Sunday, December 28, 2008

Year in Review: 2008 Top 5 favorite trips, media friends, blog posts and more

This little girl toted around her cousin like he was her own child! Patacancha, Peru.

1. Best International Travel: Two months in South America! Photos and stories coming soon. Here are the cities I visited:
Santa Catarina - whale watching at Vida Sol e Mar!, Sao Paulo, Rio, Porto Velho, Manaus
Lima, Cusco - mountain bike tour with Sacred Rides!, Ollantaytambo, Patacancha, Machu Picchu: Sacred Valley.
Best Domestic Travel:
Idaho: Whitewater rafting with ROW Adventures
Montana: Bicycle tour with Adventure Cycling Association

2. Best Professional Networking Group:
Adventure Travel Trade Association World Summit
In 2007 and 2008, I was selected as a guest speaker at ATTA world Summits in Whistler, British Columbia, and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I made incredible friends and contacts worldwide.
Photos from Summit in Sao Paulo, September 2008.

3. Best Awards Ceremony:
National Geographic Adventures of the Year presented by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.
I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the Washington, D.C. event at National Geographic headquarters. Talk about inspiration. Check out these world travelers:
These folks were written up in a cover story in Dec. 08/Jan. 09 issue: "Best of Adventure: Adventurers of the Year."

When I met Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic snowboarder, I learned her fiance is from Aptos, California, part of Santa Cruz County, where I live.

4. My Best Blog Posts
First Place:
I was thrilled to be hired to write a twice monthly blog for the Orbitz-owned travel website. Here's a sample: Machu Picchu blog entry.
Second Place: My Travel Journal blog (right here!)

Special thanks to new media friends I made in 2008:
Stacy Niedzwiecki
Your Daily Michigan Moment:
Tim Shisler
Multimedia wizard and blogger living in Boulder, Colorado when he's not on the road.
American journalist living in Brazil
Marilyn and I connected on then met in person at her home in Sao Paulo.
Marilynn Diggs

In my very special outfit, in which I emceed a Halloween event for the City of Santa Cruz, pictured below, I wish you a Happy New Year!


Please link to me, friend me or tweet me!
Got Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo and even Hi5.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brazil boat ride from Porto Velho to Manaus: Rotem from Israel reports on his 4-day adventure

The boat is docked in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia in western Brazil.

It's no cruise ship. There is one shower, no buffet meals, and one television onboard.

On October 16, 2008, Rotem of Eliat, Israel, answered my email asking for details about traveling three days and nights in a boat from Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondonia in western Brazil, to Manaus, the city that is one of the gateways to the Amazon.

I met Rotem in a hotel in Porto Velho one afternoon. We were happy to speak English to one another and discuss our travels before we went our separate ways after just one day. I nearly went on this same boat as Rotem because I was also headed to Manaus. After I visited the boat, I decided not to go: three nights in the hammock on the crowded deck was not what I wanted! But I was eager to hear all about his trip on the Madeira River.

The Madeira River is a major waterway in South America, approximately 3380 km ( 2100 miles) long. It is the Amazon's largest and most important tributary and spans about a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon.

Here is Rotem's story. I just got his permission to share this on my blog. I added my own photos.

Rotem came well-prepared for his travels, even carrying a tea kettle!

After you left the boat, I put all of my things next to my hammock hoping for good, feeling that everything is going to be all right. (We had been warned about robbery on the boat).

They finished loading the boat only around 13:00. Then we left, escorted by a few river dolphins.

Around 17:00(!) they served dinner - plain rice, plain pasta and some meat in sauce.
After a while, they turned on the t.v. which is a bit funny - a boat like this with satellite dish, that they turn all the time by pulling a string attached to a bicycle which is attached to the dish...

Workers load fruit and other goods onto the boat in the Porto Velho port.

When the sun set, I went for a walk on the boat to find a good place to watch. It was one of the most special and amazing sunsets I have ever seen! For more then an hour, the sky was full of colors and clouds - amazing!

In the middle of the first night, we had a stop and many more people got on, so as crowded as it was, it became more crowded. The good thing is that everyone was so nice and smiling all the time, so it was fine after all.

In the middle of that night, we had a little storm. Very quickly everything got wet - thank God my bag wasn't on the floor. In the morning, another two hours of rain and that's it.

Around 06:00, they put some coffee and biscuits out for breakfast.
After breakfast, a local girl started talking to me. When she understood that I don't speak Portuguese, she started teaching me with the help on a dictionary she had. So here I am starting to learn Portuguese.

Around 11:00(!) they served lunch, exactly what we had for dinner the day before. In general, the food was the same, all the time. The local people say that it was not so good food, but I found it was fine.

After the Portuguese lesson, I was invited to join a "domino" game (that's what they do here in Brazil all the time). After losing over and over again, I won one time!

In the middle of that night, we had a short stop again for people to go and come, not anything special.

After waking up that morning, I had some more Portuguese lessons and I helped them in their English. Actually, that is what I did the whole day: learning Portuguese, helping in English and having a walk on the boat from time to time to let my brain take a bit of rest. In the evening, a bit of "domino" games.

During the third night, there was a big lightning storm - for two hours, the sky just didn't stop. It was amazing!!! It was night, but the sky was white for two hours.

Here are the sleeping quarters! Passengers bring their own hammocks.

The last morning, I did everything to be ready for Manaus around noon. Around noon, I discovered that we will get to Manaus much later than I thought. After noon, I discovered that we will get there only in the middle of the night and everybody can stay and sleep on the boat: they just saved me one night in a hotel!

We got to Manaus at night - it is a huge place with a huge port. Everybody stayed until the morning and then left. I tried to ask where can I find a boat to Santa Reim, but didn't understand the captain's answer. All I understood was that they will take me with the small boat to the boat I needed.

Half an hour later, I was on the boat to Santa Reim. That is the end of my Porto Velho to Manaus trip.

Rotem set up his hammock and set sail for four days, learning Portuguese, playing dominoes and appreciating the beauty of the river.

NOTES from Rotem's Trip: Some interesting things:

1. The weather here changes from full sun to full rain so fast. I have never seen
such a dramatic change of weather in 10 minutes and then back again after an hour.

2. Another special thing is the color the water. When we got close to Manaus, the water became black! You can look at the brown river that we had all the way, and in a certain point you start see the water getting almost black. because of the climate difference, the brown and the black water don't mix! So you see for a long ways this two-colored water floating next to each other! I find it very hard to describe, especially in English.

3. The the view was a bit monotonous (the same) but I enjoyed it very much. All the time, the river is around you, it is very green on the river banks, and different greens all the time. I even saw a buffalo for the first time after many years.

All and all, I enjoyed it very much. It was very interesting and very special.
I started the trip with knowing only the Portuguese word "obrigado" (thank you) and finished with a lot of new words that I wrote down in my little book.

I hope you enjoyed my story!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting presents annual Santa Cruz show Saturday, Nov. 22.

Frans Lanting - Chimps at the Edge

Renowned nature and wildlife photographer Frans Lanting takes us to a remote corner of West Africa to cover an unusual group of chimpanzees that is making people rethink the nature of chimps and the boundaries between apes and early humans.

On assignment for National Geographic, Frans and his wife, videographer Christine Eckstrom, woke before dawn each day to meet the Fongoli chimps of Senegal as they arose at first light. Traveling up to 15 miles each day in searing heat and carrying 40-pound backpacks, Frans and Christine captured groundbreaking images and never-before-filmed scenes of the chimps making spears to hunt small primates--a behavior that made headlines around the world when anthropologist Dr. Jill Pruetz first reported it last year.

"This was a grueling assignment - one of the hardest things physically that I've done in a long, long time," said Lanting.

Saturday, November 22, 2008
Rio Theater in Santa Cruz
Show times: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
General Admission: $20; Friends of Long Marine Lab members: $15.
Advance tickets at the Seymour Center (831) 459-3800, Frans Lanting Studio (831) 429-1331, and Logos Books & Records downtown Santa Cruz.

Visit or

Friday, November 21, 2008

Washington, D.C. - An eventful week for me in the nation's capital

Editor John Rasmus, right, pictured with Adventurers of the Year Gregg Treinish and Deia Scholosberg.

Thursday, November 20: - I attended the 3rd annual National Geographic Adventure Magazine Adventurers of the Year event Thursday evening at their Washington, D.C. headquarters.

For three and a half hours, an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred was treated to video clips, stories and rousing testimonials about international adventures. The highlight of the presentation was the introduction of the 14 Adventurers of the Year, young men and women who had been selected by a National Geographic panel (and are featured in the December issue of the magazine, "Best of Adventure '09, with *Pemba Sherpa on the cover).

After a tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) and a Hall of Fame award to Rick Ridgeway,
Boyd Matson, called "the face of National Geographic," introduced each of the winners with a video clip and some brief question and answers on stage.

Three honorees were unable to attend: Kelly Slater, awarded for his athleticism, was on book tour, George Stenimetz (photography) and Emma Stokes (discovery) were traveling abroad.

I have more to say about the inspiration of the evening - but I have to board my American Airlines flight from Dallas to San Francisco. My 7 a.m. flight leg from D.C. to here went smoothly!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Media Industry Shake-Up: The Good News

BAD NEWS: The media industry is in the midst of remarkable upheaval - layoffs and publication closures. (See my last blog).

GOOD NEWS: Wherever there is change, there is also opportunity!

Tim Shisler, a multi-media journalist based in Boulder, Colorado, is doing a great job tracking new media opportunities through a series of posts on his blog for Written Road.

To learn tips on how to become more multimedia savvy, check out three of Tim's recent postings:
New Media Skills: Creating Video Without Losing Your Shirt - Part 1

Friday, November 07, 2008

USA Election - I am still celebrating Barack Obama's victory!

This video clip of Barack Obama dancing, briefly, on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show makes me feel the joy of electing Obama President of the U.S.A!

(This clip was taken before he won!)

A photo of friends new and old on election night in downtown Santa Cruz, California!

State of the Media: Newspapers, Magazines, Television - A downhill slide in 2008 with staff cuts and closures - List of recent losses

I have been back home in Santa Cruz, California, for nearly three weeks now after my trip to Brazil and Peru in September and October. As a freelance journalist, it's part of my job to keep up with industry trends. I read dozens of publications both online and in print, so it's no surprise that media jobs are vanishing as the economy suffers and technology shifts.
But the recent landslide of deep cuts in media staffing and publications is stunning!

Here is a grim sampling from November reports from two of my favorite sources which compile industry news from a variety of sources: (Newsfeed) and Wooden Horse Publications. In my next blog entry, I will write about some GOOD NEWS that comes with these changes!

Christian Science Monitor to Go Web-Only
The Christian Science Monitor plans major changes in April 2009 that are expected to make it the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day. The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format. WaPo: "Everyone who grew up with print, and everyone who worked in print like me, you feel a little sad," editor John Yemma said in an interview. But he said the Church of Christ, Scientist, which has heavily subsidized the $26 million annual cost of running the Boston-based paper, wants to stem the flow of red ink.

Forbes: While other print publications have folded in favor of online in recent years, the Monitor's change is perhaps the most poignant acknowledgment thus far of the radical transformation in the newspaper business.

• Gannett Will Cut 10 Percent of Newspaper Jobs (Reuters)
Gannett Co Inc, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, is planning to cut about 10 percent of jobs at its local papers as it fights advertising declines made worse by the global financial crisis. It is the second round of layoffs that Gannett has planned in the past two months. In August, Gannett said it would eliminate 1,000 newspaper jobs, with 600 being laid off.

• Rodale has confirmed that they are laying off 111 employees or approximately 10% of the company and eliminating or consolidating positions in other divisions. No word yet on which magazines will be affected specifically -- Rodale publishes Runner's World, Men's Health, and Bicycling, among others.

• Tribune D.C. Staffers Bracing For Cuts, Consolidation
With word spreading that the Tribune Washington, D.C., bureau is headed for some major cutbacks and consolidation, staffers there are concerned but not surprised that such changes are in the works. Although Tribune Co. offered no official word about the cutbacks, which are expected to hit the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times D.C. outlets the hardest, those in the bureau are bracing for the worst

• News Corp. Cancels Annual Holiday Bash (TVNewser)

News Corp. is canceling its extravagant holiday bash normally held at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan. The annual party is for all News Corp. employees, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, the New York Post, the TV stations division, 20th Television, etc., etc. Expect this to be just the first of many holiday party cancellations due to the ailing economy.

• The Seattle Times Co. announced more cutbacks yesterday, including a reduction of 130 to 150 staff positions through a combination of buyouts and layoffs.

Washington Post Co.'s third quarter income plummets 85%. Although newspapers were hit the hardest, the company's magazine division reported an operating loss of $27 million for the first nine months of 2008, compared to an operating income of $14 million for the first nine months of 2007. NEWSWEEK's ad pages fell 17% through the first 9 months, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

At Conde Nast more than 100 people will be out of work in a one-day bloodbath that is unprecedented in the history of the company. As many as 60 people will lose their jobs at MEN'S VOGUE*, which is being cut back to two issues a year from ten and will now be a standalone supplement to VOGUE*. PORTFOLIO* is being downsized by 20% and, in a strange move, the 35 people on the online team were stripped to five. The print magazine had its frequency cut from 12 to ten.

Revenue at Meredith's publishing unit (BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS*, LADIES' HOME JOURNAL*, MORE*) dropped 9% in the last year, to $300 million. But ad revenues fell much more steeply, dropping 18% to $148 million. And the operating profit plummeted 40%, to $33 million.

• American Express Publishing (TRAVEL + LEISURE*, FOOD & WINE*), is eliminating 22 jobs across departments. Ad pages fell 3.6% in the first half of the year, according to

• Wenner Media (ROLLING STONE*, US WEEKLY*, MEN'S JOURNAL*) let go at least seven employees (2% of its 400 full-time employees) in the past week. The flagship magazine Rolling Stone faces an 18% decline in ad pages this year through Oct 16; Us Weekly declined 5% through its Oct 27 issue, per the MEDIAWEEK* Monitor.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's publishing division posted $122 million in revenue year-to-date, down 9% from $134 million during the same period last year. The company attributed Q3 publishing declines to "lower advertising pages, a shift in timing of special issues and the absence of BLUEPRINT", which folded late last year. But digital ad revenue increased 35% year-over-year, the company said.

• McGraw-Hill Companies (BUSINESSWEEK*, AVIATION WEEK*) said it eliminated 270 jobs company-wide in an effort to "contain costs and mitigate the impact of the current and expected future economic conditions." More than half of the cuts - 140 - came from its media and information division.

• Time Inc. Plans About 600 Layoffs (NYT)
Time Inc., the world's largest magazine publisher, plans to cut 6 percent of its work force -- more than 600 positions -- and will revamp the organization in a way that could radically alter the culture at the company.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

American Election 2008: Barack Obama Victory - A Win for the U.S and the World!

Last night in Santa Cruz, California, I celebrated Barack Obama's win with jubilant friends and strangers who had gathered on the main street downtown.

Brooke, Saskia, Theresa, Luke, Lindsay, Lisa and Melinda and Matt - so wonderful to see you all!

I am deeply relieved about the election outcome and feel optimistic about the leadership of this new Democratic president.

My friend in France, whom I met in the Brazilian Amazon wrote me today:


We are very happy for you, for all world. Youpi! And now, very much work for Barack Obama.

THANK YOU for voting in favor of Barack Obama!

See you later!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Quote on happiness from Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert

"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You have to fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.

And once you achieve a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it...

It's easy enough to pray when you're in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments."

- Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat, Pray, Love" - Bali

Thanks for sharing this, Kyer!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

5 Ways I know I am back in the USA and Santa Cruz, California

This is a fat costume for a Halloween bike race. It is no joke that many Americans really do look like this!

Back here in the United States, I notice:

1. People walk a lot faster.
2. They wear darker colors; I miss the bright, traditional Peruvian clothing.
3. The country is in a presidential election frenzy!
4. People complain about their stock portfolios.
5. How I know I am back in Santa Cruz, Calfornia, specifically -

• A visitor from New York commented, "Every day is Halloween in Santa Cruz." He made this observation after walking down our main drag, Pacific Avenue. He noticed that anything goes, fashion-wise, in this liberal, little seaside university town.

• At the Farmer's Market, the first person I bumped into there was an acquaintance from Burning Man 2007. He offered me a bag of fresh green peas. He told me to pick one pea, crack open the pod and he would look inside it and tell me my fortune. My future looks bright!

* I was invited to a Halloween party with the theme CEOs and Hos. Within a few hours, several people were semi-naked on the dance floor. (Not I!)

Before the Halloween party, I met with friends Marilyn and Caroline.

Best of all about being home: Where else can I attend a Halloween costume bike race?!

Yep, that's me in the black wig and red helmet!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Karen's Homecoming to Santa Cruz, California, after two months in South America

Hello, California
I am back in Santa Cruz!

The weather here is warm and sunny, a welcome change from the cold, wind and rain in Lima and Cusco the past few weeks.

Farewell, Peru
I left Lima Tuesday night after an emotional farewell to new friends in my Miraflores neighborhood. (Next blog post about those folks!)

There were topnotch fireworks on the way to the airport. I liked to think they were for my send-off from South America. But my taxi driver told me the "fuegos artificiales" (artificial fire) were for the opening of a huge, new Chilean-owned supermarket in downtown Lima. Not Whole Foods!

Next time, Fly First Class!
My miserable overnight American Airlines flight from Lima to Miami provided ample time for me to ponder how I might:
* Develop ears that could switch into noise cancellation headsets
* Pay extra for a night flight where they did not serve dinner and drinks starting at 12:30.
* Construct a shield for my seat so that the woman next to me did not keep jolting me awake with her bony elbow.

Miami Marathon
Upon arrival in Miami at 6 a.m. Wed. morning, I had more urgent considerations - like making my next airplane!

For most of the next 90 minutes, I was running full speed thru Miami airport, still wearing my colorful Peruvian ear-flap hat (not the choice of fashion in Miami) over my slick hair. The shoelaces on my dirty hiking shoes were untied, my pants were slipping down to lowrider level, and my Apple laptop was tucked under one arm since there was no time to stuff it into my filthy, overstuffed backpack. It was not a pretty site!

My sprinting paid off: I was the last one to board that flight! I was so grateful to be on that plane!

Gracias a Damien

A huge thanks to Santa Cruz friend Damien Pierce for picking me up at San Francisco and giving me one of the best Welcome Home Tours ever! (More on that later).

Now What?
It is Thursday morning and I feel a bit dazed and confused at my guest house in downtown Santa Cruz.

I am not going to have my typical South American breakfast - one scrambled egg and a white bread roll with jelly and butter; nor do I need to speak Spanish. But plenty of other things to do - like figure out how to gather my cell phone, car and bike from various points around town.

Instead, sorting thru my luggage and knowing all pieces will fall into place, eventually. I would like to write a travel story about The End of The Trip: The Transition Back Home.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New friend from Pakistan provides information on Lima festival

I am in Cusco airport Sunday afternoon, awaiting my two-hour flight to Lima.

Before I left for South American (way back on Saturday, August 31), I received an email from Waheed Anjum, who lives in Islamabad. Pakistan. He had found my website through a Google search and wanted to strike up an email correspondence with a fellow journalist. He has been a journalist for 22 years and is currently a news editor at a newspaper in Islamabad.

We have exchanged several emails while I have been traveling in Brazil and Peru. I was particularly touched that he took the time to send me some information about a large festival in Peru, El Senor de los Milagros. I am going to try to find this procession when I fly to Lima today.

Here is the note and info that Waheed sent me:

Respected Karen,
Are you are still in Peru? I am sending you some information so that your visit become more informative and enjoyable.
Waheed Anjum
Islamabad. Pakistan

The Lord of the Miracles

This procession, which gathers together the largest number of believers in South America, dates back to colonial times, when a slave, brought over from Angola, drew the image of a black Christ on the walls of a wretched hut in the plantation of Pachacamilla, near Lima. The image stayed on the wall despite several attempts to erase it.

This was to spark widespread devotion for the image, which survived intact on the wall despite an earthquake in 1746 which leveled all surrounding buildings. As a result of this event, worship of the image rose to new heights, until it became what is today the most widely venerated image in the city of Lima. The heart of the celebration is one of the largest processions to take place every year in the Americas, where tens of thousands of the faithful dress in purple tunics, singing hymns and praying as they accompany the image. The litter which bears the painting weighs two tons and is borne on the shoulders of believers who set out on the traditional 24-hour procession from the church of Las Nazarenas, crossing downtown Lima until it reaches the church of La Merced in Barrios Altos. Around this time of year, the streets fill with vendors of a wide variety of typical dishes and sweets, such as the famous Turrón de Doña Pepa. In October to commemorate the Lord of Miracles (Señor de los Milagros), Lima hosts the well-known bullfight season which carries the same name and is held in the centuries-old Plaza de Acho bullring. The season features some major bullfighters (toreros) from Spain and Latin America.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hiking the Inca ruins in Pisaq - a day trip from Cusco, Peru

The Pisaq Ruins were wonderful!

I am in Cusco now until Sunday morning, when I catch a flight to Lima. Below are photos from my day trip today to Pisaq. It took an hour by bus and was well worth it to explore the market and hike to the ruins.

My day started with breakfast and this lovely view of Cusco from Hostal Corihuasi's dining room.

My intention was to shop at the Pisaq market, which attracts vendors from outlying areas. This market happens twice a week - Thursdays and Sundays. As usual, my plans changed.

Locals shop for produce and buy meals at stands, while packs of tourists stroll through the artesan market place to shop for woven goods, ceramics and the woolen hats with earflaps.

I enjoyed people-watching at the market, but just like in the U.S., I don't really like shopping. As usual, I was drawn to a less populated place: a path to the ruins. This dirt trail is not the preferred route of most visitors, who take taxis or buses up the road to the ruins. It took about an hour of steep uphill to reach the ruins.

Hiking to the ruins was amazing - I saw no other tourists on my hour hike upwards and enjoyed spectacular, panoramic views.

Eventually, I did run into all the folks from the tour buses!

More soon!
I have been preparing collections of photos to share with you on my grand adventures. Coming soon, photos and stories on:

* Machu Picchu (1 spectacular day)
* Sacred Rides Bike Tour (11 days)
* Ollantaytambo
* Patacancha
* Inca ruins
* The Amazon in Brazil

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cusco Culture Shock

From the amount of disorientation I experienced today arriving in the hectic hub of Cusco, Peru, you would think I had lived in the remote Andean town of Patacancha all my life! (Yes, that's me and my Patacancha family from my overnight visit last weekend.)

Cusco is a wonderful place, but it's also a very busy city. Lines of cars scrape by me so closely that I swear the drivers play, "Who Can Hit the Tourist." Then again, tourists are the taxis' livelihood and tourist dollars, (oops, I mean euros), fuel the economy.

Rarely have I been bombarded with so many aggressive sales pitches. As soon as I step out of my hotel and head to the central Plaza de Armas, I am propositioned so many times: "Senorita, massage? artwork? poncho? bracelet?" that I grow weary. "No, gracias," I say with a smile, at first. Then I reply more curtly. Finally, I don't say anything and keep walking, feeling slightly guilty.

To overcome my culture shock at the urban noise, traffic and hordes of tourists, I did what any red-blooded, experienced travel journalist would do: I got my eyebrows waxed.

I imagined some urban grooming would help me feel more like a city sophisticate, despite my multiple layers of fleece, dirty jeans and mud-encrusted hiking shoes. And I knew the expense would be under $5 U.S.

While others set off for adventures to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon, I set out on a mission to find a salon in Cusco.

It was easy: there was a "Massage and Waxing" sign just steps away from the plaza. I wandered through a marketplace filled with trinkets before I found the set of stairs leading to the room where Maria worked. I was concerned about how dark it was - bright light is the best bet for any hair removal process!

I gestured to my eyebrows that were in need of taming after weeks of trekking, mountain bike and horse travel. Maria smiled at me and then slathered most of my face from the mouth down with hot, golden wax that looked like dried-up honey. There was no time to protest. Maybe she thought my natural peach fuzz looked more like a goatee.

A moment later, she was slowly peeling off bits of wax - ouch! I tried to indicate that ripping off the wax faster was better for this painful process. When she left the room to reheat the plastic tub of wax, I wondered what the correct word for "eyebrows" was in Spanish. She returned and did my brows. She suggested I return for a massage and I declined. I paid and left her a nice tip.

I strode into the street and joined the throngs on Avendia Sol, with a new bounce in my step. I was Happy and Hair Free. Back at the hotel, I examined her handiwork in the light and noticed my brows were still full of golden wax.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A bag of sugar, guinea pig fleas all part of upcoming overnight stay in Patacancha, Peru

Hola Amigos,

I am in the town of Ollantaytambo, a bustling hub for visitors headed to Machu Picchu (MP) by train or bus. I visited M.P. last week with my bike tour and can understand now why it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Photos soon!

I returned to Ollantay (an hour away from Cusco) two days ago via adventure taxi ride on rocky road. Today, in an hour, I join a small group of merchants from a fair trade organization. We will travel higher up in the mountains to visit the small town of Patacancha. The women there make traditional weavings and I look forward to learning how they make the gorgous materials.

The others will return to Ollantay. I have opted to spend the night there with a local family. I have been advised to bring a sleeping bag, for warmth and flea protection, but I don´t have one. I will have my back pack stuffed with warm clothes. I will spend the night there and eat with the family for 60 soles, which is about 20 dollars. I will also present them with a bag of cane sugar, which is highly prized.

I won´t be back online for a few days. I also have a whole batch of emails that I wrote to many of you that I can´t send for the time being due to technical issues here. At least the electricity is back on today after a series of planned day long outages on Thursday and Friday. I was told that the electricity had to be on today so locals could watch futbol games on the handful of tvs here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Best and Worst of Brazil in 30 Days - Karen's List of Superlatives + Friend Photo Gallery

Today, I arrived in Lima, Peru. And there just happened to be a contest between traditional schools of dance!
I am in El Tambo Hotel in an area called Miraflores. My 11-day mountain bike tour with Sacred Rides in the Andes officially begins tomorrow.

Part of my heart is still in Brazil! I had a wonderful month there in Santa Catarina, Sao Paulo, Rio, Porto Velho, Manaus and the Amazon jungle. For closure, here are some highs, lows, oddities and new friends I met during my first visit to Brazil.

BEST YOUTH HOSTEL: Tie between Hostel Misti in Rio (owned by an Argentine, German) and Hostel Manaus, owned by an Australian, Alex, in Manaus, the gateway to the Amazon.

WORST HOTEL: The sex motel in Manaus, which will remain nameless for its own protection. I learned that motels in Brazil are a different beast than in the U.S. (See previous blog posting).

BEST JOB: This award goes to professional juggler and former trapeze artist Olivier Sourty of Paris, whom I met at the Rio youth hostel. Check out his current circus cabaret show in Paris.

BEST ADVENTURE TALE: Pavel Toropov! This British citizen of Russian heritage recently completed a grueling, solo, 9,000-kilometer bike tour from the tip of South America, Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Brazilian city of Manaus. I met him while he was recovering at the youth hostel in Manaus.

I was riveted by his tales of biking through the Amazon, surviving stretches of jungle infamous for jaguars, venomous snakes, spiders and heavily armed militia. He endured endless sand pits that forced him to push his fully loaded touring bike for hours at a time and suffered devastating heat. He believes no one has completed this same south to north route (and I can tell why!) A trained biologist, Pavel, 32, funded his 8-month journey by teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, where he plans to return. YES, FULL STORY TO FOLLOW!

BEST HAIR: Facundo, de Argentina, whose wild red-tinted mane looks like a lion's. He says he got it from his Italian father. (See photo, below). Runner up: Ricardo of the Amazon.

WORST DAY: Yesterday! I left the Manaus youth hostel and was almost at the airport via taxi. Realized I had forgotten camera charger, so had to pay another taxi fare (and stress about time crunch). Returned to hostel and back to airport again. Then, after 5 hour flight, I missed connection from Sao Paulo to Lima due to late flight. Was told I had to wait 9 hours until 6 a.m. flight the next day. Also had to admit to myself I have some sort of bronchitis.

BEST DANCING: For fear of theft, I did not take my camera to Rio's Favela Funk Party, a late-night dance club of sorts housed in a huge warehouse in a favela, a poor neighborhood. I will forever regret not having film footage of the most gorgeous dancers I have ever seen. No, they were not women - but young men in a trio, performing a combo of samba and MTV-style hip hop steps in perfect synch. The audience was mesmerized by the pro-quality of their dancing.

Photo Gallery of Guardian Angels (in reverse chronological order)
Percy Silva Luciano of Lima was extremely kind to me when I needed it most. I had a massive meltdown at the airport when I learned about the missed flight to Peru and resulting 9-hour layover in Sao Paulo Airport. He helped translate the Portuguese and explained to me (in Spanish) what was going on. We bonded again at 3 a.m. at the check-in for the flight. He watched over me to make sure I got through customs, etc. before meeting his wife and son.
SAO PAULO AIRPORT Therezina Warmling Alberton. A little bit of shopping therapy helped my mood considerably at the Sao Paulo airport during my 9-hour delay. But I also felt better due to the warmth of this shop owner, Therezina, an artist who makes lovely scarves out of found materials, including fishermen's nets. I bought a green scarf from her (similar to the red one she was wearing). I was especially happy to make the purchase when I discovered she was working on her birthday! Her store, HomemArte, features handmade works.

Sam, of London, Susan of Switzerland and Amazon tour guide, Francisco, all made my life much easier by speaking English and being very caring when I was sick (with bronchitis) and had to skip parts of the jungle tour.

Ricardo, Rico for short, (pronounced "Hico,") became my guide in the Amazon jungle after I said farewell to Francisco and the gals. Later, we returned to Manaus by bus and he showed me to a great restaurant for soup to help my congested lungs. Here, Rico talks to a woman who lives near the Manaus youth hostel.
Fabio Flores, from southern Brazil, was an amazing help to me. I arrived in Manaus from Porto Velho quite exhausted, perhaps from the tropical heat. Upon my arrival at the Maunaus youth hostel, he just happened to be outside in the street. He helped me with my luggage, translated Portuguese to English, then helped me find a nearby motel since the hostel was booked. After that, he walked with me to the famous opera house and we had a drink of fresh juice in the plaza. He headed to Belem at 5 a.m. that morning to stay with his biologist aunt.
Geraldo introduced me to his sister, Gloria, below. Thanks to Gloria, I had a lovely lunch out on my final day in Porto Velho. More about them on my blog.

Miguel, a Brazilian with German heritage (and his daughter) had never met me and was kind enough to take me out to a traditional Amazonian meal and even drove me to the airport at the end of my stay in Porto Velho. More about Miguel on my blog.

Facundo Ventresca, Best Hair Winner, is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but has decided to move to Rio. I met him at the Rio youth hostel. Despite a steady downpour he showed me some of the best sites in Rio.

Marilyn Diggs, artist and writer, Sao Paulo. Though we had only met recently, online, through, Marilyn gave me such a warm welcome in at her home that I immediately felt like we were old friends!

And of course HUGE THANKS to my family, especially, Mom, Dad, Brenda, Kathryn and Joy, for loving emails and to my Dear Friends in Santa Cruz, California, and elsewhere who have stayed in touch during my trip! I also thank all of you who have read and commented on my blog!

Friday, September 26, 2008

3 compelling comments generated from my travel blog and emails sent to me on Amazon boat journey, tropical food and sex motels in Manaus!

I am on the airplane today, ten hours to Lima, Peru, from Manaus, Brazil, with a stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Update: I missed my connection to Lima, Peru, and am now stuck in Sao Paulo airport. (My TAM airlines flight was late so it was their fault). I now have a 9-hour wait here until my 3 a.m. boarding for the 6 a.m. flight to Peru. Part of the adventure (ugh!) TAM did offer a hotel, but with the shuttle and traffic, I figure it is easier to stay put. Plus, I don't fully trust them to get me back in time for my flight!

Here are comments I paricularly enjoyed:
1. From: Scribetrotter
RE: River boat trip from Porto Velho

I did take an Amazon boat journey - and being a woman alone was not much fun. The boat was a 'working boat' ferrying men to a camp upriver and I was one of very few women on board. I didn't feel safe, and the lack of decent sanitary facilities made this a memorable trip - but not in the way I'd like.

One town I enjoyed in that part of Brazil was the town of Rio Branco in the state of Acre, which is next door to Rhondonia. It had (but this was a number of years ago) a cowboy feel to it, and I spent several weeks in the rainforest with rubber tappers - definitely and experience, especially if you don't mind hot, wet and not much food. We had to kill a caiman for food once, and subsisted mostly on mangoes. Still, it was a wonderful trip with plenty of magnificent memories.

I love that whole area of Brazil - I'm a little envious!

2. From: Marilyn Diggs in Sao Paulo - excerpt from her email
RE: Food in the Amazon region

I hope you try piranha soup. It is delicious. ( But of course you are talking to a person who eats chicken hearts, with gusto!). You are next door to a state ( Pará) that cooks Pato ao tucupi. Duck with yellow manioca. It is cooked with a plant that looks like algae and it numbs your mouth a bit. Indians use it for tooth aches. I think it is very savory. I´m an adventerous gourmand. Manaus is famous for regional fruit ice-cream. If they have cupuaçu, try it! (That is from Pará, also, but who is to die for.)
I´m very happy you are going to Manaus. Be sure to see the Meeting of the Waters. Remember that the black-water system is bug free due to minerals in the water. It is always wise to stay on that system when looking for lodgings.

3. Roberto Mello comment on blog post "Top 10 Ways to Survive a Nasty Motel - Made it to ..."
RE: Motels in Brazil

It's worth mentioning to the English-speaking public that a motel in Brazil is quite different from what the average person from America is used to.

Motels in Brazil inherit the same "motorized hotel" theme of their American counterparts, but that's where similarities end.

Motels in Brazil are not places to just spend the night while you're traveling from place to place. They're not an inexpensive, no-frills version of a hotel. Motels in Brazil are places where you go to have sex, and that's pretty much it.

The Motel business in Brazil is very good business. As it turns out, people like to have anonymous sex. There's a wide range of Motel prices, and consequently, quality of facilities and services.

At R$ 30 it's pretty clear you ended up at an extremely cheap place with terrible installations.

In short, for travellers heading to Manaus (or other Brazilian cities), don't go to a motel, unless that's really what you want to do. Manaus offers many inexpensive (and expensive) lodging options, as you noted.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Survive a Nasty Motel - Made it to Manaus, Brazil, Gateway to the Amazon

Hello from the urban jungle of Manaus, Gateway to the Amazon. Arrived here in Sunday night from Porto Velho after an easy 1 hour, 10 min. flight.

This city of two million is a bustling metropolis with plenty of lodging options available.

Yet, on my first night here, I stumbled into a place so unsavory that I am inspired to share my Motel Survival Techniques.

I hope you won't need these techniques, but just in case, here is my Top 10 List - all of which I have tested.

1. Shower with your shoes on - the floor may be dirtier than your feet!

2. Drip dry instead of using the towel - if you can call that stained rag a towel...

3. Sleep with your clothes on - to limit contact with the bedding and get up in a hurry

4. Pack your toiletries tightly in plastic bag so bugs won't get to them

5. Close and secure any open windows - prevents thieves, mosquitoes and smoke from entering

6. Find a secure place to hide your valuables. Get creative!

7. Lock and barricade your door

8. Investigate mysterious sounds - cautiously!

There was such a ruckus in the hallway at 11 p.m. that I pressed my ear to the door to investigate. No real danger: it was just the couple down the hall loudly having sex.
That's when I got suspicious about the nature of my hotel and developed these new tips:

9. Review price structure of hotel - I was told if you leave by 8 a.m. the hotel costs $30 reales; leave by noon and it costs $50. I now believe this rate structure was designed for overnight business. And I don't mean clients for jungle tours!

10. Preview the room and analyze furnishings before paying - I always see the room before I book it. But in this case, even after viewing the room, I was too tired to notice at first the huge mirror over the bed was smeared with fingerprints and that the pillows were coated in thick rubber and covered with think pillow cases.

One of the joys of adventure travel is spontaneity, which is how I wound up at this particular place. The downside is, if you don't research your lodging in advance by reading books, websites and reviews, you could wind up needing these tips.

Of course, as lodging goes - this does not qualify as a true nightmare in any regard!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Friends from Porto Velho, Rondonia, in western state of Brazil, Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 21

Geraldo works at Agencia Parintins, a passenger ship company which offers trips down the Madeira River, which forms the western border of the city Porto Velho, where I am staying. I decided against going on a trip with his company, but he befriended me anyways. He speaks some English. We went for a pitcher of fresh orange juice on the waterfront where we met his friend, pictured here. Later, Geraldo introduced me to his sister, Gloria, who speaks English fluently.

Rotem Hershkovich of Eliat, Israel, was staying at Yara Hotel until yesterday, when he set sail down the Madeira River from Porto Velho to Manaus. I am looking forward to hearing about this three nights in a hammock and four days on the deck of the small boat. (See previous blog post). He spoke and cursed fluently in English.
Gloria is one of Geraldo's eight brothers and sisters. She is a Catholic missionary and has traveled the U.S. with an international group of missionaries. She learned English and upon return to Porto Velho, met her husband. Together, they launched Grupo Tucuma, which administers three non-profit programs in Porto Velho: a school for kids ages 3-13, a program for women and a program for teens.

Miguel Nenevé is originally from the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, (where I went whale-watching). He has worked at the University of Rondonia in the Porto Velho campus as a professor of literature for the past 20 years - almost as long as the university has been in existence. He has three daughters (Cinthia, 16, pictured above) and has traveled internationally for his job with stints in Canada and England, among other places.

I feel lucky to have met him thanks to James Hayes-Bohanan, a geography profesor whom I have never met in person, but have exchanged emails with recently. I discovered James while researching Rondonia and wrote to him for advice about traveling the region. He was very helpful and kindly provided Miguel as a contact in Porto Velho. Miguel took me to dinner at a riverfront restaurant specializing in Amazon cuisine, pictured below. Amazing power of online connections!

The broth, at left, contained hard boiled eggs, ribs, potatoes, onions, green peppers and large chunks of fish. The broth goes over white rice and can be seasoned with manioc flour (golden color) and a tomato salsa. I liked it!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Karen in Porto Velho, Rondonia, and not sure where to go next!

At 7:30 a.m. this morning, Rotem Hershkovich of Eilat, Israel, knocked on my door at Yara Hotel.

The night before, I had asked Rotem to wake me up for breakfast downstairs. I wanted to enjoy a final conversation with him in English over the buffet breakfast that is part of the price of our room. He and I had met in the lobby of our hotel Friday evening. He was ecstatic to find someone who could speak English after traveling solo with no one to talk to from Bolivia to Brazil.

Over a breakfast of pizza, white rolls, cheese, cold cuts, watermelon, papaya and vanilla cake, we discussed the details of his upcoming three-day boat trip from Porto Velho on River Madeira to Manaus, the Brazilian city of two million people that is the gateway to the Amazon.

All of yesterday, Friday, I had seriously considered joining him on this boat adventure. I decided not to for a variety of reasons:

1. Sleeping arrangements - I am not sure I could get a wink of sleep in a hammock (never tried). But with 18 people all swinging next to each other on the sweltering boat deck, it did not appeal to me for three nights.

2. No stops for three days - The boat is quite small, the passengers numerous and with 3 days on board thought I might get stir crazy.

3. Scenery. Researched accounts of this trip online and most said scenery was only so-so. I did read a few accounts of drama on the boat, but all pertained to robberies.

These workers have a hard, sweaty job loading the boat by walking up and down this steep hill.
I chose not to take the three-night boat ride from Porto Velho to Manaus because I did not think I could sleep in a hammock. This picture is at half-capacity of the passengers.

So I stay put in Porto Velho and am trying to figure out my next move!

I walked many blocks, dripping sweat in this tropical heat, to talk to a travel agent at VIP Tours in Porto Velho. After an hour together, I decided to buy a fairly expensive airline ticket to Manaus - which has an international airport to get me to Lima, Peru. (Porto Velho does not connect directly to Lima).

This very nice travel agent helped me figure out all travel details mostly thru pantomime, using the calendar and written words since she spoke no English or Spanish and I no Portuguese.

For reasons I am still not sure of. But good news: I found an ATM here that will give me dinero.

It was quite irritating but I decided to take it as a sign that I am not done yet in Porto Velho!

It's 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and I am going to walk down to the docks where I met Geraldo yesterday. He sells boat tickets, speaks some English and has kindly befriended me. He introduced me to his sister, Gloria, who speaks some English and is a Catholic missionary and teacher here in Porto Velho.

See what happens... NEXT UP ON MY TRAVEL BLOG: went out to dinner last night with literature professor of University of Rondonia to taste traditional Amazonian food. Met him thru a friend of a friend on the internet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farewell Rio and the Dark Night of the Chicken Heart

El Misti Hostel, Rio

Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m., I will taxi to the Rio airport. I'm off to Rondonia, a western state of Brazil that borders Bolivia. I will arrive in Porto Velho, the capital, and don't know yet where I will stay or what I will do there.

I am excited about my trip tomorrow. But I am sad to leave Rio, where, despite the rain, I have had a wonderful week! Highlights of Rio, in photos, below:

Karen's strikes her signature pose, a la Saturday Night Fever disco movie, on her final day in Rio. The photo was taken at Sugar Loaf Mountain, overlooking Rio.

Facundo, whom I met at Hostel Misti, was a wonderful guide at the Botanical Garden and at this famous spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. For my final day in Rio, we rode the cable car to the top for a fantastic, though overcast, view of Rio.

I was one of only a handful of tourists who braved pouring rain on Tuesday to tour the wonderful Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden). This 200-year-old gem is home to monkeys, a variety of orchids and other tropic flora.

One of Beto's best nights of cooking included a huge variety of fresh salads.

One of the highlights of Hostel Misti in Rio was the Argentine chef, Beto, a friend of the owner's. Not only was his food amazing, but he had a wonderful radiance and smile! Here he prepares the evening barbecue. Each night, Beto cooks dinner at the hostel - optional extra fee to eat dinner.

Passionate public kissing is a favorite national pastime in Brazil, right behind soccer! Sidewalks, restaurants, elevators, street corners, anywhere goes for a long, long, long smooch! (This is not me by the way).
I did get one day of sun, last Friday. Here is a stretch of the famous Copacabana Beach.

A trip to the historical town of Santa Teresa was fun even in the rain because of the scenic ride uphill the hill on the cable car. This mural, depicting the dance/martial art form of Capoeira, was one of many on our self-guided tour.

Oh and the Dark Night of the Chicken Heart?
In the spirit of trying local foods, I decided to be gracious and taste the chicken heart that was offered to me on a platter. I put it on my plate (no photo, sorry) and had to force myself to cut into the dark, greenish-greyish organ. It was no bigger or longer than my thumb, but I felt repulsed by the idea. I finally gulped down a forkfull. My thoughts? Chewy, like octopus and a strong tangy flavor. I ate only half.

Peter, a German friend from the hostel ate FIVE chicken hearts!
He was used to eating them in Poland. I prefer the fresh banana milkshakes that are a specialty here!