Category Archives: Holidays and Festivals

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.

On the Road – Peru: A Tale of Two Cities

The midnight fireworks on June 7 eve seemed to recreate the battle that decided the fate of two cities: Tacna, Peru, and Arica, Chile. The sky above El Morro was ablaze with rockets, marking Arica’s anniversary. Not of its founding, but rather when it ceased being a Peruvian city and became Chilean in 1880. This was the day the Battle of Arica was wrought on the heights of El Morro, bringing an end to the War of the Pacific.

 

El Morro -- Where the Battle of Arica was wrought. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Once upon a time, Peru extended as far south as Iquique. Bolivia claimed Antofagasta as its territory. This entire region was rich in nitrates, a mineral essential in the making of 19th-century agricultural fertilizers and gunpowder. British and US companies, which administered most of the salitre mines, hoped Chile would give them more favorable, laissez-faire concessions. For this reason, they promoted the war Chile declared against Peru and Bolivia in 1879.

 

At the war’s end, the Treaty of Ancón turned administration of the entire zone to Chile, with the proviso that a plebiscite election would be held after 10 years to allow Arica and Tacna to decide to which country they would belong: Chile or Peru. Chile would not allow the referendum to occur until 1929.

 

Arica decided to stay with Chile. Tacna’s residents voted to return to Peru. Thus that city’s nickname: The Heroic City. The historic vote is celebrated in that southern Peruvian town every August 28.

 

Tacna Arch by Drawlight http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomorerice/156472549/

 

In these past few months, I have had opportunities to learn more about those missing 50 years of history between the end of the war and the plebiscite. The story of the region’s Chilenization, hidden for several generations, is now being told.

 

In Arequipa, native-son writer Oswaldo Reynoso started his presentation with a story pulled from his family’s past. His parents grew up in Chile-controlled Tacna where the Patriotic League threatened anyone who supported Tacna’s return to Peru. One morning dawned with his father’s door marked by the League—a sign to leave or be killed. He left for Bolivia, seeking refuge there. A few months later, his girlfriend’s door was similarly marked. She and her family had to leave by ship for Peru. Many years later, the two wayward lovers met again in Arequipa.

 

This history is now also being revealed in Arica. During the monthly tour of the city’s cemetery (last Wednesday of the month, 9 p.m.; free), the guide told us of the people who lay in the late-19th and early 20th century tombs. Some were Europeans that immigrated to the city, as part of the Chilenization of the region. When the referendum would finally be held, their votes would assuredly go for Chile. Some of the people in the more humble graves, however, were victims of the Liga Patriótica and its reign of terror.

 

The Chilenization of Arica continues to this day. So claimed the guide of the city’s Oficina Municipal de Gestión Patrimonial who led us around downtown.  The tour began inside the municipality building (Calle Sotomayor and Calle Baquedano) where remains of the 16th-century San Juan de Dios church are. In the parking lot behind the municipalidad are the ruins of the nave. As we wandered to the old Arica-La Paz railroad station and other historic buildings, he recounted how the national government won’t release funds to help Arica preserve any edifices dating from Peruvian times. Many of them are slated to be demolished, to make way for shopping centers, private clinics and parking lots—even if they have historical significance, like hosting saint-in-the-making Beato Alberto Hurtado. “It’s as if they are erasing any traces of Peru,” the guide said.

 

The old Arica-La Paz railroad station. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

As the couples dance—scarves fluttering, spurs jangling in rhythm to the music—in the national cueca competition in Arica, the Guerra del Pacífico’s aftereffects continue to be felt until this day. With Chile’s victory, Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Once again, Bolivia will be presenting to international courts its complaint of non-compliance of the treaties that guarantees it access to Pacific ports. Reportedly, after more than two decades of inactivity, the Arica-La Paz will be back on line later this year—but only cargo service. Perhaps this promise will finally be fulfilled.

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

On the Road – Peru: Three Events to Mark on Your Calendar

June is festival time in Peru. With the end of the rainy season, campesinos have been sowing the fields for this year’s harvests of corn, potatoes and other necessities. Now it is season for the raymi—or festivals—that mark the solstice and other events. So get out your calendar and red letter these days.

 

But first, a non-holiday to mark: Travelers heading south into Chile should know that collective taxi, truck and other drivers have declared a strike and will be blocking the border next Monday, June 11. One of the complaints on the table is that buses carrying travelers across the border have their own lines, whereas colectivos have to share a block of immigration and customs windows with everyone else. They say this holds them up on getting their customers quickly from one city to another.

 

 

Now for the dancing, music, pageantry and down-right fun.

 

Raymi Llacta in Chachapoyas

This past weekend, Raymi Llaqta—Great Festival of the People—began in Chachapoyas, capital of Amazonas Department. This is one of Peru’s most blessed departments, as it includes terrain as diverse as high mountains to lowland jungles, and just as diverse an indigenous population.

 

At this raymi, all the nations gather in the regional capital to meet, sharing their unique cuisines, songs and dances. The big day is Saturday, June 9. Beginning at 10 a.m., the parade begins through Chachapoyas’ narrow streets, featuring the traditional clothing and dances of all of the department’s native and campesino communities. That same evening will be the Nina Raymi (Fire Festival), with dancing around bonfires on the main plaza.

 

This will be the perfect time to head to Chachapoyas and take in its awesome Kuélap ruins—just named by National Geographic as one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

 

Inti Raymi

 

The biggest festival of the season is Inti Raymi in Cusco. Celebrated at the time of the June solstice, this celebration honors the Sun God, asking for a good harvest. With street vendors, daily activities and nightly concerts by the country’s best musicians, the celebration climaxes on June 24, the day of Inti Raymi.

This grand pageant features over 500 actors re-enacting the traditional ceremonies of Inca times. The action begins at Qorikancha square in front of the Santo Domingo church, where the Temple of the Sun had been. Sapa Inca is carried on a golden throne to Sacsayhuamán where the grand ceremony is held. The day culminates with evening bonfires.

 

Travelers looking for a more modern festival should head to Oxapampa for the Selvámonos 2012 Music Festival. This is part of the week-long Festival de Música y Artes de la Selva Centra (The Central Jungle Music and Arts Festival), which presents free musical, theatrical and other cultural events. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend the huge concert on June 30, with groups from the entire region. Reggae, Quechua blues-rock, cumbia and other musical genres will rock the jungle. For a complete listing of groups and events, check out the Selvámonos website.

 

Have fun partying down with the locals!

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

On the Road: Peru – On the Pisco Trail

February and March mark the season for saluting pisco, Peru’s national drink. It all begins February 2 with International Pisco Day and continues with Ica’s Festival de la Vendimia and nearby Huacachina’s Festival de la Sirena.

 

 

The grape harvest is coming in, and the Vendimia Queen is making the rounds of Ica’s wineries to stomp huge vats of the fruit. (The day before our tour visited El Catador, she had done a stint there.) Large clay urns hold the fermenting juice until it is time to pour it all into massive copper stills over huarango wood fires. The resultant pisco drips forth, and after aging, is poured into glasses for our enjoyment.

 

A pisco still. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

In this harvest season, pisco isn’t the only drink available. Many of the bodegas also produce wines, including perfecto amor, a perfectly lovely mix of young wine and pisco – and which packs quite a punch. (You’ll feel fine sitting down while enjoying a few glasses of it, but watch it when it comes time to stand up!) Also available only during March is cachina, a very young wine fermented for only seven days to two months. Be forewarned that this also can knock you for a loop.

 

Some bodegas still use old-fashioned urns for fermenting the grape juice. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Tours to one of Ica’s more than 80 wineries teach all the steps that go into making this prized national liquor and offer free samples of it. Most of the bodegas are small, family-run operations, like Lovera, Mendoza and El Catador. Tacama, one of Peru’s largest pisco producers, is also near Ica.

 

Lovera piscos and wines. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

A fantastic place to visit is Museo Lazo. This is not only a small pisco winery, but also a museum filled all sorts of oddities related (and not-so-related) to the fruits of the vine (Camino Reyes 150, Salas. Tel: 403-430, URL: www.bodegalazo.com).

 

Tours of Ica’s wineries often also include a stop at Cachiche, a neighborhood that for centuries has been known for its witches and healers, and to a bewitched, seven-crowned date palm.

 

A monument in honor of the Witches of Cachine. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Ica is just one of the five regions in the country’s new Ruta Integrada de Pisco, a tourism route embracing over 200 pisco bodegas in Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna departments. Peruvians debate where the best liquor comes from, but one thing is assured: each town has its own twist on pisco cocktails. The most famous is the Pisco Sour, but while journeying through Peru, be sure  to also try the Tacna Sour in that city, or the Machu Picchu and Bandera Mokewana in Moquegua. Salud!

 

Try a Bandera Mokewana or a Machu Picchu. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

It's Carnaval!

All over the world, Catholics are celebrating Carnaval. This huge street party lasts until the moveable feast of Ash Wednesday, celebrated in February or March. When next Wednesday rolls around, faithful will be going to a special mass to celebrating the beginning of the 40 days of Lent and the traditional fast that accompanies it.

 

Carnaval in Santa Marta. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

From New Orleans, Louisiana (where the party is called Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday) through to Tierra del Fuego, Carnaval is in full swing. In some parts, it becomes a water fight with no-one left unscathed. In other places, like Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, corn starch flurries. Foam string is also commonly spritzed from cans. What all have in common are colorful costumes, lots of music and dancing, plus chugging of whatever the local brew is.

 

No matter where you’re at, it’s not too late to join in on the fun. If you aren’t in the neighborhood for the big blow-outs in Barranquilla or Rio de Janeiro, then perhaps these destinations are closer:

 

In V!VA Travel Guide’s home country, Ecuador, many people head to the beach. In most parts, you can expect to get drenched. In Ambato, however, water throwing is prohibited. In that highland town, enjoy its Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas, filled with with colorful parades, handicraft exhibits and other events.

 

Carnaval in Puno.

In Peru the biggest celebration is in Puno. Its feast days of the Virgen de Candelaria merge into pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. One V!VA correspondent relates: “I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of ‘La Virgen de la Candeleria,’ a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.”

 

Oruro in neighboring Bolivia is THE place to be in that town. In 2001, UNESCO declared the festival to be a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Incredibly carved masks are part of the wonders to behold there, as well as the hours of dancing and chicha drinking.

 

The Andean-style Carnaval is also celebrated in northwestern Argentina, in Tilcara. This nine-day festival begins with masked revelers unearthing a small devil figure. Foam, water and firecrackers are de rigeur. Here, the favorite liquor of partiers proves their Argentine culture: Fernet with cola.

 

A Montevideo murga. Photo by Emma Jones

 

Down on the other shore of the River Plate, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Carnaval has a Brazilian saborcito to it. Massive murgas (drum and dance troupes) parade through the streets of the capital. Montevideo’s fest also has the distinction of being one of the longest in the world: It lasts 40 days.

It's not Rio -- this is Montevideo's Carnaval! Photo by Emma Jones

So get out your dancing shoes and get crazy this next weekend. It’s a holiday no matter where you go — and so you should enjoy it just like the locals. Take care, have fun — and get your hangover remedies ready for Wednesday morning!

On the Road – Peru: Chinese New Year in Lima’s Barrio Chino

The sharp cracks of fireworks fill the streets with pungent smoke and shreds of paper. The booming drums, the clang of brass cymbals announce the arrival of the dancers. Humans beneath the cloth dragon, lion and other animals raise the creatures up in the doorways of businesses, ensuring a bountiful coming year.

 

In China Towns all over the world, this millennia-old ceremony was celebrated to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In Lima’s Barrio Chino, shoppers were lured by the unusual music. Snapping photos with their cell phones, they followed the parade down the crowded streets.

 

 

During the second half of the 19th century, some 100,000 Chinese arrived to Peru. Most came to work in nitrate mining or on the plantations after slavery was abolished. Many were indentured servants, living a semi-slave life. In the 20th century, a second wave washed upon these South American shores. Today, Chinese descendants make up about 0.5% of the nation’s population.

 

 

The Barrio Chino is near Lima’s Mercado Central, just a few blocks east of the Plaza de Armas. Walking up Jirón Ucayali (a.k.a., Calle Cantón), you soon come to the large red gateways inviting you to stroll down the pedestrian mall paved with the 12 sign of the Sino horoscope. Several stands offer newspapers from China and another kiosk attends to spiritual needs.

 

The neighborhood extends from Jirón Junín to Jirón Puno, and from Andahuaylas to nearly Huanta. These bustling streets are jammed with dozens of chifas, (Chinese restaurants) with roasted ducks and pigs hanging in front windows. Import shops provide everything from foods to knickknacks. There are also several acupuncture clinics. Businesses – including banks – brandish signs in Spanish and Chinese.

 

Come down for a few hours, to savor a different flavor in Peru. Have a quick lunch at a chifa and wander through the dozens of market stalls tucked off the streets. Before heading back to the run-of-the-mill Peruvian reality, pick up some authentic ingredients to whip up your own stir fry back at your hostel.

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Peru: Everyone’s Choosing Peru as THE Destination to Visit

In the past few months, Peru has become a hot destination choice for many international publications.

 

National Geographic has chosen Peru as one of the Best Pick destinations for 2012. Beyond Machu Picchu, hikes in some of the world’s deepest canyons and exotic birds, this publication also cites the regional foods as being a major reason to come to this Andean nation.

 

Peru's famous ceviche.

And Peru's infamous cuy.

 

Reuters recently did an article on what to do and see in Lima during 48 hours, as part of its “Postcard” series. The Amazon Basin – part of which lies in Peru – was declared a New Seven Natural Wonder of the World last year. In December 2011, the History Travel Channel focused on Peru as its country of the month. And V!VA Travel Guides is once more on the ground searching out the best to know here.

 

Crowds welcoming the 2012 Dakar to Lima.

 

Join V!VA Travel Guides on our exploration of Peru in the new series of blogs, “On the Road: Peru.” V!VA has already brought you the arrival to Lima of the 2012 Dakar road rally and filled you in on Viringos, the native hairless dog. Each week, you can learn more about the sights and flavors that await you in this diverse Andean nation.

 

What would you like to know about Peru? Let us know – and we’ll root it out on our Peruvian journeys.

 

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.

On the Road – Colombia: La Niña Adventures Continue – & Free in Cartagena

La Niña Adventures Continue

The La Niña rains are continuing in most parts of the country, adding a different dimension to travelers’ Colombian adventures. The TV news shows images of the extensive flooding in Medellín, Honda and the Magdalena River Valley. Mudslides cause temporary delays in bus trips. But most people journeying by that means are arriving safely (though a bit late).

Bicyclists, though, are facing tougher challenges. One Danish couple riding from Mexico to Colombia is due to fly out from Bogotá. They began down the road from Cartagena to the capital, but had to turn back. All roads – save La Línea (a high-altitude pass) – are affected. Others are deciding to stay a while yet on the coast, until the rains stop.

All travelers, whether in bus or car, on motorcycle or bicycle, are advised to check Invías’ (the national highway department) website for up-to-date information on road condition.

Casa Museo Rafael Núñez is easy on the wallet. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Free in Cartagena

The only part of the country not having heavy rains seems to be the Caribbean coast. Even though it is officially the rainy season, it is anything but that. The days swell into a sultry stupor, but rarely erupt into a thunder-bumper. So many travelers are deciding to stay on the coast until road conditions (hopefully) improve.

Unfortunately, shoestring backpackers are dumbfounded by the cost of Cartagena’s museums, and excursions to Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario are. These journeyers wonder they can do here on a meager budget. The answer is, Plenty.

Grab the camera and had out to wander the streets of the Old City, savoring the plazas and colonial architecture. Take a rest on the fortress walls, enjoying the sea and passers-by. Stroll over to Isla Manga and take in its seaside promenade.

Free dance & music. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

To cool off on these sultry days, pack a picnic and head to one of the near-by beaches, like Marbella and the ones on Bocagrande peninsula. For a few dollars, take a buseta out to La Boquilla where the best mainland playa is.

If museums are more your thing, you aren’t totally out of luck. The Museo del Oro Zenú and Museo de la Esmeralda are always free, and Museo de Arte Moderno is gratis every Wednesday. The Casa Museo Rafael Núñez costs less than a dollar. The last Sunday of each month, some of the pricey museums are fortresses are free.

A fine dose of rhythmic culture can be savored every afternoon (5-6 p.m.), when troupes perform Afro-Colombian dance and music at Plaza de los Coches. The various cultural centers in town host free art exhibits, movies and other events.

Click here for details on all these activities.

Another free event budget travelers could take in this past week was the Semana Santa processions that wended through the Cartagena’s streets. I close out this week with some images from Good Friday’s cortege – and until next week.

All Photos by Lorraine Caputo

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.


On the Road – Colombia: A Tempestuous Child, Holy & Holidays, & Great American Pastimes

La Niña will continue her tempestuous wailing and kicking until May, meteorologists say. Since the end of last year, she has wreaked havoc on Colombia. A small respite of sorts came in January and February. Road crews could begin repairing roads, bridges and levees that she damaged. I saw them laboring on the road between Barranquilla and Cartagena.

For the last few weeks, though, the annual rainy season (invierno, or winter) has provoked La Niña into another fit. In Western Colombia, especially the Zona Cafetera and Valle del Cauca, landslides and other disasters have wiped away homes and thoroughfares. A bus wending from Bogotá to Manizales met its fate on the morning of April 13. An earthen avalanche swept it into an abyss. Eighteen persons died.

Downpours in Southern Colombia have swollen the already-overflowing Cauca and Magdalena Rivers, causing extensive flooding in the Lower Magdalena Valley near the Caribbean coast. According to news reports, Magangué, a major transit point between Cartagena and Mompós, is totally isolated. The route is further complicated by a washed-out bridge between La Bodega and Mompós. Authorities have established an alternative route to ensure the safe arrival (and departure) of tourists arriving to Mompós for its traditional Semana Santa processions. A good source of information on how to travel to that colonial city is Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel (and co-author of the first edition of V!VA Colombia).

These rains have made Easter vacation holidays, well, more adventuresome. Eleven national highways are closed. Over 250 other roads have restricted passage. Every corner of the country is affected, from Antioquia in the West, to the central Departments of Boyacá and Santander, to Meta and Arauca in the Llanos. For up-to-date information on road conditions nationwide, consult Invías website.

Going home with blessed boughs on Palm Sunday. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Indeed, we are well into Holy Week. It began two days ago with Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (and the end of Lent’s 40 days of fasting). Here in Cartagena, the faithful gathered at Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, La Popa and other temples, as well as in Plaza de Bolívar, to have their sheaths of palm and boughs of greenery blessed by the priest. These they put in their homes to bring good tidings in the coming year.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday) features a reenactment of the Last Supper and washing of feet, and often is followed by a procession. Good Friday (Viernes Santo) is the most important day, with the Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the city’s streets. (For a calendar of processions in Cartagena, see below.) Easter falls on the last Sunday of the month, when many of Cartagena’s museums and fortresses are free.

Sexteto Tabalá of Palenque, Colombia. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Another great Cartagena celebration during Semana Santa is the Festival de los Dulces, featuring sticky sweet delights from throughout the region. Cartagena is a big town for all sorts of festivals and conventions. Many occur outside the eye of casual tourists. Last week, the city hosted the First International Caribbean Festival of Stage Arts. This meeting of theater, dance and musical acts culminated in a free concert on Plaza de la Trinidad, featuring El Conjunto Folklórico de Cuba, Teatro Negro de Barlovento (Venezuela) and Sexteto Tabalá (Palenque, Colombia).

This Holy Week finds Cartagena opening the stage to Festival de Voces del Jazz. On April 20 and 21, groups that fuse jazz with traditional Colombian folk rhythms will compete at the Centro Comercial Caribe Plaza (Calle 29D, 22-108, La Popa. Tel: 669-2332, URL: www.cccaribeplaza.com).

But until the Semana Santa processions and jazz festival roll around, kids are enjoying a week off from school. In the narrow streets of Getsemaní neighborhood, you can find boys playing a pick-up game of baseball. Baseball in Colombia? Indeed – Cartagena’s own native son, Orlando Cabrera, plays shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. The Cincinatti Reds’ Edgar Rentería (of Barranquilla) won the 2010 MVP award. Plus, there’s Ernesto Frieri of the San Diego Padres.

Play ball! Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Baseball and jazz: two great, truly American pastimes, having roots in not only the United States, but also in other parts of the Americas. Since the days of Ragtime and Ty Cobb, these two institutions traveled from port to port, growing and changing into what we know of them today. The first ragtime hit, “The Peanut Vendor,” was a Cuban habanero, and in the 1950s Dizzy Gillepsie, Mario Bauza and other musicians formed the Afro-Cubop movement. The rosters of today’s major league baseball teams show the continuing exchange between American countries, and in the off-season, many US players come to play in Colombia. (Hmmm – perhaps a topic for a future blog …)

Until next week, travel safe – and Happy Passover, Easter and holidays to you all!

Processions in Cartagena:

During the week, churches will be hosting corteges in their neighborhoods. Below are te major evnts.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday), the Last Supper and washing of feet reenactment, followed by a procession, will occur at Iglesia Santo Domingo at 4 p.m. and the Catedral at 6 p.m.

Good Friday’s (Viernes Santo) Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the Old Town’s streets begins at 8 a.m. from Templo Santo Toribio. At 7 p.m., a procession leaves from Iglesia San Pedro Claver.

On Holy Saturday is another solemn procession, from Santo Domingo (7 p.m.) and the Cathedral (9 p.m.).

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of the book. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.