Your Top 10 Travel Questions Answered

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“I mean, kinda…”

1. Q: Should I go to Prague?

A: No.

2.Q: Is first class/business class worth it?

A: Only if you use miles.

3. Q: Is Mexico dangerous?

A: Shut up.

4. Q: What do I need to know about crossing Central American land borders in my private vehicle?

A: Wonderful question. The answer is actually sixfold. First, make sure you have the ORIGINAL title stating that you have ownership of the vehicle. You’ll need copies of it, and the amount can vary from border to border, so I recommend carrying five (5) on your person at all times. Also, you might not need the registration, but you also MIGHT need it, so bring that, too. Also, bring the following (again, with copies): your passport and your driver’s license. AND, if, for example, you just left Guatemala on your way to El Salvador, make sure you have the paperwork showing that you left Guatemala, along with even more copies.

Keep in mind: At most borders, the dudes (and dudettes) have no idea what the policies are for the neighboring country.  Sounds insane, right? You’re a Salvadorean customs officer and you have zero idea what the policies are for your neighbors in Guatemala despite working 300 meters from them all your adult life? This is standard, and don’t expect any different. Above all, when crossing Central American land borders in your private vehicle, adopt the following attitude: This is going to be wretched, at some point I’m going to want to cry, at some point I’m going to want to scream at someone, it’s going to take three times as long as I thought it was going to take, and just when I think I’m about to make it I’ll realize I don’t have a critical document and they won’t let me cross.

To make things easier, bring something to keep calm. I brought cigarettes.

5. Q: What’s with all the dialects spoken in Mexico?

A: They’re not “dialects.” If Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, is a dialect, then English is a dialect, Japanese is a dialect, Russian is a dialect, and every other full-fledged language is a dialect. Give these languages the respect they deserve. Except for Triqui. Don’t give Triqui any respect.

6. Q:  Is Iceland cool?

A: I mean, kinda.

7. What’s the best thing about Patagonia?

The best thing about Patagonia is not the rugged beauty or wide open landscapes. Well, OK, it’s sort of the wide open landscapes.  The best thing about Patagonia is that, compared to other parts of Latin America, per square mile, there aren’t that many tourists. And, as in most parts of the world, the tourists tend to congregate in a few given spots (i.e. spots that are in Lonely Planet), which means you can throttle your tourist exposure to suit your exact preferences. If you go to Ushuaia, for example (which, despite the tourism, is recommendable), you’ll be inundated with tourists. But go to Tolhuin, for example, the next town over, and there won’t be a tourist in sight (and there’s a wonderful bakery and a room which, if you claim you’re a cyclist, you can sleep in for free and risk asphyxiation)!

So, in short, the vastness, the uncrowdedness, is the best part of Patagonia.

Where’s Wetzler Pro Tip #1: the best town in Patagonia has nothing to do with what you might think of when you think of Patagonia (i.e. “rugged mountains” and “beauty”). The best town in Patagonia is called Perito Moreno.  It’s homey, it’s Argentinian, and it’s completely un-touristy (except for the ones passing through on their way south).  When you go, check out Salon Iturroz for a coffee, camp at the municipal campground, and make a quick trip over to Los Antiguos and Chile Chico, two towns that are actually kind of pretty.

Where’s Wetzler Pro Tip #2: Want something 10 times more beautiful than Patagonia and 100 times closer? It’s right in our backyard, it starts with an “A” and rhymes “Faflaska.”

8. Q: Is the Australian working holiday visa age limit going to increase to 35?

A: Another great question, and I wish I had some solid answers for you. After doing some internet research, here’s what people seem to know: The Australian government did actually raise the limit, it just hasn’t gone in to effect yet. Things like this usually go into effect sometime in July (according to one site I saw), which means that this July (2017) we’ll see if it actually does. I know, I know: I’m yearning to work in the cobalt mines of Western Australia as much as the next guy. Or a cafe in Perth! Or a cafe in Melbourne! Or anywhere that pays crisp, plastic Australian dollar bills.

9. Q: How do I get bumped up to first class?

A: You don’t.

10. Q: Where’s the best street food in Mexico City?

A: OK, I’m only going to put this on the website once. The best street food is on the southeast corner of … Rio Lerma and Rio Nilo, near the Angel de Independencia and the American Embassy. It’s permanently manned by a troupe of señoras serving delicious guisados, only at lunch time.

Get the mole. Get it now.

Thanks for all the wonderful questions. Some have actually been posed to me over the years, and some I sort of posed to myself.

If you have more feel free to reach out (emotionally) to me at the following email address: whereswetzler@gmail.com

 

-Wetzler

Spendy Seattle

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Bus more, want less.

Oh God, what is happening. Three dollars for a cup of tea? And the name of the tea is “smarty pants?”

And yet, it’s sort of worth it. It’s gotten me a warm table in a cafe. It’s given me time to think and reflect. It’s given me a chance to lurk on the people around me, to spy. And it’s gotten me writing, which is always a good thing. So maybe three dollars is actually a good deal. Maybe I should’ve paid more.

Despite being many things, Seattle is not cheap. In fact, it’s wretchedly expensive. But with a little ingenuity you can still keep the costs down. Take samples, for instance. Everyday I go to Trader Joe’s and I get samples and free coffee. These are the things that lure me in, but the convivial atmosphere is what makes me stay. There are other people doing exactly the same thing. Usually they’re older, male, and unkempt. They conspicuously lack shopping baskets, probably because they’re not shopping. Sometimes they even talk to me.

“I take my coffee like a drug,” one guy said.

“What other drugs do you take?” I wanted to say.

But of course I would never say this, because it would be demeaning, and these guys are drifting through the same Seattle I’m drifting through, figuring out how to stay afloat (and hopefully thrive) in a sea of shimmering affluence.

I’ve also figured out how to save on the bus. The Orca Card, the transit card we use in Seattle, is not the best (unless you have a monthly pass, which I currently don’t). It’s better to pay in cash. When you pay cash the driver hands you a physical, paper transfer, and this transfer (depending on the generosity of the driver) usually lasts longer than the two hours you have to transfer with the Orca Card. And even if it doesn’t, there’s always the possibility it will, there’s always the possibility that she’ll give you a transfer for 16 hours and you’ll be riding the bus all day with your tongue wagging. But with the Orca Card this chance doesn’t exist.

The best way to save, though, is to want less. It’s still something I’m learning. I yearn. I pine. I covet. But when you want less you spend less, as my friend Gilbert nicely summed up in a recent article. There was also the time I was talking to a Dutch guy, he’d been biking for the past five years and smelled like an alleyway behind a restaurant, and he told me, “Man, at some point I just stopped wanting.”

At first I didn’t know what he was talking about but now I’ve had time to think about it and realize he was some kind of Germanic-speaking, smelly Buddha. It’s that simple: You just have to want less.

Except for the Trader Joe’s samples. I’ll never stop wanting those.

 

The Grand Tour

I took an 8-mile walk on Bainbridge Island yesterday. I started at my parents house and worked my way down to Town and Country, the fancy local grocery store. Bainbridge Island has two grocery stores: T&C and Safeway. Safeway is the people’s grocery store. It’s not pretentious. It used to be open 24 hours (which for Bainbridge is absurd). And it’s a chain, which means it has that generic, predictable feel. T&C on the other hand can be borderline pretentious. Especially the fruit section. The mango prices are pretentious. As are the avocado prices. But T&C is nice, there’s no denying that. They have a wonderful variety of products. They have the best coffee in the Seattle region(!). And it just feels nice.

After T&C I made my way down to the waterfront. I was trying to get away from the tourists. Tourists, in summer on Bainbridge Island, are ubiquitous. They come off the ferry like short short-wearing, ready-to-consume zombies. They are funneled down Winslow Way, where they fan out into any one of the kitchy gift shop places selling imported tea candle holders from Myanmar. They then make a quick stop at Blackbird Bakery before continuing down to the Pub and enjoying a beverage while looking out at the placid waters of Eagle Harbor. I don’t blame the tourists — Bainbridge is beautiful — and of course when I travel I am also a tourist. But I do blame them for their short shorts. And their Vanderbilt shirts. And their general lackadaisical walking.

I followed the waterfront trail all the way out of town, almost to the end of Eagle Harbor, where I saw a Garter snake lying on the asphalt. I poked it with a stick to see if it was still alive. I felt like I was seven. Then I ambled up past St. Barnabus, up Finch, west on High School Road, up Sands, and towards Mandus Olsen and the Grand Forest. The Grand Forest is one of the few places on Bainbridge that (hopefully) will never be developed. The rate of development on Bainbridge is insane. You leave for two months and when you come back whole neighborhoods have sprung up where there was once forest. You see a deer timidly munching on some grass and you think to yourself, “Munch now, deer, for the area where you’re standing has a sign that says ‘Land Use Permit,’ which means in six months your grass will be fenced off with little kids running on it, screaming, while a mother looks on fondly. A human mother.”

At the entrance to the Grand Forest there was something typically Bainbridge: a passive-aggressive note. It was from dog owners, and said something like, “Dear Horse Owners, we will respect your rights to the trail and handle our dogs how you’ve requested around your horses, but in return please pick up the waste left by your horses so it doesn’t befoul the trail.” They actually used the word “befoul”! I love when people write things they would never in a million years say in conversation.  I do it all the time. But mostly I liked the sign because I imagined Jane, age 13, out for a Sunday ride on her favorite mare Tulip, stopping every four seconds to shovel Tulip’s shit into a burlap sack she’d brought along expressly for that purpose. Honestly.

After the Grand Forest I walked past Murden Cove, climbed a hill, took a right on Ferncliff, and was almost home free. The walk was starting to take its toll on my body. My left big toe hurt and I had a healthy sheen of sweat. But I felt wonderful. I had gotten in the zone I get in when I walk at a vigorous pace for any time over 30 minutes, and realized some fundamental things about my life. I know I realized some fundamental things about my life because just before the Grand Forest I was walking as fast as I could, grinning, and saying “Yes! That’s it!”

 I got home at 4:49pm, just in time to watch a boring match between Chile and Argentina, and make myself a mate. It had been a grand tour. Walking is good for the soul.

A Quick Guide to the City of Ushuaia

Photo via Pixabay.

Photo via Pixabay.

First of all, Ushuaia is not the furthest south city in the world.  It claims to be, and it could be depending on your definition.  Puerto Williams, on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, is further south.  It has about 3,000 people.  It’s much less touristy than Ushuaia because it’s (a) smaller and (b) harder to get to.  Puerto Williams also claims to be the furthest south city in the world.  Punta Arenas (strangely) does too.

Side note: If you want to really get far south, go to Puerto Toro, Chile.  Like Puerto Williams, it’s on the Isla de Navarino.  Puerto Toro has about 30 permanent residents.  It’s known for king crab fishing (though “known” might be a bit of a stretch).  Apparently, there’s a ferry there once a month.  You can get off and walk around while they collect garbage and drop off supplies.  Just don’t miss the ferry back.

The overall ambiance of Ushuaia is kind of like a crappy ski town.  The main street, San Martin, is super touristy.  Everywhere else is patently un-touristy.  Tourists are strange in this way.  They go to the same places.  They do the same things.  They are very predictable.

One of the main hostels in Ushuaia is called Yakush.  It has several dorm rooms, several private rooms, and several common areas.  Mercedes, the main morning employee, stokes a warm atmosphere that’s ultra-conducive to meeting people.  Go into the kitchen at any time and you’re likely to strike up a conversation and make a friend. There’s something about Ushuaia that lends itself to a kind of solidarity that exists being together in a relatively small town in a foreign country at the end of the world. It’s not hard to get to Ushuaia, but at the same time it’s not firmly on the backpacker trail in the way a place like Lima or Buenos Aires might be. This is also reflected in the “locals.” In most places where tourism is rife, the locals get jaded towards tourists.  In Ushuaia this happens less, since most “locals” are transplants themselves.  It’s hard to meet someone who was born, raised, and still lives in Ushuaia.

For dining options, try Bar de Pizzas half price night on Wednesdays.  For lunch, try El Bambu, a vegetarian place just up the street from Hostel Yakush on Calle Piedrabuena.  For coffee, there’s only one viable option: Xpresso.  Xpresso serves above average coffee, which is a feat for Ushuaia.  Some might even describe Xpresso’s coffee as “good.”

As far as things to do, most tourists do the following: the national park, the Beagle Channel, Laguna Esmeralda and the glacier. This is it.  Everyone does the same thing, give or take a few items. Based on reviews, the Beagle Channel is not worth the 50 or so American dollars it costs for the boat ride. Seeing seals is not that cool.  Seeing a lighthouse is not that cool. The national park is OK.  It’s gorgeous.  But it’s also infested with tons of shuttles full of tourists.  Get off the main road and paths to discover the real magic of the park.  The glacier, it seems, is cool.  Laguna Esmeralda is definitely cool.  Touristy, but cool.  Not as many people as the national park.  Striking in its beauty.

The best touristy activity you can do in Ushuaia, however, is go for a simple hike.  The trail to Cerro del Medio leaves right from the edge of town and winds through forest alongside a stream and up above the treeline and into the mountains.  Above the treeline, things get magical.  One feels like one could be on Everest.  If it’s not snowing down below, there’s a better chance it will be snowing up here.  And the best part about the hike is that it’s free and you don’t need to take a taxi or bus to get there.  You feel like you’re cheating.

If you get a chance, go to Ushuaia.  It’s magical.  It’s like a crappy Aspen full of cooler people.  In other words: ideal.