Sunday, August 9, 2015

South America Odds and Ends

Cost of Trip

In 60 days I traveled through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, a journey of 16,500 miles with 11,800 miles by air and 4,700 miles, by bus, jeepney, and moto-trike. My cost was $2,700 plus another $3,300 for the Crooked Trails (CT) adventure to Lima, Cusco, Choquequirao, and Chinchero. My average daily cost was $45 excluding the CT tour and $60 per day including the 12 day CT tour.


My hotel costs were $550 for an average of $9.60 per night. This is pretty low since I stayed mostly in dorms plus my night bus rides were included in the number of nights. Most of the places had A/C—if the climate justified it—, were very clean and neat, had in-room bathrooms with hot water showers--except for the brain freeze ones on the both treks----Cuidad Perdida and Choquequirao, These hostels were all located near tourists spots and metro stations, and had TVs, mostly in Spanish though.


My food costs, including beer and wine, was $1,400 for an average of $23 per day. By comparison my Philippine trip averaged $42 per day, my 2014 Trans-Siberian and SE Asia trip was $28 and my 2012 Brazil trip was $38.

Ready for some cuy?

My total Travel costs (includes airport fees and tours) were $757 plus $3,300 for the CT tour.

  • The American Air fare trip from SEA via Charlotte, Miami to Bogota and return via Bogota, Miami, Las Vegas to Seattle cost 32,500 miles and $80.70. If I would have paid for these same flights, they would have cost me $2,009. The travel time from SEA to Bogota via Charlotte and Miami is 10 3/4 hours and 6,517 miles. The travel time from Bogota via Miami and Las Vegas is 11 1/2 hours----with a 7 hour stopover in Las Vegas and 4,557 miles.
  • The Cuidad Perdida 4 or 5 day tour cost about $250.

  • The Crooked Trail tour cost $3,300.

  • The remainder of the travel costs were for buses, collectivos and motorbikes or trikes.

Potable Water

Many travelers and locals buy and use plastic water bottles. I don’t like to see such a waste of resources with the bottles just going into landfill or recycled. I continue to use a SteriPen Freedom along with a wide mouth plastic bottle. The recharger cable for the SteriPen had a USB connection and also worked recharging my Logitech keyboard so I could use the iPad charger for this without bringing the SteriPen and Logitech charger which saved me about 4 oz. The purification process was quick—-about 1 1/2 minutes of UV light and no chemicals. I had no intestinal problems during the trip. I figured on a 60 day trip, I must have saved over 60 liters of bottled water by using my steripen.

All of the other travelers on the CT tour of Choquequirao used steripens---most for the first time and also had no intestinal problems either----at least none admitted to having any.

ATM/ Credit Card Usage

No more travelers check and no more big money belt with a large stash of USD now that ATMs are so popular in all of the countries I visited.

I begin my trips with about $300 USD in $20s and about 10 one dollar ($1) bills just in case I cannot locate an ATM machine.

Since the fee is the same whether you take a small amount of money or large, I usually get a larger amount like around $250 to $300 USD in the local currency if the machine has that high of a limit.

In Ecuador, I was able to use the USD that I brought as emergency money since they use the USD as their currency.

In Peru, many of the ATMs had limits of 400 pesos per time, but you could also get up to $100 USD per time as well which worked out well when I was returning to Ecuador.

At many hostels, long distance bus ticket booths, better restaurants, and the Cuidad Perdida tour, I was able to use my Visa Credit card. Only a few charged a 1-3% service fee,

Frequent Flyer Miles

I just revised the number of frequent flyer mileage trips I have taken since 2000, and I have counted up 28 international flights to Europe, Asia and Latin America using frequent flyer miles; plus another 16 to Mexico using a combination of frequent flyer miles or companion tickets (Alaska Air). So far I have used 1,765,500 miles for my trips which other wise would have cost just over $67,400.

We use our credit cards for almost all purchases to rack up a lot of miles. I do what is called "churning" my credit cards. To learn more about "churning" and how to maximize the frequent flyer programs go to the Frugal Travel Guy website. There, you will learn about some extreme "churners", how to get to your destinations, and see some current credit card offers. I recently signed up for a 50,000 mile bonus with American Advantage Citi MasterCard which would have covered the cost of another trip to South America, except I forgot to wait the 18 months between closing the last Citi American Advantage credit card and opening it up. So I just cancelled the card and marked my calendar when I would be eligible for the bonus 50,000 miles or so.

Upon returning home, I booked my flights to and from Loreto, Mexico using two of our Alaska Frequent flyer accounts and 17,500 miles for each way. For my wife's tickets, I used her American Air frequent flyer miles to book her round trip in November that cost 35,000 miles plus airport fees.

Still Loving My Mini-iPad

After buying three country Lonely Planet Guides—Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru for my trip, Amazon offered me the opportunity to download these guides for just $3 each to my Kindle APP on my mini-iPad. Again this saves me from hauling around about 3 lbs of books. I still cut out the city sections including the maps and put each in a ziplock bag for easy reference. When I am done with them, I leave them at the hotel I am staying at. I also use the iBook feature to some of the books and reports I have.

Other travelers and the locals enjoyed seeing the photos and videos I had on the mini iPad, especially when they were in the pictures.

I also use it to keep a record of all of my expenses as I travel on the Numbers spreadsheets.

I have a compass app I use to check the directions to walk when confused, especially in the cities.

The world clock feature is useful when calling home or to telconferences. I also use the alarm clock feature when I need to get up early for traveling.

WiFi spots at hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, airports, and other locations are much more available throughout the tourist areas of than even found in the Seattle area. The big exception is the DFW airport where they want to charge you for wifi usage. I avoid this airport which is how I ended up going through Charlotte on my way to Bogota from Seattle.

The battery life was generally not a problem. I found it easy to recharge at most stops.

I was having problems with the lightening charging plug which was solved by using a toothpick to remove some fuzz and grit from inside the plug orfice.

My Luggage

My total pack weight weighed in at 11 lbs. The extra weight was from the down parka, sleep sack, and mosquito head net and Deet. By the end of the trip it weighed just 7 lbs. because I had used up my vitamins, tossed some of the old guide book sections and maps, the plastic liter bottle and bowl, the soap, deodorant, toothpaste, hair gel, Deet, a shirt, PJs and a pair of socks,. I no longer carried a couple of novels.

Also, along the way I lost my pedometer, rain jacket, and sunglasses.

My shirts, pair of pants and underwear worked well with the frequent washings. My rain jacket was useful for the occasional heavy rains.

Travelguard Insurance

Rather than buying trip insurance, I buy annual trip insurance from Travelguard for $267 per year. It covers you for trips further than 100 miles from home and for trips from home up to 90 days at a time. This provides for the emergency medical evacuation and care, loss of baggage, theft, trip cancellations, etc. During this trip I lost three important items: a pedometer, an Outdoor Research rain jacket, and my prescription sunglasses along with $60 I had stashed in the sunglasses case. Upon my return, I found all of the three original receipts, and filed a claim for $362.81. Unless you have the original receipts for your travel things, they will not accept your claim. They also do not reimburse for lost cash like my $60 stashed in the sunglasses case. As a part of the filing process, you have to submit your homeowners insurance declaration sheet that shows what your deductible is. Mine is $250 deductible per loss. Since I had "3" separate losses, I did not first have to file a claim through my homeowners insurance. Travelguard sent me a check for $312.81 with an explanation that there is a $50 deductible per claim.

No Robberies and no Thefts

I was a bit concerned traveling to Colombia because of all of the old bad press about the dangers there, but what I found was some very beautiful county places and cities to visit. I had no problems traveling about even when I was the only gringo about as I traveled by foot, bus and other local transports. Some even cautioned me to watch my bags as I traveled about.

Also, I could see and hear many, many more independent American travelers, mostly young people as I traveled through South America this time. It is almost like it is back to normal before 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

Newbie at Instagram

I just started posting some of my pictures on Instagram----rtjhunt----after Malu Alverez---one of my hiking buddies on the Choquequirau---- showed me how easy it was to post there. Of course she is a professional photographer, so I find her postings there amazing. I also have been following the blog of "Carrot" as she is now hiking the Continental Divide Trail. She uses instagram to post her pictures instead of in her blog---she's a writer so for her the narrative is crucial.

Now I know what the "square" photo choice is used for on my mini iPad---no need to have some accidental cropping when you use the "square" choice.

I will probably post some of my favorite photos and then use it more to post pictures instead of putting so many on my blog as I have been doing on this trip.


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