October is in the house! Next week I’m kicking off my Fall “Freedom” Tour 2015! I’ll be visiting 3 new destinations over the next few months…a journey to explore and highlight the diversity of this beautiful planet. Mountains…Culture…Sea…ending the tour in Eleuthera, which means “Freedom” in Greek. We are free to #travel, free to #explore, free to #learn, free to #discover…and most importantly, free to open our minds and gain a better understanding and appreciation of the world through simple interactions with people who are different, through learning about unique cultures and by establishing a personal connection with nature and the environment. Stay tuned for all the #GWAGB updates and photos…and please connect with me on Instagram for real-time updates from each destination 🙂
Posts Tagged With: travel blog
Hot damn, Sep 1 already??? What the…?? I was just barely stocking up on SPF-50! Welcome to this month’s #TravelTuesday special feature: The #Beach! I’m pretty bummed that Summer has zipped by faster than that shoe that got hurled at G.W.Bush’s head. I live near the coast, and I’m sure we’ll have a sweltry Indian Summer that lasts through October here in California, but I’m still gonna miss the Summer season of BBQ, baseball games and carefree fun in the sun…which seems like it lasted a week. So let’s get some virtual sand in our toes to last us ’til next Summer… 🙂
The people who inspire me most, they are not of a “privileged” world. They are the people I meet in the most unassuming corners of the globe. People who have “nothing”, yet would give you everything. They find happiness in the simplest of forms. They share a strong love and compassion with one another – void of wealth, modernity and prestige – and they reflect those feelings with the people they encounter in their daily lives. They would sleep on the floor and offer you their bed if you needed one. They will cook you a meal in exchange for some good company. Their lives are not dictated by social media or the pursuit of eminence. They are dictated by the basic demands of survival, yet they endure far less stress and negative emotion than most people who become absorbed by a life spent worrying about their social status, making money, impressing their peers and getting “hearts” on Instagram. I’ve met these people on many occasion. I’ve been humbled with every visit, every conversation, every smile and every invitation extended to me as a gesture of raw generosity and as a means to gain perspective into their world…unimaginable to us, but very normal to them. We can’t underestimate the value of having perspective in our lives. Our privileged lifestyle that we often view to be unfair or insufficient is just a distant dream for the majority of people with whom we share this planet. It’s always a good practice to switch out your lens from time to time and view the world through a different glass. Get a better view. It’s the best way to keep our eyes exercised on an ever-changing world, and to look beyond our fixed view of a world that presents itself as “normal” to us.
If you spend enough time in a desert landscape – under a scorching sun, surrounded by endless monotone dunes whose wind-carved domes blend seamlessly into the next – sometimes you start to imagine things. The “mirage” is a real thing. I often imagine buckets of cold beer and a Vegas pool party (as I enjoyed when I stayed at the actual Mirage). But sometimes you stumble upon a real life oasis. The endless horizon of white turns into a revitalizing mosaic of green and blue. Wild animals graze in the goodness of nature’s gift to this remote and barren land. My eyes, though stinging from the sunscreen-laced sweat dripping down my forehead, have not fooled me on this day…even with the bikini-clad woman trekking the dunes in the middle of nowhere (I’m surely suffering the effects of dehydration…or am I?) This is the contrasting beauty of life. I tell myself to take a moment, pause, breathe it in…and promise that the next time I hold a glass with an ice cold beverage in my hand I will raise it in its honor. #Jeri
Nothing peaks the top levels of my “satisfaction meter” like the sight of a fresh coconut and a machete-weilding native! On a hot day in the Caribbean, it’s the perfect compliment to a day spent lounging on the sand, synching your brain pulse to the rhythm of the sea and thinking about what you are going to write home about (sorry, instagram about) in your daily travel diary later that evening. “Oh look, fresh coconuts! Yay! Wait ’til I take a selfie of myself sipping rum-spiked nectar out of a coconut shell in paradise…haters gonna hate!” It is the cherry on top of the “island life” sundae. In the land that put the “Loco” in the “Coco”, you’re in for a real treat when you see one of these guys approaching you on any of the dreamy beaches of the Dominican Republic. On this particular day, I got a 2 for 1…a fresh coco and an even fresher hat to go with it! Things could be worse…much worse.
To truly know the wonderful country of Mexico, it’s always a good idea to talk to the locals…especially those who are regarded as the best teachers in Mexico Tourism. I had a chance to catch up with my amiga Piquis Rochin recently at Mexico’s biggest travel convention, Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2015, which was held in Acapulco. We got video bombed a few times and enjoyed talking about this great show!
It’s just something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do 🙂
So here I was, in the jungle of Petén, Guatemala just a few short weeks ago. I made my way up the zigzagging wooden staircase that ascends to the top of Temple IV in the mighty ruins of Tikal. Far less neck-slapping of mosquitos this time around. A dry, sunny April day made for an incredible contrast to my last experience in this mystical world of wonder, which saw me slipping around the ruins wearing a bright yellow rain slicker that made me look like a greased up banana with legs…hairy legs, even less flattering to the locals (perhaps not to the howler monkeys). I had made this trek and climb before, about 7 years ago. Same green bag, different shoes and camera. You always know you’re in a special place when, even though you’ve been there before, it feels like a unique experience the second time around, one that has your eyeballs peeled away in total awe of your surroundings, with an equal or greater impression felt than that of your first visit.
The jungle is raw, alive…constantly whispering its stories of the past though ancient structures and their decipherable remains. It breathes a silent air and echos a mystical tune as you stand above a canopy of endless green and inhale sweeping views of this storied land that has harbored centuries of warriors, kings, slaves, innovation, peace & prosperity, death & destruction. La Selva Maya – The Mayan Jungle. It’s still there…with the same sun casting its rays upon it daily, whether dampened or glowing. Oh, the stories it could tell…
“Destinations have periods of time.” Those were the preluding words of my friend Piquis Rochin in our interview back in February. Piquis is the Director of International Promotions for Acapulco, Mexico. To quote her is the most appropriate way I could think of to begin this feature, as she is without a doubt the most experienced and educated individual on the topic I am about to discuss: Tianguis. The word Tianguis means “marketplace” in Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztec Empire. It is Mexico’s biggest and most important travel convention and the largest of its kind throughout Latin America. For the past 40 years, Tianguis has provided the grandest stage for tourism professionals to engage in the business of promoting travel to Mexico, and this past March it returned to the place where it all began 40 years ago: Acapulco. One person has been there since the beginning to see it grow, evolve and inspire the travel industry masses. That is Piquis Rochin. As I promised her in February, the Gringo brought his Green Bag to the state of Guerrero to find out all about this one-of-a-kind event in Mexico’s colorful world of travel. (Courtesy of the Mexico Tourism Board Los Angeles and Aeromexico)
“Acapulco is where it all started. It’s where we have the best teachers in tourism” states Piquis, who has attended every Tianguis event for the past 40 years. With Acapulco having been selected to host Tianguis for 37 of its 40 years running, there’s no doubt where this excellent “marketplace” plants its flag and proudly declares its home base.
Acapulco is a perfect example of a global destination that truly enjoyed its “period of time”, for decades actually, as it was the original hotspot for celebrities, artists, entertainers and fun-in-the-sun seeking tourists beginning in the 1950’s. “Acapulco was Mexico”, says Piquis in our conversation. “When you thought of Mexico, you were talking about Acapulco.” This was the turf of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart. It was the ideal destination for the rich and famous, the “see and be seen” crowd, or for anyone who wanted to escape to a sunshine playground of ocean-front luxury hotels, world-class nightlife, casinos, fine dining, entertainment…and those legendary views of Acapulco Bay. Before Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and the Mexican Riviera, there was Acapulco…the place where Mexico tourism began. After a period of quiet over the past decade (and a dedicated effort to clean up its image), it is now on a freshly paved road to making its great comeback with a significant makeover in infrastructure, transportation and its service industry. With a brand new international airport, improved transport system (Acabús and Macrotúnel), remodeled main avenue and charming hotels around every bend of its scenic coastal road, Acapulco is back on the map and ready to show its fresh (and familiar) face to the world.
So, it is only fitting that the 40th anniversary of Tianguis, Mexico’s premiere travel event, would return to the Pacific coast where it all began four decades earlier…on that lovely stretch of coastline that once held the footprints of Liz Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley (and now the Gringo With A Green Bag’s) and would see them return on an annual basis to indulge in the grandeur, glitz and glam that originally defined this important global tourist destination.
From March 23-26, Acapulco was back in the spotlight. Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2015 brought together an international assembly of media, travel industry professionals, government officials, hoteliers and destination specialists who all shared in one common goal: to promote Mexico tourism. Speaking of comebacks, in 2014 Mexico enjoyed its finest year in tourism on record, with 29.1 million visitors getting their passports stamped in this colorful country of mariachis, “magical towns”, margaritas, Mayan ruins and a slice of paradise to be enjoyed for all those who enter its borders. This was an increase of 20% from 2013, with 5 million more people visiting the nation last year. Tourism in Mexico, the country’s third largest industry, brought in a record revenue of $16.2 billion in 2014. Mexico also proudly returned to the ranks of the top 10 travel destinations around the world. This fact was reinforced often during the week long event. The message was clear: Mexico is back…and it’s time for the world to come Live It To Believe It. (#LiveItToBelieveIt)
The official event kicked off with the ceremonial ribbon cutting by the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, who was joined by the Secretary of Tourism, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, and several government officials representing their respective states. The ceremony was brief, signaling the start to a highly-anticipated week full of business, culture, beach, sun, Mexican cuisine and quality entertainment (plenty of mescal sampling filled in the “downtime” gaps as well to keep everyone’s “spirits” high).
On day 1, the convention began with an inaugural luncheon with a who’s who of Mexico’s top government officials in attendance, including the president himself, who spoke about the current state of Mexico’s tourism industry and the goals for the future, praising the country’s tourism efforts for what has been accomplished in recent years. After some welcoming words from the Secretary of Tourism, followed by those of several high ranking government officials, it was time to get to the main course of the event and open the trade show arena for 4 days of networking, business, entertainment and an exciting atmosphere of inspiration to be shared throughout the travel conference. Of course, a little sol y playa had to be factored in the mix as well (rule #13 in the Gringo With A Green Bag Travel Handbook: “When the beach calls, you answer”). Acapulco wasn’t chosen as the host city of 37 Tianguis events for no reason. There’s a natural draw here, with plenty of paradise and culture to be soaked up in this lively, historic and beautiful corner of the country.
Throughout the week, a host of special events, keynote speakers, conferences and evening festivities would fill the busy Tianguis 2015 schedule. Among the guest speakers was former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, apparently a huge fan of Mexico, who was on hand to discuss the future of Mexico as a premiere tourism destination, adding that “Mexico is very well positioned” as it continues “moving in the right direction”. He spoke about the strong relationship that has been established between the United Kingdom and Mexico, a strategic alliance that is being built to strengthen ties and to promote tourism.
Inside the Mundo Imperial, which hosted the event, the atmosphere was as bright as the indigenous headdresses sported by the men and women working the exhibitor arena (think Las Vegas meets Chichen Itza). At times it felt like walking through a human piñata factory, with tour guides at your disposal in every aisle. As is usually the case with Mexico, a highly festive spirit was injected throughout the forum floor. With dancers form Veracruz twirling to jarocho music, lines of attendees eagerly waiting to feast on cochinita pibil tacos from the Yucatán, mescal samples saturating the palate of people passing by the Oaxaca booth, and smiling faces in their colorful traditional attire at every turn, it was obvious that this “marketplace” was one that was meant to leave a lasting impression for all of those who would come to partake. With 540 booths, over 2,400 exhibitors and 690 vendors, there were endless opportunities to learn about all the diverse attractions Mexico has to offer and sample their local flavors. After the Jose Cuervo tasting session, I was happy to boast that I had finally learned the proper way to drink tequila (notice how I said “drink”, not “shoot”…that’s pretty much the key right there. Treat it like wine, not the tequila “shot” we often (regretfully) experience in the land of gringos). My nostrils are still tingling from the aromas of fermented blue agave, citrus and cinnamon…but my buzz has long worn itself away.
Outside of the convention, various events around town were hosted by states such as Guanajuato, Mazatlan and Guadalajara, each which seemed to want to reinforce their presence by adding their own “wow factor”, featuring strong cultural elements, delicious food, strong drinks, music, dancing, entertainment and a celebratory flare of fireworks and 5 star hospitality. I, personally, was highly impressed with The Supremes cover band at the Gastronomy Celebration (hosted by the governor of Guerrero and the Secretary of Tourism) who belted out classic retro hits from the 70’s, as well as the dance moves from a few of my media colleagues. I took the night off from the mescal sampling station that night, so there was no “Do The Hustle” for this guy.
On its 40th birthday, Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2015 proved that age may just be a number, but with that number comes experience, growth, stories, adventures, and, if you’re lucky, success. When it comes to Mexico, I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Special thanks to my amigo Jorge Gamboa Patron, Director of the Mexico Tourism Board Los Angeles, for his gracious hospitality throughout Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2015. He often refers to me as “a great promoter of Mexico”, but he is definitely the title holder in this category. If he’s ever looking to crown a Gringo Ambassador to his country, however, I will gladly accept this honorary role. 🙂
(Talking Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2015 with mi amigo Jorge Gamboa Patron, Director of the Mexico Tourism Board Los Angeles)
Throughout my travels, when encountering something amazing for the very first time, I often find myself verbalizing a familiar phrase. It goes something like: “Wow…I’ve never seen anything like this before!” or “This place is on a whole different level!” or “What a f**king gem!”. Well, I have to admit, I did use a few choice curse words to describe the awesomeness of Antigua, Guatemala during Holy Week (Semana Santa). The good news is that you can find a church in Antigua about as easy as finding a pub in downtown Milwaukee, or a cheesehead in Green Bay, so one is never without an ample opportunity to pay one’s respects to the Good Lord and confess one’s sins, especially in the town that celebrates the holiest of Holy Weeks in all of Latin America with its unique tradition of street carpets (alfombras) and elaborate processions. In order to do this blog proper justice, I’ll have to go through my 5000+ images from my trip (ouch!) and pick out a worthy selection of photos to tell the unique story of a place and its apotheosized and honored tradition that you will truly “never see anything like” in any other place in the world. That place is Antigua, Guatemala…where traditions have no expiration and the celebration of Easter is a bit more than a few colored eggs and a pink basket. Throw in some pineapples, red peppers, tomatoes, colored sawdust, purple robes and a whole lot of incense, smoke and street food and you’ll be off to a decent start. Stay tuned for the full Semana Santa recap…and enjoy a few snapshots of the “awesomeness” I found around town in the meantime. 🙂 Trip courtesy of Bella Guatemala Travel