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Backpack & Budget

South America From a Student's Perspective

May 25, 1997|LUCY IZON | Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://www.izon.com

The 36-year-old "Let's Go" guidebook series has finally entered South America with the introduction of "Let's Go: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands."

"Let's Go" guides are researched with students in mind, but other travelers will find them helpful.

"We don't think of budget travel as the last recourse of the destitute: We believe that it's the only way to travel. Living cheaply and simply brings you closer to the people and places you've been saving up to visit," according to the guidebook's four authors.

The guidebook says that Ecuador guarantees "amazing diversity, both ecologically and culturally." The 291-page guidebook helps you plan the whole adventure from youth hostels to advice on avoiding altitude sickness to contacts for jungle tour operators.

The guidebook says the South American Explorer's Club offers good information about which tour companies to use. The club is in a restored colonial house in Quito at Jorge Washington, 311 y Leonidas Plaza, tel./fax 011-593-2-225-228. It offers helpful English-speaking staff, an information library, a lending library for guidebooks, a large selection of maps, used guidebooks and trekking equipment for sale, fax and e-mail services, free tea, a lounge and restrooms. Travelers can visit free for the first half an hour. Annual memberships are $40 per person, $20 for each additional person.

The "Let's Go" guidebook is refreshingly honest:

"If you are among the many budget travelers who actually care about their well-being, you will know fear on Ecuadorean roads. Bus travel in Ecuador means whipping around hairpin turns through thick clouds on cliffs, dropping into oblivion as you pass another bus on a one-lane dirt highway . . . consider it a ride at an amusement park and make believe that no matter how scary it gets, the car is still attached to the tracks (even though it's not). Whether or not this strategy works, every budget traveler in Ecuador will eventually have to come to grips with the realities of bus travel, as it is by far Ecuador's cheapest and most ubiquitous means of transportation."

"Let's Go: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands," $16.99, is available in bookstores.

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Budget travelers have a new option for low-cost accommodations in the San Diego area, but this new facility is only open to those who are traveling through on an international trip.

The Ocean Beach International Backpacker Hostel is a new independent youth hostel at 4961 Newport Ave., about a 15-minute walk from Sea World.

Lonely Planet's first edition of "California & Nevada," published in May 1996, found the hostel a "friendly, fun place with helpful staff."

The Berkeley Budget Guide "California '97," says: "Definitely the cheapest and best bet for seaside lodging, and it's only a block and a half from the beach."

The hostel caters to international travelers. American guests are welcome, but they must show proof that they are traveling on an international flight.

Hostel guests are offered free transportation from the airport, train or bus station. Just call the hostel and the desk person will instruct you on what shuttle to take.

The hostel offers dormitory lodging in rooms shared by up to six people. Beds are $15 per night. Double rooms are $17 per person, per night. There is also a large kitchen/dining room, travel book library, laundry, free lockers, a TV room with videos and large back patio. Guests can also use free surfboards and Boogie bodyboards, and there are no chores or curfew.

Guests are provided with a free pastry breakfast, and on Tuesdays there is a free pasta and wine dinner.

The Ocean Beach International Backpacker Hostel is a member of the Rucksacker hostel network. Guests can pay with Visa or MasterCard, but cannot make advance reservations. Contact the hostel at (619) 223-7873 or (800) 339-7263.

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