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Archive for the ‘nuestra América’ Category

I have always appreciated the Rough Guides for their deep research, stunning photography, and urbane matter-of-factness about the places and people that fall under their gaze. A certain British eye on the world and the exploration of it is usually detectable as well, which arguably shortens the distance between the tourist and his or her hosts.

51liskguw4l-_sx324_bo1204203200_The Rough Guide to Colombia is no exception. It may well be the best of its kind for Colombia. Why do I say this?

First, the photography in the Kindle format I own just pops on my iPad.

Second, Stephen Keeling has a knack for capturing a whole complex of reality in a single, well-crafted sentence or two. His very first lines of introduction prove the point.

One of the world’s most infamous but misunderstood countries, Colombia boasts a rich history and an incredibly diverse array of attractions, from soaring Andean peaks smothered in cloud forest to palm-fringed Caribbean beaches and gorgeous colonial cities such as Cartagena.

But this ability is sustained throughout the book. Allow me a few more examples:

Colombian food is hearty and filling rather than spicy or exotic (although they do spice it up a bit more on the coast) …

For all its instability and upheavals, Colombia has a strong and robust tradition of press freedom, and as befits a country with 94-percent literacy, a wide range of newspapers and magazines … Colombian newspapers tend to be regional rather than national … Although the press is in principle free, and papers express a wide range of views, press owners tend to be closely tied to political interests—indeed, some are active politicians …

Colombia is a tropical country, where germs breed fast, but it’s also a country where hygiene is generally good, and most travellers who come here catch nothing more serious than a dose of the runs, if that …

The same sense for brevity without reductionism is found in the book’s helpful ‘Fact Files’, which are eccentric without being cute.

Again, one-offs like ’21 Things Not to Miss’ touch upon a wide range of Colombia’s virtues without kowtowing to any narrow line of interest.

Third, Keeling invests a substantial number of pages to the basics of traveling to, through, and out of Colombia. He neither moans about Colombia’s violent past nor naively whistles past current risks that must be thoughtfully addressed.

Fourth, the research that has gone into this guidebook is both broad and deep. A reader could spend a lifetime in Colombia and not exhaust the practical counsel that Keeling offers here.

Most, however, will not spend that lifetime in Colombia. A week or two is more likely. In this light, one of the standards to which I hold a purported guidebook takes the form of a question: ‘Would a citizen of the nation that is being introduced say, “Yes, the author has understood us and our place?” I believe a Colombian reader would likely judge that Keeling has done so.

The Rough Guides in general are the guidebook line to beat. If I were to take only one guidebook to Colombia, Stephen Keeling’s Rough Guide would be the one.

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David Lee’s much-used Medellín Living blog is now complemented by this serviceable guide to an up-and-coming city.

519ihwqp2rlThe Medellín Travel Guide‘s strength is that its author has followed the people of the city he surveys in putting Medellín’s regrettable notoriety firmly in his rear view mirror. Though Lee references the bad old days when the city writhed under the rule of its drug lords—and even places the Pablo Escobar Tour first on his list of ‘Top Nine Things to Do’—he clearly loves Medellín as it is today. His enthusiasm is catching.

This travel guide leans heavily in the direction of the single male traveler but is by no means a ‘lecher’s guide’ to one of Latin America’s most exciting cities.

When the author has told us all he knows about Colombia’s second city—or, more likely, all he thinks we can profitably absorb—he finishes with a chapter called ‘Beyond Antioquia: Three Must-See Places in Colombia’. Which is to say, Medellín is a great place to begin to explore Colombia. There’s much more out there.

Lee’s reliable little book has made it easier for us to find our way there.

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This is a good map of Costa Rica, though it promises a bit more than it can deliver.

The familiar blue-and-gold ‘National Geographic look’ come across attractively and clearly. The map details are, as expected, Spanish-language designations: for example, ‘Parque Nacional’ rather than ‘National Park’ and ‘Provincia’ rather than ‘Province’. Some of the ‘marginal’ text is either in English or in both Spanish and English. National Parks are highlighted helpfully and some ‘adventurous’ activities are signaled by an icon at the appropriate location. For example, a stylized surfer icon marks beaches where surfing is especially promising.

51-gsp0ymql-_sx228_bo1204203200_If that’s what you expect from an ‘aventure travel’ map, you’ll be pleased. If you expect more than this, then maybe not so much.

The level of detail is good for a map of a country that is roughly the size of the American state of West Virginia, splashed across the two sides of the map and labeled as ‘East’ and ‘West’. Elevation lines give an adequate sense for the topography of this largely mountainous country.

The paper is solid stock and at the same time flexible enough for quick unfolding and refolding. I find this characteristic better than the vast majority of maps of the region that I’ve seen. Yet National Geographic insists on claiming that the map is ‘waterproof’, which seems quite a stretch. If you attempt to stand under an umbrella and read this map during one of Costa Rica’s ‘aguaceros’ (= downpours), your ‘waterproof’ map will be toast. Thus, my claim about over-promising and under-delivering on what is otherwise a perfectly fine product.

The Costa Rican road system is constantly upgrading and degrading and the rhythm of this is difficult to predict, let alone to record on a paper map. Some reviewers have faulted this map for being out of date on that front. The non-local traveler in Costa Rica would be well advised never to count on a paper map for knowing whether this or that bridge was out, or this highway paved or unpaved. Costa Rica is simply not the place for a paper map to stay up to speed on such things, and this is not the fault of the product under review. Having said this, I find the map relatively reliable for road travel planning.

All in all, I like this map a lot. It fills a gap for getting the big picture of where I’m about to travel or where I’ve just driven in this inexhaustibly beautiful country, which deserves and repays scrutiny. I’ll just smile a bit at the ‘adventure travel’ and ‘waterproof’ marketing.

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This exceptionally planned and executed visual introduction to the Colombia surpasses any other coffee-table book about a nation or region that I’ve seen.

51ebrfdjyzl-_sx362_bo1204203200_-2Its 333 pages and high-quality paper stock make it an admirably heavy work, a full five pounds in the lifting.

Best of all, its exquisitely photographed images communicate the beauty and stunningly regionalized diversity of this South American nation. The prose does not pander to the reader, but introduces him or her to just enough context to form a helpful setting to the photography, which dominates.

A well-written (in Spanish) ‘Prologue’ and ‘Presentation’ give way to a presentation of one of the signature characteristics of the country: ‘Territorio de Contrastes’ (A Territory of Contrasts). The rest of the work leads the reader across the major regions of this vast country: ‘Altiplano Cundiboyacense y Santanderes’, ‘Region Caribe’, ‘Antioquia y Región Cafeteria’, ‘Pacífico’, ‘Sur Andino’, ‘Alto Magdalena’, ‘Orinoquía’, and finally ‘Amazonía’. (more…)

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