Last night, a woman stole my phone from my bag. I felt her do it, I saw her walk away, and I stood there dumbfounded. I was 100 percent sure she did it, but I was too scared to accuse her and confront her in case I was wrong. Next time, I hope I won’t give the other person the benefit of the doubt – better to apologize and leave with your phone – there’s nothing in it for the nice person.
I get that it could have been so much worse. I could have been robbed at gun point like another couple staying in our hosel was 4 weeks ago in Brazil. But it doesn’t take away the horrible feelings that I have.
I feel like such an idiot having done nothing. 11 months of pictures, gone. Even more if you count all the pictures that weren’t from our trip. Because I was stupid and cheap and didn’t buy more iCloud storage to back up my pictures. And when I finally went to do it, I couldn’t because something went wrong on my Mac in Canada. And so, I carried on travelling knowing that if anything happened to my phone that it would all be gone.
But I never thought anything wouldn’t actually happen.
Then it did.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the blog posts have been coming at a glacial pace – I’ve been slow as molasses (to borrow a phrase I love from my old colleague) to write. But I have ideas. Things I really wanted to share with you. Things I really wanted to write on this blog and illustrate with photos. And then when I was done, I wanted to print it all out and bind it like a book – something that Matt and I could flip through when we got grey and old and technology got away from us.
But now I have almost no pictures to share.
With you. Or with anyone.
And that woman stole your chance to continue on our Patagonia road trip with us – she stole your chance to visit the wonderful parks in Montevideo – to see more of Iguazu Falls, or any of Salta. Not to mention all the places I showed you a bit of but left so much more for later.
She stole from us, you and me, so much opportunity.
And that’s why I hate greed. Because for a little bit of profit and with evidently zero regard for another human being, she’s hurt me so much. It’s the same with greed of any kind. When a boss won’t give a raise, when an employer won’t pay the females employees fairly, when people are displaced so that natural resources can be exploited, they lose so much opportunity. So much of what could have been, won’t.
I suppose the only blessing in this situation – for me at least – is that it reminded me of that. That greed, in any form, really and truly hurts people, whether you know them or not. It’s a reminder to do more to live kindly.
We’re asked on a not so regular basis how we manage to control and check our travel budget. It’s a fair enough question and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.
I’ll preface this post by saying that, a) I’m a project manager by profession which meant that, b) from the outset of deciding to travel I knew I’d have that whole budget thing hanging over me constantly if I didn’t plan on how I could monitor and control it.
By controlling and monitoring the budget in a simple way I could then put it to the back of my mind and focus on the important things like lobster meals, snorkelling with sea turtles, mountain hiking in Peru, finding lost cities, driving through deserts, etc, etc…
Here’s how we’ve put our travel budget to the back of our mind:
1) How Much Dollar Do We Need?
We decided on our approximate daily budget range and decided on how long we wanted to travel for. We then simply multiplied x by y to give us the golden number of dollars we’d need to save up before heading to Nicaragua on March 12th 2015. Yes, the harder part was saving and, for us, this happened over many a moon.
2) Find A Tool To Rule Them All
The project manager in me thought, “there must be a simple application or online tool that someone else smarter than me has built to make my job easier by removing all the arduous admin work involved in keeping track of expenses and our budget.” Or something to that effect.
Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “Yes Matt, there is.” And there was much rejoicing. By me. Quietly. On my own.
Cynthia by this point had delegated this entire budget monitoring project to me to ensure she could focus properly on googling “how long is too long to spend at a beach in the sun?” Followed closely by “Is there ever a ‘too long’ to spend at a beach?” She’s yet to find the answer.
Anyhow, THE tool. We use the incredibly easy to use Trail Wallet. It’s an app created by travelers for travelers and I cannot recommend this enough.
3) Learn To Use And Set Up Trail Wallet
This step is pretty straightforward because, well, the app is just so perfectly easy to use.
First, watch the helpful video on the Voyager Apps website to get to know all the features of Trail Wallet.
Then, go to your newly installed app and add a new trip and give it a name!
Then, if you have your magic budget number already you can enter in a start and end date and then enter in your total trip budget. Don’t worry, you can edit all these at any time so if your trip goes on further then you can extend that end date. If you win the lottery and your budget increases, you can increase it!
You can then enter in currencies. We started with Nicaraguan Cordobas and then added new currencies as we moved onto different countries. We also used Canadian Dollars as this is our home currency. (p.s. When you’re connected to WiFi, you can update the exchange rates.)
Exit out of there to your home screen and then click on your trip. The next screen is where you’ll have all your information handy to you.
Once we completed all this, we were trained up and ready to start tracking expenses and therefore ready to begin monitoring and controlling our year-long travel budget! Waahooo!
4) Start Tracking Those Expenses
Yes, for this gem of an app to work and for you to end those sleepless nights wondering how much money you have to spend per day today and how much you have left in the piggy bank… You do need to enter in EVERY expense.
Just simply go to your trip homepage, click the plus sign, enter in the amount, ensure its the correct currency (hint: don’t mix up those Colombian Pesos for Chilean Pesos!) and, if you like, select a category (see below) of expense and add a note.
That’s it. It’s quicker than writing it down on putting it in your notes. Plus, the app will subtract the amount from your trip and daily budget and it will tell you what your “adjusted budget” (see below) is now.
So, so easy yet nice and effective.
5) Keep On Repeating Step 4 So You Can Monitor at your Leisure!
That’s right, we enter every expense so that now we can still see our daily budget as it was at the start of the trip yet now we can also see our adjusted daily budget (if you tap on your budget that appears on your trip home screen) to see how it’s increased over time because of all those days that have come under budget, again, waahoooo!
In settings you can add, edit and remove categories. We like categories because we can use the apps built in charts function to see precisely where our money has been going. We use big catch all categories like “accomodation” and “food/groceries/water”. We’re up to 12 categories now and it’s no surprise that accomodation and food is where most of that money has gone.
So, that’s how we do it. We found and downloaded an app and we use it on a daily basis.
The project manager in me is content because I can monitor and control our budget very very easily. And Cynthia and I can always sleep without worrying about unanswered questions surrounding money when traveling. We’ve always got the answers in our Trail Wallet!
Hallelujah we made it! We recently got back from trekking to Choquequirao in Peru. It was amazing, but really difficult. And since that’s the vaguest description of a trek (or anything) ever, let me explain.
…Right after you check out our suffering on film!
What Is Choquequirao?
Are you sitting there going WTH is Choquequirao? Ya? Oh, you aren’t? Just humor me while I start at the beginning then…mostly because I didn’t even know that this place existed, nevermind what it was, until a few short weeks ago.
The short answer is that Choquequirao is an Incan site. And being true to the Incas’ style, it’s hidden away in the Andes Mountains. Like right in there.
Choquequirao is Machu Picchu’s plainer, but much bigger sibling. Whereas Machu Picchu was a glorious ceremonial site with it’s many different temples and insanely impressive rockwork, Choquequirao was an administrative hub with much simpler, rustic buildings. Instead of temples, Choquerquirao has meeting houses and llama sectors. But please, don’t mistake its lack of temples for being boring or unimpressive.
It’s far from that.
Getting to Choquequirao
There’s only one way to get there and that’s by foot. Choquequirao is a 2 days walk from Cachora (a tiny town with a snow capped backdrop that’s a 3 hour drive from Cusco).
Having done the trek now, I think it would be easy enough to do it yourself – although there is NOTHING easy about this trek – if you have camping equipment and don’t mind carrying it for 4 days.
But since Matt and I aren’t mules…and especially since we aren’t equipped with anything (we even sent our sleeping bags home…which is actually proving to be a bad decision), and since we truly value the expert knowledge of a guide (basically so we know what we’re looking at), we decided to go with a professional trekking company
We went with ChoquequiraoTrek and would totally recommend them. They’re based in Cusco near Plaza de Armas and more specifically near the the 12 sided Incan rock.
But there are lots of companies in Cusco that offer the trek, and most will set off with only a day or two’s notice. I would strongly recommend arranging the trek in Cusco, rather than online beforehand. You can get a better sense of the company, and probably get a better price when you do it in person. The companies that we looked at ranged in price from $250 to $550 USD. The company we went with was in the lower-middle of that range.
About The Trek
If you’re not in half decent shape, this trek will be killer and you’ll probably have to ride the poor horse most of the way. That’s another benefit to going with a tour: you get an emergency horse!
Seriously, this was the hardest trek that we’ve done – and probably the hardest trek we will do because as it is, I have little aspirations to do anything harder.
Why was it so hard?
Oh let me count the ways!
The trek is down and up a steep canyon! Then back down and back up the same damn canyon.
The canyon that’s in that picture up there. Ya.
The first day you walk down a mountain for hours and hours and hours. Your legs turn to jell-o. Then after lunch, and after you reach the bottom of the canyon and cross the bridge, you get to walk up super steep switchbacks in the blazing sun! Good luck if you don’t bring a hat – you must be an idiot like me. My face was so hot I thought it was going to burst into flames.
Once you somehow survive walking up the steep, dusty, rocky trail for a few hours, you’re rewarded with an Incan shower at your camp site. Basically, it’s really cold. Like don’t let the water hit your back or you won’t be able to breathe – and you’ve already had enough breathless moments for today, trust me – cold.
But take advantage of the shower because it’s the warmest the showers will be. It was my first and last shower until I returned to Cusco 3 days later (BLAH).
On the second day, your legs hurt like hell, obviously. And if they don’t, you didn’t work hard enough on day one! Go back and do it again ;). No matter how much sleep you got the night before, it doesn’t seem like enough – not for your weary body, anyway.
But you drag yourself out of your tent – maybe it’s raining like it was for us – and have breakfast. Then you’re off.
Oh sweet baby Jesus, have you no mercy!?!?!
This was the absolute worst day for me. I almost burst into tears because my daypack felt like it was getting heavier and heavier with each stupid slow step. Also it’s amazing how your normal feet will turn into cylinder blocks. Who knew!
In the morning of day 2, I made a silent vow that I’m never trekking a canyon again. It’s horrible – horrible with a string of very forceful swear words!
By day 3 though, I was thinking about how I’d really like to hike the Grand Canyon one day.
What is my problem!?
Eventually, you’ll reach the top of the mountain. Have a snack, sure, but don’t get too excited because you’ve got another 3 agonizing kilometres to Choquequirao.
It took us about 2 shameful and painful hours to walk those 3 kilometres.
Somehow we enjoyed the hike.
Somehow. Look, we did the 4 day hike in 3 days by lobbing off the first and last 11 kilometres to and from town, and also nearly dying of exhaustion in the 3rd day. We literally had to walk down and entire mountain and up another entire mountain. Unless you’re really in a rush, don’t try to be a hero.
Just relax and enjoy the views.
What to Pack For Choquequirao
This packing list is for the person who is going with a tour for the 4 day/3 night trek. I don’t have the first clue about what you need to bring to do it yourself.
Daypack with rain cover (just in case) – try to get one with hip straps to take the weight off your shouldes
3 pairs of underwear (unless you’re good with wearing one pair multiple times)
3-4 pairs of socks (quick dry is ideal)
1 pair sturdy running shoes/hiking boots (I wore trail running shoes and was fine.)
flip-flops or crocs for camp/showers
1 long sleeve shirt for hiking in (to keep the sunflies away from you)
1 pair lightweight pants for hiking in
1 fleece/sweater for the cold nights
1 sarong/quick dry towel for the shower
2 litres of water, you can refill or buy at camp sites
money – more than you think so you can buy gatorade, snacks if you want, and for tipping your guide, chef, and horseman
1 bottle of bug spray with deet (doesn’t work on sunflies though)
toothbrush and toothpaste
wet wipes to use as toilet paper, for your hands (instead of hand sanitizer) and face, and all kinds of things
granola bars/snacks for in betweenmeals
favoured drink crystals if you don’t like the taste of boiled water
first aid kit if you like that kind of thing (like Matt does)
From Huaraz, Peru take a day-trip to get up close and personal with a gorgeous glacier that’s receeding year-round and the endangered 12 meter tall plant! Plus, every second of the drive, you’ll be rewarded with absolutely stunning views.
This sight-seeing day trip takes you through Huascaran National Park, and gives you the chance to get up close and personal with one of the only glaciers left in the tropical area of South America. Well actually, it’s not technically a glacier anymore because it doesn’t build up ice in the winter: it’s receeding year-round. While it’s only a shadow of its former self, Pastoruri is still very much worth seeing before it’s gone forever.
On the same day-trip, you’ll also get to see the Queen of the Andes, the crazy gigantic Puya Raimondii (classified as endangered). This plant is other worldly, quite fitting since it can only grow at an elevation of between 3000 – 48000 meters. These graceful giants can grow to 3 meters, and produce a flower spike 9 – 10 meters!
Most of the day is spent on a bus, offering stunning views of the Cordillera Blanca as you drive to and from Pastoruri. Don’t be fooled though, the 2.5km hike up to the glacier will leave you gasping for air. Sure it’s a short hike, but you’ll be hiking up to 5,050 meters.
The air is thin, so take your time. And if high-altitude trekking isn’t your thing, you can rent a horse and ride it most the way up.
However you get there, it’s worth going to the top!
And then it’s worth trying to skip all the way home… at over 5,000 metres…