Montañita labeled as one of the world’s “coolest surf towns”

For those travelers in search of the aquatic component in their journey throughout South America, Montanita offers a little bit of everything for those interested in traveling to the coast while visiting Ecuador.

The Town and Surf

The Town and Surf
Photo by: Andrew Magill

Surfing in particular seems to be the main draw of the town itself, but as a consequence of this near-universal sport, the town itself has become a magnet for foreigners from all parts of the world looking to bask in its laid-back vibes. As all things seek to balance themselves here however, you’ll find the night life here is over the top to the point that certain clubs in Quito can’t even hold a candle to just how crazy things get here after sundown.

Fire Twirling

Fire Twirling
Photo by: Carlos Adampol Galindo

Great waves, mellow locals and an abundance of international restaurants scattered throughout the town turns Montanita into a rather interesting getaway; one which almost becomes a wormhole into another place entirely, given the diversity of the people here. You’ll find artisans selling their wares on the side of street, and once questioned you’ll find they hail from the likes of either Argentina or all the way from Germany!

Town Streets

Town Streets
Photo by: Jonathan Hood

You’d swear it wasn’t even Ecuador anymore.

Dusk

Dusk
Photo by: Gabriel Argudo

So in a sense, dear traveler, we’re asking you to do yourself a favor in regards to getting your feet wet – head to Montanita should you feel compelled to check out Ecuador’s coast and ride a wave or two before the party starts!

via Travel + Leisurehttp://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-coolest-surf-towns/9

Read up with our guide to Montanita at: http://www.vivatravelguides.com/south-america/ecuador/the-southern-coast/montanita/ 

Christmas Traditions in Latin America

When Christmas time comes along in Latin America, it’s pretty impressive just how similar (and how dissimilar) a number of countries choose to spend their holidays commemorating the birth of baby Jesus.

You’ll find that the traditions often held by families and friends hold a deeply religious significance. What’s more is that throughout Latin America there’s little nuances that distinguish each country’s traditions from the next. Read on below to find out how they differ in our guide to Christmas Traditions throughout Latin America.

Argentina & Uruguay
With a number of historical and cultural influences dousing each of these countries in a smorgasbord of traditions, Argentina and Uruguay tend to consolidate and celebrate their holidays with Christmas trees and the nativity scene. Religious folk (specifically catholic and christian) attend church on the 25th and spend this time of the year (summer for them) getting together with close friends and family outside to host get-togethers and relish the good weather while preparing bountiful meals grilled over the barbecue. Sweet bread and apple cider often accompany these gatherings.

Christmas Day, Bariloche. Photo by: Paul Burnett

Christmas Day, Bariloche. Photo by: Paul Burnett

Bolivia
Bolivians celebrate their Christmas in a more deeply religious way, often putting up their nativity scene (pesebre) in their homes with a level of dedication and meticulousness unparalleled in other places. Churches too often put up a larger and more elaborate nativity right outside their doors. At midnight on christmas eve, the mass of the Rooster (La Misa del Gallo) is held and a large christmas meal is served afterwards at the household of each family. A traditional beverage served during this time is “cola de mono,” similar to eggnog.

Festive Frolics @ the Salt Flats. Photo by: Ewar Woowar

Festive Frolics @ the Salt Flats. Photo by: Ewar Woowar

Brazil
As a South American country we have included Brazil although its national language is Portuguese. Northern Brazilians, like Mexicans, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores (The Shepherds). In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child. Friends and family members may also take part in these plays. People make a special meal and decorate their houses. Many go to church to attend services in line with family tradition. Christmas picnics and banquets are also common. Special items and usual holiday recipes are tried along with the cakes and wines.

Christmas chorus in Curitiba, Brazil. Photo by: Marcusrg

Christmas chorus in Curitiba, Brazil. Photo by: Marcusrg

Chile
Chileans like to bring in a figure similar to that of Santa Claus into their Christmas celebrations, known as the Viejo Pascuero (Old Christmas Man). He, like Santa Claus, wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and New Years, but as chimneys are rather scarce in the warmer climate of Chile, he simply comes in through the window instead. The nativity scene is also set up in the household as well, and midnight (on christmas eve) is followed by a bountiful meal that includes cazuela de ave (chicken cazuela) – a soup made of potatoes, onions and corn on the cob. This is followed with desert in the form of pan the pascua (fruit bread).

Colombia
The Christmas traditions start on December 7, with families lighting a candle in honor of the Virgin Mary. Following this day, churches commemorate the day of immaculate conception. What’s nifty about all this is that households typically end up lighting upwards of around 100 candles on the curb or sidewalk area in front of their house. Adding to this dazzling display of flaming lights are Christmas lights that decorate the trees and lampposts throughout the city.

December 16th sees Colombian families setting up and decorating their Christmas trees and nativity scene; gathering around said decorations throughout the days leading up to the 25th with prayers and carols (Novena de Aguinaldos).

Christmas eve has families getting together to eat and spend time together, with typical Colombian dishes such as ajiaco (a loaded and heavy chicken/potato soup) and natilla (corn based dessert) and bunuelos. Following this, the family waits until midnight to exchange presents and words of affection.

Christmas at Parque 93, Bogota. Photo by: Christopher Kirk

Christmas at Parque 93, Bogota. Photo by: Christopher Kirk

Cuba
While Christmas was considered somewhat of an oddity for some time (if anything, it was completely avoided after Cuba declared itself an atheist nation in 1962), the tradition itself has experienced somewhat of a resurrection in the past decade . Following the visit of Pope John Paul II, Christmas was reinstated as a national holiday and brought with it large following, including religious congregations that are now held in Havana’s Revolution Square. Cubans tend to head to mass at midnight, with the church bells announcing the transition from Christmas eve into Christmas day. Bountiful meals are served at households for family and friends following this.

Christmas Day, Cuba. Photo by: Ingmar Zahorsky

Christmas Day, Cuba. Photo by: Ingmar Zahorsky

Ecuador
Ecuador celebrates the holidays with the usual fare of family, food, Christmas trees, lights and nativity scenes. In fact, in the capital, you’ll find that up on El Panecillo (a substantial hill visible throughout the city) the statue of the Virgin Mary has her own gigantic, glowing nativity scene at her feet and is a sight to behold from a distance at night. Families tend to gather on Christmas Eve for food and drink. At midnight they exchange gifts and words of affection. Attending mass during this time is also quite common.

El Panecillo, Quito. Photo by:  Adn Montalvo Estrada

El Panecillo, Quito. Photo by: Adn Montalvo Estrada

The indigenous have a show of color and fine threads as they dress in their finest and ride brightly colored llamas down to the ranches where their employers live. Typically, they’ll bring gifts of fruit and produce with them, which they then lay down in front of the nativity scene which is set up out by the farmhouse. Children are the ones that typically give words or songs to the holy infant, asking for blessings for their family and future. Following this, festivities ensue with singing and dancing outside. The owner of the farm also gives gifts to his employees and their families, along with a big feast.

Christmas Decorations at the base of El Panecillo

Christmas Decorations at the base of El Panecillo

El Salvador
El Salvador is fond of intimate gatherings focused on family and friends. You’ll find that families, in their entirety, go to church together at this time. Following this, they’ll head back to the house and have a huge meal throughout the evening up until midnight, at which point presents are exchanged. One distinguishing feature about this tradition is that, throughout the weeks following up to Christmas, you’ll find that the nativity scene in homes lack the baby. It isn’t until midnight on Christmas Eve that families finally take out baby Jesus and put him in the manger, symbolizing that Christ is now born.

Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Photo by:  Edwin Merches

Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Photo by: Edwin Merches

Mexico
La Posada, as it’s known in Mexico, is a religious procession that focuses on the search for shelter by Joseph and Mary, and is usually performed as a reenactment by children or adults. The groups typically go from house to house carrying images of Mary and Joesph. During this season, market stalls pop up all around the city known as “puestos” that house all kinds of foodstuffs and flowers. Flowers specifically (the poinsettia in particular) seem to replace the concept of Santa Claus here, as their brilliant red-star shaped petals are found nearly everywhere.

Children receive gifts on Christmas Day, and are also (sometimes) blindfolded and given a swing at a pinata. Once successfully broken, the children scramble to reap the sweets and small toys that fall out. Should the children behave extra good during the holiday season, they’ll also receive a bonus present on the 6th of January from the three wise men.

Christmas at Zocalo Square, Mexico City. Photo by: Juan Carlos

Christmas at Zocalo Square, Mexico City. Photo by: Juan Carlos

Peru
Nativity scenes in Peru are typically made by Quechua Indians, and you’ll find a number of these beautiful, wood-carved figures throughout the country (should you get a chance to step into someone’s home). Following midnight on Christmas Eve, dinners are held back at home which feature tamales among a number of other delights. On Christmas day, the streets come alive with religious processions commemorating the Virgin Mary, her statue of which is transported throughout the streets.

Venezuela
Aside from attending the usual mass on Christmas Eve and the exchange of presents on Christmas day, Venezuela has a distinct tradition held on January 6th.

On this day, when the children awaken, they will discover gifts by their bedside, What’s more is that the children will know that the Magi and their camels have been at home, for when they look themselves in the mirror and see a black smudge on their cheek they then know that Balthazar, King of the Ethiopians, has kissed them while they slept.

In Search of Latin America’s "Black Friday" Deals

And as the holidays draw near, you know what’s on your mind aside from all that eggnog, gingerbread and apple cider you so desoerateky crave… PRESENTS! And what better place to look for them than in an exotic land far, far from home?! Nothing beats the ability to bring home gifts that are of a complete and foreign nature. Whether it’s the warmest and softest alpaca sweater you’ve ever worn, or a flask wrapped in 100% leather (to keep that cider warm), the markets throughout Latin America offers every visitor a chance to acquire something incredibly unique to take back to your loved ones back home. So be sure to check out our list below as we highlight the best places to shop at in some of the hottest capitals throughout Latin America. Happy hunting!

QUITO

The Mercado Artesanal is a small and bustling market full of artisan handiwork, which is located on Calle Reina Victoria (on the edge of La Mariscal) and close to Parque El Ejido. The market is home to permanent stalls that sell Ecuadorian hand-knit goods, wood carvings, silver, jewelry and native musical instruments, among other items. The Mercado Artesanal de La Mariscal is a significantly smaller version of the famed indigenous market in Otavalo, but you can find most everything here that you would there, without having to make the 3.5-hour journey. All things can (and should!) be bartered for, whether you’re looking for souvenirs or an addition to your alpaca sweater collection. Daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Calle Jorge Washington and Reina Victoria.

aretesans
Photo by: David Berkowitz

LIMA

Lima has some great shopping opportunities, from outdoor markets to handicraft cooperatives and from retail stores offering the finest alpaca clothing to those displaying the latest fashions. Several large malls, like Larcomarin Miraflores, Real Plaza in Central Lima (Av Garcilazo de la Vega and Bolivia) and Camino Real in San Isidro (Belaunde 147) present any type of shop, movie theaters and food courts to keep you fueled during your sprees. Several large markets specializing in computer and electronic gear are on Bolivia and Uruguay avenues, between Av Garcilaso de la Vega and Camaná, in Central Lima. Take extra care of pickpockets in Lima’s markets, especially in Central Lima and other poor areas of the city. +Dédalo is a must see. Even if you don’t plan to spend any money, it is well worth the visit. Staged in an old refurbished house in Barranco, a block away from the sea, it offers Peruvian non-traditional workmanship at its best. You will find beautiful handmade ceramics, blown glass, design-winning woodwork, stone carvings and the latest in textile design, among other works of art on a world-class level. It has a nice coffee shop on the inside patio, a children’s toy area, handmade jewelry and a permanent exhibition of unique objects made out of recycled materials. There is no pressure to buy, so you can just wander at your leisure through the treasure-filled rooms. Located at Paseo Sáenz Peña 295, Barranco

BUENOS AIRES

If you like the idea of searching for hidden treasure, the Mercado de las Pulgas (flea market) is the place to go. The market’s six aisles, labeled with the six letters of the word pulgas, are stuffed with cheap antiques, knickknacks, oddities, collectables and second-hand goods, at prices that are tough to beat. The oldest items are European pieces, mainly furniture, from the immigration boom of the 1920s, but you’ll find trinkets from a range of decades (the 70s seem particularly prevalent). This market, which has been around since 1988, is a nice alternative to some of the more touristy markets and artisan fairs. You can find some truly unique items here, and the value is virtually unrivaled anywhere in the city. This is also one of the few indoor markets, so it’s perfect for a rainy afternoon. It can feel more like going to a museum after a hurricane, but don’t forget that you can buy the things you see. Bargaining is expected, so don’t accept the first figure. The export boom after the 2001 crisis has cleared out many of the choice items, and most valuable treasures are either gone or priced accordingly, but it’s still worth it to poke around. Located on Alvarez Thomas and Dorrego.

LA PAZ

It has been said many a time that La Paz is one big market, and it can certainly seem that way, wandering around the hectic streets with stalls on every corner. A huge array of goods can be bought on the city’s streets, including dog’s clothes, kid’s toys, mobile phones and mattresses. There are also vegetable markets, flower markets, fish markets and markets selling electrical goods. Some of the mercados of most interest to visitors include Uyustus, the place to head to buy clothes, trainers, cosmetics, hairdryers, CDs, stationary and other bric-brak; Eloy Salmon, where you’ll find all kinds of electrical equipment on sale, from i-pods to mobile phones and portable DVD players; and Graneros, a narrow pedestrian street filled with jeans and other clothes. The whole area east of Avenida Buenos Aires, around the junction with Calle Max Paredas, is filled with street stalls selling clothes, hair accessories, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery (including plastic versions), cleaning products, shoe polish and just about anything else you can think of. Even if you don’t need to buy anything, this is a good place to wander around and soak up La Paz’s unique atmosphere. Don’t take any valuables with you, and if you get lost just ask to be directed to the Prado.

SANTIAGO

Head to Feria Santa Lucia for souvenirs such as T-shirts, leather and wool goods, jewelry and wooden handcrafted items. The market items are cheaper than the tourist shops in Patio Bellavista, but prices are fixed and are more or less the same on each stall. Cerro Santa Lucia. Center, Santiago, Chile.

BOGOTA

Not far from the amenities of the Hacienda Santa Bárbara and the delightful Usaquén plaza, surrounded by restaurants and artsy cafes, can be found the Sunday flea market. At the Usaquén Flea Market, artists, designers and craftsmen all display their curios here. T-shirts, shawls, carvings, organics and other items are up for negotiation here. Located on Ca 119B, Usaquen. Alternatively, the Mercado de Pulgas San Alejo flea market occupies a parking lot near Museo Nacional on Sundays and offers general bric-a-brac. Flea market enthusiasts can find some real steals here, or just while away a few hours sieving through antiques and trinkets. Located on Cra 7 and Ca 24.

Latin America leads the way in preparing for Global Warming

A strange sense of irony might befall many when you consider that it’s the poorer and smaller countries (compared to the likes of North America and Europe) that are taking proactive measures to prepare for global warming.

“Invention is the mother of necessity,” seems to be the motto that Latin America is taking on, while up north and across the Atlantic many developed nations are caught up in the ongoing political debate over whether or not Global Warming is even an actual phenomenon. What blindness has befallen them!

What makes Latin America more vehement in its pursuit (casting any notion of doubt into the wind) over preparations for global warming is the fact that the entire region has been victim to a countless number of disasters due to climate. And things are only getting worse as time goes on.

Hopefully the sea level won’t rise up to where those clouds currently are… that would suck.

global_warming

“In places where the climate seems to be a growing threat to human lives, resources and urban infrastructure, local officials have been working with scientists, conducting assessments and examining which new measures may best prepare them for the future.“

An MIT survey shows that:

  • 95% of major cities in Latin America are planning for climate change.
  • 59% of such cities in the United States are planning for climate change.

In the end it seems that only those countries and cities pressed by the forces of nature are the ones that are actively seeking countermeasures to the growing phenomenon, even if they truly are (comparatively) not the biggest or wealthiest countries to be doing so.

Here’s to hoping that the rest of the world wakes up to Latin America’s wiser bit of activity and preparation; otherwise it may very well be that Latin America becomes the “Noah’s Ark” of the world as they’re the only ones prepared for the potential onslaught of natural disasters that we, as humans, are ultimately responsible for having procured.

Via MIT News: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/cities-climate-change-preparedness-survey-0605.html

Google Street View arrives to the Galapagos! But in a much simpler form…

Those dying for a chance to viscerally experience the towns of the Galapagos through pictures can rejoice now that Google has your fix… but only partially.

The search engine giant has officially graced the shores of the enchanted islands and offered a means to visually experience and acquaint yourselves with the islands via their website, but it’s nowhere near what Google street view has traditionally offered its users in the past. The new addition to the maps of the Galapagos introduces 360-degree “snapshots” of specific parts of the towns and trails only, rather than the seamless click-and-glide-to exploration of the town streets that’s typical of Google Street View. This might be due to the fact that the photographs also go “off the grid” and actually explore other, isolated parts of the islands.

What does manage to be impressive however, is the 360-degree underwater pictures they have of offshore diving sites (Google Subaquatic View?).

So Cool!

galapagos_street_view

The photographic addition is the result of a project between the Charles Darwin Foundation, Google Maps, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Services. In addition to being a means to explore the towns, the placement of pictures on the maps is aimed to assist in the scientific investigation of certain areas as well as the management of protected areas in the park itself.

The project itself took place during the month of May of this year, and after being processed by the labs over at Google are now ready for our perusing. Be sure to check them out HERE!

Via Diario EL COMERCIOhttp://www.elcomercio.com/tecnologia/Galapagos-Google-StreetView-GoogleMaps-fotografias-360Grados_0_991700945.html

Tungarahua Volcano: Active Once Again

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAqviIwTvEA

It’s official folks, Tungurahua volcano has officially gone active again as of 6:47 a.m. yesterday (Sunday, July 14), with authorities declaring an “orange alert” – the second highest warning level.

200+ residents were evacuated from the Cusua, Chacauco and Juive areas. Forunately, no injuries have been reported.

While Tungurahua has had its spontaneous bursts of activity in the past year, the power of the explosive eruption was apparently grater than anticipated. VolcanoDiscovery.com, having measured elevated seismic activity in the area over the past few weeks, claims that the eruption was not as surprising as the sheer power and force of it, with heavy rain and mild flooding following suit.

Visitors already in or heading to Baños should take note of the volcano’s activity, making sure to take reasonable measures to either stock up on supplies (water, masks, non-perishable goods, etc.), or packing up and heading elsewhere. For those planning on going to the Tungurahua region, it is advised you postpone plans for at least the next week, or until further news and updates come in regarding the volcano’s potential future activity.

Is Quito ready for its upcoming Underground Metro?

Ask any quiteño what their biggest annoyance is with living in the capital city, and more often than not you’ll hear them mutter a disgruntled “traffic.”

Oh, hey there Traffic, I can see you sneaking up behind me...

In just over a decade, Quito has quite literally exploded in all directions, or at least as much as the massive hills and mountains that flank this bit of civilization will allow it to. Look closely at the steep hills of Pichincha on any night, and you’ll see the city lights quite literally floating upwards towards the stars – an indicator of just how much the city is beginning to bulge and teem with new buildings and infrastructure. With an estimated annual growth of 18,000 people per year, Quito keeps getting bigger by the day.

But if Quito is so excited to grow, can it sustain itself and its people while expanding at such a rapid pace?

The city’s boundaries are a long shot from what they once were in the Northern end (once the old Mariscal Sucre Airport) and at the Southern end (just past El Panecillo, by El Recreo). The furthest reaches of the city now border closer to Mitad del Mundo near Carcelen, and the Southern recesses by Quitumbe – a jaunt away from Pasachoa.

I can see the mothers and fathers of this city, hands on their hips, looking down endearingly on this great expanse of civilization, and gleefully saying, “they grow up so fast, don’t they?”

But as the boundaries of the city grow wider and wider apart, commutes get longer and longer, and not to mention – the people get grumpier and grumpier as they arrive to work (Disclaimer: The VIVA Offices are an exceptional and energetic haven for all weary travelers, workers and commuters alike. We have plenty of coffee and would gladly share it with any tired soul that feels the need to amble in through our doors on the way to… well, wherever!). Point being, buses and cars can only do so much in mitigating the growth of the city. More people can only mean more buses, and likewise – more cars.

Even Quito’s relatively recent Pico & Placa (literally Peak & Plate, whereby cars with specific license-plate numbers are prohibited from driving during certain hours, on specific days) traffic-regulating system is getting lukewarm in its effectiveness as the oh-so-cunning populace does what any tree-hugger would rightfully gag at, and that is – they’re all buying secondary cars to use on their “prohibited” days!

What recourse does the city have now, but to look to the future and envision a way of mitigating the traffic – the crowds on wheels – by getting into gear and funneling much of that crowd into a nice and shiny new metro system that’s set to open in 2016!

Wait, was that a… 2016?

Yup.

Three more years of waiting, but a total of 6 if you go back to 2010 and understand that they were already doing an examination of the city in order to better understand how exactly it is that they’d put a Metro through a city as motley and topsy-turvy as this. Not to mention, all the logistics of how many stops it’ll have, or where they’ll be located and how many passengers they’ll transport has been investigated.

So that part is over, or “Phase 1” as it’s technically called, is officially complete, thanks in large part to the savvy and knowledgeable minds at Metro Madrid – an engineering company that has years of expertise in the metro-building business over in Spain. The the future of transportation is in capable and good hands, to say the least. The engineering firm has also been commissioned to supervise the remaining phases, as well as performing technical maintenance on the metro once it’s finished.

There will be 15 stations in total, with La Magdalena being the terminus station located in South and El Labrador being its counterpoint in the North.

Budget for the entire line? 1.5 million.

But why can't it stop directly at my doorstep?!

Wait a minute, did I get that right? One-and-a-half million? Aren’t there cars that are worth more than that???

Which is why many have come to doubt the construction of the metro (which is even harder to stop now, given the project is already underway, as construction of the terminus stations began earlier this year). Many are skeptical of whether or not the entire project has enough money to finance it to the finish line (50% is provided by the municipality, and the other half by the central government). The budget, to some, seems way to small to justify and sustain the sheer size of the project, especially given the fact that the greater part of the metro is going to be underground – which costs a prettier penny than it does to build above ground.

Not to mention, with two stations planned for Quito’s Old Town, UNESCO has cast a rather questionable glance at the project itself. As a world heritage site, Old Town seems to be the most vulnerable and fragile location to undergo a project as big as this, and yet ironically – the one most in need of it. With an average intake of 280 thousand people – mediated by some 2,600 buses and 80,000 cars per day – we can see how the Old Town is under a lot of pressure to ease the flow of traffic in and out of its lauded and much celebrated cobblestone streets and enduring antiquity.

Could've been worse, they could've turned it into a Nightclub. A "holy" Nightclub.

With Quito promising to be careful in its execution and construction of the Metro underneath the Historical Old Town (apparently, stating that instead of using a tunnel boring machine they’ll dig manually), it seems that the city and the government has a rather headstrong outlook in getting this thing underway.

After all, doesn’t Rome have its own Metro under the Colosseum? And China, a metro underneath the Forbidden (yes, FORBIDDEN!) City?

I say: Persevere Quito, persevere! And I will see you all, dear friends and family that live on the other side of the city, in less than 36 minutes,

Come 2016.

Can Bolivia's native food boost its tourism industry?

Being ranked as one of the most unfriendliest places in the world might be a huge setback for your tourism industry, but are there certain things and tastes that might be able to redeem Bolivia’s unwelcoming demeanor? The answer might be found in the country’s culinary roots.

The Problem

Here in Ecuador for example, cheap quinoa (along with many other grains and beans) are classified by many as the food of the indigenous, and are – in some ways – quietly considered inferior to foreign and imported, more expensive and exciting delicacies. Ironically, such ‘delicacies’ might merely be McDonald’s or Subway. As a result of its higher price and exotic appeal, a person’s choice of food in this sense has also inadvertently become somewhat of a status icon.

With Latin America becoming more westernized each year and with international fast-food franchises becoming more rampant, “dining out” might actually involve sampling the new and exotic or Western fried foods at a Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The act itself becomes more socially exalting and appealing to many (despite the higher price and exceptionally lower-quality ingredients) because it’s so different from what the country itself has to offer, as well as the social undertones that the national food might carry.

The inverse (and irony) of all this being  that in the western world (specifically Canada & the US) the price of quinoa can exceed the price of a fast food meal in weight alone, and is considered a high-end food as a result.

But if a country’s populace becomes jaded towards its own traditions and food, tourists might find themselves perplexed by the overabundance of international restaurants available and disappointed by the lack of local and traditional fare.

Or will they? A fresh and foreign palate might be the only way to reevaluate the worth of a country’s own cuisine – as well as raise appreciation for the local ingredients grown inside the nation. At least that’s what Claus Meyer, the Danish co-founder of Noma (one of the best restaurants in the world), intends to do in La Paz, Bolivia.

The Solution

Using his conviction that regards food as an instrument to improve life – as well as his resentment towards food being taken hostage by the industry – Meyer is setting up a restaurant named Gustu in La Paz as a non-profit organization. The restaurant will serve as a platform for fine dining, a bakery and bistro, and even a cooking school for underprivileged young indigenous chefs.

“The idea is to turn those young, marginalized people into culinary entrepreneurs,” he says in his Ted-Talk, “and, in close cooperation with all the major stakeholders in Bolivia, form the Bolivian food movement.”

He underlines the fact that, in light of the problem stated earlier, the movement intends to go against the international junk and fast food industry, which he says is one that is “dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health, undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet.”

In many ways, Meyer is the white knight of Bolivia’s culinary heritage, bringing to international light the fact that Bolivia has the largest biological diversity worldwide in terms of agricultural produce. Local delicacies can range anywhere from llama steak to giant runner beans. In addition to this, Meyer claims that he’s found fruits that he’s seen nowhere else, along with “thousands of varieties of potatoes, high jungle coffee and even exquisite red wine from the landlocked country’s eastern border with Argentina.”

Hopes are high within the Danish entrepreneur and seasoned cook as his restaurant is now operating in the capital, and he holds fast to the conviction that food can definitively change our minds, and to a certain extent – the world. It’s just the case that sometimes, especially when we’ve been living in a place for so long, the true value of the ground we stand on – and the fruits it provides – must be revealed to us once more by the fresh perspective and palate of savvy newcomer.

What camera is best for travel photography?

In a day and age where we all want to share our adventures with our family and friends,
how do we know which camera is for us?

Ahhh, memories of summer as I'm sitting in winter...

“A life worth living is a life worth recording.”

I think that to a certain extent, many of us hold a secret desire to stash and tuck away a large number of our experiences into a more accessible part of our memory. Be it the look in your eyes when you had your first sip of Coca-Cola as kid or when you bungee jumped off a questionable-looking bridge somewhere in Latin America, part of me believes that it’s safe to say that we all have moments in life that we never want to forget, or at least, that we wish we could relive.

Alas, and for better or for worse, it is the unfortunate case that our minds – as brilliant as they are – can be somewhat inefficient at ingraining in our memory the small and big details that make up every experience. Necessity being the mother of invention however, we find that our creative and ingenious species has come a long way in fixing that little shortcoming.

Photography

Travel is the one thing that especially calls out for this means of remembering more than any other occasion in life. We always seem to want to bring back or keep with us a visual souvenir as a testament of having visited a certain place. Except for, maybe the bathroom.

there are exceptions, of course

And in this new dawn and age of digital photography, it seems that the devices for doing so are more likely inside our pockets than sitting at home in the closet (as would be the case with a DSLR and its collection of lenses). Rather than asking if anyone has a camera handy to take a picture, don’t we actually find ourselves usually asking: does anyone have a cellphone?

A wise man once proclaimed: The man with the best camera is he who has one on them at the exact moment when it is needed (ladies, this goes for you too obviously!). So in many ways, be it on your next journey abroad or simply when you step out the door next time, realize that this anxiety of forgetting your experiences is actually mitigated quite powerfully by the technology you simply carry around inside your pocket on a daily basis.

What kind of photographer are you?

As the line gets blurrier by the day between smartphone cameras and DSLRs/point-and-shoots, it’s becoming even harder to justify the price of buying a bigger piece of machinery and lenses when something so tiny offers so much already. Even more troubling is the fact that smartphone cameras are starting to pack more bells and whistles than your average camera could shake a stick at. Starting from apps that stitch panoramas for you on the spot, all the way to letting you edit and share your pictures on the web right after you’ve taken them, it’s easy to see how standalone digital cameras are falling behind in terms of the tools and convenience they offer their user.

Look at this guy, even sporting a Jeweler’s loupe, so classy....

But there are many things the traveler must take into account before picking their camera of choice for their upcoming journey. Specifically, what do you want to get out of your images? Take a look at the following categories and questions to help you figure that out:

  • Type of photography: Low-light or bright-light? Soft-focus? Are you going to be taking pictures of birds? People up close? Skylines? Do you want creative control over shutter speed and aperture? Will you be taking your camera with you underwater?
  • Image Quality: What will you be viewing these pictures on? Will you be printing numberswiki.com

    them up into larger sizes? Or just posting them on the web? Are you all about getting the details in your photograph as sharp and focused as possible?

  • Connectivity: How frequently will you want to let the people you care about see where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to?
  • Convenience: How ready are you to haul around an extra couple of pounds around your neck or in your backpack? How intimidating do you want to look pointing your lens at the locals?
  • Safety: How well will you want to conceal your camera, given the areas you’ll be in?

These are all vital questions you must ask yourself before deciding on what kind of camera you’ll be taking with you, and as you answer them you should be getting a clearer image of what type of camera best suits you.

And I know. While there’s a large number of our readers slowly transitioning (and we love it!) into the electronic version of our books – which means they’ll be reading our guidebook on-the-go, either from their phones or tablet – the answer is pretty clear: Go with your phone or tablet if it has a camera, Go with what you’re already taking with you. Tablets are rather fragile though, so I wouldn’t advise taking that out with you on a daily basis.

The Purist Photographer

But there’s still many of you reading this right now probably thinking:

But what if I don’t feel comfortable taking my prized possession with me off into some unknown land? What if I don’t even own a smart phone or a tablet?

Well dear traveler, find some respite in knowing there’s some incredibly powerful cameras available on the market today that can fit inside your pocket, or at most – very inconspicuously in your satchel or backpack. Not to mention, some are even waterproof, unlike your phone! But all in all, I’ll have to point most travelers away from going the DSLR-way…

Not because I hate them, not at all! Just…

Bigger is not always better. In my experience, portability has always managed to trump the image-quality of a DSLR. I mean this in the sense that weight – for the sake of quality – is never a sacrifice I’m willing to make when it comes to remembering an experience. I’d rather be less burdened by my camera and enjoy the ride, than lug around its whiny-weight and end up distracted by all the care/effort I have to put into it.

Look Ma! I made it all the way up to the top with my point-and-shoot! And I can prove it!

And that’s not to say that there aren’t cameras that pack a mighty punch in a small package. Below I’ve listed some examples of some solid, compact and light-weight options depending on the type of photography you’re interested in exploring.

  • Lens-interchangeability: A luxury you can cradle in your palm, mirror-less camera’s are slowly paving the way for DSLR and smartphone convergence.  For those interested in changing their depth of field, or tinkering with their aperture and shutter speed, this is it.
  • DSLR strength (in a point-in-shoot body): Packing a big sensor in a point-and-shoot body can make you feel like you’re driving a Volkswagen with a Porsche engine under the hood, sometimes. Check it out.
  • Point-and-Shoot: When you’re not in the mood to have to fiddle with your camera to get the shot you want, relax.
  • Waterproof: If you have the sinking suspicion that you’re going to end up getting completely soaked, stay dry. 

The Magic is in The Moment

Just remember, what makes a picture isn’t really the quality of the camera nor how many megapixels it has. Sometimes it all just depends on being at the right place, at the right time, and having any type of camera on you to capture that moment – that’s what will do the trick. And a marvelous trick it is, for our memories.

So dear traveler, just soak it in and keep your eyes peeled! You never know what you might miss if you’re not looking!

Happy Travels,
V!VA

 

New Quito Airport Is Officially Operational

It’s been 50 years in the making, but travelers flying into Quito after February 20th will find themselves touching down over the brand new Mariscal Sucre Airport, located about an hour away from the city itself. The airport is situated on a plateau near the small town of Tababela, 18 kilometers east of Quito.

It’s a stretch then to say that Quito itself has a new airport, given how far away it is. And we can absolutely sympathize with travelers finding themselves disgruntled by the substantial detour this creates in getting to capital.

But since Quito’s emergence as a popular tourist destination, the number and frequency of flights slowly began to outgrow the operating capacity of the former airport, previously nestled in the northern part of the city. Not to mention, it’s location in a tightly-packed commercial and residential area meant that there was no room to expand the existing terminals and runways. Thus, a whole new airport was needed.

All in all, the new airport is better adapted to satisfy the movement of modern-day airlines and travelers; as well as provide speedier baggage handling, customs, and customer services. In addition to this, the new airport will allow for direct flights to and from a number of major cities around the world.

Getting to Quito won’t be too much of a burden either, granted the airport counts on a number of methods for transporting its arrivals to the capital and back:

  • The transportation company Aeroservicios S.A. (www.aeroservicios.com.ec) runs Wi-Fi equipped buses 24/7 that depart every 30 minutes. Buses leave from the old airport to the new one at a set rate of $8 per passenger, taking about one hour to an hour-and-a-half to get there. Tickets can be bought online or right before boarding.
  • Alternatively, public transit will provide buses departing from the Rio Coca terminal to the new airport every 15 minutes for $2. The catch is that you’ll have to wait patiently through 5 brief stops before finally getting there. Estimated transport time between the two points will be at least an hour-and-a-half to two-hours until traffic conditions improve – specifically once the bypasses are constructed (the main Collas-Tababela highway that is being built from the city to the airport is not expected to be completed until April of 2014)
  • The third option is to take a Taxi, which will cost an estimated $25 to get to the airport from most places in Quito (and vice-versa). To consult the chart of fixed taxi rates, divided up by neighborhood, click here.