Honeymoon Part 3 of 3: Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires was B’s part of the honeymoon, as he really enjoys visiting more urban places.  We stayed there for 6 days, and while originally we thought that might be too long and were thinking of making a pit stop to Iguazu Falls, it turned out to be a saving grace as B came down with a nasty stomach bug for a couple of days.  Unfortunately, we did an absolute rookie move and didn’t bring Pepto-Bismol or Tums, but learned that the equivalent of Imodium there is called Suprasec or Loperamida.  I hope this is useful for anyone that might have this while down there, since B took a couple of things that weren’t effective and… well let’s just say we can now laugh about some things that happened (though let’s face it, I laughed during because I’m a bad wifey who enjoys low-brow scenarios). 🙂

Anyway, here’s some highlights and good things to know about Buenos Aires:

Reciprocity fees – U.S. citizens will have to pay a reciprocity fee of $160 per person, and will need to sign up and pay for this online.  LAN, whom we flew with, made sure that we had this document prior to leaving Santiago, and we needed to present it to Customs.  Total cost of fees: $320

Transportation – the subway (subte) is probably the cheapest way to get around quickly ($1 for 2 people one-way), but BA is organized incredibly efficiently where each block is 1 km, so 16 blocks is one mile (as told by our tour guide that I’ll mention later).  Taxis are also relatively cheap, as we took one from La Boca to Puerto Madero, about a 15 minute ride, for about $3.  We were advised to be sure to take taxis that said “Radio Taxi” – not sure why, maybe less scammers?  The biggest hit was the transfer to and from the airport that our Air BnB hosts provided, but since the airport was pretty far from the city, it’s still reasonable.  Total cost for transportation: approximately $95, as we walked a lot.

Housing – we again used Air BnB for this trip, but this time we rented out a studio instead of just a room.  Again, I was super impressed with the studio, as it was more of a vacation rental and felt like a hotel room with the benefit of a kitchenette and rooftop pool.  The views from the balcony weren’t all that great to be honest, but everything else was awesome, clean, and the company who ran it were super nice and helpful when we needed change to do laundry or we needed help with our internet.  The location was great, as well, as it was on the main green line for the subway, and it was pretty easy to walk around everywhere.  Total cost for 6 days including AirBnB fees: $650

Tours/Excursions – the only tours we spent were the voluntary tips for the BA free walking tours.  This was equally amazing as the one in Santiago, and there were two tours available – the A.M. one with Gaston, the founder, who gave a historical and political view of Buenos Aires (plus it was during an exciting time as there was a teacher strike already on its 13th day with a lot of rallies and marches going on), and the P.M. one with Victoria which gave a cultural and social perspective.  I recommend both of them since not only are the guides engaging, but it gives you a great “Porteno” insider look into the city.  Other than this, we also did the touristy thing and bought tickets to a tango show, though we went with a cheaper version at $70/each since most run around $120-140/person.  The food wasn’t very exciting, but there’s definitely no denying that the dancers and musicians were amazingly talented – how women dance in high heels while I’m walking like a clumsy Transformer is simply awe-striking to me.  We also spent an entry fee into MALBA, a museum there, though we happened to go on a Wednesday which is half off normal fees.  Total fees for tours/excursions/shows: approximately $190

Currency – currency is really interesting in BA as they’re currently experiencing inflation of about 30%, so there’s currently two rates – the official rate which was around 8 pesos to the dollar, and the blue market rate which is about 10-11 pesos to the dollar.  If you use your ATM or credit card (as we did the first day), you’ll get charged the official rate, or you can try to exchange your dollars at the blue market.  The blue market is actually still controlled by the government so it doesn’t sound illegal, but unfortunately people, and tourists especially, can receive counterfeit money, so it’s not really advisable to use this unless you know how to distinguish the two.  Thankfully, my dad’s friend happened to be in town while we were there, and helped us get the latter rate in order for our money to go farther (plus he’s the one that gave us the tip on Suprasec).  Also, if you use credit card at restaurants, be sure to have cash for tips, as there’s no line item for that on the receipt.

Food –  food is undoubtedly the BEST part about visiting Argentina, especially if you like steak dinners or cheap eats in general.  The only thing strongly lacking were great breakfast places since most eat light breakfasts and coffees at cafes, which is plentiful there.  Thankfully, Well-Heeled Blog gave me a tip to try Oui Oui, and the breakfast there was so incredibly delicious!  We didn’t get to try as many restaurants out as we would have liked due to B’s condition, but that didn’t stop us from taking in a few steak dinners – two half rib eye steaks, salad, rolls, and bottle of wine for $47 total! – and some Italian eats (lots of Italian restaurants there).  Our favorites were Bahia Madero in Puerto Madero and La Playuca which was only a block from our place.  Oh, and don’t even get me started on the dulce de leche!  From macarons to gelato to cakes to breakfast spreads on croissants – if it had dulce de leche, I shoved it in my mouth!  Total spent on food and drinks for 6 days: approximately $465 for both of us.

Souvenirs – BA has some amazing open air markets during the weekends, but unfortunately that’s when B got sick.  He rallied enough on Sunday morning to go by the one in Recoleta, though, and we found a great tango artwork piece from a local artist.  We don’t usually spend more than $100 on our souvenir so we didn’t get the $200 one we really liked, but we both agreed to get two mini-pieces of something similar since she’s amazingly talented.  Total cost for the two pieces: approximately $120.

People – people in BA reminded me more of NY people versus Santiago’s citizens.  It’s not that they’re not nice, but I think they’re just more like city folk, if that makes sense, and the drivers can be pretty rude, already inching towards you while you’re still trying to get across the street.  There were also a lot more smokers when you’re walking down the street, and it got a little annoying if you wanted to sit outside a cafe and the table behind you lit up a cigarette.  But on the other hand, they’re also really nice if you ask them a question, and our tour guides were awesome.  We also received a lot of advice on pick pocketers and thieves, and while we didn’t experience any of that (thank goodness), we also heeded caution on keeping our bags in front of us even if a backpack, which a lot of people did.  If you’re going there soon, I can offer up a bunch of the other tips they gave us, so just let me know!

Overall, Buenos Aires gave us a great feel of what city life was like.  There’s undoubtedly a lot of great activities, but city life just isn’t for me (and in BA in particular, be sure to look out for dog poo all along the street!) so I was eager to come back home to the more laid back and sprawled out San Diego.  I love traveling and this honeymoon was such a great experience!  I hope you enjoyed the tips and pictures, and let me know if you have any questions!

Honeymoon 2 of 3: Easter Island!

Before I begin, I met The 1500’s!  Mr. and Mrs. 1500 are even more engaging, warm, and witty in person as they are on their blog, and it was such a treat to be able to meet them  (and have Mr. 1500 plant the seed of going to Yosemite after seeing his cool pics).  I say it constantly but I have to say it again – I would have never guessed that I would not only learn so much about personal finance through this blog and reading other blogs, but also meet these amazing people that I wouldn’t have normally encountered! 🙂  Okay, back to the regularly scheduled program:

When we first started this whole honeymoon planning, I bullied made a request to B if we could please visit Easter Island as I’ve been obsessed about it ever since I had to take an art history course where I learned about the Moai statues.  Once I laid my eyes on those amazing creations, I knew it was a place I wanted to visit one day.  He agreed to it easily and wanted to also tack on Santiago since the daily flight to Easter Island flew out of there, as well as Buenos Aires since he prefers visiting cities.  Had we done further research as some of the other Easter Island tourists did, we would have also probably tacked on the weekly flight from Easter Island to Tahiti, as that sounded really amazing.  However, we still got some ‘island time’ with Easter Island, and for the 3 nights of hotel, all tours, and transportation, we spent a combined total of $970.

Here’s some highlights and good things to know about Easter Island:

Reciprocity fees –Easter Island is a territory of Chile, so no reciprocity fee was paid since Chile is now part of the Visa Waiver Program!

Transportation – the only transportation we used were the vans to take us to and from the airport, and during the tours.  Otherwise, the island is pretty small and you can walk around the few blocks of the ‘main’ area.  At night, though, be sure to bring a flashlight, as you share some walkways with the main road and it’s mostly dirt.  Another tourist we met rented out a dirt bike to cruise around the island himself, and it sounds like it’s pretty pricey to do so.

Housing – We stayed at a hotel there that included a breakfast buffet every morning.  Since it’s on an island and pretty rustic (it reminded me a lot of Kauai), it was pretty basic lodging, though it was clean, had modern bathrooms, and A/C.

Tours/Excursions – the tours were undoubtedly the best part of the trip, and I think a must to learn the history and culture of Rapa Nui and the Moai statues.  There’s only about 5 or so tours total, and we did 2 half-day tours and 1 full day tour.  During the tours, you get to learn about the Bird Man competition which seemed like an extreme version of triathlons, how the Moai statues were a tribute to their ancestors and not gods, that they face the island in order to protect their inhabitants, and how all the “randomly placed” statues while walking around the park were really their factory for making the Moais!  You also get to learn how they were able to create them, transport them to and from their places (our guide stated it was something like this), and all sorts of great stories regarding them.  The tours have Spanish, French, and English speaking guides, so communication wasn’t a problem.  This was such an amazing experience and I relished this part of our honeymoon the most!

Currency – the currency is the Chilean Peso, and ATM’s and credit cards can be used with ease.  I think they also accept USD in some places, but we just stuck with CHP.

Food –  Food was pretty pricey in Easter Island at most restaurants, but if you dig a little deeper you can find some great eats for way cheaper.  We ate a delicious chicken sandwich with avocado and cream cheese for around $5, though there’s some places that would also charge $20 for a fish burger with fries.  And of course, pisco sours were present there, so we consumed those daily.  Food and drink cost for 3ish days: approximately $350 since breakfasts were free at the hotel (this was divided with Santiago, but this is a reasonable guesstimate).

Cream cheese, roasted chicken, and avo sandwich

Cream cheese, roasted chicken, and avo sandwich

Souvenirs – there’s some great artisan shops around the main area, but we didn’t really find anything we super liked.  We decided on 5 mini Moai statues made of the volcanic rocks from the island, and we’re going to place them in a framed shadow box.  Total cost not including frames: approximately $14.

People – the tour guides were really nice but we didn’t really talk to anyone else other than tourists.  The tourists were amazing, though, and came from all over the world and were traveling everywhere from Patagonia to Machu Picchu to Antarctica.  It was really enjoyable getting to know other people, plus it gave B and I something to talk about other than ourselves. 🙂

Obviously, this was my favorite part of our honeymoon and despite it being somewhat costly with airfare (around $1300 for both), I have absolutely no regrets going on this awesome adventure!  Final destination – Buenos Aires!

Honeymoon Part 1 of 3: Santiago, Chile

As indicated from my last post, I thought I would write a segment of each place we visited during our honeymoon.  The first place we visited was Santiago, Chile, followed by Easter Island and Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Since we booked airfare flying out of Tijuana, we were able to reduce our costs by about $2k.  Total airfare was $3412 for the both of us, with Easter Island taking up about 38% due to its remote location.  It took some time to come back from the border, but we only spent $20 for a taxi from the airport to the border, and $5 for the San Diego trolley to home.  If anyone is interested in good things to know about flying out of Mexico (as we paid a penalty fee for not having a departure form), just let me know!

Anyway, here’s some highlights and good things to know about Santiago:

Reciprocity fees – we learned early on if one is flying into Santiago, that we don’t need a visa but we needed to pay reciprocity fees at about $160/person (the same fee Chileans would need to pay to enter U.S.).  Well call it perfect timing, because as of late February or early March, U.S. citizens no longer have to pay the fees since Chile is now part of the Visa Waiver Program!

View from our lodging

View from our lodging

Housing – we used AirBnB to rent a room in someone’s places, since hotels are pretty pricy (the Holiday Inn Express a few blocks away was $300/night!).  This was my first experience with AirBnB and our hostess set the bar really high – homemade breads and breakfasts, two adorable kitties that we played with and made us subsequently late for some outings, cool views of the Andes, and laundry service before we left.  It did at times feel like we were being intrusive since we shared the space with her, but this was our own feelings as she made us feel extremely welcome in her home.  Total cost for 5 nights was $415.

Transportation – our Air BnB hostess advised us the most economical way to leave or arrive to the airport is to use Transvip, which is a group shuttle service, versus taxi.  We were able to reduce our costs by half, though we did have to wait around 45 minutes or so for the shuttle to be full (or leave extremely early for our departure flights).  To get around town, the subway system is pretty efficient (around $1.50 USD one way), plus if you don’t mind walking then it’s a pretty walkable city.  But oh my goodness, avoid subways if you can between rush hour from 6 to 8 p.m. if you want to avoid getting pushed and having to feel people’s sweaty backs since you’re all smooshed in together.  Total cost for transportation (including 4 transvip trips since we flew to Easter Island and then returned): approximately $112.

Tours/Excursions – we took advantage of a free walking tour in Santiago where you give voluntary tips at the end, and Felipe was awesome and super informative.  During the tour, you get a feel of the different areas and history of the city, plus it’s great exercise.  Since Santiago is pretty small, we also did two half-day excursions – one to the Andes which we didn’t think was really worth it and wish we would have visited the museums instead, and one to a vineyard which was pretty cool since you could go to the yard and taste the different types of grapes, go through the cellars, and of course have wine tastings.  We also took the gondola up to San Cristobal, which has great views of Santiago, and visiting San Lucia was free.  Total cost for tips and excursions: $240.

Currency – since Santiago has a pretty stable economy (though a huge disparity between the rich and the poor), it was pretty easy to use ATM’s if you don’t mind the $5 surcharges, and credit cards are really easy to use (at most places especially restaurants, they bring the machine with them, which I think the U.S. should definitely get on the ball with since it was really efficient).  We unfortunately became victim of counterfeit money, though, since I didn’t know how a $5000 CHP (approx. $10 USD) looked like until we tried to use it to pay for beers.  In hindsight, it was easy to spot since the seams of the transparent part weren’t clean and it felt more plastic than usual, so heed caution.

Food – food in Santiago is pretty pricey, and comparable to San Diego prices in my opinion.  The best place we went to came from a recommendation of an old resident, at Tiramisu.  It’s Italian and not Chilean food, but I had the BEST and freshest calzone I’ve ever had, with shrimp inside.  A very popular drink there is the Pisco Sour, and I’m not a huge drinker but had that at every meal since it was so good – be careful, though, the buzz kind of sneaks up on you, and 1.5 drinks was more than enough for me.  We also went to dive bars and noticed that beers there are huge bottles (1 liter?), to be shared amongst friends.  We didn’t get a chance to visit night life, but didn’t feel we necessarily missed out.  Food and drink cost for 5ish days: approximately $600 (this was divided with Easter Island, but this is a reasonable guesstimate).

Souvenirs – B and I started a tradition where we would collect a piece of artwork for every country we visited (we have a picture from Japan and Thailand, and thought we’d keep it going).  We explored artesan markets (a good one is by San Lucia between 6 and 8), and we purchased a couple of copper plates with designs on them since copper is their main export.  Total cost: approximately $60.

People – the people in Santiago are incredibly nice and was a highlight of our trip.  If you stand around with a map, people will come up and ask if you need help, and waiters especially are patient and never minded every time I said “come se dice..?” 😉  The nicest guy we encountered not only walked with us several blocks when we were looking for the subway, but got his friend on the phone who spoke English to help us find our destination.  Talk about hospitality!

Overall, we really enjoyed our stay in Santiago!  A basic knowledge of Spanish is useful, but even with my low knowledge base we got around okay.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Up next – Easter Island!

March Madness – half-marathon, honeymoon, and new job

Hi everyone – sorry I’ve been pretty MIA during March, but I’ve been gone for most of it on our honeymoon!  I thought I’d write a brief overview of what’s been going down lately.

1412442_10152004213774103_2140038726_oFirst off – a couple weekends after the wedding, I ran my first half-marathon as a Mrs.!  I was a bit worried about it since I didn’t run a long run for awhile, but despite the heat, time change, and big hill on mile 9 (which I mostly hiked up), I had a lot of fun!  B was there to meet me at the end, and while before I thought it would be my last half for awhile, now I’m on the hunt for a next one.

Also, we went on our honeymoon!  We ended up going to Santiago in Chile, Buenos Aires

Leia and Hans enjoying the Moai statues on Easter Island!

Leia and Hans enjoying the Moai statues on Easter Island!

in Argentina, and my ultimate “bucket list” destination – Easter Island!!  I’ll probably do a post on each three places since they’re all so different, and it might be useful for anyone traveling there in the future.  I had so much fun and even more motivated to continue with Spanish.  I also read quite a few “fun” books while here – The Husband’s Secret, What Alice Forgot, and The Rosie Project – all of which I really recommend.  Our aim was to spend about 50% of our gift funds and invest the rest, and I think we’re more on our way to meeting that target (knock on wood!).

And finally, I got a new job!  The day before we left, I interviewed for the position and they’ve notified that I was chosen.  I of course negotiated (I mean, all they can do is say  no, right?), and it’s a great promotion and opportunity at a different area, and I’m super excited about it!  Plus you know what this means – lifestyle inflation!!  Kidding, of course.

Anyway, I’ll write about the different honeymoon destinations soon (as well as posting money stuff including Argentina’s inflation, counterfeit money in Chile, and the cost of living in each place), but I hope everyone has been doing well and keeping up with their financial goals!  I miss y’all so much and can’t wait to catch up with each of you. 🙂

Honeymoon or Forever House?

A few weeks ago, B and I decided that for our registry, we’re primarily using Honeyfund since we’re already living in sin cohabitating and don’t need actual stuff for the house.  We threw honeymoon ideas out there, and we both agreed that South America is where we would most likely go.  Since it’s a fairly long flight plan, we thought we’d explore 2 or so weeks, so it would cost a few grand to do so.  Lately, though, he’s been mentioning that we should put any gifts towards our “forever” house instead.  I was caught a little off-guard, and responded that it would only be a small percentage towards the house, to which he stated something to the effect of, “Well like you always say, something is better than nothing!”

My only rebuttal was, “So that saying is only effective when it works towards my favor.” 😉

So I’d like to ask the reader – what would you choose?  A honeymoon or house?

First off, we don’t plan on incurring debt with our wedding, but in the event we do, we would for sure pay that off first.  But here’s some reasons for each choice:

Honeymoon:

1) We plan on starting a family fairly quickly, so I’d like to go on a nice adventure with just the two of us while we’re able-bodied before doing so (i.e., lots and lots of hiking!  Or at least sightseeing by foot).

2) I would try to find the most economical way of going to our destinations, and if we had to supplement, we’d make sure to save up for it since we’ll probably go a bit later after the wedding.  Plus, it’s South America, we would stay in modest lodging, we eat on the cheap, not big drinkers, and I don’t really buy souvenirs (though we do buy one artsy piece from international destinations), so we’d get our money’s worth.

3) We could easily squeeze in a kid in our current “starter” place if we’re blessed with one, though we’d most likely need a bigger place after that if we hopefully have more.

4) I value experiences and travel over things, though realize my partner might value long-term things more than experiences.

House:

1) We’d be able to get to our goal for our forever house faster.

2) A house is a long-term investment versus a fleeting two weeks.

3) We could still go on a honeymoon, but perhaps a domestic one. (digression: we have kind of an aeronautical theme, and when I suggested having passports as our invites, B responded with “but you don’t need a passport for domestic flights.”  Darn his pragmatism for dashing my creativity! ;))

4) I suppose it’s the more fiscally responsible thing to do, especially with how expensive it is to raise children these days.

So readers, what do you think or what would you do?  I’d really like to know (unless you’re on Team Forever House, then you can sit this one out.  Kidding, of course – I’m curious at others’ reasoning with their choices!).

Recharged in Seattle

The past week, I was able to take a nice getaway to Seattle.  It was B’s birthday, and though it was overcast the first three days, the last few were beautiful and sunny, which is exactly what I needed for some recharging and relaxation!  Highlights from the trip include, but are not limited to:

1) I made my first cake-sized… well, cake!  I mostly stick with quick breads and cookies, but was kind of proud to be able to make B’s family’s favorite.  They all loved it, though, really, I don’t think anyone can mess up copious amounts of butter, sugar, and cream cheese.

2) I was able to unplug and read or watch trash TV (since B’s family gets channels we don’t get at home), and it was so nice to curl up and do this during the overcast days.  We also took the family to see Red 2 and it was pretty hilarious – I love me some John Malkovich!

3) We happened to be there while it was free museum day around Seattle (first Thursday of the month), so it was nice to be able to take in some culture.

4) We were supposed to go to Sea Fair on B’s birthday, but unfortunately his friend couldn’t get his boat up on time.  So, we opted for a hike with friends instead, and it was beautiful and challenging though short (less than 2 hours).  You’ll notice in the group pic that B decided to play thumb war (see #7) with me when the person counted to three… for the record, I didn’t fight it since who wants to see a grown man cry on his birthday.

5) I met GMD!!!  I was bummed because J’s car was broken into so I wasn’t able to hang with her for very long, but she is as sweet, awesome, and beautiful as she is on the interwebs!  I tend to imagine what people’s voices are like when I read their blogs, and I imagined hers to be charismatic, bubbly, and cheerful, mostly because her posts are always as such.  I thought I’d share that with her, but the words that decided to exit my mouth to convey this is “You sound like the girl in Clueless!”  Hi foot – meet mouth!  Thankfully, GMD understood what I meant, and it was great to finally meet her.  When we walked into the coffee store, I looked way up to spot J since he’s like 12 feet tall, but it turns out it wasn’t hard to spot GMD since her smile totally lights up the room.  She also doesn’t look anywhere near 30, so she needs to quit her trippin’. 😉  Her charming ways will definitely take her places!

6) I went on the Underground Tour, and it was meh.  The tour guides totally make the tour, but the tour wasn’t anything too spectacular.  It was still pretty interesting though, and my favorite historical tidbit was (spoiler alert) the most influential and wealthiest Madame back in the day had no one to leave her inheritance of a quarter of million dollars to, so it ended up funding the school systems.  Knowledge!

Here’s some pics, enjoy!

Anyone else had or will have fun summer getaways this year?

Anza-Borrego, California

This weekend I had a chance to reconnect with Mother Nature at one of my favorite desert areas, Anza-Borrego.  It’s about a 1.5-2 hour drive southeast of San Diego, and there’s a diverse range of activities you can do there.  There’s a lot of big wheel trucks and bikers in certain areas, but there’s also a lot of amazing hiking routes there.  It’s challenging in the sense that you have to create your trails most of the time, especially if you want to go uphill, so you really need to have a handle on navigating.  But from the slot canyons to the loose sand to to the boulder-filled mountains, you can get a good workout and amazing views with some careful research and a sense of adventure.

The best part is that camping is free though very primitive (though there are camping areas where you have to pay, but at least they have port-a-potties or bathrooms).  It’s usually best to car camp by setting up a tent on a truck bed since some areas have coyotes, but it’s so peaceful and gives you a good head start for the next morning’s hike.  A notable spot is the Marshall South Home, where a family lived in Anza for years.  Some of the house remains on Ghost Mountain, and it’s crazy to envision a family self-sustaining there for years since the nearest town was miles away.  To go to the house, you have to go on a mile hike upwards, so for him to build a house and carry all the material back and forth is just amazing to think about – talk about frugality and living off the grid!

I took a purist approach to this round (okay, okay, so it was unwillingly as I had my gadgets taken away from me so I could focus on time), but here’s some of my favorite pics of Anza from adventures’ past:

I hope everyone has a terrific Easter if you celebrate, and an awesome weekend to everyone in general!