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March 17, 2008

Good Night, and Good Luck

Home
Rockin' in the USA.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

This is it.

I check out of La Floresta and pay cash, but I almost had to use my credit card...scary. There is no time for last-minute strolls or anything like that. The same motorcycle-hitting cabbie picks me up and takes me to the airport, which is outside of Caracas and right on the sea. At one point we are flying down the highway surrounded by the poor shantytowns on the outskirts of Caracas and then we enter a tunnel. When we exit, we are basically surrounded by green hills and seem to be in the country. Very strange.

Continue reading "Good Night, and Good Luck" »

March 12, 2008

T-Shirts and Reflections

Dashboardstilllife
A little taste of Venezuela, dashboard style.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

 

By Gene Pembroke

After a quick swim in the Caribbean, I say good-bye to Santa Fe and head down the coast of Venezuela. The bus to Puerto de la Cruz is driven by a guy sporting a yellow Magnum, P.I., T-shirt.

I see this kind of thing often around the world, especially in Africa. Basically, the shirts that the U.S. no longer wants get sent to poorer places. This is supposed to make us feel like we are doing something good, I guess, but in reality it usually destroys the local textile industries. It also provides a lot of entertainment when I'm on the road.

I remember having words with a Zambian cop wearing the legendary "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt. I also remember meeting his confused partner a while later and thinking how appropriate the attire was. I've seen 80-year-old women in "ALF" shirts lug firewood down from mountains and three-year-old boys ask me for pens in tops that stated "It's Better in Sycamaugus, Alabama" (which may be true, depending on what is meant by "it").

Continue reading "T-Shirts and Reflections" »

March 11, 2008

Lazy Days on the Venezuelan Coast

Chickenonbeach
Just this guy and me and the Caribbean Sea.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

 

By Gene Pembroke

For three days I hang out at the beach, doing beachy things. But first, I check out of my posada in Santa Fe after just one night because, come morning, they still haven't sorted out the water problem they were having the day I arrived. This town is filled with beach posadas, though, so I head down a few doors and check into a place called La Sierra, a great little joint run by a guy named Jose who spent 30 years in the TV business and studied at NYU in the 1950s.

We have coffee on the terrace and talk about film, television, and Jose's crazy youth. He spins some great yarns about smuggling goods into Peru, how his life was saved by penicillin that had to be flown in on island-hopping planes from California back in the day, and how he started the weird business of repatriating the ashes of dead Chinese immigrants with some pilot buddies of his. Cool stuff.

Continue reading "Lazy Days on the Venezuelan Coast" »

March 10, 2008

Hitting the Hay in Santa Fe

Santafe
The Venezuelan coast near the fishing village of Santa Fe: We're not in New Mexico anymore.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner


 

By Gene Pembroke

After another night at the Posada Don Carlos in Ciudad Bolivar, I get up at seven and hang out with the hotel's two pooches. I have decided to catch a bus. To where? After some thought on the fact that my dream trip is coming to an end soon, I decide to just go to the beach for a few days. So, after some toast, I head for the coast.

Continue reading "Hitting the Hay in Santa Fe" »

March 06, 2008

Fantastical Arepas by the Orinoco

Venezuelapersonified
Venezuela personified: Oddities abound in Ciudad Bolivar.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

On an early morning walk around Ciudad Bolivar, I am reminded that it is Chinese New Year when I see a large rat down near the Orinoco River. I also see some dolphins, which don't remind me of anything but are great to see. I walk into a cloud of thousands of gnats while strolling along the shore and this reminds me that this sucks.

I return to my hotel, the Posada Don Carlos, have coffee with the two house dogs, and then check out more of the collection of typewriters, radios, WWI shells, and masks that adorn the posada. There have been no takers for the Angel Falls trip, and to make the costs come down we need at least six people. Another walk around town and I start to ponder where else I could go. Along the way, I stop in a strange shop filled to the brim with plaster statues. Almost anyone you can imagine is available: Simon Bolivar, the Virgin Mary, apostles, Nazis, Buddhas, Charlie Chaplin, Indian chiefs, Hindu gods, and what looked like the Bee Gees are squeezed onto shelves among hundreds of other representations of historical figures in all sorts of colors and sizes.

Continue reading "Fantastical Arepas by the Orinoco" »

March 05, 2008

Frustration Before Angel Falls

Angosturabridgeorinoco
The Angostura Bridge at Ciudad Bolivar was until 2006 the only bridge across the 1,500-mile Orinoco, which bisects Venezuela.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

The day begins with a surprise: When I check out of the Arte Dorado in El Callao, I discover that the hotel manager has already charged my credit card, which I left with him earlier for security. I'd assumed I would be able to pay with cash when I left. Mind you, the official Venezuelan bank rate for the dollar is about 2.2, but the black market rate in the street is about 4.5. That's a big difference.

So it is understandable that I am a bit frustrated and angry when the hotel manager refuses to cancel the transaction, even after I offer to throw another 20 percent onto my bill. I have the cash ready, but he will not budge. I email my bank, but they just say to work it out with him. Eventually I must head to the bus station to leave town, which I do, fuming over the fact that I have just spent $410 for my hotel instead of $200. The difference would have covered the rest of my time in the country.

If there is one recommendation I have for travel in Venezuela, it is to change money in the street with semi-official money changers. It is common and apparently safe, and it gives visitors access to what is basically a nationwide half-off sale. Good luck.

Continue reading "Frustration Before Angel Falls" »

March 04, 2008

Demons and Dragons and Ghouls. Carnaval!

Greengirl
El Callao, Venezuela: A beauty in flashing lights.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

During my first three days in Venezuela, I wander the streets of El Callao, a town transformed into a bizarre netherworld inhabited by devils, demons, witches, ghouls, zombies, dragons, queens, kings, and the occasional young Spiderman or Superman.

The only sound my brain can register is the constant loud blast of calypso music, transmitted at such high volumes through house-sized speakers that my ears ring and buzz the whole time, making the spectacle of all of these parading hellish creatures seem even more strange. Inject some nonstop celebratory drinking of rum and cheap beer into this scenario, and that little needle on the Weird-O-Meter heads into the Red Zone. In short, it is fantastic.

Continue reading "Demons and Dragons and Ghouls. Carnaval!" »

March 03, 2008

Over the Border and Through Carnaval

Bordershot
Good-bye, Brazil; hello, Venezuela: Crossing the border by foot.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

I wake up early in Brazil, manage the mile or so walk from my hotel to the border, and cross over into Venezuela.

I catch a taxi to the Santa Elena bus station, but before we go there the driver pulls into a dark warehouse on the edge of town. Inside, a small army of long-haired, mean-looking mugs in black suits suck on cans of beer. After we enter the building, the gate is slammed shut and locked. Hmmmmm.

Continue reading "Over the Border and Through Carnaval" »

March 02, 2008

I Vow to Return to Brazil

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

During the ride to the border town of Pacaraima, I reflect on my short stay in Brazil, and end up making the usual Vow of Return. I do this pretty much everywhere, and I've actually made good on it a few times. There is so much to see and do no matter where you are in the world, but I think an important thing to always keep in mind is to never try to do too much. My dream trip sort of ignores that suggestion, however, and to be honest I planned it this way to basically milk the prize for all that it was worth.

You know what I mean?

Anyway, the ride to Pacaraima is interrupted by the bus bumping into another vehicle. I stay in a hotel in the town of Mineiro and the bus company decides to buy me dinner for the inconvenience, but their agent points out several times in the dining room that the offer does not include any drink, not even one juice!

I pay for my own refreshment and find it so refreshing that I purchase more refreshing refreshments to go, and back in my room I enjoy several Nova Schin beers.

March 01, 2008

The Karaoke King of Manaus, Brazil

Preacher_gene_pp
Singing about Jesus in Manaus: He also does private shows.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

In the morning I check out Manaus. It's hot.

I head to the docks and see the dozens of big boats that travel the waterways of the Amazon. Besides visiting other parts of Brazil, one can get a cabin or hammock space and shoot over to Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.

Next time I am down here I am going to get on one of these. Most look like they just cruised down here from the Mississippi, circa 1888.

The heat gives way to a downpour and now I am soaked. Then it's hot again. I buy a new shirt because the heat and rain have made the one I'm wearing unwearable. I run into an odd preacher/karaoke/disco king in a colorful sweater, hat, and a platinum wig. A PA system on his car fills the streets with the songs of the jungle, Jesus, Africa, and sweet lovin' that he sings into his microphone. CDs are available, and he also does private shows.

Continue reading "The Karaoke King of Manaus, Brazil" »

February 29, 2008

Attacked by Laptop-Eating Monkeys in the Amazon

Capuchin_gene_pp
Biting the laptop ain't going to get your Facebook password back.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

I blow off the sunrise tour for a swim in the pool, and a stroll along some of the catwalks and towers here at my Ariau treetop hotel. At lunch, I overhear some people complaining about insects. Complaining about insects on their JUNGLE TOUR? If you have a problem with critters, maybe you should spend your holiday at Disneyland, and even there you have to deal with mice and a cricket.

Anyway, I walk a little more and then try to write, but squirrel monkeys keep trying to steal things from me, and a capuchin actually rips out the "fn" key from the laptop. I don't even know what that key does.

Continue reading "Attacked by Laptop-Eating Monkeys in the Amazon" »

February 28, 2008

Aquatic Samba Atop the Trees?

Amadeoandromero
On the Ariau River in Amazonia: Hangin' with guides Amadeo and Romero.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

 

By Gene Pembroke

A peaceful night in the Amazon rain forest at the Ariau treetop hotel. I am surprised that there are not many mosquitoes here until I learn that the river has a high acid level in these parts, making it hard for the insects to breed. There are some, however, so don't get too excited.

After a breakfast of stuffed tapioca pancakes and cupuacu juice, I am back in the canoe with Romero, Amadeo, and other guests from India, Holland, Canada, Australia, and a guy named Tal from Israel whom I met on the boat that brought me here from Manaus.

We head down the Ariau River a bit and then pull onto shore to do a little walk in the jungle. Romero points out many plants, trees, and herbs used for medicine, nutrition, or poison. These are too numerous to mention here, but highlights include a hallucinogen called chamboa and quinine, which was once used to treat malaria and is a key flavoring for gin and tonics. I grab a leaf and later submerge it in one of these drinks, just for fun.

Continue reading "Aquatic Samba Atop the Trees?" »

February 26, 2008

Amazonian Adventure: River Rides and Caipirinhas

View Larger Map

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

By Gene Pembroke

Manaus lies where the Amazon River meets the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes, and the rendezvous is something to see. Rio Negro is black but clear and Rio Solimoes is muddy, but instead of mixing, the Negro's strong current makes the two rivers run a few miles side by side until eventually they blend into the Amazon.

We are headed for the Ariau Amazon Towers hotel, and we travel up the Coca Cola-colored waters of the Rio Negro in Ariau's double-decker riverboat, done up in mint green and cream. I am promised a hammock -- and I need one -- but a few minutes later I'm told today is the day that all the hammocks get washed at the same time, so there are none. Uh-huh. That's believable.

Ariaudock1
The Ariau hotel's riverboat in all its ice cream-colored glory.

Continue reading "Amazonian Adventure: River Rides and Caipirinhas" »

February 25, 2008

Breakfast and Bye-byes in Rio

Lennyandmeinrio
Fellow travelers: Lenny and Gene in Rio de Janeiro.

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

By Gene Pembroke

Breakfast and then a walk down into the heart of Rio's Santa Teresa neighborhood. There are many old grand mansions up and down the hillside, some in varying states of decay but a few recently renovated. A lot of these places are absolutely magnificent and must have been amazing hangouts 100 years ago.

Today is Arlene's last day. She is flying home and I am flying to Manaus via Brasilia to spend a few days in the Amazon. I try to convince Arlene to extend her stay, but she thinks a month is good and she is ready to go back to work. Personally, I think a year or more down here would be just fine.

We need to get money to pay our bill at Casa 579, and while walking to find a bank I hear my name called. I turn around and see Lenny, a guy I seem to always run into every few years in far-off lands.

Continue reading "Breakfast and Bye-byes in Rio" »

February 22, 2008

Back in Rio

Follow our 2007 Dream Trip Contest winner through South America and Antarctica. And don't forget to enter our 2008 Dream Trip Contest. The prize? A $25,000 trip (designed by Wendy) to the destination(s) of your dreams.

Dream Trip Winner

By Gene Pembroke

The bus ride from the Argentine border to Rio de Janeiro is an all-nighter and then some. We sleep well, and only wake up at 9 a.m. when the bus pulls into some high-tech roadside diner. It's a cloudy day in these parts, somewhere south of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, which, sadly, we will not be visiting.

We ride through lots of farmland.  At a police check the cops come on and search only one bag: mine.  We arrive in Rio at 17:30.

We are staying in the colonial district of Santa Teresa at a very cool place called Casa 579, an old mansion with great views of the sea and of our old friend Cristo Redentor.

We clean up and bus down the hill to a restaurant called Espiritu Santo. On the veranda, huddled underneath a huge umbrella with VISA written all over it, we have a nice dinner. Outside in the streets cariocas are having spontaneous parties in preparation for Carnaval. Despite the downpour the atmosphere is lively.

In case you're wondering, I have pork chops encrusted with garlic and cornbread with a sausage farofa and collard greens while Arlene devours a tilapia stuffed with nuts and jungle fruits and wrapped in a banana leaf. A warm chocolate ginger cake seals the deal, and then we are back at Casa 579 and fast asleep.

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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