Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to get your motorbike licence - and increase your travelling options overseas!

Getting my motorbike licence has always been one of those things on my bucket list. It's one of my dreams to circumnavigate Australia on one with little more then myself and a swag/tent. And I was even more determined to get it after coming home from my last 10 month backpacking adventure - so that's exactly what I did when I got home - after my bank account had recovered enough!


Now I was definitely no motorbike pro. Pretty much a total beginner in fact! And a female beginner at that haha.. So I am living proof that pretty much anyone can acquire their licence if they are determined enough to. And my biggest bit of advice is don't be scared, or think it is an unreachable goal, especially if you are a girl - I was totally surprised at how easy it was.

MY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE (OR LACK THEREOF)

- My father had taught me the basics on an old Yamaha ag bike out on my grandfathers farm roughly 15 years ago. I could stop, go, and change up to second gear, but that was pretty much it. I only rode by myself about 5 times.
- When I was little I did a lot of miles on the back of my dad's bike.. not that I think that helps too much.
- Working on the ranch in Canada for 6 months, there was a small portion of my time spent riding a quad bike. It took a bit to refresh my memory on gears etc, but it did help out a little.
- I drive a manual car, and always have - giving me an understanding of how gears work etc... so it might be handy to have a go driving a geared car or quad bike first - thats if you have no idea of how to change gears!
- I have ridden horses and push bikes growing up, so my balance is pretty good. Whip out your old mountain bike if you have one to get the feel of two wheels if you balance is a little rusty.

So going into my my motorbike learners test, that was pretty much all the exposure I had to riding a motorbike by myself.

HOW TO BOOK FOR YOUR LEARNER'S PERMIT

Living in Victoria, Australia, there is a company called DECA (Driver Education Centre of Australia) who offers courses in Truck, Car, 4WD, Bus and Coach and Motorcycle training. They are the best in the business in our area, and the instructors are absolutely fantastic. They provide motorbikes, helmets and gloves for testing, you just have to wear long pants, boots and a long sleeved shirt. They also offer an introductory Motorcycle and Scooter course, but if you have good balance and a concept of gear change, and had roughly the same experience as I outlined above, you could probably just book straight in for your Learner's test. If you think the introductory course is necessary in your circumstances here is the link: Motorcycle Introductory Course.



To book, I applied through their webpage for my L's: Motorcycle Learner Permit. You can see the current cost and prices there as well. After applying, DECA sent out an enrolment form and some other paperwork, including what the test involved. The day before my test I was lucky enough to head back out to the farm to practice some of the exercises on the old farm bike.

The Learner's Permit course was a one day course, with two tests held at the end - the practical and the written. There are some informative videos to watch, and your instructor teaches you the following practical skills:

- Motorcycle safety inspection (check all your lights and horn work etc)
- Locating and operating motorcycle controls (turning fuel on, being able to indicate and use your horn without looking)
- Right and left turns (making sure you indicate for change of direction)
- Motorcycle control and balance at low speed (you have to ride a certain distance as slow as you can without putting your feet down.. you can't be faster then the allocated time)
- Gear changing (taught how to change up and down gears)
- Braking (there's an emergency brake test where you have to stop your bike as quick as possible)

After you have practiced the above numerous times and have confidently learnt everything, you then run through your practical test towards the end of the day. You also have to sit a written test after completing your practical test, and you will need to read the Victorian Rider Handbook, Part 1 and Part 2 prior to your test day in order to answer all the questions as best you can. Read the questions carefully, there are a few I came across that were worded quite technically!



The courses and tests are pretty foolproof - the only major thing you can do to fail is to drop your bike. There's a pretty high success rate and your instructors really help and support you to achieve your permit at the end of the day. After you have acquired your Learner's permit, you have to remain on it for 3 months (max 15 months) before attempting to obtain your Probationary or Full Motorbike Licence.

HOW TO BOOK FOR YOUR PROBATIONARY/FULL LICENCE

If you are currently on your Probationary Licence driving your car, this will also be applied to your motorbike licence. Same goes for Fully Licensed drivers, who will end up with a Full motorbike licence at the successful completion of this course.


Since obtaining my L's, I had purchased a little 1998 Honda Rebel CA250 (see above), and had been riding around on the back roads until I was confident enough to hit town and the main roads. It didn't take me long to get used to travelling at higher speeds.. I remember the first few times I took it out and I thought 60kms/hr was sooooo fast and I would probably kill myself at 100kms haha. But I gradually got used to it, and practiced lots of intersection stops and goes until they became smooth and controlled. Soon enough I was confident enough to ride around town and continued practicing by riding to work as long as the weather was clear and sunny.

The booking process is exactly the same as for the Learners Permit, (but here is the link anyway): Motorcycle Provisional Licence, and DECA again send out all the necessary forms. This test it is more practical and focusses on riding skills, and you are assessed using a point system - different to the L's test. Your aim is to accumulate the least amount of points during assessment. If you accumulate over 40 points you are unable to pass, and you also fail if you drop your bike. I must admit, I did get butterflies when this was being explained, as instead of just being able to perform the skills like in the L's test, you have to be able to do it accurately at the right speeds.

The test included:
- 1 RH sweeping corner as fast as you can
- 1 LH sweeping corner as fast as you can
(There was also a simulated hazard avoidance test involving a set of lights, with a left, right and stop indicator that would be randomly prompted. You had to ride at a speed between 20-25kms coming up to the lights, then either counter-steer and swerve right or left, or perform an emergency stop)
- 1 counter-steer right
- 1 counter-steer left
- 2 emergency stops

Before the test you do plenty of practice of all the exercises, until you are scoring well and feeling confident. It would be best to have at least 3 months of riding experience for this test, as it is a lot more challenging then the Learners test. To give you an idea, our group were mostly of intermediate level. There were 2 experienced dirt bike riders there, one scoring 4 points and the other 10. They were amazing riders! There was another guy and girl there of roughly the same intermediate level as me and they ended up scoring 12. I scored 16, and there was another guy there who had scored 19. To be an instructor you just have to score under 20, so we all did pretty well really!

Please be aware this is Victoria and Tasmania's best suggested course of action to take to obtain your licence. Here are some other useful Australian links:
VicRoads (Victoria)
Transport Roads and Maritime Services (New South Whales)
Transport and Main Roads (Queensland)
Transport (Tasmania)
Transport Travel and Motoring (South Australia)
Department of Transport (Western Australia)
Department of Transport (Northern Territory)
Road Transport Information Management (ACT)

WHY AM I POSTING ABOUT GETTING YOUR MOTORCYCLE LICENCE ON A TRAVEL BLOG?

Im glad you asked! The main reason I chose to get my licence was because one day I will travel around Australia on a Motorcycle. However, I also wanted the flexibility to be able to travel just as freely anywhere overseas.. AND, if I was to go to somewhere dominated by two-wheeled vehicles (like the photo below..) and lacking road rules such as Thailand, I would most likely be a whole lot safer being an experienced and licensed rider. Generally speaking, motorcycles are a lot cheaper to get a hold of then cars. You can park them pretty much anywhere, and depending what type, you can ride them a whole bunch of places too. Fuel is sooooo much cheaper as well (it would cost me $12 to fill my Honda Rebel, and that would easily get me over 200kms). But the most important thing is they are so much fun to ride!



I have now upgraded to a Kawasaki KLE500 (see below), and couldn't be happier. I have the best of both worlds with this bike, and after having so much trouble trying to find something dual purpose I fit on (I am 5'4" with quite short legs) this bike ticks all the boxes for me. I can get the balls of my feet to the ground and it's not too heavy either.



If I was to ever live lets say in Canada or New Zealand during summer for at least 6 months again, I would most definitely be looking into buying a motorbike over there and having it as my main method of transportation. The freedom that comes with a motorbike doesn't really compare with any other vehicle. To me, it's a perfect fit alongside backpacking, and I literally cannot wait to test it out - so watch this space ;)

And if you have any questions or have something to add to this post please comment below!







Saturday, June 15, 2013

How to pack your life into a 70L Macpac backpack for your backpacking holiday

One of my friends has suggested a fantastic idea for my next post. Her question? 

HOW DO I PACK MY BACKPACK?!? 

To roll or to fold?! 


It really does take you a while to work out an efficient and effective packing system for your particular backpack, so maybe I could give you a head start with my well tested methods. I've found a fantastic space saving way to pack my clothes, and I used this method for my last 10 month trip, while backpacking Canada, the USA, Peru and New Zealand - and (*cough* without bragging too much)... I reckon it's probably the best way to pack your bag, whether you're away for a few weeks or many months.

I am THAT dedicated to helping you guys out, I even went to the effort of whipping out my trusty Macpac to model for you today - taking a bajillion photos of what I use to organize my crap and step by step instructions showing how I stuff it all in.

So lets get to it. Firstly you need to organize your money, cards and I.D. As you can see below I use a small shoulder bag and small wallet with ONLY the necessary cards. For me thats my license, prepaid travel card, hosteling membership, student/youth card and enough cash to get me through the day. All my important bank cards, extra I.D and backup cash (Can you spot the old-school $20?) and account information goes in my big travel wallet, which is hidden in my large backpack. This acts like my personal safe, and I only access it if I need to top up my little wallet with some cash for the day. 


Next you want to sort your other important documents. I use a small waterproof document bag for my passport, flight tickets, visa information, and anything else important for making your way through the airport. I also have an extra plastic pocket where I keep photocopies of all my cards and passport, serial numbers of my laptop/camera, travel insurance documents and any other documents or maps. THIS NEVER LEAVES MY LARGE BACKPACK. It is my identity backup. I highly recommend for you to leave a copy of all your photocopied documents with a family member or close friend at home so if ...*touchwood*... all of your stuff gets stolen, or tips out of your canoe and disappears over a waterfall - at least you can still gain access to the specific numbers needed to prove your identity and be re-issued new documents while being overseas. 


Another important thing to pack - necessary medication. I take a fresh box of panadol and cold and flu tablets and some bandaids. I have been sick a few times while traveling.. and TRUST ME - you don't want to be the half-dead zombie-looking foreigner traipsing down the street in search of cold and flu medication and playing symptom charades with pharmacists that don't speak english. I have done it twice in my travels and I really can't say it's something I'd like to do again. Ever. Anyway I keep everything in the small zip bag seen below. I got this particular one from my travel doctor - It was a self medicating kit for food poisoning (which can be common in South America). Thank god I never had to use it.


I've been using an old Katmandu towel bag to house all my laptop cords, camera cords, adapters, chargers and anything else electrical. If I'm not using my hard-drive this goes in this bag too, otherwise ill keep it in my laptop case.


Lastly, your two most important devices! A compact laptop and digital camera. I always keep these items in my day pack while traveling - especially when flying. The last thing you need is a broken laptop from being bashed around amongst the other check in luggage. I invested in an 11.6 inch Macbook Air for $800 off eBay and it has been absolutely fantastic. Highly recommend it. Oh and can't forget a phone (which was unable to model today as was too busy photographing everything!). I brought a prepaid iPhone and an Otterbox case.


So that concludes the first part of my packing process. Here is everything 'important' ready to be packed.


Now all the important stuff is out of the way, time to move on to my best kept packing secret....

... ZIP LOCK BAGS!! Nope, not even joking. They are the bomb! 


STEP 1 - Pile of clothes vs large zip lock bags. 

Sort all your clothes into bulky and non bulky items. If you're not sure what that means, basically one pile of stuff that wont fit into plastic zip lock bags after being rolled up and one pile of stuff that will.


STEP 2 - Perfecting your rolling skills

Fold the item so it's the width of your ziplock bag. Roll each item individually and as tightly as you can.


STEP 3 - Perfecting your stuffing skills

Shove your tightly rolled item into the ziplock bag. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your bag is full (usually about 5 items). Then zip your bag till it is nearly closed, lay it flat and push out as much air as you can. I've found kneeling on it is the best way to get the air out. Then zip up the rest of the bag so it is airtight. 

  

You can't really tell from the photo below, but pushing the air out has had a vacuum effect, making the items a fraction of the size they were before. Pretty freaking clever aye ;) 
On the right are all my clothes ready to be packed. Bulky items like jackets, jeans and jumpers on the left. I will roll these separately and pack them wherever they fit best in my backpack.


Here are the last items to be packed, my towel, shoes, hairdryer and toiletry bag. My sleeping bag was a bit camera shy, but he should have been in this photo too. Although, a sleeping bag (believe it or not) is an unnecessary item if you are planning on just staying in hostels - most of the hostels wont let you use your sleeping bag for fear of transferring bed bugs. I brought my sleeping bag in Toronto for $80, halfway through my 10 month trip and only ended up really using it when I was camping in New Zealand for 2 weeks.. so my recommendation would be don't take one - they are pretty cheap to buy if you really need one.


NOW FOR THE BEST PART.. fitting your life into a 70L backpack. 

Meet the inside of my beloved Macpac.


1. Bottom first. 

I always pack the bottom of my pack first, mainly because I prefer to fill this section with bulky items like shoes, my sleeping bag, my hairdryer and other things that wont conform as well as clothing. Fit as much as you can in this section and zip it up.


2. Lower middle section

Next I pack my ziplocked clothes. I've found putting them sideways and shoving them to the bottom of this section is the best way to fit them. I'll shove anything else that can fit between them, such as my waterproof jacket you can see below.


3. Upper middle section and bulky rolled items. 

Now I puzzle the rest of my clothing in, and my toiletry bag. 


4. Compression straps.

To create even more space, I clip and tighten the compression straps as tight as they go. You can clearly see the difference this makes! I've got heaps of room to fit in stuff down the sides of the pack if needed, and usually food will take up that extra space if I'm on the road. 


5. Important stuff.

Choose a designated area to hide all your important documents. In my backpack, there's an awesome zipped section underneath the lid. I place my brown travel wallet, plastic folder with photocopies, medication, and my waterproof document case containing my passport. If I'm at the airport, I will have the case containing my passport and flight information in my day bag.


6. Zip and lock everything.

Make sure you buy TSA approved locks, so airport security can open the locks without cutting them if they need to. I'd also recommend buying combination locks - and place them on any zips that you will be in and out of regularly. It's a lot less hassle remembering codes as compared to having to find your keys all the time. 


7. Daypack 

Meet my little detachable Macpac daypack. In this I pack my laptop, keys to locks, my camera and my shoulder bag containing only what I need for the particular trip I'm making, e.g. from the airport to the hostel, or from one city to the next. If I'm at a hostel and just need to duck down the street, I'll use my shoulder bag and keep everything else locked up in a locker at the hostel.


8. VoilĂ ! Finished!

Everything is ready to go, and I still have plenty of room for the collection of random foreign clothes and souvenirs during my trip. On my last trip, my pack weighed roughly 15kgs to give you an idea, and I didn't take much more then what I've showed in this post. My little daypack has clips that clip to the shoulder straps, allowing the bag to hang in front of me when I'm on the move. I've found this to be the lightest and most comfortable way to travel, as the weight of the pack was distributed evenly over my shoulders. 


I hope this has provided some helpful information and handy tips to help you utilize as much of that 70L capacity in your pack as you can! If you have any other tips you can add, please don't hesitate to share!!

Want to find out tips on buying the right backpack? See my checklist and advice here

- Kobie


















Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Backpacking Peru by yourself - tips for solo women and men

You really really want to see South America. It's been your dream for the last two years or so, and Machu Picchu is on your bucket list. So is being able to speak Spanish. All your friends either have no money, other commitments, 'real jobs', or no balls to join you on the insanely cool adventure you know South America will be. Your parents aren't that keen on you traveling to what they perceive to be the daughter napping drug capital of the world, and your friends tell you there is no way in hell they would go there alone...

Sitting on the edge of the Colca Canyon

Now you have two options:
1 - Politely tell everyone to grow a pair, and book your flights to South America.
2 - Take the obviously 'well educated' advice from the people who have *cough* never been to South America, and choose to stay home or go somewhere 'safer'.

If you have wisely chosen option one, you may continue reading. Those who have chickened out and decided on option two, I'm awfully sorry but this is where the story ends for you.

So, option 1 peeps - Congratulations! You will have an amazing life should you continue following your heart, and fulfilling your hopes and dreams - this is when life really gets interesting! I'm going to share my story about exploring the gorgeous country that is Peru.

My desire to explore South America began in 2010, after meeting some wicked SA travelers while I was backpacking alone in Italy. After saving some money when I got home, I started talking about my plans to my parents... who were quite disapproving of me traveling to South America alone - Which is of course totally understandable. So in an attempt to make them more comfortable, I randomly booked a Contiki tour that started in Lima on the 3rd of November 2012 - The Inca Panorama tour. I booked it a year in advance, as these type of tours are extremely popular... so if you are going to choose this option, make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

The map of the Inca Panorama Tour (From Contiki)
Up until mid September of 2012, I had no other plans set in concrete for South America. It was perfectly unplanned! The only problem I faced was, to enter Peru, I had to have a departing flight already booked. I also had two options for my arrival in Peru - arrive 2 weeks prior to my tour, or 2 days prior. I took a chance and booked the first option, which meant I would arrive in Peru on the 20th of October. I did a bit of research before I left and found a Spanish language school called Peruwayna in the heart of Lima, which offered amazing prices for intensive tuition. I thought it would be a fecking awesome idea to book myself in for some Spanish lessons for 2 weeks, and choose the school's accommodation option of living with a local family. It was an amazing experience! Every day I went to school from 2pm-6pm, and on days off went exploring with the fellow students. I was able to practice my Spanish with my local family in the mornings and nights as well, and got to experience real Peruvian family life, including testing out all the amazing food as breakfast and dinner were included.
My Peruvian family out for lunch in
Miraflores, Ana and Luana 
Now 10 four hour lessons might not sound like much, and I guess it really depends on how quickly you learn... but I have progressed from knowing zero Spanish, to being able to understand 80% of what goes on around me, and communicate about 70% of what I want to say. In Cusco I talked with a local jewelry shop keeper called Teo for 2 hours, all in Spanish - and there was only a few things I didn't totally understand. It was such an amazing feeling, and all thanks to my amazing teacher Raul in Lima. If you are thinking of doing the same, I would recommend 3 weeks of classes at 4 hours per day, or 2 weeks of 8 hours per day. A little more time there would have helped me clear a few more things up and given me a few more language skills. But my money was definitely well invested, and I owe all my fantastic cultural experiences to that school. The best part was, the accommodation and tuition was very affordable! I think it cost me around $150US each week for accomodation, and the classes weren't much more - check out their website if you're curious.

Wild Vicuna


If you want to see the country with no stresses or worries, the Contiki tour I booked was also pretty good. The only con was that for 11 days $1900 was really expensive for me... considering I had arrived in Canada 6 months prior with only $3,500 in my bank account, and still had almost all of that remaining even after 6 months... Soooo, to be completely honest I probably won't ever do another group tour again. But it is another good option for those who are still finding their feet.


We got to see some amazing things on the tour that I may not have seen otherwise, and aside from the obvious highlight of Machu Picchu, I highly recommend the following places/things to do:
- Colca Canyon and watching the amazing Condors fly just meters from you.
- The Uros Islands and Lake Titicaca.
- Puno
- Seeing Vicuna in the wild
- Chewing cocoa leaves or drinking cocoa tea
- Drinking papaya smoothies in the morning
- Try Ceviche at a restaurant - I have fallen in love with it!

Being greeted by the colourful Lake Titicaca families
Hostels/Hotels I stayed at:
Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to try out many hostels, but here are my opinions of the few I did.
Ecopackers Hostel, Cusco.. AWESOME hostel, 10/10.
Pariwana Hostel, Lima.. Ok.. cramped rooms but good place to meet people 5/10.
MamaSara Hotel, Cusco (Contiki) - Lovely hotel, great service, ok location 6/10.
Tupac Yupanqui Palace, Cusco (Contiki) - Loved the architecture, pretty good breakfast, good location 7/10.
Hotel Girasoles, Miraflores, Lima (Contiki) - Good breakfast, 8min walk into central Miraflores. 6/10.
If I was to go back, I would really like to check out the Red Psycho Llama Hostel in Miraflores, from the reviews I've read it really sounds great!


The Contiki gang
Getting around:
To get from Cusco to Lima, I travelled with Cruz del Sur, a highly reputable bus company. It took 13 hours to get from A to B, but these buses are absolutely amazing. Reclining leather chairs, meals provided, I think they had TV's too. It was extremely affordable too as compared to flying. The only downfall is the fact you have to sit down for so long!



Getting from the airport to your accommodation:
I would strongly advise to book accommodation for the first few days prior to arriving in Peru - ask your hotel/hostel of the best way to get to them and how much it will be. In my case, Peruwayna booked and organised a taxi with a reputable company. The taxi picked me up from the airport and dropped me right to my Peruvian family's doorstep.


Finally seeing Machu Picchu after a tough hike

Now, to clear up the excuses society provides you with to put you off a solo visit to Peru:

Issue #1 'Pickpockets'
I never had an issue. Not once! I had a small shoulder bag, and a tiny wallet that I secured in a pocket inside the bag so it would be difficult for someone to steal anyway. If I was in a large crowd I would make sure the bag was slung around the front of me. The only thing I would stress to fellow travellers, and that my Peruvian family strongly advised - was to avoid answering your phone on the street. If you need to answer it, even just to text someone, duck into a shop and do it. Phone theft is high, and iphones are a rarity there. The best advice I can give is just use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut feeling.

Issue #2 'Lone blonde girl travelling in South America vs South American men'

I really stood out in Peru - Amongst a sea of short, brown eyed, black haired people, my long blonde hair and blue eyes did attract a little bit of unwanted attention, but no where near as much as I was expecting from stories I had heard. During the month I stayed there, I only got a few whistles from passing cars, and the odd uncomfortable stare while walking along the street which I all ignored - and I walked the streets every day. I made sure I was home before nightfall, but there were a few occasions I had to walk home after class in the dark, and never had an issue. There are police patrolling majority of the streets in Miraflores, and I felt really safe there. If I really wanted to go unnoticed I'd wear a hoodie, put my 'don't F&*^$K with me' expression on walk with a purpose. I was never bothered.

Peru has some amazing wildlife 

Issue #3 'Taxi's!'

In Peru, you have to agree on your price for a taxi with the driver BEFORE you get in! To give you an idea of costs, one of my trips was from Miraflores to Central Lima (roughly 13kms - 20mins drive), and only cost 13 sol, or $5AUS... and that was split between 4 people! Im pretty sure there are more taxi's then people, so you will never have a problem hailing one or bargaining for a good fare. If the driver thinks the price is too high just start looking for another taxi, they will literally line up for you on the street in competition for your business!

Issue #4 'Foooooood and H2O'
The variety of food in Peru is amazing, the markets are eye-opening, but there are a few things to watch out for. Tap water is not drinkable - you HAVE to buy bottled water. This also means your tummy won't appreciate any fruit or veggies/salads washed in tap water - so choose your restaurants wisely or from recommendation. The locals know the good places to eat, so ask! Boil your water or wash your fruit with bottled water. I ate an apple that I polished on my jumper thinking I would have got rid of any nasties, and although I didn't end up attached to the toilet (THANK GOD), it felt like my insides had transformed to a theme park and my stomach had taken up the challenge to ride every single roller coaster a hundred times all through the night. The easiest way to avoid marrying a toilet is to buy cooked food on the street. I did get sick with a stomach infection while on my Contiki, which wasn't much fun either, but luckily doctors are extremely cheap in Peru, so just be careful about what you eat.

About to ride in Tuktuks in Chivay

Issue #5 'Other noteworthy tips'

Be aware that there are a few significant cultural differences... make sure you don't flush your toilet paper, put it in the bin provided or otherwise spend the next half hour trying to unblock the toilet. It's NOT fun!
- Learn basic Spanish before or while you are travelling, and show respect by trying to speak the language - not many people speak English, so you will need a basic understanding.
- Make sure you get the specific immunisations/injections needed for the places you will be visiting, and a travel doctor can provide you with a self medication pack if you do have an instance of food poisoning.
- Even if you are an unplanned traveller like myself, you must have a flight out of Peru booked otherwise you wont gain entry.
- If you are travelling to the USA after you have visited Peru, ENSURE you have organised your specific visa (in my case it was through the Visa Waiver Program) and have an ESTA number prior to arriving at the airport.
- Always give way to cars - they won't stop for you on crossings, and the last thing you need is to be hit by some maniac taxi driver.
- There will be a multitude of people you will come across that will ask you for money in Peru. Don't give into beggars, it's the easiest way to get yourself into trouble. I just ignored them or said 'no thankyou'.
- Be really really sun-smart while travelling Peru. The sun is extremely powerful, and you burn without knowing it.

Me and our Contiki mascot 'Wooly'

Altitude sickness you say? 

I definitely noticed the altitude. It was the strangest sensation. I'd take 5 steps and my lungs made out as if I had of sprinted around a football oval. It also gave me a weird headache every now and then. I noticed the altitude a little while trekking Machu Picchu, however it was nowhere near as bad as when we were exploring Puno and Lake Titicaca, which were roughly 3,800m above sea level. I used preventative methods to avoid altitude sickness, which were advised by my Peruvian family. 'Soroche' pills where what I used, which you can get from any chemist. They seemed to work. I also drank cocoa tea and chewed cocoa leaves which is a more traditional method. Many of the others on my tour didn't bother and never had an issue. Travelling in a bus for majority of our trip allowed us to acclimatise fairly well. If you are feeling sick definitely see a doctor as it can easily be fatal and therefore not something to mess around with.

You can avoid Altitude Sickness with the following steps:
- Aclimatize by climbing slowly
- Avoid physical activity the first few days
- Stay hydrated: About 3 litres of water each day
- Don't carry too much weight around
- Eat 'light', and small amounts. You will feel really sick if you try to eat a normal sized 'heavy' meal.
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol, it doesn't mix well with high altitude!

Somewhere between Puno and Chivay
 the view from the bus

My most dangerous experience in Peru:

For those curious to know my worst experience while travelling in Peru, I figured it might be useful to briefly share.. I travelled to Central Lima with 3 other fellow Peruwayna students. It was the first time I had explored with other backpackers in South America, as I've always preferred travelling alone -believe it or not - for my own safety. We had been walking around Central Lima taking in the sights for about an hour. I was with a guy from Switzerland and two girls from Germany. Casually exploring we ended up beginning to walk down a fairly open street. Looking at the street from a distance my instant gut feeling was that it was the last place I wanted to venture. I always listen to my gut feeling and have found the more I trust my instincts the safer I am - they are very rarely wrong, hence why I prefer travelling alone. My three companions had wandered halfway down this street, with me reluctantly following and becoming more and more aware of the increasing danger of our surroundings. The people looked at us differently, their expressions clearly saying 'you shouldn't be here'. I don't know how the other travellers didn't pick up the vibe, it was SOOO STRONG and I don't know why I didn't just say 'let's not go down this street' when the unwanted and dangerous feeling first hit me. I guess the fact I was with 3 other people tipped the safety scales in the opposite direction. Anyway, we had reached the end of the street, and the others were deciding where to go next, and they had decided it would be an awesome idea to head deeper into the ghetto. We were nearly about to continue and cross the road when a local man stopped us in a huff explaining in Spanish that where we were headed was very very dangerous and that we should turn around instantly. Shortly after he left a woman in a uniform approached us, giving us a map and showing us where we 'should' be. I was so extremely relived, but angry at myself for not speaking up. It was definitely a life lesson I will never forget, even though nothing bad happened. So there you go - it was hardly even worthy of a mention but if it helps give you potential travellers some confidence, better I share it. Just make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and trust yourself!

Ruins on the Inca Trek

The best experience I had in Peru: 

To balance things up a bit, I better let you in on my most memorable experience. I had finished my tour and was staying at a hostel in Cusco and absolutely loving it. I only had a few more days left and figured I better start looking for some little presents for friends and family back home. I wandered into a jewellery store and finally began using the Spanish I had learnt at Peruwayna. I befriended a little shop assistant by the name of Teo, and ended up talking to him for 2 hours in Spanish, which was absolutely amazing! He ended up giving me a tour of Cusco and the local market, we went out for coffee, and he even jumped in a taxi with me to make sure I got to the bus station safe, and without being ripped off by the taxi driver. It just goes to show if you put a little effort in, show some interest in people's lives and respect the culture of the places you visit, people will go to extreme lengths to make your adventure so much better. It makes me smile to think that after all the crazy and beautiful things I did on my Contiki tour - a little jewellery shop keeper's kindness outweighed a $2,000 tour! I love immersing myself in the culture though, so perhaps that's why that particular experience has stuck with me. I hope that one day I could provide the same kindness to a fellow traveller.

Teo and I - I still have no idea why he wanted a
photo in the deli section of the supermarket haha!
All in all, Peru was absolutely amazing. The people were so loving and friendly, the food was beautiful, the culture and history was incredible. I highly recommend it, and have totally proved it can be conquered alone! I am most definitely heading back to explore more of South America. If anyone has any further tips to add please do so by commenting below.

Peace xo


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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snowbird-ing with Hittheroad - my free road trip from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale.


The road trip: 


The car: A 2003 Jaguar sedan

Max km's: 2,900
Time limit: 3.5 days

Day 1 - 15/10/12 Toronto to Washington

For the last two nights I had been couch surfing with Adam in Toronto, and being a Sunday night he had to leave for work early in the morning... meaning day one of road trip number two began at a very bright and busy tailed 5:45am. Lucky I'm a morning person! Adam printed out the 3 copies of the contract and the info regarding crossing the border into the US. I was still waiting on paperwork from HitTheRoad - there was a hold up on the documents I required to cross the border from Canada to the USA, but being a flexible traveller I wasn't too concerned, and planned to stop at the HI Niagara Falls Hostel (as a last resort) to get some wifi and print what I needed.

I had rang Naomi (the owner of the car) the previous afternoon to organize a pick up the and find out her location. She wasn't as close to downtown Toronto as I expected, and the journey involved a 40 minute subway ride to the end of the line, followed by a 15 minute bus trip. We agreed on a meeting time of 8am, so I could try and make Washington before dark. However, growing up in a country-bumpkin world (where nothing exists underground), my lack of metro map reading skills resulted in the pick-up time being pushed back to 9am. In my defense I did take it in the right direction.. 'North'.. but it was kind of the wrong line! Oh well haha, lesson learnt and no harm done, I contacted Naomi to let her know and she was totally OK with my late arrival. We went over the car, which was an immaculate 2003 Jaguar X Type sedan, and filled out the 3 copies of the contract. I was on the road towards the HI Niagara Falls Hostel at about 10:30am after having a good look over my map.

The road trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls was a little hectic, but easy to follow with the numbered highways. I arrived at the hostel around lunch time, had a bite to eat and they very kindly let me use their internet and printer for free. The US border documents finally came through, and I was back on the road at about 2:30pm. My first sightseeing stop was (of course) Niagara Falls. There was limited parking close by, so I just pulled into the first available spot. The falls are spectacular, and I could only imagine how much better they would have been if the sun was out. I wish I had of had about half an hour to explore, instead of five minutes, but I was able to get a few photos before someone official ticketed my car for not paying to park there!

 

I jumped back in the car and made my way to the Buffalo border. op My instructions were to enter the US through the truck lane, which was quite amusing in a Jaguar! I triple check that I had all the paperwork in order while I waited in line. 


I was stopped by the first official I saw, who questioned whether I was in the wrong lane... luckily David had given me a magnet to put on the outside of the car which made explaining things a whole lot easier! Going through the gates at customs was also quite funny... being designed for trucks, the guy that had to look at my documents was so high in his little cubicle that I could barely pass the paperwork to him from the ground! He asked more questions then I expected and was a little suspicious of the delivery - but after explaining to him the situation as best I could he sent me off to immigration. I waited again, and was served by a bubbly male American official that couldn't stop talking about Summer Heights High haha - Go Chris Lilley!

My advice on crossing the border?

- Have all the documents organized and placed on top of each other in this order:
1. Coversheet (ACE Minifest)
2. Form 3299 (Don't forget to sign it at V&VI
3. Photocopy of the owners passport (and visa if required)
- Make sure you have cash on you - I was charged $6, the border crossing fee.
- Any passengers you are taking with you MUST be declared to HitTheRoad.
- Complete an online USA VISA waiver at least a day prior to crossing the border. It will cost you $14.
- Have your passport ready
- Know the FULL name of the owner of the car - and be prepared to answer questions like 'How do you know the owner of this car?'
- Have all the accommodation stops for your trip organized and printed on a sheet of paper that includes the addresses and phone numbers of the particular hostels/hotels. If you have no idea where you are staying, make one anyway. It makes you look organized, professional and less suspicious to the US Officials. 
- If you are passing through the US, it is also handy to have your departing documentation (e.g. flight itinerary to the next country)

By the time I had successfully passed through immigration it was 5pm, and the darkness was creeping up on me. I still had a lot of ground to make up, so I soldiered on to Washington, making a few stops for gas, munchies and coffee along the way. The US definitely has an abundance of gas stations (unlike some parts of Canada), so you won't have to worry about running out of gas before you hit the next town! I arrived at the HI Washington Hostel at 3am, and was really happy to finally be in a bed. 


The only problem was that I never drink coffee - EVER - and had decided to give it a try on the road to see if it would help keep me awake. It was a good and bad idea... Sarcastically speaking I could have made it to Charleston that night the way my mind was racing! Then again I was a little stressed as I had no idea where I was going the next day - and I had to make sure I woke up and moved the car before 8am to avoid being ticketed. 

Day 2 - 16/10/12 Washington to Charleston

Another early-ish start to day two, as I had to be up to move the car into a parking lot before 8am. I was hit with an $18 parking fee to park underground for a few hours, but it didn't worry me too much as it took the pressure off to do some more research on my next destination. 

I had originally had my sights set on visiting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It was the only thing that I really wanted to see on this trip, plus I had been missing the beach soooo much, and had found out about the National Park through a site that suggested must-see places along the east coast. The only problem was that I had to negotiate two ferries to get back on the mainland. The first ferry wasn't going to be a problem - it left every hour. The second one however, had a duration of two and a half hours and the last departure was at 8pm - plus you had to make a reservation. I would be cutting it pretty fine to get there by 8pm... and figured that there is no point going there if I've got to rush through. I couldn't find any hostels either, so I decided with much disappointment (at the time) to make my next stop at Charleston. There really aren't many hostels around south east USA, and this particular hostel in Charleston was within perfect driving distance from Washington. I organized my map so I knew where I was going and phoned them to make a reservation. 

Before I left Washington I wanted to see the White House. I got directions and a basic map from reception at the hostel and left to find a car park. I have never witnessed such unskillful driving in all my life! No offense, but majority of people that drive in downtown Washington... are terrible to say the least - or perhaps its the country background coming out of me again! Anyway, after having to detour from an accident (surprise, surprise haha) I finally found a park, fed the meter and headed for the White House.

 

It wasn't as big as I thought it would be, as the buildings around it were huge. It was very surreal to stand in front and imagine what the area would have looked like if those terrorists were successful all those years ago. Anyway, I got some nice photos and headed back to the car to get the hell out of there. It was too city-ish for my liking. 

It felt like I was on the road FOREVER on this leg of the trip! I really don't know why - maybe because I was a little tired from the road trip the day before, or maybe because this stretch of the 95 was pretty boring. There wasn't much to see or do - like Canada with its many Provincial Parks and stunning scenery. I stopped at a few of the Welcome Centers along the way to stretch my legs and refuel. 


I arrived at the Notso Hostel in Charleston about 9:50pm. It was such a relief to be able to park in a nice private driveway for FREE! Bryant, who was working that night, showed me to my dorm room in a separate building. It was a lovely double story cottage, and I was lucky enough to get a dorm room to myself. I had an amazing sleep, and was up early for breakfast the next day. 

 

Day 3 - 17/10/12 Charleston to St Augustine

I met a French traveller at breakfast, and Bryant joined us as well. It was a lovely setting to meet other backpackers - we all sat at the kitchen table as if we were family. Bryant talked about the hostel he started in Costa Rica (called The Lazy Loft), and I told him all about HitTheRoad and the amazing country I had crossed delivering cars. I mapped out my next destination after finding about her hostel in St Augustine that morning. It was called the Pirate Haus Inn. After breakfast I quizzed Bryant on whats good to do and see in Charleston, and he offered to give me a tour, as long as we got coffee on the way.

We jumped in the car and drove around Charleston for a good half hour or so, and he took me on a short but awesome little tour. 

 

 

 

Charleston really is a gorgeous city. I would love to go back one day and spend a decent amount of time there, as there was just too much history to take in and see in one or two days. Bryant had to be back at the hostel to work at 12:30pm, so I dropped him back and he showed me how to get back on the 95. 

I didn't have a long drive ahead of me, it was about 5 hours or so to St Augustine - so not too far as compared with the previous few days! I stopped off at a few of the Welcome Centers again, buying mixed nuts to keep me occupied while I drove. 


I arrived in St Augustine around 5:30-6pm, and the Pirate Haus Inn was very easy to find. I managed to find a car park a few blocks from the hostel, which is a difficult thing to do in St Augustine. It is a very touristy little town, and I was told it's the oldest in the USA. The town is gorgeous though. I had unfortunately picked a bad time to check-in, as the guy who was working reception had gone out for an hour. I rang him to let him know I had arrived, and I was able to chill out in the cozy little lounge area until he returned.

 

I would definitely recommend this particular hostel, especially if you are after something with a little family feeling to it. While I was there it definitely had no party atmosphere, and the staff were very friendly. I met a really cool man called Dennis in the lounge area, and we talked for ages about the most random of things, including ghosts! He told me some amazing stories, how wherever he went the playful spirits would seek him out. He is a blacksmith, and in his old workshop he used to have one particular ghost that would remove all his tools during the night and scatter them everywhere, without making one sound. We shared some really crazy stories, but both decided to head to bed before it got too late. 

Day 4 - 18/10/12 St Augustine to Hallandale Beach

I was up early for the amazing pancake breakfast put on by the hostel. Conrad made the most artistic pancakes. He made me a very personalized one - it was definitely the coolest pancake I had every eaten! They told me the all-you-can-eat record was held by an Aussie guy. Of course it was... He made it to 22 pancakes! I thought about challenging his record, but decided to stop at three as I didn't want to feel like crap for the rest of the day!


I looked at my maps again for the last leg of the trip, and phoned the owners to confirm the drop of location, and work out a rough arrival time. We decided on 4pm. So I was back on the road again. Before the traffic became too hectic, I pulled off the highway and into one of the smaller cities to find a car wash. I gave the gorgeous Jag a good was and a vacuum, to make sure it was returned in mint condition. The traffic became very busy the closer I got to Fort Lauderdale, and all I had on my mind was 'exit 18, exit 18, exit 18!' I rang the owner again to say I would probably be another half hour, as the traffic had slowed me down a bit. I finally came to exit 18 and made my way to the drop off destination. It was a little difficult to see the numbers on the massive high rise apartments, and it took me two laps to find the right one. After arriving I met the receiving owners at reception. 

 

They were three lovely women, and they invited me up to their room. I was given fruit, pizza and a bottle of water, as well as the agreed cash for the safe delivery. Tiki, who insisted on driving me to my hostel, had a shower and then we all headed down to inspect the car and sign the contracts.


Tiki appeared with her car, so I jumped in and we went off to find the Hollywood Beach Hostel. It was on the same road (but an hours walk North), so it didn't take too long in the car. They offered me to hang out with them the next day, and I said I would ring them to find out where to meet. 


The hostel was in a great location, but I really wouldn't recommend anyone to go there. I had a dorm room all to myself, but the room hadn't been cleaned from the last guests. I guess its just luck I'm not a fussy person! The shower couldn't decide whether it wanted to be hot or cold, they had no tourist map to show you what to do nearby... they required a $50 deposit - I have no idea what for - and their after hours service was appalling. A fellow guest's key would not work for his room and he was locked out all night. He said he had called the hostel and the after hours number with no response. So a word of advice - don't stay there! I called Tiki's number the next day but there way no answer unfortunately. So I spent my time exploring the boardwalk, chilling on the beach, eating amazing food and organizing my bag for my flight to Peru.

 

Mission #2 completed! Thanks again HitTheRoad - If I had of flown from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale like I planned, I never would have met the amazing people I got to meet on this road trip, or find the amazing places I found! Looking forward to the next adventure... maybe I will be back to do it all again in Spring!