15 11 2011

A twenty minute twelve dollar ride from Panama City lay Isla Taboga, a destination for locals to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and a quick way to get back to nature, get a tan on the beach or even enjoy a quiet walk in the small town of San Pedro. In the middle of this quaint town, like any Spanish colonized town, was the Iglesia de San Pedro dubbed as the second oldest church in the Western Hemisphere.

The exterior of the church itself was less impressive. For a church that is apparently the second oldest in the Americas it was a little boring on the outside. No frescos, no intricate carvings nor gargoyles that stick out. It was just white. Plain. Dull. However, serving as its purpose the church has served as the house of god to the people of Taboga. I quietly walked inside to a couple of women having a discreet conversation and a few children running amock only to be sent outside by the women. Another woman knelt nearby the altar and another lady walked towards a stairwell at the corner.

I asked her “Que es?

Por la campana” she said, for the church bell.

Ah. Up she walked the stairwell and I asked her if I could come up and see, I felt privileged that she even said yes. Halfway upon walking up the claustrophobic winding stairwell a booming of sound surrounded me almost knocking me to the ground. I grabbed ahold of the handles and waited until the booming ceased.

I scrambled up the stairwell, I didn’t want to wait for a second booming of the bells I needed to get out of this trap. As I reached the top my eyes were blinded by the sun and waited for them to adjust. Seconds later the silhouette of the bell ringer came into formation, and then the bell, and then the window, but what stunned me the most was the view that was presented in front of me. The small houses, the boats, and the ocean all in a breathtaking view. The church of San Pedro may not be the prettiest church anyone would ever see, but the iglesia itself is lucky to have a view that it has admired for centuries.


To Count My Montecristo

3 06 2011

“I was somehow convinced by a total stranger that it was necessary for me to purchase a box of Montecristo. Foolish feelings aside, I thought it’d would’ve been a great story to tell when I get home. “

It was definitely one of the most intense moment I have ever had. Sitting alone under a gazebo in the middle of some plaza in Habana, I felt like a fool. Another feeling was that I was a fool for feeling like a fool, but the worst was feeling that somebody had taken me for a fool; either choices, in my gut feeling whatever I did was a tad foolish. Every now and then we hear stories of tourists getting themselves into scams and we shake our heads thinking “Boy, how did they not see that coming???” And then we often think that we will not be that dumb tourist.

That was until I handed a total stranger $100.

Perhaps getting me a good deal on a furniture was a better idea. Maybe even hitchhike around town, or an invite to a private event? But no, I was able to get me a deal on something I didn’t need. It was all peculiar to begin with – it wasn’t just about trusting a stranger in a foreign land, it was that I didn’t want nor need the box of cigar! However, I was somehow convinced by a total stranger that it was necessary for me to purchase a box of Montecristo. Foolish feelings aside, I thought it’d would’ve been a great story to tell when I get home.

Most country have their signature souvenir; whether a bottle of tequila from Mexico to a box of chocolate from Belgium, perhaps a carpet from Morocco or coffee from Colombia, there are certain souvenirs travelers just have to bring back home as a piece of something authentic taken from that culture, and in Cuba’s case it would undoubtedly be the cigar.

You need not be reminded about this piece of Cuba’s culture, it was practically everywhere. From bus shelters to cafes, out on the street or just hanging out on their balconies, over a heated argument or conversation, in midday or just before going to bed, it is a vice shared by everyone in Havana. Sometimes it gets too disturbing to see little children taking a bit of tobacco, but in no time yours truly jumped in the band wagon.

It was in Calle Neptuno when I met Evelio. He was about in his mid 40s, a well dressed man with gray hair and sporting some 6 o’clock shadow. He had kind eyes and did not have an intimidating persona. When he approached me he asked “Tienes fuego?” asking if I could light his cigarette. “No tengo,” I said.
“Ah! Where are you from?” he then spoke in English.
“From Canada”
It was from Evelio that I learned my education about Cuba; the history, the system, and the economy. It took me until that day to understand why I paid $1 for a slice of pizza while the locals paid a tenth of that? It seemed a bit unfair to me. We walked around a few blocks and bought Cafe Cubano, he paid ten cents. If I were to buy coffee it would cost me two dollars. Certain things did not make sense to me that I just tried to ignore. After further more discussion of my introduction to Cuban culture Evelio remembered that he was after lighting his cigarette.
“Have you tried our cigar?”
“Not really. I don’t smoke”
“Ah. If you buy a cigar, you will pay more than what I pay”. I believed him after witnessing the coffee purchase, I would believe that I could pay more as a tourist. Amid the blazing heat Evelio has invited me back to his home to have some refreshments and talk further – getting to know more of him and about his country. In his living room, we spread the map and discussed which part of Habana I have visited and still should visit. “Habana Vieja is expensive. If you want to get cheap things and eat cheap food you have to go where Habañeros go. It’s good that you are staying in Vedado, that is where real Habañeros live. Centro Habana is what we call…you say ‘downtown’? It is also cheap there”

“Now look here,” he pointed to an area on the map. “This is Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas. This is where they make the Montecristo Cigar. There are two entrances – one for me, and one for you. They separate us because of the double economy, remember that. If I go and buy a box of cigar I can buy it for eighty dollars, if you go inside and buy a box of cigar you will pay two hundred and eighty”

A little puzzled I inquired as to why? Double economy, what a pain. Eighty dollars for a box of cigar still seemed like a bit too much but compared to what I would have paid if I did purchase it sounded a lot. I’ve already confessed that I did not smoke cigar but Evelio kept insisting and discussing the difference of cost. Perhaps I could buy it for my dad, he said. No, my dad quit a long time ago as far as I was concerned. For your friends? I pondered for a bit, I do have quite a few friends who would enjoy cigar, but an entire box? There would be at least twenty five, I did not know twenty five friends who could benefit from this. I love my friends, but I was hoping I could get something…er…cheaper souvenir.

After much convincing that it was necessary for me to take home a box of Montecristo I found myself walking in the streets of Habana, without looking at the map and letting Evelio lead the way, we marched to the factory. At parque La Curita, Habañeros can be found hanging around socializing and the fumes of tobacco filled the air. Schoolchildren ran a muck, vendors stood by their stalls, men played chess and women entertained in gossip.

“You can wait for me here. Give me the money, I will go inside, buy the cigar and give it to you. Will you wait for me here?” he said as he instructed me to stay put under a gazebo in the middle of the plaza.

It was a bit nerve racking. Though I built a friendship with Evelio a part of me thought I shouldn’t. What if he didn’t come back? I’d lose my eighty dollars and I was already tight on budget. I did know where he lives, well at least I could figure it out on the map. Did I really have to do this? I could always back out but it was way too late to change my mind, however, I really did not need that box of cigar.
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“Yes,” and in a blink of an eye he took my money and went off into the crowd.


“This cigar is a cigar that locals buy. Not Montecristo or Cohiba. A cigar is just a cigar”

On the other side of town I enjoyed a conversation with a wonderful couple Ulysses and Paquita, both originally from the city of Santiago. I stumbled upon their humble bookstore situated at the very back of Cafe Literario in Nuevo Habana one day. On average they would sell at least 3-5 books on a good week at a price of $5 a piece.

“Habañeros make about twenty five dollars a month,” Ulysses said. Compared to what I spent the entire day already, $25 seemed a lot to them and the understanding of double economy in this country started to make a bit of sense. It isn’t fair that I pay more than anyone else, if you came to my city you’d pay the price that everybody else paid;. same taxes and fees applied. However, if this was how tourist can help the economy of Cubans I shouldn’t be complaining but rather be willing to cash out my wallet. A buck for a slice of pizza, I couldn’t even get a piece of pepperoni for that price back home!

“We need tourists to come here. They are the only ones that buy our books. It is sometimes hard because everyone goes to Habana Vieja or the resorts and nobody really comes to see the real places of Habana like here. So when they come to see our bookstore we are happy to see them because they help us”, said Ulysess. He didn’t need much convincing from me as I have been eyeing on the “Into the Wild” that displayed in front of me. I have purchased the novel a long time ago on my trip to California but left it in the hotel and haven’t finished it. “How much for this book?” I asked. Four Convertibles. I made a deal. As I hand in my cash Paquita gleed with joy hugging and kissing my cheecks followed by a multitude of gracias. I made their week.

The celebration continued with, you guessed it, a lighting of cigar. “This cigar,” said Ulysses “is a cigar that locals buy. Not Montecristo or Cohiba. A cigar is just a cigar” I guess we could compare it to wine. Why buy an expensive tobacco when you can get a more economical brand for the same pleasure? Tobacco consumption was indulged, Ulysses and Paquita made their quota for the day, I walked out with a novel for a fraction of a price, and a friendship that I will remember forever it was no doubt a win-win situation.

It may have seemed forever but really it was just about fifteen minutes. Nerves got to me as I looked around looking for a sign of Evelio. I squinted my eyes trying to see if I could spot him like a game of Where’s Waldo? and the prize would be Montecristo. What was he wearing again? Darn, I couldn’t remember for the life of me. Twiddling my thumbs I thought about the worst case scenario: he ran away with my money. Just when I was about to give up hope in humanity, I spotted him.
“Evelio!” I yelled. In slow painstakingly motion he walked towards me with a plastic bag in his hand and a smile on his face.
“How are you my friend?”
“Happy to see you!” I exclaimed.
He opened the bag and showed me the yellow box labelled Montecristo. In the box we counted twenty five and in gratuity I gave him two. “Do you want to light one now?” I asked.
And so we did.
Whether they were authentic Montecristo tobaccos or not didn’t bother me. Savouring the tobacco I reminded myself of a lesson I learned a long time ago and have forgotten.

A stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.

A Blast in San Blas

2 02 2010

“Sometimes, you do believe in things happen for a reason and whatever reason the inhabitants of this minuscule island had to just pack up their belongings and desert the island gave us the opportunity to have it all to ourselves”

‘Solo yo?’ I asked.
I turned around to the other backpackers waiting for their canoe. I had the impression that several people would be on the canoe with me, but as soon as I walked away to chat for a bit with the other (backpackers) I was called by my driver. I hopped on aboard on the canoe that said Cabaña Iron painted on it whilst he turned on the motor and the canoe shifted away from the soil and slowly moved along with the swamp. Sitting alone I was accompanied by a driver and a helper; they spoke for a bit and I spoke back in my rusty Spanish until we reached the mouth of the river to the open Carribean sea then did the conversation cease.

It might as well, I needed the time to absorb what the sea behold. It didn’t take long and far until the rough sea gave its wrath. Splashes of salty water were thrown at my direction and even with my sunglasses on the water stung. No pain no gain I guess. About 2 hours east of Panama city is the autonomous province of Kuna Yala. Here, the Kuna Indians ran the province and have maintained their customs, language and culture that dates back to hundreds of years even before Columbus discovered the Americas. If the history of Panama city pleased you, anticipate more in the Kuna Yala province where at this moment, they are still paving roads for easy access to visitors which means the influence of the Western world is still a rare find and that being said, tourism is just picking up. The province is well known to travelers for absolutely one thing The San Blas archipelago. From a distance islands dotted the Caribbean water and my excitement grew as every time the boat made a curve directly to the island, my hopes that I had found my destination escalate only to be disappointed that they were just used as shields from the rough currents. However, it gave me a preview of what to come. On most of the islands tiny cabanas lined the anterior to the beach and heads looked up to see us go by. On some islands they were deserted and only inhabited by birds.

Suddenly, the driver pointed out to one of the islands and curved his hand which from my understanding he was telling me we were using the islands as another shield. I looked firmly at the distance, at the tip of the island was a tiny peninsula blessed with a white sandy beach and I thought, whoever resides there is so lucky. A big splash of salt water aimed at my face when I choked and rubbed my eye from the sting until the motor stopped running, all of a sudden the water was not as rough anymore and the boat drifted closer to the shore. With my eyes wide open I started to process what was going on. The scenery was almost too dramatic and surreal – calm waters and blue sky, white sandy beach lined with coconut trees that had hammocks hung in between, a few cabanas laid out by the shore, and only a few people to be seen walking around. My jaw dropped and thought, this can’t be where I’m going?

Cabaña Iron. A simple hostel gobsmacked on a beautiful island off the coast of Panamá. The island itself I reckon was no bigger than two neighbourhood blocks. It was small, quaint, barely inhabited by the Kuna people and almost isolated from tourists. Ah, this could be heaven. I was greeted by Ali, a young and beautiful girl from New York City whom I met at the hostel back in Panama (city), while swinging in a hammock with a book in her hand. A bit cliché? I think not! The only thing missing was a freshly cracked coconut. Six other cabana hostels took over the island. About thirty Kuna people, and the influx of travelers seeking paradise changes everyday. That day, it might have been forty. In Cabaña Iron there were 4 other visitors along with me and Ali – a couple from Paris named Boris and Martine, and another couple from Toronto named Littal and Jon – with a family of Kuna including Iron (pronounced E-Ron) himself.

Iron greeted me with great hospitality wrapping his warm welcome with the typical ‘Mi casa es su casa‘ speech that you hear ever so often whenever you step into somebody else’s home. Lunch was served three times a day: breakfast is served when I’m up, lunch is at noon and dinner by sundown. I arrived just in time for lunch but Iron had encouraged me to unpack, relax and scout the beach and I will be called when lunch is served. I opted to go sunbathing at the sandy peninsula I’ve seen earlier.

After lunch I was introduced to Julio, a friend of Iron’s from Costa Rica who comes a few times a year to help out Iron and his family, essentially he was the translator since he spoke English well. “Would you like to come snorkeling?” he asked. Now, I usually would pass on such occasion because I didn’t know how to swim but I was convinced by Martine, “I don’t know how to swim either but I’m going,” she said. I thought why not? Even if I didn’t swim I’d settle for a walk on the beach. Julio promised to take us to another island and the idea of island hopping intrigued me. I ran back to my cabana to grab a few things: some money, sunglasses, suntan lotion, my camera and a towel all wrapped in a plastic bag. I was told that we would see a lot of starfish on this island we were about to visit. It took around half an hour until we docked on a deserted island. I sized it up to about the size of two neighbourhood blocks. After scouting the beach for a while Julio had to tell us that the water was too rough and that we should go and see another island where the water would be calmer. It seemed it was for the best when I noticed a dark cloud hovering above us; I wanted the sun! In soon time we came across a smaller island the size of one neighbourhood block. It looked pretty abandoned and empty as we realized that the cabanas were left unmaintained.

There will be always a few places than we can exhale and say ‘This place is breathtaking’ and no doubt it was. A postcard perfect view, nobody would ever believe that this place existed but only in somebody’s computer screensaver. In every corner unfolded a beautiful snapshot from the heavens to the sea

“This island used to be a hostel too,” said Julio. My memory of why the island was left abandoned is a bit mushed and I blamed it partially on my attention span and partially that Julio couldn’t put the story straight as to whether a tourist went swimming and died? But no, nobody died though two boys went missing. Hold on, nobody went missing but somebody did drown one way or another. We reckoned the tourists got drunk. Wait a second, it wasn’t a tourist but a local kid who drowned. Oh goodness, whatever happened here people left and this island is now occupied by the six of us.

That’s correct, just the six of us. Me, Ali, Julio, Martine and Boris, and Reagan the driver.

Though the island was remote it was not withdrawn at all with aviary inhabitants. Standing between the trees, the birds chirped amidst the crashing of the waves and the gusts of the wind. Blessed with warm weather and temperate sun it was so hard to believe that people used to live here and abandoned the place when it was the epitome of paradise. The archipelago consisted of about hundreds of islets but only a few were inhabited. The islets range in sizes and I’ve seen an dwarf island populated only with seven coconut trees.

Sometimes, you do believe in things happen for a reason and whatever reason the inhabitants of this minuscule island had to just pack up their belongings and desert the island gave us the opportunity to had it all to ourselves; and then you wonder why? This island was stunning! The circumference of the island was blessed with aqua green water and a light breeze. If I were ever to be stuck in a small island this would be it.
“What’s the name of this island?” I asked Julio.
“This island’s name is Isla Pelicano”

Reagan and Julio

The routine was done all over again the next day though this time it was John and Littal who joined me. As promised the previous day, Reagan was taking us to Isla de las Estrellas where it’s best to snorkel for starfish. From what I experienced the previous day I have come to conclusion that tropical storms are a norm in San Blas. Clouds may hover a while but expect it to be gone soon leaving only traces of rain. It was exactly what had happened to us upon reaching Isla de las Estrellas; hard rain poured on us and the water instantaneously got rougher. The ride was rocky and almost frightening that I just wanted to get to any land as soon as possible. In no time we had reach the isla welcomed by a few yachts that were already docked on the shore. When the rain ceased and the heaven opened up and the water glistened like gold in a mine when lo and behold like Robinson Crusoe paradise was found. We wasted no time flashing the camera in every angle and corner possible.

Snorkeling in the water I failed to find at least one starfish. It frustrated me for a while until John called out my name and yelled out “Ash, they’re here! They’re everywhere”. I quickly swam to his direction only to be told by him that I should be careful not to disturb the sand. I looked in the water and saw one starfish, swam up and gleed with joy. I returned my face in the water to find another starfish nearby. And then another. Oh look two of them! And then another nearby. Wait, there’s another one. Six. Eight. Nine. Ten. I quickly realized I was surrounded by stars; it finally made sense why they called it Isla de las Estrellas. Like Isla Pelican, this too was abandoned but haven for yacht owners. The feeling of isolation was almost surreal and I was waiting to find myself waking up in the hammock…back in Panama city. The inner children within us surfaced as Littal and I ran around between trees and on to the next shore. There will be always a few places than we can exhale and say ‘This place is breathtaking’ and no doubt it was. A postcard perfect view, nobody would ever believe that this place existed but only in somebody’s computer screensaver. In every corner unfolded a beautiful snapshot from the heavens to the sea.

San Blas was overall pretty impressive and will definitely take the breath away. I definitely feel having sinned sharing the experience for San Blas was heaven itself. Swinging in the hammock, there were times when I found myself overcome with boredom. I should have brought a book, I thought. However, the more I think about it the more I appreciated that doing absolutely nothing was a blessing. Once I get back on the plane home it will be rare for me to find to get absolutely bored and be okay with doing nothing. City people never get breaks like this and a rarity experience is considered lucky. Tossing the unruly guilt feeling, I swung the hammock once again and watched the distance and in a few minutes I dozed off. Being unproductive had its worth of being in a relaxing state – soon enough I will be back in the hustle and bustle of the city and this was definitely an opportunity be relaxed. I swung the hammock one more time and with the roar of the sea as my lullaby I closed my eyes and dozed off to a not so far away paradise.

The lone island

All photos taken by me.

In the Jungle, the Mighty Venezuelan Jungle

7 04 2009

“As my eyes adjusted in the dark I heard the howling of a monkey in the distance. While the rest of us was trying to sleep, the forest was wide awake.”

A sudden startling jolt woke most of the terrified German passengers aboard the small rickety-shacked plane. I looked behind me to find my new found friend Vladimir asleep while half of the passengers clung on to anything for dear life even though from the looks of the interior and exterior of the aircraft, it could rip into pieces anytime in midair. I had met Vladimir that morning, very early that morning when the van had picked me up from my hotel at half past five, to bring us to the airport and fly on a trip to Orinoco Delta. We later introduced ourselves in broken Spanish our backgrounds. Why were we here? What brought us to Venezuela and brave exploring Orinoco Delta? I found out that Vladimir is a Russian travel photographer on to his next mission to capture the beauty of Venezuela, while I on the other hand was just looking for my next adventure. At that moment, I decided I will try to sponge any knowledge dear Vladimr will throw my way.

The plane flew over the thick fresh swamp forest, a lavish of endless green, while rivers snaked through the jungle below us. I looked out my window and sighed in awe. Orinoco Delta, I thought, what wonders will I endure out of this? It may not be the Amazon (which someday, I hope to experience as well) but I felt giddy-up inside nonetheless. Along with thirteen other German tourists, the group was completed by Vladimir and a Canadian (yours truly) and our heavy smoker female tour guide. It took about an hour for us to finally land on our destination, but having no watch around me my calculation on the length of the time we flew could be wrong. Let’s just say an hour. We landed at Tupacapina on one of the most isolated airports you can ever place on earth, then greeted by the extreme heat as we board off the plane and carry our backpacks to a boat that awaited us on a nearby river. At this point was when the bad news really hit me. Having thirteen Germans on the tour I had booked I should have had read the red flag that told me that this tour was going to be not in English – but in German. Oh did the excitement start as instructions were directed and I committed to not show my clueless face to anyone but just play along to any activity, they begin and then I follow – was what to become my routine. Also my routine, was to pay attention to our local guide, Li, who would give me instructions en Español (and my rusty Spanish was put to test the next couple of days).

As the boat wound and cruised the freshwater river, mangroves, giant water lilies, coconut and banana trees, and an abundance of flora and fauna whizzed by us. There were no roads in Orinoco Delta, the only way to get around was by boat. Locals raced us with their engine-run canoes as they hurried back to their villages. Every now and then at a corner of the forest welcomed us with locals doing their daily chores – whether washing their clothes, fishing, children playing and adults watching over them – they stopped to wave at the boat filled with tourists to welcome. The Waraos (which translates to ‘boat people’) are the Indigenous people of Northern Venezuela who are the inhabitants of Orinoco Delta. Their houses were modest, simply described as colourful boxes with windows on each side of the wall and roofs mounted on top. And in every village we passed seemed to have a large hut with no walls, lined with hammocks and where most of the locals could be found, which is actually a typical Warao hut where most natives lived or gathered. Moments passed and Li tapped my back and pointed straight ahead telling me we were almost at our destination. I squinted my eyes trying to peer on what was at the end of the rio and saw beautifully built huts ahead of us. As we approached closer to the location, I gasped in awe along with the German tourists bedazzled by our humble accommodations.



“As the boat drifted in pitch dark silence came upon the boat. Nothing could be heard from any one of us, we were all sitting under a million stars tuned to mother nature’s own concerto.”


Going alone on this trip had its advantage, I had a lodge to myself! They were lined up along a catwalk and semi-hidden behind the lush greenery. Local birds named Papagayos squawked around us, other birds tweeted, and some occasional howling from tree monkeys while bugs and insects chirped behind the leaves which rustled carefully in the wind created a beautiful symphony. My lodge was at the end of the catwalk, number 16 it said. It had an open space concept windows around it with screens to keep the insects and unwanted animals (such as snakes, yikes!) out. It had two double beds and a small side table attached to the wall completed with one light bulb that illuminated the entire lodge up to the bathroom located on the back. And the most important addition to all was the hammock that sent a big grin on my face, I decided I was going to sleep on the hammock that night.

The rest of the day was spent hiking in the forest, spotting for local wild animals, piranha fishing, drinking a few shots of rum on the lancha (which I wasn’t keen upon doing, piranha fishing and drinking… Hmm…fun nonetheless), visiting a local Warao village, and ending it with watching the sunset. I thought, life was good.

The Waraos are very simple group of people. While the outside and more developed world fell into the depression due to recession, they just casually live their life like how it’s supposed to be. I felt a little jealous of the children I have met in the Warao village, they were happy to see us. As one child approached me with his curious eyes, I decided I did not want to take photos of these people. They were not going to smile for me so I could come home and show my friends and family to boast my photography skills. While the rest of the German tourists (and Vladimir) enjoyed taking photos upon photos of these simple people, I turned mine off. A small Warao child looked at me with adoration that just made me smile. I admit, I found this kid really cute that made me want to pull an Angelina Jolie adoption. As I played with this little boy, I offered to him my hat. Some of the elderly locals giggles and adored his look while he on the other hand stared at everyone in puzzlement. Such simple joys these people have, it didn’t take so much to put a smile on their faces. I envied them. One of the German ladies pulled out a bag of candies and started giving it away to the little children and they smiled even more. Simple sweets for cute little smiles, oh I was melting in adoration, I wish I had done the same.

After dinner later that evening, the tour went on a nocturnal Cayman tour. We were instructed that we had to remain quiet to not scare the Caymans off, and even the boat stealthy cruised the river in the dark. It was an endless search for these creatures and to our dismay we did not find one. However, we did spot a couple of tree snakes. To those who would pass on such an adventure, it would have been their loss. The best part of the nocturnal tour wasn’t even the search for nocturnal animals. About half an hour to the tour, Li turned off the motor and our other guide Alejandro turned off his lamp. As the boat drifted in pitch dark silence came upon the boat. Nothing could be heard from any one of us, we were all sitting under a million stars to mother nature’s own concerto. The sky was filled with twinkles due to the lack of light pollution. It was so clear that we saw two comets in the sky. How amazing and beautiful the sky would be if we didn’t blind it with city lights and actually try to count how much stars we’d see? Frogs croaked, bugs chirped, a harmony of the animals in the forest howled, and the sound of the river flowing made a romantic scene. I could not stop myself from uttering ‘wow’ in disbelief. But alas, it was broken by the engine veering taking us back to our lodge.

I woke up in my hammock in the middle of the night, it may have been such a bad idea after all sleeping on it. As my eyes adjusted in the dark I heard the howling of a monkey in the distance. While the rest of us was trying to sleep, the forest was wide awake. I heard other animals that I haven’t heard earlier that day, the nocturnes now roamed the forest. I slowly moved to the bed hoping to get a decent sleep. As beautiful as the jungle sounded, I was determined that if I had a snooze button to quiet down the noise I would have. The stretch of that night was spent waking up in some intervals, lay wide awake and fall lightly asleep again. There were times that I pictured a snake slithering on my feet and I’d scream bloody mary (or in any funny case, one of the German ladies would scream as a snake slither on her feet). Because of the open concept, I was adamant on feeling violated that someone outside was watching me sleep. I’d hear twigs cracking or light footsteps outside my lodge but I carefully just reminded myself that I was tired and imagined things.

Soon enough I realized the sky was lighting up again and there was no way I can fall properly to sleep that I grabbed my camera and followed one of the lessons I have read from some Travel Photography 101 that waking up early in the morning to catch the crack of dawn had its gifts. The air was still chilly and the nocturnal noises had recessed. I sat by the river watching water plants drift by me. It wasn’t long enough until the monkeys started to wake up along with the rest of the animals. It was time for everyone to wake up. It was like somebody had cranked up the volume slowly that the sounds and noises got louder and louder as the sun slowly rose too, Orinoco Delta was coming alive again. Footsteps were heard from behind me as some of the German tourists started waking up as well greeting me good morning. A flock of Papagayos flew above me crossing the river. I was dying to have my morning coffee, I may have not gotten a proper sleep but I did love every second of my night as annoying as it was. I’d listen to it over and over again. As I entered the restaurant, our guide was already having her morning coffee.

‘Buenos dias,’ she said.

Buenos dias indeed.

All photos taken by me.
Orinoco Bujana Lodge information click here

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

25 03 2009

Thomas Konstamm is an ex-Lonely Planet author who dishes out the dirt on how lavish really a life of a travel journalist is. And as far as I can tell, he is right…it is far from lavish. Interviews gone wrong, going bankrupt, losing one’s sanity, bending moral ethics, endless research…it is anything but glamorous. Although to a lot of people, being a travel journalist is a dream job, Konstamm only shares his personal experience that a lot of travel journalist can agree, and hopes his readers understand the ups and downs of travel writing.

Travel writing really is a dream job, but at the end of the day, it is also just a job.

“Travel writing works in a cynical manner. We write about a place, people go there, and then we must continue to write about the place because it has become a tourist destination. Unfortunately, with succes and developement comes change, and the tourist-friendly places just get busier, pricier, and more touristy. They ofen become places where I would not want to spend my vacation time, but we have to acknowledge their popularity neverthless. Sometimes up-and-coming spots are because a writer, such as myself, finds them unique and squeezes them in, or because they have become hot spots as the result of overflow from other destinations in the book. Most cities and towns, clubs and restaurants beyond those are passed over or given a short mention in the guidebook. As such, although guidebooks give the illusion of open-ended adventure and posibility, and claim that they seek to serve the independent traveler, they are often little more than a paper arrow pointing you down an overhyped tourist route, or gringo trail, so to speak.”

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? c. 2008 Thomas Konstamm

Notes: This book introduces you to a few places in Brazil (where the novel takes place) like Recife, Olinda and Fortaleza. This book also sparked contreversy on how accurate guide books are? What followers of guidebooks don’t realize that they really are…just guide books! The how-to’s of your destination, they’re not ‘guarantees’.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.