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March 2013 Archives

March 25, 2013

Pasto, Colombia: The Foam and Greasepaint of El Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

By Ann Randall
ITWPA Member

Standing on the street, I was already saturated from head to toe with white foam, flour, and the red greasepaint smeared on my face by a passer-by when an angelic little girl took aim with her oversized can of foam and sprayed me with yet more “espuma.” Such is the playful scene happening everywhere on the streets of Pasto, Colombia, from January 2-7 during its boisterous festival known as El Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (The Carnival of Blacks and Whites), a designated UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The five-day festival includes the January 5 Dia de Negro, a day when celebrating locals and tourists paint themselves with black greasepaint to honor the Carnaval’s 1607 origins that began with the threat of a hacienda slave revolt. In order to avoid the rebellion, the Spanish Crown gave slaves an annual day off for the Catholic celebration of the Epiphany, which they celebrated by painting everyone with black shoe polish and soot to endow all hacienda residents with a common identity.

Since 1928 additional days have been added to that event, blending together both indigenous traditions and Epiphany activities. January 2 and 3 are celebrated as Carnavelito and the Parade of La Familia Casteneda, respectively -- two days of joyful, colorful parades of folkloric groups, musicians, stilt walkers, and dancers from nearby Andean villages.








Those events lead up to January 6 -- Dia de Blanco. It’s the most spectacular day of Carnaval -- a five-hour parade of super-sized puppets and floats, called enormes carrosas, newly designed and built each year. 

The festivities end quietly on January 7, the Dia de Cuy (Day of the Guinea Pig). The foam/flour/greasepaint vendors disappear. Exhausted tourists crowd the airport and bus stations and the residents of Pasto end Carnaval celebrating their tasty “microlivestock” -- the guinea pig.





Making the most of your Carnaval trip:

1. Make accommodation reservations early. About 320,000 visitors attended the 2013 Carnaval, nearly doubling the city’s population.

2. Pasto has very limited hostel accommodations for the budget backpacker. One of the city’s least expensive hotels is Chambú Hotel Plaza, Carrera 20#, No. 16-74, Tel.: 7213129-7213645. During Carnaval: $15 a person for rooms varying in size from one to five beds. Basic hotel with restaurant and wi-fi.

Also near Plaza del Carnaval: Hotel Fernando Plaza, Calle 20, No. 218-16, Tel.: 7291432. During Carnaval: $79 a night, including breakfast, for a room with two double beds and a private bath. Wi-fi. Nice hotel with restaurant and espresso café.

3. Bring old clothes to wear on the streets. There is no avoiding the foam, flour, and greasepaint games of Carnaval, which last four of the five days.

4. Vendors on every street corner sell cans of foam, sticks of greasepaint, and bags of flour so you can join in the fun. They also sell sunglasses, brimmed hats, and ponchos that provide some protection from exuberant celebrants.

5. If you can’t be in Pasto for Carnaval, you can get a sense of the festivities by visiting the Carnaval Museum, a permanent exhibition of floats, costumes, and giant puppets along with photographs of Carnaval in its early days. It’s located at the Cultural Center Pandiaco in northern Pasto.

Getting to Pasto:
Pasto’s airport is 45 minutes from the city and many hotels will arrange for taxi service. Avianca and Satena Airlines have regular flights from Bogata and Cali. Pasto is on the Pan American highway and served by regular bus service.

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Additional photos are available from the author.

Accista Spa: The Decadent Destination at Hyatt Regency Hotel & Spa in Monterey

By Connie Werner Reichert
ITWPA Member

The very stylish and sophisticated Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa on the famous Del Monte Golf Course elevates luxury accommodations to a whole new level. As a guest, you will experience rooms and suites with all the creature comforts and more, including flat screen TVs, rain showers, refrigerators, and ultra-plush bedding.

Guests are encouraged to make use of not only the Pebble Beach Company’s championship Del Monte Golf Course, but also their hot tub and outdoor heated swimming pools. Fine dining inside the plush TusCA Ristorante is something you will always remember -- the food and service are impeccable.

A popular and essential part of the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa is the Accista Spa, a sanctuary for inspired wellness through the four main areas of Harvest, Rest, Renewal, and Abundance. This spa is the most fascinating part of the Hyatt.

Theirs is a different approach when compared to other leading spas in the United States. You see, for centuries the people of Monterey, California, lived secure in the knowledge that their homeland, the place they called Accista, was an inexhaustible natural environment. Living in true harmony with nature, their lives followed a seasonal rhythm. Autumn or Harvest time is cleansing time. Winter or Resting time is calming time. Spring or Renewal time is restoring time and Summer or Abundance time is the opportunity to enrich our lives. When you are a client here, you’ll experience results-oriented treatments in harmony with the seasons of Monterey Bay.

Honoring this naturalistic way of life, Accista Spa embraces a philosophy unlike any other -- that our well-being as people lies in the awareness and wisdom of these natural cycles. Whether it’s the ocean, the seashore, the mountains, the meadows, or the oak groves of central California, Accista Spa naturally connects you to this vitally important world with authentic spa treatments direct from the source.

The professional estheticians are committed to using sustainable and renewable products and practices. Accista Spa is mindful in its intentions and truly focused on honoring your own unique needs. They pay attention to the environment by utilizing organic products whenever possible. Their product line features Jan Iredale and Skinceuticals.

Their services include seasonal wraps and scrubs, massages, facials, and manicures and pedicures. You are encouraged to reserve a retreat: 45 minutes in their master spa suite with a warming hydrotherapy soak for two. With every new season you’ll experience new local ingredients that detoxify as well as renew. For couples, say “cheers” with a glass of wine and indulge in a gourmet fruit and cheese platter by candlelight. It’s a way to take a moment to appreciate life and each other. 

At Accista Spa, the signature wellness massage offers 100 percent pure organic holistic care infused with the natural botanical elements the spa is famous for. Therapists create custom blends of aromatherapy and massage oils before beginning each session. They are incorporating techniques best suited to immediate needs. They offer Swedish, deep tissue, athlete, and hot stone massage. Interestingly, they spotlight what they call “Weaving Hands.” This is where two therapists’ hands weave together in a dreamlike rhythm and arms flow over your body like the sea. You lose track of where you are as mental chatter disappears. Your mind and body are set free, and this overall experience is unforgettable. Accista Spa is truly a sanctuary for inspired wellness through Harvest, Rest, Renewal, and Abundance.

Next time you are headed to Monterey, stay at the Hyatt Regency Hotel & Spa. You really can’t go wrong.

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Sailing the Arab Dhow in a World of Fantasy

By Habeeb Salloum

“You want to sail on an Arab dhow here in Dubai? You’re lucky today! Talk to him!” Abdullah bin Jassim, a Dubaian historian who manages the Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House museum, pointed to an elderly man sitting beside me. “He was for years a nakhuda (captain) of a pearl-diving dhow -- the best skipper in the Arabian Gulf.” A distinguished-looking gentleman, made even more dignified by his flowing Arab dress, Abdullah appeared to be proud of the former dhow skipper.

After introductions, I asked the soft-spoken nakhuda to tell me about his seafaring life and if pearl-diving in dhows was continuing in our times. “Pearl-diving in dhows? Of course not! The youth today are spoiled! All they look for are the pleasures of life. It wasn’t like this when I was young.” Ubayd al-Muhayri, the former dhow captain, smiled.
When I asked him if he yearned to sail the Arab dhows again, he seemed amused. “Sail again! I am seventy and five years old. Do you know that pearl-diving was a part of hell?” He continued, misty-eyed, “Yet, for me the old days are preferable. In those days, we did not worry about material wealth. We were content to live on dates and coffee.”

A tear came to his eye as he reminisced about his youthful years. “I was eight years old when my father first took me with him on a dhow. When I turned fifteen, he took me down some 15 meters (50 feet) to the bottom of the sea and taught me how to find the pearl-carrying oysters in the deep. For a hundred days every year we worked the oyster beds. Until I became a skipper of a dhow, it was a harsh life but I was content.”
As I bade Abdullah bin Jassim and the former nakhuda adieu, I thought of my fantasy to one day sail on an Arab dhow. Ubayd al-Muhayri had somewhat dampened my yearning to sail on these crafts, but not entirely. I had waited too many years to easily be stymied.

From the vast amount of adventure literature that I read in my youth, none impressed me more than Alan Villiers’s book, Sons of Sinbad, in which he describes his journey on an Arab dhow from the Arabian Gulf to the East African coast. Sailing in his footsteps and capturing a bit of the ancient Arab spirit of adventure became one of my burning ambitions.
Back in our hotel, I asked an agent working for Net Tours about sailing on dhows. He immediately responded, “Of course we have dhow tours! They’re our most sought-after excursions.”
“Are your dhows powered by the wind?” I knew that I was stretching the point, but I thought perhaps... “No! Of course not! On our dhows you travel in comfort. They’re equipped with the best that the modern world has to offer.” The young man appeared to be proud of his modern converted dhow.

That evening, darkness was drawing nigh when we boarded our decked-out tourist craft anchored on the shore of Dubai Creek behind the Chamber of Commerce building next to the Sheraton Hotel. No sooner had we sat down than a smiling waitress from the Philippines brought us coffee and dates -- the traditional welcoming foods of the Arabs.
The waves of Dubai Creek gently lapped and rhythmically swayed the ship as, with Arabic music in the background, we feasted on the tasty Arab food -- much different from the spartan food of dates and rice described by Villiers in Sons of Sinbad. Smoothly moving along the creek past dhows loading and unloading goods, as they have done for centuries, we sailed in the shadows of Dubai’s sky-reaching edifices which would have been considered magical structures in Sinbad the Sailor’s time.
Sated, I sat back and fantasized about the past. The heritage and atmosphere of the dhow, enhanced by the tasty Arab food, took me back to the era of The Arabian Nights and Sinbad the Sailor when dhows brought back from distant lands spices, poetry, and romance. On such a ship Sinbad could very well have dreamed up the unreality and hallucination of his tales.

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Bucket List Checkoffs: Mayan Ruins, CHECK, Jungle Cenote, CHECK

By Mike Hopkins
ITWPA Member

Located outside Tulum, Mexico, Coba is home to Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan peninsula, standing 138 feet tall. It’s estimated there are 6,000 structures in the Coba area with only about 10 percent uncovered and restored. Coba was once considered a major hub for travel and commerce throughout the Central American Mayan Empire. Other more popular Mayan city states in the northern Yucatan area are located in Tulum and Chichen Itza.
The historical evidence surrounding the Coba archeological site dates back to between 100 BC and 100 AD. After an influx in population Coba became the largest and most powerful Mayan city state on the northern Yucatan peninsula. The Coba Mayan city state consists of around 30 square miles connected by 45 ceremonial roads joining the main temples throughout the jungle. The site lies between lakes Coba and Macanoxc, and along with the Nohoch Mul pyramid, other structures include a church* (“La Iglesia”), an observation tower*, vaulted rooms, courtyards, and several outbuildings.

The site also includes a ball court (“Juego de Pelota”), which is a rectangular-shaped field with two stone walls on the longer sides. The game was played using an eight-inch ball made of twine and coated with a rubber-like material. Scoring was done by passing the ball without using hands through a stone ring mounted high on the walls. For Mayans, this was truly a life or death game; the loser had to provide the King with a human sacrifice, which was usually the team captain.
About a 20-minute ride from the Coba Mayan ruins is Cenote Tortuga. What is a cenote? Some locals describe it as a sinkhole and others call it an underwater cave. After seeing it, I’d say they’re both correct. My description is it’s an underground, primarily spring-fed river with surface pools.

Gabrielle (Gabo), our tour guide for Cenote Tortuga, greeted us and began our tour at a large surface pool surrounding Turtle Island. Throughout the two-hour hiking tour he explained some Mayan uses of native plants and the formation and Mayan purposes of cenotes. We would be given the opportunity to swim in a “cleansing cenote” and explore a cenote cavern.

During our short walk to the cleansing cenote Gabo pointed out which plants were used for medicinal purposes and those used as food and for weapons. When we reached the cleansing cenote he explained the Shaman ritual of thoroughly purifying their minds and bodies before returning to the village. And in keeping with Mayan tradition, those who wanted to could swim in the cenote to cleanse their bodies before beginning our return to Tortuga Island.

Continuing through the jungle to the cavern, Gabo told us about the local wildlife and insects as well as how the Mayans used these resources. Upon reaching the cavern we learned how underwater caverns were formed. We were given a safety talk and then invited to follow Gabo in. While you must swim to explore the cavern, it does not involve diving -- thus your head is never below the surface of the water. The darkness upon entering the cave was an indescribable experience, but turning around to see the light of the cave entrance reassured and calmed everyone.

So, with summer coming, get out your bucket list, make your plans, and cross something off -- but remember to add something new.

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*Additional photos available from author.

About March 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in March 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2013 is the previous archive.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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