I got a chance to catch up with mi amigo Jorge Gamboa Patrón (Director of the Mexico Tourism Board LA) at the Travel & Adventure Show in Los Angeles recently. ¡Vamos a México!
Posts Tagged With: Latin America
¡Orale! The Gringo With A Green Bag was representing the Mexican banner this past weekend at the Travel and Adventure Show in Los Angeles. What a great time we had! The spirit of the fiesta was in the air and there was plenty of travel inspiration to be absorbed in an atmosphere full of zesty cultural flavors, interactive exhibits, music & dance and travel professionals from all parts of the globe there to share information about the world’s hottest destinations. The Mexico booths were packed ALL weekend long and I was happy to be a part of all the acción! Stay tuned for my video highlights, interviews and just a bunch of wacky GWAGB fun…once I recover from the “virtual” travel hangover.
After the fiesta, it’s time for siesta…
One of several things you are guaranteed to find on the island of Puerto Rico (besides delightfully potent and colorful rum concoctions, fried pockets of meat-stuffed plantains at every turn and the infectious beat of Caribbean rhythms that can force even the gringoest of gringos to break into a Carmen Miranda-like hip shuffle) is an epic sunset. In order to find the best ones, however, you must leave the tourist-mousetrap of San Juan (which does offer up some rather enticing bait) and head towards the western end of the island where the final footprints of day slowly fade away behind the dreamy Pacific. Sunsets on a tropical island always seem more enjoyable than those viewed from anywhere else. They just do. Several theories here: 1) It could be the consistently dramatic island skies, which are typically filled with swirling and color-bending clouds that hover above the ocean like seagulls in search of surface appetizers, reflecting the lovely golden and pastel hues of the “magic hour”. 2) The calmness and serenity of being on a landmass surrounded by water and fringed with photogenic palms, isolated from the rest of the world and so far away from the monotonies of the “normal” life back home, which forced you to buy that ticket in the first place. 3) Feeling like you are in a privileged place at the perfect moment in time while all of your friends back home are sitting at a desk counting the tic-tocs until they can leave behind the office grind and dive into the not-so-flowing stream of rush hour traffic. 4) You’ve just consumed your fourth Piña Colada or Mai Tai, and everything you witness is “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”. Yeah, fruity drinks injected with alcohol do have that effect on me sometimes. The only downside of that is being able to properly focus your camera or iphone as the Earth beneath you begins to spin double-time. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that Puerto Rico offers up sunsets that can rival those found anywhere around the world. On a stage that has been set to provide much drama, beauty and inspiration to all those who come out to watch…the sunsets of Puerto Rico have played a praiseworthy role.
As promised, I must honor my word and bring you the best of the best from last month’s Puerto Rico adventure! I found so much beauty and diversity all throughout the island, I don’t really know where to start. So I’ll just spin the jog wheel on the mouse and see where the cursor lands. (Spinning…done) This secluded waterfall (near the town of San Sebastián) was found as a result of Doing Your Homework Before You Travel. It’s a bit of an effort to get here, but that’s the whole idea, verdad? I mean, yeah…you can take the easier roads to some of the more accessible falls right off the highway (à la Maui’s Road to Hana, where you don’t even have to leave your vehicle…but good luck getting a decent photo without navigating your lens through the human traffic jam)…or you can get your numb-from-the-car-ride buttocks off the path, trek through a Jurassic Park-like environment, get some mud on the shoes, donate to the local mosquito blood drive and reward yourself with a spectacular slice of nature that can be quietly enjoyed in the company of a very few other lucky travelers, or even alone, if you time it right. The falls were pristine and the dip in the natural pool was a (testicle-shrinkingly) perfect way to spend the afternoon. Did I mention the water was cold?
I love seeing this portrait of a local Mayan woman putting the finishing touches on a beautiful hand-crafted hammock for me. I drove around Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula for several days looking for a traditional homemade “hamaca” that I could bring back to my parents. Not that it was on their wish list or anything, or that they would ever use it. All they ever ask for is either a magnet or some sea salt. But I once bought them a rug in Morocco that was most likely manufactured in Taiwan (it had to be, it was way too cheap), so I was aiming for a little redemption here. Besides, the origin of the hammock dates back over 1000 years and is credited to the Maya. If anyone knows how to weave a proper hammock, it’s these people. So, with a few inquiries to the locals, a kind villager directed me to the town of Tekit, where I was told to look for the “blue house”. (That’s how directions work in this part of the world. No addresses, just colors.)
After erroneously knocking on the door of the first blue house I saw, I ended up finding the right “casa azul”, as I saw this woman carefully crafting a lovely, tropical-colored 10-footer that was hanging in her workshop. I don’t know if I was just craving Skittles or what, but this rainbow of intricately woven fibers caught my eye immediately. Major score! Now, there’s a difference between “homemade” and “handmade”. Handmade just means it was made by someone’s hands. Factory workers in China make “handmade” items all the time. Doesn’t mean it was made by a local artist, or that it isn’t a replica. Burgers at McDonald’s are handmade. They’re crap. “Homemade” is exactly what it says it is…you get it from someone’s home, sprinkled with love and genuine family-coated TLC. It’s like grandma’s banana bread. Always best to get it straight from the source. (If you get a homemade item in Spain it may come sprinkled with the scent of cigarettes. But hey, I’d much rather have an aesthetically inferior item of authenticity over a polished replica any day, albeit tobacco-tainted.) Nothing more discontenting than getting excited about purchasing that local Peruvian alpaca scarf, only to find the all-too-familiar “Made in Indonesia” tag sticking out from the bottom (unless you’re actually in Indonesia – but even then, alpacas in Indonesia?).
I didn’t even negotiate the price, which is common practice down in Mexico. I was so happy to be getting an authentic item of the finest local quality and variety, directly from the artist (who’s ancestors invented the thing). To me, this is the equivalent of a gallery curator being handed a Rembrandt from the man himself. Authenticity is at the core of “real world” life experiences. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll hear me preach about it often. Can a brother get an “amen” up in here? I could have saved some valuable time and energy and bought a hammock from any of the numerous roadside tourist souvenir shops I passed along the way to Tekit, but I’ve grown weary of the typical (and universal) salesman’s pitch of “100% authentic”, “handmade”, “indigenous”, “local artisan” – blah, blah, blah. If you pay a lot of money to go somewhere or purchase something, you want it to be legit. It’s an investment in great experiences, great memories or a product you will be totally satisfied with. After all, that’s what travel is really all about. If you don’t care about having a true experience, cancel that trip to Paris and take your butt to Las Vegas. You can visit Paris, New York, Rio and Venice all in the same day for a fraction of the price (unless you get sucked into that stupid Wheel of Fortune slot machine at the Rio. I emptied my wallet on that rigged-ass money-guzzler. To this day, I still curse at the sight of Pat Sajak every time I see him on TV.)
Only thing left for me to do now is to teach my mom how to lay in a hammock without flipping over like a sunscreen-slicked fat kid jumping on a wet intertube at the community pool. I never get tired of seeing that though. 🙂
Of course, I gotta give a shout out to the kind gentleman who pointed me in the direction of the “blue house”. He wasn’t selling his hammock that day. Hope he got a commission though, or a plate of whatever she was cooking up in the kitchen that afternoon.
I thought I was seeing things for a minute. I had just stumbled off the tequila tour. Not the tour of the town, which is actually named Tequila, but the tour of the fermented blue agave juice that made this Mexican town famous. Yes, you can find some pretty good tequila in Tequila (unlike the town of Gin Gin in Australia, which produces no special selection of gin to brag about). I had sampled a good variety of the notoriously potent local spirit that day. My brain was buzzing an amplified “buzzz”, like listening to an alarm clock stuck in a bee hive. My palate was saturated from the variety of flavors of the agave’s “sweet nectar” (almond, vanilla, fruity, earthy, nasty, etc.) and the sugary staleness of a burnt churro that I picked up on the way back to the main square. In my intoxicated state, I found myself staring up at this gorgeously sunlit church, face filled with awe like Elliot and his little sister looking up at ET’s spaceship. Suddenly, a swarm of birds began to circle the church dome like they were caught in some sort of holy orbit. “Look at all those DAMN birds”, I thought to myself. “Wow…wait, is that one bird or many? Shit, am I seeing centuple here?” My head is already spinning from the multiple (let’s say 8) samples of La Cofradía and this orchestra of synchronized birds busting endless 360’s around this church isn’t helping my mental equilibrium. All I knew was that I had to get a photo of this “heavenly” sight or I might wake up the next day and forget it ever happened. The late afternoon light was absolutely gorgeous…stunning…and I’m not just saying that cuz I was wearing tequila goggles. It was an epic scene of divine symbolism being blessed by nature (a vision which may inspire a future book entitled “When Mother Teresa met Mother Nature…”). I pull out my camera, fumble around with the settings a bit and fire off a round of 3-5 shots every time those birds circled around and exposed their sunlit underbellies. I did this for about 15 straight revolutions, ending up with around 50-60 shots of the exact same thing. I’m pretty sure the ratio of bad (blurry) ones to good (sharp) ones was about 20:1, so I had to make sure I had this shot nailed. (They don’t teach you the “rules of composition while under the influence” in photo school.) This was one of the good ones:
I believe this is the best “drunk” photo I’ve ever taken (besides that one at Mardi Gras in ’96 where those two young college girls from Lithuania were…whoa…). I also like to imagine it as the best photo of this church ever taken, considering the level of intoxication of the photographer. Not easy to focus on still objects after a half-dozen shots of tequila, let alone flying ones.
It’s both ironic and poetic: The best photo I’ve ever taken (“shot”) while under the influence of tequila happened in a town called Tequila, standing in front of a church named “Santiago” (which translates to Saint “James”), and it was in the state of Jalisco, which can be translated as “plastered”…of which I was quite at the time. Another irony is that the one and only thing I collect from every place I visit around the world is a shot glass. However, I forgot to pick one up in perhaps the most symbolic place in the world to get one. I blame the host of my tequila tour for that one…though I do appreciate the generous sample session I was offered that day. Well worth the price of admission and a burnt churro.
I got pretty sick once while I was in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. An “ill”-advised bit of teeth cleaning at the border with some tap water was most likely the culprit. I took one bite of my chicken and rice dish at a local food joint and I had to throw in the towel, as my stomach was the first organ to checkout on whatever schedule I had planned for my weakening body that day. I noticed this little boy who was standing there looking at me with a curious and innocent grin, so I invited him to join me and help me finish my plate (when I say “help me finish”, I really meant “please get this greasy pile of Caribbean grindage away from my face before the waitress is gonna have to call for a mop and some sanitizer at table #12”). Bad shape. This kid eagerly accepted my invitation and kept me great company while I battled fatigue, nausea and frustration with the fact that the only “tropical paradise” I would see for the next 24 hours was a fading logo on his soiled t-shirt. Nonetheless, I made a local friend that day and he got treated to a great meal. That’s all you need sometimes to make your day.