Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Costa Rica's best hotel near San Jose

Many visitors head straight to beaches or rainforests when arriving in Costa Rica. The Central Valley has much to offer, however. Linger here on your next visit.

The home of Glenn & Teri Jampol is many things. It is a gourmet bistro bar. It is a boutique hotel, the best near San Jose. It is a coffee plantation. It is tropical gardens with foot paths and fruit orchards. It is a luxurious spa. It is Finca Rosa Blanca, the first hotel in Costa Rica to win a 100% sustainability rating.

To learn more about this spectacular hideaway in Santa Bárbara, Heredia, visit Plan on staying awhile. You will not want to leave. Check out the inn's list of activites before you go. Make sure you plan dinner outside at sunset. The views overlooking the valley are breathtaking.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guanajuato's Cervantino Festival: Oct. 2009

Guanajuato is Mexico’s most charming small city. It is European in its layout and architecture, with dozens of plazas connected by pedestrian walkways. Cafés spill out into vibrant streets and plazas. There is always music in the air. At night, student choir groups wander with guitars and serenade people of all ages, who are dining, sharing a park bench, or strolling while holding hands. Guanajuato is a very romantic city.

Everywhere there are staircases leading to colorful residences. The children are laughing, genuinely happy. Near the plazas, produce stands offer fresh fuits and artisans show their crafts. The climate is, like the city, enchanting. You’ll find art galleries and boutiques along hundreds of alleyways. Guanajuato has something for everyone. It's the perfect place to take a Spanish Immersion Course.

The best time to visit Guanajuato is during the Cervantino Festival, named in honor of Cervantes, author of 'Don Quixote'. 2009’s celebration of music and the arts will be Oct 14. – Nov. 2. Ask us to plan your journey now; every room will be booked by summer. People travel from all over the world to Guanajuato every October. One visit and you'll know why!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Legend of Tequila & The Finest Blue Agave Nectar

In the village of Magdalena, Jalisco, Mexico, “El Caudillo” is produced by Cooperativa Tequilera la Magdalena S.C. de R.L.

“El Caudillo” translates from Spanish as “the chief”. Not just any chief; a revolutionary chief. El Caudillo is an ultra premium tequila double distilled then carefully aged in white oak barrels previously used for maturing bourbon, imparting a complex golden color and oak flavor, before being bottled. Hail to the chief!

Other brands produced and bottled by this cooperative include Sangre Azteca and Pueblo Mágico. The town of Tequila is a "Pueblo Mágico", meaning "Magical Village", a place with symbolism, legends, and history according to Mexico’s tourism agency. There are three other Pueblos Mágicos in Jalisco. Visit them all. Book a flight into Guadalajara; board the tequila train; go to Magdalena. This village's amazing tequilia cooperative does not export its spirits to the USA or Canada … yet. Look for this to change in 2009.

If you research Magdalena on, you may be misled that “the name Magdalena is Xochitepec, which means the place next to the hill of flowers.” This is not true. Magdalena is a Spanish version of the Hebrew name “Magdalene” found in many languages. “Xochitepec” comes from the Nahuatl language and means “on the hill of flowers”. The town of Xochitepec is 300 miles away, near Cuernavaca, and has little to do with Magdalena, except they both have hills with flowers.

Let’s get back to tequila. The region surrounding the village of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico is the only place where tequila is produced, as champagne comes only from the province of Champagne, France. Magdalena is just minutes from the magical village of Tequila. This is the place where the finest blue agave is harvested for El Caudillo. Magdalena's volcanic soil has produced the finest agave in Jalisco since this succulent plant was commercialized around 1600, when the first tequila distillery was established. In 1621 the oldest recorded description of tequila was insightful: "wine clearer than water, but strong as liquor" (from Nueva Galicia's Domingo Lázaro).

This early description refers to blanco, silver tequila, tequila that was not aged in wood. Purists insist blue agave suffers from wood flavor. Others argue the opposite, that reposado, gold tequila, is the finest. This argument will never be settled. Why should it be? With a cigar, reposado añejo is sublime. With food, a fine blanco is divine. Why argue?

The favorite tequilas according to a poll of 3,402 aficionados in the USA: 1) Patron; 2) Don Juilo; and, 3) Don Valente. El Caudillo is better than all three according to aficionados in Mexico, where they know tequila better than the average gringo. El Caudillo was not included in the poll, because it is not yet available in the U.S. The history of tequila in Mexico is rich and fascinating. The origin of the blue agave begins with Aztecs deities. Aztecs fermented agave long before the Spanish arrived.

The goddess of agave is Mayahuel, the young and beautiful Aztec woman who gave birth to the first blue agave. She left home to marry Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of redemption. Both of them turned into two branches of a leafy tree so they would not be found by their terrible grandmother, who according to legend, ordered their execution. Quetzalcoatl lived, but Mayahuel died. In the place where she was buried, the first agave plant grew. It was struck by a lightning bolt from a great storm sent by the enraged gods. A fire started.

From beneath the thorny leafs emerged a seductive nectar from the heart of first agave. This is why fine tequila provides a mystical experience. To drink "Sangre Azteca" is to drink from the plant nourished by "Aztec blood". To taste "El Caudillo" is to taste the nectar of the Aztec goddess Mayahuel, bride of the god of redemption. Her revolutionary spirit inspired blue agave and rebels such as Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and others.
Today, the spirit of the Aztec goddess continues to grow in the hills of Magdalena, the Pueblo Mágico of Tequila in the highlands of Jalisco.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Plan Columbia

Of all the good and bad deeds the USA performs in Latin America, spraying herbicide on coca plants is, perhaps, the worst. Indigenous peoples chew coca leaves as part of their culture. Food is also grown in these fields and in adjacent fields, and herbicides are subject to over spray. The chemicals are carried by the wind into rural villages. Rains carry the poison downhill and downriver, tainting the soil and the water supply.

It is unethical and immoral to continue this practice. People live in these fields, as you can see in this photo from the highlands of Columbia, recently fumigated by crop dusters. For more on Columbia's resistance to coca fumigation, listen to this NPR report and check out related NPR stories.

The "war on drugs" has spent billions of dollars in the past decade with significant investment in the spraying of chemicals on rural food crops, women, children, and nearby villages. This practice is funded by the USA and is carried out by its agents, and agents trained by the USA. Between Plan Columbia and the Merida Initiative (Plan Mexico), the USA is now spending billions annually and accomplishing little outside of increasing violence in Latin America, moving coca production into national parks where aerial fumigation is banned, and filling courts and jails with peace-loving marijuana smokers.

The street price and quality of cocaine and marijuana remain unchanged. The current drug strategy amounts to prohibition. History is clear on how this strategy worked with alcohol - it failed. It is also unethical and immoral to continue wasting limited funds on a failed military strategy to continue this war indefinitely. The concept of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana is gaining traction with many law enforcement policy makers given the failure of the war on drugs. The advantage of legalization is that it would provide a tax windfall for social programs and education.

In the meantime, it would be beneficial for the 111th Congress to make it illegal to spray herbicides on rural fields, regardless of what is grown there. Such a ban would logically extend to the USA funding fumigation. We have one planet and it came with marijuana and coca plants. It did not come with herbicides. Write your representatives in Congress. Chemicals sprayed on innocents and their countryside and crops should not be a strategy in the war on drugs. America is better than this.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grace in Latin America

Grace is an appropriate name for reflection before a meal. It is an entirely graceful gesture to pause before eating, to consider what is involved in bringing health to those with whom we share food.

The Spring 2009 issue of Yes! magazine shared the following translation of Grace heard in Latin America.

To those who have hunger, give bread.
To those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.

This sentiment was echoed by Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he said upon being elected President, "If by the end of my term of office, every Brazilian is able to have three meals a day, I will have accomplished my mission in life."

Lula is the only leader from Latin America to rank on the Newsweek 50 Global Elite list of the most influential leaders in the world. Newsweek noted, "Brazil, once at the edge of ruin, now has $207 billion in Treasury reserves and the lowest inflation rate in the developing world. Thanks to Lula's fiscal smarts, Brazil is among the world's healthiest emerging economies."
Nearing the end of his 2nd term in office, Lula enjoys an 80% approval rating. For those still hungry in Brazil, you have good reasons for hope. At grace tomorrow, may the world share in your hopes for Lula to accomplish his life's mission during his final year in office.