San Salvador, El Salvador

The trip into El Salvador was pretty nice, much nicer than I expected.  My stay in the capital city of San Salvador was at the very nice Crown Plaza.

They use the US dollar here so there was no hassle of translating money. My first mission after checking in was to get some food.  Lucky for me there was a great restaurant in the near by Plaza Futura. I usually ask for something local and I was not disappointed.  The locals here love their meats and so I had to try a sampler which was served on a moldy piece of wood, guess I can’t get more authentic than that!

The closest adventure to the downtown area, aside from the beaches, is El Boqueron.

It is a national park that is centered by a caldera volcano.  This volcano was recently filled with water but 100 yrs ago it erupted and vaporized it all.

After venturing up a steep set of stairs I was able to make out a big crater…one that was a little underwhelming.

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Panama

Panama is one of those places that is easy to fall in love with, which is why so many Americans choose it as a place to retire.  It has all of the amenities that we are used to; they have great hospitals, most people speak English, they use the US dollar and you can get a pizza when you need a fix.  When you combine that with all of the things that make Panama great, you get a paradise.  Things like; the weather is amazing, the food is great and the opportunities to eat healthy, natural foods are abundant and cheap.  

The capital, Panama City, is a very modern city with tall building and tons of things to do.  If you visit, the first thing you will want to do is visit the canal.  It is a spectacular site with an interesting history and an even more interesting set of operational procedures.  The precision with which the ships are moved through the canal is amazing.

The ships are guided by trains that are 100 years old and with only 1 foot clearance on either side.  One wrong move and the ship can be damaged resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.  It is a nerve wrecking job.  The toll to past through the canal can range from $100,000 US dollars for small cruise ships to a million plus for large container ships.  Oh and by the way, they only take cash!

Another recommendation is to take a tour to visit the native people that still live on protected land.  A short canoe ride out to their village is relaxing and filled with sightings of wild animals.

The sights and sounds of the forest are also exciting.  You may see a toucan sitting on a branch, get a visit from a hungry monkey or get a chance to hold a snake.

You may even get to see young caiman swimming around, with their mom no where in sight.  It is a little scary because you can feel her watching you, daring you to touch!

After being surrounded by scary animals for a couple hours you may get hungry from all the excitement.  The food in the village is very tasty and as authentic as it gets, don’t expect a plate, knife and fork because it is served on a banana leaf!

While eating make sure to take a look above you to scan the ceiling for bats.  You are out in the rain forest after all and you don’t want to get any guano in your food.

Once you get over your fear of guano seasoning in your food, you might get lucky and the village girls will dance for you while you enjoy your freshly caught fish and plantains.

Another great day trip is out to the old Spanish fort, which are very similar to the ones in Florida, in the nearby town of Portobelo in the Colón Province.

One of the most interesting sites in the town is the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) with an crazy supernatural story which you can read here.  Apparently the famous boxer, Roberto Durán has purchased over 10,000 dollars worth of robes for the Cristo Negro and there are times of the year when worshipers crawl on the bellies for miles to the church where it’s located.

Once you leave there you can charter a short boat ride on one of the near by islands.  There you will find nice beaches to hang out and swim or take part in an adventure along the rocky shores.

Many of these islands are mountainous, so if you’re in shape you can even consider a hike to the top.  Along the way you may even run into some leaf cutter ants.

At the top, these spectacular views of the coastline will take your breath away.

If you get the chance to make the trip to Panama you will enjoy yourself, I have gone twice and look forward to going again.  Who knows, I might one day join the many expatriates and retire there.

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Mongols visit Charlotte

I recently got a chance to visit the Genghis Khan exhibit at Discovery Place in uptown Charlotte.  It was pretty good, it really gives you a sense of what life was like during that time period.

The great Khan was a ruthless leader, he is credited with some surprising things that we use in our everyday lives.  Some of these things include: pants, currency, diplomatic immunity, and more as you can see in the image below.

The exhibit was filled with many items of the period and gave a good sense of what life was like at that time.  The picture below is an example what a typical tent dwelling looked like; the Mongols moved around quite a bit so there everyday items were only those of necessity.

There costumes of typical women and men’s clothing which was interesting.  There were also items that were used during down times or times of leisure.  For example, dominoes was a popular game.

One of the most interesting things was the size of the Mongol empire.  It covered most of today’s Asia and parts of Europe.

The Mongols were know for the great war prowess and weaponry which was one of the highlights of the exhibit.  The military powers of today learned a great many tactics from the Mongols.

The exhibit also contained other items from Mongolia, including the ceremonial masks shown below, that gives a good ideas of life there today and some of the customs that has survived to this day.

Overall, the exhibit was well done, but I felt like there could have been a much better audio/video equipment to really draw us in during the exhibit.  The scenes with video and/or sounds of the period were too muffled and needed to be a little louder to be heard above the talking of the crowd.  Other than that, it was well worth the money to visit and learn about the Khan of Khans.

Charlotte Skyline

This is a picture of the Charlotte skyline during the evening and at night.  It was taken in uptown Charlotte on April 10, 2015 from the BB&T ballpark top level.  Camera used was the #Lumia 1520 and edited in Fotor.

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Barcelona

Barcelona is an amazing city, especially in December.  The city comes alive with festive lights and holiday decorations that give it an enchanting vibe.

The central street in the tourist area, La Rambla, is a bustling , tree lined mall that never seems to stop.  La Rambla stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell, where a monument to Christopher Columbus stands tall.

The monument is quite nice but the most interesting feature, at least to me, was the marijuana leaves that adorned it’s mid section.

One of the must-see places in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia, this place is very cool with a history that spans over one hundred years.  The work on this fascinating place continues to this day which is apparent from the cranes still visible in the shot below.

This architecture on this building is both old and new.  The reliefs on the outside portray scenes from the bible that are simply amazing.

This inside has so much to look at that it is impossible to recognize all of the things in front of you without a guide.  The stain glass windows are amazing with intentional placement that signify the birth and death of Jesus Christ.

If you get a chance, take the trip up to Montserrat to visit the Black Madonna…the trip is totally worth it!!

You may have heard that soccer was big in Spain, well that is an understatement because it is huge in Barcelona.  The stadium there is called Camp Nou and they literally pack this place several times a week during the season to watch the home team play.  Tickets aren’t cheap but if you can squeeze a game in, do it!

The food was not as amazing as I hoped it would be, but that may be a negative side effect of eating super salty food in the US.  The market place was colorful and interesting at least to look at and take pictures.

The hot chocolate was different, it was very thick but very delicious.  The coffee way amazing, I had multiple cups of cafe con leche and you should too, trust me.

Overall, the city was a very nice and safe place to walk around even at night.  I will definitely try to visit again and who knows, maybe the food will be better if I go with lower expectations.