Category Archives: Blog

Narrative based articles about my climbing experiences.

The Dream of Bitcoin

Medellin, Columbia, December 12, 2017

“About 50-60% of the people in Medellin do not have a bank account. They take loans out from teenage gang members, who charge 20% per month “tax.”’ And the poor are willing to do this because one: there is no financial education. And two: because they have no other choice.”

That’s what our guide for the Medellin Real City Tours told us. The poor often don’t have a regular job, just sell things on the street. But the system won’t allow them to start an account at a bank for this reason. How are you able to put an “employer” on the application if you sell mangos on street corners? The population of Medellin is around 3 million people, meaning over 1.5 million are what they call the “unbanked”.

Worldwide, 38% of the world’s population does not have a bank account . That works out to 2 billion adults with no account at all. Their bank is literally under their mattress.

A possible solution floated was to allow the poor in Medellin to use the payphone as a bank – enter your account number and put coins into the machine. I thought this was ingenious – but it hasn’t been implemented, nor a date set to start. Better yet: why not use what every single adult already has – a cellphone.

I think we can look towards SubSaharan Africa as an example. “While just 1 percent of adults globally say they use a mobile money account…in SubSaharan Africa, 12 percent of adults (64 million adults) have mobile money accounts…” Imagine now if the banks weren’t huge multi-nationals, but citizens from within their community, keeping the money in the community to benefit all?

My Taiwanese friends were interested in buying Bitcoin, but weren’t able to connect their bank to Coinbase in order to make the purchase. I said, ‘Just give me your money and $5 for fees, and I’ll send you some.’ Which I did.

Then, it dawned on me: I had just become a bank. I received a cash deposit, agreed on a fee, and sent them money/bitcoin.

This is the Dream of Bitcoin: disintermediate and disrupt the Finance Industry. The individual as the bank.

Disintermediation of Banking

“Disintermediation…the removal of intermediaries in economics from a supply chain, or cutting out the middlemen in connection with a transaction or a series of transactions.”
~ Wikipedia

Just look at recent history: what has disintermediated the Taxi industry? Uber.

In every Latin American city I’ve been to I was able to use Uber, arrange my pickup point and where I wanted to go, agree to a set fee, and pay with my phone. I could even set a pickup time in the future. I can even get a limousine-type car with Uber black. Uber wins because it’s cheaper, more convenient and safer than hailing a taxi from the street. And I don’t need to pick up fake paper receipts to inflate the fare for writing off on my company expenses either! I get an email, and it gets recorded in my Uber account.

And now the same disintermediation is happening in the Banking Industry, through Bitcoin, and the other alt coins such as Ether and Ripple. In 2016, the Finance and Insurance Industry accounted for 1.4 Trillion dollars in GDP in the US alone.

Worldwide, the estimated size for the financial industry in 2014 is $13.1 trillion. The Global Market Cap for Cryptocoins currently stands (CoinMarketCap.com, December 12, 2017) at 505,158,081,668, or only around half a billion. Just to give you idea of the scale, the Finance industry is over 1,399 times the size of the Crypto market cap.

When anyone with a smartphone can be a bank – who needs banks?

Well, people don’t have enough money to lend money for a house, right?

Satoshi Nakamoto does.

Satoshi Nakamoto, the sexy and mysterious founder of Bitcoin purportedly owns about a million bitcoins. He could finance a bunch of home loans. And the contract terms could be written in a mathematically precise form, with different term lengths, percentage interest, monthly payment and insurance escrow. And, if the buyer doesn’t pay, then the mathematically constructed contract could determine that ownership reverts to Satoshi – just like a bank. What’s to keep banks in business if the competition is us?

The Teen Gangster Bankers of Medellin
Currently, teen gangsters disintermediate the banks in Medellin. They are the bank of choice for the poor there. But what if a philanthropically inclined individual in turn disintermediates the gangsters, granting short-term loans to friends and family at half the gangster rate of 10%, down from the usurious gangster rate of 20%? He does it through his cellphone, and the gangsters are none the wiser. The poor get to keep more of their money, and the gangsters find something else to exploit.

Now, let’s take this worldwide. There are 15 million millionaires in the world, soon to all have the ability to act as a bank. There are only an estimated 14,600 banks in the entire world.

Remember the Great Recession? Too Big to Fail? Well, now We The People don’t need to bail out an institution anymore. Nor do we need any of such size.

But, what about the World Bank, and bailouts for countries such as Venezuela or Greece? Well, why not have a sorta ICO, but scaled for countries? Negotiate the terms of repayment, mathematically formulate the agreement, and let individuals – not countries, decide. Why should a “Germany” decide that an entire generation of young Greeks shall for a period no less than X years have no economic opportunities? The Greek diaspora worldwide is estimated at 7 Million, 1.3 million in the US alone.

Imagine a sorta bailout ICO, with repayment terms as a percentage of the total “investment” voted on by the bitcoin wallets of the individuals that are willing to participate? No expensive infrastructure to maintain, no impressive office buildings and helipads. Just individuals voting with their wallets.

Nations fall, individuals rise again. Democracy is messy, yet Crypto is ruled by consensus. The lesson of Segwit taught us that.

The Wisdom of Crowds, or Rule by Mob?
That’s the fear, isn’t it? Well, what are nations states anyway? We have a representative government, which has carved up districts in a way to benefit one side or the other. Which has led to things like the creation of National Parks to protect our shared natural resources…and the election of a serial sexual harasser in chief. Wars, both electronic and actual have plagued us as a nation.

But, if there’s anything that travel has taught me is this: while nations create enemies and justify wars, the vast majority of individual people within those countries are good and kind people willing to give the shirt off their back. They live and let live, and if someone needs help they will lend a helping hand.

Medellin was admittedly a basket case of a city back in the bad-old-days of Pablo Escobar. Now, tourists are making their way back, even taking tours of the city that explain the events during the reign of terror of Pablo, and to his eventual death. And how the city has recovered in a way that makes it not just a safer city, but a desirable one.

Their problem wasn’t even of their own making. Worldwide demand for cocaine led to Pablo. The country didn’t benefit, they just got all the shitty parts, like crime, murders, and government corruption.

No one would blame them if they held a grudge against countries that purchase the powder that contributed to such violence. But, every time I am asked where I am from, I tell them with a smile ”Soy Estadounidense.” I am from the United States. And sometimes: “Soy Junkie!” which in Espanol sounds like “I am a Yankee!”

And they go, “Ahh…” and smile back. Because their country has come so far, even tourists from the States want to visit.

The Aftermath
And what happens when the Banking system crumbles, and Bitcoin rises and rises again to take its place? When the Insurance Industry is crowdsourced, and National Debt is wiped clean by the proud people from that nation? When individuals assert their power and vote with their BTC and ETH wallets?

My view is that a sort of of democratic capitalist socialism will take hold. It will be messy, and there will be disagreements, but ultimately, I think great good will evolve from it.

Because, to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite science fiction movies: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or even the one.

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Bitcoin Future: Shoot for the Moon, or Land in the FUD?

Bitcoin Future: Shoot for the Moon, or land in the FUD? The rise, and rise of Bitcoin

Quito, Ecuador, December 7th, 2017

At the moment there’s a buncha Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) in the Facebooks and Reddit Bitcoin worlds right now. And all of that is warranted, given how the (real) futures whale investor profits whether a market goes up – or down. 

And unlike a real commodity like corn costing more, or less, because of uncertainty (rainfall, competition, insects, disease…) the only uncertainty with Bitcoin is how much the whales want the market to dive (or rise). 

My thoughts are: it doesn’t matter what happens. What matters is what happens next.

ETFs and 401Ks 

The InkyWinkyVosselhof twins tried (and failed) to singlehandedly jumpstart the Bitcoin ETF market with their ill-gotten Facebook millions, but a second go with futures approved will more than likely be the next step in bitcoin’s r/evolution

The current ETF market is over 4 trillion dollars. The 401K and IRA Retirement market that is one of the major purchasers of ETFs is 26.6 Trillion dollars. And, as everyone’s favorite self-help gazillionaire James Altucher noted, there are 15 million millionaires that are all asking their advisors if they should get into bitcoin, or not? 

Sure, what the heck, buy a Bitcoin…or eight. Diversification is never a bad idea.

Oops, but there’s only 21 million of those suckers, and 4 Million have been lost, sent to incorrect public addresses – what have you. 

But, I’m a gazilionaire! I want a full Bitcoin! 

Sure, but it will cost you…

…or, you can park that 5% of that 30 trillion bucks on the basket of the top 10 Cryptocoins in an ETF that is completely uncorrelated with anything else you hold, you know: diworsify!

Well let’s see, 5% of 30 trillion is…carry the 4 equals…a ocean of filthy lucre pouring into a thimble-sized asset. An asset that doesn’t ebb and flow with the season (aka “corn”) it only ever was, and ever will be, 17 million, once you subtract those bits of coin forever lost.

We may one day look back on the 1 million-dollar per bitcoin forecast by 2020 by potential dick-eater John McAfee as woefully low.

While the whales may have their go at making the market dive, because they know in just a little while all of those coins the retail crowd tossed aside because their hopes and dreams just got shredded in the baleen gills of the futures mega-whales will now, inevitably, be hoovered up into  the Plesiosaurian jaws of the retirement account managers bottom-feeding straight after. 

And what happens next? 

They rise and rise to the moon, and beyond. 

 

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The New Pharaohs, or Unnatural Selection

Galapagos Islands, December 4th, 2017

Yesterday, I was face to face with a penguin. I was snorkeling off of Isla Isabel, and popped up next to one of like 10 little pinguinos huddled on some not-yet-submerged volcanic outcroppings in the wide wide ocean. With oceans rising because of global warming up to 3 feet a cenfury, I calculate about 30 more years before they will no longer have these little ocean havens safe from the predations of the hunter species, the killer whales, sharks, and Donald Trump Junior’s.

The Galapagos, rather than being a model for the ideas of Darwin, are a kind of the opposite of his life’s work, an Un-Natural Selection – if you will. The Giant tortoises are bred in captivity to be released to the wild, ladybugs are imported to attack a species of furry insect that is killing their trees. Cats, goats, and other “foreign” species are eradicated to allow the endemic species to better thrive.

en·dem·ic
enˈdemik  (of a plant or animal) native or restricted to a certain country or area.

All for dollares de tourista, and preserve for all time their idea of perfection. A museum of what they believe Darwin saw at the time he saw them.

When most people think of Darwin the phrase “Survival of the fittest” comes to mind. But what is forgotten is the other half of the equation: Sexual Selection. What species find sexy. Because things like Peacock’s unnecessarily long tail feathers do not a fittest species make.

Which brings to mind the Weinstein’s and ALL of the corporate presidents I worked for had a lot of rumors of “sleeping”on the job, if you will. Taking Darwin’s ideas to extremes: Men aspire to powerful positions in order to be more attractive to females. Maybe this is not in the forefront of their brains – more likely in their reptilian hindbrains. To put bread on the table is the front, once successful it’s putting Barbara on the table.

And then, it goes to the dark side.

In middle managers it’s bad enough, but when you are at the pinnacle of your respective power it is rife. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely – right? Men are assertive because it’s attractive – in general. The dark side is when it is taken to extremes – sexual abuse, harassment – and rape.

This is not to gift them with cover for their actions, aka: I strove for a position of power  because it’s my biological perogative in order to spread my genes. There are plenty of decent men who spread their genes with willing participants. I see these serial harassers more as sad shadows of humans who acted this way despite their respectable positions and reputations.

I mean, who wakes up and says I want to grow up to be a CEO? Assholes, that’s who.

Look at Trump, and that potential future congressman and serial pedophile Roy Moore who seem to think it’s not at all a problem. In fact, I think current laws and mores are an inconvenience to their behaviors, because ‘…when you are are a star, they let you do it…grab them by the pussy,’ said our so-called Commander and Chief.

We should have never left the trees

I look towards the so-called “primitive” cultures. The aborigines, the natives, and headhunters. Modern world vs “primitive” world. Totally in balance – either grow their own food, or hunt only what they need.

Then, think back to my time visiting the Ouros Reed Islanders of Lake Titicaca, the ones willing to be on display, to wear their native “costumes” and greet the tourists with songs starting in their native tongues, segueing to English, German and Japanese for their visitor’s amusement. When I saw the Ouros leader pull out his fat stack roll to give change, I understood why.

The other reed islands, the ones who decided to not go along with this ridiculousness had signs of normality – some trash, sloppy huts and irregularly shaped reed islands. The “tourist” reed islands were pictures of Disney perfection, clean, orderly, symmetrical even. Hut interiors in museum quality settings.

Totally in balance, right? Well, if you’re not part of one of those uncontacted indians in the Amazon – then you are affected by the modern world.

A quick look back at history, and one viewpoint is that Farming destroyed this balance, led to king’s and taxation and ownership – of land, of slaves. Then the creation of money, then usury and now we have Central Banks, and Modern Pharaohs deciding which third world country would be amenable to some economic meddling. Because it’s not the Koch brothers that determine the fate of countries, but the Rothschild’s, the US and the House of Saud.

Venezuelan Diaspora
In my 7 months of travel through Chile, then Peru and Ecuador, I seemed to run into many Venezuelans. The reason for this is because of their economic disaster of a situation that is driving the inhabitants to other, “better” countries. But, not so long ago, Venezuela was a powerhouse of a South American country, much like Chile was pre-Pinochet.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the two countries. When Chile defied President Nixon, he vowed to “Make the economy scream.” And scream they did, an entire country gone insane, incarcerating, torturing and killing their citizens – all with the help of the Economic Hitmen: the CIA.

While most “reasonable” people say that the reasons for Venezuela’s economic failure is Chavez’s fault for not diversifying their oil based economy, I see this more like an opportunity for the Bush’s to talk to the House of Saud to lower their crude prices to the screaming point, destroy Venezuela’s economy, and make their citizens go to war against each other. Because, they can. Because, when you defy the US you defy the crazy motherfuckers that can destroy your entire country.

I think of the schoolyard joke, ‘I’m gonna hit you so hard it will knock out your entire family!’ Heh.

And as long as we have oil and dollar based economies, then these sorts of economic destruction of countries will continue. Which brings me to:

The Hope of Bitcoin
The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, the used-to-be-richest-person in the world declared “You can’t value bitcoin because it’s not a value-producing asset…real bubble in that sort of thing.” He also famously didn’t get Amazon either. And now who’s the richest man now, Warren? Dipshit says what?

Oracles should remain Oracles – tourist destinations to view oddities, the ancient, where the gullible go to hear the babblings of drugged wise-people to justify their already made decisions.

McAfee (sort of) gets it. He said if Bitcoin didn’t get to $500,000 in 2 years he’d eat his dick. Lately he raised this to 1 million. (Me, I’m rooting for $999,999 in 2 years). Here’s what McAfee gets: set expectations high. Shoot for the moon, because there’s a lot of profit to be had between the mud and the moon, and maaybee you’ll land on top of the bitcoin mountain.

Bitcoin is kind of the digital version of Darwin’s “Survival of the fittest.” Bitcoin attacked constantly by the best hackers on the planet. It becomes the fittest, hardiest stray dog walking the streets. Not backed by anything, no sovereign “owner”. No Central Authority to manipulate or inflate it – distributed, democratic. The Ne Plus Ultra of cash, the Alma Ata of money. It’s digital lucre, the closest thing to money as an idea.

Quoth Warren: “Bitcoin is not a value producing asset” – Like that’s an argument. Earth to Warren: neither is the US Dollar. Or any dollar, for that matter. For the first time in history we only have money that’s infinitely inflatable. Except for Bitcoin. Bitcoin only has, and will only ever have 21 million in existence. The US Dollar is a joke excuse for money. Because one of the defining rules of money is relative scarcity. You can’t use shells as money when you live on a beach, for example.

Unless, you are in the US. Or any other country right now, for that matter.

The only reason US dollars are stable is because they are the lingua franca of Oil. In a way, the US dollar is backed by oil. Other countries must keep stacks of US dollars in order to purchase oil. Which keeps the US economy humming, and brings us back full circle to the House of Saud, the Bush’s and the economic disaster of Venezuela.

The New Pharaohs
The way the Republicans are acting, they seems like they’d be okay with gangrapes on public buses. Create victim classes in which to prey. By the way their so-called leaders, Donald Trump and McConnell are acting, they’d be okay with a serial child molester in Congress – as long as he’s not a Democrat. They’re also okay with a Tax plan that destroys the middle class, creates a pool of servants (poor), and solidifies the haves, the Trumps and Pharoahs iz’all good.

‘Cause what kind of model country would they desire? Maybe modeled on Saudi Arabia – close to zero crime, the lucky ones of the House of Saud treated like the Pharaohs of old, every whim catered to by the poor – which is everyone else.

Modern slavery, and if you steal they will cut off your hands. You can prey on the pretty servant women – because, why not? They won’t complain – well, to anyone that would matter. Women wear the veil, and can’t drive, can’t abort – or even vote for that matter. Perfection to the Trumps of the world.

And for that thief with no hands? He deserved it, right? Well, maybe he was one of the unlucky ones, one of those not lucky enough to be part of the House of Saud, and had to steal for a living. He deserved to have his hands cut, right? So what that he wasn’t born into the right family? Or was unlucky enough to be born during a time when the Congress destroyed it’s middle class – because who needs a class of people who might have just a smidgeon of enough power to have their complaints heard?

I think Trump wants to be a modern Pharoah, and with the new tax legislation, he’ll be one step closer. And who really cares for the middle class? Bernie Sanders? Harharhar.

As long as Trump has lower class servants he can step on their backs in order to reach his palace – why should he care? Abuse of power only abuses the weak – not the one in power – so again: why should he care? And if the last waiter didn’t show you enough courtesy? Well there’s a hundred other starving people to take his place.

And who needs equals when you have a harem? Sexual harassment only occurs to the victim, not to the Pharoahs of the world. They just get to become president! Or the owner of the Miss Universe pageant.

Which leads me back to the Galapagos, and Unnatural Selection. What kind kind of world is being created for us? A world of the haves and the have nots? Because if you don’t “have” something that benefits from inflation, like a house, or gold, or a series of apartment buildings around the world, or oil – then you’re of the to-be-fucked-with class. And even if you do have something, like oil, if you piss off the wrong people you’re fucked again twice over.

Or maybe, just maybe, you opt out. You own a bitcoin or two. Something that is not up to the whims of governments, and powerful House of Saud connections. Something that is unnaturally deflationary. That went from nothing to something. And despite the Oracles you buy and hodl, because it’s the new thin blue line separating civilization from chaos. Just ask the Venezuelans. 100,000 of them reportedly mine Bitcoin.

Because nothing defines money than what you are able to purchase with it, and right now the Venezuelan dollar amounts to a bunch of nothing. Like Zimbabwe, Greece, the US dollar, etcetera.

What of the nomadic life I’ve been living? Traveling with just a backpack, homeless in way. We backpackers think we make little impact, but then I see the towns and cities transformed by tourism, and not all I see is good.

What then? To live the life idyllic, to harvest your own food, recycle your own shit – has it’s negatives. I’m modern man, and I like cities too. I like that I can fly into New York city and order my favorite pirogues at Veselka’s.

Can the Pharaohs not enslave everything in order to do so?

Can we not eat every fish in the ocean, or warm the planet to boil away the islands the penguins count on? Islands to escape from the sharks and killer whales and Donald Junior’s of the world?

Can we not conserve the “endemic” species we have, like marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and humans?

Can we not respect and accept the equality and rights of women?

Is that too much to ask?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drain Bramage

I asked for the 50 soles in change back. She gave me a blank stare and said she already gave me back my change. We went back and forth as I thought I misunderstood her.

She pantomimed as she spoke that I gave her 100 soles, and she returned 50 soles. I looked at her as if she was crazy. I remembered only handing her a 100 skle note, asking if she had “sencillo” (change), and waiting for it. Then, I thought if she had handed it to me I would find it in my wallet.

I opened my wallet and saw a 50 soles note.

It had me wondering about the concussion I sustained while rock climbing a couple weeks back. I wondered how I could have blanked out the entire exchange, and if it was related.

I still have some residual dizziness in the mornings, which usually fades as the day progresses.

But this sort of brain edit had me thinking.

I didn’t go to the hospital, frankly because I wasn’t sure if my insurance would cover “hazardous” activities lkke rock climbing, and also I frankly didn’t think they could do much except prescribe pain killers or dizziness meds. Nothing that could affect the source, only the symptoms.

I asked my friend Yasmeen about jt and she said, ‘Oh, I had a ton of concussions playing soccer. Not a lot they can do except bed rest.’ She said she would go to the nurses office between classes to lie down in a darkened room.

But then, I thought not noticing my change could just simply be a late afternoon brain fog. Unless and until it happened again, it was nothing to worry too much about.

I figured, if I could still do a 4 day trek at altitude, and climb 5.10 off the couch I was still in reasonably good shape.

And the dizziness was receding.

Alain Robert

a d then there’s Alain Robert, you know, the guy that free solos huge buildings? I looked up his Wikipedia entry regarding his accidents

Suddenly, I feel alot better about myself. No comas, induced or otherwise.

 

Tomorrow I climb near Banos.

 

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Travel Interrupted

Incredible. I’ve actually stayed in a country long enough that I need to consider renewing my 3 month visa. I’ve been in Peru since July 4th, and I need to figure out how/where to exit to another country and re-enter.

(FYI, I’ve since crossed to Arica, Chile and back – got a 30 day extension, and used it)

I’ve been volunteering for a tour agency in Cusco, making videos, and doing some work on their website when necessary. The owner sent me on one of their tours (Inca Jungle Trek) that involved downhill mountain biking, white water rafting and ziplining in exchange for a series of 5 videos I shot and edited and promoted on social media.

It’s funny, I remember watching the videos of the Inca Jungle Trail, wishing I could do it – then being offered the opportunity to do so. It’s as if I warped reality, and entered the film, which seems to happen more and more often.

Machu Picchu was just a distant fantasy – until I did it. Then, it seemed like an ordinary occurence, as is travelling through foreign countries, crossing borders, riding overnight continental busses and figuring out trekking at altitude. It kind of feels like: well, what else?

Because of my volunteering, it’s allowed me to stretch my travel dollars, and am able to stay for longer periods in the cities and countries of my choice. Which happens to be only 2 in 5 months: Chile and Peru.

I struggled with a bout of loneliness, traveling as a solo dude, only occasionally befriended – mostly by other dudes. But in Cusco, I’ve had the pleasure of staying in a volunteer room with a Taiwanese girl named Yun Fen, and then her friend Iris, making dinners together, trekking, joking, and cooking together. It’s a pleasure, and a welcome break.

And now I am back in a place of space and silence, traveling alone again. Both have their plusses and minuses, but I recognize I also need my space and my silence.

I garner what I need in cafe’s and walks through the beautiful city of Cusco, dodging trekking touts, restaurant purveyors and massage offers. “Masaje, masaje, masaje!” is a constant ring I here as I pass through al centro. I just look at them and go, “What can your small hands do?”

What’s been interesting for me is that Yun Fen is also a videographer, complete with large facebook following. Her methods are different – younger, with faster cuts, jump cuts and even effects. I think we both learn from each others styles, as I do longer videos, and am concerned with longer narratives, whereas she does shorter videos. But now I do shorter ones, and she does longer ones. It’s an interesting collaboration, as we often edit from the same footage, yet organized in individual and with our own creative sensibilities.

 

Ecuador

I finally entered my third country after 6 months, 2 in Chile, 4 in Peru – we’ll see how long in Ecuador. I have a cheap $10 room to myself, with good wifi and breakfast included. And the breakfast is scrambled eggs, a nice soft bread, and coffee, or tea. I booked for 2 nights, but will have a look around at a couple other hostals as I may decide to stay a bit.

I contacted a couple different language schools, but the 4 hour/day classes they recommend give me the shivers – why 4 hours? Seems excessive, especially as I am traveling and experiencing, etc.

But I recognize the value of strengthening my language skills.

I’m struck by how calm and nice and quiet the city of Cuenca is – seemingly without the craziness and constant honking of just about every other Peruvian (or Chilean) city I’ve passed through. The architecture is beautiful, and the backdrop of mountains is lovely.

The crossing from Mancora to Cuenca was uneventful as well. Other than the pain of getting up at 1:30am to do the border crossing, it was about as quick and pleasant as one could be. Didn’t even have to remove my luggage from the bus, or move from one building to another – the agents for both Peru and Ecuador sat next to each other, much like the Arica crossing of Chile and Peru. And this time they didn’t have any trick questions, just a ‘Is this your first time traveling here?’

Responded ‘Yes’. Cruised through.

I will do a separate post on the actual border crossing from Mancora to Cuenca, since it would have been nice to have found something online prior to the trip. Now that I have crossed maybe I can help a fellow traveler out.

Still getting my bearings. Figuring out where and what restaurants I want to try, what the nearby attractions are (Cajas Nacional Parque…), and figuring out where the rock climbing is. Will suss out Cojitambo, where my friend Erin told me I had to go. Also researching Banos, and other rock climbing areas. New country, new purpose.

I got a new tattoo my last day in Peru, from a photo I took of a Pelican flying overhead. I knew I wanted a couple bird silhouettes on my chest, and I really liked the photo I took. It seemed less committing than having the 4 lines of poetry I originally wanted on the underside of my right arm. I may still get the poem, but for now I have to think that one over.

I’ve also realized that while my other tattoos have a certain meaning, and often multiple meanings, this is one where the motive was simple – I just liked it and wanted it. And, I guess after getting a few before tattoos don’t always have to be deep in meaning and significance.

I can just simply like them.

Okay, was able to brash my way through the day, even though I was rundown from the lack of sleep on the overnight bus. Now: blessed sleep.

 

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How to become semi-fluent in Spanish in 5 months

I’m not going to make outrageous statements, like “Learn Spanish in a Month!” But I do think you can get to the level of having simple conversations with a local in 5 months, feel completely comfortable in particular travel situations, such as hotel checkins, renting a car and ordering a meal, and even having some in-depth conversations regarding subjects such as politics, film reviews and other conversational topics.

I caught myself having a conversation with a local in line for Machu Picchu, talking about where we were both from, what was the best thing to do early in Machu Picchu, and what we were going to travel to next. I kind of had this Satori moment where I realized as I was talking that I was able to understand, and was able to be understood while speaking in Spanish. It blew me away, frankly! This type of conversation would have been impossible for me 5 months ago, and I realized that maybe I had a method that worked for me that could work for others.

I am not a natural language learner, in fact I started learning Spanish in my 40’s. I tried Spanish classes – getting lost in tenses and vocabulary, even hired a tutor at one point, but I had a turning point when I got serious about language learning, and figured out a process.

Motivation

I think this video has a point, and that in order to make changes in your life – like learning a language, takes more than motivation.  It comes down to making a decision, even in the moments of hesitation. That being said, I think having a motivation is the spark that makes you continue towards success – and for me that motivation is connected to running away from pain.

I was volunteering in Chile, and if you haven’t already heard, Chilean Spanish is known to be one of the most difficult to understand versions of Spanish that is out there. Much of it is because of the way they speak Spanish. A Chilean friend explained how Chileans “inhale” the “s” sounds, so “Gracias” becomes “Graia”. Chilean Spanish is also full of slang, and the words are also spoken faster with fewer changes in intonation.

For me it sounded as if the person speaking was gargling with marbles.

But working as a volunteer, I had to understand what was being said – especially in the midst of a breakfast rush when the words became commands, and you only had a half-second to understand what was being said, and take action – to fill breakfast bowls, to refill napkins, make coffee, take orders.

The cook in charge, a short stout Chilean woman, grabbed me by the shirt, pulling me down eye to eye saying, “Escuchame! Escuchame!…” then said some other things I didn’t understand.

In that moment, the pain of not understanding, and the pain of not being understood was the singular motivation that pushed me to become more fluent in Spanish.

If you don’t have this sort of motivation, motivation that came for me from actually living and working in a foreign country – it becomes difficult to create the spark that drives the machinery towards fluency.

Find your motivation.

The Material

I had previously casually used an audio program I liked called the Pimsleur Method – I just needed to programatize it in a way that would lead to fluency.

The Pimsleur Spanish Program takes advantage of a method called “Spaced Repetition” or “Graduated-Interval Recall.” Basically, introducing new words, then reintroducing them later in gradually increasing spaced out intervals. It’s a method of memorizing massive amounts of information, and given that complete fluency involves 3,000 words, this type of method is perfect for learning Spanish.

The entire CD series is in 5 parts, with 30 lessons each. 1-5 CD sets can be purchased as CDs, with #5 can also be downloaded using Amazon’s Audible audio program.

The lessons are meant to be listened to one per day, with the next lesson in the series to be listened to the following day. The lessons are only around 30 minutes long, which means you learn and memorize small chunks of the language per day, which is also known as a better method than cramming a bunch of learning in a single go.

In conjunction with Pimsleur, I also knew that fluency is a numbers game, and that casual conversation, or semi-fluency required at least 1,000 words. Apps seemed to be a decent way to learn additional vocabulary in a way that would be fun and interesting. After using apps like Babbel and Lingo Arcade, I winnowed the list down to DuoLingo and Memrise.  Those 2 seemed to be the best of the bunch in terms of an app that could help me learn Spanish.

The Process

Once you have your motivation, or the spark that will drive you to do the things to learn Spanish, and gathered the material you will use to learn the language, the next step is to define a process, or schedule which will automatically give you success.

For me, I was trying to figure out something I could do to help me learn Spanish on a daily basis for 1-2 hours a day.

The method I used is:

  • Go to a cafe, order a cup of coffee, and listen to a Pimsleur lesson.
  • Allow myself to stop and start, rewind and replay the first time around.
  • I would take a break – walk around, order breakfast – whatever.
  • I would listen to the lesson a second time – this time at regular speed, with no pauses, rewinds or replays.
  • Follow up with doing the daily Duolingo and Memrise lesson.

All-in-all this took me around 2 hrs/day.

Why This Worked for Me

The initial motivation was enough to drive me to study 2 hours/day for 6 months. Without a solid reason you may not have enough of a push to make the effort to learn a language. For me it was the pain of not being understood.

Having proven learning materials at hand gave me a blueprint towards fluency.

And setting up a schedule (and working the plan) automates the process that leads to fluency (or semi-fluency).

I think it also works because using an audio program is similar to the experience of actually having a conversation – looking at the other person, and conjuring the words in your head – in real time!

What didn’t work for me

Frankly, I hated Rosetta Stone. Sitting in front of a computer while trying to learn Spanish was just maddening to me. Maybe because my profession involves computers, adding another task on top just seemed like work for me. I also felt they stressed rote repetition, which I didn’t like. That being said, Rosetta also has a track record of success, and it might work for you – I just knew it wouldn’t work for me.

Language classes also were not very good for me. I think mainly because of the breaks between classes where I would subsequently lose most of what I had learned from the previous class. Also, teachers methods and abilities changed – some I responded to, while others I found just horrible. I knew I needed a consistent method that I responded to applied consistently over time. Pimsleur, plus a couple of language apps were the ticket for me!

Other Ways to Improve Language Learning

The above method of studying 2 hrs a day using the Pimsleur CDs, and the two apps Memrise and Duolingo is the main things I did consistently to improve my Spanish. Some other things I did also helped:

  • Listening and trying to understand Spanish lyrics in popular songs (Despocito, Bailando, Deja Vu, etc)
  • Watching Popular Movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles turned on (Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Pt II, etc)
  • Watching 5 minutes of Spanish language television/day. This was a tip given to me by a Spanish teacher. You get to hear different pronunciations of words in conversations at real speeds. Just 5 minutes – be it news, or telenovellas – or whatever is on!
  • Being in a country that speaks Spanish.

This last was a great boon to my learning, and admittedly not one available to everyone. But actually having to use the language everyday in everyday situations really cements the usage in a way nothing else can compare with. Traveling through Chile, and then Peru expanded my vocabulary, and made me more comfortable in using the language daily.

But, if you can’t get to a foreign country, you can create your own immersive environment by always listening to Spanish music, only watching Spanish language movies, and trying to interact with native speakers in restaurants, Meetups and other situations where you get to practice with a native.

Conclusion

This is the exact way I learned to be semi-fluent: using the Pimsleur CDs, and mobile apps of DuoLingo and Memrise, then working my plan of studying 2 hours a day. Of course this leads to semi-fluency, why wouldn’t it!

I also had the advantage of traveling through South America, but that is kind of beside the point. I met several folks who didn’t know a lick of Spanish while traveling through South America, and exited with only the barest understanding of a few words of tourist Spanish. Travel by itself is not the key to learning another language.

Programatized effort over time is the way to learn to be semi-fluent.

If you are interested in becoming at least semi-fluent, know that it takes time and dedication – and a plan of action. If you decide to give my method a try, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Machu Picchu for under $350 USD

Machu Picchu for under $350 USD

Okay, so it’s not the cheapest. I think that record goes to this guy at 37 soles. It also doesn’t cost $2,000 USD as a Brit told me it cost him, over a game of cards and cervezas at a restaurant at the bottom Colca Canyon.

No major hikes, such as the Inca Trail is involved. I also include the train, which if you aren’t shelling out for the Inca Trail is a must – just a classy way to travel. The big windows on the Peru Rail help you see the dramatic mountains on either side.

How I did it is also a more leisurely way of doing things, spending a night here and a night there to break up the travel and rest and relax a tad. I’ll also include the price of the train, busses with some options you could consider that would adjust the cost and be either more or less comfortable. I won’t include price of meals, as they can range from $3-100+.

DESCRIPTION of TRAVEL

I started my travels, as many who go to Machu Picchu, in Cusco. Cusco is where I bought my entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. After spending a night there I went by Collectivo to Ollantaytambo where I spent another night in a dorm of a cheap hostel there. At Ollantaytambo I purchased my roundtrip tickets to Machu Picchu and back.

The next day I took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. I spent another night in a hostel dorm room with 2 bunk beds before departing at 3am to stand in line for the busses that go through the narrow winding steep road to Machu Picchu

 

OPTIONS

I happened to stay in cheap dorm rooms, so different accommodations can change the cost dramatically. I would go to Booking.com, and sort on price from low to high, then select based on Rating and Reviews.

Also, additional nights in either Aguas or Ollantaytambo would drive up the cost. I kind of wished I stayed overnight in Aguas, rather than take the train back to Ollantaytambo, but it worked out okay.

This way I was able to leave my Pacsafe roller bag in Ollantaytambo overnight while I went to Aguas. At Aguas, I was also able to leave my extra Pacsafe backpack of stuff at the hostel there, taking only the essentials (coats, snacks, water, etc) to Machu Picchu. I collected my bag from the hostel prior to my departure to Ollantaytambo.

This turned out great as I just took my extra Outdoor Research daypack (lightweight, waterproof, collapsible, light) while wandering around Machu Picchu.

Bare Bones Method

There are also some low cost tours in Ollantaytambo or Cusco. Look for signs for “Hydroelectrica” where they take care of the car transport, meals, entrance fee, and even a guide for less than $150. Or, you can do like this person did for $116 where she did everything herself. But, frankly, I think if you wanted to go barebones, a few extra dollars to have a tour agency take care of everything for you would be the less stress way of doing it.

Here’s the breakdown (in US Dollars):

– $11 Hostel single room in Cusco.
– $3.24 Colectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.
– $9 Ollantaytambo dorm room
– $61 Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
– $22.22 – RT bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and back.
– $47 Entrance fee to Machu Picchu
– $65 Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo.
– $9 Hostel in Ollantaytambo

TOTAL: $227.46 (Valid August 2017)

Oh yeah, Photos:

 

 

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Why you NEED a VPN while Traveling

Unbeknownst to most people, there are restrictions on what websites you are allowed to see depending on your location. This may come as a surprise, especially for the folks from the US, who are accustomed to being able to view most websites without restrictions. A simple click of the “Are you 21 years old or older” button being the most severe barriers to entry.

This changes once you go to, say, South America, and find that some YouTube Videos, some Netflix movies, and the bank website you are desperately trying to reach to transfer some cash into are all unavailable!

A solution to all of this is to get a VPN. I can only recommend, which is the one I use while I travelled through Chile and Peru: Private Internet Access.

I originally got this not for travel, but for protection while using public wifi at the cafe’s I frequent. A VPN is a first line of defense against the open protocols that reveal your laptop to the thieving public. Just for that reason alone is good enough to get a VPN.

But, when I found myself blocked from accessing certain websites I was used to accessing – like my bank’s website, or where I pay my mortgage, watch my movies, or listen to music, luckily I remembered that I had a VPN.

Once you sign up for Private Internet Access, and activate the software, an icon appear above your browser on the upper right side. It looks like a greyed out robot until you activate it:

 

Click on the icon to select which state you want to appear to be from:

I’m in California – really!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I typically choose “California” as my state, although you can always just select “”Connect Auto”.

The icon turns black to indicate that it is now “On”:

 

 

And now, when I go to pay my mortgage, I now see the correct page:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you can see how useful this can be.

VPNs have a long history of helping dissidents in various countries get access to the outside world. But, they are also useful for ordinary tasks you are used to, especially for travel. Things like: accessing your bank account, transferring money….being able to watch a music video that is restricted from showing in Chile – that sort of thing.

Conclusion

There are many reasons for getting a VPN – security, access to the open web, etc. But for travel, a VPN becomes essential – for mundane financial tasks, access to films and videos – but also for security. Because the most access to the internet you are going to find are the wifi’s in cafe’s and restaurants. Access and security – big reasons to get a VPN!

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Traveling for 3 months: Eat. See. Do.

‘They lied to us. They fucking lied to us!’ Zahi said.

I met Zahi at a hostel in Puno. He was leaving the next day, and just by happenstance our paths crossed, as many do, in the kitchen. We discussed how travel was so much cheaper (or can be) than anyone ever thinks it to be, and that governments spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about travel to other countries, when really – it was all a lie.

Nearly everyone I’ve met in my travels, which Zahi confirmed, has been very welcoming, very nice, and eager to help you have a good time. People want to show the best parts of their countries, and hospitality is a universal concept.

Zahi was from Israel, and he told me the only problems he’s had crossing borders was the U.S. Being from the U.S. I had a tinge of embarrassment, wishing that my country was more welcoming. Not sure who started it, but cross-country bickering has kept me out of Bolivia, leaving me with no desire to have a go again at a country that places such high hurdles to enter. And I fear that number of countries barring the US Citizen will only grow.

I’m currently in Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, trying to figure out the logistics of doing it on the cheap. Zahi called it, ‘…the most expensive Wonder of the World.’ Something like $125 US to enter, and that’s after paying trekking fees (if you do the Inca trail) starting at $500 and up. Rail fees to get to Aguas Caliente and back, plus tips for the guide and the folks carrying your gear can all add up. A fellow I met paid over $2,000 US for his 4 day trek.

The Great Pyramids, Zahi told me, had a $20 entrance fee.

 

3 months: 2 countries

I’m on my second country in 3 months of travel. I really thought I’d have more countries under my belt by now, but I didn’t account for how LARGE South American countries are, or the effect of my timeline on my psyche. Having an artificial deadline of a year has allowed me to forget about dates. Extend my stays in certain towns. Really discover places that some people sear through in a day or two – where oftentimes I’ll stay for a week, or even weeks. After a year, I am thinking stunned, I might only make a dent in South America.

 

Two Types of Travelers

A broad generalization is that I’ve met two types of travelers: the ones that are on vacation, or even some that are on Summer vacation, or a “gap year”, with a predetermined amount of time, that go from place to place, marking off their checkboxes on places travelled to, boxes to fill on places yet to come.

And then there is my friend Pedrito, who told me he stayed for 2 years in Argentina. I just saw in his Facebook feed that he finally made it to Bolivia, his 3rd country (after Chile), in his 3rd year.

I think I’m more in between. I don’t have any sort of urgency, other than my money running out. And so I stay longer in cheaper places, and shorter if it is too expensive.

But “too expensive” is relative.

My private room in Cusco is 60 Soles, which makes my pocketbook yelp. ‘But I was only paying 33 soles in Puno,’ I exclaim! But, if you do the calculation: 60 soles is around $20/night in the states. 33 soles was a steal at $11/night USD.

Try to find that low of a rate anywhere in the US.

Like I told Zahi: I had to leave the states in order to out-survive my money.

It’s too expensive to live in the US. It’s actually cheaper for me to rent my house out, which pays my mortgage, and buys my Obamacare, and then travel through South America on my savings, than it would be if I had tried to stay in the US.

Of course, I could always work – but that’s another story…;-)

A quote on a sign I saw in Mexico: “We were meant for more than to work and paying bills!”

Yes.

After fighting a lawsuit against a multimillion dollar corporation for five years, ultimately winning some compensation, I realized that corporations can be the death of people. They don’t really care about you, they only care about their bottom line.

We used to be a nation of merchants, people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Now, all people look for is a “job”. Someone to take care of them, where hopefully they don’t have to work too hard, or think too much.

And so I look for the escape hatch.

I go from place to place, having experiences, eating things I might not normally eat, try to make myself understood in another language, and in turn understand others. And I remember the idea for a website my friend Jason had, which was Eat.See.Do. A website where he would blog and vlog about his travels – Seeing, and Eating and Doing things.

And that’s what it comes down to – seeing, eating and doing.

But, a part of me wants more than this. And yes, I know that this is a privileged position to be in, in not having the struggle to simply exist. It reminds me of the Tom Hanks response, on why, since he has so much money, does he still act: “You can only eat so well.”

And so, I make my purpose: learn Spanish. Find places to climb. And in the middle: eat.see do. I work on my affiliate business, writing reviews and video blogging, and I see the needle move. I dabble in trading, and see potential there as well. Money is a drag, but in this world you have to “…Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – and that is money.

And after money: it having a purpose.

Skype

I recently Skyped with my friend Amelia, having to reschedule after her life became busy with house-hunting and job/life conundrums. I try to sympathize, but all I have is time. I look forward to these Skype calls, but understand when life gets in the way. I gird myself for possibly having to wait another month to be able to communicate with my dear friend.

But we were able to make it work, rescheduling for 3 days hence.

‘How’s it going?’ Amelia’s smiling face said.
‘Well, it doesn’t suck,’ I joked.

But, if I look at things honestly, I’ve had some suck, and my fill of FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. But, this was mostly in the early weeks of travel, when my greatest fear was losing everything I owned, of being scammed, of being robbed or taken advantaged of in some way.

But, having systems in place, and just being savvy goes a long way to suppressing the FUD. Now, once the logistics are out of the way, I find myself enjoying myself. And yes, the world is (mostly) really nice.

And in these long stretches of enjoyment I still have moments of intense loneliness, of being on an alien planet where no one really understands me. Where I tire of relationships that survive the length of a 3 day tour, and then vanish with a ‘Ciao,’ as you exit the tourist van, never to see these people again.

But: I have also met some of the most amazing people as well, adventurers who have taken it upon themselves to go exploring, to see what this world has to offer, and I have to say, even the brief moments of despair – it doesn’t suck at all. Even the sucky parts are great. Because how great is it to feel lonely in a foreign country. YOU’RE IN A Fucking FOREIGN COUNTRY, YO!

 

Some keys to thrive:

• Have low expectations. Some people would balk at a toilet with no seat. Or having to throw used toilet paper into a basket. If you can take those in stride then you may be able to thrive traveling. Because the rest is marvelous!
• Try to speak the language. It just smooths things over – and is fun.
• Take challenges as part of the fun. I used to be sort of afraid of learning the new currency. But an Army friend of mine gave me a new perspective: ‘I just think that’s part of the fun.’
• Have a positive take – on everything. If you are the type to compare everything against your home country you’ll miss out on the great stuff, and be sorely disappointed.
• Don’t be so demanding. I saw this guy from England pushing our guide around like a servant, telling him to go tell the waiter to bring more chicken out to the buffet. Our guide was a certified mountain guide, not a servant to be pushed around. And just because you pay money doesn’t excuse you from acting like an ass.
• And if you travel alone – make friends. Or make friends with being by yourself.

This last is key, for me anyway. I find myself more cordial, more funny, more public when on a tour, where I am forced to make friends, and be in groups. Normally a very private person, I become more jovial and vocal while traveling. And then, I can go back to enjoying learning my spanish with my headphones in place, enjoying the sunshine at a cafe table in Cusco – alone.

And, when I see public arguments from a couple having perhaps first discovering that they are NOT as compatible as they had formerly had thought – well, being alone seems just grand. That there are worse things than being alone.

I remember leaving a tour van with barely a wave goodbye. Because, while everyone was nice enough, there was a little that irritated me about every one – be it the berating of our guide, or a snide remark, or the slagging of the hike – which I had found incredible – that I just wanted to escape.

And traveling alone – I could. With enough money to get a nice private room where I could explode my bags without a word of disparagement, stretch out – be a slob. Take myself out for a “pricey” $20 meal, order dessert, get drunk – whatever. Because the only person I have to account to – is myself.

 

Conclusion

3 month in, I’ve had my share of struggles, but if the worst is a few sharp jabs of loneliness, then all-in-all it’s been great. I’m glad I’ve made videos of my experiences as I’ve travelled – it’s nice to look back and see what I’ve done, what places I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had. Time can fly by so fast, and it’s good to have markers of your journey to look back on and experience. I’ve only been to 2 countries – but they are huge. Peru is twice the size of Texas, and if you laid Chile on its side it would span across the continental US – if that gives you some perspective!

I’ve been to so many cities, if they are at all similar they start to blur. Was that Iquique or Arica where I went paragliding? Or was that surfing? All in all though traveling, and traveling the way I do, with barely an agenda, and time to spare – has been glorious!

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Why I’m staying at a 7 star Hostal…and you should too!

I do what every other backpacker who stays at a hostel does: I go to either Booking.com, or Hostelworld.com (or TripAdvisor, etc) and filter on 8.5 stars and above, and then sort on  price.

The problem is that everyone does that, and suddenly you’re faced with a completely full dorm room, and companions the like of which you may neither approve nor deny.

The last 8.8 hostel I stayed at had all 4 beds full, one of which had a very loud snorer. The second was next to a busy street with honking taxis cruising by till 2 in the morning.

So, despite their many amenities: “free” breakfast, luggage storage, pool table, foosball, laundry service, etc, all I really want is a clean, quiet, secure place with nice front desk people – all at an affordable price.

Sites such as Tripadvisor, and Yelp attempt to fulfill the Dream of Social Media, (no more crappy products) – the truth of the matter is that once a person exits a reviewable locale, the burning of the bridges commences.

Just don’t go there! Everything is a mess!! (etcetera)…

Here’s the thing: you kind of have to read between the lines and figure out what you can and can’t live with. Also, after a place has had a few bad reviews, many attempt to salvage whatever stars they have by fixing their place up. The gift in that is you may, like myself, have a 4 bed dorm room all to yourself.

This place is quieter than my last hostel, and except for 2 nights where I had to share the room, I’ve had the place entirely to myself. It’s like having a private room without paying the private room price (about 3 times as much as a dorm).

At the moment, I’m paying less than $7 USD/night (gotta love Peru!), and while I could afford the private room – like the proverb says: why buy the cow when I get the milk for free? So what that there’s no lock on the bathroom door – I’m the only one here! And so what there’s a drip from the shower – I just close the bathroom door, and I don’t notice it.

Because of the price I felt able to stay longer in Arequipa. I find myself exploring, and spending more at new restaurants because of the money I’m saving by staying at a cheap hostel. And hey, I only go to my hostel to sleep – only occasionally to socialize.

But what I like is a bit of quiet. Access to a kitchen to boil water for my tea. A comfortable bed – and an empty room is icing on the cake.

I did a bit of hostel-visitations, just to see what I was possibly missing out on for that extra star or two. What I found were nicely appointed rooms, cool common areas with ping pong table, shuffle board, etc – and invariably full dorm rooms. Everyone comes for the 8.8 starred cheap hostels, and I mean everyone. So, if that’s what you are looking for – be prepared.

Oftentimes a highly rated place is full, when down the street there may be a 7 star up-and-comer – that is clean, quiet, nice staff, with no pool table, nor foosball – and completely empty!

Read between the lines

Now, you do have to read the reviews carefully. One key is to see if bad reviews were in the past, and newer reviews are more positive. Look at what the people complaining are complaining about – if it has to do with either bedbugs or loud honking in the wee hours of the night – maybe you should look elsewhere. But maybe it’s because the place doesn’t have a kitchen, or church bells rang on Sunday, or no laundry service – or whatever. Consider whether those are things you actually need. If not – why not check it out and see what it’s like.

Tips and Tricks

What I like to do is only book a room for my first 2 nights in a city. In those first couple of days, I go visit a few other hostals that look interesting on Booking.com, or one of the other review sites, but I don’t limit it to just the 8.5 starred and above – I throw in a couple 7 star hostels as well. Some I find to deserve their lower stars, but once in awhile I’ll find a gem in the rough that fits my criteria with the added bonus of not breaking the bank. I’ll book it for a couple night just to see if the reality meets my expectations – and if it does then I will likely complete my stay there. The bonus is that for longer stays, you get to know the staff, and you tend to get treated a bit better – free luggage storage, cheaper laundry service – or something.

Anyway, give it a try and let me know in the comments if this worked for you.

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