Category Archives: Latin America

Food & Wine Event in Los Cabos

Sabor a Cabo coming to southern tip of Baja California.

SaborACabo-logoOne way to deliciously fill part of the gap between the Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year’s holidays is at the ninth annual  Sabor a Cabo (Flavors of Cabo) food and wine festival in Los Cabos from November 30 through December 6. For the first time it includes a weeklong series of ticketed events highlighting the renowned regional cuisine of Baja California Sur and the wines of Mexico’s celebrated Baja wine region. And did I mention that high-season lodging rates are not yet in effect then?

These schedule features Country Side Taste, November 30; Sunset Gourmet Gala prepared by Michelin Star Chefs and served aboard a luxurious yacht, December 2;  Oktobeer Fest showcasing artisanal beer, local cuisine and music,December 3; Wine & Art Walk in San Jose del Cabo (my favorite town in Los Cabos), December 4, and a Star Chef Dine-Around, December 5.  The main event on December 6 from 5 to 11 p.m. in the Sculpture Garden in Puerto Los Cabos features 50 participating restaurants putting out what organizers call the “best-of-the-best” of international cuisine and wine beneath the stars.

Confirmed are such world-renowned chefs as Federico Zanellato, chef and partner of Copenhagen’s NOMA Restaurant (ranked No. 1 in the world), and Richard Sandoval, whose 35+ restaurants world-wide include Zengo, Tamayo and two La Sandias in the Denver area and Venga Venga in Snownass. Also, Dieter Koshina, owner of Portugal’s Vilajoya Restaurant (ranked No. 22 in the world); Roberto Alcocer, chef/owner of Malva Restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico; Najat Kaanache, chef/owner of Souk Restaurant, Dallas and former chef of Spain’s sadly shuttered El Bulli Restaurant; Thierry Blouet, chef/owner of Restaurant de Los Artistas, Puerto Vallarta, and Eduardo Osuna, founder of non-profit organization Chef to the Rescue in Mexico.

Festival tickets, which are available online, are $100 for general admission tickets prior to September 30 and $125 thereafter. Special lounge area access tickets are $150, and seats at VIP tables are $1,000 per person.  All the money raised during the Saturday, December 6 gala are to l be donated to the Fire Department, the Red Cross and Children’s Foundation of Los Cabos.

Cross-posted to www.culinary-colorado.com.

World’s Tallest Waterslide to Open in Kansas

Schlitterbahn water park soon to debut crazy waterslide.

SchlitterbahnKansasCityWaterpark_Logo-featureVerrückt is German for crazy, and it’s also the name of the world’s tallest waterslide, which was scheduled to open this weekend at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, KS. The first drop from the soaring 17-story-high structure (168 feet and 7 inches, to be exact) is followed immediately by a second thrill. After a low point, the slide catapults riders up a second hill from which they drop 50 feet into the pool. Riders reach speeds of up to 70 mile per hour. The park calls it “the ultimate in water slide thrills.” I’ll say!

It's 264 lung-busting steps to the top or Verruckt and a gut-wrenching near-vertical plunge down.
It’s 264 lung-busting steps to the top of Verruckt and a gut-wrenching near-vertical plunge down. Here, Verruckt is still under construction.

Verrückt had been scheduled to open along with the rest of the park today, May 23, but as KWCH-TV reported, the debut has been put on hold, because test riders on the 4-passenger sled went airborne near the bottom. According to the TV station’s report, “The water slide is still under construction; they are making adjustments. Schlitterbahn said the delays are to be expected with a one-of-a-kind ride like Verrückt. Schlitterbahn denies the reports, saying they are just doing some work to correct what they call the ‘ride not behaving properly.'” The new current projected opening date is June 5.

Update: After a fatal accident in 2016, this ride closed forever.

Whole Journeys Cites International Food Festivals

Travel offshoot of natural food market lists five faves.

globeWhole Journeys, a travel branch of Whole Foods, just sent out a list of five compelling international food festivals. There’s not one that doesn’t make me want to whip out my credit card, make a reservation and go. I actually have been to the Food and Wine Class at Aspen several times, but alas, not recently. At any rate here’s the Whole Journeys list, several of which are over for this year, but there’s always 015:

  • Alacati,  Turkey. Festival of Wild Greens along the Izmir Coast. A contest involves who can gather the largest variety of  wild greens and who prepare the best recipe with them. Sounds like an event from the fertile mine of a Turkish Rene Rezapi.    It also includes concerts, races, a large farmers market and outdoor stalls selling food and crafts from Izmir.
  • Motovun, Croatia. Teran & Truffle Festival (TETA). Local winemakers who produce traditional Istrian Teran wines gather with top chefs and truffle hunters during the harvest season to feature truffle dishes.
  • Carnivale in Italy. Whole Journeys directed readers to a blog post written by Carol Sicbaldi, a Whole Foods operations manager who resides in Italy. She notes that during February towns all over Italy celebrate Carnival, “a few weeks traditionally devoted to enjoyment, pleasure and naughtiness in the period preceding the austerity of Lent. ” In the US, this period culminates with Mardi Gras.
  • Logroño, Spain’s Basque Country. Riojan Harvest Festival during which people pay homage to San Mateo, patron saint of Logroño. Young people wearing traditional dress stomp the grapes and offer the first grape juice of the season to the Virgen de la      Valvanera. Village ceremonies include Herri Kirolak, Basque rural sports that I’d never heard of, includ stone carrying and wood chopping competitions
  • Cusco, Peru. Corpus Christi Festival,  Villagers carry statues of 15 saints  for  many days to the Cathedral in Cusco.  On the eve of the main day of Corpus Christ,i twelve typical dishes including cuy, chiriuchu, huatia and chichi or prepared to represent the 12 Apostles. They do not contain meat in honor of Christ’s passion, though I don’t understand how cuy, which is guinea pig, can be meatless.
  • Aspen, Colorado. Aspen Food and Wine Classic attracts people in the food industry such as top chefs, international and domestic wine makers, cheese mongers and others, plus well-heeled foodies who are all passionate about food and wine.

Cross-posted to www.culinary-colorado.com.

Bridge Over the Mexican Border Aids Air Travelers

Tijuana International set to become more of a reliever to jammed San Diego

CrossborderBridgeI’ve never flown into or out of San Diego, but the airport has a reputation for scary take-offs and landings since pilots often must thread between skyscrapers. It’s also crowded. I’ve never flown into or out of Tijuana either. In fact, I’ve never even been to Tijuana. But this one-runway airport on the US-Mexican border last year saw an estimated 3.7 million passengers. It is the hub for  Volaris Airlines, is served by Mexican domestic airlines as well as Aeromexico service to the Far East (Shanghai-Pudong, China, and Tokyo-Narita, Japan) Not surprisingly, some travelers from Southern California find it expedient.

Construction is underway for  Project Smart Border 2010, a new bi-national terminal tight across from the U-S-Mexican border fence, on US land with a 500-foot bridge to Tujuana International Airport making it a more practical relief airport for congested San Diego Airport. There will be a fee to use the bridge, but it certainly eliminates the long waits often found at the border, The project includes parking, check-in counters and customs offices. This project has been discussed since the 1990s and is supposed to be completed in 2014. But since Mexico is involved, who knows?

This will not be world’s first “bi-national airport.” France and Switzerland share Basel-Mulhouse Airport and Geneva International Airport.

Guest Post: 4 Real Places of Unreal Beauty

Blue Fire Public Relations submitted the following guest post, including the links. I’m pretty picky about guest posts, but I really liked the four images on this one and wanted everyone else with the travel bug to see them. I edited the guest post very slightly.

The globe has been trotted, mapped and conquered, yet natural beauty remains and continues to beckon adventure seekers. From sprawling Asia to hometown America, the world is covered in wonders. Though the pictures may make you believe they’re from a fantasy land, here are four amazing places that actually exist:

Wulingyuan Scenic Area (Hunan, China)

Wulingyan Scenic Area

With 243 peaks surrounded by more than 3,000 karst upthrusts, Wulingyuan scenic area is filled with waterfalls, limestone caves and rivers unlike any other, according to LonelyPlanet.com. Located just outside of Zhangjiajie city, the subtropical forest of the park is locally known as the inspiration for James Cameron’s the idea for the floating mountains in “Avatar.” In 2010, Gadling.com reported that city officials renamed a peak called “Southern Sky Column” in hopes to draw more crowds to the park. The new name of the peak? “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.”  (Photo from Flickr user Jetske / Jetske19)

Writer’s Tip: The Zhongtian International Youth Hostel, located in Zhangjiajie city, has a sister branch on the mountain. If you stay there, you can pay to have your bags transported between the two hostels; just keep your personal information, passport and picture ID on you. My comment: When I visited China soon after the opening of the Three Gorges cam, the itinerary included a designated scenic area near Yichang, downstream from the dam. Tucked into a valley not far from the is a scenic area in which reenactors are (or were) stationed to demonstrate traditional fishing, agricultural and domestic skills.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Old Faithful

Found in America’s first national park and known as America’s best-known geyser, Old Faithful is still as beautiful as ever. The geyser erupts about 20 times a day and can spout water anywhere between 130 and 190 feet in the air, according to Yellowstonepark.com. The place to experience steaming vents and shooting columns of water, Yellowstone is home to about half of the world’s geysers, making it the largest concentration of geysers on earth. Old Faithful (Photo by Flickr user Adrian Valenzuela)

Writer’s Tip: Before going on this trip, dig through your closet for your Teva sandals, waterproof hiking boots and an umbrella, as you’re going to need them. My comment: I’d don Gore-Tex or other rain gear rather than carry an umbrella. I want my hands free for photography.

Tunnel of Love (Kleven, Ukraine)

Tunnel of Love

A rarely used railway track in the small Ukrainian town of Kleven is slowly garnering attention as photographs surface of the phenomenon taking place. In an area of dense trees, a train has carved out a tunnel just big enough for it to chug through. Otherwise, the arching area is completely overgrown by greenery and leaves — creating what’s now known as the Tunnel of Love. According to the International Business Times, the area has become particularly popular with the young crowd, and lovers holding hands walk through the tunnel in spring. (Photo by Panoramia.com user Serhei under Creative Commons license)

Tip: Not yet tagged a tourist attraction, the Tunnel of Love is located 217 miles from western Kiev, the country’s capital city, noted by the International Business Times. When preparing for the trip, consider investing in a money belt to keep your passport safe and an identity theft protection company like Life Lock to monitor your personal information while you’re away. My comment: If China is not on your travel schedule, you can have a similar experience, sans railroad tracks, driving though the Tunnel of Trees, two rows of eucalyptus trees arching over the road to Poipu on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

Gran Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni, Bolivia)

Gran Salar de Uyuni

According to Ruaverdebolivia.com, the Gran Salar de Uyuni was part of Lake Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. Now it’s the world’s largest salt flat. Located in southwest Bolivia near the crest of the Andes, the area is roughly 25 times larger than the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It’s estimated that Salar de Uyuni contains 10 billion tons of salt, though only 25,000 tons are extracted annually, revealed on the Ruta Verde website. (Photo by Flickr user Jürgen Schiller García / schillergarcia_

My comment: The startling white surface behind the cacti and other desert plants is the Gran Salar, the great salt flats of Uyuni.

Rebranding Part of Mexico’s West Coast

‘Sun Triangle’ new promotional umbrella for 3 resort destinations

Sun Triangle-logoThe Sun Triangle (Triángulo del Sol in Spanish), a new tourism initiative in Mexico, is an effort to position and promote the top tourist destinations in the State of Guerrero: troubled Acapulco, the silver center of Taxco and the twin communities of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Delicately put, “the Sun Triangle initiative aims to breathe new life into some of Mexico’s most authentic and celebrated tourist destinations.”

Unstated, of course, is the negative press from drug cartel violence on this coast, and even foreign tourists have recently been assaulted in Acapulco, Mexico’s first internationally famous beach resort. A Belgian tourist was gunned down during an attempt to steal his Mercedes-Benz. The murder took place in Diamante, one of the city’s most upscale sections. Just three weeks earlier, six Spanish tourists were raped in the Punta Diamante section.Still, the legions of visitors who have wonderful vacations without being murdered or raped do not make headlines, but in tourism, image counts for a lot — and Acapulco’s has been tarnished and has the greatest need.  It doesn’t help either that the Tourism Minister of the State of Jalisco, up the coast, was just assassinated.

Acapulco is reinvigorating itself by investing $200 million dollars in the renovation and revitalization of its Traditional Zone, the destination’s most celebrated and iconic neighborhood, which is home to the legendary La Quebrada cliff divers, the Hotel Flamingos  and the retro-chic Hotel Boca Chica. Renowned Mexican entrepreneur and “the world’s richest man,” Carlos Slim, was appointed Chairman of the new Advisory Council, whose main objective is to protect, restore and revitalize this important area of Acapulco.  The improvements include a new state-of-the-art destination-wide transportation system known as ACABus, which will provide service between the Traditional Zone and the Diamante Zone with an expected launch in 2014.

Acapulco’s new properties and multi-million dollar hotel renovations include the 101-room Holiday Inn La Isla property in the Diamond Zone and the re-opening of the stunning Hotel Encanto last month with a new image and overall concept committed to giving guests a unique experience. Also, the iconic properties ( The Fairmont Acapulco Princess and The Fairmont Pierre Marques_ officially opened Turtle Dunes Country Club, a premium golf course at the center of the Princess complex.

Further up the Pacific coast, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo offer guests a private getaway and access to world-class amenities, with accommodation options ranging from charming small hotels and luxurious boutique properties to five-star all-inclusive resorts. Located just ten minutes apart from each other, Ixtapa is a modern beach town while Zihuatanejo is a historic fishing port. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo recently launched the fourth phase of its rehabilitation projectwhich aims to renovate iconic locations throughout the destination. When completed, some 80 percent of locations included in the plan will have been renovated. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is accessible via non-stop flights from major U.S and Canadian cities.

The colonial city of Taxco, known as Mexico’s silver capital and a three-hour drive from Acapulco, plans to show off its beauty by installing  special lighting and illumination on temples, plazas, streets and alleyways for a spectacular view of Taxco by night. This is the final stage in a large-scale illumination project entitled “Taxco, City of Lights.”

I’ve been to a number of places in Mexico (without incident, I must add) but not to the Sun Triangle. These new initiatives make this portion of the West Coast very appealing.

3D Film Features Monarch Butterflies’ Mighty Migration

3D film captures this awesome journey plus tour operators that enable visitors to see it

MonarchButterflyI recently attended a screening of “Flight of the Butterflies,” a captivating IMAX 3D film, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science at the invitation of the Mexico Tourism Board. Other than a little anthropomorphism (giving a name to one particular monarch butterfly out of the millions  millions photographed) and an audience-pleasing dramatization of researchers’ efforts to discover where the monarchs’ annual migration route led, this film is a dazzling documentary that follows the life cycle including the 2,500-mile migration undertaken by four generations of these beautiful insects .

The monarchs who live east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in the 200-square-mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to hibernate in dense clusters hanging from oyamel fir trees. In spring, they migrate north through Texas where they lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and finally to the northern United States and Canada in the warm months. The 2,500-mile migration of these fragile insects is the longest of any insect in the world. The film captures each of four-generation life cycle, which is also explained on an illuminating monarch butterfly website. (Monarchs west of the Rockes overwinter in California’s eucalyptus forests, in case you’re wondering.)

MonarchButterfliesSwarming.jpp

Recently, there have been reports that this winter’s population in Mexico had dropped precipitously from just last year. “Mexico monarch butterfly population smallest in years, study says,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “The amount of land occupied by the migrating creatures shrank 59% from a year ago, scientists say. The decline could hurt tourism and the ecosystem.” I have to add: To say nothing of hurt to the butterfly hordes themselves, which suffer due to weather incidents and expanding human populations and with that, loss of habitat and disappearance of critical host plants. The most recent major decline in 2010 was attributed to severe storms. Unless monarch butterflies are close to being eradicated, recovery can be rapid — in theory anyway — because females all lay several hundred eggs. Conservation efforts therefore are concentrated on milkweed that the monarchs need.

MonarchButterflyReserveNeverthess, the World Wildlife Fund, which knows a lot more than I do, has declared the monarchs an endangered species. The organization recommends two particular week-long tours whose highlight is butterfly viewing: The Kingdom of the Monarchs (“Witness the amazing migration of 300 million butterflies. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 6-day tours) and Monarch Butterfly Photography Adventure (“Capture photos of one of the world’s most remarkable natural phenomena. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 7-day tours”). Other tour operators that do or did offer monarch tours include Interlude Tours, Mexperiennce, Mich Mex Guides and Top Travel, Monarch migration season is about over for this year, but try to catch the film in Denver of elsewhere and think about it for next year. S&S Tours already as an escorted, small-group trip scheduled for 2014.

I’m ready!

Yucatan Train Project on ‘Mexico Time’

Transpeninsular train construction delayed

Proecjtected tain across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Projected rail route across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

First came euphoria that a train across the northern Yucatan Peninsula was to be constructed in the foreeseeable future in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, initially between the colonial capital city of Merida to the famous Maya site of Chichen Itza, and later  as far as Campeche on the west side of the peninsula and Playa del Carmen on the east side. Now it turns out out that cosntruction has been delayed and will not even start until  2015.  The current government contends that some 70 percent of the project’s feasibility studies submitted by the previous administration must redone.

The sticking point seems to be the updates are necessary for the fast train, which is supposed  travel at speeds up to 160 to 180 kilometers per hour, can operate on the 277-kilometer route both by day for passengers and by night for freight, with stops in Izamal, Chichen Itza and Valladolid. Yucatan boosters are selling it on the basis of tourism benefits and also to increase real estate development values. Some people believe that the Yucatan in general and Cancun in particular are already sufficiently developed, gracias.

Modern New Quito Airport Open

Scary close-in airport replaced by more distant one

Ecuador-jpgDescriptions of landing at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre Airport has often been described as “white-knuckle approach.” When it opened in 1960, it was out in the country, but Ecuador‘s capital grew around it — close-in around it — and that made for scary. When I landed there back in 1995, like many other travelers and doubtless pilots too, I felt as if the landing gear were close to grazing the rooftops.

Even then, not only was the slot landing nerve-wracking, but the entire airport was way outdated. The runway was barely adequate, and nearby volcanoes looming close to the city made for another operational challenge. And the terminal is best forgotten. That changed today when the new $660 million Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre International Airport began operations with suitable fanfare. Yes, the authorities gave the new new airport the same name as the old.

The old Quito airport -- and yes, there is a runway in the middle of all those buildings. It ceased operations on February 19.
The old Quito airport — and yes, there is a runway in the middle of all those buildings. It ceased operations on February 19.
The new Quito sirport while still under construction in a still-undeveloped area. It began operations on February 20.
The new Quito sirport while still under construction in a still-undeveloped area. It began operations on February 20.

 

Mariscal Sucre II, which is 23 miles from the city center in the Tababela Valley that is still rural, is certified to handle up to six million passengers annually with spacious national and international terminals. Its 13,451-foot runway is one of South America’s biggest landing strips in South America, significant since its 7,874-foot elevation is higher than Sucre I, required for the larger aircraft it anticipates.

The terminal features 60 check-in counters, 20 immigration counters for arrivals, 14 immigration counters for departures and 45 parking places for aircraft. There is also a plus a special area for Galápagos check-in, which is smart, because many international visitors only transit through the mainland en route to the islands. The all-important Duty Free store, more than 20 commercial stores and a new shopping center are expected to be inaugurated mid 2013.

Right now, getting there from the city is still a hassle. A new $48 million freeway, ‘La Ruta Viva,’ is set to open in phases, with a few portions open since last year. When completed, travelers should be able to travel between downtown Quito and the airport in 30 to 40 minutes. Completion is expected for 2014. And Mariscal Sucre I is supposed to be turned into a park, which residents of Quito’s congested outer area can certainly use.

Mexico to Improve Tourist Facilities

MeixcoFlagAccording Mexicogram, a site that monitors tourism in Mexico, “President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that 100 billion pesos (about US$7 to 8 billion) will be invested in infrastructure programs aimed at benefiting the tourism industry. New port facilities, better highways and revived passenger railways are among the program planned. Peña Nieto spoke at the National Tourism Forum in Cancun, noting that tourism creates jobs and regional development. Cancun itself is proof of this. Prior to the 1970s, Cancun was an empty sand bar on the edge of a remote and undeveloped federal territory. It now is the biggest resort destination in the entire Caribbean.”

Mexico needs to do something to counteract the negative impressions that tourists have from news reports of the ongoing drug war violence, attacks on tourists in Acapulco (including the recent rape of six Spanish women, which helped catapult it to the top of the list of Mexico’s most violent cities) and the ongoing abandonment of some Mexican ports by certain cruise lines. The bright spot so far seem to be the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán, which seem isolated from the troubles.