Video Cadillac Ranch in West Texas

video of Peru



Today’s video features a road side attraction in West Texas.  Is Cadillac Ranch an eyesore or an art project?  The song is by a band called El Atolón de Funafuti from Argentina.  Check out their website

Video of Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands



One year ago today we met Lilan Longo and his band Lilan Sur Expres.  Here is one of their songs called “Camino Alternativo”.

The video features footage from our trip to the Galapagos Islands with Quasar.  We sailed aboard the M/V Evolution.


Rome to Barcelona on an Overnight Boat



Please note that the following overnight boatride departs from Civitavecchia, Italy arriving the next day in Barcelona.  In order to get from Rome to Civitavecchia you need a train and then a short busride to get to the docks.  There is a reverse route for those looking to travel from Barcelona to Civitavecchia.  You would then take a train to Rome.

white waves on the mediterranean sea

The blue blue sea in the morning

It was technically my first cruise.  The ship had luxury cabins and a casino.  The dining area was well lit and several bars offered DJ beats and dance floor grooves.  The bar was open all night and the delicate clink of cocktail glasses could be heard into the early morning hours.  But it’s not what you think.  We weren’t twirling about in blacktie or rolling dice with high rollers.

On our way from Rome to Barcelona, Neil and I chose to ride the cruise ship for cheap. It was summer time, the most expensive season to travel through Europe.  And on our itinerary we’d visited two of the most expensive countries in the EU: the Netherlands and Italy.  But being a backpacker doesn’t mean you always miss out on the high life.  We enjoyed ourselves in Amsterdam and Florence with our friends Tim and Julie.  We rode bikes on the wine trail in Lucca and lodged at a beautiful hotel in Rome.

But everything in moderation.  So when balancing our budget, we tightened our spending by taking a boat to Barcelona.  It took a bit of planning to get from Rome to Civitavecchia where the boats disembark.  We opted out of the cabin and elected to race fellow passengers for spots on the common room sofas as if we were all part of the Simpsons opening theme song.  We didn’t

tourists on a European cruise ship

Self portrait in the morning after sleeping on the couch!

check our bags because it would have been expensive.  We didn’t even browse the slot machines.  On the 18 hour cruise westward across the Mediterranean Sea, we slogged away in steerage, finding little room to stash our stuff and take naps while making our way to Spain.

lunch on the ship

Chow time! Pre-order your meals and save 40% off the ship price!


Why travel by overnight cruise ship

In Europe you’ve many transportation options.  Planes save time but have extra fees for baggage, of which we had several pieces.  Buses across the breadth of Europe are long and arduous.  Trains in summer are pricey.  But when looking at all our options our friends from Leuven, Belgium recommended using the overnight service which saved us one night’s accommodation and 18 hours on a bus.

The catch: you keep all your stuff with you and sit in a booth all night.  It’s actually more comfortable than it seems.  The seats are more plush than the bus.  Bathrooms are plentiful and I avoided the nausea and swelling associated with air travel.

cheap boat from rome to barcelona

Enjoying the fresh air

What to do on the cruise ship

Dining was great.  After some research and planning, we realized that the best way to save money was to purchase our meals before boarding.  This saved us 40% off the retail on-board cost and the dining room was lovely.  Meals are three courses and include fruit and wine.

We got yelled at. There are some rules to follow when you’re on a cruise ship without a cabin.  It’s all about location.  Don’t camp out near any café or pub.  Choose a sofa or lounge chair away from high traffic areas.  Don’t take it personally when the staff enforce the rules.  Remember: you can’t put your feet on the couch.  You can’t sleep before midnight or after 6am in the dining area.  If you’ve got a sleeping bag, create your own tent city on the ship but only if you find a nook of the boat with few people.  Many experienced overnighters brought their own cushions to fashion makeshift beds

Enjoy the view.  In the morning when we’d eaten breakfast.  Neil and I went outside to lounge on the decks.  The sun was warm.  The sea breeze salty and the sky was a crisp cerulean blue.  Music playing, we enjoyed a few hours of writing as the sea waves passed by.  European holiday makers made use of the on-deck swimming pool and snack bar while groups of well-rested truck drivers took another deep breath before loading back into their rigs.

cruise ship europe

plenty of ways to spend time and money on the passage between Italy and Spain

Arriving in Barcelona

We arrived at the main ports on Las Ramblas.  From here public transportation was easy as we hopped on the subway and took a bus to a small homestay in the residential area above Guell Park.  It was the cutest and cheapest room we could find.  Our hostess was an opera singer and extremely kind.  She opened her home to us and introduced us to her furry rabbit tenants on the balcony.  She let us use her office when our atm card was hacked.  All in all, saving the money from our trip was relatively painless especially considering some of the overnight buses we’d had in Peru and Ecuador.  Cruising across the Mediterranean was hardly tiresome.  In fact it was fun and funny at times.

Red Bull Flugtug in Lima Peru

flugtug south america



For most travelers a visit to Peru wouldn’t be complete without a stay in Lima.  Sprawling with neighborhoods as varied as bananas in a market, the Peruvian capital is home to over 8 million people and a myriad of haute cuisine eateries, high-end shopping, and all-night clubs.  During the day, snack on caramel delights called tejas.  Stroll through the Miraflores district and watch the world go by.

red bull callao

We headed to Callao for the Red Bull Flugtug with this crew of new friends.

We visited Lima last year in the heat of their summer.  Our first stop in the capital was to the offices of a helpful organization called the South American Explorers Club(SAE).  We had already visited the SAE Quito office while traveling in Ecuador.  We were eager to find out what information and events the Lima branch had available to wanderers and expats.  After taking a tour of the facilities we somehow managed to attach ourselves to a group of residents/volunteers at the SAE.  They led us on a collectivo and bus journey to the shoreline at Callao.


flugtug south america

A craft flies off the pier toward the Pacific Ocean

Red Bull Flugtug in Callao

Once in Callao we headed to the rocky beach to enjoy the Red Bull Flugtug Lima.  A flugtug is a competition where teams create their own glider planes and costumes.  One brave pilot sits in the makeshift cockpit as his friends run wild, pushing the plane toward the end of a pier.  From the shoreline, spectators gaze as planes fly off the pier and gravity hurls each craft into the unforgiving Pacific Ocean.  The vessel with the best distance wins but teams with great pre-launch dance moves can earn style points.

red bull car

Red Bull sponsored cars lined up in Callao Peru




We sat with the SAE crew watching cardboard and piping crash into the sea enjoying the hilarious scene.  The SAE Lima branch became our home away from our homestay.  We used the space as an office, searched for volunteer opportunities in Cusco, and even celebrated my birthday at SAE Lima.  If you are spending an extended amount of time in South America, consider a membership with the South American Explorers Club.


Part 1: Visiting Kyoto along the Philosopher’s Path

shrine in kyoto



Pass through the giant Torii gateway in Kyoto, Japan and you will transcend time into a world preserved against the ages.  More than an ancient city, Kyoto possesses the legendary flare of the samurai with all the accoutrements of a metropolis.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, this city boasts architecture dating back to the tenth century and a medieval beauty so rich that American Secretary of War Henry Stimson struck it from the short list of A-bomb targets.  Over 1100 years old, Kyoto has withstood war, natural disaster, and political intrigue.  To modern Japanese, Kyoto is the basin of culture and history; where emperors are enthroned, where geisha still clip-clop at twilight along cobblestone avenues, and where the clear waters of Kiyomizu may be the real life fountain of youth.


When traveling there, visitors should divide the city into five areas: the city center, northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest.  Each area is easily accessible via buses, subways, and trains.  Don’t worry about language barriers.  As you ride along, stops are posted on monitors and announced several times in English.  Several day passes are available and can be purchased at train stations and tourist offices.  Most likely, you enter the city through Kyoto Japan Rail (JR) Station with your rail pass, a great way to save money.  Similar to other cities, it is Kyoto’s commercial heart.  If it’s your first time here, make your way to the peripheral areas first where the historical sites will be crowned with fall foliage.

The Northeast or Higashiyama North.  Set foot on the Philosopher’s Path and walk along a canal under the thick canopy of fall hues.

shrine in kyoto

Visit Kyoto in any season

Eikan-do:  The Temple of the Maple Leaves

From Kyoto Station or the Keihan Sanyjo Station, take city bus #5 and get off at Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi.  Walk three minutes toward the mountain.  Eikan-do was founded in 855 by a Buddhist priest named Shinsho and in the 11th century the temple was renamed for a philanthropist priest named Eikan.  The grounds reach in all directions and boast architecture from several eras.  Gardens and ponds dot the landscape.  But take special note of the artwork.  Painstakingly restored, paintings include a massive collection of Amida Buddha images as well as dragons and phoenixes.  Inside the temple, view the statue of Buddha Glancing Backwards.  For a spectacular city view, climb up the mountainside through the trees.  A clearing up the path offers a outlook over Kyoto bathed in warm red and yellow foliage.   After sunset, the temple opens for night visits, a great opportunity to see the art and architecture in a more ethereal perspective.

Leaving the temple gates, take two rights and hug the tree lines to begin the Philosopher’s Path.  The stone path winds through several old neighborhoods.  To your left, the canal follows along while all around you maple trees encourage you further down the road.  Walking north, you can discover small temples and shrines as well as sojourn into cafes and shops.  The walk is only thirty minutes but take your time.  Have coffee, snap pictures, and enjoy the little discoveries of Kyoto.


Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion

The Philosopher’s Path brings you right to its high-hedged entry.  Approaching the complex, you walk between a maze of evergreens.  The corridor winds and becomes a portal back in time.  At the last turn, take a deep breath as everything unfolds at once: cobbled paths, spindly trees that point sideways, ponds, sand gardens, and of course the main temple.

In 1482, Shogun Ashikawa Yoshimasa built the estate as his retirement villa.  After his death, it was converted to a Zen temple.  Though never covered in silver, the temple which was once covered in shiny lacquer would catch moonlight and reflect it into the grounds in a silvery glow.  Overall, Ginkakuji maintains an aesthetic spell over the grounds.  Follow the path around to the Sea of Silver Sand where raked sand mimics the ebb and flow of the changing tide.  Sit at the steps of one of the minor buildings and watch the leaves and manicured trees bow in the breeze.  Or marvel at sand sculpture called the Moon Viewing Platform.  For a birdseye view of the grounds, head up the path behind the main building.  Through the trees, you can peer down to the lake and temple with Kyoto peeking out from behind.


Honen-in Temple

For a temple that is a little closer to nature head south from Ginkakuji to this mystical Buddhist temple.  Flush against the trees and secluded from the main paths, Honen-in has raked gardens, ponds, and stone statues as well as a gently sloping staircase where you can imagine centuries of monks passing over.  Here, the trees hang low almost pressing up against the dark buildings.  Here, you feel the season.  Colors sweep across the somber buildings making them more cheery but magical at the same time.

At the heart of Kyoto, Shijo-dori (Shijo Road) maintains the pulse of the city with its commercial buildings, nightlife, and dining.  Close by, the Kyoto Imperial Castle warrants a visit as well.  But head out to the periphery of the city—to the east or west and you will find the greatest and smallest treasures of this ancient capital.  Wander under the turning leaves along Tetsugaku-no-Michi (The Path of o).  Discover quiet temples and stone Buddha statues and end up at Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavillion).  Designed as a noble retreat, you enter the grounds by weaving along the walkway lined with tall hedges.  Just as you make one final dramatic turn, you step into an estate construct for royalty.  Paths bring you passed open pavilions, sand gardens, and trees with spindly branches pointing the way toward the ponds, the central temple, and up the mountain to the trees.  Come early when the air is fresh and the walkways unoccupied.

On Friday, read onto Part 2 about visiting Kyoto via its southern temples, waterfalls, and famed Maruyama Park.  If you’re really looking to round out your Japanese vacation consider: a sumo tournamet in Nagoya and viewing the cherry blossoms in Nagasaki.