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Stairway to Heaven : A Journey to Ladakh

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Shafts of sunlight wake you up from a much needed slumber that was brought upon by a crazy work schedule and the vanishing weekends in between. You look outside, and are momentarily stymied by this…

Aerial view of Laddakh…the sight of  hundreds of snow capped peaks, stretching as far as the eye can see. The Mountain Kingdom awaits, and you catch your breath, only to lose it again as you land in the pleasantly cold Kushok Bakula Rinpoche airport. That’s how my ten day tryst with Ladakh began.

We arrived at the lovely Hotel Gawaling International, a proud and quiet oasis in the little town of Leh, with an impressive backdrop of majestic mountains and a little creek that in the mornings almost dry, gushed forth in the evenings. Little hotels may lack fancy accouterments, but they make up for it with unabashedly warm service, and an enthusiasm we soon discovered was characteristic of the Ladakhi soul.

The rest of the day was spent acclimatizing; if that’s what you call mimicking a sloth bear before hibernation. On a serious note, most of Ladakh averages a height of about 12000 feet above sea level (carry altitude sickness tablets with you) and the overzealous traveler would do well to spend the first day in bed.  Prepare to have little to no cellphone coverage at all. No complaints though, not when you have soup, momos and Jenga blocks for company.

A journey to Ladakh

Enroute to Khardung La

The northern frontier is best seen in the summer months of June and July, when there is enough sun to take a dip in the Indus and traipse around the monasteries that dot this land, but also enough Jack Frost in the air to keep some chilly winds and snow flakes swirling around you as you climb higher and higher, searching for those treacherous high passes the land is named after ( La Dakh, land of high passes).

Khardung La, easily one of the world’s highest motorable roads, is a must, even if you do get snowed in for four hours (we did). In such times, take comfort in the stories your amiable driver will tell you. Better yet, ask your travel guide his story, and he will tell you how he is actually saving up to go to France someday. Let him chip into your conversation about the meaning of life and all the while, know that you are high above most people anywhere in the world(literally).

Head back to Leh after your adventures, for this charming town has much culture and love to offer. Shanti Stupa is the Buddhist answer to a stress buster. Instead of letting your hair down and sipping cosmos, let the winds caress your tresses as you scarf down some Tibetan butter tea. Walk into the Leh palace, and let the ageing paint, wood, and dust stir a feeling of deep seated imperialism in you. Buy turquoise jewelry, pashmina shawls or apricots if you’re a keen shopper. Visit a monastery, spin the prayer wheels of dharma, and let your sins escape into the mountains.  If you’re lucky, you will sight little Llamas, boy monks robed in maroon that are schooled on the temple grounds.

A journey to Ladakh

Wheels of Dharma

 A journey to Ladakh

Shanti Stupa, an Indo Japanese token for peace

Speaking of schools, trivia alert: the school featured in the 3 Idiots movie is worth a quick look – Drukpa White Lotus School in Ladakh is famous all over the world, for its award winning sustainable and eco friendly design. Besides, who wouldn’t want to play basketball in a playground encircled by the Himalayas? This place is witnessing quite the wave of education and reform. A dear friend swears by an educational NGO called SECMOL in the village of Phey, some twenty kilometers from Leh, so if you have the luxury of time, you might want to investigate, if only to applaud the spirit of the little pink faced cherubs in these schools.

If you have a day to spare, make for the camping grounds in Nubra Valley. The journey alone is enchanting. I’ve always loved wild landscapes, and the ride didn’t disappoint. Sudden sandstorms chase your heels, rogue waterfalls beckon, and amidst bare stone, there is that sudden  emerald lagoon, blazing trails of green. Keep your windows rolled down, and if you squint hard enough, you can spot some native wildlife-gorgeous horses, furry marmuks, even Bactrian camels. These camels once carried trade along the historic Silk Route from Central Asia into India.  They now ship tourist upstarts like yours truly and indulge in the occasional photoshoot.

A journey to Ladakh

Nubra Valley from afar

 Mystique Meadows Camp,Nubra Valley

Mystique Meadows, one of the camps at the  Valley.

I’ve saved the best for the last – a slice of heaven the locals call Pangong Tso. Nestled in land that is both India and China, the lake is exquisite, almost something out of Tolkien’s world. When the wind and clouds are just right, it is a mirror, with the endless skies reflected to create a heady view.  Lofty mountains stand guard over this precious pool, their peaks at once chocolate, beige, sawdust, and every other color you can think of. This is my favorite thing about the trip-that I could throw my head back anywhere, and the skyline would be anything but buildings and neon signs.

A journey to Ladakh

Pangong Tso.

When I was there, I sought refuge in the lakeside Martsemik Camp for the night so I could get me some more shutterbug time in the morning, when the light is just right. Resigned to hiding under layers of sweaters and chaddars,  I was more than surprised when the staff braved their way to my tent, armed with heating pads for my bed. It is the little things, truly, that count. Why then, should we indulge the giant hotel chains that threaten to quash these thriving tourism industries with all their monstrous commercialism? Why indeed.

A little more wanderlust will lead you to the Indus Zanskar confluence in central Ladakh, where you can ride the rapids. Pick a route and a grade (Beginner to challenger) and before you know it, you’re riding through valleys and little hamlets singing some Denver while you drift. Jump out of the raft and into the river during the last leg, and swim along…even if it leaves you with chattering teeth and aching muscles, the adrenaline will have been worth it.

A journey to Ladakh

Is Ladakh an easy trip to make? Surely not, but the locals will shell out some Zen wisdom ,tell you to let go of inhibition, and let Nature lead the way. As for me, it was my Indian Winterfell summer, and by Jove, I’d love to do it all again sometime.

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The 10 Best Design-led Hostels in Europe

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Hostels are no longer just for young people and travelers with low budgets. The once humble and cheap accommodation that connects people from different places has now evolved to poshtels, which allow you to spend less but still get access to the benefits of high-end hotels. A good location, careful decoration, a strong commitment to the environment and the common spaces is what offers this new concept that is getting huge in Europe. Here are some of the best hostels that you can find in the Old Continent.

Cats Hostel Madrid

Cats Hostels is the perfect option to stay right in the heart of the city when visiting Madrid, because the city centre is where all the cool stuff happens. Their fully equipped and comfortable rooms decorated according to the latests trends can accommodate from 2 up to 14 guests. 

The hostel stands out for its breathtakingly spectacular 17th-century Arab-Andalusian style patio, which is in fact a protected historical heritage site in the city. It has a stunning fountain right in the middle that is filled with sangria in their epic Sangria Party -they don’t claim to be the best party hostel in Madrid for no reason! Cats Hostel is perfect for group friends or solo travellers, since the common areas work as meeting points: a coworking space, a club, a bar or a multipurpose room where you can watch a movie on the big screen, chill on the couches, play board games, read, or sleep away your hangover.

For those who want to discover the city accompanied, there are activities in Cats Hostels every day of the week: from the city tour -where you can visit the most emblematic landmarks of the capital, to a pub crawl that costs 15 € and starts every day at 22:00 or a classic tapas tour (15 €), on Wednesdays and Fridays at 17:45.

Full Moon Design Hostel Budapest

Live music in one of the most vibrant cities, picturesque rooms, colourful common areas and a privileged location are just some of the things this designer hostel has to offer. But that’s not all this hostel offers: Morisons Music Pub 2 is in the same building. 

Generator Hostel Paris

Stroll through the city without leaving the building in this design-led hostel inspired by the photogenic character of Paris. Stay in the elegant lounge (with vintage armchairs and a large bar) or have fun in the game room when you’re not enjoying everything the French capital has to offer.

Cats Hostel Porto

Cats Hostel Porto is the first hostel of the brand to open in Portugal, and it brings to the city of the Duero river all the spirit that has made Madrid’s Cats Hostels famous: fun, activities and central accommodation to enjoy the city to the fullest.

ONE80º Berlin

This ’boutique hostel’ in the heart of Mitte stands out for having its own discotheque in the center of Berlin.  It offers music by its own resident DJs and other events. Guests can also use a special area to upload and share their photos. The interior is designed by Berlin artists.

Kex Hostel Reykjavik

Industrial aesthetics is the most characteristic feature of this Icelandic hostel that stands in an old biscuit factory (in fact, kex means Icelandic ‘biscuit’). Besides having all kinds of rooms, it stands out for its common spaces, such as a barber shop or a large library, where you can relax in the company of other travelers..

Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel

The most modern hostel in Barcelona is just a step away from Paseo de Gracia and is all style and atmosphere. With its exclusive design and modern interiors, is the ideal refuge for any lover of modern and style. Enjoy the terrace, the lounges (it has spacious communal lounges to rest and chat) and its exquisite cuisine.

Youth Hostel Scuol Switzerland

This hostel is the most modern cabin in the Swiss country. This hostel, decorated to the last, has beautiful wooden interiors. Come out onto the terrace and breathe in the fresh air, while enjoying the splendour of the surrounding mountains. When the sun sets, make a ball in front of the fireplace and enjoy a hot chocolate before resting in your room.

Clink 78 London

Luxurious hostel frequented by young backpackers. It occupies what used to be a courthouse, where, by the way, the punk band The Clash was judged -according to their website. So if you book a room here, you can sleep in a cell or hang out in one of the courtrooms. And it’s worth attending one of the concerts at their nightclub, the ClashBAR. It’s ten minutes from King’s Cross train station.

Cocomama Amsterdam

It has a very exotic name, but a very European conception of design and decoration, with murals, paintings, ceramics and all kinds of elements that make up a beautiful environment. Everything is very clean and well cared for. There are cinema, communal kitchen and garden, as well as other spaces to share.


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ATELIER de Hoteles is proud to present José Mejía as its Executive Chef and Food Experience

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  • Renowned Chef Mejía heads the restaurants, bars and cafeterias of the hotels in the ATELIER de Hoteles chain
  • ATELIER de Hoteles sets itself apart by showcasing an exquisite culinary proposal

ATELIER de Hoteles, a Mexican hotel chain with an innovative and ground-breaking concept, has named José Mejía as its Executive Chef and Food Experience, and who, as of today, takes on responsibility for the cuisine offered, the quality and operation of all the culinary centers in this hospitality corporation.

Chef José Mejía hails from Mexico City and studied in the Culinary Institute of Los Angeles, California. He gained his wide experience in gastronomy in countries such as Singapore, Germany, the USA, Italy, Spain and Mexico, shaping his extraordinary leadership skills in each of his work teams. Chef Mejía also possesses a magnificent vision for creating unforgettable culinary experiences, a characteristic that has made him an ambassador of Mexican Haute Cuisine.

It is a privilege for ATELIER de Hoteles to have the proven creativity of Chef José Mejía since it allows us to offer our guests an innovative and exquisite gastronomy proposal. The culinary philosophy of our Executive Chef and Food Experience breaks paradigms and goes beyond than just offering avant-garde dishes, showcasing a complete concept in which flavors, textures and colors play a major role. As well as pleasing guests’ palates, it comforts and surprises them”, commented Oliver Reinhart, CEO of ATELIER de Hoteles.

For Chef Mejía motivating his team is of the utmost importance, just like the steam that rises from the pots of modern kitchens where works of art, not just dishes, are created to nourish diners’ bodies and minds. This inspires him to maintain a balance between harmony and the demands of operating food and beverage outlets in a luxury All Suites Resort such as the ATELIER Playa Mujeres, as well as the ÓLEO Cancún Playa All Inclusive Boutique Resort and, soon to come, the family concept of the ESTUDIO Playa Mujeres.

ATELIER-de-Hoteles

“I feel very enthusiastic about the challenge with which ATELIER de Hoteles has entrusted me, and this motivates me to make sure my team of arteliers maintain their commitment to the values of our hotel chain, such as quality, professionalism and service, as well as to its conceptual cornerstones, particularly offering an authentically Addictive Service®”, said José Mejía, Executive Chef and Food Experience at ATELIER de Hoteles.

Regarding the ATELIER Playa Mujeres hotel complex, Chef Mejía treasures an exceptional vegetable garden, since its harvest guarantees produce of the highest quality and freshness which is used in the different menus throughout the hotel chain in Cancun.

The Executive Chef and Food Experience has programmed a series of activities for the restaurants in the ATELIER Playa Mujeres in which guests can enjoy the experience of growing and selecting its vegetables, greens, fruits and spices, thus promoting an Eco-social Awareness® which is important to mention since it is another of the conceptual cornerstones at ATELIER de Hoteles.

The restaurants at ATELIER Playa Mujeres headed by Chef Mejía are: Mercado 19, offering Mexican flavors with a contemporary touch; Alba, with a healthy menu; El Suspiro, seafood with Peruvian touches; Takeshi, with an Asian influence; Cilento, inspired by authentic Italian cuisine; Los Abrazos, with firewood-cooked meat cuts; Cafecito, with fine bakery and coffee, and El Trompo, with tacos and gourmet Mexican snacks.

On the other hand, in the ÓLEO Cancún Playa All Inclusive Boutique Resort, the chef is in charge of the Azul restaurant, with an international and cosmopolitan feel; Almar, with dinners offering traditional Mediterranean cuisine and seafood; Hakka, with Japanese influenced cuisine, and El Botanero, with ceviches, tacos and hamburgers served outdoors.

Similarly, the bars coordinated by José Mejía in the ATELIER Playa Mujeres are: Don Fernando, lobby bar; El Deseo, theater bar; La Oficina, contemporary cantina style; El Cielo, rooftop lounge bar, with an infinity pool boasting a spectacular view of the Caribbean and the golf course; El Trompo Swim Up Bar and El Suspiro Swim Up Bar, both located at the main pool, and Bar de La Calle, offering an urban mixology concept. Chef Mejía is also responsible for the Pool Bar and the Lobby Bar, popular meeting points for guests in the ÓLEO Cancún Playa Boutique Resort.

The wide range of restaurants and bars at ATELIER de Hoteles are structurally designed with materials and decoration that evoke an elegant and contemporary ambiance. Similarly, each of the menus offers guests a selection that reinterprets the most important culinary traditions of each culture in a ground-breaking and innovative way.

About:                     

ATELIER de Hoteles is an innovative and ground-breaking Mexican hotel chain born in 2015, with contemporary Mexican art setting it apart and acting as the common denominator in its concepts, which include strategy, passion and commitment. ATELIER de Hoteles offers in its four brands, ATELIER, ESTUDIO, ÓLEO and MET, relaxed luxury with the highest in service standards in its properties, currently located in the Hotel Zone and Playa Mujeres, both in Cancun, Quintana Roo, and with openings planned in the near future for the most important beach and business destinations in Mexico.


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You need to visit Ecuador now

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This is no joke. You need to visit Ecuador now, right this minute, it’s a matter of life and…nah. The truth is, we live in a time where options are limitless and when it comes to travel, there are SO MANY incredible international destinations it gets overwhelming to make a choice. Sometimes you just need a convincing argument, or an easy-to-understand cost benefit analysis to conclude, “Yep, that’s definitely worth it.”

What’s the point in travelling to de-compress if simply choosing your destination causes you to stress? (That line is going in my next rap single, please don’t plagiarize.) Here are a couple legitimate reasons to book your next trip to Ecuador.

Quilotoa Lake Ecuador
A group of friends gaze upon Quilotoa Lake, while a rainbow appears above the Ecuadorian Andes.

Reasons why you should visit Ecuador

Fill in the blank with something that isn’t sexist: Ecuador is like a ____. Pretty, cheap and easy.

If you want three simple, yet highly convincing reasons to visit Ecuador, here they are. Let’s start with the first and, in many cases, the most convincing:

Ecuador is CHEAP. Please note that by “cheap”, we’re talking western hemisphere levels of affordability, not Nepal or Vietnam.

Compared to other bucket-list Latin America countries, like Costa Rica, Mexico or Chile, Ecuador offers a comparable quality of service for a lower dollar figure. Among some of the incredible things to do in Ecuador, you’ll visit places like the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon.

If you’re travelling here from the United States or Europe, you’ll be pleased to discover several cheap, and usually direct, flight options to Ecuador. From the U.S., you can find flights from Fort Lauderdale, FL with Jet Blue for as cheap as $380!

Once here, you’ll also find that bus travel is C-H-E-A-P. I’m talking $1.00 per hour of travel cheap. However, there are pros and cons to this, make sure to read the last section of this blog.

Cotopaxi Volcano ecuador
A traveler visits the Limpiopungo lake inside Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi Volcano is visible in the background. Photo by: Viaja la Vida travel bloggers.

Ecuador is PRETTY. Spectacular, in fact. This is highly subjective statement that can be proven true by simply asking anyone that’s traveled here. Now, don’t ask them about the markets, because things can get pretty ugly there, especially in the animal section, but ask them about Ecuador’s beauty GENERALLY.

You’ll find that there’s a consensus: Ecuador isn’t just beautiful, but diverse, which only adds to its beauty. In a day’s drive, you can go from the Amazon rainforest, past 5,000+ meter volcanic peaks, and down through the coastal cloud forest to the glimmering beaches of Mompiche (or another coastal village).

Where else in Latin America can you do this? If you can think of a place that isn’t Ecuador, please mention it in the comment section below. Seriously, I challenge you.

Ecuador Pacific Sunset
The sun sets in the Pacific Coast. This is a common image all year long because of Ecuador’s location on the equator. Photo by: Juan Pablo Verdesoto.

Ecuador is EASY. The reason you can visit such diverse geographic regions in one day is because Ecuador is relatively small (no bigger than Colorado State, for example). Its neighbor, Peru, offers similar geographic diversity but across 5 times the geographic area! It’s gonna take more than one day to drive from the Amazon to the Pacific Coast, that’s for sure.

Over the years, a significant increase in tourism has incentivized many Ecuadorians to invest in English language acquisition. While speaking and/or learning Spanish in Ecuador is highly encouraged, you’ll find that many locals (especially the younger generations) know their way around English and will be able to help you.

A final reason why Ecuador is an easy travel destination is related to its currency, which happens to be the US dollar. That’s right: greenbacks rule. If you’re coming from the United States, you have one less headache to deal with because in Ecuador, currency exchange is not a thing.

Wanderbus Ecuador
A traveler enjoys the Ecuadorian road aboard the Wanderbus. Photo by: Juan Pablo Verdesoto.

What is the best way to travel around Ecuador?

If you’re like most travellers to Ecuador, you’re probably considering bus travel. Makes sense: buses are readily available between every city and, depending on distance, cost around $1.00 per transit hour. However, safety and convenience tend to be an issue as bus terminals are where travellers are at their most vulnerable from petty theft, and are often difficult and expensive to reach (particularly at odd hours of the night).

For those that prefer to avoid bus terminals (despite the attractive bus prices), another approach to bus travel in Ecuador is available: hop on-hop off bus companies like Wanderbus Ecuador. Wanderbus will pick you up from central locations in town and take you to Ecuador’s top (and often difficult-to-reach) destinations, ensuring safety, access to like-minded travelers as well as an English-speaking guide. The flexibility of hop on-hop off travel is especially attractive if you don’t have a set itinerary and like to keep your options open.

If you haven’t quite decided on your next international destination, make sure to take a closer look at Ecuador, where you’re sure to get more bang for your buck.



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