travel blog

20 PICTURES THAT WILL INSPIRE YOU TO VISIT MOROCCO

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN MOROCCO
Moroccan man walking in the Medina Marrakech
Majorelle garden Morocco
Morocco Animals
Marrakech
Spice Market
Pottery
Marrakech sunset
Moroccan Musician
Blue City
Rugs
Shoe shop in Morocco
hammam
Moroccan Mint Tea
Moroccan Food
Waterfall Morocco
Sahara desert

Morocco was one of the first few countries we traveled to when we started backpacking in 2016, and for sure it was the most exotic destination for us. We spent about a month total in Morocco traveling from the big cites, through the mountains to more off the beaten path places. We truly enjoyed our time in Morocco and we can’t wait to go back one day. We hope that these 20 photos will inspire you to visit Morocco. 

Why visit Morocco?

Morocco is a country with a deep culture, a mix of African, Middle Eastern and some European influence. Although Morocco is located only 13km from Europe, it’s culture and environment is totally different.  It’s unique in its ways and has withstood invaders throughout history. To some extent being in Morocco feels like stepping back in time, especially when visiting the old cities like Marrakesh or Fez, where the same buildings have been there for centuries.

Many tourists travel to Morocco because they want to experience the “authentic” culture, and perhaps a bit of mystery, and that is exactly why we decided to travel there too.

Morocco offers many unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. During the day you can walk through the markets tasting exotic spices and food, shopping for hand woven rugs, and at night you will sleep in a beautiful riad. A riad is a house with a garden and or central courtyard inside. These homes are often very quiet inside unlike the street just outside the wall. The temperatures are also much cooler than outside on the street. No A/C needed, riads are engineered for hot climates. You can find riads to stay in throughout Morocco, and they are usually chique and trendy. If you are visiting Morocco in the summer, make sure the riad you are staying in has a pool!

 

Morocco cuisine is absolutely delicious. Tajine, a stew cooked with meat or vegetables, is a staple dish at every Moroccan house, and restaurant. If you get tired of Tajine you can also try some French food, which is very popular in Morocco. Another common food item is the mint tea, which locals call “Moroccan Whiskey”. This tea is often served sweetened with lots of sugar, but you can ask for no sugar, and its tasty and refreshing especially on hot days. The mint tea is offered as a welcome drink at hotels, and even street vendors will invite you for a cup of tea before they conduct any business with you. You never refuse the tea., even if  you have already drank several cups that day.

 

You should also try visiting a hammam, while you are in Morocco. Hammam’s are pubic bathhouses, separate for women and men, where you can relax and get a body scrub. Many local homes don’t have showers or baths, so instead people go to the hamman to bathe. It’s a popular place for the local women to socialize, since they don’t socialize in public cafes or restaurants like men do.

 

You can easily relax spending your time in large cities like Marrakesh or if you like adventure, you can hike in the mountains like the Atlas Mountains or Rif. Of course, the biggest reason why tourists come to Morocco is to visit the Sahara desert. Riding on a dromedary and sleeping under the stars on the desert will make you feel like you are in some kind of fairytale movie. There is nothing more romantic than watching the sun set on the Sahara.

 Need help packing for Morocco?

Women’s Packing Essentials for Morocco

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Amazing places in Morocco
MOROCCO
The most beautiful places to see in Morocco
BEAUTIFUL MOROCCO

Hiking Colca Canyon in Peru (2019 Updated)

While we don't consider ourselves hiking pros, we like to add a hike here and there while we travel. So when we heard about Colca Canyon, one of the most recommended hikes in Peru, we added it to our list. Although this trail is super popular amongst tourists, we feel that many decide to hike it without realizing the conditions of the trail. We laugh about it now, but we were almost in tears a few hours into hiking down the canyon, and we want to save you before you get yourself in the trouble we did. This guide will help you prepare for a 3 day hike in Colca Canyon.

Trekking in Peru

What you should know about hiking Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is 11,155 ft (3,270 m) deep. This is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and you are about to hike it both down and out. If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will!

How to prepare for the Colca Canyon trek

Like we mentioned before, hiking Colca Canyon is not easy! A steep grade, loose gravel and no shade make this trail extremely difficult. But we did it, so it’s not impossible.

Hiking Colca Canyon is absolutely stunning and you should not cancel your plans yet. You just need to get yourself ready. You will be hiking down for hours to get to the bottom of the canyon, and you need to be in very good physical condition. It’s not a bad idea to hit the gym at least a month before, to strengthen your quads before you do this hike. Also, try the StairMaster, and get used to walking with a bit of weight on your back.

What to bring to Colca Canyon (3 day trek)

 Bring enough clothes for a three-day trek. That way you don’t have to spend time renting or buying new stuff when you get to your destination. Be prepared for very high temperatures during the day, and cold nights in the canyon. You need to have proper layers in case it get’s chilly.

 Packing List for Colca Canyon

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

1.     Money

You need money to buy cold drinks, pay for lodging or a mule to get you out of the canon unless you’re apart of a pre-paid tour. Even then, have some cash.


2.     Map

Print a map, bring a GPS, or have a map on your phone. You just need a back up incase you lose one of these.


3.     Phone

It’s useful to bring a phone with you for light, and if you have an offline version of maps on your phone.


4.     Phone charger


5.     Converter
In Peru there are two types of power plugs and sockets ( the one that looks like in the US, and one like in Europe). The Standard voltage in Peru is 220 V, which is higher than in the United States of America, which is 120 V. You can not use your US devices in Peru without a converter to protect your devices from frying.

 

6.     Portable Battery pack

Power outages are common in Peru especially in remote area. If you want to charge your phone, camera batteries etc, you will need to bring a portable battery pack with you. Make sure you fully charge if before you leave on your hike.

 

7. Day Backpack

A small day backpack is enough for a 3-day trek. We were able to fit all our clothes, and camera gear in it. You don’t need to bring a lot with you.


8. Sunscreen

You will need good sun protection while hiking. This hike has no shad,e so we highly recommend to bring sunblock with good SPF. We love this Neutrogena sunscreen. It’s non greasy and it smells nice.

 

9. Fast drying towel

You will need to bring a towel with you to Colca Canyon. There are numerous hot springs, and rivers where you can swim and relax. Guest houses typically don’t have towels so you will need to have something to dry off after shower. Microfiber towels are great for travel. They dry fast, are absorbent and portable.

 

10. First aid kit (bandages, and disinfecting cream, gauze, elastic bandage)

Defnitelly bring a first aid kit with you while hiking. You might get blisters, scratches, that you wil need to properly take care of so your wouds wont get infected. Even a simple blster can get badly infected, not to mention how miserable you will be hiking with a blister on your foot.

 

11. Refillable water bottle

If you run out of drinking water you can always refill your Lifestraw water bottle. We have been traveling with these bottles for years. You can refill them with water from a stream, or pond and the charcoal in the filter will kill any harmful bacteria. By using refillable water bottles, you reduce the amount of trash created from plastic bottle drinks.

 

12. 2L of water per person for the hike down. 

You can buy more once you’re in the canyon.


13. Lip balm with SPH

Your lips will get fried and cracked from the sun, so don’t forget to add some SPF not only on your body but your lisps as well.

 

 

Surfer's Salve

Dry air and sunburns can crack your skin fast. We always travel with this ointment that helps with insect bites, sunburn skin and it’s also moisturizing.



16. Pain killers

After the first day of hiking we were absolutely wiped. Painkillers relaxed our muscles and helped us sleep. Having painkillers with us really saved us!


17. Imodium

In case you have stomach issues or get a diarrhea.

 

18. Small bar of soap, travel size shampoo and conditioner.

Use travel size containers for liquids like soap and shampoo. This will save you a lot of space in your backpack. These are also great when you are flying and you only have a carry on luggage.

 

19. Travel Insurance

You should purchase travel insurance before you go on a hiking trip in Peru. Hiking can be dangerous. Stuff happens, and you don’t want to get stuck at the bottom of the canyon, injured and needing any assistance when you get out. It also gives you piece of mind. If something bad does happen you are covered and will get medical help.

Make sure you read all the terms and condition of your travel insurance policy before you purchase it. Not all insurance companies are equal. World Nomads is the most popular health insurance for short-term travelers. Some of the biggest travel bloggers use it, and they have very good track record. We have being using IMG health insurance for years, and we are very happy with their services. You want to read more about travel insurance plans read this full article. 

 


Clothes Packing List

  • 1 pair of shorts

  • 1 pair of long stretchy pants

  • Thermal shirt (long sleeve)

  • 2 T-shirts

  • Light Jacket

  • Waterproof jacket

It didn’t rain when we went, but it can happen

  • Hiking shoes

Make sure your shoes are broken in, and you have enough toe room! You will be hiking down a lot, and the constant pressure on your toes could lead to getting black toenails. Yep, it happened to us (we both lost nails) and it was terrible because we still had 2 more days of hiking. The trail is covered with gravel and it’s very easy to slip and get injured, so make sure your shoes have proper soles.

  • Light jacket

  • Hat

  • 4 pairs of Socks

Having the right pair of socks is so important! Too thick socks can cause blisters, and too thin will make your foot slide around.

Tips for preventing blistering. Wear two pairs of socks. Put the first pair on normal and the second pair inside out. This will prevent your foot from sliding around, which causes blistering)

  • 1 pair of wool socks

Wool socks will keep you feet warm at night.

  • Gloves

It can get cold at night even during summer, having a pair of wool gloves really helps. We also wore them during the day to keep our hands from sunburns.

Bring something war to keep you warm and dry at night. You don’t want to get hypothermia. Most guesthouses aren’t heated, but they provide warm blankets.

  • Flip flops

  • Underwear

Optional Items:

Hiking poles

Camera and camera lenses

We are a couple who is passionate about photography and film, so naturally we each had a camera, but we limited ourselves to the necessities. 1 camera, 2 lens each. No tripods. Our backpacks were already quite heavy, and we are glad we didn’t pack anymore. It would have been nice to have more, but this was more about hiking and surviving, than photography.

You don’t need to bring food with you but if you like snacking bring some trail mix with you.

the-tipsy-gypsies-Colca-Canyon-Peru

The trail 

The trail is covered in loose gravel. It is steep and narrow - which means danger. Make sure you know where you are stepping and pay extra attention when you start getting tired because that is when most accidents happen.

Can you hike Colca Canyon without a guide?

Depending on your hiking experience and personal preference you can hike Colca Canyon independently or with a guide. The trail is in general very well marked and we chose to hike without a guide, and it went smoothly.  

Trekking without a guide is the most economical and it will give you more independence. We saw many guided groups along the way and honestly their pace was a bit too fast even for people from those groups. We saw a few hikers struggling to catch up with their group.

It is necessary to have a good map with you all the time. Have a printed copy as well as a digital version on your phone, or a gps. You can download free maps from Treeking Peru.

Familiarize yourself with the map before the hike because you will be relying on your abilities to read the map in order to get in and out of the canyon safely. It is always a good idea to trek with a companion, so try to find a hiking buddy if you can.

 The hike is one of the most popular hikes in Peru, and you won’t be alone on the trail. Along, the way you will meet locals selling various goods, and you can also pay for a donkey to carry your bags up the hill. This option is especially nice when you are hiking out of the canyon.


Permit and Fees for Colca Canyon

 You can book your trek from the local tourist office in Arequipa. They offer a similar service, pick up form the hotel and transportation from town to the trail, but shop around for the best price. You can purchase the permit to hike Colca Canyon from the Official Tourism Agency in Arequipa. 

 Lodging

You will be staying in various guest houses in the valley. There aren’t enough guesthouses for every hiker, especially during the high season, and beds fill up quickly. Nobody will turn you away but in the worst-case scenario you might need to sleep on the floor or in a shared room.

3 day Itinerary Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon Peru, the tipsy gypsies

If you decide to hike the Colca Canyon your itinerary will be something like this: 3am-pick up from Arequipa. 3.5h drive-arrive in Chivay for breakfast. Stop at the view point to watch the Condors fly. Start your hike around 9am, either from Chivay or Cabanaconde. We started our hike in Chivay because we were told it's an easier hike down the canyon.

Tips: If we had to do this a second time we would want to arrive the night before our hike and stay at a guesthouse near where the trail starts because by the time we started hiking we were already awake for 6 hours and the trail ahead of us was not easy. We also didn't start hiking until almost 10am and you want to start your hike as early as possibly, due to the strong sun and no shade on the trail.

 

Day 01

Colca Canyon is the 3rd deepest canyon in the world, so hiking down hill in one of the steepest trails is brutal. Funny enough, when we started the hike, we even said "oh this isn't so bad", only to cry a few hours after we said that.  We couldn't wait for the torture to end. Yes, the first day felt like torture. Our knees were giving up and the sun was beating down, making the sandy trail very dusty. The loose gravel that covers the trail, was constantly slipping from under our shoes giving us a heart attack that we might fall off the cliff.

Colca Canyon Peru, the tipsy gypsies

When we finally reached "the bottom" and the suspension bridge, about 3 hours later, we were exhausted. We know that 3 hours of hiking doesn't sound that bad, but we would take a 15 hour moderate hike over this anytime. There were some locals waiting on the bridge for the thirsty tourists, with cold drinks at a very hefty price. At that point paying triple price for ice cold water, that would prevent us from over heating and fainting didn't sound so bad. 

After a short rest in the shade, we had to keep moving to find a comfortable bed for the night before everywhere got full. Not too far from the bridge, we found a nice, clean room with a bathroom and food for $18 in the small village of San Juan de Chuccho. We stayed at La Casa de Roy Colca, and we highly recommend this guesthouse. The family who runs it, is incredibly sweet and we got know a bit about them. Apparently, with the little money they earn they managed to support their daughter and her language studies. The daughter is now living and working in Germany and studying to become a doctor. Wow!

At dinner we met two German hikers, that concured how difficult the hike was. They decided to catch a local bus the next day instead of continuing with the hike. Quit honestly, this was also very temping to us.

 

Day 2 in the Canyon

Colca Canyon Peru the tipsy gypsies

A good night of sleep made us feel much better and despite the sore muscles and bruised toes, we decided to continue our hiking adventure. The German hikers were gone to catch the bus before we ate our breakfast. We thanked our hosts for their  hospitality and started our hike at 7am. We joined another hiking couple, with whom we explored the nearby villages selling honey, regional clothes, and even a healer who treats people with herbs concoctions. The second day would have been actually very pleasant if it weren't for our sore feet and legs and our new beautiful black toenails! Yep, our nails later did come off... Luckily, the trail was a mix of flat and just small uphills.

Colca Canyon, Peru, The Tipsy Gypsies

We decided to skip Sangalle also know as "the Oasis". We've heard that the place became a sort of party town, with a bar and many backpackers, and being around loud people was the last thing we had in mind so we headed towards the Llahuar village and the hot springs.

Colca Canyon Peru the tipsy gypsies travel blog
Colca Canyon, Peru, The Tipsy Gypsies
Colca Canyon, Peru  The Tipsy Gypsies

By 3pm we reached our final destination Llahuar lodge, which was the highlight of our trip. This place had natural hot spring pools, which worked like a miracle for our tired muscles. We spent the whole afternoon soaking in the hot pools and drinking cold beers. In the evening we had a warm dinner with other fellow hikers, who told us that we could catch a bus at a nearby town if we didn't want to hike anymore. (ask for directions at the Llahuar lodge). At this point, we felt a bit defeated and we told ourselves that we had enough and wanted to get out of the hot canyon.

 

 

 Day 03

As planned, in the morning we hiked about 1 hour up the same hill we came from, to the nearest road to catch the bus. We waited with some locals for a while, but there was no sign of the bus. Unfortunately, the only bus that drives everyday through the canyon to Cabanaconde broke down, and nobody knew when the replacement was going to show up. We tried to stop a pick up truck, with plenty of space in the trunk, but the driver speeded up and all we saw was a cloud of dust after him. It was heartbreaking. Eventually, the replacement bus showed up, but it was going the opposite direction. We still got in, fearing that it would be totally full by the time it returned for us.

Colca Canyon, Peru, The Tipsy Gypsies

Although we technically didn't hike the full 3 days like we planned, we knew it wasn't going to be a pleasant hike out on the exposed, hot and dusty trail. We are definitely not trying to discourage anybody from hiking in Colca Canyon, but you should definitely know that there is no shade on the trial, at least hiking in and out of it, and the path is very steep. Definitely bring a hat, sunscreen, and make sure you have plenty of room in your shoes, so you toes don't get smashed like ours. Depending on your exit route there, is also the option to hire a donkey to get out of the canyon. If you take care of yourself in the beginning with these easy tips, the rest you hiking advenure in the Colca will probaly be much more pleassant that ours was.

 

Cheers!

Hiking Colca Canyon in Peru
What you need to know before you hike Colca Canyon
Trekking in Peru
Colca Canyon

Epic travel movies & shows to inspire your next adventure

EPIC Travel Movies and shows The Tipsy Gypsies

The Tipsy Gypsies are big film buffs and although we don't watch much TV, we love cinema. Here is a list of our all-time favorite travel movies. Get you popcorn, your favorite drink and get watching! 

1. Lost In America

This classic 80's comedy is probably our all time favorite. David and Linda, a couple from LA decide to quit their jobs and travel across America in an RV. They have hilarious adventures along the way, and the topic is still so relevant today. If you are thinking about purchasing an RV, definitely watch this first!

 

2. The Beach

This might not be an Oscar winner, but so many millennials wanted to travel to Thailand, and many actually did, after watching The Beach with Leonard DiCaprio. In this movie Leo, goes on a crazy adventure to Thailand, where he learns about a secret beach. 

 

3. Vegas Vacation

Chevy Chase aka Clark Griswold takes his family to Vegas. Clark wants to renew his wedding vows and spend some quality time with his wife and kids.  Unfortunately for them, things don't go as planned but that means lots of great laughs for us.

 

4. Into the Wild

A beautiful movie based on a true story, about a young graduate, who despite feeling the pressure from his parents to pursue a career, decides to go on a life changing adventure. A beautiful story and imagery. You will probably cry watching this, we sure did. 

 

5. La Gendarme de Saint Tropez

This is a 1960's comedy with Louis de Funès, and it takes places in France. De Funes plays the role of a hilarious police officer, whose task is to make sure the beaches of Saint Tropez remain respectable. Louis de Funes was a comedic genius and after watching this movie you will want to book your next vacation on the French Coast. 

There are also more series of this movie: "Le Gendarme à New York"

*These movies are a bit hard to find. They have never been on Netlix or HBO ect. You might want to buy it on Amazon. It's worth it!

 

6. European Vacation

Another classic with Chevy Chase. This time the whole Griswold family goes to Europe to find out about their roots. What could go wrong?

 

7. Around the World in 80 days 

A 19-th century inventor from England wants to prove that he can travel around the world in 80 days. He goes on a crazy adventure in a gas balloon, but due to the weather ends up in the wrong countries. He constantly has to convince others to help him get back to where he started. This movie is based on a famous novel by Jules Verne. There are re-makes of this movie, but we like the original the best.  

 

8. Rat Race

6 team members need to race from Las vegas to New Mexico. The winner can collect the prize of 2 million dollars. Who will arrive first? *spoiler: It doesn't matter because what happens along the way is absolutely hilarious.

 

9. French Kiss

Yes, it's a romantic comedy, but it takes place in Europe and Meg Ryan, an American who follows her fiancé to France, is learning how do deal with the cultural differences. 

 

10. Eat, Prey, Love

A newly divorced woman decides to step out of her comfort zone and search for what is important to her in life. We probably liked it so much because in her character Julia Roberts, travels to one of our favorite places, India. Also, pretty much anything with Julia Roberts is great!

 

11. Leap Year

Surprise, another romantic comedy! Wanna guess who wrote this post? We would love to travel to Ireland someday, to explore the countryside and drink as many beers at the pubs as we can. 

 

12. 127 Hours

Based on a true story, starring James Frano, about a young guy from Utah, who gets trapped in a canyon, when a boulder falls on his arm and traps him. 

 

13. Wild

Base on a true story, about a woman who hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail, to help her figure out her self-destructive behavior and trying to piece her life back together.

 

14. Y tu Mama Tambien

A fantastic story of two young men traveling with a female companion throughout Mexico. This movie shows a lot of rural areas of Mexico and reflects on life and the political system of this country. Great characters and overall a very well done movie!

 

15. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The holiday season is usually stressful enough, but when your flight has been canceled it can turn quickly into a nightmare. John Candy who is an easy going, chirpy fellow offers to help Steve Martin get home for thanksgiving, but he quickly gets on Steve's Martin nerves.

Why don't the studios make these types of comedies anymore? They were the best and the humor is timeless!

 

17. Samsara

Incredibly beautiful visuals! You will fall in love with the diversity of our planet.

 

18. Touching the Void

This is a true story of two alpinists, and their survival for life in the cold, icy mountain. We were on the edge of our seat watching it!

 

20. An Idiot Abroad (TV series)

Karl is a good friend of Ricky Gervais, for real, and Ricky enjoys sending his friend to far away places to experience other cultures. Karl doesn't care too much for traveling. You know there is a bit of Karl in you too. It's a funny show!

 

21. Departures ( TV Series)

We got hooked on this show before we even knew that we were going to travel around the world. Two friends from Canada, take you on a beautiful, very honest adventure around the world. We love the interactions between the two men and the locals.

 

22. Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, or  No Reservations

Oh, our heart aches writing this. Anthony Bourdain had such a huge impact on our life, and definitely the way we travel. To us Parts Unknown and No Reservation were more about travel and life than food.

23. The Trip

A food critic and his best friend travel and dine throughout England's finest restaurants. Their conversations are hilarious and the food looks delicious! 

 

24. The secret life of Walter Mitty

The main character played by Ben Stiller, works for a Magazine and he often days dreams about wild adventures. He finally gets a chance to escape the routine when he is sent on a photo assignment.

 

25. 

 

Let us know, what are your favorite travel movies? We are always looking for new movie recommendations.

Cheers! 

 

 

"Live a Better Life"-documentary featuring travel director Karl Rhainds

This 20-minute documentary short introduces Karl Rhainds, an independent director on a quest to live a better life. In order to find his greater purpose, Karl quits his job as a director in a large company and takes off traveling for 6 months through several countries. While on this adventure, he encounters many inspiring people, exploring his query with them in an effort to understand their vision of what makes a happy life.

Check out more work by this great filmmaker on his blog Rain & Sunshine

Chasing the Sun with Peter and Michelle. A story of two expats who have been living the dream life on a small island in Cambodia.

One of our favorite things about traveling is meeting new people on the road. But lets face it, most backpackers are in their 20's, and we are waaaayyy older than that. When people find out our age, they always ask us about kids. Nate and I have been together for nearly 14 years, and we decided a long time ago, that having kids was not our lifetime goal. Even some of our friends, and family back home can’t understand why a "healthy" couple would choose to live childfree. The answer is simple: Not everyone wants to have kids!

I recall the time, when we used to live in LA. Every year our circle of friends with no kids became smaller. Friends, we could hang out with and do adult things like day drinking and vegging out on Sundays. Sorry, parents. We still love you, but your sexy stroller, baby and bottomless mimosas just don't pair well. Prove me wrong, but somebody might call child services on you.

The reality was hitting us harder everyday and we decided to do what every other adult couple in their late 30's would do. We sold our belongings, packed our backpacks and well, ran away. 

This is a story dedicated to those who love to wander the world, to the powerful women that prove that having kids is not their only role in life...and to the believers in unicorns!

Michelle +Peter

When we arrived in Cambodia and met Michelle and Peter, a couple much older than us, living a nomadic life style for more that 25 years, without kids, we felt like we found two unicorns. We needed to capture them (at least in pictures), and share their story with the rest of the world.

Maybe it was the 4 hour long boat ride from the mainland to Koh Rong island, or the homemade Baileys that Michelle welcomed us with at the restaurant, but I (Marta) felt immediately connected to her. She was extremely nice, happy and she was just the right person to be greeted by.

I assumed she was in her 50's. Every time I spent time around Michelle I was wondering if she had any kids of her own. I fell into the same stereotype that I hated so much, where people assume that a woman obviously has kids. One day, I finally got the courage to ask her about it, and to my "relief" I found out not only that Michelle didn't have any kids, but she also is like me and she never wanted to have them.

I realized that I had much more in common with this woman than with most women I meet. We both loved Baileys and don't want kids! Like Michelle, I also have always been very career driven and loved working. Michelle is responsible for overseeing the house keeping staff at the resort, amongst many other miscellaneous jobs. 

 

From Germany and England to Africa

In 1964, a 20 year old Peter moved from Germany to Zimbabwe, to work in a refinery. He said, “it was an exciting time to make money quickly there” and as a young guy, he grabbed the bull by its horns. He said that he was able to afford a new car after only working at his new job for only 3 weeks. Peter recalled, “I was so proud to buy my first car and there was only one problem… I didn’t know how to drive.” Luckily, his two colleagues were former taxi drivers, and taught him how. Peter said, “It took them the whole night to teach me how to reverse and drive forward and the next morning, only driving 20 miles, I drove to home.”

Peter was quickly promoted at work to a CEO, and was making great money. He married his first wife and had 2 kids, but his family soon fell apart. He admitted the reason his first marriage failed was because he was a workaholic, and wasn’t a good father or husband.                                                   

Michelle is originally from England. She moved to South Africa, with her parents when she was a teenager. Around 1991, a grown Michelle lived with two roommates, one of whom worked for Peter. The roommate decided to set Michelle and Peter up on a blind date. 

At that point Peter was in his 40’s, and although his career was at its peak, his romantic life was pretty much non existent. Michelle on the other hand was a brilliant, young woman with dreams of her own. She wasn’t exactly looking for the company of another man, but she agreed to go out on a bind date that her roommate arranged. Despite the 18 years of age difference, the two clicked right away. They were a great match because they both had similar passions for traveling and neither of them wanted to have kids. Disclaimer: Peter had already fathered two kids with his first wife, but Michelle made it clear that it wasn’t her dream to ever become a mother.

One morning some years later, as usual, Peter was making tea in the kitchen when he saw a blooming rose outside the kitchen window in the garden. At that moment, Peter decided he wanted to propose to Michelle. While Michelle was still in bed, he served her the freshly brewed tea, with the rose in his mouth, and for a final touch of romanticism, he was completely butt naked. But as he bent his knee he saw how surprised Michelle was, and at the last minute he chickened out turning the whole thing into a joke. Peter said that from that moment on, he knew in his heart that he wanted to be married to her but he was afraid of rejection.

Finally on June 4th 1999, they both decided to get married. There was no formal proposal, it just happened naturally and mutually. Their wedding was small (only 5 people), but it was perfect and it didn’t cost them anything. There was no big dress and fancy diamond rings. Michelle wore white pants and a top she borrowed from her friend. Their only wedding gift was a honeymoon vacation from all their friends at work.

“Home is where I put my head on the pillow”

Some time after their wedding, Michelle and Peter both got tired of their corporate life and decided to follow their passion of traveling. They both wanted to work in hotel service. Michelle took a job as a head of service in a hotel in Cape Town, and Peter was pursuing a career as a professional chef.

Eventually South Africa became too dangerous as crime was rising, and after losing too many friends to that very crime, in 2000 the two decided to move to Scotland, where they worked in a castle and later on, they managed a pub near Liverpool. They also went to the Butler Academy to become professional butlers.

After a while, they get got sick of the dreary weather in Scotland, and decided to find some sunshine. With the last of their money, they bought an old Audi at an auction for 400 pounds. The car wouldn't start shortly after they bought it, but somehow they managed to drive it all the way to Spain.

In Costa del Sol, they bought a local newspaper and found an ad: “an a English man and his dog looking for management to look after him and his villa.” They applied and got the jobs right away! They worked for him for 2 years.

Their jobs were always exciting and sometimes even dangerous. While working for an American businessman in Granada, they discovered that his bookkeeper was fudging the books. There was a lot of hostility towards Americans in Granada during that time and the newspaper quickly picked up the sensational story about “an American, who hired two South Africans to help with his shady business”. Michelle and Peter were held hostage in the house where they worked, but luckily a local friend helped them to escape potential jail time or even death. They fled in a boat and hid there till it was safe to buy a flight to Venezuela.

Nowadays, Michelle and Peter are living quietly in Cambodia on the small island of Koh Rong. Besides their work at the resort, they also run a small school for kids from the nearby village. They teach young kids the basic subjects: English, geography, math and train the older teenagers to work in the hospitality business.

When I asked them how long they will stay in Koh Rong, their answer was, "how long is a piece of string”? and that was followed with, “we are not planning on a family, so instead we are just committing ourselves to each other. We don’t have to prove anything anymore. We are trying to help other people to achieve their goals”.

Meanwhile The Tipsy Gypsies are currently still traveling the world, staying in cheap hotels, eating street food and measuring time by "beer o'clock". You might be at home, cooking dinner or cuddling with your kids. We clearly live our lives differently but no matter what you do or where you are in your life, with or without kids,  I want you to remember: Never stop chasing your "sun"!!!

GET TIPSY ON: PERUVIAN MOONSHINES & SPIRITS

Of all of the Latin American countries, apparently Peru has the highest consumption of moonshines, which is why we loved this country so much! Go Peru! The national Peruvian beer, Cosqueña is very good, but we always try to find what the locals are drinking and we are proud to share it here with you.

Peru couple, www.thetipsygypsies.net

 

1. Pisco

Let's starts with the drink most Peruvians are very proud of - Pisco. Pisco is a strong alcohol, usually more than 40% proof, made from grapes. It's no wine, so if you think you can sip a glass of Pisco in the afternoon and not get wasted, you are wrong. Peru and Chile have a bit of a rivalry about this liquor and constantly argue who invented it. Although after visiting Chile and talking to them about it, they give Peru full credit for inventing Pisco. There is even a town in Peru called Pisco, where supposedly this sprit originated. It's very interesting to visit this place and learn how Pisco is made.

How to drink Pisco?

You can enjoy a shot of Pisco by itself, or like most Peruvians you can order either a Pisco Sour or Pisco Chilcano (recipe below)

Chilcano
2 oz Pisco
10 oz ginger ale
half a lime

2 drops of Angostura bitters

Ice

Instructions: In a tall glass, add ice, pisco, squeeze the lime and top it with some ginger ale. Add the bitters at the end. Cheers!

 

2. Chicha

Drinking chicha in Peru is like drinking water. Chicha is made from fermented corn and is often called a Peruvian beer. A lot of people make it at home as it's a part of the Peruvian diet and consumed daily. Fresh chicha is not very strong, it has only about 1-2% alcohol and is commonly drank with food and even served to kids. The tricky part if finding chicha because it not sold in restaurants. If you want to drink some chicha look for a house, where you see a stick with a plastic bag or sometimes a colored cloth, attached to its end.  

This house sells chicha!

This house sells chicha!

A typical Peruvian kitchen with guinea pigs being raised in a household. They will eventually end up on a plate :(

A typical Peruvian kitchen with guinea pigs being raised in a household. They will eventually end up on a plate :(

3. Abejado

In northern Peru, you can find a moonshine called Abejado. This moonshine is made from sugar cane and flavored with real honey. Abejado moonshine is even stronger than Pisco and you want to drink it as fast as you can since you will feel a small burning sensation in your throat as you drink it.

Other moonshines popular in norther Peru are: Zauco - elderberry and rum, and Cańaso - pure sugar cane alcohol. All of these moonshines can be found in local grocery stores made by their owners.

Please be careful consuming any moonshines and do so at your own risk. Moonshines can be distilled wrong which can sometimes lead to poisoning or death. We always try to verify the source before we consume anything, but even that is not 100% guaranteed.

 

4. Cervezeria del Valle Sagrado

One of the best artisanal breweries we have tried in Peru is located in the Sacred Valley. Make sure to stop by at the Cervezeria del Valle Sagrado to try their beers. These guys know what they are doing and these beers are delicious!

Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado, Peruvian Artisanal brewery www.thetipsygypsies.net
Peruvian Artisanal brewery www.thetipsygypsies.net
Peruvian Artisanal brewery

Peruvian Artisanal brewery

Cheers!!

 
the tipsy gypsies peruvian moonshines
 

FUN THINGS TO DO IN LIMA

Lima Peru

 

Lima doesn't have the best reputation amongst travelers, nor the locals living outside of the city. Stories about dangerous slums and tourists getting robbed in broad day light, circle the web. Although any large city has a mix of good and bad, we found it quite the opposite of the online opinions. Friendly faces, great food, and lot's do. This article is about all the fun things do in Lima.

 

MAGIC WATER CIRCUIT show at THE RESERVE PARK

 

This is probably the number one tourist attraction in Lima, and we shamefully have to admit that we skipped it the first time we visited the city. The second time we came to Lima, we were talked into going by our guide, and we are glad we went. At night the park truly turns into magic, with every fountain illuminated with different colors and synchronized to music. There are 13 fountains total in the park, and the biggest attraction is the light show at the Fantasy Fountain. There are 3 shows per day/except Mondays at 19:15, 20:15 and 21:30, more info here

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It's best to visit the park during the week to avoid the big crowds. People will be around, but it's much more enjoyable. About 10 minutes before the show starts at the Fantasy Fountain, everybody lines up against the railing to watch it, so make sure to get there on time. Most people choose to stand close to the railing, but we personally think it's better to sit on the benches, further from the crowd, where you get a bigger "window" to see the whole show. 

There is a level of cheesiness to the show: lasers, holograms of people and the same classic songs you've heard the street bands play on the flute, but it's the kind of cheesy that make it cool. The show is about 20 minutes long and before it ended we ran to our favorite fountain in the park -"The tunnel of surprises" to take a few pictures without any people in it. It worked!

We spent the most time at this fountain, walking underneath it and looking at the cool, orange beams of water running over our heads and occasionally splashing us with water. 

Make sure you allow yourself enough time to explore the park before the main show and getting there can be a nightmare because of the notorious traffic in Lima, but definitely don't miss it!

 

At night the park truly turns into magic

 

Explore Centro Historico

 

Head down to the historical center to start your tour of Lima. Around the Plaza Mayor you will see many colonial buildings, and the interiors are equally beautiful. In particular, the Cathedral of Lima is worth visiting as well the Archbishops palace adjacent to it. The Archbishop of Lima has a nice house to live in for sure: lavish furnishing, beautiful paintings and ornaments fill the interiors. 

Just around the corner from the main square is located the Monastery of San Francisco. An interesting place to visit because of the large catacombs with neatly organized bones that create a form of morbid art.

 

China town in Lima

Lima is a melting pot of cultures and people: mestizo, Indian American, African and Chinese to name the biggest groups. From 1849 till 1874 approximately 100, 000 Chinese migrated to Peru. They mainly worked as laborers at sugar-cane plantations and the cotton industry. Many Chinese immigrants never left and settled in Lima.

For the most part people live in peace today, and you will see most of the cultures food represented. Walk to China town, aka Barrio chino, one of the oldest chinatowns on the west, and to try Chifa, a blend of Peruvian and Chinese food. Chifa means “eat rice in Mandarin”. Another classic Chinese dish in Peruvian cuisine is lomo saltado, a beef stir fry. It's delicious!

Below: Plaza Mayor

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Casa Aliaga

An impressive mansion still inhabited by one of the most prominent families in Peru, since the 16th century. Jorge de Aliaga was one of the first Spaniards, who arrived to Peru along with Francisco Pizarro. Aliaga was Pizarro's right hand and he played an important role in conquering Peru. He participated in the capturing of the Inca Atahualpa, and for his loyalty he was granted this property, next to the presidential palace in the center of Lima. Only a small part of this large estate is open to the public. The house is beautiful, but honestly the tour is very overpriced, $30/per person , to see a few rooms and a courtyard is just too much. Our tour package included it, but we would not recommend paying the full price for it on your own. They also offer a culinary experience at the mansion. A lavish dinner prepped by a chef who is a member of the family.

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Convento de santo domingo

When the Spanish conquered Peru, they decided to express their beliefs by building as many churches as they could. It feels like there is a church on every corner, and they are always full of people.

Convento de Santo Domingo is a church and also as the name suggests, a convent for priests. Although the grounds of the church with courtyards and smaller chapels are very beautiful, the best part of visiting this church is actually climbing the tower to see the view of Lima. 

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The entrance to the tower is a bit hard to find. Look for the red staircase (pic on the left), walk up to the second floor where the church organs are, enter another door and you will see stairs leading up the tower.

Left : staircase leading to the tower

Below: View of Lima from the tower

 

Murals in Barranco

Barranco neighborhood started to develop in the 19th when European settlers started to move in. They wanted to be closer to the water as bathing became more fashionable. There is no better way to explore Barranco than walking. Wander through the trendy Barranco neighborhood, and experience the colorful murals this area is known for. These beautiful murals adorn walls, cafes and private houses. It seems that all residents of Barranco prefer art over simple paint on their houses.

There are lots of cool cafes and restaurants in this neighborhood, that invite you inside for a snack or a drink.

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Alternative Peru tour

 

This is a super interesting tour that takes you to off the beaten path areas in Lima. You will see some amazing views on this tour and visit the other Lima that most of the tourist don't dare to wander to on their own. We had a lovely lunch in a shanti town and we got to talk to the locals about living there. Their hospitality was exceptional. There are more exciting locations that you will explore on this tour, but we won't give away everything. It takes a whole day, so make sure to bring comfy shoes, water and a good attitude. The guides are great and they make this tour fun!

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Above: Lima, shanti town. Below: Coast of Lima

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Vista point

 

Just a beautiful view of the rugged coast. It was one of our favorites places in Lima. It is hard to imagine, but there were no hipsters around taking Instagram pictures, except us :)

(Location: Malecón la Herradura, Distrito de Chorrillos 15064, Peru)

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Museo Larco and a Cafe

 

A fantastic museum with a large collection of pre-columbian art, and beautiful gardens.

Museo Larco was founded by a sugar lord Rafael Larco Hoyle in 1926, and it is situated in an old mansion. Inside the museum is the largest collection of Peruvian Pre-Columbian art, around 45,000 pieces. The displays of various indigenous art are very beautiful, but the truth is that most people come here to see the very graphic, erotic collection of pottery (ourselves included!). 

 

 

The best Peña Music in Lima

You absolutely must go see a peña music performance, while in Lima. Pena originated in the poor immigrant neighborhoods in Central Lima. It’s a type of folk music, a blend of African, Andean and Spanish roots. This folk music was played at homes and in unofficial clubs till the word got out and nowadays no matter what your social status is, everybody loves peña.

Going to Peña at Don Porfirio was the most fun we had while we stayed in Lima. Excellent music and a dance show with a great crowd and the best Pisco sours we had in all of Peru! How Nate drank and survived 13 of them, we will never know...

This is a small place and it gets busy fast, and it would be wise make a reservation. We didn't, but thanks to the merciful hostess, she managed to squeeze us a table. They literally brought a table from the back and squeezed it between another party. 5 minutes later, that the place was so packed that they were turning people away and the doors were shut. It's a bit intimidating, because it seems that every guest is a professional dancer, but your shyness will go away after a few Pisco sours. 

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Pisco Sour Bar

 

Visit the Aforo bar at the Maury Hotel that it claims invented the Pisco Sour cocktail. Whether the story is true or not, this was a good enough reason for us to visit this vintage bar in the center in Lima and try their Pisco sour. 

 

The hotel looks almost run down from the exterior, but the interior is vintage and classic. The original wood paneling, leather swivel chair and seasoned barman making your cocktail almost enhance the experience of this drink. 

 

 

 

Visit the bar that it claims invented the Pisco Sour cocktail.

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Where to stay

Villa Barranco

Located in the colorful neighborhood Barranco, this historic villa, turned into a boutique hotel, offers quiet and chic accommodations. Breakfast is served in the garden and the rooftop patio is perfect for an afternoon cocktail with the sunset.

We hope that on your next trip to Peru you will stop in Lima for a visit! We sure will be back, maybe next time and we will try paragliding off the cliffs!

Things to do in Lima Peru
Things to see in Lima
Fun Things to do in Lima

DESTINATION: PERU - Central & South

Destination Peru Central and South, the tipsy gypsies travel blog

Most tourists come to Peru to visit the main attraction, Machu Picchu. This incredible ancient city, built by the Incas is undoubtedly an exceptional site, but there is so much more to Peru beyond it. Let us take you on a journey through the lakes, mountains, cities, and villages of central and southern Peru to show you the vast cultural diversity of this country.   


LIMA

Lima is the capitol of Peru and the largest city in the country. The Lima Metropolitan Area has over 10 million inhabitants, so you can imagine it's a large and busy place. Located on the central coast of Peru and overlooking the Pacific ocean, Lima definitely has a surfer's culture. Despite the cold weather and grey skies, you will see on any given day surfers riding the waves. The locals call this phenomena "panza de burro" which translated into "the donkey's belly", but when the sun is shining Lima is one of the most beautiful cities with a cool breeze and gorgeous sunsets. 

If you plan your vacation in Peru you will most likely stop here for a day or at least catch a layover. Sadly most of the tourists, unaware of what the city has to offer move on quickly to their final destination, like Machu Picchu, never giving this city a chance. If you know where to go and stay, Lima can be a lot of fun. 

The best neighborhoods to stay in Lima are Miraflores and Barranco. Both of these neighborhoods are very walkable with trendy cafes and restaurants.

Read a full guide to Lima here

If you don't know where to go you can sign up for one of the free walking tours. They are fun a great way to meet locals and other travelers. 

Before you go to explore the famous archeological sites of Peru, visit some museums in Lima to get a taste of the Pre-columbian culture and art. Museo Larco in Lima is a wonderful place for that. 

Museo Larco

Privately owned museum in Lima with a large collection of Pre-Columbian art, famous for its erotic pottery.

Barranco

Go on a free walking tour to explore the art district of Barranco with colorful murals.

 

Huacachina

This small desert oasis is very popular among young backpackers. The main attraction in the town are the sand dunes, where you can go sand-boarding or ride in a sand buggy. Huacachina is fun and definitely worth stopping by if you have the time, but one night was enough for us.  It's a relatively small place and there isn't much to do besides the activities listed, but if you're into relaxing and drinking cold beers by the pool you might want to stay a few night longer.

Watching the sun setting down from the sand dunes over the town is a must!

 

 

There are 41 islands on the lake and you can visit some of the communities that still live there, by a speed boat. There are many companies that offer a similar service that you can book from Puno. Make sure to ask for the speed boat, otherwise your journey will take much longer. 

Remember to bring some cash with you since there are no ATM machines on the islands and you might want to buy some handicrafts.

LAKE TITICACA

The highest navigable lake in the world, located on the boarder between Peru and Bolivia. The lake consists of two basins: Lago Grande situated in Peru, and Lago Wiñaymarka or Lago Pequeño in Bolivia. The nearest town is Puno, which perhaps is not the most charming, with clustered unfinished brick buildings. However, the sunsets and sunrises overlooking the lake are breathtaking. 

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Where to stay

Hotel Libertador, Lake Titicaca

This is the only hotel situated on Lake Titicaca. This hotel is a part of a known upscale hotel chain in Peru. Request a room with a sunrise view. Although the rooms could use a new fresh design, the hotel restaurant serves the most incredible Peruvian cuisine.

Below: Sunrise view of the Lake Titicaca is the reason why people like stay at the hotel Libertador. Plus there are llamas roaming the grounds of the hotel. This is a perfect place for a relaxing vacation.

A glass of wine and a cheese platter, at the patio with an outdoor fireplace is perfect to watch romantic sunsets.

 

"The Floating Islands"

The Floating Islands of Uros are a series of islands on lake Titicaca occupied by the Uros people. They are constructed from reeds that grow abundantly on the lake. These manmade islands were designed to be moved if necessary, and they need to be constantly maintained by their inhabitants. Fresh reeds are added constantly, otherwise the islands would rot and sink. All the dwellings on the islands, even the boats are made out of these golden reeds.

Like many native groups in Peru, the Uros people wear unique traditional clothing. Woman wear colorful, oversized skirts, and the tips of the long braids are tied together with large pompons.

 

You will only stay about one hour on the islands total. The natives will demonstrate how the islands were built and afterwards they will offer to sell you some local souvenirs.

These beautiful and unique islands along with the colorful outfits of their inhabitants will make you feel like your on a Disneyland fairytale set!

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Taquile Island

Taquile Island is much bigger than Uros, and it's a "proper" island situated on a rock. If you have ever been to Catalina island in California, you might find it very similar. Hilly rocky terrain with Mediterranean climate and blue waters surround it. Most of the locals are involved in agriculture or fishing but tourism is also thrives.

As part of our tour we ate lunch at a local restaurant: a homemade quinoa soup and a fresh trout from the lake, were simply delicious.

There are also some interesting traditions on this island. For example instead of a handshake, people greet each other by exchanging coca leaves that they carry in a shoulder bag. This culture is also known for weaving intricate textiles, and you see almost everybody, young and old, women, men and children always occupied knitting some clothing garments: hats: bags, belts etc. Knitting is such an important part of their lives and they say that if you don't know how to knit there is no way to get married.  

The island is self-sufficient and there aren't any cars on the island.

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The Arequipa region is abundant in minerals, and with several mines, it's the richest state in Peru. There is a strong regionalism in this area, with many locals almost wanting to separate from the rest of Peru. They considered themselves neither Peruvians nor Europeans. The sense of pride is very strong. Arequipa is also a distribution center for the whole southern part of Peru.

 

AREQUIPA

A charming colonial town with a beautiful church and cafes surrounding the main square. The fountain in front of the church is a popular meeting point for tourists and locals, especially in the afternoons you will see locals, food vendors, shoeshiners and others offering their services. The Misit volcano with a height of 20, 000ft makes a beautiful backdrop for Arequipa.

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Where to stay

Hotel Libertador

Beautiful hotel in a very good location and large gardens. They even have a small petting zoo with Llamas and a tortoise.

Logistics and transportation: PeruHop

We want to thank PeruHop, a transportation company who we traveled with for a few weeks to see these incredible places. We chose to travel with them because of their excellent driving records, well-organized tours, and comfortable buses. Peru is infamous for reckless drivers and unfortunately, you have to be very careful about the bus company you travel with. We were very happy with PeruHop and we highly recommend them to travelers visiting Peru. They offer a range of services: from transportation to tours, meals and accommodations. Traveling with them not only gives you peace of mind and you know you will get safely from point A to B, but you will also get to makes some stops and see some sights you wouldn't on a local bus.

A fairytale village in Czech you've probably never heard of

Some of the best places we visited on our travels have been discovered by coincidence and that was the case with Loket, a small village in the Czech Republic.

Small and mellow is the best way to describe Loket, for only about 3000 people live here. As you enter the town across it's main bridge, it may begin to look oddly familiar. That's because this little town was used as a stand in for Montenegro in the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale.

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The big G sign is where the locals hung out. At the Restaurace u Karla IV. Beer was good and much cheaper than in other bars.

The big G sign is where the locals hung out. At the Restaurace u Karla IV. Beer was good and much cheaper than in other bars.

Despite the early hour, there was not a soul to be found on the streets and the only one grocery store in town was already closed. As we tried to navigate through the narrow streets looking for our B&B, we got a glimpse of this fairly tale town, with a castle sitting on the top of the hill. We couldn't believe that we had never heard of this place before. 

Our hotel Stein Elbogen, which we booked just a few hours earlier turned out to be better than in the pictures. Perfectly situated by the river, this beautiful mansion, painted in a tasteful pinkish color with original stone walls, used to belong to the owners of the oldest porcelain factory in Bohemia. After dropping our bags off in our spacious room, we headed down to the restaurant. We walked down an old, stone staircase with vaulted ceilings, which felt like walking through an old castle. The hotel restaurant was just like the town, cute and quiet. We sat by the crackling fire place and ordered a beer. Behind the bar the owner was casually chatting with a friend and we kept wondering where were all the people on a Friday night? 

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A day in Loket

Loket castle

Saturday morning felt unusually quiet and most of the shops around the main square appeared to be closed. We headed to the castle on a self guided tour, which included some typical castle stuff like a porcelain display room, armory, and of course, a torture room in the dungeons.  We spent a few hours walking amongst the cold castle walls, and we even climbed the tower to see the view of the city. Again, there were barely any tourists around, which was great for so many reasons, but most importantly we didn't have to photoshop any of our pictures. 

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The gingerbread tradition in Czech dates back to 1324 and it was probably introduced by bakers from Nuremberg, Germany. Till this day gingerbread is baked here, and Loket is known for a specific type if gingerbread called Elbogener Pumpernickel. You can see a wooden mold for gingerbread in the middle picture below.

The Bridge

After the tour of the castle we walked out on the bridge to get a full view of the town. You really get a sense of the scale from a distance. The original suspension bridge opened in 1835, but was later replaced with the existing stone bridge due to the economic crisis in 1936. From the bridge you can take the stairs down to a path along the Ohře river, where the locals like to go for walks.

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The Brewery and Museum

Rodinny Pivovar Svaty Florian is an excellent local brewery with a long tradition of brewing beer. The first floor is a small museum/gift shop and the bottom floor is a restaurant and a brewery. They serve four types of beer: light, dark, and two smoked. They are all excellent! You can also try some traditional Czech food here, but we've been told that food is not as good as the beer.

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At the end of the day we returned to our lovely B&B and booked another night. We wanted to spend another day here repeating what we did the first day. We also found out why the town has been so empty. Apparently, after the new years a lot of businesses close for a holiday break and reopen in late February. Some hotels might still be open but most of shops and cafes are closed during this time. We actually enjoyed the quiet and peaceful atmosphere during our stay in Loket but next time we would love to come back and visit in the summer when everything is in full swing.  

Cheers!

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RIDING OUT MEXICO'S BIGGEST EARTHQUAKE IN A CENTURY

Doctors recommended dose: take 2oz. per shake.

Doctors recommended dose: take 2oz. per shake.

It was probably 20 minutes after checking into our 10th floor Airbnb in Mexico City when Marta asked her obligatory, "can this natural disaster happen here?" question. This time it was earthquakes. Previous choices have been tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides and of course, volcanoes. 

"Yes, I believe Mexico does have earthquakes" I replied, but I couldn't say for sure. A quick google search by Marta and our question was answered as she stared in horror at photos of the devastation from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. The death toll from that quake varies wildly from 5,000 - 45,000. Regardless of the actual number, it was catastrophic. 

Marta then expressed concerns about us staying on the 10th floor of a building whose design she questioned. Naturally I brushed her off and said everything was fine. 

A few days later we were exploring the city with our local friend Rodrigo and the '85 earthquake came up. He reassured Marta that most buildings since then were either built or retrofitted to withstand a powerful earthquake. I'm not exactly sure how much this reassured her, but throughout the next few days she kept talking about her feeling that there would be an earthquake. I of course thought she was crazy. 

Then on the evening of September 6th we heard a loud siren blare and a message in Spanish blasted over a speaker. It reminded me of the tsunami and hurricane sirens I heard growing up on Kauai. We had no idea what it actually meant so I began searching for "Mexico City sirens" and discovered that it's a sophisticated earthquake warning system that can give you up to 60 seconds to evacuate before the quake hits. At this point it was too late to leave but luckily nothing happened. I then read further that these sirens go off all the time as false alarms and residents of Mexico City now suffer from "alarm fatigue" and so basically everyone just ignores them. None of this reassured Marta any more while we lay in bed of our 10th floor apartment.

Moving on to the night of September 7th... it was probably about midnight and I had sipped a bit of delicious tequila that evening so I was just heading off into a mariachi slumber when.....

"RRRRREEEEEEEERRRRRRR...... Atención! Something, something in Spansish...."

I looked over at Marta and told her it was going to be another false alarm and that it happens all the time so she had no need to worry. Again, she was not convinced. So I rolled back over and closed my eyes and just as I did I heard her say, "the building is moving". I opened my eyes and I definitely felt something.... but was it the building, or the tequila? 

Then I saw the suspended light start to swing. Okay... it wasn't the tequila. No worries, it will just be a small tremor. Again, I was wrong. Then the building REALLY began to sway and you could hear the walls creaking and cracking. Marta ran into the living room to find our roommate there. She asked him if he had ever experienced something like this in Mexico and he said, "never". 

I threw on a towel and joined them in the living room. As the building continued to creak and sway, we lay on the floor next to the wall. Finally, as things began to ease up, we all decided to vacate. 

So down ten flights of stairs we flew and out onto the street were we were greeted by many other frightened people. As it finally became clear that the tremors were over, I got a few giggles and laughs from those passing by as I realized I was still in just my towel. Safety before clothing right? 

After returning to our apartment and finding paint chips from the wall everywhere, we saw the damage was minimal. Looks like Rodrigo was right! Our building held up well. 

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As we lay sleeplessly in bed watching the news unfold online, we would learn that Mexico City did quite well. But unfortunately the states south of us were not so lucky. Oaxaca and Chiapas received heavy damage as they were closer to the epicenter of the 8.2 earthquake. This was the largest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century!

I must say, I am now absolutely terrified of my wife and her confirmed ability to see disasters coming. Now if she ever questions a flight we take, or a place we go, I'm going to be left shaking in my boots. 

We have since sadly watched the death toll rise from a few to almost a hundred over the last few days and now seen the pictures of the catastrophic damage to the region. Unlike Mexico City, the construction in the south is not as sophisticated and I don't think they have the early warning system either. Many people were fast asleep when the quake hit. 

But what was most surprising to use was the chance to witness this warning system they have in place in Mexico City. Coming from Los Angeles we have heard the debates of trying to build a similar system for years, yet nothing has been done. And here we are in a FAR more impoverished country than America and yet they are LIGHT YEARS ahead of LA or even San Francisco when it comes to preparedness for this type of event. 

Seeing the potential it has for saving lives I cannot fathom how this hasn't been budgeted and implemented YEARS ago. And the only answer I can come up with is yet again, politics have trumped social wellbeing. And that of course, makes me sad. So I bid you adios until next time, as I I take another sip of Cazadores and go back to playing, "Is it Tequila, or is it Tectonic?"

 
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A STROLL THROUGH GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Even the smoke from the largest active wildfire in the U.S. (at the time) couldn't completely hide the vies of Glacier National Park. We had a lot of fun exploring this awesome place (aside from almost getting eaten by a bear and her cub!)

The Best of Laos

Before coming to Laos we didn't know where to go or what to do and we certainly didn't plan to stay as long as we did. In fact, we almost skipped Laos entirely because despite the many blog posts we researched in advance, we couldn't get a clear sense of why we should visit or what makes it so different from Cambodia or Vietnam.

Thank god we didn't skip it because it turned out to be our favorite country so far in South East Asia. Thailand is beautiful but it's extremely developed, westernized and crowded. Cambodia is also wonderful but is also growing quickly in western influence and development. 

Laos is like the gentler, softer sister of the other SE Asia countries. It is quiet, empty, tranquil and absolutely stunning. Upon arrival you instantly notice the hospitality of the local people, who constantly greet you in their local language saying with a smile, "Sabaidee!" Laos is full of natural beauty such as waterfalls, natural swimming pools, mountains and rice patties surrounded by small villages.

Although Laos is technically a communist country, people are allowed to own private businesses and practice religion. It seems as if life is moving at a slower pace here and that is what we loved the most about Laos. And did we mention the food?! Our favorite in SE Asia so far. 

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's a joy walking around and admiring the well preserved architecture and religious sites. Even though Luang Prabang is a famous tourist destination, it hasn't lost its charm. The streets are dotted with young monks walking around in their orange robes, bathing in the river and chanting in the many temples throughout the city. The monks are highly respected by the locals and every morning at sunrise the locals gather on a street for Alms, a giving ceremony. Alms is an offering of food for the monks, typically rice and fruit. You can participate in the ceremony as long as you a respectful, which unfortunately many tourist are not. If you want to take a photo please do it quietly, from a distance and without flash!

Daily life in the village seems to be very laid back.  It's a place where you can truly enjoy being a visitor because you don't have to worry about being harassed by vendors trying to sell you anything. The city is on a curfew to respect the early rise of the monks, and after midnight, night life is non-existent.

This quaint village is situated by the mighty Mekong and the smaller Nam Khan river. The rivers and the surrounding mountains make this village absolutely stunning. On any day you will see the locals and tourists swimming in the river or watching the sunset.

Laos cuisine is amazing! They are especially famous for their love of sticky rice. Our favorite were the noodle soups, which come with plenty of fresh herbs, lettuce and other veggies. It sounds weird to put lettuce in a bowl of hot soup, but trust us, there is nothing better!

Besides the traditional food, you can also find tasty western dishes here. Laos was a French colony and the baguettes and pastries in Luang Prabang taste just like in France.

Another joy of the French influence are the Bahn Mi-like Laos sandwiches, which are everywhere and absolutely worth trying!

The night market in Luang Prabang is a fun place to visit and try some local cuisine. There are plenty of meats on sticks, grilled fish, sandwiches and noodle dishes. In our opinion the food at the night market wasn't the freshest. We saw the vendors packing all the meats after hours of sitting on a table, and placing in plastic bags to be sold the next day. We were actually shocked that we didn't get sick.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Want the freshest street food? Look outside the night markets and you will find they are cooking smaller, fresher portions, rather than creating mountains of food (which they could never sell in one night) to impress tourists. 

If you want to get out of town you can hire a tuk tuk, taxi or rent scooters and drive 30km outside to see the incredible Kuang Si Falls. This place is no secret, and if you want to enjoy swimming in the fresh pools of water you should be there as soon as it opens. We got there about 9 am and there were few other people around, but by noon it was full of tourists and locals.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: We highly recommend you go by scooter as you can create your own schedule when visiting Kuang Si Falls. It only costs a little more but the freedom is totally worth it. We read a lot of blogs saying the road and ride out to the falls was dangerous but we found that to be completely untrue.

There are multiple waterfalls and the higher you are willing to hike up the stream, the less people you will see. The water is cool, and it's very hard not to jump into the turquoise water. But don't worry, you can!

There is also a small bear sanctuary on the way to the waterfalls. Most of these bears have been rescued from poachers, who either planned to illegally sell them as pets or kill them. One of the bears was missing a paw, but it was still very playful. The bears played together, cooled off in the pools of water and it was very entertaining to watch them.

Also make sure to stop at the small UXO Museum, which you can read more about here (COMING SOON). There are several of these museums in Laos so if you don't go to this one make sure you stop at one of the others as it's really eye opening and important to learn about the brutal history these people have survived and the problems they still deal with today.

 

Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is a tiny village a few hours north from Luang Prabang. This place used to be a real off the beaten track place, but it is getting more popular every day. You can start to see the foot print tourism is leaving on this town with numerous restaurants and guest houses popping up.  

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: We scored an awesome river view bungalow for $9 by staying a 10 minute walk outside the main town. There is a small dirt road near the school and down by the river are a handful of awesome cheap bungalows. 

There is a nice but strenuous hike you can do to see a spectacular view of the valley and the town below but please, don't go in the middle of the day like we did! It was so hot we barely made it to the top. The trailhead starts about 50 meters past Temple of Ban Sop Houn.

Once you reach the top you are rewarded with a nice viewing hut that offers some shade and even a hammock!

Vang Vieng

We are only going to mention this town briefly as it's the one place in Laos we really didn't like. And why? Because it was one the town most ruined and destroyed by western influence. Viang Vieng was famous for many years as an insane, year round, Spring Break experience for young backpackers. Eventually it got so bad that backpackers were dying, doing stupid things that stupid backpackers do. So the government eventually shut everything down and now there are only a few bars left. We read the town has since changed and maybe it has, but to us it still reeked of its previous heyday and although there are some nice day trips you can do, we think the town is completely worth skipping.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: If you MUST go to Vang Vieng, you might as well score some free drinks. We got pretty hammered completely for FREE thanks to the extremely competitive happy hours, (which is basically free drinks from 6-8) that the few bars in town offer to try and lure you in. 

 

Thakhek and the Thakhek Loop

This town is located between Vientiane and 4000 Islands. The town itself doesn't have much to offer but it is a must stop for the awesome Thakhek Loop which you can read in detail about here

4000 Islands

Don Det is located at 4000 Islands and just getting there was an adventure. We first took an overnight bus that dropped us in the middle of nowhere at 3am where we had to wait until sunrise, and then we traveled for another hour by a small boat to get there. The island itself is lovely. You can do some kayaking, biking, river tubing and read a book in hammocks overlooking the river.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Internet in Don Det sucks but if you seek out the restaurant/café with the fewest customers, you're much more likely to get a faster connection. 

We visited Don Det in the middle of March, which was good and bad. March is the hottest month in Laos and the heat was hard to deal with, but on a positive note, the island was empty and rooms were cheap. 

Laos Travel Guide
Laos Travel Guide

 

If you've never been to South East Asia, it's easy to assume that all these neighboring countries are going to be very much alike. But as we continue to make our way through the region, we are quickly learning and loving how different they all are. And just because we said earlier, that Thailand and Cambodia are more developed, it doesn't meant they aren't worth visiting as well. But again, what set Laos apart, and what made us fall in love, was the lack of urgency. In a world that is dominated by the aggressive pursuit of profits and status, the people of Laos, in the city AND the villages, seemed untroubled by these pursuits. It's truly the land of "it's nap time", when and where ever you want! Restaurants and stores almost always had an employee or two dozing in a corner somewhere.

And although we fell in love with the simplicity and slowness of Laos, we are also well aware of the countries tragic past, and the struggles it deals with today regarding it's extremely corrupt government and massive levels of poverty. 

Despite these hurdles, we saw nothing but smiles as we drove through village after village in the countryside. And although we hope for a more honest government and more access to education, healthcare and vital services for it's people, we hope they never forget that it's always the right time to sit back, relax, and take a nap. 

A Year in Review

After one year on the road complete, it's time to take a look back on some of the amazing experiences we've had. This video also takes the form of a demo reel for Nate as a director. 

Three Days of Khmer New Years in Siem Reap

The day was finally upon us. Day one of three days of Khmer New Years celebrations. We had been pampered and prepped for the occasion, which you can read about here, but nothing could truly prepare us for the festivities ahead. 

Khmer New Years is a mix of spiritual enlightenment and good old fashioned party fun. The blazing hot days in the city are quiet as Khmer locals visit temples to pray and tourists go about their normal routines. But as the sun starts to set, everything changes.

Slowly you begin to hear music pumping from giant speakers on every street corner and buckets are filled with water as the city prepares for the oncoming war... a water war that is! 

By nightfall the city has turned in to a giant water gun fight as people walk the street and attempt drive by shootings with oversized super soakers. But it's not just water, there are the clouds of baby powder. We have not found a clear answer as to why, but everyone has a container of baby powder and either dumps it on your head, or smears your cheeks with the soft soothing powder. 

This might sound like an activity that gets out of hand and causes fights and riots on the street but it did nothing of the sort. It was one of the most peaceful and fun events we've ever attended. From the hours of 6pm to 3am you get to be a kid again. 

These festivities go on repeat for three days. Quiet daylight hours, insane water fights and partying at night. The epicenter of this in Siem Reap of course, is Pub Street. Every bar is bursting with water drenched, powder chalked patrons, who are singing, dancing and laughing. Drinks are flowing and music is blasting so there is nothing but fun to be had. 

Apparently there are similar New Years events that go on throughout SE Asia which we can't comment on but all we can tell you is that Cambodians really know how to throw a New Years celebration.

Due to the insanity and wetness of this event, we were hesitant to take our cameras out so we only have a few pictures. All we can say is if you're looking for something amazing to do for new years, forget Times Square and January 1st.                                                                                  Mid April in Cambodia is where it's at!

The Rickshaw Diaries: A Road Trip Across India

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'.   Illustrated and animated by  Felix Roos .

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'. Illustrated and animated by Felix Roos.

It was nearly Christmas Eve and we were four months into our journey through India. We had arrived in southern India in the state of Kerala, famous for its backwaters and we had reached the point in our trip where we felt like we'd seen enough temples, tombs and forts for a lifetime. We had run out of the "Top 10" same (bullshit) things to do and we needed some serious balance of sightseeing and real adventure. So after much discussion, we decided to ask Santa for a rickshaw. This is the story of how we managed to explore nearly half the length of India in a rickshaw and not kill ourselves while doing it. 

After a few days of frantically trying to buy a rickshaw and an additional 5 days of finalizing the paperwork, fixing major mechanical issues and pimping our rickshaw, we were finally ready to leave Kochi on new years and start our wild road trip. We had no plan of how far to drive or where, so we just picked a direction and started driving north. These are our favorite places that we visited in our rickshaw.

Alleppey, Kerala

This is the famous backwaters country of South India. You can rent a houseboat for few hours and cruise around or sleep on the boat, which is what we did and highly recommend it. If you show up last minute during the middle of the week or off season, you can negotiate a pretty decent price for an overnight stay.

These traditional wooden houseboats with thatched roofs, were traditionally used to transport various materials and people. It was also the fastest way of transportation between the 5 lakes connected by canals. Nowadays the house boats are a big hit and a big tourist attraction. Staying overnight on a houseboat can get quite pricey, especially during the high season. Because we booked same day, we paid about 7,000 rupees for the whole boat, which is extremely cheap since it was around the holidays. Typically these boats cost anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 per night.

We left the main harbor around 3pm to cruise and watch the sunset on the backwater. The boat was very comfortable and the crew was extremely nice and cooked us amazing Kerala style food. At night the boat parked on a quiet bank of the backwaters, far from the other boats we watched the stars and drank beers until the stars got blurry. 

In the morning we enjoyed a few more hours watching the sunrise, drinking hot chai and eating spicy Kerala style breakfast with eggs, appam (coconut pancakes), sambar (vegetable and lentil stew) and fruit.

 

Munnar, Kerala

Munnar is absolutely breathtaking and its hills are covered with vibrant tea plants. Many of the tea plantations in Munnar were started by the British, who loved this region for it's cool climate and natural beauty.

A lot of the Indian tea is still produced here. Every time we drove through the hills we could hear the clipping sound of the fresh tea being cut. It also smells incredible! 

Munnar is situated in the Western Ghants mountain range with an altitude of 1,600 meters (5,200 ft), so getting there in the rickshaw was not easy, but it was absolutely worth it. We spent 2 days driving around the tea plantations and visiting the hill stations. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any plantations that offered tea tastings, which was odd, but if you want to taste the regional tea you can visit the Munnar Tea Museum.

Karnataka

Not many people know that the state of Karnataka has some of the most beautiful beaches in India. We were shocked how pristine and remote the beaches were here. This is also probably the only place in India where the beaches have white sand. This coastline is not developed and you can only see small local huts near the beach and there are not many places to stay near the beach We found one hotel with a beach view near Mattu village, but the security guard turned us away. We returned to the hotel the next day and insisted on speaking to the manager. Eventually the manager told us the same thing, that they were booked and they didn't have any future available dates. It was a very strange response. Perhaps we weren't welcome because of our unusual form of transportation and we didn't meet their typical guest profile. We will never know. Honestely it was for the best because we would never stay in a place that is so snobbish.

When we asked the locals on the road about some simple guest houses they mentioned one but we couldn't find it. The nearby town Udupai (about 15km away), has plenty of accommodations though. We slept there and we hung out on the beach for few hours the next morning before we left

One day we would love to come back to Karnataka with a tent and sleep on the beach near Mattu.

 

Our favorite area was the stretch from Kapu till the end of the peninsula. The beaches on the peninsula are absolutely amazing and unlike anywhere else you will see in India!

Goa

Goa was probably the easiest place for us to drive our rickshaw. This state is one of the busiest tourist destinations in India and at the same time is very laid back. Most of people who live or work here are in the tourist industry, therefore, are accustomed to western habits like the love of strong coffee, eating pizza, women in bikinis or women driving a rickshaw for that matter. Just kidding about the women driving rickshaw, that still totally freaked everybody out.

 We drove through many towns in Goa and here some of the places that we liked the most.

Palolem: A Hippy's Paradise

Palolem seems to attract mostly young hippy types and for some reason lots of Israelis. Tourists come here for yoga and spiritual trainings, to master fire dancing and hula-hoop skills. Palolem is one of the most westernized small towns in India that we have visited. You can actually eat an authentic pizza here at Magic Italy restaurant, drink perfectly brewed coffee, that has not been diluted and sweetened with 10 spoons of sugar, from Mika Mocha. The beach in Palolem is very popular during the day with people trying to sell you boat rides and at night the atmosphere is quite charming with candle lit tables on the sand and fresh seafood being grilled. With no shortage of places to eat on the beach, we always tried to time our dinner around sunset so we could take in the amazing view. 

 

Agonda: the Holly Cow beach

Agonda is the smaller and more quiet sister of Palolem. There are a few decent restaurants on the main road and the guest houses seem to be the cheapest here. We rented a bungalow, on the beach for 800 rupees/12 USD. The beaches although less crowded and relaxing are full of cow shit, so be careful where you walk, especially at night. If you want something even more remote, visit the nearby Cola beach, which is gorgeous.

Morjim: a Russian Paradise

We actually like Morjim a lot mostly because the wide and well kept beaches and the sunsets are incredible!

Although this area used to be known as a heavy party town, it seems like things have changed these days. We had a relaxing stay at Xaviers with their restaurant and great food situated right on the beach (the service is a bit slow, but the food was worth the wait). At Xavier's, they also screen movies every night, but in Russian. Morjim is a popular tourist destination for many Russians and almost everything has been translated into Russian including menus in the restaurants and movies, which have a Russian voice over. We heard some rumors from the locals that a while ago this town was owned by the Russian mafia. It has since changed and nowadays you will come across many Indian and western tourists who don't know how to order from a Russian menu.

Malvan, Maharastra

Malvan has a really special place in our hearts. We first came to this town before we started the rickshaw road trip and we fell in love with it's people and atmosphere. We've made some very good friends, ate some amazing food and so we had to come back for more.

Unlike touristy Goa, the beaches in Malvan are almost empty. You wont find any obnoxious, loud bars on the beach here, but you are welcome to chill with a cold brew. 

Malvan is known for it's unique blend of spices and the seafood is great here. This town has the best Thali restaurant that we have tasted in all of India.  The name of the restaurant is Love kick and it is run by the Kirtane family. We ate there everyday. The Veg Thali came with a fresh green leafy salad mixed with raw coconut, chana with a unique mix of coconut, aloo (potatoes) mixed with cabbage and a sol curry, which is to die for! Sol curry, also known as Solkadi, is a popular Konkani curry made from coconut and kokum fruit. It is a staple of Malvan, eaten with rice or drank after a meal. It's mildly sour flavor and light texture not only tasted delicious but it helps your mouth cool off from the spices and also helps with digestion. So many benefits from one fruit!

If you are polite when you arrive, the owner of the Love Kick restaurant will help you with a secret BYOB section. You might have to sit in the VIP room, aka the back of the house, so nobody sees you drinking. Also please don't embarrass us by asking for a fork. Make sure you eat your Thali like it was meant to be eaten, with your hands!

Besides the food and beaches in Malvan, you can visit the Sindhudurg Fort by a small boat, buy some fresh fish from the market in the early morning, and make sure you try the local drink made from coconuts called Madi.

But most importantly, make sure you make some friends. The Malvan people are some of the best we have ever met! 

If you come to Malvan we INSIST you stay at Vicky's Guest House. We can't recommend this place enough. The whole Fernandez family is so lovely and Vicky who runs the guesthouse, is the best unofficial guide in town. He will give you many tips and will go out of his way to make sure you are a satisfied customer. 

Malvan was our last stop on the rickshaw road trip. We drove about 1,500 km and we covered 4 states in two weeks. We originally planned to drive all the way to Rajasthan but at the end we had to change our travel plans and we left our rickshaw with a friend in Malvan, who helped us sell it to a local who will use it for his business. The small profit was then distributed amongst our friends who helped us along the way.

Final Thoughts

Buying and driving the rickshaw wasn't just fun, it was also educational and eye opening. Traveling at a top speed of 40km/hr on mostly backroads gives you a perspective of India you can't get in any other way. It doesn't matter if you go by train, bus or car, you're moving too fast. And there is no better ice breaker than a crazy looking rickshaw to make new friends in every town you go.

But like many things in India, driving a rickshaw can be quite dangerous. They are slow, unreliable and have questionable balance. So if you ever decide to try this, please make sure you get lots of practice beforehand and do not overestimate your or the rickshaws abilities. Vehicles drive fast and with little regard to the rules of the road so driving defensively will be your best chance of survival.

The legality of what we did is also somewhat questionable but we had no issues, even when we were pulled over by police. 

And finally, the most important take away from this trip was how humbled we were by everyone that we met. It didn't matter what village or city we were in, when we broke down, people went out of their way to help us get back on the road. When we were lost, people gave us directions with a smile. And when we were just stopping for fun, there was always someone with the kindness and sincerity to make us feel truly welcome. 

We wish we could take the rickshaw with us to every country that we visit because the experience was so much greater. But since we can't, we will continue to seek out other adventures that allow for these types of connections. Because to us, that is what travel is really all about. As great as the beaches or mountains are, in the end it's always about the people. So India, we thank you for that. Thank you for welcoming us into your home and and treating us like family and thank you for teaching us what unconditional generosity really means.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

If you have any questions about the trip or want advice on doing something similar, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Motorbiking the Thakhek Loop

There are road trips and then there are road trips… this the latter. Although merely a 3 – 4 day loop, the majestic views and the multitude of caves and villages to be explored make it a must for anyone traveling through Laos.

We at The Tipsy Gypsies have a great appreciation for temples, museums and guided tours but after so many months on the road, what really tickles our pickle, are trips that involve adventure and allows for the amazingness that is known as, The Unexpected.

Marta taking her first ride!

Marta taking her first ride!

Although we have embarked on far more adventurous journeys such as driving a rickshaw across India, or exploring remote villages in the Himalayas, we were thoroughly excited when we arrived in the town of Thakhek and picked out our rides for this journey. Marta had never ridden a motorcycle before yet she already knew her favorite of the two wheel family, is the dirt bike. Therefor it was natural that we rent a Kawasaki 150cc for her to get her feet wet. Since this was a learning experience, we decided our second bike would be an easy, cruising, fully auto, Honda scooter. That way we could take turns on the more rugged, not designed for road trips Kawasaki, and after a few hours of ass sore, find relief on the cushony Honda cruiser.

We arrived in Thakhek late the first evening so little was to be done. But our next day we rented the dirt bike and stayed in town so Marta could get her bearings on riding the (for her petite size), beast of a two wheeler. Thakhek as a town doesn’t have much to offer but they do have a cute tiny night market at the city center square where you can sit at children size tables and nibble street goods, while watching some projected Lao soap operas.

The next day we set out early. Within minutes of leaving Thakhek you see yourself surrounded by those beautiful steep cliffs iconic to South East Asia. There are a slew of caves you can visit within the first half of your day but after our first, we decided to skip the rest.

There are a slew of caves you can visit within the first half of your day but after our first, we decided to skip the rest. They are pretty, but honestly it felt like (understandably) they were built just to attract tourists to these villages that otherwise, have nothing else. The locals we met were friendly and inviting but the cave we visited left a lot to be desired. Preferring the view from the road, we decided to just continue towards our first days end destination at the town of Thalang.

The drive was spectacular and ascending to a higher altitude, we made some steep winding climbs. Eventually you see the terrain drastically change as you pass the Nakai-Tai Damn. The landscape suddenly takes on a surreal, beautiful and yet post apocalyptic feel as you’re suddenly driving between unnatural islands formed by once-upon-a-time hilltops and surrounded by unnatural lakes filled with barren and dying trees.

The Tipsy Gypsies Thakhek Loop

The town of Thalang itself is tiny and situated on one of the hilltop-turned-islands. There are two companies operating bungalow guesthouses and although Mad Monkeys recommended the first called Phosy Thalang, we decided on the second, which is right before you cross the bridge and is called Saibadee Guesthouse. We still walked to Phosy to compare and we were very happy with our decision. We got a great but modest bungalow for 50,000 kip ($7 dollars) and the family who runs the place is awesome. Really friendly, welcoming and they do an all you can eat BBQ every night which was worth every penny of our higher than normal dinner expense of 50,000 kip/person. Everyone sits at a long communal table and it’s like having a big family cookout.

The next day we took our time and we were on the road by 9:30am. The drive out of the lake area is spectacular and eventually the terrain will change as you reach the junction town of Lak Xao. Not much to see here but a good stop for lunch if you had a light breakfast.

Beyond Lak Xao the terrain again becomes more mountainous and jungly, sprinkled with little villages and picturesque rice paddies.

About an hour out of Lak Xao, just past the town of Phontan, you will see a sign that says Pool Spring, or something to like that. This is a must stop. After hours on the dusty hot road it’s a gorgeous natural swimming hole with a vibrant blue and cool refreshing water. When we first arrived things were quiet and peaceful, but within an hour of getting there, scooter after scooter of local teens from the local school began arriving and the atmosphere turned into a spring break party. We weren’t sure if this was a normal, every day occurrence or school was out for holiday or summer… but regardless, we were happy we got there before the music started blasting. No stress to us though because it was time to hit the road again as we still had another 150km and a hike ahead of us before the day was done.

Eventually you make another climb and then finally a descent into a massive valley. The viewpoint you’ll pass as you descend is totally worth a stop. After you finish your decent you’ll reach the town of Nahim, which mainly exists for the large hydro plant in town. But just past the turn you’ll later make to head to Konglor, is a trailhead and a hike to a waterfall (also clearly marked). There is an entrance fee of 10,000 kip and it’s a beautiful 1.5-3km hike depending on where you park, but we were so bummed when we reached the waterfall.

We've seen better...

We've seen better...

We did this hike in April, which is not the rainy season so the waterfall was merely a trickle. Nonetheless we were still grateful to find a swimming pool large enough for us to cool off before heading back.

After the hike we hit the road fast and furious to make our final stop for the day before the sun went down. This was honestly my favorite part of the day’s trip. The road into Konglor is spectacular as you pass through farming village after farming village. And as the walls of the valley grew narrower and narrower, it only became more spectacular. If you can time this  part of the ride during dusk you won’t regret it. I was smiling from ear to ear at the scenery, back dropped by the pastel colors of the famous Laos setting sun.

We arrived at the end of the road and the town of Konglor, right as it got dark. And we scoped out every guesthouse in town. We can say with certainty, stay in the very first one! The rooms again are only 50,000 kip, which is cheaper than most, and spotlessly clean. Their menu left a little to be desired but you can easily walk to any of the other guesthouses, or the one restaurant in town for dinner.

The next morning we were out by 8:30 and heading to the ferry dock for the main attraction on this trip: the Konglor Cave. Although we had grown less than enthusiastic about the previous caves, this one is worth every penny. And if you share the boat with the max passenger capacity of three, that’s pretty much what this awesome experience will cost you (2,000 kip into the park and 130,000 kip for the boat, which you can divide by the three passengers).

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Caution, you will get a little wet and have to walk in some water so bring flip-flops if you have them. If not, you can rent them.

The boat ride is amazing and takes you through the massive 7km long cave, out the other side and then back again. Aside from one small Disneyland, gimmicky section where they’ve lit the cave with colorful lights, your only light source is your headlamp. As you emerge from the other side you’re greeted by lush green jungles and even if only for a moment, you and your two companions feel like real explorers. After a quick break and a cold Laobeer at the other ferry dock, you head back and experience it for a second time. After saying goodbye to our awesome guide and momentary fellow explorer, it was time to hit the road again.

From this point you have two options. Head back the way you came, which takes most people an additional two days, or do what we did because of time, continue the last section of the loop, which connects to the main highway and speeds you back to Thakhek.

Final view before descending towards the main highway.

Final view before descending towards the main highway.

Our recommendation, if you have the time, head back the way you came. Although we hit a couple amazing and quite memorable viewpoints before reaching the main highway, once you get to the busy road, the ride sucks. It’s dangerous and nothing to see. Buses, trucks and cars will fly past you and you’ll be bound to have a few heart attacks along the way.

Needless to say, we were all smiles when we got back to Thakhek. After two weeks of “sight seeing”, it gave us at least a little adrenaline boost and reinvigorated our travel spirits. And on top of that, Marta is now a motorcycle rider! I must say I’m extremely proud of my wife for yet again, wanting to do something ambitious, and kicking ass at it. At a height of 5’1”, a 150cc bike is the MAXIMUM size she can fit on. Her feet barely touched the ground, yet she took it on fearlessly and with determination. I can’t wait to see her ride a bike more her size as I know she will love it even more.

Thanks Mad Monkeys!

Thanks Mad Monkeys!

In Thakhek, we were thoroughly pleased with our experience renting from Mad Monkey who had great customer service and good prices. We were also happy with our stay at the Thakhek Travel Lodge, offering dorm rooms, affordable simple doubles as well as some more upscale rooms if you want something a bit nicer after the long ride.

Two important notes. First, if you are trying to decide between this loop and the Pakse, choose this one! Although we have not done both our selves, we talked to multiple long term riders who have done both and they say the Thakhek Loop wins hands down. Second, if you read some of the other popular blog posts on this loop, most are completely outdated in pictures and details. For example, the loop is now completely paved! We were expecting major sections of road to be dirt and muddy but aside from small side roads to reach caves and swimming holes, the main route is as smooth as butter.

We can’t wait for our next two-wheeler road trip, maybe South America??? Maybe sooner??? Who knows, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions or think we missed something awesome from your trip, please share in the comments below!

GET TIPSY ON: LAO RICE WINE

 

One of the biggest struggles for us backpackers, is that you can't buy any cool handcrafted souvenirs to bring home with you. Our backpacks always seem to be too small and too damn heavy. But we have a solution for all y'all. Look for portable and consumable souvenirs like... alcohol!

On our recent trip to Luang Prabang in Laos, we went to the night market and found some awesome rice wine sold by a local lady. She was sitting on a floor matt between other vendors, who were selling the typical tourist tchotchkes like t-shirts, statues and clothes, which we don't care for too much. She made us an offer we couldn't refuse; a free tasting. We tried a couple bottles of different wines and we decided to purchase a small bottle of the most mild flavored fermented rice wine.

The taste was unique and it reminded us of the health drink called kombucha. If you love kombucha you will like this wine. Naturally, rice wine tastes excellent with asian food. We got a bowl of spicy noodle soup and drank the wine with it. It was delicious! 

This rice wine was easy to drink. It is alway dangerous when alcohol tastes like juice because it's hard to know when to stop! If you're ever in Luang Prabang give it a try and you won't regret it.

Cheers!

 

UNDERWATER LOVE: VIDEO

2 days on a liveaboard, diving off the coast of the Similan Islands in Thailand. What an amazing experience! Special thanks to Pirate Divers in Khao Lak (piratediversinternational.com) for the great deal.

Part 3: The Himalayan Valleys: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur

India is known for its large population, but did you know that some of the most remote and least populated villages in the world are also found here? 

The Himalayan Mountains need no introduction, but not many people know about the quiet, peaceful valleys in the Himalayas where you don't need to be a hardcore trekker to connect with nature or experience the tranquility and amazing hospitality of the natives who live in this rugged terrain.

The three Himalayan Valleys: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur, located in the northern part of India in the Himachal Pradesh region, are a must visit before you die!

This is Part 3 describing our 12 day journey visiting: Spiti, Pin and Kinnaur Valleys in the Himachal Pradesh. Please read Part 1 and Part 2 to find helpful tips on how to plan your trip to this region.

Spiti Valley loop itenerary.

Spiti Valley loop itenerary.

Day 01

 Manali-Chandratal-Losar

 

On a cold morning we woke at 5am sharp. Our driver Bitu, showed up on time and by 5:45am we packed up the car and we were eager to start our next adventure through the Himalayan valleys.

When we left Manali it was still dark outside, and the city was just waking up. Shortly after leaving we began climbing up some steep mountains. The views opened up and we could tell that this trip was going to be epic.

Everything seemed to be easy until the road started getting more winding and bumpy. Around this time I, (Marta) started to feel car sick. We had to stop for a short break for some fresh air and well, vomiting. My stomach was not ready for this. Luckily the nausea went away quickly. My body was able to adjust and the rest of the trip went without any stomach problems.

Rohtang Pass and pile of corpses

Before we left on this trip we'd heard that the roads in the Spiti Valley can be very dangerous. Sometimes the internet can make things more dramatic than they really are. The roads seemed fine to us and before we knew it, we'd passed the "scary" Rohtang Pass. However, we understood why this road remains closed in the winter. The road was narrow and at some points had huge cliffs on the side.

As long as you/or your driver is sober, doesn't speed, and the weather conditions are optimal this road is totally safe. If you are traveling by bus, you might want to close your eyes at some points. Having said that, we are well aware of the dangers when it rains or snows. Fatal landslides are notorious in this region so make sure to check the weather before heading out on your trip.

The pass is open May to October and after that if you are crazy enough, you can travel at your own risk.  Hence the name Rohtang, which translates in english to "pile of corpses". 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Make sure you bring a bandana or a face mask when you visit these valleys. Not only is the sun strong, but the roads are extremely dusty. Something to cover your face will make the trip much more enjoyable.

After a few hours of driving, everyone got a bit hungry. We stopped at a Dhaba (a roadside restaurant) in Chhatru for breakfast. We had Paratha (stuffed flatbread) served with pickles and Chai to drink.

Paratha is a breakfast staple in India. Parathas can be stuffed with veggies like potato, cauliflower or cheese and are usually served with curd and sour pickles. Our Indian friends laughed when we told them that in America we eat parathas with main dishes like dals and curries. 

A few kilometers after Chatru we saw an official sign welcoming us to Spiti & Lahaul aka "the middle land".

Chandra Tal "Lake of the Moon"

In the afternoon we reached Chandra Tal Lake, located at 4,300 meters (14,100 ft) above sea levelAt this point we started to feel small symptoms of altitude sickness: shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness (it was definitely not from drinking), but we managed to go for a short walk to the lake, which was beautiful.

We almost camped near the lake but due to the altitude sickness, and the campground being short on supplies because it was closing the next day, we decided to move on. Our next option for accommodations was Losar.

Kunzum Pass

Before we reached Losar there was another big pass to cross, the Kunzum Pass. This pass connects Kullu and Lahaul Valleys with the Spiti Valley. 

After a long day of driving, we finally arrived in Losar. We could't see much of the town because it was already late and the power was out in the whole village. We ate a simple, warm meal and we were ready for bed. Since the power was still out, there was no hot water for a shower. That night we feel asleep to candle light under thick blankets, dreaming of hot water back home.

 

Day 02

 

Losar-Kaza

Waking up early was not easy but this was something that we had to get used to on this trip. Our room was warming up from the strong sunlight beaming through our windows. There was still no warm water due to the power outage that lasted the whole night. The cold shower woke us up fast.

Before we left we had a chance to enjoy the views in Losar. The town looked peaceful and beautiful in the morning. Frost was still on the ground and you could definitely feel winter approaching...

We were ready to leave by 8am, in order to reach the SDM office in Kaza before it closed. Kaza was our last chance where we could obtain the ILP (Inner Line Permit), which would allow us to enter the Spiti Valley.

As soon as we arrived in Kaza, we drove straight to the SDM office. Unlike in Shimla and Manali, the officers in Kaza easily issued us the "single person permit". We only had to pay 50 rupees each for processing our permit. After about 30 minutes we both left the office relieved, and happy to have our ILP permits in hand! 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: All foreigners visiting the Spiti Valley are required to get the ILP (read Part 2).

In Kaza we just needed to find a hotel for one night. Despite being late in the season, almost all the guesthouses were either closed, booked or wanted too much money. Eventually we found a room for 1,200 rupees (after negotiation) at the "Snow White" hotel. The hotel had decent rooms, very slow wifi and some hot water. At this point we didn't need much to make us happy.

It was getting late and the temperatures were getting colder every day. This made us a little worried since we did not have proper winter clothing with us. The rooms were never heated. We had to layer on everything we owned and we always requested extra blankets.

 

Day 03: Kaza

 

In the morning we found out that the only gas station in town was out of fuel. We had enough gas to see the nearby monasteries but not enough to leave Kaza. We continued on with our plans.

 

Visiting Komic Village & Monastery

Komic Village, located at an altitude of 15,027 feet above sea level, is apparently the world's highest village that can be reached by car. There is only one bus that goes from Kaza to Komic twice a week, which is why you will see many villagers along the road trying to hitchhike. Since there were only three of us in a big car we picked up hitchers many times.

At Komic Monastery, there are two building structures. The old Tangyud Monastery, where the monks pray and a newer (pic above) monastery where the monks reside. Women are not allowed to enter the old monastery durning prayer time. We weren't sure exactly why and the monks weren't too keen on talking about it. We have been told that the majority monks practice celibacy, and some of them might even refuse to be in a presence of women, but apparently some of them have open relationships. 

The Buddhist monks were very curious and friendly. We had the honor of sharing a few stories with this monk from Komic over hot Chai.

Langza

On the way back from Komic we stopped in Langza to see the statue of Lord Buddha overlooking the valley.

Day 04: Kaza

 

In the morning we tried again to buy gas at the station (or from the locals) but we had no luck. We were supposed to be on our way to the next town, but it looked like we would be in Kaza a little longer. Nobody expected the gas shortage to last this long. 

 

Key Monastery

Key Gompa was founded around the 11th century. It was destroyed multiple times by the Mongols in the 11th, 14th and 17th centuries. Then in the 1800's, it was raided and sacked by the Sikhs, followed by a fire and a severe earthquake years later. However, the monks did not give up easily and somehow they managed to rebuild the monastery. Impressive!

The "boxy" structure developed because of the many destructions this monastery suffered. The monks wanting to rebuild as fast as possible, built simple box like structures clustered together, which resulted in a unique, fort-like look. 

On the way to this monastery, Nate and I talked about how much we admired the monks life-long dedication to Buddhism. We've contemplated what would it be like to be a young child, far away from home, living with "strangers" and devoting your entire life to God. To an outsider, the buddhist religion compared to other religions seemed superior... unscathed... incorruptible....

When we reached the top of the Key monastery, we met some other tourists from America. One of the guests started to chat with us and without telling him about our conversation, he flat out asked us if we thought that the Buddhist religion was better than others, to which we shrugged our shoulders implying a "maybe/yes". It felt like he just either overheard our private talk or he was reading our minds. Since I was raised Catholic, I pointed out problems with the church: the political power, pedophilia, bigotry to name just the few, to which the man said that it does in fact happen in buddhism as well. He raised some interesting points about the Dalai Lama, probably the most famous buddhist teacher of our time, being a very rich man. Many people criticize the Dalai Lama for being a celebrity and profiting from the religion and not being the most honest man.  What was more interesting, is this conversation happened in front of the head monk who gave us a tour of the monastery, who didn't seem to mind what this man was telling us. The man himself was a follower of buddhism, but it was refreshing to hear him admit that sometimes things aren't what they seem, and that it's good to question not only what we don't know, but what we think we already knew.  

When we were leaving we looked round the monastery with a new perspective. This time we saw many villagers working hard on a new addition with a private room for the Dalai Lama. They were carrying and moving massive, heavy rocks with primitive machinery. These men, women and very young children, as poor as they were, volunteered their time to improve these old structures for no money. I would think that with all the donations these monasteries receive they could afford to pay them even a measly salary...

We left the monastery with more questions than answers.  I guess that is the point of traveling; that we learn from others, experience new perspectives and be reminded that the world is not black and white, but also many shades of grey between. We still have enormous respect for buddhism and many it's followers. But it was refreshing to be made aware of the things you don't hear about as often.

From the Key Monastery we also visited the town of Kibber. On the way we saw the highest bridge in India being built by men and women. These people had no harness on them while they were working! They were probably were paid but defnitelly not enought for the type of work they were doing. 

Before there were bridges, the way to cross the huge valleys was by basket. People, as well as animals and goods were transported this way. Somebody needed to be waiting and willing to pull the rope on the other side of the hill. This system still exists in many areas where roads and bridges have not been built.

The picture above is a close up and it might not look so bad, but the drop was huge. You defintely needed to have some strong nerves to use this for of transportation.

We drove back to Kaza to refill our tank and bellies! 

While our driver waited in line at the gas station, we tried a small local food joint. This place was run by a cute little lady and her husband. We tried the veggie chow main, thupka soup and momos. It was all delicious!

Best Tibetan homemade meal in Kaza! You will find this place at the main square, near the gas station.

Best Tibetan homemade meal in Kaza! You will find this place at the main square, near the gas station.

Chinese food in India is infused with tibetan and indian spices, which gives it a unique taste. It's hot and flavorful. 

After lunch we found out that the gas wouldn't arrive until the next morning. We were forced to stay yet another night in Kaza. 

Day 05: Kaza to Mudh

Our driver Bitu, had been waiting at the gas station since 6am. After many hours of anxiously waiting, our driver finally returned with great news. The tank was full! We enjoyed our time in Kaza but were ready to drive to the next town, Mudh.

Arriving in Mudh was like love at first sight. The air was cold but the sun was shining. In the dusty valley, already covered by the shadows, we saw and heard yaks being rounded up by the villagers. 

Later we found out that a big festival was going to take place the next day. The Lama of the region, for the first time in probably more than 50 years, was going to visit Mudh and we were there to witness it!

The whole village seemed to be doing something to help with the preparations for the next day. Cooking, cleaning, decorating the town and washing the animals. We were so excited about what we were going to see the next day!

 

Day 06: Arrival of the Lama

In the morning, the whole village woke up early for the Lama's arrival. The ladies had been cooking meals for the entire town, the yaks and horses were now decorated and the villagers wore their best clothes. This was the the first time these villagers were able to meet the Lama, but somehow they knew exactly what to do. It's like they prepared for this moment their whole life. 

Women and men in traditional outfits awaiting the Lama's arrival.

Around noon, the Lama and his entourage finally arrived in Mudh.  There was a big crowd of people surrounding him. He proceeded to a special room, where only the most elite were able to accompany him.

Some etiquette that we learned while taking pictures of the Lama was that we couldn't stand higher that him and technically weren't allow to take pictures of him. He had his official photographer and a camera man and only they had the privilege of capturing the young, 27 year old Lama's image.

The people from Mudh brought offerings in the form of food and money. There was also a "shaman" in a costume, who ran down the street, chanting and huffing and puffing to scare away evil spirits. At least, that is what our interpretation of it was.

Shortly after the Lamas arrival we were invited to join the rest for a communal meal. We had never felt so included and welcomed, especially for something we knew so little about. An enormous thank you to the village of Mudh!

Day 07: Mudh to Tabo

Still overwhelmed with the feeling of what we had witnessed the day before, we left Mudh broken hearted. We hugged and thanked our lovely hosts from Tara's Homestay! They were amazing to us! Not only this lady saved my ear from a piercing infection, (story coming soon), but I would travel anywhere again to taste her homemade meals and chai around a hot stove!

Dhankar Monastery

On the way to Tabo, we stopped at another monastery to say a quick hello and have a chat with the monks.

Many people visit Spiti Valley in the summer, which we want to do in the future, but the colors of the fall are absolutely beautiful here.

Day 08, 09, 10: Tabo-Kalpa -Raksham

After spending a night in Tabo, we headed to Kalpa. This was our last night with our driver Bitu, who was going to leave us in Raksham with some new friends. We had a flexible schedule and we weren't in a rush to get back to Delhi. 

The Tipsy Gypsies saying goodbye to their trusty driver Bitu.

The Tipsy Gypsies saying goodbye to their trusty driver Bitu.

Raksham

Raksham is located in the Kinnaur Valley, a region known for the most delicious apples in India. This village is a perfect spot for bird-watching, bouldering and hiking. The terrain is very different from the dry and rocky Spiti and Pin Valley's. Raksham is surrounded by evergreen trees and massive rivers run through the valleys. 

Besides the famous apples, try the fresh apricot oil that you can use for massages.  Your skin will smell and feel amazing!

Chitkul

If you are staying in Raksham, you MUST visit Chitkul, another quaint village only a short drive away.

Day 11&12: Returning to Delhi

We spent the last 2 days with our friends in Narkanda, learning about birdwatching, but we preferred to do beer-watching. It was great to relax for 2 days before we got back to hectic Delhi for the biggest holiday in India, Diwali.

 

We are already planing to return to this region durning the summer with our tents and do some camping. Let us know if you have been to the Spiti Valley before and what was your experience was like. What must we do next time? Share your stories in the comments below!