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5 Language-Learning Apps: Cracking the Language Code

Before I traveled, I failed to realize that having English as my first language was such a privilege. I have always been envious of foreign accents. Foreign languages are like a code that your brain so badly wants to crack. You lean closer to the foreigner’s face as they speak, you stare at their moving lips, hoping their words will translate before your eyes. But they don’t. You try to pick out keywords. But every words is a keyword. Because you have no clue what any of it means.

English speakers often learn other languages for fun or to put “bilingual” under the skills section of their resume. I am doing so myself.

But non-English speakers often learn English to improve their socioeconomic status. English dominates the academic, working and social worlds.

“My friends and I were studying Spanish at the same school in Quito, Ecuador. But when socializing, we relied on EnglishI expected everyone around me – whether they were Dutch, German, Swiss, Latin American, and so on – I expected them to speak English. How arrogant is that?”

This thought didn’t occur to me until my Swiss friend asked me the other day “Has it ever occurred to you that you don’t have to learn other languages, because every other country is trying to learn English?”

From then on, I tried to speak to her in Spanish – a language we were both learning. Also, she taught me a few Swiss-German phrases.

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 corresponding language. Do not resort to your own language. Trust me, no matter how bad you sound, people will appreciate your effort.

Here are a few apps to help you crack the code of your new language:

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!

Safety: 3 Tips for Preventing Danger on the Road

Whether you’re a first time tourist or a well seasoned traveler, there is always a concern for safety. Quito, especially, can be an overwhelming city because it is so huge and the traffic- is a topic for another blog. Let’s not forget to mention all those travel pamphlets you’ve been reading up on about the capacity for danger on your travels.

Regardless of what you’ve read or heard, you are a lot safer than you think. Often, your safety depends on you and the decisions you make.

COMMON SENSE

If you look like a million bucks, you are asking to be robbed. Do not carry around your iphone, ipad, laptop, and wear expensive clothing.

Try not to take large amounts of money from the ATM. Try to take a good amount of cash with you and lock it up when you get to your destination. Then, only carry small amounts with you daily.

Tip #1: Flaunting your money is the one thing you DO NOT want to do.

PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN 

If someone tries to rob you, give them what they want with no hesitation. Sound familiar?

But what if you did the opposite?

Recently my friend from Denmark was on a bus in Quito. The buses in Quito are super crowded so its an easy target for robbers. The robber tried to cut into her backpack which she was holding on her side. Once she saw what he was doing, she screamed obnoxiously. The robber freaked out and ran off the bus. He was more scared than her!

Remember criminals are humans too. They aren’t born without fear.

Keep in mind, though, there were plenty of people around her to help. If there is no one around when you are threatened, submit.

Robbers really want your stuff, not your life.

Tip #2: If you must carry a bag or purse, tuck your wallet between your hip and your pants and do the same with your cell phone. So if you do get robbed, you still have money, communication, and your life.

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR

Say something bad does happen – you get lost, you get into a heated argument with a taxi driver, or even if you do get robbed – it’s all an experience. I am sure you will laugh about it later.

On their first day in Quito, my American friends were trying to find their way back home from school. A Dutch man, who was staying with the same host family as my friend, was helping them. He spoke very little English and very little Spanish. My friends spoke very little Spanish. But Spanish was the only common thread between all of them.

Tip #3: Language barriers can be – and will be – frustrating. Learn simple phrases before you leave. You will save yourself time and money. 

Anyway, of course they got lost. Once the Dutch man realized they were way off course he began to say a Dutch word that sounded like “Fixed Pound.” My friends shook their head and wrinkled their foreheads in confusion. The Dutch man began to move closer and closer to their faces and yelled the word louder and louder, “Fixed Pound! Fixed Pound! Fixed Pound!” Because it’s our universal, natural instinct to think that speaking louder will make people understand us right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t until he pulled out his translator – which he forgot was in his pocket the whole time – that my American friends realized he was saying “Full stop.”

Eventually, they made it home. To this day, they wouldn’t have chosen to start their trip any other way. Every time they tell the story , they double over in laughter. Memories like this are better than any souvenir you could buy.

Have you ever been in a sticky situation during your travels? Share it with us!

 

 

A Getaway from Quito Traffic: Mindo, Ecuador

If you need to get away from the horns in the bustling Quito streets, take a 2 and a half hour trip to Mindo, Ecuador. Mindo is a small village up the Andes mountains. The bus ride to Mindo will only cost you $2.50. Why not?

The view from the bus is a tease. It resembles a patched quilt of green squares blanketed over the mountain hills. If you get car sick easily, try to focus on the sights around you or the movie being shown on the bus.

In Mindo, you will forget what it feels like to be bored. There are several activities to participate in:

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Hike up the mountain to and see waterfalls

If you enjoy walking and exploring at a slower pace, then hiking is for you. A cable car will take you across the rain forest to the hiking trails (the cable car is also a great preview of the zip lines). Once you get off the cable car, an hour long trail to your left will lead you to a huge waterfall. On your right – a shorter, 15 minute trail will take you to a  waterfall and river where you can swim and slide down the mountain into the river – a natural water park. Be sure to wear hiking sandals or boots and bring food and water.

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Zip line above the rain forest 

At the canopy, one of the most popular touristic places in Mindo, you can zip line across ten different cables through the tropical rain forest. The cables are not very fast at first. If you are afraid of heights you’ll have plenty of time to warm up on the slower cables. Your fear will be overcome by the beauty of your surroundings.

At about the fourth cable, you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman and butterfly. The superman is a horizontal flying position and the butterfly is upside down.

Tube down Mindo river 

At first glance, tubing does not appear to be safe at all because of the rocks poking out of the water. But the tube is designed to navigate over and through the rocks – which are slippery and smooth from water erosion. Keep your feet above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will maintain the tube’s balance all the way down the river.

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

Marisposa de Mindo

Change is a beautiful thing – the butterflies told me so. Here, you will witness firsthand the four stages in the life of a butterfly – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The butterfly  pupae looks like a collection of earrings because of the different colors necessary to blend in with the butterfly’s natural habitat. 

 

El Quetzal

For all you chocolate-lovers! At 4:00 you can tour Mindo’s chocolate factory and see how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean to the bar. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!

Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

A little treat from Quetzal. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

As you can see, there is almost too much to do. Many people stay the night in Mindo to have more time to see all that Mindo has to offer. The cost of activities ranges from approximately $5 – $20. Take your time and savor the experience because it’s well-worth every dollar.

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?

 

 

 

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.

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

Send in Photos of You with Your VIVA Guidebook for a Free eBook Version!

Hi VIVA Readers and Followers!

We absolutely love receiving your photos with our books, so keep them coming! Starting with the most recent edition of our Colombia book, we have urged loyal VIVA guidebook owners to send in photos of themselves with the hard copy of their books in order to receive a free eBook version of the edition, updated for life! You can download this eBook on whichever travel companion you may have: a smart phone, kindle, nook or notebook computer for quick access on the road.

Our website is also constantly being updated, so our guidebooks are being virtually updated often as well; be sure to check back often for travel tips, hotel and restaurant suggestions, and newly spotted activities and volunteer opportunities all over Latin America. Of course, we also hope you will continue to send in your feedback to help keep VIVA guidebooks accurate, up-to-date and user-friendly.

We are now inviting all members of the VIVA Travel Guides community to send in photos of themselves with a hard copy of their VIVA guidebook for access to the eBook version—free of charge and updated for life! Whether you have taken our Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Quito, Cusco and Machu Picchu, Galápagos, Nicaragua or Guatemala guide on the road, we want to see your faces and hear your feedback.

Thanks a million to those of you who have already participated, from all corners of the globe! Here are some photos from recent VIVA Colombia guidebook users:

 

Alternative Nightlife Options in Quito

Here at VIVA, we are busy updating the Ecuador book and are currently working on the Quito section. We have a unique perspective, since our office is located in Quito and all of our full-time staff lives in the city. That’s why we have compiled a list of some awesome nightlife spots outside of the well-known, party-centric La Mariscal neighborhood. If you are looking for a more low key night but still want to unwind, enjoy a pretty view of Quito, see a movie or show, or catch up with friends, we’ve got you covered.

1. El Pobre Diablo: This relaxed jazz bar in the La Floresta neighborhood has live music most weekend nights, hosting both local and visiting acts in various genres, including funk, acid jazz, salsa, soul, drum and bass, and world music. Solo artists as well as cover bands also take the stage. On nights when there are live acts, it is recommended to reserve a table in advance (and expect to pay a cover anywhere between $6.50 and 8). Accompany the music with some (pricey) drinks and appetizers.

2. Ocho y Medio: Run by a cultural organization founded by local film makers, Ochoymedio is an alternative independent movie theater in the La Floresta neighborhood. In addition to hosting film festivals, it regularly shows documentaries, foreign films and local Ecuadorian productions. Many of the films have subtitles in English, depending on their origin. Sometimes, classic old movies are on the agenda. It also has a café/bar/restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat or a coffee or beer before or after the showing.

3. Café Mosaico: It is hard to beat the view of the Centro Histórico from Café Mosaico’s outdoor terrace, right below Parque Itchimbia. This artsy restaurant is perfect for a romantic meal or to sip on coffee or a glass of wine at the end of a long workweek. Its menu is packed with international food and has a fair amount of Ecuadorian and Greek specialties. If there is no space outside, grab a spot by one of the cozy indoor fireplaces. On weekends, there is often traditional live music.

4. La Ronda: Quito’s oldest street fills up on weekend evenings with locals and foreigners looking for a laid-back evening. The cobblestone street in Centro Histórico is packed with art galleries and small restaurants selling empanadas and other traditional Ecuadorian food. It is a great place to sample canelazo (warm alcoholic drink made with cane alcohol, fruits and cinnamon), which is sold at nearly every locale on La Ronda. You will see many chilly patrons sipping on the classic drink outside to warm their bodies and souls.

5. Seseribó: There is no better way to immerse yourself in quiteño culture than salsa dancing, and Seseribó is one of the city’s best salsa spots. This underground dancing den sometimes has live salsa bands (but always has a salsa DJ) and hosts special events. Many salsa instructors come here to dance and practice their routines, so it is a good place to learn the steps and also a fun place to watch good salsa dancing. Most nights, there is a cover after 10 p.m., but it included one drink and a basket of popcorn and fried plantain chips. The best nights to come are Thursday-Saturday.

6. Guápulo cafés: Guápulo is a cute, bohemian neighborhood off of Gónzalez Suárez Street. The upper part of the only cobblestone road that runs through it, Camino de Orellana, is lined with artsy cafés and bars, most of with awesome views of the Guápulo church and the valley of Cumbayá below. You can easily stop by a few of them in one night, or just hole up at one and enjoy the chilled-out atmosphere, good music and photo-worthy views. Some good choices are Pizzería AnankéCafé GuápuloMirador del Guápulo and Café ChiQuito.

7. Café Libro: Café Libro is a cultural center that hosts literary readings, open mic nights, salsa and tango classes, creative writing workshops, and photography exhibits. Almost every night of the week it has some sort of activity, so check its website, www.cafelibro.com, for the full schedule of events. Many nights there is a minimum consumption, but the menu has lots of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and salads, as well as beer, wine and mixed drinks.

8. Patio de Comedias: Patio de Comedias is one of the only places in town to see stand-up comedy. Plus, it has lots of other theater performances and workshops for those of all age groups looking for a taste of local theater. Check www.patiodecomedias.org for a list of current shows.

9. Centro Cultural Casa Nostra: This restaurant meets cultural center has set dinners (usually around $15) that include entertainment in the form of theater, magic shows, live music or art exhibitions. The set dinner usually includes a welcoming cocktail and several different types of sushi rolls. Check www.facebook.com/casanostraec for more information on current programming.

Tungurahua Volcano: Active Again

Tungurahua is at it again. One of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador, Tungurahua—meaning “Throat of Fire” in the area’s indigenous language, Quichua—has been intermittently spewing lava and ash since 1999. Just Monday, December 17, the volcano started erupting again, prompting the Ecuadorian government and the U.S. embassy to issue an emergency travel warning to the area. Residents of the touristy town of Baños, which is located at the foot of the volcano, along with residents of nearby towns, were urged to voluntarily evacuate and school classes were suspended. Baños is located about 3.5 hours south of Quito in the province in Tungurahua, named for the volcano that calls it home.

Interestingly enough, Tungurahua is as much a tourist attraction as a threat to travelers and residents of Baños. Thousands of travelers per year come to Baños just hoping for a glimpse of the fiery lava spewing from the volcano’s cone. In fact, every night, tour operators run chiva tours (tours in open-sided party buses) at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. to see the volcano from the Bellavista viewpoint. Most who sign up hope to be treated to a fire show, but depending on the weather and cloud cover, you may not even be able to make out the volcano’s shape. Whether or not you catch Tungurahua in action, the tours are a cheap nighttime activity and end with a complimentary canelazo, or warm alcoholic beverage made with sugar can alcohol, fruits and cinnamon.

You can get up-to-the-minute updates about Tungurahua’s current volcanic activities at: www.volcanodiscovery.com/tungurahua/news.html

The latest update is as follows: “Thursday, December 20, 2012:

Tungurahua volcano (Ecuador): increasing activity and new pyroclastic flow

An explosion at 01:50 (local time) this night was followed by an increase of seismic and visible activity. Between 02:00 and 04:00 am, explosions followed at intervals of only 5 minutes and produced loud cannon-shot noises and shock waves, and ejected incandescent blocks of various sizes. At 02:30, a pyroclastic flow ran down the Cusua ravine, and strong ash fall was reported from Penipe.”

Latin American News from Around the Web

Stay up-to-date and informed with the biggest headlines from Latin America this week:

1) Thousands of dissatisfied Argentines protest against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government policies, just a week after she officially lowered the voting age in Argentina from 18 to 16: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20263760

2) At least 48 people are dead in Guatemala after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit on Wednesday, November 7, shaking Central America all the way up to Mexico City: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/07/world/americas/guatemala-earthquake/index.html

3) Fifty-four percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood on Tuesday, November 6, awaiting final approval from Congress to become the 51st state of the United States of America: www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/11/07/puerto-rico-approves-statehood/

4) The 20-year “banana war” has officially come to an end, as 11 Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and Peru) signed an agreement with the European Union over banana tariffs: www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/globalbusiness/9666147/Banana-war-ends-after-20-years.html