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The travel news, posts, tips and photos that especially captured my attention in July. July-ish.


PHOTO ESSAYInside the Darien Gap: An exploration in 19 photos by Matthew Karsten

SOURCE: Matador Network

Many of the resources I referenced when researching my trip to Panama basically stated not to even think about going into the Darién Gap, a break in the Pan-American Highway consisting of undeveloped swampland and jungle that straddles Panama and Colombia. Likewise, everything I read when looking into traveling to Colombia warned of the dangers of the Darién Gap. I got the message. I have no desire to get close to the area but taking in a photo essay on it by someone who survived nearly three weeks in there? Yes, please.

Matthew Karsten reveals the perils lurking within the untamed swath of land that is the Darién Gap: creatures that sting, bite and invade; plants that pierce the skin; and smugglers, bandits and paramilitary groups. His photos also capture the personalities of the people who have adapted to the rainforest as well as the beauty that can be found there, including the poisonous flora and deadly fauna.

Scorpion Matthew Karsten

Photo by Matthew Karsten


SLIDESHOW: Adventures in Mongolia featuring the photography of Brian Pineda (Brian’s Instagram)

SOURCE: Condé Nast Traveler

Mongolia. Just typing it gives this world traveler a thrill. No other corner of the globe feels as exotic, mysterious and remote to me.

Brian Pineda traveled across parts of Central Mongolia and the Gobi Desert by horse, camel and Soviet-era van and shared his captivating images, engagements with the local people and most memorable experiences from along the way.

Brian Pineda Mongolia

Photo by Brian Maranan Pineda


ARTICLE: Geisha hunting in Kyoto: 7 things to know before going to Gion by Karla Cripps


Having just visited Japan I found all of CNN’s Discover Japan series interesting, but my favorite post of the bunch was this one on “geisha hunting”. My last stop was Kyoto. I admit that I was always attuned to the possibility of encountering a geisha when I wandered the streets and alleyways of Gion, feeling a rush of excitement when I spotted one, and being fooled initially by the Japanese tourists who were only impersonating them.

Karla Cripps describes not only Kyoto’s paparazzi culture and the do’s and don’ts of photographing geisha as the title claims, but also educates readers on how to tell a legitimate geisha from a poseur, how to go about “becoming” a geisha for a day, and reveals the secret to to meeting a geisha if you’ve got the yen to do so. Pun intended.

Geisha Gion


SLIDESHOW: Travel Porn: Featuring Marcelo Castro by Anna Starostinetskaya

SOURCE: Off Track Planet

Marcelo Castro has visited, and photographed, some of my favorite destinations in the world — Petra, Old Bagan, Istanbul. So why don’t my shots look like his? If I only possessed a better eye, timing, technical skill, knowledge, and equipment I think I would be in his league.

Marcelo Castro Photo

Photo by Marcelo Castro

Go back to BEST IN TRAVEL, JUNE 2014

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The travel news, posts, tips and photos that especially captured my attention in June. June-ish.


ARTICLE: Beijing Fast Forwards to the Future by Gary Shteyngart

SOURCE: Travel + Leisure

Another enviably well-written article from my favorite writer on travel. No one better captures the subtly humorous idiosyncrasies and absurdities of a destination than Gary Shteyngart.

bronze lion in the forbidden city


ARTICLE: How I quit my job to travel: the Washington DC lawyer by Sari Zeidler


Truth is, as much as I like to think of myself as a world traveler I couldn’t handle going non-stop even if I *were* smart enough to figure out how to make it work: I like my pets, my routine, my personal stuff too much. But I still respect the hell out of people like Gina Dowd who have managed to lead a nomadic life. This article details how she turned her working-for-the-man desk job into a self-employed virtual office gig.


POST: Faces of Afghanistan by Steve McCurry

SOURCE: Steve McCurry blog

The man behind THAT ICONIC NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO OF THE GIRL WITH THE HYPNOTIC GREEN EYES (you know the one) is still at it. Steve McCurry recently posted his captivating Faces of Afghanistan series on his blog and once again the images are indelible.

Steve McCurry

A new photo of a girl with hypnotic green eyes by Steve McCurry.


POST: Why Americans never call themselves just Americans by Matt Hershberger

SOURCE: Matador Network

Another funny travel writer (why aren’t there more?), Matt Hershberger delves into Americans’ compulsion to apply genealogical math to define our identity (and points-out Europeans’ understandable annoyance at us when we do so). Interesting map (especially my home state, “Norwegian” Minnesota).


POST: The Ultimate Digital Detox: Walking by Robert Reid

SOURCE: National Geographic intelligent travel

Travel writer Robert Reid (a good-looking guy beneath that ridiculous green hat) elucidates the relationship between walking, disconnecting from the digital world and connecting to the present. I get him. The best way to lose yourself and find a destination is step by step.

Below: One of my favorite urban walks, Bondi Beach to Coogee in Sydney.

Urban Walking Trail Bondi Beach to Coogee Sydney


POST: We Rank Flight Attendant Uniforms from Worst to Sexiest by Sophie-Claire Hoeller

SOURCE: Thrillist

Maybe not the most highbrow article, but interesting nonetheless. What straight woman/gay man hasn’t mentally critiqued the flight attendants’ uniforms in between endless episodes of The Big Bang Theory while gnawing on stale pretzels from the discomfort of their seat? Pleated Dockers? They author makes a valid point. And I agree, Air France wins, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always admired the exotic sassiness of those Emirates hats paired with the matching red lipstick. It’s a fabulous look.

Emirates Uniforms


POSTSardines, Sex and Cocktails in Lisbon by Guru4Travel

SOURCE: Unusual Hotels of the World

My go-to website for unique hotels showcases three unusual bars in Lisbon, including one that’s a fishing tackle shop by day. Why not?

Pensao Amor

Pensao Amor


POSTHaunting Photos Of New Orleans Homes Reveal Louisiana’s Architectural Ghosts by Katherine Brooks

SOURCE: The Huffington Post

I dream about houses. Literally. A couple nights of the week domiciles I’ve never seen loom in my reveries. What it all means, I don’t know. But maybe it kinda sorta explains why I Cannot. Stop. Looking at. These Photos. of houses from New Orleans. And what dramatic accessories: a red El Camino, a fallen telephone pole, a “flood prone area” sign. This guy Frank Relle is a genius.

Brainard Relle Frank

Photo by Frank Relle.


GALLERYPlane hotels: five aircrafts you can spend the night in

SOURCE: The Telegraph Travel

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m a SUCKER for any sort of kitschy theme hotel, an easy mark for properties that bill themselves as unique. So of course I’m helpless to resist aircraft-turned-accommodations. I WILL stay in one of these jet pads sooner or later.

Airplane Suite

The Airplane Suite from HotelSuites.NL boasts a jacuzzi, sauna and three flat-screen tvs.


ARTICLEIn Argentina, Wine, Art and Altitude by Alessandra Stanley

SOURCE: The New York Times Travel section

Alessandra Stanley transports readers to Colomé, a winery and contemporary art museum in northwest Argentina. She writes good.

Colome Argentina


And the punches continue to fly over at the comment section of the Brunei post at Adventurous Kate…

POST: Brunei: Perplexing, Infuriating, Unforgettable by Kate McCulley

SOURCE: Adventurous Kate


Go back to BEST IN TRAVEL, MAY 2014

Go on to BEST IN TRAVEL, JULY 2014

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My first Spanish bullfight.

I arrive at the Plaza de Toros de La Maestranza at 6:29 p.m. and walk straight up to the ticket counter. I have no idea what this thing is going to cost me. The agent shows me a seating chart by price and I select the cheapest option, which still puts me back $35. The best seats in the ring cost upwards of $200 for certain bullfights. I exit, ticket in hand, and the large wooden doors for the ticket office close behind me. For a country so notorious for its fluid concept of time they sure take their Spanish bullfight punctuality seriously.

There are no concession stands. What’s the point of even watching a sport if you can’t drink beer and eat a hot dog? Like, I’m from Chicago.

Everyone is already seated and I’m not permitted to take mine because the bullfight has started, which is fine with me as I don’t exactly know where I’m going anyway and I feel extremely self-conscious in these foreign surroundings. Surely my presence must scream bleeding-heart-liberal-Democrat-animal-loving-sanctimonious-judgmental-xenophobic-ugly-American. I stand in the entranceway for awhile — my view blocked — and eventually take my seat. A seat, anyway.

Seville bullfight


I know very little about the Spanish bullfight: there’s a matador, there’s a bull, the matador pisses off the bull by throwing javelins at it, the bull charges the matador, the matador uses his cape to confuse the bull, the bull dies, we all go home. Olé.

In actuality the Spanish bullfight is obviously much more complex and very ritualized. To break the event down as simplistically as possible, it consists of three matadors, accompanied by a crew of assistants, each fighting two bulls (not simultaneously). Each fight has three stages: the tercio de varas (the part of lances), the tercio de banderillas (the part of banderillas), and the tercio de muerte (the part of death).


My heart rate palpably accelerates when the bull charges into the ring: it’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s NOT happy to be there. The assistants and then the matador thrust their capes and incite the beast for the purpose of seizing up their opponent. This is fun.

Two more assistants enter the ring riding blindfolded horses wearing a padded sort of armor. The furious bull attacks the clueless horse, nearly wrestling it to the ground as my heart clenches in empathy for the poor animal that has got to be utterly terrified. Now it’s the bull’s turn to be tortured: the assistants stab it in the neck with their lances. This is not fun.


Now the matador and his assistants plant barbed sticks into the weakening, enraged bull. yay.

Everyone around me is engrossed in this lopsided spectacle. Enrapt, no one appears to be tweeting or updating their Facebook status or texting photos to friends. The sixty-something man and his wife seated next to me passionately chant óle óle óle (not olé) in awe after every pass the matador completes. Children look on, much as they would observe Disney on Ice.

I confess I’m not immune to the adrenaline rush produced by the drama unfolding below me: my palms sweat for the bull, for the matador, for the assistants, for those goddamn horses.


The matador returns to the ring and performs a number of distinct styles of passes, luring the bull in with his red cape (the bull is color blind: the red hides the blood), inching ever closer to the dying, murderous animal as their dance becomes more intimate and intense. I’m mesmerized and I loath myself for it.

Finally the matador puts the beast out of its misery with what looks like to be a stab to the head. The crowd cheers. A team of mules is released into the ring and they drag the bloody body out. The brass band plays like it’s halftime. Where are the cheerleaders?

I hang in for another round. This time, during the tercio de banderillas, the bull pursues an assistant who hides behind a barrier, and the beast crashes head-on into the planks. It falls to its back, legs flailing in the air. Seconds pass. It struggles, and struggles, and cannot right itself. The crowd is enthralled. I can’t handle this. Somehow witnessing the humiliation bothers me more than observing the fear and pain. I feel shitty.

I leave.


Not far from the Plaza de Toros, walking through the streets of Santa Cruz, I pass a band of a cappella singers entertaining the carefree Sunday crowd with comical ditties. I discover the resplendent El Divino Salvador church where people kneel humbly. Singing, laughing, praying, killing, music, beauty, death — the contrasts are difficult to process.

El Divino Salvador church

I order dinner and chastise myself for giving $35 to the Spanish bullfight and contributing to its sustainability. Yet here I am eating serrano ham with pleasure. I can condone the pig’s pain and suffering because I wasn’t there to witness it?

I reach a reconciliation. The bulls and pig suffered at the end in exchange for life. They would have never lived if they weren’t destined to serve some purpose. And unless you’re fortunate enough to be born as Paris Hilton, Petra Ecclestone or a spoiled pet like my two cats there’s a price to pay for your existence. You’ve got to commute two hours daily, or smile at your boss’s lame jokes, or pull a cart, or lay some eggs, or blow the repulsive producer or fight a guy wearing tight-fitting, gold-brocaded pants and a funny hat. There’s no free lunch. Not usually, anyway. So that’s how I justify my behavior.

Still, I’ll be donating to PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) when I return home to Chicago.

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