Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Next Stop: Colombia

This week, I'll be exploring the vibrant culture of Colombia, specifically the Pacific city of Cali, otherwise known as the Salsa Capital of the World. Hosted by Tia Stephanie Tours, I'll be learning about Afro Colombian history and traditions, highlighted by the Petronio Alvarez Music Festival, which celebrates the region's music and dance. My adventures will also include salsa lessons, a cooking class, museum visits and hopefully, a climb up to Cristo Rey,  the towering Christ statue shown above. It's not as big as Rio's but it's the largest in Colombia and is a landmark for Cali, the country's third largest city.  I'm looking forward to picking up some (much needed) salsa moves and discovering the intricacies of this rich culture so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Curacao's Artful Architecture

The Caribbean region is known for happy, pastel-colored buildings that blend with the tropical landscape but no other island displays quite the architectural flavor of Curacao.  Nothing makes me happier than vivid, rich color so I was in a constant state of joy on the candy-colored streets of Willemstad, the island's capital. This Unesco World Heritage City combines Dutch colonial architecture with pure Caribbean style. A crayon box of colors cover the buildings so that walking the streets is like strolling through an art gallery. The flower accented building above is  a highlight of the Scharloo district, a historic neighborhood that's been transformed with street art.

The deep green house above is a landmark in Scharloo. It's called the Wedding Cake House because it was given as a wedding gift from a father to his newlywed daughter. It's the most photographed building in Curacao.

Downtown Willemstad enchants with 17th century architecture and bright hues everywhere you look. Curacao is famous for the kaleidoscope of colors, including citrus yellow, watermelon red, and cornflower blue that mark the island's iconic skyline.

The story goes that the buildings of Willemstad were once all stark white. A 19th century governor complained that gazing at all the glaring white facades highlighted against the intense sun, gave him migraine headaches. He ordered all residents to paint their houses any color but white. After his death, it was discovered that he owned stock in the only local paint company!  There's now a law that prohibits government officials from mingling business interests but there's also a law requiring owners of the historic structures to paint their building a bright hue and to repaint it every two years. 

I can't say that I'm mad at the governor or the reason that Curacao is so famously colorful. It's such an exciting, uplifting experience being surrounded by so much color that I think that more government officials should make laws requiring beauty and color.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Rosy Beauty of Curacao Flamingos

One of my favorite things about the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao is the color that drenches the architecture, landscape and culture. I was swept up by the joy of being completely encompassed by color but I was still taken aback to spot these flamingos. Splashing around in the shallow water of the Jan Thiel salt flats, this flamboyance of flamingos commanded attention with their bright pink feathers. They were just far way enough to be unbothered by tourists staring at them but close enough to cast a rosy spell.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Next Stop: Curacao

The summer adventures are really heating up! This week I'll be exploring the colorful landscape and intriguing history of Curacao. This Dutch Caribbean island has been on my bucket list for a long time so expect breathless posts about my experiences. I'll be strolling the capital city, UNESCO World Heritage site of Willemstad, taking in the iconic Queen Emma swinging bridge and the famous, candy-colored Handelscade backdrop, pictured above. I'll also be visiting several of Curacao's 35 cove-covered , well as local food trucks nightclubs (including 27, honoring famous musicians who died at 27-years-old) and Museum Kura Hulanda, which focuses on African art, history and the Dutch slave trade. Please look out for my updates about this fascinating island!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cuba's Legendary Tropicana Cabaret

If you consider Las Vegas as the ultimate in over-the-top, showgirl performances, think again. The inspiration for Las Vegas shows and all its colorful, feathered glamor was Cuba, specifically the legendary Tropicana Cabaret. Opened in 1939 on the grounds of a suburban Havana mansion, it evolved into the most spectacular open air cabaret ever seen.

Music icons like Nat "King" Cole, Paul Robeson, Omara Portuondo, Carmen Miranda and of course, Celia Cruz, graced the stage and celebrities filled the seats. I  heard about the history of the Tropicana, including the darkers aspects like the mobsters that ran it and the racism that kept dark-skinned black performers off the stage unless they were superstars like Nat "King" Cole. I knew immediately that I had to see it in person. Walking into the huge outdoor space, I was handed a red chrysanthemum and men were given cigars. Swaying palms, stages at every angle and blinking lights were all I could make out in the dim, 10pm light.

When the  show started and the lights blared and the music boomed, I can't even explain to you all that I saw. To my left, to my right, above my head, and up in the air, there was someone singing, dancing and prancing in outrageously scanty costumes. Thanks goodness I took photos (for a $5 fee that was well worth it) because it was truly a sensory overload.  There were musical stories told through each segment and I understood why cabaret shows are such a popular part of Cuban culture. Tropicana is the most famous but most hotels and even small rural towns host cabaret shows. Although some might consider them tourist traps, I was thrilled to witness a part of Cuban history.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Beach Day at Havana's Mar Azul

Havana earns lots of attention for the historic beauty of the architecture and the vibrancy of the art and music but I think the city's natural beauty sometimes gets overshadowed. Most visitors head to the resort town of Varadero when they want to enjoy the island's pristine beaches but Mar Azul, a popular local beach, is just 20 minutes from Old Havana.

You can hop a bus for just 5 CUC or take a taxi to the dreamy paradise that is Mar Azul. When I gazed at the perfect stretch of white sand and turquoise waves, I caught my breathe.  The sand is silky, the water is warm and the beach was uncrowded the entire five hours I spent there. It really is a local hangout so the vibe is laid back and the prices for umbrellas, chairs or freshly cracked coconuts is nominal.  I splashed in the water with my friends and then walked over to the beach shacks serving freshly caught fish.

I savored a whole, grilled red snapper with salad, rice and plantains for about $5. With reggae and salsa blasting from a boombox and a sea breeze swirling over me, I felt like I was in a part of heaven called Cuba.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lands End in Los Cabos

If you've ever traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, you have almost certainly visited Lands End, also called El Arco or the Arch. These natural rock formations rising out of the Sea of Cortez are as significant a landmark to Los Cabos as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The best way to view the formations is by boat and I almost fell over the edge as I gawked at El Arco.

Experts say that these rock formations date back 30 million years and they mark the point where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean. The Baja California peninsula is the second longest in the world and El Arco is located at the very southern tip, hence the name Lands End.

Besides being an essential photo op, El Arco is a sea lion hang out. I spotted several bobbing in the waves as the boat glided by the rocks. Unfortunately, they were too fast for me to snap a pic!