Category Archives: Travel News

5 Language-Learning Apps: Cracking the Spanish Code

When traveling to Latin America, among the top concerns of most travelers is:

“Can I speak English and get by?”

Those with basic Spanish experience may ponder:

“Is my Spanish good enough that people will understand me? Will I be able to get by and relate with the locals?”

Yes, you will get by, regardless of your Spanish level (or absence thereof). But, any effort you put into learning the language will enhance your experience substantially.

Respect is a universal language. The easiest way to show respect in any culture is to, at the very least, try to communicate in the local language. Try not to resort to your own language. Trust me, no matter how bad you sound, people will appreciate your effort.

Complete mastery of the Spanish language is a multi-year, highly-intensive task that usually involves immersion while living in a Spanish speaking country, but learning the basics of Spanish for the purpose of traveling can be as easy as dedicating a few minutes a day on your smartphone to tune your ear and voice to Spanish lingo.

Here are several apps that we have found to be effective and make learning Spanish a breeze.

Duolingo

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Duolingo allows you to learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Portuguese during your morning commute or lunch breaks. Duolingo does not beat conjugations and vocabulary into your head like your high school language teacher. Instead, you’re trained to understand total phrases in various communication methods like writing, reading, listening. Your language studying becomes game-like. So you’re always trying to level up!

The App is totally free. No demos or trial runs. How? Luis von Ahn, founder of Duolingo, partnered with companies like Buzzfeed and CNN. These partners send documents to Duolingo that need to be translated. Those documents are used as teaching materials for Duolingo students who translate the documents. Technically, Duolingo creates a win-win situation for  its users and business partners.  

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

*Available for iphone and android users

Babbel

With Babble, you have the opportunity to learn 13 different languages. The app tests your language level and suggests different lessons for you. Sometimes you know the word you need to say, but you don’t know how to say it correctly (which doesn’t help when you need to converse with someone). That’s why Babbel provides pronunciation training as well.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Babbel also places an emphasis on vocabulary. The use of pictures helps visual learners engrave words into their memory for more effective learning.

Also, you can study languages as they pertain to different categories like:

  • Marketing
  • PR
  • Human resources

You can try a Babbel demo for free and pay for the full version later. The best value package is 12 months for $6.95/month.

*Available on iphone and android devices

 

 

 

 

 

Mango Mobile

Learn over 50 languages with Mango Languages – a program used by businesses, higher education programs, government agencies, and individual learners all around the world. Mango also adds an emphasis on cultures and dabs cultural facts into your studying. Features like voice comparison and audio listening allows you to perfect your pronunciation.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Other features include:

  • Memory building exercises
  • Learn through conversations
  • Understood and literal meanings
  • Grammar insights

Mango languages, originally an online platform, is now available on mobile platforms. But you must be subscribed to Mango Languages to use this app. It is more expensive than other applications.

The first level costs $79 and the second and third level cost $132. To buy all three levels at once costs $176.

*Available for iphone and Android users 

 

 

 

Lingibli

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

If you have ever tried learning a new language, you know you have a foundation of most used words.

For example in Spanish, verbs like “quierer,” “estar,” and “ser,” are commonly used during conversation. Mental trainer Tony Buzan claims that “only 100 words make up 50% of all conversations.” Lingibli uses this data to focus on key words and phrases to teach its users.

Lingibli is not meant to teach an entire language, however. The idea is to reduce friction and frustration when you are thrown into a different country. It’s for those moments often taken for granted in one’s home country – like ordering a meal at a restaurant or asking for directions.

Lingibli provides learning material for over 20 languages and is free to download. Internet access is not required to use this app.

 *Available on iphone and Android devices

Byki

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Byki teaches over 80 languages in a 3-step process aimed for speed and addiction to ensure learning that sticks. Equipped with a flashcard interface, the user is taught their new language through memorization style.

Quickstart multiple choice quizzes test your learning. Also, test your pronunciation skills with Byki’s SlowSound™ technology. 

Byki emphasizes vocabulary rather than grammar structures stating that “vocabulary is more fundamental than grammar.”

Byki is also available as an online program. For mobile platforms, each language costs $7.99.

 

 

 

 

 

What language tools do you use to prepare for your travels? Share them with us!

Anti-World cup protests: Will Brazil pull it together before the 2014 World Cup?

Uruguay’s talented right-winger, Alcides Ghiggia, hushed the Maracan stadium with his ghostly goal to beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup. Brazil was the hands-down favorite in the competition – the reason why Ghiggia’s swift score around Brazil’s goal keeper, Barbosa, has haunted Brazil ever since. Convinced that their home, white, blue-collared jerseys were cursed from the unexpected loss, the Brazilian colors were changed to yellow and green.

The changing of jerseys proved to be a good call as Brazil captured 5 title wins in 1958, 1962,1970, 1994, and 2002.

But the ghost of Ghiggia’s goal is coming back to haunt Brazilian authorities. Brazilian protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate their discontentment with public spending on the World Cup. Protesters are convinced authorities have given them nothing but empty promises and are in poor spirits about the World Cup.

The protest movement is just as shocking as Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in 1950. Authorities are hoping that the games will distract the public and cause a change in attitude.

Protesters are not the only disgruntled characters in the story of Brazil’s politically corrupted World Cup. Brazil’s own three time world cup winner, Pele, has expressed frustration with World Cup preparations in Brazil. He calls the situation a “disgrace” and further explains the team has no involvement with the political corruption which has delayed stadium construction. He deems the circumstance of Brazil before the World Cup in one word – “unacceptable.”

Brazil is prepared in that they already have their team chosen for the World Cup.

Will Brazil be able to pull together as a country before the World Cup? Or will the seams of the country, weakened by the loss of 1950,  continue to be torn apart?

 

 

 

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

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.

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 more info

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.

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

Earthquake Shakes Colombia

Sunday morning, a 7.3 earthquake struck southern Colombia. The epicenter was at La Vega (Cauca Department), a small village located nine kilometers (six miles) north-northwest of San Agustín, a tourist destination popular for its archaeological statuary sites.

 

For centuries, San Agustín's statues have silently watched the earth move many times. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The quake, which occurred at 11:31 a.m. local time, was felt in virtually all of Colombia, as well as the northern 10 provinces of Ecuador and in Quito. No deaths have been reported.

 

Fernando Alegría, secretary of the government of La Vega, stated to the newspaper El País (Colombia) that there was no destruction in that village.

 

In Cali, damages were a bit more extensive. Two clinics – Santillana and Rey David – suffered cracks in their walls. One woman was hurt while escaping from her home. In Timbiquí (Cauca Department), near the Pacific Coast, 20 homes were damaged. Popayán, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of the epicenter, was only shaken.

 

Bouselahane Amid, general director of Magdalena Rafting in San Agustín, said people felt it very lightly in that town. René Suter, owner of Finca El Maco, states there have been no reports of damages in Colombia’s Archaeological Capital. Apparently none of the region’s numerous ancient sites were affected. The tremor was also slightly felt in Mocoa, 259 kilometers (158 miles) east of San Agustín, according to Felipe Goforit of Hostal Casa del Río.

 

Damage from the strong earthquake was minimal because of the depth of the seismic event –168.3 kilometers (104.6 miles) beneath the surface of the earth.

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

VIVA Travel Guides Photo Contests

After sharing your photos of your trip to Peru or Ecuador with family and friends, there’s one more place you can dazzle eyes: the V!VA Travel Guides’ community.

V!VA Travel Guides is having two contests for the best photo of Peru and Ecuador.

Each winner will have his or her photograph published on the cover of latest edition V!VA Travel Guides Ecuador & Galápagos and V!VA Travel Guides Peru, and each receive $100.

For complete guidelines, see the V!VA Travel Guides website. The deadline for entering photographs of Peru is Monday, October 1 and for Ecuador, the deadline is Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Winners will be chosen by the V!VA Travel Guides facebook community. To vote, like Viva Travel Guides – Peru and Viva Travel Guides – Ecuador on facebook, then choose your favorite shots.  Tell your family and friends to vote and show their pride in your photographic eye!

Voting ends the same day as the entry to the contest – So enter early, to have the best chance to receive a lot of votes.

Good luck!

 

BREAKING NEWS: 7.6 Earthquake Rattles Costa Rica

Today at 8:42 a.m. local time (14:42 UTC), a 7.6 earthquake hit the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The epicenter was Nicoya Península in Guanacaste Province, 80 kilometers (50 mi) from Liberia.

 

Preliminary reports cite electrical outrages and highway damage. The cell phone network has collapsed.  Thus far, two people have been reported missing.

 

It was also strongly felt in San José and other parts of Costa Rica, as well as in Nicaragua and Panama.

 

A tsunami alert is still in effect for Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. The warning was issued initially for the Pacific Ocean basin, as far north as Mexico and south to Chile, and for the Caribbean.