I know, I know. Awards shows are exciting. The energy in the air. The anticipation about who or what is going to take home an award. The fancy attire (I, for one, am wearing my best ratty-tank-top-and-hole-ridden-yoga-pants-outfit). It’s really exhilarating to be able to host these awards while sitting in a hammock on our cabin’s porch in the Isla de Ometepe, in Nicaragua. But, enough about me . . . Let’s get the show on the road! Without further ado, we will now presenting our first ANTM Travel Awards category: Lodging.
What makes a place the best? In order to make this very tough decision, we asked ourselves a few questions. How comfortable am we here? Is our host gracious and helpful? What’s the surrounding environment like (Is it beautiful? Quiet and peaceful? Are there stores and other conveniences nearby or within walking distance?)? How livable is the room itself (Can I walk around the bed without tripping over my suitcase? Are there shelves or a closet on or in which to store my things? How’s the bathroom?)? Are there other features that make the place stand out (a magical view, a killer kitchen, a veranda on which to write the Great Global Novel)? Is the place worth its price tag? Basically, if I hit the lottery, would I move here in a heartbeat? Out of the roughly 80 places we stayed on this adventure through South and Central America (not including campsites), these two are the cream of the crop.
Not much that needs to be said here. The race to the bottom was governed by the inverse of all the properties listed above. Bospas takes Lowest-In-Class based on the awful guy who runs the place. Perhaps you came to this post via a Google search? Learn from our mistake! We stayed in *a lot* of dumpy places, but at least the vast majority of them were owned or staffed by nice, welcoming people.
Loser: Bospas Fruit Farm (El Limonal, Ecuador)
The Super Stank Award (a.k.a. Most Sewagey Smell)
Aside from very large spiders, roaches, and/or rodents crawling up walls, under beds and out of drains, there’s really nothing worse than a room that smells completely and permanently of poop. While we here at ANTM are aware that some hotels’ sewage-drainage problems are part of a larger city-wide issue, we still felt it our dood . . . I mean . . . duty to bestow this award.
Winner: A completely dank hospedaje; we forget its name (Puelo, Chile)
If you are a budget traveler out there, I am sure you already know what species of human we are referring to. They tend to make a spectacle of themselves with drunken, not-so-charming behavior. They have money, yet do nothing to support the local economy, save for buying the odd bag o’ drugs. Back-douche typically have an underdeveloped sense of smell, which may be why they do not see the need to use available showering facilities. Through poor choice and perhaps the need to save a buck or two in expensive towns, we spent a few nights on the road firmly ensconced in dens of back-douchery. The two below earn special merit. Typically, these places are starred or otherwise recommended in guidebooks such as the ubiquitous “Douchey Planet” series. One of the reasons we gave up on using guidebooks….
Ah, morning food. Maybe we don’t have to tell you that the “bread n’ spread” so prevalent at eateries and hospedajes all over South and Central America just didn’t do it for us. The breakfasts whipped up at El Jiri (chocolate crepes! fresh fruit! delicious dark coffee! freshly squeezed mandarin juice!) and Hostel Maura (scrambled eggs! berry kuchen!), however, tasted like diamonds in the rough . . . two El Ceibo dark chocolate bars in a display full of Hersheys . . . a double espresso from Jesus Martin in a café serving Nescafe. You get our point.
The Dankest Dank
Permanent musk? Windowless room? Awful scent of a thousand sweaty backpackers? To find the Dankest Dank of them all, we return to night number one in Valparaiso, Chile.
Winner: Casa Verde Limon (Valparaiso, Chile)
Most Comfortable Bed
Getting a good night sleep is so important while traveling. It protects us (well, most of us) from what I like to call “a case of the cranks” in the morning. These two beds were the epitome of comfort with crisp, clean sheets; soft but firm mattresses; hefty foam pillows; and plenty of space to lie around in.
“Momming” is a phenomenon we identified early in our travels. It is marked by the sudden and complete loss of individual will and ability to rationally make decisions at the hands of a friendly yet a little too assertive, kind but a little too overbearing, typically Senior-aged woman. We got “Mom’ed” more than a few times, but only one can stand as the purest “Momming.” Fresh off a combined 24 hours on two different buses, we staggered toward the central park in the small town of Castro, located on the island of Chiloe in southern Chile. Sure enough, a kind women with a warm smile came up to us and asked if we needed directions or, perhaps, a place to stay. Before we knew what was happening, we were led away from the town center, down a hill and into the living room of her house. Against all reason, we “accepted” her offer to stay in what we suspected were her kids’ room, for the same amount of Chilean Pesos that could have bought a private room elsewhere. Later that night, we found ourselves struggling to make small talk by complimenting her hard-of-hearing husband on the totally random, life-size poster of ALF in their living room. If you ever find yourself shouting “TE GUSTA ALF???!!!” at the top of your lungs, it could be a sign that, somehow or another, you got mom’ed, my friend.
Winner: Random lady’s house in Castro, Chile
Best Room With A View
There’s something truly special about waking up to a gorgeous view. It puts your soul at rest and sets your mind ablaze at all hours of the day and night. The vision of the majestic fjord in the Cochomo Valley outside Hostel Maura has stayed with us throughout our entire trip—it’s one of the most tranquil views I’ve had the pleasure of waking up to thus far in life. Now, here in Nicaragua on the Island of Ometepe, relaxing on our private cabin’s porch and looking out at a lake flanked by two volcanoes, listening to birds chirping and monkeys howling . . . Let’s just say it’s the perfect bookend to our journey.
While we definitely got used to non-working, shock-inducing, electrical showers; ice- cold showers; pressure-less showers; or “showers” that consisted of a faucet accompanied by drain next to the toilet (no curtain), we were especially pleased to scrub our bodies clean in these award-winning embodiments of luxury. Both featured hot, odorless water that beat down on us with such awe-inspiring force that can only be lovingly described as “pelting.”
Favorite Place to Cook
Many of the places that market to budget travelers have shared-kitchens available for use. Most of them, we would say, were not particularly pleasant places to prepare a meal. The knives are dull. The back-douches leave their dirty plates everywhere. The whole thing was enough to convince us we were better off buying a camping stove and cooking in the privacy of our own hotel room. A few exceptions stand out, the top of class being, by far, Casa Al Tronco in Sucre. Maybe it’s not a fair comparison since the guest house only had three rooms, but this was a wonderful kitchen. Windows overlooking the whole city, meals out on the terraza . . . it was a pleasure to come back from Spanish class to cook up our tasty Bolivian veggies. The Plantation House had more of a backpacker hostel-type kitchen, but we had a great time making shared meals with the friends we made there.
Having had the pleasure of camping throughout Chile and Argentina in our nifty orange Lippy, we had to dedicate a category to our time spent slumbering on the ground. The memories we made baking bread, taking care of puppies, and having a hoot of a time camping for free alongside our first friends on the road, Justin and Matt, definitely set the tone in Chaiten. And . . . there are no words to describe the awesomeness of sleeping amongst the sights and sounds of the jungle in Madidi National Park. This was, hands down—thanks to Leo and his brothers at Berranco—one of the best times of our trip.