Sunday, March 9, 2014
The Pacific coast of Mexico captivates anyone lucky enough to experience it. I traveled the 17 miles of coastline that make up the nine bays of Huatulco and I'm still amazed at the raw beauty. The deep sapphire blue water holds untold treasures, from a coral reef to scores of sea turtles, which I glimpsed up close.
I headed to Santa Cruz harbor and hopped aboard a little boat called Tequila. Sailing to the nine bays was an idyllic journey, with salty breezes and freshly picked avocados for guacamole in St. Agustin. But the waters were choppy on the way back and after four hours of sailing, a big dose of sea sickness smacked me with a vengeance. My crew was unfazed though, and they quickly took over photographic duties for me.
Sea turtles bobbed all over those choppy waves and I watched from a slightly steady corner as little faces popped up in the water.
We saw whole families swimming by and solo adventurers floating along.
Sea turtles nest along the beaches of Oaxaca around June and bury hundreds of eggs in the sand. They hatch two months later and make their way into the water. I spied several baby turtles that looked like they were just born a few months ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't join them for their leisurely swim, my fortitude had waned in the blistering Mexican sun, even though I was sailing on a boat called Tequila.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Located along the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Huatulco is cradled by the Sierra Madre mountains and the Coyula and Copalita rivers. The region's pinnacle of natural beauty can be found in its nine bays, or the Bahias de Hualtulco. I visited all nine bays on a motorboat one afternoon and I was stunned by the surreal vistas at every bay. They unfold along 18 miles of jagged coastline, with different color sands and different shades of water. San Agustin is the furthest out and the most difficult to get to. It is also the most beautiful.
The cerulean loveliness of San Agustin's beach grabbed me right away. There were no tourists to be seen, just pristine sand, a few rustic beach cafe shacks and a smattering of the 100 locals that live in the small village.
The landscape is mostly undeveloped with flowers, cacti and animals covering most of the town.
The San Agustin church sits on top of the hill overlooking the bay and I was rewarded with this view at the top.
Chickens, goats and turkeys roamed around freely and didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that they would one day be turkey tamales and birria or goat stew.
I spotted a few local surfers later in the day and this slogan scrawled on some rocks near the beach made me realize that quiet San Agustin is probably very popular with young singles. It basically translates to "no condoms, no party."
The sands of San Agustin beach are a soft pearly color but the unshaded shore made strolling barefoot a no go, unless you desire scorched feet.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Watching the Jamaican Bobsled Team at the Sochi 2014 Olympics conjures up memories of the classic '90s movie, Cool Runnings for a lot of people. Based on the storied 1988 Jamaican Bobsled Team that managed to capture global attention, you can't make up a crazier and more inspiring tale. Seeing the two-man team reminded me of my own precarious bobsled run down Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Tucked into the lush rain forest, the Bobsled at Mystic Mountain captures stunning tropical vistas as well as the nerve-jangling bobsled experience. An exhibit with the famous Jamaican bobsled uniform and stats on the original team's history fill a corner before you arrive at the bobsled.
Before hopping on, I was greeted with the ominous sign above. There seemed to be lots of conditions and precautions for what I thought was a straightforward ride. Turns out that the bobsleds are actually a sports installation, developed to operate like a real bobsled. That means that the contraption works with gravity and is equipped with brakes. Brakes. So, you know, you can stop it as it speeds down the mountain. I was tempted to turn around but Ocho Rios is a long way from Chicago. I stepped in and was instructed on how to use the brakes. As the sled twisted and winded down the mountain, I kept the brakes on the entire time and it still whizzed along pretty fast.
I was rewarded with serene views like the one above. Flying down a tropical mountain appears to be much easier than tearing down an icy hill but that's just my perspective. Even though the 2014 Jamaican Bobsled Team finished 29 out of 30 teams, they continue to maintain cult hero status. The video for their official theme song below demonstrates just why Jamaica always wins, on some level.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
It has been 40 years since the quintessential reggae band Third World, graced the globe with its smooth and spirited rhythms. Debuting live as the opening act on Bob Marley's 1974 European tour, they have maintained an international presence ever since. One of the most enduring and popular reggae acts in the world, they spread the music as Jamaica's official reggae ambassadors. A genre-defining musical mix of cultural lyrics and contagious melodies laced with funk and soul, the Third World sound was personified by Bunny Rug's rich and commanding vocals. I have been very lucky to have experienced the magic of Third World many times, the most recent at Jamaica's Jazz and Blues Fest last year. A third World concert always features thrilling musicianship and lots of high energy. I watched as Bunny, also known as William Clarke, pushed the dancing crowd into a frenzy, belting out hits like "Try Jah Love," "Reggae Ambassador" and "1865 (96 degrees in the Shade)". Hailing from the mountains of Mandeville, one of my favorite cities in Jamaica, Bunny represented the island's pride and culture well. He was stricken by leukemia at only 65 years old. I'm heartbroken that I'll never see him prance and sing across a stage again. But the music lives on. "As sure as the sun shines way up in the sky/today I stand here a victim the truth is I'll never die." RIP Dear Bunny.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
I'm so sorry that's it's been so long since my last post but I was hunkered down writing my book, which was due yesterday. Now that it's at the publisher's, I can get back to my routine, which includes traveling and writing about it. I'll write a post about my book closer to the publication date but I really wanted to look back at all the wonderful places I visited in 2013 before I start my 2014 travels. My travel schedule was really busy last year but these are the places that I loved. Oaxaca, Mexico was one of them, that's Santa Cruz Bay pictured above. The nine bays of Huatulco, Mexico are breathtaking, it was a dicey experience for me to see all of them, since I was in a boat for hours and suffered from seasickness but it was totally worth it.
This is the last bay, St. Augustine. I sampled fresh guacamole (they literally went to pick the avocados) in a beach cafe and climbed the top of the hill that overlooks the bay, to the local church. I promise I'll do more posts on Oaxaca soon.
Jamaica, of course, was an unforgettable time, especially since I kicked off the year there. I visited a Rastafarian village in Montego Bay and they insisted that I join in with the band.
Galena, Illinois has always been one of my favorite local towns. We still have bottles of wine from this lovely vineyard.
Panama was non-stop excitement, from the canal, to the Embera village, to the rain forest pictured above.
My beautiful St. Lucia never disappoints and I captured loads of pictures of the dramatic panorama of the Pitons, above.
Toronto has always been a favorite of mine although the TBEX conference turned it into a hectic dash from one corner of the city to the next. My food tour of Chinatown by a local chef was a great highlight.
Door County, Wisconsin is gorgeous all year round but I was "lucky" to visit when eight inches of snow fell. I snowshoed, snowmobiled and even zip-lined against this dazzling scenery.
This is another view of Door County's frozen beauty.
At the Zora Fest, I sampled a lot of things but fried Oreos, Twinkies or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were not featured in my sampling. They were actually sold out. I guess fried sugar really is a quintessential American experience. What trips did you love last year?
Saturday, December 21, 2013
In South African indigenous cultures, death is only reserved for animals. The human spirit lives on so it is said that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has passed on, he has gone to join the ancestors, he has gone home. I have spent the last few weeks mourning this inevitable fact, along with the rest of the world. Madiba (his Xhosa clan name) represents so much more than a political leader to me. The brutal inhumanity of apartheid that he and his people braved, from being torn from his ancestral land to being imprisoned for 27 years because he had the audacity to protest, is inspiring not because he survived but that he refused to surrender his dignity or humanity during the process. He goes down in history for his formidable feat of forgiveness and reconciliation but he was also a seasoned fighter who knew when to wage a battle and when to fall back. My own political awareness began with images of the children of Soweto fighting off armed police, posting "Free Mandela" posters on my college campus and arguing for the morality of divestment of South African ventures. Watching the greatness of Madiba's life played back over the last few weeks has made me realize how little we have done to promote justice and equality and how crucial it is for global peace. His most memorable words during the Rivonia Trial of 1964, which would result in a life imprisonment sentence, still hold lessons for us all:
"During me lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony, and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
He lived to see his ideal practiced in theory but the reality is still a distance away for many South Africans and people around the world, including the U.S. I don't know if we will ever witness another freedom fighter with the strength and conviction of Madiba again but I do know that there are too many battles that will continue to be waged. Like most great political movements, music played a significant role in the struggle to end apartheid and release Mandela and other political prisoners. There are dozens of songs that celebrate Madiba and call for his return but my favorite is this one by Vusi Mahlasela, "the Voice of South Africa." You can hear the beauty and fortitude of the South African spirit in his soaring vocals. You can also hear the wisdom of his urging, "We must give something to the world and not just take from it."
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
It's turning out to be a very busy year end for me. I'm still processing Oaxaca and the beauty of Huatulco but this week I'm off to one of my favorite islands, St. Lucia. This press trip is sponsored by Coconut Bay Resort, where you may recall, I experienced the unexpected pleasure of paintball in paradise, a few years ago. I'll be tackling another unlikely adventure this time, with a dive into kite surfing as well as stand-up paddle boarding. Wish me luck on that, I'm not known for having great balance so we'll see how this turns out. I'll also return to St. Lucia's famous drive in volcano and take a catamaran journey around the island. One thing I won't be attempting this time, is scaling St. Lucia's twin peaks, The Pitons, one of which is captured above.I need to leave something for the next visit! Stay tuned for St. Lucia posts and pics next week.