Friday, December 19, 2008

Message from the Heart of the World

Recent reports detail how Latin America is taking a leadership role on climate change. New data from the Word Bank quantifies this region’s leadership in reducing the level of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere. Latin America’s efforts go beyond many government’s efforts, including most G-7 nations; and, notably, the world’s two largest emerging economies.

Carbon dioxide emissions in Latin America are 74% lower, per unit of power, than China & India’s emissions. Why? Hydroelectric power and bio fuel usage are two areas where Latin America has pioneered advantages. It is with enlightened self-interest that countries like Brazil and Mexico tackle environmental challenges. Brazil’s Amazon Basin and Mexico’s Gulf Coast are critical habitats threatened by global warming.

Such habitats are critical because their disappearance would trigger greater global warming. Already the conversion of Amazon rainforest habitat to farms represents 50% of Brazil’s total emissions. The world average for emissions from deforestation is 17%. New World Bank data predicts crop failures caused by global warming will cut farm revenue in half as soon as the year 2100.

Two other critical habitats in Latin America are the glaciers in Patagonia and the barrier reefs along C. America’s Caribbean coast. In Belize, the rising ocean temperature is causing coral in the world’s second largest reef system to emit algae that threaten the coral that produce them. Honduras is experiencing similar degradation off the coast of the Bay Islands.

The world’s most powerful economies are being invited by Latin American nations to lead developing economies on issues related to climate change. For now, Latin America is providing much needed leadership by way of example.
Climate change warnings have been coming from Latin America for decades. . The Kogi sounded this alarm in 1990, long before Al Gore redefined the problem. Columbia’s Kogi civilization has avoided contact with industrialized society (much like the Amish). A typical Kogi village appears in the photo above. Like the Amish, the Kogi seek balance with nature.

The Kogi view themselves as “elder brothers” to modern man, having descended from the Tairona civilization which dates back to the 1st Century. They existed and thrived long before their lands were decimated by “younger brothers” of colonizing civilizations arriving in the region more than 1,000 years later. The Kogi see themselves as custodians of our planet and meditate on its future. They see climate change because their mountain is dying. Their mountain lies in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta near Columbia’s border with Venezuela, the highest coastal mountain in the world.

The Kogi do not see us as sleeping (as some Hindu and Oriental religions do); they see their little brothers as dead or dying, as “shadows of the energy of what they could be”, according to Drunvalo Melchizedek. This is because the Kogi have witnessed the destruction of mother Earth caused by industrialized cultures. The Kogi invited NPR to broadcast their message which translates as "Younger brother, you are killing our mother".

The Bush Administration ignored the climate change alarm, while Latin American governments continued to take and recommend actions that will heal the ecology that sustain us. To learn more, see the BBC film “Message from the Heart of the World” by making a donation to the Tairona Heritage Trust. Also, read the book “The Heart of the World” for the story told by The Kogi Mamas (priests) to Alan Ereira.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brazil & Mexico Emerging on Global Issues of Climate & Economic Growth

The President of Brazil recently proposed a framework for establishing new global financial systems in the face of global failures by the G-7 industrialized nations. He presented this proposal at last month’s G-20 summit. President Lula wants to see the G-7 expanded to include Brazil, the world’s 10th largest economy, along with Mexico and other developing nations.

Brazil is also requesting greater say with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. “Brazilians view the current economic crisis as an opportunity” according to Brazil expert Jeffery Carson. They want to see Brazil “in a leadership position on behalf of poor countries. Brazil has a strong fiscal standing with $200 billion in foreign reserves to address the global meltdown.

After towing the line with IMF guidelines for decades, many Latin American economies are at least as solid as the USA’s nose diving economy. In addition to fiscal strength, Latin American countries are important producers feeding much of world demand for food and fuel.

Brazil is the world’s #1 exporter of orange juice, bio fuels, poultry, beef and coffee. It produces more iron ore than the USA and is fast approaching our levels of grain exports. Mexico is the fruit and vegetable basket of the USA. Venezuela is the world’s #5 oil exporter with a proposal to create an alternative to the World Bank.

Brazil also wants more influence within the United Nations. President Lula is quick to point out that it has one of the world’s largest stable democracies.

Mexico has recently taken a global warming leadership role with a plan to cut greenhouse gas emission levels in half by 2050, making it the only developing country to set emissions caps below existing levels. The plan is intended as a wakeup call to the G-7 and includes emissions limits on its main polluting industries which produce cement and electricity and refine oil. Companies will be able to sell unused emission allowances.

Rich industrial countries are facing growing criticism for damaging international financial markets and the environment through their unwillingness to address the interwoven nature of the global economy and ecosystems that draw their own borders. Brazil and Mexico won praise at recent UN talks in Poland attended by 145 environment ministers. Meanwhile, the USA and UK remain focused on their financial catastrophes with the notable exception of California.

California just adopted the USA’s most comprehensive climate plan. Gov. Schwarzenegger believes “these regulations will spur the state’s economy and serve as a model for the rest of country. When you look at today’s depressed economy, green tech is one of the bright spots out there, which is yet another reason we should move forward on our environmental goals.” California’s cap and trade system is similar to Mexico’s in that it provides companies financial incentives for reducing carbon emissions.

President Bush circumvented California’s tough 2006 restrictions on auto pollution by blocking the law from taking effect, but California officials trust that President-Elect Obama will remove this obstacle to clean air and growth in the state’s green economy industries. According to environmental ministers to the UN, “the attitude of rich countries borders on the immoral and is counterproductive”.

Brazil and Mexico are seeking a larger role in convincing an expanded G-7 that they can aid ailing international markets and reduce havoc from carbon emissions. The UN Secretary-General urged leading economies to provided real leadership on these two issues by answering the calls of emerging economies. He stating in Poland, “The economic crisis is serious; yet when it comes to climate change, the stakes are far higher.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mexico's Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido

My favorite hotels in Mexico have that authentic Mexican ambiance found no where else in the world. You can enjoy French and Italian-inspired hotels in Mexico, but vice-versa? Sure, there are German towns in S. America. Where in the world can you find that wonderful Mexican "onda"? (Spanish slang for "vibe", onda literally means wave or ripple and "la onda" means "tune in".)

There is nothing more liberating than a week on the beach in a genuine Mexican hotel in a bona fide Mexican town with a perfect tropical climate, handmade margaritas, surfers gracefully riding great waves, and hippie expats mixing with long-time locals. Now I'm going to share one of Mexico's best-kept secrets, an act typically reserved for clients of "Changes in Latitude".

Puerto Escondido is home to one of the most extraordinary hotels I've discovered in Mexico. Should you ever find time to experience this bohemian surfer's paradise, stay at Hotel Santa Fe. The Presidential Suites are amazing if you really want to splurge, but the Master Suites are also fabulous. The restaurant is a vegetarian's dream, the grounds a lush paradise, and the hospitality is impressive even by Mexico's high service standards.

The hotel was founded 25 years ago by Robin Cleaver and his wife and friends. Robin's parents had retired in Guadalajara in the 60's and he discovered then-tiny Puerto Escondido while vagabonding about Mexico. The town has grown to 50,000 friendly residents but the costa chica onda remains. Indigenous Zapotecs and Mixtecs continue to live in the area ... in much the same manner as they lived 2,500 years ago, trading village-to-village, living off the land and the sea. Be sure to visit the villages neighboring Puerto Escondido on market day.

Puerto Escondido is a quintessential Mexican village ideally situated on a protected bay along Oaxaca's Pacific coast. It is home to coffee farms and fishermen. You can connect to a direct flight from D.F. to avoid the occasional political turmoil in Oaxaca City but allow 2 hours for your layover. While there, be sure to visit the Living Museum of Sea Turtles on Mazunte Beach. For news about forever peaceful Puerto Escondido, read the fabulous local web magazine El Sol de la Costa. Click here to learn more about Hotel Santa Fe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

S. America is Huge & other important lessons

This is my first post of criticism from a travel client. It is constructive criticism and it arrives on the first anniversary of Changes In Latitude (after 11 years touring Latin America solely with produce executives, friends & family). While I would like to claim that I have created universally stellar experiences for all my travel clients this year, there is a first time for everything. I was reminded of three valuable lessons from clients recently returned from Peru, Chile & Argentina.

1. S. America is Huge

I was not assertive enough to dissuade these world travelers from biting off more than they could chew in S. America. I cautioned when I should have insisted they reconsider their long list of desired destinations. It is natural, especially when we travel very far, to want to see as much as possible of the region we're visiting. On the surface, more appears better. But with travel, it is often true that "less is more". I am reminded that trying to see too much can diminish the overall quality of any travel experience. I will insist on small bites because distances are great enough to be daunting for even the most seasoned travelers.

2. Even triple references do not ensure satisfaction.

It has been a rare occasion when clients have wanted to visit someplace I haven't been in Latin America. On this recent S. America trip, however, the clients wanted to visit the Peruvian Amazon. Having never been there, I called an old friend in Lima about the best Amazon Lodge. He replied, "there are only three good ones; Tahuayo Lodge is the best". I did some research and learned the owner had published a book about the Amazon. In addition, this lodge was named "One of the ten best wilderness lodges in the world" by Outside Magazine ... and this was only one of a dozen such accolades. With such positives, client satisfaction was virtually guaranteed, right? Wrong. An Amazon wilderness lodge is not for everyone. I'll use a more formal client questionnaire to better match people with places from now on.

3. Guide books are like casino bets

These particular clients did something I have never tried, and we can all learn from this one. They relied on Frommer's advice in S America in determining some of their desired destinations and restuarants. They were not satisfied with the results. Guide book advice can never be "all things to all people". Changes In Latitude serves upscale travelers, not "all people" In this case, Frommer's advice disappointed my clients. Travelers, think about the nature of guide books - they are highly subjective. You'll win some and lose some.

I was lucky to have local produce growers show me and my travel companions around Latin America for more than a decade. My goal is to provide that type of guidance to my clients. Today I was reminded that this goal will be a journey in itself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Peace for Cuba 2009

President-Elect Obama plans to heal U.S. relationships with neighbors in the Americas. He promises principled and sustained diplomacy with Latin American countries. This represents a return to productive relationships built by Mr. Clinton, damaged by Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama plans to lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba. He will open a dialogue, tied to democratic reforms, toward easing embargo restrictions. Speaking in Miami for benefit of the Castro brothers, he said, “If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations”.

Mr. Bush increased restrictions for Cuba in 2004. A new generation of Cuban-Americans reject this hard-line approach. Mr. Bush refused dialogue with Raul Castro after he indicated a willingness to reform his government, a position Mr. McCain supported. This type of arrogant neglect caused voters to demand a more reasonable President be inaugurated. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and the embargo has changed nothing in 30 years.

Insanity will be replaced with reason come 2009. Mr. Obama favors diplomacy to “advance the interests of the United States and advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.” He stated in Miami, “I would never rule out a course of action that could advance the cause of liberty”. Citizens throughout the hemisphere have expressed to me how refreshing this is. Foreign leaders anticipate improved relations with the USA according to a review of comments made to the press in S. America, C. America & Mexico since November 4.

The last Cuban administration supported by the USA was run by a military leader named Batista who gained power in 1933. He retained power as a dictator for 25 years while financed by U.S. gangsters. Castro came to power with a coup in 1958 with popular support from the Cuban people. Long-term U.S. support for Batista's criminal regime is viewed as hypocrisy in the eyes of the Cuban people. Such hypocrisy has been a common theme in dozens of U.S. interventions in Latin America, many of which have socialist leaning governments today.
Cubans wonder why gambling, prostitution, and state-sponsored murder were supported by the U.S. for 25 years, but not socialism? Or they ask why the U.S. conferred prefence to a criminal dictator but not a revolutionary who deported their own gangsters back to Florida, New York & Las Vegas for prosecution? Castro ended Batista's monthly receipts of $1.28 million from Meyer Lansky's bagmen. The U.S. media deemed Fidel "a tropical Robin Hood" until the Cold War intervened.

Regardless, the embargo should have been abandoned when the Soviet’s abandoned Cuba. As a policy to encourage government reform, the embargo is a complete failure. The Cuban people never deserved increased suffering at the hands of their neighbor, Uncle Sam. Simply stated, government reform is the furthest thing from the minds of people struggling to survive. While this concept comes from the pages of Political Science 101, Mr. Bush evidently failed this course in favor of fraternity parties reminiscent of the mob's heyday in Havana.

For a detailed analysis of “How the mob owned Cuba and then lost it all to the revolution”, read Havana Nocturne by T.J. English. Thanks to Bobbi for this photo from her Cuban journey.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Obama gets Peruvian Shaman Vote

Here we are in November, just days before electing our nation's 44th President. The spiritually-minded are wondering, who gets the shaman vote? For the answer to this question, we look to Peru.

Of 11 shamans in the Peruvian healing organization Apus-Inka, nine support Obama. The shaman group's leader, Juan Osco, is sure he is going to win. "Obama is growing stronger, I've seen that he has the spiritual support of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy to protect him", Osco intuits. "We have seen that if the election is not fair, there will be another global economic crisis, war and despair."

"He will win and he will change history. He is going to help all the Latinos living in the United States", adds Mary Gomez, a healer from Chiclayo. Apus-Inka held a cleansing ceremony on the beach in Lima this week using Andean spirit totems to prevent negative energies that could effect his election. Obama may be in Lima, Ohio this week, but he is receiving mighty supportive energy from Lima, Peru.
Thanks to Linda in Lima for this graphic and to Andrew Whalen for reporting this ceremony. Now, get out and vote!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Day of the Dead Voyage

"Dia de los Muertos" is a holiday celebrated primarily in Mexico but also in Hispanic and African communities worldwide. Families honor memories of their departed with music, costumes, festively decorated sugar skulls, and altars to the dead with many candles. Families visit graves to leave the favorite foods and drinks of their departed. Loved ones are celebrated with stories, feasts, dancing, iconic skeletons, and always with good humor.

These ceremonies date back 3,000 years and began as a celebration of death as a voyage to a higher plane by the pre-Hispanic Olmecs & Zapotecs. The Aztecs celebrated for an entire month, honoring their goddess of death. The modern celebration occurs on the 1st and 2nd of November, fusing the pre-Hispanic celebration with two Catholic holidays - All Saint's Day & All Souls' Day. In Brazil it's a public holiday and Spain holds parades and festivals. If you'd like to participate in Dia de los Muertos ceremonies, there are several villages in Mexico with colorful celebrations worth attending.

My Grandmother departed this month, joining my Grandfather who passed four years ago this week. I will be toasting to their memories tomorrow. Rita & Ray, you are saints in my book!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Latin American Clown Convention

For four days in D.F. aka "Mexico City", there are seminars and workshops for the region's best clowns. Recently, more women are clowning around at the convention - a world formerly dominated by men. Almost 30% of Mexico's 10,000 clowns are women.

Accordingt to Janet Rodriguez of Mexico, "When you have that spark within you, it makes it easier to fit in, but you have to learn dance, singing & child psychology to make people laugh."

If you are tired of the watching American clowns on the election year stage, turn your attention to the real deal at the 13th annual Latin American Clown Convention.

For insights from past years of this wonderful phenomenon, visit Stephania Silveria's blog at

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Vedurgo. Enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Changes in Attitude: Left-leaning Hemisphere

Add Ecuador to the growing list of nations leaning left in the Americas. Today, President Correa’s new left-leaning constitution was approved by a significant 64% margin. There are few right-leaning countries remaining in our hemisphere and Latin America is merely a microcosm of the global liberal/conservative contest.

In colonial times, the fear over liberalization was derived from fear by the ruling elite over sharing the land, wealth, and power they amassed through conquest and slavery. They chose to conserve their land, wealth & power, so they were conservative. Those seeking balance, retribution, fairness, (you decide) were liberal in their approach. The 21st Century finds Presidents Correa (Ecuador), Chavez (Venuzuela), Morales (Bolivia), Garcia (Peru) and Lula (Brazil), among others, liberalizing their countries.

A similar battle is waging in the USA today. Instead of colonizers, the right now represents U.S. corporations such as Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. The CEO's of the nine major banks that taxpayers now partially own were paid $32.2 million last year, on average. On the retail end, we've seen similar gluttony. Global colonizers such as Wal-Mart entice young people from all over China to leave their family farms to slave in squalor in company-owned factories producing plastic gimcracks for voracious consumers, in the name of monopolistic ambitions, profit, and cheap consumer crap.

Consumer culture – isn’t this a crime against nature?

Regardless, corporations are paying billions to their leaders and shareholders, such as the Walton family, while a generation of indigenous peoples move away from their fields to barely subsist in polluted cities working for Fortune 100 companies producing unneccesary consumables. Whether it's a Nike sweatshop in Asia or a garment sweatshop in Latin America, CEO's are making hundreds times more than the workers.
Why grow food when you choke the planet in cheap plastic toys for “happy meals”? The children who throw away today’s toy tomorrow do not realize its half-life is 5000 years. This is the modern day conquest - pillaging once peaceful agrarian societies of their way of life to line the bank accounts of multinational corporate executives. The consequences are not tangibly different from colonization that occured centuries ago through slavery.
In this context, it is not hard to understand backlash against capitalism. "We need to reintroduce morality into capitalism" - Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France.

The USA is set to join the leftist movement next month by inaugarating a liberal to the White House on promises of increased regulation and an economy that works for people as well corporations. The U.S. Congress is already leaning left. Obama shuns lobbyist contributions and special interest money. His average contribution is $86 and he's received such donations from over 3 million voters. If you are surprised by this, read on.

There are three reasons our hemisphere continues to lean left, according to the book “Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left”:

1. The end of the Cold War removed the stigma of the left. The USA could no longer label leftist governments ‘communist sympathizers’.

2. Latin America's extreme concentration of wealth, income, power, and opportunity (among two percent of the population) meant that it would have to be governed from the left. “The combination of inequality and democracy tends to cause a movement to the left everywhere. Impoverished masses (98% in much of Latin America) vote for the type of policies that, they hope, will make them less poor.” – Jorge Castaneda

3. Real democracy will naturally lead to victories for the left. Wealth cannot be unfairly concentrated among those who must seek reelection in a land of fair elections, unless the rising tide truly does raise all ships or the voters can be duped. Voters like “Joe the plumber” are often duped into voting against their best interests by narcissists seeking the throne (versus seeking to serve).
For example, McCain keeps calling Obama a socialist, saying he wants to redistrubute wealth with his tax policies. This is either an attempt to dupe the voting public, or evidence of how little McCain understands the progressive income tax was introduced 95 years ago. Wealthy people have higher tax rates; poor people benefit from government programs while paying little to no tax. If we want to talk about socialist actions, Paul Volcker asks "How do we reprivatize institutions" that have been "socialized" by the Bush administration?

In this context, it is no surprise that corporate greed unveiled results in the masses saying “no” to conservative party staples such as obscene wage multiples for CEO’s who create huge taxpayer debts in their bonfire of the vanities. Anyone surprised by Obama’s popularity needs a refresher course in cultural anthropology. Everyone else already knows why the hemishpere is leaning left... we are so much more than consumers and too many corporations are acting like conquering colonists instead of good citizens.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

James Bond returns to Latin America

James Bond is returning to Latin America. Thanks to Cynthia Mulder in Panama for breaking this news from one of the film sites. If you recall many of the film series’ locations over the years, you’ll easily recall the common denominator - fantastic scenery. So it is not surprising to learn that we've already treated our clients to every locale in Bond's upcoming film, "Quantum of Solace" filmed in 2008.

Looking forward, it is natural to string the latest film’s Latin American sites together for one special Bond journey. We might not be the only outfit doing this, but our niche is upscale travel and our clients are already regulars at each of the film’s locations in Chile, Panama (impersonating Haiti and Bolivia) & Mexico. Channel your inner secret agent and enjoy the ride...

We begin in Chile. Built of adobe brick, San Pedro de Atacama is home to expatriates from all over the world. This oasis has been an important village since pre-Hispanic times. Here you'll find an impressive museum, exceptional cuisine, and dry desert air leading to stunning landscapes just outside of town. There is also the favorite destination of astronomers, Vicuna -home of two famous observatories. Cerro Mamulluca Observatory was designed for the public and offers spectacular programs for travelers awed by the area's crystal clear skies. Filming occured in Antofagasta, "Pearl of the North", Cobija, the Paranal Observatory & its ESO Hotel.

From Chile, we’ll jet to Panama. The Bond film visits Casco Viejo. This is the 2nd city site built in the 16th Century to replace the original site burned in pirate raids. Modern Panama City has been called the “Hong Kong of the western hemisphere” but in this film it is depicted as Bolivia. With cobblestone streets and charmingly decayed colonial architecture, Casco Viejo could be many places. It’s a classic Latin American barrio, gentrified as it is. From Panama City we'll visit Isla Taboga to stay with my friend Cynthia who owns Cerrito Tropical with her husband Hiddo. It is a marvelous journey from the city to the island, and a special destination for viewing Panama City from a comfortable distance.

On the other end of the Panama Canal is Colon on the Caribbean, which serves as Haiti for the film and the harbor at Fort Sherman where the boat chase sequences were filmed. Closer than Haiti, there lies a quintessential Caribbean hideaway just a short hop from Colon. It’s the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. We’ll exit Panama after a few days in this bohemian hideaway via Costa Rica and continue north.

Our journey ends in Baja California, Mexico. This is where Bond's aerial action sequences were flimed. Here the desert landscape is almost lunar and very stark and dramatic. Our favorite location in Baja Sur is Todos Santos, where a friend of ours grows organic fruit. Within one day’s drive there are beaches and landscapes that seem other-worldly. To the north, Loreto is an hour’s flight from San Diego. Todos Santos & Loreto are upscale seaside villages very different from the mega-resorts many tourists frequent in Mexico.

Allow 2-3 weeks to enjoy all of the film's destinations. It’s true, 007 does not linger long in any one place. You, on the other hand, will not stay as long as the film crew resided in each location. One could say you will be stirred, not shaken. Sorry, James.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hemispheric Relations

The balance of power in the Americas has been shifting for more than a decade. N. America’s clout in C. & S. America is at its lowest point in decades of decline. The dollar still goes further when it goes south. However, the USA’s economic meltdown has led to the raising of Latin American eyebrows. For decades we have preached about financial austerity measures. Our neighbors now question the value of economic advice from an economy reeling wildly out of control.

South, Central & North America have each had their share of revolution and civil wars since the 18th Century. Recently, unrest in Latin America has been too often instigated by the USA. Who can name one major Latin American country where the U.S. government did not meddle, finance opposition governments, send covert operatives, or otherwise intervene in affairs outside our borders? We've been a bully with our neighbors, in too many cases. The Bush Doctine of overt pre-emption is just a new twist on a long history of covert pre-emptive actions.

Congress continues to fund intervention in Latin America in its unwinnable “war on drugs”. Yet, the current administration can’t even take care of domestic problems and is running up record deficits. We are overextended and in debt to foreign governments, which was once the norm in Latin America. Our neighbors see the USA as increasingly unreliable and, when it comes to advice about their financial markets, they see the U.S. position as hypocritical.

How does this effect tourism? First of all, we must go beyond the U.S. State Dept. to get a useful travel advisory. Visiting host country's websites is quite helpful. For objective advice in English, visit websites from the governments of Canada, the UK, and Australia. We do this for our clients. We find our own State Dept’s information to be the least useful, the most biased, its not geographically specific, and its not updated frequently enough.

In my work, we don’t rely on vague State Dept. advisories. We prefer detailed, up-to-date analysis on protests or conflicts taking place in Latin America. We prefer pertinent details and nuanced analysis. The U.S. State Dept. plays politics with travel advisories, knowing that tourism is a key revenue source for rival leftist governments in Latin America. Do we have a problem with peaceful protests of misguided government policies here or there? Not necessarily. Does the State Dept. use objections about a government’s policies to overstate a travel advisory? Yes.

The result of this hemispheric shift is positive for tourists. North, Central & South Americans are becoming closer neighbors on economic terms. We have a shrinking middle class. We're engaged in nasty wars. Our economies are crippled. We’re facing the same struggles and this brings people together. The current administration’s misguided policies have eroded our economic standing in the world. We’re slipping from the “1st world” to the 2nd as Latin America has been reaching up from “3rd world” to the 2nd. We’re meeting our neighbors in the middle, slowly but surely.

The poverty rate in Mexico has dropped from 21 percent to 18.5 percent over the past 10 years, said a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The poverty rates in Turkey are 17.5 percent and in the United States 17 percent. Denmark and Sweden are with less inequality with only 5.5 percent of poor people. Out of dozens of countries in the OECD study, only Turkey and Mexico have more poverty to the USA. We are not even close to the top of the list on this measure because too many of U.S. workers earn less than half the median wage - a two class system is growing and the middle class is shrinking. Denmark and Sweden are 1st world countries. The USA and Turkey have the same levels of poverty, a level very close to Mexico's.

Approach the USA's 2nd world reality frankly, with humility, and you’ll make many friends when traveling. Increasingly, we're in the same boat and it may be a banana boat. According to Micheal Shifter, an Inter-American Dialogue Analyst in DC, "Latin Americans have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic. U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous."

Bush has the lowest ranking of any U.S. President in the history of polling. In Latin America, his poll numbers are as low as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, places where people have little control over their own lives and where the middle class is nonexistent. What lesson will we take from this emerging reality?

The USA has done much good in the hemisphere, and more than a little harm. Now, more than ever, it is time to work together with our neighbors for a better future, and treat them the way we would like to be treated. For a related report, see the one below about Argentina…

Travel Visas & Entry Fees

At present, U.S. tourists enjoy Argentina without paying an entry fee or applying for a visa. That is about to change.

Argentina is implementing new fees and visa application rules for foreign visitors for the New Year. The Interior Minister is responding to a perceived act of injustice since his countrymen pay $134 to enter the USA. Florencio Randazzo said the new fee applies to visitors from 22 countries charging fees to Argentines, adding "This is an act of justice. The fee is reciprocal; it is not restrictive in nature, not at all”.

The new fees will generate $40 million annually. Austrialia, Canada, the UK and many EU countries are being targeted. Randazzo said “the world is showing an increasingly negative attitude toward migration”. Brazil, Bolivia and Chile have implemented such policies. $134 USD is a much greater expense for Argentines than it is for citizens of more westernized economies.

It’s as if the world's citizens have been playing a game of ‘musical chairs’ for many centuries. Now, the music is about to stop. Hurry up, sit down. Fight for the last chair. Left out? You lose the game.
This blogger is nomadic. Many people are, by nature, nomadic. There must be coooperation among neighboring countries to drop the fees and the travel visa bureacracy. Immigration rules must be reformed to make the process more transparent and expedient.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Latin America via Edmonds

The side entrance to our office was lost in a dead sea of beige-painted bricks until Los Angeles-based muralist Carlie Monnier jazzed things up for us.

Here you see her rendition of our logo and a mural which invites visitors to stroll off the alley right into a Latin American pueblo scene. We're a proud sponsor of Edmond's monthly art walks but Carlie's stylings will delight visitors daily. To see more of this amazing artist's work, visit

Come visit us any 3rd Thursday from 5-8pm to discuss your next change in latitude and visit 30 neighboring art venues all within walking distance of Main Street in downtown Edmonds.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bossa Nova Postcard from Brazil

Bossa nova is the bolero of the beaches in Brazil. There is not one citizen in this amazing country that did not take time to grieve the passing of Dorival Caymmi when he died in Rio de Janeiro Saturday.

Antonio Carlos Jobim once commented: “Dorival is a universal genius. He picked up the guitar and orchestrated the world.” Dorival was instrumental in birthing bossa nova from its samba womb, and he sang about love with a passion that still makes the world swoon.

At 16, Dorival wrote “O Que É Que a Baiana Tem?” ... “What Is It About Brazilian Women?”. Which reminds me of one particular Brazilian woman, "The Girl from Ipanema". Every music lover knows this bossa nova classic, but who knows "The Girl" who, "when she passes, each one she passes goes ... ah."?

Long after Dorival immortalized Brazilian women in song, Jobim fell in love with the image of the young woman who introduced the bikini to Ipanema. Imagine the synchronicity, for Jobim didn't know this at the time. An anonymous young lady walked daily past Jobim's table at Rio's beach bar "Rua Montenegro", circa 1962. Her name was Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto. She passed Rua Montenegro daily while fetching groceries for her mother. There sat Antonio Carlos Jobim, drinking and writing some of the best music ever recorded, along with his lyricist friend Vinicius de Moraes.

To be honest, Heloísa, at the age of 63 years, turned my head before I knew who she was! She is the picture of sensual beauty today. Heloísa runs a dress shop in Sao Paulo. She is still married to the love of her life, Fernando Pinheiro. Back in the 60's her practical mother kept Hollywood from cashing in on her daughter's sudden fame after the song she inspired became a worldwide sensation. Heloísa Pinheiro is now a grandmother.

Dorival Caymmi has now passed. Yet, as the man who synchronized the rhythm of bossa nova with the women of Brazil's beaches (or vice versa) Dorival would certainly agree, in any language...

"When she walks, she's like a samba that swings so cool ... sways so gently."

We will never forget you Dorival. Bravo!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Save THIS Rainforest

Ecuador guide Dani Leigh encourages support of the Third Millenium Alliance, whose mission is to regenerate, reforest, and restore the Chocó-Manabí Biological Corridor which stretches from the Darien in C. America through Columbia into Ecuador.

The Third Millenium Alliance deserves your support to purchase 1000 acres to preserve the last remnant of rainforest in and surrounding the Jama-Coaque Reserve in western Ecuador by the end of the year. This acreage is in danger of being clear-cut if it is not purchased soon. Donations to this international nonprofit are tax-deductible.

Learn more at and click "Be part of the solution" to donate online.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

The following excerpts are from Nadia Martinez, a native of Panama and an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Ms. Martinez recently became a U.S. citizen and wrote about "Respecting Our Neighbors to the South" in Yes! Magazine, Summer 2008.

"The United States become notorious during the 20th century for backing brutal dictators under the guise of preventing a communist takeover of Latin America. Past military interventions in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and elsewhere, and support of repressive regimes like that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile have made Latin Americans skeptical of U.S. motives. More recently, U.S. policy toward the region has focused on two issues: drugs and free trade. Both policies have harmed the economic and political lives of the region.

Today, Latin America is undergoing a transformation as indigenous and social movements are rising up and demanding a say about the future. Elected leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and to varying degrees, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay are asserting themselves as symbols of an independent and even defiant Latin America. And votes in those countries are overwhelmingly backing them.

So how should the United States respond? A successful policy begins with respect. The U.S. should give the elected governments the space to succeed rather than flooding discredited opposition movements with aid in an attempt to influence elections and undermine governments as they are doing in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Respect can be shown also through abandoning our insistence on so-called "free" trade policies, which favor transnational corporations over the environment and the rights of workers. Instead, we can join the region's move toward fair trade policies that support sustainable development in poor countries and protect small farmers from unfettered competition with heavily subsidized agribusiness. Our trade policies should be based on the idea that our hemisphere is more secure when all peoples can develop diversified economies that meet local needs first, and raise people out of poverty and hopelessness. Strong local economies would also reduce pressure on poor people to migrate, easing much of the illegal immigration in the United States.

Respect can be extended by ending the senseless war on coca farmers, which has fueled conflict and human rights abuses. Instead, we could help countries deal with drug trafficking, money laundering, and other organized crime through good policing - if they request the help."

The time has passed for heavy-handed interventionist policy, especially in our own hemisphere. Read more from Nadia Martinez about What the Rise of Democratic Movements in Latin America Means for the Rest of the World.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cuba's UNESCO office

UNESCO just added a new cultural site to its list of 878 “World Heritage Sites”. It’s in the historic Centre of Camagüey, the birthplace of famous poet Nicolás Guillén. Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (now Camagüey) was one of the seven villages founded by the Spaniards in the16th century in Cuba.

Guillén was a pioneer of "poesía negra" a mestizaje poetry that joined black and white cultural elements in a drum-like pentameter, to express life in Cuba. One of his favorite poems, "Tengo" is translated here.

UNESCO is hosting a National Workshop on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in Cuba. For more information, contact Director Herman Van Hooff at,
Administrative Officer Ian Sanchez at, or

UNESCO Office Havana at:
Blanca Patallo Emperador,
Calzada N° 551 - Esq. a D,
Vedado Havana, Cuba

Phone 537/322 840; 327 741; 327 638
Fax 537/333 144

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mendoza, Argentina Field Notes

Wine lovers visiting Mendoza leave with a new appreciation for Malbec. This grape came to Argentina from Bordeaux, where it is cultivated for blending. In the Mendoza wine province, at the base of the Andes, the growing season is much longer than in Bordeaux region of France. The soil is still rich after 150 years hosting these grapes and Malbec is cultivated by many vineyards as a single-grape wine.

The result is that Malbec from Argentina is a sweeter, softer bodied wine which ages better than French Malbec. Mendoza’s extra sunshine contributes to these improved characteristics by allowing more time on the vine - even after the sugar levels peak. Most of Argentina’s top wines come from Mendoza where amazing Malbecs are priced around $12-$15. Pair these with local dishes such as Patagonian grass-fed beef, goat, local trout, or young pork slow cooked outdoors.

My favorite downtown restaurant/wine bar was Bistro M at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Downtown you’ll find many excellent bistros filled with students from every continent staying in Mendoza to study Spanish at the language school COINED.

For dining at a winery, 1884 is also very good and the bar is as gorgeous as the Portenos who come to Mendoza just to dine with Francis Mallman. Find it at Bodega Escorihuela, There are too many vineyards to mention here, but I work with a very knowledgeable local guide who can show you the best of the “Ruta de los Vinos”. Another guide prefers adventure in the picturesque Andes Mountains, which is a good antidote to sulfite overload. Exploring on your own is not too difficult with modest Spanish fluency.

I recommend staying at La Posada Robles de Besares, a beautiful private home in a peaceful setting at Chacras de Coria, in the heart of Mendoza. The wine cellar is excellent for relaxing in the evening. Breakfast is served in a charming garden. There are tennis courts, a gym and Jacuzzi. Reiki treatments are also available onsite. For details visit

The local Syrah’s are also very good, as are whites from many provinces in Argentina, but I’ll save these for another post.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Obama: A Better Neighbor for Latin America

Barack Obama is now the presumptive Democratic nominee and is likely to defeat Republican John McCain in this year's race for the presidency. What type of friend will Mr. Obama be to our neighbors in the hemisphere? It is a good time to consider Mr. Obama's positions and statements concerning Latin America:

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
  1. Mr. Obama recognizes that we have neglected our neighbors. "As has been the case throughout the world, our standing in the Americas has suffered as a result of the misguided policies and actions of the Bush Administration. The United States can ill afford this deterioration of our standing. With each passing day, we draw closer together to our neighbors to the south. This convergence creates new challenges, but it also opens the door to a more hopeful future."

  2. Mr. Obama will make Latin American relations a higher priority; he sees Mr. Bush's declaration of 2007 as 'the year of engagement with the Americas' as too little, too late. "One year of engagement out of seven is simply not good enough. In light of the Bush Administration’s woeful record, creating false expectations does more harm than good. We must be realistic about the challenges we face, and what we are doing to address them. We must devote our full time, and our respectful attention to our relations within the hemisphere. "

  3. Neither of this year's candidates for President could have a weaker energy policy than Mr. Bush put forth. To his credit, Mr. Obama recognizes Latin America's energy policy successes. "Brazil’s more than 30 years of renewable fuel technology investments allowed it to achieve energy independence last year. Ethanol now accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s fuel usage. More than 80 percent of cars sold in Brazil today are flex fuel vehicles—capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or a mixture thereof. Greater Brazilian production of renewable fuels could boost sustainable economic development throughout Latin America, and reshape the geopolitics of energy in the hemisphere, reducing the oil-driven influence of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The more inter-hemispheric production and use of ethanol and other biofuels occurs, and the more such indigenously-produced renewable fuels are used to replace fossil fuels, the better it is for our friends in the hemisphere."

  4. Mr. Bush has been a fair-weather neighbor. Mr. Obama envisons a more altruistic approach to Latin American relations. "In Uruguay, President Bush has the opportunity to forge closer ties with President Tabaré Vázquez, and to show that the United States is ready, willing, and able to work productively with democratic-left governments. The United States is seen as supporting democracy when it produces a desired result. It is vital to reverse that trend."

  5. Intelligent people realize the war on drugs is a poor use of taxpayer resources, as is building prisons to house nonviolent drug users. Mr. Obama understands that billions of dollars in US aid has gone toward war profiteering and the spraying of poisons on villages in S. America to kill crops such as coca. These herbicides poison local water tables. Mr. Obama is against Plan Columbia. He is not the first candidate to use drugs, but he is the first to be honest about it. Mr. Obama proposes giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence in rehabilitation programs rather than prisons. He understands that monies would be better invested in reducing the market in the US through prevention and recovery programs. Mr. Obama has pledged to fund job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, rather than militarization of Columbia and Mexico. Bill Clinton answered a question about his drug use by saying he had tried marijuana, but "didn't inhale." When asked, "Did you inhale?" Mr. Obama replied, "That was the point." It has been said that such honesty speaks to a generational change in politics, that new voters are more concerned with their leader's truthfulness than with their youthful transgressions. (John K. Wilson, 2007)

  6. Mr. Bush's solution to the immigration question is to build fences between the USA and Mexico. This appallingly short-sighted and damaging act is a return to backward Berlin-wall thinking (and a billion dollar gift to Mr. Bush's contractor buddies in Texas). Mr. Obama voted against the Coburn Amendment (SA 1311) to S. 1348 to increase border control by requiring construction of the border fence. He prefers a policy approach. "The relationship between the United States and Mexico is among our most important in the world. But our complex relationship with Mexico has become captive to a single issue: the immigration debate in our country. There is consensus that our immigration system is broken. It is past time to fix it, and I am proud of my own support for a workable solution."

In summary, Mr. Obama will be a much better neighbor than Mr. Bush. He should visit Latin America early in his administration, and often. Mr. Obama has pledged to do so, adding... "We ignore Latin America at our own peril."

What is the sense in ignoring our neighbors until they can help us? I submit that this is ugly behavior. Unlike Mr. Bush in Austin, Mr. Obama helped his neighbors in Chicago before being elected to office. I am confident that he will expand upon this neighborliness when he moves to D.C.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The World Is Upside Down

Think about S. America. Now N. America. Remember Bob Dylan's observation: these times, they are a changin'?

A paradigm shift of considerable proportion is required by the current global rebalancing of economic power. I strongly recommend Roger Cohen's recent column from Rio de Janeiro for a glimpse at this shift. Mr. Cohen's analyses suggest "the developed world depends on the developing world, rather than the other way around". He invites us... "to understand it, invert your thinking". Here is the link:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Brazil's Indigenous Rally

Goty Pataxó, originally uploaded by Kaká.

Up to 1000 indigenous peoples from tribes such as Goty's are campaigning this week outside of Brazil's Congress in Brasilia. Brazil turned 500 at the start of this decade yet its native peoples feel like foreigners in their own land.

The name of the event translates to “Camp Free Earth”. The goal is improving government policies toward peoples of the 20 Brazilian states represented. Brazil’s President and five of his ministers are attending today, hearing requests to develop a sustainable socio-economic model that offers an alternative to today's globalization that puts profits before people and humanity.

There are more than 200 tribes with roughly one-half million people remaining from a population of three million at the time of first contact by Europeans. Some tribes in the Amazon continue a policy of voluntary isolation from the modern world. If you find this fascinating, read this bulletin from the world rainforest movement:

For more information including opportunities for you to make a difference in Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, visit: ; or, to learn more before cultural interactions with indigenous tribes during your travel, visit: and

“No matter where we go, there we are.” – Don Ronaldo

Monday, April 14, 2008

Value Vacations

Dear Readers,

Where is your perfect destination? What makes a travel destination perfect? No matter your price range, value is a worthwhile consideration. Why pay 50% more for anything, especially upscale accommodations at peerless destinations?

Consider what you'll pay for 2 weeks in Hawaii, Europe, Canada, or Australia. $4000 per person, plus air, for budget accommodations in a group of 26 people. For the same amount of money and time exploring Latin America without the herd, you can live in high style. The photo here is our favorite place in Hawaii. We love Hawaii, but what about value?

This month Kiplingers polled 2200 travelers about their annual vacation plans asking, "Have high gas prices and the economic downturn forced you to reconsider travel plans for this summer?"

39% say no.
23% say they'll vacation closer to home.
31% say they won't be taking a trip this year.
7% are not sure.

We have good news for the 61% of you who are reconsidering your vacations. Latin America is nearby and full of incredible spas, nature-based resorts, and upscale countryside destinations. Stay out of the cities and you'll enjoy luxury vacations for the price others are paying to be herded like cattle into modest quarters.

Or you'll stay twice as long for the same investment. Or maybe you'll take your entire family for the price of a couple's vacation in N. America? Cost is not the most important vacation consideration, but value ranks high in my book. Ask me where I'm vacationing this year, and how it compares to my favorite places - even in Asia - on any measure. Latin America is an incredible value right now - on every measure.

Peace & Prosperity,
Mango Steve

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Photos by Maria Cristina Berg

We arranged a trip for Seattle photographer Maria Cristina Berg. She surpised her husband with a Changes In Latitude trip to Belize this month. She returned last week with wonderful photos and gave us permission to share them in a slideshow. The highlight of their trip was sailing the atolls and snorkeling the reef. She also captured the peaceful beauty of Ambergris Caye. Enjoy!