Category: South America

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? A Book by Thomas Kohnstamm

This title caught my eye when I was perusing the travel section at our local Chapters store.  It is the story of Thomas Kohnstamm, a fellow travel addict that struggles with trying to settle down to a stable job, while the lure of the open road keeps pulling him back out.  He decides that he can’t fight this addiction any longer and makes the transfor51f13u1dt4l_sl500_aa240_1mation to professional travel writer, in order to try and sustain his bohemian lifestyle.  Thomas lands a job as a Lonely Planet Guidebook writer in Brazil and takes the reader on the hilarious journey that results in the kind of Guidebook that you read each time you head off to a new destination.

The cover of the book describes it as ‘A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics & Professional Hedonism’.  If that doesn’t make you want to read on, what would?  If you have ever wondered what it would be like to work for a major travel guidebook company or thought that  it would be a dream come true to have a job that required you to travel and research exotic destinations, then you have to read this book.  As long as you are not offended by the frequent f-bombs, tales of promiscuity and drunken debauchery, it is a really interesting read.  You learn a bit about Brazil while reading about the process of writing a guidebook.  I’ve always been curious about what that would really be like.  Whenever I travel, I always wish that I would meet a guidebook writer so that I could ask some questions.  How much do you get paid?  If the restaurants, bars and hotels don’t know you are a writer, how do you get such detailed information?  Wouldn’t that tip them off?  Do you travel alone all that time?  Is this the best job in the world?  The author answers all of these questions and more.  I would be interested to read a similar tale from a female perspective.  I wonder if all travel writers have the same experience?

I’m not giving the ending away by telling you that he claims that the writers don’t really visit all of the sites listed in the book, nor do they really follow the policy that says they cannot accept anything for free.  Lonely Planet doesn’t actually claim that they don’t take anything for free, they claim the writers don’t accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.  So…. really they can accept freebies.  I don’t really see anything wrong with this, as long as they really are objective.  I think it would be better to identify yourself as a LP writer because more doors would open up for you and therefore, more doors are opened for its readers.  I would still continue to buy the books, because, even if all the details aren’t exactly right, it gives you a place to start.  I read guidebooks just to decide if the place is the destination I’m looking for and what things I want to try to see and do once I’m there.  I rarely use the restaurant sections because there are always so many to choose from, that there is no need to go searching out the one that millions of other readers have also been to.  Having said that, there will always be a place for a guidebook in my backpack despite the claims of questionable ethics, I’ve always found them to be invaluable.

Argentina: A Themed Staycation

A staycation (or stay-cation, or stacation) is a period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home.

As there are many families going through tough economic times right now, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Staycations.  Even if you can’t afford to go far during your vacation time this year, you can still take the opportunity to make it a fun time for your kids and add a little culture while you’re at it.  Recently, we hosted an Argentinian Wine Tasting Party and I thought why not extend this fun to the whole family and make a week out of it.  I love a theme, so I’ve come up with some ideas so that you can pretend you are visiting Argentina for the week.

Most important thing you need is food. Argentinians love their beef and barbecued meats so stock up.  This recipe for ‘Best Chimichurri Sauce’ was found in House and Home Magazine in August’08.  Chimichurri Sauce is an Argentinian condiment.  I served it with beef tenderloin, barbecued and then thinly sliced, placed on top of fresh bread slices and topped with this garlic and parsley condiment.  It was delicious and easy to make!

For best results, use a mini food processor to turn the aromatics into a paste.

3 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 shallots
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves ( or 1/2 dried)
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
several grindings of black pepper
pinch sugar
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves ( gently pressed into measuring cup)
1/2 cup olive oil

1. Combine first 10 ingredients in mini food processor and puree to a paste.  Scrape into bowl.
2. Finely chop parsley in food processor.  Add to garlic mixture.
3. Stir in olive oil.  Chill at least one hour (or overnight) before serving with barbecued meats.

Next the family needs to learn to Tango! You can watch instructional videos on youtube such as this one:

Get some roses (real or plastic) for the kids to use as they tango around the room.  You can also find tango music to play on itunes by listening to the Latino radio stations or find music to purchase by typing Argentina tango in the search box.

Greet your kids each morning with ‘Ola Buenos dias’ and say ‘Gracias’ at every opportunity.  Encourage your kids to learn some new Spanish words.  You can find free Spanish lessons on-line at:

Plan activities that you would normally do on vacation, but near your own home such as hiking, swimming or kayaking.  Before you go, you can watch some videos on Argentina so that you can imagine the scenery while you are there.

Youtube videos:

Ushuaia, Argentina- penguins-

Buenos aries-

Patagonia- Argentina-

Iquazu waterfalls-

Other ideas:

  • organize a soccer game with friends and family
  • For young children give them a snorkel and mask in the bathtub to find the penguins and seals

Do you have any other ideas?  Post a comment and share!

Border Crossing in Bolivia Requires a Little Faith

It had been a long and bumpy ride. We were squeezed into an old bus, which we affectionately referred  to as “ the chicken bus”. Not that there were chickens on the bus with us, but we felt that there could have been had we hit the right day. We pulled into a dusty little town on the Peru-Bolivia border. The rest of the locals on the bus filed off and dispersed into the various shacks that lined the street. As our packs were being thrown down from where they had been strapped to the roof of the bus, we looked around for a clue to tell us where to go next. We put our backpacks on and started to wander off as if we knew where we were going. A few buildings away we see a sign that says “Cambio de Change”. Okay, that’s a start. We had to change our money over to Bolivianos. As we headed towards it, a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old points in the opposite direction. We continue to walk casually toward the Cambio de change, when he follows us and continues to point in the opposite direction, saying something in Spanish.

Photo courtesy of Toastforbrekkie's on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Toastforbrekkie's on Flickr

We pause, and look in the direction he’s pointing. There is a sign on a building that looks like it might be a government sign so we shift our path as if we were always planning to head that way. When we arrive and peer into the building. We realize he is right. This is immigration. We shuffle along passing several immigration officers who look at our passports. I answer “ La Paz” and “ seven days “ with seven fingers in the air, hoping I am answering the right questions. Our passports are stamped and we are back out on the dirt road.

We start to walk towards the Cambio de change again, anxious to get some cash before too many locals notice that we have money to change. The young boy steps out again and motions diagonally across the street, this time walking us directly where we need to go. Customs. This time the forms we need to fill out are available in English so we get this done pretty quickly. We say “Ola” to the officer, hear a stamp, then “ gracias” and we are off again. The boy is right by our side now, taking us across the street to a different “ Cambio de change” than the first one we were headed for.

Now I’m starting to understand. This boy is trying to take us to one of those money changing spots where they rip you off with a ridiculous exchange rate and he gets a cut. “Just change a little bit, and we’ll get more in La Paz.” I whisper to Sean. Watch your pockets”. The boy takes us in and Sean changes only the money in his pockets but none in his money belt. Hmm, the exchange rate seems to be about what we expected, perhaps even a bit less. We’re done here. Money is all safe and sound where nobody can get at it and we’re back out on the street again. The boy is motioning for us to follow him again. We can’t keep following, because we’re supposed to be boarding a bus again for La Paz. We look around, and realize there are no buses. The bus we got off has turned around and is headed back for Puno, Peru. The boy is smiling now and waving for us to follow him. “ Bus?” Sean asks. “ La Paz?” I say. Nodding the boy starts walking, looking back to see if we are following. We are of course, because we don’t know what else to do. The sun is getting low in the sky now and we appear to be walking out of town. It seems like we are walking for a really long time on this main dirt road lined with dirt colored buildings. I am starting to get really nervous now. My mind is racing. He turns down a side road and we pause to look at each other. Should we keep going? We’ve got to find this bus. He’s taking us deeper into town.

“Where is the bus?” He points in the direction we are heading. “ The bus is in here?” “ Si, si” he replies. It looks like we are starting to walk amongst people’s homes and the streets are becoming narrower, almost like alleys. Visions of being mugged are starting to flash through my head. It’s all very clear now, he’s taking us to his older brothers who are going to smile and welcome us into their home right before they pull a knife, hold it to my throat and threaten Sean for everything he’s got. “ He’s got all the money” the boy will tell his brothers in Spanish as they route through our bags and start to make a small cut in my throat when they don’t find much. Sean and I will start to pray, I will cry, Sean will make some quick move in an attempt to get them off us and yell run! Terrified, I will start to run and look back to find he’s not with me. I’ll back and find them fighting. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I will pray that somebody will come and find us.

“ Lisa” Sean says “ do you know which bus we’re getting on?” I look up and we’re at the bus stop. He was taking us there after all. I look at the boy and I’m actually seeing him for the first time. He is dark haired with beautiful dark eyes that are smiling back at me. He is proud that he has brought us here. He adjusts his baseball cap that is too big for his head and speaks to the bus driver to arrange our seats. We board the bus and look out the window at this snotty nosed kid who helped us find our way. We decide we should give him some money and Sean digs through his pockets to find something to give him. I am so impressed that I want to take a picture of him. Back off the bus, Sean gives him some money and I snap a photo of the two of them. I am ashamed that I didn’t trust this young boy and glad that he couldn’t read my mind when my imagination had started to run away with itself.

Feeling good about ourselves and finally able to relax we settle into our seats. Just before the bus departs, the boy climbs onto the bus. “ No good” he tells Sean and hands him back one of the coins he gave him. “ No good” he pauses and waits for us to answer. “No good?” Sean asks, confused by this statement. He is still waiting for a response. Somebody behind us speaks English and explains that the money is not real. Apparently we had given him counterfeit money. We’re not sure how we got it or how he knew, but agreed to exchange the coin for another one. He smiles, nods and hops off the bus. He waits for the bus to leave and waves to us as we go, sending us off safely on our next adventure.

© Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Meals to Remember- The Best Food in the World

During this festive season, I’ve been doing a lot of eating and it seems that food begets food.  The more I eat, the more I think about what my next culinary delight is going to be, and so I have been reflecting on some of the best meals I’ve ever had and whether or not I could re-create them.  This is unlikely since, although I love to eat food, I have little time or patience for actually preparing it.  I guess that is why all of the meals on my list, are those that were cooked by someone else!

This will be one of the many posts I will have about food.  The following list is meant to get your taste buds watering.  They are not in any particular order, just the order in which I am recalling each feast.

1.  La Quebecoise, La Paz, Bolivia- On a dark, tree-lined street, where each quaint home, building and business has a wraught-iron fence and a bell to ring to be received at the front door.  It was my birthday, 2003, and we decided to try out this homey French Canadian restaurant, found so far away from home.  Regrettably, I don’t remember the exact name of the dish I had, but I remember it resembled cannelloni and was served with fresh baked bread and good wine.  This restaurant is highly recommended for a date night!

2.  Happy Campground, Rome, Italy- Home cooked meals prepared by the family that owns this campground, were served on a porch or at tables set in amidst the greenery.  Between my husband and I we tried most of the pastas on the menu and they were all so flavorful that we didn’t want to eat anywhere else.  Great place to take your kids as menu was mainly pastas and pizzas that they would enjoy.  The campground had a nice pool and provided transportation to the train station into the city.

3.  Forodhani Gardens ( Night Market ), Stonetown, Zanzibar, Tanzania- This is the place that I learned to like seafood.  Every night the fishermen set up food stalls and charcoal grills ready to prepare their catch of the day.  The choices are endless.  I tried crab for the first time, and have never again tasted anything like it.  It was so fresh, and right off the boat.  I also had kebabs of flounder, swordfish and other delicacies of the sea.  I tried the Zanzibari pizza too.  I will put a disclaimer on this that I got sick following this meal, however none of my other 3 traveling companions did, even though we all ate the same thing.  Even though I paid for this meal after the fact, I am still putting it on my list because it was that good!  Oh, and it was also probably the cheapest feast I have ever had.

4.  Freeman’s on the Alley, New York City, USA –  My meal was a chicken dish that is no longer on the menu, however, my husband ordered the ‘Seared Filet Mignon’ which was to die for.  It was so simple, yet so tasty. It came with a whole roasted onion and a large dollop of horseradish cream.  I’m salivating just thinking of it.  It was also reasonably priced for NYC at $24.   We shared the restaurant with Mike Myers where I had to restrain myself from going to his table and reciting ‘Git in ma belly’ or that will cost ‘ One Million Dollars’.  Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) was also in the restaurant that evening.

5.  Bha Bha, A Persion Bistro, Naples, Florida- Located in a strip mall but elegantly decorated, this bistro was a delightful surprise!  I went with my family so was able to try a wide variety of fragrant dishes all served over saffron basmati rice.  I would recommend, Shireen Polo with Saffron poached chicken, Duck Fesenjune (a succulent orange braised duck with pomegranate and walnut sauce), and Lamb Bademjune ( done in tomato lemon sauce with eggplants and sour grapes ).  This restaurant was also very accomodating for our baby.

6.  The Press Gang, Halifax, NS, Canada- There are many restaurants in Halifax, I’d like to list but that will have to be a separate post.  For now, I’d like to highlight the Sweet Potato and Blackened Scallop Chowder and Flourless  Chocolate Espresso Cake I enjoyed at this cosy restaurant located in an historic building.

7.  Bar des Imagens/Costa do Castelo, Lisbon, Portugal-  The outdimg_1500oor patio has spawling views of the city and a casual relaxed atmosphere.  The food was prepared with such care.  Suprisingly my husband daughter and I had the restaurant to ourselves most of the evening as we dined.  I ordered a salad prepared with greens, beets, mixed vegies, goat cheese, garlic and oil.  The main course was a chicken dish and then we splurged on a chocolate dessert that melted in my mouth.  I wish we’d had another night so we could go back there!

I haven’t even started to share my favorite Asian cuisine but I think I’ll leave it at that for now.  I’m craving so many things I’m going to have to sign off, while I go make a snack.  I hope your holidays are filled with good food and good company.  Don’t forget to make a donation to your local food bank so that the less fortunate can also eat well this holiday season.  Bon Appetit!


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