Matagalpa, Where We Meet Nicaraguan Revolutionary and 100-Year-Old Virgin

After a month in Granada, you start thinking that all of Nicaragua is hot, humid and happily slow-moving. All you need to change your mind is a weekend in Matagalpa. A two and a half hours drive from Granada north, and you are in a different country – one where spring subdued the summer, surrounding highlands are abound with cloud forests and coffee fincas planted by German immigrants in the 19th century still produce coffee. But before venturing into the mountains, we spent a day walking the city and making some unexpected discoveries.

Continue reading “Matagalpa, Where We Meet Nicaraguan Revolutionary and 100-Year-Old Virgin”

Catarina, Where Nicaragua’s Best Nacatamales Are Sold From Homes

Ever since we came to Nicaragua we heard about nacatamales, a traditional Nicaraguan dish of indigenous origin. But restaurants rarely serve it, as it’s considered a family weekend dish. So to get a taste we decided to go to Catarina, a small town not far from Granada, whose locals, as rumors would have it, sell homemade nacatamales right from their houses. Continue reading “Catarina, Where Nicaragua’s Best Nacatamales Are Sold From Homes”

Granada, Nicaragua – A City of Rocking Chairs, Open Doors and Fleeting Hopes

Granada is one of the emblematic cities of Central America. Lying on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, its rich colonial heritage, colorful houses and vestiges of Moorish architecture make for eye-catching views. But if you want to see its real self, you have to come out at sunset and step away from the center. When the day finally gives away and the evening brings a long-awaited respite from the humidity and the tropical heat, that’s when the streets fill up with locals. Continue reading “Granada, Nicaragua – A City of Rocking Chairs, Open Doors and Fleeting Hopes”

This Non-Profit Founded by Travelers Invests in Nicaraguan Children Living in Poverty

Dirt roads that swell after every rain. Houses that are hardly more than shacks made of slate. I’m in Pantalan, on the outskirts of Granada. Just a few kilometers from the center of Granada where tourists sip cocktails, Pantalan is a striking image of poverty in rural Nicaragua. Continue reading “This Non-Profit Founded by Travelers Invests in Nicaraguan Children Living in Poverty”

Los Ramos, A Tiny Island Village Balancing on the Edge of Active Volcano

“Please write about us!”, said Esperanza to me before we parted. “We don’t get many visitors. Maybe if someone reads about our village, they will come here”. More than a year after our visit to the tiny indigenous community of Los Ramos in Ometepe island, I still remember her words. It’s time I fulfilled the promise. Continue reading “Los Ramos, A Tiny Island Village Balancing on the Edge of Active Volcano”

Ometepe Island, The Jewel of Nicaragua

Sun scorching through the clouds, slow-moving boat, slow-moving time. Our ferry filled with napping locals transporting bags of groceries, and few tourists with backpacks, was making its way through the quiet waters of Lake Cocibolca on its way to Ometepe. Gazing at the volcano slowly appearing from the water, I was thinking about the strange hold the word “Nicaragua” has always had on me. Continue reading “Ometepe Island, The Jewel of Nicaragua”

Puebla, The Birthplace of Mole

So you have been in Mexico City for a while now, the weekend is getting closer, and you fancy a day trip out of the capital? Puebla is your answer. The fourth largest city in Mexico and the capital of the namesake state, Puebla is known throughout Mexico as the birthplace of mole, the ubiquitous Mexican sauce. Even If you aren’t moved by gastronomic discoveries, Puebla’s historic center,  declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is well worth a visit. Continue reading “Puebla, The Birthplace of Mole”

Why Traveling is Accidental and How it’s Similar to Having Children

While traveling for 2 years in Latin America, I remember being asked what is our goal. I could make something up, say, visit all the countries on the continent. But the truth is, there was no goal. You travel because there is something out there that is worth seeing yourself. Because there are people whose life you can’t imagine, unless you meet them. You travel because you are curious. But there is no purpose, there is no inherent meaning attached to it. Continue reading “Why Traveling is Accidental and How it’s Similar to Having Children”

Modern Architecture in Mexico City – 5 Buildings Not to Miss

Mexico City offers urban explorers an astonishing assortment of Aztec temples, cathedrals, Marxist murals and some of the best museums on the continent. So it’s easy to miss that the city also boasts some great examples of modern architecture – you just have to know where to look. So how about a quick tour? Continue reading “Modern Architecture in Mexico City – 5 Buildings Not to Miss”

Must See of Mexican Muralism: Tracking Mexico City’s Best Murals

After a week or two in Mexico City, you notice something unique about the city. It’s not the colonial architecture, which is monumental, but still similar to what you can see in Mérida or Guanajuato. It’s not the Aztec temples, which are spectacular, but the Maya temples of Yucatán already prepared you for the splendor of Mesoamerica. Rather it’s the number of seemingly mundane public and government buildings covered with intricate works of art. Continue reading “Must See of Mexican Muralism: Tracking Mexico City’s Best Murals”

After 18 Months on the Move in Latin America, The Disorientation Sets In

One weekend, about a month after coming to Lima, we took a taxi to the city center. Sitting in the front seat, I was looking out the window. One, two-floor houses with colorful facades and armatures springing from the roofs, always ready to accommodate another floor. Fences painted with the names of politicians running in upcoming or past elections.

Suddenly, I couldn’t recognize where I was. Continue reading “After 18 Months on the Move in Latin America, The Disorientation Sets In”

Dear Expat, So Where is Your Home?

Ever since we left our familiar life in Israel, and moved to the Аmerican continent, we haven’t stayed long in one place. Six months living in Vancouver, five months in Mexico, two months in the heat and rain of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, four months in Colombia, followed by Ecuador and Peru. One of the things I have been enjoying most about this nomadic lifestyle is the sense of living in the present. Gone are the days of planning holidays, vacations, next career steps. In a few days we’ll pack our bags again and head to Chile. How long are we going to stay there? I don’t know, and that’s what I love about it. Continue reading “Dear Expat, So Where is Your Home?”

From Aztec Pyramids to Mexican Rock On the Oldest Street of Mexico City

If an alien anthropologist would have landed on Earth and could visit only one city to learn about us, he would probably go to Mexico City. Walking its streets is traversing our story as humanity. The magnitude and scope of what it is here is breathtaking. So where do you start? You start by walking the Tacuba avenue – the oldest street in the city… and the entire continent. Continue reading “From Aztec Pyramids to Mexican Rock On the Oldest Street of Mexico City”

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Corn

It’s called elote in Mexico. Mazorca in Colombia. In Ecuador and Peru it goes by the name choclo. Get your corn on the cob on the street, with cheese and mayonnaise on top.

Or maybe with butter, and sprinkled with lemon juice.

Street vendor in Bogotá

Or better yet, sautéed with onions and chopped chiles, topped with lime juice and chili powder and served in a cup.

Esquites, also called vasito de elotes (“little corn-cup”). Guadalajara, México.

In a soup, as dried or popping kernels…

Pumpkin soup with popcorn, Galápagos islands

… or entire chunks of cob.

Ajiaco, a popular soup in Bogota

As roasted nuts.

Crunchy corn nuts called Cancha is the default snack in Peruvian bars and restaurants.

Cooked, fried and served with grilled meat.

Medellin

Mashed into dough, and steamed in plantain leaves.

Tamale is a traditional Mesoamerican dish which is 8,000 years old. This Nicaraguan Nacatamal is the best one I’ve tried.

As the base for arepas, those flat, round corn “pockets” popular in Colombia.

Arepas stand, Bogotá

Yellow, white and purple.

Purple corn in a supermarket in Lima

Turned into a drink.

Oxanna having a glass of chicha morada, a popular Peruvian soft drink, made by boiling purple corn kernels with pineapple and cinnamon.

Or a dessert.

Mazamorra morada, a purple corn pudding sold on the streets of Chorrillo, Lima

If there is one thing that unites the residents of Mexico City, Bogotá and Quito, it’s the ubiquitous presence of corn on their streets and in their lives.

Xochimilco, Mexico City

Growing up in USSR and then Israel, corn was never part of my world. Potatoes being the main staple food in our Russian Jewish home, I don’t remember my parents ever buying or cooking corn. I must have tried it at least a few times, but if I did, it didn’t leave any impression on me.

Cuenca, Ecuador. If you don’t have a dinner at home, just get your kid a corn cob on a plate

But this has changed during the year that passed since we set foot in Latin America. Starting from Guadalajara in Mexico, slowly making our way down to Peru, the road took us through cities and villages, highlands and valleys. And almost everywhere we went, corn is still vital to human settlement, just as it was for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. Little by little my indifference turned to curiosity turned to awe.

Cotacachi, Ecuador. Otavalo woman in front of her family’s maize field

Of all the grains consumed by humans, maize is probably surrounded by more legends and folklore than any other. Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation story teaches that the first grandparents of people were made from white and yellow corn. For Maya people living between Yucatán and Guatemala, Maize has been sacred because it offers a connection with the ancestors, feeding the spirit as well as the body.

People of Maize. Palacio de Gobierno, Mérida, Yucatán


According to an Aztec legend, before the arrival of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs only consumed roots and game animals. They did not eat corn because it was beyond their reach, hidden behind mountains. So Aztec people sent their priests to ask Quetzalcoatl to help them get the corn. He agreed.

On the left: Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. Pyramid in Teotihuacan, México

All of the other gods had already tried and failed to move the mountains by using force, Quetzalcoatl instead transformed himself into an ant, made his way toward the mountains, found the corn, took a grain between his teeth, returned to his people, and handed over the grain of corn to be planted.

But that grain of corn won’t shoot sprouts without rain. For this you need an assistance of another god. For Aztecs, that was the role of Tlaloc, the god of rain, the one with circular eyes, to the right from Quetzalcoatl.

Diego Rivera’s Tlaloc Fountain. Mexico City.

But it’s not just the mythology and history of corn cultivation and consumption that is fascinating. Gradually, I have come to see how awesome maize itself really is.

Just look at it. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Rows upon rows of kernels sitting tightly on top of each other. Like a city wall made of bricks. Like a horde of tribesmen holding defense. Like a golden shirt of scale armor. Each kernel too small to count, but together can sustain a family, a civilization.

Take a bite. Sink your teeth into it. You made a dent, but you still have a long way to go, so choose your next dig. Do you move from top to bottom or rotate it around its axe? Don’t hurry, give it a time, respect its symmetry. Is there anything else that feels, that tastes like that? It’s completely alien.

And what’s left after the corn is eaten? A burial ground. Each kernel, however small was its contribution, leaves a mark. Its path in this world acknowledged, remembered. A cemetery of fallen soldiers.

“Bandolier, corn and guitar”, Tina Modotti . Palacio de Bellas Artes , Mexico City.

Corn husks also have a role to play in the communal effort. In Mexico they are used to wrap tamales. One artist from Queretaro makes a living by painting over dried corn leaves.

Is it any wonder that corn and its place in culture fascinates Latin-American artists?

“Folklórico Mexicano” by Alfredo Ramos Martínez. Museo Soumaya, Mexico City
Fragment of Diego Rivera’s mural in Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico City

I have often asked myself why the culture here feels so grounded and potent. By now, at least one piece of the puzzle is in place.