each end of the border control.

When it’s finally our turn, Mark and I give each other a look and had decided earlier that we would be “randomly selected.” Mark hasn’t trimmed his beard in about 3 months – it’s a week away from having its own zip code and town hall.

The border agent is a portly, pale balding man in his 50s and we’re giving him the run down of the places we’ve been when the agent scans Mark’s passport. He turns to Mark and tells him that he’s been selected for interrogation.

We called it. I look at the agent and say, “OK, it will tell you the same thing for me, then.”

But it didn’t, Isn’t that interesting? Portly man stamps my passport. You’re good to go! Welcome home! he says.

Our passports have the exact same stamps, dates overseas, and “questionable” countries visited, yet I wasn’t selected for interrogation.

Portly man steps out of his border control booth and walks us to the interrogation room, where a dozen other people could not be more excited about their interrogations, too.

/There really isn’t anything quite like sitting in an aluminum tube for 13 hours and taking your first steps in America after 5 months abroad to an interrogation room./

I could tell you a bunch of other waiting games and things in that interrogation room, but the thing is I wasn’t allowed to speak to the agent. Only Mark was. And about 2 hours later we were free to move about our home. And wow, nothing could have prepared us for how we felt coming back to America.

Travel Diary: Thanksgiving in Kosovo

It is a big deal in America for families to get together for Thanksgiving. If people don’t have or don’t like their families, they do a “friendsgiving.” Since our hosts in Kosovo had never experienced this, we decided to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner in friendsgiving fashion and tell our holiday story. Typically the dinner is centered around a turkey, but neither Mark nor I like turkey so we decided to go with ham.

We searched the markets and stores in Prishtina for a ham, and found a lonely ham at the bottom of a cooler in a grocery store. We brought it back home, to our hostel, all proud until someone saw it and politely said “I don’t eat ham.” Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten that we were in Muslim-majority country, and many people don’t eat pork products.

Nonetheless, our hosts were very fun about it. They chalked it up to a cultural exchange and said there’s no better way to understand a people than to devour their food. I couldn’t agree more. So in good faith, Mark woke up early in the day and began dinner preparations.

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Mark made a rosemary ham with cinnamon. The spices available were considerably more limited than either of us had experienced until this point, so it was a very simple recipe, but we got lucky with rosemary and that is really what made this ham absolutely fantastic. (Mark’s made it three times since we’ve been home!)

We had originally planned for 7 people as that was about as much as we thought the ham could feed. But because the aroma of the cooking had filled the entire hostel, other people wanted to hang out and eat food with us instead of going out. And I can’t blame them, the food was irresistible.

thanksgiving ham

 I felt like Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Miraculously, we had food for everyone! Hand-mashed potatoes, vegetables, ham, and handmade cinnamon apples. Mark organized it all and it is definitely one of the more memorable Thanksgiving dinners I have had.

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Left to right: Ardi, Mark, me, Arben (owner), Asdren (owner) and his girlfriend, Yll, and Vernon

Everyone pretty much laughed at the story how our forefathers ate “peacefully” with the Native Americans, but the 80c 2L of beer in the center of the table really washed everything down swimmingly.

A big shout out to our friends at Hostel Han in Pristina for keeping us entertained for over a month! And if you ever need a home base in Kosovo, we recommend this hostel as the only place to stay in the city center. You will come as a traveler and leave as a friend.

Mark and Melody

8 Things That are Distinctly American

Most people, before they depart on a trip, understand that cultural differences are inevitable. What usually comes to mind is the big things – different language, different transit schedule or method of transit, different currency – all very in your face and memorable. When you’ve been on the road for 3+ months, it’s the little details that take shape in your mind and become much more laughable.

1. Unlimited drink refills. A 10/10 on Americanism. We went to Subway in Toulouse, France and ordered the combo. In America, this comes with unlimited sweet tea or coke or whatever you fancy. When Mark got up to refill his Subway cup, he was promptly told that refills aren’t free. Color me surprised.

2. Free, unlimited water at bars and restaurants. I think Kosovo is the first place where we have asked for water and it’s been given to us at no charge. For the other 18 countries in Europe, table water ranged from 2 to 6 euro per decanter.

3. Employees that bag up your groceries and the free plastic bags at grocery stores. Wholly American. In Europe, not only do you pay per plastic bag, but you also bag your own stuff! The first couple of months of grocery shopping were hilarious as both of us had to Tetris our purchases on our arms like a Jenga tower and walk slowly out of the store. Now, well, we just buy less.

4. Complimentary bread at dinner. Are you noticing a trend? Nothing is free in this world. We noticed this in Italy, where bread was offered at each meal and we took from it, thinking nothing of it. When the bill came, we were charged for all of it, even if we didn’t eat all of it. We figured it’s maybe a douchy restaurant thing, but when it happened again we realized, nope, just an Italy thing.

5. Clothing dryers! We’ve only had access to them twice: in Ireland and in Southwest France. I learned the delicate art of hanging clothes out to dry in a way that dries them the quickest. I also learned how much of the day revolves around clothes. A sampling of my clothes washing woes:

Scenario 1: I wash my clothes in the washer in the morning. Irish mist rolls in the afternoon. Guess who doesn’t get dry clothes? This girl.

Scenario 2: Ran out of clothespins while hanging up socks. Folded socks in half over the line. Gust of wind comes. Here I sit in the kitchen sipping on my hot tea when I notice socks rolling like tumbleweed in the yard.

Scenario 3: Clothes are dried. Had too much Rakia (homemade brandy resembling jet fuel) and forgot about the clothes before the sun went down. Went to collect clothes. No longer dry, but damp.

6. 27 minute wash cycles on the clothes washer. Actually, any wash cycle that’s less than 2 hours. In Finland, Bulgaria, France, Scotland, Ireland – anywhere that we washed clothes, it was a minimum wash cycle of 90 minutes. The longest was 4 hours. YES. Imagine waiting for your clothes for FOUR HOURS. Then you have to hang them out to dry. Do you see why it’s a full-time job just making sure the laundry is clean and dry?

7. An Inability to Separate Trash and RecycleAmerica is definitely considered an industrialized nation, but I fail to understand why so many people here take such an issue with separating the plastics, glass and paper products into three containers. Europeans have mastered this and it is an art-form. We can’t master paper or plastic, and there are people that have 7 bins to separate their trash?

8. The saddest public transit system of any industrialized country. This has got to change. We have 40,000 miles of highway in America and yet there are only six cities that have halfway decent public transit options? Why does a train cost as much, or more, as a flight? Why do we have a stigma that public transit is for society’s degenerates instead of people that want to be productive and travel at the same time?

There’s going to be a part 2 to this list, I can feel it. But 8 things at once is enough.

October 28, 2015

 

Travel Diary: Getting from Skopje to Pristina

It’s 90 minutes by car, but up to three hours by bus. The Balkans’ definition of bus and our definition were clearly misaligned during this trip. When I think bus, I think of a temperature-controlled bus with WiFi, toilets, and comfortable seats.

This bus did not fit any of this criteria. It was a mini-bus that seats 16, with limited luggage storage, no WiFi, and definitely not any toilets (not that I would use them, anyway).

We shlepped our bags on board and made our way to the back rows, hoping no one would expect us to put our bags in the luggage hold. We found ourselves across the row from an American expat working for the World Bank (called Mark Deux), and a UK train employee named Mike. Too many M’s. Mark, Mike and Mark Deux set the world right talking about finance, startups and international affairs. I attempted to drift in and out of sleep but the roads in the Balkans are not known for their newness or smoothness so sleep became impossible.

A clipboard made its way around the bus where each person has to write down their name and passport/ ID card number. This, in theory, is supposed to make the border crossing much quicker. What actually happens at the border is a Macedonian border official collects the clipboard and takes it back to his little post. Then he comes back and has to collect each passenger’s passport/ ID card and return those to his post. After about ten minutes of hem-hawing, the passports are returned to us. Sometimes we get a stamp; sometimes we are disappointed. The odds are 50/50. Then the exact same process is repeated at the Kosovo border.

The border control is unremarkable, and the bus driver behaves normally by stopping at places that are most assuredly NOT typical bus stops to pick up random people. His homies, I’m guessing. These people pay when they get on, an indiscriminate amount, sometimes 1 euro and sometimes 3 euro. There’s definitely not a system.

We’re about an hour away from Pristina when we pull into a petrol station. I assume it’s to pick up fuel, but then Mark Deux investigates and the Batman driver and his Robin are taking a smoke break! We’re an hour away; honestly, you couldn’t wait? Mark and I run into the “convenience store” and pick up a crisps and chocolate breakfast. Someone runs in and asks us, in very broken English, if we’re with the bus. We say yes and run out to see everyone moving their luggage from our little bus to a large, cushy coach.

What is going on? We grab our bags and head to the coach. Turns out, our bus BROKE DOWN, and this coach has come to rescue us. Stellar. We are waiting in the stairwell of the coach to get onto it and I get frustrated. I snap at the person in front of me to move.

That’s when it becomes abundantly clear that the bus is full. There are no seats. So the 15 or so of us that were on our rinky dink bus are now standing in the aisle of the coach, hovering awkwardly over sitting passengers.  I move my way straight to the front and dig in to my breakfast: a Milke Oreo chocolate bar and tomato pesto crisps.

It’s probably only ten minutes later when people begin disembarking, but it being so awkward for me it felt like 20 hours. Someone moves and I gesture for the person behind me to take a seat, which she refuses. I don’t offer twice so I take the empty seat. One by one, people slowly begin filing out of the coach and the standing room passengers begin finding seats.

The coach enters Pristina and nearly the entire bus empties into the middle of a random intersection. That’s when it occurs to us that there’s a decent chance this coach’s final destination is not Pristina Bus Station. It could be going to Serbia. The coach driver could have had Rakija with his breakfast and forgotten his destination. When we turn away from Pristina city center and toward Mitrovice, my anxiety swells.

Just when I think we’re headed into a different country, the coach veers sharply to the left and off, on the side of the road, is the underwhelming Pristina Bus Station.

Whew. Mark Deux and Train Mike file off of the coach. There’s a running joke that whenever we board the bus to somewhere, it is always raining in our final destination. Pristina is no different. It was raining. A cold, piercing, hair-frizzing rain.

We part ways with Mark Deux and UK Mike, drag our sopping selves and our damp packs into a completely unmarked cab and arrive back to the hostel twenty minutes later for less than $4.

 

Visa Requirements of The Americas and Islands

We have been researching visa requirements for countries around the world and have been unable to find a readily available list. So naturally we decided to make one for ourselves, and now share it with you!

The following information was obtained on the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/ – as such, it is only applicable to U.S. Citizens / Passport holders. If I have missed anything, or you would like to see something that is not there, please leave a comment.

Cheers!

Country Visa Required for Tourism Duration Allowed Visa Cost (If Available) Restrictions
Anguilla No Onward Travel. Sufficient Funds
Antigua and Barbuda No $27 Departure Tax, Onward Travel, Sufficient funds. Lodging information
Argentina No 90 Days $160 Reciprocity Fee (Valid 10 years) Reciprocity fee must be paid online BEFORE visiting.
Bahamas No Short stays only Onward Travel.
Barbados No 6 months Onward Travel.
Belize No 30 Days $25/month after 30 days up to 6 months $50/month after and additional documentation Onward Travel. Proof of Funds ($60/day minimum). $39.25 Exit Fee by air, $15 by land if less than 24 hours, $18.75 more than 24 hours.
Bolivia Visa on Arrival Valid 5 Years (3 times a year, no more than 90 days) $160 at Consulate, $135 at air or land crossing. Onward Travel, Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever, proof of economic solvency. Exit tax assessed. 4cm x 4cm passport photo, hotel reservation or letter of invitation in Spanish.
Brazil Yes Visa must be obtained in advance from consulate
British Virgin Islands No 30 Days Onward Travel, accommodation, economic solvency.
Canada No 180 Days N/A N/A
Colombia No 90 Days Visa on Arrival. If visa valid longer than 3 months, you must register it online or at Migration office within 15 days. Onward Travel.
Cuba
Dominica No 6 Months Onward Travel, $22 departure tax.
Dominican Republic No 60 Days $10 Tourist Card
Ecuador No 90 Days per Calendar Year Onward Travel,
El Salvador No 90 Days $10 Tourist Card Visa may be obtained in advance for no charge. Onward Travel, Economic Solvency and/or Proof of US Employment
French Guiana No 90 Days Yellow Fever Vaccination
Grenada No 3 Months
Guadeloupe No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Guatemala No 90 Days $30 departure tax by air.
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras No 90 Days N/A Onward Travel. 40 USD if departing by air.
Jamaica No Onward Travel, Economic Solvency, departure tax (usually included in airfare).
Martinique No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Mexico Stays less than 72 hours within 20-30km border zone, no. Outside of zone, FMM required. N/A
Montserrat No Onward Travel, economic solvency. Departure tax at airport or ferry dock.
Nicaragua No 90 Days

$10.00

Tourist Card purchase on Arrival. Onward Travel. Evidence of funds.
Panama No 180 Days N/A Onward Travel. Proof of funds ($500 minimum)
Peru Visa on Arrial 90 Days Free Yellow Fever Vaccination recommended. Onward travel.
Saint Barthelemy No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Saint Lucia No, as long as you prove onward travel Onward Travel. Six month Validity
Saint Vincent and The Grenadines No Passport Valid at time of entry. One page for entry stamp.
Suriname Yes 90 Days $25 Tourist Card Return Ticket required. Visa required prior to arrival. Yellow fever vaccination if arriving from Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil
Trinidad and Tobago No 90 Days N/A
Turks and Caicos Islands No 90 Days Immigration form must be filled out if staying longer than 24 hours,
Uruguay No 3 Months Departure or Airport Tax on departure.
Venezuela Yes 90 Days per Calendar Year

$30.00

Proof of Accommodation, economic solvency, onward travel, exit tax by air, Yellow Fever vaccination if arriving via some countries.

24 Hours In: Istanbul!

Our whirlwind of Europe is finally coming to an end – final destination Istanbul, Turkey!

After 22 hours of busses, trains and planes we arrived to Istanbul welcomed by a steep hill and many cobblestones. Note to self: don’t fly into Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in the future.

Connection from Gokcen Airport was achieved through an hour plus ride on a coach (14 Turkish Lira, TL) and two train / tram rides (4TL)…or we could have taken a private transport for ~90TL.

We arrived somewhere near the touristy Taksim Square on a steep hill next to the deepest construction pit I have ever seen. There are buildings under construction everywhere.
Navigating the cobblestones and taxi packed sidewalks, we slowly made our way to Taksim station – tantalizing aromas of sweet, spicy and fragrant combined for an unforgettable combination. This is my first impression of the city, and one I will likely not forget. Melody wanted to sample the wares from every restaurant we passsed. Everywhere we walked we have received a cascade of shouts offering taksi rides or a sampling of foods and drinks. For the easily overwhelmed, this is not the place to visit.

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The metro system in Istanbul is, by and large, efficient and effective. There are your standard metro ‘subway’ type cars, street trams, and even ferries…all of which you can take a ride on for 4 TL. For this purchase price, you receive a little plastic coin about the size of a nickel. There is an option to purchase a metro card, but our pleasure for walking meant we did not go this route.

With our little coins we took a short connector ride underground and then a slightly longer ride on an overground street-car, reaching our hostel in good spirits.

Even at 11pm, there were many shops open and crowds of others milling about. In the short walk we were hailed no fewer than 20 times for dining – did I mention you get shouted at?

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December 7, 2015

 

 

Travel Diary: Prettiest Airplane Ride from Kosovo to Slovenia

We don’t mean the airplane and we’re definitely not talking about the flight crew. What was most breathtaking is everything we saw outside of that tiny prison window as we flew from Pristina, Kosovo to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We’re flying on this tiny Adria plane, which might as well have been a prop plane considering the size of it – two seats on each side, and all of the luggage had to go into the hold. No charge, naturally, and no issues with the plane, boarding or passport control.

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It’s an hour flight, and that’s reassuring despite the winter turbulence. We closed the window blinds after takeoff because the sun was coming in full force into our tired faces. What I saw below when I finally opened the window covering took me totally by surprise. Delicious snow-capped scenery, exactly like the candies. And I became like a kid in a candy store. Little did I know the Slovenian mountains rival the Alps in beauty, majesty and pure wow factor.

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Adore that black and white contrast. Wow. The snow-caps were just too much beauty, and I felt tears in my eyes from sheer joy. Combined with the 3:30pm sunset, the colors of the sky and the rugged mountain peaks were a fantastic treat that only winter affords.

I wanted to turn around to the rest of the plane and say, Look out your window!  You don’t know what you’re missing!

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We got about 10 minutes of this before we finally made our descent, and a decision to return to Slovenia before we ever touched down in Ljubljana.

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November 30, 2015

24 Hours In: Prishtina, Kosovo

I lied. We’ve been in Kosovo for three days, but today was the first day we actually went out and explored anything of Prishtina, the capital. We’ve been too busy at the hostel chatting up the guests.

There’s a really good energy about Prishtina, and despite it being a very small capital with a limited number of things to do, it’s quite amazing to be in a place that has been through a hellacious amount of conflict.

Initial observations about Prishtina:

  1. Euro is the currency and cash is king. If you’re staying for 3 days or less, 50 euro should cover your expenses. Yes. This is probably Europe’s cheapest capital city on the euro.
  2. Qepabs (Kebabs) are very popular here and you can get a very hearty plate of meat, salad and the largest bread I’ve ever seen in my life for 3-4 euro.
  3. The 2 liter beers are back! We first saw them in Bulgaria and couldn’t believe our eyes. A 2L of Lasko, the Balkan beer, will cost about 2.75 euro. Drink to your liver’s content.
  4. Tipping is not required. No one expects it. If you need to get rid of your euro change, then tip. You’ll make someone very happy.
  5. The Newborn monument and the Bill Clinton statue are about a 5 minute walking distance apart. In our opinion, the statue looks nothing like him but it’s super fun to chill with Monica’s former flame.
  6. People speak Albanian and English. Mostly Albanian. People love to say that their English is very poor, then go on carrying a full conversation with you.
  7. Good, velvety smooth gelato costs 1 euro for two scoops. Take that, Italy.
  8. Limited number of pedestrian walkways so your best bet to cross a street is to just saunter into the street and rely on the vehicles stopping and waiting for you. I’m still adjusting to this. Mark’s a natural at stopping traffic.
  9. No underground or metro system to speak of. I suppose that’s still in the works.

And the big one…

Getting to other cities! Yes, Prishtina is not a place where you can lose yourself for an entire month (or is it?), so you’re going to want to head to a different place eventually. This is where the internet basically sucks, because anything I can find in English has information that is totally wrong. So, transportation facts:

Traveling Belgrade to Prishtina:

YES: Buses do travel from Belgrade to Prishtina. There are two in the afternoon – one at 12:00 and the other at 4:30pm. If you buy them in Serbia it’s about $20 for two people. Cash only. There are two places at the Belgrade Bus Station to buy tickets. Look for the bus in the number 10 spot.

The trip: About six hours on a bus without WiFi or charging ports. Two stops are made; one in Serbia and one in Kosovo. If you are not an EU citizen, you will have to give your passport up twice at the border; once at the Serbian border, and again at the Kosovo border. We did not get stamps in our books, either.

Traveling Prishtina to Skopje:

This is hearsay as we haven’t done it yet, but the trip is about 2 hours one-way and costs 4 euro. There is both a train and a bus; the train is faster and cheaper but there is only one a day. It leaves at 7:00am and there’s a return train that comes back to Prishtina at 4:00pm. Once we do this trip, as we have to (it’s the closest city with H&M), we’ll update this with absolutes.

Traveling Prishtina to Prizren:

90 minutes away for 2 euro. A prize in Kosovo, really. Prizren is where many Peace Corps members are teaching English for a couple of years, and it’s also Kosovo’s second largest city with many historic artifacts. Definitely worth a day trip, and one we will be taking very soon.

Traveling Prishtina to Tirana:

Mixed reviews on Tirana; some people love it, other people say it’s a “shit hole.” We won’t know until we see it for ourselves. What we do know is that it’s about 5 hours away, so it’d have to be for a weekend, at minimum.

Have questions for this small yet vibrant country? Drop us a line!

Everyone loves a newborn, and we are very excited to spend a month here in Europe’s newest capital.

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Cheers!