Tag Archives: South America

Three Other Impressive Colombian Archaeological Sites

Colombia’s three most famous ancient archaeological sites are the impressive lost city, Teyuna, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the country’s Caribbean Coast, and the enigmatic statues of San Agustín and the wondrous tombs of Tierradentro in the southern part of the nation.

 

Scattered throughout the country, though, are other, lesser-known ruins that travelers should add to their itineraries:

 

El Pueblito. Photo by Andrea Davoust.

  • Also on the Caribbean Coast, on a hilltop within Parque Nacional Tayrona, is another impressive city of the Tayrona people, called Chairama or El Pueblito. A stone road through the lush jungle leads up to these ruins that still preserve the engineering marvels of this nation. Also within Tayrona National Park are other ruins near Cañaveral and Bahía Neguanje.

 

  • Heading inland towards Bogotá, you arrive at the beautifully preserved colonial village of Villa de Leyva. Just to the north is one of Colombia’s most mysterious – and thought-provoking – archaeological ruins: El Infiernito. The main features of this site, officially called Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, are two stone “forests.” One is an observatory that was used to track the sun’s course throughout the year. The other is a phallic forest that was used for fertility rites. Also on the grounds is an ancient tomb.

 

Muisca phallic monoliths at "El Infiernito" by Erik Cleves Kristensen http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikkristensen/4568477436/

  • Not all of Colombia’s archaeological riches are monuments. The country also has a plethora of petroglyphs, or rock paintings, and ancient stone roads. Near the village of Güicán and Parque Nacional El Cocuy, hikers can explore both. The Camino Deshecho leads past dozens of petroglyphs painted on rock out croppings, before arriving at some delicious hot springs.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia’s hidden archaeological riches 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.”

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 3

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

Most chicha in Peru are made of corn. Except masato. This slightly alcoholic drink of the Amazon River jungle region is made from yucca. It is, I had been told in other parts of the country, the only one for which the grain is chewed to foment fermentation.

 

But once I hit the northern jungle, I began to learn a different story. I traveled the length of the Corredor Transoceánico, towards the river port of Yurimaguas. I arrived in Moyobamba in time for its patron saint feast day. On the first night, the Plaza de Armas was lined with food stalls offering traditional foods. Many had fried cecina (pemmican) and juanes, a round tamale made of chicken and rice steamed in a bijao leaf. A few women were grilling cuts of majaz (the agouti). The most common drink being poured into plastic cups was chicha de higo, a non-alcoholic drink made from figs.

 

Majaz with yucca and maduro. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Finally I saw a sign I was hoping to see: Masato con espuma. One woman was whisking eggs into a pale-lemon-colored froth. She then half-filled a styrofoam cup with masato and topped it off with a big dollop of the foam. I asked her if it were true the root is chewed before fermentation. “No,” she responded as she prepared my drink, “only in settlements deep in the jungle do they still make it that way. Most people now use sugar.”

 

In Yurimaguas, I was told the same thing.

 

Heading back to the coast, I stop in Tarapoto. One evening I walk up Jirón Alegría Areas de Morey. None of the restaurants catering to the foreign tourists appeal to me: not pizza or pasta, not over-priced plates of ceviche or cecina. After a few blocks, the street becomes dirt-paved. Motorcycle rickshaw taxis pull in front of a one-story building, dropping off passengers who head inside. Under the eaves, a couple digs into heaping plates of food. A long grill wafts smoke and meat aromas into the night air. Every table in the dining hall inside is packed.

 

The hand-printed sign outside the restaurant, Parrilladas El Bijao, promises locally produced cecina and chorizos, juanes, patarashca (a fish soup prepared and served in a “bowl” of bijao leaves, fish grilled in bijao leaves and other typical dishes. Another sign lists juices made from the tangy camu camu and other jungle fruits—and masato.

 

Making tacacho. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

At a table next to the grill, owner Betty is smashing steamed plantains in a batán (wooden trough) with a wooden mallet. I ask her if the masato is made the old-fashioned way, by chewing. She says no, but it is homemade. She invites me to sit down on the bench and begins to tell me the process.

 

“First, we steam the yucca until it is soft. Then in a batán like this, it is ground.” She breaks up lumps of plantain with one hand, and begins pounding the mixture again. “Into the water in which the yucca was cooked, we add sugar. That’s poured into the batán and kneaded into the yucca mash until it is a thick paste.”

 

She reaches over to a pot on the grill and ladles pork fat and cracklings onto the plantains. She works the dough. Then with quick hands, she forms a small ball. “Here, try this tacacho,” she says, handing it to me.

 

As she peels more plantains to smash, she continues her explanation of how to make masato. “The yucca mixture is placed into a tinaja (ceramic urn) and fermented for at least three days.”

 

As I eat the tacacho, I tell her about my search for masato. “Many told me the only place you’ll find the traditional one, made by chewing the yucca first, is deep in the jungle.”

 

She sets into making a new batch of tacacho. “No. You can find old-fashioned masato in Lamas. There they still chew the root for fermentation. They don’t use sugar.”

 

Her companion has prepared my order. I take a seat the couple’s long table to receive my plate of majaz, yucca and roasted maduros (ripe plantains). The waitress brings out a chilled glass of the house masato to accompany my repast. This 15-day-old brew is smooth—much different than the chicha de jora I had tried in Arequipa.

 

Masato. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In that southern Peruvian city, chef Walter Bustamante Cano told me over three hundred varieties of chicha exist. I have tried four. To savor the others would take a lifetime.

 

I think of the Nicaraguan song about this native brew of the Americas. Perhaps the people of this country could do their own version: Chicha de jora, chicha morada, chicha de higo, masato …

 

 

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

 

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 1

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

 

Chicha de maiz, chicha pujagua, chicha raizuda, pelo de maíz, goes the song by the Nicaraguan  musicians, Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. This fermented grain drink, usually made of corn, exists throughout Latin America, from México to Argentina. The Real Academia Española says the word came from the Kuna nation of Panama, for which “chichab” means corn. The beverage, which has been around since pre-Columbian times, has a low alcohol content. Non-alcoholic varieties exist: In Panama, chicha is a fruit drink. Peru and Ecuador have chicha morada, made of purple corn, pineapple and spices.

 

Chicha is especially common in the Andean countries. No matter where you go, you’ll find places flying a white flag, announcing that urns of the drink are available. When the combi breaks down in the middle of nowhere, deep in the Peruvian mountains, someone will scare some up from a local woman. The stranded passengers will pass the time waiting for repairs to be done, passing around a jug of chicha. In village feasts, celebrants will gather around the cook fires to share a mug, dispelling the chill of the altiplano night.

 

The Andes’ native brew is still a drink of the common people. Chicherías—chicha bars—exist even in Lima. When the owner of a hostel in that capital city was gossiping about a scandalous brawl that happened at one, I said, “Such places still exist?” She looked at me, up and down, “They aren’t for foreigners—and not for decent people.”

 

If you want to try this corn beer, you’ll most likely find it out in the smaller villages. In larger cities, like Arequipa in Southern Peru, the central markets may have a counter where a woman ladles up the brew into a customer’s recycled jug.

 

While in Arequipa, I decide to learn more about this traditional drink. I cross the city’s splendid Plaza de Armas. In the center, the fountain leaps into the sun, capturing pieces of light and showering them upon the pigeons pecking at the handfuls of crushed corn grain tossed by families posing for photos. On the north edge of the square is the imposing Cathedral built of the white sillar volcanic stone that gives this city its nickname: La Ciudad Blanca. The other three sides of the square are surrounded by two-story, portaled buildings. I enter one and climb the steps to Sonccollay, a restaurant specializing in pre-Incan cuisine.

 

Walter Bustamante Cano, owner of Sonccallay and master chef. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Out on the balcony overlooking the plaza, owner and master chef Walter Bustamante Cano is holding court in his realm. He speaks of the apu (spirits) of the three snow-capped volcanoes that edge the city: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu.

 

His passion flares when he speaks of food. His thick eyebrows and waving hands accent the benefits of the ancient way of preparing foods. It is a union made of love and to promote health and wellbeing. It is a uniting of the universal energies of Wiracocha (Father Sky) with the material manifestations of Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the Kay Pacha, the world of the Here and Now where humans live.

 

Chef Walter explains that in Quechua and Aymará, chicha is called aswa. Peru has various types of aswa. In fact, there are over 300 types of this native beer, including ones made of peanut and all colors of corn. Here in the Andes, the traditional one is jora aswa and kinua aswa, made of quinoa grain.  In the north, maka, made of algarrobina (carob), is more common. The jungle region has masato, made of yucca. In some areas, the grain is chewed and then strained through straw, to help fermentation.

 

Kero: a traditional, ceramic cup of Peru's Andean region. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

He fills my traditional, clay kero cup with jora aswa. I drink the cloudy liquid pure, without the addition of sweetener. The taste is lighter than I expected and slightly bitter.

 

Chef Walter explains that the traditional way for making chicha consists of three steps. The first step is to let the fresh kernels of purple corn ferment at least three days. Then the juice and corn are boiled and strained into a chamba (large ceramic urn). In Northern Peru, the urn is buried—a custom that has faded in the south. Lastly, the liquid is fermented for three days to one year. The longer the fermentation, the stronger the brew will be.

 

An urn of fermenting chicha. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Chef Walter takes me to the entryway of his restaurant and pulls a colorful woven cloth from the top of a large amphora. The bitter smell of the chicha wafts up from the dark pool within.

 

My next stop is Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s central market, to pick up on the ingredients for another type of Peruvian native drink, chicha morada.

 

 

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

Colombian volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, erupts; authorities warn of further eruptions

Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which sits in the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados in the Zona Cafetera (or “Coffee zone”), 130 kilometers (80 mi) west of Bogota, erupted last Saturday, 30 June, after months of volcanic activity. The brief eruption took place at 5.37 p.m. local time, when the volcano expelled a 9.5 kilometer (6 mi) cloud of smoke, ash and gases, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of locals in the surrounding area and the suspension of commercial flights from the nearby towns of Armenia, Manizales and Pereira.

Nevado del Ruiz ("Nevado del Ruiz nos saludo 2" by Dr EG)

Fortunately, there have been no reports of injuries or damage to property, but authorities have warned that a further eruption is probable. Though the volcanic activity alert has now been lowered to orange after it was declared red following the eruption, scientists at the Vulcan and and Seismological Observatory in nearby Manizales say that the volcano continues to emit gases and ash, and that “new eruptions cannot be ruled out”. The recent activity is a nasty reminder of the deadly power of the 5321 meter (17,457 ft) volcano: on November 13 1985, a massive avalanche of mud and debris, caused by a small eruption, destroyed the town of Armero, killing an estimated 25,000 people. Avoid the area where possible, and keep up-to-date with travel and safety alerts: the website of the Manizales Vulcan and Seismological Observatory has daily updates (Spanish only), or check the Colombia travel advice page of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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.

The miracle of Medellín

That Medellín was once known as the most dangerous city in the world makes its transition (just some 15 to 20 years later) to a safe, culturally-rich and pleasant city particularly remarkable. Once known for drug violence and gang wars, Colombia’s second largest city has become one of its wealthiest, and it is an enchanting place to soak up a lively cultural and nightlife scene. Medellín’s climate – invariably sunny and springlike – is also an attraction. Of course, like any other large city, it’s not without crime, and tourists (as well as taking the usual safety precautions) should avoid the slums that line the city’s hillsides.

Medellin_by jduquetr

Medellín has a way of luring visitors into staying longer than they had intended. It spoils its guests with an abundance of compelling features, ranging from a flourishing nightlife scene (second only to Cali’s), to churches, museums and offbeat activites like riding a cable car over the city’s shanty towns. More awaits the visitor beyond nightlife and museums, however. Medellín emphasizes the arts, and there are regular free concerts in the city’s theaters and improvised performances in the streets. Stroll to the Parque de los Pies Descalzos to marvel at modern architecture, then take a walk in the leafy Botanical Gardens. Try to catch the Flower Festival in late July and early August, a brightly-colorful, week-long festival that takes over the city, and check out the International Poetry Festival in July, when poets from all over the world participate in readings in Medellín’s theaters and parks.

Medellín Plaza_by robertschrader

Find out more about Medellín and 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.

10 Things You Didn't Know About Colombia

Think Colombia is all about drugs and guerrilla warfare?  Think again! Here’s ten surprising facts about this wonderfully diverse country:

  1. There are 80 different indigenous nations in Colombia, speaking 180 languages
  2. Colombia has the world’s greatest diversity of orchid species (3,500) and birds (1,754 species)
  3. Tourism in Colombia rose 48 percent between 2005 and 2006; in the first six months of 2011, it increased 14.3 percent from 2010
  4. Colombia has 3,208 km (1,993 miles) of Pacific and Caribbean coastline – home to some of the most gorgeous beaches on the continent
  5. Colombia has one of the highest rates of economic growth in Latin America

    Colombia has the world's largest species of birds (Buff-tailed Coronet 101204 by Langham Birder)

  6. Colombia is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world (after Brazil), providing 12 percent of the world’s coffee.
  7. Ninety-five percent of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia
  8. Colombia’s Pacific coast is home to the golden dart frog; one gram of its poison is enough to kill about 15,000 humans
  9. Football is Colombia’s most popular sport; the national football team has been to the FIFA World Cup playoffs four times.
  10. Ants, worms, cows udder and guinea pig are all part of the Colombian cuisine

    Colombia is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world (Reserve coffee farm in Colombia by Katie Fallon Virgina Tech University)

    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.

Sustainable Tourism: Bus Travel in Latin America

You haven’t truly experienced Latin America until you’ve spent the better part of fours crammed onto a school bus next to a man who seems to be explaining the finer aspects of the two chickens on his lap. It helps if he is speaking in a language that you have never even heard of and if, according to his friend who speaks only a bit of English, he thinks you are fat.

For the sustainable traveler, public transportation is the way to go. The benefits are abundant. By using public transportation we can help protect the environment, support the local economy, and better understand the places we are visiting. Of course, traveling around Latin America is not without its challenges. Given the lack of train service, taking the bus is about your only option. The roads are often poorly maintained, traffic laws are treated more like friendly advice and driving schools seem to specialize in stunt driving. It is a safe bet that the local drivers are more familiar with the roads than you are, so if you are going to do any distance travel, the bus is a safer option.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of buses, local or city buses and long distance carriers. The local buses are a personal favorite. The buses might not be as well maintained as in western cities, but most of the people on the bus are people going to and from work, doing their shopping and visiting friends. City buses offer an opportunity to do something that is authentic and local.

In some more developed countries, such as Argentina or Brazil – the buses are some of the finest in the Americas. They come complete with movies, food, toilets and comfortable seating. On the other hand, you could easily find yourself on a “chicken bus” – often an old school bus that services many of the poorer communities in this part of the world.

It is hard to quantify the exact environmental benefits of taking a bus in Latin America versus taking a taxi or renting a car. Each bus is likely to have very different fuel efficiencies and emissions. While emission standards are not readily at hand, there can be little doubt that bus travel is better for the planet. Given the number of people on any given bus, it seems obvious that, mile for mile, bus travel produces significantly less pollution and uses less fossil fuel driving a car.

Of course, helping the local economy is another sustainable benefit of getting around by bus. Most bus companies are owned either by local governments or local businesses. On the other hand, most car rental businesses are multinational. While you might be spending less on the bus, that money goes to help generate jobs and support local finances.

Finally, taking the bus is fun. We travel to see the world from different perspectives and ultimately expand our own. The guy with two chickens who thought I was fat – that was almost ten years ago. During that trip to Guatemala I visited Mayan ruins, got to take part in a traditional Mayan ceremony, and even won a chili eating contest. Of all the memories – there was something special about learning about chickens from a man who didn’t speak any English or Spanish on a bus rumbling its way up the to the Guatemalan highlands.