Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink 

Travelers often ask “Is the water here OK to drink?” Often the answer is no…or it should be. In Costa Rica in 2010 I was overwhelmingly told that the water was fine to drink. I drank it. I suffered. I’m no longer so trusting when people tell me the water is good. 

So what can travelers and hostels do to best solve the drinkable water delima? 

Travelers have a few options: 

1) Buy water bottles-This Is a common solution, but, in my opinion, it isn’t the best option…at least not for longer trips. Bottled water creates waste, and having to go to the store to get your drinking water can be inconvenient. This is also likely the most costly option long term. 

2) Bring a water filter- A water filter allows you to make the tap water drinkable. Teo and I used the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter when we traveled through Panama and Costa Rica a couple years back, and we loved it. This filter cost about $50 USD, but you make this money up by not paying for water. Con-It’s a little bit of a hassle to filter the water. The bags are best filled in running water, and we sometimes spilled when squeezing into bottles. After many uses it’s easy to wear a hole in the bag. Pro-You can also use your filter to drink from lakes or streams, and it’s faster than a SteriPEN. For me, this option takes 2nd place. 



3) Bring a SteriPEN- This is my winner. This small UV light makes tap water or any water without sediment drinkable and is small and easy to use. We have the Ultra model which cost about $100 USD and can be charged via USB. Again, this cost can be made up long term. Cons-the pen doesn’t filter out debris, so it’s not quiet as good for streams/lakes (you’ll likely want to pre-filter), and it takes 90secs to clean 1liter, so it’s not ideal for big groups (for big groups I would recommend the sawyer filter). *



Hostels have some options as well: 

1) Leave it up to the guests-this option isn’t awful, but it adds nothing to your guests’ experience.

2) Sell water bottles-This option is Ok, but not my favorite. It’s more convenient for guests than offering nothing, and maybe the hostel makes a little money, but again–waste. And you may come across as greedy.

3) Filter or water dispenser- For me this is the clear winner. It’s convenient and environmentally friendly. Local Hostel in Manaus has a water filter by their reception and it was such a treat to have cold drinking water at our finger tips while we were there (to read more about our stay at local hostel see our post about the hostel). We’ve also stayed at hostels (Including Lighthouse Hostel in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) that have a big office-style water bottle in a dispenser where guests can refill for free. Red Psych Llama Hostel in Lima, Peru had one such water dispenser and asked for a contribution of 1 sol (.33 USD in March 2015) for each refill (pictured below). Obviously guest prefer free water, but I still thought this system was good, especially since 1 sol coins are easy to come by. 



* We try to always be aware of what contamination might be in the water and make our water treatment decision on a case to case basis. While in Lima we opted to refill from the bottled water at the hostel rather than using the SteriPEN on tap water bc we read that there was a lot of heavy metals and chlorine in the water. 

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The #1 Danger of Staying in a Hostel Dormroom

Emily and I have been staying in a private room in a hostel for the past few nights, which is nice but also makes it a little more difficult to meet other hostel guests. And one of our favorite things in a hostel is the opportunity to meet other travelers from around the world. At breakfast this morning when we talked to a german traveler at breakfast, we were reminded of one of the benefits of being in a private and not a dorm.

“I hardly slept all night,” she said, with bags under her eyes. “The new guy in the room snored all night. None of us could sleep and it was so bad we woke him up five times in the middle of the night, trying to get him to stop. But it was of no use.”

“Do you have earplugs?” I asked.

“Yes and it didn’t help. I’ve never heard anyone snore like that in all my life!”

The enterprising hostel manager used this opportunity to suggest that she and her boyfriend pay a little more and move in to the private (which we are vacating this morning) for their last two nights. They accepted the offer.

Unfortunately, if you stay in enough dorm rooms you are bound to come across a world-class snorer at some point. They’ll shake the bed with their breathing and the walls will tremble with every exhale. And while with that type of snorer there may be no true solution, we think it’s a good idea for a hostel to have earplugs available for their guests. We’ve thought about having a sign in the reception area that says something like, “Someone snoring in your dorm room? Don’t get mad, get earplugs! Free upon request.”

Happy sleeping!

The Lighthouse Hostel: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For our first few nights in Rio, we stayed at The Lighthouse Hostel near Ipanema Beach. We enjoyed our stay, but this is a hostel that is all about “Location, location, location!”

Whereas our favorite hostel in Uruguay, Hostel de la Viuda, was about a thirty minute walk from the beach, The Lighthouse is about five minutes from the beach. And not just any beach, but the world famous “girl-from-Ipanema” Ipanema beach, right next to the Copacabana (hottest spot north of Havana?). There are great restaurants and shops and views just blocks away! And the hostel is tucked into a little side street “village” of hostels and houses that feels pretty safe in the midst of all the fun going on around it. This hostel is simple and aging but an excellent point of departure for a traveler in Rio.

We paid almost $70 a night for their one private double room. I gotta admit, writing that makes me think, “We paid what?” We’ve stayed in much nicer for that. Maybe there was a better deal out there. Probably. (Actually, I just checked and it looks like we could have gotten a nicer Airbnb room for a similar price). But we decided we wanted to be in Ipanema and this is what we found-and the price is more or less appropriate. If it were in a bad location, we would not have been as pleased-but we were pretty happy there.

The ammenities there are pretty much good. The mattress is acceptably comfortable. The two full bathrooms are kept clean enough and are sufficient for the guests in their six dorm beds and one double bed. They have hot water. The WiFi is actually some of the best we’ve seen on our trip. They also have a good computer available downstairs. In the private there’s an okay AC unit, and in the dorm too, but in the dorm they ask that it only be used at night. For breakfast there was fresh fruit, fresh bread, guava paste, cheese, ham, coffee, milk and a George Foreman panini press. There is a cable tv in the private room – if you like that sort of thing – and also in the main living area.

I give them extra credit for the staff, particularly for Alex who manages the place in the mornings. They aren’t really professional, but they are very nice. Alex is super friendly and really enthusiastic about helping guests have a good time. I think bad staff could sink this place, but they have some good kind people working there. Warm and welcoming.

All in all, The Lighthouse is a reminder of what a great asset location can be for a hostel.

On Favela Tours (or, “I went so you don’t have to”)

My blog is about hostels, and I think it is relevant to my readers in that it discusses ethics and tourism. For my wife and me, it put into words what we were feeling with regard to the favela tours and helped confirm our decision not to go on one while in Brazil.

Americas South and North

I’ve long been a critic of favela tours, for any number of reasons, few of which are likely unique: it objectifies the poor; it is voyeuristic; it reinforces a so-called “First World”/“Third World” dichotomy that objectifies both the poor and those in “developing countries” (a term as loaded and barely better than “Third World”); it fails to connect local poverty to broader national and global issues and economics; it rarely provides tourists an opportunity to hear the voices of those who live in the favelas, instead relying on tour guides to “interpret”; and they fail to connect local poverty to broader national and global systems that allow for such poverty to exist and that often implicate and involve the tourists themselves, be it directly or indirectly.

In an attempt to perhaps placate and alleviate some of the guilt the (relatively wealthier) tourist may feel, some favela tours insist that the…

View original post 2,170 more words

Local Hostel: Manaus, Brazil

Emily and I stayed at Local Hostel in Manaus the night before we went on a jungle tour and also the night after. The first night, we stayed in a private room with an ensuite bathroom and the second night we stayed in a six-person dorm room. We really enjoyed our stay. As we looked around, we felt like someone had taken all the notes we’ve been writing on our trip and used them for this hostel. When we asked one of the owners, Matheus, how they found so many good ideas he said they picked up the ideas while traveling and staying in other hostels–just like us! We shouldn’t have been surprised.

One of our favorite things about the hostel was the painted art on the walls. Apparently, they had a visit from an international group of artists who offered to do some artwork for them in exchange for accomodations. I think the hostel got a real deal. The artists took the blank walls and made them vibrant with color. Each room is styled around a different type of Amazon tree.

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The hostel is kept very clean and there was always someone behind the desk and ready to help with whatever was needed. They provide cold filtered drinking water for free to their guests. They have an open air area with café tables on the main floor, and also a really nice terrace on the roof. They also have discounts arranged with local restaurants, including a great buffet-style vegetarian place just a few blocks away (we are always very happy to find vegetarian food, especially with a discount!).

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They have a pretty good breakfast selection at the hostel in the morning with coffee, hot milk, juices, breads, cheese, fruit, ham, cakes, guava paste, and scrambled eggs among maybe some other items. I particularly liked that they included a Panini press, with which I made myself a delicious cheese and guava paste panini. I wish I had a picture of the breakfast!

The private room we stayed in was simple, but clean and comfortable. I have a travel pillow that I often use in hostels, but they had thick pillows on the firm mattress and I left mine in my backpack. The room also had an air conditioning unit that looked brand new.

On our second night there, I was really excited to walk into the dorm room and see that their bunks were pod-style, with a curtain that gives you a bit more privacy in your bunk (it doesn’t go all the way around, but it’s still nice and protects you from flashlight beams when your roommate gets up at 6:30am to leave for his jungle tour). I had only read about pods on other blogs, so it was cool to experience them!

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We were so impressed with this hostel, and when we told Matheus and Daniel (two of the owners) that we have a dream of opening our own hostel one day, they offered to share some of the things they’ve learned in their first year (it will be a full year in March) with their own hostel. They also let us bounce some of our ideas off them. I will share more about that conversation in a sec, but I have to say that we just thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and only wish we could have met the other owner, Camilla, as well.

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I don’t want to go into the minutiae, but there were so many little things that made this hostel great. The outlets and reading lights at the head of every dorm bed. The bucket of free earplugs. Such attention to detail.

Matheus and Daniel shared some of the failures and successes of their first year. They told us how they had booked some beds in the hostel for last March but the hostel wasn’t even totally ready when those guests arrived! They said how back in those days a guest might ask for a pot to cook with in the kitchen, and they would run to the store and buy one. They told us how Manaus (like various parts of Brazil) sometimes has public water shortages, and a hostel goes through a LOT of water. They hope to install a well soon, which should make sure there are no more water problems for them in the future– and the well should pay for itself in no time as their city water bill will drop significantly. They talked with us about working with different booking websites, and the software they use for booking guests. They now use a software they paid for, but apparently Hostelworld has a really good free software that they recommend when starting out. They told us how they’ve found that having a guitar available for guest use has been awesome when a talented musician comes through. They often play for the other guests and it really brings people together. They shared how it isn’t too hard or expensive to make pizza for a pizza night from time to time, when the hostel isn’t full. As graduates of a hotel management program, and rookie hostel owners, these guys just really had a wealth of wisdom and enthusiasm to share. We finished the conversation wanting to start our own hostel, more than ever.

Matheus and Daniel did offer one caveat, though. Running a hostel is hard work. They didn’t dwell on it, but we appreciated their candor in saying that we should remember that it’s a 24 hour job and can really take over your life if you let it. Be prepared to be exhausted!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Local Hostel. It has a professional but comfy feeling that may be something like we’d want for our own hostel one day. And the notes we have from our conversation with the owners will be invaluable whenever we make our hostel dream a reality.

Obrigado, Local Hostel!

http://www.localhostel.com.br/

Che Lagarto

We haven’t stayed in a lot of chain hostels, and as far as we are aware Che Lagarto is the first one we’ve stayed at on this trip. They have locations all over South America, and the one we stayed at was in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil.

I’ll start off by saying this isn’t really the kind of hostel that we would like to open, but they definitely do what they do very well. The place has the architecture and design of a fairly pricey South American apartment building. It reminded me of an apartment I rented in Palermo Hollywood, in Buenos Aires. The style is very modern, and pretty much looks like a hotel. It has about eight floors, so tons of rooms!

Everything was super clean, spotless really. The staff members enthusiastically greeted us with huge smiles. But that said, you get the impression they have to do that. It’s like being at Disney or something. Our room had four single beds in it, as opposed to the typical bunk beds we’re used to. There was AC in the room and an ensuite bathroom.

Entertainment-wise, they had a floor with a couple of computers, a pool table, a foosball table and a big screen tv. They also had a television in the room, which we a thought was overkill, and kinda annoying. Another guest asked if it would annoy us if she watched tv after we went to bed and we felt bad when we said yes, but it would have annoyed us. What are the chances that four strangers who speak differet languages want to watch the same programs at the same time of day, and can agree on who gets the remote? Sounds like a catalyst for dorm-room conflict to me.

Each night they have a happy hour on the roof by their pool and jacuzzi, with free caipirinhas. We think a free alcohol hour is generally a good idea for a hostel.

Their kitchen was spotless and impressive. Fully stocked. We liked that they had magnetic strips for the serving spoons, spatulas, etc. It made them easier to find and less cluttered.

Oh, and they had key-cards for entering the rooms! We haven’t seen that at other hostels!

Unfortunately, we had to leave too early to eat breakfast, but we heard it was great.

All that said, we felt like this hostel caters to a partying type of traveler that is used to staying in hotels. It felt too industrial or something. People hung out, but it didn’t feel like home, or like a family.

I would definitely recommend a stay at a Che Lagarto, but we won’t be modeling our hostel after them.

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Review: Nomads – Puerto Iguazú

While in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, Emily and I stayed at Nomads hostel. We spent two nights in a private room, and had a pleasant experience. We were pleased, but wouldn’t say it’s one of our favorites. http://www.nomadshosteliguazu.com/

It is located near the bus station, which is a plus.

All the staff we interacted with there was really kind and helpful. Their breakfast is pretty typical for Argentina, except that they had someone to manage the whole breakfast station and seating area each morning, and she brought bread to your table, cake, and juice. The juice tasted fresh squeezed. The coffee was typical self-serve, dark coffee and hot milk.

There is a small pool, much like we’ve seen at other hostels. Might be nice on a hot day. It’s too bad there isn’t more room to just hang out around the pool. There is one hammock nearby.

There was a quality air-conditioning unit in the room that we used and appreciated (see previous post).

We didn’t meet as many people there, and I think that’s for a number of reasons. People are gone, exploring the falls during the day and that can wear you out. Also, since we were in a private room, we were separate from other hostel guests. I think staying in private rooms can have that effect, but some of our favorite hostels find a way to overcome that with really inviting common spaces.

All in all, this is a quality hostel and we had a good experience.

In the next post, I plan to write about our experience at Che Lagarto in Brazil!

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3 FOR – 3 AGAINST: Air Conditioning in a Hostel

A 20 hour bus ride brought my wife and me from Buenos Aires to Iguazú, Argentina. We arrived this morning and the heat and humidity caught us off guard. When we checked into our hostel and the room had a quality, functioning AC unit, it seemed luxurious.

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As we’ve thought about building our own hostel in Central America, AC is definitely something we should consider. Some people may even expect it. Here’s how we see the pros and cons…

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PROS

1. A lot of people are not used to heat and humidity, and they will be very appreciative if they have some climate control. It will help them sleep, which is a big part of why they’re there. So, yeah, happier guests.

2. I think AC units also help get rid of humidity, which can help keep mold from growing and destroying matresses and other things.

3. A hostel can probably charge more if they have AC, and the unit will probably pay for itself in the long run.

CONS

1. In a dorm room, an AC unit can be a catalyst for conflict. If people disagree about what setting to use, or whether or not to use it at all, it could be a problem.

2. People hate bad air conditioning units. If you say you have AC, and it doesn’t work well, they will complain about it when they write a review. If a hostel spends the money on an AC Unit, they should spend what’s necessary to get a quality unit and maintain it.

3. Some people don’t want AC! It uses electricity and it’s not good for the environment. It makes noise. A lot of hostel guests would go to a hotel if they wanted one, but they come to a hostel because it’s more raw and down to earth. They want to experience the new country, not shield themselves from it.

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I think this is something we’ll want to research more, but if I had to decide now I think I would have AC in my private rooms and no AC in the dorm rooms. Maybe then I’d have something to offer everyone.

What do you think?

I guess every hostel can’t be amazeballs

Emily and I have been spoiled by the really great hostels we’ve been staying in since we started our trip. The last hostel we stayed in, Hostel de la Viuda, was particularly awesome, so when we arrived at a more mediocre hostel, we were kinda disappointed. I am not going to name the hostel, because I don’t want to cause them harm (I will leave a review on a review site), I do want to write about why we weren’t so impressed.

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The hostel, which has a an 87% rating on Hostelworld, is located in Montevideo Ciudad Vieja, and the location is pretty good. It’s located near the Museo de Carnaval, where you can see a “tablado” in January and February during Carnaval. Cruise ships dock in the port in their tourist season, so there are lots of little shops and restaurants to cater to tourists.* Just down the street from the hostel you can rent bikes to tour the city, or you can take a bus to just about anywhere, it seemed, from a bus stop just around the corner.

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Our interaction with the staff was really positive. They answered our questions with a smile, and went out of their way to make sure we understood what they said to us.

It’s an old building, which is to be expected in this neighborhood, and they’ve put some effort into making the common areas more welcoming with some decorations and lots of plants. They also have a decent kitchen and dining area.

Their breakfast was okay, pretty typical for what we’ve seen in Argentina and Uruguay, except that they had Nescafé and hot water instead of dark coffee and hot milk. I did like that they had some frosted flakes in their cereal offerings and not just corn flakes.

So far, so good.

But despite those positive elements, we immediately felt like something was missing. I think the hostel was lacking in the “vibe” department. We can’t totally explain why, but guests didn’t seem to talk much to other guests they didn’t know. There was also no music, and I think even just a little bit of quiet music would have brightened the mood. Maybe an album by Uruguayan Grammy winner Jorge Drexler? Forgive the cliché, but the silence in that place was loud!

But despite the silence there was also a noise problem. We tried to take a nap shortly after our arrival, and it was difficult due to a hammering sound that reverberated through the walls. I think someone may have been doing construction next door. The acoustics of the place allowed lots of noise to reach our room, whether it was someone cooking in the kitchen, or just talking in their dorm. Maybe that’s why there was no music.

There were also some disappointments in the cleanliness area. In one of the men’s showers, there was black mold growing in the crevices of the folds of the accordion style door. When I touched it with my finger, it came off easily, making it appear that they don’t do a thorough cleaning. Next to the showers, the men’s stalls with toilets smelled so bad I couldn’t bare to use them. Thankfully there was another unisex bathroom near their patio. My wife also just commented about the awkwardness of the main bathroom with the showers. It’s hard to explain but their was a common sink area but then two small parallel hallways with accordion doors leading to individual stalls and showers, it was cramped and didn’t feel very private.

Furthermore, when we returned to our room (a “two person dorm”) we were greeted by a mouse that hid under my backpack and then scurried into a hole in the wall. I am sure a mouse could end up in any building, but my wife was kinda unnerved by our unexpected third roommate.

So lastly comes the price. We paid $20 a bed, which was just entirely too much, if you ask me. I might not have been disappointed if we had paid half that, or if their Hostelworld rating was lower, maybe we wouldn’t have had such high expectations. Unfortunately, as a fairly expensive hostel, it just didn’t deliver.
*One of the shops is an excellent boutique bookstore called Moebius, found at Pérez Castellano 1432. It has an eclectic selection of Spanish language books, and I recommend a visit to anyone staying in Montevideo Viejo.

Destino: Hostel de la Viuda

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Emily and I arrived in Punta Diablo a little earlier than planned, and we were able to send an e-mail off, using our bus’s WiFi to let Sebastián know. Sebastián is the owner (or manager?) of the hostel, Hostel de la Viuda. He showed up to pick us up in his truck not long after.

The hostel is a bit far from the beach, but that didn’t matter so much because the hostel is just so awesome. It’s a destination in its own right.

First I’ll review it according to the list of “five things” we look for in a hostel that we posted in an earlier blog.

#1 Rating

When it comes to rating, this hostel is a clear winner. With hundreds of reviews on TripAdvisor and Hostelworld averaging out to 4.5/5 stars and a 93%, respectively, we had high expectations.

#2 Price

We paid around $16 each per night in a room with three bunks. I think that’s a good, fair price for high season. That said, I checked today and you can get a bed in a room with five bunks for $11 on Trip Advisor, and $12 on Hostelworld. I think that’s a steal! Either way, the hostel wins in the price department.

#3 Location

Punta del Diablo is a small, chill beach town. The beaches aren’t bad, and the best part is that you don’t have to share them with crowds, especially if you walk just a bit. This is not Punta del Este, which is a plus, for me. Nearby, about an hour by bike, is Santa Teresa, a national park with a bird sanctuary, an old Spanish fort and more beaches. The hostel is on the outskirts of Punta del Diablo, about 15 or twenty minutes away from the beach, walking. If it were closer it would be better, but the location is okay, and the general location is great for a few days of relaxation.

#4 Community

Hostel de la Viuda hits this one out of the park. They have so many places for guests to mingle: the living area, dining area, kitchen, back porch, two-story terrace, several groups of hammocks, THE POOL, firepit, building with a billiards table, and a building in the back of the property with a foosball table where they encourage people to hang out if they stay up late. The hostel also has a very well-stocked, clean kitchen which means allows lots of guests to cook and eat dinner together. They have snacks and drinks available so you don’t have to leave for those things. All in all they give a space that really encourages a community to form in their hostel.

#5 Cleanliness

Hostel de la Viuda appears to follow a very organized, daily cleaning regimen. Every morning the clean all the floors and bathrooms. They lift the cushions off the couches to clean them. They sweep at different intervals during the day, and do a final clean before closing down the main common area every night. I never saw them clean the dorms, but I think they may sweep a little when they set the beds up with new linens. They have two sinks in the kitchen which makes it easier for guests to efficiently clean the dishes they use. We also saw them do lawn maintenance while we were there. In general, the place is very neat and tidy.

BONUS POINTS

There were so many great things about this hostel. They get extra points for the following:

The Pool: The pool is small but clean and inviting. Great for enjoying the sun when you don’t want to walk to the beach.

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The “Mirador”: the top floor of the terrace is fantastic for stargazing on a clear night. We really enjoyed looking up at the Milky Way.

The Service: There was almost always at least one staff member available to help us at all times. Usually more. When I went to squeeze limes with part of a machine juicer (I didn’t want to actually use the machine), a staff member saw me and showed me that they had a manual juicer with a container underneath to catch the juice. The staff was attentive and kind.

We had such a great stay. The only caveat I would add is that this is a bit of a party hostel. We don’t usually think of ourselves as the party hostel type, but despite the noise of people celebrating late into the night, we slept fairly well and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Just bring a pair of earplugs.

I couldn’t recommend staying anywhere else if you want to thoroughly enjoy your stay in Punta del Diablo. ¡Gracias Hostel de la Viuda!

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