Tag Archives: travel advisory

Chilean Ash Cloud Continues Its Circuit Around the Globe, Grounding Travelers

Since Southern Chile’s Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex erupted on June 4, its ash cloud has accomplished a feat many travelers daydream about: Circling the globe. And it didn’t even have to buy a round-the-world ticket.

On its leisurely cruise around the Earth, the cloud first grounded flights in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It blanketed Bariloche with ash and cinder, and closed the Cardenal Samoré border crossing. After drifting over the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa and other countries on that continent were affected. Across the Indian Ocean, then, to cause Qantas and other airlines to cancel flights in Australia and New Zealand last week.

Within two weeks, Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s ash cloud made full circle, re-entering South America near Coyhaique, Chile. Once again, South American air traffic was affected.


As if never ceasing on its enviable journey, the ashes arrived once again to Africa and Asia, causing the full moon to appear blood red during the June 15 lunar eclipse.

This past Monday, Virgin Australia, Qantas and other air lines once more canceled over 200 flights, affecting the travel plans of more than 40,000 passengers.

According to Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, the ash cloud is traveling some 4,000 kilometers (2,400 mi) per 24 hours, pushed on by strong winds. Satellite images still clearly show the plume, and pilots have reported seeing it.

In the meantime, Puyehue Volcano’s eruption continued to pump out more smoke. Yesterday morning, fine ash fell upon Villarrica, Pucón and the Ranco Lake area. Northwesternly winds pushed the cloud towards Valdivia.

It appears, though, that Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s cloud will be running its course soon. Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) announced yesterday that the volcano has had a significant lava flow, which should stop the volcano from pumping out more ash. Nonetheless, the Puyehue and Ranco Lake districts are still under red alert.

Hopefully as Puyehue-Cordón Caulle settles down and unpacks its bags, human travelers will be able to get one with their journeys around the globe.

On the Road—Colombia: Crooked Cops

CCs, DPs, lawless blue boys, gun slingers, bent coppers, crooked cops—call them what you will. They exist in many countries, even in most of ours. It’s a topic, though, few want to talk about. People will look away, tugging at collars. And then, as if the room was wiretapped, in hushed voices they will tell what has happened to him, or to her, or a relative, a friend.

We feel uncomfortable, even paranoid, talking about it. But we must—if for nothing else but to warn others.

All in all, Colombian police are very friendly and helpful. Even Jack and Russell, two bikers from the US, attest to that. While in Cartagena, they were leaving a nightclub at 3 a.m. Four officers stopped them, to counsel them on returning to their hotel at that late hour. In the course of the friendly chat, the tourists were asked to see their IDs, so they handed over their wallets. Everything fine, everything in order. Be safe going back, the officers told the foreigners. But when they got back to their room, one discovered $80 had been lifted from his wallet. “But it was okay,” he said. “They were so kind and friendly. Never met nicer cops in my life.”

Indeed, like elsewhere, there are a few bad apples. Ask Colombians about it and the reaction is the same as anywhere: They look away, tug on collars and speak in low voices. Hostel owners say, “Yes, we warn foreigners about it.” Stories abound of “on-the-spot fines,” drugs being planted and other shady acts. The worst areas are where the foreigners go most: Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Caribbean coast destinations like Cartagena, Santa Marta and Taganga.

On the beach at Taganga, it is common to see police officers stopping young travelers, searching through their day packs and sometimes even frisking them.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Colombians have a saying, “No dar papaya.” Literally it means, “Don’t give papaya”—advising you: Don’t make yourself a mark. A while back, On the Road—Colombia took on this topic, in the sense of how people set themselves up as a target for thieves. But it also can apply to dealings with officials. Maggie (also from the US) and Daaf (Holland) are perfect examples of this.

I met Daaf in Bogotá. He had been traveling throughout Colombia, taking in the country’s natural beauty—and products. Three times police had stopped and searched him. And three times, he had to pay $200 “on-the-spot fines” because he had marijuana on him. Daaf was a bit down. He was having to end his trip earlier than planned because he had run out of money.

Maggie and her boyfriend, Mike, also “gave papaya.” One evening in Cartagena, they went and to get a small bag from a dealer from whom they’d bought several times previously. She took it and returned to their hostel. A few minutes later, Mike was stopped by a uniformed officer who frisked him—and found a small bag of weed in Mike’s back pocket. The policeman hauled Mike off to the police station and left. For hours Mike insisted the bag was not his and that he was set up. After several hours of complaining, he was released. (Luckily Mike is fluent is Spanish.)

I told Maggie that perhaps the dealer had set them up with the police. “But we had bought from him several times before!” she insisted. Yes, but that could have been to gain your confidence, or perhaps he had to cut a deal with the police to save his own neck. “You think?” she asked me.

When I asked locals about how travelers can lessen there chance of these kinds of encounters, or what they should do if approached, Colombians were at a loss. Really, there is nothing much that you can do. If approached by a police officer, be courteous. Try to have a reliable person witness the encounter. Be aware of the image you are projecting: Do you look like a “hippie” or a drunken tourist that can easily be taken advantage of? Do you look like someone rolling in money? Also, no matter how often we say it, it cannot hurt to say it again: Don’t mess with drugs while on vacation in a foreign land. It’s the perfect way of setting yourself up for “fines” or worse.

The majority of police in Colombia are very friends and helpful, though. So don’t be too paranoid about them on your explorations of this wonderfully diverse and fascinating country.

Editor’s note: All names have been changed to protect identities.

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

Volcanic Eruption Continues to Affect Travel

As reported last week, on June 4, Southern Chile’s Cordón Caulle on Puyehue Volcano’s slopes erupted for the first time in 51 years. Across the entire Southern Hemisphere, the eruption has been causing travel nightmares not only for common journeyers, but also for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who is on a regional tour. He had to bus to Buenos Aires and boat to Uruguay.

This past week, flights were canceled in Chile and Patagonian Argentina, as well as southern Brazil. On Monday another column of ash, shooting eight kilometers (5 mi) into the atmosphere, forced the closures of airports across the Southern Cone, from Santiago to Buenos Aires to Montevideo.

But South America isn’t the only place being affected by Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s fallout. When winds shifted to the West over the weekend, the ash forced Qantas and other airlines to cancel flights in New Zealand and Australia.

Both Chile and Argentina have declared agricultural emergencies in their Lake and Patagonia regions. Lava flows have oozed down the Nilahue River valley. Over five million salmon were relocated when rising river temperatures caused fishkills.

Friday, rain and ash from the eruption caused an avalanche near the (closed) Cardenal Samoré border crossing road, which remains closed. To handle border traffic, the Chilean government has increased the number of ferries on Lago Pirehueico at the Hua Hum pass and has reopened Paso Pino Hinchado. Snows may force the re-closure of these crossings.

Chile’s Emergency Management Agency (Onemi) maintains a red alert for the Lago Ranco and Puyehue areas. Travelers are advised to watch the news for further developments. To keep up on Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s activity, check Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) website. Earthquake Report publishes an up-to-date chronicle of reports of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s effects in the region.

Volcanic Eruption Disrupts Travel in Chile & Argentina

Travelers in Chile and Argentina’s Lake Districts are finding their journeys disrupted by a volcanic eruption.

After a series of small earthquakes, southern Chile’s Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle re-awoke last Saturday (June 4) with a 10,000-meter (32,600-ft) high column of smoke and ash. The eruptions are occurring on Puyehue’s (2,236 meters / 7,267 feet) slopes. The present activity is northeast of the vents triggered by the 1960 earthquake, which was the largest in modern history.

Over 3,500 people have been evacuated from the Puyehue region and Lago Ranco. Parque Nacional Puyehue has been declared a red zone, and is closed from the customs complex to Hotel Termas Puyehue. Paso Cardenal Samoré, the region’s major border crossing between Chile and Argentina, is closed.

The ash stream of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo/ Jeff Schmaltz

Heavy ash and softball-ball size pumice fell on Bariloche. The fallout drifted eastward over Puerto Madryn. Argentine airports from Bariloche to Trelew will be closed until at least Wednesday.

Early Monday winds shifted to the northwest, blowing ash over Osorno.  The Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (Onemi) director of the Los Lagos Region, Andrés Ibaceta, stressed that as spectacular as the eruption is, this is an emergency situation. Tourists should keep away from the Cordón Caulle area.

Travelers are advised to watch the news for further developments. To keep up on Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s activity, check Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) website. Erik Klemetti’s Big Think has a good explanation (in English) of the eruption. The BBC and El Mercurio have spectacular photo slideshows.

Update:

The Ushuaia-based news agency Sur 54 reports that flights to the following destinations are suspended until at least Friday: Ushuaia, Río Grande, Trelew, Neuquén, Viedma, Río Gallegos, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Río Grande, Comodoro Rivadavia, Bahía Blanca, Santa Rosa and San Rafael. As well, night flights between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza are cancelled.

On the Road – Colombia: Off-the-Beaten Track Destinations with the Tempestuous Girl

A week’s hiatus and I’m back. I was off the beaten track, exploring a corner of Colombia where few foreigners go. It’s a favorite Caribbean destination for Colombians who now feel secure in getting to know their country once again.

Boating through the lagoon. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Besides a beach stretching three kilometers (1.8 miles) and more on other side of a point and a crystalline sea, this destination offers other natural wonders: mud volcanoes in which to immerse yourself, soaking away months of hard travel; ciénagas to slow-boat through, admiring scurrying crabs and multitudes of birds coming to their evening roosts; and an archipelago national park to explore on tour. The civilization of internet is at least six kilometers (3.6 miles) away.

The only reason to go there is to relax, eat good seafood and watch the sun gloriously set over the Caribbean Sea.

Where is this paradise? Ah – no fear. V!VA Colombia takes you there, with complete coverage of what to do, where to sleep and have a wondrous fresh fish meal washed down by an icy beer.

Spectacular sunsets. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But getting to such places is quite an adventure, thanks to the heavy La Niña rains in Colombia. Still the roads from the Caribbean coast to Medellín and further south are under repair. Sudden drop-offs into abysses narrow the highways to one lane.

The downpours moved eastward, battering the zone between the Cordilleras Central and Oriental.Television shows the flooding affecting Chía, Usaquén and other suburbs of Bogotá. The waters are rising dangerously close to El Dorado airport. The Bogotá-Bucaramanga road has been severed in several areas, causing delays in travel. Now the storms seem to be rolling off into the Llanos. A landslide took out the Yopal’s aqueduct, leaving Casanare’s capital without water.

These La Niña rains, though, have affected much more than travel plans. This year’s coffee harvest will be lower than in previous years. Corn and other food crops are also affected.

Meteorologists say La Niña is finally packing up her bags, and heading into retirement, until her next appearance (which hopefully won’t be too soon). Road crews can continue their work repairing roads and bridges, making Colombia an even safer place to travel.

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

On the Road – Colombia: Safety—Highways & Papaya

The rains and adventures continue in Colombia. Reportedly, the journey between Medellín and Mutatá is now taking 17-18 hours. Buses must go by way of Montería, as a bridge near Mutatá is out. Travelers coming to Cartagena from Medellín say trips are taking several hours longer than usual.

The images flashed across TV screens and splashed upon newspaper front pages show the situation to be quite desperate in some parts of the country. But how much is just hype?

Last week a couple traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia on bikes left Cartagena with hopes of getting to Mompós. They were a bit concerned about what Invías (the highway department) and newspapers were reporting. Nonetheless, they made it in a few days.

Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel in Mompós, reports that in recent weeks neither Mompós nor Magangué have been totally isolated. The Cartagena-Magangué road is fine; work is being done between Bodega and Mompós. Even though the road isn’t good, Unitransco’s direct Cartagena-Mompós and other transport continue.

Richard says, “Mompós never can be isolated … as it is a riverside town so can always reach here by boat. When there are problems, chalupas are put on from Magangué. The conditions may not be great, but it’s all in the spirit of adventure and travel and we must always remember that it has never been straightforward getting to Mompós, and it is this issue that has protected the town and for this reason remains an unspoiled corner of Colombia.” If you have any concerns about the road conditions to Mompós, contact Richard.

Indeed—Mompós is one of those many corners of Colombia that is difficult to get to even in the best of times, but well worth the adventure. Others are the Guajira, Llanos and Putumayo.  And with these La Niña rains, such adventures are presented to travelers wending through most of the country.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But there’s another facet of safety that visitors need to keep in mind as well, that has nothing to do with physical or political climate.

Colombians warn travelers, “No dar papaya.” Literally this means, “Don’t give papaya”—a strange way, perhaps to advise you: Don’t make yourself a mark for thieves.

Does this mean Colombia is a Den of Thieves? No, far from it. But as any place in the world, foreigners are an easy and logical mark for robbers. We either physically stand out from the local crowd—or do so once we open our mouths and our thickly accented Spanish comes stumbling out. Some would-be thieves believe if we’re traveling we must be rich. And often we are. Passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market. Thieves around the world know this.

V!VA Colombia and other guidebooks warn about Colombian thieves’ tricks of the trade. When you meet travelers who have fallen into the same ol’ familiar traps, you can’t help but ask, “But didn’t you read …” “Yeh, I did, but I never …” is often the response.

Here are some real-life Colombian experiences of travelers from all over the world and of all ages. Some are seasoned journeyers, others are green on the road. Only the names have been changed to protect the identities of these people who gave papaya.

Magdalena, a retired travel consultant from Buenos Aires, was walking through Bogotá’s Candelaria neighborhood. While listening to her iPod music, she admired the colonial architecture and Jorge Olave’s statues of daily Bogotanos perched atop buildings. Suddenly she felt something wet hit the top of her head. “Oh,” a woman passing by told her, “a pigeon just shat on you.” Before Magdalena knew it, the woman was gone—and her iPod, too.

Swedish Per was sitting in Parque de los Periodistas, people watching. A plainclothes “police officer” came up to him and demanded to see his identification and proof that he had sufficient funds to be in the country. The “officer” also requested the same from another Latino “foreigner” sitting next to Per. He thought, well he’s complying, so should I. He told the officer his passport and such was at his hostel. While they walked back to the hostel, the “officer” kept hold of Per’s wallet. Per entered, turned around—and the cop was gone. (Note: There are no plain clothes police in Colombia.)

Young Australians Jenny and Bill, and their friend Mary couldn’t resist nightclubbing their last evening in Bogotá. A group of friendly, chatty Colombians sat down at their table. Jenny and Bill got up to dance. After a while, Mary began to feel “strange.” The three of them decided to go back to the hostel straight away. Mary began fainting away. An emergency visit to the hospital confirmed her drink had been drugged.

Sarah (UK) was sitting on Cartagena’s fortress walls, writing in her journal. She felt something hit her leg. As she looked down to see what it was (a soccer ball), her daypack (along with her guidebook, camera, passport and credit cards) disappeared from here other side. The same trick happened to Charles (US) while sitting in Plaza San Pedro Claver in the same city.

This is an unfortunate thing to say, but in my over 20 years traveling in Latin America, I have learned that much thieving isn’t done by locals at all. Rather, it’s a traveler-on-traveler crime. Too many tourists come to places like Colombia and get involved in taking cocaine or crack. The money runs out and the easiest mark is other foreigners. They’re in the same hostel, and of course they have passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. (Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market, after all.) And who would ever suspect that the culprit is another foreigner just like you? Never!

To keep from giving papaya to these would-be-thieves, take care about where you are staying. Avoid hotels that have a reputation for drugs (they’re illegal anyways). Choose hostels with personal safes or lockers, and use a good-quality lock. Be sure to keep all valuables locked away.

For more security tips, check out V!VA’s Safety in Colombia.

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

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

La Niña Adventures Continue

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

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

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

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

Free in Cartagena

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

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

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

Free dance & music. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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

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

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

Click here for details on all these activities.

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

All Photos by Lorraine Caputo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexteto Tabalá of Palenque, Colombia. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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

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

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

Play ball! Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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

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

Processions in Cartagena:

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

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

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

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

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

On the Road – Colombia: Sacred Times

Sometimes blockades are caused by landslides, earth and rock loosened by torrential La Niña rains. Other blockades are created by trucks pulled across highways, in protest to new laws. A third blockade is comes in the form of holidays.

There are three sacred times in Colombia: lunch, Sundays – and holidays. Don’t expect to find anyone in offices or shop. All is locked up tight.

Colombians are very business-oriented. So when these times come, all is put aside to concentrate on life’s other important facets: family and friends. They seem to emphasize taking time out of busy schedules and hard work, in order to enjoy good food and good times. Or, as Louisianes say, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!”

A three-day holiday weekend (called a puente in Colombia) is upon us. Nobody seems to know what it is celebrating, but they are definitely ready to let the good times roll. (For those who are dying to know, it’s San José day, when Latin cultures have traditionally observed Fathers’ Day.  But like many countries in the Americas, Colombia has followed the lead of US culture, and now celebrates it in June.)

What is important is to plan for this pure R&R. Tickets and rooms must be booked far in advance. For holidays, travelers are advised to avoid super-popular Colombian vacation destinations close to the capital, like Villa de Leyva. Everyone, though, who can afford it heads for the fine-sand beaches and warm sea of the Caribbean coast that Cartagena and Santa Marta have to offer.

International travelers – unless you’re ready to get fully immersed in Colombians’ hard party-down and battle for a hotel room, you’re advised to go elsewhere. You can always go there another time, when things are, well, less mad and cheaper. Colombia is a big country (officially, Latin America’s fifth largest). There are plenty of places that have yet to make the vacationers’ radar screen. Near the coast are Valledupar, with incredible swimming holes and indigenous villages to visit. Not too far away is Aracataca, famed author Gabriel García Márquez’ home town. Both villages now have affordable hostels.

Colombians spend Monday rushing back to their hometowns. They all will have to report to their jobs bright and early Tuesday morning. They’ll get down to serious work, until the next holiday. You have about a month to prepare to be someplace else. The next big one is Semana Santa, this year slated to begin April 17th. The most famed celebrations are in Popayán and Mompós. Valledupar also has some noteworthy processions, which this year will be followed close behind by the Vallenato music festival, Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata. For all of these, hotel rooms have been booked since December, but you might have some luck. The beaches, of course, will be insanely crowded and prices inflated.

But someplace in this great expansive country, you’ll find the perfect place for you to be. Relax with a copy of V!VA Colombia on your iPad, and browse to see where the wind might take you for Colombia’s next holiday.

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.


Returning to Chile VII: California Dreaming

Traveling along Ruta I-50, nicknamed the Ruta del Vino, from San Fernando to the coast, you begin California Dreaming. All the leaves are brown in the dozens of vineyards along the way. The road ends at Pichilemu, a surfers’ Eden. And in between, the earth yet trembles.

The main city on La Ruta del Vino is Santa Cruz, 62 kilometers (37 mi) west of San Fernando. This is the capital of the Colchagua wine district. As in many of the towns in O’Higgins Region, Santa Cruz’ adobe architecture crumbled back into the earth. The city’s main church was totally demolished by the quake. Museo de Colchagua also suffered significant damage and is closed. Several hotels and restaurants were also affected.

In the countryside surrounding Santa Cruz and westward towards Pichilemu is the Ruta del Vino de Colchagua where some of Chile’s finest wines are produced. Viu Manent vineyard was shut for several months after the quake, but has reopened. Many other wineries are also throwing open their gates to visitors For more information, check with Viñas Asociadas a la Ruta del Vino de Colchagua in Santa Cruz (Plaza de Armas 298, Santa Cruz, Tel: 72-823199, Fax: 72-825458, E-mail: info@rutadelvino.cl / reservas@rutadelvino.cl, URL: www.rutadelvino.cl).

The villages along Ruta I-50, like Manantiales, San Rafael, Santa Ana, Marchigüe and Alcones, are more wreaked than Santa Cruz. These small towns are largely composed of adobe homes. In many, mediaguas now stand next to the mounds of decomposed dirt and straw bricks.

Then the land begins to bunch into pine-forested hills, the Cordillera de la Costa. This range is caused by the earth buckling as the Nazca plate slips beneath the South American plate. The recent earthquakes are also provoked by this shift of plates. Soon, far on the horizon, the Pacific Ocean and Pichilemu are seen to the southwest.

Pichilemu's iconic ex Casino. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The road ends at Pichilemu, a popular beach town 3.5 hours south of Santiago where many Santiagueños have built vacation homes here. Some complained that the dunes stringing the beaches were ugly and should be removed. But sometimes Mother Nature knows best. It was precisely because of them the town was saved from the worst effects of the tsunami. Only those areas along the Costanera not protected by the mounds of sand suffered damage. Pichilemu’s iconic ex-Casino, which had recently been renovated to become a cultural center and public library, suffered superficial cracks and one wall is unstable. Some adobe buildings were downed. The hotels and restaurants remained largely unaffected.

Many of the aftershocks continuing to quiver across the region are near Pichilemu. They can be barely felt, but about once a week a near-five-pointer will jerk the land. It seems everybody with Internet access has the Geophysical Department’s website on the favorites, ready to check out if what they felt was another replica or just a truck going down the street. One local bar has concocted its own house drink: Terremoto y Replicas, or Earthquake and Aftershocks.

Try a Terromotos y Replicas. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But the earth’s continued trembling doesn’t keep the surfers away. Pichilemu is renowned for its three zones of left-break points—Playas Puntilla, Infiernillo and Punta de Lobos—with some of the most consistent large waves in South America. It is gaining popularity as a surfing hot spot among Chileans and foreigners alike both because of its own merits and because beaches further south of the capital were destroyed February 27. Cobquecura, the epicenter of the quake, is destroyed, as are other favorite spots.

Heading for the waves. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

For several weeks after the quake, the sea at Pichilemu was calm. Then it began to swell again. During Quiksilver’s Big Wave International competition May 19-20, waves reached nearly 25 feet. Winners pledged 50% of their takes to the town’s rebuilding efforts. On the recent Independence Day holiday weekend, the road out at Punta de Lobos (6 km / 3.6 mi from Pichilemu) was lined with cars. On the heights laypeople watched the surfers bob on the platinum-blue sea, waiting for one of those big waves to rise.

Most vacationers come to Pichilemu in the summertime. In the off-season, some hotels and restaurants close. But even in the off-season, some come for a weekend escape, to these warmer shores. Even in the dead of winter, the surfers come, boards under arms, for that is then when the waves are best in Pichilemu.

Damage from the February 27 earthquake extends 960 kilometers (576 mi), from Valparaíso to Valdivia. The country’s landscapes have changed, not only in terms of geology, but also what travelers can expect. Accurate information has been difficult to find. V!VA Travel Guides traveled through the zone to compile the most up-to-date information of any guide and is preparing a free post-quake supplement to V!VA Travel Guides Chile. Colin Bennett, a Santiago-based correspondent, checked out the situation in Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and the Wine District. Lorraine Caputo, the principal author of the Chile guide, returned to Chile to cover from Rancagua to Valdivia.