Tag Archives: New Mexico

IBIT TRAVEL Digest 2.26.12

A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Juffureh, Gambia
Juffureh, Gambia | ©IBIT G. Gross

The Internet has given us all the ability to search out the lowest price on all things related to travel, so we really have no need for travel agents anymore, right?

Not necessarily.

An admittedly non-scientific side-by-side test by the New York Times matched the Web and a travel agent to see which produced the best deals — and the live-human travel agent came out on top.

Seasoned travelers know there’s nothing like having a knowledgeable travel agent in your corner when reservations fall through or unforeseen events blow up your travel plans. Now, it looks now as if the old-school travel agent might be able to hold their own when it comes to scoring travel bargains, as well.

The only thing I love more than traveling by sea is traveling cheaply by sea, which means I’m naturally drawn to ocean-going ferries, and Tripologist.com has come up with a trip that satisfies on both counts.

As close as Japan and South Korea are to one another, it would only make sense to visit both while you’re traveling in that part of the world. But a round-trip ticket for the two-hour flight between Tokyo and Seoul could cost you $500 and up, which is insane.

For almost $200 less, you could take a three-hour cruise on a high-speed hydrofoil between the two countries, and pass easily and cheaply from the ports to the anywhere in either country via their high-speed rail networks.

Two high-speed train rides, connected by a hydrofoil? That’s me, all right.

Tripologist breaks down the particulars here.

That’s right. CBS is coming back at you with its 20th segment of the world travel contest show, The Amazing Race. The format is the same, 11 teams of two competitors each. The prize is the same, $1 million.

Being the travel addict I am, I’d probably watch this, anyway, despite all the artificial drama and instigated conflict the show’s producers try so hard to generate. But this time around, I have extra incentives.

The first is that, once again, there are contestants from San Diego on the show. Or rather, there were. The two Asian golfing sisters were eliminated the first night. Poor girls, they barely got their passports open and they’re already gone.

The other is that I have reason to believe that the race is returning to Africa. I’d watch for that reason alone. Some may watch this show for the conniving and the cattiness, but for this traveler, it’s all about the destinations.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from Smarter Travel
The new rules requiring airlines to fully disclose the cost of a flight have prompted online travel agencies to limit their flexible options — in some cases, drastically. But there are still ways to use flexible search to your advantage.

from TIME
First, they were feeling up old ladies, frisking little girls and looting people’s luggage. Are TSA screeners now using their screening machines to ogle young women’s bodies? One woman says yes, and she’s suing.

from USA Today
The merger with United has caused Continental Airlines to disappear in all but name. Now, even that is going away. ​

from msnbc
Have one of those unbearably long flights coming up in Coach? Would rather not have a seatmate, maybe even prefer having a whole row all to yourself? That can be arranged.

from The​ Times, London UK
Better driving by motorists would make things a lot safer for cyclists. What makes this statement remarkable is that, in London, at least, it’s the motorists who are saying it.

from the New York Times
The NYT’s Michelle Higgins tells us how to get elite status from the better hotel chains. The way the hotels are adding on surcharges these days, you almost owe it to yourself to do it.

from Away.com
TV chef Anthony Bourdain shares his five top travel tips. This could cost him his Bad Boy membership card.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
The Costa Concordia disaster is giving folks in Venice second thoughts about how close they want these massive mega-ships passing by their fragile icon of Italian history.

from USA Today
Talks are underway that could bring a cruise to the capital city of Haiti for the first time in a quarter-century.

from Cruise Critic
Twenty-two passengers from the cruise ship Carnival Splendor robbed at gunpoint in Puerto Vallarta. This probably will trigger a massive response from the authorities to crime in the Mexican port, but it might be too late to save the Mexican Riviera.


from CP-Africa
Is this the footprint of God?

from The Daily Observer (Gambia) via allAfrica.com
New Fajara Craft Market opens in Kotu, part of an ongoing redevelopment of the Fajara waterfront.

from the Business Daily (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Tourism figures are up in Kenya despite worries over tourist kidnappings and conflict with Somalia’s al Shabaab religious extremist militia.

from The Citizen (Tanzania) via allAfrica.com
Mafia Island. In more ways than one, it’s not what you think. On land, lush, green, and largely unspoiled tropical landscape. Offshore, world-class diving and snorkeling.


from State.gov
The State Department breaks down its travel warnings on Mexico, going state by state.

from the New York Times
This piece is all about how to spend a weekend in New Orleans. But if you approach this city in the right spirit, a weekend in “the NOLA” can last all year.

from USA Today
A new exhibit at a Phoenix museum shows there’s more to the Apache legacy than the legend of Geronimo.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Hawaii’s lava flows are equally fascinating to scientists and tourists, but if you plan on taking in this breathtaking sight, a little caution is in order. Actually, make that a lot of caution.


from Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan)
From giant paper floats to a private train heated in winter by a pot-bellied stove, Aomori prefecture puts Japanese culture on display.

from the Japan Times
Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market, which feeds this nation’s insatiable appetite for seafood, is a whirlwind of sights, sounds, aromas and characters. It’s also due to close in three years. So if you want to see a historic piece of daily Tokyo life, go soon.


from the Guardian (London UK)
An interactive map showing the best bargain-priced restaurants around Britain, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You’ll want to keep this one in your “mobile.”

from the Guardian (London UK)
If you’re one of those people who think camping would be great if it weren’t out in the wilderness, Berlin has the hotel you’ve been waiting for. it’s called the Hüttenpalast. AUDIO SLIDESHOW

from the the Guardian (London UK)
Speaking of eateries, here’s one Parisian’s list of the ten best Paris bistros. I wouldn’t call any of these places a bargain, but they’re probably worth every euro.


from France 24
Iraqi town uses history and heritage to turn from terrorism to tourism.


MEXICO: Getting a bum rap?

If we held our own country to the public safety standards we’re applying to our southern neighbor, a lot of American tourism officials in the United States might be jumping out of their office windows.

Para leer este articulo en español, haga un clic aquí.

Public safety is as much a matter of perception as reality. If you feel vulnerable, then you are.

For a lot of Americans these days, the perception of Mexico is that it’s almost as dangerous as Somalia. Several cruise lines have been acting on that perception over the last year, cancelling port calls to Mexican destinations and pulling ships out of San Diego and Long Beach in the process.

We’ve all seen the lurid news stories — people being not simply murdered, but beheaded. Full-on firefights between Mexican army soldiers and drug cartel gunmen packing equal firepower.

That doesn’t doesn’t like any place the average sane person would want to visit.

And yet, does that perception match up with Mexico’s reality?

There are as many as 2 million expats currently living in Mexico. The number of Americans among them ranges from several hundred thousand to more than 1 million.

It’s hard to say exactly how many because a lot of them are living there — irony of ironies — illegally.

If it’s so dangerous down there for foreigners, why aren’t these terrified expats streaming back to the safety of the United States? The answer: Because they’re not terrified. They’re not even mildly frightened.

I have good friends who split their year between San Diego and San Miguel de Allende, a haven for artists and musicians in the mountains between Guadalajara and Mexico City, and long one of the most popular Mexican towns for expats.

If there is some mass exodus of scared gringos fleeing Mexico’s drug war, I’ve yet to see evidence of it.

I’ve never lived in Mexico, but I’ve traveled through most of it. I’ve visited the capital, Mexico City, multiple times, as well as Guadalajara and other major cities. I’ve sailed into Ensenada on cruises, along with Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel.

From each visit, I returned without ever having been menaced by anyone, except for some crazed car drivers, some overzealous souvenir hawkers and in one case, a swarm of angry bees.

Could it be that Mexico is getting a bum rap over all this? And if so, why?

It’s long been known and widely reported that the violence of Mexico’s drug war is neither random nor targets tourists. It tends to confine itself to those involved in the “drug game.” But there are those who insist that this inwardly focused drug violence presents a dire threat to all would-be visitors.

But what about muggers, robbers, ordinary crooks, you ask? Do Mexican cities have street thugs who might prey on tourists given the chance?

Of course, they do. So do most cities in this country. That doesn’t make the threat so dire that visiting is out of the question.

You have to wonder: How would travelers react if we apply the same rhetoric and reasoning to the United States?

Should people stop visiting New York City because it’s a locus for organized crime?

Should people stop coming to Southern California because more than 40,000 gang bangers in the Los Angeles area alone?

Should people shy away from Mardi Gras, the JazzFest or the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans because it has one of the highest murder rates in America?

Should desert lovers boycott Arizona and New Mexico because of the alcoholism and related ills running rampant on Indian reservations?

For that matter, should travelers avoid Arizona because any loonytune can legally get his hands on military-grade firearms? Or has a state Senator who thinks it’s cute to point her loaded pink handgun at a reporter during an interview?

Recently, a prominent Puerto Rican tourist, a retired legislator, died as a result of injuries he received when muggers tried to steal his watch in the Italian port of Naples. Have you heard any calls lately from Americans urging a boycott of Italy?

I haven’t.

You can’t bring tourists into any place where they don’t feel safe. If people feel they can’t disembark from a cruise ship without being assaulted by local thugs or getting caught in some cartel-military crossfire, they won’t be coming to visit, and probably shouldn’t.

But is all this fear and loathing really based on safety concerns, or is there something else playing in the background?

Look online at any news story involving illegal immigration. You’ll see the same legions of commenters, each beating the same tired drum.

Avoid Mexico. Boycott Mexico. Nuke Mexico.

One gets the sense that a lot of these people are looking for a way to punish Mexico for failing to stem the flow of its citizens illegally entering the United States. Further, many of them have a very hard time hiding the racial basis of their animosity toward Mexico.

Many others don’t even try.

Does Mexico have “issues” regarding public safety? Absolutely. But those issues are being hyped by Americans with a political agenda or a racial ax to grind, or both.



A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Kufurstendamm, Berlin | ©Greg Gross

Does it sound strange to celebrate a street? That’s what they’re doing all this summer in Berlin, where they’re commemorating the 125th anniversary of Kurfürstendamm.

If you can’t get your English tongue around Kurfürstendamm, just say “Ku’damm” instead. Any Berliner will instantly know what you mean.

The idea of holding a summer-long street party for a street sounds ridiculous — until you see the street. Here’s the tip-off: its dimensions were modeled after the Champs Élysees in Paris.

The Ku’damm is a field of dreams for foodies, shopaholics, and the cutting-edge creative classes. It boasts one of the finest old-school departments store in Europe, if not the world, in the KaDeWe.

Back during the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall was still up, the West Germans didn’t really need to bombard their East German counterparts with a whole lot of clumsily contrived propaganda. Even from the other side of the Wall, East Berliners knew of — and dreamed of — the Ku’damm.

Don’t think a street could be a weapon in psychological warfare? Look at the sterile, austere life on the eastern side of the Wall and then look at the Ku’damm. The contrast was no accident.


When it comes to travel, almost any excuse will do, and food is as good a reason as any. America offers plenty of reasons to get your tastebuds on and hit the road.

But that road can take you some places you might not expect.

The folks at Budget Travel, for instance, have their own road foodie list of America’s best regions, and the usual suspects are not on it. Pittsburgh? New Mexico? Akers, LA?

Yes, yes and yes. Check out their views in this slideshow, and then start planning your foodie road trip.

After you stop salivating, of course.


Speaking of road trips, there are few places in the road better than Northern California for treating you to a movable feast for the eyes and the palate.

Back in prehistoric times, when gasoline was 35 cents a gallon, I used to cruise up and down the Northern California coast — Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Marin County, Santa Rosa, Big Sur, redwood country.

Those gas prices are gone forever, but the beauty of Northern California is still there and still custom-made for a rolling vacation.

Budget Travel has found a package on the Gate 1 Travel site combining air, rental car and seven nights of hotel stays for $789.

If you’re in a position to skip the air part of the package, it’s cheaper still — $549.

Measured in terms of dollars-per-day, it’s almost as good a bargain as — or even better than — a cruise vacation.

Of course, the basic cost can go up depending on which type of vehicle you choose to rent, but it still looks like a pretty good deal — especially when you take into account the amount of wear and tear you’re not putting on your own wheels.


And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

from USA Today
File this one under I Should’ve Known: Amid all the talk of surprisingly low summer airfares, US airlines begin raising their baggage fees.

from Der Spiegel (Germany)
The families of those who perished two years ago aboard Air France Flight 447 aren’t convinced that the deadly crash was the result of pilot error. They want all Airbus A330s grounded.

from USA Today
Hopefully not coming soon to an airport near you: Rats On a Plane 2 — The Wrath of Qantas. The Australia-based airline grounds one of its Boeing 767s after five baby rats are found in the medical compartment. Sounds like Mama Rat knew what she was doing, doesn’t it?

from USA Today
New Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks he knows just the thing to improve massive and massively congested O’Hare International Airportslot machines.

Want to get high…I mean really high? In Toronto, you can now walk around the top of the CN Tower — 1,151 feet tall — on the outside. No handrail. No joke. No acrophobia.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Sorry, San Diego. According to a survey, America’s best beach is in Sarasota, FL.

from USA Today
The Love Boat is going to make you sweat. Princess Cruise Line plans to offer Zumba classes at sea…for free.

from USA Today
CruiseOne, a kind of Travelocity for cruise lines, is offering free shore excursions if you book a cruise through them. Offer good til June 24.


from Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand)
Tunisia was the nation whose revolution led the “Arab awakening” still underway in North Africa and the Middle East. Now, they want the tourists to come back.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Cancun too cliché and overrun with tourists? Consider Puerto Morelos as a scenic, serene alternative, complete with a taste of the spa life.

from the New York Times
In Shanghai, which seems to be rapidly filling up with new high-rise buildings, a couple takes a shuttered old textile factory and turns it into a low-rise, multi-use community market, complete with a rooftop garden and multiple restaurants, with healthy lifestyles as its theme.

from Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand)
The joys and wonders of New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula.

from Der Spiegel International (Germany)
What do you do with a nuclear power plant that was never finished? If you’re Germany, you turn it over to a Dutch developer — who turns it into an amusement park.

from the New York Times
Between May and July, the Russian city of St. Petersburg shakes off its long, dark and grueling winter for days of celebration and culture under skies that seem almost to never darken. They call it White Nights.

from the New York Times
Tacos…in Paris? Oui, biensur!



The good, the bad and the bizarre from some of the world’s best travel media

Artist's rendering of a bar aboard Allure of the Seas, which debuts in December | © new cruise ships

Remember when I told you how much folks love breaking in brand-new cruise ships? Royal Caribbean International is still six months away from launching Allure of the Seas, the second in its Oasis class of mega-sized cruise chips, but folks are already lining up cruises.

Among them is NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists, which is putting together a cruise aboard Allure for late June 2011.

If you’re not familiar with the Oasis class or Royal Caribbean’s approach to cruising, here are a few basics:

  • Think BIG. As in up to 5,400 passengers in 2,700 cabins and 28 “loft suites” aboard a ship taller than a lot of the buildings in your town — even if your town is Manhattan.
  • A destination in itself. Almost every cabin aboard this mega-ship will come with a balcony. Many overlook the ocean. The rest overlook a central promenade running nearly the length of the ship and divided into seven “neighborhoods” — complete with restaurants, clubs, shops, parks and “street entertainers.” Who needs destinations?
  • Get fit, or have one.Separate pools, gyms, spas and other recreation for kids and adults. Massage suites. If it involves pampering of self, you’ll probably find it on this ship somewhere.

Continental Airlines is experimenting in Houston with “self-boarding.” You scan your own boarding pass before heading down the jetway and boarding the plane. The Consumerist is one of the sites where you’ll find the 4-1-1.

Their motivation for doing this is clear enough. One less gate agent means one less person they have to pay. They’ve been doing things like this in Europe for awhile, especially low-cost carriers.

(On a Ryanair flight to Dublin from London Luton once, there were no boarding passes, no seat assignments, not even a boarding announcement. An airport worker simply slid open the door to the tarmac and everyone immediately got up and bum-rushed the aircraft.)

I call this “Devil-take-the-hindmost” seating. Hopefully, Continental’s version is a bit more refined.

We all know what this is, that list we keep in our heads of all those things we want to do — or in the context of IBIT , all the places we want to go and see — before we “kick the bucket.”

Nothing wrong with having dreams and ambitions, but that expression is just a little too negative for me. So in an era when so many of us are re-directing our lives and re-thinking our careers, I think it’s time we re-imagined “the bucket list.”

My new and improved bucket list still compiles all my dream destinations. But there will be no kicking this bucket. I will just work at filling it, joyfully. I don’t expect to ever fill the thing, but if I’m around long enough to do that, I’ll just get a new bucket and start over.

Yeah, I think I like my bucket a whole lot better!

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

from the New York Times
Traveling abroad and can’t be without your cell phone? The bad news is that your phone probably won’t work outside the United States. The good news is: There are ways around that. Your phone does work internationally, but the bill is heart-stopping? There are ways around that, too.

from the Los Angeles Times
NCL has made a habit of breaking with cruise tradition, starting with their practice of letting you dine whenever — and sit with whomever — you like. They’re doing it again with their newest mega-ship, the Norwegian Epic — a ship actually tailored to single cruisers. Beverly Beyette has the lowdown.

from the PR Newswire
In South Africa, the post-World Cup buzz — or if you will, hype — continues, as tour organizers continue to tout its benefits — and there were plenty of those, some of which went beyond money.

from the Sunday Tribune (Nigeria)
A Florida firm is partnering up with Nigerian state government to design the Calabar Riviera Resort. Ever considered having your own African timeshare? Take a look at what they’re planning.

from USA Today
If you have a yen for a road trip and an interest in Native American craftsmanship, New Mexico has a thread you can follow. Actually, many threads, woven by Native American weavers creating fiber art in the way their ancestors have done for centuries.

from USA Today
Would you live in a neighborhood called DUMBO? In Brooklyn, a lot of people do…and they love it.

from the BBC fast.track
French Guiana and Suriname are two former European colonies in South America — one French, the other Dutch. Today, descendants of slaves and slaveowners co-exist peacefully with the rest of their ethnically diverse populations. In Suriname, however, the descendants of escaped slaves still maintain many of the folkways of their African ancestors. VIDEO

from the Guardian (London, UK)
The ryokan, the serenely traditional and traditionally serene Japanese inn, is starting to pick up some 21st century touches. Is this a good or a bad thing?

from the New York Times
Going back to school could save you some money when traveling around an expensive country like Britain. Universities turns their student dorms into summer bed-and-breakfast lodging for travelers. The NYT’s Jennifer Conlin shows us how to take advantage.

from the Guardian (London, UK)
Did you catch any of this year’s Tour de France bicycle race? Think you’re tough enough to ride the course yourself? There’s a French event for amateur riders that will let you find out on a short portion of the course — on one of the toughest mountain climbs in the world. But you’d better be ready. The Pyrenees are no joke.