Friday, 26 June 2015

My AirBnB Experience in United States of America

With the price of hostel going up sky rocket crazy in USA, I checked out AirBnB just for fun and surprisingly it could be equal or cheaper than a hostel in certain towns in the states. USA can be huge and hostels are not everywhere and even at big cities like New York, sometimes competitiveness rise the prices and allows for locals to share a couch space for a fee a fraction of a hostel dorm.  

So my first experience with AirBnB was in the states in Atlanta where there was no hostels available. No harm trying I guess and proceeded to register an account and book the first AirBnB stay. It was my first time and I had no idea how the AirBnB system works. Apparently you have to book them online only but a booking is not automatically confirmed. One had to wait for the owner to reply to the booking. It’s like sending an email to someone asking them if you can stay at their place for a fee and they would decide if you are welcome or not regardless of the money.  
The single bed in a shared room I booked for USD 35 in Atlanta was slightly out of town but still reachable by tubes and busses. This was the second hidden pitfall of AirBnB … the place are peoples house and they can be really really far from city centre sometimes. In less than half an hour I had a reply from the owner Tim whom had accepted my booking request. Lockbox code was 1234 he said. Just let yourself in pick a made bed and make yourself at home.
I never saw Tim the owner or any other representative the whole 4 days I was there. Even Happy whom tag along with me for the AirBnB experience find it a wondrous experience. We met different people going in and out of the place, travellers of different sorts using the AirBnB instead of a hotel but never the owner. Tim the owner wasted no space as well. He had beds everywhere in the house. Everywhere he could place a bed he had them, in rooms, in living rooms, study room, and even in common corridor separated skilfully with a curtain.
My next AirBnB experience was in Knoxville. Again a place in USA without a hostel. Mily was a student in the University of Knoxville. She was renting a portion of space upstairs a house from an owner and using AirBnB to lower her rent, apart from meeting cool people from everywhere. She actually picked me up from the bus stop. I later realized it was really far from the city centre …. A good 2 hours walk which was not doable on your first touchdown in the middle of the night.
I stayed in her erm …. Living room / study room / kitchen …. It was a one bedroom studio kinda set up so I was in the common area. She told me that sometimes she actually let out her own bed instead to couples or more people and she herself sleep at the foldable single spring-bed which I occupied in the living room while they were here.
Last AirBnB stay was actually in Philadelphia. I tend to stay in hostels if there is one since it is usually more nearer to the city centre. Also most people rent AirBnB as a whole unit for family getaways like a mini villa but I was using the more unorthodox method on AirBnB where people rent out a couch or a bed or a floor space. After travelling so long, I have a little fear of the awkward silence …. Rather silence than awkward silence.
Philly AirBnB was like a Hostel. Same trick with the electronic keypad lock number which was email the day before I checked in. Never saw the owners and the whole house was set up exactly how a typical hostel would. Only different was there was no reception and you won’t find them in any of the usual hostelworld or hostelbookers website.
I find the AirBnB experience a magical one …. a network places of safe zone where the more adventurous off the beaten track travellers can utilized. It was also like a check point where locals could use to stave off the big cooperation network of hotels or hostels and a place where travellers could support the local economy instead of a businessman.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Why did I Go to Tampa?

I got asked that question a lot of times when I told people I went to Tampa when I was in the USA. I wanted to visit a small town in the States. I was tired of always seeing the big cities in all the states. I dunnu it was along the way? I dun remember the exact reason that persuade me to go to Tampa instead of Orlando (it was either this or that) but I dun regret stopping and visiting the small petite town of Tampa Florida.


Tampa was a nice small American town/city which you could see in one day. When I say one day I mean the centre of Tampa. The rest of its suburban area is plain repetitive American housing estates with its run down white picket fence.
The highlights of Tampa of course was the historical city of Ybar. A nightlife street of about 10 blocks with pubs and country music and local Cuban hand rolled cigars. The place was preserved as an historical town of Cuban culture. When it comes to the states this external preserved culture was a rare treat for almost every other immigrant culture that enters the states was to be localized into American standards.

I stayed there for 3 nights. A nice place to relax and just no nothing with a little sightseeing to be done. Hop a ride on the old trolley bus, walk the gardens by the river and visit the monuments of the city which was barely a handful.
Partly I needed some rest but mostly I was cracking my head in research on where to go next. USA is not the most backpacker friendly country. I was having trouble plotting a route though the states, trying to find places that had Hostels and cheap long distance bus to the next stop which was a rarity.

I ended up plotting the next route for Atlanta. I also picked up a travel buddy in Tampa. A nice old chap I would call Happy. Happy decided to crash my first time experience of AirBnB in Atlanta. I was going to Atlanta and it was to be my first time using AirBnB, and his too so we were going to brave it together the unknown waters.
Next Post : My AirBnB Experience in USA

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Miami Olala …

Miami was hwat. The people was all about the party in Miami or at lease at Miami Beach where I stayed. Everyone goes there with a mission even the girls. Show off the skins and the curve lines of the body and just make the guys go crazy but even the guys would all work out with their muscular body showing them off at the beaches making the girls go crazy. So in one word Miami Beach was filled with high sexual atmosphere.
Miami Beach

For ugly people alone …. This is not the place to be. If you have a partner …. You could still work it out feeding off the energy. The other thing about Miami Beach was the fakeness feel that I got. Everyone was somehow trying to show off. I saw so many Harley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Tesla, which I thought this was ridicules ’till I realized most of them were probably rented. Miami was Party Party Party, hook ups, drinks, and of course sightseeing and tours
I did consider doing a tour, everglades or the tour bus or even the aquarium. But USA if I though was reasonably priced 3 years ago is now expensive due to inflation. I ended up just walking all about the 3 days I was in Miami and of course visit a casino.

Miami Beach was almost what you see on TV but then Miami was not just about the beach. Heading to downtown and slightly outskirts of downtown I realized Miami was really interesting in a way. It felt like I was back in South America where everything was in Spanish first then English. Slightly out of town and suddenly all the glitz and glamour fade away and all signboards, billboards were in Spanish and some with no translation at all. People you walk by speaks mostly Spanish and these were really locals for I had wondered far away from the tourist spots that you could tell they were really local immigrant.
Only difference is that although it look Spanish, feels Spanish the build was definitely American. I could start with Ola and finish with English and they would still understand clearly. It was a nice place for the perfect blend of Latin America friendliness and American hospitality. Only thing was outside the tourist area most places are just quiet and almost dead like all American towns. Big and empty.

The hostel I stayed provided breakfast which was just toast and coffee, but they also provided lunch and dinner. I am not shitting you …. For the price of USD 35 a bunk bed and 3 meals a day. I thought it was amazing since you get lunch and dinner but it felt a bit like a soup kitchen where everyone rush to get food before it runs out. Thinking I would capitalized on it I tried to extend my stay at the hostel but only to find out they have jack the price up to USD 56 a night for it was spring break and there was a music festival coming up soon. So no to that and I got on the bus to Tampa

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Entering US Via Miami – Immigration & Customs

Flight out from Santiago to Miami and the start of my next leg of the journey, United States of America. Sincerely I regret deciding to visit the states a second time. If not for the expensive Visa to the states that made me think twice “I should use this Visa more than Once I thought” I would have skipped the states entirely.

Why am I not surprise that going through immigration and customs in the USA was going to be a bitch. It took me a total of 2 hours just to get out of the airport clearing all the security checks. Bad enough that we all had to queue up waiting long times (nearly 20 minutes) before meeting the immigration officer, he then proceed to scrutinized everything and eventually ask me to stand aside for another officer to pick me up and usher me to a back room.
Oh shit now I am in trouble. Into the small corridor and a small door which opens to another room that looks like a separate immigration office. My passport was passed around and after waiting about 5 minutes I was called up to the counter to be question again by a different officer. More drilling questions on where I went, how long I was going to stay, if I have a flight ticket out of USA, if I knew exactly where I would be going and where I would be staying, am I employed, how much money I have, how in hell did I afford this trip … zzz … I fumble a few of the questions for I really did not finalized my travel plans in USA but upon producing the RTW ticket I could see the officer relax a little as if I have finally given her a reason to let me through.

So much waiting at the counter while she typed in every single detail of information into the computer. I decided to test the waters and asked her if it was because I was travelling alone that they all got really paranoid. She nicely spat me with a question.
Do you know how many single travellers come through each day?

End of my playing with fire and just kept quiet my eyes following her every action and hope went up when I saw the hand reached for the stamp. Hope it’s an entry stamp and not a rejection one. If you pass the scrutiny like I did; they generously gave me 6 months tourist entry visa although I only needed a month. Welcome to the States ….

I though the hard part was done and moved on to collect my bag which was the few last bags lying on the conveyor belt. Inspected the bag and all was good and reshuffle my stuff before heading towards the customs.
The nice chap immediately directed me to the full body search section after two questions. I must look more suspicious than I thought ….

The full search section which I groaned for I saw peoples bag in front of me totally striped open and searched by hand. A suitcase could be packed back quite easily and fast but a backpack was going to be a pain in the ass. When my turn came thou the officer gestured me to hold on to my bag first while he began the process of grilling me with the same set of questions from the 3 officers before plus now a bunch load of customs questions such as how much money you are carrying and if you have any food or illegal stuff.
Show me the money he said …. For I could not remember exactly how much I had on me but I knew I was below the limit. Opening my first hiding place where all the loose change currency money was stashed …. He waves me to stop …. Genuine backpacker …. At lease this officer had some sense …

When he was finally satisfied he then asked for the backpack and I knew I could not avoid the repacking. Just before I opened it the officer decided to chuck it into the scanner machine instead giving me some comfort. All good and I was done with immigration and customs. A nice 2 hours in the airport. If I were to have a connecting flight, I would have definitely missed it.
For a moment I miss the efficiency of 3rd world country such as back home.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Short Stop in Puerto Varas

Once I arrived Puerto Montt I had a choice, to stay or to leave immediately for Puerto Varas. I decided to walk around for an hour with my full backpack and scout out Puerto Montt to see if it was worth a night stay. Within half an hour I decided to leave for Puerto Varas.

The microbus ride was a short one about 20 minutes and cost me 800 peso. When the bus exited the highway towards Puerto Varas I could immediately feel that this was a preserved town and slightly skewered towards tourist or the local tourist kind.
Houses and shops walls were built in the style using overlapping planks of wood to allow for water drainage, each unit painted to a distinct colour making the whole town looks candylicious. The roof were the same or sometime modernized to include metal sheets. Downtown was rustic and live were moving slower here, fewer automobiles and cleaner air.

Best thing to do in Puerto Varas …. Find a coffee or lunch shop near the lake and enjoy the view of Mount Osaro with its snow cape peak. Walking around Puerto Varas which was pretty small town was a delight on its own if you appreciate quiet and peaceful rows after rows of old houses in its old form.
Bus Station in Puerto Varas
Hunt for a bus ticket to Santiago further surprised me. There was no central bus station in Puerto Varas although the local tourist map marked it out. Bus Company all have their own individual place where the bus would stop or pick up and mostly it was just a house along a street. That was how quint Puerto Varas is. I manage to get a ticket for the next day to Santiago at night for a mere 15000 peso. Another nice surprise since I knew from Puerto Montt it would had cost at least 25000.

Looking at Mount Osaro from Puerto Varas