Exploring Closer to Home: A Week in Northern New Mexico

We arrived home in Denver about 1 month earlier than we had intended. Because of this, we had one more month of summer to figure out. We were feeling a bit antsy and were working through a lot of feelings related to our experience in Nepal during the earthquake. We knew that Eric’s parents already had a short vacation planned in Red River, NM. We decided to drive down and join them and give ourselves a little bit more time to explore a bit closer to home. If you’d like to learn more about how to support Nepal after the earthquake, there are a few ideas here.

We loaded our car, making sure to be extra prepared. Our recent experiences in Nepal made us super aware of the variety of things that could possibly go wrong. We made sure to carry extra gas, extra warmth, extra food, etc. We drove through some excellent scenery south from Denver towards New Mexico. We arrived to Red River right around sunset and right before a downpour started.

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It turned out that May in Red River was a low time for visitors. We were reminded of our experiences with walking dead tourism in Turkey as we had to go to 3 different places to find an open restaurant for dinner!

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Taos

The next day we headed out to visit Taos. We were excited to add another UNESCO site to our list as well as explore a town we had never really seen. Our first stop was the town visitor center where we picked up a self-guided walking tour guide and got more information about things to do in the area. But, our first stop was Taos Pueblo.

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Taos Pueblo is an ancient Pueblo about 1 mile outside of Taos. It is designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The site is made up of several multi-story adobe buildings that have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years.

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When visiting Taos Pueblo, you pay an entrance fee which includes a tour of the site by a native of the Pueblo. We enjoyed this tour, on which we learned a bit about the history of the Pueblo and more about the culture and traditions of the people who have lived there for so long.

We learned that the oldest buildings were built perhaps sometime between 1000 and 1400 AD. Currently there are about 150 people who live in the pueblo. The Puebloan families own a home within the Pueblo that they use for holidays and religious ceremonies, though they often live outside the Pueblo. The Pueblo and about 48,000 acres of mountain land above the valley belong to the native people. They structure their own government and education system within the Pueblo.

We learned a bit more about how the adobe structures are built and maintained. In addition, we toured St. Jerome’s Church and learned more about the religion that the Puebloan people practice. They are about 90% Catholic, but ancient (and secretive) native rituals are performed alongside the Catholic traditions.

We were surprised to learn that they are a very secretive people. Our guide was not allowed to describe any of the private rituals, ceremonies, or holidays observed in the Pueblo. He was also not allowed to describe much of the native religious beliefs or education practices.

Please check out the Taos Pueblo website to learn more about this fascinating site.

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After our visit to the Taos Pueblo, we headed back into modern Taos. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring there. First we visited the iconic St. Francisco de Asis Church, which was made famous by artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams who painted/photographed it. Then we headed back downtown to follow our self-guided walking tour. We walked up Kit Carson Avenue past art shops, through Taos Plaza and inside the old courthouse to see some murals. Then we headed through Guadalupe Plaza and up LeDoux street. At the end of LeDoux, there was a winery tasting room. Della was intrigued and Donna and Steve had never been to a winery, so we headed inside to take a break and get a few tasters. We enjoyed most of them, though Donna decided that she really doesn’t enjoy most red wine. We finished the tour at an old settlement a few blocks away, enjoying the lovely light as the sun started a slow descent.

We then drove out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which appears in the middle of a flat plain way over the Rio Grande below. We parked and walked out on to the bridge. A bit scary looking down, and when it vibrated with trucks passing by. But the views were really incredible.

We started to head home, but made a last minute decision to stop at Taos Mesa Brewing Company on the same road. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but it was packed with people for trivia night! We got a bunch of samplers of beer and dinner.

Wild Rivers Recreation Area

The next day we decided to head to Wild Rivers Recreation Area which was about a 1 hour drive from Red River. Again, the park seemed mostly empty. In fact, when we first headed to the ranger station, it was closed. Luckily, a ranger showed up a few minutes later to give us some advice. He recommended checking out the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red Rivers and then doing the Big Arsenic Springs trail. We ate lunch at the confluence, enjoyed the windy view and then headed to the trailhead. We hiked a mile down on some rocky trail (making us cross our fingers for no earthquakes). Near the bottom we moved through a campground and on to some petroglyphs. After a quick snack, we headed down the river to Little Arsenic camp and then head up the canyon from there. It was a little longer than anticipated, so made for good exercise.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

We were heading to Chaco Canyon next, so had a couple hours driving to get there. We left after brunch and made a few stops along the way. We enjoyed a quick wine tasting at La Chiripada Winery in Dixon. This was a much less structured tasting than the last, but enjoyable as well. We stopped for lunch in Los Alamos. The on and off rain we had been experiencing all day lead us to keep driving. We headed out of town toward the Valles Caldera National Preserve. We arrived late afternoon in some mist and rain without much of a plan of what to do. Fortunately, the park wasn’t busy and a ranger offered to give give us a guided tour of the Caldera in his van. He was able to give us lots of information about the caldera’s geology, history, and status as a park. The park is unique because the land is owned by the Federal Government but is managed by a trust. This has created an interesting experiment in land management. The trust does continuing ranch operations while opening the preserve to visitors. We also stopped at an interpretation cabin and listened to another employee tell us more about the area and about some of the movies and TV shows that have been filmed in the preserve. These include the 2013 version of The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and the TV series Longmire.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We drove from Valles Caldera to the small town of Cuba, which we had read was the closest town to our next destination, Chaco Culture National Historical Park (also known as Chaco Canyon). We got one of the last rooms at one of the few motels in town, the Frontier. We had a nice New Mexican dinner at El Bruno’s just down the road – much better than what we expected for such a small town!

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Getting to Chaco Canyon requires quite the journey. The last 13 miles of the road are unpaved and rough, but our Subaru handled it well. The main attraction at the canyon is visiting the extensive ruins built by the Chaco culture between 900 and 1150 AD (a little before the well-known cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde), now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We picked up some maps and headed out to hike the different self-guided trails through the best-preserved of the ruins.

The first set of ruins, called Una Vida, is just outside of the visitor center. It was windy and cold, so we bundled up and set out on the trail. A small brochure described how the structures we were seeing were part of what seems like a pueblo or some other gathering place for a large group of people, with ceremonial kivas scattered throughout. One of the most interesting parts was the masonry: the walls were built with many small flat rocks stacked on top of one another. We also took a side trail up the canyon wall to see some petroglyphs.

We drove through the park and stopped at the trailhead for the two biggest sites: Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. We had just started our tour through Pueblo Bonito when a hailstorm hit, leading us to take shelter pressed up against one of the ancient walls. Once the storm passed, we continued our tour of this massive example of what archaeologists call a “Great House,” since it seems to be a living structure for a large number of people. This one, a large multi-story complex, had at least 650 rooms at its height. The path took us through some small doorways and into some of the structures.

The sun came out as we passed by more petroglyphs on of walk to Chetro Ketl, another Great House. This one was a little smaller, having about 500 rooms.

We were running out of time in the day, so we rushed over to our final stop, Casa Rinconada. The attraction here is a massive Great Kiva, a ceremonial structure seen in all Ancient Puebloan sites. When in use, it was covered with a roof and had a fire going inside in a large fire pit. It functioned as a place for religious and cultural ceremonies.

Around 1140 AD, the Chacoan culture collapsed, perhaps caused by a severe drought. Archaeologists think that the people migrated to neighboring communities, but do not know definitively. Many of the Native American tribes in the area, such as the Hopi and Pueblo, have oral traditions that describe the people from Chaco Canyon as their ancestors.

As we left the park, the sun came out again, and a beautiful rainbow crossed from one side of the canyon to the other.  It was a picturesque end to our time in New Mexico. We split from Eric’s parents; with them headed back to Texas and the two of us headed north to Colorado for a visit to another UNESCO site. It was an enjoyable time, and a good way for us to get another small taste of traveling as we adjusted to life back home.

What Were the Cheapest Places We Stayed?

Over the course of our round-the-world trip, we stayed in quite a variety of accommodations, from campsites to dorm rooms to AirBnb apartments. The price range varied widely as well. We ran some numbers and came up with a list of the 10 cheapest places we stayed. The price shown is the total cost for the two of us.

This does not include the nights where we had free accommodations by staying with friends and family, or when our parents treated us, or when we were on an overnight form of transportation.

10. Tie – AirBnb in Sarajevo and Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia – $15.33/night

When with Della’s parents in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, we got a nice two-bedroom unit with a large living room and kitchen for very cheap. Spoiler alert: this is the only place on the list that is not in Asia!

The living room of our Sarajevo Airbnb

The living room of our Sarajevo Airbnb

In Battambang, Cambodia, we got a nice room with an ensuite bathroom at the Emerald BB. Despite the name, breakfast was not included, and the building felt more like a hotel.

Our room at the Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia

Our room at the Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia

9. TopSky Hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia – $15/night

We switched to this place for our last three nights in Siem Reap. Despite what the name implies, this felt more like a guesthouse. We got a private room with an ensuitre bathroom and A/C, which was nice to come back to after long days exploring the temples of Angkor.

Topsky

Topsky

8. Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam – $14.85/night

We each got a bunk in the 4-bunk dorms at this popular hostel in Phong Nha. The dorm did have its own bathroom. Surprisingly, this is the only dorm that makes the list (since as you can see, private rooms are still pretty cheap in Asia).

 

The Easy Tiger

The Easy Tiger

7. Nonni Guesthouse, Chiang Mai, Thailand – $14.68/night

We stayed here on our first two nights in Chiang Mai but moved to a different place for a little more space, as the room was a little small and we had a shared bathroom across the hall. It had friendly and helpful staff.

Our first accommodations in Chiang Mai

Our first accommodations in Chiang Mai

6. Gieng Ngoc Hotel, Cat Ba, Vietnam – $14.60/night

Impressive because we even “splurged” for a room with a balcony overlooking the scenic Cat Ba harbor!

The view of Cat Ba harbor from our balcony

The view of Cat Ba harbor from our balcony

5. Hotel Bright Star, Kathmandu, Nepal – $12/night

This family-run hotel had a nice location in the tourist area of Kathmandu, and the owner was very kind and helpful. We really hope that he is able to rebuild his place that was damaged after the neighboring building collapsed in the earthquake.

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

4. Sunny Hotel, Hue, Vietnam – $11.97/night

We had a nice but small room on the top floor of this friendly hotel in Hue. We got a lot of exercise walking up and down the stairs to get there!

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3. Vadsana, Pak Beng, Laos – $9.92/night

This was where we stayed on our first night of our trip on the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand. It was a basic room but decent-sized room, and we didn’t spend much time here anyway.

Della and Eric's hotel room

Della and Eric’s hotel room

2. Thanomsub, Huay Xai, Laos – $8.68/night

This was our room the second night of the slow boat trip in this border town. We were able to lower the rate slightly by negotiating as a group with other people on our boat. Again this was quite a bit of room for a small fee.

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1. Surya Peak Guest House, Syabru Besi, Nepal – $2/night

By far our cheapest room of the entire trip was at this guesthouse at the start of our Langtang Trek. It was pretty basic, with thin walls and a very rustic bathroom down the hall, but there weren’t many other people staying there so it was quite comfortable.

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It’s interesting to us to look back over this list and realize how many of these “cheap” places were actually very comfortable to stay at. Many people think that to afford a long trip you have to only stay in the rattiest dorms, but as you can see, in many parts of the world you can get your own room with its own bathroom and not have to break the bank.

 

We’ve Finished our RTW, so What Was Our Favorite… Food?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This first edition will cover our 5 favorite cuisines from the countries we visited. These are in order!

5th Favorite: Greek

We spent almost a month in Greece and we only just barely got sick of eating the same kind of food every day. We loved eating delicious Greek salads, and particularly enjoyed slurping up tzatziki sauce. Della, in particular, loved the constant access to delicious olives. Souvlaki wasn’t bad either =)

4th Favorite: Singaporean

We were delighted with the huge variety of food available in Singapore. It is a combination of Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese flavors. We also particularly enjoyed one of their national dishes: laksa.

3rd Favorite: Bosnian

We had been a little tired of some of the food we had been eating in Central Europe which consisted of a lot of heavy meat, starches, and very few vegetables. We were thrilled when we arrived in Bosnia and found much more variety than we had been expecting. We had the best of the meat with cevapi and easy, quick food with burek. But we also suddenly had access to stuffed green peppers. In addition, the food was considerably more affordable than all of our prior countries. Yum!

2nd Favorite: Vietnamese

Overall, the best part of our trip food wise the second half in SE Asia. We really enjoyed all of the noodle and curry dishes in most of the countries in 2015. However, Vietnam really stood out. We had some really great pho, which is one of our go-to foods here at home. But, we also had access to a variety of other delicious Vietnamese foods including spring rolls, bun cha (vermicelli), and many other great soups! Basically, there was very few things we tried in Vietnam that we didn’t love. And, to top it all off, it was quite affordable.

Favorite Food in the World: Thai

This wasn’t unexpected. Thai food is Della’s favorite ethnic cuisine here at home as well. But, the ease of access to really great, really affordable food made Thailand the clear best. They have a wide variety of delightful noodle dishes including some of our favorites: pad thai and pad see ewe. On top of that, we often enjoyed delicious curries of all varieties. Street food was easy to come by and we found several great spring rolls as well. We were excited enough to take a cooking class to learn how to make it easily at home!

RTW Budget: Under $100/day??

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. This is our wrap up post which will answer the questions you’ve all been dying to know: How much did we spend on our 10 month RTW trip? Did we meet our goal of spending an average of $100/day?

Let’s find out!

Total Spent (309 days): $29,827.38

We visited 29 countries on our RTW trip and were on the trip for 309 days. Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

We did return to the USA for a few weeks in December, so we were actually out of the country for 282 days.

A few other things to remember while reading these stats:

1. Our parents visited us several times along the way. This screws with the numbers a little bit because they did choose to “play the parent card” a number of times which lowers our cost. However, there were certain situations where we stayed in slightly higher quality places, or traveled at a faster speed when they were with us which might have slightly increased our cost.

2. When we were at home in the States our accommodation cost/food cost were very low.

3. When were in the states, we bought Christmas presents for friends and family which we did include in our final numbers.

Accommodation: $7,869.29

This was 26% of our total cost of the trip.

Activities: $3,456.50

This was 11% of our total trip cost.

Alcohol: $593.38

We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food. This was 2% of the our total trip cost.

Food: $5,401.19

This was 18% of our total trip cost.

Miscellaneous: $1,768.08

This category includes any costs that don’t fit into the other categories. It could be things like postcards, souvenirs, laundry, bathroom, our wordpress costs, etc. This was 6% of our total cost.

Transportation: $10,129.86

This was 34% of the total cost. This is surprising to us because we used airline miles for the majority of our large flight costs, which means that this is significantly lower than it could have been!

Visas: $609.07

This is 2% of the total cost.

This divides out to $96.53/day including our time at home! We were so thrilled that we met our $100/day average for the two of us!

 

RTW Expenses

Monthly Recap: Month 10

Well, this monthly recap is very late! It would have come out, should everything have been normal, on May 2nd. However, as many of you know, we were actually getting ready to come home after experiencing the Earthquake in Nepal on May 2nd. Because of that earthquake, Month 10 turned out to be the last month of our trip… We had been planning on making it until Month 11, but the world had other plans for us. Month 10 had some great times as well as some not so great times (see aforementioned earthquake). Let’s recap, shall we?!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Vietnam, China, and NepalSpecial Administrative Regions: 2 (Hong Kong and Macau)

Beds Slept In: Tarps Slept Under:Embassies Slept In: 1 (Hopefully the first and last of our life.)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (My Son Sanctuary, Complex of Hue MonumentsPhong Nha – Ke Bang National ParkCentral Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – HanoiHa Long BayHistoric Centre of MacaoKathmandu Valley) *** As of July of 2015, there are have been many new UNESCO sites added! We were pretty excited that two places that we visited on our RTW were now recently added! YAY! Those include Singapore Botanical Gardens (visited in Month 7) and Ephesus (visited in Month 5). Total on RTW: 49

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled by 4 boats this month.

We traveled 4 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 1 train this month.

We traveled by 2 helicopters this month.

Top Moments:

~ Our biggest emotional high was when we were rescued by helicopter from Bamboo Village in Nepal. We had never ridden in a helicopter before and on that day, we rode two. We couldn’t have had better scenery: the beautiful Himalayas of Nepal. Despite the destruction caused by the earthquake and landslides, Nepal is a gorgeous country, well worth a visit! If you are interested in supporting Nepal after the devastating earthquake, check out some ideas here

 

Runners Up for Top Moments:

~We had an absolutely lovely day biking through the outskirts of Hoi An. We went a bit off the beaten track and biked through rice fields to a great beach! Good day all around.

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~We rushed through Phong Nha National Park in order to see some of the renowned caves there. We struggled with which tour to choose, but ultimately went with a general tour of three caves. It was all amazing, but our favorite part was experiencing swimming through a mud bath in the Dark Cave. It was hard to explain the feeling of floating through a pool of mud – how we imagine it would feel to be on the moon – almost weightless! Overall, a lot of fun!

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~We really enjoyed lots of places in Vietnam, but another great day was when we kayaked through the karsts in Lan Ha Bay. We had a lovely day in great scenery!

Getting used to the kayak

Getting used to the kayak

~Another great day was when we took the funicular up Hong Kong Peak. Great weather – it wasn’t too hot way up there, and  you just couldn’t beat the views!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

 

Honestly, we don’t really remember… Sorry!

Packing Update:

We were glad that we had held on to our colder weather gear because we used every bit of it in Nepal. It was particularly good when we hit an emergency situation and ended up having to sleep outside for 5 nights.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (4)

Eric has read Overkill by James Barrington (2), Gods of War by John Toland (4)

Eric and Della have BOTH read Tai-Pan by James Clavell (4)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7, Monthly Recap 8, Monthly Recap 9

Budget: Hong Kong

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Hong Kong and Macau. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

In Hong Kong we used the Hong Kong Dollars. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 8 Hong Kong Dollars to $1.00.

Total Spent (6 days): $649.26

Accommodation: $258.43

This felt very expensive compared to the prior countries we had been visiting in southeast Asia. It was a tiny room for a lot of money!

Activities: $59.41

This included taking the peak tram, cable car to the Big Buddha, and a few museums.

Alcohol: $5.16

We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food. This was only 1 beer! Very different from Vietnam!

Food: $151.24

Again, we had a big of sticker shock comparing the food prices to those of our prior countries of Thailand and Vietnam. We ate out only once a day at the most. We bought snacks from the grocery store for breakfast and dinner. Dinner was a bit hard as we didn’t have a kitchen in our small hotel room. We only bought things we could heat in a microwave!

Miscellaneous: $21.89

This included some postcards, a few souvenirs and a load of laundry. We also had a little cost of currency exchange.

Transportation: $153.12

It was quite convenient to use the public transportation system in Hong Kong. We purchased an Octopus Card at the airport which covered all forms of transit! The only extra we paid was for our boat to and from Macau and the buses there.

This divides out to $108.21/day which is over our $100/day budget. Hong Kong was much  more expensive than the countries we had visited previously in SE Asia. We had a short time in Hong Kong so we tried to do a lot quickly. We also spent quite a bit so that we could do a day trip to Macau. We tried to keep our costs down by eating out rarely and doing a lot of self-guided walking tours. But, we did choose to pay a bit more to stay in a nicer place. We had heard reports of cheaper places but those all seemed quite sketchy. Overall, it was a bit challenging to stay to our budget, but we are still happy with our time in Hong Kong.