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Articles Blog

Darwin, Australia

Karyn Planett

(Part 1)

It Takes A Licking And Keeps On Ticking

That could be Darwin’s motto. This city has suffered more than its fair share of ravages, only to be raised from the ashes again and again like the Phoenix. These folks have earned their stripes with a long and challenging history.

The early days were marked by the discovery of gold in nearby, by Northern Territory standards, Pine Creek in 1871. The town grew by leaps and bounds. Chinese prospectors arrived. Some 3,500 Chinese people moved into the Top End, as it is called. Their descendants, now fifth generation, still reside in Darwin.

The old folks were prospectors and pearlers, buffalo hunters and cattle stockmen, trepangers (sea cucumber harvesters) and overlanders.

As WWII raged on in the Pacific, Darwin became a permanent fixture in the news from Australia. Japanese Imperial forces launched more than 60 air attacks on Darwin. On February 19, 1942 their forces sank 21 out of 46 Australian and American navy ships resulting in the loss of 243 lives. The WWII Oil Storage Tunnels were built following the bombings and are now open to visitors with an interest in military history.

And there were cyclones—the biggest in 1897, 1937, and the cataclysmic one for the history books on Christmas Eve 1974. That was Tracy and she struck with full fury in the wee hours, 3:05am to be exact. When the wind gauges shattered at 135 mph, those who were there estimated that the gusts topped out at 186 miles per hour. What was left of Darwin included 66 dead, the majority of the houses demolished. Only 400 of the original 11,200 were left standing. Thirty thousand people had to be airlifted to the south, the largest airlift in the nation’s history. Bulldozers leveled what was left and the Top Enders rebuilt.  

Some say the spirit that sparks 125,000 Top Enders to stand up in the face of such adversity is the same dynamic that creates their uniqueness. Others go so far as to exclaim that these folks are the “real” Ozzies. They are survivors who literally live on the edge—of the continent, of the sweeping Outback, and of the incalculable wet of Kakadu where rivers flood, monsoons roar, and crocs can be seen crossing the roads or floating in the mangrove swamps and billabongs (lakes).

It is these same folks who are said to hold the record for the world’s highest per capita beer consumption. Brewers celebrate the fact that each resident quaffs, on average, the equivalent of 650 American-sized bottles of beer annually. Blame it on the heat! They prefer something called “stubbies” which are actually a full two-liters of beer!

Two Seasons

We’re right on the cusp. The wet season (The Wet) ends about now—running from October to March. Everything is green. The barramundi are running. Electrical storms rip open the skies. And few tourists are found clogging up important sights. That’s the good news. The bad news is the combination of humidity and high temperatures can cause even the strong to wilt. Dirt roads can be off limits. And swimming in the sea is unwise due to “stingers”—box jellyfish that pack a wallop you won’t soon forget. Before swimming, get an update from local authorities on these jellyfish.

The Dry starts soon. That’s when cattlemen work their stock, planeloads of visitors descend from the skies, and temperatures seem much friendlier. Hopefully, we’ll hit Darwin on a good day weather-wise.

Darwin Today

Darwin is, today, Australia’s gateway to Asia. Through her portals pass the people of many nations. Current estimates are that somewhere between 50 and 60 different ethnic groups call Darwin home. The city is, after all, closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney! This links Australia with the products and tourism of Asia to the benefit of all, it seems. Your look about town could include a visit to the Chinese Temple (Joss House) to understand this connection.

Official structures, some rebuilt versions of their former 19th-century selves, are impressive including the Old Admiralty House, the Old Town Hall, Police Station, and Government House. Several structures date back to 1884 and reflect the architecture of the day. There’s a respectful WWII Memorial in Bicentennial Park and the 84-acre Botanical Gardens display some 400 tropical palms. A cruise in the harbour affords the visitor the opportunity to see the effects of a 26-foot tide and hear the tale of Japanese air raids on this body of water that’s twice the size of Sydney Harbour.  

Well, you might want to take time out from your sightseeing and step into one of the showrooms offering a wide range of sea pearls. This area is famous for pearling and several showrooms present brief histories outlining the pearl divers who had to brave the dangers of the deep to harvest these jewels of the sea. And, you just might want to pick up a bauble as a memory of your trip to Darwin.

The Iditarod

Karyn Planett

World’s Longest Dog Sled Race 

For more than six thousand years, dog sleds have been the transportation backbone for native people of the north. As the Alaska and Canadian territories were settled, dog sleds were used to haul mail and supplies into and gold out of the interior during harsh winter months. One of the major Alaskan routes ran from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to Nome on the Bering Sea.           

In the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic struck Nome. There were no roads to Nome at the time, air travel was dicey at best, and the sea routes were blocked by ice. So, a relay team of 18 dog sleds and mushers was organized to rush the life saving serum 674 miles over the Iditarod Trail from Nenana to Nome. The hero of that effort was a dog, named Balto. A statue of him now stands in New York’s Central Park. 

In 1974, The Iditarod Race was inaugurated to celebrate this epic event and to help preserve a sled dog culture that was fast being forgotten in an era of snowmobiles, airplanes and highways.

The Route 

The Iditarod follows a northward route from Anchorage to Nome. Officially, it covers 1049 miles (reportedly because Alaska was the 49th state) but the actual mileage varies depending on which of two routes is used in a given year (much like the Tour de France).           

The race takes dogs and mushers from sea level to 3500 feet. They endure temperatures from just above to well below freezing (one year the temperature on the course with wind chill was minus 130 degrees). And while the first race required three weeks to complete, the current record is just under nine days and one hour.

The Race 

Between 55 and 75 mushers usually start the race. In 2000, there were 82 teams on the start line. But the rippingly-harsh conditions of the Alaskan wilderness take their toll on both dogs and mushers. 

Race rules require between 12 and 16 dogs on each team. But if a dog is “dropped” during the race he is flown home and cannot be replaced. The reasons for dropping dogs vary from sore wrists and shoulders to a common cold, either of which can slow down the dog and therefore the entire team. Most teams finish with 8-10 dogs though five is the minimum allowable. Mushers are not immune to the same types of injuries and often have to retire themselves for the safety of their team. As a result, the most teams ever to finish a race was 63, and in years with more extreme conditions, there are many fewer than that. 

The race has 22 checkpoints with three mandatory rest stops. At each checkpoint there are race officials, veterinarians who check the dogs (though nobody to check the mushers), food drops, indoor rest areas, and campsites. 

Although teams can pull a typical 40-pound racing sled packed with about 100 pounds of mandatory equipment, they also carry a male musher who may weigh 200 pounds. Perhaps that’s why women have usually done well in this race! And teams reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour though 11 or 12 mph is more efficient as it conserves the dogs’ stamina. The dogs can run for about six or seven hours without getting too tired and teams will generally follow a six hours on/six hours off schedule, averaging about 60 miles a day.

The Dogs 

The modern racing dog is a mutt—a mixed breed that has Malamute, Siberian Husky, hound, pointer and probably a wee bit of wolf coursing through its veins. Taken together they add up to the breed known as Alaskan Husky. And, according to their admirers, these dogs love to pull (though it’s unclear how this information was obtained). They’re friendly to a fault so non-lovers of sloppy dog kisses best beware. Their favorite temperature swings between +10 (t-shirt weather) and –20 degrees Fahrenheit (fur coat weather). They live up to 17 years and can do sled work for most of that time, no doubt competing on the Seniors Tour. 

Sled dogs claim specific positions in the team and, while versatility is desirable, different positions require different characteristics. Lead dogs are willing to run in front, find and follow the trail, set the pace, and respond to their musher’s commands. Swing dogs occupy the second row. They help the lead dogs set the pace and turn the sled. Next are several rows of Team dogs. They basically follow the tail in front of them and provide the “horsepower” for the team. Last in line are the Wheel dogs that act as the steering wheels for the sled.

The Food 

Always a subject of great interest to fans … the modern sled dog diet is a thing of appetizing complexity, even envy. For fans of Burger King burgers, think “The Whopper”. 

Every day during The Iditarod, each dog will consume between 10,000 and 14,000 calories. Their metabolisms are designed to burn carbs, fat and protein with great efficiency (oh, the unfairness of it all). The mushers, by the way, are not named not for yelling “mush” to make the dogs go. No, “mush” is a prepared stew of dry dog food, hamburger, an extra helping of lard, and water that a hungry husky adores. And, these dogs are fussy when it comes to getting the temperature of this repast just right. In higher outdoor temperatures (near freezing) the stew is served cold. On colder days, this mush is warmed on stoves carried along on the sleds. 

So, all in all, knowing about this pampered life, the dogs are also two pairs of custom booties to protect their paws, and about 3,000 training miles per season, it’s no wonder these dogs love to pull. 

St. Malo, France

Karyn Planett

One might always expect glowing praise, glossy photos, and romantic text from the French Government Tourist Board. Yet their description of Brittany is spot on. It reads, “Brittany is as wild as the gales blowing in from the Atlantic which chew on granite cliffs and bend the backs of fishermen who are tougher than oyster shells."           

You might agree that this paints quite a vivid picture, even for an armchair traveler. And to these descriptive words you might add your own verbal impressions. Or take time to sketch a grassy hill so typical of the Brittany countryside. As a modern day memory maker you could scan the horizon with your camcorders or snap a pic with a panoramic lens. Some visitors simply let the images plant indelible seeds in their mind's eye. But everyone who visits Brittany comes away with powerful impressions, lifelong portraits, and pictures one can call up at the simple mention of a name, like St. Malo. 

Turned Toward The Sea       

Protected by mighty grey granite walls, St. Malo looms with her face toward the rugged waters of the Gulf of St. Malo, looking toward the town of Dinan just across the Rance Estuary. Further out to sea, one hundred or so miles across the English Channel, lies the English coastline. Brittany's inhabitants are Celts and as such are hearty souls who have long lived off these bountiful waters.           

Learned historians tell us that St. Malo's early settlements were built up on a fortified island strategically located along the Rance River. This was done so her citizens could exert their dominance not only over the regional waterways but also the expanse of open water to the north. Bolstered by this superior position the local seamen, who had a slight eye toward piracy, demanded pay-offs from ships sailing through the Channel, particularly the English ships. In time, these payments funded a class of mariners who acquired sizeable fortunes.           

Even so, the English still arrive daily by ferry from their homeland. And today the tide has turned, so to speak, as the English are the welcomed guests of St. Malo's hospitable citizens. 

The Heavy Hand Of War 

In August of 1944, German soldiers were entrenched in the town of St. Malo. The American forces attacked them with their full fury. While the city suffered damage, the remarkable ramparts that dated back to the 13th and 14th centuries, remained standing. Therefore, today's visitors can still walk these walls of the city's famous Citadelle. Porte St. Vince is one of this Citadelle's most important features, along with the Grande Porte. Inside the castle is the town museum, which displays memorabilia from earlier pirating days, as well as items from the Nazi occupation.

Mont St. Michel Looms 

Carved from and perched upon the same grey granite that provided the stones for St. Malo's ramparts, Mont St. Michel is like no other "island." As Venice stands alone in its unique beauty, so does Mont St. Michel. It rises up from the sea like a shrine to Christendom; a monument to the Archangel Michael who brandished a mighty sword to ward off the evils of the world.           

Today, this island is connected to the mainland by a motorway. In years gone by, however, it knew only extreme isolation and endless suffering. Monks passed bone-chilling yet silent years here, as did prisoners sentenced to this exile. The monks were even forced to relinquish their living quarters to the prisoners at the "request" of the government. 

Currently, the French government is pleased that thousands of tourists arrive annually to visit Mont St. Michel and, unlike the French prisoners who languished there for years, visitors may come and go. But, they pay dearly to make this pilgrimage. Some even overnight in one of the island's few inns. Among those famous figures that have walked these streets are Leon Trotsky and Margaret Thatcher. 

The Abbey 

The Benedictine Abbey, which is the island's centerpiece, was founded in 708 by Saint Aubert. This Gothic masterpiece, known as the Merveille, inspired not only all who witnessed it throughout the centuries, but continues to do so to today’s visitor. It so inspired the French author Guy de Maupassant that he wrote, 

"I reached the huge pile of rocks which bears the little city dominated by the great church. Climbing the steep narrow street, I entered the most wonderful Gothic dwelling ever made for God on this earth, a building as vast as a town, full of low rooms under oppressive ceilings and lofty galleries supported by frail pillars. I entered that gigantic granite jewel, which is as delicate as a piece of lacework, thronged with towers and slender belfries which thrust into the blue sky of day and the black sky of night their strange heads bristling with chimeras, devils, fantastic beasts and monstrous flowers, and which are linked together by carved arches of intricate design." 

To scale the rugged climb, one must be fit and sport shoes with grip soles. The view, your reward. Others may remain below and drink in the glory that is Mont St. Michel. For many, this is quite enough. 

For still others, a stay in St. Malo is also its own reward. 

St. Jean De Luz, France

Karyn Planett

Beach Basque and Beyond

Our challenge is to recap all that this gem of a town and its surrounds have on offer. Yours is to select among this menu of temptations. Will your pleasure be a peek at Pamplona where lunatics dodge raging bulls or at Balenciaga’s atelier that showcases designs for waify supermodels slinking along a catwalk? A proper tea at Empress Eugenie’s former palace or the loud munching on traditional tapas called “bar-hops” with the colorful locals? A pilgrimage in the footsteps of the faithful at Lourdes or a beach day watching world-class surfers literally walk on water?

What will your pleasure be?

A Check of the Facts And Stats

You’re in the Pyrénées Alps, a mere beret’s throw from Spain. This mini-destination with only 14,000 people is known for its colorful history laced with swashbuckling Basque pirates, wealthy shipbuilders, brave fishermen, a flirt with the royals, and a little-known chapter from WWII. Pirates, aka corsairs, took advantage of rough waters, protected coves, and merchants needing to move their wares by sea. Shipbuilders built ships and crewed them for voyages to the far reaches of the globe, then built magnificent manor homes to announce their success. Fishing fleets in Saint-Jean-de-Luz still take to the seas on the Bay of Biscay and beyond the Fargeot district, though their catch has declined over the years. And, speaking of a “catch”, Louis XIV wed his first cousin, Austria’s Maria-Theresa—the Infanta of Spain—in 1660 in the town’s Church of St. John the Baptist. This brokered marriage signaled an end to generations of bloodshed between two of the most powerful European countries. Some claim this was perhaps the “greatest political marriage” in history. The bride-to-be waited for her wedding in what is today called “Maison de l’Infante”, which still beckons visitors. The final chapter of our brief historical brushstroke speaks of bravery and desperation in June 1940 when a flotilla of small vessels evacuated a group of stranded Polish soldiers, French fighters and civilians.

So Many Choices, Not Much Time

A stroll through Saint-Jean-de-Luz is ideal for first time visitors. To examine the history of success stroll down rue Gambetta, rue Mazarin, and the area around Place Louis XIV. Maison Joanoenea hosted Anne of Austria, the Queen Mother, and the aforementioned Infanta of Spain. The Town Hall, known as the Hôtel de Ville, and other real hotels … The Golf and The Grand for example … feature architectural styles each representing a different period of design. Stop by the local morning market or a waterfront eatery for some ttoro, a type of fish stew with the freshest catch, or a plate of steamy stuffed squid called chipirons in a tomato sauce. Or, when taking tea at the Hôtel du Palais sample the local macaroons, reputed to make grown men weep.

Beyond The Beach

Groomed daily, Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s golden sand beach is truly tempting. Napoleon III even built a sea wall as protection from the pounding seas. But, stray away you must if you wish to explore Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt, Pamplona. His touch is everywhere here including room 217 in Hotel La Perla, his room with a view of the madness during the San Ferman Festival of the running of the bulls down Calle Estafeta. Other spots include Café Iruña (the Basque name for Pamplona), even the bullring where a bronze of the celebrated author keeps watch over the pageantry. “Papa” used Pamplona as the backdrop for his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises and put the town on the international map of “must see’s.” Read his account again to hear the echo of Hemingway’s rugged voice.

But it is the voice of the angels that seems to ring through at the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X in Lourdes. Not far from this port city, it was here on February 11, 1858 that a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous received a vision. According to believers, the Blessed Virgin appeared to her in the Grotto of Massabielle (“the rock”), quite near Lourdes. Hear Bernadette’s story that led from the humble beginnings of an illiterate shepherd girl to sainthood, her body filled with illness and her heart overflowing with the unfailing conviction of her faith.

Biarritz is also worthy of a mention. Referred to as the “queen of resorts and the resort of kings”, it is just that and more. Empress Eugénie de Montijo, the former Spanish Countess of Teba, was the one who put it on the map, so to speak. It was she for whom the Hôtel du Palais was built by her husband Napoleon III in 1855. Situated on the Grande Plage and shaped like the letter “E” for “Eugénie”, it was visited by foreign royalty including Queen Victoria over the decades. It is your day, however, to feel like royalty as you parade through the hotel grounds. Perhaps book a suite for a future visit so you’ll have enough time to explore this bit of Basque France and all it offers.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Karyn Planett

Galicia’s Gateway

Look at a map of Europe. Now, if you draw a line directly west from the southwestern corner of France and another one directly north from Lisbon, they’d intersect just about in Ferrol, Spain. This busy seaport is in the upper left corner of Spain where the sometimes-brutal Atlantic reminds her 72,000 people that Mother Nature reigns supreme. Perhaps that’s the signature of Galicia, as this region is known. It’s home to a rugged people who live further from their country’s capital than from, say, France or even Great Britain. There’s an independence, the posture of someone isolated, almost hidden, from the powers that be. This leads to a bit more of a rogue lifestyle that seems palpable here.

Perhaps it’s curious that General Francisco Franco drew his first breaths of life here in 1892, and then went on to rule the entire country with such a heavy hand. But that was then and this is now. And now it’s your turn to explore this chiseled chunk of Spain.

You’re Not The First

No, certainly not. Fishermen were evidently the first to set down their roots here. Well, before that there was an Iron Age settlement in the area. Nonetheless, Ferrol is tied to the sea and the name “Ferrol” is believed to stem from the Spanish word for lighthouse. It’s long been noted for shipbuilding and as an important naval base. Visitors, however, tend to spend their precious hours exploring nearby villages as well as one of Europe’s most iconic destinations, Santiago de Compostela.

So, let’s start with that famous destination. For those who don’t know, Santiago de Compostela is one of the most important sites in Christendom. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and traditional travelers make their way there annually. The centerpiece is the soaring cathedral, one of the world’s most spectacular, that dates back to 1060. Its stature, with its “Torre de la Carraca” and “Torre de la Campanas” paired towers, serves as a guide both physically and metaphorically for thousands of Christian pilgrims who wend their way through surrounding hills along well-worn paths, along the “Way of St. James” or the “Camino de Santiago.” They often carry with them shell-adorned long walking staffs. Many are Catholic, many not but all are drawn from around the world along hundreds of miles including those who trek some 650 miles from France. The truly devoted spend a full month doing so, even more. Communities en route often offer complimentary housing in support of these pilgrimages.   

At the end of their journey, there stands the famous cathedral.  Facing Obradoiro Square, this shrine to the apostle St. James looms powerfully. It was he who played such an important role here. For that, his ashes are buried in a silver urn within and his tomb is on view.

On A Smaller Scale

Galicia boasts an offering of dramatic beaches as well as a string of small villages that reveal a glimpse into this unique life. Betanzos is considered one of the finest, with an Old Quarter rich with typical architecture and lifestyle. Noted for its galleria balconies, it’s a photographer’s delight. A walk along the town walls and a visit to the Church of San Francisco, considered classic Mendicant style, are a must.  

Then there’s Coruña, also known as la Coruña and a Coruña. Here, there are more gallerias so typical in northern Spain. It’s also famous for its Tower of Hercules. Many historians believe it’s the oldest Roman lighthouse in the world, dating back to the 2nd century AD (some experts think even back to the 1st century AD). The structure is considered Antiquity’s sole lighthouse that remains operational to this day.  

Food and Wine

Face to the sea (Atlantic and Bay of Biscay)… there must be fabulous seafood in Galicia. Locals love goose barnacles called percebes and scallops known as vieiras. Craggy terrain… there should also be spectacular wines. The whites, including DO Rias Baixas, DO Ribeiro, DO Monterrei and others, are award-winners.  Dairy herds… you know the cheese is phenomenal. Favorites include Tetilla, San Simón and Ulloa. Meat eaters enjoy a typical beef stew known as carne ó caldeiro. A true specialty is a traditional hot drink famous in Galicia called queimada. It’s a mixture of flaming orujo gallego (a hot hot hot spirit) combined with lemon and sugar.   

So, it’s time now to savor all this perhaps while nestling down with something written by the winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, Camilo José Cela. He was born in this area in 1916 and featured his impressions of his surroundings in his works. Fans consider The Family of Pascual Duarte his most famous novel. For his work, King Juan Carlos of Spain granted him the respected title of Marqués de Iria Flavia. Your days of exploring Galicia will draw to a close and maybe it’ll be time for you to pen your own first great novel.

La Coruña, Spain

Karyn Planett

The Reconquista 

In 711, an army of mostly Berbers fought their way ashore on the Iberian Peninsula at Gibraltar. Over the next seven years they conquered the Visigoth Kingdom and occupied today’s Spain and Portugal except for Galicia (wherein lie both La Coruna and the capital, Santiago de Compostela), Asturia, as well as the Basque communities in the Pyrenees. 

The reconquista began officially in 722 at the Battle of Covadonga. In that event, a Muslim force attempted to reestablish control of Asturias but was defeated by an Asturian “army” led by Pelayo. In those days armies sometimes numbered fewer than one hundred fighters. The victorious general declared Asturias a kingdom and crowned himself… king. From there, the Christian reclaiming of Iberia began, ending a mere seven hundred seventy years later at the Battle of Granada. 

The Seven Hundred Years War 

The reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the followers of Islam was hardly the sweeping military engagement the name suggests. In fact it was as much a resettlement as it was a military defeat. The Christian kingdoms of those times were small, sparsely populated territories. Their armies were lightly equipped, mostly mounted units built for raiding and plundering, not occupation. But the constant pressure of these raids gradually pushed the Muslim communities further south and the Christian kingdoms expanded to fill the void. 

During this time, much of the fighting also occurred between rival Christian leaders (which could explain why the whole enterprise lasted for over seven centuries). They formed various alliances with each other and even employed Muslim mercenaries when circumstances demanded. 

By 1492, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in Iberia but after a brief siege it capitulated to the combined forces of Aragon and Castile led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The problem then became what to do with all the reconquistadors. Luckily the New World soon provided fledgling communities of heathens for the renamed conquistadors to convert to Christianity. 

The Way Of St. James 

It is generally accepted within the Catholic faith that St. James the Great, one of Jesus’ apostles, visited Iberia to convert the Celts. According to legend, his remains were returned to Galicia following his death but his tomb was lost for eight centuries before being rediscovered by a hermit seeing strange lights in the sky. This was duly recorded as a miracle and the first church built to house the remains of St. James became a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all of Europe. The route of the pilgrimage became known as the Way Of St. James. In 1075, construction of the present Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela began. The last stone was laid in 1122 and it has remained one of the most renowned pilgrimage destinations ever since. 

One of the cathedral’s most unusual features is the Botafumiero, an 80-kilo gold thurible. Reserved for special masses and festivals, it is then filled with 40kg of charcoal and incense, attached to centuries-old pulleys and swung over the assembled congregation. Emitting clouds of incense-laced smoke and reaching speeds of 60 kilometers per hour, it’s said to have a decidedly dampening effect on the “fragrance” from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.

The Spanish Armada

La Coruña’s local tourism committees would have us believe that the Spanish Armada set sail from here on the way to its unfortunate campaign in Britain in 1588. The players included the catholic King Phillip II of Spain who had been married to Queen Mary I of England and who took exception to her daughter’s, Queen Elizabeth I, political and religious leanings. He was also annoyed about England’s constant raids on his treasure ships returning from the New World. 
We do know that Phillip’s armada of more than 150 vessels left from Lisbon. Some ships may have put into or left from La Coruña. What is less known is that the Brits, feeling their oats after the defeat of the Armada, sent their own armada to raid the ports on Spain’s north coast in an attempt to destroy the remains of the Spanish fleet. Under the leadership of Sir Francis Drake, the English Armada landed in La Coruña, took the lower town and destroyed several ships in the harbor. They failed to take the upper town due to spirited resistance led by Maria Pita, and decided to sail on to Lisbon to try their luck there. La Coruña’s main square carries Maria Pita’s name and legacy and is a perfect place to begin your exploration of this centuries-old port city.

Arrecife, Canary Islands, Spain

Karyn Planett

Island Of The Moon 

It was early autumn 1730 when the once fertile island of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, was rocked by a violent volcanic eruption near the town of Yaiza. The stunned local people couldn’t have possibly known it would be the first in a series of eruptions that would last until April 16, 1736—more than five and a half years! Don Andres Lorenzo Curbelo, the priest of Yaiza, wrote this terrifying eyewitness account. 

"On September 1st, 1730, between 9 and 10PM, at 11 Kms. from Yaiza, the ground close to Timanfaya suddenly opened up. In the first night a huge mountain grew out of the ground and, from its peak, enormous flames that kept burning for 19 days could be seen. On the 18th of October, three new cracks appeared on the top of Santa Catalina; from them thick clouds of smoke emerged and spread over the whole island, accompanied by great amounts of cinder, sand and ashes that fell to the ground covering a large area."

Over the next five years more than 100 volcanic peaks, ranging from small hornitos to major volcanic cones, emerged from the land. Seen from the air today, they appear as a string of lunar pearls creating the spine of this island that measures only 35 miles by 15 miles. It was the longest-lasting volcanic event in recorded history. And it left behind not a wasted and uninhabitable land, but rather an island of striking natural beauty, utterly unlike its neighbors. From this rattling destruction emerged a thriving, carefully preserved infrastructure.

Timanfaya 

The entire country of Spain has only fourteen national parks. Four are in the Canary Islands. Montanas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) form the central core of Timanfaya National Park, one of the must-see stops when exploring the island. The park can be enjoyed on foot, by vehicle or, most uniquely, by lurching camel. The presence of camels on the island is variously ascribed to the original inhabitants who may have been related to the Berbers of Morocco, and to the first conquering army of Juan de Betancourt who claimed the island for Spain in 1402.

In the 18th century, camels were used like tanks in defense of the island against pirates. Driven forward in ranks abreast, they simply pushed the invaders back into the sea. As recently as fifty years ago there were over 6,000 camels on the island, but the decline in agriculture and the arrival of other conveyances has reduced their number to a mere 300. 

However they arrived, camels are a most appropriate means of conveyance in this volcanic desert. And those who choose to travel by camel will be further pleased by the adoption of the “English Chair”, a rather friendly wooden saddle with a seat on each side of the camel’s hump that accommodates two passengers at once.

Malmsy 

Of the more unusual visual aspects of Lanzarote, the vineyards would rank first, surely. You see, the volcanic eruptions buried forever the soils that once supported a robust grain growing industry. The availability of grain had made Lanzarote a necessary provisioning stop for ships heading from Europe to the New World. Following the eruptions, resilient islanders discovered their new volcanic soil was ideal for wine grapes. 

It has long been known among vintners that grape vines benefit from a good struggle and the granular volcanic rock provided plenty of that. Ingenious farmers soon realized it also acted as a porous mulch, capturing the sparse moisture in their arid land and feeding it to their vines before it could evaporate. They further protected their vines from wind and dust by planting not in the rows typical of vineyards the world over but in shallow round pans dug out of the black soil. These pans were then surrounded by low, rock walls and the effect is one of thousands of little craters polka-dotting the hillsides, each with a lonely vine at its center. 

The result was Malvasia or Malmsy, a sweet, fortified wine that traveled well in ships and was most popular in Elizabethan England. Three hundred years later, these same wineries produce dry wines that are more in keeping with today’s wine drinkers’ tastes. 

Cesar Manrique 

If there is a “father” of modern Lanzarote, Cesar Manrique must be it. Their George Washington. As the rest of the Canary Islands (along with much of Spain’s Mediterranean coastline) were succumbing to the rapid build up of high rise tourist hotels and budget attractions that began in the 1960s, Manrique, through his own and his family’s interests and connections, was able to successfully lobby for local regulations that prevented tall buildings, outdoor advertising, and other man-made “offenses” to the natural attractiveness of his native island. 

As an architect, interior designer, painter and sculptor, Manrique’s imprint can be seen everywhere. He was a one-man architectural committee who persuaded homeowners to paint their homes with harmonious colors. The artist’s house and studio were created out of five volcanic “bubbles” in solid rock and is another of Lanzarote’s must-sees. Manrique’s efforts helped Lanzarote become the only island ever named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Santos, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Coffee, Clube do Futebol, Capital City 

It’s really quite simple. Santos is a Brazilian port with three clear reasons for being. The three C’s of coffee, clube do futebol, and the capital city of Sao Paolo. For the record, the port of Santos is in a popular stretch of the country known as Litoral Norte, or as we would say, the North Coast. Along this string of towns and cities, jungles and beaches is a range of attractions and distractions, everything from boutiques to broad sweeps of isolated waterfront with no one in sight. That’s amazing with the megalopolis of Sao Paolo only 40 miles inland. It does seem virtually all 18,850,003 of her citizens (called Paulistanos) find their way here on busy weekends and during the holiday season. They’re more than happy to seek out their place in the sun. 

Sunkissed Coffee 

Java. Joe. Jumbo double skinny leaded Frappuccino to go. Whatever you call coffee, you must admit the world is addicted to this global beverage to a degree you can’t get away from even if you tried. And, who’d want to try? So, it’s important to note that Brazil claims it’s the world’s largest producer of this to-die-for-pick-me-up and has been, according to experts on the topic, for more than one and a half centuries. One out of every three cups poured daily around the world can trace its roots, so to speak, back to Brazil.             Some believe the story of the bean began in French Guiana when a rather attractive Brazilian officer was sent to abscond with some coffee seeds like a thief in the night. Instead, it’s said, he needed only to flex his pecs to raise the heart rate of the nation’s First Lady who returned his flirtatious advances by honoring him with a floral bouquet that just happened to have coffee seedlings tucked inside. True or not, it’s a great story.           

A sadder tale is also told about the millions of African slaves who were shipped to Brazil to toil away in the tropical sun on vast coffee plantations. Their fates were sealed until the dark days of slavery were ended in Brazil. European migrant workers were the next to make up the labor pool for the coffee industry.           

Over the years, coffee growers learned too well the boom-and-bust cycle of international markets. Affected by the Great Depression, when Brazil cornered 80% of the world’s coffee market, growers suffered terribly. The millions of dollars that had been flowing into the country dropped and the burgeoning infrastructure funded by tax revenue suffered. 

Also, in some areas, the soils played out. Meanwhile, other countries were chipping away at Brazil’s hold on the coffee market by increasing their share. But, even today, the term coffee is somewhat synonymous with Brazil. More than 3 million workers are directly involved in the cultivation. And, for those of you with a nose for nuance, approximately 3/4ths of the production is of the Arabica bean. Join locals in a cup of joe who often drink theirs really sweet, or adocante. Order a small coffee, a cafezinho, and you can lace it with a touch of milk as you wish. All you have to do is ask for it from a caffeinista. 

And Speaking of Enjoyment       

Football. Brazilians are nuts, wacko, wild about football, what many of us call soccer. So you can forgive them for bestowing on Pele a god-like status worthy of wild adulation and admiration. Probably most Brazilians can even recite his real name – Edson Arantes do Nascimento. They’ll tell you that, for those with an opinion, Pele is believed to be the finest soccer (oops football) player ever to don a pair of cleats or “boots.” Born into a family of modest means, Pele spent his non-soccer time shining shoes. The legend goes on to recount how he was a mere lad of 16 when he scored his first official team goal. Ultimately, he garnered the holy grail of football, the World Cup, and not once but ultimately four times. At 17, he stunned the world by scoring 2 goals in the final game against Sweden. Great, for sure, but locals will quickly add that Pele joined the Santos Football Club in 1956 and ultimately won two World Championships. He was named “Sportsman of the Century” in 2000. And few disagree with this decision especially Nigerians who, while battling each other in a nasty civil war in 1967, called a 2-day ceasefire to watch a static-y broadcast of Pele playing.

What to Do? What to Do? 

If you like art and history and culture and politics, a trip to Sao Paulo is a must. But, then again, you could probably spend at least one week here and not even scratch the surface of offerings. The city is massive, vast, huge, stretching from horizon to horizon. A sampling overview will only make you want to return for more.

Soccer, excuse me, football buffs will want to find a well-stocked store offering an array of shirts, wristbands, headbands, water bottles, posters, and assorted logo wear to impress friends back home.     

Santa Marta, Colombia

Karyn Planett

Shrine to Simon Bolivar 

A whole host of cities are famous and immediately recognizable as the birthplace of something or someone. For example, there are important historical figures like Benjamin Franklin born in Boston, Massachusetts. The Beatles were all born in Liverpool. You might even recall that Porbandar, India is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. 

Basketball was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. New Orleans is “The Birthplace of Jazz”; Rigby, Ohio, the birthplace of television. Levi’s 501 jeans were definitely born in San Francisco, California.  

Occasionally a major event then carries the host city’s name like the Yalta Conference. And we all remember that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. 

But, who among us can name the place where the great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar, died? Well, if you took as a hint the fact you’ll soon visit Santa Marta, Colombia you’d be a right proper sleuth.

Though born in Caracas, New Granada (currently Venezuela) in 1783 Simón José Antonio de la Santísma Trinidad Bolívar Y Palacios, (Simon Bolivar for short) did pass away in Santa Marta’s La Quinta de San Alejandrino on December 17th, 1830. And even though this sad event occurred nearly two centuries ago, Simon Bolivar lives large in the hearts and minds of South America’s citizens to this day. You’ll hear more as you explore Santa Marta. 

El Libertador 

In his youth, Bolivar was tutored in New Granada. He then undertook his higher education in Spain before returning back to Venezuela. It was about that time he formalized his dream for a united South America, unburdened by the yoke of colonial power. His mission was to create something similar to the United States of America. 

But, as Bolivar’s dream was beginning to take shape, Napoleon announced the appointment of none other than Joseph Bonaparte as the King of Spain as well as of its colonies. This action provided the fuel that fired up Bolivar’s passion to resist foreign control, a flame he then fanned across the continent.

In 1828, Bolivar declared himself dictator through something called the “Organic Decree of Dictatorship”. Though quite successful in advancing his roadmap toward liberation, the title of dictator enraged some of his critics. There was even an assassination attempt. As a result of this discontent, Bolivar abandoned the title and prepared to leave South America to seek exile in the Caribbean or Europe. While doing so, he fell fatally ill. 

Even though the great “Libertador” succeeded in his mission to liberate many South American homelands, he lost his fight against tuberculosis. On December 17, 1830 he passed away at the young age of 47.

Despite the fact his life was shortened, Bolivar’s legacy has lived on for nearly 200 years. And the site of his last moments on this earth, the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, has been declared a “sanctuary of the fatherland” that now houses the Museo Bolivariano. This manicured quinta, or estate, dates back to 1608 when it was founded by Don Francisco de Godoy. 

Beyond Bolivar 

Well, there’s more to Santa Marta than this story. There are the highlights of the town itself. It is the capital of the Department of Magdalena and was founded by Rodrigo de Bastidas, a Spanish conquistador, on July 29, 1525. One of the oldest cities in South America, Santa Marta is an architectural marvel and worthy of a leisurely stroll. 

You should start in the Bolivar Plaza with its Spanish colonial architecture and signature 17th century whitewashed cathedral. Some say Simon Bolivar’s heart is buried within the cathedral walls.

There’s also the former Customs House, from the 16th century, today the Gold Museum with important exhibits of pre-Colombian pottery and gold metalwork from the indigenous Tayrona people.

A meander through the Historic District let’s you peek into the past or sip a cup of world-famous Colombian coffee in a tiny cafe. Maybe sample regional cuisine influenced by African, Spanish, Asian and Arabic tastes using fresh seafood like lobster, goat, chicken, and pork. A real treat is an aborrajado, a delicious cheesy fried sweet plantain. Sugarcane juice is a take-away favorite. 

Just as you’re ready to set sail, locals will be enjoying a stroll along the Bastidas Promenade. Others will be settling in for an evening of music and merriment at the tony beach resort, just a bit out of town, known as El Rodadero. Draped along the Bay of Gaira, it’s got a spot-on view of the setting sun. They might order a tropical smoothie blended from local fruits like cassava, papaya, or dragon fruit. Or they could be discussing some of the claims made by fellow Colombians--that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills form the world’s highest coastal mountain or that Santa Marta is the “deepest port in the Americas”, or that Santa Marta is, in fact, the oldest city in South America. 

Superlatives aside, this is a pretty spectacular backdrop for a day in the Colombian Caribbean in what’s touted to be “The Pearl” America. 

Salaverry, Peru

Karyn Planett

Portal to the Past 

Plan this day well for there is much to see. And, as we often discover in cities around the world, points of interest are not usually within site of the ship. So get organized, get your stuff, and get going. 

Twin Cities       

Basically, Salaverry is the entrance to Trujillo, known as the “City of Eternal Spring”. It stretches along the valleys of Moche, Virú, Chicama and Chao in a dry, bone-dry patch of landscape preserved by parched winds blowing for much of the year. The “eternal” springtime here, and this should come as no surprise, is warmer than it is in Cleveland so be happy you’re here. 

Happy, too, were the Pre-Incan people who settled here and erected impressive temples, called huacas. Experts estimate that there are approximately 2,000 archaeological sites in the area, enough to make archaeologists leave home and spend years here digging about. 

The Pre-Incan Chimú Nation established their capital, called Chan Chan, here in 1300 A.D., give or take. Almost 11 square miles, it’s considered the most massive Pre-Columbian city in the Americas and for this it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, again due to lack of rain in the region, it’s also the biggest of the world’s mud cities and once home to 60,000 people, maybe as many as 100,000. Perhaps it was the priceless trove of silver and gold held by the Chimú that attracted the Incas who overran the city and conquered her people. Later the Spaniards arrived, that story follows, and within a relatively short period of time much of this treasure was gone. 

Back To The Huacas 

Our attention now turns to the Mochica civilization that pre-dates the Chimú by some seven centuries. Their legacy lives on in the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, two impressive pyramids. Experts estimate there are 50 million adobe bricks in the Temple of the Moon alone. The Temple of the Sun is comparable in size to the more famous pyramids in Saqqara, Egypt. Perhaps 140 million bricks were used in its construction. It experienced a dark chapter in 1602 when looters directed a waterway to flow through the pyramid, cutting it into two sections thus destroying important details. 

The Spanish Arrived 

On December 6th, 1534 the Spanish Conquistador Diego de Almagro rode across these dusty plains to establish their first settlement in the region. He named it “Trujillo” in honor of Francisco Pizarro’s home city. The Spanish left behind an opulent, colonial, walled city rich with decorated balconies, shaded plazas and elegant manor homes. They also celebrated their faith by erecting churches and cathedrals, converting locals and saving souls. Their fortunes came from rice, sugar cane, and row crops like asparagus that’s cultivated and exported worldwide to this day. 

More of the story of the Spanish period unfolds in Trujillo’s Plaza de Armas with its impressive monument honoring heroes of the Independence War. 

When Is A Horse Not A Horse? 

When it’s a boat. True. In the fishing village of Huanchaco, approximately 10 miles from Trujillo, there’s something called “small reed horse boats.”  These curious vessels are called “caballitos de totora”, which means … “little horse of the totora reed”. Fishermen straddle these slender crafts much as a rider would a horse. Today, visitors have the opportunity to watch others try their luck and perhaps even surf a wave or two. 

One need not have as much balance to ride a Peruvian Paso horse, not to be confused with the Paso Fino, because his stride is virtually motionless, without the bouncing normally experienced by other breeds. This is particularly true for the novice rider. Many equestrians declare these horses to be the world’s smoothest-gaited horse. That’s all you need to know unless you’re curious as to why riding this horse is as gentle as sitting on a satin pillow. Well, it’s because of his unique and natural gait, a rhythmic 4-beat pattern of right hind foot, then right front foot, then left hind foot, then left front foot. (Please do not attempt this at home.) It’s called a “footfall” and estancia patrons can determine a young colt’s value simply by the sound of its footfall, without even looking, as a groom leads the animal along a wooden boardwalk. In addition, these animals exhibit an unusual stride where the forelegs paddle outward as the horse moves. 

The history of these extraordinary animals is fascinating. Before the 17th century, virtually all European horses moved in this way naturally, which was terrific because people traveled by horse. Then, the “boneshakers” grew in popularity for they were better suited to pull carts and wagons and work cattle. Meanwhile, the Peruvians coveted their gaited horses that were introduced by the Spaniards. Peru’s geographical separation from Europe fostered a successful purebred breeding program whereby now all colts are born here with this gait naturally.

This is a fascinating destination, you’ll discover, so you best get going. 

Cape Horn

Karyn Planett

You’ve sailed a long way, lad. What lies before you now, hovering on the horizon in a rolling grey mist, is one of this great earth’s most iconic landmarks. Cape Horn, it is, and it heralds the furthest southern point in the whole of South America*. A rugged strip of scrabblerock headland lashed by jackhammer waves and stinging winds, it stands as a beacon to those who’ve journeyed far, from sea to sea, to make this epic rounding. And by making this rounding of the fierce Tierra del Fuego archipelago you stand among the storied few who’ve dared chart such a course. You’ve added another patch to your maritime uniform, the one that sports the badges of distant lands. Let it be known now, lad, that you’ve well and truly sailed to the ends of the earth.             

Those Who Came Before Us       

Of course, indigenous Fuegians inhabited this part of the world for a long, long time. But, as far as sightings by Europeans, it was first spotted, possibly, in 1525 by Francisco de Hoces whose ship San Lesmes was in the area because it had been blown wildly off course. Some 53 years later, Sir Francis Drake did successfully sail through the Strait of Magellan from the Atlantic to the Pacific but was then caught in a raging storm that forced his vessel far south. Upon spotting Tierra del Fuego, he believed it to be an island and not another undiscovered continent to the south. Remember, this was all uncharted territory. 

Charles Darwin was here in 1832 aboard The Beagle during his five-year voyage where he gathered data and prepared his thoughts for the Origin Of Species. He penned the following… 

“We closed in with the Barnevelts, and running past Cape Deceit with its stony peaks, about three o’clock doubled the weather beaten Cape Horn. The evening was calm and bright, and we enjoyed a fine view of the surrounding isles. Cape Horn, however, demanded his tribute, and before night sent us a gale of wind fiercely in our teeth. We stood out to seas, and on the second day again made the land, when we saw on our weather-bow this notorious promontory in its proper form – veiled in a mist, and its dim outline surrounded by a storm of wind and water.”

Pathway to the Pacific       

Man is driven by commerce. Trade dictates the routes. Cape Horn was a necessary obstacle from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th centuries for vessels whose cargo holds were laden with such things as Australian grain and wool. Asian products rounded the Horn, as well. So, too, pioneers seeking passage to the west coast of America, many as prospectors hoping to strike gold in the California hills. 

Though full details are often in dispute, HMS Bounty (of mutiny fame) succeeded in covering only 85 miles over a period of 31 storm-tossed days, before aborting its rounding of the Cape. And those hardships were even before the mutiny of 1759. 

What did signal the end to much of this maritime torture was the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 and the completion of the railroads that finally connected the east with the west coasts of America. Goods and people were now able to travel between the two without accepting the dangers of rounding the Horn.

Coming Ashore 

This landscape is punctuated by so few manmade objects. Among them though is a small lighthouse, two actually, and a most impressive sculpture. Its paired panels, slightly separated from each other, when viewed at a certain point silhouette the outline of an albatross. This impressive work was created in 1992 by José Balcells, a Chilean, to pay tribute to the many seamen who perished in their attempts to “round the Horn.” 

Some Traditions 

It’s been said that some sailors believe, upon rounding the Horn, they may celebrate this accomplishment by wearing a gold hoop earring in their left ear. Lore goes on to recount that those same sailors are then able to rest one foot upon the table while dining. They are only entitled to rest both feet on the table if they have also successfully rounded the Cape of Good Hope off the southern tip of Africa. 

Tradition aside, it is truly bad form to eat with either foot on the table! The earring is OK. 

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Cowboy Country

Quick. Name the very first things that come to mind when you think of Brazil. Carnival? The girl from Ipanema? Carmen Miranda? Cowboys? 

What? Cowboys! It may be the Old West in the U.S. but it’s the Old South in Brazil. 

In fact Rio Grande do Sul (sounds Texan already) is the southernmost state in Brazil and, in many ways, more like its neighbors Uruguay and Argentina than Brazil. It boasts Brazil’s highest standard of living, is the center of the country’s wine region, features great Italian restaurants, and claims the world’s longest beach. Called Cassino Beach, it measures something like 130 miles long, give or take a dune or two. How did it get that way? 

Gauchos, Grapes and Gastronomy 

Before Brazil was Brazil, Spain and Portugal vied for dominance in this part of South America. Spanish Jesuits were the first Europeans to arrive. In 1627, they began establishing missions to convert local Guarani Indians to Catholicism, a tale we’ve heard before. The original missions were destroyed by bandeirantes who wanted these indigenous people as slaves and didn’t care whether they were Catholic or not. But the Jesuits bounced back and, within fifty years or so, reestablished the missions. 

By this time merchants, military adventurers, and settlers had begun arriving in the region and the focus was on consolidating territorial claims. 

The Guarani Wars 

In 1680, Portugal founded Colonia do Sacramento across the Rio de la Plata, also known as the Plate River, from modern Buenos Aires. The area around Colonia is in what is today Uruguay. The Portuguese planned to contain the Spanish on the south side of the river. Therefore a search ensued to find a suitable port east of Colonia in order to form a line of defense. This search resulted in the establishment of a fortified village, now the city of Rio Grande, as the companion bulwark to Colonia. The Spanish, of course, weren’t about to take this lying down. However, they were also busy plundering the rest of their possessions so a half-hearted war “raged” for about a century.           

The Cisplatine War 

Meanwhile, the Portuguese were busy populating the region between the two bastions. In 1816, they captured Uruguay and declared it the province Cisplatina, which literally means the province this side of the Rio de la Plata. This then would become part of the Empire of Brazil. But, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822. Then Uruguay declared its independence from Brazil in 1825, lead by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, and in 1828 succeeded in formally breaking from Brazil. 

From that point on, disputes between the Portuguese and the Spanish morphed from territorial to commercial. 

The Jerky War 

In order to populate the Rio Grande do Sul region, enormous tracts of land were distributed to settlers. In these latifundia, raising cattle became the dominant activity. The Jesuits had brought cattle a century before, but they’d escaped and gone feral when the missions were destroyed. Enterprising settlers, seeing the potential for profit, captured and redomesticated them to create immense herds. Unfortunately the limitations of transportation meant that beef was most efficiently distributed only in a dried form called charqueadas. 

However jerky producers in Argentina and Uruguay were blessed with greener pastures and superior seaports. They soon began producing and distributing a better grade of jerky that became preferred. The gauchos of Rio Grande do Sul asked for trade protection from the central government and, when denied, declared independence from Brazil. That resulted in a ten-year war that ended with the defeat of the rebels but also with the institution of the trade protections originally requested. 

The Port of Rio Grande

Architects of the port city’s original site at the mouth of a river could never have contemplated the growing size of commercial vessels that would call there. So, in 1855, a military engineer was sent to make a plan for increasing the depth of the channel and port area from the current two-meters. He concluded that the task was “unviable”. But in 1875, Sir John Hawkshaw was commissioned to have another go at it. He proposed a pair of two-mile long breakwaters extending out into the sea. His plan was undertaken in 1906 and the resulting Porto Novo, with its ten-meter draft, is where ships enter today. 

The port city still displays touches of Portugal’s colonial past in its architecture and streets. But signs are also visible of the other cultures that have joined the region’s population. People of German, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, and African descent have all added to this mélange. 

To celebrate this destination, do as the locals do. Sample a cup of maté (called chimarrão here), the traditional gaucho tea. Also enjoy churrasco, the typical barbecue. And be sure to take home a pair of bombachas, those baggy gaucho trousers. You’ll be pleased at how skillfully they cover a wide variety of personal flaws.

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

Karyn Planett

A Simpler Chile 

There are places in the world where locals go about their daily rituals with a time-honored pace. In these remote outposts these folks worry not so much about the Palestinian issue, climate change, the latest Hollywood break-up and which team won the NBA play-offs. At the end of the day, this all matters very little to them because the wheels of everyday life are in motion here much as they were for their ancestors. 

Your challenge on this day is to explore the real Puerto Chacabuco or the natural wonders beyond. 

Chacabuco Chacabuco Chacabuco Chacabuco 

Say that quickly and you’ll sound like a steam train that could magically transport you inland. But, sadly, it doesn’t exist. Your only option is to journey overland by car or bus to the countryside while others might leave here aboard a ferry bound for Puerto Montt or Chiloe. Never mind, the sail-in alone is worth the price of admission for Puerto Chacabuco is hidden in the long reach of a twisting, narrow fjord thrust deep into the dramatic interior. 

Puerto Chacabuco has a population of, say, one thousand. Their lives revolve around salmon fishing and timber. Compared to someone living on the Upper East Side, some would say they’re poor. If those same people explored the surrounding mountains and valleys, forests and lakes, they’d rethink their assessment. Though the local people may be not so worldly, they are generally very warm and welcoming to those who’ve traveled so very far to visit their town. So, your option is to journey inland to witness some of the bone-jarring majesty for yourself or sit for a while on a park bench sharing a coffee with citizen of the community. He’ll tell you there are no malls, no theaters, not even a fast food outlet here. That’s not so bad, is it? 

The closest town to Chacabuco is Aisén (also spelled Aysén), about 10 miles inland. It was the port town until a really good plan went seriously awry. Industrious developers set about “clearing the land” in 1940 for a new settlement. In the process, it’s claimed that they set alight something like one million trees. Some say the embers smoked for a whole decade and the grey haze could be seen as far away as Buenos Aires. Well, if that wasn’t enough, when the rains came the river silted up and the port was no longer viable at all. That’s when everything was moved to Puerto Chacabuco. 

Another example of a good plan that somehow lost its way.

Going Inland 

If you do choose to travel inland you might find yourself at Riesco Lake. En route, you’ll pass mighty cliffs, a bucolic landscape, a waterfall or two depending on the latest rain, stands of pine trees, and icy rivers slicing through it all. Your destination is Aikén del Sur Private Park. Nearly 10 square miles in area, it is home to native plant species, indigenous animals, and a series of hiking trails that lead to Lago (Lake) Riesco. It was named for the Chilean president Germán Riesco who was elected to office in the early 20th century.

Another lake, Los Palos, is well suited for those interested in kayaking or birdwatching. At the Rio Simpson National Reserve, you’ll hear tell of the Virgin Falls and the Piedra del Indio, which is a natural rock formation that many believe resembles an India’s head. 

Coyhaique’s 45,000 people will quickly tell you their home is one of Patagonia’s largest cities in the area known as Carretera Austral. Visitors come here from the world over to, among other things, fly fish for something called friale and rainbow trout. 

And Speaking of Food 

Asado is a type of outdoor, on the range barbecue. A brai. A cookout. The same word is used for the party happening around the barbecue. But basically, it’s a carnivore’s delight with a whole host of meats strapped to parrilla grills that are cooked over, or alongside, glowing embers from local trees. You’ll usually find lamb, beef, even goat on the menu. 

Locals snack on empenadas, a type of pastry pocket filled with cheeses, meats, sausages and vegetables and served piping hot at roadside stalls. If you’re lucky you might even find a fruit empenada for an afternoon snack. Do learn from the Chileans who bite off a corner of the pocket to release hot steam because these treats are served piping hot! If you dine near the sea, you should be able to find wonderfully fresh king crab called centolla, though the numbers are reportedly down from previous years.   

Well, all this dining deserves a fine Chilean wine or a traditional pisco sour, at least according to foodies in the know. Perhaps the latter can be served with glacial ice from the nearby Ventisquero San Rafael glacier. I’m sure no one will miss a cube or two. 

Paraty, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Some say Paraty is a side trip from Rio. A distraction. A “do-it-if-you’ve-already-done-Rio” kinda place. Well, please don’t say that to the locals who firmly believe that their little beauty spot is a destination worthy of a holiday in its own right. And so it is, even though it’s a mere 100 miles from Rio and 125 miles from Sao Paulo. 

A World Heritage Site 

You ask why this tiny beachfront town is worthy of such a lofty title given to them by UNESCO in 1966? It all goes back to the early days when gold was discovered in 1696 in the then world’s richest mines in Minas Gerais. It seemed initially that the production was small enough it could easily be transported to Paraty along a well-worn Guaiana Indian footpath through the nearby Serra do Mar mountain range. The road was called the “Caminho do Ouro” or the “Gold Route” and measured 700 miles. 

Everything changed in the 1800s when gold seemed to flow out of the hills and shipments of this lusted-after treasure filled the creaking holds of countless sailing ships plying the rough seas between Paraty, Rio, and Portugal’s royal coffers. The port of Paraty grew to a population of approximately 16,000 at this time, prospered, and became home to those who profited from this enterprise. 

Businessmen built sizeable mansions, called sobrados, and filled them with the trappings of success. One such home is today the Casa da Cultura on Rua Dona Geralda. Early residents celebrated their faith in churches built for the people, yet in a style in keeping with the modest standards of the community. And they covered the sandy streets with a type of cobblestone referred to as pes-de-moleque, which translates into English as “street kids’ feet.” This rugged underfooting wreaks havoc today on spindly spikey heels, challenging Brazil’s babelicious beauties to flip-flop down the streets instead.  

Boom Then Bust. Sound Familiar? 

In time, the mines played out. The road between Ouro Preto and the port grew quiet. Plus, a new road was carved out of the harsh environment toward a new port – Rio. It had to be because unpleasant pirates and bandits forced shippers to search for a safer alternative to Paraty. So, Rio then enjoyed the spoils. Fewer than 1000 residents remained in Paraty. Desperate entrepreneurs switched their efforts to the cultivation of vast coffee plantations, though their days were numbered as well. Once the country’s leaders ended the evil practice of slavery, the coffee industry failed due to the lack of free labor. All this added up to seal the fate of Paraty, which fell silent, trapped in the dusty cloak of time. 

The jungle reclaimed the footpaths and roads leaving Paraty virtually cut off from the outside world, save for the little boats that came and went as they wished. This lasted till the mid-1900s when engineered and laborers constructed a highway between the capital city of Sao Paulo and the coastal cosmopolitan centerpiece Rio. 

Thankfully, within a decade, Paraty was declared a national monument and the central area was protected from major development. That’s why this town today offers some of the nation’s finest examples of colonial architecture and design. Brazilian and foreign visionaries preserved yet transformed old and abandoned houses into galleries and eateries, inns and boutiques. Two examples of traditional architecture are Sobrado dos Abacaxis and Sobrado do Principe. 

What To Do? What To Do? 

It’s fun to wander about the centro historico, which is the turf of pedestrians rather than cars. You must time your journey with precision as, in some sections of town, the high tide washes in to splash across the roadways then back out to sea leaving behind a clean clean clean street that can also be slippery. 

From the pier area at Rua da Lapa, you’ll be able to get your bearings. First, find Santa Rita Church directly adjacent to the town jail. Called “Capela de Santa Rita”, it was built by “freemen” or former slaves in 1722. 

African slaves built a church for themselves and all members of their community in 1725 called Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario e Sao Benedito, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Benedict. 

The Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remedios, the First Church of Our Lady of the Remedies, dates back to 1646 though it was expanded to its take on its current design in 1873. Maria Jacome de Melo gifted land to build this church and asked in return that no harm come to the indigenous peoples in the area. 

Remember, there are also some 200 beaches in the nearby seaside and offshore islands that add up to 60 or more. If you can’t find a sun-washed, white-sand, palm-shaded beach to suit your fancy than you may as well pack your bikini and fly home. But before you do, ask one of the locals why their town is spelled “P-a-r-a-t-y” and “P-a-r-a-t-I” and pronounced “Pa-ra-CHEE”. You might have to delay your departure because the conversation could take a while if he begins by saying the name is a Guaianas Indian word in the Tupi language that means “river of fish.” Pull up a chair. 

And consider ordering something concocted with the local sugar-cane spirit known as Cachaca. It’s also called cana, doida, garapa, parati and pinga so don’t worry if you get confused. This alcohol bomb dates back to the mid-1600s and the Portuguese settlers and was once a form of currency in the slave trade.  Brazil produces some 4,000 brands and everyone has their favorite. You might, as well, by day’s end.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Karyn Planett

Maté, Meat and Music 

Uruguayans absolutely love life. They’re festive and fun and filled with a quest to embrace each day with some form of excitement, entertainment or enjoyment. Sports, wine, horses. Fashion, food, nightlife. But, there are three things that are absolutely sacred to the people of Montevideo. To fully slip into the routine of a local’s day, you must learn a bit about their passions. 

A Cup of Tea 

Not really. Not like you think, pinkie in the air, little sandwiches. No. Uruguayans, like many of their neighbors in southern South America enjoy the triple-leaded, high-octane, tiger-in-the-tank type of tea spelled “maté” and pronounced “mah-tay.” Not “mate”, like an Australian friend. 

It can truly knock your socks off because it is really strong. Not only is the tea strong because it’s made from the dried leaves of the yerba maté plant, but they use a lot of it for one single serving. A lot! And the leaves are often pulverized into a dusty powder locals call “yerba.” There’s also a more traditional blend with more roughage, but let’s leave that subject alone. 

Everyone has a very particular way of brewing his or her maté. Like the Brits say, “bring the cup to the kettle not the kettle to the cup”.  Well, the Uruguayans have a ritual that’ll put those Brits to shame. And they don’t use china cups, no no. Their maté is consumed from hollowed-out gourds, as well as wooden and ceramic cups. 

They must also have the proper straw, which is called a bomba or a bombilla. Though there are lesser versions, a traditional bomba is made from silver. It’s more a sieve really in case you don’t twizzle your leaves properly. You want only the tea, not sludge. 

Locals fill their gourds half-full with leaves, partially packed. Cover with their palm, invert, return upright, shake the dusty bits that stick to said palm then wipe on designer jeans. They add a pinch of this or a dash of that for flavor or medicinal purposes, then cool water. One doesn’t want to disturb the nutritional components of the leaves, does one? No. Next, they add hot water… just off the boil. Too much water, wrong. Too little water, strong. Cover. Shake. Tilt. Shake again. Let it settle. 

Of course, all the swirling gloms the yerba leaves to one side so the bomba and the water go into the empty portion. The tea drinker’s thumb must rest atop the straw opening while being inserted into the base of the gourd.

Where’s Starbucks? 

Then and only then is it ready to sip. 

At this point, though, the kids have missed the bus, breakfast is cold, and Mom hasn’t even started putting on her make-up. 

Maté is a social ritual filled with tradition. Buy a beautiful gourd with a decorative silver rim, a silver bomba, some yerba tea, sit with a friendly person on a park bench and have them show you the ropes. It’s so South American.

Where’s The Beef? 

Question -- What country has the highest per capita beef consumption in the world? 

Answer – Uruguay with approximately 130 pounds of beef per person per year. Add to that about 42 pounds of poultry and another 13 pounds of lamb and you’ve got yourself some serious carnivores. 185 pounds total per year means about one-half pound of meat consumed by every single Uruguayan every single day. Well, I guess you can skip the crudités. 

For the record, and I do mean the record, Argentineans used to consume an amount of beef annually that basically was the equivalent of their body weight. To make all this dining possible, there are Uruguayan parrillas that are basically steakhouses where the meat is often carved right at your table off long sabers. Try the vacio, a lean cut. And, when dining off the regular menu in traditional restaurants, expect a steak the size of a bicycle seat. 

Of course, the follow-up question is, “Why do Uruguayans eat so much beef?”. Because the meat in this part of the world is among the finest. In fact, in 2011 Russia imported more than one-third of Uruguay’s output of beef. And, it’s reported that most Uruguayan beef is grass-fed and hormone-free per legal guidelines imposed by the government. 

Give Me The Beat, Boys! 

You’ve sipped and supped. Now it’s time for music. These people love a unique Uruguayan music called Candombe. Its origin was probably with the African slaves who arrived by ship in the 18th Century. It was then religious in nature. 

Drums called tamboriles lay down the beat for today’s Candombe street drummers who march together in a drum corps. Other casual groups form along the ramblas and beachfront to play their drums for hours on end. Shouldn’t be long now till you stumble across some drummers for yourself. And, at Carnival time, the whole thing is spiced up with skimpy costumes, a few feathers and sequins and not a lot more. UNESCO recognizes Candombe as a piece of “intangible cultural heritage”. You’ll recognize it as hot hot hot hot hot.


Manta, Ecuador

Karyn Planett

But let’s not call the whole thing off. After all, we’re on our way to Manta, Ecuador where the contemporary “whole thing” all began. And, remember that the term “contemporary” is relative when you’re discussing something as ancient as, well, dirt. If this seems all a bit too confusing just keep reading. It’ll be clear as mud anytime soon. 

What’s In a Name? 

Everyone knows that the country you’ll soon visit is named for the Equator. In case you’ve forgotten your high school geography, the Equator is that imaginary belt that literally cinches the earth’s waistline. It’s the fat part. 

For a more complete definition, read what the Encyclopedia Britannica says. According to them the Equator is the “great circle around the Earth that is everywhere equidistant from the geographic poles and lies in a plane perpendicular to the Earth’s axis. It divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres.” It goes on to say that “it serves as a reference line from which latitude is reckoned.”  

OK. 

So, it’s found at zero degrees latitude and is just shy of a whopping 25,000 miles long. If you’re smarter than a 3rd grader you know the Equator passes through a total of 13 countries as it circles the globe, and that doesn’t even count the territorial waters of countries in the vicinity. There are three in South America; seven In Africa; and three others cast into the seas. Can you name all 13 countries? The answers are at the end of this article. 

I’m sure, though, that you’ve heard toilet water swirls one direction north of the Equator, the other direction south of the Equator, and straight down when on the Equator. Some believe this is a result of the Coriolis effect while others think the whole thing is poppycock like the BBC folks who feel this doesn’t happen with such a small amount of water. To test the theory, one must stand ON the Equator holding a small bowl with a tiny hole poked in the bottom. Fill it with water and grass clippings (or other flotsam) then watch how it drains a few steps north, a few steps south and directly on the Equator. Or, just ask Mr. Wizard.

The French Geodesic Mission       

You must remember that people long ago did not know all the answers. Now we do. But there was once a heated debate among scientists and the oddly curious (or the curiously odd) about which of the Earth’s circumferences was greater – the one encircling the globe pole to pole or the one on the Equator. This was before TV. 

So, the French were eager to discover the truth, especially King Louis XV. In 1735, this monarch sent one team of men packing off to Lapland in the vicinity of the North Pole. He directed another team, under the command of three French astronomers, to Ecuador. (It wasn’t called that then, but was known as the Territory of Quito.) They sat in the glorious sun eating mangoes as the other team shivered in the snow eating walrus. Truth be known, it wasn’t all that glorious because the second group had to slog through the marshes of Panama … overland from the Atlantic. Ultimately, several of the “sunny” team members made their way to Cuenca and Quito, Ecuador. And did they hit the jackpot! They not only successfully measured the actual size of the Earth (not an easy feat) but their discoveries helped develop the metric system now used the world over. *  

What Manta Has To Offer 

Manta, Spanish for “cloak”, is among the country’s biggest and busiest seaports with cargo ships carrying loads of cocoa and coffee. A vibrant fishing fleet comes and goes in hand-built wooden boats offering the freshest catch – tuna, shark, dorado, and sea bass.

Artisans tempt visitors with hand-carved gourds, colorful blankets, and something called tagua. It’s considered a “vegetable ivory” because it’s made from a nut, thus sparing another magnificent elephant from an untimely demise. This nut is carved into small figures and jewelry.

Of course, the ubiquitous Panama hat is usually the number one souvenir for most visitors. That story could fill tomes so just know that Montecristi is the birthplace of the Panama hat. 

I know. I know. Though these hats are traditionally made in Ecuador, they’re called “Panama” hats because they became famous during the construction of the Panama Canal. As the story goes, President Theodore Roosevelt donned one of these brimmed hats while visiting the project and the rest is history. 

Nimble fingers weave these straw hats from the toquilla plant into varying degrees of fineness that’s directly proportional to the cost. Savvy shoppers count the number of weaves per square inch. Modest purchases might have only 100 while monticristi superfinos, worth more than your first car, have up to a staggering 2500 weaves per square inch and require four months to construct.

You, dear traveler, can snag it from the top shelf in a nanosecond. 

Maceio, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Welcome to what the locals call “Paradise.” That’s their name for this bit of sand that owes its place on the map to its sugarcane past. But that was long ago when the population was small, the beaches were bare of any development, and everything moved at a much slower pace. Today, the tourism spotlight shines bright on Maceio. So let’s take a closer look at some highlights. 

A Few Of The Facts 

Well, first of all, Maceio is the capital of one of Brazil’s 26 states that, together with the country’s one federal district, form the Federative Republic of Brazil. And, it’s been the capital of the state of Alagoas since 1839. Now, it’s also the largest city of this coastal state. Maceio straddles a spit of sand that is flanked by Lake Mundau and a stretch of the Atlantic. Her permanent population numbers approximately 350,000 though that number spikes in season when visitors pour in from around the country and from abroad. They usually arrive in December or January, during Brazil’s summertime, for the warm, tropical temperatures that are ideal for days in the sun. 

“Maceio” is actually a Tupi Indian word that means “the place where the water flows out of the soil” or “the land that covers the marshes.” What it should really be is “land with world class beaches and high-rises for visitors.” There are even urban and often-crowded beaches like Ponta Verde and French Beach as well as those more remote like Sonho Verde. Some say Gunga Beach is actually the prettiest of them all. Of course there’s always Lake Mundau with its celebrated nine islands.    

For those wishing a little less sun and a bit more sights, there’s the village of Marachal Deodoro. Only approximately 12 miles from town, there are shady streets and passageways that seem little changed for generations. 

Other Items of Note 

The Rei Pele Stadium, also called Trapichao, houses more than 20,000 fans usually there to cheer on their favorite football team. Constructed in 1970, evidently more than 45,000 fans squeezed into it for the inaugural match played here, which set the record for the highest attendance. Another important site is the Maceio Metropolitan Cathedral. Its Portuguese name is “Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres” which translates to mean “Our Lady of Pleasures.” Dating back to 1840, it’s located on Pedro II Square. The Cathedral closes at certain hours of the day so be sure to check the times before heading out. 

The Centro section off Praia da Avenida is home to an offering of fine examples of neoclassical architecture including government buildings. There’s also the Praca dos Martirios, a square surrounded by other governmental buildings and the Igreja Bom Jesus dos Martirios church. 

And Speaking Of Manatees 

We were, weren’t we? You know, sailors who’d been at sea a long time became confused when spotting manatees. You can’t really blame them for their blind enthusiasm because it could be only a love-starved sailor who mistook a manatee for a mermaid. Remember, even Columbus was confused, according to legend and lore. Manatees, also known as “sea cows”, are blobby bags of blubber that grow to be 15 feet long, weigh up to 1320 pounds and consume daily up to one-fourth their body weight. According to experts, these not-particularly-attractive animals expel a sizeable volume of gas whilst digesting their strict diet of plant matter and are rather more buoyant due to this unfortunate affliction. Hence, Mother Nature gave them heavy bones as ballast to help them sink. Well there are manatees here in Maceio, native to the Amazon and, if you’re in luck, you just might see one galumphing along beneath the waves. By the way, the Brazilians call them peixe-boi, which means fish-bull. That’s probably how we got “sea cow.” 

On A Lighter Note 

Maceio is famous for its lace. Rendas, as they call it. And those who practice this art form, or craft if you wish, are called rendeiras. This cotton lace is designed into everything from blouses to table linens with the finest form called file. These items make wonderful gifts for those back home as they’re easy to pack and lightweight. The lace, not your friends. And they’ll serve as a colorful memento of your visit to the Brazilian beaches of Maceio. Also, your support for these artists helps members of this community guard these traditions to pass them down to the generations that follow. 

Itajai, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Wilkommen, benvenuto, welcome …

To Itajai,  to Itajai,  to Itajai. 

Sound like the hit song from Cabaret? Well, sing along and discover how you’ve stumbled upon a wee bit of Germany and a smidgeon of Italy right smack here in the South American centerpiece, Brazil.

First of All, Where Are We? 

Itajai, in the coastal area known as Santa Catarina State, is draped along the banks of the Itajai-Acu River where it greets the Atlantic. A combination of factors has led to Itajai port being the nation’s second largest port when you count shipping containers. Not that you would necessarily ever want to do that but this is the benchmark by which “large” is judged. While many cargo ships come and go with great regularity, not so many passenger ships actually call in Itajai. 

Agricultural products from the interior find their way here and are loaded aboard ships bound for the far reaches of the globe. For the record, 80% of the region is rural, the weather is humid and subtropical, and her people are busy with all sorts of agricultural endeavors. 

Visitors who do find their way here, especially from abroad, discover that much of Itajai’s charm lies a bit inland unless they’re happy just to hang out on a glorious beach day after day watching the passing parade of gorgeous people. That, too, has appeal. 

The German Connection 

Of course, the area was populated with indigenous people long before anyone thought about recording their existence. The best estimates are that there were some 5,000,000 living in this sweeping country when the Portuguese explorers waded ashore in the 1500s. Experts identify the Tupi and Gurani as the majority of these peoples. 

African slaves were imported by the overcrowded boatload very early on and right through to the official end of the evil practice of slavery in 1888. Again, without hard numbers, experts believe some 4,000,000 slaves made this terrible journey from the African continent to this fledgling nation.  

Now, we’re getting to the German part of the story. Of course, it was the Portuguese who planted their flag first. Their countrymen followed in droves over several centuries and added their patina and practices to the gene pool. In their wake came citizens of other European nations with their eye on what they believed was verdant countryside offering the promise of a better life. It wasn’t only the Germans, of course, who packed up their steamer trunks with hopes and desires and sometimes family in tow. The Italians did not want to be left out of this sanctioned land grab nor did those from Spain, the Ukraine and other nations. The immigrant profile was so prevalent here that the Itajai Valley (Vale do Itajai) was also known as the European Valley (Vale Europeu).

A Gentleman named Dr. Blumenau

Dr. Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, to be exact. He and a dozen and a half other transplanted hopefuls immigrated here from Germany. They quickly set about literally creating a little Bavaria, which he named (wait for it) Blumenau, in their new homeland at the convergence of several rivers. Officially founded in 1850, the early settlers staked their success on the fine soils lining the valley floor. They built half-timbered houses in keeping with the architecture of their mother country, established breweries, and kept their values and traditions alive. Many businesses to this day are operated by German-speaking merchants, with literature printed in the German text, and the language is heard everywhere. This is especially true each October, late in the month, when the town of more than 250,000 people throws an Oktoberfest that’s celebrated with equal enthusiasm to that of their countrymen back “across the pond.”

For the record, Dr. Blumenau served as the colony’s director until he packed up his satchel and sailed back to Germany in 1880. Also note that a short 100 years ago, two-thirds of the town’s population still claimed German was their first language.

Now let’s not discount the impact of others who settled here. The Italians brought their cuisine and crafts. The Spaniards mirrored much of the same lifestyle and traditions as the Portuguese. And it all blended to create the mélange that appears before you today.

It’s best to take all this in with a plate mounded high with grilled bratwurst, boiled potatoes, a helping of sauerkraut, a monster dill pickle and an ice-cold beer from a local brewery. You’ll fit right in with the locals who will be every so happy to greet you and introduce you to their very unique corner of the world.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Karyn Planett

Pleasure or Punishment? 

Well, that depends on when you got here. Pre-1994 or Post-1994. And, here’s a hint why. Several hints, really. Alcatraz. Australia. Devil’s Island. Robben Island. St. Helena Island. Sadly, this list does go on. But, if you know your geography and history well, you’ll know that each of these remote islands (we’re counting Australia as an island not a continent for discussion purposes) was once a prison. You see it’s so much easier to pack away a pack of prisoners to some distant island where there’s no hope of escape than to keep them incarcerated in developed communities where any inmate who gets away could create great mayhem. For Brazil, Ilha Grande (Big Island) was one such prison island for just shy of one long century. 

The Bad, The Good, and The Ugly 

We’ve touched on part of the bad. But long before Brazilian authorities sent prisoners to Ilha Grande, it was a haven for pirates who preyed upon passing vessels sailing off Brazil’s Costa Verde, including Spanish galleons heavy with South American gold on their return voyage to Europe. The next chapter in this dark tale included slave runners though Brazil freed their slaves in 1831 putting an end to this evil practice. Slaves had been brought to Brazil to toil away either on vast coffee plantations or in the mines north of Rio de Janeiro. 

More rough days were on the horizon for the big island. This time as a type of floating quarantine where patients, many of them European immigrants whom the authorities believed were ill with cholera, were offloaded to languish in what were euphemistically called hospitals. Conditions were abysmal. Patients either recovered during their mandatory 40-day stay and allowed to continue on their journey or they faced their final days in wards scattered about the island. Those with financial means were housed in first class wards. Others in second class, even third class.  

Visitors to the island today must use their imagination to recreate these tales of terror because little physical evidence remains from this time. What does linger long after the prison warden’s keys unlocked the Candido Mendes’ (the “Devil’s Cauldron’s”) last steel doors are stories. Many tales were well known but none more famous, or infamous, than the one about a gang of bad Brazilian Mafia boys named Comando Vermehlo. Seems they were powerful, connected, and ruthless. Some of these wayward lads attempted to escape from the island and several even succeeded. But the escape that sealed the island’s fate as a prison happened in 1985. It was then that a chopper swooped in from the blue blue skies to spring one of these inmates. The authorities decided to close the prison then and there. 

The Good

            The island’s beautiful. It’s got 106 beaches. And there are few cars. 

The Ugly 

Some of the local people will argue that the development that’s occurred has changed the island forever. Remember, the entire island measures only about three times the area of Manhattan. Tourism is up, way up, and with it the head count of visitors. It’s said there are more than 400,000 each year now where not that long ago it was only a couple thousand. And the number of guesthouses and lodges has exploded, by island standards, in order to accommodate those arriving daily by ferry. Well, for those lucky travelers as well as for us, this truly is paradise found.

So why are they and we coming here? For the beaches, definitely. Brazil is a nation of sun worshippers. We’re world explorers. But there are the eco-travelers, as well. They’ve come to tramp what’s considers the number one prize winning stretch of Atlantic coastal rain forest in the entire country. That’s why the island is home to howler monkeys and redheaded Tanagra birds. For the record, these monkeys are some of the New World’s largest monkeys. 

Well, the moist heat of the day will give you the green light to enjoy a doce de leite, the South American sweet treat that’s truly addicting. And all too soon it’ll be time to leave behind this bit of paradise that’s still unknown to much of the outside world.           

Buzios, Brazil

Karyn Planett

“Three B’s”

Or is it four? Maybe more.

Well, right off the top of my head I can count beaches, bikinis, and Brigitte Bardot. So, that’s probably four. Oh, yes, there are also boutiques and boat charters. Bistros, yes there are tony little bistros dotted about because it seems all manner of cuisines are offered here from Italian to Thai, Fusion to French. And the nightlife definitely swirls around the “BP” beautiful people in the ear-splitting eye-popping bar scene. You need only follow the tanned and toned crowd in the micro-minis and teetering heals. 

There’s also mouthwatering beef for those not interested in the morning’s catch from the bountiful seas. For those who would indeed like some fried fish and a chilled local beer there are beach barracas, which are seaside restaurants that are, oh how do we say it, basic. Yes, that’s an apt description of these lean-tos of recycled boards and palm thatch held together with a prayer. Locals do have their favorites that they frequent on weekends or throughout the holidays, moving their collection of flimsy plastic chairs like a human sundial trying to catch every ray of sunshine, and only taking leave occasionally to dash across the hot sand for a refreshing dip in the Atlantic. You have the rare opportunity of joining in on this ritual perhaps making some lifelong friends among Rio’s Cariocas who’ve escaped the big city to Buzios in droves.

One last “B” … beach vendors who offer trinkets and souvenirs, fruit and cold drinks from their colorful little pushcarts. Among the offerings – corn on the cob, watermelon juice, even grilled skewers of cheese. They are truly part of the Buzios scene, just like the rest of the cast of characters.

And Speaking Of Characters 

You might wonder how Brigitte Bardot found her way to this little speck of glorious sand. Well, let’s back up a bit to set the stage for her grand entrance. This was simply a pretty sleepy little place about 90 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. Yes, the Portuguese discovered it in the early days of the 16th century but not much really happened here save for the pirates and slave traders who added their drama and genes to the pool of local people. Whalers were here, as well, during the 18th century and called this area Armacao das Baleias, which is Portuguese for “the Whale’s Place”. These massive animals flocked here in July and October for mating. Sadly, today, the number of whales has declined. 

For the record, the proper name for this little bit of Brazilian heaven is Armacao de Buzios. And, technically there are three communities included in this area among them Osso (which means bones – another “B” -- in Portuguese), Manguinhos and Armacao. All this is wrapped in the loving embrace of some 27 beaches on a skinny little only-100-feet-wide-in-places peninsula that looks like a blotch of paint dropped from the skies. Twenty-seven beaches, can you imagine? And if that’s not enough for the sun worshippers and eco-seekers, they’re surrounded by a backdrop of the bluest water you ever hope to see and some impressive cliffs and rocky outcroppings.  

Well everything went along swimmingly until 1964 when the aforementioned French bombshell and her hunky Brazilian boyfriend decided to escape the prying eyes of paparazzi shadowing their every move in Rio. So, they got the heck out of Rio and fled to this little fishing enclave. But, as you know, nothing ever goes as planned and they were ultimately discovered. In time, their romance cooled. The “sex kitten”, as she was called, found other distractions so what’s left behind in Buzios today is her bronze statue on Orla Bardot and the predictable comparison to her other love, St.-Tropez.

Developers followed in Bardot’s tracks especially since the world’s attention was now focusing on this steamy mini-hideaway. In the 1980s scores of hotels and villas, apartments and restaurants sprang to life luring in vacationers from Rio and from as far away as Argentina. In season the population swells by three to four times the year-round, permanent count.   

A Memento Of Buzios 

Stone Street is a must. In Portuguese, it’s called Rua das Pedras and is about 1200 feet long. Lining it from beginning to end, both sides, are boutiques of beachwear and designer duds, some fine art galleries and handicraft stores, plus a variety of eateries and ice-cream takeaways. You’ll even discover an antique store or two among the contemporary temptations.

Well, soon it’ll be time to return to your stateroom with a notch on your been-there, done-that belt and maybe even a bit of sun to prove it.