Tag Archives: peru news

Lima’s Big Sunday Fest: The Dakar Arrives

Waiting to get into the Plaza de Armas.

Instead of heading to the beaches yesterday, Lima’s residents headed to the streets to welcome the arrival of the 2012 Edition of the Dakar rally.

 

The city dawned under a foggy shroud. Already lines of Limeños stretched for several blocks, waiting to enter Plaza de Armas where the awards ceremonies would be held. After the city’s main plaza was full, spectators were left to line the avenues, hoping to see the rally’s finishers.

 

The Dakar race, which had started January 1 from Mar del Plata, Argentina, and shot across the deserts of northern Chile and southern Peru, ended at Asia, some hundred kilometers (61 miles) south of Lima. From there, the racers made a more leisurely entry into the city. All along the route, people cheered the participants on, giving them a warm welcome to the capital.

 

The prime viewing spot was on Avenida Talca, near Jirón Callao. Here, the motorcycles, quads, cars and massive trucks parked until their call to enter the Plaza. Racers bought snacks at local stores and sat on curbs relaxing. The challenge was over and now it was time to relax. They heeded the calls of tourists from their home countries and locals to pose for photos.

 

 

Liparoti posing with a child.

 

The French had a strong finish. Stéphane Peterhansel carried home the car division crown for a record tenth time and Cyril Despres took the motorbike trophy, his fourth victory. Rounding out the car winners were Joan (Nani) Roma (Spain) and Giniel de Villiers (South Africa). Second and third place in motos were taken by Marc Coma (Spain) and Helder Rodrigues (Portugal).

 

Second place, trucks went Hans Stacey of the Netherlands.

Winners of the car division.

 

 

Argentina dominated the quad division: brothers Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli took first and second place, and fellow countryman Tomás Maffei took third. The Dutch came out strong in the big trucks, with Gerard de Rooy winning and Hans Stacey in second. Artur Ardavichus (Kazakhstan) was third.

 

The Dakar, which began with a total of 443 participants in the four categories, ended with 249. Among the 10 women who signed in, five finished, including Eulalia Sanz Pla-Gilibert of Spain, who was the only woman to finish in the motorcycle division (39th place of 97), and Franco-Italian journalist and photographer Camelia Liparoti, who finished 10th in the quad competition.

 

Sanz Pla-Gilibert was one of five women to finish the 2012 Dakar.

 

The 2013 edition of the Dakar will begin in Lima, Peru, and finish in Santiago, Chile.

 

The road rally, though, is not without its controversy. Last year, archaeologists in Chile filed a complaint with President Sebastián Piñera about the destruction of the Alto Yape geoglyphs near Iquique. Before and after photos of the site may be seen here.

 

Here are some more shots to close out V!va Travel Guides‘ coverage of the 2012 Dakar.

 

 

 

 

THE NEW 7 SEVEN NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The Swiss organization, New 7 Wonders (www.new7wonders.com), announced last Saturday the preliminary results of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

 

Of the 28 finalists, two of the winners came from South America, four from Asia and one from Africa.

 

And the winners are (in alphabetical order):

 

A bird-eye's view of the mighty Amazon River.

The Amazon (South America)

Halong Bay (Vietnam)

Iguazú Falls (Argentina, Brazil)

Jeju Island (South Korea)

Komodo (Indonesia)

Puerto Princes Underground River (Philippines)

Table Mountain (South Africa)

 

 

Iguazú Falls, another of the New 7 Natural Wonders.

The online voting was open to the public-at-large and closed last Friday, November 11. The official tally will be released in early 2012, during the inauguration ceremonies.

 

Yván Vásquez Valera, president of Loreto región in Peru, was happy with the results and hopes it will bring more tourism to his area. It will be an economic boon to one of Peru’s poorest regions.

 

The big surprise to many is that Ecuador‘s Galápagos Islands were not among the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

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: Choosing Colombia’s Best Beach I

During the journey to Colombia’s Caribbean coast, I pondered the topic of this next blog. By the time the air-conditioned bus stopped at our destination, I knew what it would be: Why do travelers choose Santa Marta or Taganga or El Rodadero to stay? When I stepped into Santa Marta’s mid-afternoon heat, I felt like I had slammed into a humid wall.

But one Sunday afternoon, my quest for an answer meets a familiar specter: a blockade.

Our buseta’s journey is stopped cold. Orange cones form a loose chain across the road heading to Taganga. Word passes: There is no electricity. A man carries a guanábana-sized rock, to lay it in the street. A fist fight almost breaks out between police officers and the neighbors.

Our driver’s insistence in getting through the blockade doesn’t get us very far. Around the bend, local people are piling more branches across the road. Traffic on the other side extends up beyond the brow of the hill. These neighbors are frustrated with the electric company. It still had not come out to restore service.

A group of foreigners, bowed beneath knapsacks, climb over the blockade. What is the draw of Taganga, that they are ready to walk four kilometers (2.5 mi) in this day’s 36°C (97°F) heat?

Legend says that in the early 1990s, two backpackers “discovered” Taganga, a sleepy fishing village just over the hill north of Santa Marta. Through the mochilero grapevine, word spread about a cheap, laid-back, authentic Colombian pueblo with great beaches.

And word still spreads. Sitting together on Taganga’s beach watching the sun set, Lauren (from Canada), Steve (UK) and Cassie (New Zealand) tell me they came here because other travelers recommended it. Taganga has better beaches than Santa Marta, which is a boring, dirty port town. Also, it is the stepping stone to Tayrona National Park. Pat (UK) said, “Taganga … is much nicer for travelers than Santa Marta. It has more nice restaurants, more of a back packer feel, on the beach.”

But it was just that atmosphere that turned Chris and Emma, also from England, off from staying there. We met in our Santa Marta hotel. They explained Taganga is too hectic, with too many foreign backpackers – too much like a European resort town. They came to know Colombia, not hang out with a bunch of foreigners. And too many people are constantly trying to sell stuff. Santa Marta is definitely more chilled.

A surprise was to find foreigners at El Rodadero, a traditional Colombian-family resort just south of Santa Marta. Anja and Nikki, both of Norway, are staying at a hostel on the outskirts of the port city; the location attracted to them. Anja says, “We’re trying out different areas on day trips.” On their agenda are the beaches at Taganga and El Rodadero and Tayrona.

In truth, each of the three towns appeals to a different type of traveler. V!VA Colombia can help you to decide which would be best for you. In part II of On the Road – Colombia: Choosing Colombia’s Best Beach, we’ll take a look at what each town as to offer to vacationers and wandering backpackers.

In the meantime, drop us a line and tell the V!VA community which you chose: Taganga, Santa Marta or El Rodadero.

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.


Latin America News Updates: February 26th- March 4th

Thanks again to Lorraine Caputo.

ARGENTINA

A new film starring Matthew Rhys will highlight Patagonia’s Welsh roots.

BOLIVIA

Flooding and mudslides around La Paz have killed dozens, left thousands homeless and disrupted travel around Bolivia’s capital.

BRAZIL

The planned dam at Belo Monte, in Brazil’s Amazonian basin, has been halted by a judge so that more environmental impact studies can be made.

CHILE

Chile’s president faces tough questions about reconstruction one year after his country was struck by a devastating earthquake. For information about Chile’s tourism infrastructure after the quake, check out VIVA’s Chile guidebook.

COSTA RICA

A border dispute with Nicaragua has many in Costa Rica reconsidering their country’s commitment to fielding no standing army.

MEXICO

Billionaire Carlos Slim has opened a new art museum in Mexico City.

PANAMA

Cannons found in a Panamanian river might have belonged to the famed pirate Henry Morgan.

PERU

Archeologists working at the Inca site of Vilcabamba have uncovered tombs from a much earlier culture.


Englishman Ed Stafford Successfully Walks Entire Length of the Amazon River

By Eli Mangold, Viva Editorial Intern

Ed Stafford and his companion, Cho. Image courtesy Walking the Amazon.

After 859 days, Ed Stafford completed his goal of walking the entire length of the Amazon River on August 9th. His journey, which spanned 4,000 miles, was full of countless run-ins with less-than-savory reptiles and insects, as well as Amazonian tribes.

Before beginning his walk, Stafford was a captain in the British Army until 2002 and was a UN security advisor in Afghanistan. According to his blog, Walking the Amazon, he had run remote expeditions all over the world, including various countries in Latin America.

His primary motivation for the trek was not to raise awareness or charity money, rather, in the spirit of a true adventurer he just wanted to do something no one else had accomplished before. However, during the course of the trip Stafford witnessed vast swaths of logged rainforest and hopes that his expedition will help connect more people to the environmental problems facing the Amazon. He also wants the feat of endurance to inspire people into setting out on adventures of their own.

The journey began on April 2nd, 2008 on the coast of Peru, with a fellow companion that dropped out after three months. Five months into in the journey, Stafford was joined by a Peruvian forestry worker, Gadiel “Cho” Sanchez Rivera, and the two completed the trek together. However, along the way they were joined by hundreds of people that walked with them for a few hours—and some even for a few months!

Stafford’s trek was fraught with microscopic, reptilian and human dangers, including stomach illnesses, giant caimans and anacondas, skin-boring insects and territorial local tribes. At one point, the two were seized by a remote tribe and stripped-down in front of the tribal elder. Ultimately they received the tribe’s blessing after they explained their purpose. On some days, the team would burn 6,000 calories apiece, but only consume half of that.

The incredible physical stress of the journey caught up Stafford just 53 miles from the finish line, when Stafford collapsed from exhaustion on the side of the road. He suffered from severe disorientation and developed a mysterious full-body rash, but after a few hours of rest was able to set off again. Trailed by a carload of Brazilian reporters and other news organizations, Stafford and Cho walked 53 miles in 21 hours on the last day. Upon reaching the Atlantic Ocean, Stafford and Cho sprayed each other with champagne and swam in the ocean.

Stafford hopes to set off on another record-breaking journey in September of 2011, but will not disclose its details so that somebody doesn’t beat him to it.

Latin American News Briefs: Protesting Tribes, Prison Takeovers, and the Plague

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the stories our office talked about during the week of July 30th to August 6th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

Awá child. Photo courtesy Twilight Earth.

Awá Tribe Emerges from Amazon to Show They Exist

[BRAZIL] Last Sunday, fifty-five members of a small indigenous tribe emerged from the Amazon rainforest to prove they exist and highlight the fact that their home is being mercilessly destroyed. Many of the tribe members left the rainforest for the first time in their lives to join 150 supporters in the town of Zé Doca, Maranhão, where the local Mayor’s office had previously denied the Awá people even exist. Local authorities have recently opposed a federal court ruling that ranchers, loggers and settlers who have occupied Awá lands should leave. Along with witnessing the destruction of up to 50 percent of their home, the tribe (believed to be one of Brazil’s two remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes) has also been subject to massacres by settlers and have fallen victim to illnesses such as the common flu for which they have little or no immunity. [Indigenous People’s Issues]

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa May Face Brother in 2014 Election

[ECUADOR] Strangely enough, the only significant opposition to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s administration is his own kin; his old ally and older brother Fabricio. The brothers worked together to get Rafael elected in 2006, but after a rather nasty corruption charge (Fabricio’s engineering business supposedly boomed just after the younger one was elected), their relationship unraveled. There has been macho posturing on both sides, and Fabricio is quoted as saying “Nobody has so far had the testicular competence to sue me.” Should be in interesting election to watch. [BBC]

Mexico City Upholds Gay Marriage Law

[MEXICO] Eight out of ten  justices in Mexico’s highest court decided to uphold a law allowing same-sex marriages in the capital. The law was passed seven months ago, but federal prosecutors said it “went against the principle of protection of the family,” according to the BBC. [BBC]

Thirty Trapped in Chile Mine

[CHILE] A small mine collapsed in northern Chile late Thursday, leaving 30 miners trapped. Rescuers believe the trapped men may have taken refuge in an underground shelter that has oxygen and food “for them to last for some time,” but no further details have been released. [Reuters]

Guatemala Willing to Meet with the U.S. About Labor Dispute

[GUATEMALA] There is a possibility that the Guatemalan government is facing hefty fines for violating terms of the joint free-trade agreement with the U.S. The U.S. AFL-CIO labor federation and six Guatemalan unions first lodged the complaints in April 2008 over the violation of labor conditions, including failure to implement laws regarding the rights of workers to bargain collectively and organize, as well as the right to acceptable working conditions. According to the International Confederation of Trade Unions, Guatemala is the second most dangerous country for workers after Colombia. Sixteen workers are thought to have died in labor-related incidents in 2009 alone. [Global Post]

The Plague Surfaces in Peru

[PERU] Both the bubonic and pneumonic plagues have appeared in Peru, killing one 14-year-old boy and infecting 31 others. The disease is carried by fleas and transmitted by their bites, and Peruvian authorities are looking into sugar and fish meal imports from the Ascope province. But don’t worry about another Black Death, the plague is easily treatable with antibiotics if found early. [AP]

Troops Found $7 Million in Cash at Home of Drug Lord

[MEXICO] Troops who raided the house of drug kingpin Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel last week found $7 million in cash. They also seized jewelry, three expensive cars, and several weapons. Coronel, who died in the gunfight, was third in line in the Sinaloa drug cartel. [AP]

Fidel Castro Plans to Address Cuban Assembly on Issue of Foreign Affairs

[CUBA] After falling ill and conceding power to brother Raul, Fidel Castro is now healthy enough to address the National Assembly. Although not officially confirmed, the state media has reported that the ex-head of state plans to orate on the impending nuclear crisis between North Korea, Iran, Israel and the US. The session will be held on Saturday, August 7th. [BBC]

Prison in Brazil Found to be Run by Inmates

[BRAZIL] Police raided a prison in Rio de Janeiro to find inmates had overrun the place. The facility, which held 150 prisoners awaiting trial, had only one guard when police arrived. Police seized keys from the prisoners, as well as a pistol, ammunition, mobile phones, and records that detailed payments made by prisoners for larger cells and better conditions. [BBC]

Baby Revives Inside Coffin at Wake in Mexico

[MEXICO] A Mexican baby who was declared dead by doctors revived inside her coffin while her wake was in progress. Apparently, during the ceremony, parents heard a strange noise coming from the casket and opened it up to find their baby very much alive. The baby was born prematurely Monday, and is now in stable condition at a hospital. The doctor who pronounced her dead is being investigated for possible negligence. [AP]

Diego Forlan in Calcutta. Courtesy BBC.

Soccer Star Diego Forlan Visits Calcutta

[URUGUAY] Diego Forlan’s visit to one of India’s few football-crazy cities has caused much excitement in recent days. The 31-year-old Uruguayan player was named player of the 2010 World Cup after scoring no less than 5 goals for his country in the tournament. Forlan’s visit was part of a football talent hunt where many of the participants come from underprivileged backgrounds. “I’ve had the opportunity to see them playing, and I’m surprised how organized the young players are. You can see real talent,” he said. A large number of followers greeted the Atletico Madrid forward on his arrival in Calcutta, and his visit to the headquarters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity also drew large crowds of well-wishers. Forlan became a hero in his home country after his performance in South Africa and joins a list of football favorites that have visited Calcutta in recent years, including Diego Maradona, Branco, Romario, Oliver Kahn, and Gerd Muller. [BBC]

Former Chilean Secret Police Chief Blames CIA for 1974 Murders

[CHILE] General Manuel Contreras, the former chief of Chile’s feared secret police, said the CIA is to blame for the assassination of General Carlos Prats. At the time, Prats was the biggest enemy of General Augusto Pinochet, who proceeded him as head of Chile’s army. Contreras is serving combined sentences of 100 years for murders and kidnappings that took place while Pinochet headed the army. [AP]

No Oil Drilling in Ecuadorian Amazon Reserve

[ECUADOR] Ecuador decided the value of an Amazon Reserve was worth more than the oil money it would receive, and ruled against drilling in the area. It is estimated there are 846 million barrels of crude oil under the reserve, which is home to several indigenous tribes, as well as tons of flora and fauna. Under Ecuador’s new agreement with the UN, the reserve will remain untapped for at least 10 years. [V!VA]

Indigenous Mexicans Want Conquistador Monument Removed

[MEXICO] Mayan Indians in the Mexican state of Yucatan have signed a petition calling for the removal of two life-sized bronze statues from the state capital. The statues were erected in June in honor of the conquistador Francisco de Montejo and his son. In the mid-16th century, both Montejo and his son were responsible for many vicious battles and the deaths of thousands of indigenous during their quest for control of the area. The local council agreed to consider the petition on Wednesday which was signed by over 100 Mayan groups and many more individual Yucatan citizens. Over the years, Mexicans have avoided any attempt to praise or commemorate those that invaded the country and statues in their honor are rare. [AP]

Need to catch up on the news? Check out our archive of Latin American News Briefs.

Latin American News Briefs: Titi Monkeys, Tomb Discoveries, and Temperature Drops

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the Latin American news stories our office talked about during the week of July 11th to July 23rd. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

News footage of the monkeys that were smuggled.

Man in Airport Found with 18 Endangered Monkeys Under His Clothes

[ Mexico / Peru ] A Mexican national was detained at Mexico City’s airport by customs officials after he was seen acting suspiciously in security. When officials pulled the 38-year-old aside they found 18 Titi monkeys hidden underneath his clothing in a girdle.

The man, who had arrived on a flight from Lima, Peru had previously kept the monkeys in his luggage but had later attached them to his person because he didn’t want the baggage x-ray machines to damage them. Two of the 18 monkeys had already died during the journey from Peru.

Titi monkeys, found in South and Central America, are regarded as an endangered species and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The man had paid $30 per monkey in Peru and expected to sell them in Mexico for between $775 and $1,550 each. In Mexico, having a wild animal as a household pet is a deep-rooted tradition, and animals smuggled to the US from Central or South America often come through Mexico. [Huffington Post]

1,600-year-old Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala

[ Guatemala ] Last week, Scientists in Guatemala revealed the discovery of an ancient, Mayan tomb that could have been the final resting place of a Mayan king. The discovery was made on the 29th of May, under the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz.

The archaeological team thought that ‘something odd’ was happening during the dig and eventually discovered the 6 feet high, 12 feet long, and four feet wide tomb after they lowered a light bulb through a small hole. The tomb was filled with carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones of six children, who might have been sacrificed at the time of the king’s death.

Scientists say they have a lot more work to do before they can confirm their suspicions, but findings such as an elaborate headdress and a sacrificial blade with what appears to be blood on it indicate that it may be the tomb of a king, only previously mentioned in hieroglyphic texts. [National Geographic]

A shortage of resources in Argentina means only two of 15 prison guard towers could be staffed. Photo courtesy AP.

Two Argentine Inmates Bust Out of Jail Right Under a Mannequin’s Nose

[ Argentina ] Due to budget shortages in the Nequén Province of Argentina, the local jail has had to substitute mannequins made of a football and an officer’s hat for actual guards. Two prisoners, Walter Pozo and Cesar Andres, must have noticed the shortcoming and climbed over the fence unopposed. Officials are hoping that this embarrassment will bring much-needed resources to the province. [Independent]

Honduras Returns to OAS, SICA

[ Honduras ] At a summit in El Salvador, Central America leaders decided to allow Honduras to continue participating in two major regional groups. Honduras had been expelled from both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Central American Integration System (SICA) after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in June 2009. [PeopleDaily]

Penguins Mysteriously Washing Up Dead on Brazilian Shores

[ Brazil ] Over 500 penguins have washed up on the beaches of Brazil, and scientists are trying to figure out why. Autopsies strongly suggest starvation, but they are still unsure why there is such scarcity in fish and squid. Some hypotheses include changing ocean currents, overfishing and colder water, which affect the penguins’ primary sources of food. [CBS News]

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Courtesy AP

Hugo Chavez Opens Remains of Simon Bolivar, Announces it to the World on Twitter

[ Venezuela ] On Friday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tweeted that he was opening his idol’s remains to look for proof of foul play in his death. The eccentric head-of-state believes that Bolivar was murdered, and did not die of tuberculosis as history claims. He briefly displayed the remains on national television and passionately orated, “that glorious skeleton has to be Bolivar, because his flame can be felt. My God…it’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned!” [ AP ]

Venezuela Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Colombia

[ Venezuela ] In a bold move, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez severed ties with Colombia on Thursday just before the Colombian Ambassador, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, presented evidence to the Organization of American States (OAS) that Venezuela is currently harboring about 1,500 leftist guerrillas behind their borders. Colombia’s accusations against Venezuela caused Chavez to force the closure of Colombia’s embassy in Bogotá within 72 hours. The OAS stated that it could not investigate the sites without Venezuela’s consent. [BBC]

Cold Front Causes Death Across South America

[ Argentina / Bolivia / Chile / Paraguay / Peru / Uruguay ] South America is having a particularly hard winter, with some parts reporting the lowest temperatures in 29 years. In several countries, the mercury has dropped below freezing. Fatalities due to the cold have been reported in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Livestock is threatened in all of these areas, as well as in Chile and Peru. [CNN.com].

Watch a news report on the Mexican gun battle.

Border Clashes Along the Mexican / U.S. Border

[ Mexico / U.S. ] A gun battle went down in the rural town of Madera, about 230 kilometers (145 miles) south of the U.S. border. As the story goes, gunmen reportedly opened fire on an army patrol and eight men were killed—however, the U.S. Defense Department is not offering any information. On Wednesday, late-night gun battles broke out in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, which could be heard across the border in the U.S. In Nuevo Laredo, a gang forced people from their cars and buses to use the vehicles as barricades along the roads. Witness reports said several gunmen were killed, but no official number has been tallied by Nuevo Laredo officials. [AP]

Seventeen Die in Birthday Party Massacre

[ Mexico ] The bodies of 12 males and 5 females were found in a bloodstained party hall, along with at least a dozen injured, after a tragic gun attack on a birthday party in Torreon, Northern Mexico. More than 200 bullets were fired indiscriminately into the bar full of young party goers enjoying some birthday celebrations.

The massacre is the third such attack this year on bars in Torreon, an industrial city in Coahuila state. Coahuila Attorney General, Jesus Torres says the perpetrators, a prominent drug cartel, have been identified but he refused to identify the group publicly.

Mexico’s northern border has been the worst hit by the recent drug wars that have seen almost 25,000 killed since President Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown on organized crime three and a half years ago. [LA Times]

US to Send Troops to Mexican Border

[ Mexico / U.S. ] 1,200 troops will be sent to the border next month in an effort to tackle illegal immigration and drug-trafficking in the four border states. Arizona will receive 524 troops; Texas 250, California 224 and New Mexico 72, while 130 will be part of a national liaison office.

In May, President Obama announced that he wanted to assign $500m (£350m) to new funding for the initiative and deploy US troops to help secure the border.

The soldiers will be armed but only permitted to fire in self defense and their main task will be to observe suspicious movement along the border and report it to Border Patrol agents.

A controversial new state law is due to come into effect in Arizona on 29 July making it a crime to be in the state without immigration papers.

Several lawsuits, including one by the federal government, have been filed against the legislation. The US justice department is challenging the law, arguing that it undermines the federal administration’s authority to set immigration policy. [BBC]

Did you miss last weeks news? Click here to read Latin American news stories from last week.

Latin America News Briefs: Same-Sex Marriage, Snow in Salta and Sea Monsters

Compiled by Jen O’Riordan, Eli Mangold and Libby Zay, with help from Lorraine Caputo.

Every Friday, Viva Travel Guides combs the presses to round up the most relevant and recent Latin America news stories. Here are the Latin American news stories our office talked about during the week of July 10th to July 16th. For more up-to-the minute news, follow us on Twitter!

Demonstrators wave a gay pride flag outside of the Argentine Congress, courtesy AP.

Argentina Becomes First Country in Latin America to Allow Gay Marriage

[Argentina] After a marathon debate, the Argentine Senate legalized gay marriage in a a 33-27 vote. The landmark victory gives same-sex couples the same legal rights and protections that heterosexuals gain when they tie the knot. The decision will likely draw a number of tourists to gay-friendly Buenos Aires, but non-resident foreigners are not allowed to marry in Argentina.

Read more about the legalization of gay marriage in Argentina on www.VivaTravelGuides.com.

Guatemala Catches Cocaine-Filled Submarine in Pacific

[Guatemala] Last week Ecuadorian authorities snagged a drug-smuggling submarine, and this week a similar vessel was stopped off Guatemala’s Pacific coast. The Guatemalan makeshift submarine—bound for the United States—had five metric tons of the white stuff inside.

Read more about the drug smuggling submarine in Guatemala on www.Yahoo.com.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Big Day in Salta

[Argentina] Salteños awoke to sight they haven’t seen in almost 10 years: huge clusters of flakes falling. Slowly the city is being covered with snow, which is expected to continue through Saturday. Tucumán, La Rioja, San Juan and other northern cities are also being blanketed. The Jama Pass to Chile is closed.

6.2 Quake Strikes Chile

[Chile] Last Sunday evening, a medium strength quake measuring 6.2 on the richter scale struck Chile’s Antofagasta region. The core of the quake was located 50 miles east-northeast of Calama in the Atacama desert, believed to be one of the driest places on earth. There were no fatalities or injuries, but phone lines were saturated during the quake. The extent of the damage is tiny compared with the $30 billion worth of damage caused during the country’s February earthquake, which measured a severe 8.8.

Read more about the earthquake on Earthquake.USGS.gov.

The Uruguay Futbol Team takes pictures of their adoring fans, courtesy of the BBC.

Uruguay Futbol Team Welcomed Home as Heroes

[Uruguay] Uruguay may have finished fourth in the World Cup, but the team was given a homecoming party fit for a hero when they arrived home to Montevideo. “Thank you, champions! You gave us our pride back!” read one of hundred of banners during the massive celebration.

Read more about the homecoming party on BBC.co.uk.

Venezuela Extradites “Drug Boss” to U.S.

[Venezuela] Venezuelan authorities handed over Colombian drug baron, Carlos Alberto Renteria, also known as Beto, to U.S. DEA officials this week. Renteria, who stands accused of heading the infamous Norte del Valle drug cartel, kept his head bowed, denying the media photos of his face during the exchange at Caracas airport. The hand over of Mr. Renteria and two other accused smugglers was shown live on state television. It is believed the Norte del Valle cartel was responsible for smuggling over 500 tonnes of cocaine into the U.S. during the 1990’s. Renteria has been on America’s most wanted list since 2004.

Read more about the extradited drug boss on BBC.co.uk.

Watch a news clip on a Sea Monster fossil in Peru, Courtesy YouTube.com and BBC.co.uk.

Sea Monster Fossil Discovered in Peru

[Peru] A team of European and Peruvian palaeontologists have revealed their discovery of what could have been the biggest sea predator that ever lived. The fossil of a giant whale was discovered in South Peru’s Ocucaje desert back in 2008. Since then, scientists have been studying the remains of Leviathan (named after the biblical sea monster), which include a skull, its lower jaw bone and ten well-preserved teeth. With teeth measuring a huge 14 inches long, he had the largest teeth ever recorded. An ancestor of the modern day sperm whale, Leviathan is thought to have lived more than 12 million years ago.

Read more about the sea monster on www.CNN.com.

Ecuadorian Eco-lodge Gets Five Stars for Being Green

[Ecuador] The Casa Ceibo Boutique and Spa has just been awarded the American Academy of Hospitality Services’ Five Star Green Award. Located in seaside Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, the hotel has supported numerous local green initiatives, such as clean water programs for the local population and reforesting mangrove swamps around the area. It should be noted that this is not your typical eco-lodge; it offers all the luxurious amenities, including a spa, pool and wetland excursions.

Read more about Casa Ceibo Boutique and Spa on www.NileGuide.com.

Sugar Minott, Courtesy www.SugarMinott.com.

Reggae Icon Sugar Minott Passes Away

[Jamaica] One of the most influential figures in Reggae has passed away this past Saturday in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 54. The cause of his death has not been released, but the singer had cancelled concerts due to chest pains a few months ago. Minott’s career began as a member of the African Brothers Trio, and then in 1970 launched on his own solo career, putting out such hits as “Vanity” and a cover of the Jackson Five’s “You Got a Good Thing Going.” Aside from singing, Minott also helped younger acts make it big through his record label, Black Roots.

Learn more about Sugar Minott on his website, www.SugarMinott.com.

Clash in Mexican Border State Leaves Four Gunmen Killed, Bystanders Wounded

[Mexico] In the border state of Coahuila, more violence between the police and the drug cartels has erupted, leaving four gunmen slain and five bystanders wounded. While police where carrying out an investigation on a highway near Torreon, they were attacked by four gunmen brandishing assault weapons and pistols. The bystanders were traveling along the highway and got caught up in the violence. Two are in serious condition, and three are stable.

Read more about the Mexican border clash on www.CBSNews.com.

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