You’re still free to enjoy PANAMA with your vehicle? WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT MISS? VISIT OUR PANAMA PAGE. See you there! ——-
Hi! This article is a guide that will help you decide what is your best option to go around the Darien Gap, crossing the border between Panamà and Colombia. Specifically, this is good if you wish to reach Cartagena. There are so many possibilities that we understand it may be confusing…
Air: low cost companies are Wingo, Win Air and Viva Colombia. Also: Air Panama, Copa and Avianca. If you have a dog you need to go via Copa.
Careful in doing your research! We used Skyscanner as usual and it was only showing Copa and Avianca airlines. There are three different airports in Panamà, don’t get confused!
Tocumen airport code PTY and it’s far from the city (20 minute drive with Uber on a Saturday morning, no traffic, but a hour drive by car or even longer on a bus if you go Mon-Fri), plus it includes a 60$ departure tax (!!) in your ticket, making it way more expensive than the flights you may find from Balboa Airport (Wingo). A Wingo ticket can be 90$ if booked with two weeks in advance, while a Copa ticket is 170$. Still, Copa allows you to 2x20kg baggage and allows dogs. Uber to Tocumen is approx. 16$ during the day, while uber to Balboa is 5$. Either way you can take public transportation, go to a Loteria, metro station or supermarket and buy a metro card – valid for buses as well – for 2$, than recharge it the amount you wish and use it to get to the airport for as cheap as 1$.
Cruising the San Blas on a day-tour from Panamà, then flying to Cartagena:
If you don’t feel like taking a long cruise, you can take one of the many day tours or one day/two nights tours from Panamà to the San Blas, and then back to the city; you can then get a cheap flight to Cartagena de las Indias. You’ll get picked up from your hotel at 6.00am, will be at the port by 9.00 am and spend the whole day in the San Blas, hopping on and off two or three different islands. Of course this is not the best option if you want to have the real Kuna experience, but it’s a way to chill and enjoy this beautiful paradise spending between 110$-160$. Some even add a tour of the Panamà Canal and / or Portobelo. Main activities: relaxing on the beach and sunbathing, snorkeling, eating fresh seafood, again relaxing on a white sandbar or under palm trees…
Taking a 5 days sail boat to Cartagena through the San Blas Islands:
There is the possibility to sail between Panamà and Cartagena, yes, so you
can avoid taking a flight.
Hope you are not keen to seasickness, tho 😉
A smooth sail takes 5 nights. And boats are not cheap, heh.
But let’s talk options!
Ave Maria Sailing was the boat available on Thursday for us, so the perfect timing. It also happens to be one of the most reliable, maybe the only one that is not a party boat. Leaves from Portobelo, a lovely village with two forts you shall visit. Normal rate is 550$ pp but you can flag it down to 525$. Food is included. To contact them directly – email: firstname.lastname@example.org call Panamá + 507 608 94802/ Colombia + 57 314 887 3353. It may take days for them to reply as they may be in open waters so allow extra time. Alden Offshore 50′ ketch, 8 passengers + 2 crew members.
Would you prefer the party boat…? Yes, sounds fun. What doesn’t sound fun is the horror stories I heard and read of about boats where the Captain was constantly drunk or high, couldn’t navigate, the vessel broke down, the route was lost, and people with no expertize (you) had to take control of the situation (and of the boat). Plus the Captain took no responsibility in arranging your entrance to Colombia and people got stuck out of the harbor for days because the documents weren’t ready for your entrance. Always be careful about who you book your tour with.
There are so many boatsto Cartagena that you just have to google them, really… But if you feel too lazy for it, here they are 😉 The itinerary is the same for all of them: tours leave from Panamà, drive you to the sea with a 4×4 Jeep, then there are 3 days of San Blas Islands tours, with starfishes and turtles to be seen and fresh seafood for lunch or dinner, then the last 34-48 hours are a fast crossing of the open water – a non-stop boat ride to get to Colombia that may give you severe seasickness (bring your tablets!
Taking a 4 days sail boat to Sapzurro through the San Blas, then continue by land:
There is another option: there are boats that will not bring you to Cartagena… But they’ll bring you to Sapzurro, which is the smallest place you can imagine, a dispersed beach with 5 hotels immediately after the border. You could even walk back to Panamà through the La Miel border crossing, if you wish. The area is still very remote so only a few businesses accept card payments, and there are no banks or ATMs. Be sure to have extra cash when you arrive, USD$ can be exchanged locally to Colombian pesos. Sapzurro is the permanent departure/arrival point for African Queen, Samsara and San Blas Adventures. Between December and March its common for other smaller sailboats to start or finish trips in this region because of rougher seas between San Blas and Cartagena. From Sapzurro to Cartagena is an adventure: walk or take a taxi boat (15,000 COP) to Capurganà (slightly bigger village), and from there take a 2 hours boat to Turbo, where the first road starts (!!) or to Necocli. There are two boats daily from Capurgana to Necocli, leaving at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and taking around 1.5 hours. At 75,000 COP (plus a 2,000 COP dock fee) it’s pricier than the Turbo boat, but by all accounts it’s a much more comfortable ride and Turbo has a really bad reputation about robberies and being a cartel city, so I would avoid that. Then a DIRECT bus from Necocli to Cartagena with the company Rapido Ochoa (9hours, 100.000 COP, via Monteria). The whole trip can be booked at hotels and travel agencies in Capurgana, or the bus ticket can be bought at the harbor in Necocli. The bus is modern and comfortable (toilets, wifi, individual electric plugs) and you can make all the trip from Capurganà to Cartagena in one day, if you leave early!
Remember: whatever your decision will be, it’s going to be an AMAZING experience! 😀
The Darién Gap. A stretch of land between the countries of Panamà and Colombia, with 90 km of unpassable jungle, and no road in between. The only way you have to go on with your journey is to go AROUND it. Years ago there used to be a convenient ferry traveling this route, but it got cancelled so your only option is to depart from your vehicle and travel separately. Only exception is if you are traveling with a motorbike or bicycle, then you can ship them with a flight or cross with the Stalhratte boat, depending on its itinerary (right now it’s in Cuba for example, so as of April 2019 not an option, but it keeps changing location so my tip is to contact the Captain directly and enquire). Our agent also told us there have been problems with motorbikes recently, not allowed anymore to enter Colombia via sea, so you shall check this out.
What are your options for shipping a vehicle from Panamà to Colombia?
Container shipping: this is the most reliable and secure way. There are both fast shipping (takes 1-2 days) and slow shipping (takes 3 weeks) and the difference in prices is not something I would consider worth it. The only problem is you have to fit the container. A 40′ high cube container is: 12 meter length x 2.30 width x 2.55 high door clearance. Inside the height is 2.66 meters. There is a fast shipping each week and it’s quite easy to share the expenses with another vehicle and possibly also one or two motorbikes. Once you are done with your paperwork, you can leave the country.
Flat rack container: in case you don’t fit a container, this is an open-air container. No problems with your heigh and width, but as it’s slightly more expensive than container shipping, you may have more difficulties in finding a container buddy with whom to share it. With Tea and Seaboad, total expenses for one would be approx. 3500$.
Many other sizes may be available depending on the company. You’ll find an example from Seaboard Marine HERE.
Ro-ro: roll on, roll off. This is the option most people take when their vehicle can’t fit a container. It is also one of the most unsecure ways, as you’ll have to leave your vehicle unattended at the port for days, and it will be left there with the keys inside. Lots of reports of vehicles being broken into and robbed, and no one takes responsibility for this as they’ll make you sign a paper that states that the vehicle is empty and has nothing of value in it. The boat leaves once a month, so you better start planning this ahead of time. You are required to stay in Panamà until the boat has left, as dates changes very often, even if you already finished your paperwork and your vehicle has been consigned to the port authority. The shipping takes 1-2 days. Quote below.
Lo-lo: lift on, lift off. Basically same as ro-ro, with the difference that your vehicle will be moved with a crane so it could lead to body damages.
To help you out
with the incredible paperwork job necessary, you can use an agent (not
mandatory) or if you speak good Spanish and feel confident enough, you can do
This page may be of great help in both cases… There are definitely things you
shall know before adventuring into this process!
PREPARATION – PLANNING – QUOTES – AGENTS
First thing you
shall do, one or two months in advance, is to check your vehicle dimensions and weight.
For the first one, Google your year, make and model followed by “dimensions”
and you’ll have it. Always remember to add a few cm in case you modified it –
we had to add 7 cm height due to the roof windows and solar panels – and as for
the weight, just keep an eye open in any highway that requires a truck weight
check and politely ask the officers to weight you as well; always consider if
you are full/empty of fuel and water.
Second, check if you can fit a container or not. If you can’t, your best option is ro-ro. If you fit a container, there is an amazing website that can help you find other travelers interested in sharing it with you: Container Buddies. I know, you’re not sure about your travel plans yet, you hate to travel with a fixed date planned ahead, etc. Well, Container Buddies thought about it as well. You can make your application with flexible dates (example from Panamà to Cartagena de las Indias from 1st May to 15th June) and all the website will do is to give you names and emails of other people whose dates have a match with yours. If you have to ship ro-ro you are more independent but, as I wrote, there is only one shipping a month, so you still have to plan ahead. Check the date and be aware that you want to have it booked 15 days in advance, as it fills out quickly. If you can, secure your vehicle against break-ins: especially with ro-ro, add additional locks to the windows (even the roof ones) and build a wall between the living space and the driver’s space. Be sure your valuables come with you on your flight or sail.
Third, decide if you want to do it with an agent or not and start enquiring about quotes. The most common agents going Panamà to Colombia are: – Tea Kalmbach: she lives in Argentina so she won’t be physically there to help you. She works with Seabord Marine Company and will send you instructions and documents via email. It’s the cheapest and therefore the most popular one among travelers, and it’s the one we contacted and shipped with. Contacts: what’s up +5492267520418, email email@example.com – Boris: there are many people happy with him, and many that aren’t. We checked all the reviews on the Panamerican Travelers Association group, and he has ¼ of Tea’s reviews. He works with the Evergreen Company. firstname.lastname@example.org –IVSS: we have friends who have shipped with IVSS and ro-ro in our same dates: they were impressed with how professional they were. They are the most expensive, but they provide the most comprehensive service.
The best time to start asking for quotes is 1 – 1,5 months before your departure. We started this process in Guatemala and gave our final confirmation to the quote 15 days in advance, once we had found a Container Buddy and were both sure about the shipment date, and we were in Costa Rica at that time. Remember that you have to be there a few days in advance: in order to ship on Saturday, the last day to do the DIJ inspection in Panamà was Tuesday for us.
Fourth, when you cross the border into Panamà, the aduana will complete a
form for the entry of the car (TVIP). Please check that all information in it
are correct and if you find a mistake ask for a new form. Do NOT accept any
corrections. This may turn into a problem when shipping.
This comes from Tea, with Seaboard Marine, and also explains the procedure and what you need; I updated the version below because we found out a few small things had changed:
Sailing: weekly, each
Saturday with 1 estimated day of transit time. In Cartagena you start Monday
with the import formalities and this takes 1,5 days.
Export Panama: you need 2
days. One in Panama city for a vehicle inspection (from Monday to Friday at 6
am) and a 2nd day in Colon, 80 kms from Panama city, for Aduana and Manzanillo
Port. Once ready you can leave Panama by sailboat or by air (more info below).
title, insurance you buy at the Panama border for USD 27 and the TVIP. Please
check this form and if you find a mistake ask for a new one.
Cost sharing a 40′ container
between two vehicles: USD 875.00 (to be paid
for the export in Panama in USD, cash only, at a CitiBank branch) + USD 79.00 (to
be paid in USD, cash only, at Manzanillo Port).
We offer the same price for the high cube container than for the standard. The
Carrier, Seaboard Marine, applies the same rate and so do we. In Cartagena the
port charge USD 430 for the container and if they are 2 cars each one pay 50% =
Cost sharing a 40’
container between two vehicles and one motorbike: USD 785.00 (to be
paid for the export in Panama in USD, cash only, at a CitiBank branch) + USD 79.00
(to be paid in USD, cash only, at Manzanillo Port). In Cartagena, if they are 2
cars + 01 bike the vehicles pay 40% each one and the bike 20%, so vehicle
USD 172.00 each one and bike USD 86,00.
Ps. Important notes for the
Here is an example of a Ro-Ro confirmation with agent IVSS:
Booking number: USSAVXXXXXXXXXXXX Vessel/Voyage: Tongala/DB908-TOL ETD: 24/04 ETA: 25/04 POL: Manzanillo, Panama POD: Cartagena, Colombia Vehicle Make / Model / Year: Fiat Ducato 2008 VIN: Vehicle Dimensions: L 5.5m, W 2.1m, H 2.75m CBM: 31.76 Weight: 3,500
Please find costs payable below:
Fast Ship 2/3 days – Panama – Cartagena Shipping charge (inc BAF,LSL,BL) $1,301 Panama THC $ 100 Booking & Doc Fee $ 200 Local Fees Panama (Estimate) $ 79 (paid at the port) Local helper for clearing (in person) $ 75
Import Fees paid direct in Colombia $656
Would you prefer to be invoiced in USD, euros or pounds? Would you like marine cargo insurance? Please let me know the vehicle value and level of cover (0.9% or 0.6%).
Insurance: If requested, insurance will be charged as a % of the insured value (vehicle value + shipping costs). We are able to offer either All risks – excluding chips, dents, scratches and marring (0.9%) & Total Loss (0.6%) on this route.
Next Steps:Around 10 days prior to sailing, we will reconfirm the sailing date and send you instructions for the port and local procedures. We will invoice you, payment is required prior to delivery of the vehicle to the port. Kind Regards, Nicole Cardozo, IVSS – International Vehicle Shipping Services UK T: +44 (0) 208 144 4161, US T: +1 347-741-8804, F: +44 (0) 207 183 6774. Web: IVSSUK.com Office Hours: Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm (Time Zone United Kingdom) . Closed on Public Holidays & Weekends
All prices are subject to change, and exchange rate fluctuations. Any
quotation is calculated as per the dimensions declared to us, cargo may be
measured at the port and the measured dimensions payable, penalty fees may
apply. Local costs and port fees are provided as estimates and are not
contractual. Cargo is subject to the shipping lines acceptance. Sailing
dates, arrival and departure dates may be changed or cancelled without notice
Cargo is to be presented for shipment in a condition free of any oil, soil,
dust, grease or other contamination. This includes all surfaces both internal
notes for both Container and Ro-Ro:
In Colombia you
pay all in Colombian Pesos and the port charges for the container, and not to
each one of you. This means that one of you collects the money to pay and its
important in Colombia to process this all together, because the Container WILL
NOT BE OPENED IF ALL THE OWNERS ARE NOT PRESENT.
So be sure once you search for your container buddies, that you all have the
same plans: YOU ALL SAIL, OR YOU ALL FLY. Even if Captains assure you’re going
to be in Cartagena in a certain date, don’t trust them: you can’t know. It
depends on the winds and on the tides.
You need to use
long pants and shoes at the port (no short and sandals) in both the DIJ
inspection part 2 in Panamà AND the port in Cartagena, where they also request
an international health or life insurance. This in case something happen to you
when you pick up the vehicle.
You’re still free to enjoy PANAMA with your vehicle! WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT MISS? VISIT OUR PANAMA PAGE. See you there!
BOOKING: what do
you need and which Carrier to choose?
For the booking you
need to have the following information:
– name, nationality and passport number of the owner of the vehicle – vehicle: make, model, year, colour, plate number, vin number – dimension and weight
Communicate all these to your agent or write them to your Carrier directly if you’re doing things on your own.
If you register on your Carrier’s website you can check:
You already know we opted for Seaboard. Wondering why?
We shipped via Seaboard because it’s the only company that work in all
countries with own offices (so you don’t have to go through an agent in
Cartagena, who would apply different rates to Overlanders estimating how much
money you have (for example= if they see that your car is a 2015, or a 2017
instead of a 2002 or 1993, they charge higher for new vehicles or also
depending on the make).
This could never happen with Seaboard that charge what their head office
instruct them to do. It’s an American company and works since 30 years from USA
to Central America and Caribbean with its own ship…
They do not rent space to other carriers, so we know that their transit is
direct and you would not have any surprise that your cargo goes via
transhipment to Cartagena. Ther are carriers and also agents that sale you a
price and ship with a 3rd party for low-cost with transhipment. Anyway,
all this information to let you know who is the carrier and the agent also
would be in contact with them and you too.
I just arrived in
Panamà, where should I stay with my vehicle?
Go to sleep behind the Radisson Hotel (it’s on Ioverlander App, under the
name “Balboa Park”), it’s a dead end road and you can see the ships sailing on
the Panamà Canal. It’s a 10-15 minute drive from here to the DIJ inspection,
but leave early because traffic can get intense.
Be sure you stop to take a free shower in a Terpel Va&Ven on the way here,
and you refill on water and supplies as there are no services around this area.
Still, there is fast free wifi and you may encounter many other Overlanders
there, especially if close to the Roro shipping date.
BOOKING YOUR OWN
Okay everything is been decided for the vehicle… But what about us?
You have many options!
Consider that you’ll spend a few days without your vehicle, first of all, so no
home on wheels.
Hostels and food are cheaper in Cartagena, that is also a much prettier city,
yet if you ship via Ro-ro you are forced to wait in Panamà until your boat has
departed, leaving you with a last minute booking option only. If you are
shipping via container, once you left in Colon Port you are free to go.
important to arrange with whom you share the container to be in Cartagena all
together to start the procedure, because the Port charges for the container
their fees and not for vehicle and the container will open ONLY if all the
owners are present.
Top Tip for Overlanders: Flying means you are sure you will be in Cartagena
as soon as possible to start your paperwork nightmare once again to get your
vehicle back. Still, it also mean you’ll have to book a few night
Considering that you may have to leave your vehicle at the port on Wednesday,
on Thursday you start the boat tour, it means you’ll be in Cartagena at best on
Tuesday. That’s why if you have a vehicle shipped via container, your container
buddies have to agree on it… You’ll be in open waters, with no possibility to receive phone calls or
texts, no chances to inform them if you’ll be late, and in the meantime
they’ll be there, waiting for your return to get their vehicle, and PAYING FOR MORE NIGHTS and DELAYING THEIR
PLANS without having a clue of what is going on with you and the boat.
SO, FLIGHT OR SAIL? Want to know your options better? CLIC HERE.
DIJ Vehicle Inspection
in Panama City (1st export Step)
You need your documents (original) and 2 copies for the inspection.
Passport, title, temporary import permit (you receive it at the border from custom). From the title make copies both sides. Make 6 because you need 4 in Colon.
Last day to do it: Tuesday, but I recommend you to go at least one day
before, in case something goes wrong. You can do it 8 days before you enter the
vehicle at Manzanillo Port. Only from Monday-Friday.
It’s important to start early in the morning because they only check 25
vehicles per day. We were there at 5.30am and were number 10. Number 20
was at 7.00am. But people keep getting there earlier and earlier.
Once there advice you are there for the inspection! Open the motor because it must be cold. You have to queue with the others and register your name and last name, then you will receive your number and you’ll have to wait. At 7am one inspector will come and check the motor number against the number on the title. He will ask to see your passport, TVIP. This takes few minutes. It’s more the time you invest waiting. They work with Interpol and check if your vehicle is a stolen one.
Once done they will tell you to pick up the inspection certificate at
2pm. Again, it is valid for 8 days and need to be valid only until checked
in into the port in Colòn.
With this document, you’ll have the authorization to leave Panamà.
When you pick it up in the afternoon please don’t use shorts … They request bermudas or long pants. They will ask your carrier (example: Seaboard Marine) and sailing Port (Manzanillo).
coordinates for the DIJ INSPECTION, EARLY MORNING:
There’s no sign and it’s a gravel parking lot with a short building in it, with a ladder and a metal gate. If your rig is too big, you won’t fit into the gate, so park on the road in front of it. The area is not the best, it’s quite a dangerous zone so it is NOT recommended to sleep there overnight.
Direction and coordinates for COLLECTING THE CERTIFICATE, EARLY AFTERNOON 2.00PM: 8.575550, -79.324332
Please park your vehicle where you did the DIJ inspection in the morning
and walk there, it’s safer!
Bring here same documents as in the morning and original passport. You will be
required to sign a form.
Time to pay for your container fees or Ro-Ro. The quote obviously varies, depending on your volume. In our case we got the bank account number by our agent, in your case just follow the carriers instructions. We could pay Seabord Marine only in cash and in USD, which is weird considering that we could only pay in a Citybank branch so I really can’t understand why a bank would not accept a credit card payment, but whatever… We had time until the day after the consignment of the vehicle in Manzanillo but conditions on this may vary so check it out with your agent or carrier. There are bank branches in Colòn as well but my suggestion is to take care of this when you’re in Panamà, so you’ll still have your vehicle to drive around. Send a picture of the copy of the receipt to your agent or carrier (must be legible).
Colòn: carriers office
// aduana // RoRo Section from Manzanillo Port (2nd and last Export step)
Documents you need: passport, title, insurance, vehicle inspection =DIJ, TVIP + Bill of Lading.
Original and from all 4 copies, 5 for the Bill of Lading.
The Bill of Lading will be provided by your agent or, if you are doing things
on your own, by the carrier, will have a booking number on it and it
acknowledges receipt of cargo for shipment.
Don’t sleep overnight in Colòn, it’s a dangerous city. Better to sleep in
Portobelo or Panamà and get there in the morning.
Steps to process the entry to Port from your vehicle:
a) go to Colon Manzanillo Port (N 9.36390° W 79.87810° ), to
the Carriers office to
pick up your bill of lading (if you did it yourself) or to have it signed and
stamped if you have an agent. The guy at the port’s entrance will ask you your
Carrier and point you in the right direction. Some locations are on
Examples: Seabord Marine (opens at 8 am). Evergreen offices are outside of the
Port, location on Ioverlander as well.
b) go to the Aduana (opens 9
am). It’s at the GPS coordinates N 9.34607° W79.87827°. When you entered
the country you got two stamps on your passport: one from Immigration, which
represents your entry to the country, and the second one from the Aduana, for
your vehicle entry; it means your vehicle is linked to your passport and you
can’t leave the country without your vehicle. With this procedure, they stamp
that your vehicle is exiting the country and so you are good to leave without
c) go to the Ro-Ro Section from
Manzanillo Port; the entrance is super hidden as you have to park outside
first and process all the paperwork at the different offices before you can
drive in with your vehicle. GPS N 9.22360°, W79.524434°.
To enter you’ll take the blue gate with the pedestrian walkway, give your
passport in in return for a visitor badge. Then once inside you’ll visit all
four offices, everyone will ask you for copies and the second one will be for
the port fees 79$.
Only then the driver can enter the car at the Valet Parking from the ro ro
section and personal from Port that only work with overland vehicles and
0km vehicles from companies will receive your car. They check it, take pictures
(this together with narcotic), have dogs smell around searching for drugs.
The painful part is that you’ll have to handle them your keys.
Once done take your luggage and go back to the fourth window, where they will
call your name to give you the Customer Receipt Manzanillo Intl Terminal. If
your car has special instruction to start explain it to the guards and let
written instructions. Personal from Port load the container, nobody can enter
the Port and this works, apparently there have been no robberies in the past
years looking at both Ioverlander and the PanAm group. Our agent stated that it’s
always the same dependent workers that handle weekly the vehicles; there are
cameras all around the place.
Note to all vehicles: import and export goes through the ro ro section and this area handles all vehicles for container shipments, flat rack shipments and ro ro. The Ro Ro name is only because you enter this special area meant to be only for vehicles shipping.
Note for after the
delivery of the vehicle: check your email in the next
days. The carrier will send an Arrival Notification – Aviso de llegada de
mercancia – once ready, with the Bill of Lading for Cartagena.
Also, you’ll need to complete an online form for port&carrier in Cartagena called
“Formato de Informacion Tributaria no residents en Colombia”. It will be sent
to you by the carrier OR your agent. Fill it, send it back alongside with your
How to get back to Panamà:
Take a taxi to Colòn Bus Terminal, bargain the price, shall be 8$ in total. Then from there take the first bus leaving for Panamà, cost is 3,5$ and takes 1.5 – 2 hours, it’s a comfortable air-conditioned bus with movies going on all the time. In Panamà the last stop is Albrook Terminal. You can get down there and take the metro (2$ for a metrocard at the automatic vending machines, plus a recharge, as much as you feel like) or call a uber or a taxi to your destination.
Where to stay in Panamà?
We suggest to always bargain if you show up in person. You can flag down the price by avoiding air conditioning or by staying 3 nights. In Panamà we recommend Norita’s Hostel, we paid 23$ per night for a nice private room with bathroom and air conditioning during the night. It’s also in a convenient location between the new and the old city, so with one hour walk (or a 2$ taxi) you can get pretty much everywhere. It’s located in Avenida Justo Arosemena between Avenue Ecuador and Calle 33 Este, 150 meters from the metro station Loteria. You can also book it from booking, and using this code you’ll get a 10% discount 😉 www.booking.com/s/32_8/a55821f7
BOOKING YOUR OWN CROSSING TO COLOMBIA, FLIGHT OR SAIL? Want to know your options? CLIC HERE. ——–
Cartagena: arrival at the airport
Once you’ll arrive in Cartagena, just before the exit of the “Arrivals” section, there will be an automatic machine telling you the taxi fares. Get a receipt for your destination there. Then go to the Departures section and withdraw money from one of the ATM machines, it’s important to have the local currency not to get really bad currency rates from the locals.
Cartagena: where to stay?
We stayed in Maos House El Bosque, which is not in the pretty city center but was a 10 minute walk from our Port (this depends on your Carrier tho) so we could do our paperwork easily. A taxi to downtown would cost us 6$, or 2$ each for the bus. We paid 42$ for an apartment for 3 nights. You can also book it from booking.com, and using this code you’ll get a 10% discount 😉 www.booking.com/s/32_8/a55821f7 We were so happy with the owner, she was lovely and super helpful. The position also saved us many taxi rides due to the vicinacy to the port and Seaboard offices.
Cartagena Import –
Getting your vehicle back
Remember: at the Port you need to be together to
pay port fees and open the container. Import takes 1 1/2 days. Port charge for the 40 container USD 430.00 in total,
40% each vehicle x 2 + 20% motorbike. They attend you as group!!!
Carriers Address for Seaboard: Barrio El Bosque, Av. Pedro Vélez # 48-14. Dentro de las instalaciones del terminal marítimo Compas. Teléfonos: 6722326 / 6722341 Horario de Atención: 08:00 – 11:00 AM / 02:00 – 05:00 PM Contact: Linda Patricia Bello
Example of Procedure for Importing your shipped vehicle in Cartagena
@ Seabord Marine: This changes for every single carrier so it’s hard to let you know… Take this as an example of procedure, but some parts will always be the same for everyone (example, DIAN).
1. Go to the Seaboard office (no sign, tiny entrance behind the trees), sign some documents and get their bank coordinates, get a taxi to the closest Citibank, which is HERE. Taxi would be approx 7000colombian pesos, plus 2500pesos for the toll bridge you’ll cross. There you’ll pay the correspondent in colombian pesos of 50 american dollars, CASH ONLY AS USUAL. Go back to Seaboard marine office to get it stamped (probably it will be in the early afternoon), get the name of the port of unloading: Sociedad portuaria.
2. Go to the DIAN (ADUANA) HERE with copies of bill of lading, the owner of each vechicle fills the form for obtaining a TVIP. You’ll be required to have copies of passport, title, driving license, the stamp of entry to Colombia in your passport, the new bill of lading stamped, Fill a form, go to make copies of everything HERE and then come back to them.
3. Go to Sociedad portuaria HERE. I wish I could tell you you’ll make it to this point in the first day, but it’s hard you will. Every office you go, there’s a long wait. They all close 12pm-2pm for lunch. In case you didn’t make it the first day, go there at 8.00am next morning when they open, and there are some chances you’ll make it through in one day. The correct entrance is the building with glass you see in the picture. Go to the reception on your right, be registered in their system with your passport and get a pass to get inside. Then enter and go to the Service to the Customers office on the right at the 1st floor, just beside an ATM machine exactly HERE. Ask for Mr. Raphael Diaz, fill some forms, he will give you the invoice to pay (guess what? Cash only, colombian pesos). Pay the invoice, wait for the container to be located and moved to a special spot for inspection.
4. First of all you need to wear a t-shirt and long pants and closed shoes. This part was confusing, because to enter into the port AT THIS STAGE ONLY you need to have a private health insurance, and Tea had told us that the container would not open if all the vehicle’s owners were not there. We proved this was wrong. The only person that need to be phisically there at the opening is the one owner who’s name is on the invoice of the container. In our case, Marco. So in case someone already has the insurance, it’s a good thing to make sure the container is under his name, so the others can avoid to pay 25$ for one, if they don’t want to (tho it’s always good to have one). Get inside the port to open the container with your new fancy helmet and suit, unload the cars, check them and take pictures (self-inspection) of all of them, outside and inside, and VIN number as well.
5. Go to Dian and show the pictures to the officer, he will stamp the temporary import permit and give it to you.
TOP TIP IF YOU ARE A GROUP: as you don’t have to be all there to do the inspection, while the owner alpha makes the inspection, the other members of your container party can go to Dian to collect the TVIP for everyone (including the guy sweating in the Colombian heat doing the inspection). The inspection owner can send the pictures to the other via What’s up. IDEAL WAY TO DO THIS: – One does the inspection (Marco was told to come at 1pm, lasted until 2.30pm. By 2.00 pm the guy at Dian had the pictures). – Two are at Dian, which opens at 2.00pm, ready with the pictures. They collected the TVIP for everyone. They then go to make copies of the TVIP in front of Dian. – The two guys at Dian split. One goes with the copies to make the insurance for EVERYONE in the city center, BETTER IF THE PERSON DOING THIS IS NOT A VEHICLE OWNER AT ALL. Be sure he has copies of title, passport, driving license and tvip of everyone. He must know for how long everyone wants to stay in Colombia and have the money. The other guy who was at Dian takes the original TVIP and the original BILL OF LADING of EVERYONE back to Sociedad Portuaria.
6. Everyone slowly makes their way back to Sociedad portuaria, where with the pictures, the bills of lading and the tvips they can finally start processing the papers for retrieving the car and exit the port (will take minimum one hour, in the meantime the guys at the insurance will come back). Offices close at 5pm, so you have to be have them done by 4.30 maximum.
7. Get inside the port (t-shirt and long parts required) with your new documents issued and your passport and get your car. For this part, you are not required to have an health insurance or a vehicle insurance. But in order to drive in Colombia, a third party insurance is mandatory, so if you don’t have one is at your own risk… But know that the port won’t stop you.
Other things you shall know: – The non-owners of the vehicles CAN’T ENTER THE PORT. They’ll stay in the Sociedad Portuaria waiting for you, with air-conditioning and a bad service on their phone. – At some point you’ll run out of battery on your phone (all of us were, the bad service drains it quickly). Bring a usb cable and an adapter, they have power sockets at the Sociedad Portuaria. Or a battery pack. – It will be damned hot. You can wear comfortable clothes and get changed in the toilet just before entering the Port. – After the third day your vehicle is in the Port, you will be charged a storage fee PER DAY, depending on the size of your vehicle. For our 5.5 mt long van it was 6.5$ a day. The container arrived at 7pm? Counts as a day. There is a Sunday or a National Holiday and offices are closed? Still counts as a day. Sundays port is open, the offices to get the papers to exit it ARE NOT. Always consider this when deciding when to ship. Avoid Semana Santa and all major holidays. We had 1st of May ahead of us, so if we wouldn’t have made it by 30th April we would have to pay storage fees.
I know, it’s a long procedure, right? Some carriers even take 3-5 days for you to collect the vehicle. I also read on Ioverlander of a scam with Wallenius (March 2019) saying that they tried to tell the guys that an agent in Cartagena was mandatory, and automatically putting the name of an agent on the bill of lading, which resulted in them losing one day to get it changed in their name. They only paid 350$ like this, instead of the 700$ they first got quoted for! So watch out and always check your documents, at every single step.
We were people with a container, people with a flat rack, and ro-ro people. This article is the result of all our experiences together. Hope it helped you! All our vehicles arrived with no damages and in perfect conditions. We were even gifted of strips and chains that got used to keep our vehicles still. You may want to sell them for 100$ and get some money back.
In case you’re interested to know more about the town of OAXACA and the Oaxaca region, please go to the OAXACA PAGE.
This article has a
particular focus on our experience as both tourists AND bartenders visiting
different Mezcal Distilleries.
If you’re new to the
Mezcal world, don’t worry about it, I will try to help out giving you some
Where does Mezcal come from and where can it be produced?
Of the over 200 kinds of existent agave plants, only a bunch is fit for Mezcal: the most commonly used are 10, but it can get up to 30 kinds. People are constantly experimenting and improving their recipes, and the percentage of each plant is a well-kept secret. 100% agave Mezcal can be harvested, processed, aged and bottled only in this specific areas:
Despite this, 95% of Mezcal comes from Oaxaca region. So, as you realize, you’re in the right place for the tours!
I have limited time/budget but I still want to have a complex and fulfilling experience. How shall I organize my visit?
It all depends on your budget, time availability, and if you want to have a tourist-focused experience or connoisseur-focused experience. I’d say that having a vehicle, a week of time, and a 100usd budget can be of great help, but it’s not mandatory. Your options are:
Renting a vehicle from Oaxaca, the city is only 10-30 km away from an incredible number of Palenques. This will give you freedom to explore around the agave fields yourself, freedom to go out of the beaten track and to less touristic distilleries. They will generally give you a much more connoisseur focused tour; just show up and leave a tip at the end of the tour (50 pesos for 2 people will work), they usually accept guests without appointment and are happy to give you free tours (Spanish only, usually). Be sure you go during week-days, as the distilleries will still be open to the public during the weekend (most of them, at least) but won’t be making any Mezcal, so the ovens will be off.
Taking one of the tours offered by the locals in the main plaza or in the various shops. This is the last option, in my opinion, good if you want to have only one day and you want the tourist-focused experience. These tours are pretty much all the same: they will bring you to visit some distilleries (usually one or two), where you’ll be with your group (up to 40 people). They will also obviously bring you to the distilleries that have the best agreement with them, not to the best distilleries in general. Always flag down their initial price, and careful to Gringo prices! A decent one day tour shall be no more than 200-300 pesos. Tours will start at 7.00am picking you up from your hotel, and stopping for half an hour in each place: Santa Marìa del Tule (biggest tree in the world), Teotitlán del Valle (hand-made tapestries), Mitla (archeological site), Hierve el Agua (the only petrified waterfalls in the world). Often, tours that go to Mitla and/or Hierve de Agua will also stop at one of Matatlán Mezcal distilleries, usually to the “El Rey de Matatlán”, as it’s on the main carretera and doesn’t involve a detour. Here you’ll be provided some very generous tastings of their liquor after being given a brief tour that showed off their mezcal production process.
I have a vehicle and I’m independent. What is the best place to see the Mezcal production?
The word you’re searching for is PALENQUE. Palenques are primitive distilleries that produce Mezcal. It is typically produced by farmers using a laborious and antiquated method, and it’s a joy for the eyes to assist to the production process.
Yes, being bartenders
we have a special focus on this, so we went to visit different Palenques, and
it was one of the best experiences ever! I think learning about this spirit is
a MUST for who wants to understand deeply the local culture.
Mezcal is Oaxaca, Oaxaca is Mezcal.
There’s no way you can say you understood Oaxaca true nature without a visit to
the distilleries and a chat with the local farmers. Exactly like there’s no way
you can call yourself a Mezcal connoisseur without ever stepping into a
To really get a more intimate understanding of the liquor, a journey of about 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca city, to the village of Santiago de Matatlán, is recommended. This is the world capital of Mezcal, there are dozens of mezcal factories in this area, several of which will offer a complimentary tour and plentiful tastings of both mezcal and crema de mezcals.
How do I taste Mezcal? I don’t want to look like a noob…
Mezcal in Oaxaca is typically drunk straight and at room temperature. It’s sipped rather than shot, and to use salt & lime would be an insult. Sometimes the mezcal is served with sour orange slices and sal de gusano (a powder mixture of salt, spices, and ground up worms that is actually much more palatable than it sounds).
What are the differences between Mezcals? I never tried it, will I like it?
Mezcal is similar to Tequila in that it is made from the agave plant, but Mezcal is more complex, both in terms of taste and production. This is why it’s so hard to know if you’ll like it: it may differ A LOT. Brand, aging, kind of Agave used, kind of soil, production process are all things that will make a difference. Many different types of Agave are used for Mezcal, whereas Tequila is actually a type of Mezcal that only uses Blue Agave Tequilana Weber. Additionally, Mezcal’s underground roasting process gives it a unique smoky flavor, so if you already like peated Scotch Whiskey, this may help.
If you want to have an easy one to swallow, go for an añejo (aged): thanks to one year in a barrel, the taste will change and make it smoother (soave). If you like to feel the Maguey, and don’t mind dry spirits, go for a Joven (young, no aging). In case you want to stay in between, go for a Reposado (aged 3 months – 1 year, usually comes with a gusano worm chilling in the bottle).
Which are the best Palenques for tasting?
While the El Rey de Matatlán is a good option if you take a tour, for independent visiting I would recommend La Ofrenda and Casa Cortés.
My suggestion is to go to La Ofrenda first, on the way to Hierve el Agua, and to ask to taste different Mezcals that comes from different Magueys (Agave).
Once you’re confident with the differences, go to Casa Cortés and ask to try their line of bottles called “Nuestra Soledad”. This is because these bottles are all made out of 100% Maguey Espadin, so they all come from the same plant. They even use exactly the same production process. The only difference among them is where the Agave comes from: Matatlán itself, Lachiguì, El Jutla, Zoquitlàn, etc. You’ll realize that they all taste quite different; this is due to the different climate of the locations: a desert will have dry soil, and the absence of water will make the plant’s juice more dense and sweet, while a place closer to the sea will add a salty tone to the drink, and a tropical river passing nearby will make the Mezcal grassy and will give a herbal hint.
How does the production process work?
The process begins by harvesting the plants, which can weight 40 kg each, extracting the piña (heart) and cooking them for 3 to 5 days, depending on the kind of Agave; it can get up to 10 days during rainy season. They get cooked into pit ovens, whch are earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks, and this underground roasting gives mescal its intense and distinctive smoky flavor.
They are crushed and mashed by a stone wheel turned by a horse and then left to ferment in large vats or barrels with water added, allowing it to ferment for at least 3 days. The mash is ready when it creates a nice even layer of film on top, and you can hear it boiling underneath it.
The liquid is distilled in clay or copper pots alambique. It is distilled twice, and head and tail get cut off; the tail is often reused, sometimes adding a part of it to the new batch, sometimes using it as fertilizer for the Maguey, sometimes it gets added to the oven with the Piñas to increase the smoky flavor, sometimes it gets used to make Cremas de Maguey (which have a lower alcohol content than Mezcal).
The spirit can now be aged (if you fancy it), in case it’s a Reposado with gusano, the worms will be added directly to the barrel.
– – –
This is everything for the Mezcal! Please remember to check out the OAXACA page as well to learn more about our experience through the region and all the places you can explore while visiting the Palenques.
If you want to compare Mezcal with other Mexican spirits, please check out the article about TEQUILA, and the one of ESTADO DEL MEXICO, where I explain about Pulque.
In case you’re interested to know more about the town of TEQUILA and the Jalisco region, please go to the JALISCO PAGE.
This article has a particular focus on our experience as both tourists AND Tequila connoisseurs visiting different Tequila Distilleries.
If you’re new to the
Tequila world, don’t worry about it, I will try to help out giving you some
Where does Tequila come from and
where can it be produced?
Of the over 200 kinds of existent agave plants, only ONE is fit for Tequila: The Agave Azul Tequilana Weber. 100% agave Tequila can be harvested, processed, aged and bottled only in this specific areas (Appellation of Origin Tequila DOT):
All of Jalisco state
8 Municipalities of Nayarit
30 Municipalities of Michoacan
7 Municipalities of Guanajuato
11 Municipalities of Tamaulipas
Furthermore, there are many other regulations (NOM) about the process that must be followed in order to name a spirit “Tequila”, that would make this topic super long and boring, so for now I’ll just stop here. Just know that every single step of the production is strictly regulated and controlled. So, as you realize, you’re in the right place for making your tours! 👍👍
I have limited time/budget but I
still want to have a complex and fulfilling experience. How shall I organize my
It all depends on
your budget, time availability, and if you want to have a tourist-focused
experience, tasting-focused experience, or connoisseur-focused experience.
I’d say that having a vehicle, a week of time, and a 300usd budget can be of
great help, but it’s not mandatory.
Your options are:
Renting a vehicle from Guadalajara, the city is only 60 km away. This will give you freedom to explore around the agave fields yourself, freedom to go out of the beaten track and to less touristic distilleries.
Boarding the Tequila train (yes, they do exist!) to reach Tequila from Guadalajara. There are different packages offered by Jose Cuervo and by Herradura, prices are from 100usd and there will be tastings involved. Only available during weekends.
Taking one of the tours offered by the locals in the main plaza. This is the last option, in my opinion, good if you want to have only one day and you want the tourist-focused experience. These tours are pretty much all the same: they will bring you to the agave fields to take pictures, to visit some distilleries (but beware, you may find yourself with many other bus tours in the same distillery as they all go to the same ones, so you may have 80 people in your tour!). There are a few that offer multi-day tours, which are a better choice, but they will still bring you to the distilleries that have the best agreement with them, not to the best distilleries in general. Always flag down their initial price, and careful to Gringo prices!
You can’t avoid the tourist trap taking an organized tour with an agent, no matter what they say; a good option to limit this uncomfortable feeling can be to go during the side-seasons (spring and autumn, as summer is way too hot for this) or to take a tour in English, as most of the tourists are Mexicans. In some distilleries, tours in Spanish can have 50+ people against the 15+ of an English tour!
Lots of distilleries are at walking distance, and Tequila is a small place, after all. Probably the easiest way, hassle-free, is to show up and book for the next tour available. First tour 10am, last tour 3pm. Big distilleries have a Spanish tour each hour, and an English one every two, and if you’re waiting for a tour in Jose Cuervo, Casa Sauza, or any other distillery in downtown, you may want to kill the gap time by visiting some of the museums, like the Tequila Museum (30 pesos), Los Abuelos (owned by Fortaleza), or shopping around the different distilleries tiendas for souvenirs (wait for the bottles, you want to do the tasting first!).
A few distilleries offer a more intimate, less crowded option: taking a tour with them may be by appointment only. And they will generally give you a much more connoisseur focused tour; some of them may be interested in knowing your background knowledge to adapt the tour to your level. Fortaleza, for example, offers an amazing 3 hours tour (the most complete we took!) for 25usd a person, but if you work in the industry (bartender, bar manager, brand ambassador, etc) you’ll very likely to get it for free! Some others, like Cascahuìn, may accept EXCLUSIVELY people from the industry, and these small realities are likely to do tours for free (don’t forget to leave a tip tho!). Of course if you go to big companies like Orendain or José Cuervo, don’t expect to have it for cheap, the higher the tour level, the more expensive it will get.
I have a vehicle and I’m independent. What is the best route to see the Agave fields?
In my travels through
tequila country, it was the agave fields that truly amazed me and have led to
the personal fascination I have for tequila. The landscape, the plant and the
labor that each jimador puts into growing and harvesting agave are
worthy of tremendous respect.
I have to encourage
every tequila lover (or even passive admirers) to travel to the tequila fields
at some point in their lifetime. It will give you a new respect for the drink
and it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the real culture of tequila.
If you’re independent
and can drive your own vehicle (or are willing to rent one), the best route in
my opinion was to go to Amatitàn and from there to follow the signs for “Paisaje Agavero”, that will make
you drive through some flat fields at the beginning – Tequilera Tres Agaves –
and later through perched hills. Many small villages are surrounded by agave
fields in this route, the biggest one being Chome; there are also one amazing
lookout on agave fields, and more than one on the Grande de Santiago River and
on the Dam of the Hidroeléctrica Rios Santiago Lerma.
This road will give
you the chance to meet locals genuinely curious to have a chat with you, as
they never see tourists around the area.
On the way back,
briefly stop at the former distillery (now a community center) Hacienda Santa Ana. It is a
piece of history of the region, and has signs that explain the story of it.
detour can be the Tequila volcano.
It is what gives the soil such a rich mineral level, and is therefore an
important element of the Tequila production. On a clear day, you’ll get a nice
view of the Tequila valley! Also, the volcano is venerated by the locals like a
Goddess, and is represented in different ways in lots of murals around
now start to understand that there’s an incredible hard-work that it takes to
But which are the differences between a traditional process and a modern one?
Maybe Tequila is the
most underestimated spirit in the world (most people think it’s only good for
shots and get wasted… there’s so much more to it!!), even myself, before
starting my bartending career I always assumed it was something easy to make,
as I could find it in the Italian market for quite a cheap price.
Here I’ll explain a
traditional process, and I’ll put a note on the side explaining what’s changed
with modern technologies.
AGAVE: It takes the Agave 8 years to grow and mature before they are harvested. These mature agave plants can grow to be very large. On average, each plant can produce about 8 or 9 bottles of tequila. It takes a specially trained “jimador” to harvest these giant blue agave plants, with their dangerously sharp points, it can cause injury if you’re not careful. A good jimador can harvest 200 Agaves in a day. New: the regulations wants the Agave to be harvested not before 7 years. In reality, the high demand for Tequila – who boomed in the past years – is forcing more than a few to harvest after 5,5 years; for the rest, everything is still harvested by hand. Introduction of the axe as tool.
COOKING: Agaves are slowly cooked for 36 hours – 3 days in a very old stone oven or, even better, in a fireplace specifically designed for it, at slow fire. Agaves are careful loaded by hand, and then the door is sealed shut (in case of the oven, sometime using a combination of mud and dry platano leaves), and steam is injected into the oven. As the agaves slowly cook, starches inside the agaves turn into sugars, and deep caramelization happens best when you slow down and use the old traditional way. Once the agaves are cooked, they must cool down. It takes another 24 hours for them to be at a temperature where they can be hand-removed from the oven, and advance to the next stage in the process. New: Agaves are cooked at high temperatures (up to 96°C) to accelerate the process and cook for 24 hrs. They get loaded by a machine or tractor into massive ovens, with double the capacity (30 tons instead of 14 tons) of the old ones; every modern distillery has 15-25 ovens, against the 2-3 of the old distilleries.
CRUSHING: the tequila is 100% stone crushed in the traditional process. Using a “tahona” (a large round 2-ton volcanic stone) pulled by an electric tractor (which took the place of mules) all of the agave fibers are crushed in a stone pit. In this step the sugars are separated from the fibers of the plant so that the fermentation can fully occur (pitchfork in action!). Using a tahona is considered “inefficient” by modern standards. It takes longer, and still leaves some sugar behind. Plus, it takes 3 hours to crush 2 tons. New: extracting machines. See pictures.
FERMENTATION is done in wood open-air tanks. Using natural yeast that eats the sugars, and produce alcohol. Once again, no shortcuts are taken. It may take longer, but the results speak for themselves. It takes about 4 days before the yeast consumes all of the sugar. When fermentation is complete, the mash used to be carried in buckets to the other side of the room where it could be distilled. New: adds of other sugars to this process and of yeast-accelerating chemicals. It then gets pumped to the distillation tanks.
DISTILLATION twice in traditional copper pot stills. The first time through the still the product takes the name of “ordinario”, which is approximately 20% alcohol by volume. This ordinario is collected in a stainless steel tank, and then it is sent through the still one more time. The second pass is when ordinario is turned into tequila. At this stage the tequila is about 46% alcohol. New: Many tequila brands will distill to 55% or 60% because it is cheaper to store. Distilling “close to proof” helps to preserve as much of the agave flavor as possible.
AGING: small batches, to get the best quality. New: The casks have to be 200L max for anejo and extra anejo, but the reposado ones have massive tanks. Barrels gets reused for over 20 years to get the maximum out of them.
BOTTLING: all the bottles were hand-blown. As a result, each one is a tiny bit different. Some still make bottles the way they were made 150 years ago as well. Tequila is hand bottled, capped, labeled, and packed in cases for shipment. New: bottling stations set up inside of the distilleries, bottles not hand-blown in most cases.
Which distilleries would you recommend to pick?
My recommendation is
to visit one of each kind.
One that can show you modern machineries, and one that still use the
traditional methods, without technology but simply using hard work and
techniques that have been inherited generation past generation, for over two
In this way, you can understand the difference.
José Cuervo is probably your best bet for the modern one. I mean, you really can’t skip it as La Rojeña®, the flagship distillery of Cuervo, is the oldest in Latin America, and the English tours are not too crowded. Another good point, it’s located super close to the main plaza. Take your time enjoying a distillery tour with a professional tasting of blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas in the Expert Tequila rooms. Another good point in their favor is that they have the widest variety of tours: from the basic one (at 240 mxp), to the one with chocolate matching in the tasting, to the dinner with local comida matching tequilas, to the Express train, to the “bottle your own Reserva de la Familia Tequila”, and I could go on for ages naming them. From 240 to 2500 mxp, the choice is all yours. Check their website to see which one fancies you 😉
Fortaleza is what I would pick in terms of tradition. It’s a small company, also at walking distance from Tequila downtown. The tour is going to be 3 hours for 500mxp (unless you’re working in the industry) and is by appointment only (no crowds! Check their website). What is so amazing about this? The tour will start from a visit to their distillery, that uses traditional methods. Just to make you understand what we are talking about, Fortaleza produces in a year the same amount of bottles that José Cuervo produces in a day (120.000 bottles)!
Fortaleza, locally known as Los Abuelos, will make you visit their whole property, including an amazing lookout on their agave fields, their grotto (used as a tasting room); the owner of the house and distillery still resides in a house on the top of the hill. Every part of the tour is cared for even in the smallest detail: even the guacamole sauce served with tacos as a snack for the tasting is home-made (and delicious!). The tasting is going to be about their Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, and their still strength (46°, the best way to taste fully the agave flavor). The tour was supposed to last for 2-3 hours but instead it lasted 4 hours, just to say that they’re flexible with their schedule and that you’ll be the guide number one priority.
Side option: Herradura still have both the old hacienda and the new one. Still, the old one is not operative and you can’t take pictures inside, but you can have a look at it and get an explanation about how things used to work there. In case you’re really strict with your time schedule and can’t go for Fortaleza. The English tour was 1 hour, 20 people, and 250mxp. Personally, I found our guide to be not as informed as the other guides in other distilleries, but maybe it’s me, because I do technical questions. 🙂
Side option: Cascahuìn for me was another GREAT tour. IF they accept you, go there!! Write an email first to require an appointment to Mr. Tetsu. And here I tasted the BEST Tequila of all of the distilleries I visited, the Ancestral.
Which distilleries will give me a
touristic experience with over 80 other people in my tour, and which ones will
give me a face-to-face explanation, tasting and a more intimate visit?
As a general rule, all tours are going to be more intimate on the more advanced tours (and more expensive ones). Still, if you’re at basic level: José Cuervo in English wasn’t too crowded (15 people), while the Spanish one was of 60 people. Orendain receives people from bus tours and does only English, so it was the most packed one I went (80 people, see the picture below). Casa Sauza was closed for the holiday period, so I can’t tell about it. Fortaleza definitely private. Herradura was 20 people in the English tour. Cascahuìn (if they accept you), private. Très Mujeres is another popular one. Go private, drive with your car, there are literally hundreds of distilleries that will be more than happy to make you have a look for a propina (tip) or for 20 pesos.
It is THAT moment during my tour:
TASTING. What are the differences between the different Tequila categories?
With close to 1000
Tequila brands to choose from, it helps to know the different types of Tequilas
and the categories they fall into.
The main two types of
Tequila are first split into two categories, 100% Blue Agave,
and Tequila Mixto (Mixed). Mixto Tequila contains a minimum of 51%
Blue Agave, and the remaining 49% from other sugars (typically cane sugars).
The additional products allowed in Mixto Tequilas are caramel color, oak
extract flavoring, glycerin, and sugar based syrup. Mixto Tequila can now be
bottled outside of the Tequila territory, including other countries, which
started January 6, 2006.
By reading the label
on the bottle you can tell which clasification it is in, as all Tequila that is
made from 100% Blue Agave will say “Tequila 100% de agave” or
“Tequila 100% puro de agave”. All other Mixto Tequila labels will
only read “Tequila”.
The above two
categories of Tequila are then divided into the following five types of Tequila
and are labeled as such:
Tequila Silver – Blanco – Plata – White – Platinum This is the Blue Agave spirit in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged, where the true flavors and the intensity of the Agave are present, as well as the natural sweetness. It can be bottled directly after distillation, or stored in stainless steel tanks to settle for up to 4 weeks. There are some Blanco products that are aged for up to 2 months to provide a smoother or “Suave” spirit.
Tequila Cristallino is an aged Tequila, that after the aging process gets put through activated charcoal filters, removing the gold/brown color of it. The goal is to get a Tequila that is surprisingly smooth to swallow. Still, despite this being a new trend (approved in 2018), there are many people in the field not happy with the final result, that is leading to a much neutral spirit in terms of flavors (it’s similar to a Vodka with a hint of agave plant).
Tequila Gold – Joven – Oro Gold Tequila is typically a Mixto, where colorants and flavorings have been added prior to bottling. These “young and adulterated” Tequilas are less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for “mixed drinks”. There are exceptions however, as a “Gold” or “Joven” Tequila can also be the result of blending a Silver Tequila with a Reposado and/or Añejo Tequila, while keeping the 100% Agave classification.
Tequila Reposado A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of “rested and aged”. The Tequila is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the Agave and wood flavors. Many different types of wood barrels are used for aging, with the most common being American or French oak. Some Tequilas are aged in used bourbon / whiskey, cognac, or wine barrels, and will inherit unique flavors from the previous spirit. Reposado Tequilas are also referred to as “rested” and “aged”.
Tequila Añejo (extra aged) After aging for at least one year, Tequila can then be classified as an “Añejo”. The distillers are required to age Añejo Tequila in barrels that do not exceed 600 liters. This aging process darkens the Tequila to an Amber color, and the flavor can become smoother, richer, and more complex. Añejo Tequilas are also referred to as “aged” and “extra-aged”.
Tequila Extra Añejo (ultra aged) Any Tequila aged more than 3 years, has to be labelled as an “Extra Añejo”. The distillers must age the spirit in barrels or containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. With this extended amount of aging, the Tequila becomes much darker, more of a Mahogany color, and is so rich that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from other quality aged spirits. After the aging process, the alcohol content must be diluted by adding distilled water. These Extra Añejo’s are extremely smooth and complex.
So, how do I distinguish a good
quality Tequila from a bad one?
There is actually no
good and no bad Tequila. The Tequila YOU LIKE THE MOST is the best one.
Obviously there are things that will make a Tequila much more enjoyable to the
majority part of the final consumers.
First, the Tequila 100% Agave is the purest one. It is also the one likely not
to give you a bad headache the day after, unless you don’t hydrate properly.
Concerning the other categories, some prefer to feel the flavor of the agave
plant and will therefore prefer the blanco (especially the Gin drinkers), some
others will like something with less flavor but smoother like Cristallino
(especially Vodka drinkers), some others will like a mixed, balanced and
slightly sweeter flavor as Reposado (Rum drinkers) and some others will prefer
something aged or extra aged like Añejo, with a more complex flavor (Whiskey or
Obviously there are exceptions to the rules.
In my humble opinion, I can’t appreciate Cristallino either. “When you’re aging tequila you are getting the best that you can from the oak — you’re getting the tannins, the colors, the flavors,” explains Carlos Camarena, Master Distiller of El Tesoro. “And after all that you will pass everything through activated charcoal filters? You are shaving everything, not only the color, but the flavors. You [end up] with something that is a very neutral spirit. So my questions is ‘why waste time aging product if then you will shave it?’”
comes from the state it is produced. Highlands Tequila don’t taste the same as
Tequila Valley ones. Also the soil is different (Tamaulipas doesn’t have a
volcanic soil, which leads to a different Agave flavor); plus there are rumors
saying that Tamaulipas is been added to the list just because of politic favors
between two close friends; for now, I would not try my luck with a Tequila from
– – –
This is everything for the Tequila! Please remember to check out the JALISCO page as well to learn more about our experience through distilleries.
If you’re into Mexican spirits, you shall check out ESTADO DEL MEXICO for Pulque (fermented agave heart)/ and OAXACA region as well, land of MEZCAL (distilled agave with a distintive smoky flavour).
If your goal is to travel for cheap and experience contact with nature, did you ever consider to buy a van and to convert it into a motorhome? WE DID! 😀 And here is a guide about how you can do it as well!
Things to consider before to start:
Pick the right vehicle: where will you use it? If you’re looking for city tourism you may want to have something stealth, that you can use to sleep in the cities. If your going in poor countries, you may want something low profile. If you’re going in places with bad road conditions, you may want high clearance. In my opinion, I feel you should avoid a roulotte or something way too big: problems in driving are never a happy feeling, plus the bigger you are, the more vulnerable you’ll get (and the more expensive it will be for fuel efficiency and spare parts).
Check if what you want to buy is a common vehicle where you’ll be driving (cheaper parts at the wreckers).
Check your country regulations: can you drive it with your licence or do you need a special permit? How are the rules and specifics about registering it as a motorhome?
Google the common issues about that specific model and people’s reviews; watch youtube videos about that model being converted.
Now that you’re ready to start and you bought your vehicle, here are the things we did to convert our. It’s a 2004 Ford E-350 XLT passenger van, a real beauty!
Decide your design. Make a drawing about where the bed will be, where the kitchen, etc. Measure everything and be sure it will fit before to place your online orders.
While you wait for your delivery to arrive, you may want to go to a warehouse shop and pick your wood panels and isolation. Tubes, screws, check you have all the tools for the job. Buy sandpaper and roll films for the windshields.
Let’s start with the hard job! Remove all inner plastics, back seats and their seatbelts, ceiling and moquette and clean that shit 😀 Remove with sandpaper all the rust (check also under the car and on the roof).
Before, with the seats and plastics
After, and finally clean!
Darken the windshields for more privacy. Good luck because this part sucks.
Cut the isolation panels first. Then use their shape to cut the wood as well. Place all of them in position on the ground, check that everything fits perfectly. If you cut too much, you can fill some holes with some wood filler. Once you’re done, check below the van to see not to damage anything before putting the screws to the panels.
Put the solar panels on, we bought two Renogy 100W each monocrystalline, for 10amp each per hour (theorical, in practice 6-8 amp hour); we put metal angles on the panels edges (60 cm each) to make the panels stay in a upper position, then used bullons (3 cm) to fix them to the roof for extra safety, and then we put silicone on them to avoid water to get in.
We cut the roof with a saw saw to create the hole for two rooftop windows with a fan, 40x40cm, we fitted the windows with clay (it’s for isolation) between the metal of the window and the metal of the roof, and then we secured them with screws. Siliconize everything, inside and outside. Before proceeding in putting the ceiling on, the best thing you can do is going on with the walls and hope that a big storm hits you: in this way you’ll know if the roof is dripping water and you’ll fix it before it gets seriously complicated, because once the wood panels are on, it will be hard to understand where to hole is.
So, same procedure as the floor for the walls; put isolation panels first, if the spot is a complicated one and you don’t want to lose space (like for the back doors), put in the holes some wool-rock. Don’t you dare to use the glass one, if inhaled can lead to serious problems and it’s itchy as hell, you don’t want to have it around you while you leave in the van; bear in mind that wool-rock is similar, so be sure the material not to face the inside and to have the paper part of it facing the inside of the van (your living area). It’s not the best material to use because it can catch fire easily, so try to avoid it where possible and don’t put it anywhere close to a place that will involve fire (like a gas stove) or water (it will expand if wet). Place it also around the wheels.
Now that you placed your isolation and wood panels on the back doors and walls, we can start putting some things in place. We started with the shower. We screwed the Camplux heating system to the door. Why? Technically it shall be for outside use only. We found convenient to have the possibility to take a shower both indoor and outdoor. First option is good when outside is freezing or you’re not in a suitable place. The second one is good for when you want to stand up while showering, when it’s hot outside and you have privacy, when you don’t want your humidity to get into the van (shower outside means less chances to for moist to develop and less chances for the wood to inflate) and when you are coming back from a muddy trekking. Also good in case you want to water a garden 😀 Please consider the right height for the shower, you’ll need to have space for both gas and water tubes and the door must open and close without hassle. Careful at the back windows when considering the position for the screws; to have them on metal is always better.
Another thing we decided to put on immediately is the shower plate. This is a fixed size so according to this we are going to know the dimension of the back storage that will be built beside it, and so the length of the bed. Create a hole underneath to let the gray water discharge. Personally we decided not to have a grey wastage tank, this is up to you and to the rules of your country; we take showers inside very rarely and in those occasions we simply do it on the grass. Careful at where you make your hole: your spare tire, your muffler, or something else may be underneath. Siliconize the edges and find a cap for your showers so insects can’t get inside.
We have a chemical toilet. So this one is placed in the shower, and we put two hooks on the wall with a stripe so when we are travelling it doesn’t move around.
If you have a sliding door on the side of your van you’re probably wondering how to put the wood on it. The trick is to use a thin wood, elastic and flexible. Remember to cut the shape leaving a hole for the handle, and for the locker. Slide the door many times and adjust accordingly.
Time to think about the kitchen. This is probably one of the toughest things to do. First, be sure you have everything before starting. Water tank (113 lt, 30 gallons is our), water filters (we got three so they are quite big), water pump, all the different tubes, gas bottle (20 lbs, 9 kg), gas stove. In case you want to do the kitchen like our, we made it with a sliding table so consider the height you need to have this, you want it to almost sit on your legs when you’re sit on the bed. Consider the space necessary for the lateral guides where the table will slide. Create a support for the water tank on the top of your wheel, in order to gain space. Then put everything in place to try to see if everything fits. Then, box it up with wood panels 😀
Use a sturdy wood, especially for the water tank support and for the table. Before screwing everything, create two little “doors”, one for the gas bottle, one for storage purpose. Remember to sand every edge, every surface, and to cut the door woods a 3 mm shorter to leave room for the hinges to work and open the doors without difficulty (and without scratching the floor). Put air filters, water pump, sink as well.
Time for the worst: to put the ceiling on. Isolation panels are easy, problematic is to put heavy wooden panels without killing yourselves in the attempt. My suggestion is to use the same thin, elastic wood you used for the sliding door if you want to save yourself an hassle. Still, we opted for the same wood we used for the floor, as we had bullons and screws from the solar panels and windows to hide. So how did we do it? Cut them in advance, considering the size and position of the windows. Cut a panel, put it on, then measure again and THEN cut the following one. To fix them, use metal screws and fit them directly into the structural parts of the van (while the isolation panels will be in all the non-structural ones). To be sure to be firm, we used a crutch: you can decide its height and unless you hit it, it will never let you down 😀
Now, time to build the wall that will divide your living area from the driving area. Yes you need this, otherwise you did all your isolation for nothing. Put your seats in the position that will be mostly used while travelling and consider to leave some space on the rear of your seats, at the bottom, for storage. For example, we put there our spare fuel tank, the tarp, the mosquito net, things you want to have handy in case of need but you don’t want in your living area.
Take a sturdy wood and make the structures. Then put isolation panels inside the structures, a thin wood panel on one side of it, and one on the other side. Remember to cut the panels for the door first and to leave, again, enough room for the hinges to do their job. Put a lock on both sides of the door so it won’t open while driving and you’ll have extra safety while sleeping. Fill the door side and the wall side (the one that goes against the sliding door) with wood filler.
You’re also going to need more storage. To be precise, you need two of them: one for the electric system, van jacks, booster cables, engine oil / different fluids for the van, all the tools you may need to repair your car, all the stuff you need to make the services (if you make them yourselves like us) and a shelf for your almost empty backpacks; this storage doesn’t need continuous access, so we put it on the rear of the van, beside the shower, and only accessible from the outside; the second storage you’ll need is for daily things, and must be inside: we stored there the food, some pots, dishes etc.
Build a sturdy structure, as sturdier as you can, and use a good wood for the panels too.
For the first storage, remember to close the door every time you insert a panel to check the size fits. Put heavy stuff at the bottom (ideally the electric system, we have two batteries that weight 25 kg each, plus the converter, the fuses, the cables, etc, and the car jacks (15 kg each), nothing inflammable, and if you think it will get hot in there, also a couple of fans to keep the batteries cool). Then we had two more layers for the tools, one is the height of a food can, a useful size that will fit lots of things. One last, fourth layer for the backpacks.
About the inner food storage, this is been a total hassle and now I would do it differently. Our uses the same wall as the outside storage, but also the ceiling and the wall of the van (I wouldn’t make it touch this one anymore, it’s been such an hassle to make it open properly!). Remember also to put a stripe of led lights inside it, so you can see what’s inside for dinner 😀
Almost there! Did you buy your fridge? Good! Leave it overnight connected so you’ll be sure that your electric system can stand it. Once you know it’s okay, put two hooks against the wall and tight it with a stripe when you travel, so it won’t start dancing around scratching all the floor. We put a fire extinguisher on the wall, that sits on the fridge as it’s quite heavy.
The final piece of furniture: the bed! It’s size shall now be certain: it all depends on the room you have left! Use a sturdy wood, cut all the pieces first, PAINT them first. Then screw everything. To make a 195 cm bed we used 26 bed slats, 13 per side, but everything depends on your wood size. Remember to leave 3 mm between each one so they will slide better. I suck at explaining this process but it’s quite easy, we made it in two hours. So I leave you the pictures to study how it’s made, but you can find so many types of sliding, foldable beds on google that it won’t be problematic. We made the structure outside, carried it inside the van with the legs ready, we put it on two empty buckets for support, and screwed the legs while inside the van. You’ll need at least three legs for the part that slides out, and I would say other three for the other. We didn’t put them at the extremities because we had the shower plate there, but use some common sense in where to place them and you’ll be good.
Final, annoying retouches: cover every single part of metal you can see with a thin wood. Moisture on the wood is annoying, but rust on your metal is worse, especially if you can’t figure out it’s there until it’s too late.
Fill the cracks with wood filler and when it’s dry paint like if there’s no tomorrow 😀 (well, no).
Use a paint that contains fixer as well so you don’t have to do double the job. We used satin colors so no problem, golden oak for furniture and walls (two medium vases) and a dark brown for the floor (so you won’t see too much when it’s dirty).
Put on the led stripes, the curtains structure (we used some metal wire and clothes pegs, super easy), the curtains, put somewhere a carbon dioxide alarm, the switches for the lights and one switch for the inverter (very useful to have it beside the bed), the electric plugs (we have two usb beside the bed, that tell us also the batteries voltage). Buy storage boxes that will fit the space underneath your bed for your clothes. Put a couple of hangers here and there, we have one also behind the passenger seat so if the jackets are wet they can hang out of the living area. Refill your gas bottle and water tank (once again, hooks and stripes), drive around, use the breaks and make quick turns, see if anything moves. You may want to put magnets on your storage doors if they open while driving.
Buy a foam mattress and memory foam cover (ideally 4” plus 2”). Cut them the right size with a sharp knife. Glue the foam and the memory foam with a spray glue. Put two separate twin size fitted sheets for the mattress, and get a double flat one as blanket. Buy a duvet and have it handy, underneath the bed. Buy pots and food, tools to cook, possibly nothing that would brake (plastic cups, plates, etc). Remove your food from the original package if it takes lots of space and store everything in plastic sealable bags.
There shall be much more to say about this, but this article would become boring and long. This is just to give you an idea of the massive job that needs to be done, but obviously there’s much more than that. Most depends on your vehicle and on your laboring skills.
For more specific conversions, there are plenty of youtube videos that will explain better than I can do the electric system, the hydraulic one, the wood properties and potential problems. If you get stuck, simply go in some groups like “Self build campervan”, “self build campervan and real life”, “#vanlife” on facebook and use the search button. If it’s not been asked yet, you can do it.
We also made a live video showing the van in our facebook page Travelling Around The world: Close to eternity (direct link in homepage on the right side).
The total budget we spent was 4100$ usd for everything, including pots, mattresses, sheets, fire extinguisher etc. Like, EVERYTHING. But I know people who made it cheaper.
So guys, good luck and keep pursuing your dreams 😀
Hi, and welcome again to my blog! Today the topic is a serious one… A list of interesting things you didn’t know about Cuba! Let’s get started:
Salaries: a doctor or a teacher gains 400 – 800 CUP a month (16-35 USD); if Cubans work with tourists, they’re likely to gain at least 10 times this amount, even if they’re just taxi drivers;
1 CUC corresponds to 1USD and to 24 CUP; for you, as a tourist, it’s nothing, but for the locals it means a lot. So that you are aware of what you are asked for when someone tries to overcharge you, with 1 CUC a Cuban can:
Take the bus 24 times;
Have two cheese pizzas and 1 natural juice at a kiosk, and get 1CUP back as change;
Get your hard drive uploaded with 1TB of movies and tv series, if you know the right people;
Use public toilets at least 4 times (the fair price shall be 25c of a CUC, not one full CUC!)
Advertising is illegal in Cuba, as it’s considered brain manipulation; the only advertisings are public messages from the government. You can actually watch movies on tv without any sort of boring interruption!
Religion is not learnt in school: one has the right to pick its own religion or not to have one, so it would be unfair to have it where you can’t avoid it.
There is great influence from African culture here due to the slaves that once emigrated here from Africa; there is a religion where for the first year you always wear a white dress, they still do animal sacrifices, and their dances and drums rituals are a beauty for the eye (every dress with a different color represents one God).
Even if at first sight it may look like a third world country, the mentality here is super advanced on the battle against homophobia, sexism and racism: one has the right to be whatever he wants, personal freedom is considered fundamental and different races, sex, genders, skin color, etc. are widely accepted and considered an empowerment, a part of the Cuban diversity;
Hospitals are free for everyone (that’s why they ask you for a private insurance to get to Cuba). La Habana counts approx. 30 hospitals!
You may start wondering about the internet connection and how so many Cubans can afford it with the Etecsa price of 1 CUC per hour; well, some people use their mobile phones as tethering for others for 2CUP an hour, with private ETECSA connections;
How do they check their Airbnb if they can’t be always connected? Our host had it through a foreigner service, where he was receiving all the emails he was getting in the form of a normal text message, and he could accordingly reply back;
When a Cuban is born, he receives a book, a register, that states exactly how much he can get (for free) a month: example, 100 eggs, 20 kg of flour, 10 kg of pork, etc. With this, they go to the supermarkets and get the food.
At the same time, one has to pay a fee to the government; if you own a tobacco plantation, 90% of the product goes to the government; if it’s a coffee one, 50%; if you host people, a fixed amount of 35CUC a month (even if you didn’t host anyone) plus a 10% of your gain.
Hi! This post is a focus on the tobacco farm & the coffee plantation and rum and honey factories tour we did in the Valley of Silence, in Vinales, and is therefore part of the Cuba page that you can find here: https://closetoeternity.wordpress.com/americas/cuba
We reached the Valley of Silence Mirador (bar and restaurant) with our rented bicycles and we stopped for a while searching for some shade; here we had a chat with the bar lady , who told us there were tours available in the farm opposite to the restaurant; surprisingly, they were for free. You obviously know that in Cuba nothing is really for free… Let’s say it was an unsaid “free donation, or at least buy something”.
I have to say that the tour was so good that we left 6CUC each with joy, as they were well deserved. The guy explained us everything about his cultivation (he had coffee plantation, honey, rum, and lots of local fruits, and we got to taste EVERYTHING).
Vinales – Coffee beans
Coffee tour production process:
1 year for the small plant to grow enough to start making seeds; one fruit contains two coffee beans and a special liquid with plenty of aminoacid.
3-4 years is how long a plant can produce beans for, then it gets cut back to the base and will regrow, cycling on
5 months is how long it takes to the fruit to rip
Once you harvest, Robusta beans are red while Arabica are green; Arabica is sweeter than Robusta
45 days is how long the beans are kept in the sun before the harvest in order to dry
30 days is how long they are kept in the sun in commercial factories and mass production
10-12 kg of beans are roasted in the casserole for 45 mins to 1 hour to turn them completely black
After the beans are dry, you smash it and let the wind separate the skins from the beans (approx. 45 min)
Pilòn is the name of the wood recipient they use to smash the coffee beans
Vinales – Coffee process – Pilon
HONEY (miel de la fleur de café): The farm was also producing honey, where the bees where feeding from the coffee plantations in the mountains nearby. The coffee honey was absolutely astonishing, super yummy, and the particularity of it is that it never crystallize. It also attracts many ants as it’s 100% organic and they don’t use any pesticides in the farms of the Valley.
RUM: the rum the farm produces is called Guayebita del Pinar. It is the only rum with Guayabita fruit in the world (Guava). Interestin facts:
Vinales – Guaba rum
The company was founded in 1892
The company now counts 35 dependent workers
It takes 5-6 kg of Guava to make 11 liters of rum.
Alcohol at 80° is used for the infusion, and counting the evaporation (Angels Share) and the guava juice infused in it, it then end up at 40°.
The factory won many gold medals: one in Rome, one in Spain, one in Repubblica de Cuba and two in La Habana
9000-10000 bottles a year are produced, but half of them goes to the government as tax payment; the other half is split between 10-11 families that can use
Vinales – Cacao
Vinales – Cacao
them for personal use.
And I’m not done yet. Being in a farm, they also had different fruit plants, and they made us taste lots of them while explaining us their properties. You are lucky as I’ll share my new, acquired knowledge with you 😉
Mango season is in August; they have two different Mango quality, the Mango and the Manga Blanca, which is sweeter
Cacao marron (the brown cacao) is sweet on the outside, but it’s suggested that you don’t bite the hard seed as the inside is quite bitter
Star fruit we are used to in Europe is mainly used for cocktail garnishes, because it gains acidity during the transportation process; but to be fair, the original fruit is not acid at all
They also grow cherries, bananas, oranges, pears
Pineapple is a fruit they grow for the popular cocktail Piña colada; one plant can only have one fruit at a time, and it takes 10 months to 1 year to rip
Guira fruit is good to heal inflammation in articulations; it is also the fruit used for the maracas musical instrument
Guayava blanca is good to eat; the guayava pequeña is the variety used for rum infusions, it’s red inside and sweet
Vinales – Tobacco farm
Vinales – Tobacco farm
Vinales – Tobacco farm
Vinales – Tobacco farm
Vinales – Tobacco farm
After our exhaustive tour we moved to the next recommended place, a tobacco plantation. It was a small one, just 10 minutes from the restaurant (where we left our bicycles). They showed us how they make the cigars, made us try one for free, and they answered to all our questions and took pictures of us. 😉
This was free donation as well, so we left 3CUC each while the Belgian girls bought a pack of 10 cigars as souvenir. For more details about the making process and the cigars farm:
The farmer’s name was Orlando
Viñales tobacco is the best in the world because the soil has plenty of iron
The plantation process happens in winter time, during dry season
Once ready, remove the flowers from the plant, leave them to dry for 20 days, then remove the seeds for letting them dry separately for another 3 months
The outside part of the cigar is a tobacco leaf
The tobacco leaf contains most of the nicotine in the central vein, and it gets removed; therefore, the final cigar has less than 1% nicotine and is less addictive than cigarettes
90% of the tobacco goes to the government as tax, only 10% remains in the farm for finalizing the process
The 10% are totally organic and natural, and can last for 4 years; by law, these cigars can’t have a label; the remaining 90% gets treated with products to conserve them up to 10 years, and labelled
The farm 10% process: the tobacco leaves dry hanging from the ceiling or on tables for 4 months; they get also sprayed with lime, vanilla and guava flavors to conserve them. Then you roll the cigars and use the honey as natural glue (some use maple instead) and press the cigar by hand with paper for 3 hours. You let it dry for another 20 minutes in the sun, then you cut the end and stick it in honey because consumption
Packets are sold with palm leaves as container. Once the cigar started, you can stop smoking it, cut 1 cm after the ashes and store it in a plastic bag in a cellar or fridge
1 cigar is 3CUC and a 10 cigars packet is 30CUC.
Conclusions: the Silent Valley was an highlight of my trip. The non-touristic path we took, venturing in the muddy paths far from the main road, leaded us to a gorgeous valley where the landscapes reminded me a lot about South-East Asia. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, funny.
Obviously, our experience was good because the guys could speak English well enough to explain, but probably not well enough to make me think it was a commercial place. Obviously, if you go on a bigger farm, you’re not going to have the same confidential experience, nor a personalized one.
That’s why it’s important for you to download maps.me, the offline Cuba map, and be independent.
People take commissions for bringing you to a specific farm they have an agreement with, but it’s not written anywhere that this may be the best one.
Especially if you go on a horse tour, those people provide the farm with a good amount of tourists; which means people may only be repeating the same things over and over, and lose their enthusiasm about it. Going there in the wet season (May is ideal, June is an hazard) means less tourists, and speaking a little Spanish can help your understanding and to gain their respect and attention.
Try to go to places where the tour is free and they rely on your donation, more than on tours that include the farm’s visit: you’ll avoid wasting your money in commissions, and you’ll be sure that they’ll be committed to their guide role.
I hope you enjoyed my article and, if you did, please keep reading my Cuban stories here: https://closetoeternity.wordpress.com/americas/cuba
Preparation is the most important process of all. If you screw up there, your trip is likely going to suck or to get seriously expensive. Experience thought me that the troubles you’re going to get involved in are directly proportional to the laziness you put in your preparation process.
The first question you need to ask yourself is: how am I going to travel around? Do I want to backpack and hitchhike, wildcamp, couchsurf, bike, walk, buy a car, a van, a boat, a motorcycle?
The second one is: what do I want to see? Did I get tired of waterfalls and caves, do I love shopping, do I have a specific field I’m interested in whilst travelling?
North and Central Americas
The answer to these two questions will be fundamental to determine your travelling gear, and what information you’re going to need.
This explanation is going to be, like I usually travel, just about trips by land and sea, where the only flights involved will be to get in and out of the chosen continent.
This because flights can be expensive (for sure more than local transportation) and we are backpackers, not people with unlimited budget, right?
A good option is to buy a car or a van at your starting point and convert it in a small cozy house where to live in. This way will guarantee you minimal costs in accommodation and food, which are going to be your worst enemy on a long trip.
So, first of all there are few things you need to check out, for EACH single country you go in:
Personal documents: will your passport be still valid 6 months after the end of your trip? Are your credit cards, driving licence, scuba diving card, health insurance, going to expiry? Will you need an international driving licence?
Vehicle documents: will you be able to transfer your vehicle title to your name and sell it back at the end of the trip? Are you going to be asked to be in the State your car is registered in each year for an inspection on emissions and security checks? Is insurance mandatory? Also bear in mind, if you’re travelling in a federal country, it may be worth to register your car in a different state (laws, registration and insurance rates may vary consistently).
Vehicle concerns before to buy it: check tyres, lights, brakes, seat belts, windscreens, gear box and transmission, chain or campbelt, do a test drive, etc. Bring it to a mechanic of your choice and make him check it carefully. Be sure that the vehicle doesn’t have any unpaid fines or debts and it’s not stolen, that the odometer is correct and that the owner is the same person that is selling you the vehicle (you can check all this online, there are usually websites that can tell you everything just providing the plate number). Check also if the vehicle is something you can drive with your licence (number of seats) and if all the certifications needed are up to date (was it a van converted into a camper? It may need a certificate… Is it self-contained? Is the expiry date of the certificate soon enough to lose value? When does the registration expires?).
Check also if there are oil leaks, fuel efficiency, car history (how many owners? Did it ever had accidents, was the engine rebuilt?), and if the car switches on promptly when the engine is cold.
Is your plate a good one, with competitive registration rates and an easy and straight forward process to buy, maintain and sell the vehicle (especially if you’re selling it in another state)?
Itinenary, what to check for every single country: mobile data and sim card, emergency contact numbers, vaccines, security issues, visas, currency (are atm widely available? is your card circuit widely accepted?), climate (hurricanes? flashfloods? earthquakes? volcanoes?), useful apps for the phone (and remember to download your offline maps!), toll roads and ferries, roads conditions (potholes? different laws? corrupt police? are fuel stations frequent?), car insurance, general cultural differences (tipping? must-do and must-not do? festivals, public holidays?), tap water safety, deadly animals. Hey, it’s not all that bad… There are good things to check as well. Did you check if there’s a national park pass that allows you unlimited travels around…? 😀
Mae Sot – Myawaddy border
Backpack, how and why: a backpack is always my favourite option. I have a 80 lt backpack I bought in Czech Republic for real cheap (64€) and so far I never had an issue with it (and it’s now 5 years together, almost full time). I would recommend this if you need it for hitchhiking and wild camping, as you’re going to need space to carry water to cook, food, pots, gas cans and stove, a tent, air mattress, sleeping bag. All things that you won’t need in any other scenario. If you’re going to buy and convert a vehicle at the beginning of your trip, screw it, bring whatever you like, it won’t be on your shoulders… But bear in mind that you’ll buy souvenirs, you know that. The flight back may require an extra luggage.
In case you’re backpacking around, consider a smaller pack, depending on your height. I’m 1,70 metres, and I suggest 13kg and a 55lt backpack. You don’t need anything that doesn’t fit it, I assure it. A second hand baggage is usually a must, something that contains your electronic devices, a bottle of water, and that can be used for scrolling around the city or in a trekking. I suggest not to take a second backpack, but a bag that can be decent enough to use in clubs and cocktail bars (you don’t want to get turned away at that fancy rooftop bar where you can snap the best pictures of New York right?), that doesn’t look like a camera bag (obviously this would make you a priority target for thiefs), and that you can carry around your other shoulder like a seat belt (a hand handle may be useful as well). Maximum 5 lt, 3 kg.
– Medicines are not always available when you need them; a good trick to save space is to throw all the boxes but to use laces to keep together the medicines with their instructions (this is mandatory to enter some countries), and write with a marker the expiry date on them.
As medicines vary from country to country, and everyone has their weaknesses and allergies, I can’t talk for everyone. Instead, I created a youtube video where I explain with lots of details the picture on the left, what is each medicine and what is it for, and how many packs you would need for two people (feel free to enlarge the picture and google the names or, if you speak italian, to check https://youtu.be/BFOjC_MY5vg )
My medicines for 2 people, with the original packages
How the meds look like after I packed them
– Clothes: always follow the summer. Jumpers and jeans are heavy, big, and uncomfortable. Bring 3 tank tops, 2 t-shirts, 1 long sleeve (the ones that keeps your warmth inside will be perfect), 6 underwear, 2 bras, 1 light scarf (foulard), 1 hoodie with zip. Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, a hat, a swimwear, flip flops, 1 trekking shoes (must be GORETEX for 100% waterproof, I suggest Salomon). Travel jacket, North Face has amazing models that can be split in two different jackets, Goretex outside so waterproof and goose feathers inside so warm. 1 pair of shorts, 1 waterproof long trousers, 1 very light long trousers (see picture above) which are good for summertime, entering temples and avoid sandflies (as your legs will be covered but fresh). I also find useful a miniskirt and leggings. That’s IT.
WRONG! You don’t want to have stuff out of your backpack!
– Electronics: Reflex camera and gopro with stabilizer are awesome to me. If you buy a drone, be sure to check out where you can use it and if you have to register it in the country you’re in. Mobile phone, a small laptop OR tablet, universal charger.
– To sleep: a sleeping bag is a useful friend, and a mummie blanket its best ally. Spend good money on it, I paid 150€ for a Ferrino one, 650gr, very compact, and comfortable zone to 3° C. Unflattable pillow.
– Documents: all the documents mentioned above. Plus: contacts to block your credit cards in case of need, some professional photos of you, copies of your passport, ID, driving licence, proof of your funds, onward travel proofs.
– What to not miss: playing cards, an external hard drive or memory stick, a spare battery for your camera, a powerbank, at least 3 credit cards (for outside of Europe) with three different circuits, a travel insurance (I use Europassistance, one of the few that allows me to travel and renew it for more than one year, usually others refuse to give you a second year as you shall return to your country of residence for doing that).
Correct way to pack: heavy, non fragile stuff at the bottom. A sleeping bag would give it balance to stand up without your help.
when you go to the airport, throw away your water for the security checks, but not the bottle. Once on the other side, go to the bathroom and fill it again (check online first if it’s drinkable in that country).
roll your socks and tshirts and fit them in your shoes; be sure everything is divided in category (light clothes, heavy, etc.) and put in different plastic bags, it will make you easier to protect them and find quickly what you are searching for;
enough with the fucking pads and tampons. Use a silicone cup. Less space, cheap, eco-friendly, and you can find your way around any situation with a simple small bottle of water (don’t do as I did in China, don’t wash it with non potable water from the sink if you’re not in a first world country, you may get an infection and that’s not funny).
souvenirs: your clothes will rip off, get holes, lose colour, etc. Buy new ones and get rid of the old ones while on the road, at the end of your trip all your new clothes will be your souvenirs; otherwise, buy flags to sew to your backpack, or bracelets; they’re light and small options.
learn the word “thank you” in the local language. This is always appreciated by locals, and the good attitude can lead you far.
There are heaps of consequences that would need our thoughts and consideration about this matter. All the technology we are dealing with is changing the way we travel, making it easier to organize things. While this is marvellous and makes travelling hassle-free, it’s also coming with a greater price.
First, the average age of travellers is going down, the youngest being 18-19 years old. And even if Australia and New Zealand are safe countries, parents shall be concerned. Not about strangers, but about their own kids being a danger to themselves. Being so far away from parental control at an age still full of doubts and needs is not the best situation ever. Young people are naive and still convinced to be invincible. I’ve seen way too many taking drugs without the minimum caution, without even asking what it was or knowing the dealer. Be fucking careful.
Second, people don’t need interaction anymore. Their app is telling them what to visit, where to camp, how to get there, etc. People don’t need anymore to spend hours reading blogs, as everything they need to know is in the app comments, and is telling them what they need to know in one sentence. However, as I learnt during my trip hitchhiking in Turkey, needing people is a wonderful thing, because it gives you an excuse to interact with strangers and to keep experiencing and learning. We are losing it. Travellers in New Zealand were barely greeting each other, people in hostels were too busy on the wifi to talk. How sad. Please don’t lose the “good chat”.
8. IMPORTANT PEOPLE WILL STAY
In all this high-tech environment, you may start to feel lonely. Yep, adrenaline will pump you up at the beginning, but as soon as you’ll have a rainy day you’ll start to feel it. This feeling will be worse if you’re a solo and/or long term traveller. And that’s when you shall use the technology for the good, connecting with your friends at home (obviously, don’t stop fighting for making new friends. But sometimes it’s a no-no day, and you just need to quit the small talk to speak with someone who’ll understand you in a blink of an eye). They will be your strenght, your mental support. You may start to get paranoid about time passing by and people forgetting about you; relax, the important people of your life will stay, and will be there for you.
7. STOP AND LISTEN TO YOUR INNER SCALE
«Many things had made up our mind, it’s not been an easy and straightforward decision. It’s been more like a slow feeling growing inside us while we were enjoying our trip, the feeling of a lack of something, like to say “yes it’s exciting what we are doing here, but not anymore as it used to be. We are also losing experiences and precious moments with beloved ones home”. All this is coming with a price. Travelling always does, you just have to put this feelings on a scale and see if it’s still worth it. And once the trip was over, those few money we would have earned in Tauranga working for 3 months wouldn’t be worth it. Worthy for us to stay away from our families and friends for longer. Money aren’t everything and can’t buy time. So while we were getting aware of this, our feeling of homesickness had silently grown bigger.»
6. IS IT STILL ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
«What helped us decide was the question: “Why would we go to Tauranga?”. The only answer we could give was “money”. And I don’t want to do things in my life for money, every time I ever took a decision for money is been the wrong one in my life. I thought I had left this far behind me the day I booked my one way ticket for Asia, leaving my job (and a ridicolously well paid one!) for the EXPERIENCE of travelling. If the answer to the big question “Why would we go to Tauranga?” would have been “For the experience”, we would have stayed.»
5. ONE DAY, WE’LL GET TIRED OF TRAVELLING
It’s now a while that I’m hitting the road. With a few months break, it’s a good 5 years. I’m slowly feeling my enthusiasm decreasing… Against my will. The change in the human interactions have for sure its impact, but I’m afraid that the main cause is a change happening within myself (see above the “inner scale”). Problem is, I still have to find a place to call home, so I’ll keep going for a little bit longer. It’s just taking me longer breaks and more comforts, but I’m still there, travelling.
4. DESPITE EVERYTHING, TRAVELLING IS PART OF HUMAN NATURE
Despite the homesickness growing stronger while travelling, despite the hours spent in fantasies of me reunited with my beloved ones, travelling is a part of myself, and of human nature. It’s a NEED you can’t ignore, it’s hunger for adventures, adrenaline, discovery, self-realization. So always bear in mind: life is always cycling on. When you’ll be far from home, a part of yourself will feel homesick. How and how much depends on you and your roots. It can be in the form of a specific cake or in coffee, it can be in the form of comforts, habits or people. But there will always be something you’ll miss. However, when you’ll be home, a part of you will be craving for the trip. You’ll miss exotic fruits, the encounter of wild animals, the tropical beaches, the rugged mountains, the FREEDOM, the sweet fuck all. Even if you come from one of the most beautiful countries of the planet (trust me on this, I’m from Italy). So bear in mind, no peace of mind, NEVER 😀 You’ll always be thorn apart by the wish to be everywhere at the same time.
3. OUR TIME ON EARTH IS LIMITED
I know, this may look like a Captain Obvious post.
But there’s more to consider than just the title. While I was travelling, Nightwish band (my favourite) released their new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Their whole album is a blast when you’re listening to it on a roadtrip, in constant aw. But there’s one part of it that truly changed my perspective about how to approach life, and that I want to repost here: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born The potential people who could have been here in my place But who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA So massively exceeds the set of actual people In the teeth of those stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds How dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state From which the vast majority have never stirred?”
….Consider. How. Fucking. Lucky. We. Are.
2. THE HEART NEVER SPLITS… IT GROWS BIGGER
I’m the third of three. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell us to prevent jealousy: “When a new child is born, a mother’s heart doesn’t split in smaller pieces to make room for the newborn. It grows bigger”.
She never realized how this simple sentence would become one of the pillars of my life philosophy. This can apply to lots of situations in life. All the new friends I now have in Australia and around the world don’t rob the people I have at home of my heart and affection. Travelling is good for your soul.
1. RESPECT, KINDNESS, ENJOYING THE DIVERSITY
The most important thing is specifically about Australia and New Zealand.
I noticed in those countries a general attitude of kindness, respect, empathy, acceptance. People are different from one other, but it doesn’t look like an issue here, au contrair, it’s seen as an empowerment for the society. The joy of people celebrating in Oxford Street for the gay marriage referendum, the activities, museums, events to help interaction and appreciation of both Aboriginal and immigrants cultures (South Pacific and Maori at Te Papa Museum, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, etc. festivals in Sydney, to name a few), the kindness of people not treating you as a simple waitress but as an equal human being, the respect of people waiting for you to get off the bus before getting in.
It may look obvious, but the society I come from reminds me it’s not.
One thing we shall learn from our trip is: observe different cultures, get the best out of them, import the very best in your own country and make it part of your self.
“Show me kindness, show me beauty, show me truth”.
I think time has come for me to explain how to start a bartending career. Mostly because I’m tired of replying to facebook messages like “Hi! I just arrived in Sydney and I noticed you in the fb group XXXX… I want to become a bartender and I’d like to know what to do!”. Basically, most of the people are hoping you to tell them: “Oh hi! Thank God you’re here. Where I work we are searching for a legend like you… Please come in for an interview, I’ll put a good word for you and I’ll teach you everything till you are better than me” (even if you don’t know them). Or they just hope that you can reveal them some dark secret to succeed in life.
Well, unfortunately magic wand for careers has still not been invented.
So here is my step-to-step advise:
Bartending is not the same everywhere on this planet. Don’t expect to win a world award if you are attending to the bar of a small town stucked in the middle of the Italian Alps. Yes I’m pretty sure you can make a fair Aperol Spritz. What about a Sidecar?
Do you want to become a good bartender? WORK WITH THE BESTS. SO MOVE. Yes, CHANGE COUNTRY if necessary. Learn another language, if necessary.
Your best options are London, United Kingdom in general, Australia (Sydney or Melbourne) or America (New Orleans, New York, San Francisco). There are others, of course.
Be hardworking, and start from the bottom. No hospitality experience? Okay. Don’t be shy or lazy, your best opportunity is to START AS BARBACK. I know it’s not fancy, you can’t show your friends how amazing you are, but trust me, you won’t be amazing not knowing which bottle to grab when your recipe says “15 ml vanilla liqueur”.
Barbacking means that you’ll learn how to
– Not break every glass you touch
– Use a dishwasher, if your mum did a terrible job with you
– Polish glasses… Like, THOUSANDS a night
– To move around the bar without getting killed. It’s a little bit like in a videogame. “Baaacks! BAAAACKS!”. And here is someone pointing at you at bullet speed, three cocktails in his hands, and you’re there, looking at him coming to you like a deer would look to a truck approaching at maximum speed.
– To recognise the bottles. “Please grab me a bottle of Glendonach 21 years old!”.
Okay, store room, what was the name? What did he say? Let’s start considering that if you’re not a native speaker of the language name of the spirit, it’s funny how people fuck up. I think it took me three attempts to pronounce Glendonach in a way that a guest could understand. And if only I could get a coin for every time I heard “Maraschino” mispronounced… Furthermore, if you’re a fresh starter, you’re likely not to know that it will be in the whisky section (and if it’s aged 21 years old…). IF you understood the name. Just ask and be annoying if necessary, ask the bartender to show you the empty bottle. Do you want to avoid this? Take the initiative.
Obviously not with Glendonach 21 years old. But if a bottle is about to end in the rail, get the new one before this happens. Fill up the ice weld before you get asked for it. The bar is your realm as well, and you’re important. I’ve seen bars drawn in DEEP SHIT because of the barback’s lacks. Remember: a team is as strong as its weakest link.
(optional but recommended) TAKE A MONTH OFF AND SUBSCRIBE TO A BARTENDING SCHOOL. No, I’m not talking about a 3 hours course. I’m talking about a professional school, usually a month course for the basics, that can easily be around 1500€ or 2200$. I know, it’s a sacrifice, but will get you better chances to get into the industry if you have zero experience. I’d also recommend not to work while you’re studying, as passing the final exams can be tough (and the higher your score, the bigger the chances). It will teach you the classics, the bar basics, the free pouring, some flair, and masterclass of the main spirits and liqueurs, how to recognise the bottles and how to make two-three-five cocktails at the same time.
LEARN YOUR CLASSICS. And if possible, study your recipes in English. Study them in ounces or ml, depending on your country, and keep repeating them to someone, or in front of the mirror, at least once a week. With classics, I mean at least 70 recipes. And don’t pick them from some shitty website for bored housewifes… Try to understand the story behind the recipe, where it got published for the first time, and if possible stick to the original. You’ll see that many are from “Modern American drinks”, a book you can download in pdf for free online. No, I’m not giving you the link, show some fucking initiative! 😀
Also, the names are always the same… Recipes for mixed drinks (1917), Harry’s ABC of mixing cocktails (1919), Here’s how (1927), The Savoy cocktail book (1930)…
Obviously some classics have evolved so we don’t follow ALWAYS the original one. And for some of them, it’s also hard to put your hands on the original one, as the origins are not always written in stone. So take this as a generic rule, until you’ll get the necessary knowledge (with the experience, you’ll know what to do).
RESTAURANTS BEFORE COCKTAIL BARS. Before thinking that you already know everything and you’re ready for war, you’d better learn how to make a gin and tonic (if you skipped point 3). And how to make two drinks at the same time. Restaurants can be a valid option to start with because of a magic word called DISPENSE. Also known as DOCKET STATION. This is where new starters usually take the firsts steps, preparing the drinks for the floor without the hassle to have a guest staring at you. Be mindful, dispense can be crazy busy, depending on the restaurant. But you’ll learn not only cocktails, also wines, beers, and coffees, and mocktails. You can fuck up during your preparation as much as you want, at the only condition that your final product gets out of the bar in a decent amount of time and in good condition. If you still need to look at the cocktail specs because you don’t know the recipes, there’s usually a hidden spot where to do it (even to google something, usually in the dishwasher area). If you don’t know where a beer is, you can open every single fridge without a guest getting impatient. If you don’t know how to gather a payment, it’s okay at the beginning.
Don’t be scared to try something new. Even if it means flexibility. Hostessing for a night, or be food runner. There will be people that will try to push you out of the bar, especially at the beginning, when they’ll think you’re still not ready. BE FLEXIBLE BUT FIRM IN YOUR INTENTIONS. If your goal is the bar, be mindful that everything comes with time and sacrifice. Understand your venue’s needs and be a team player. If your host fell sick, someone has to take the ball. If the floor is short of staff, food still has to make it to the table. But at the same time, if it’s always YOU who get picked for those jobs and you end up being in the bar only during the weekends, while the rest of your time you get assigned to other tasks, don’t be scared to remember them that you can’t get any better or any faster without practice. If things don’t move and you feel like you’re not appreciated, and therefore not given the opportunity of growing in the company, while everyone else is, just quit.
Okay, now that you had your dispense training, and your restaurant training, and your extra experiences in making coffees, hosts and floor, you should give it a go and try to get faster and better. We assume that at this stage you know how to balance sweet and sour, you know all your classics, you know how to open-close a bar, and you know how the Cherry Heering bottle looks like. Move out of the dispense and interact with the guests sit on the bar stools. MASTER THE ART OF THE SMALL TALK, if the place is quite. Learn how to GET FAST, TIDY AND PRECISE, if busy.
COCKTAIL BAR: the WAR BEGINS. If you are tired of restaurants and to have to know your vegan and gluten free options to get your tips (even when the bar food is on a different menu, but OKAY), be ready for war.
First of all, pick the right bar. You don’t want to start with a selection of 400 whisky, 200 gins, and a complicated selection of made in house syrups, tonics, bitters, etc.
I mean, obviously if you got the job congratulations!
But in this article we’ll try to go for the smooth way, step by step, so go for a fast paced environment with plenty of classics. Yes, I know you should know your classics already. But how many people have asked you for a Mai Tai, a Zombie, a Fog Cutter, a Brandy Crusta, a Toblerone, a Japanese Slipper, so far?
I’m pretty sure you’re good with Aperitifs, Espresso Martinis, Digestifs, but there are many options that are not very popular in restaurants, like after dinner cocktails. Often the typical guest of a restaurant is also not as knowledgeable about cocktails and doesn’t know what to order other than what’s in your list. So go for a cocktail bar with possibly not more than 15 wines by the glass, 3-4 beers on tap and 15 beers by the bottle, a hundred bottles of spirits and liqueurs and 10 purees and 10 juices.
SPIRIT KNOWLEDGE. You did well and I’m proud of you. Now you sling drinks like a pro, have the small talk of a comedian, you know who you are. Still, when someone names you “dry wine”, “Oaxaca”, “Akvavit”, “triple distilled”, “shrub”, “sherry cask”, “malted barley”, “Rhum Agricole”, “Pot still”, your eyes are still open wide as the mentioned above deer-against-truck. And your mind starts spinning in “Ozzy man review” style, swearing at your guest the worst things you can possibly imagine.
Do you remember that masterclass book you had to study in point 3 for your exams? Well, for your knowledge, the exam is STILL ON. And always will be.
If you still feel like a life change, go work for a distillery. That would be your greatest chance. Do you live in Italy and your only whisky distillery is in the middle of the Alps, and you moved to Rome to learn how to bartend…? Well, books will be your salvation.
STUDY. Start with Vodka, Gin, Rhum, Tequila. Then go Whisky, Beer, Wine, Cognac, Liqueurs. Then go unusual, go rare. Go Akvavit, go Mezcal, go Mirto di Sardegna, go Falernum.
MIXOLOGY. Don’t study only for spirits. Go for crazy herbs and plants, unusual fruits and flowers. Experiment. There are amazing books in Amazon. Your goal is your guest’s aw, what they would describe as “WEIRD&TASTY&GOOD”. Make shrubs and syrups, bitters and liqueurs, take inspiration (also from other fields, like your grandma’s cuisine, molecular science, chemistry, groups on facebook, trips, etc) but don’t steal recipes. You can create something yours.
I just want to leave you with one simple conclusion: don’t ever think you already reached your goal. No no no. Your goal is always one step forward.
The moment you think you know everything, you lose.
There will always be room to new flavours, new combinations, not everything is been invented yet.
The more I move forward in this field, the more I know, the more I realise how much I don’t know.
So good luck and… Never lose your enthusiasm 😀
I have been living in Sydney for more than a year now, and I found myself asked quite often to lead a bunch of people out, seeking for good booze and knowing a shit about it.
Very often I got requests for organizing “cocktail bar crawls”, and questions like “Ah you’re a bartender, sweet, so you KNOW where I can bring my girlfriend to surprise her for our anniversary, right?”, or “Where is the place with the cheapest meal?” or “Where can I find a decent selection of Tequilas?”.
And, surprisingly, I knew the answers. Being a bartender means to me that my days-off are often a leasure&work&training maze, in which I spend nights out hanging out with good friends stalkering the bartenders moves from my stool at the topbar, chewing nuts and drinking cocktails and spirits.
So, accordingly to the requests of people tired to message me seeking for advices and NOT finding their answers on time due to “me-being-on-shift-guys”, here is the list of my favourite places (which is obviously limited by my personal knowledge… I HAVEN’T STEPPED in every single bar in Sydney, and Sydney’s bar scene is constantly evolving, therefore things may change. This list is updated to 29.06.2017, please check on google maps for times, address, etc before jumping straight to those amazing wonderland’s bars).
(FOOD VENUES LIST and WHERE TO GO DANCING AFTER THE COCKTAIL BAR LIST)
BEST COCKTAIL BARS AND WHY (IN MY OPINION):
BAXTER INN. Well, this doesn’t come as a surprise. As you may know, Sydney loves hidden entrances. After you’ll go down the stairs in what looks like the perfect place to get kidnapped in order to sell your organs to the black market, and open the door… MAGIC! Blues and Jazz atmosphere, the Baxter Inn has been elected BEST BAR IN AUSTRALIA, and SIXTH IN THE WORLD. No visit to Sydney is complete without a stop there. I encourage you, as it’s quite packed all week, not to come in a large group. Aside from an extensive whiskey selection, there is a range of cocktails and craft beers to choose from. Free pretzels are also dished out to thirsty customers. You can ask ANY CLASSIC international cocktail (no, not Toblerone!) and they’ll make it at its finest perfection. Need ideas? Like gin? Order a Southside for yourself and a Clover Club for your girlfriend… Like whisky? Ask for Penicillin cocktail or a whisky sour or a Mint Julep. Stop ordering Espresso Martinis, that you can have at any shitty place with 10$ happy-hour. Go classic! And live the best buzz of Sydney!
EAU DE VIE. Darlinghurst never disappoints. Are you planning a night out with your crush…? THIS IS THE PLACE. The best customer service, a charming host, smoked cocktails and special effects, a 500-bottles backbar, and everything is just too perfect for words. If you seek for buzz and classics in a busy athmosphere, go Baxter Inn, if you seek for a LONG list of creative new cocktails to try out, mixology at its finest, elegance and charm, go Eau de Vie.
Eau de Vie
THE BULLETIN PLACE. This shoe-box bar is a hidden gem you should check out. What’s so particular? Any classic, of course, plus a cocktail menu that changes EVERY DAY. Yes, you read it. They only use fresh, seasonal ingredients to make their own cocktails, there’s table service, staff is there to please you and it’s well trained and knowledgeable. Cocktails? Delicious! Also ranked 19th best cocktail bar in the world in 2014 awards.
THE BARBER SHOP. Located in the same courtyard of the Baxter Inn, this is probably the best gin bar of Sydney. Great selection, comfy sofas, and don’t forget to silently and discretely check our the steel door at the end of the bar… And the lavatories. XD
MJøLNER. A new entry into Sydney’s bar scene. Also, a viking inspired bar and restaurant. Food looks delicious (meat focused). If you are looking for a short, boozy cocktail with a good game on the Amari side, Akvavit, perfect balance and attentive mixology, this is your place. You want craft beer? They have it. You want food? They have it. You want whisky selection? They have it. You want to make a toast in front of Thor’s hammer? Well… THEY HAVE IT! 😀
ARCHIE ROSE DISTILLING CO.: feel the need to do something different on a Sunday afternoon? Got spare time, need a drink, but everything opens at 5pm and it’s midday? You love whisky and gin, but don’t know shit about it? That’s the place for you!! In the heart of Rosebery, a VODKA, GIN, WHISKY, VIRGIN-CANE SPIRIT DISTILLERY!
Tours are available for booking on their website for 20$. Where else can you find in the world a distillery 20 minutes by bus (309, 310) from the Central Station of a major city like Sydney? Just partecipate to a distillery tour, a whisky or gin blending masterclass, and mingle in the chilled atmosphere of the cocktail bar surrounded by whisky casks. Want more?
Check out the view from the Mezzanine. Let the staff guide you through their extensive 160 whisky selection, through their spirits flights (tastings), through complex cocktails designed for highlighting the tones, hints and notes of their botanicals gins, of their limited realease of virgin cane spirit (1200 bottles only), of their unaged white rye, and their botanical vodka? Focus on Australian ingredients and a great selection of tonic waters; also, all the syrups and shrubs are homemade, juices are freshly squeezed. Even wattleseed cola, blackstrap ginger, and bush tonic available.
Archie Rose Distilling Co. cocktail bar
BOUCHE ON BRIDGE. We couldn’t skip in our list a wine bar. I know, this is a cocktail bar list, but what about…. Spritzers? Everyone loves a good Aperol Spritz. What if we had a place that could combine a great spirit and a great wine together to create the perfect, refreshing aperitif? You’re welcome! My favourite is “Cucumber, snow pea, quinoa vodka, bianca, spritzed pinot gris”. If you prefer red wine, “Pomegranate, orange, port whiskey, vermut, pepperberry, shiraz”. Also good food and obviously, focus on vermouth.
PALMER&CO. “I just finished to work, I’d love a drink, but as soon as I sit I may fall asleep”. I’m pretty sure everyone had this feeling at least once. If you’re searching for the right vibe, this underground gem hidden in a small alley two steps away from Wynyard station is what you need. The rustic and old-style design of the place well fits the platters selection at the Chartuterie and the good Negronis. Enjoy! Suitable also for 10 people groups (finally one!)
THE LOBO PLANTATION. RHUM RHUM RHUM. Ok, now that I have your attention, please check out this bar. Seaching for the perfect rhum based cocktail, a good rhum selection, a banana and coconut infused rhum old fashioned? There you go!
Quite busy during weekends, can be hard to find a spot to seat down. Too packed? Want to go Tiki? Check out Papa Gede‘s, at a 5 minutes walking distance. Cozy and has the best Zombie in town. Feel free to chill in the exotic Tiki atmosphere enjoying your absinthe fountain :). Also the Cuban Place, nearby.
It’s summertime and you’re searching for a nice place to watch the sunset? Ok, I have not one, but THREE options for you! Blu bar on 36, at the Shangri-la hotel, has the best view of all Sydney on the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Unfortunately the best view is in the lounge area, where it’s hard to get a table close to the windows due to long waiting lists; I recommend to check the opening time and to show up 15 minutes before opening. But the view is something you can’t miss. Fireworks every Saturday night approx. 8.30-8.45 pm.O Bar and Dining: “our circular space on the 47th floor turns constantly to reveal an ever-unfolding, 360-degree panorama. It’s this city’s most stunning place to enjoy fine food, exquisite cocktails and elevated good times”, recites the website. I couln’t agree more. Also good fine dining option, in the heart of CBD. Zephyr bar: that’s a ROOFTOP, OPEN-air bar, so my suggestion is to check it out in summertime, to chill after a hot day. Sunset straight in front of you and Darling Harbour. A focus on vermouth.
SHADY PINES SALOON in Darlinghurst is NOT a place where a vegan wants to spend his Saturday night. Country live music during weekends, easy going athmosphere and ask to try their special spicy rhum. Whisky bar with great selection, still good at making any international (like Baxter Inn). P.s. the door is white, there’s a SMAAAL tag at the entrance with the venue’s name on it.
TIO’S: looking for Tequila and Mezcal? Surry Hills little secret, with the best selection in town! Let the bartenders guide you through a trip to Mexico…
PS40: seasonal cocktails are a bomb, but the highlight of this place in my opinion is their selection of their made in house SODAS, TONICS, GINGER ALE and WATTLESEED COLA. Do you want to appreciate them at their best? Order a Batanga cocktail or a gin and tonic.
MARBLE BAR: in the Hilton Hotel, close to Town Hall, there’s this place where the bartenders are friendly, cocktails good, and the place is just too gorgeous: marble everywhere, with a touch of Renaissance influence. During weekends it turns into a club style place, sometimes with live music. I would recommend it when it’s not that packed, with your fiancée. Zeta bar upstairs is also nice (more expensive tho).
Other places you may want to check out, with no particular notes, are:
IN CBD: Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern (Focus on cognac), Grandma’s Bar (try the Peanut Butter Colada), The Cuban Place (rhum), Since I left you, The Rook, The Mojo Record Bar, The Stich, The Swinging Cat, The Grasshopper, Nola Smokehouse and Bar, The Grain (whisky bar at the 4season hotel).
Surroundings: The Wild Rover, the Button Bar (Surry Hills), Maybe Frank (italian cocktails), Bloody Mary’s (also breakfast and lunch, for hangovers!), This Must be the Place (Darlinghurst), Tatler (one of the bests, I just couldn’t check it out so far), The World Bar, The Butler (great view) (Kings Cross).
As you may have noticed, no bars are in North Sydney in my list. Due to my location (Ultimo) I never explored that area much, but let’s also say that on the internet I couldn’t find any place that was worth the trip.
If your main focus is FOOD AND DRINKS TOGETHER, PLEASE CHECK OUT:
The Morrison Oyster Bar and Restaurant: every Wednesday, from 6 to 7 pm, fresh Pacific Oysters at 1$ each. And everyday 5-7pm happy hour with house wine and spirits at 10$. Oysters are delicious, shucked few minutes before 6pm. This event won the “Best concept event” at the Hospitality Award of Sydney in 2016.
Sokyo: Okay so now we have Gin, Tequila, Mezcal, Rhum, Whisky… We know where to drink anything… But I feel like Sushi tonight! “No worries mate”! The Star Casino in Pyrmont offers the best Sushi you can possibly ask for (of course, everything comes with a price…) and please make yourself a favour and ask for the Saiku Salmon Sashimi. It is the best sashimi you’ll ever try in your life, I guarantee.
The bar is Umeshu, Sake, and Japanese whisky focused, a must-try. If you feel like having the best day of your life, try Yamazaki 25 years old for 300$ a shot.
Alfredo’s: located in Bulletin place, restaurant upstairs and underground cocktail bar downstairs. The friendly and expert Codris will delight you with Italian Aperitif style nights, with its olive all’ascolana, happy-hour cocktails, and with its knowledge of how to make even a bartender used to drink a lot of booze get out of the place basically on their knees XD
Codris is simply MY BARTENDER in Sydney, the one that I trust to make my cocktail. The only one I tell “You decide for me” without a single doubt. The best place also for a chat. Beware: it closes at 10.30 if not busy.
The Assembly Bar and Restaurant: cocktails, beers, but most of all, TRUE ITALIAN PIZZA two steps away from Town Hall.
Maloney’s: want to go cheap? Like, really cheap?? The cheapest place in town is here, with 8$ beer jugs, chicken schintzels and fries for 12$. Burgers, pizzas, steaks, a typical Aussie pub with lots of room close to World Square.
Pizza e Birra: pizza again, why? Because Monday night is ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT pizza here! Italian owned, they also offer the bests Negronis and beer buckets.
Frankie’s Pizza is a metalheads oriented place, often with rock or metal live music, and suitable for a bourbon&coke (in a plastic cup, for safety). I never ordered cocktail there as it’s a much less pretentious place then Baxter Inn or Shady Pines (even if it’s still part of the Speakeasy group), but it’s in CBD, it’s open until late night, and… again, Pizza. Not Italian style, tho. 😦
Chinatown noodle restaurant: just feel like a warm chinese tea, hungry as fuck, but broken and still in hangover from yesterday. Too lazy to cook. No problem at all 🙂
Chinatown noodle is a franchise, there’s one in Haymarket, one in Town Hall, one in Pyrmont, they offer MASSIVE portions and are as cheap as 10$.
Lentils as anything: same feeling as the point above, but even 10$ are too much for your pockets? In Newtown you can have a meal with a gold coin donation at Lentils, with typical indian food (please be considerate in your offer).
Tella Balls: fuck the booze, I’m hangover but it’s Sunday morning, everything is still closed and I feel like milk-shake and breakfast. Like a MASSIVE, GIANT WAFFLE BURGER stucked with icecream, a thousand sweet syrups, sprinkles, chocolate, strawberries and whatever I can imagine. Tella Balls in Dulwich Hill is unique in its genre and won’t disappoint you. Just beware: some plates are meant to be for 2, even 4 people. You can take them away if you don’t finish them… But trust me, one choice per person is more than enough. At 10 minutes walk to the Light Rail last stop.
Max Brenner Chocolate bar: struggling to find a PROPER hot chocolate? A THICK, Italian style one? The first time you asked for a hot chocolate and you had been served that milk jug with two teaspoons of chocolate powder in it your face was failing at hiding your disappointment? Ok, go to Max Brenner (there are many around Central and one close to Wynyard) and ask for an Italian Thick Chocolate. You can ask for white, milk or dark one. You can thank me later with a bank transfer 🙂
Papa’s: in both Haberfield and Bondi, dessert bar, ice-creamery, restaurant, coffee bar, all with authentic Italian food!
Mary’s: “I have an absolute need of unhealthy, deep oiled food…”. But you don’t like Kfc. Mary’s has the best chicken wings in all Sydney, in a rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Burgers, fries, fried chicken, mash and gravy.
Big Poppa’s: Darlinghurst located, upstairs restaurant, downstairs underground bar. Great spirits selection and fastest bartenders ever, if you feel hungry and need some vibe, this buzzling place will make you feel alive. Platters are great, go for the salumi one.
The Ship Inn: hospitality kills you, I know. You can’t get out of your job until 00.30 am, and in CBD due to the lockout laws it’s almost impossible to enter anywhere. Thank God we have the Ship Inn! Last entrance at 01.30 am, HOSPO DISCOUNTS (show your RSA card) and you can get 7.5$ pizzas Aussie style. Try the avocado and basil one, or the Pappa Grande. Cheap beers on tap at 5$ (ask first which ones).
Pancakes on the Rocks: okay, your job SUCKS and you finished at 3am tonight. And you’re starving, I can see it. But Sydney won’t let you starve to death, I promise, because we have Pancakes on the Rocks! Also with salty options, not just a dessert bar, and open 24 hrs.
Indu and Mejico CBD: owned by the same company, they have amazing cocktails and good wine selection while delighting you with Indian and Mexican cuisine. Part of what you spend here will go to villages in need for charity. Not cheap, but a great place if you’re after an easy fine dining.
La Piadina, in Bondi Beach, if you’re missing la piadina romagnola, here it is!
Gelato Messina, just the best icecream in town. Just second to it, Anita (Bondi beach), Rivareno (Surry Hills/Darlinghurst).
GPO, Star Casino and various food courts. Allergies and food preferences. Still don’t know where to eat? Man, I seriously don’t understand what’s wrong with you… If you still didn’t find your match in this list you’re either too spoky, or have allergies or food preferences like veganism, etc. So, the GPO and Star Casino are both a good option for you, as they’re like a shopping centre about… Food. Restaurants, bars, cafès, etc. If you have problems with gluten, or are searching for any kind of allergy aware place, or are vegetarian or vegan, please check Balla’s restaurant at the Star Casino. The head chef is celiac and has a strong focus on it. Otherwise, just know that most of the restaurants usually have at least one vegan and one gluten free option. Please bear in mind to always tell your allergies to your bartender as well… As many cocktails contain eggwhite and some may be smoked with meats.
If your problem is just to be looking for cheaper and ready-to-eat food, food courts are everywhere.
Want to dance? I’m not a fan so I’m not the right person to ask to. But I know where my friends usually hang out.
Monday night at Civic, Raggae Music
Tuesday night at the Establishment, Latin Music
Wednesday night at El Topo Basement, DJ sets
Thursday night at Ivy
Friday-Saturday night, just EVERYWHERE
Sunday night, Sash
Eau de Vie cocktail
A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT NOTES:
YOU WILL NEED AN IDENTITY DOCUMENT TO GET INTO MOST OF THIS PLACES. IF THEY SERVE ALCOHOL, YOU MUST BE 18 Y.O. AT LEAST, AND A PICTURE OF YOUR PASSPORT ON YOUR PHONE IS NOT A PROOF OF IDENTITY.
If you don’t want to bring your passport around, go to a NSW centre and ask to have an Australian Identity Card. It’s as cheap as 55$ and it’s a cool memory to have with you for life.
DON’T GET DRUNK. YOU’LL GET KICKED OUT OF THE VENUE, I PROMISE YOU. THAT’S THE LAW. Your bartender will never risk a 11.000$ fine because you look pretty and you winked at him.
BE NICE AND TIP: tips are not mandatory in Australia, however it’s a sign that you appreciated the service and the food and drinks. Be nice to who is handling your food and drinks. They are working late nights for your fun. If they’re turning on the lights and shutting down the music, just thank and leave.
Don’t be an asshole and make silly complaints about irrelevant things. Noone really ruined your day. Why would you want to ruin other people’s ones? Someone has not been nice at you? Are you sure you didn’t push it, or asked for it? Even if the answer is yes, remember that hospo people are HUMANS, and can have bad days as well. BE NICE. ALWAYS.
Last but not least, I don’t own all the images in this article. All copyrights are from their owners, I took some of them on google and couldn’t detect exactly the owner. Some others are mine. This list is not meant to be OFFENDING ANYONE. Nothing is a fact, it’s just my irrelevant opinion as a guest. Please enjoy and drink responsably!
I folletti delle statistiche di WordPress.com hanno preparato un rapporto annuale 2014 per questo blog.
Ecco un estratto:
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10. To feel is something precious. You decided to leave, because you were not satisfied of what you had. Good. The lack of something is always what makes a passion grow, it’s normal. You miss something –> you want it, desire it –> there borns a new passion 😀 You were missing something? Lucky you. Lots of people don’t know how to use their time, because they don’t have passions… They always got soon whatever they wanted, they had nothing to desire. Being able to get everything you want immediately is a bad thing, not a good one. YOU WERE LUCKY, you had to fight to get what you wanted. This turned into strenght, will, patience, determination. In life, whatever is missing is never really “missing”. It always pays back, but you won’t see at the first sight where the balance goes to: it’s now in your personal skills.
9. To leave my country… It was scary but awesome to leave all my problems back, all my routine, all my comfort zone, all my known people. Back. But the sense of freedom you get in return is priceless. The satisfaction to think “bloody hell, I can’t believe that I did this. But yes, in the end, I did. I’m strong enough to survive! To live alone, to travel alone, not to need anybody else. Let’s say that you realise that you’ll always need someone, the “human contact and interaction”, but that you can start from point zero whenever you want. Feeling the power to be the only owner of your life and choices. To be able to change yourself and the world around you. Experiencing the awareness that “YOU OWN THE POWER” (a bit like in Matrix movie) is something that will change the way you’ll face your life from now on. This will never abandon you, that awareness is yours forever.
8. Astonishing landscapes. Mongolia is something not easy to describe, indeed. Wild, with no civilization around you for hundreds of miles. To experience what the true silence means. There is a point where you may think “oh shit, I’m alone in this world. There is no life around me”. And you may feel sick for this lack of energy to absorbe around you. Even the wind stopped blowing. But then, all of a sudden, you notice it: that small, little light of energy under your bare feet. That small, apparently insignificant insect under the ground, or the bird flying high in the sky. There is ALWAYS life surrounding us. Sun itself, earth itself, are forms of life. Feeling part of it may seem hippie, but it’s the simple truth. Even when you’ll feel abandoned and lonely, you will never be. The planet is by your side, always, with a hand on your shoulder. You just have to realise it. YOU ARE ALWAYS CONNECTED, NEVER ALONE.
7. The skies and the oceans. Used to yellow-orange-red sunsets, to figure out for the first time that a sunset can include pink, purple, deep blue, and essentially all the colours of the world, it’s something that can help you release all you bad thoughts. Especially if the experience is shared with special people. And the milky way? Yes, at home in a very clear night, you can (maybe) try to guess its location. But uhmmm, hell, you’re not sure at all. Oh yes, you can always look at that fabolous app on your mobile phone… Screw it. Forget it. Go to a desert, and look up to the sky. The milky way is as evident as your own breath. The air is cold but frizzy like never before. And what about the oceans? We all know how the surface may look like… C’mon, we all have had at least once some ocean wallpaper on our desktop, a picture of a friend as screensaver, or so on. But did you ever feel part of a ocean’s life? That was a marvellous experience to me. I felt like this was not my element, seriously, it was easier for me to jump down from an airplane with a parachute, 4200 mt from the ground, that going down just a ridiculous 15 mt. But still, despite of the anxiety, what I saw was worth it. THE WORLD WILL NEVER STOP TO SURPRISE YOU. But remember: the beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
6. Give up on having any kind of “goal” to reach during your trip. People usually start travelling with a thought like “I want to see THIS, I want to go THERE, I want to, I want to, I want to”. There is no other purpose in travelling, than… TRAVELLING. The simple joy of living, being owner of your life and time, making new experiences, testing yourself, pushing yourself, knowing new people, changing your life, improving who you are. There is a moment when you realise how all temples are the same, how churches are the same, how castles are the same… Of course they are NOT, but seeing another one won’t mean anything to you. You’d rather prefer to spend your day chilling in a park and looking at the people around you, or getting to know better your roommates or the local culture. Because the world is plenty of assholes, but all of them have something to teach you. Especially the lessons you don’t want to learn 🙂
5. There is a specific moment, that punctually arrives if you are open enough to recognize it, where you’ll think “holy crap, this stranger just did something for me that my best friend would never do for me”. And that’s the best thing to notice: THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. People who are so generous, so gentle, that they don’t want to hear that damned two words you want to say: thank you. People that don’t need them. Why? Because they don’t expect anything in return. And if you’ll try to ask them “why did you…?”, they’ll smile you back with their broken teeth and say “I have to thank you: you gave me the opportunity to do something good… THANK YOU!!”.
4. And point five leads us here, to point four 😀
In your previous life, you were surrounded by negativity: the social networks are nowaday a nest of envy, anger, and frustration, the news on tv only talks about corruption, murders, and how you don’t have to trust people because they are fucking insane. Everything is about business and money, that will lead you to consumerism with no respect for other people or nature, and to the unreachable stairs of success. Doing something with nothing in return? Oh no, that’s impossible, there must be a mistake… Maybe there was a trick you didn’t notice. I’m sure they will fuck you soon, deerie. Sorry. NOBODY does something to get anything back. Well, point 5 showed us this is WRONG. Of course, bad guys do exist, but there is plenty of amazing people around you, you just don’t know them yet.
And then, during your trip, you start seeing people that don’t need “the something back” to be happy, they don’t need to envy, to get frustrated, to reach the stairs of success. They are poor and they look miserable to you, because of what you see from the outside. But maybe you shall look miserable to them, for what they shall see from the inside, as you were just the reflection of your capitalist society at the beginning of your trip. Everybody is so caring about Ebola virus right now… Oh no, it’s killing so many innocent people! We all have to donate for the research, to stop it! Oh, really? Did you know how many innocents die every year for hunger, and there is a cure for this? But hunger it’s not contagious, so you don’t need to worry about it, right? So pathetic… And that’s the gift you earn in point 4: the awareness that they have been lying to you, all the time. That society wants you to envy, to hate, not to be happy and satisfied, not to realise that you need less than 100 objects (that can be packed in a 60 lt backpack) to live and TO BE HAPPY. Why? Because it’s profitable. And that’s all.
3. Also connected to points 5 and 4, you realise so that people can do amazing or truly horrible things. You knew it also before, I know… But if before you used to think that the average was zero point, and that people could go from -10 to +10, now you know that people can go from -100 to +100. And the difference is that now you know that YOU can go for +100 😀 We have truly few limits, and almost all of them are in our mind. They are not absolut limits, or, better, they are absolut only until you face and break them 🙂
2. And another thing you’ll gain during your trip: EMPATHY. Empathy has many different definitions that encompass a broad range of emotional states, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other.
1. There is NO END TO YOUR JOURNEY. Even if you’ll be back, the seed has been sown. You’ll keep growing, you’ll be searching for the truth wherever you’ll be, you’ll try to fight against the injustices you’ll find in your way (and the badasses ;))
Because what you learned (and learning to think) is like running a bike: once you learned, you never forget how it works. So, do you think you are the expert one and “oh no, not tourists again please, I don’t want to deal with the 15-days holiday tourists again”… Don’t you remember? Everybody has something to teach us. Do you think you saw everything in this world, because you left a footprint in each continent? Don’t you know that what you saw on Monday shall be seen also on Sunday, what you saw in daytime shall be seen also in nighttime, and that what you saw today shall be seen also tomorrow, because there won’t be the same people there? And even if there would still be the same people, they could be in different mood, or anyway they cannot be exactly the same as yesterday. Face the truth: you can’t see the whole world. And it doesn’t matter. 🙂
10. Motorbike exhaust tattoo on my leg, Vietnam. A needle entered my leg for 5 cm, Gobi desert, Mongolia. A nail, in my right foot, was ripped off, Russia. Bedbugs scars everywhere, Myanmar and Thailand. The tam on my feet, zebra-style, has the shape of my trekking sandals.
Broken hair, sunburnt on my shoulders. Weird chess field on your back, explaining which kind of spaghetti blouse you had in every single day of your trip.
Beauty sometimes is not part of your travel plans.
9. Spending days eating chocolate biscuits and cheese crackers, because there’s nothing hygienic around you.
8. Sleeping in the same room with rats and cockroaches. Eating a dog and having to admit that it taste good. A toilet in China.
7. Scammers. Scammers. Scammers again.
6. The instinct fighting against you, during your first dive. Breathing underwater and calm down are two things hard to conciliate.
5. Having stomach / intestine problems. Puking your soul.
4. Handbag, with credit cards, money, PASSPORT, stolen by three policemen in Vietnam.
3. Missing people. Missing a place to stay, or a point of reference. Not knowing if you’re tired or travelling or you’re not, but for sure knowing that you don’t want to be back to your previous life.
2. Taking the wrong drug, or not dealing well with it.
1. Fearing to have malaria or rabies, or some other deadly disease.
1. …Leaving an alarm clock ringing for 20 minutes at 7.00 am in a dorm, it’s not really a nice idea. Shut this f*** thing down!
2. …Turning on the light (7.20 am), waking up everybody. You stupid creature, turn on the bathroom light, not your own! Or use your stupid Iphone for a clever purpose, for example using the torch app, as I see you have it!
3. …And prepare your backpack in the evening, when everybody is still awake, so you can sneak out fast and with no noise… Not in the morning, and taking one hour to do it, moving all the plastic bags you have inside!
4. If there’s written “Please don’t throw toilet paper in the wc”, that doesn’t mean that you have to do it, regret it, and so leave everything like this, thinking “the next person who will get there will manage the consequences instead of me”.
5. Don’t use other bed plugs when the other guest is around. Some people are just too shy (and polite) to ask you to move your stuff to charge their laptop, or camera, or phone.
6. If there’s a sign telling you to remove your shoes before entering, do it! People are often walking there with their bare feet, and don’t like to step on the mud you carried inside the hotel.
7. Don’t take 1 hour time to shower, only for chilling, at 8.00 am. Other people may need it before to take a bus, a tour, or start their day as well. And don’t leave your dead hair everywhere in the shower, throw them in the trash bin.
8. Don’t return to the hostel at 3 am, drunk, complaining about the fact that everybody is sleeping and you still want to party. They may kill you. You don’t know for how long they had been waiting for a proper bed.
9. Don’t be unfriendly and silent, or always looking at the internet. It’s a hostel, people get there to know more people, to make new friends. Let’s avoid to create a bad atmosphere, ok?
10. Stop complaining about hygiene. People can arrive from the worst countries, and probably had seen things much worse than that one.
1. Use couchsurfing. Seriously. It’s an Amazing way to travel, and not just a cheap option. It’s a human experience.
2. Travel slowly. It will be cheaper. Avoid flights, avoid urgent requests for visas. Take your time to check prices in at least 5-10 agencies for public transportation, for excursions, and take your time to ask to 5 hotels how much for a bed or a room.
3. Stay a bit out of the city centres. At walkable distance, let’s say. Food and accomodations are cheaper.
4. Download Mapswithme Pro on your mobile phone. Android 2.1 or more are required, it costs 5 dollars, but it will save you much more money (and time). Because everytime a tuctuc driver will tell you “No, it’s 7 km to the downtown” you can check if it’s true or not, and if it’s not and you want to walk, you’ll know the way.
5. Use hostelbookers or hostelworld or booking.com to check some hotels before your arrival. It’s Always good to have some names with you.
6. Use skype and wifi connections, what’s up, viber, email, whatever you want. Forget the rest.
7. Check WIKITRAVEL. It is your guru. It can tell you how much you should pay for that damned ticket you are searching for, or how is the cheapest way to do certain things. Check the rules to get around the country you are in, and what is cheaper (bus, train…?).
8. Check some travelblogs. Travelfish is a good one, OnewayticketPhil as well.
9. Seat61 is a good website to check all trains in the world. Skyscanner is good for flights.
10. Arm yourself with patience, good mood and have fun! 😀 Your enthusiasm is the thing you need the most to travel!