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An easy way to support the stuff you like

Unlike Kickstarter, which asks for lump sums that are used toward overall projects, Patreon lets you choose a level of support (from as little as 25 cents) to be put toward a specific creation. In our case, individual travel blog posts.

Patreon-whiteYou pick the support level (starting at just a quarter per post) and each month Patreon automatically bills you for the content we’ve produced during the previous month. For example, we generally publish 5-7 posts per month. If you and your big heart choose to support us at the US$1 per post level you can expect to be automatically charged for US$5 to US$7 a month from Patreon. That might not sound like much (two lattes, for example), but we can produce a lot of good stuff with that extra support.

Becoming a patron

If you like the words and pictures on our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog please check out our brand new Patreon Creator page. Just click the “Become a Patron” button on the upper left hand side to see how fast, easy, customizable and secure it is to become a patron of the Trans-Americas Journey.

Your Patreon support of our travel blog will help us stay on the road and continue to produce professional digital travel content about independent adventures in the Americas and meet other stated goals including everything from resuming our carbon offset program to getting our website and travel blog professionally re-designed.

Did we mention our sweet incentives including custom prints of Eric’s photos and totally free personalized travel advice for our most generous patrons?

We are committed to keeping our website and travel blog ad free. If you like what we’re doing and can give us some Patreon support of any kind we promise to use it to keep saying no to the pop-ups, banners and links and keep saying yes to digital travel content that doesn’t suck.

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9 Great Big Amazon Travel Myths – Ecuador

We just spent a few weeks traveling around the Amazon Basin and Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. We’ve been on boats, canoes and trails up and down the Napo River and its side channels exploring the rain forest, oxbow lakes and flora and fauna that make this area one of the  most biologically diverse in the world. The place was full of surprises (and not just the kind with wings, fur or scales) and our full reports will be coming soon. In the meantime, here are 9 great big Amazon travel myths to get straight before you plan your own Amazon adventure.

Napo River Amazon adventure

Motoring through the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.

Amazon Travel Myth #1: You have to go to Brazil to see the Amazon

The Amazon River is 4,345 miles (6,992 kms) long and its associated basin covers 2,720,000 square miles (7,050,000 square kms) through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia. That’s almost the same area as the lower 48 states in the US. The Amazon River has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 930 miles (1,500 kms) long. The Napo River in Ecuador is one of these major tributaries.

Napo River Amazon sunset

Sunset over the Napo River in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.

 Amazon Travel Myth #2: The heat will be epic

We were prepared for the type of steamy weather in which just breathing makes you sweat. Imagine our surprise when we were putting on pants and long-sleeve shirts during boat rides and in the evenings to ward off what can only be described as a chill in the air. Yes, the temperature and humidity can rise to uncomfortable levels in the Amazon and you’re gonna sweat whenever you’re exerting yourself. However, temperatures can dip too (especially after the clouds roll in post-rain) and the average Amazon high is only in the mid 80s. Pack accordingly.

Amazon Travel Myth #3: You’ll be tripping over wildlife

The Amazon Basin is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet and home to a mind-blowing cast of characters. New species are discovered here every year, but it’s very hard to see most of them. For one thing, the Amazon rain forest is wicked thick. Also, in many areas wild animals were hunted as recently as five years ago and some indigenous communities continue to hunt on a subsistence level so the critters still have a healthy fear of humans. That said, with persistence and the help of guides we saw dozens of species we’ve never seen before including a tiny, brightly plumed bird called a wire-tailed manakin, red howler monkeys, endangered giant river otters, many new types of macaws and a porcupine with a prehensile tail.

Amazon White fronted Capuchin Monkey Yasuni

A white-fronted capuchin monkey in Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin.

Amazon Travel Myth #4: You’ll never see the oil exploration in the Amazon

We thought the controversial oil exploration activity in the Amazon Basin would be hidden deep in the jungle, however, international oil companies from the US and China are looking for oil all over the place in the Amazon Basin. You’ll see evidence of oil camps, pumping stations, natural gas burn-offs and barges and helicopters transporting heavy equipment up and down the Napo River and all along the riverbank.

Yasuni oli exploration Amazon

Natural gas is burned off 24-hours-a-day at this oil exploration operation on the bank of the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin.

Amazon Travel Myth #5: Everything in the Amazon is huge

If all of the animals in the Amazon were weighed, some scientists think ants and termites would account for one-third the total weight. Some things do get big, however, including endangered giant river otters which can be more than six feet (two meters) long, anacondas which have been documented at 60 feet (15 meters) long and then there’s that 12 foot (four meter) long black caiman we saw.

Amazon black caiman

Black caimans grow big and mean in the Amazon but it’s the small stuff that makes up the bulk of the animal life.

Amazon Travel Myth #6: It’s hard to get to the Amazon

Actually, to get to the lodges, trails, lagoons, Yasuni National Park and rain forests of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador all you have to do is take a 30 minute flight from Quito to Coca then get on a motorized canoe for a 2 hour trip down the Napo River to your lodging of choice.

Amazon Travel Myth #7: Piranhas are vicious killers

Blame Hollywood for the piranha’s man-eating reputation. Everyone in the Amazon Basin does. There are three species of piranha in the area, none of which are considered dangerous. In fact, Eric went swimming in a lagoon full of the things and exactly zero feeding frenzies ensued.

Not a world record Piranha Amazon

Eric catching his first piranha in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin. Yes, we threw him back.

Amazon Travel Myth #8: If the piranhas don’t get you the insects will

Readers of this travel blog know that if there’s an insect within half a mile it will find and bite Karen. With visions of a rain forest (and, probably, our room) full of mosquitoes the size of Smart Cars and lord know how many other hungry biters we packed enough Deet to defend the entire population of Ecuador. We used very, very little of it. As we’ve found in other fairly pristine natural areas, an ecosystem in balance usually doesn’t have too much of anything. In the case of the Amazon Basin we were pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of biting bugs.

Tarantula Yasuni National Park Amazon

A tarantula in Yasuni National Park in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.

 Amazon Travel Myth #9: Monkeys are good swimmers

Most species of monkeys do just fine with short swims in relatively calm the water. Wide rivers with swift currents, like the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin, are another story as we witnessed when a squirrel monkey fell into the river near our boat one day. Despite its best efforts the monkey was clearly drowning. As the current swept it down stream its head began to sink below the surface and we maneuvered the boat near enough to the monkey for our guide, Fredy, to reach it and get it on the boat. It was drenched, exhausted and scared but at least it wasn’t drowning. The monkey “thanked” Fredy by biting his hand as he pried him off the boat and placed it safely back on shore.

Drowning squirrel monkey Amazon Basin Ecuador

This tiny squirrel monkey was no match for the swift current of the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin. Don’t worry. We saved it.

 

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Chaguitillo Petroglyphs, Selva Negra Ecolodge & Jinotega – Around Matagalpa, Nicaragua

The mountains north of Managua are home to more than just Matagalpa. Unwilling to leave the cool weather at these higher elevations we lingered in the hills traveling to the Chaguitillo petroglyphs (with an unexpected horse parade thrown in for good measure), Selva Negra Ecolodge (where we narrowly escaped a coral snake and a falling tree limb) and the caffeinated yet somehow sleepy town of Jinotega.

Petroglyphs & ponies

There is a museum in the town of Chaguitillo which displays the many pre-Columbian artifacts which have been found in the area. However, when we visited the town we went straight to the river where we saw large petroglyphs (ancient stone carvings) right along the banks next to swimming children and women doing their laundry. Talk about living history.

Chaguitillo ancient rock petroglyphs Nicaragua

River side petroglyphs in the town of Chaguitillo, Nicaragua.

We probably couldn’t have gotten to the museum anyway since Chaguitillo was busy hosting a major celebration and a huge parade of horses had taken over the streets.

Chaguitillo petroglyphs Nicaragua

River side petroglyphs in the town of Chaguitillo, Nicaragua.

Extreme hiking at Selva Negra Ecolodge

You can visit Selva Negra Ecolodge coffee plantation and farm, about 15 minutes north of Matagalpa, as a day trip for a tour of their coffee operation which produces 400,000 pounds (182,000 kilos) of organic Arabica beans a year, hydroponic and organic garden, flower farm, dairy and cheese making facility and excellent German/Nica restaurant (don’t miss the schnitzel), but why not stay a night or two? That way you get to enjoy Selva Negra’s rambling array of accommodations–from cottages to hotel rooms–on-site chapel, pine forest and network of hiking trails through some of their 400 acre (160 hectare) property.

Organic Garden at Selva Negra Ecolodge - Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Part of the organic farm at Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

The Kuhl family, a German clan that’s owned Selva Negra Ecolodge since 1975, is serious about the “eco” part of the name with green measures including the use of eucalyptus and papaya as natural pesticides on the farm, bio gas is produced from waste products and used to fuel the workers’ kitchens, there’s a massive earthworm composting operation and they even hope to add a windmill and get off the grid entirely.

chapel Selva Negra Nicaragua

The chapel at Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

There’s a large network of trails through Selva Negra’s hilly property. We spent a morning exploring some of them, hiking up and down extreme, slippery slopes (we may have wandered off trail once or twice in search of the sounds of bell birds and howler monkeys). Then it started to pour making the ground even more treacherous.

View of Matagalpa, Nicaragua from the trails above Selva Negra

The view down to the town of Matagalpa from one of the hilltop trails on the property of Selva Negra Ecolodge.

By the time we’d hiked/slid down the trail to flat ground we were wet and muddy. As we walked along the final stretch of trail leading back to the lodge a five foot (1.5 meter) very venomous coral snake slithered across the trail in front of us.

As our heart rates were returning to normal the wind suddenly picked up and we heard an ominous cracking noise above us. We both instinctively ran as a big tree limb came crashing down on the trail behind us. But, yeah, come and hike. Just maybe not in a rain and wind storm.

Ruined tank Selva Negra Matagalpa nicaragua

You can’t miss the old tank which marks the turn off to Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

The coffee-laced charms of Jiontega

It’s not likely that Jinotega will make it to the top of anyone’s travel hot list for Nicaragua. The area saw intense fighting between the Saninistas and occupying American troops between 1927 and 1934 and in the 1970s the area was devastated again during battles between troops controlled by President Anastasio Somoza vs. a civilian rebellion. Somoza was defeated on July 19, 1979 but in the 1980s fresh battles broke out between the new Sandinistas and CIA-backed contras.

Today Jinotega, which is known as La Ciudad de las Brumas (City of Mists) and La Ciudad de los Hombres Eternos (City of Eternal Men), is calm. What it lacks in major tourist attractions it makes up for in peace, quite and coffee.

Jinotega Nicaragua

Coffee, not Contras, are what Jinotega, Nicaragua is known for these days.

We were surprised to find Hotel Café where owner Maria Teresa, who also owns Hotel Estancia La Casona in Managua, has created a stylish, homey, well-appointed haven in Jinotega. Another pleasant surprise in Jinotega was the town’s tasty, cheap eats.

Don’t miss Soda el Tico which had some of the best steam table fare we had in all of Nicaragua (much of the budget food in Nica is served to you by ladies at a huge steam table full of choices). We had fantastic beef with home made chimichurri sauce, moist chicken kababs and delicious fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice for just a few bucks. There’s even some good street food in Jinotega and readers of this travel blog know how we feel about street food.

At the entrance to the town cemetery you’ll find La Taberna. Head inside the building that’s adorned with river stones and you’ll find a dimly lit bar with bark-paneled walls, raw wood furniture, an ecclectic sound track (from Lady Gaga to Enrique lgesias) and a lively crowd of locals who come for all of that plus ice cold beer.

Cafe Flor de Jinotega - coffee cooperative Nicaragua

Good coffee and creative decor at the Cafe Flor coffee co-op cafe in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Of course, there’s awesome coffee in Jinotega too. The department of Jinotega (essentially a county) produces almost all of the Nicaraguan coffee. Our favorite cafe in Jinotega was Casa de Don Colocha which got our vote not for its coffee (which is great and comes out of a real Italian machine and they even have iced coffee) but for serving the best cinnamon roll in Central America.

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Staying Healthy on the Road: The Only Bug We’ve Got is the Travel Bug

Right after people ask us “What’s the weirdest thing you ever ate?” (answer here) people usually ask “Don’t you get sick when you’re traveling?” It’s a fair question and after more than seven years (and counting) of traveling on the road full-time we can honestly say that we’re actually healthier when we’re traveling than we were when we were at home. Yes, part of staying healthy on the road is the magic of travel: when you look forward to a day filled with new experiences, not new meetings, you’re more likely to stay well to enjoy them.

The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (the name is purely coincidental), in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, recently released a study that links travel with better health, including decreased risk of heart attack and depression and even the promotion of brain health. Stated simply – travel is good medicine.

Part of staying healthy on the road also has to do with being preemptive. It’s not like there aren’t colds and flu and worse out here on the road. We just do our best to head them all off before they can get their claws into us and you can too. Here are our…

Top travel tips for staying healthy on the road

1. Soap is not enough

When we backpacked through South and Southeast Asia from 1995 to 1999 hand sanitizers didn’t really exist. Now they do. Use them. We were traveling in Mexico during the height of the swine flu madness and we credit liberal use of hand sanitizers (which the Mexican government was actually giving away and placing in all public places) with keeping us perfectly healthy. We have hand sanitizer in the glove compartment of our truck and in every bag and backpack we carry. You should too.

Swine Flu H1N1 The pig is Innocent

Eric wearing the t-shirt we bought in Mexico during the swine flu outbreak. It says El cerdo is inocente (the pig is innocent).

2. Fight flu before it fights you

We could never pronounce it, but we always swore by Oscillococcinum (aka Oscillo) at home so why not take it on the road? It’s actually perfect for travel since this homeopathic flu fighter is tiny, light, securely packaged, does not need to be refrigerated, is dissolved under your tongue (so there’s no need for water) and won’t interfere with any other medication you may be taking. Now that we’re in South America we’re bouncing back and forth between hot climates (Amazon Basin) to cold climates (hello, Andes). In Sogamosa, Colombia, for example, we were at 8,428 feet (2,569 meters) we were cold all the time. Karen started sneezing and aching but after four doses of Oscillo over 36 hours the flu symptoms were gone. The stuff tastes yummy too.

Oscillococcinum Oscillo homeopathic flue remedy

Flu-fighting, all-natural (and great tasting) Oscillo goes with us everywhere.

3. Know when to take a rest day

It can be difficult to “waste” a day of travel to lay low and rest up. However, knowing when to take a break can keep you healthy enough to really make the most of the rest of you trip. Slowing down for a day can also be great way to notice and absorb the subtleties of a place that can elude you when you’re traveling fast.

Relaxing in Yelapa Mexico

Eric kicking back (in the name of good travel health) near Yelapa, Mexico.

4. Remember that good doctors are all around you

Much of the world has doctors trained in the US and Europe. In many parts of the world, those doctors are skilled, talented and much, much cheaper than doctors in the US. When Karen got dengue fever in Chiang Mai, Thailand the doctor we visited at the spotless, modern hospital ordered full blood work (including platelets) and actually consulted with us for nearly 30 minutes. The total bill was less than US$4. If your preventative measures fall short, don’t try to tough it out. Go see a doctor and get back on the road.

 

We are currently working on a project with Boiron, makers of Oscillo, during which we are using their all-natural health and wellness products on the road so that we can share our honest experiences with the products with you.

 

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