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Kach Medina

Kach Medina

By Kach Medina

Co-Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 100 countries. She recently got married, bought a sailboat and is now on a sailing and luxury adventure around the world! She writes about luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.

Indonesia

Four days of stay in Siberut were one of the longest ‘cultural’ days in my life. Many said that the Island of Siberut is the only remaining real believers and followers of the Mentawai Culture today. That statement alone was an enough reason to explore this community.

Is the Mentawai Culture dying? Well, to see is to believe, as they said. I will better say, to live with it can give you a unique conception. Spending time in Siberut for less than a week was an experience full of inquisitiveness, admiration, and hope.

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THE CONTRAST LANDSCAPE OF A TRUE-BLOODED MENTAWAI FACADE, COVERED BY THE MODERN ATTIRE. PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

Curiosity to what Mentawai Culture is all about. What makes it distinctive to other cultures?

Awe to the people who kept this kind of culture. How they did and do that?

Wish to let it be continued and valued. Will this culture still be recognized in the next generation?

A GLIMPSE OF SIBERUT ISLAND

Demographics: SIBERUT is the home of around 40,000 people as of today, holding the record as the largest island in Mentawai, West Sumatra, Indonesia.

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MOTHER AND DAUGHTER ARE STREAMING IN A RIVER USING ‘PONGPONG’ ( A SMALL BOAT WITHOUT MOTOR AND BALANCE). PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

Education: Among Siberut’s populace, most reached only up to senior high school. Availability of schools in the community remains as the top reason why mainly of them were not able to enter University. However, the economic situation also contributes, given that the whole island has a rich agricultural value. Residents often opted to sell their whole land for instant money in paying school fees, instead of making it sustainable through naturally-grown crops.

Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? Check out our Ultimate List of Best Hostels in Indonesia.

Heritage: About 60% of Siberut is still covered with tropical rainforest, which shelters a rich biological community that has earned a spot for UNESCO biosphere reserve. The western half of the island is protected as the Siberut National Park. This preserved natural wealth leads to the conclusion that this island alienated itself in the modern world from the city where it belongs, Padang.

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SEA AND MOUNTAIN WAIT UNTIL THE SUN SETS. PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

Transportation: Natural disasters, which threatened Siberut and its neighboring islands in the Mentawai Cluster, also opened a new access for outsiders. They are tsunami-prone areas that invited various groups to visit the islands and build resiliency among people. This can be one of the reasons why boat trips have been expanded and thus exposed the island for tourists to its compelling perfect spots for surfers and even for trekkers.

Before, there’s only a way to get into the Island from Padang. The local government set up boat trips which can take half up to a whole day. Now, faster trips are available, given the following schedules:

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Photo by: Mentawai Fast

Sikbaluan is another island in Mentawai. From Padang, your boat will stop for about half an hour. It gives time for some passengers to get off and in or just to grab some lunch in the village.

Tickets can be purchased days before your target date of departure or even the day itself in Padang port that is approximately one hour drive from the [Minangkabau International] Airport. I am sure you will secure your place in the boat by buying beforehand, as only chosen days are available for the trip, especially during peak season.

There will be no problem on how will you go from one corner to another of the island as various choices of vehicles are available. Commonly, it is already pre-arranged by the visitors, which are part of the accommodation’s services they opted to stay in.

THE DAY-TO-DAY INDIGENOUS LIFE

How is it to live for some days in this community?

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THE COMMON HOUSE OF MENTAWAI PEOPLE. PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

It was in the middle of the year when I visited Siberut. I came from a three-day food festival in Ubud, Bali and wanted to maximize my allowed 30-day visa free entry in Indonesia. A friend of mine recommended visiting Siberut in Mentawai not to experience the waves (of course, I do not know how to swim!) but to meet a group, advocating the culture and environment of Mentawai. So I came there and witnessed how Mentawai people live every day, normally.

June 9, 2015: After quarter-day of sailing and finally reached the island of Siberut, I liked the all-community-like welcome, which consists of the relatives of my co-passengers, private tour guides, and local drivers.

My arrival was normal. Of course, locals do not see me differently as I have the same physical features until I spoke. It was a big surprise for the people who are with us in the public transportation and found it so funny that someone who looks like them is speaking in English! I guess it was more shocking to them than to see white people.

It was an introductory day. Where to stay? Where to eat? I was accompanied to the modern house because it’s the center where mini markets are there and where the boat stops. Signal was still there but only in some corners and time. Electricity was cut from 10 am up to 4 pm daily.

June 10, 2015: The Preview of the Mentawai Culture.

In Muntei Village, visitors are normally invited to come and gaze what the traditional Mentawai house looks like.

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In the center village of Siberut, a model house is built to preserve the Mentawai culture and to remind that this is still being valued despite the coming of a new world in the area. Though people are already adapted in the new clothes, stuff around remained as an indigenous mark. Food proves it. Rice is not their staple food but Sago (flour). It came from the tree and processed as flour and locals cooked it and served as daily food. Sago (tree) reflects a vital role in Mentawai people’s belief as it is the most common sign in their body. Called as ‘Durukat,’ it is usually found from belly button to chess and cheeks. It nearly covers the whole upper body as sago plant signifies life among the locals.

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PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

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THE SAGO TREE AND THE PROCESSED SAGO FOOD.

June 11, 2015: Entering one’s home is one of the best ways to know someone. There was one family in the other village, renovating their house and I am lucky to be invited to get in because they thought I am their new neighbor. Yes, again, they thought I am an Indonesian and a native.

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Like any other communities near in the forest, people in Siberut can still get free materials but with a limited number only. From roof to wall, they can find the resources around. Men usually get the raw materials and build the house. For women, to stitch the leaves to be used in roofing is their part. It can usually take for two weeks to finish a house, depending on the size and the number of family members who will work. Well, there’s no labor pressure at all as every day, women prepare food and having snacks is the best part as it invites a strong family-tie set up.

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June 12, 2015: The Jungle day! The village where the only remaining strong believers of Mentawai culture is called Jungle. From Muntei village (the center), it needed about 6-hour boat trip to that culturally-preserved area, using the smallest boat they have on the island.

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Boats are also one of an essential identities of Mentawai people. At their back, ‘Serapak Abak’ is inked. This means balancer of the boat, denoting the symmetry of nature.

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PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

After a long boat trip of mostly non-moving, the innocence of the area can highly be felt. The flow of the river, breath of the air and freedom of animals were the perfect scene everyone can think of. Kilometers of walk welcomed me. Motorcycles are available but still needed to walk a lot before we found one. Ways are not anyway fully-constructed so most of the moments; I needed to get down to pass by a certain spot. As more people, I can see around, the closer we got to our destination.

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WHAT IS MORE FULFILLING THAN TO BE WELCOMED BY THESE GIRLS OF THE INDIGENOUS VILLAGE?

Heading to the place of the tribe’s leader was the goal. It was a fine afternoon. I was introduced to the highest Mentawai advocates and even entered to their traditional home.

A SECOND-GENERATION MENTAWAI FAMILY.

In exploring inside their house, there are three significant points for the Mentawai people. First is the collection areas where they hang the skulls of the animals they caught. Locations of those collections do not simply show how much they killed.

As you walk from outside, those hanging skulls you can immediately see are categorized specially as they are killed through hunting. On the other hand, those who are hidden, which placed behind the doorway, are those animals slain from their cages. If there are more animal skulls situated near the cooking area, which is the first part you can see as you enter their house, that family is more skilled and therefore, more respected. The cooking area, placing in the center of the house is another important point. The whole Mentawai home has no division and has no doors. This set up is designed for a more welcoming environment. Mentawai people highly invite everyone to see their pure culture.

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HAND-MADE WEAPONS, USUALLY WITH POISON AND USED IN HUNTING.

The ‘Jaraik’ gets another special spot in a Mentawai house. It means wood engraving that is believed to be an attraction of good spirits and defender of bad ones.

It was a whole new experience not only for me but as well as for them to talk with an Asian who is physically same with them. They were used to white foreigners, and they became comfortable in discussing with them about what a Mentawai Culture is until I came. They were surprisingly enthusiastic about sharing to co-southeast Asian about their rich custom. It gives them an assurance of a diverse interest in Mentawai culture.

Before getting on the boat again for hours of sitting, a refreshing Kulu kubuk Waterfalls experience is the best way to have.

The falls can give you a rejuvenating feeling after a long walk and boat trip, but it will not give you a really neat sense. You need to walk again in a muddy way to get out from the falls, but who cares? Just take a bath as long as you want upon reaching a modern comfort room!

MENTAWAI AS A CULTURE

“Those who are in business and promoting Mentawai as a surfing gem, they always printed on shirts and to other souvenirs as MENTAWAI ISLANDS. It is wrong; it should be CULTURE.”

A strong articulation from an original Siberut citizen, Joseph Napitupulu.  Technically, information all over the web, including Indonesia’s Tourism, provide ‘Mentawai Islands’ and that can’t be wrong. This local vented on how he wants to introduce the Mentawi better and in a deeper meaning to all its visitors. Aside from the common surfing reason why people are coming in their areas, he then pointed that there’s a true and instinctive jewel in the area, and that is the Mentawai People; the Mentawai Culture.

THE SON OF THE VILLAGE HEAD AND A PROUD ADVOCATE OF MENTAWAI CULTURE. PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

According to the natives’ tales, the discovery of their terrain was because of the Germans who were in search of spices. This is the time where voyagers from Europe are looking for unique spices along with other continents, including Asia. These Germans, nevertheless, were not fully successful on their initial motive and then decided to build hospitals and churches. Presently, missionaries from Germany are still visible in the community, encompassing activities among disaster victims.

Language: With Indonesia’s hundreds of languages, Mentawai people have their own called ‘Nganga.’ Nearly 100% of the inhabitants know how to practice it but as access to their island is getting wider and the call of technology is affecting them, most opted to speak in Bahasa (the national language of Indonesia).

The Belief: In language, that Mentawai feels is still running smoothly but the only tiny percentage of doers and believers of the ‘Arat Sabulungan’ leftArt depicts culture and Sabulungan for Nature. It is locally classified as a religion but not nationally. In Indonesia, there are six ‘official’ religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism).This system forced the Mentawai people to dress up and choose among the six religions every time they will approach the government.

Tattoo as a Legacy: Tik-tik’ implies ‘immortality’ and the term for a tattoo that plays a vast role to Mentawai people’s belief.

PHOTO BY: INTERCULTURAL MULTIMEDIA CENTER IN SIBERUT.

Only accredited members of the tribe are allowed to put ink to someone who wants it. This is also must be arranged ahead of time as Mentawai people are preparing for the rituals. Simply, it is like the biggest celebrations of the world such as wedding and if someone gives birth.

To be a visitor was not a complete hindrance. Specific details might not be completely expressed by the Mentawai people through words, but I knew, and I felt their eagerness to spread this nearly dying culture.

March 16, 2019 0 comment
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Private Jet

Going on a business trip or even taking a vacation will require you to do a great deal of planning. Failing to put the right amount of time into the planning of these excursions can lead to a variety of mishaps occurring. If you want to avoid a long drive to your destination, then your best course of action is booking a private jet.

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PHOTO BY STRATOS JET CHARTERS, INC.

 

Are you trying to plan a trip to Los Angeles? If so, Stratos Jets charters to Los Angelescan get you there in a flash. Read below to find out about some of the considerations you need to make when booking a private jet for your trip.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT COMPANY IS A MUST

The first thing you need to consider when trying to book a private jet is choosing the right company to work with. You may be surprised at the number of private jet providers out there. Ideally, you will want to choose a company with experience and a great track record.

Private Jet

Before deciding on which private jet provider to use, be sure to look for some reviews online. Typically, you will be able to find reviews from former customers that will provide you with a lot of useful information. Once you have this information, you can make the right decision regarding which company to use.

YOU NEED TO BOOK EARLY

While there are some private jets that can be booked on the same day, there is no guarantee this will happen. This is why you will need to book this private air travel well in advance. By doing this, you will be able to avoid stress during your trip and save money as well. Calling around to the various private jet companies in your area is a great way to figure out which one can offer you the best deal.

RESEARCH THE PLANES AVAILABLE TO YOU

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PHOTO BY STRATOS JET CHARTERS, INC.

When calling around to the various private jet providers in your area, be sure to inquire about the types of aircraft they have. If you are going to be traveling with a larger group of people, you want to make sure the jet you rent is spacious and comfortable. An experienced private jet provider will be able to offer you guidance regarding the type of aircraft that is best suited for your particular needs.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SMALLER AIRPORTS IS A GREAT IDEA

Among the biggest advantages that come with using a private jet is the ability to use smaller airports. If you are like most people, standing in line at a commercial airport is not something you look forward to.

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PHOTO BY SEAN MACENTEE

Not only will this private air travel allow you to avoid large crowds, most of these smaller airports are closer to the places you want to go. This means that once you land, you will be a stone’s throw away from your destination. Since you are able to make your own route when renting a private jet, you can avoid extensive layovers.

While renting a private jet may cost more than a commercial flight, it is well worth the money. With the help of a reputable and experienced private jet supplier, you can get the luxurious flying experience you are looking for.

 

March 9, 2019 0 comment
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Ukraine

Ukraine is largely undiscovered. But if there is anything you can count on most people to know about this lesser-known Eastern European country, it has got to be its Soviet legacy, The Carpathians, and… vodka!

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But honestly, vodka probably tops that list. It is what brought me here, after all. I flew all the way from Miami to primarily get to know Global Spirits and Khortytsa Vodka. I even met the genius CEO and the Billionaire behind Global Spirits, Evgeniy Chernyak!

He started the company in 2003, and during the 2014 New York International Spirits Competition, his Khortytsa Distillery was awarded as one of the world’s best distilleries! How about that?

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By the way, Ukraine is not a part of the Schengen Visa. For me as a Filipino, I had to apply directly at the Ukrainian Embassy in New York to get a visa with the help of the Brand Manager of Global Spirits.

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Now on to the Ukraine Itinerary, why did I go to Ukraine?

SEEING A UNIQUE AND SPECIAL SIDE OF UKRAINE

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This trip is just amazing, filled with fine spirits, vineyards, and discovering the magic that happens inside distilleries. The distilleries were all super organized, clean, and systematic – as smooth as the drinks they serve.

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Also, the whole time we were in Ukraine, we had a translator with us, her name is Natalia – very fluent in Russian and English. She definitely made it all more manageable for us.

THE SHUSTOV COGNAC DISTILLERY & MUSEUM IN ODESSA

The massive crowds within Odessa’s sandy beaches easily tell you the water is the main draw to this place, possibly rivaled only by its booming gastrobar scene.

But in between long beach strolls and munching on tyulka and cheburek, there is much to learn in an excursion to the legendary Shustov Cognac Distillery.

It is one of the biggest and oldest cognac houses in Ukraine. Obviously, they have great stuff – how else will they last all throughout these years?

Sampling the cognac, it is truly one of the world’s finest. During the tour, the head of the distillery showed us the facility and enlightened us on the process of cognac production that is unique to Shustov.

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The distillery is massive, with big machines and even bigger rows of cognac barrels. But it all starts in the nursery and vineyard, where Ukraine’s land nourishes what will soon be really good cognac. Then, it is to the cooperage and distillery, where blending and ageing happens.

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This last part is differently done by every distillery, and in Shustov, they do very well. They also taught us how to become an expert nose and taster. Cognac is really a very serious thing here!

THE ODESSA BRANDY DISTILLERY

Located near Velikodolinskoe Village, 20 km from Odessa, is the Odessa Brandy Distillery. It is beautiful here. It is surrounded by beautiful vineyards that bear the fruit of what is soon to be awesome brandy from Ukraine.

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Brandy is distilled wine. There are many types, which contain anywhere between 35% to 60% alcohol. There is not a lot of difference between brandy and cognac, except maybe the price. If you are wondering why cognac is more expensive, it is because it is a premium form of brandy.

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Odessa produces a mammoth’s worth of spirits. It is the largest not only in Ukraine and CIS countries but all of Europe! In this tour, we uncovered the wine distillation process. Here, they use Alembic Charentais copper pot stills. The use of copper pot stills is an old-fashion technique that refines the spirits in individual batches.

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After distillation, the wine is aged. It is called a maturation process, and this determines much of the aroma and flavor of your favorite drink, together with the age of the cask and how it has been stored. I will not bore you with further technicalities – just know that during the tasting, the look, taste, and feel of the final product revealed why it is such a sought-after drink after all these years!

ODESSA CITY SIGHTSEEING EXCURSION + ODESSA CATACOMBS

I love the vibes of the city! Sadly, we only had a day to go around. But our tour guide was so knowledgeable and shared all the background of each attraction. We started the day with the visit in Odessa Catacombs then onto the city sightseeing!

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We were dropped at the city center, and most of the attractions were only walking distance. Here are some of the places we saw:

The Potemkin Stairs – The best-known symbol of Odessa, this landmark is a giant stairway considered as the formal entrance into the city. You can see beautiful harbor views at the top. But going down can be a problem so just take the free funicular railway to save yourself the trouble!

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Odessa National Opera and Ballet Theater – First built in 1810, this opera house was designed by St. Petersburg architect Thomas de Thomon. But this original building was burned in 1873. The luxurious theater reopened in 1887, and its unique horseshoe-design hall allows for fantastic acoustics.

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Deribasivska Street – Located in the heart of Odessa, this iconic street is filled with shops, restaurants, cozy cafes, and live music. There is always a good mix of locals going about their business and tourists with their cameras shooting away.

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Privoz Market – The largest food market in Odessa is a great stop to really get a feel for the local culture. Here you see what the locals buy and what they eat and get the chance to participate in all of it!

KHORTYTSA DISTILLERY IN ZAPORIZHIA, UKRAINE

The visit to Khortytsa Distillery in Zaporizhia is the main reason why I traveled to Ukraine! Situated on the banks of the Dnieper River, Zaporizhia is the sixth largest city in Ukraine. It has a number of museums, theaters, art galleries, and libraries and is known for Cossack martial arts contests.

But these days, Zaporizhia is known globally for another reason – it is the home of Khortytsa Distillery, one of the world’s leading distilleries and the third largest international selling global vodka brand. Think of 6.4 million cases in a year. That is a lot of vodkas!

Ukraine

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The distillery is located in Zaporozhe near Khortytsa Island, a sacred place in Ukraine and the heart of Ukrainian national pride.

During the tour, we met the woman who made the vodka mixture. They call her the “Master Distiller” and I think she is the oldest woman who is doing this in this field.

Khortytsa Vodka is relatively new to the US market, but they are also preparing more flavors to launch in the American market.

THE HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL COMPLEX ZAPORIZHIAN SICH

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A popular tourist attraction, thanks to the Russian Film Taras Bulba, this complex is a recreated copy of an old Cossack settlement. There are farm buildings, churches, and houses built in the old way typical of Cossack.

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But the best part of this place is the equestrian show. Incredible! The show was fantastic. It presented how the Cossack prepared to fight in the old days. The riding duels and melee combats were so entertaining.

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They wore Cossack traditional costumes and did sword exercises while riding horses. We did a private tour, watched the show, and had a boat ride. It was super nice! Before we left the City, we were able to meet the owner of Global Spirits, Evgeniy Chernyak. He is one of the hundred richest people in Ukraine!

KIEV SIGHTSEEING EXCURSION

Kiev is the capital of Ukraine. It has many world-famous landmarks and is home to high-tech industries. The vibe is young and energetic, and the eclectic architecture is sure to fascinate you.

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After the meeting, we did a day tour of Kiev. We had a pretty limited time, so we did not see that much! But if you are going for a visit, here are some places that you should definitely see:

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Kreschatik Street and Maidan – Get a pulse of the city and dive in one of the many cafes, restaurants, and shops here. See what the locals do, grab a bite of what they eat, and let the city welcome you.

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St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral – This is the mother cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It is one of the major landmarks of the city!

Golden Gates – Named after the Golden Gate of Constantinople, this is the former gateway to the fortress city during the 11th century.

St. Sofia Cathedral – Famous for its onion-dome roof, this cathedral is the first UNESCO-listed landmark in Ukraine. Its architecture is stunning!

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Dormition Cathedral – Built in the 11th century, this church has a marvelous bell tower overlooking the monastery and is 96 m high.

Lavra Caves – A popular tourist attraction, the Lavra Caves were once home to hermit monks. These days, people come here to worship relics of Saints.

FOOD IN UKRAINE

We ate many local dishes in Ukraine. The food here is good, and the prices are reasonable. Below are some of the traditional local food that you have to try:

Borsch – It is a thick beetroot soup served with sour cream.  It is a staple dish in every Ukrainian family. The best one is found in The Carpathian Mountains cooked for hours in wooden ovens and served in clay pots.

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Varenyky – Visit any Ukrainian restaurant anywhere in the world, and you are likely to find these lovely dumplings stuffed with curds, potatoes, cabbage, meat, or fruit. The dough is the usual flour, water, and salt mix but the stuffing can go crazy. There are savory ones like mushrooms and pickled cabbage and sweet ones with honey.

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Banosh – Essentially, this is corn flour with sour cream, salty sheep cheese, wild mushrooms, and pork fat. Yes, it does not sound figure-friendly, but it is worth it!

Paska – An Easter staple, it is a sweet decorated egg bread eaten with meat sausage. They say if you eat 12 different kinds of paska for Easter you will have a lot of good luck!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TRAVELING TO UKRAINE

  1. Do people speak English?

There is a language barrier. Few people speak English so learn the local language or some Russian to help you get by or hire a local tour guide.

  1. Is it expensive?

You can get away with seeing Ukraine on a budget of about $35 a day. If you stay in a hostel, if you will use local transport, and decide not to eat out all the time, this budgeted amount should be enough.

  1. Is accommodation affordable?

Budget accommodation is plenty. You can find hostel dorm beds at 210 UAH per night while private rooms cost 500 UAH. In larger cities, prices go up by about 100 UAH at least.

  1. Can you find cheap food here?

Food in Ukraine is really cheap. For 85 UAH, you can enjoy a nice local meal. If you want to eat at a restaurant, you should expect to pay about 300 UAH. Fast food is available in Ukraine but do try the local dishes!

  1. Where can I get a beer and how much?

Beer and alcohol are cheap in Ukraine. Shop in the supermarket, and you can get beer for 20-45 UAH. But do not drink and drive. Ukraine has zero tolerance!

  1. How much does sightseeing cost?

Most activities cost between 105-215 UAH, so they are very affordable.

  1. What attractions should I see?

Kiev is a beautiful city. The art, culture, and architecture are stunning. In general, the city beaches in Ukraine are great, too. If you are into outdoors, hike the Carpathian Mountains – it is magical!

  1. How can I go around?

The train is slow but reliable. Overnight trains can save you a lot of money and accommodation! For shorter trips, take the bus. Always bring your passport!

  1. Where can I exchange money?

Go to the major banks for currency exchange. There are foreign exchanges in hotels and at special licensed exchange points, too.

  1. Are credit cards accepted?

Your best bet is to bring cash. Credit cards are starting to become more popular, especially in larger cities, but its acceptance is still limited.

 

February 23, 2019 0 comment
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Travel Tips

There’s always something that is to be learned through travel. Whether it be via car, plane, train, boat, bike…foot…with each inevitable roadblock there’s always room for a little tip here or there. Which is why every time I go somewhere, I always learn something new or helpful about the travel process.

Some may be old, and some may be new, but either way, here is a list of 5 seemingly small travel tips that I’ve learned to have big payoffs in ensuring a successful, stress-free trip. So read ahead and feel free to add your advice in the comments below.

1) Back it up. In the unlikely event of an emergency or accident, make physical and digital backups of important documents like your passport, visas, driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. If you are traveling with your laptop, backup your files and photos to a hard drive before you leave.

2) Carry a scarf. Everywhere you go. Though a sarong would work as well, we also suggest a lightweight cotton scarf. Other uses? It can act as an eye mask, head wrap, fashion accessory. You can also use it as a makeshift handkerchief and towel ( try wetting it with cold water on hot days and tying it around your neck for instant relief!). The uses are endless on the road.

3) Get out from behind the camera. Yes, we take a lot of photos… and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Everyone wants to capture memories. But just remember that traveling is not about “getting the shot.” Once you click, step back, put the camera down and relish in the view. Sometimes memory serves best.

4)Stay conscious of your health. We all love going into “vacation-mode” – because what’s a holiday if you’re not going to get fully immersed in the cuisine and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a cocktail (or two). However, we do suggest keeping your health in mind, especially if you’re traveling for a long period. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, moisturize your skin, protect yourself from the sun, meditate (our favorite is the headspace app), take your vitamins – the list goes on, but your mind and body will thank you.

5) Pack light and make sure to check your measurements abroad. Kimonos from Japan, fine silks from India, it’s always a good idea to commemorate your trip with a souvenir, and we’re not talking about gimmicky key chains and cheap mugs. Some of the best goods you can buy are the wearables ones which are why we suggest packing light and picking up goods as you go along. Make sure to plan and save a clothing and shoe size conversion chart on your phone, but remember these charts should be used as guidelines rather than hard-set rules. Always try on clothing and shoes before you buy to ensure the proper fit.’

PHOTO BY MEAL MAKEOVER MOMS CC BY-ND 2.0

6) Bring coconut oil. We love an all-around multitasker, and it doesn’t get better than this all-natural saving grace. Pack a small container of organic coconut oil and use it as a face and skin moisturizer, lip balm and makeup remover. Also use on your dry spots, sunburns, and cuticles to keep them feeling nourished.

February 16, 2019 0 comment
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Florida

Looking to visit some aesthetically pleasing places in Florida? Whether you’re excited to explore the Anna Maria Island or the historic downtown Fernandina Beach, it’s always nice to check out the different places this amazing city has to offer. Here are a few places you should include in your sight-seeing list.

  1. ANNA MARIA ISLAND

The Anna Maria Island is one of the best sites in Florida with stunning locales that are both serene and breathtaking. Book a day trip to this amazing place to enjoy the sandy beach area, the island’s vicinity, the sun and for surfing. If you’re thinking of a friend’s day out, then plan a trip in November during the Symphony times for the popular Sand Festival. In the festival, you get to see a brilliant concert which is organized at the beachfront. Do not forget to take along a nice camera to snap precious moments and a smartphone with a monitoring app that allows you to track your iPhone with the phone number. 

  1. THE FERNANDINA BEACH IN AMELIA ISLAND

Do not miss this place at any cost! Packed with mesmerizing locales and awesome sights, it’s a wonderful option if you plan to take the kids along for a nice sunny vacation. Myths associate pirates and other fantasy characters with this island. The place includes a marvelous village concocted using voguish aesthetics. I suggest you book a trip in May when they organize the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. Around that time, you can enjoy decadent seafood, a pirate exhibition by the sea, and a thrilling festive parade.

  1. THE SEASIDE AT SOUTH WALTON

This includes a plethora of visitor amenities like beautiful homes done in pastels, a farmer’s market, delicious food, and a great collection of local diners and restaurants. This is a must-visit place especially during the annual 30A Songwriters Festival organized in January. This is the time when some of the best musical performers from the country assemble for a rocking performance. Furthermore, it’s a nice option for a casual getaway with your friends or an evening out with the family to enjoy delicious food and listen to lilting tunes.

  1. CLEARWATER BEACH, PIER 60

If you love sandy terrains and beachside locales then pier 60 is an amazing place, located across the gulf coast. It offers a horde of tourist amenities, such as an enthralling musical evening featuring local artists and sunset celebration programs. Mingle with the locals and munch on gastronomical delights to get to know the culture better. You’ll also get to see some amazing sculptures and pieces of artwork crafted entirely from sand. They are wow-worthy and majestic, very different from the typical sandcastles.

  1. SOUTH BEACH ART DECO DISTRICT

Located in Miami Beach, the South Beach Art Deco District is an amazing place for visitors boasting majestic structures designed using vivid patterns and neon accents. These are great to watch during the evening when the entire place is all lit up with lights and the beachside is bustling with people. I advise you to plan your trip during the Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Weekend which takes place in January every year. It will be a delight to see the brilliant Art Deco architecture.

February 2, 2019 0 comment
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No one, and we mean NO ONE can say no to Gold Coast. Famous worldwide as being a top vacation and holiday destination, the beautiful Gold Coast is great for couples looking to keep the old flame burning. In this article, we’ve listed some of the best places in the Gold Coast to take your loved one.

PHOTO BY TIM SACKTON CC BY-SA 2.0

SUNSET STROLLING IN RAINBOW BAY

PHOTO BY STONESTREET’S COACHES – THE EXTRA MILE CC BY-ND 2.0

Head over to the picturesque Coolangatta and go headland to Rainbow Bay to see Snapper Rocks where Roxy Pro and Quiksilver surf competition are also gathered. Here you can watch awe-inspiring sunsets while talking about the future or settling your lover’s quarrel. While doing so, keep an eye out for dolphins usually playing in the waves. This secluded beach is also home to many weddings in the afternoon.

AUSTRALIAN PARTY

You both looking to party up and down the coast? You don’t need to ride far to raise your glass to an evening of bar hopping. Head over to the Gold Coast’s light rail. The G tram service, as the locals call it runs 24/7 and makes navigating around Surfers Paradise fun and easy. Start by having a round of sunset drink at a Surf Life Saving Club, where you can hang out on the veranda and enjoy a cold brew together as seagulls wheel overhead. Next, go to the bars at Surfers Paradise at night.

SHOP TOGETHER IN GOLD COAST’S MARKETS

PHOTO BY MOHD FAZLIN MOHD EFFENDY OOI CC BY 2.0

Forget malls – they’re rarely romantic anyway. Invite your loved one to browse bargains in the beach instead. Ocean views meet quirky souvenirs in Surfer’s Paradise Beachfront Markets where you can get anything from fashion accessories and organic beauty products to fashion accessories made from cane toad skin. You can also visit Sanctuary Markets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary held every Friday afternoon. For a full market experience, go to Carrara Markets where you’re sure to find whatever Oz good you’re looking for.

HINTERLAND TRIP

PHOTO BY BERTKNOT/A> CC BY-SA 2.0

Just a 30-minute trip from the busy coastal strip, sleepy villages replace towering high rises. The hinterland is where you both can check out hobby farms, boutique vineyards, and National Parks. Galleries, gift shops, and restaurants are plenty in Mount Tamborine’s scenic main street which is perfect for strolling. Tamborine Mountain National Park, the oldest National Park in Queensland, offers spectacular scenery and remarkable views of the distant high-rise buildings. Providores and wineries are found throughout the area, which you both can discover for yet another lovely stop.

PHOTO BY MOHD FAZLIN MOHD EFFENDY OOI CC BY 2.0

Planning to visit soon? You can know more about Gold Coast here. DriveNow website provides travel tips for tourists plus they also offer car rental for different brands and choices while providing maximum savings and even bonuses. Be sure to book ahead of time to avoid unavailability.

There you go. Apart from being a great travel destination for couples, Gold Coast is fantastic all-year-round for family holidays and a trip with your buddies. Don’t forget to keep your options option and visit plenty of locations that you find interesting. Remember, sometimes the best destinations are those we don’t plan and only stumble upon. Have fun soaking the Gold Coast sun with your loved one!

January 26, 2019 0 comment
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Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia is not an alien place to almost everyone, and where seems the best to go when you only have a weekend to go around the city of ‘ wei macha, you want to makan here or tapau?’ – Anonymous – YES! You read it right… A city where it is comprehensible to put four languages in a sentence – Malay, Tamil, English and Chinese! 

Note: This article doesn’t include the guide to the usual spots like KLCC and Batu Caves!

PHOTO BY BEN GARRETT CC-BY 2.0

To show us some love, do stop by at the KL City Gallery where the I LOVE KL signboard compulsory photo–taking are located.  The gallery will show a glimpse of KL then and now. Surrounding the area are historical buildings with unique architecture amidst the skyscrapers of KL that has an attraction of its own, especially the Sultan Abdul Samad building. It is located in the south of Independence Square or Merdeka Square where the first ever Malaysia flag was raised at 12midnight, on the 31st August 1957 and marks Malaya (Malaysia’s name back then) freedom from colonialism.

How to get here: It’s 10-minute walk from Masjid Jamek LRT station.

Tips: It is a huge perfectly clipped green grass field area where it can be so hot under the blazing sun. Please do bring water to keep hydrated and put on sun block perhaps.  Night view will be good too!

Next stop will be slightly outskirt of KL but will definitely be worth the visit and something different from the skyscrapers, food, and iconic buildings. The Colmar Place, a botanical garden and a French village theme with the compliments of the Japanese. It’s located at Bukit Tinggi, about at 50minute away from KL.

Honestly, this is more to a sightseeing the place and nothing much to do except to wear kimono in the Japanese garden, but if you’re looking more varieties and fancy about architecture and nature, The Colmar Tropicale French Theme Resort it is!

How to get here: There’s a shuttle bus from Berjaya Times Square Mall/hotel

Tips: Please bring some snacks or drinks along; the restaurants are so expensive up there.

PHOTO BY MICHAEL COGHLAN CC BY-SA 2.0

Wanna put your haggling skills to test while enjoying historical places? Opened since 1888, Central Market is a perfect place to get souvenirs to your loved ones.  Just beside the building, along side is the Kasturi Walk, with a pewter wau bulan (a type of kite of the local Malay) that welcomes you right at the entrance, is an open-flea market. Few minutes walk down the road will be the little China Town or locally known as Petaling Street, another open-flea market with wider options and varieties, although both places have some kind of vendors similarities. This is where you can really test your haggling skills!

How to get here: It is only a 10minutes walk from Pasar Seni LRT station.

PHOTO BY NAZ AMIR CC-BY 2.0

A nature touch into the hustle and bustle KL city is the PerdanaBotanical Garden located at the Heritage Park of KL, originally a Lake Garden and transformed into a botanical garden with an ambiance of tropical forest. The park has some gardens and things to look forward to, i.e., hibiscus garden, orchid garden to a 2hectres deer park.

How to go here: It’s walkable from KL Sentral station, but the main road is always busy with traffic. Otherwise, hop on into the KTM train and stops at Kuala Lumpur Station; it will be about 1KM walk from there.

PHOTO BY BERNARD SPRAGG. NZ CC0 1.0

Known with the constitutional monarchy system, a visit to the Royal Palace; home to Malaysian King, Yang di Pertuan Agong, is a place not to be missed. It has a huge garden and stationary guards at the gates with horses; which are the main attraction here since public are strictly prohibited from entering the palace and it can only be seen from a distance.

How to go here: If you have the hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, this is one of the stops. Otherwise, it will only be accessible via taxi/grab/ uber with about RM20 return ride.

WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT


PHOTO BY ALPHA CC BY-SA 2.0

Nyonya Colours – provide huge varieties of delectable local and homemade native snacks/deserts or known as ‘kuih’ as an appetizer and some light meals.

Branches: KLCC, Berjaya Times Square, and main huge malls

PHOTO BY PHUKET@PHOTOGRAPHER.NET CC-BY 2.0

Jalan Alor – street food, ranging from local king fruit, Durian to appetizers, like dim sum or main dishes; i.e., grilled stingray, kangkung belacan and etc. Few minutes walk will bring you to the hub of nightlife in KL, Changkat. It is not only all about clubs and live bands, but also restaurants and bars that allow you even to go for bar hopping or some down quite moment, go for the restaurants that also offers a chill environment to catch up with friends; i.e., Rabbit Hole! – my favorite.

Little Penang  – Have to no time to stop by Penang this time? Drop by at Little Penang KLCC to have a bit of taste from the Penang roots; i.e., rojak buah, laksa Penang, Char Keow Tiow, etc.

Lot 10 Hutong – is NOT your typical food court! With mini escalators to bring you down the place, it is more to a street/hawker’s food ‘chaos’ ambiance in an air-conditioned environment. Wide non-halal of street food to choose from; i.e., Fish head mee hoon soup, chicken/duck / pork rice, Bak Kut The, Hokkien Mee, etc.

Nasi Kandar – is a dish of steam rice served with curries (yes, – combinations of 2 or more type of curry) gravy and side dishes. P/s – it’s not spicy at all unless requested. Otherwise, try Maggi Goreng(instant noodle turned fried noodle) or the other varieties of roti; i.e.,roti kosong, roti tisu, etc….  mainly for breakfast but everyone will be having it anytime of the day! Yes, even in the middle night for supper.

TRANSPORTATION & ACCOMMODATION

PHOTO BY VIL.SANDI CC BY-ND 2.0

1) Train – Advisably to get the Touch ‘n’ Go card if you’re staying more than 3days, because the discounts will be more worth it. Otherwise, using token is good for trains and bus – But it is not valid for KTM rides.  However, most of the attractions are accessible through the LRT Kelana Jaya line or KTM if you’re heading to BatuCaves.

2) Bus – An option is to go for the Hop-on-hop-off bus and get 24hrs or 48hrs ticket, otherwise look for the GO! KL bus (purple bus) for free rides on most locations at the city centre including KLCC and Central Market.

3) Buses to and from airport are 24hours for KLIA2, Airasia’s terminal, but only until about midnight for KLIA 1 terminal. It cost only MYR 11/way. Please avoid taking bus during rush hour as it can get up to 2hours or more ride to or from the airport, doubled from the usual hours.

PHOTO BY FITRI AGUNG CC-BY 2.0

4) KLIA Express – only 27mins ride to airport, and main hub is at KL Sentral. It cost about MYR55, but with Mastercard only about MYR44 when buying online or via kiosk.

5) Taxi – Please use metered taxi or another option will be via Grab or Uber, that’s easy to get around the city. Look at their specific newsroom website or Facebook for updates on promo codes J

6) Budget traveller, who is looking at hostel, Reggae Mansion, Masjid Jamek is the place to go! I personally haven’t stay there but I brought a couple of our KKs to stay there and they vouched for the cleanliness and amazing place it is. The rooftop bar is only open for in-house guest, which also has a great review!

7) Otherwise, try to find somewhere Bukit Bintang area, the heart of KL. It is walkable to most attractions and near to Monorail stations.

ITINERARY

 

Day 1 – Friday (Arriving at night)

If you arrived early, perhaps can go straight to dinner in Jalan Alor after checking to your accommodation. Otherwise, have your rest for the big day tomorrow!

Day 2 – Saturday

We’ll start the day slightly early to experience where Malaysia started from the very first place, the Independence Square. It is only about 10minutes walk from the Masjid Jamek LRT station. The first building that you couldn’t miss is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building on your left, and the opposite will be the huge perfectly clipped green grass area. Then, walk further up to check on the KL City Gallery.

For an early lunch, head to Nyonya Colours in Berjaya Times Square before hopping on the bus at 12 pm, to The Colmar Tropicale French Theme Resort, just right in front of the mall. It will be about 50mins to an hour journey. At the resort, there will be a complimentary shuttle service from The Colmar to Japanese Garden, and located beside it is the Botanical Garden.  The shuttle services are frequent and by 4 pm, make sure to be at the pick-up point to go back to KL.

PHOTO BY PHALINN OOI CC-BY 2.0

Arriving at Berjaya Times Square will allow you to walk around the area, exploring Bukit Bintang the heart of KL. Local buskers, street food, snack, shopping malls and even the iconic H&M is around the corner – you name it! Everything is here.   Then about 10minutes walk is the Lot 10 Hutong food court, just in time for dinner!

A little insert on KLCC, you can go to KLCC to see it lit the night sky, a different view during the day that you’re looking at strong tough built steel architecture. The Lake Symphony Water Fountain show will also be held at about this time. Otherwise, head straight to Jln Alor for deserts; ie fruits, coconut icecream, etc and go for the nightlife feel in KL, at Changkat. There are clubs, bars, live bands, restaurants or restaurant & bar all in one long street. A place for everyone!

Day 3 – Sunday

Start the day with food! This time, go for Nasi Kandar Pelita near KLCC, choose that curry combination and get those hands dirty. Kamay-kamayan tayo bes! Yes, just how the locals would have it for nasi kandar.  Wait! Appetisers? Go for roti kosong (kinda like flat bread but not so flat bread) and desert will be roti tisu maybe? A thin flatbread slightly glazed with sugar with drizzled condensed milk.

PHOTO BY ANDREW LAWSON CC BY 2.0

Then get a train to Pasar Seni, few stations away from KLCC and burn the calories by walking around the Central Market, Kasturi Walk and Little China Town (Petaling Street). Get those haggling skills into practice to get the best deal ever for pasalubong!

Now let’s go out from the ‘chaos’, and back to the nature we go right in KL. Take the train from Pasar Seni and stop at KL Sentral to go to Perdana Botanical Garden. From there, a quick visit to the Royal Palace of Malaysia is a must. Grab / Uber will only cost about MYR 15 – MYR 20, return.

PHOTO BY ROBERT LOWE CC-BY 2.0

Before we end the day, it’s time for another food trip! Since Penang is an hour flight away from Kuala Lumpur, you would not want to miss the best food it can offer in KL. Located in Suria KLCC mall, is the Little Penang. Then, take a stroll at KLCC park; where most people don’t really explore this. KLCC has a huge park to walk around, a little picnic maybe and to just enjoy the ambiance to end the weekend!

CAR RENTAL TIP: We always try to rent our own car when we travel, so that we can explore off-the-beaten-path places on our own schedule. Check out the best deals on rental cars for your trip and explore your independence! Check cheap prices here, now!

 

January 12, 2019 0 comment
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Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a South American wildlife wonder, abundant with thriving flora and fauna. The archipelago of 19 islands in Ecuador is home to a fantastic range of sights and activities, with each island boasting its own unique and special features. Read on and discover below the top 5 reasons why the Galapagos Islands should undoubtedly be your next holiday destination!

  1. STUNNING CRUISE SHIP ADVENTURES

Weave your way through the archipelago and soak in the incredible marine views while relaxing on board a cruise ship. The Galapagos Legend, one of the most popular cruises, features a 300 feet long luxury vessel, designed for adventure with the comfort of a boutique expedition. Recently refurbished to the highest quality standards, the Legend is filled with impressive facilities and amenities, from open lounges where you can watch the dolphins, to glass-bottomed dinghies allowing you to marvel at the wonders beneath the water’s surface.

Galapagos

 

Some of the most beautiful islands with the highest number of endemic species in the archipelago are Isabela Island, Genovesa, Espanola and Floreana. All of these islands are quite far off the center, so reaching them within day tours from Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz Island is virtually impossible. In other words, a cruise really is the best way to gain access to these isolated splendors.

  1. HIKING ADVENTURES THROUGH INCREDIBLE LANDSCAPES

The Galapagos Islands are a hiker’s dream, with countless trails through a vast variety of natural environments. Venture through dense forests to picturesque beaches, or climb towards breathtaking vantage points at volcanic craters. From lava fields to blindingly white sands, there’s undoubtedly something for everyone. These Islands are so varied, you will never grow bored discovering each new and unique place.

Remember that if you want to go off marked tourist tracks, you will need to get the consent of the Galapagos National park. The Galapagos Islands are a natural wonder, and they want to keep it that way, and some of the flora and fauna is very delicately balanced. This minimizes any potential environmental damage.

Some of the best hikes are actually on Santa Cruz Island though it is the most populace. Here you can explore verdant Scalesia forests and find the wild tortoises, which are plentiful.

  1. HOME TO RECORD-BREAKING WILDLIFE

On the Galapagos Islands, you can find the world’s largest living species of tortoise! The Galapagos Giant Tortoises have lifespans exceeding 100 years and have massive weights over 900 pounds. Watch them in their natural habitat and learn about their history, habits, and significance to the region.

Wild life

Another fascinating creature unique to these islands is the tiny Galapagos Penguin, which holds the title of being the only species of penguin in the northern hemisphere. They’re a treasured creature, and with less than 2000 remaining, it’s always exciting when you get to see one!

The Galapagos are one of the world’s most unspoiled UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the endemic animals that only exist in The Galapagos, include Marine Iguanas, the Flightless Cormorant, colorful land Iguanas, and the famous aforementioned Galapagos Tortoises.

The Booby birds are some of the most popular birds on the Galapagos. Of these, the Blue-Footed Boobies are the big favorite.

The Pink Land Iguana which lives only on the Wolf Volcano on Isabella Island was just discovered in 1986 (by the science community that is) and was only noticed to be its own genus in 2009.

  1. DIVING OPPORTUNITIES UNLIKE ANY OTHER

If you’re a passionate diver or someone who wants to give it a try for the first time, the Galapagos Islands is the perfect place to be. Join organized tours and experience a thrilling dive beneath the crystal clear water. Catch sights of hammerhead sharks in the distance, friendly sea lions who may brush by, marine iguanas scuttling across the ocean floor and enormous schools of vibrant fish. You’re guaranteed to be impressed.

Ship

  1. CULINARY DELIGHTS SCATTERED ACROSS THE ISLANDS

It’s not all about the sights and sounds while on the Galapagos Islands! It’s also a cultural and culinary paradise as you explore some of the inhabited islands such as Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. Try out the local favorites by tasting exotic Ecuadorian fruits and vegetables, and tempt your taste buds with street food made fresh to order. You also can’t go without trying the staple dish – ceviche – a fresh seafood dish that will make your mouth water.

The dishes are simple, light and fresh, combining the elements of Ecuadorian highland dishes with meat, potatoes, and grains, along with coastal ingredients like yucca, fish, and seafood.

Galapagos

In the Galapagos Islands breakfast typically includes fried dumplings with green plantains (bolones) or fresh fruit. The fruit juices can include fresh new ideas such as tree tomato, but also more well-known favorites such as guanabana and passion fruit.

Remember, that many fruits and vegetables are imports from mainland Ecuador.

Encebollado is a common element in most Galapagos Islands restaurants, and yucca, chilies, and onion are a staple.

Want to try sea cucumber? Go on, be brave. Why not? You are in a unique environment that you traveled halfway across the world to visit, of course, you want to try something a little different.

Whether you’re an avid explorer in search of Galapagos tours or a seeker of relaxing havens and peaceful experiences, the Galapagos Islands have it all. Move it from the top of your bucket list and make it happen: book your next adventure!

January 5, 2019 0 comment
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Restaurant Menorca

Restaurants in Menorca offer the hungry traveler a truly sensational eating experience. At the heart of any travel destination is food and this is especially true of Menorca; the cultivation, collection, variation, preparation and ultimately its consumption are the foundation for almost all activity on the island and the daily schedules of those who live there. Everything is planned according to when, where, what and how one eats, with food being much more than simply stuffing to fill an empty tank. In Menorca, eating bland, boring, or unhealthy food for the sake of it will simply not be tolerated!

The perfect year-round climate and the fertile land ensure that Menorca has a constant supply of fresh produce, including sun-ripened fruits and vegetables, almonds and olives, and a thriving beef cattle and dairy industry.

Of course, in true Mediterranean tradition, seafood takes pride of place on most menus in Menorca. Daily catches of lobster, fish and Calamari squid land on the docks each day and make their way from there to the local restaurants, where they are served to a steady supply of hungry customers from around the world! 

7 SEAFOOD DISHES YOU HAVE TO TRY!

1. LOBSTER SOUP AT CAFÉ BALEAR

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

After a slow wander through the winding streets of Ciutadella, a set of wide stone steps brought us into the marina where Café Balear’s boat, the Rosa Santa Primera has been bringing in a daily selection of freshly caught Mediterranean seafood for over 20 years. Directly on the water but tucked away in a narrow curve is the well-renowned fish restaurant that began life in the 70’s as a fisherman’s tavern and today, run by the son of the original owners, has diners lining up for hours for a spot on the waterside.

The specialty here is lobster soup, which the master chefs prepared for us from start to finish, with us as their audience. This began by selecting the live lobsters caught that morning, which they then expertly chopped and prepared to be cooked inside the Tian (a large ceramic dish that enhances the flavor by retaining heat throughout the surface). This is a dish best shared and the size of the Tian depends on the group. For our group of 8 three whole lobsters went into an enormous Tian to be flambéed with oil and the house sauce (it’s a secret recipe) and finally simmered with plenty of fish stock for a further 30 minutes.

A dining experience here should not be rushed and we waited with much anticipation before the immense vat was brought to our table to be introduced by the proud restaurant owner. We were encouraged not to be formal and break into the huge chunks of lobster with our hands and slurp every last drop of the rich soup, a slightly messy but very rewarding and memorable meal!

2. SWORDFISH CARPACCIO AT CAFÉ BALEAR

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

While our lobster soup was simmering we tucked into an impressive array of appetizers, the first being incredibly finely sliced swordfish, again freshly caught by their fishermen that day. The flavor is really delicate and, being so thin, won’t spoil your appetite.

3. VENUS VERRUCOSA AT CAFÉ BALEAR

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

While its name may not be too appetizing this small, oyster-like member of the clam family is a local delicacy and due to its rarity is much more sought after than the better-known oyster. Ours were served incredibly fresh with a drizzle of lemon juice.

4. SQUID AND ARTICHOKE AT TREBOL IN ES CASTELL

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

The next day, after a full morning walking off the previous night’s lobster soup, we arrived in one of two pretty harbors in Es Castell, a small town in the south of the island. The wide, open promenade brings you the length of the harbor to Trebol, placed in perfect view of the many boats bobbing up and down on the calm, sparkling water. This is an idyllic lunch spot on a sunny day, where you can take in the view as you slowly make your way through the fresh fish menu. We started ours with huge helpings of baked squid and artichoke and plenty of olive oil and local mayonnaise which we learnt has its origins in Menorca and not France as most people believe.

5. SEAFOOD PLATTER AT TREBOL IN ES CASTELL WITH FRESHLY CAUGHT SCORPION FISH, MONKFISH, SEA BASS AND BREAM

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

If you haven’t overdone it with the starters like me, the main course is the real attraction at Trebol. Wide platters come stacked with various local catches including Sea Bream, Black Bream, Scorpion Fish and Monkfish garnished with bright langoustines.

6. MUSSELS BAKED WITH BREADCRUMB AND TOMATO AT ES MOLI D’ES RACO

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

Moli is Catalan for windmill, and so Es Moli d’es Raco is very easy to find with its restaurant housed within the base of the original windmill in this working farm in the village of Es Mercadel.  Since their opening in 1982 their gardens have influenced the menu and stocked the kitchen for its classic Menorcan dishes of which we sampled many during a long, lazy lunch.  Their baked mussels are incredibly moreish with a topping of warm, crispy breadcrumbs and tomato sauce.

7. CALAMARI AT ES MOLI D’ES RACO

Why is it one of the best restaurants in Menorca?

All over Menorca you will find excellently prepared fresh calamari, as the local restaurants scoop it up off the docks as quickly as the fishermen can pull it fresh and alive out of the water! The dish is very much a staple of the local diet and at Es Moli d’es Raco they’ve perfected the dish by quickly frying it in a very light batter giving it the perfect texture and a light crunch, beneath which you find the pure taste of the ocean.

December 15, 2018 0 comment
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Panama

There’s a very good reason why we decided to go on a San Blas sailing trip – For anyone looking to travel from Central to South America via the Pan American Highway will ultimately run into the same barrier – The Darien Gap, a huge area of dense jungle and swamp, 160km long and 50 km wide, separating Panama from Colombia, making conventional road travel between the two countries practically impossible. So, it’s safe to say that this was not going to be the route for us! This left us with the choice between flying, or finding a sailboat to take us on a San Blas sailing trip from Portobello, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia!

 

San Blas Sailing with Ave Maria – Panama to Colombia – Colombia to Panama

  1. Fly from Panama City to a city in Colombia. You can find cheap flights on Skyscanner, but you can still expect to pay $200 to USD 300 p/person.
  2. The most relaxing and enjoyable – Take a private sailing boat for five days across the Caribbean from Panama to Cartagena via the incredible San Blas Islands – $525 to $575 p/person.

We chose number 2!

SAN BLAS SAILING – PANAMA TO CARTAGENA VIA THE SAN BLAS ISLANDS

We had decided that we wanted to experience crossing the Caribbean by sailboat, but most of the boats we found appeared to be ‘backpacker party boats’ with 15 to 20 people crammed in like sardines, sleeping on the deck, on the floor, on each other – Not for us! We’re also not really into the backpacker party scene anymore, so that was another no-no.

Most of the prices for these San Blas sailing trips ranged from $525 to $575 per person, including three meals a day, 4-5 days sailing time, with 2-3 of those days in the San Blas Islands.

There is one company offering a San Blas sailing trip for $375 by speedboat, with basic accommodation on one of the San Blas Islands instead of on a boat, but with a little more research we found that the cost ends up being much the same, as you finish far from Cartagena. The price doesn’t include water, transport to the departure point ($35) or entry charges to some of the areas ($25). You also then need to consider the onward transport to Cartagena ($75), plus several days’ food and accommodation, so the total cost is the same as an all-inclusive San Blas sailboat experience to Cartagena.

WARNING – It’s unfortunately quite common for some agencies and hostels to tell you that a boat you want to book has canceled their trip, is broken, or even to make up bad stories about them, to steer you towards boats that offer them the most commission. Always check for real customer reviews on Trip Advisor, do your research and make up your mind.

We recommend trying to contact individual boats directly. If they are at sea, then you will have to send them an email or Facebook message. Otherwise, use a local phone or Skype to call them.

This left us with privately owned sailboats, catering to smaller numbers of passengers and a more relaxing, personal experience. There are a handful of boats offering a trip like this, but few of those have their website, and it can be hard to contact the owners themselves, as they are often at sea and use travel agents and hostels to get their bookings.

After several days searching for San Blas sailing boats online, in hostels and with various agencies, we came across a picture of a classic looking sailboat, with twin masts, timber deck and trims and sleek, slender lines, anchored in crystal clear turquoise waters between two palm-fringed desert islands. AVE MARIA was etched into the stern in elegant, antique lettering. It was beautiful, and we wanted it! We had found our boat; now we just had to find the captain. Unbelievably, an internet search brought up the website for the boat and its captain, with San Blas sailing trips running between Panama and Cartagena, via the San Blas Islands, including one leaving the next day from Portobello, about 2 hours from Panama City. We called the cell phone number, and they had two spaces available, so we grabbed the opportunity and packed our bags again. Here’s how our amazing San Blas sailing journey went with Ave Maria Sailing.

DAY 1 – PANAMA CITY TO PORTOBELLO – SETTING SAIL TO THE SAN BLAS ISLANDS

So, we just had to get to the port of Portobello by 10 am the following day, 4th of June. Getting to from Panama City to Portobello is relatively cheap and easy – there is a bus from Albrook Station to Colon City which takes less than 2 hours and costs about $5, then another bus to Portobello for about $1. Easy! If you feel like splashing out, then you can get a yellow taxi which could cost you anywhere from $60 to $100, depending on your Spanish and your negotiating skills.

San Blas Sailing with Ave Maria – Panama to Colombia – Colombia to Panama

We arrived at 10 am and met up with Captain Paul, an Australian who has been living in Colombia and offering San Blas sailing trips for the past five years. We gave him our passports to take to the port authority to stamp us out of Panama; then we had a few hours to spend exploring Portobello, which is packed full of history, ruins, and stories of Spanish gold and pirates! We stocked up on beer and wine and extra snacks to take with us and waited until our 4 pm departure time when we jumped in a launch boat to take us out to the Ave Maria. She was just as beautiful as in the pictures, classic and streamlined with a white hull, Teak deck, and wood trimmings. Paul and Sindry helped us up onto the deck, and we stowed our big backpacks into the hold, keeping just a small day bag with a couple of t-shirts and some toiletries.

At 50 feet long the Ave Maria sailing boat has the capacity for eight passengers + plus two crew, with everyone having their bed! Four beds in the bow cabin, two double beds and one single in the mid cabin and the dining area convert to sleeping space for the final person. We only had four people + 2 crew on our trip, ourselves and a young Swiss couple who are also traveling the world. With light wind, Paul fired up the engine and left Portobello for the open Caribbean. Sindry cooked an amazing beef stew dinner, and we all fell asleep pretty early after that. Paul stayed up awake at the wheel, sailing 16 hours through the night to reach the San Blas Islands so that we would have a full days there to enjoy ourselves!

DAY 2 – ARRIVAL AT SAN BLAS ISLANDS – COCO BANDERAS AND OUR FIRST CULO DE POLLO!

We woke early with the rocking motion of the Ave Maria as she glided up, down and across the waves. When we climbed out onto the deck, we could already see an archipelago of small San Blas islands in the distance – clusters of palms hovering on the surface of the shimmering water encircled by white-sand halos, like an epitome of lonely bliss. This was exactly what we had come for! Sindry prepared a fresh and healthy breakfast of muesli, cereal and fresh fruit, which we ate outside in the cleansing salty air. As we arrived at our first stop, Coco Banderas, the weather began to turn.

Dark clouds and bickering gusts of cold winds surrounded the islands, and the choppy water pitched the boat up and down. This was nothing to worry about as the Ave Maria can handle massive storms, and we were already anchored down between two islands. The brief yet intense storm, which lasted for about one hour, is known as a Culo de Pollo, or Chicken’s Ass, for its characteristic erratic winds, chasing around in all directions. As soon as the storm was over, the wind died down, the sun broke the clouds, and the sea was restored to shimmering turquoise glass, clear all the way to the sandy floor below. Several other boats had chosen the same spot to shelter, but they continued on their way once all was clear again.

 

We spent the day diving off the boat into the warm sea, exploring the little islands and snorkeling around the shallow reefs that partially enclose the area. Local Kuna fishermen dive here for crabs, langoustines, and lobsters, which you can buy fresh out of their boats for just several dollars each! While we were snorkeling we saw huge shoals of tiny bait fish and red-nosed pencil fish, then as we swam back around to the beach, we saw a huge manta ray – two meters wide – and a smaller stingray!

For lunch, we had freshly caught fish, which Paul had reeled in from the back of the boat during the night, cooked up with a mixture of other fresh, delicious seafood, all prepared by Sindry!  The afternoon was passed with more of the same simple pleasures until we watched the sun set behind the island, casting oranges, reds, and purples across the sky. We spent the night anchored in the same spot, talking amongst ourselves and eating yet another amazing home-cooked dinner.

DAY 3 – SAN BLAS ISLANDS BBQ AND NIGHT TIME SEA TURTLES

The morning was completely peaceful, any other boats that had been in the area had vanished, and we had three whole islands all to ourselves! Sindry made us breakfast with fresh fruit and scrambled eggs on toast. The two best things about a San Blas sailing trip (apart from sailing) are the San Blas Islands and the food, so we swam to the nearest island to gather driftwood for a beach fire BBQ.

The sun had dried everything out pretty quickly, and we had a big fire going just off the beach using nothing but driftwood, palm leaves and dried coconut shells. Sindry prepared everything in the Ave Maria and brought it over to the island in the little dingy; marinated pork chops; avocado salad, potatoes, olive oil and home-made balsamic salad dressing. With a simple hot plate laid on the fire, we had an instant grill for the pork chops, which were some of the best I’ve ever tasted!

Later that afternoon, a local Kuna came by in his boat with some giant langoustines, freshly caught that day, which Paul and Sindry prepared for dinner with pasta and sauce, with crusty bread that evening.

During the night, just as everyone was thinking about sleeping, two massive sea turtles started swimming around the boat, feeding on the algae growing on the underside of the hull, then surfacing to take deep noisy breaths. They stayed around for about 2 hours, and all the while manta rays were jumping out of the water and flying several meters into the air! Paul and Sindry said this was really unusual for this part of the San Blas Islands and they’d never seen this kind of activity before!

DAY 4 – NEW SAN BLAS ISLANDS AND ‘THE BIG QUESTION!’

Our last day in the San Blas Islands before heading back out into the open Caribbean, to end our San Blas sailing trip with a 34 hour non-stop journey to Cartagena.

After breakfast in the morning, we pulled up the anchor and headed deeper into the archipelago to another group of islands, with more reefs and peaceful, warm water. We made the most of the swimming and snorkeling and explored the larger island closest to the boat.

After a burrito and salad lunch, while everyone was chilling out on the boat, I paddled Kach and me out to the island in the dinghy, and we took a walk along the beach to take some photos. We sat down on a big driftwood tree, and that’s when I gave her a ring I had found in Istria, Croatia just a week before and asked her to marry me. Luckily she said yes, and now we’re engaged! Apparently, we are the first engagement on an Ave Maria sailing trip! We all celebrated with some drinks on the deck and chilled out again until we were ready to start the long journey to Cartagena and set sail that night.

DAY 5 – SAN BLAS ISLANDS TO CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

More great food, conversation, reading and episodes of Game of Thrones kept us occupied on the day and a half journey, and we even took shifts steering the boat along the way. The rain came and went, and so did the hours; it’s incredible how time passes when you have no idea what time it is!

We all slept quite early and woke up as we pulled into the Boca Grande port of Cartagena at about 4 am the next day. We were there just in time to see the sunrise over the city, which was one of the most beautiful mornings we’ve ever seen. There was no rush to get off of the boat, we had breakfast and packed our things before piling ourselves and our luggage into the dinghy. With all four of us on dry, Colombian land for the first time, we said goodbye to Captain Paul, Sindry, and the Ave Maria – Our San Blas sailing trip was officially over!

We were so glad that we had chosen the Ave Maria for our San Blas sailing adventure – Great people, great food, great company, beautiful classic sailboat, spectacular San Blas Islands!

You can check their scheduled journeys through their website.

We loved Paul, Sindry, and the Ave Maria so much that we negotiated a special deal for Two Monkeys Travel readers!

Normal Rate: $550/ person but our discounted rate: $525 per person for individuals or $500 per person for groups of 6 people or more (Ask around your dorm!) Bonus; FREE cocktail each sunset in San Blas.

All you need to do is mention Two Monkeys Travel when making your reservation. This offer is available for direct bookings only (not through agencies or hostels)

(All aspects of your trip are the concern of Ave Maria Sailing. We receive no money from this offer, we just really enjoyed our trip with them, and so we wanted to share that with you too!)

 

November 24, 2018 0 comment
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