I have no idea why but papa used to say this a lot when we were growing up – something about it being a palindrome and the sequence of characters reads the same backwards and forward. Well, enough about Panama, we were making a plan.
Broadly – the route was KL (Dubai) Rio – Mexico – Cuba – Rio (Dubai) KL. Sourcing and excel comes naturally to Parveen who had been working in the furniture sourcing industry for close to ten years. She took control of the big bookings – tickets and hotels – so we are assured of a place to stay and I come up with recommendations of how we localize our experience in each city. Jointly, we would research hotels, tours, transport and at agreed milestones, we’ll align and book. Awesome!
When we started plotting the details, we realized that we had some massive distance to get by and costs were escalating at every stage. Didn’t think this through did we? Not quite but this was all so exciting and bound to be one amazing adventure. Our Malaysian passport was a big blessing on the visa front – none were required. Phew!
Like any game, we agreed on some principles to anchor the planning:
• itinerary must be fluid yet have a mix of touristy stuff, local experience and free days;
• prioritize – listen and understand each other – don’t be impossible;
• budget budget budget- do most places on our own, guided by the wisdom of Lonely Planet and other internet searches, travel blogs, referrals and cool apps;
• time is key – pick direct flights or flights with shorter layovers – preferably at airports where we can get a new tattoo..not for us but for the passport (wink!). Also, pick flights over long commutes or do a blend to enjoy scenic rides. During our trip we discovered that Uber was an option in certain cities and where possible, we used it – it helped us stretch our cash;
• safety, location and basic comfort were top priority, i.e. clean bathrooms, AC, windows and wifi. We later learnt that the AC was a bit of a push in Rio as it was on turbo blast and we had to turn it off. We selected medium range accommodation in most places and something border line indulgent in Tulum. Picked home stays in Cuba – it was our first experience – tricky stuff and you’ll understand why in my later post.
Our excel sheet was filling up beautifully with flags and pictures of the places we were visiting. It was a so interactive and a visual treat. The masterpiece had to be named – ‘Samba, Margarita and Cigars’ and with that Excel Tours was born and our travel route was charted as follows:
(KL – Dubai) (8 hour layover) – I was panicky with shorter than 3 hour lay overs and well, we managed a quick getaway to town and learnt one of the best lessons for long haul travels, i.e. finding spots for a quick shut eye and looking good whilst snoozing. My favourite – the table, keeping my face down and cradled in my arms hides the distracted beaver expression.
(Dubai – Rio) – celebrate the start of your trip by selecting add ons (payable) for your in-flight meal. Bubbles were a great choice for a bubbly holiday 🙂 City drives are exceptionally beautiful in Rio with views of the all-embracing Christ the Redeemer, stunning Sugar Loaf Mountain and gorgeous beach stretches, This is also an exceptional view during takeoff and landing – select window seats where possible or befriend thy neighbor if you can’t so you can experience this magic. In my next post, I’ll tell you more about having the best day of your life with Urban Adventures tour company, the chill yet uber frank people and some practical details (including outfit pairing and finding the best spots for photos).
(Rio – Iguazu) cover the Argentina side first with the trek – then cross over to the Brazilian side to admire the spectacular view. If you are pressed for time, pick the Argentinian side for the nature exhilaration and the Brazilian side for a tourist experience.
(Iguazu – Rio – Mexico) all in a day with a layover in Panama…bonus stamp on passport. Had one of the craziest in flight meal combinations for supper : Red wine and oreo cookies. It did the trick though – it calmed my rumbling tummy and I managed some sleep)( Mexico) I could live here…what’s there not to love…addressed as senorita, with a muy bonita added in every now and then, sensational flavours, vibrant colours and a musical jukebox. A few days in the city and squeezed a trip to this cultural gem – Guanajuato where we had the creamiest and most delicious guacamole. Thank you Prof Ricardo for this recommendation. We considered the bus for one way but as the travel route was via highway, we opted for flights both ways.
(Mexico – Merida) (with a day trip to Chitchen Itza)(Merida – Tulum) we bought bus tickets and even had a selfie taken but ended up in an Uber though…funny story which I’ll tell you in the later post) (Tulum – Cancun) (two hour drive by taxi to catch our flight to Cuba. You could set base camp in Cancun but Tulum is way way prettier, has awesome things to do and at Excel Tours, we’ll rate this higher than Cancun.
(Cancun – Havana) best flight ever – less than an hour and an outstanding beverage selection. Overnight in Havana before we discovered our bestest place Trinidad) (Havana– Trinidad) (six hour drive by classic car – took a little longer as we had some entertaining experiences and a heartwarming visit to Cienfuegos where we visited our friend’s place of peace – met his lovely family and listened on repeat mode to Ensename – our first favourite song. If I could turn back time or stop the clock, I’ll preserve the time in Trinidad. This was exactly what I pictured Cuba to be – classic, rustic, romantic, musical paradise, a gem untainted with the passing of time. Oh how my heart longs to be there again.
(Trinidad – Havana) (another classic car experience. We insisted on a red car for both trips but had this wish fulfilled during a city drive in Havana). Havana (a few days sightseeing, including Hemingways tour and a day trip to Vinales where we had some super yum food. It was so delicious that we shamelessly insisted on takeaways – much to the humour of other diners and our guide who was too kind to refuse.
(Havana – Rio) (layover Bogota, Columbia – bonus stamp again and I picked up Columbian coffee….what a win) (Rio – Dubai) (3 hour layover) ( Dubai– KL)
The number of times we went in and out of Rio, we felt like locals or Cariocas as said in Portuguese. My passport smiles, and still does. So do I. Awesome work Excel Tours!!! I hope the above inspires you to plan your Latina adventure. Please get in touch if you like more info and do read on…..