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Sports and Recreation in Rio de Janeiro City

View from the soccer stadium stands where fans wave flags and smoke curls into the air.
The legendary Flamengo-Fluminense (“Fla-Flu”) rivalry makes for intense games. Photo © keetr, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Sports and Recreation in Rio

Blessed with so many natural attractions, it is unsurprising that Cariocas are a pretty sporty bunch. Beach activities—everything from walking, jogging, and yoga to surfing, soccer, and volleyball—are very popular, as are radical sports, especially those that take advantage of the city’s mountain peaks. Meanwhile, the exuberantly green Floresta da Tijuca offers an oasis for athletes who want to commune with nature.

Parks

Floresta da Tijuca

Although the dense tropical forest that covers Rio’s jagged mountains possesses a distinctly primeval quality, the truth is that by the 19th century, the original Atlantic forest that had existed for thousands of years had been almost completely cleared away to make way for sugar and coffee plantations. The deforestation was so dire that by the mid-1800s, Rio was facing an ecological disaster that menaced the city’s water supply. Fortunately, inspired Emperor Dom Pedro II had a green conscience. In 1861 he ordered that 3,300 hectares be replanted with native foliage—the first example of government-mandated reforestation in Brazil’s history. Over time, the forest returned to its original state, and today this urban rain forest boasts an astounding variety of exotic trees and animals ranging from jewel-colored hummingbirds to monkeys, squirrels, and armadillos.

Within the Floresta lies the largest urban park in Brazil, the Parque Nacional da Tijuca (tel. 21/2492-2252, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily). A veritable oasis in the midst of the city, it is particularly refreshing during the dog days of summer. The park has various walking trails—many of them quite easy—along with waterfalls where you can stop for a drink (or a dip), grottoes, and many lookout points that offer stunning views of the city. The most spectacular of these are the Mesa do Imperador (Emperor’s Table)—where Dom Pedro II liked to picnic with members of his court—and the Vista Chinesa. Another highlight is the charming Capela Mayrink, with panels painted by the talented modernist artist Cândido Portinari.

The easiest way to explore the park is by car. If you don’t have access to one, take a taxi: You can usually negotiate with drivers to drop you off and pick you up for a reasonable rate. You can also take a guided Jeep tour with a company such as Jeep Tour (tel. 21/2108-5800) or Trilhas do Rio Ecoturismo & Aventura (tel. 21/2425-8441), which cost around R$130 pp. If you want to venture in on your own, take the Metrô to Saens Pena and then a bus going to Barra da Tijuca that stops at the main Alta da Boa Vista entrance. Organized hiking tours are available. The park entrance is at Praça Alfonso Viseu, and a few hundred meters inside is a visitors center where you can buy a map (although trails are well marked). Robberies are not uncommon, so be careful not to venture too far off the beaten track, and don’t go alone. It’s safer to visit on weekends, when the park is more crowded. Near the entrance, there are three restaurants and a café. Or if you want, bring along food for a picnic.

Within the Floresta da Tijuca, the Museu do Açude (Estrada do Açude 764, Alto da Boa Vista, tel. 21/2492-2119, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Mon., R$2, free Thurs.) occupies the former house of wealthy industrialist Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya. Beautifully decorated with antiques and Portuguese azulejo panels, the neoclassical villa, completely engulfed by rain forest, exhibits Castro Maya’s impressive art collection, which runs the gamut from ancient Asian ceramics to works by contemporary Brazilian artists.

Hiking, Biking, and Adventure Sports

Cycling

Rio has 130 kilometers (80 miles) of bike paths. Those in search of a languorous outing can take to the paths that line the beaches (stretching from Flamengo to Leblon and then along Barra) and ring the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Meanwhile, hard-core jocks can take on the steep trails leading into the Floresta da Tijuca. You can rent bikes in many places along the Zona Sul beaches and around the Lagoa. A particularly wide range of models are available at Ipanema’s Bike & Lazer (Rua Visconde de Pirajá 135‑B, tel. 21/2267-7778), which also has a second location in Laranjeiras near Largo do Machado (Rua das Laranjeiras 58, tel. 21/2285-7941). Rental fees are R$15 per hour.

Following the example of Amsterdam and Paris, Rio also operates a bike rental system, SAMBA, which to date boasts 20 bike terminals the Zona Sul. To actually get your hands on a bike, you have to register online and then, with a credit card, you can opt to rent for a day (R$10) or a month (R$20). Rides of up to 60 minutes are free, after which you’re charged R$5 per hour. Both to register and to activate bikes, you need to have a cell phone number.

Hiking, Climbing, and Adventure Sports

Rio possesses an enormous number of options for hiking and climbing within and around the city. Rio Hiking (tel. 21/2552-9204) is highly recommended. The six-hour hike (R$150 pp) to Pedra da Gávea combines strenuous hiking with dips in waterfalls and the ocean, but shorter, easier, and equally enticing options abound as well as more adventurous outings including rappeling, climbing, cycling, trekking, kayaking, and scuba diving.

Trilhas do Rio (tel. 21/2425-8441) has expert guides who are highly knowledgeable about Rio’s natural surroundings. They lead hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing, and trekking tours in and around the city. There is even a yoga tour. A four-hour hike up Pão de Açúcar costs R$40 pp, while an eight-hour hike up and around Pedra da Gávea is R$85 pp.

Trilharte Ecoturismo (tel. 21/2225-2426) also offers many interesting eco-trips—all of which are slanted toward adventurers with cameras. Photographic safaris to a wide range of photogenic destinations involve hiking, horseback riding, climbing, and rafting. The only drawback is that tours are in Portuguese. Trip prices vary depending on the length of time and activities involved. They range from R$35 for a light hike up the Pão de Açúcar to R$180 (including lunch) for a full-day guided excursion into the Mata Atlântica.

Meanwhile, if you have ever dreamed of scaling Pão de Açúcar or Corcovado, Companhia da Escalada (tel. 21/2567-7105, R$100–160 pp) organizes rock-climbing classes and excursions for beginners and experts.

Hang Gliding

The popularity of hang gliding in Rio—second only to surfing—is unsurprising viewing the spectacular surroundings involved. The classic (and most breathtaking) trip is to jump off Pedra Bonita (in the Parque Nacional da Tijuca) and glide down to the Praia do Pepino in São Conrado. Both Just Fly (tel. 21/2268-0565) and Super Fly (tel. 21/3322-2286) charge around R$240 for the 15-minute thrill, including transportation to and from your hotel.

Sailing, Boating, and Surfing

Sailing and Boating

Better than gazing at the Baía da Guanabara is to actually get out on its blue waters. Saveiro’s Tour (Av. Infante Dom Henrique, Marina da Glória, Glória, tel. 21/2225-6064) rents out all types of seaworthy vessels as well as water skis. Those interested in a mini cruise can charter a posh yacht that will take you up and down the coast to destinations such as Búzios, Ilha Grande, Angra dos Reis, and Paraty. A two-hour tour around the Baía da Guanabara costs R$30 pp.

Surfing

Rio is a surfers’ haven, luring wave junkies from around the world to the beaches of Arpoador, Barra, Recreio, Prainha, and Grumari. To get around town, the city ingeniously operates a special Surf Bus (tel. 21/8515-2289 or 21/2527-0891) equipped to deal with boards and dripping bodies. Leaving from Largo do Machado in Botafogo, it travels all the way down the coast from Copacabana to Prainha, departing at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Despite the fact that it’s equipped with air-conditioning, a minibar, and a 29-inch TV that screens surfing DVDs, the cost is only R$3.

If you want to hone your technique, Escola de Surf Rico de Souza (tel. 21/2438-1821) offers daily lessons at its headquarters (in front of Posto 4 at Barra) and at Prainha (Praia da Macumba). Private lessons (including equipment) cost R$60 pp for one hour. The website has class schedules for foreign students. The school has lots of information about surfing conditions, events, and equipment rental. To buy or rent surf equipment, check out the stores at Galeria River in Arpoador (Rua Francisco Otaviano 67). Hot Coast (Loja 12, tel. 21/2287-9388) rents various styles of boards for R$40 per day.

Soccer

Brazil’s favorite sport is also Rio’s, and you’ll see everyone from women to favela kids to beer-bellied seniors dribbling, passing, shooting, and scoring, particularly on the beaches. However, if you want to see the real deal, head to the largest and most famous futebol stadium in the world: Maracanã (Rua Profesor Eurico Rabelo, Maracanã, tel. 21/2334-1705, tickets R$15–40). Built in 1950 to host the World Cup, the stadium seats close to 200,000 people. Even if soccer itself leaves you cold, it’s worth taking in a game for the sheer theatrics of the crowd as they toot whistles, beat drums, unfurl gigantic banners, and wield smoke bombs in team colors. When things aren’t going well, fans shed tears, implore saints, and hurl death threats (as well as cups of urine—for this reason, consider seats in the lower levels, which are sheltered by a protective canopy). However, when victory rears its head, it’s like a collective mini Carnaval.

Rio’s four biggest and most traditional teams are Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Vasco da Gama. Each has its die-hard followers, but the most toxic rivalry of all is the legendary Flamengo-Fluminense (“Fla-Flu”) match-up. Games are played throughout the week and throughout the year. When going to a game, avoid rabid fans on the bus and take the Metrô or a taxi. During the day, Maracanã is open for 40-minute guided tours (9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, 8–11 a.m. game days, R$20). Due to ongoing renovations for the 2014 World Cup, it’s best to call ahead.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

Kid-Friendly Activities and Attractions in Guatemala

Colorful embroidered textile with two figures of kids holding hands amidst a floral pattern.
Photo © Cameron Ferrelle.

Latin Americans are very family oriented and Guatemalans are no exception. There is plenty to see and do in Guatemala for families traveling with children of all ages. The following is a list of kid- and family-friendly attractions throughout the country.


Guatemala City

Among Guatemala City’s museums, none is more kid friendly than the Museo del Niño (Children’s Museum), in Zona 13 near the airport. There are a number of interactive displays as well as opportunities for play.

Just across the street, you’ll find the city’s excellent La Aurora Zoo, harboring a good collection of animals from Guatemala and around the world. Cages are being gradually phased out.

If you want to see the city’s sights but have kids in tow who might not want to walk, opt for a trolley tour.

Lake Atitlán

On the lake’s beautiful shores, there are plenty of places to stay for families traveling with children. Among the best are the family-size villas at San Buenaventura de Atitlán, equipped with a kitchen and several rooms.

Nearby, kids (and outdoor-loving parents) will enjoy the Reserva Natural Atitlán, where they can see monkeys and coatimundis along the nature trails leading to waterfalls. There are also a butterfly farm and private lake beach in addition to an excellent visitors center.

Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast is extremely family friendly, primarily thanks to the presence of the twin theme parks of Xocomil and Xetulul, near Retalhuleu. Xocomil is a water park on par with the finest in the United States and Xetulul includes re-creations of famous Spanish, French, Italian, and Guatemalan landmarks along with an exhilarating roller-coaster and assorted other rides.

After the parks close, the fun continues across the street at the excellent accommodations of Hostales del IRTRA, with numerous swimming pools, restaurants, and activities.

For some seaside fun, head to Monterrico, where (in season) you can participate in a race involving newly hatched sea turtles making their maiden voyage across the sandy beach to their ocean home.

Kids will also get a kick out of the Auto Safari Chapín, in Taxisco about 90 minutes from Guatemala City. It’s a drive-through safari experience, in which you can see several of kids’ favorite animals, including lions, zebras, and parrots.

Petén

Children will certainly be impressed by the Mayan ruins at Tikal, along with the abundant wildlife found along the various nature trails criss-crossing the park or swinging from the trees.

At the entrance to Tikal, older kids and adults will enjoy the Tikal Canopy Tour, allowing them to zip across the forest canopy along metallic cables while strapped to a harness.

If you want to see more of the forest canopy on slightly less adrenaline-inducing conditions, head to Parque Natural Ixpanpajul, where there are plenty of outdoor activities, including walks along hanging bridges connecting forested jungle canyons.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.

The Pioneer Mountains in Southwestern Montana

Rafters on the Big Hole River.
Rafters on the Big Hole River. Photo © Tom Hart, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Butte, Helena, and Southwestern Montana
Butte, Helena, and Southwestern Montana
Surrounded on three sides by the meanderings of the Big Hole River, the Pioneer Mountains are in fact two different ranges divided down a north-south axis, linked yet separated, sort of like the underside of a coffee bean. These out-of-the-way mountains come to life in the winter; a hot springs resort and a small downhill ski area combine to bring in the locals. In the summer the hills are covered with violet-blue lupine. The Wise River drainage is popular with anglers; there are several large Forest Service campgrounds with fishing access along the river.

Highway 484 bisects the Pioneer Mountains, from Wise River in the north through Polaris to Highway 278 in the south. The Forest Service has designated this route running down the furrow of the coffee bean as the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.

Maverick Mountain Ski Area

The legendary heavy snows of southwestern Montana are put to good use at the homey, family-oriented Maverick Ski Area (406/834-3454, Thurs.–Sun.), where the vertical drop is 2,020 feet. Maverick Lodge offers lessons, rentals, day care, and food; cross-country skiers are welcome. A lift ticket is only $30 per day, $20 for children, but there are only 24 runs and one real lift.

Many skiers come up for the day from Dillon, but the closest lodging to Maverick is the Grasshopper Inn (406/834-3456, $60), with motel rooms and a restaurant at the base of the slopes beside the near–ghost town of Polaris.

Elkhorn Hot Springs

This venerable resort (13 miles north of Hwy. 278 on Hwy. 484, 406/834-3434 or 800/722-8978) is the other popular lodging for skiers. Cross-country skiers converge here; with 25 miles of cross-country trails managed by the resort, an entire mountain range of informal trails to explore, and a good hot soak to come home to, this is near-heaven (at an elevation of 7,385 feet, literally so). In summer the hot springs are popular for hikers. There are two outdoor mineral pools plus a sauna, and it costs $6 ($4 for kids) for a swim.

Rooms are either in the lodge ($45 and up, bathroom down the hall) or in rustic cabins scattered among the trees. The restaurant in the lodge is open for three meals a day. Cabins, with electricity and wood-burning stoves but no plumbing (an outhouse is shared with neighboring cabins), start at $70 for a double (swimming included). Don’t come to Elkhorn expecting a trendy New Age getaway; it’s funky and remote, and with that in mind, charming and relaxing.

If you want to stop at Elkhorn for a swim and a soak but would prefer to camp out, the very pretty Forest Service Grasshopper Creek Campground (June–mid-Sept., $10) is less than one mile down the road. Pick up the Blue Creek trail just south of the campground and head into the West Pioneers. North of Elkhorn Hot Springs are several more campgrounds and trailheads.

Crystal Park

At this Forest Service–maintained site four miles north of Elkhorn Hot Springs (406/683-3900, $5 per vehicle), rock hounds can dig for quartz crystals. It’s a very popular spot, attracting dedicated amateur crystal miners who come with shovels and screens to sift through the dirt for quartz and amethyst. But even ill-equipped novices can scrape through the topsoil for a few minutes and come up with a small crystal or two.


Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.

The Joy of Dredd

The post below comes to us from Duane Swierczynski, author of Fun and Games, Hell and Gone, and the forthcoming Point and Shoot. He’s also the writer of IDW’s new Judge Dredd series, the first issue of which drops this week.

I discovered 2000 A.D. and the world of Judge Dredd at the tender age of 15 through a somewhat unlikely source: a bootleg Commodore 64 game. The rules were simple: steer a pixelated Dredd through a digital Mega-City One and pretty much shoot everything in sight. Jonesing for more, I realized that Dredd was based on a UK comic . . . and at the time, super-tough to find here in the U.S. Add yet another frustration to my nerdy teenaged life.

Over the next 25 years, however, I snapped up all the Dredd stories that I could, savoring them like exotic treats smuggled through customs. Slowly, the future dystopia featured in Dredd snapped into place for me, and I realized that the writers and artists over at 2000 A.D. were showing us America through a twisted funhouse mirror. In short: Judge Joe Dredd is a one-man judge, jury and executioner . . . on a motorcycle. You jaywalk in front of him? Dredd will sentence you on the spot, and then next thing you know, you’ll be staring at the ceiling of a cramped iso-cube. Steal something? Kill somebody? Try to kill a judge? Well, may Dredd have mercy on your soul. (Spoiler alert: He won’t.) The stories were full of the same kind of ultra-violent satire that I’d loved in Paul Verheoven’s RoboCop. And you can’t tell me the writers of Robo weren’t tipping their helmets to Dredd, who debuted more than a decade earlier.

When IDW announced an American version a while back, I was over the moon—never even thinking that I would be approached to write this new version. Needless to say, this is the opportunity of lifetime, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The 15-year-old in me may never recover.

IDW editor Chris Ryall and I talked about this series covering untold tales from the earlier days of Dredd’s career—though rest assured, this ain’t Lil’ Joe Dredd. He’s no rookie; he’s been serving up justice on the mean streets of Mega-City One for quite some time. Thanks to the Judge Dredd Complete Case File that the sick folks at 2000 A.D. have been publishing, I’ve had the chance to go back and read the early Dredd stories and see what I missed—namely, a lot of giddy, high-octane mayhem. I mean that in the best possible way.

When I was pitching Chris, I told him that I’d like IDW’s Dredd to feel like a transgressive sci-fi black comedy police procedural—like Law & Order, if say, Jerry Orbach were a violent inflexible fascist. Someone who readers can’t help but root for, since he’s up against overwhelming odds in a city gone insane.

So in this first issue (see handy preview below!) I though it was important to introduce readers (both longtime Dredd fans as well as newbies) to the two main characters: Dredd, and the city itself. But beyond that, I see Dredd is also the perfect vehicle for telling every type of crime story imaginable, and the possibilities are exciting as hell, especially when you factor in future tech. I’m finding inspiration in the the lawless “Dillinger” days of the early 1930s, when emerging technology inspired both cops and bandits to elevate their games. When the bandits started using race cars for getaways, the cops responded with faster pursuit vehicles; shotguns were met with machine guns; organized criminal gangs were met with wiretapping and most wanted lists. With Dredd, I’m asking myself: what kind of games will cops (that is, judges) and robbers be playing 100 years in the future? I hope you’ll have fun with the answers in future issues.

Shopping Malls in Guatemala City

Interior view of a mall with glossy modern architecture.
Galerías La Pradera in Guatemala City. Photo by sikeri licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Guatemala City has some excellent shopping malls carrying the most basic or most exclusive items one could need, in addition to fashionable boutiques and department stores. None of the latter (curiously) seem to result from Guatemalan investment. These include Simán (El Salvador), Carrion (Honduras) and Sears (United States).

The city’s largest shopping mall is Pradera Concepción (Km. 17.5 Carretera a El Salvador, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Thurs. and 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat.), with a variety of familiar stores and restaurant chains including Sears and T.G.I. Friday’s. It adjoins a smaller, open-air shopping center known as Condado Concepcíon, which features a Starbucks and an Applebee’s in addition to several local chains.

Opened in 2003 and expanded in 2006, the sprawling Galerías Miraflores (21 Avenida 4-32 Zona 11, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun.) also harbors some of Guatemala’s most exclusive stores, including a Simán department store, the international Zara boutique, and a L’Occitane store. Across the way is the Parque Comercial Las Majadas shopping center with a Sears, Fetiche perfume store, and a T.G.I. Friday’s.

In Zona 10, east up the hill toward the Carretera a El Salvador, is Galerías La Pradera (20 Calle 25-85 Zona 10, tel. 2367-4136, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat. and 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun.), an upscale shopping mall remodled in 2010–2011.

Though not as upscale as its Zona Viva location might suggest, Gran Centro Los Próceres (16 Calle 2-00 Zona 10, tel. 2332-8742) nonetheless has some good shops and eateries and is conveniently situated near the major Zona 10 hotels.

Zona 10’s newest and most upscale shopping mall is also Guatemala City’s nicest. Oakland Mall (Diagonal 6, 13-01 Zona 10, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat. and 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun.) features 170 stores spread across three floors, in addition to several movie theaters. Among its stores and restaurants you’ll find an aquarium, an impressive waterfall producing geometric shapes, and even a carousel imported from Italy. A Starbucks with plenty of outdoor seating fronts the street along its main entrance.

Also in this sector is the very pleasant Plaza Fontabella (4a Ave. 12-59 Zona 10, tel. 6628-8600), built as an outdoor mall in neo-colonial style, where you can enjoy Guatemala’s spring-like climate and a decent selection of stores and restaurants while strolling the cobblestone pedestrian walkways. Guatemala’s first Carolina Herrera designer handbag store opened here in 2011.

In Zona 16, you’ll find another fine example of the recent trend toward construction of outdoor pedestrian malls in warm-weather locales. Paseo Cayalá (Ciudad Cayalá, Zona 16) is housed in a sprawling collection of white-washed Spanish neo-colonial buildings. There are numerous specialty stores in addition to cool restaurants and bars with outdoor patio seating fronting the cobblestone pedestrian thoroughfare. Three universities lie nearby and the shopping district is part of a larger residential complex encompassing homes and student apartments. There are lovely views of the city’s downtown core, off in the distance.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.

Five Useful Tips for the Year’s Busiest Air Travel Week

Photo © Laura Martone.
Photo © Laura Martone.

Despite the rising cost of air fares, “Airlines for America expects nearly 24 million travelers to fly from Friday, November 16, through Tuesday, November 27,” according to the Associated Press. “Travelers can expect airports to be busier and planes to be fuller than ever this Thanksgiving.”

Of course, not everyone travels during Thanksgiving week. Still, it’s highly possible that you’re planning to venture somewhere before the year’s end. If so, be sure to heed the following five tips – courtesy of FinderCodes – while traveling this holiday season.


Leave earlier than you think you need to.

With the extra people in the airport and on the roads, everything will take longer than usual. Plus, since we’re entering the time of year when weather can be unpredictable, it’s always a good idea to plan extra time, so you won’t feel you need to rush around on dangerous roads.

Pack as lightly as you can.

The airlines are getting more and more strict about luggage weight. The last thing you’ll want to do while you’re checking in is unpack your luggage. It’s no fun to see what you leave behind in order to make the weight limit.

Take precaution to avoid getting sick.

Airports are notoriously germy places, and being sick when you’re visiting friends and family is awful. To avoid getting sick while traveling, make sure you drink plenty of water, get a flu shot, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.

Get up and stretch your legs.

It may sound silly, but the elderly aren’t the only people who can suffer from blood clots. Children are susceptible to them, too. While flying, try leg lifts and rotate your ankles while you’re in your seat.

Tag your luggage.

Losing your luggage can be very stressful. The last thing you want to do on your holiday vacation is to spend time and money buying the necessities that you lost in your baggage. To make sure your luggage is returned to you as quickly and hassle-free as possible, use the FinderCodes Travel Lost & Found Kit. You won’t even need to put your address on your tag, which means no fellow traveler will be able to get your personal information.


While you could argue that that last tip is a bit of unabashed self-promotion, I have to admit that the FinderCodes Travel Lost & Found Kit ($24.99) – which I recently had the chance to review – is a pretty handy tool for travelers of all types, from students and outdoor enthusiasts to day-trippers and frequent flyers. Using a combination of QR codes, smartphones, mobile apps, and, if necessary, your computer, this electronic lost-and-found system gives you a better chance of recovering valuable items, such as cameras, e-readers, laptops, backpacks, suitcases, garment bags, skis, and the like – all of which can go missing while in transit and might cost you a lot of time and money to replace.

Besides the helpful kit for travelers – which contains seven separate tags – FinderCodes offers specially designed kits for electronics, household items, school stuff, kids’ belongings, baby things, and pet owners. Depending on the kit, you’ll find a combination of stickers, iron-on labels, or durable tags – each of which has a unique QR code – that can be affixed or attached to virtually any surface, from luggage handles to kitty collars.

After creating and logging into your account (via your computer or the free mobile app), you simply have to register your tags and labels by scanning the codes with your smartphone or entering the ID codes (located beneath the QR codes) on the FinderCodes website. Each ID tag has a unique code, which can be linked to the item that you intend to safeguard, so after entering the name, description, and optional reward for each tagged item, you merely attach the tags to their linked items and get ready for your next trip. If you unfortunately do lose one of these tagged items along the way, the finder can just scan or enter the code, which will prompt FinderCodes to alert you, the owner, that the item has been located – and thereby enable a quick, secure return of your lost valuables.

Of course, this system only works if an honest individual discovers your lost items; nevertheless, it can certainly improve your chance of recovering your missing valuables. After all, every little bit helps – and besides, even if you don’t rely on the FinderCodes system, you’ll now know what to do if you ever spot an unattended item bearing one of those little orange-black-and-white tags or labels.

For more information about FinderCodes, please check out the website – as well as the following video.

So, have you ever used FinderCodes or a similar lost-and-found system while traveling? If so, were you able to recover your missing items?

Shopping in Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan

Blue painted cobblestones in the foreground with a row of colonial buildings.
Blue cobblestoned streets are common in Old San Juan. Photo © Steven Gaertner.

People love to shop in Old San Juan because it offers the widest variety of unique shopping options in one pedestrian-friendly place. This is the place to go for fine jewelry, imported clothing and furnishings, cigars, folk art, tourist trinkets, and American chain stores, such as Marshalls, Walgreens, and Radio Shack.

Arts and Crafts

For visitors seeking high-quality crafts by local artisans, Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts (204 Calle Fortaleza, 787/725-5596) is your one-stop shopping spot. This large two-level store has everything from original paintings and prints to ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and more.

There is no end to cheap trinket shops in Old San Juan, so when you find a quality craft store selling unique, artisan-made items traditional to the island, it’s a reason to stand up and take notice. La Casa de las Casitas & Handcraft (250 Calle del Cristo, 787/721-5195, and 208 Calle Fortaleza, 787/723-2276) is the place to go for original oil paintings, one-of-a-kind vejigante masks, and beautiful wood carvings of saints, a traditional form of handicraft called santos.

Natural Home (101 Calle Fortaleza, 787/721-5731, naturalhomeus@gmail.com) is a gift shop selling hand-embroidered linens, unique crocheted jewelry, pottery, and unusual ceramic pieces.

For a small selection of authentic Caribbean crafts, stop by Tienda de Artesanías (Museo de Las Americas in Ballajá Barracks, on Calle Norzagaray beside Quincentennial Plaza, 787/722-6057). It has a nice but small mix of quality baskets, shawls, pottery, jewelry, Santos, art posters, and CDs.

Máscaras de Puerto Rico (La Calle, 105 Calle Fortaleza, 787/725-1306, Chilean@coqui.net) is a funky, narrow shop in a covered alleyway selling quality contemporary crafts, including masks and small reproductions of vintage cartel posters. In back is Café El Punto restaurant, serving traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

There are two nearly identical shops on the same street called Haitian Gallery (367 Calle Fortaleza, 787/721-4362; and 206 Calle Fortaleza, 787/725-0986, haitiangallery@aol.com). They both sell a great selection of Haitian folk art, including brightly colored primitive-style paintings and tons of woodwork, from sublime bowls to ornately sculpted furniture. There’s a small selection of Indonesian imports, such as leaf-covered picture frames and photo albums, and tourist trinkets.

Puerto Rico Homemade Crafts Gallery (403 Calle San Francisco, 787/724-3840) is an excellent source for authentic local crafts and folk art—both traditional and contemporary. The shop carries a large selection of vejigante masks, plus native Taíno reproductions, cartel posters, coconut-shell tea sets, jewelry, and Santos.

The Poets Passage (203 Calle Cruz, 787/567-9275, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.) offers a funky collection of local arts, crafts, and books. The store is owned by local poet and publisher Lady Lee Andrews. Poetry nights are held every Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Tourist tchotchkes, shell jewelry, vejigante masks, gourds, beaded necklaces, and seed jewelry can be found at Ezense (353 Calle Fortaleza, 787/725-1782, ezense@yahoo.com).

Additional Information

Clothing and Accessories

The guayabera is the classic linen shirt, detailed with symmetrical rows of tiny pleats that run down the front, traditionally worn by distinguished Puerto Rican gentlemen of a certain age, but they’re making a comeback with younger men, too. Panabrisa (256 Calle San Francisco, 787/722-5151, panabrisapr@yahoo.com) sells all varieties, from inexpensive cotton blend versions for around $25 to exquisitely crafted ones in linen for around $80. You’ll also find trendy guayabera dresses and skirts for women and shirts for children.

For a large inventory of Panama hats, visit Vaughn’s Gifts & Crafts (262 Calle Fortaleza, 787/721-8221, vaughns@operamail.com). Other hat styles, as well as handbags and souvenirs, also can be found.

Costazul (264 Calle San Francisco, 787/722-0991 or 787/724-8085, fax 787/725-1097) sells a great selection of surf and skate wear for men and women, including Oakley sunglasses and clothes by Billabong and Quiksilver. During surf season, it also stocks boards and related gear.

All along Calle del Cristo are a dozen or so designer outlets and stores including Tommy Hilfiger, Couch, Guess, Crocs, Ralph Lauren, Dooney & Bourke, Polo Chopard, Harry Winston, and H. Stern.

Cigars

Like Cuba, Puerto Rico has a long history of hand-rolled cigar-making, and you can often find a street vendor rolling and selling his own in Plaza de Hostos’s Mercado de Artesanías, a plaza near the cruise-ship piers at Calle Recinto Sur. There are also several good cigar shops selling anything you could want—except Cubans, of course. The biggest selection has to be at The Cigar House (255 Calle Fortaleza, 787/723-5223; 258 Calle Fortaleza, 787/725-9604; and 253 Calle San Justo, 787/725-0652). Trinidad, Monte Cristo, Padron 1926 and 1964, Cohiba, Perdomo, Macanudo, Partagas, Romeo and Julieta, and Puerto Rican cigars aged in rum are among those sold. They also sell tons of tourist trinkets.

For a more intimate setting, visit El Galpón (154 Calle del Cristo, 787/725-3945 or 888/842-5766). This small selective shop sells a variety of quality cigars, Panama hats, masks, art prints, and superb vintage and contemporary Santos.

Imports

San Juan has several Indonesian import shops. Eclectika (204 Calle O’Donnell, Plaza de Colón, and 205 Calle de la Cruz, 787/721-7236 or 787/725-3163) has Indonesian imports specializing in home decor, purses, and jewelry.

Hecho a Mano (260 Calle San Francisco, 787/722-0203, and 250 Calle San José, 787/725-3992, fax 787/723-0880) sells Indonesian decorative imports, locally designed women’s wear, funky purses, and jewelry. There’s another location at 1126 Avenida Ashford in Condado.

Kamel International Bazaar and Art Gallery (154–156 Calle de la Cristo, 787/722- 1455 or 787/977-7659, kamelimports@yahoo.com) sells inexpensive Indian clothing, jewelry, rugs, beaded handbags, and reproduction paintings on canvas.

Fine Jewelry

There are dozens of high-end fine-jewelry stores in Old San Juan, especially along Calle Fortaleza, including N. Barquet Joyers (201 Calle Fortaleza, 787/721-3366 or 787/721-4051, fax 787/721-4051, nbarquet@spiderlink.net); Casa Diamante (252 Calle Fortaleza, 787/977-5555); and Emerald Isles (105 Calle Fortaleza, 787/977-3769).

Vogue Bazaar (364 Calle San Francisco, 787/722-1100) specializes in pre-Columbian reproductions, gemstones from South America, and purses from Thailand.

Antiques and Collectibles

Thrift-store shoppers and collectors of vinyl will love Frank’s Thrift Store (363 Calle San Francisco, 787/722-0691). Come here to peruse the enormous used-record collection, from ’80s kitsch to fresh electronica. There’s even a turntable available, so you can listen to the stock before you buy. But this cluttered labyrinth of rooms is also packed with the widest assortment of junk and collectibles you could ever imagine. Decorative items, old photographs, dishes, toys, clothes—you name it.

Galería Don Pedro (254 Calle San Justo, 787/721-3126 or 787/429-7936) has three floors of antiques, vintage collectibles, and original artwork by local artists.

Kitchen Goods

Spicy Caribbee (154 Calle de la Cristo, 888/725-7529) sells Caribbean sauces, spice mixes, coffees, soaps, fragrances, candles, cookbooks, and more.

Supermax is a modern, full-service grocery store with a bakery, deli, fresh meat counter, and produce section. It carries a large selection of spirits and a wide variety of local coffees, but you’ll have to get a clerk to unlock the case for you.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom

Man under palm trees on beach
Photo © Michael Sommers.

Brazil’s economic boom of the last few years has had significant impacts on the country’s tourism industry. While prices for food, accommodations, and transportation have risen considerably, at the same time, the emergence of a new lower-middle class with more disposable income (and more access to credit) than ever before has resulted in an unprecedented number of Brazilians traveling, both abroad and at home.

Although none of this is news, this week I came across an article, by Vincent Bevins, on beyondbrics – an insightful blog devoted to emerging markets – that offered some surprising details about these recent tourism trends.

[pullquote] Domestic travelers are responsible for sustaining a whopping 95 percent of Brazil’s tourism industry. [/pullquote]

Surprising Detail Number One: Despite high prices that make it South America’s most expensive travel destination, Brazil’s tourism industry is actually continuing to enjoy robust growth rates (it grew 6.5 percent in 2011). Interestingly, none of this growth is due to foreigners; in the last five years, the number of international vacationers to Brazil has remained stationary. However, during this same period, domestic travel has soared by more than 30 percent (in 2010, Brazilians took 186 million domestic trips compared with 139 million in 2005).

Surprising Detail Number Two: Domestic travelers are responsible for sustaining a whopping 95 percent of Brazil’s tourism industry.

To underscore how disproportionate this ratio is, one need only compare Brazil to neighboring Peru, where, instead of 5 percent, gringos account for close to 30 percent of all spending on tourism.

According to David Scowsill, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, the international average ratio is usually around two-thirds domestic spending vs. one-third foreign spending. Scowskil concedes that it’s normal to see figures that are skewed towards homegrown spenders in BRIC countries whose middle classes are expanding. However, he points out that even in China foreigners account for 12 percent of tourism spending.

The upshot is that, for now at least, Brazil’s tourism industry is one of the least international on the planet. This tendency might be worrisome for the Brazilian government, which is investing heavily in attempts to lure a record number of foreigners to the country for high profile events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. However, on the positive side, it can also be seen as a bonus for foreigners who do decide to come to Brazil, but don’t want to run into masses of other gringos while on vacation.

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