Latin America: A Journey Through Food (Video)

10 months + 12 countries= 861 meals.

From llama to cow intestines to ceviche to guinea pig to a LOT of rice and boiled potatoes, Latin America introduced me to a lot of new gastronomical challenges.  Some were successes (I love alpaca!), while some left me feeling queasy (spit-roasted guinea pig is not a delicacy for me), but all reminded me that the secret to understanding a culture is through their food.  Here is just a taste of what South American cuisine is all about.

Also, for a more detailed look at Peruvian cuisine, don’t forget to check out my post on the most typical Peruvian dishes.

50 Shades of (South American) Grey: Photo Essay

50 Shades of (South American) Grey: Photo Essay

There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in black and white.  Maybe it’s because nothing ever is just that.  Black and white is not our reality.  We are forced into a world of colour, of multiple dimensions, of scents and smells and tastes.  Yet once in awhile, we need to step and look at the simpler side of things.  We need to see things in shades of grey.

Here of 50 black-and-white photos from South America.  They look at the land, the cultures, and the people that I met along my journey.

Photo Friday: Salsa in Colombian Streets, Salsa in Canadian Bars

Photo Friday: Salsa in Colombian Streets, Salsa in Canadian Bars

After almost a year away, I’m finally back home in Edmonton, Canada.  That means I’m back at my favourite watering hole – On the Rocks — where I used to go for weekly Latin nights.  I used to live for salsa Thursdays.

As much as salsa dominated my life before I left, it also shaped my South America trip.  Upon my arrival in each new place, I would search online for the city’s hottest salsa spots and dance schools.  Most of the close friends I made, I met at salsa events, and I coordinated my trip around a couple of international salsa congresses (in Lima and Quito).

Now that I’m home, Edmonton salsa nights have taken on a new meaning.  Last week, the D.J. was playing Colombian salsa songs to which I had danced only days before in the streets during the Feria de Cali.  That same night, I met people from countries that I had visited, and was able to chat with them in Spanish about the neighbourhoods that they had grown up in.  I recognize more songs now, and connect better with the music.  Many of the songs are by bands that I’ve seen live.  Others remind me of dances or moments that I shared with people from all across Latin America.

One of the most significant consequences of my salsa-driven trip is that it’s motivated me.  I met, took classes, and danced with salseros and bachateros of an incredible caliber.  They introduced me to new styles and types of dance (like forro, samba de gafieira, vallenato, tango, salsa caleña, huayno, etc.), and encouraged a higher level of discipline in training.  I know I will never be a professional dancer, but everything and everyone that I’ve encountered in the dance world over the past year has inspired me to try to take my dancing to the next level.

Photo Friday: Feria de Cali, Colombia

Photo Friday: Feria de Cali, Colombia

A few days late… but I haven’t had internet access for the last week.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of attending three different festivals: the Cali Feria, the Ipiales Carnaval, and the Negros y Blancos (Blacks and Whites) Pasto Carnaval.  I’ve seen five multi-hour parades, and close to 20 live bands.  This girl was one of the thousands of participants in the “Cali Viejo” (Old Cali) parade I caught just after Christmas.

While the dancing and music at all of these events has been fabulous, what has most captured my attention about them has been the rainbow of bright colours that worked its way into every float and costume.   From neon green to fuchsia, Colombians wear all sorts of colours that I rarely see at home.  Maybe it’s the climate, or maybe it’s their darker skin that makes the difference, but even in their day to day routines, they pull it off spectacularly.

Besides colour, the other thing I’ve appreciated about the costumes has been their connection to Colombian history, ethnic groups, and traditions.  After a few weeks in Medellin (a modern, “Americanized” city), it was refreshing to finally see a desire to preserve Colombian culture amongst the younger generations.  While some costumes in the festivals showed different indigenous groups, others, (such as the one pictured here), acted as a nod towards Colombian food and resources.  This girl is wearing a pile of coconuts as a hat, but I also saw people dressed as sugarcane products, exotic fruits, and baked goods.   All in all, these costumes have given me a fuller understanding of Colombian culture as seen through the eyes of the locals.

If you’re ever in Colombia around the end of December or the beginning of January, I urge you to attend one of these festivals!  (Another option is the Feria de Manizales, which runs the first week in January.)

This is my last Photo Friday post from South America (for now).  This coming Friday, I’ll be writing to you from back home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada!


A Christmas Message from La Viajera

A Christmas Message from La Viajera

My dearest readers,

As you may know, I’ve been on the road for almost ten months now, and I’m only a couple of weeks away from my return to Canada.  2012 has been full of adventures for me, and this trip will surely be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Whether you are friends, family, or someone I’ve never met, I want you all to know how grateful I am to have had your support over my last year of travel.  It’s been an incredible year for me, and I’ve loved having had the opportunity to share it all with you.  More than anything, I appreciate your comments — that’s what keeps my motivation going for my writing!  (So please, if you like/hate what I’m doing, let me know!  I’m interested in hearing the feedback!)

In addition to thanking you for your support, I want to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas, and a happy New Year.  I hope you are surrounded by either loved ones, or a fantastic travel destination in order to celebrate!

I myself will be quite busy over the next week, as I’m spending Christmas with the family of a dear Colombian friend of mine who is visiting from Edmonton.  We’ll be spending the holiday with his family, and then having a crazy week of salsa-related festivities at the famous “Feria de Cali.”

Sending you all my love for the holidays.




Photo Essay: A Colombian Christmas – Medellin Lights

Photo Essay: A Colombian Christmas – Medellin Lights

Are you looking for a Christmas getaway, but wanting something a little more tropical than the chilly European Christmas markets?  Then head south to Medellin, Colombia.

A city obsessed with appearances, Medellin is not to be outdone when it comes to showing some Christmas spirit.  It boasts one of the world’s most extravagant displays of Christmas lights.

Known in Spanish as “los alumbrados,” Medellin’s lights are distributed across the city’s parks and public places, but concentrated especially along the Medellin River.  For a pleasant night out, join the crowds that wander along, eating and taking in the magnificent colours of a Colombian Christmas.

Photo Friday: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Photo Friday: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Nature Park is a gorgeous protected area on the Caribbean Sea in northern Colombia.  Located just over 30 kilometres outside of Santa Marta, it is easily accessible by public transportation.

The park caters to all sorts of travelers, but it seems to be most popular with the backpacking crowd, as it offers the option to camp overnight in either a tent or a hammock with a mosquito net.  (You would assume that the latter would be super comfortable, but I learnt that sleeping overnight in a hammock is super hard on the neck and back).

Once you arrive at the park, you can plop down on the beach right away, or you can hike for a few hours along trails and the beach until you reach the most popular camping spot, Cabo San Juan.  Hammock rentals around around $10, while tents cost a bit more.  If you want to sleep up high on the rocks (the “room with a view”), you probably need to book a day in advance, so you may want to consider spending two nights in the park.  If you plan to do this, bring a sweater — it gets chilly during the night up there!

The beach gets a bit crowded during the day, but wander a little further along and you’re sure to find your own peace and quiet, as well as a perfect place to watch the sun set.

Photo Friday: “The Open Door” – Coin Museum, Bogota, Colombia

Photo Friday: “The Open Door” – Coin Museum, Bogota, Colombia

Although this week’s photo was taken at the Coin Museum in Bogota, Colombia, its location isn’t that important to me.  What matters is what this open door represents.

Since I left on this trip in March, I’ve embraced the reality of waking up in a different city each week, with no sense of where the day will take me.  I’ve learnt not to try to control the future, and accepted the idea that the relationships I make in my life will define me more than the places I visit.   Despite this, the last nine months have been overshadowed by an impending decision which could ultimately shape my entire future… grad school.

In September, I submitted an application for an optional-residency (internet-based) MFA program in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.   This week, I was completing an application for the holocaust and genocide studies program at the University of Amsterdam when the e-mail from UBC came: I’d been accepted.

As thrilled as I was, I also met this news with a sense of dread.  I had to make a decision, now.  There was no sense having my professors write references, or paying a $180 application fee to Amsterdam if I didn’t need to.

I was torn.  All year I’d been debating which career path to follow: writing or history.  The latter seems more practical and stable, and studying in Amsterdam would help me integrate into Dutch life.  The writing degree seems like a dream come true, and would let me live and travel as much as my wallet could support it, but what kind of real future would it hold?  Do I want to be serving tables for years just so that I can hunch over my computer a few hours a day, with no promise of even finding a publisher?

Life decisions are never easy.

Last week, I was talking to a new Peruvian friend about the importance of valuing one’s happiness over a prosperous career.  Why waste your years earning money to support a mediocre life?  Focus on your happiness, and somehow the rest will work out. 

The problem was that both writing and history are my passions.  Both excite me, perhaps equally.


So what did I finally decide?

This morning, I sent the confirmation of acceptance to UBC, and canceled my request for reference letters for Amsterdam.

I realized that writing and history will always go hand in hand for me.  If I write fiction, it will be historical fiction.  If I teach history, I’ll use my spare time to write.  There is a chance that I will eventually end up with a master’s degree in both fields.  But right now, UBC offers me a shot in a highly-competitive program, and I know I won’t get a second chance there if I turn it down.

Maybe I will never make a living from writing, but I’m willing to try.  After all, I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember.  Vacations have always involved reading and writing: I have a row of travel journals on my bookshelf and I attempted my first novel at age ten while in Europe (yes, it was history-based).  Right now, a career in writing is just a dream, but everything starts with a dream, doesn’t it?

So, did I make the correct decision?

Right after sending the emails, I headed to the airport, where I discovered that my flight to Colombia faced a five-hour delay.  And how did I spend this time?  I stood in the bookstore, reading the backs of all of the bestsellers, and I only reluctantly tore myself away when the staff began giving me looks.

That on its own has answered my question.