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REFLECTIONS: ONE YEAR LATER

Chasing frozen waterfalls in Ithaca with #mycovry sunglasses! Can you see the reflections in my glasses?

Chasing frozen waterfalls in Ithaca with #mycovry sunglasses! Can you see the reflections in my glasses?

 

A year ago today, I was hopping on an airplane about to embark on the biggest trip of my life. My plane was headed to Cartagena, Colombia and I was about to travel mostly alone across 10 countries from South America to Europe. It would be one of the biggest trips I had ever done in my life.

The trip took my life for a turn that I had never envisioned. It led me to a love for travel, a thirst for adventure and a passion that I had formerly never known for anything. I learned that I love to write. First, about my silly adventures.... Waking up to a stranger massaging my feet on the beach in Colombia. Almost getting robbed alone in Peru. Exchanging money illegally in a back alley in Argentina. Then as time progressed, about ordinary people on extraordinary journeys... Modern Day Explorer. The whole time, I never knew where this little website would take me. 

Today, one year later, I'm super excited to be teaming up with Covry Sunwear, a sunglass line started up by two lovely female entrepreneurs - Florence Shin and Athina Wang. I have loved these sunglasses since I first wrote about them in my beginner writing days. I love when people chase their dreams and find success. Florence and Athina did just that! They had an idea 2 years ago for sunglasses that actually FIT and launched a killer Kickstarter campaign. They've been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and today are selling these bad boys left and right. To get your own pair visit www.covrysunwear.com. I'm rocking the Castor Matte Blue in the photo above. 

Be sure to follow me on social media! I'll be showcasing some great photos with#mycovry sunglasses chasing frozen waterfalls in upstate NY! 

 

This is a sponsored post, but clearly I'm obsessed with them (i.e. the post I wrote about them in my beginner writing days) so everything is my opinion:)





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TRAVEL SIMPLIFIED: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VISAS, RECIPROCITY FEES AND TOURIST CARDS

VISAS VS RECIPROCITY FEES VS TOURIST CARDS

Here's a quick guideline and summary for you to understand the difference between visas, reciprocity fees and tourist cards before you book your travels. You don't want to be in a position where your bags are all packed, only to find out that you can't fly at the airport because need a VISA. Or that your budget is suddenly through the roof because you have to pay $160USD in visa fees. To find out if the country you are visiting needs a visa, tourist card or fee click HERE on my Countries page. You can click on each country to see more information. 

VISA (some countries, not all require a visa)-

A visa is a document that states a noncitizen's entry has been approved for a certain amount of time and/or visits. Visitors can NOT enter said country prior to entry date on the visa. Each country has different restrictions, so not all will require one and fees will differ depending on what country you are a citizen of. Generally, you'll have to visit the embassy to fulfill paperwork before your trip and show proof of your flight, address of where you are staying, income and include a passport picture and money order to pay for the fee. Sometimes you have to make appointments weeks in advance, and the visa will be sent to you in the weeks afterwards. Brazilian visas are notoriously hard to get and you will need to leave your passport with the embassy for a few days. 

**For the sake of this article, I am talking about tourist visas for American citizens. There are also student, business and other sorts of visas that you could apply for. Cuba, for example does not accept tourist visas from US citizens, but you could always apply to for a journalist visa to get in.

RECIPROCITY FEE -

 (Bear with me this can get a bit heady here) A fee charged by a country to visitors that is in direct response to the charges that the passport holder's country charges the other country's citizens to enter. Argentina's $160USD reciprocity fee for US citizens is equal to the USA charging Argentineans a $160USD visa fee to enter the US. The difference between the visa and the reciprocity fee is that you can pay for the fee online or at the airport upon arrival instead of having to visit the embassy. 

TOURIST CARD -

Simply a small tax fee that you have to pay upon arrival. There is no need to go to the embassy, one can purchase these online, at the border at the airport or it may come included. Mexico charges American tourists $20USD for a tourist card that is generally included in your flight cost or can be paid at the border crossing. 

DEPARTURE TAX -

A small fee the country will charge you that is usually included in your flight ticket or paid at the airport. 

*Generally, if you are on a layover and staying in the airport, you will NOT need to get a visa or pay any of the fees as mentioned above. 

Questions? Comment below! If it all makes sense to  you then in the words of my third grade teacher, Mr. Morano..."Got it, Get it? Goooooooooood."

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QUITTING YOUR JOB TO FOLLOW THE SUN

It's January 2015. I'm sitting in a tiny little Brazilian restaurant named BERIMBAU on Carmine street across from my dear friend, Angela. For the span of a little over a year, we have regularly met over lunch to discuss our shared flounderings through our twenties, love lives and professional careers. "What the eff are we doing with our lives?" is a general staple of our conversations. 

Over the course of lunch, Angela tells me she quit her job and is leaving to embark on an adventure across the country to travel. I couldn't believe the cojones of this girl. For so long, we had talked about it, and finally she was doing it. What she told me that day stuck with me, and not too long after she left, I did too. Who knew how much that one hour lunch so many months ago would change my life today? Below, Angela describes why she left on her trip to FOLLOW THE SUN. You can follow Angela's travels on Instagram HERE. 


FOLLOW THE SUN

By Angela Del Sol
 


Our selfie-obsessed generation is fixated on capturing every single moment and curating an image of self for the world to see. Traveling allows us to step outside of ourselves and let someone else take the picture, widening our perspectives and reminding us that there is so much to life beyond the selfie stick.

I wasn’t feeling entirely content with my life in NYC, so I decided to toss my safety blankets to the wind and follow the sun, my sun. In big cities like New York, the pressure to succeed and survive is high, and it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters as we become blinded by the unattainable markers of success. We begin to define ourselves by what we do rather than what we truly love. After pushing past the fear of leaving all the comforts behind, a stable job, a beautiful home and a relationship- I bought one way ticket to South America. This was a terrifying process but the risk of living one more day just going through the motions scared me more, and with one click I set my sails towards the unknown.

My journey began in my home country of Colombia. It was liberating coming back as an independent young adult to reconnect with my roots. After riding a packed Transmilenio (the transit system), and seeing firsthand some of the negatives of human nature, I made a conscious decision to focus on the positive and tried to not lose the edge that living in places like New York City gives you. I ventured to the center of Bogota, which is known for street art but also has a reputation as an unsafe city.

As I walked down the hundred year cobblestones of La Candelaria - Bogota's oldest neighborhood, I joined a free street art tour where I absorbed the street art created by politically charged artists such as Toxicomano and Juega Siempre. They call attention to institutionalized corruption and remind people about the disappearances of homeless men during the tumultuous "falso positivos scandal." Halfway through our tour we stopped at El Chorro De Quebedo, and our tour guide pointed to what was the oldest jazz club in the city "El Bolon Verde". I was shocked to see the disrepair of it's facade. How can a place of such historical relevance be in such ruin?

As a person that holds music in the highest regard,  I stood on the small street of El Callejon de las Brujas in shock. A man walked out the door and we made eye contact,  I introduced myself and asked him about the building,  because I was interested in painting it. As luck would have it, he was the owner's son. He gave me his number and told me to come back later. My heart beat fast with excitement as I ran to catch up with the group.

 

After painting my first mural in Brooklyn as part of a beautification project for my neighborhood last year, it was something that I wanted to do it again, but this time it was even more special. This time I had the opportunity to give back to my birth city. After convincing the owner of the jazz club to let me paint his building, I raced to accomplish a project that seemed impossible. With less than 48 hours before my next flight, I was determined to paint this mural. 

Having lived half of my life in Colombia and the other in the United States, I’ve felt in a cultural limbo and have a hard time identifying with either culture. This project was an opportunity to create some sort of permanence in a place that was dear to me. Bogota, has one of the most relaxed street art laws in South America and some of the best street artists from around the world come here to paint. I was scared, but I thought that whatever painted would be better than what was already there since it would be done with love.


I met two locals, Mike and Nick that helped me navigate Bogota to find the best paint deals. Upon first glance, these two young men were intimidating - piercings and tattoos, baggy clothes and chains- but there was something about them that made me feel at ease. This taught me to trust my gut and believe in my first impressions, vibes don’t lie.

 
“Judge people by their character and not by their looks. “
 

Yogurt is an essential part of the street painting process.

After prepping the wall, I painted non-stop. I felt completely liberated and time felt suspended in those moments. Any plan that I had before this moment went out the window and nothing mattered other than the completion of my project. I was exhausted but I did it and I must say it was an amazing feeling; it felt like love.


It's been months since I left my traditional life and I have been traveling nonstop; right now I am typing this from a cafe in Berlin, continuing to follow my sun. The more I continue to embrace the fear of the unknown the more the world continues to open up.

 

I've let my dreams be bigger than my fears and my actions louder than my words and I wake up every morning with the intention to live life on my own terms. I think that’s what it means to live a successful life : to have the courage to honor your inner voice and take action on whatever burning desire is inside of you, to live life creatively.  


As I continue to travel across the world map, layers and layers of myself are shed and I feel lighter, more vulnerable. In our society vulnerability is a trait that is not necessarily celebrated but is something we’re supposed to remove from ourselves. For me, being able to shed all of these layers that I create to protect myself allows me to be open to life and to connect with those who are on the same wavelength. It's ok to get lost, it's ok to not know.

 

My values and ideas are constantly challenged by the places I go and the people I encounter along the way. Fully opening to them has broadened my sense of self and my understanding of the threads of connection binding us all. We are all on the same boat no matter where we come from or where we are heading.

We must follow our sun.

 

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THE TIME I WOKE UP TO A STRANGER MASSAGING MY FEET ON THE BEACH...

PLAYA BLANCA, COLOMBIA

Photo by: Miss Nay

Let's agree that as common courtesy, one should never be awoken from a nap on the beach unless either A. They're turning red as a lobster. Or B. It's time to go. Be warned of some vendors here, as they are really aggressive; like the guy at the bar who thinks "not interested" means "try harder". I was napping on the beach when suddenly I felt something touch my foot. Instantly, I popped up to a woman, pouring a cool bucket of water on my foot, her hands kneaded between my toes. "Massage?" She asked me nonchalantly. 

She looked me in the eye, with my foot in her hands. LIKE THIS WAS NORMAL. Do you understand how weird that is, to be woken up by a stranger who is massaging your foot and then looking you in the eye?! 

"Don't worry. Relax. Just a sample now." She cooed. 

I tried pulling my foot away, but this woman had a caveman grip on my foot. 

"Umm, no thanks. Not interested." I shyly said. I was afraid a bit of what she'd do to my foot. 

"10 minutes only $10"

Was she really trying to charge me for this unwanted molestation?! What is this 50 Shades of Gray? No way! 

"NO. Thank you. I'm sorry." I said firmly.

And she finally released the claws, setting my feet loose.  My pups were able to breathe again. Whew!

To be honest, a foot massage on the beach actually sounds glorious, and probably would have been amazing, but I get mad when I get waken up from my naps. I'm kind of like a 2 year old like that. Especially if there's no food involved. Or you know, if it's just outright creepy. And don't be fooled by the "free sample" though, cause they'll still expect you to pay. If you want a massage go for it, but just be warned. Ain't nothin free in this world honey. 

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EXCHANGING MONEY IN A BACK ALLEY IS ACTUALLY A LOT LESS DANGEROUS THAN IT SOUNDS.

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EXCHANGING MONEY IN A BACK ALLEY IS ACTUALLY A LOT LESS DANGEROUS THAN IT SOUNDS.

Actually, this is not Florida Street but the birthplace of the Tango called El Plato. I was too scared to look suspicious on Florida Street. 

Actually, this is not Florida Street but the birthplace of the Tango called El Plato. I was too scared to look suspicious on Florida Street. 

FLORIDA STREET, BUENOS AIRES

Everyone knows that Argentina has a standard exchange rate and a "BLACK MARKET" or "BLUE DOLLAR" exchange rate. Typically, if you go to your local bank or currency exchange place (PLEASE DON'T EVER GO TO A CURRENCY EXCHANGE PLACE BTW) you'll find that you get approximately $1USD to $8Pesos. BUT, because of inflation and the US dollar being so strong, local Argentineans actually prefer American dollars. The worth is higher. You'll find a lot of the higher end restaurants in Palermo, Recoleta and the more touristy areas offer exchange rates and accept USD. Often they'll say what rate they are exchanging at the bottom of the menu.

So knowing this, there is a bit of a fishy option to really get your money's worth. You can head on down to Florida Street (ask anyone, they will know) and you will most definitely find men standing in the street saying, "Cambio, Cambio". Or "Change". 

Chat with these men, and they'll haggle exchange rates with you. They mostly all speak great english and will give you a rate. I got $12Pesos to the US dollar when I was there, but you can get 12.3, or 13 more or less depending on the fluctuation. FYI: They only prefer crisp new $50 or $100 bills. You will get a less rate with $20's. So know that. 

For my experience, I was with Melissa and Jen and I talked to 2 or 3 different guys in the street before settling on one who gave me the best rate. Also, the street is not sketchy at all. It's a super crowded, "Financial District" esq street with plenty of people, stores etc...

Our guy led us into an office building PAST AN ACTUAL EXCHANGE PLACE and into the back of a shop. If that's not ballsy, I don't know what is.  I won't lie - that was ballsy. And while I was definitely sketched out I was comforted by the fact that when push comes to shove, literally,  I would just shove my two friends into the would be attacker and RUN, saving myself in the process. It would be a worthy sacrifice. (sorry melissa and jen)

Once we got into the room , there was a little woman in front of a little cash box, and 3 other friendly guys. Honestly, we were very relieved to see the woman and everyone was really friendly and chatty. They answered all our questions, let us check the money 15x, with markers and knowing the 3 signs to see a counterfeit bill. In the end, our guy Jaime even gave us a BUSINESS CARD. It was the most legitimate illegitimate business transaction I'd ever been a part of. 

Now there's no way I can guarantee that it's completely safe, but from my own personal experience and many others it ended up being fine. I definitely recommend being safe + using your head. Don't go alone. Don't bring too much cash. If it doesn't feel right - then don't do it. Trust your gut. And definitely don't say that I recommended it! 

 

 

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FINALLY UNPLUGGED IN PARQUE TAYRONA, COLOMBIA

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FINALLY UNPLUGGED IN PARQUE TAYRONA, COLOMBIA

PARQUE TAYRONA, COLOMBIA

There's so much exploring to see and do in Colombia, but for when you're in need of the all essential, unplugged, wi-fi free, beach chilling and living like a dream, take a visit to Parque Tayrona. 

THE WATER IS FUCKING COLD! 

THE WATER IS FUCKING COLD! 

 

PARQUE TAYRONA is a national park that is about 2 hours from the beach side town of Santa Marta. Here you will find a little piece of heaven that will not only challenge your physical abilities but bring you some well needed relaxation from all the little made up problems in your head.

GETTING THERE involves a heavy amount of pushing -- Here's a little rundown of how you can get there.

CARTAGENA - SANTA MARTA - PARQUE TAYRONA 

It's a bit of a trip but there are two options of getting there.  

You can easily find cheap ways of getting to these beaches through your hostel or hotel. You'll most likely be grouped with other travelers and be sardine packed in little vans shafting people left and right. While you won't see much of the culture with the exception of through the glass windows- you'll find this the most easy and efficient way of getting around. Much like listening to FOX NEWS and letting them decided your vote. Or having your mom pick out your outfit for you. (Also good for solo travelers)

OR if you are with a group of people and would like a sense of adventure / can speak some spanish and are not afraid to haggle! The bus is a much more cushy, VIP style bus with leather recliner seats and is cheaper BUT keep in mind that you will have to pick it up on the outskirts of the wall in Cartagena, so the cab ride that it will cost you go get back into Cartagena might actually equal the cost of simply getting your ride from your hostel. 

AM- WAKE UP EARLY. 

Visit your local supermarket or walk the towns for breakfast. You'll find lovely snacks like PAN DE YUCA and LECHE from the local panaderias. Try them all, they're delicious and super cheap. Make sure you get tons of fresh fruit for the way there and little snacks - we were big fans of GRANADILLAS. Seriously - get them, and if you go, bring me back some. I had 6 in one day. 

TIPS: Get to know your spanish and your numbers well. Dos Mil is 2000, but cinco ciento is 500. People come on the vans and sell things at various points throughout. 

4 HOUR BUS TO SANTA MARTA

Santa Marta is a shit show. They'll drop you off on a corner and you'll have to find a place to see and eat in. It is hectic to say the least and you'll soon find that you stick out like a SORE THUMB. There's plenty of hostels to stay at, and everyone will tell you LA BRISA LOCA is the PARTY HOSTEL. I wouldn't recommend staying there as it gets loud and stays loud. You can easily, easily stay at MASAYA or EMERALD HOSTEL next door and walk on over when your done. 

There's also a fantastic street market at nighttime. Really, a hub for the locals + tourists alike. Hygiene might be questionable, but the food is totally worth it and amazing. Just ask your reception where the street market is. Check out...SALCHIPAPAS, JUGOS NATURALES, HAMBURGUESAS, EMPANADAS + AREPAS

OVERNIGHT STAY AT  PARQUE TAYRONA 

The next day you wake up at daylight and hop on a public bus to the parque. Make sure you bring a passport or a copy of your passport and make sure you leave early.

UPON ARRIVAL:

-You'll arrive at the entrance of the national park where you'll have to pay for entry to the park. From there -  you'll have to watch a video in spanish where you are taught about the wildlife of the park. From there you can either hike on a path to the entryway which is an additional 2 1/2 hour hike. I recommend going on the mini bus that takes you past the tarmac hike and brings you to the regular hike. 

-Finally after the 2 1/2 hour hike - super easy. It's mainly level and by beaches etc..., you will reach the entryway of Parque Tayrona - where they will take down your passport information and give you a hammock rental.

There's a specific amounts of hammocks that you can rent out and they can sell out. The earlier you can get there, the better your choice is. There are higher hammocks with a view overlooking the ocean, and then there are ones beach level. Be warned - it gets cold at night. Freezing cold. Seaside, your nipples will be so sharp - they'll cut through your shirt like a fat kid cuts HS gym class. 

No service. No rooms. Just a beach and hammocks. There is nothing for you to do but enjoy. And at nighttime, there's only the restaurant with electricity, (ish) it tends to go off so make sure you have a flashlight. And bring a pack of cards, some alcohol and mingle with everyone from table to table. We became friends with the guys from the shop where you can buy alcohol + various snacks + drinks. There are free lockers but you must bring a lock. 

Also - there's really only ONE restaurant in Parque Tayrona in the area we stayed at, and it opens at 7pm. You'll have to wait on line and order from the lady at the desk and pay, then they'll deliver the food to each table. Make sure you get to the stands early and order. Friendly cats + dogs chill around the area too, so you can pet them.

THINGS TO DO:

Hike to Tres Pueblos - SUCH a fun hike. Hopping and jumping from boulder to boulder, climbing under rocks. MAKE SURE YOU WEAR GOOD HIKING SHOES + water. We woke up to catch the sunrise then do the hike. 

Horseback riding - On the way back you'll be lazy to do the hike again, so I recommend going horseback riding!! For only about 30/40 Pesos or $12 USD, you can have a horse take you approx halfway back to the entryway. The horses look cared for and well rested, there's a huge amount of horses so they circulate. The view is absolutely gorgeous and you can pretend you're an explorer making their way through the wilderness. Also, if you have never ridden a horse, no worries! They will give you an older, slower horse (or maybe donkey) and walk with you. 

Beach, Duhh - While not as calm and beautiful as Playa Blanca - the beach here is still stunningly gorgeous. There's a lot of driftwood though I should mention , but the sand is soft and the sun is warm. Enjoy it here! 

THINGS YOU MUST BRING

-Passport or copy of it 

-WARM CLOTHES - seriously. Hoodie, sweat pants + clothes. You will definitely feel it at night, especially if you are sleeping at the top - then make sure you bring a sleeping bag. 

-ALCOHOL - Hide this well in your bag. They check your bag upon arrival. 

-Flashlight 

-Lock for the free lockers that are at your disposal. 

 

 

 

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