“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

So how much does Iceland really cost?

You often hear how expensive Iceland is for travelers, so I tried to travel on the reasonably cheap and still see as much as I could.

Here are some typical costs:
To/from airport on either of two bus companies flybus.is or grayline 3500 return
Hostel bed from 4000 (43 euro)
Golden circle tours 9500 add more to around 22000 to 24000 for snorkeling, snow mobiling, rafting, etc. Don't wait until you get there to book your tours. They fill up early... I missed diving, whales, and glaciers because I didn't get in early enough. 
Busses ARE expensive... Try and fly
Cars are minimum €60 per day.
Hostels are minimum $40 4000k per day. Add 1000k ($8) for bedding or buy a 4700kr sleeping bag at hagkaup. Shop at Bonus, its cheaper. There really are only small small towns in east and southeast. 
Breakfast seems to be a standard 1500kr whether its a hostel or a hotel. Buy your own! 
You won't find much below $80 a night outside of Reykjavik except camping. 
There doesn't seem to be anywhere to rent tents and sleeping bags in Reykjavik but you can probably buy them cheaply in hagkaup. 
Are those package tours worth it?
I looked before I came and found 3 day tours from London with Iceland air for £220. On Wow air the flights were around £100 each way, and hotels are minimum $50 a day, but the cheapest circle tours are $75 a day, a bit less for afternoon -- so in short: yes, they're worth it!

Did you know there are direct flights to Greenland so you can go on a day trip!?

What did I love about Iceland?
  • Very safe and clean, good nature, good air
  • Simple life
  • Socially calm, nice, relaxed
  • Alaskan lupin everywhere
Bad: isolated, need own car, long cold winters

  • Chocolate and licorice together
  • Renting and apartment is rare in Iceland not culturally normal, expensive, short term
  • The rotating restaurant went around in 1 hour but people got seasick so they slowed it to 2 hours for a rotation.
  • Hot water is piped into houses for $1.20 per day or €1 per flat, from power plant at 200 degrees to town and it only loses 2 degrees en route
  • The biggest problem is soil erosion from wind and water. Trees existed before but when humans arrived in 800 AD they cut them down and they could not grow back
  • Iceland is a really solid unique rock which was when volcanoes erupted under glacial ice or sea water. Heat from below and pressure from above
  • The two tectonic plates are 7 miles apart
  • Highland are arctic climate, lowlands are subarctic
  • In 930 AD they held the world's first parliament and it's reenacted for 2 weeks each summer
  • Population of Reykjavik is only 118700 and the whole country 319400
  • The Golden Circle lake has 70m visibility and 120m deep
Travel Tips
There really aren't enough hotels, especially on the east cast near Skaftafell and Hofn. Book really early or you'll end up in a dump or with nowhere at all! 
HI Hostels in Iceland can only be booked via the HI website.
Highway 1 has almost exclusively one lame bridges and often has gravel roads
Most towns are the size of Kingston (a tiny town in New Zealand near where I grew up). A big town would be smaller than Cromwell or Alexandra
It's like New Zealand's South Island, probably in the 50s or 60s, was dropped into the North Atlantic. Christchurch is Reykjavik, and all sizeable towns like Nelson, Queenstown and Invercargill are small. Actually, forget Dunedin, it doesn't exist. Most towns are the size of Tekapo with the excitement of somewhere like Timaru. It's astonishing, really.
Its 1250 or so km to drive around the ring road, but with side trips and touring I drove 3119km in around 10 days
There are lots of handsome rugged, smiling men.

It's so safe!
People are so nice!

Discover.is landmannauger 39000isk, thorsmork 35000isk
Golden circle 33000
South coast 35000
Bustravel.is blue lagoon to Reykjavik and to airport
Golden circle evening
Adventures.is... Canoeing, rafting, swimming

My trip was basically as follows:
Fri to Reykyavik
Sat Golden Circle and Reykyavik sat 6th
Sun7th Vik
Mon 8th Skaftafell, glacier hike, Seydisfjordur LONG DRIVE
Tues Backtrack driving Seydisfjordur to sleep again
Weds 10th Myvatn, Akureyri
Thurs Backtrack, Husavik, tried to fly, Akureyri again 
Fri 12th Around northern peninsulas to Seaborg hostel
Sat 13th Isafjordur
Sun 14th Around western fjords ferry to Stykksholmur
Mon 15th Snaefellsnes peninsula, under sea tunnel to Reykjavik

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Quebrada la vieja: Nature hike in the middle of Bogota

So I went on a walk this morning to a place friends had recommended that's not listed anywhere on the internet that I could find and not on google maps -- a tragedy! It's great! A nature-filled hike right in downtown Bogota.

Tucked in behind some apartment buildings to the east just off the circunvalar in Bogota (between 70 and 72) is this great walking trail.

Part of it follows a road up to an army storage cave, and the rest is a walking trail that criss-crosses a gushing stream, following what look like an indigenous path up a valley (anyone who's been to the lost city will be familiar with these!). Near the top the roosters crow from a small farm, where unfortunately, I had to turn back because the gates close. The best part, especially for Colombia, is that it's safe -- police were scattered all along the path, and it's only open from 7-10 from Monday to Saturday (not Sundays or Festivos), so there are other walkers on the route. No one's allowed to enter after 9, and while I walked out the gate at 10.15, and others were behind me, the police told me they always close before 10.30, but earlier most days.
The coolest gate for walkers I've seen -- no need to use the gate!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Guadelupe and Choachi

Guadelupe 3300m

It is every tourist's mission while in Bogota to go up the famous Monserrate, whether by funicular, gondola or a steep walk on a Sunday morning. Very few foreigners make it to the twin hill, Guadelupe's top, however. We made it our mission to get there today. It was not an easy journey. We took a transmilenio to the Tercer Milenio station, where the busses up the hill park nearby. However, today was the first Sunday of the month (a special time), and it was Lent. This meant that the mountain was extremely crowded. The collectivo busses couldn't get up the hill for all the traffic, so we had to walk up. It was about a 40 minute walk up from where it dropped us off, and when we saw how far it should have taken us, we wished it had gotten further than what it did.
Aside from the tacky religious souvenirs for sale, and multiple fried bread, meat snacks and cheese with jam and arequipe snacks, there was not much space at the top. A mass was being held so all the people had spilled out of the church onto every available chair. There must be mass going on all day by the look of the crowds! It was a pleasant walk down the road to the main road.
View of Bogota with Monserrate in front on the hill. 
The view from Guadelupe looking over the hills behind to our way to Choachi.
Choachi 1900m
Ever since Julian told me about the hot pools in Choachi, reached via a gorgeous drive, I have wanted to go. What a spectacular drive it was! Sheer cliffs drop off what was the level of 3000m to around 1900m in true canyon fashion, with striation and colors and gaping chasms. The road disappeared for a while and when we looked back up and saw the precarious bridge we had crossed we were amazed.

The town center in Choachi is similar to many other colonial era towns in Colombia with a church perched on a town square surrounded by shops and cafes. We wandered into a cute little hotel, and then found a great little restaurant just off the square. We took a bus out to the hot springs (1500 pesos, 2.5km), but decided it was too crowded, too over-manicured, too overpriced, and not rustic enough, so came back again. Oops, wasn't that why we were there? We wandered up the hill to the buses going home, past the cute little chivitas (tuk tuks), waving to our football team friends, for a spectacular view on the ride home.
Getting there: Transmilenio H93 goes to Tercer Milenio from our area up north. The collectivos up to Guadelupe are 1450 pesos and leave as they fill up. We do not recommend going on the first Sunday of the month, and on other days of the week, security on the road can be an issue. Unlike Monserrate, there are no full restaurants up Guadelupe, although there are lots of snacks -- I even found some nougar (touron).

Collectivos to Choachi leave from the same station, or you can pick one up on the road there (such as at the turnoff up to Guadelupe) for 8500 pesos. It takes around 1 hour to get there. A nice hotel with a Mexican flavor in the center of town is Casa Espinel at www.choachimilco.com 313 892 3710 (around 80-100000 pesos per night). We do not recommend Hotel Central (which shows up on Google Maps) -- it looks cheap and shady! There is also the Hotel Santa Monica on whose grounds the thermal baths are -- around 250000 per night. To enter the hot pools it is 26000 per day (domingos and festivos) or 21000 Mon-Sat. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

These slippers make me happy

Not just because I won't slip out of them and fall on the stairs and drop water everywhere, but I enjoy looking at them. How can you not smile? They are fuzzy and cute and have glow in the dark toes!