In some form or fashion every city in the world brags on itself. Some boast of interesting moments from their past, or notable people who were born or lived there. Other cities are famous for foods or drinks. And some places played a crucial role in a nation’s development. But a few cities in the world can lay claim to something truly special – being there when human civilization was just getting its feet off the ground. Málaga is one of those, and as old as it is, it continues to reinvent itself anew.
Salvador began as Brazil’s first capital city, but today it continues as the home of 2.9 million people and the capital of the state of Bahia, with a rich tradition of celebrating Carnival and an historic center that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Portuguese explorers first landed in what is today Brazil in April of 1500; Salvador was established in 1549 and became the colony’s first capital, until 1808, when it was moved to Rio de Janeiro (in 1960 the capital was moved to the built-from-scratch city of Brasilia).
When laws of nature cross paths with a happenstance of geology, in this case water, gravity, and topography, a waterfall results. The basic configuration is the same, but every waterfall is distinctive and beautiful in its own way. By many definitions, one of the most impressive and incredible waterfalls on the planet is Iguazu Falls, proudly claimed by both Argentina and Brazil.
A number of features make Iguazu Falls special. Probably the most breathtaking aspect is the portion known as the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped formation at the beginning of the head of the falls approximately 490 feet wide and 2,300 feet in length. The amount of water and the overall drop means there is a perpetual cloud of mist, often rising above the level of the Iguazu River. The overall length of Iguazu Falls is another distinctive element, and with approximately 1.6 miles of length, Iguazu is more than a half-mile longer than Victoria Falls (1.06 miles), and more than twice the length of Niagara Falls.
Call them what you will – Falkland Islands or Islas Malvinas – these tiny windswept specks of land situated in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 330 miles off the coast of Argentina might well have been omitted from the annals of modern history had not two nations growled and bared their teeth when they squared off and waged a 10-week war to reconfirm who owns the land.
Europeans first sighted the islands – half the size of the U.S. state of Delaware – in 1592 and over the centuries France, Great Britain, Spain and Argentina claimed ownership. Great Britain took control in 1833, though Argentina still claims the archipelago. And there the matter stood for about 150 years, until the early 1980s – times of trouble for both Great Britain and Argentina. Each country saw advantages to pressing their case – even if it meant war.
Chile is home to an amazing collection of natural wonders and her southern coastal region offers an array of travel treats – world famous fjords, glacier watching and a chance to go around Cape Horn – the southern-most spot of South America.
The easiest way to take in this beauty is aboard a ship. Treat yourself to this experience and you’ll see firsthand Chile’s amazing coastal beauty that has been created thanks to the geology of tectonics, time, and climate.
Fjords were created during the Ice Age, over many millennia, when massive glaciers scoured the rock bed below them and then retreated, allowing the seawater to inundate the valley.
Santiago is a city that defies simple summary. It is Chile’s financial and cultural center, has the largest population and is the political hub of that South American nation. But Santiago is emerging on a number of levels, with one of South America’s highest rates of economic growth and per capita income, a high literacy rate, recognition for its expanding culinary scene and a relatively corruption-free government.
Santiago’s New World beginnings began a few decades after the European land grab in South America was kicked off by Christopher Columbus’ Spanish-financed voyage in 1492 (though he did not reach South America until his third trip). But once Columbus proved the earth was round, other nations quickly followed including France, Portugal, Great Britain and others, each claiming as much territory – and wealth – as they could lay their hands on. Skirmishes, wars, slaughter and fighting would go on for more than 300 years as indigenous peoples were beaten down, their populations decimated and South America’s resources exploited.
The Galapagos Islands are a must-see experience for world travelers and anyone interested in ecology, species protection and preservation, and glimpsing a part of the world that remains pristine.
The unique character of these islands has been featured in countless articles, documentaries and television programs produced by luminaries such as Jacques Cousteau, David Attenborough and National Geographic. Historically, Charles Darwin’s experience at that remote archipelago sparked his imagination and led to his groundbreaking theory of evolution.
Thanks to an insatiable lust for gold by the Spanish Crown, a prime location along Colombia’s northeast coast, and a shameful distinction as one of Spain’s slave trading centers, Cartagena might never have risen to prominence as an important New World city. But those factors, along with the aspirations of ambitious men, enabled Cartagena to grow and prosper. Today they are ingredients that make up a recipe for a vibrant history and lifestyle of a beautiful city on the bay.
As far back as 4000 BC, the region that today comprises Cartagena was inhabited by a group of pre-Columbian tribes who were likely attracted to the region based on the warm climate and abundance of game and seafood. Spanish conquistadors were drawn to the area because of gold that the tribes crafted into jewelry and art. One of them would go on to establish Cartagena.
It’s always exciting to discover and new city, and with Medellin, you’re also likely to fall in love. Forget the clichés you might have heard about Colombia’s second largest city – gone are the days of a crime-ridden haven run by drug lords.
As recently as the 1990s Medellin was considered the most dangerous city in the world. But as Paisas – those who live in Medellin (population 2.4 million) and the surrounding area – are quick to point out, dark days are giving way to a modern metropolis where tourists are welcome. As recent visitor I felt safe in Medellin. (Tip: Colombians pronounce the city’s name as med-uh-JEEN.)
When flying overhead, the Amazon jungle looks impenetrable. Gaze upwards from the jungle floor and the light and sky are nearly obscured. But at the interstitial between top and bottom one gets a perspective of the vibrancy and vitality of the Amazon River jungle. It’s a place to see both the trees and the forest.
For arboreal lovers, ambling along the top of a forest is a true delight. The longest canopy walkway in South America, which is also one of the longest in the world, is located in Peru’s Amazon jungle. The walkway is owned and maintained by Explorama Lodges, which for more than 50 years has been providing a place for visitors to spend time in the Amazon jungle. Their expert guides escort guests on hikes, excursions and even piranha fishing trips, in addition to a trip to their canopy walkway.
As time marches on some people get left behind. The Yagua, today a diaspora of fewer than 6,000 people scattered in small and remote villages along the Amazon River in Peru and Colombia, are an example of how “progress” can ravage a culture unprepared to deal with a changing world.
Yet the Yagua have a distinguished heritage and remain proud. The Amazon River was so named because early Spanish conquerors mistook the Yagua men, who wear a type of grass skirt, as women, and named the region “Amazon” after the legendary female warriors who were bitter enemies of the ancient Greeks.
Compared to every other one of the world’s great rivers, the Amazon is by far the biggest. However it’s measured, by the amount of water, size of its drainage basin, or total length, no other river comes close.
Yes, some argue the Nile River is a bit longer in total length, but that fact too is in dispute. The Amazon River, with an average discharge of 55-million gallons per second, releases more water than the next seven-largest rivers in the world combined. The Amazon River discharges approximately 20 percent of the world’s total fresh water. The Amazon basin, at more than 2.7 million square miles, is nearly twice the size of the world’s second largest river (by water discharged), Africa’s Congo River basin. And the Amazon’s mouth stretches over 40 miles and pushes freshwater more over 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. To date, no bridge has been built across any portion of the Amazon River.
For thousands of years the Uros people have proven to be survivors. When faced with adversity this ancient peace-loving civilization in southern Peru adapts.
When the Incas were ascendant 1,500 years ago it could have been life or death for the Uros. Their choices were stark: be subsumed by the Incas, fight and face extinction, flee the rich bounty of Lake Titicaca, or perhaps come up with another answer. Their ingenious solution – build floating islands using the plentiful totora reeds of the lake – became the answer that has defined a way of life for centuries. Their mastery of the water kept the land-based Incas at bay.
Travelers keep a list, if not on paper then in their heads of the places they would love to see. Some destinations are decided early on and for others it’s a notion that comes along later. No doubt virtually every list includes a stop at Machu Picchu, where upwards of a million people a year visit one of Mesoamerica’s greatest places.
Researchers say it took nearly 100 years to build and it was in use for only about that long before it was abandoned and lost to obscurity for 400 years more. But in 1911, when American archeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon Machu Picchu, about 45 miles northwest of Cusco, Peru, he reintroduced to the world a magical place that grows increasingly popular with tourists from all over the globe.
Salt is both simple and complex. An ionic compound of sodium and chloride, it is easy to produce. Salt’s complexity arises from its importance to civilizations, its value and role in human health, and food preservation. Societies prospered and failed because of it, and wars were fought over who would control the salt. Today it is a commodity easily and cheaply obtained.
Our value as human beings has been compared to salt. Someone highly regarded is said to be “worth their weight in salt” and someone of integrity is considered a “salt of the earth.” The all-important word, “salary” comes from the word salt.
The above title is a palindrome and also sums up a collective ambition to construct one of the world’s great engineering marvels that immediately became an indispensible asset to the global economy.
Today, the Panama Canal is a thriving and efficient method to move ships, cargo, and people between the two largest oceans on the planet. Yet, for hundreds of years a canal across the Isthmus of Panama was a pipe dream. But before the first ship steamed through in 1914, the massive project would claim more than 30,000 lives, advance the fields of engineering and manufacturing, cause a mighty nation to teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, reshape the geopolitical map of the world and fulfill the grand ambitions of an American president.
Mexico City offers plenty for both locals and visitors to enjoy but perhaps one of the more distinctive experiences would be time spent at Xochimilco where, for hundreds of years, 110 miles of canals that separate floating islands is an enchanting place where people grow flowers, food, and sustain their families.
Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site (designated in 1987) is still a popular destination for Mexicans, and an intriguing stop for international visitors. The best way to experience Xochimilco (zo-shi-mil-koh) is by floating along in flat-bottomed boats called “trajinera” that silently glide atop the water powered only by expert operators who propel them with long wooden poles.
Any number of markers can attest to a civilization’s preeminence. Art, mathematics, science, law, politics and architecture are just a few examples. Some of the greatest architecture to be found in ancient Mesoamerica is a complex of temples and buildings called Teotihuacan, about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City.
But for all of Teotihuacan’s greatness the most basic question may never be answered – who built it? And also, what happened to the people who lived at Teotihuacan?
Scholars speculate as to who constructed the complex that includes the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and the Temple of the Plumed Serpent (Temple of Quetzalcoatl). Some believe Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic site and others believe elements of the region’s Totonac, Otomi or Nahua peoples are responsible. At its height upwards of 125,000 lived, worked, played, and worshiped their gods within the area’s boundaries. Aztecs, who arrived in the area approximately 1,000 years after it was built, bestowed the site with the name Teotihuacan, “the place where gods were created.”
Frida Kahlo created art at a price paid dearly. “Tortured artist” understates the pain she endured much of her life, pain both physical and emotional. But it was in the cauldron of conflict where she produced some of her greatest work. And while she lived in many places in Mexico City and around the world, the idyllic home known as the Blue House – Casa Azul – was a touchstone throughout her life.
To better understand Frida Kahlo, it helps to know something of her father, Guillermo Kahlo. The two shared a number of traits. Both had complicated lives, suffered serious injuries in their youth, were introspective and moody, and both had a keen artistic eye and aesthetic, among other things.
If only one word in the English language described the work of artist brothers Javier and Jorge Marin, it would be audacious. Their larger-than-life sculptures are bold, daring, brave, fearless, original, and without restriction or attachment. When you take in their art with your eyes, you see it with your body, feel it in your soul and you keep turning it over and over in your mind.
Even a jaded “lover” of art will stop in their tracks when first seeing a piece by either one of these artists, because the viewer is compelled to look and stare, as if seeing great art for the first time. To be clear, while they are colleagues, the brothers work independently, do not collaborate and do not show their work together. Even though there is a kinship of style in some of their work, each is a distinctive artist by himself.
Mexico City is rightfully touted as one of the “hot” destinations for world travelers. Just a few reasons include her sheer size, rich history, respect as a food scene, lively arts, urban vibrancy, a genuine cosmopolitan identity and compelling architecture in a city with great weather that is easier to get around than you might think.
Recognized as an “alpha” global city, and currently the 19th largest city in the world with a population of just under nine million (the surrounding area more than doubles that number) Mexico City is increasingly viewed as a nexus for business, culture and arts.
One thing that makes Mexico unique among nations of the world is how the people there deal with the subject of death. Like all cultures, Mexicans mourn the passing of a family member or loved one, but in Mexico they do not fear death, they laugh at it.
Death is such a part of life that Mexicans give their children skeleton toys and little coffins to play with. And every year from October 31st to November 2nd they celebrate death as part of the great cycle that brings those they love into the world and ultimately takes them away.
Mexico has a long history and diverse population, stretching back thousands of years that include more than 60 indigenous cultures. One of the largest of those groups, Zapotecs, concentrated in the southern state of Oaxaca. The most famous remnant of their glory days – and surely the most breathtaking – is Monte Albán, a sprawling complex just a few miles outside the city of Oaxaca.
But Monte Albán is a mystery in a number of respects. Located 1,200 feet above the valley floor, it is a huge place, encompassing approximately 45 acres. At its height scientists estimate as many as 17,000 to 25,000 people inhabited the area. But the site has no rivers or discernable supplies of fresh water where the structures were built. In fact, some of the stones used to construct the buildings had to be hauled up from the valley by humans, since neither the wheel nor draft animals were available to the Zapotecs. It is surmised the site was chosen for defensive attributes (walls built for defense are along the north and west sides of Monte Albán).
What makes Mitla an important archaeological site is not its size or the number of people who lived there, but because it was the main religious center for the Zapotecs who built it and also because of the fretwork of geometric patterns carved into the stone walls of the buildings that are found nowhere else in Mexico.
Oaxaca, Mexico, for all its beauty, is a somewhat out-of-the-way locale. But for Zapotecs, who began their ascendance some 2,500 years ago, the Central Valleys of Oaxaca were an ideal place to call home. Unlike some of the better-known civilizations in Mexico, Central and South America, Zapotecs were not as concerned with making war as they were with making deals – as in trade – a tradition that continues to this day.
Scientific surveys have recently estimated as many as three trillion trees grow all over the world. But out of that mind-boggling number, only a handful of specimens are majestic enough to be considered iconic. The tree with the largest trunk girth on earth, El Arbol del Tule, grows in a church courtyard in the small village of Santa Maria del Tule in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Certainly there are taller trees, ones with a larger volumes of wood, and others thought to be older, but none has the immense girth of El Tule (too-lay), which is estimated to have a circumference of more than 160 feet and a diameter of more than 38 feet. Scientists and arborists who have studied El Tule estimate it to be between 1,200 and 1,600 years old.