Michael Bellini


Michael Bellini

My blog serves two purposes: to let friends and family know what I'm up to while on trips abroad, and to give travel advice from the perspective of a fellow traveler, rather than from a guidebook writer.

I only use a smartphone for the writing and photos, so excuse any errors or blurs.

South America » Ecuador » West » Guayaquil July 22nd 2019

In 2008 I spent a night in Guayaquil before finding a last-minute flight to the Galapagos Islands. My only memory of the city is my bewilderment as I ventured into the raucous, bustling concrete jungle on a Friday night. A friendly local approached me and I had little choice but to let him help me navigate the chaos. So the only thing I was looking forward to this time around was finding some warmth after the relative cold and rainy Cuenca. I had two days to wait for my homeward flight, so I tried to make the most of it. ISLA SANTAY It's worth the visit just to get some peace so close to the city itself. There is a walking-biking bridge across the river from near the malecon. It's free to enter, but take a ... read more
Break your face on Isla Santay
Village on Isla Santay

South America » Ecuador » South » Vilcabamba July 19th 2019

Vilcabamba was strangely empty in mid-July. It felt like the whole town - the hostels, taxis, and even the trails - were waiting for more tourists to show to enjoy the dry season while other parts of the country were cold and wet. After reading about its growing popularity in old guide books and websites, I expected it to be peaking by 2019, but people I asked said that tourism has abated and land prices are actually dropping. That was fine by me, since we felt like we had the area to ourselves. Other than hiking the impressive and varied series of trails, most of which are strung together to include dirt roads and drainage ditches, there wasn't much else to do but try out the few restaurants that were actually open and watch the expats ... read more
Goats in Tumianuma

South America » Ecuador » South » Cuenca July 12th 2019

Snapshots of Cuenca, one the most comfortable spots in South America (aside from the traffic, and assuming you're a tourist and not a Venezuelan refugee, which there are plenty of, many of them flashing their useless Venezuelan currency, which is a pretty effective way to evoke sympathy): *A weekday evening and Peggy and I stroll toward Parque San Sebastián. The faint melody of 'Barbie Girl' crescendos as we turn the corner to find dozens of locals aerobic dancing, led by instructors atop the church steps. We sit outside at the adjacent Jodoco Belgian Brew to watch. *Through the showcase window of Cafe Austria on a Sunday evening, a man urinates on the steel shutters of a storefront across the street. He's at it for awhile, his head tilting back in relief, but abruptly zips up and ... read more
Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas
Death Trap Road
Cuenca City Center

5 BUSES FROM LAGO COATEPEQUE Getting to the coast took all day. I had podcasts downloaded and a backup battery ready for the long trip, but most of the journey involved standing in chicken bus aisles, squeezed between sweaty Salvadoreños and trying to find something to hold on to. Most chicken buses are just old American school buses, and I know from arranging field trips that they typically hold 44 high school students, 2 in a seat. On the bus from La Libertad to El Tunco, I counted 83 people, and the driver proceeded to pick up more passengers! El Zonte is no more than a few blocks of expat surf camps and makeshift shops left fairly vacant by the rainy season. And there weren't even any surfers to watch from the classy Covana Seaside Kitchen ... read more
Massive Waves
El Daño
The Beach

SANTA ANA The second cities of most Central American countries are far better to visit than are the vapid, congested, dangerous capitals. While this is somewhat true of Santa Ana, it hardly rivals Xela in Guatemala or Leon in Nicaragua. There are signs throughout advertising their 450th anniversary, so there's quite a lot of history there, but the town center mainly comes off as being dirty and sketchy. Peggy and I stayed at Casa Verde, essentially a model for what every hostel should be. LAGO DE COATEPEQUE This turquoise-blue lake, 15k around and cradled in a vast, forested caldera, is reason enough to visit El Salvador. In fact, it's probably the prettiest lake I've been to. After my experience at the filthy Lago de Suchitlan, I wasn't fully convinced when locals told me that Coatepeque is ... read more
Laguna de Santa Ana en Parque National Cerro Verde
Santa Ana Main Square
Peggy in Lake Coatepeque

Getting from Copan Ruins in Honduras to Suchitoto took the entire day. I left at 8AM and took 5 different buses and a taxi, with a total wait time of about 10 minutes, since buses just wait till they're nearly full to leave, which doesn't take long at all. But the journeys were pretty slow-going since the buses stop to pick up anyone waiting on the side of the road. The border was easy, since several Central American countries have an agreement to allow travellers a 90-day visa. The town of Suchitoto is a charming time capsule of cobblestone streets, fading pastels, and a bustling town square. This is all worth a visit, but aside from trying different restaurants and cafes, there isn't much to do there, aside from checking out Lake Suchitlán. It should be ... read more
Church in Square
Bird and Lake

My original plan was to take a Hedman Alas bus from La Ceiba to spend a night in San Pedro Sula before heading west to Lago de Yojoa. But in the morning the German owners of the hotel informed me that the bus wouldn't be going. I asked if it was too empty to go, and they said no - that the driver had been shot the night before. The news channels in Honduras cover the violence and protests non-stop, and people can't seem to look away. It was pretty surreal to watch press conferences akin to Leslie Nielson's character in Airplane telling everyone that the situation is under control and to remain calm, and then other interviews with a man wearing a ski mask. I asked my host mom if he was a gang member, ... read more
Lonely Soldados in the Great Plaza
Exit sign
Parque de Las Aves

Most tourists pass through La Ceiba quickly to get to a ferry to one of the Bay Islands or transport to Rio Cangrejal for rafting, hiking, etc. The city itself is probably not worth a visit on its own, but it's fine for a night if necessary. I spent a week here at Honduras Spanish School. The owners are very responsive and kind, and I enjoyed my stay in the middle-class community of Colonia Sauce. The historic city center consists of dilapidated colonial buildings, a defunct train line, and a fledgling mercado, a result of mass corruption and an influx of (and tax cut for) fast food chains and big box stores, which causes the periphery to resemble an American highway town (see photo). The heat is absolutely stifling during the summer, and the daily power ... read more
American Fast Food Invasion
Golf Club
La Ceiba

I did some research comparing the larger, Miami-esque island of Roatan to the laid-back, backpacker-friendly Utila and decided to go for the smaller, quieter option. THE FERRY BARF-A-RAMA Utila is 40km from La Ceiba, and the trip took about 40 minutes on a super-fast ferry, meaning that we were moving at over 32 knots (60 km/hr or 37 mph), which is insanely fast on open Caribbean waters. The math doesn't include the no-wake zones at either end. This translated into basically being stuck on the Bayern Kurve (Pittsburgh reference) for 40 minutes. When we left the port in La Ceiba I wondered why four crewmen stood around the perimeter of the main cabin. At first the passengers were giggling and making roller coaster whoas in unison when we ramped off sizable waves at that speed. But ... read more
Rock Harbour Canal
Dock at Bando Beach

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 August 4th 2018

Saigon is massive and in desperate need of a metro system, or something else to alleviate the traffic. That being said, most things to see are walkable from the main tourist area, and it's quite a spectacle to walk down Bui Vien at night. It's comfortable enough for a night or two, especially as a bookend for a longer trip. The thing to do is a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel complex, about 2-2.5 hours. It's dirt cheap to arrange, but like most tourist destinations in Vietnam, has become super-crowded and like moving through an assembly line. I'd skip it.... read more
Ant Hill / Ventilation for Tunnels
Tunnel Entrance
@WarRemnants Museum

Tot: 0.411s; Tpl: 0.014s; cc: 17; qc: 74; dbt: 0.0173s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.4mb