Author Archives: crit

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is observed throughout Latin America on November first and second. It’s a day in which people get together to remember those who have passed away: not just in the past year, but even long before. Many people will build shrines in their homes with photos and keepsakes, and even may cook the favorite meal of the departed!

The best place to see it is Mexico, where they go all-out with special food, drinks, music and day-long parties at the cemeteries, but several other places in Latin America celebrate it and it’s well worth checking out. Here is some Day of the Dead information to get you started!

In Guatemala, there are a couple of places worth checking out. In Todos Santos, in the province of Huehuetenango, the locals celebrate November first by partying and drinking all day and having special horse races through the town as well as ceremonial dances. In Sacatepéquez, the locals construct and fly elaborate, enormous and colorful kites: you’ve never seen anything like it.

In Ecuador, celebrations are a little more low-key as families head to the cemeteries to spend the day with departed loved ones. Be sure to pick up colada morada (a thick, purple, sweet beverage made from fruit and served hot) and guaguas de pan (“bread children:” small, sweet loaves of bread in human shape, occasionally filled with caramel or jam). Delicious!

Mexico: Our Native Languages are Cultural Patrimony

Archaeologists and Historians from Mexico’s National Archaeology and History Institute (INAH) have requested that UNESCO add Mexico’s native languages to its Cultural Patrimony list. They feel that the languages, remnants of advanced pre-Colombian cultures, represent an important part of Mexican culture. Inclusion on the UNESCO list would show that Mexico truly values its cultural past, and would likely help get grants and other funds to study and preserve these languages. There are some 60 indigenous languages (including almost 400 regional dialects) in Mexico, mostly in the south and in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Chile Aftershocks Continue, but Intensity Down

Aftershocks continue to shake parts of earthquake-devastated Chile: that’s the bad news. The good news: they’re minor, and decreasing in frequency. The US Geological Survey has recorded sixteen aftershocks in Chile since March 20 (four days ago at the time of this writing) but none of them had a magnitude greater than 5.5 and most were under 5.0.  In other good news from Chile, national parks and reserves in the hardest-hit regions have reopened, inviting back visitors and reassuring the nation that normalcy is in their future.

Chile Curfew Ends

The Chilean Province of Curico has lifted the curfew which had been in effect since the devastating earthquake. The towns of Curico, Sagrada Familia and Molina are now curfew-free, although the rest of Maule Province still has the curfew for now. The local authorities did away with the curfew after the situation in those towns normalized enough that it was no longer needed.

Machu Picchu to Reopen March 29

Good news for everyone who has Machu Picchu on their “bucket list:” the ruins are going to reopen on March 29. The train will once again run between Aguas Calientes (the town at the bottom of the hill from the ruins) to Piscacucho. Buses will go from Cuzco and Ollantaytambo to Piscacucho. The train track between Piscacucho and Cuzco was apparently damaged by mudslides more than the last section which leads to the ruins. This section is expected to reopen sometime in June or July, restoring the famous train trip from Cuzco to the ruins. The section of the Inca Trail in the area – by far the most-traveled part of the famous Inca roadway – will reopen at about the same time.

Chile Earthquake Update: March 8

Aftershocks continue to shake parts of Chile, which are still reeling from the massive 8.8 earthquake that hit a week ago. Despite the damage, and the continued troubles associated with the aftershocks, Chile is working hard to put itself back together.

The relief and rebuilding is expected to cost some $30 billion dollars. But aid is being delivered to those who need it the most and ordinary Chileans are pitching in to help out as much as they can. A national telethon is expected to raise some $30 million for relief and rebuilding, with much of the contributions coming from areas in Chile that were unaffected.

Also in recent news, police in the hard-hit city of Concepcion are going after looters. Some 20 citizens have been arrested and charged with looting in the aftermath of the earthquake. Police were preparing to go house-to-house to look for stolen electronics and other high-end goods. Before the operation, they declared an amnesty and hundreds of looters dropped off stolen items at police checkpoints. By some estimates, the police have recovered more than $2 million worth of stolen goods.

Although there is still much suffering in the worst-hit areas, other parts of Chile, such as the Lakes district, Patagonia and northern Chile continue to be open for tourism.

2010: Latin American Nations celebrate Bicentennials

2010 will be a big year in Latin America for Bicentennial Independence celebrations. Several nations will celebrate 200 years since the beginning of their independence movements. Here are some:

  • Mexico: on September 16, Mexicans will celebrate 200 years since the “Cry of Dolores” of Father Miguel Hidalgo rallied thousands of peasants to his side to begin the fight for Independence.
  • Venezuela: On April 19, 1810, Venezuelan patriots in Caracas gathered to declare provisional independence from Spain, which soon became a complete break with the mother country.
  • Argentina: On May 25,  1810 Argentina also declared a provisional independence from Spain which became official in 1816.
  • Chile: Chile celebrates September 18 as its independence Day. It was on this day in 1810 that Chilean patriots formed an independent government in Santiago.
  • Colombia: On July 20, Colombia will celebrate 200 years to the date of their first declaration of independence.

If you’re going to be anywhere near one of these countries on one of those dates, be sure to look into the festivities, which promise to be grand!

Ecuador to have rolling blackouts

Ecuador at night during blackout

Ecuador at night during blackout

Ecuador, currently suffering from a severe power shortage, has instituted rolling blackouts around the country to save energy. Every day, different sectors of Quito and rural areas will have their power cut for from three to six hours. The local paper, El Comercio, has the schedule online (http://ww1.elcomercio.com/default.asp) or in their printed edition. Hotels and most restaurants and nightlife are making the most of it, staying open and providing service (most stoves and ovens use gas and are unaffected, although refrigeration might be a concern). Ecuadorians are aware of the problem and will usually know when their sector is due for an outage. Important services such as hospitals have generators, but in many areas traffic lights may be out. The power shortage is due to low rainfall in the south where Ecuador’s lone electric plant operated off a dam: some estimate that the crisis may last months.

What's Going on in Honduras?

As many of you may know, Honduras is currently in a chaotic state. What do visitors need to know?

What’s Going on?

In June, the Congress booted President Manuel Zelaya with the support of the army and Supreme Court, giving him a one-way ticket to Costa Rica on a military plane. He’s been trying to reclaim his office ever since.

Where is he now?

Ex-president Zelaya is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. There are occasional protests of support outside the building, although the army breaks them up pretty quickly.

Are they going to let him be president again?

That’s the big question. He wants to reclaim his office. There are near-constant talks between his camp and the interim government, but they mostly seem to be going nowhere. The current government is promising to arrest him if he leaves the embassy.


What happens now?

Time is on the side of the interim government. There is a regularly scheduled election coming up in November. Although there are currently sanctions by the international community now for their clumsy removal of Zelaya, it will be hard to maintain those sanctions after an election. Expect the interim government to stall the talks until November. Maybe then they’ll let him back, once his power is severely limited by the presence of a new, incoming administration.

What does this mean for Honduras tourism?

If you’re sunning yourself on Roatan, very little. If you’re in Tegucigalpa, you’ll want to know that crime is up, as drug gangs are taking advantage of the chaos to increase trafficking to North America. Also, the police are busy keeping an eye on the protests, so street crime is up even higher than usual, if that’s possible in Tegucigalpa. Sanctions are hitting the poor hard.

Anything else I need to know if I’m in Honduras?

One of the places this conflict is playing out is in the media. The interim government has closed and re-opened oppositional radio and TV stations, and suspended some liberties. Be aware of curfews.

Galapagos: Cormorant II Sinks

This past weekend the Galapagos luxury yacht Cormorant II (formerly Journey II) sank off the coast of Isabela Island late at night. Fortunately, a park service patrol was nearby and all passengers and crew were saved. According to early reports, the Cormorant II lost power somehow in rough waters. The crew was able to call for help. The ship was heavily damaged in the rough waters and rocks and it is not yet know if some or all of it can be salvaged. If you have booked a cruise on the Cormorant II, please contact your tour agent.