Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Valle de Tenza in Colombia

The plaza in Guateque

I have traveled to Colombia over a 37-year period and recall seeing many buses indicating that they were traveling to the Valle de Tenza in the province of Boyacá, about a three-hour ride from Bogotá, toward the northeast. Foreign tourists did not appear to visit the region with any regularity, as most of them go to the colonial-style town of Villa de Leyva, also in Boyacá but in a different direction.

The town of Somondoco as seen from Guateque

In December 2015 I made my first trip to the area, visiting the towns of Guateque and Tenza. One can not help but be impressed by the immense mountains and gorges that mark the route once one turns off the main road to Tunja and heads east. After the considerable twists and turns, I stopped in Guateque, the first major town in the valley on our route. Guateque has a temperate climate, warmer than Bogotá and the towns immediately to the north of the city. While in Guateque, I met with a professor named Luis Carlos Uscátegui who was in the area doing research and supporting an artisans' cooperative that specialized in basket weaving. He suggested that I visit Tenza, and I hailed a taxi to take me there. I didn't have a lot of time to spend in Tenza, but it was well worth it: the town was beautiful and quiet. I had some time to meet a gentleman named Marco Antonio Roa, who was the director of folk dance groups in the town.

One of the quiet streets in Tenza

In April 2017 I returned to the valley. This time I passed Guateque and kept going to a town named Garagoa which was a little farther down the route. There were even more landscapes that awaited, and I was taking every photo I could with my iPhone while the bus bounced over the bumps in the road. My time was limited in Garagoa, so I focused on the church, which did not disappoint with its beautiful interior and many statues that were lovingly preserved. The local people were very friendly, and eager to chat with me about American politics.

Valle de Tenza still has more that awaits my discovery, as there are several other towns in the area with their own views and enchantment.

Interior of the church in Garagoa

Friday, August 18, 2017

Expanding focus of blog to include all travel - a selection of photos

I have decided to expand the focus of my blog to include all of my travel, though there will still be plenty of content related to Latin America. I have already been sharing information on all my travel experiences on my Facebook page, @mikeespositotravelblog. The blog's url will remain the same even with the change in focus.

Below are a few sample photos from different trips, some local, and others more distant.

Ecuadorian tall ship in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, 2012
Dolphin at the exact top of its jump at the National Aquarium in Baltimore
A scene in Antwerp, Belgium
Autumn in Valley Forge National Historical Park with a covered bridge in the background
Horse and carriage in Villa de Leyva, a town in Colombia famous for its colonial architecture. I thought it amusing that the driver was on his cell phone
One of my favorite photos: a garden in Anapoima, Colombia featuring a colorful heliconia (Hanging Lobster Claw)

Monument to Irish immigrants to Philadelphia
Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest zoo in the United States, with some of its favorite inhabitants, the giraffes
Taller Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Workshop), an arts organization in Philadelphia founded in 1974

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Visit to Riviera Maya in Mexico

A scene from Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun

We couldn't believe our good fortune! My wife and I won three free nights in an all-inclusive at Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun on the Riviera Maya, in a contest sponsored by the Travel and Adventure Show in Philadelphia in March 2016. We selected November as the time to go, late enough to avoid most of hurricane season and the increased rain, but before the airfares would go up around Thanksgiving.

A few quick facts about the area: Riviera Maya is a more recently developed resort area to the south of Cancun, which stretches to Playa del Carmen and the park X-Caret, and further south to the ruins of Tulum. You would still fly into Cancun International Airport and pay for a shuttle to take you to your hotel. As there is no other significant development in the area aside from the beachfront hotels or the town of Playa del Carmen, the only practical ways to access Cancun or other parts of the region from a Riviera Maya resort are via taxi or a guided tour.

Our having only three nights meant that we decided not to go to Chichén Itzá, Tulum, or any other long guided tour, so as to be able to make the most out of our all-inclusive resort. The staff at Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun is exceptionally friendly and helpful, and the food nothing short of spectacular.

We realized when we arrived that the temperature of the pool and the sea in general was colder than we had envisioned. It may have been due to the time of year, which featured some cool breezes, or it also could have had to do with the area's latitude. It is farther north in the Caribbean region than Punta Cana, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or the islands of the Lesser Antilles (such as St. Martin). People who have gone to Cancun and Riviera Maya at different times of the year may have had different experiences than ours.

The beach immediately adjacent to the resort was convenient for having drinks delivered to you, and ideal for sunning./We noticed that the water was full of seaweed and not quite as appealing, which led us to look for another beach to visit. Our first thought was a place called Playa Maroma in between our resort and Playa del Carmen. Playa Maroma has beautiful, powdery sand, but the same issues with the water existed, making it more appealing for water sports or swimming with dolphins in a pool next to the beach than simply going into the sea to swim.

We quickly left Playa Maroma and headed via taxi and ferry to Isla Mujeres, where we spent an afternoon. There we found the beach we were looking for: beautiful, with calm waters ideal for floating or swimming, but it wasn't the famed Playa Norte that is talked about so much. The beach we found is a three-block walk from the ferry terminal and is called Playa Centro. I noticed that the beach at Playa Centro was wider than Playa Norte and the water was calmer, at least where I could observe. Playa Norte is good if you book a hotel on that beach and can just take a few steps from your room to go into the water, but for our purposes Playa Centro was ideal.

Playa Centro, one of the beaches on Isla Mujeres
Obviously, if we had had more time we would have explored more of the area, but for a short, relaxing vacation, we were more than satisfied with our experience. Our goal is to return for a longer stay and visit the ruins and other attractions there.