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Salar de Uyuni Guide

by Elena on February 25, 2010

Nothing like a huge, salt desert high up in the mountains of Bolivia to remind you just how cold it can get.  The expanse of white looks like a huge field of snow, and in the middle of the night it might as well be.  It is cold.  You have been warned.Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

We booked our tour of the Salar de Uyuni in La Paz, and were assured by a stealthy travel agent that we wouldn’t come across any problems.  We hopped on an overnight bus to Uyuni, expecting to arrive the following morning.  The kiosk in the bus terminal printed clearly: Uyuni?  Apparently the bus company thought it was questionable as to whether or not we would arrive, an omen perhaps of what was to come.

UyuniThe bus had no heating and all night long, freezing air leaked in to where we were seated.  Ice began to form on the inside of the glass and we tried to snuggle together, under every bit of clothing that we had in our backpacks.  We arrived in Uyuni hours earlier than expected, in the middle of the night, and without a helpful guide to greet us.  We made our way to the nearest hostel and slept in our jackets and shoes until we were able to feel our toes again.  Just a couple hours later the sun came out and the memories of the cold, white night seemed almost fake.  They say that a mirage in the desert can trick the eye and it made me wonder about deserts made of salt and perhaps a mystical force that can inflict pain.  As it turns out, the most difficult part of our trip was actually getting to Uyuni.  Now we were armed with lots of warm clothing and jackets (no longer tucked away at the bottom of a bus).

We joined our tour group, one Canadian, one Australian and two Argentinians, who would be our companions for the next couple of days.  Like all other groups touring the Salt Flats, we would be traveling around in SUV’s capable of maneuvering the tricky terrain.  It really made my cynical mind wonder about the possibility of Jeep endorsements, with all the Jeeps cruising around like a real life Jeep commercial, but I digress.

Our first stop was a train cemetery, created after the mining industry collapsed and industrialists left abandoned trains on the outskirts of the Uyuni Salt Flat.  Turns out the abandoned railroad is part of the tourist attraction, a somewhat eerie reminder of the past and how quickly something that used to be so powerful can end up rusting under the Bolivian sun.Salar de Uyuni - Abandoned Railroad

The Salar of Uyuni is 10,500 square kilometers, large enough to be viewed from space, and to impress even the most jaded eyes.  During the dry season, you can stand on packed salt, formed on top of a mixture of brine.  The salt flat used to be a large lake that slowly filled up with sediment because of the lack of any drainage outlets.  Legend tells a slightly more interesting story that the salt flat was formed because of the giant people living in the mountains, more specifically the tears and breast milk of a woman grieving over her fleeing and unfaithful husband.Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

The feeling of standing in the middle of such a huge, natural wonder can you make you feel insignificant in comparison, but that feeling of inadequacy doesn’t last long.  Not when there are funny pictures to take!  Just like the obligatory picture of pushing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tourists must take advantage of photographic tricks like this one:Salar de Uyuni Bolivia 13

The next stop on our tour was a place called Fish Island, an island of rock and cacti, where we stopped to explore and eat our lunch.  Some of the cacti on this island are well over 1,200 years old and gigantic, almost triple the size of my 5’2 height.  The highlight of this stop was the chance to see the salt flat from higher ground, seeing as you can’t really tell the shape of the fish while you are standing on it.Salar de Uyuni - Fish Island

After Fish Island, we drove through the salt flat for hours, stopping ever so often to take pictures and to admire the ripples in the salt.Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

Day one included the train graveyard, the salt flat, and Fish Island.  We stayed at a hostel (not the salt hotel) in the salt flat, made friends with other land cruising tour groups, had a few beers and watched the sun set and rise.  One of the members of our group, from a country that shall remain nameless *cough* Argentina *cough* experienced one of the side effects of high altitude, a pretty nasty hangover.  The next day we explored the Altiplano.

For the full photo album of the Salar de Uyuni, check out the photography page.



Granada and The Tales of the Alhambra

by Elena on January 14, 2010

Alhambra Granada SpainWhat does it take to be first online to get into the Alhambra?  If you avoid the reasonable route of getting your tickets in advance, like other more responsible travelers, then you will have to wait in line, a really really long line.

After a couple days in Seville we made our way to Granada with a vague plan of interest and no guidebooks.  The heat of summer in the Spanish south had sucked out all of our energy, and a small part of us had no desire but to sit around drinking freshly squeezed orange juice under one of the makeshift sun blockers in the streets of Seville.  Needless to say we were not prepared for our excursion to the Alhambra.  We arrived, somewhat brazenly, to the entrance of the palace shortly after 8am.  The line was impressive, so long and winding we couldn’t see the unlucky chaps at the end of it all.  Even they were luckier than we were.  We were not getting in that day.  Our only other choice was to arrive unreasonably early the next day and wait in line.  Although many people assured us that we need only arrive a couple hours before the ticket booth opened at 8am, my cousin wanted to be one of the first people on line, hence arriving so early you might as well take a sleeping bag.  At first I felt guilty that he was ‘taking one for the team’ and going to stand in line to ensure our entrance into one of the most remarkable sights in the world just about when I was entering my REM cycle, but then the clock started buzzing at 3am.  You try waking up at 3am with jet lag, travel fatigue, and a sudden bout of I’m not a morning person.  He left the hostel sometime after 2am and was behind only two other groups, a group of hippie Spaniards who had slept at the entrance overnight and a friendly Moroccan family who offered him some coffee brewed from homegrown coffee beans.

The Alhambra is definitely worth the wait.  We were able to enjoy the benefit of entering early, as well as an early entrance time into the Nasrid Palace.  The gardens are better enjoyed if you visit them in the afternoon.  The sun can be brutal, but the flowers look their best under the sun’s rays.  Alhambra means red fortress, and it certainly looks like a fortress when viewed from lookout point San Nicolas.  You would think that this fortress would be filled with medieval Christian architecture rather than its distinctly arabesque designs.  Originally an Islamic palace, it eventually fell into the hands of the Christian kings after the fall of the Islamic Empire in Spain.

The Alhambra is big but you can easily see everything in one day.  The following are the major sites that you mustn’t miss.

Palacio Nazaries (Nasrid Palace)
The Nasrid Palace is one of the most elaborate and recognizable Islamic structures in all of Europe.  It is known for the intricate stucco work, painted tile walls, and extensive courtyards.  The palaces inside the Alhambra were erected for the Muslim sultans of Granada.  In this palace you can walk though ceremony rooms, courtyards, private residences, and offices.  As well as the time slot they give you to enter the Alhambra, you will also have a time slot for entering the Palacio Nazaries. Once you get inside you don’t have to worry about time for the rest of your visit.

Alhambra Granada Spain 2The Court of Myrtles is an iconic image of the Alhambra and the Nasrid Palace.  The Moors loved incorporating patios into their architecture.  There are many theories as to what this particular court was used for.  Some say that the sultan’s harem were kept upstairs behind the windows with wooden screens, after all, it isn’t appropriate for the sultan’s harem to be seen by other men.  Others simply believe that the upstairs was used during the cooler winter months and the outdoor courtyard was used in the summer.

Alhambra in Granada SpainThere are twelve lions around a fountain in the Court of Lions.  The twelve lions were a gift from a prominent Jewish leader at the time.  Granada had an extensive Jewish population, and a rich history of Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together, sometimes not in harmony.  As for the significance of the twelve lions, historians aren’t certain, but they probably represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  The lions were later turned into a clock that spouted water out of a different lion’s mouth according to the time of day.  The clock no longer works after the Christian conquerors took it apart to see how it worked.  Unfortunately, on my most recent visit to the Alhambra, the lions were taken away to be restored.  The good news is that they are coming back soon, sometime in 2010.

Court of Lions Alhambra in Granada SpainAlhambra Granada Spain 3Washington Irving penned his legendary story, Tales of the Alhambra, from within the Alhambra’s very walls.  Irving’s work helped introduce western audiences to the treasures of the Alhambra.

Washington Irvings Room in Alhambra Granada SpainAlcazaba
The Alcazaba is the fort of the Alhambra.  Alhambra itself means fortress, making the Alcazaba the original Alhambra.  It is the oldest and hence the most ruined of structures.  This fort was used to defend the small town within the Alhambra wall.  If you climb the high structures you will get amazing views of the Sierra Nevada, the city of Granada, and the Albazin.

Alcazaba at the Alhambra in Granada SpainGeneralife Gardens
The Generalife Gardens are a short walk away on the opposite side of the grounds.  If you have time to kill before your assigned entrance into the Nasrid Palace, you should make your way to these gardens and Generalife Palace.Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Granada SpainThese gardens were planted in an overzealous effort to create a paradise on earth.  The flowers, shrubbery, and fountains are all said to have kept their Moorish character.  Fruits and vegetables were also grown for the inhabitants of the palaces.  The sultan is said to have enjoyed the Generalife Palace during the summer, when he could roam around the gardens and enjoys its fruits and flowers.Generalife Gardens Alhambra in Granada Spain FlowersEl Partal is right at the entrance of the Generalife Gardens.  Here you will find another large courtyard with a pond.  I imagine these ponds help keep the area cool during the hot summer months.  They seem to do the trick.

El Partal in Alhambra in Granada SpainCharles V’s Palace
The Alhambra wasn’t always under Islamic rule.  Muslim Spain slowly came to an end, and Granada eventually fell from Islamic rule in 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella took over Granada and the surrounding areas.  When the Christians came into the power, they built their own structures, as conquering parties often do, within the Alhambra walls.  Charles V constructed this palace with the money from the taxed Muslim population, another way of exerting Christian authority, and rubbing some salt on their wounds.

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles V

Buying Tickets For the Alhambra

  • The best choice is to buy your tickets ahead of time on  Buying ahead of time will ensure that you won’t have to wait long on the line or risk not getting in at all.
  • You could always wait in line like we did.  This of course means that you will be up inconceivably early during high season and reasonably early during low season.
  • Book with your hotel or hostel.  Sometimes hotels put aside tickets for their guests.
  • Pay for a tour.  This of course is the more expensive option, but if you have no other choice it could be well worth it.  Go to a local travel agency or hotel and see what tours are available.

When you buy a ticket, you are given an appointment time when you can enter the Alhambra and Nasrid palace.  This prevents overcrowding.  Make sure to arrive an hour before your assigned appointment to enter the Alhambra because you will most likely be waiting awhile on line (even if you bought your ticket ahead of time).

The floors of the Palace of Charles V are rather slippery.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles V 2



Coca Museum In La Paz Bolivia

by Elena on December 30, 2009

Coca Museum in La Paz BoliviaWhile in La Paz, Bolivia I was looking forward to seeing this small unusual museum, especially after a bout of altitude sickness in Peru that had me chewing on coca leaves for days.  The museum is on calle Linares, and lucky for us it was down the block from our hostel.  Like many shops and restaurants in La Paz, the museum is located inside an alcove hidden in between buildings and back alleys.  It is on the second floor of what looks like a residential home.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by a man who looked confused to see visitors who were so uncharacteristically on time for the opening of the museum.  He turned on the lights and opened its doors for us.  After his brief statement about the museum, he offered us some coca leaves which visitors are free to chew on during their visit.  The museum consists of one large room with many displays covered in pictures and text, as well as a  few small artifacts.  There may not be much in comparison to other more elaborate museums, but they certainly are not as provocative.  The information dedicated to this small leaf, is hard to find anywhere else.

Coca Museum in La Paz Bolivia 4The coca leaf is a very important part of Andean culture, and the plant was seen as sacred by the Incas.  It is believed that people in the Andes have used coca leaves since 2500BC after traces of the leaf were found in mummified bodies in the ruins of Northern Peru.  The oil of the plant was used to remove tumors and prevent the body from physical discomfort.  Today many people continue to use the plant, in particular those who live in the highlands.  While traveling around the Andes we saw many people chewing on these leaves which are said to relieve altitude sickness.  The coca leaf stimulates the respiratory centers, allowing more oxygen to absorb in your body, especially helpful for those of us who aren’t born with the larger lung capacity of people who live in high altitudes.  It is also believed that the leaf regulates metabolism of glucose and contains nutritious qualities similar to quinoa and wheat.Coca Leaves

During colonization, the Catholic Church first banned the use of this leaf but later recognized its medicinal purposes.  This sudden change of heart most likely had more to do with the increase productivity of the native workforce that chewed the leaf rather than concern for people’s health.   The curator of the museum explained how the colonists abused workers by relying on the plants increased productivity, as well as lowered appetite.

Fast forward hundreds of years and you get to 1863, the beginning of the legal cocaine boom.  The coca leaf is made up of various alkaloids, one of which we know as cocaine.  Cocaine is made when you extract the alkaloid from the coca leaf.  The trade of cocaine first started after chemists visited the region and saw the popularity of the coca leaf among people that live in high altitudes.  The first purpose of cocaine was of course medicinal, but it soon became used for other forms of entertainment.

A French chemist name Angelo Mariani used coca leaves from Peru to make his wine vin Mariani.  It was essentially cocawine and contained about 6mg of cocaine per ounce of wine.  The ethanol in the wine helped extract the cocaine from the coca leaves.  Another pharmacist by the name of John Pemberton also included coca leaves in the drink he created, which later helped create one of the most successful companies in history.  Coca-Cola’s original purpose was not as a soft drink, but rather medicine that relieved exhaustion and headaches.  The original recipe of Coca-Cola did have traces of cocaine (9mg per ounce), but they changed its recipe around 1903 when people began to worry about the effect of the drug.  Some say the drink didn’t become completely cocaine free until 1929.  Coca-Cola became wildly popular around the time of prohibition, when Americans were forbidden to drink alcohol.  Today Coca-Cola continues to use coca leaves that have been “spent,” meaning they no longer have traces of cocaine.  Their manufacturing plant imports the coca leaf to the US, but don’t try doing the same.  Don’t even think about bringing back coca leaf tea, if you live in the US, unless you want to spend some time with airport security.  The Stephen Company manufacturing plant, is only company allowed to import coca leaves of any kind, so drink up all your coca tea in Bolivia.

Coca Cola and Mariani WineThe Coca Museum was created by doctors, sociologists, anthropologists, and various institutions in order to create awareness about the coca leaf and its derivative cocaine.  Drug use in Bolivia has only increased in high numbers since preventative drug laws were enacted, however the coca leaf is not considered a drug, in essence it isn’t much different than the popular stimulant in the US, a cup of jo.  The curator of the Coca Museum made it very clear that the coca leaf is not cocaine (which needs to be created in a lab), but rather a natural remedy and tradition that has lasted for many years.

Coca Museum in La Paz Bolivia 2This guy doesn’t look so good.  Reminds me of the Bolivian version of the D.A.R.E. program.  Just say no to drugs or you’ll end up looking like this guy.

Image of Coca-Cola and Mariani Wine via: Coca Museum and Wiki.



Cairo Nights Travelogue

by Elena on November 19, 2009

The cab driver weaves in and out of traffic accelerating and decelerating in a matter of seconds.  I reach over the driver seat and point to the small piece of paper the receptionist gave us at the hostel.  “This is our address,” I repeat for the second time, accenting my voice ever so slightly, as if imitating the Egyptian accent would help him better understand me.  He nods his head again and smiles at my persistence.  I resign myself to my seat, further digging my fingernails into the cushion each time he brakes suddenly.  The city is chaotic, there is no doubt.  Goats sprint down the road that runs parallel to the Nile River, along with men on bicycles holding large crates full of fresh bread.  There is a car to our left filled to the brim with people, speeding along at our same pace.  If I wanted, I could reach out and touch the hand of the man sitting in the driver’s seat.  I am tempted to try but decide not to test my luck.

On a quest for something truly Egyptian, we make our way to the souk, the famous street market.  No matter our efforts to dodge the crowd, we end up bumping into every person walking by.  You learn quickly that there are two currencies in Egypt, the tourist price and the Egyptian price.  Lesson number one, you will always pay the tourist price, unless accompanied at all times by an amicable Egyptian friend.  Lesson number two, you shop at your own risk.

Cairo Egypt 2

Photo © Elena Vazquez

The vendors are extremely anxious to get us to spend our money.  “Hello! Hola! Bonjour!” they shout from their stands.  Immediately one vendor jumps up and takes matters into his own hands.  He rushes over with a handful of shawls and dutifully places one over my head.  “I give you good price,” he says with a smile.  I politely decline seeing as I already bought one from another vendor; but he is insistent.  He showers me with compliments and occasionally he throws in a habibi, the Arabic equivalent to darling or sweetheart.  Finally I agree to buy another shawl.  Did he charm me into buying something I don’t need?  No I convince myself; after all I could always use an extra shawl.

As the sun begins to set, we hear the familiar chanting we’ve heard each day this week.  It is Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset as a gesture of self-restraint and piety.  The crackling of intercoms echoes throughout the city as a reminder to everyone that they must go home to pray.

Cairo Egypt 1

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 5

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 6

Photo © Elena Vazquez

After prayer, Egyptians get together at cafés to talk, play cards, and smoke hookah (a water pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco covered in molasses).  Going by a tip from one of our friends, we go in search of a particular floating restaurant along the Nile, a favorite amongst Egyptians themselves.  We find ourselves in a huge space, filled with unfamiliar sights and smells.  Brightly colored fabrics hang from the ceiling so low you could jump up and pull them down if you ever got cold.  Arabic words murmur throughout the crowd as Egyptian pop music plays in the background.  A group of men sing and laugh at the table next to us.  One of them takes in so much smoke from his hookah, it seems virtually impossible to fit in his lungs without him bursting at the seams.  But then again he has had lots of practice.  They get together to tell stories, laugh, smoke almost every night.  After what seems like an eternity he blows out every last puff of smoke contributing to the sugar, fruit, and jasmine scented cloud hovering above our heads.



People on the Lares Trail

by Elena on October 28, 2009


Before the foggy mist descended upon us and we fell asleep to the background music of Huayno, we stopped to set up camp near a house where some children were playing in the backyard.  They were shy at first, hiding behind a rock wall, and only popping over when they wanted us to play with them.  One thing you notice right away while talking to the children is the burgundy color of their cheeks caused by the harsh winds of the mountains.  Their skin is tough and bruised.  At night the temperature dip really low and remain the same in the mornings before the sun could rise above the mountains.  All the children have to walk to school, through the rocky terrain, a task that was so difficult for us, yet effortless for them, as they ran while talking and laughing.

We encountered lots of other people on the trail.  Our guide cautioned us on giving the children food, in particular candies which they frequently asked for.  There are not many available dentists and many of the kids have teeth that are rotting and falling out.  Try saying no to a bunch of wide-eyed children asking for something as small as a piece of candy.  It’s not easy.  I asked the kids what their names were and they surprised me with English names like Nelly and Roy here.  Our guide explained that many of the Quechua people started to name their kids after celebrities and popular Anglo names.  Nelly Furtado maybe?DSC00413

While the Quechua people do not wear wedding rings there is a way to distinguish who is married and who is single.  Men traditionally wear a hat with multicolored pieces of fabric hanging off the sides.  If the fabric is hanging on both sides of the hat it means they are married.  Their single counterparts have the pieces tied up in the back.  In the picture below you can see the bright colored hats.  These clothes made it easy to spot another person walking along the isolated trails.  The impressing part is that the dye and make the clothes themselves, using the various plants and wildlife found around their homes.Andean Town Meeting

Image via: quinet.

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Greetings From Asbury Park

by Elena on September 10, 2009

My cousin forced me to see Asbury with different eyes. He loved Asbury Park, even at a time when I would roll my eyes at the suggestion of spending an afternoon there laying on the beach. Before talks of development and building restoration projects, he was a fan of this beach town because of its conflicted history, not despite of it. Another perk is that it is less crowded than other favorites along the coast, although that is quickly changing.

There is something intriguing about going to a place that has fallen off most people’s radar. Off the beaten path, some people call it, when you decide to explore somewhere not in the travel guides. There are many perks to this philosophy, for one you avoid the crowds and you get enjoy an experience a place few others have.

Read more…



Move Over Busker

by Elena on September 9, 2009

Well the rest of my life lay in front of me
I was pedaling down the road
When I saw nell gwynne and her oranges
And I’ll have one of those
She said move over busker, don’t bang your drum
Move over busker, your time will come
-Paul McCartney

After posting about street performers, I perused through my photo collection and picked out some more of my favorite busker photos.

In the southern Spanish city of Granada there is a rich amalgamation of three very different cultures, histories, and religions: Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism. Home to the Moorish palace La Alhambra, Granada has a flavor that sets it apart from the rest of Spain. The Mirador de San Nicolas (lookout point) faces the magnificent Alhambra, and I highly recommend to anyone visiting this small city to go here just before sunset. The lookout is located in the Albayzin, a neighborhood with small winding streets and white-washed houses with colorful gardens. Set upon a hill, the Albayzin is a perfect location to view the old palace.

Flamenco Performers sing near Alhambra
At Mirador San Nicolas there are always people singing and playing guitar. The group we saw this particular day really epitomized every stereotype I was looking forward to: the raspy voices (most certainly due to years of heavy smoking), the incredible strumming of the Spanish guitar, the rhythmic clapping, and the melodic improvisation of flamenco singing. Those c

ouple of songs, played to accompany the sunset, were enough to send a chill down my spine, and toy with the idea of quitting my day job in order to sit around these hills, smoke cigars, and learn to play flamenco guitar.Flamenco performers near Alhambra
No one else could wear a mullet and a white turtleneck cutoff and still look as badass as this man right here.

Flamenco Performer near Alhambra One of my favorite things to do in Mexico, or in any place for that matter, is to roam around the local markets. They are full of life and delicious food. I also find that they are a great way to see the people of the city go about their daily routine. I took this picture in Tepotzlan, Mexico around the time of the Day of the Dead. You can see a bushel of marigolds in the foreground of the photograph. These neon orange flowers are prevalent around this time, when people use them to decorate altars and pay homage to those who have passed. Right after I took this shot, the guy in the bright yellow shirt chased me down for a small tip and some friendly flirtation.

Performers in Tepotzlan Mexico MarketJust outside of Vancouver, about an hour or so on bus, you will find Capilano Park, home to the 450 ft long and 240 ft high Capilano Suspension Bridge. When we finished crossing the bridge and exploring the park we noticed a 3 person band getting ready to play. They weren’t buskers in the traditional sense, (look at the name tags) but rather park employees. Nonetheless people gave them tips after they sang some Elvis, Johnny Cash, and other crowd favorites.

Vancouver BuskersBarrio La Boca in Buenos Aires is known for its brightly colored facades, its Italian immigrant population, and a slightly dodgy reputation. If you ignore the obvious tourist traps and souvenir shops, you can almost imagine the immigrants painting the houses bright colors, in order to give life to this rundown part of town. Nowadays it has become somewhat commercial, but you can still enjoy the tango performances at one of the many cafes.

Tango Dancers in La Boca Buenos AiresTango Dancers in Buenos Aires La BocaGrauman’s Chinese Theatre is exactly what you picture it to be, tacky, commercial, over the top, and just a bit uncomfortable. My discomfort is mostly due to an overzealous Elvis impersonator who got a little handsy. Nonetheless there is probably no other place you can see Jack Sparrow, Elvis, Zorro, Spiderman, Minnie Mouse, Jessica Rabbit, and even Chucky (you know the maniacal, homicidal plush toy that made you fearful that your toys would come to life in the middle of the night) all in the same place.

Los Angeles Chinese Theater Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles provides quite the contrast to the massive structures that crowd around the business sector. The performers, street vendors, restaurants, and cafes serve as a taste of Mexican culture a small tribute to a community with such a large population in this city. It is small and unassuming, but I tend to love areas such as these. I really enjoyed the fact that I could get a peeled mango on a stick, a massive dulce de leche stuffed churro, and agua de jamaica at one of the nearby vendors. The headdress of the performer below was amazingly massive, and from what I can tell there are many performances such as this one taking place nearby.

Downtown Los Angeles



Taxi and Huayno Peruano

by Elena on June 20, 2009

Finally it was time to leave Lima and frankly I was a little sad. There is never enough time to see a whole city, however only a few days seemed like bad planning.

But alas we had to depart, so we hailed a cab and made our way to the airport, in order to catch our flight to Cusco. This taxi was the most high tech taxi we had seen in all of Lima. Whereas most cabs were old and shabby looking, this driver looked like he was trying out for MTV’s Pimp My Taxi.

This innovative driver had a television screen with a connecting dvd player in his car. Don’t overestimate however, it was nothing like the touchscreens now seen in NYC cabs, where you can play around in the back seat, although it did make for some interesting entertainment. The best part of the car was the telephone the driver pulled out from somewhere in the front seat. It wasn’t a car phone no no, (that would be too obvious), it wasn’t a cell phone (again obvious), but rather a land line telephone that he somehow got to work inside the cab. He explained it to us but I’m not one for technology chats.

He had DVDs for us to choose from, most of them music DVDs. He suggested we choose traditional Peruvian music, music he called huayno. Little did we know that this would be our first taste of the music we would soon be hearing all over. Huayno is very distinguishable and especially for those hearing it for the first time, it is most definitely an acquired taste. The vocals are extremely high pitched and accompanied by flute, harp, panpipe, guitar, charango, and mandolin. Below is a song by Stalim Manrique.

Huayno Dancers
Photo by: Otra vez me hice Mujer

Huayno is very popular in Andean culture. You can hear it in the mountains of Peru, often transmitted by radio, since many of the people living there do not have televisions. The music may seem a little strange to travelers when they hear it, since the sound is very unique. After all the singing is high pitched and can seem a little off key, but the tradition has lasted for a very long time, since pre-Hispanic Peru. No doubt there is lots of emotion, often about love, love lost, unrequited love, you get the idea. One of the songs I heard in the cab was about a man whose lover drove him so crazy he resorted to alcohol. The lyrics were funny and although I don’t remember them exactly they were something like “I love you so much that I must drink.” I understand the sentiment but for me it usually involves Ben & Jerry’s rather than Johnnie Walker.

In huayno, often times you will hear people in the background, children speaking, or people cheering the singer on.
Que sigue bailando” Keep dancing.
Ay mi corazoncito” Oh my heart.
I admit I don’t listen to huayno much in the privacy of my own home, but take a look for yourself and experience the music from a very rich culture.


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Miraflores Photo Journal

by Elena on May 21, 2009

Miraflores was one of my favorite neighborhoods in Lima, primarily because of the vibrant colors of the buildings. Part of my travel experience is wandering around streets and neighborhoods and Miraflores makes it easy to appreciate. The flâneur will feel at home walking the quiet residential streets as well as the busy squares and center.

Lima proved to be a great city to start off my South America tour. I felt comfortable walking around on my own (during the day) and with friends at night. Miraflores is a safe neighborhood in Lima, therefore you should be cautious and avoid other neighborhoods at night (and even during the day). At my hostel one of the employees highlighted on a map which area I should avoid. You can ask your hostel or hotel to do the same. Below are some pictures of the Miraflores neighborhood.



Bright Lights Big City

by Elena on April 27, 2009

Sometimes it takes an outsider to really experience the intrigue of your hometown. My friend from Argentina could not believe that after 25 years of living just 30 minutes away from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I hadn’t gone to a few of the most popular tourist sites. I had never gone to the Statue of Liberty, never gone up to the observation deck in the Empire State Building, and never sailed to Ellis Island. I thought Times Square was a tourist trap, and frankly I dreaded pushing past tourists as they gazed up, stupefied at all the bright lights.

In my defense, I know many others from the area who hadn’t seen these attractions either, after all we figure that they will always be here. We don’t need to do the silly things tourists do in order to really know our city. Perhaps this may be true, however those silly tourist things also make up New York City, and they make New York rather incredible.
Since I’ve known it, Times Square has always been somewhat of an adult amusement park. I didn’t know the gritty Times Square with its peeps shows and sex shops. To me it has always been one big TV commercial, with lights and advertisements, a true emblem of American capitalism.
Now Times Square has evolved once again. Suddenly it is a place where people are encouraged to sit down and relax, rather than the old place where you hurriedly push everyone out of your way. There are seats you can sit on in the middle of it all. The bleachers also encourage further loitering on the small cement island smack dab in the middle of Time Square.
This is different than the Times Square I used to know, although it was nice to sit on the bleachers and take a look around. I mean it’s hard not to. There are just so many different things going on over there. Strangely enough, after a few more minutes of gazing out into the advertising horizon, I felt the need to spend my money on useless products and Broadway shows. Needless to say that was enough Times Square for one day.