Ecclectic tales from an independent wanderer…

Andes Mountains

No Reservations

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Atop the Pindus Mountains, in the heart of Greece.


A term made famous by Mr. Anthony Bourdain, it’s my preferred method of travel.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you travel with “no reservations?”

That’s a question that can be a little be more difficult to answer, but more than anything I believe it’s a silent statement of traveling with both an open mind and an open heart.

For conversation sake & in more technical terms, here are my thoughts on the subject. Traveling with no reservations, specifically refers to these three things…

1) I truly do like to travel with no itinerary or hotel reservations. In many ways, I like to make my own way, go with the flow and let the journey engulf me in all its magic.
If I do opt for making travel arrangements, I usually limit them to the first and last nights of my journey. This can be extremely helpful if your luggage is lost as well, or if you know that jet-lag may be a reality for you after a long flight.
2) Always trusting my intuition, I NEVER turn down an invitation. A great example of this took place on my spring journey through Greece with Tripology Adventures last May. Following an incredible day of traversing mountain roads in a 4×4 caravan, a gentleman affiliated with the organization offered to talk me on a four-wheel-drive ride in a vintage Mercedes he had outfitted.
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The town of Karpenisi is located high in the Pindus Mountains and is recognized as having some of the cleanest air in all or Europe. Touted as being the Alps of Greece, this Colorado Girl can legitimately say that these peaks and valley’s made the Rocky Mountains look like Kansas. An avid off-roader (my first car was a Jeep Wrangler, Rio Grande addition complete with a front mounted winch & leopard print steering wheel cover) I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do some real 4-wheeling in this picturesque landscape)
Outside of the hotel, I met my guide – Theodoros Gravanis & his retrofitted, army issue rock-crawler.
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Theo & His Rock-Crawling Machine

The vehicle had no seat-belts, no airbags, no top and was basically set-up to be an all around, trail tackling, mud-busting, mama’s worst nightmare death machine.
Thrilled, I jumped right in – thinking to myself that what Mama-Didn’t-Know, wouldn’t kill her.
The ride was crazy, exhilarating & adrenaline pumping fun with Theodoros dropping it into four-low, taking the vehicle nearly vertical down steep ravines and up blind hills. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery I had ever seen, I was in car junky heaven, all the while holding on for dear life.
Atop an incredible summit with 360 degree views, Theodoros even let me get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Both of us swapping stories in broken English & Greek and each with shit eating grins of pure joy plastered on our faces.
My lack of “reservations” led to one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip and in seriousness, an afternoon that I will never forget.
3) Don’t let yourself be reserved by habits, eating or otherwise that might possibly have you miss out on something spectacular. Food is another great example of this…
Once upon a time in Pacific Mexico, a family offered to host my travel companion & I for dinner in their generations old hacienda. On the menu, Lengua – Cow Tongue which very much maintains it’s look and tastebud texture.
Hesitant to try it, I closed my eyes, shoved it in and was amazed at the eruption of flavors that washed through my mouth! Incredible, delicious and again, something that I will never forget.
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Traditional Cuy – Rotisserie Guinea Pig at a Roadside Restaurant outside Riobamba, Ecuador

I can tell you so many similar stories – Like the time I ate the Guinea Pig or “Cuy” as they call it, at a road side restaurant in Ecuador. All the locals looked on as a tried my first bites, avoiding the toenails that were still attached and the leather thick skin from its open fire rotisserie for who knows how many hours. One nibble in particular didn’t taste or feel right and resulted in a silent, but very obvious gag. The on lookers all roared with laughter and in that brief moment, we bonded – my culinary right of passage.
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Roadside, Rotisserie Cuy Outside Riobamba, Ecuador

Just because it looks funny, smells different or is something you have never once pondered putting in your mouth, give it a go. Chances are, you won’t be sorry.

When did all this begin for me?
Although it is hard to say as my wanderlust set in at a very early age, I know that one specific trip ignited my current drive for adventure and changed my perspective as a young adult.
In 2003 following my first year of University study at the University of Colorado, my very non-adventurous mother and I took a trip to Spain.
A spanish major, I had done my research, spoken with many different people and developed an idea of what I thought the trip would be.
My mother and I departed Denver on a two and a half week journey without one single hotel reservation or plan in mind.
Upon arrival, we found the airport information desk and were given metro instructions and a tourist map. I’ll never forget the train arriving to the platform and the two of us staring at the doors as they refused to open. An attendant ran up to us and instructed us to “Push the Button.” Laughing and feeling a bit insecure, we jumped aboard, bags in tow.
We left the airport in Madrid on the Metro, headed for the Puerto Del Sol, an area of the city that my Basques, Spanish professor had insured me was spectacular. Happy to stay in a hostel, we were told at the airport information desk that we would find many there.
Emerging from the underground metro station, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a holy parade, but we didn’t see a single Hostel. I asked a shopkeeper, showing her a map with the circled destination. She chuckle and in Spanish replied – “You’re simply not looking high enough…” and then with a grin gestured to the upper stories of the ancient buildings above us where sign after sign displayed “Hostel Aqui.”
The rest of our time, resulted in laughter, tears, adventures, debates about returning home early and ultimately stories that she & I still tell with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Go. Travel. Open your heart and let the world fill it with endless treasures…

Cultural Treasure Amidst the Andes

Amidst the Andes

Ecuador’s colonial city of Cuenca bustles with a blend of metropolitan flare and Andean tradition. Often overshadowed by larger Quito to the north, Cuenca’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a hotbed of history & culture, filled with architecture that rivals much of Europe.Overlooking Cuenca

Nestled high in the Andes, tight cobblestone streets serve as a foreground to the picturesque 360 degree views. Lush hilltops and fertile valleys, are still alive with the agricultural heritage that laid the foundation for the city itself.

Once an Incan metropolis, history runs deep here. The very keystones of this ancient civilization dismantled by Conquistadors to create a new world under the crown, many of the hand carved stones, remain at the base of the city’s oldest and most significant monuments. Throughout busy streets, residents retain their root with traditional dress apparent.

Cuencan Street

Cafe EucalyptusWith a thriving culinary scene, restaurant options range from traditional to intercontinental with gastro-centric options like Cafe Eucalyptus, offering a wide variety of international cuisine from around the globe.  During business hours, street vendors push wheel barrows full of oranges while women in traditional garb roast plantains in door frames.

For a true taste of the city, visit a Cuencan sweet shop and purchase a sampling of local favorites. A bag of goodies, costing around $2, a will delight your taste buds with homemade marshmallows dipped in chocolate, candied fruit and an array of light, airy cookies. The ladies behind the counter are more than willing to point out the most traditional of these sweets as long as their nightly ‘telenovelas’ are not in the middle of steamy plot twists.
Alberto Pulla
Shopping along the calles Tarqul & La Condamine is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Get started on your search for the perfect Panama Hat at Casa del Sombrero. The workshop of Alberto Pulla, one of Ecuador’s most renowned hatters is filled with options in all sizes. His dedication to the craft left him mute as a result of the chemicals this art form once required, silencing his voice but not his passion. Still weaving some of the finest hats the country produces, his creations have donned the heads of presidents, celebrities and thousands of tourists.

An enthusiastic apprentice welcomes you with a smile before taking you up the 3 flights of stairs to the Panama Hat collection. In this unforgettable space, try on all quality of hats including finos, super finos and dobles. Ranging from $30 and above, the shape, bands and minute details are all finish on site & specifically to your requests.

Casa Del SombreroPainting by Julio Machado
On the southeastern corner of Tarqui, enjoy strolling through Antiquidades y Curiosidades, a shop full of unique pieces from around the globe. Next door, mixed media artist/painter Julio Machado is an incredible host in his gallery overlooking the Tomebamba River. Outgoing and enthusiastic, he will happily tell you stories behind his creations, the most unique of which is a series of lips painted on toilet paper. Each piece is eloquently framed to disguise the ‘canvas’ in its enticing texture.

Further down the block you’ll encounter the art gallery/Nightclub Prohibo Centro Cultural.  With it’s dark dedication to gothically themed modern art, knock on Prohibido Centro Culturalthe door to gain entrance into this strange corner of Cuencan sub-culture.
Entrance to Prohibido Centro Cultural

Satisfied, take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee from Un Buen Cafe. This brightly colored, open air coffee shop was opened by two North Americans, Robert & Amber Oliver. Wanting to work within the Ecuadorian community to create a work study program focused on socioeconomic stability, they’ve partnered with local schools, utilizing students on a regular basis. The view to the Southwest is stunning, providing a great location for people watching & reflection as you sip a perfectly brewed cafe.

Un Buen CafeFounders, Robert & Amber Oliver

Return through the Plaza de San Sebastián & the Church of Carmen de la Asuncion to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors at the afternoon flower market. Alive with people, taking a break from work & enjoying the afternoon sun, the scene is magical.

Flower MarketPlaza San Fransico Market

The eclectic mix of indigenous crafts and new world necessities at the Plaza de San Francisco market in one not to be missed. Vendors sell alpaca blankets & scarves from colorful booths alongside others filled with necessities like rubber boots & batteries.

In Cuenca, artisan’s abound like the father-son due of Marco & David Machado. Fashioning beautiful hummingbirds and other crafts from recycled copper, their humble shop Ahuacuna, draws you in with colorful creations. Warm & welcoming, the two are happy to take time with you, explaining their medium and even gift wrapping your purchases.

Ahuacuna

Hotel Santa Lucia makes a wonderful base for your time in Cuenca. Centrally located in the Centro Historico one black from the Parque Calderon, guests can easily walk to many of the city’s attractions & restaurants. Built in the mid 1800’s, this historic building has been beautifully maintained and decorated to reflect the style of the Republican Era. Relax in your high ceiling suite while you enjoy a bottle of wine watching the rest of the world go by through opened french doors on your small veranda.

A beautiful picture into Ecuador’s historical past, a trip to this stunning city shouldn’t be missed. Take time to explore her side streets, reflect on the culture, unwind in restaurants, simply talk with the people, and you will undoubtedly leave richer for the experience.

Church of Santo Domingo - Cuenca