No One Told the Bakeries

Communism had fallen, but no one told the bakeries. It was the early, hopeful years of Yeltsin (before he devolved into a bloated drunk) and the news agencies were reporting that Russia was flowering, backed by B-roll footage of the first McDonalds near Red Square. I was 21, my first passport stiff in my money…

Cue the Llamas: The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is not for wimps.  Forty-four kilometers long — that’s a marathon — it begins at 8650 feet, climbs over two 13,000-foot-plus passes and arrives four days later in Machu Picchu.  And those Incas didn’t do switchbacks.  No, those bad-ass mo-fos saw a cliff face and said, “You know what sounds fun?  Let’s build…

The Quest for Culinary Diversity: Island, City, Mountains

The food in Santa Marta is delicious: fresh, accessible, flavorful.  But it’s also a bit monotonous, an endless parade of fried fish, grilled chicken, patacon [plantain pancake] and arroz con coco [coconut rice, which locals in their charming, final-syllable-swallowing accent call arro-co-co].  Of course the universe of fruits is vast, with mangoes, papayas, avocados, lulos, guanabana, guayaba and coconuts,…

Cartagena and the Road Through Barranquilla

Cartagena is a strange stew — one part Rodeo Drive, one part the seedier section of New Orleans, and one part quasi-third-world nation.  The juxtaposition is startling.  Painfully picturesque, but smelling vaguely of urine and sweat. Toothless men push sloshing handcarts of dodgy limeade past gorgeous arrays of high-end handicrafts gleaming behind spotless plate glass…