Sunday, December 30, 2007

Puerto Rico: Coffee fields between Maricao and Yauco, 2007

In Puerto Rico, there are plenty of coffee fields in the cooler highlands. When I was driving the route, the temperature in Mayaguez, on the west coast of the island, was 95 degrees, and in the hills went down to 77. This picture was taken while I was on the road between Maricao, considered one of the principal coffee towns of Puerto Rico and home to a coffee festival in February, and Yauco, which is closer to the south coast slightly west of Ponce.

In the picture the coffee plants are the dark green patches, with the bananas and plantains in light green (bananas and plantains are often planted in the coffee fields).

Puerto Rican coffee is strong; it reminds me of espresso. It's widely available in stores in the Latino neighborhoods of Philadelphia, which has the third-largest Puerto Rican population of any city on the US mainland.

See my webpage on Puerto Rico at

Other websites:

Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:

Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops:

Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Colombia: Christmas in Bogotá, 1987

I've spent two Christmases in Colombia: one in 1980, and the other in 1987. In 1987 my wife and I were living in Bogotá, on winter break from our respective teaching jobs there, and because of the schedule the break lasted a month. During that time we often walked to one of Bogotá's principal shopping districts, called Chapinero. Outside one of the churches of the area, called Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, I took this picture of the church's large manger scene. People do have Christmas trees in their houses at Christmas, but in Colombia the manger scene (called pesebre in Spanish) receives the most lavish attention. The size of some of these reminds me of model train layouts, and often there are competitions to see who can create the most elaborate manger scene.

Christmas in Colombia and in other parts of Latin America has more of the feel of the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve than of quiet evenings beside a fireplace. The focus is more on December 24th than on the 25th, and the gifts are traditionally given at midnight after a long party on Christmas Eve, with plenty of music and dancing. The kids believe that el Niño Dios or the Christ Child brings them their gifts, though Papá Noel or Santa Claus is also well known.

In some houses a Nativity novena is recited starting on December 16, and the evening of the 24th is the last night of the novena, which celebrates the arrival of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. The novena is also accompanied by traditional Spanish Christmas carols or villancicos. Some of the foods typically served during Christmas are natilla, a dessert with a consistency like a thick pudding and usually flavored with cinnamon sticks; buñuelos or large round cheese fritters; and sabajón, a vanilla-flavored liqueur. Also popular are what Colombians call tamales, not to be confused with Mexican tamales. The Colombian tamales are made of corn meal with bits of chicken, pork and/or beef with carrots and yellow peas, wrapped up in a banana or plantain leaf. Also, in Colombia the singular of tamales is "tamal" not "tamale."

There are also plenty of fireworks the whole night, as well as pleas from the city for the public to exercise care to avoid injuries. I recall that when we drove someone home from our Christmas party, we would invariably see someone dart in front of our car to set off some fireworks in the street. Over the years more controls have been put in place to try to reduce the number of accidents with fireworks.

See my webpage on Colombia at

Other websites:

Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:

Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops:

Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mexico: Pyramids at Teotihuacán, 1979

One of the biggest attractions of a visit to Mexico City is a trip to the pyramids that are located outside of the city at a place known as Teotihuacán. This location was not an Aztec site; the people in this area had abandoned the area centuries before the Spaniards arrived.

This was one of the trips that the school sponsored. As was explained to us, the pyramids, the ballcourts and other buildings in the area had religious significance, and those living in this area were of the priestly class. The two main structures are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon. Both are in the distance in the picture, the Pyramid of the Moon being farthest away. The Pyramid of the Sun is larger, though not as steep as the Pyramid of the Moon, and was a favorite spot for tourists and vendors.

I was familiar with the custom of negotiating a price for an item. I was shown a piece carved out of the black stone called obsidian, and as I was halfhearted about buying it, I was more successful in bringing the price down than if I had expressed a lot of interest.

After we were directed around most of the site and I saw that time was short, I practically sprinted to the Pyramid of the Moon to climb it as well before the bus was scheduled to leave.

Visit my webpage on Mexico at

Other websites:

Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:

Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops:

Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Caribbean: St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, 2004

In March 2004 I attended a conference on Caribbean music at the Hibiscus Beach Resort in St. Croix, sponsored by the Center for Black Music Research, which has its offices at Columbia College in Chicago. Due to the hotel's cost, I opted to stay at the Pink Fancy Hotel, a guesthouse in Christiansted (photo on the right). The neighborhood was not great, but the inn itself was a great place to stay and was convenient to the shops, restaurants and other attractions in Christiansted (all walking distance).

St. Croix is an anomaly among Caribbean islands. It straddles the boundary between a quiet island and an overdeveloped one. The shopping district was surprisingly quiet for being in high season, and at that time cruise ships were not stopping at St. Croix, some sources reporting that crime was the main issue and others reporting that the cruise ship passengers found the place boring. As a footnote, the cruise ships stopped in Frederiksted, on the western side of the island (Christiansted is on the northeast side). I recently read a report stating that Disney Cruise Lines will resume service to St. Croix.

My particular experience in St. Croix was fantastic and I definitely would go back. The people I met were extremely hospitable, and I had the opportunity to really take in the island's culture during my short stay.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Other websites:

Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:

Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops:

Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Spain: Granada, Views from the Alhambra, 2006

The Alhambra in Granada sits on a hill that overlooks the rest of the city. From here you can see a section called Sacromonte where former gypsy caves exist. They appear in the photo on the hill in the background, and you can see them if you click on the photo to increase its size.

Most of the gypsies no longer live in the caves, but the caves can still be visited. Flamenco shows can be seen there in the evenings, though I have read that the shows are sometimes of questionable authenticity.

These views were a treat that we had while we waited to enter the Alhambra. The amount of visitors to the Alhambra is controlled and it is indispensable to purchase tickets ahead of time. In my case, as I was staying in Seville, I obtained them as part of the price of a tour that left from Seville to Granada. Because of the time and distance, the only things that are possible on a day trip from Seville are the visit to the Alhambra and lunch in the city of Granada. To visit other sites in Granada more than a day trip is needed.

See my webpage on Spain at

Monday, November 26, 2007

Puerto Rico: The Coastal Road to Loíza, 1984

From San Juan there is a coastal road that goes east and eventually winds up at the town of Loíza, which is known for its Afro-Puerto Rican traditions. One of the best known of these is the feast of Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle), that takes place at the end of July. There are various religious practices that take place during this feast, such as prayers and a parade that features masks and costumes called vejigantes and the performance of an African-inspired dance and music tradition called the bomba.

Back in 1984, when I first visited Loíza, the road from San Juan was a narrow lane of asphalt that ended at the river with a hand-pulled ferry. The ropes extended across the Loíza River and the workers pulled furiously at them to move the metal ferryboat across the river. Since that time the road from San Juan to Loíza has been widened to two well-marked lanes and the metal ferryboat, known as an ancón, has been retired and replaced by a bridge.

See my webpage on Puerto Rico at

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Colombia: Irotama Hotel near Santa Marta, 1998

In 1998 we took a vacation to Santa Marta, which is a Caribbean destination on the north coast of Colombia. Though Santa Marta was founded in 1525, earlier than nearby Cartagena (1533), it doesn't have the colonial character of Cartagena but has other attractions, particularly its coast, which is influenced by nearby mountains. To the east of Santa Marta is Parque Tayrona, one of Colombia's national parks, which has areas of natural and archaeological interest.

The main beach area is south and west of Santa Marta proper, in an area called El Rodadero, which has most of the tourist-oriented amenities and hotels. Further west and removed from the El Rodadero area is the Hotel Irotama. It faces a nice beach and also has this beautiful swimming pool.

See my webpage on Colombia at

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mexico: On the heels of the Pope in Puebla, 1979

I had just arrived in Mexico City in mid-January 1979, the first time I had left the United States. I had studied Spanish for 5-1/2 years total but could barely speak it. The International Department at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City offered a series of day trips for us foreign students during the semester, and the first one that I recall was to Puebla. Shortly before, I had heard a radio broadcast in Spanish of Pope John Paul II's arrival in Mexico City and all I recall understanding were the words "The Pope" in Spanish: "El Papa....El Papa....El Papa...." and so on.

The school's trip took place roughly around the same time as the Pope's visit. I was taking in everything I saw. The signs for the toll road from Mexico City to Puebla had the words "Cuota" (meaning toll) on them. The road passed close to the twin volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, which were about midway between Mexico City and Puebla. By the time we got to the downtown of Puebla, we noticed that it resembled a typical Mexican town much more than the bustling capital did.

My mind is foggy regarding the sequence of events, but among them were visiting Puebla's cathedral (pictured on the right) and its magnificent golden interior, eating at an outdoor cafe, observing the activity in the public square, walking down a few side streets, and seeing a blind man who was by the street playing guitar and hoping to get some coins from the bystanders.

See my webpage on Mexico at

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bermuda: An "Unscheduled Stop," 2006

In September 2006 I was on my way to Trinidad, with the first leg of the trip being an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to San Juan. We were an hour into the flight, roughly at 10 AM, when the pilot announced that the plane had a problem with its electrical system and that we would have to make an emergency landing on Bermuda.

We sat on the runway for two hours while the mechanics tried to fix the electrical problem. We knew little of what was going on, and as it turned out, one of the passengers and one of the flight attendants got into an argument and a woman from the Bermuda ground crew had to board the plane to calm things down.

Shortly afterwards, we were let out of the plane to occupy two waiting rooms in the Bermuda airport. We were given sandwiches and sodas to calm our hunger. In the meantime the flight crew was flown out of Bermuda, roughly at 1:30 PM, and the rest of us waited for a new plane and a new flight crew to arrive.

When the last flight left Bermuda at 3:00 PM, we were allowed to occupy the second floor as well, and the snack bars and shops were left open. We couldn't leave the airport to enjoy Bermuda, but we were given meal vouchers, were able to access the Internet if we wanted to pay for that service, and of course shopped. We had to content ourselves with looking out the window to get a sense of Bermuda's beauty.

Finally, at about 7:30 PM, the flight arrived to take us to San Juan and make the necessary changes in our flight itineraries. (We were made to go through customs in San Juan because we left US territory in our brief stay in Bermuda's airport.) As we left Bermuda, the Bermudian airport employees, in their British-sounding accents, said that they would remember this "diversion."

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Caribbean: St. Eustatius (Statia), Netherlands Antilles, 2002

This is a view from Fort Oranje, which is in the center of the town Oranjestad on the island of St. Eustatius, or Statia, part of the Dutch Windward Islands which also includes St. Maarten (Dutch side) and Saba. The fort faces the Caribbean side of the island.

Statia used to be a lucrative port in colonial times and as such has some interesting historical buildings (such as a synagogue) aside from the fort. Statia is said to be the first area ever to salute a ship representing the United States of America. The fort has a plaque indicating this event, though it is suspected that history has exaggerated the importance of the signal; it may not have been specifically to recognize the new republic but simply to exchange communication with the vessel.

The British, supposedly in retaliation for the signal to the American ship, sacked this island in 1781 and as its economy never recovered, it became a sleepy place. It certainly is one of the quietest Caribbean islands I've ever been to. Part of the reason for its present-day quietness is that the island is reached by prop plane and the crosswinds are strong when one of these planes goes to land. Statia appeals mainly to divers and the main beach never was rebuilt after Hurricane Lenny washed it away.

The beach on the Caribbean side also has ruins of warehouses that were built during this same colonial era (left). There are beaches on the Atlantic side, but the surf is rough there and swimming is not recommended.

Aside from diving, the island also has an extinct volcano known as The Quill, which has several hiking trails around it (a guide is recommended). Though I didn't stay long enough to hike up the volcano, I drove as far south as I could on Statia and passed the volcano on my left.

I took this photo at the end of the road on the southern part of the island. This area was really quiet as there are no buildings around it and I was the only one in the area. The nearby island of St. Kitts can be seen in the distance.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mexico: Jorge Negrete, "El Charro Cantor"

Mexico had a "Golden Age" of cinema that reached its highest expression in the 40s and the 50s. One of the best-known of its stars was Jorge Negrete, who epitomized the image of the "charro cantor," or Mexican singing cowboy, and was the first mariachi star to achieve lasting international fame. He had a voice that could be categorized as a tenor who could sing with depth and power, or a baritone who could reach high notes and still retain a rich vocal quality. His life came to an untimely end in 1953 at the age of 42, when he succumbed to liver disease, which started with a hepatitis C infection in New York years earlier and eventually resurfaced.

There are plenty of blogs and websites that relate information about Negrete, so I won't try to repeat what is shared there, but there are a lot of anecdotes about his life that aren't necessarily written down anywhere, or if they are, they're not in the most obvious places. Of course, a lot of the information is written in Spanish and not translated, so some of what I write will be things that I don't believe are translated anywhere. In between my blogs of travels I'll add some information about Negrete and other actors/singers of that era, and hint at what value they have for those interested in Latin America and its culture.

The photo is from a website in Spanish not only about Negrete, but also about his daughter Diana and grandsons Rafael and Lorenzo, all of whom sing and through their song promote his legacy while at the same time pursue their own creative paths. When they sing together, they are known as "La Dinastia Negrete" (The Negrete Dynasty). The website is and has links to similar sites (a few are inactive), including an excellent site on Mexican cinema,

If you search on Jorge Negrete on YouTube, you can find several posts with his songs and/or interesting footage.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Caribbean: Musicians on St. Martin, 2002

In 2002 I traveled to the island of St. Martin, which is shared by the French and Dutch. My goal was to look for people who were involved in music and dance traditions. One person I was fortunate to meet was Carlson Velasquez, who has spent nearly all of his life there; he was born in Aruba but was taken to St. Martin by his family when he was six months old.

Carlson is one of a generation who learned the guitar and its Cuban cousin, the tres, from other island musicians. Their repertoire includes music from the Caribbean islands, including the Spanish-speaking ones, as well as old-time American country music and religious songs. The style of music reminds people of Cuban musicians such as Compay Segundo and others from the Buena Vista Social Club. The photo shows Carlson with his resonator guitar.

Carlson also makes a bass instrument called the marimba, not the same as the marimba from Guatemala and other Central American countries. The Caribbean-style marimba comes from a smaller African instrument called the kalimba, which consists of a number of metal tongs attached to a resonator box. This instrument is still used in folk bands in different parts of the Caribbean.

See my webpage on the Caribbean at

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Spain: Seville, Giralda tower at night, 2006

In 2006 I took a trip to Seville, Spain to observe the famous Feria de Abril or April Fair. This traditional celebration of spring comes only two weeks after the city has celebrated another huge festival, the observance of Semana Santa or Holy Week. There are so many traditions revolving around the Feria that it takes a book to describe them all.

April is a good time to visit Seville, not only because of the Feria but also because of the comfortable temperatures of that season, with highs typically in the 80s. Seville can get really hot in the summer, and 110 degrees Fahrenheit is not uncommon.

The most famous building in Seville is the cathedral, with its adjoining Giralda tower. The cathedral is huge - one of the largest in the world - and features artifacts of all kinds in addition to the altars, stained glass windows and other things you would expect in a church. The tower is actually older than the cathedral itself, as it dates back to the 13th century and was originally a Muslim minaret. The original top was destroyed in an earthquake and was eventually replaced by an ornate bell tower in the 16th century, but it blends well with the rest of the tower. The picture gives a good idea of how well lit this part of the city is and in particular the Giralda tower.

See my webpage on Spain at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Puerto Rico: Exploring the Interior, 2007

Some of Puerto Rico's tourist booklets encourage the visitor to "explore beyond the shore." One of the ways to explore is by taking some of the twisting mountain roads. The "Luis Munoz Marin" panoramic route, named after a former governor of the island, crosses the length of Puerto Rico from west to east, and would take a few days to cover well.

I started on the western side near Mayaguez and continued to the areas directly north of Ponce, which was manageable in an afternoon. For me, the highlights of the trip were the cute churches and other buildings, the quiet, the abundant plant life, and the occasional view of coffee fields and valleys.
I even ran into a young man on horseback.

I stopped at a local bar in the area between Maricao and Yauco and was told that a great time to visit Puerto Rico is during Christmas time, when the whole interior explodes in music and celebrations.

See my webpage on Puerto Rico at

Friday, August 24, 2007

Puerto Rico: Culebra, Flamenco Beach, 2007

This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Pictures don't do it justice. Flamenco Beach in Culebra is a huge arc featuring white sand and blue water, and the occasional sea turtle nest (see picture).

Culebra is a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It and its sister island of Vieques are often called the Spanish Virgin Islands. Each one is considered a municipality of Puerto Rico, in addition to the other 76 municipalities on the main island. You can get there either on a small plane from San Juan or by ferry from the town of Fajardo. Part of Culebra, once a practice ground for the US Navy during World War II, is a wildlife preserve.

The island is known for its mosquitoes and doesn't have luxury accommodations, so many people decide to go there for the day taking the ferry from Fajardo. If you still want to stay there, you can get accommodations at the Flamenco Beach Villas on the less crowded end of the beach. There are less expensive accommodations in the main town of Dewey, though I heard complaints from one group that their air conditioning wasn't working.

Culebra tends to be crowded on weekends, so I've read, though I didn't encounter large crowds on the Sunday that I traveled there. Bathing on Flamenco Beach definitely is worth it, mosquitoes and all.

See my webpage on Puerto Rico at

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mexico: Vacation caused by an earthquake, 1979

My very first trip overseas was to Mexico City in 1979 in my junior year in college. I was into the semester for two months and one morning at 5:15 I was awakened with a sense that the room was rocking back and forth. We all went to the doorway, which is supposedly the safest place to be during the earthquake. The building rocked for about 30 seconds and then stopped. There was no major damage to the house but the electricity went out. About 15 minutes later some of our classmates stopped by our house and told us that something had happened to the university. We walked there with them and saw that much of the university's buildings had collapsed. Luckily, there were no casualties.

The immediate result was that there were no classes for a week, and as there was no electricity and later no running water in the house, we decided that the best plan was to leave the city and take advantage of the time off. We took a bus to Acapulco (a six-hour ride) and spent three days there. One of our Mexican roommates was from Acapulco and his father owned a small guest house near the beach. They gave us a 60% discount on our rooms! They also had a nice pool, and I remember being really amused because there was a TV on near the pool and they were showing the TV show "Fantasy Island" with Ricardo Montalban's voice dubbed in Spanish!

Our next stop was up the coast to Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Both of these destinations have enclosed bays and great swimming. I haven't been back, so I imagine that these sites look completely different now (Ixtapa at the time was only a strip of hotels). One event in particular still jumps out at me. While walking down one of the streets in Zihuatanejo, we saw two American tourists, a mother and her son (about 10 years old at the time?) trying to hire a taxi. The kid said to his mother that the taxi was supposed to have two drivers (why I have absolutely no idea), and the mother then said to the taxi driver, "Dos drivers." It makes me laugh not only because the woman expected the driver to understand what she meant, but also because on my next trip overseas, this time to Bogota, Colombia in 1980, we were told never to go into a taxi with two people in it, that it most likely had an extra person in it to rob the unwary passenger.

During the overnight bus trip back to Mexico City, I woke up to see the two volcanoes, Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, as the sun was coming up. There were clouds that looked like spirals and because of the sunrise the sky was red, pink and a host of other colors. It looked like a scene from some remote Shangri-La paradise. It was a shame I didn't have a camera because it was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Spain: Bullring in Ronda, 2006

This bull statue stands at the entrance to the bullring in the town of Ronda, which is regarded as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. The ring also includes a small museum with information about the development of the sport.
Bullfights take place during certain seasons depending on the location, and when I visited in late April, there were no scheduled bullfights here, as the most important events at that time were taking place in Seville. That meant that people were free to walk around the bullring, and it was inevitable that some of the visitors played matadors and bulls in the center of the ring.

If you walk along the outer ring behind the wall, you can see the places designated for the matadors, the picadors, the banderilleros, the press, and certain dignitaries. The tourists with the red shirts in the photo were part of a group from Germany.

See my webpage on Spain at

Caribbean: Saba, Netherlands Antilles, 2002

These are some of the 1,064 stone steps that lead to the top of Mt. Scenery, the tallest mountain in the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands. The mountain is on the island of Saba, part of the Dutch Windward Islands, which includes St. Maarten and Statia (aka St. Eustatius).

Mt. Scenery is about 3,000 feet high and towers above the small town of Windwardside, which is small and picturesque. I started my walk at 5:15 AM just as the sun was coming up and arrived at the top beside the radio tower around 7:00 AM. The top was covered in clouds, as it often is, and the highlight of the trip is not so much the occasional view but rather the rich plant life of the cloud forest. I was back down at the starting point at about 9 AM.

Saba is unique among Caribbean islands. It is small - only 5 square miles - but is like a large rock protruding out of the water, so much so that it does not have any beaches, with the exception of a beach in Well's Bay that is submerged most of the year. It is a favorite spot for divers, who enjoy exploring the marine life around the island.

You can get to Saba by plane or ferry. The plane ride is 15 minutes from St. Maarten and the runway is one of the shortest in the world at 1200 feet, on the only flat part of the island. The pilots are skilled in landing there and when I flew there the pilot only used half of the runway - you feel like you're in a cross between a plane and a helicopter. The ferry ride is longer - over an hour - and the crossing tends to be rough. If you don't mind either of these trips, you'll find that Saba is a quiet, relaxing place and an antidote to the hectic pace of the modern world.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Colombia: Spanish Signs in Bogota, 2007

Spanish classes are very helpful in learning to converse and ask for basics when you travel to a Spanish-speaking country. There are certain words, though, that still surprise the visitor. For example, this photo, taken in front of an apartment complex, has a sign that delicately dances around a common problem by reading "Please pick up the needs of your pet."

Here's another: At first glance, it might seem strange for an apartment building to advertise a "shut" until you figure out that they mean a "chute" (and it's pronounced correctly as well) to dispose of your trash.

Another sign I wasn't able to photograph said "Respect the..." followed by a picture of a zebra. As it turns out, in Bogota zebra doesn't only mean a striped animal that you see at the zoo; it also is used to mean "crosswalk" for pedestrians. (In the US we have that sign that reads "Don't Block the Box" which, unless you can figure out that it also refers to crosswalks, could be equally confusing for non-English speakers. The sign is usually accompanied by a drawing but it's not necessarily clear at first glance what it's referring to.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Colombia: Reservoir in the Highlands near Bogota, 2006

People who are not familiar with the mountains in Colombia will often assume, when I tell them that I'm traveling to Bogota, that the weather will be hot. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the temperatures usually are in the upper 60s during the day and go down to the 40s at night. Outside of the city, you can go into highlands (I would guess about 1000 feet above Bogota's elevation of 8500 feet above sea level) where the temperatures are even cooler. The area around this reservoir didn't seem to be much above 50 degrees, with a cloud cover that made it feel cooler still, and a cold wind blowing constantly. This is great weather for the growing of potatoes, a staple in the Colombian diet.

Visit my webpage on Colombia at

Friday, August 3, 2007

Colombia: Providencia, a quiet Caribbean island, 2000

Colombia has two islands that are on the western side of the Caribbean, about 150 miles from the coast of Nicaragua: San Andres and Providencia. San Andres is a relatively flat coral island and a well-known tourist destination. Providencia is less visited and quieter, probably in part due to the fact that the airport can only handle prop planes and does not (or did not at the time) have lights for night landings. This is the first island I visited that was out of the way of most of the familiar stops. In Providencia I found people to be exceptionally friendly, and the atmosphere relaxing in the extreme. As with all out-of-the-way places, the more people discover it, the less chance it has to hang on to its pristine character. Hopefully, Providencia will continue to be a place that does not imitate the frenzied pace of much of the world.

Visit my webpage on Colombia at

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Puerto Rico: The Panoramic Route, 2007

In February 2007 I took my rental car and drove on some of Puerto Rico's twisting mountain roads. There are some areas along the Luis Muñoz Marín panoramic route that crosses the island from east to west where you can see both the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts, as well as some of the island's tallest mountain peaks.

This view faces the city of Ponce to the south and the Caribbean Sea in the distance. I met a Puerto Rican family who was taking in the same views, and they told me that relatively few Puerto Ricans visit this area compared to the populated coast.

See my webpage on Puerto Rico at

Monday, July 30, 2007

Caribbean: Trinidad Steel Band, 2006

I was in Trinidad and Tobago in September 2006 for a few days of Carifesta, a Caribbean regional arts festival that takes place every three or four years in a different Caribbean destination. Most of the events took place in the stadium area in downtown Port-of-Spain, the capital, but there were plenty of events in other places as well. The events were not publicized in the most efficient manner, so in some cases it was hit or miss. I did get lucky, however, when I was in the town of Arima, which featured a small-scale arts event with calypsonians, Hindu and native American dancers, a steel band and another percussion band with an incredible amount of energy. The next Carifesta is scheduled to take place in Guyana in 2008. Information can be found at

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Caribbean: Day trip to Tobago, 2006

On my trip to Trinidad to observe Carifesta, I managed to squeeze in a day trip to its sister island Tobago. There are many attractions to this island, which caters more to the tourist than Trinidad, which is more industrial and has more safety issues than Tobago. With only one day I decided to hit the two main attractions, Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool, both of which are part of the boat tours that depart from Store Bay (left), which is walking distance from the airport and is on the southern part of the island. From the time you get out of the airport, there will certainly be someone to approach you to ask if you're interested in taking the tour. Looking back, I probably should have waited until I got to the bay to buy the ticket, but it worked out fine.

The boats pull out from Store Bay and with their glass bottoms enable you to see the fish and some of the coral underneath. Later you'll be given a snorkel in a very shallow area to see what lies underneath. It's a shame that I didn't have an underwater camera, because I saw one of the most beautiful sights ever: a rainbow parrotfish which definitely lived up to its name.

The next attraction on the boat tour is the Nylon Pool, a shallow pool of white water out by the reefs. It supposedly got its name from a member of the British royal family who was vacationing there. It is remarkable how far one is from the shore, swimming in that shallow water. The picture to the left was taken on the way back which shows how far from the shore we were.

I had just enough time after getting back to Store Bay and walking to the airport area to hop on a taxi to Scarborough, where there were closing ceremonies for Tobago's part of Carifesta. There is a nice little area near the harbor where the festivities took place to attract the local crowd and some visitors like myself. I stayed as long as I could and then took a taxi to get back to my flight to Trinidad. The timing was perfect.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Spain: La Alhambra, Granada, 2006

Back in April 2006 I traveled to Seville, Granada and Ronda in southern Spain. One of my trips was to the world-famous Alhambra, a palace for the Muslim rulers of the kingdom of Granada. Modern Spain began in 1492 when the kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, fell to the Christians. This picture of the palace was taken from the gardens called the Generalife, which are a little up the hill from the Alhambra. These buildings date from the 12th century and are typical of Muslim architecture of the time: plain on the outside, lavish on the inside. Particularly striking is the stucco work on the walls and ceilings; often times the walls are covered with Arabic script with a message repeated over and over.

See my webpage on Spain at

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Caribbean: Shirley Heights, Antigua, 2005

Antigua is another Caribbean island (south and east of Puerto Rico) that is popular with vacationers. At 106 square miles, it's larger than Anguilla or St. Martin and has even more beaches. One of the most popular sights on the island of Antigua is Shirley Heights. It's not the highest point on the island, but from this point the British, when Antigua was one of their colonies, could see the entry of ships in the harbor. Ruins of the old 18th-century British forts still stand on this point. Nowadays it's a popular place with tourists and those locals who want to sell crafts and other items to them.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Caribbean: Shoal Bay, Anguilla, 2003

Here's a picture of me on Shoal Bay beach on the island of Anguilla in 2003, enjoying the blinding white sand and the bright blue water.
A few words about Anguilla: it's a small, scrubby, relatively flat coral and limestone Caribbean island, a little to the east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It has a quiet atmosphere in contrast to the crowds and casinos on St. Martin. (A side note: The island of St. Martin is shared between the French and the Dutch. The French spell it Saint-Martin, and the Dutch spell it Sint Maarten. All of the casinos are on the Dutch side.) The real attraction of Anguilla is the water around the island. I also found the people to be extremely friendly. There are some low-key, high-end resorts on this island. The easiest way to get there from the US is to fly to St. Martin first and then take the ferry from Marigot on the French side.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Colombia: Picture of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, 2007

After we finished a day trip from the city of Pereira to the Parque del Cafe ("Coffee Park"), a theme park in the heart of Juan Valdez coffee country in central Colombia, we saw that the Nevado del Ruiz volcano was visible...something that usually doesn't happen. This volcano is best known for the terrible mudslide in 1985 that killed about 25,000 people and buried the entire town of Armero (it hadn't erupted for 500 years before that tragedy), but there is no denying the mountain's beauty. We just took it in and enjoyed the unique opportunity to see it.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Colombia: Some facts about Bogota´s transportation system

Bogota, the capital of Colombia, sits on a high plain 8,600 feet (2,600 meters) above sea level, and has a cool climate, with highs never passing 70 degrees (21 Celsius) and lows often in the 40s (6-8 C).

Bogota´s population is now estimated at 8 million. From the time I first came to Bogota in 1980, when the population was at 3 million, the city has experienced an extraordinary growth in construction, which means that new access roads are created all the time and maps become out of date quickly. One of the most significant changes to Bogota´s landscape was the development of an above-ground transportation system called the TransMilenio, starting about the year 2000. As Bogota was never dug up to create an actual metro or subway, the way that the city decided to go was to create special routes for buses that would not have to deal with the huge amount of traffic. The network was sorely needed in Bogota and now the TransMilenio is often a faster alternative than driving (especially because there are some days or times that you are not allowed to drive your vehicle based on the numbers on your license plate), in spite of the large number of people that use it. The network has been expanded regularly to include more of the city.

There are things that one deals with here that are not found in most US cities: lots of bicycles and pedestrians, even on roads that are supposed to be freeways; plenty of potholes; and the occasional horse and carriage of a poor vendor. Even so, Bogota is a modern city through and through, with a seemingly infinite number of modern apartment buildings, shopping centers and malls with an excellent selection of goods and restaurants, cable and satellite TV, tons of cell phones, ATMs and concerts featuring heavy metal groups. The city has a varied and active nightlife.

See my webpage on Colombia at

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New travel blog for Latin America and the Caribbean!

As I'm getting ready for my 14th trip to Colombia, I decided that it was time to share my travel experiences online. It's called Latin and Caribbean Travel Blog. From my childhood years in Philadelphia I was interested in travel, and when I had my first opportunity to travel outside of the US in 1979, I jumped at the chance, in that case a college semester in Mexico. In 1980 I received a Fulbright grant to study in Bogota, Colombia for one year, and it was during that stay that I had my first taste of the Caribbean. Aside from traveling to Colombia, I have also traveled to Spain and several Caribbean islands. I enjoy sightseeing, talking to the locals, taking photos and videos, and collecting books and music from these places. I also enjoy using my Spanish when I get the chance.

Over the years I've shared travel information with family, friends and colleagues that they have found useful. Likewise, I hope that you will enjoy this blog and find it full of useful information.

At the top left is a picture of the town of Subachoque, not far from Bogota. We took this on our trip to Bogota last year.

My Latin and Caribbean Travel website:

Yahoo! groups I've created:

Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:

Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991: