Friday, November 21, 2008

The OTHER Side of the Coin

Hi there friends and fellow travelers,

It has been a while since we last met; I have been rather busy lately… (Yes, with the CRISIS.) Grrrr, what a gloomy word. There’s truth to it for sure and things are changing as we speak, but some of this ‘crisis’ is also inflated by the media to such a towering extent that sometimes I open the newspapers and feel the world has come to a full standstill and there is no way back or forth. There basically seems to be no other remedy than hide in our cellars and hope for a miracle to get us out of this mess. (Or that is what the media want us to believe because they are actually making money of this...)

I want to share with you two thoughts that I think are relevant in times like these. One is about the phenomena known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy” and the other is about the real face of this crisis.

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy of the Argentine Economy

Here in Argentina the local economy has developed a pretty strange tendency; it crashes around every 7 years, like really hard, then rapidly recovers, returns to pre-crash levels in no-time, overheats in a blink and then falls flat on its face before anyone notices (well, most people at least), only to roll over and begin the same process again. It seems we are following a somewhat biblical routine here, which has now become commonplace in Argentine society. So much has this jittery economic movement taken place in the hearts and minds of most Argentines that pre-crash capital flights caused by those fearing the next hit basically cause it to happen. The circle has become complete and everyone’s worst fears come true over and over again because hardly anyone here still believes that things could go any differently. The idea of economic stability is simply not logged into people’s minds here and therefore nobody will give that thought and -thus that potential reality- a chance. I will not go into the theories about this actually being a controlled economic movement; anyone who has been here for more than a week can come to their own conclusions. What I want to say is this: if you allow yourself to give away control over your life to your biggest fears, they will eventually take over and that what you dread the most will become your reality. It is as simple as that.

The Real Face of the Crisis

As you can see on our sites, we are a proud ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) member and yesterday I read an interesting article in ASTA’s Smartbrief, based on a lecture given by World Leisure Partners’ Chairman and CEO Adam Aron that I want to share with you. To me his speech was:

· Inspiring, because it confirmed my belief that in times like these, when the going gets tough, it is positive, pro-activeness that will pull you through. These are challenging times, sure, but when did anyone decide that a good challenge should be backed away from? I mean, these are the times we can really prove ourselves, focus on doing our absolute best and showing ourselves and the outside world what we are; a company with vision, a team with heart, a continent with passion, a place to recharge your batteries.

· Relieving, because after having read so much negative, sad and sorry stories about banks sliding, companies going bankrupt, people being laid off by the thousands and international travel bookings going down (which is of course the only thing that really interests us here!), for a moment I almost believed them, the commercial journalists that will prey on anything that smells like “crisis” these days, as that seems to be the only thing anyone wants to read about. To my great dismay, because even though I am reading about it as much as I can myself, I am constantly looking for positive signals, stuff I can use to help navigate our little company through the so-called storm. The mainstream media, however, seem to want us to wallow in distress for a little while longer. That is why it was a relief to read Mr. Aron’s take on things.

· Reassuring as it put me back in the driver’s seat of my reality, where I almost thought I had no control anymore, almost felt as if we were going to slide like everybody else and would need a miracle to be saved… BS my friends, really, and pardon my French, but we are in charge of our lives, or our work, of our reality and there are tons and tons of things we can do to take this situation and make it work for us.

Let me give you a short excerpt of what Mr. Aron said: (here goes the condensed version of the text I just sent you)

In this era of 24/7 news cycles, the current bad economic news gets magnified.

"Doom and gloom," said Aron, is what the media lives for -- so expect them to wallow in it as long as they can.

"The media will tell you that this recession will be the worst and the longest because things are different now and unlike other times, this time the doom and gloom is permanent."

He added: "In every recession that I have seen, that is always what the media says...but we always get out of it."

And they also say the boom times will never end, added Aron, recalling how a few years ago a Wall Street Journal article waxed optimistic that the business cycle had been eliminated because economists had figured it out.

There is a reason for business cycles, said Aron.

"Think about your own businesses. In the good times, we all get a little sloppy and take on more risk and don't watch pennies quite as closely as we are now."

Businesses hire more people than they really need, take risks they should not be taking and take on new costs that aren't justified.

"What happens is that fat, inefficiency, waste and risk creep into the system, because millions of businesses are doing this at the same time."

Eventually, the economy can't sustain the inefficiencies and outsized risks and "so it crashes," said Aron.

"Usually, there is a catalyst of some sort and clearly [in this cycle] the banks were lending money to people who should not have had such loans. Companies were leveraged way too much and individuals were taking on too much debt and the weight of all that crashed the system in a big way -- and quickly."

Aron recalled that last May and June everything was fine, but come September, "Armageddon was around the corner."

And just as in boom times, the actions of millions of businesses cutting costs to adjust to the downturn and consumers cutting back on spending all at the same time, threw the economy into recession.

Then at some "mystical point" after millions and millions of businesses and individuals have cut waste and costs, the economy "rises from the ashes."

The remarkable thing is that there is a simple explanation for the business cycle but you cannot predict how or when it will turn upward, said Aron.

But there have been benefits in the recent difficult times and a major one is the drop in the price of oil.

"Think of what a boon that is to the economy. Think how beneficial that is for consumers who were being stretched in July."

Aron did have a forecast: "As sure as we're sitting here, two years from now things will be rosy again" because downturns are usually six to 24 months long and good times three to six years.

Nice eh? A different and most definitely more realistic view, more pragmatic, more my way at least.

I hope I have managed to give you an idea of how I see this: we make our own reality and are capable to turn things in any direction we damn well please. Our brain is not much more than a (highly sophisticated; ok!) muscle which we train to send our body certain stimuli that make us walk, for example. Or sit behind a keyboard and write a piece of text and throw it online. Or read it. And when we read that piece of text (written by someone else for whatever reason) we have a free choice to take that information for granted or to reflect on it and make a proper decision on how it is we want to experience it, and what we want to do with it. And that in the end will greatly influence the way we live our lives… So my message to you today is this: Why don’t you put the paper aside today and get out there, play with your kids, score some goals, make some friends, have some fun, do some dancing in the rain (and look how the US Dollar is slowly gaining strength against the Argentine Peso and plan your next trip here! J). Two years from now this will all be behind us and things will be going boringly well again. For now let’s look at this crisis and make the best of it!

Thanks and may the force be with you…


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm Back and Getting ready for the Cabrio Challenge...

Hi there everyone,

Wow, 3 months went by in a flash! We were in Europe for the summer (doing some work, yes) and time just flew by. I cannot really recall what it was that kept us so busy for this period so that it flew by like it did, but hey, it was probably because we had so much fun! Anyway, it does explain my virtual absence in a way. I hope you enjoyed Sarah’s input last month!

As for me, I have been outdoors a lot lately, as detached from my laptop/the internet as I have ever been over the past 10 years, and you know wasn’t so bad! Still, I'm glad to be back on the block now and writing to you because this coming Thursday I am leaving again to participate in the CABRIO CHALLENGE. This convertible car rally concept was set up last year by a small group of Dutch driving fanatics when they drove 20-some-odd cars from Amsterdam to Singapore. Now they have asked CAT-DMC to organize this year’s (and first) Latin American Edition! How cool is that? Of course I am thrilled to be a part of it and I will be sharing the fun with you while I am on the road. You can read my updates from the Cabrillo Challenge here:

Happy Trails!!


Friday, August 15, 2008

A Friend’s Secret Path to Machu Picchu…

Greetings faithful readers and avid travelers! I have a special treat for you this month. As my travels have kept me particularly busy during the past few months, I’ve decided to hand over the blog to a special guest…

Recently I received a warm email from another travel-blogger named Sarah. She wrote to me and explained that she enjoys reading my Blog and asked if maybe I wouldn’t mind letting her guest post sometime. Well, I don’t mind at all! I have learned a lot from reading her blog, and I thought now would be the perfect opportunity for me to get you acquainted with her thoughts. I mean, no one has done and seen it all, right? I only sit here, writing from my little ivory tower and it certainly does not hurt to bring a fresh perspective into the discussion…

Sarah maintains her impressive travel blog over at the “My Backpacking Buddies” site: I recommend checking it out whenever you can. Her entry that follows details a little known, but well worth the effort, “off the beaten track” route to Machu Picchu. Since Machu Picchu is the most popular destination for tourists/travelers in all of South America, it’s great to have an alternate, more unique, not to mention more scenic, route there. “The road less traveled…” as they say.

Sarah’s recommendation (see below) looks enticing. I’m very well going to try and check it out next time I’m en route to Machu Picchu!

Keep on traveling,


The following entry was written by Sarah from My Backpacking Buddies Blog at

Taking the long way to Machu Picchu.

I have a tip to share with you about a slow but beautiful way to reach Machu Picchu.

I'm talking about a three days trek that was built by an Israeli tourist and if you choose to believe the reports of people that have done it, is the most beautiful way to travel there, and it is relatively cheap as well.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Take the bus from Cusco to Santa Maria – it is a 5.5 hours drive – last bus is at 21:30.

2. From Santa Maria there are transits waiting to take you to a town called Hydro-electric, or to a small town half an hour from there where you can change transits.

3. Find the railroads and very carefully walk for 200 meters until you see a sign telling you to climb the stairs. If you miss it you might find yourself at the Jungle so stay focused. After 6 minutes climbing you reach another railroads.

4. Walk along the railroads for 3 hours (8 km') until you arrive at Aguas Calientes, a stunningly beautiful town from which you start the journey to Machu Picchu. Turn left and start walking.

5. It is already afternoon so you can climb to Machu Picchu and return on the same road early morning or choose the option of finding a cheap hostel nearby and relax at the hot springs nearby.

6. Take the 5:30 bus to Machu Picchu as you'll need your strength for the additional climbing at the location itself. It is recommended to visit the nearest mountain first – entrance is limited for 400 people a day for preservation purposes. The entrance fee includes both mountains.

7. Enter Machu Picchu and when you want to return you can easily walk the way back to Aguas Calientes as it is an easy walk.

8. When leaving Aguas Calientes plan to reach the last bus from Santa Teresa so you can catch the 20:00 bus to Cusco.

The trek is fun, easy, economical, and most importantly, is the most scenic route possible to Machu Picchu.



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Travel and Romance?

Hi there fellow travel fanatics,

Going out on a limb a little here, I want to share with you some reflections on travel and relationships. A short while ago I received a response to one of my earlier entries from somebody asking how my wife and I manage to be working and travelling together so intensively and still maintain a healthy relationship, and whether it was a good idea for a new couple to travel together. I was first kind of surprised and not sure what to write back, but then I realized I actually had some thoughts about the matter to share with her. Also, she had the courage to approach a stranger for advice and I found that to be pretty amazing, so I decided to tell her about some of my personal experiences and ideas. I never expected her reaction to it to be as positive as it turned out to be so I asked her if she would mind me sharing this reply with all of you. She agreed, so here goes.

I realize this is not what you are used to read on this spot, but I hope you will like it anyway. Or not, but that is a risk I am willing to take. In that case I promise to get back on the road ASAP!

Still, in the end this is my blog and it reflects my thoughts on travel, so why not a little bit about life as well? Let me know what you think; maybe we have found some ground for an entirely new set of entries!

Looking forward to your feedback, as ever…

Dear …..

Thanks for your message and also for your trust in my perspective on things. I must say I am a bit overwhelmed by the idea of giving you advice on how to manage your relationship through something like a trip around the world. I will be happy to share with you some of my personal experiences, but would strongly urge you to rely on your own insights, feelings and capability to make your own decisions before acting upon what I tell you.

Relationships are a very funny thing to begin with. They are nothing more and nothing less than the product of two people wanting to be together. In my opinion many people overestimate the power of a relationship and too many people seem to be dependent on their relationships, whereas a relationship is nothing in itself really; it is merely a name, given to a social state of mind because two or more people decide to interact for a certain period of time (which might be for life, of course). What I try to say is that a relationship exists because you and your partner want it to exist. You do not depend on it; it depends on you. That means the power is in your hands, at least partially; as long as you and your partner are convinced you want to move on together, the relationship will continue to exist.

From personal experience I can tell you that a relationship is something that needs constant care. As soon as the first weeks of butterflies etc are over, you will basically have to work on it on a daily basis. Well not on the relationship, but on how you decide you want to relate to your partner and how you wish him to relate to you. Being two existentially different beings form the start, a relationship implies making concessions, to yourself and to your partner. The way in which you both manage this, how much you want to remain “yourself” and how much you allow your partner to be “himself” combined with how much you both are willing to give in to one another on that front, will define the nature of your relationship as well as the durability of it. I have been in the same relationship for over 14 years and we have gone through all kinds of experiences, good and bad, internal and external, and there have been many situations that could have broken us up, bit in the end, we somehow always managed to come out of them stronger. I guess that has much to do with the both of us being convinced we really want to be and remain together and always being open to discuss openly what it is that is bothering us, to communicate about practically everything in order to make sure we maintain the balance between our personalities that keeps us together.

Traveling together (especially for a longer period of time) can lay some serious strain on a relationship, because it is about intense, continuous being together in all kinds of situations that are not common, may require you to learn new skills, adapt to new surroundings and influences, and demands a high level of flexibility on both partners. In 1990/91 I traveled together with a friend for 4 months through Latin America and we split up halfway because we couldn’t stand each other anymore. Still, we met again at the end of the trip, flew back home together and have been good friends ever since. On the other hand, Karin and I travel together all the time and it is actually the thing that binds us most. It is travel that brought us together and while travelling we feel closest to one another.

Now, knowing this, would it be smart for you to go on a journey around the world together, being your age and having been together as ‘shortly’ as you have been. I am close to being married for 10 years, so I feel somewhat like a grandpa here which is something very difficult to comment on. I would say that if there is anything that would show the durability of a relationship it would be travel. Once you get to the point you are thinking about being together for a longer time, a nice long trip might just be what you need to find out if you are really meant for each other. It will force the two of you to get to know each other very well very soon. I would say it is the perfect way to find out about things that in ‘normal everyday life’ would perhaps take much more time to come to the surface and therefore, if it does not work out, it might very well not have worked out in the long run. If it does work out well, you are probably capable to withstand many situations together, which makes it very well possible you are a strong couple. But, having said this, I must admit that to “travel that road” you need to be willing to put things to the test, willing to take the chance that it might not work out and accept that possible outcome. It means you need to be sure of yourself, not depending on your partner, and willing to try out life without fear. For me there is no other way; I find it liberating and extremely comforting to know that my life is about me and that in order for me to be able to give love to my partner I first need to love myself and vice versa.

I think in order to live life to the fullest you should not shy away from the possibility of new experiences, such as a nice long trip. On the other hand, you should not make this trip out of fear of losing your boyfriend; you should make it only if the idea of it appeals to you; if you would make such a trip on your own or with anyone else, because you feel motivated to do so. If not, then don't go.

As you see it is a bit difficult to tell you what to do because it basically all depends on you. I would not make a trip of this nature just because your boyfriend wants to, especially if you do not feel like it. Still, if you want to travel too, but are afraid it might put too much strain on your relationship, then you may want to think about your goal with it. A long-term relationship thrives on knowing, accepting and respecting each other. Travel can be a fine way of getting to know each other better, but it can also end things pretty drastically. In the end it is about you; are you up for that? Do you prefer to know where you stand in your life and with respect to your (future) partner and take some risks while finding out, or do you feel better taking things easy and see how they glide along? None of these approaches is any better than the other.

Please think this over thoroughly and try to figure out what it is YOU want out of this life, this relationship. Once you have that clear, the decision will be a lot easier to make.

Happy trails


Friday, March 14, 2008

Cusco Dining – The Top Five Eateries in the Ancient Inca Capital

Well – I thought I’d follow up my last Lima Restaurant entry with a write up about my favourite Cusco Restaurants. Cusco, the capital of the ancient Inca Empire is a Mecca for any tourist traveling to Latin America. The old citadel – surrounded by numerous ruins that stand testament to the ingenuity and everlasting legacy of the Inca – has a number of very fine restaurants on offer. From traditional Andean cuisine to modern Spanish culinary delights, there is a never ending amount of cuisine available for the travelers looking for a good meal in the city. So here they are – my Desert-Island All Time Top Five Cusco eateries in no particular order (except perhaps for the first which is my favourite):

Cicciolina’s is Cusco best known and highest rated restaurant. Both the food and service are excellent. With great views over the crisscrossing street so of Cusco, the restaurant has some fantastic decoration that creates a warm and welcoming ambiance. The menu is made up of mainly Mediterranean dishes, many made with traditional ingredients. The salads are simply delicious and the homemade pastas are superb.

A small bistro nestled in a corner of San Blas; it is located directly next door to Boutique Hotel Casa San Blas, a warm dining room atmosphere. The cuisine you’ll find at Tika is unlike anything you have ever tasted, combining Thai and Vietnamese flavors and cooking techniques with traditional Peruvian ingredients. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised with new flavors and combinations. Chill out ambiance music gives a nice rest from the traditional panpipes so commonly hard all over the city.

Jack’s Cafe
Jack’s Café is a great place for vegetarians, as they order huge salads, and a wide variety of cooked dishes made only with vegetables. The restaurant has a special hot chocolate which is very worthwhile. They have a neat ginger tea, which has an interesting taste, and it’s very good to ward off any colds. The menu is extensive—with a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, and main dishes. The restaurant uses homemade bread to make their sandwiches and this is especially delicious!

Baco has the best wine selection in town. The restaurant provides a warm, relaxed atmosphere, entirely decorated in wood and iron, where you can enjoy finger foods like their grilled seafood platter, gourmet pizzas or the finest Argentinean beef in red wine and mushroom sauce, all cooked with the restaurant’s own particular fusion style. Also available is a series of grilled veggies platter. Open Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 11pm

This restaurant opened in June 2006 and was built within an old Inca palace, magnificently located only a few meters away from the main square. Contemporary and minimalist, Incanto offers over 80 dishes with an Italian influence and often involving the grill, creatively infused with typical Peruvian ingredients. Their aji de gallina ravioli and smoked trout fetuccini are great examples of their accomplishments in fusion cuisine. Also try their entrees and grilled dishes like the Alpaca loin. The glass-encased kitchen and live harp music give Incanto a unique, classic touch among Cusco’s finest restaurants. Open Monday to Sunday from 10.30am to 11pm .

I hope this information helps any travelers heading to Cusco who'd be looking to eat well. As always - please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about traveling in the area.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lima – A Latin American Gourmet Wonderland

The Peruvian capital is often shunned by travelers as a concrete jungle – a blemish on the otherwise pimple free face of Peru – and considered by many nothing more than a transitory stopover en route to otherwise more interesting destinations in the country. Sadly these travelers miss out on the truly extraordinary attributes the city has on offer – especially the cuisine. With a startling array of the diverse and delicious, Lima is often referred to as the Gourmet Capital of Latin America.

Peruvian cuisine incorporates a seriously wide variety of different elements and influences. The tropical climate gives the country a great assortment of fresh fruit, herbs, and vegetables. The potato originated under the Inca culture and over 200 different varieties are found in the country. Fish stocks along the coast are said to be some of the richest to be found anywhere – while cattle, poultry, and pig farming is big business in the interior. Culinary influences range from a history riddled with the fusion of many different cultures – the result of course being a mixture of the very best each of these cultures has to offer. African, Asian, and European influences combined with the traditional Amerindian cuisine to produce some truly exquisite dishes in the country – and nowhere is this fusion of cuisine more pronounced, and no where is it as delicious, as it is in Lima.

With some friends at the spectacular "La Mar "Restaurant in Miraflores

Advice on a few dishes. Lunch should, as a rule, be reserved for Ceviche and Tiradito. Both are served widely across South America – but in Lima they just seem to taste better. Lima’s Ceviche basically consists of raw diced fish flesh (generally sole) cured in lime juice and served with red raw onion and some chilli. Tiradito is pretty much the same dish but with a little difference. Instead of onions, the cured fish is placed in a spicy cream sauce. Both are hauntingly delicious, full of flavour, and easily available across Lima.

Other exceptional dishes include Rocotto Relleno – a hollowed out pepper filled with a meaty mix (very spicy), Aji de Gallina – a chicken and rice curry, Arroz con mariscos – Rice with seafood, Lomo Saltado – Fillet strips stir fried with fresh vegetable rice and chips, Chifa – Peruvian Chinese fusion, and Anticuchos del Corazon – brochettes of ox heart served with a spicy sauce.

My Desert Island all Time Top Five Lima Restaurants

Astrid y Gaston
Quite often referred to as the best restaurant in Latin America, Astrid y Gaston never fails to impress. Owned by Gaston Acurio, a Cordon Bleu trained chef, and his French wife, Astrid, this restaurant is the best restaurant in Lima, and is well-known in South America. The food is outstanding and the wine selection is the best to be found in Peru.

Restaurant Rodrigo is an elegant and sophisticated joint with an old age European Flair and great interior decorating. Owned and run by Chef Rodrigo Conroy, dishes are simple and elegant and are inspired by Mediterranean and Basque traditions.

The humble Sonia Cevicheria is thought by mean to be the best cevicheria in town. Sonia has been preparing the fish her husband – a fisherman – has been catching daily for over 30 years. Today's restaurant, owned by the same family of fishers, is an upgraded version of the original, attracting a vast clientele that ranges from gourmets to simple seafood devotees.

La Gloria
La Gloria is an elegant restaurant located in the heart of Miraflores. With a homely feel the restaurant provides exquisite dishes at reasonable prices. With a Mediterranean feel – the dishes are fused with a variety of delicious local cuisine. The wine selection is superb.

La Mar
La Mar is a cevicheria owned by Gaton Arcurio of Astrid y Gaston and has a number of delightful ceviche and tiradito options. The haute-cuisine creations include Peruvian seafood wonders fused with sushi and other culinary traditions. The restaurant is very popular and one needs to arrive early in order to avoid the queue.

If you're in Lima I would really recommend any one of these fine places. If anyone is interested, CAT offers a great Fine Cuisine and Museums of Lima Tour. Until the next time, happy traveling.