“Tales From the Road” Wins Society of American Travel Writers Award

UPDATE: Read the write up on “Tales From the Road” to hear how they plan to celebrate.

Tales From the Road Logo

The Society of American Travel Writers announced its Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism awards over the weekend at its annual convention down in Guadalajara, Mexico. Southern Living magazine’s “Tales From the Road” blog garnered the Bronze in the travel blog category.

When I was a lowly “Web-tern” at SouthernLiving.com, I helped the editorial team get the blog off the ground, and even contributed some posts here and there.

Kudos to SL!

Guatemala article published on Matador Travel

I just wrote and published an article on studying Spanish in Guatemala over on MatadorAbroad.com, part of Matador Travel, an online community for travelers. An excerpt:

Studying Spanish in Guatemala: Quetzaltenango Vs. Antigua


Most foreign travelers looking to learn Spanish in Guatemala make Antigua their first and longest stop, charmed by its cobblestone streets and its lively bar and club scene. More serious travelers, however, take the 4-hour bus ride to Quetzaltenango (or Xela) for a different kind of experience.

While Antigua offers a lot, there are compelling reasons for giving Guatemala’s second city another look. Read more…

Stop on over, read it over and leave a comment if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

The word “safe” is a relative term (Lessons from Guatemala pt. 2)


Toddlers on the backs of motorcycles. Hunching over a river of lava for a photo op. A waterfall hike over a rickety bridge (not to mention the police escort lest robbers attacked us on the way).

After four weeks in Guatemala, I’ve concluded that “safe” is a relative term at best.

It’s the little things…

Roasting marshmallows over the lava of Pacaya - a typical gringo activity outside Antigua.
Roasting marshmallows over the lava of Pacaya - a typical gringo activity outside Antigua.

Not unlike other American travelers outside the States, I had my fair share of moments thinking, “There would so be a guardrail there if this were the U.S.” But even in the more mundane instances of life, I couldn’t help but feel that we Americans are a bit over protective.

Take the children for example. Our host family had four girls under the age of 12. Almost their entire house was floored with the same unforgiving surface, including the landing next to their staircase, which in turn lacked “proper” guard rails. The entire house certainly wasn’t what I’ve learned to consider “child proof.”

And it’s not as if the kids never fell down. They did. They just learned that it hurt like crazy and so learned not to do it again.

It reminded me of a professor I had at Xavier who claimed that, if he had had kids, he would not buy them bicycle helmets. “I want them to learn to not fall on their heads!” he would exclaim.

A happy medium…

That said, I think there’s a middle ground between coddling kids and neglect, when it comes to child rearing, and between overprotective and dangerous, when it comes to safe habits in general.

Besides, as an urban dweller with a bicycle, I’m actually for bicycle helmets.

Total immersion is the only way to learn a language (Lessons from Guatemala, pt. 1)

Recently my wife and I returned from Guatemala, after spending a month learning Spanish, living with host families and traveling. I’ve told countless stories to different friends since we’ve come stateside again, but I wanted to group some of my recollections into observations here.

When it comes to learning a language, immersion really is the only way…

We studied at ICA, a small Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
We studied at ICA, a small Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Learning languages is a tricky thing. At some point, you have to realize that you’re not learning how to translate that language into your mother tongue. Your learning how to think, act, talk, live in that language. The difference is distinct, and yet I run into so many folks who don’t catch it.

Take learning Spanish in Guatemala, for example. We stayed with a host family in Quetzaltenango, and after one week of fetching the dictionary from the other room to facilitate conversation with our host family at dinner, we finally realized it was more trouble than it was worth. We stopped attempting to translate every word and phrase into English, and started piecing together the meaning of conversations from context.

The remolachas effect

At first I may not have understood what remolachas were, sure. But I knew that when our mamá shredded them up, soaked them in vinegar and dumped them in a heaping mound on our plates, I’d be stuck eating two portions because Laura couldn’t stand them.

And just as we left the dictionary in the other room, we left phrases such as, “¿Como se dice … en ingles?” at the door, so to speak.

When I returned from Guatemala a friend of mine told me a story of an immersion program he’d heard of. Basically upon admission students pledge not to speak in their native language for a month, except for emergencies.

Have you ever tried learning a language? Which ones? Got any tips?

The worst tour company in Cusco for a trek to Machupicchu

I hate to use my blog to do this, but I can’t let faulty business practices go unreported.

Peru Viajes o Globo (UPDATE: former link now a spam site) swindled me and my friend out of money and provided a drunk guide.

Victor the swindlerVictor, pictured at right, sold my friend Brett and me a four-day tour with a guide along the Inca trail from Cusco to Machupicchu on January 5th, 2008. He informed us we would be returning to Cusco around 7 pm on the 8th and agreed to book an overnight bus for us from Cusco to Arequipa the night we returned and charged us an additional 75 soles (or $25). Our guide, who got drunk and left us to our own devices to ascend Machupicchu by ourselves, booked the wrong train for us to return to Cusco on the 8th, causing us to miss our overnight bus to Arequipa. We approached Victor the next day, but he refused to refund us our bus tickets.

That’s how it went down. Not a huge deal, and I’m not immensely bitter, but a faulty deal nonetheless.

A few media-related travel observations…

Skype logoOne thing that amazed on my recent trip to Peru was the pervasiveness of Skype and Facebook in hostels and internet cafes, even in some of the most remote destinations. A year ago when I backpacked in Argentina, a quick glance around a “locutorio” would reveal computers dominated by travelers on gMail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and the like. E-mail allowed those on the road the ability to stay in touch with friends and family with incredible ease.

Within a year and a half, however, not only did I find it incredibly easy to drop my parents a quick note, I could even call them. In Aguas Calientes, the tiny village outside Machu Picchu in the remote Andes, every internet cafe I went to offered Skype with headphones.


Travel to Europe for $12

Ryanair intends to launch a no-frills long-haul airline around the turn of the decade serving five or six US cities from its 23 European bases and offering fares as low as $12.”

(Via Flight International).

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. It’s not slated to launch for another couple of years though. For anyone who travels transatlantic, however, I’m not sure I’d be the first to sign up for “no frills.” Six-nine hours can be long haul on a flight like that. We’ll see…