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On Christmas Eve, hundreds of artisans lay their blankets on Cusco's sidewalks -a custom in traditional Andean fairs- and sell carved Nativity handicrafts. Dating back to the Spanish Vice-royalty, the Santuranticuy (which means "saints for sale" in Quechua) is one of the largest arts-and-crafts fairs in Peru.

Christmas in Cusco, Peru

Christmas in Cusco, PeruThe celebration of Christmas in Cusco begins with the dressing-up of the city with coloured lights and garlands. These can be seen everywhere, from the balconies of the Monumental mountain to the streets around the main square, and donate the city with a warm festive ambiance.On December 24th, hundreds of artisans coming from Cusco and the surrounding towns lay their blankets on the sidewalks -a custom in traditional Andean fairs- and sell carved Nativity handicrafts.Held in Cusco's main square, Santuranticuy (which means "saints for sale") is a temporary market whose origins go back to the days of the Spanish Vice-royalty. Today it's one of the largest arts-and-crafts fairs in the country.The central figure of the Christmas fair is the Nio Manuelito, the Andean version of the newborn Jesus. Besides the baby Manuelito, you'll find the other Nativity figures -all with an Andean touch-, as well as saint's images. Much appreciated are the boxed scenes, known as Retablos, whose small figurines can represent almost every aspect of live, secular or sacred, though for the occasion you'll almost only find Nativity scenes.Although the fair started as a Christmas specific market, over the years it expanded to include other goods like antiques, silverware, and ceramic objects brought from Pucar and Quinua. At night, street vendors sell a traditional hot and sweet rum punch called ponche, to warm up chilly visitors.To facilitate both clients and artisans, the fair has been divided into sectors, each of which aggregates a speciality product. Among these you can find decorative ceramic, wood and bark crafts, miniatures and filigrees, silverware, stone crafts, stone sculptures, paintings from the Escuela Cusquea, and Nios Manuelitos.

Meet the Israelis

Meet the Israelis

They speak Hebrew which is a peculiar, throaty language that takes ages to learn. Once you take hold of of basic communication you'll find out that they typically only talk about money and food anyway. Although they can appear rude, at heart they're very kind and friendly. Israelis are tribal so if you're on the outside they seem quite unfriendly. But once you're their friend they'll invite you to come and stay or go on trips around the country. People will talk to you in the street. Most tend to do or say whatever they feel like when they feel like it. Shyness was one of the traits they left behind in Europe. 'He who is shy does not learn' is a telling Hebrew expression. Religion in Israel is a strange trip. The orthodox Jews dress in black and scowl at everyone. The rest of the Israelis may be religious in a general kind of way or just not give a damn. Judaism seems to be much more about customs than religion. Most People get together for the festivals and Friday meal, probably they won't eat pork and would think twice before marrying a Goy. That's about as far as it goes. They're a family-orientated people. Blood ties run very thick here and it's their strong point. The extended family becomes a complex network of support and connections meaning that everything in Israel comes down to who you know. Israelis from kibbutzim or small towns are often much more mild and idealistic than the astute city crowds. The first thing you notice about Israelis is that they come from all over the place. The big aliyah or migration of Jews to Israel occured back in the 50's after no one wanted to live in Europe any more. Yet many came from places like Morocco, Yemen and Iran, so the resulting inter-marriages have left the current generation of Israelis with just about every physical complexion and aspect conceivable. It's also made them a strikingly attractive race with Spanish eyes mixing with Polish cheekbones and Arabic tanned skin.Add to the equation that around a million Russian Jews turned up after the fall of the Iron Curtain and that a whole bunch of Ethiopians were affirmed to be Jewish and the racial spectrum is almost complete. The government couldn't quite bring itself to declare the Thais or Filipinos to be Jewish but they were imported anyway to do all the jobs that Israelis don't want to do.Quite an enlightening fact, that Israelis tend to see jobs like cleaning houses, construction or care work as beneath them. Everyone wants to be a manager and please the ambitions of their parents. Every Friday night each family congregates at the dinner table to pick apart and disapprove of the lives of each member of the family in agonizing detail. Each of them tries to talk louder than the other over 3 or 4 courses and you're reminded of bunch of arguing generals in the strategy tent before a great battle.The parents are forever pressuring their kids to accomplish something. The religious are forever tying to get them to live up to their obligations as a Jew. The army makes the men serve for three years and the women for two and then demands a month of the men's lives until they're forty. They have to practically intimidate their boss to get paid on occasion and, just in case the pressure cooker wasn't turned up quite high enough, bombs go off in the market or the buses.When something like that occurs in the country you can feel it like a shockwave. The anxiety is so taut that it's as though you could wet your finger and feel the electric in the air. It's really hard to understand what that feels like when it's your home. As a traveler you can come, take pictures and go. When you're born there you have no choice but to chew what previous generations bit off.Israelis are still very different from one another depending from where their families originated. Those with European descent are a little more standoffish than the Israelis from the Arab countries. The differences are melting away with each generation but once the division was quite sharp.The Israelis are a people in conflict with their environment and their own cultural identity yet they're enormously relaxed in themselves. They understand that they have a right to be in this world and aren't scared to make the most of it. No one is bashful about taking the last biscuit on the plate but neither will they falter in offering you what they have. Known as khutzpah this self-confident nature can be infuriating or appealing depending on where you stand. As a tribal people you do a lot better once you're inside their ranks.

Traveling to Costa Rica and the 3 Must-sees!

Traveling to Costa Rica and the 3 Must-sees!

The amazing country of Costa Rica is full of so many natural treasures, that choosing what to see with the limited time you have while visiting, can be quite challenging. I have had the good fortune of exploring the entire country of Costa Rica, and have come up with the top three must-sees while you are visiting this paradise. Each one is unique in its own way, and all are sure to provide an unforgettable experience that you will always remember.1. Nauyaca Falls and the Don Lulu Tour - This amazing set of waterfalls are located in between the surfing village of Dominical on the central Pacific coast and the bustling little city of San Isidro de General. The falls are privately owned and the best way to tour them is by taking the Don Lulu tour, which consists of a horseback ride to the falls and includes breakfast and lunch. The tour costs only $40 per person making it a great value. The tour begins on the highway where you mount your horse, and begin the 3 mile trek to the falls, stopping at the quaint tico-style home of Don Lulu for a typical Costa Rican breakfast of fresh fruit and gallo pinto(beans and rice). After breakfast, its back on the horse for the short trip to the entrance to the falls. After a fairly steep descent down a hand cut stairway, you arrive at one of the most amazing natural attractions in all of Costa Rica. The falls consist of two levels with the upper falls towering over 500 feet and the lower falls consisting of a wide cascade of over 100 feet that plummets into an idyllic 30 foot deep pool. Your guides on the tour will be more than happy to help you climb up into the lower falls for a once in a lifetime leap of faith into the refreshing pool below. After a few hours swimming and relaxing next to this Costa Rican treasure, its a short but strenuous climb back up the staircase to your waiting mount. A wonderful lunch is served at Don Lulus and then the tour concludes back at the highway. The rest of the day is spent reflecting on the wonderful experience had by all.2. Volcano and Lake Arenal - Volcano Arenal towers over Lake Arenal in the north central region of Costa Rica. It is the most active volcano in Costa Rica with daily eruptions, and vibrant glowing lava shows that can be enjoyed at night. The volcano last had a major eruption in 1968 when it buried the old town of Arenal in ash and soot. The Costa Rican government has since flooded the area where Arenal used to be to create Costa Ricas largest lake, and submerging this once lively village in hundreds of feet of water. The lake is home to some of the best rainbow bass fishing in the entire world, and there are many local guides that will take you to the best spots. In addition to the world class fishing on the lake, Lake Arenal is also internationally known for its windsurfing. There are many types of accommodations in the Arenal area ranging from five star resorts like the upscale Tabacon Hot Springs Resort to small rooms for the budget minded traveler. There are some wonderful canopy tours in the area in which you can spend a day zipping down a cable over the rainforest canopy below. The Arenal area is truly an amazing piece of paradise where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of an active volcano looming over a picturesque lake. Truly a must-see in this spectacular country.3. Manuel Antonio National Park - The crown jewel of Costa Ricas national parks, Manuel Antonio is without a doubt a must-see on your visit to Costa Rica. Located just south of Quepos on the central Pacific coastline, the park is only a few hours from San Jose making it very accessible. Manuel Antonio is a very small park in relation to the other parks in the country, but it attracts more visitors per year than any other park. The park has pristine powder sand beaches back dropped by lush emerald green mountains that plunge into the deep blue Pacific. Manuel Antonio has become so popular that the park director has had to limit the number of people allowed into the park to 600 on weekdays and 800 on weekends. Its no wonder that people are lining up to get in to this amazing place, as on any given day you can spot 3 different species of monkeys, sloths, marmosets, ocelots, river otters, pacas, and speckeled caimans as well as, 200 species of birds. The beaches at Manuel Antonio are often considered the most beautiful in all of Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio was actually discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1519 on his quest for the fountain of youth, and while he may have never located that particular fountain, it appears he had stumbled upon the garden of Eden. This place will leave you breathless and with unforgettable memories about the beauty of Costa Rica. A definite must-see on your visit to paradise.

Siberia, Russia, Part 8 The Slow Train

Siberia, Russia, Part 8  The Slow Train

After deciding to move to Siberia for a year to teach at the Chita State Technical University, I embarked on a travel odyssey unlike any other. In this entry, we pick up the trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The HorrorAs my new Russian friend walked down the hall, I reflected on the information he had provided me with a grimace. The train ride from Khabarovsk to my destination, Chita, was going to take three days. I had already been traveling for four days and the thought of 3 days on a train made meunhappy. While reflecting on this development, I had an opportunity to take a look at my new neighbors, errfellow passengers. They were moving in. Literally. Pillows, sheets, bags full of food. The general impression was we were going to be on the train for a long, long time. As we actually cleared the city, I told myself to look at it as an adventure. An adventure? Oh, yes. Of Crackers and Grape JuiceNutrition is an odd thing. Like many, I try to eat a healthy diet with vegetables and so on. Of course, a stressful day at work has led to more than a few fast food meals. On the Trans-Siberian Railway, I wouldve killed for fast food. Contrary to what another passenger had told me, the food car on the train was open for business. The woman in charge of our car told me this in limited English and an exasperated look on her face. Well, she didnt lie. The food car was open. Unfortunately, the only thing it was selling were boxes of crackers and grape juice. Im not a big cracker fan, but Ill eat them. I happen to like grape juiceor I did. For the next 48 hours, Grae, a fellow traveler, and I munched crackers and drank juice. Then we drank juice and munched crackers. Then we crushed crackers and put them in the juice. Then we made feverish declarations to never eat crackers or drink juice again. Ever. The Funny PartAfter 48 hours of crackers and juice, I was more than willing to starve. I kept having nightmares about the horrible things happening in my stomach. Grae apparently had arrived at the same opinion. Cinching up his pants, he went to hit up our fellow travel companions for some real food. Part of the fun of traveling is realizing how foolish you really are. When you are in a country where you dont speak the language, you are going to eat a pretty hefty amount of humble pie. What the hey, we were hungry. After five minutes, Grae returned to our compartment with one of those looks on his face. We had lived on crackers and grape juice for no reason. Yes, we could buy food at every stop the train made by just walking into the train station. And we stopped a lot. As we pulled into a little town, Grae and I were hanging from the doors of the train. We ran into the station andall they had were crackers and grape juice. Just kidding. I am not sure what we bought, but it was the best food Ive ever had. Next stopChita!Read more of this Russian Travelogue at NomadJournalTrips.com

Paphos, Cyprus - Top 5 Places to Visit

Top 5 places to visit when staying in Paphos, Cyprus on your off season holidays. A mixture of history and pure leisure pleasure. Places normally too hot and busy to visit in the summer heat open themselves up at these perfect times of the year. Escape the cold of home and enjoy some Paphos sunshine during spring, autumn and winter holidays in Cyprus. Paphos, Cyprus - Top 5 Places to Visit 1. Tomb of The KingsSpread over a vast area, these impressive subterranean burial chambers were built in Paphos from 3rd Century BC to the 3rd Century AD. They are carved out of solid rock with some being decorated with Doric pillars. Put on your walking shoes and climbing pants and don't be afraid to get yourself a little dirty at this site. Fun to explore and full of some very atmospheric places. 2. Paphos MosaicsCyprus history proclaims Aion as the Greek God of eternity. The house of Aion has an amazing five-paneled mosaic which shows the Greek God in the unenviable position of having to judge what appears to be a beauty contest.'Unenviable?!', I hear our modern day Gods proclaim.The difference in this beauty contest is that his choice lies between the ordinary and smug looking Queen Cassiopeia and a number of much prettier, but unhappy looking Nereides water nymphs.I'm sure that all of you will be able to guess who the eventual winner is!! 3. Aphrodites RockThe most awe inspiring piece of coastline to be seen in Cyprus, when the sun is out, and I defy any couple, regardless of how young or old, to not be bewitched by it's spell. Of all ancient Greek myths, the story of Aphrodite's creation will bring water to your eyes, but the story lives on as one of the well known legends surrounding this stunning rock formation.Cronos was begged by his mother Gaia to be released from the embraces of her husband Uranus. In order to assist his mother in her plight, Cronos castrated his father with a sickle and threw his genitals into the sea. The foam gathered around them and the Goddess rose from the sea as a fully grown woman. 4. St George Fishing HarbourI recommend that you visit this memorable place in Paphos with someone very special to you and a camera. Arrive late afternoon and watch the fishing boats come in with their daily catch. Have a drink or two at the beach side bar but don't stay too long before securing yourself a spot on the harbour wall. Take along the camera or video and make sure you have plenty of film as this is one of those special places to catch the most romantic of sunsets in Cyprus. Enjoy! 5. Sterna WineryLocated on the outskirts of the village of Kathiskas, 15 mins drive from Paphos. Be entertained by the charismatic Cypriot owner who will treat you to free wine tasting and a tour of this very small winery. Do not miss out on their own peach schnapps - powerful enough to blow your head off and must be thrown back in one go. If you make a purchase of their very fine wines you will probably find that a complimentary bottle of schnapps is thrown in. Not recommended to light the Xmas pud with!

Fairyland Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou Valley is located in the north of Sichuan Province, China. It is called "a fairyland", and this is not over rated. Its attraction lies in its simple, idyllic beauty; with majestic and unrivalled emerald(sometimes multicolored) lakes, layered waterfalls, colourful forests and snow peaks. It is also the homeland of the giant panda.The main scenic area, which covers at least 80 km, is full of scenery that are just breathtaking. It composed of three valleys arranged in a Y shape. The Rizegou and Zechawagou gullies flow from the south and meet at the centre, then form the Shuzheng gully, flowing north to the mouth of the valley. Jiuzaigou is most famous for its water. There is a saying in China: No mountain is worth seeing after you have seen Mount Huangshan, and no water will interest you after you've visited Jiuzaigou.It is dotted with many gorgeous lakes. They are notable for their high concentration of calcium carbonate, to form different shades of blue, green and turquoise-colored lakes according to their depths, residues, and surroundings. The carbonic calcifications between the lakes and waterfalls dazzle with color in the sunshine. The water is so clear that the bottom is visible despite depths of several dozen meters.Waterfalls are the essence of the scenery in Jiuzhaigou. The most famous is Pearl Shoal. It is a huge fan-shaped calcium beach. The stream rushes down, splashing water about like millions of bouncing silver pearls, and then goes down to form fantastic waterfalls of various shapes with a thunderous roaring echoing throughout the deep valley.Jiuzhaigou is magnificent throughout the four seasons. But the best of all is in Autumn. The breeze is intoxicating, while the leaves turn colorful, and are beautifully reflected in the sparkling translucent lakes. However, this is also the most crowded time of the park.For our family trip, we chose to visit Jiuzhaigou in Summer. With a six years old boy in tow, and 70+ years old parents, this seemed to be the best time of the year. The weather was comfortable, and relatively less visitors meant we need not rush through the scenic spots.In fact, the weather was cooler than I thought. We stayed at Jiuzhai Paradise Hotel up in the mountains. Some mornings, we encountered wintry weather. Due to the rarefied atmosphere up in the mountain. We felt tired easily, and have to walk slowly around the hotel and even in the hotel room, sometimes feeling some sense of discomfort, and nauseous. We have to carry the oxygen tube around so that we can inhale some oxygen when we feel uncomfortable. The air was a lot better in the town area and the Jiuzhaigou scenic area. We need not use the oxygen tube and can move around swiftly. In fact, in Jiuzhaigou scenic area, the air was great - clean and cool. The local authorities obviously place a lot of emphasis on keeping the place unpolluted. They use the "green" bus to travel around the area, and that is the only vehicle that is allowed in the park.The scenery was simply magnificent. The water is in different shades of blue/emerald, and so crystal clear. Even my six year old would pause from his playing occasionally, too captivated by the beauty of Nature! Remember the movie "Hero", by Zhang Yimou. One of the unforgetable scene where the two male leads fought on the tranquil blue lake, dipping in and out of the water...... It was filmed right here.

Summary

On Christmas Eve, hundreds of artisans lay their blankets on Cusco's sidewalks -a custom in traditional Andean fairs- and sell carved Nativity handicrafts. Dating back to the Spanish Vice-royalty, the Santuranticuy (which means "saints for sale" in Quechua) is one of the largest arts-and-crafts fairs in Peru.