Thursday, May 30, 2013

Next Stop: Toronto & TBEX

Toronto happens to be one of my favorite cities. So much so that I actually moved there years ago but couldn't fathom living someplace even colder than Chicago.  I'm  thrilled to be returning to this vibrant, diverse city to attend the TBEX travel blogger conference. I spoke at the inaugural TBEX conference in Chicago so it will be exciting to see just how much this event has exploded over the years. I'll also be re-visiting some of my fave Toronto haunts like the Royal Ontario Museum and the landmark CN Tower, pictured above in the Toronto skyline. Visits to T.O's ethnic communities and music venues will round out my world-wind visit so stay tuned for posts next week.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Street Murals in Casco Viejo, Panama

Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Panama with an interesting history. In 1671, when notorious pirate Henry Morgan looted and destroyed the old city, Panama Viejo, the residents decided to build a safer and easier to defend city. They created Casco Viejo, which translates to "old helmet," a maze-like, walled city filled with elegant 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial architecture. Some locals don't even like to call it Casco Viejo because of the association of discarding old things. Instead, they prefer Casco Antiguo, because antiques are valued and preserved. Whatever the name, I found the neighborhood to be inviting and colorful, crammed with history and art. I visited at night, when the area comes alive with music and nightlife but that didn't stop me from noting these charming murals.

They appear to be painted by school children, documenting the neighborhood's cultural institutions like the Panama Canal Museum.

This mural welcomes visitors to Casco Antiguo, pointing out how everyone in the community brings individual gifts that help make a complete and thriving community as a whole. It's a reminder of how we're all connected and part of the global community, no matter where we are.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Identity Theft Blocking Device That Serves As a Travel Wallet

It doesn't look like a wallet. In fact, when the publicist for HuMn Wallets sent me two, thin aluminum cards for review, I thought she had mistakenly sent the packaging without the wallet. But no, HuMn wallets are really just two thin aluminum cards held together with an elastic band or shock strap. I couldn't figure out how these pieces were supposed to form a secure wallet so I watched the videos on the company's website. (Never thought I'd have to watch an instructional video on how to use a wallet but hey, we are in a new millennium. ) The creators are travelers who wanted a lightweight wallet that wouldn't bulge when filled with cards and would protect from RIFD skimming. They came up with a sleek design that blocks RFID scanners and can be customized with different aluminum and band colors. Cool. So how does it hold up while traveling? I tucked the wallet into my travel arsenal for Jamaica to find out.

It was really helpful to be able to separate my Jamaican dollars from my American bucks. I put the different currency on opposite sides of the card. I stuffed my credit card and ID inside the band and I pushed my business cards in a corner on the outside. Everything was orderly and clearly visible with no bulge. The issue came when I tried to quickly retrieve anything. The bands are industrial strength and not easy to stretch. I felt like I had to strengthen my fingers before I could ever hope to pull out my cash or cards in under a minute. I also missed a compartment for coins but I think this is a woman thing. Guys don't like to keep change jangling in their pockets (I polled them) whereas women have lots of nooks and crannies for this in their purses.  In fact, all the guys on my trip went gaga over this stylish wallet, sliding it in and out of their pockets. Starting at $75 for the HmMn mini, I thought the price was a little steep but works out reasonably when you factor in how long aluminum holds up compared to leather. Replacing the shock straps only costs $12 .All in all, I think HuMn wallets make great travel wallets, especially with the identity protection but I believe it's more appealing to men over women. What do you think?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Loudest Animal in the New World

Panama is noted for Howler monkeys and I was on alert for sightings during my entire time there.  I was excited about hearing the distinctive screeching that they make, although locals warned me that it can be very disorienting. They hang out in the rain forest, munching young leaves in treetops. I rode a canoe deep into the Panamanian rain forest and spotted a few monkeys, like the critter above, perched on a branch. We were apparently too late to see Howlers, who pump out their screams at the beginning and end of the day.Their powerful vocal cords have earned them the title of "loudest animal in the New World."  I'd still like to experience their unusual screams, although not unexpectedly. What animals are you looking forward to spotting on your travels?