Passport: La Unión, Zacapa, Guatemala

 

Credit: Alondra R.

Credit: Alondra R.

Since I was a year old, my parents take me to both Guatemala and El Salvador for every summer vacation. While El Salvador is an extraordinary place, my mother’s home town is actually the place closest to my heart. LaUnión, Zacapa, Guatemala is a land filled with genuinely loving people, sights so strikingly beautiful you cannot even imagine in your wildest dreams, and above all, so much culture. Like any other place, it has its good and its bad, but for me it brings nothing but wonderful memories.

Geography and Demographics

The Municipality of La Unión, is one of the 10 municipalities in the department of Zacapa, Guatemala, and belongs to Region III of the northeaster part of Guatemala. The municipality is located on “La Sierra de Merendon,” a tropical forest covered mountain range that reaches altitudes from 800 to 1,500 meters above sea level (approx. 2,625-4,920 ft.). La Unión covers an area of just 211 square kilometers. Despite its small territorial extension, it has a population approximately 25,464 inhabitants, and is the only municipality of Zacapa home to the indigenous Mayan peoples known as the Ch’orti. According to data obtained by the Municipal Planning Department, 88% of the total population lives in the rural area, and 13% of the population lives in the urban center.

Credit: Alondra R.

Credit: Alondra R.

Economy

The poverty levels in the area range from 50-60% and the annual household income is about Q. 6,500.00, which roughly translates into $859.51. Due to the drop in coffee prices, a staple crop of Guatemala, there have been several problems of malnutrition within the community. Approximately 25% of La Union is cultivated with coffee, 15% of the land is not suitable for crops, 24% is covered with rainforest, and the remaining 35% is land devoted to the cultivation of maize, beans, other regional crops, and livestock.  

unnamed-2Customs and Traditions

The inhabitants of La Unión participate in several community events throughout the year. Some of the more popular ones are: the “Juegos Majisteriales, or the “Teacher Games,” a serious of athletic challenges in which the contestants are all professors of local schools, another similar event in which the participants are students, an event called “Flor de la Feria” during which a town beauty queen is chosen and there are various floats and a parade through out the town. For holidays and birthdays, extended families gather together and throw parties, which are accompanied by live music, and very loud fire works. As for religion, Catholicism is the primary religion in La Unión, and when the service bells rings ring the entire town begins to migrate towards the chapel located at the center of town. Despite there being a majority of Catholics, La Union still has a large religious diversity, from Catholicism, to other forms of Christianity, to  Mayan beliefs such as Chorties and Pocoman, to no religion at all.

My grandma's ice cream store Credit: Alondra R.

My grandma’s ice cream store
Credit: Alondra R.

Gastronomy

The Staple meal in La Unión consists of eggs and black beans with table cream, cheese, hand-made corn tortillas, and if lucky fried plantains. This meal is often consumed at both breakfast and dinner. Coffee is not only the staple crop, it is essential to the every day diet. Coffee is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner and accompanied with home-made sweet breads. Other traditional foods include Guatemalan Tamales, Chicharron con Yuca, Chiles Rellenos or stuffed peppers, Pepian de Indio a meat and vegetable stew, Ensalada de Escabeche a pickled vegetable salad, Pollo en crema or Chicken in Cream, marinated preserved beef, chicken soup, beef stew, banana bread, sweet corn atole, tosatadas, Fiambre, Salpicon, and Ceviche.

All in all, La Unión is is an amazing place! And it’ inhabitants are happy and proud.

If you’re ever in Guatemala, make sure to stop by.

 

Cathedrals, Castles, and Communism in Prague, Czech Republic

Photo Credit: Ietf.org

Photo Credit: Ietf.org

Prague is an easy city to fall in love with. Rich with history, architecture, and art, Prague sits at the heart of the Czech Republic in Central Europe as the nation’s capital. A gorgeous castle and endless cathedrals earned the city the name “City of 100 Spires.” Anywhere you walk down the cobblestone streets you can find a story written in history and waiting to be explored.

Two summers ago I was chosen to be a part of a photography class studying abroad in the Czech Republic. This was my first trip outside of the US besides the quick thirty-minute drives across the Mexican border. I was nervous, but I soon learned that Prague felt a lot like home.

Prague is a huge tourist destination. Its history with visitors started years ago. Because of Prague’s central location in Europe, many traders and merchants passed through the Czech Republic during their travels. This created a country that mixes western European and eastern European cultures. The Czech language is spoken along with German, Russian, and English. You can try some potato pancakes and dumplings, or you can play it safe and grab a bite at McDonald’s. A huge five story mall offers a day of shopping, or you can discover some of the small shops on the streets. There is something for everyone.

Getting around to the exciting destinations is easy. The city is packed with things to do, but is smaller than it appears on a map. Walking is a good option in the main city area. If you want to travel a little farther, you can take one of the street trams that go just about anywhere. Just make sure it is going the right. The metro was my first time on a subway, and they can take you to large attractions very fast. Make sure you have a ticket, because officers are strict about fare and will fine you or even arrest you. No one wants that!

So what are some of these amazing attractions? Prague Castle is a must-see. The castle grounds contain the giant St. Vitus cathedral built in the mid-1300s and a garden with a bird-eye view of the city. The castle is said to have inspired the Disney castle. A smaller version of the Eiffel Tower sits in the middle of the gardens at Petrin Hill. Old Town Square has a clock tower with mechanical figures that put on a show for tourists. It was once consider on of the Wonders of the World.

My favorite memory was a festival held in a Prague every summer—the King’s Parade. The King’s Parade is a reenactment of the journey the king and queen would take every year from Prague Castle to their summer home. The parade is like nothing I have seen in the United States. Actors dress up as king, queen, pages, and stable hands. The procession traverses the streets riding on horses and playing music. Unlike parades I have been to before, there were no barriers. People from the crowd could join in and walk with the actors. Photographers darted around horses trying to get the perfect shot. Children waved to the queen and shook hands with the jester. There was so much energy and excitement and I got to be a part of it!

Of course, exploring the quieter sides of town was nice too. This is where I got to see and meet the people at the heart of Prague. Storeowners and strangers on the bus were excited to practice their English with me. I took pictures of a father and son roller skating on one of the only sunny days that month. There was a gypsy festival the first week where Roma people taught a crowd of people to dance.

At the same time, there were plenty of Czechs that were reserved and quiet. We were told that the older Czechs were usually more reserved because they grew up under totalitarian rule. The Czech Republic was under Nazi rule during WWII. The communist party was strong in the Czech Republic and still has an active party in the nation. But through this dark history, the Czechs have prevailed.

In fact, many Czechs have made their mark on art and literature. Author Franz Kafka is from the Czech Republic as well as art nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. Rococo and cubist architects designed incredible buildings that have stood for centuries. The Czech Republic has a lot to be proud of.

With so much to do and so much history to explore, the Czech Republic made me realize that every place has a story to offer. If you go to Prague, don’t forget your camera, because you won’t want to miss a thing while you’re making some memories of your own.

Passport: Lost Maples

p-LMSNA_EntranceInteresting Fact: 

This tourist attraction is called Lost Maples because  of the trees found in this  location in Texas. These kinds of trees are generally only found in the east coast, but this special location in Texas has a lot of them. This state park has most of its visitors during the Fall time since this is when the trees turn into the gorgeous red, orange, and yellow colors.

3 things I was able to do at this travel destination that I could not do in my hometown:

Food I tried: Before arriving to the park, my family and I stopped at a small town that was on the way to our destination. We were not sure if there would be any food at the park or if there would be any other nearby towns on the way to stop at. We decided to stop at a little town called Leakey, Texas. This dine in restaurant is called The Friends Grill. Such a fitting name! The waitresses were very hospitable and the food was delicious even though I am on a strict gluten/lactose free diet due to my health. (Gluten intolerance is when the stomach is unable to digest foods such as wheat, barley, and rye). Although this small town is more or less an isolated town, the mainstream gluten-free diet was not new to them. They knew how to accommodate my needs and I ended up eating one of the most delicious salads I have ever eaten.

Favorite Memory:

Every moment of this trip was unique and special in its own way. There is always something new coming up in this park. After all, it was all nature so anything was bound to happen in those trails. I took this trip with my family so we took so many pictures but did not feel rushed in any way from upcoming hikers. The views were beautiful and the experience was priceless.

If you visit this travel destination, you absolutely have to…

Walk all the way to the top of the hill. It will be worth it! From here, you will be able to see a whole bunch of maple trees. The amount of trees you can see all at once is priceless and the colors are so beautiful! Hiking all the up the top of the hill is challenging, but it will definitely be worth your time and energy.

When traveling to this place, don’t forget to pack your…

Water! Water is such a vital thing to pack on this adventure, no matter how cold it may be! Also, you WILL get hungry from hiking up all those windy trails so make sure to pack some snacks.

Passport to Puerto Rico

by Ashley, age 16

72839Hometown: Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

What makes my hometown special:
My hometown is special because it is small and big at the same time. I could easily get lost in my hometown, but I know I will always find a way back home. Everything is so familiar to me, even the things I have never seen before. Everyone seems to know each other and sometimes act like total strangers to each other. I find it to be a very funny, but a weird thing to do.

What I like most about my town:
I like it because it is the only place I have ever lived in and it is the only place I know. I have grown accustomed to my hometown’s hectic ways and I even enjoy it. I like to go out on cloudy days, but mostly nights, and walk to my cousin Mara’s house. We talk for a few hours, we laugh like crazy, and sometimes we walk around my neighborhood.

What can visitors do in your hometown?
They can go to the mall, to the movies, to food courts and to fancy restaurants. I prefer the mall the best. There are many stores you can go to, and an inside food court and a few restaurants outside the mall. The movie theater is also good; the movies usually arrive a day before its release date and the food stands are not THAT expensive. As for the fancy restaurants, I have never been to one, but my friends tell me that most of the restaurants are good.

Plaza-Colon-San-Juan2

Weather:
The weather is mostly semi-cloudy, but even the really cloudy days have their special shine.

Landmark:
One of the big landmarks I know of is La Plaza de Colon. It is a small plaza with a fountain with a statue of Christopher Columbus on the top. Around that are small stores and right in front of the Columbus statue is a huge chapel that is beautifully decorated every year.

Local History:
I did not know much about my hometown’s history, so I read more of it and found out that the founding of Mayaguez happened on July 19, 1760 by a group led by Faustino Martínez de Matos, Juan de Silva and Juan de Aponte. It took place at a hill located about one kilometer inland from Mayagüez Bay and the outlet of the Yagüez River. It was officially founded on September 18, 1760. “Mayguez” was the indigenous name for this river (the word means “clear water” in the language of its original inhabitants, the Taíno). “Mayagüez” is a variation on this name, which means “Land of Clear Waters” and eventually gave the city its nickname.

Cultural Celebration:
My hometown is small, so there are not many cultural events that go on, or that I have heard of. The only cultural event that I know are the Fiestas Patronales. The Fiestas Patronales are festivals thrown to celebrate different things; around my birthday (January) there are Fiestas Patronales thrown to celebrate the Candelaria Virgin. This festival is held around a central park in my hometown. There are machines, liquor kiosk, food kiosk, kiosk where you can buy different things, and there is even a schedule for many different artists who go and perform for entertainment.

Quiz: Think You Know Latin America?

latin-america-flags-timizzerHispanic Heritage Month may have ended on October 16th, but it doesn’t mean we cannott celebrate all year long. So why not celebrate your Hispanic heritage by brushing up on your knowledge of Hispanic geography, culture and history. How much do you know? Check it out below.

1. What is the largest Island in the Caribbean?

a)     Cuba

b)     Jamaica

c)     Puerto Rico

 

2. Where is Puerto Rico?

a)     The Caribbean

b)     The Pacific

c)     The Atlantic


3. What is South American’s smallest Hispanic Country?

a)     Uruguay

b)     Ecuador

c)     Paraguay

 

4. Which flag has red and white stripes, a blue triangle and one white star?

a)     Mexico

b)     Puerto Rico

c)     Cuba

 

5. How many states does Mexico have?

a)     30

b)     25

c)     31

 

6.  According to the Census Bureau, how many Hispanics are currently in the U.S?

a)     50 million

b)     25 million

c)     39 million

 

7. Who is widely honored in South America as the Liberator?

a)     Jose Marti

b)     Simon Bolivar

c)     George Washington

 

8. Who painted the mural, “The History of Mexico”?

a)     Frida Kahlo

b)     Diego Rivera

c)     Salvador Dali

 

9. What is the capital of Uruguay?

a)     La Asuncion

b)     Quito

c)     Montevideo

 

10.   What scientist made the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador famous?

a)     Albert Einstein

b)     Charles Darwin

c)     Alexander Fleming

 

11.  The driest place on Earth is located in South America. Where is it?

a)     Peru

b)     Brazil

c)     Chile

 

12.  Mexico City holds the distinction of being the first Latin American city to:

a)     Experience an Earthquake

b)     Host the Olympics

c)     Had been ruled by a monarchy

 

13.  Which of the following did the ancient Maya civilization develop?

a)  Math

b) The wheel

c)  The concept of zero

 

14.  Angel Falls (El Salto Angel), the tallest Waterfall in the world is located in:

a)     Argentina

b)     Venezuela

c)     Uruguay

 

15.  The Equator Line passes through:

a)   Colombia, Brazil and Peru

b)    Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil

c)    Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana

 

 Ready for the answers?

 

Answer Key

  1. Cuba
  2. The Caribbean
  3. Uruguay
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. 31
  6. 39 Million
  7. Simon Bolivar
  8. Diego River
  9. Montevideo
  10. Charles Darwin
  11. Chile
  12. Hosted the Olympics
  13.  The concept of zero
  14. Venezuela
  15.  Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil

 

Voyage to Brazil

I would’ve never thought that I’d actually get selected to travel to Brazil to study its culture. For months, the applicants for the traveling program with Brotherhood/Sistersol did projects and participated in different activities to see who would be a good fit to go to Brazil. I knew that once I was chosen, my life would change forever…and it has.

Traveling to Brazil:

My first obstacle was surviving the 11 hour plane ride to Rio De Janeiro. I remember how emotional I was that day, because I had never really been away from my mother  and would be traveling throughout Brazil for three weeks. She and my stepdad were practically the last parents to be waiting with me and the others at the airport. When it was time for us to go through security check,  I hugged my mom tightly and just started crying. This caused her to cry and as I walked away I kept looking back until they were gone.

Arriving and Traveling Throughout Brazil:

The plane ride wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, except I rarely got  to sleep. As soon as we landed, we went straight to work. The first thing we did was stop by our house to drop off our luggage and personal belongings. Afterwards, we went to eat and visited the iconic Jesus statue — this was the best thing ever! I’ve seen this statue in movies and was in awe of being fortunate to visit this place. We had to walk up a lot of stairs until we finally made it to the top, but the work out was worth it. The sight was absolutely breathtaking and from that altitude you are able to have a panoramic view of the city. It was during this moment that it finally hit me and knew I was in Brazil.

We traveled to a total of 5 cities: Rio, Miguel Pereira, Paraty, Salvador, and Arembepe. My trip to Brazil was not a luxurious vacation, but a fun educational experience. In each city, we conducted research and worked on community projects, which were presented to the rest of the group. We visited favelas (slums atop of mountains), quilombos (communities where descendants of slaves live), and we interacted with the local youth. One project included presenting Brazilian topics in a creative way to the rest of our group and another project included studying and investigating life in the quilombos. Our last project had to be presented when we returned from Brazil and included showcasing everything we learned from our travels.

Even though we worked hard, we did find time to relax and have fun. In Rio, we went to a hip hop club and I actually danced there. In Miguel Pereira, we went to a kids’ square dancing party, but we were hesitant to have fun once we entered and saw the kids in costumes. This quickly changed as soon as the music began to play. We tried our best to mingle with the youth and we line danced with them.

In Paraty, we would lay in the hammocks at the place we were staying and walk on the beach located across the street. In Salvador, we finally were able to go and swim at the beach. Lastly, in Arembepe, we befriended these boys who were part of a Brotherhood chapter in Brazil. The organization I went to Brazil with is called the Brotherhood/Sistersol. One of the co-founders lives in Brazil and he created an all boys group there and we hung out with these boys from time to time. I kind of had a crush on one of the boys.

All in all, this was one of the best experiences of my life. I keep saying that I may move to Brazil in the future. I’m even trying to learn more Portuguese. It was nice to get out of the United States for a while and see what else is out there. I really found myself in Brazil. Whenever we had time to relax, I would gaze out into the water, depending where we were, and just reflect on my time there. Living with 13 other teenagers proved to be highly difficult since there was always drama, but we somehow made it work. When I came home from Brazil, I was ready to take my senior year by storm.

Traveling to Spain

During Spring Break 2012, I was given the opportunity to travel to Sevilla, Spain and spend a whole week there. Here’s a quick summary of Spain in my eyes.

The People
I arrived at Spain at around 12 o’clock p.m. CEST, meaning it was around 3 in the afternoon back in Illinois. I was so excited to finally be there after suffering through a cancelled flight, rude employees at Heathrow airport, and a layover in Madrid. Everyone was already feeling tense and ready to shower and sleep, even though most of us had slept on the flight. We met our host families there, and we took a cab to our homes for the week. The cab driver was a complete gentleman, helping put three suitcases and three bags in the trunk of the car. I soon found out the majority of men in Spain were like this: extremely educated and classy. For the first three days of our visit, we went to school for 3 hours daily. I found that people in Spain are exactly like us, but livelier! They’re always in a really happy mood and are extremely talkative and expressive. I was upset that they thought Americans only ate cheeseburgers and pizza, but my class of four students proved them wrong and told them it wasn’t like that at all.

The Culture
What surprised me most about Sevilla’s culture was that, despite their traditional and religious morals and standards, teens and young adults were very into public displays of affection. Even though they are very traditional and set in their religion, teens and 20-somethings alike are very into PDA. Everywhere you looked, there were couples kissing without any regard to everyone else being around. Though it was cute, and made me miss my boyfriend, it was just so weird how they could do that without really caring! Boys are also very open about expressing whether they think you’re cute. I walked down the street on my last night there in heels and a dress and got my share of whistles.

Another thing was that everyone smokes. My own mamá (our host mom) smoked. We went to the cafés to get Internet, since not all houses have Wi-Fi. To my surprise there were vending machines with cigarettes. It’s crazy to see how something so taboo in our society is accepted in another.

The Fashion

This is how most guys dress on a daily basis.

My absolutely favorite part of Spain and Europe is the fashion! I am obsessed with how they dress! It was cold, but the majority of the girls dressed in dressy shorts with thick tights and heels, and of course, blazers. I loved the preppy look. The only thing was that the colors they chose were so dark! The men looked awesome, 24/7. Boys dressed in suits, pullovers, and dress pants: no saggy or too tight pants! I was absolutely in love with how clean-cut, well-dressed, and well-mannered they were. The shopping… Where do I begin?  Zara is inexpensive because it originates in Spain, and since the norm is to always be dressed nicely, all the stores offer gorgeous inexpensive clothes of good quality. Thanks to that, I am now obsessed with the store Pull and Bear! It is like Hollister, American Eagle, and Abecrombie all rolled into one.

All in all, this was one of the best, most amazing trips I have taken so far. Every day I say I want to go back, and there is not one day that I’m not thankful for being given the opportunity to immerse myself in my native tongue and visit another country. I strongly encourage everyone to step out of your comfort zone and travel. You won’t regret it!

Passport to Acapulco, Mexico

 

Acapulco Mexico

Acapulco serves not only as a popular tourist attraction, but as a major sea port that runs through the Panama Canal. Acapulco is known by many, but what hidden treasures it holds have yet to be discovered by tourist. In Acapulco, the history is timeless, the culture is captivating, the food is delicious, and the attractions are a sure way to experience a once in a lifetime getaway.

History

Acapulco was first inhibited by the Nahuas tribe almost 2,000 years ago. In 1521, under the order of Hernán Cortés, Fransico Chico arrived in the area and conquered Acapulco, naming it Santa Lucía. It quickly become an important trade center between Asia and America, creating much success for the area. However, in the 18th century, Acapulco was destroyed by an earthquake which is common in the area. After the earthquake, Acapulco was slowly recreated, but it wasn’t until the 19th Century and the Gold-Rush, that Acapulco gained back its importance. By the 1950s, Acapulco become a popular tourist attraction, as celebrities from around the world could be found spending a getaway in Acapulco.

Culture

Acapulco follows many of the traditional Mexican celebrations that make it the captivating culture it is today. Residents celebrate Day of the Dead, Dia de la Raza, the Mexican Revolution, Posadas of Christmas, Three Kings Day, and Virgin of Guadalupe Festival, to name a few. Acapulco mainly follows the Roman Catholic religion and allows for a very casual lifestyle as it is often considered the “24-Hour Paradise.” Since Acapulco’s economy was built largely as a tourist attraction, the locals are open to the idea of Acapulco being a tourist city. Locals are very friendly and are willing to speak the tourist language rather than speaking their native language which is Spanish.

Attractions

Besides the beautiful beaches, the spectacular shopping, or the fun and exciting nightlife, Acapulco offers many attractions that are suitable for all ages. The CICI, which stands for “Centro Internacional de Convivencia Infantil” is a water-sports park that is great for families visiting Acapulco. Along with wave pools for everyone to swim in, the CICI offers interactive shows such as sea lion and dolphin shows. If you are searching for a more historic attraction, Fuerte de San Diego is an ideal place to visit. It was originally built in 1616, but had to be restored after the 1776 earthquake destroyed it. The fort was built to protect the Spanish and their trading route between Mexico and the Philippines. This is a great place to learn a little about Acapulco history. Laguna de Tres Palos is a great attraction for those looking for a more outdoorsy adventure. The swamp that surrounds the Laguna de Tres Palos was the location for the first Tarzan movie. Bird watching is a must as the Laguna is home to many wild species and countless other types of animals.

Food

Acapulco offers a variety of food choices sure to fit anyone’s appetite. Acapulco is known for its “mariscos” or seafood, with your choice of spicy or sweet sauces. The simplest seafood dishes such as “mojo de ajo,” or garlic and olive oil sauce on fish, and “pescado a la talla,” meaning the fish is tossed in a chili and mayonnaise sauce, are some of the best in town. The chiles and sauces that accompany the seafood are so hot that they are sure to get your taste buds tingling. On Thursdays you can find the locals of Acapulco cooking a Mexican favorite, pozole. They stick to the traditional pozole ingredients including white hominy, pork, radishes, raw onions, lettuce, and lime. Acapulco is definitely the place to be if you want to try some unforgettable and mouthwatering food.

The history, culture, food, and attractions make Acapulco the place it is today. With so much to offer, Acapulco has certainly created a name for itself. Built on the idea of a tourist attract, Acapulco is now the most visited place in Latin American. It is a promising get-away for great times and everlasting memories for the whole familia.

Passport to Acapulco

Population: Approximately 616,000
Language: Spanish
Climate: Varies from tropical to desert
Religion: Roman Catholic
Economy: Agriculture, Industry, Tourism

In the state of Guerrero on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, lies the beautiful and mesmerizing Acapulco, Mexico. Surrounded by clear blue waters and the Sierra Madre to the east, Acapulco serves not only as a popular tourist attraction, but as a major sea port that runs through the Panama Canal. Acapulco is known by many, but what hidden treasures it holds have yet to be discovered by tourist. In Acapulco the history is timeless, the culture is captivating, the food is delicious, and the attractions are a sure way to experience a once in a lifetime getaway.

History
Acapulco was first inhibited by the Nahuas tribe almost 2,000 years ago, but in 1521, under the order of Hernán Cortés, Fransico Chico arrived in the area and conquered Acapulco, naming it Santa Lucía. It quickly become an important trade center between Asia and America, creating much success for the area. However, in the 18th century, Acapulco was destroyed by an earthquake which is common in the area. After the earthquake Acapulco was slowly recreated, but it wasn’t until the 19th Century and the Gold-Rush, that Acapulco gained back its importance. By the 1950s Acapulco become a popular tourist attraction, as celebrities from around the world could be found spending a getaway in Acapulco.

Culture
Acapulco follows many of the traditional Mexican celebrations that make it the captivating culture it is today. Residents celebrate Day of the Dead, Dia de la Raza, The Mexican Revolution, Posadas of Christmas, Three Kings Day, and Virgin of Guadalupe Festival, to name a few. Acapulco mainly follows the Roman Catholic religion and allows for a very casual lifestyle as it is often considered the “24-Hour Paradise.” Since Acapulco was built largely on the idea of a tourist attraction, the locals are open to the idea of Acapulco being a tourist city. Locals are very friendly and are willing to speak the tourist language rather than speaking their native language which is Spanish.

Attractions
Besides the beautiful beaches, the spectacular shopping, or the fun and exciting nightlife, Acapulco offers many attractions that are suitable for all ages.

The CICI, which stands for “Centro Internacional de Convivencia Infantil” is a water-sports park that is great for families visiting Acapulco. Along with wave pools for everyone to swim in, the CICI offers interactive shows such as sea lion and dolphin shows.

If you are searching for a more historic attraction, Fuerte de San Diego is an ideal place to visit. It was originally built in 1616, but had to be restored after the 1776 earthquake that completely destroyed it. The fort was built to protect the Spanish and their trading route between Mexico and the Philippines. This is a great place to learn a little about Acapulco history.

Laguna de Tres Palos is a great attraction for those looking for a more outdoorsy adventure. The swamp that surrounds the Laguna de Tres Palos was the location for the first Tarzan movie. Bird watching is a must as the Laguna is home to many wild species and countless other types of animals.

Food
Acapulco offers a variety of food choices sure to fit anyone’s appetite. Acapulco is known for its “mariscos” or seafood, with your choice of spicy or sweet sauces. The simplest seafood dishes such as “mojo de ajo,” or garlic and olive oil sauce on fish, and “pescado a la talla,” meaning the fish is tossed in a chili and mayonnaise sauce, are some of the best in town. The chiles and sauces that accompany the seafood are so hot that they are sure to get your taste buds tingling. On Thursdays you can find the locals of Acapulco cooking a Mexican favorite, pozole. They stick to the traditional pozole ingredients including white hominy, pork, radishes, raw onions, lettuce, and lime. Acapulco is definitely the place to be if you want to try some unforgettable and mouthwatering food.

The history, culture, food, and attractions make Acapulco the place it is today. With so much to offer, Acapulco has certainly created a name for itself. Built on the idea of a tourist attract, Acapulco is now the most visited place in Latin American. It is a promising get-away for great times and everlasting memories for the whole familia.

By Bethany Ward

Passport to Dominican Republic

One of the most enchanting places to visit in the Caribbean is the Dominican Republic. Located on the island of Hispaniola and east of Haiti, the Dominican Republic is a beautiful country with rich culture.

It was first inhabited by Taino natives until the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Santo Domingo, the country’s capital, was the first European settlement in North and South America. It is well known for its historic landmarks. There you can find the first street, university, and cathedral in the Americas.

Like many Latin American cultures, Dominican culture is a fusion. Its blend of Spanish, Taino and African influences is more evident in Domincan food. Ingredients like yucca, potatoes and plantain dominate most dishes and are a part of the Taino influence.

“Tostones” or fried plantains are a favorite side dish. The plantains are sliced, deep fried, flattened and sprinkled with salt. One popular main dish is “La Bandera,” or the flag, made up of stewed meat , white rice and red beans served lined up on a plate imitating a flag. Many Dominican dishes include ”sofrito,” a unique blend of spices including cilantro or oregano, onion, garlic, tomato and olive oil. Cheese is also often served on the side.

Some of the most popular Latin music originated in the Dominican Republic. Bachata, a slow but rhythmic music, first came to be in the early 1900s in the Dominican countryside and rural neighborhoods but was not popular until the 1960s. Bachata songs usually deal with heart-break and bittersweet romance. Some of its most famous artists include Aventura and Andy Andy.

Merengue, the national Dominican music, is a fast paced arrangement of a maraca sounding güira and drums. Like bachata, it also originated in rural areas of the country. Juan Luis Guerra is an internationally known merengue singer, as well as Eddy Herrera.

Spanish is the official language of the country, However, there are many “Dominicanismos” that set apart Dominican Spanish from Spanish in other countries. For example, an orange is a “china” making orange juice “jugo de china.” An ice-cone is also known as “frio-frio” and a bus is called a “guagua.”

One of the things that makes the Dominican Republic very attractive, aside from its culture and history, is its perfect weather. Dominican climate is tropical year round; its average annual temperatures range from the upper 60s (Fahrenheit) to lower 90s. The country is made up of beautiful tropical forests, beaches and mountain valleys.

The white beaches of Punta Cana on the eastern cost of the Domincan Republic is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world surrounded by turquoise waters. Some of Punta Cana’s most popular attractions are the House Museum of Ponce de León, a small palace built by the famous explorer Juan Ponce de León in the early 1500s, and Manati Park full of reptiles birds and professional shows with animals.

At Punta Cana you can also enjoy many nature excursions including but not limited to jeep safaris across the tropical forest. Visitors of Punta Cana will find excellent hospitality in one of the many all-inclusive resorts in the area.

The most exciting and lively of all Dominican events is “Carnaval,” celebrated during the entire month of February. Each Sunday during that month, different cities hold their own parades with elaborate costumes, music and dancing. Every region highlights it customs and history in its celebration. The event ends with the grand national Carnival in along Santo Domingo’s seaside promenade. The “Carnaval” is a celebration of tradition throughout the entire country, a reflection of vibrant Dominican culture.

March 2011