Where am I #1

Greetings, Loyal Reader. I thought I’d start a GringoPotpourri photo contest of sorts. From time to time I’ll post pics of your favorite gringo for you to guess where I am on the planet. I could be in Mexico, I could be at Yosemite, I could be in an ocean somewhere. I am looking for a city, state (if relevant), country and monument or wonder name (for example: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France or Yellowstone National Park, USA). Be as specific as you want.

I hope you’ll log in to WordPress with your guesses. The first pic, posted below, is pretty easy (I think)…but they WILL get harder. There aren’t any prizes – at least not yet – besides the satisfaction of guessing correctly. Still…don’t be shy.

Good luck! 🙂

 

whereami1

One of My Favorite Places in the World: Sycamore Canyon

I love hiking, wildlife, and natural beauty. As such, I was saddened, ten days or so ago, to learn that one of my favorite places in the world, the western corridor of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, was essentially going up in smoke, as an early-season wildfire – most likely caused by a carelessly-discarded cigarette, the dry Santa Ana Winds, and above-average temperatures – swept through the mountains.

If you don’t know the area of which I speak, the Santa Monica Mountains extend roughly 60 miles from east to west. They bisect Los Angeles in two – the famous Hollywood Hills are actually the Santa Monica Mountains – but most of the range runs along the Pacific Coast, from Santa Monica to Point Mugu, west of Malibu. A 65-mile hiking, biking, and equestrian trail, appropriately-named the Backbone Trail, traverses the most rugged “spine” of the mountains, passing film sites and archaeological ruins en route. The Chumash Indians called these mountains home as far back as 7,000 years ago, and shared the land with mountain lions, bobcats, and red foxes, all of whom roam free.

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¡Viva Colombia! Final Thoughts…Until Next Time

Hello again, Loyal Reader. The month of April flew by in no time; I have some blog entries to catch up on. If all goes well, I’ll be posting twice-weekly for at least a little while, to add more content to GringoPotpourri and to keep my rabid fans sated. 🙂

I have finally made some sense of my six memory cards worth of Colombia pics. Something like 5,000 images, all told. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see a sampling of roughly 100 pics from Bogotá, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Ciudad Perdida, but I’ve also posted a few more pics below. First, though: some final thoughts and observations about Colombia, no longer Gran Colombia in name but one of the grandest places I’ve yet visited.

Breaking it down (and in no particular order of importance):

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Colombia – The Caribbean Coast

I have been home for six days now, but I suspect it’ll be another six weeks, months even, before I’m able to stop thinking about Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.

Pamela and I left Bogotá pleasantly surprised by our time there, both wishing we had a couple more days in the capital but also ready to explore a new region of the country. A 90-minute flight (preferable to a 12-hour bus ride, you had better believe it!) on South America’s oldest airline, Avianca, took us to CTG, aka Cartagena de Indias. The door to the plane opened and so much humidity overtook the plane it was as if a wall collapsed upon us. Yep, definitely different from Bogotá!

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Colombia – First Impressions and General Observations about Bogotá

¡Hola! I am writing this from my hostel in Bogotá as I nurse my fourth beer of the evening – Cerveza Poker, and man is it going down smoothly – whilst reflecting on my four great days in Colombia’s massive capital city.

Colombia’s turbulent modern history began with it being perhaps one-fifth, geographically, of a mega-country of the same name following the region’s liberation from Spain in 1870. (If your knowledge of history is sketchy, the rest of “Colombia” included Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.) Much of Greater Colombia’s destiny was established in Bogotá, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The city has remained an important player on the Latin American scene, and has weathered a few turbulent decades marked by presidential assassination, a nasty drug war, and paramilitary conflict with FARC and other guerilla groups to once again be a continental hot spot of culture and dining. And the tap water is potable!

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New Year’s Travel Resolution #1

It is mid-March, and Easter is upon us. Technically, spring is just around the corner, although to some it already feels like summer. Others, however, still feel the mercilessness of winter. (San Fernando Valley temps in LA this week are in the low 90’s, yet the Midwest was hit by near-record-setting blizzards just last week.)

What does this mean? It means that many in Latin America and Catholic Europe are preparing for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Antigua, Guatemala and San Salvador, El Salvador are just two (very different) cities in Central America renowned for their Semana Santa festivities, which typically include elaborate processions through the streets (and over alfombras – carpets – of moist sawdust and flowers), from church to church in re-enactment of the crucifixion, burial, and, yes, resurrection of Christ. In my own city, the sprawling barrio of Iztapalapa is the venue for an annual Passion Play, although it is said to be one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhoods and I haven’t yet built up the courage to venture there with my DSLR and take photos. Across the ocean, the faithful of Seville, Spain and other cities in Andalucía perform similar processions; I was there in 2011 but alas, the parades were rained out and that leg of the trip was generally unmemorable. Further abroad still, the Cardinals of Vatican City even elected a new pope to ring in the resurrection!

What does this mean for me? I, like many other Latinos (I guess I’m Latin by proxy, mas-o-menos), will be traveling. You may recall, Loyal Reader, that I mentioned in my Looking Forward and Back – Part Two blog that I wished to take advantage of my time here to explore destinations relatively close to Mexico. Well, I’m not sure if this counts as “close,” seeing as it is a four-hour flight…but then again, flying there from the U.S. is at least six hours by plane, so I’m saving a few hours on airplanes and am counting it anyway. Where’s that, you ask?

I am going to Colombia!

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A Weekend in Querétaro

Happy Friday! Time flies when you’re having fun. It has already been a few weeks since I spent a long weekend in Querétaro, a smallish city/largish town three hours north of Mexico City and a place firmly rooted in Mexico’s century-long struggle for independence.

I had been there just shy of one year prior – it was in Querétaro that Pamela and I spent our first Valentine’s Day. My return trip was solo, as the g/f couldn’t get away. I enjoyed myself nevertheless. For starters, the weather was fantastic – hot and sunny, a 180-degree reversal of the four cold, rainy days Pamela and I had spent there in 2012.

Somewhat confusingly, Santiago de Querétaro (full name) played an important role in not one, not two, but three separate independence struggles. In 1810, it was here that several disaffected Mexicans, including courier Ignacio Pérez, parish priest Miguel Hidalgo, and local heroine Doña Josefa Ortiz, plotted to overthrow their Spanish conquerors. On September 16th of that year, Hidalgo issued his call to arms, and the day is  now an annual holiday across all of Mexico. Things were rocky for awhile and eventually along came the Americans, “reaching out” to help in their own selfish way. In 1848, the bloody Mexican-American War came to an end in Querétaro, where the Treaty of Hidalgo was ratified. Somewhere around this time, Austria came to the helm, and Emperor Maximilian I (of the Habsburg dynasty) went from loved to loathed as many finally grew tired of being governed by a foreign power. Although he ruled from Mexico City’s Castillo de Chapultepec, it was in Querétaro that Maximilian met his maker, in 1867. It wasn’t until 1917 that Mexico’s constitution was drawn up and put into law – in QRO again. Got all that? (Me neither.)

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Oscar 2012-13 – recap and reactions

It is a curious thing about the Oscars: Millions of people watch the Sunday broadcast each year, talk about the show for perhaps five minutes at the office water cooler Monday morning, then never think about it again. Seeing as it’s already Tuesday evening, post-Oscars as I write this, methinks this blog entry is dead in the water. Still, I’m a completist, and I didn’t want to leave my Oscar predictions blog simply hanging in the GringoPotpourri wind without a proper bookend. I promise to keep this brief. No, really!

The Winners

So, not too surprisingly, it was Ben Affleck’s “Argo” as Best Picture, Life of Pi’s “Ang Lee” as Best Director, “Lincoln’s” Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor, and “Silver Linings Playbook’s” Jennifer Lawrence as Best Actress. I called ‘em all, of course. Supporting honors went to Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained” and Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables.” Waltz’s win threw me for a bit of a loop; I had Robert DeNiro for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and in fact predicted that if there were any major category upsets they would be in favor of “SLP.” Alas, ’twas not meant to be. “Django Unchained” also earned Quentin Tarantino his second Best Original Screenplay Oscar; his acceptance speech was one of the better ones of the night, and about as humble as you could ever expect Tarantino to act. I failed to predict either of “Django’s” Oscar wins; although I’m a big fan of the film I thought it would go home empty-handed, considering that Tarantino’s superior effort, 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds,” lost in the Original Screenplay category.  Waltz won the same prize in that same category then; I simply didn’t think lightning would strike twice, nor so soon after his last win.

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Oscar 2012-13 – predicting the winners

I have been busy of late, and my mind has been abuzz with blog ideas. I want to write a few words about a recent weekend trip to Querétaro. Meanwhile, friends have requested topics for me to cover, and I still have to put together a “Links” page to the blogs of other writers who’ve inspired me, entertained me, or helped me along the way.

But that’s all pushed to the side for a few days; this Sunday is Oscar night, and – amateur critic that I am – I thought I’d take a stab at predicting the winners. Putting things in context, “Lincoln” leads the overall race with 12 nominations, followed closely by “Life of Pi” with 11 nominations. That said, this year’s race seems one of the toughest to predict in years. As such, it should be a good show.

Note that I’ve seen every nominated film in the categories covered below. Oscar prognosticating is an expensive hobby!

Best Picture

Nominees:
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

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The Ugliest Building in Mexico

Avenida de Chapultepec bldg 2

This spectacularly-ugly building on Avenida de Chapultepec, near the Zona Rosa section of Mexico City, looks (from the above angle) like a solitary brick wall that the city forgot to demolish. The Steren store on the bottom floor only makes the rest of the façade look worse in comparison.

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