From The Road

Back from the Void

Hi all!

Sorry I have been MIA. I meant to write a post a long time ago to let you know that I had decided not to update this blog while I was traveling, since I felt like spending lots of time in internet cafes was taking me away from experiencing all I could while there.

Instead, I sent travel tweets from my ipod whenever I stayed somewhere with WIFI (Check out the latest few tweets on the sidebar or follow @RubyTravels to look back through the whole journey) and wrote postcards home from each city I went to. I collected them all upon my return and now that I’m back and more settled I will be scanning them in and posting each as a one-picture-short-entry post cataloging where I went, what I saw, what I did and how I felt about it.  So stay tuned!

Additionally, as soon as I get a new computer I will be starting to compile all my photos and video clips from the trip into little travel videos which I will post. This way, you can experience a little bit more of the places that the postcards give a taster of.

And finally, I’m also excited to start using this blog to highlight cool travel deals, travel websites and others’ travel blogs. So even though I’m back in the States, this blog can still keep those interested in travel connected to me and to the World  Beyond!

Thanks for following and showing your support!

Cheers,

Ruby

Categories: From The Road | Tags: | Leave a comment

Argentine Holidays (and hello again)

Hi folks!

Well, I kind of fell off the posting band wagon. I was without internet for a while, then wanted to process where I´d been and what I´d seen, then didn´t feel like I could catch up on everything so didn´t write at all.  I´ve decided that this cannot be a chronological blog. Instead, I´m going to post right now about what is going on right now. Perhaps in the future on a rainy day when I feel more like staying in an internet cafe than running around a new city I will get back to those other posts. But for now, enjoy some information I picked up about Argentine holidays while interrogating some new Argentine friends in Rosario, Argentina (Yes, the Rosario where Che Guevarra grew up).

Argentine Holidays (in no particular order):

1. Flag Day. This is a holiday that is celebrated in Rosario since it is where the Argentine flag was born. People from all over the country bring bits of blue or white or gold cloth and all of them are sewn into a giant patchwork Argentine flag–the biggest flag in the world–which is paraded through the streets up to the flag monument.

2. Mother´s Day. Celebrated differently in each family, but it is a day to honor mothers.

3. Father´s Day. See above, but honors fathers.

4. Children´s Day. See above, but to honor children. On this day, families do whatever the kids want.

5. Lover´s Day. Celebrated in June, this is a day for lovers to honor each other. It takes more planning than the Hallmark holiday Valentine´s Day which is also celebrated by some but only by giving a card or flowers.

6. St. Patrick´s Day. Only celebrated by Irish and English pubs.

7. Independence Day. A day that you get off from school or work, but no one does much of anything.

8. Sweets Week. During the week you give a candy or sweet to your friends. Only one sweet need be given to each friend, not one per day.

9. Friends Day. Actually celebrated for a whole week, this is a time when you go out to a bar and hang out with your friends, with a different friend group on each day. Family and significant others not invited.

10. Christmas Eve. Dinner with your family and family time til around 2 AM, followed by going out with your friends.

11. New Year´s Eve. Same as above.

We may also have talked about some more holidays, but that´s all I can remember for the moment. Cheers!

Categories: Argentina, From The Road, South America | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Land of OOs and AAs

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana.  It was originally colonized by the British but then traded to Holland in exchange for New Amsterdam, which as we all know became New York.  What a different city NYC would be, had that transaction not taken place.  Instead Suriname became Dutch-speaking and New York English-speaking.  Immediately we could recognize the long words with multiple vowels–a language of OOs and AAs.  There are also big Indonesian and Chinese populations here, and we arrived just in time for Chinese New Year.  Our host and his brother said that the Chinese tend to keep to themselves, but we still managed to enjoy fireworks on Sunday night and go to a Chinese dragon dance at a casino on Monday night.  More ooh and aahs.  Paramaribo, the capital of Surniame, was much more to our liking than Georgetown had been.

Here´s what I wrote in my notebook about Suriname after the first day there:

-SO much less honking of cars

-Less developed, more rural along the road from the ferry and more plants in town

-Paramaribo downtown is more city-like, bigger buildings, more bustling feel but also less trash strewn around

-Everything just feels calmer

-Kevin and Genevieve (our Canadian friends who we´d met in Georgetown but who we met back up with in Parbo) say you can take a bus (taxi not needed) from our host even though he´s far from the center–more infrastructure

-Easily met up with our CS host and another CS couple for dinner, seems like a more active community

-Much more Chinese influence–every 3rd store coming into town had a Chinese name and many written in both English and Chinese characters

-Some Indian influence with temples, but less

-Indonesian food all over–very different from anything I´ve had, different spices, presentation, textures (e.g., beef with coconut shavings)

So that´s a few thoughts from Suriname.  I´ll try to post some pictures soon.

Categories: From The Road, South America, Suriname | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Useful Information For Those Traveling Overland/Ferry Through The Guianas

My friend and I have just gone from Georgetown, Guyana, to Paramaribo, Suriname, to Cayenne, French Guiana. Our guidebooks gave us some information on how to go place to place, but it involved a lot of flipping back and forth between country sections, and still didn`t quite cover everything, so I thought I would post what we learned from doing it ourselves for anyone else looking for information. Here is what I can tell you:

From Georgetown we took a minibus at 5AM to South Drain where the ferry is. This cost us G3000 each, and someone gave us a number to call in advance to arrange it (local call: 220-5365 or 220-1456). If you don`t have a phone, you can probably arrange it through a hostel, hotel, travel agency or maybe even the Tourist office in Georgetown, but they may quote you a different price. Or you can do what we did and ask at random hotel reception desks if you can make a local call.

You must arrive at South Drain by 8AM, then queue up to buy your ferry ticket (we went on a Saturday and it was G2000 per person, but our other friends went on a Thursday and it cost them G1500 per person). Then you queue up to pass through customs and get your passport stamped, then wait in a wainting area off the customs office. We had to wait over an hour, but luckily they had a TV playing Happy Feet 2 so we were entertained. The ferry should arrive at 9AM but when we took it, it didn`t come until 10. Once it unloads its passengers, you get on and take the ferry across. It took us around 1.5-2 hours to cross to Nieuw Nickerie. Then everyone had to go through Surinamese customs, which took a long time because there was only one customs officer checking passports. We arranged a minibus there to take us the 3 hours to Paramaribo, but we had to wait until everyone went through customs before we left, and then got stopped at a random police checkpoin, so we didn`t actually get into Paramaribo until 6PM. That minibus taxi cost us SRD60 each, and they dropped us off right at the address we gave them.

When going from Paramaribo to the French Guiana border, you can take a minibus taxi from Waterkant and Heiligenweg near the KFC. It should cost SRD60-70 per person and should take 1.5-2.5 hours to Albina, depending on the weather and condition of the roads. We went during the rainy season and the roads were in very poor condition with lots of construction going on. Ask them to drop you at the immigration office if you can, otherwise you can apparently get a taxi from downtown to the customs office.

When we got there, there was no one else trying to cross so we didn`t have to wait at customs at all. Once you have your passport stamped, you can either wait for the ferry (4 euros, not sure what times it leaves) or you can walk down to the pier behind the customs office and take a motorized dugout canoe or “pirogue” across to Saint Laurent (ask them to drop you at customs on the other side instead of at the beach) for 3-4 euros (we forgot to negotiate the price before getting in, so ended up paying 5 euros each, but the customs officer there told us we had been overcharged and that it should be 4 euros max). Walk up to the little customs kiosks and get your passport stamped.

From there it is a little tricky. The minibuses are not nearby and taxis only come when the ferry comes. The customs officer was very nice and drew us a map for where to walk to get to a taxi stand and gave us the number of two taxi companies (0694425968 or 0694262608), however since we didn`t have a phone we walked the 1.2 km to the taxi stand. If you too are walking, go out of the customs area and turn left. Walk about 1 km til you get to the church, then make a right and cross two small roads over to the taxi stand which looks like an abandoned gas station. If you are lucky, someone will have a taxi there. We were not so lucky, but asked the men standing around where we could get a taxi and one of them called his friend who charged us 10 euros total to take us the short distance to the minibuses, but we had heavy bags and wouldn`t have wanted to walk more, nor did we know the way.

Find a minibus going to Cayenne. It should take 2.5-3 hours once your bus is full (they wait to have 8 people before leaving) and they charged us 35 euros each to go to the bus station or 40 euros each to be taken to an address. We had to pay when we got on the bus rather than at the end of the journey, but were given ticket stubs showing we had paid. You will be stopped at a customs office near Iracoubo where you have to show your passports, then will stop in Iracoubo and transfer to another minibus for the second half of the ride (but the fare you paid in Saint Laurent covers both buses). First they bring people to the bus station, then ask for the address of everyone getting dropped off at addresses and take you around town dropping people off.

Hope this helps anyone else trying to do the same!

Cheers,

Ruby

Categories: French Guiana, From The Road, Guyana, South America, Suriname, Travel Aids | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Embassies and Manatees

Aside from the delicious food mentioned in the previous post, two things stood out from our time in Georgetown, Guyana.

1: Embassies

Our first morning in Georgetown, we went with the Canadian couple we’d met the night before to the Surinamese Embassy.  Kevin & Genevieve were being hosted by the same couchsurfing host as we were, and had happened to show up at the house just as we pulled up in our taxi from the airport at 10 PM, which was amazing luck because without them we’d have been stuck wandering the streets of Georgetown after dark–something you do NOT want to do, especially as two females–since it turned out our host didn’t actually live in the house, just let others use it, and they had the key. And even better luck was that we got along well with them, and they too were planning to travel to Suriname.

Toby and I slept poorly (we didn’t have effective mosquito nets with us, and were sleeping on a hammock and small couch, neither of which were very comfortable) and woke before the others, so we walked the 8 blocks in the rain from our host’s house to the embassy, showed our passports to the guard at the gate, were instructed we would need more formal shirts than the tank tops we were wearing (but luckily I’d read that Guyanese dress up for governmental affairs so had brought along two button down shirts for us), got clip on tags with numbers for the queue, and were instructed to wait in the Waiting Room until our numbers were called. There were only 2 others before us and it was 8:30 AM, but we were still waiting when Kev and Gen arrived a little after 9.  Finally, we were called into the tiny room with the grate to speak with the woman in charge of visas. She told us that the US$15 transit visas good for 3 days that we’d been hoping to get were only available for passports from France or Holland, since the French and Dutch fly into and out of French Guiana or Suriname, respectively. However, they’d recently added a new visa–US$45 single entry good for 30 days instead of the regular US$150 multiple entry good for 5 years–and we could get that. (Apparently if you go to a Surinamese consulate in the States before you arrive there is also now a US$15 tourist card good for 90 days, which is also available at the French Guiana/Suriname border, but not at the Guyana/Suriname border nor at the consulate in Georgetown.)

So we went back to the waiting room and filled out the forms she’d given us, waited a little longer, then went back in, handed in our forms, paid the fee (luckily I happend to be wearing my money belt with US$100 cash to pay for both of us, which even posed a little problem when one $20 bill had a tiny rip in it, but Toby had a $20 she swapped in–a word to the wise, bring crisp US dollars!), then had to go get one passport photo each to submit with our forms before noon so that we could get them signed by 3 and could go with Kev and Gen the next day to Suriname.  They had already had to go through all of this the previous day, so took us to a shop on the top floor of the mall on Regent Street where we could get instant passport photos. We also hadn’t yet gotten to a Scotia Bank (the only bank that will allow foreign ATM cards), so they lent us money for the photos (G$1000=US$5 each) and to take a minivan bus back to the embassy (G$60=US$0.20 each!).  However, when we got back to the embassy, she checked our passports and found that Toby’s didn’t have a full page for the visa (they had stamped her last full page with the Guyanese arrival stamp instead of using a page that already had a stamp on it).  She said she would need more pages in her passport, but if we could get it back to her by 2 PM (usually the cutoff is noon, but she was being nice), we could have the visa by 3 PM.

This meant a trip to the American Embassy. Of course, we also didn’t have any money left and had told Kev and Gen we would meet them and our host for lunch at a restaurant downtown at noon, and had no way to contact them. We walked up to Lamaha Street, the closest main thoroughfare in the direction of the bank, hoping to find a taxi. No luck. So we walked back to Vlissigen Street which we’d come on. Still no luck. Finally we found a taxi company and asked if it would be possible to pass by the Scotia Bank, then to the American Embassy. After we’d arrived and paid him G$500 (US$2.50), we showed our passports and stepped into the lobby to go through security. However, they do not allow cameras, pills, Purell, sunscreen and a whole list of items we had with us in our bags, and told us they could not hold those items for us. Since I didn’t actually need to go to the embassy, I opted to take one bag and put all our ‘contraband’ items in it and leave her with the other, and walk to meet Kev & Gen to tell them what had happened while Toby got extra pages added to her passport in order to get the Surinamese visa. After she went in, I realized I’d given her the guidebook so didn’t totally know where the restaurant was, but I picked my way around and asked people and finally found the place, just as Toby pulled up in a taxi. There was no way they could have the pages ready by 2 PM. They had to transmit Toby’s social security number back over to Washington, D.C. to check it out–make sure she was who she said she was and wasn’t giving some deceased person’s information–before they could issue the pages and told her it should be ready either by that afternoon, or by the morning. So we met Kev and Gen at the Coalpot Restaunt, had a nice meal, and told them that we couldn’t go with them to Suriname the next morning. I was actually a little glad since spending just one day in Georgetown, and most of it in embassies, felt too quick. And since the Surinamese visa office is only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we wouldn’t be able to get our visas til Friday, so wouldn’t be able to leave until Saturday morning, giving us 3 days.

The next morning we went to the American Embassy to check back in. I waited outside with our bags while Toby went in. The transmission still hadn’t been answered. They said this was unusual, but that they would keep trying and we should come back between 1 and 3 that afternoon. When we went back at 2 PM it still hadn’t transmitted. However, Toby told them that she needed to get the pages that day since we had to get the visa the next morning to leave on Saturday, and a supervisor was able to override it. For US$82, she got 43 colorful new pages for visas. It was actually 2 sets of new pages, but she hadn’t been given an option for anything else, so we’re not sure if they usually give that many, or if they felt sorry for her haveing to come back so much and threw in an extra set at no cost. In any case, we were now ready to go back to the Surinamese Embassy the next morning.

After more button downs, number tags, and waiting in the Waiting Room, we got to drop off our passports again and although it was a different woman, luckily the first one had made a note that we’d already paid on Wednesday so we were all set.  And at 3 PM, with minimal wait time, we were finally able to pick up our passports with shiny new Surinamese visas good for 30 days single entry. Huzzah!

2. Manatees

Our host came by the house each morning and gave us a ride into downtown (Wednesday we’d left the house before he came, but he did so Thursday and Friday). On our way into town Thursday, he pointed out a pond in the National Park as we passed and told us there were manatees there. When we were up in that area later checking out the Sea Wall and had some time to kill, we decided to walk over to the National Park to check them out. We found the pond and were standing on the track nearby trying to peer into the water to look for signs of life when a man who had been jogging stopped and asked us if we were looking for the manatees. He told us we should go up further to where we could get closer to the pond and should throw grass in the water and call for the manatees. We walked up further, threw a small handfull of grass in the water and sheepishly yelled, “Here manatees!” Nothing happened.  We walked back a bit to where we could make out movement far away and took out our cameras to take blurry pictures of the far away creatures.

At this point, the man had made it around the track and asked if we’d gotten to see them up close. We admitted that we hadn’t, so he came over, grabbed big fistfulls of grass from the bank, threw them in the water, and started whistling. He told us to keep whistling and he found a brick to lay on the soft dirt pilled by the water barrier to the pond so that we could step from there to the pond wall. Suddenly, there were bubbles, then nostrils, then heads and finally the giant backs of the manatees surfaced, just by our feet!  They are so much bigger in person than I’d imagined. The man who’d helped us got down and, with an admonition to not stay on the wall too long, left. 

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We stayed standing there for a short while, watching them eat and taking pictures, then climbed back off the wall.  A group of school kids came by, saw the manatees, and clambered onto the wall too, yelling to each other about the manatees until the sea cows finished the grass and swam away from the wall. One big one joyfully flipped his tail in the air. I like to think we was saying “Thank you for the grass!” and waving us farewell.

The next day, after picking up our passports from the Surinamese Embassy, we went with another American we’d met to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo. He had been told there were more manatees in the canal there. After some patient waiting and cayman (small fierce alligators) spotting, we saw the tell-tale bubbles and nostrils on the other side of the water. We made our way over, and were rewarded with a full view of a manatee who at first came to the bank and nibbled at the grass there, but then pulled himself up with his front flipper to that he was part way out of the water and could get at the longer grass further up the bank. These manatees did not look like the ones I’d seen in Florida as a kid, but instead looked more like a cross between those manatees and a rhinoceros. Their faces had long snouts, and the front flipper looked like a little leg with tough rhino skin.

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When he slipped back into the water, we went and sat by another bank.  Another (or perhaps the same?) manatee swam over to this bank and started eating the grass at the bank there, even though the water was covered with a film of oil and had trash floating in it. We felt bad watching him eat in those conditions, but were also excited to have a manatee close enough that we could have touch it if we’d been brave enough. Instead, we just took many more pictures.

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I could tell you about the beautiful Promenade Park, the time spent in internet cafes hiding from drenching rain, going to a street vendor and bargaining for better prices on mosquito nets or watching someone pocket a can of condensed milk from a stand just in front of where we were walking in Stabroek Market, but those are short stories with only small memories attached. What will stand out in my memory from our 3 days in Georgetown are the embassies and manatees.

Categories: From The Road, Guyana, South America | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Foods Eaten in Georgetown, Guyana

One of the most interesting things about Guyana was the food. Here`s what we ate:

Wednesday lunch: Coalpot Restaurant. 1 plate of calaloo (spinach-based dish with garlic and onions), channa (chick pea dish with onions) and Spanish rice for G$600 (US$3) and 1 plate of chicken curry, channa and Spanish rice for G$720 (~US$3.60). Delicious, huge and filling, and cheap!

Guyanese food

Thursday lunch: 1 bhaigan (eggplant) ball, 1 potato ball and 2 puri (like flour tortillas with lentils inside) for G$280 (~US$1.75) from one stall in Stabroek Market and a small bunch of sweet bananas from another for G$180 (~US$0.75). Super cheap and super yummy! Where else could you get lunch for two for under US$2.50?

Thursday dinner: Shanta’s The Puri Shop. 1 plate with dahl, rice and coconut choka (like a small ball of finely grated coconut mixed with spices? Different from anything I’ve ever had) for me and 1 plate of dahl, rice and mango curry for Toby. About US$6 each and very yummy!

Friday lunch: Jerry’s. 1 cheese pie, 4 pulari (fried dough balls that the waitres said de of split peas but didn’t taste like much of anything), rice, 1 cheese roll, 1 beef pie, 1 bread-thing-I-don’t-remember-the-name-of, channa, curry chow mein and a small amount of macaroni salad with raisins, accompanied by 1 bottle of mango-carrot juice and 1 bottle of orange-carrot juice. About US$12 total much food to finish for both of us (we saved the bread for the next day).

Friday dinner: back to Shanta’s The Puri Shop. I had rice with bora (a long green bean local to the area), potato and shrimp and a glass of ginger-passion fruit juice and Toby had rice with pumpkin curry and a glass of cane juice.  Again about US$12 for both of us and very good. Her curry and my juice were the hits of the evening!

We also went back to Stabroek Market and got a glass of mauby juice to drink that afternoon (NOT good! Kind of like apple cider vinegar and flat soda…yum?) and 5 potato balls (they were so good we wanted to go back for more that we could bring with us on the ride to Suriname) for G$300 (US$1.50).

In short, very diverse food from many different cultures, super yummy and inexpensive!  It was our favorite part of Guyana! 🙂

Categories: From The Road, Guyana, South America | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Road From Cheddi Jaggan

You walk out of customs and are immediately welcomed to a chorus of “taxi? taxi?” You take the first man who wears a badge and asks more politely, then climb into his minivan. You ask if there will be others, and tells you, “No, just you two.” You tell him you have no Guyanese dollars but he says it’s ok, he takes US dollars, $25 to Georgetown.  You climb into the back of the minivan and head off into the dark night.

You’ve been speaking in English, but that’s where the similarities with the world you left end.  The first thing that strikes you is that you’re driving on the left, and your brain takes several minutes to recalibrate so that you aren’t constantly cringing when you see headlights coming towards you on the right.  But after a few minutes, your body remembers what it was like to drive on the left in South America, the UK and New Zealand, and you settle back against the seat.

The air is heavy and thick with smells.  Cooking oil, manure, and an earthy smell that is completely different than the earth in Virginia or Massachusetts.  That smell, combined with the white washed iron fences and gates out in front of the houses, remind you of Senegal.  But the billboards are for GT&T and Digitel instead of Orange.

You pass mosques, churches, temples and pagodas all next to each other and you know, suddenly, that although much is familiar, you’re somewhere you’ve never been before.

Categories: From The Road, Guyana, South America | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Last Night in the States

So this is it. My last night in the States.

Yesterday I flew from Boston to West Palm Beach where my travel companion Toby picked me up and drove me to her grandparent’s house in Boca Raton. We’ve had a very leisurely day of sleeping in, going on a boardwalk stroll through the Floridian mangrove jungle of Gumbo Limbo, a quick windy walk along the beach, some quality time with grandparents doing the crossword puzzle and playing scrabble, and of course a good long chat about what to do and bring, which of course necessitated taking everything out of our bags, comparing what we’ve packed and repacking it all again.

We also brainstormed a ‘Things That Might Happen While We’re Traveling Together In the Guianas and Brazilian Amazon’ BINGO game. Instead of drawing numbers, we will have to have interesting experiences that allow us to cross off spaces on our BINGO boards.  I look forward to crossing off “swimming in the ocean,” “eating a fruit I’ve never heard of” and “having a successful 8 phrase conversation in Portuguese.” And if I “throw up,” “have something stolen” or “get accidentally drenched,” at least I’ll have the consolation prize of crossing off more spaces.

How do I feel about our immanent departure? Excited. Nervous. Prepared. Unprepared. It’s calmed me a little bit to meet up with Toby and remember that I’m doing this with a close friend. Somehow in all my planning, I’d forgotten that I wouldn’t have to be taking on all of this unknown alone, at least in the beginning.  And when Toby flies back after 3.5 weeks, I will have settled back into travel mode and will be ready to take on the next adventures.

So farewell, afscheid, adieu and despedida until the next blog post!

Categories: From The Road, South America | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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