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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Capybaras

I was more surprised to see a family of these beasts walking beside an urban pond near Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Native to South America, the World’s largest rodent is about the size of a Labrador. Common to wetlands of the Pantanal, Orinoco and Amazon, they are semi-aquatic and have slightly webbed feet to aid swimming. They have reddish fur, no tail with long hind legs and love rolling in mud to act as a natural sunscreen. Capybaras are vegetarians and spend most of the day chewing on grasses and bark or reeds in the wet season. They can have a life span of 8–10 years in the wild but average a life less than four years as they are a favourite food of jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle and caiman and anaconda. Capybara are farmed for meat and skins in South America. It is thought that capybara were declared by Papal Bull to be fish so they may be eaten during Lent, though the meat looks like pork. Because of this belief, poaching increases during the period right before Easter. They are gregarious creatures and often found in groups up to 50 individuals.

RELATED: Wildlife spotlight on the Andean condor

Mad Max of the lake

From Guatemala’s town of Panajachel, nestled on the shores of Lake Atitlán, we recommend taking a boat to meet the Tzutuhil Indians. These are direct descendants of the Maya. Santiago situated between Tolimán and San Pedro volcanos, once capital of the Tzutuhil kingdom in pre-Columbian times, is still today the largest village of this ethnic group. Famous for its colourful hand woven costumes, people continue to make and wear these vivid traditional clothes: long striped shorts, red or white shirt, long woven belt and cowboy hat style for men; wrap with geometric lines draped around the waist, tunic embroidered at the neck, red hat for women. Another curious custom means worshiping a strange wooden idol named Maximón that likes smoking and drinking firewater. Maximón is hosted by a family who welcome the faithful and the offerings to the idol, in return he keeps away bad spirits.

RELATED: Must-do things in Guatemala on your first trip

FROG TURNS INTO A PRINCE

Photo credit Luis Coloma (Amphibian Ark)

A frog has been named after Prince Charles. A rare species of Ecuadorian frog has been named Hyloscirtus princecharlesi in honour of the royal’s environmental campaigning over the years. The Prince has had the unusual honour bestowed by a conservation organisation in recognition of his efforts to help safeguard the world’s rainforests. The brown-coloured amphibian was found during an expedition to a national park in Ecuador. Amphibian Ark, which works to ensure the survival of endangered frogs, newts and salamanders, decided to name the new species after Charles. The heir to the throne has been campaigning for decades to help save the world’s remaining rainforests. He also established his Prince’s Rainforest Project to help find a viable financial solution to the problem of deforestation.

RELATED: The red frogs of Bocas del Toro

Astrid & Gastón restaurant in Lima

For the second consecutive year, the Astrid & Gastón restaurant in Lima of chef and entrepreneur Acurio, was chosen as one of the best restaurants in the world by the distinguished Saint Pellegrino list.  This list is made by 800 critics, among journalists and international specialists in gastronomy. This year the restaurant climbed up and occupies the 35th place.  The first place in the ranking is for Noma, a Danish restaurant of Chef René Redzepi, followed by the Spanish restaurants El Celler of Can Roca and Mugaritz, respectively. Lima is the gateway of Peru and worth dallying a day or two before heading to the heights of Machu Picchu.

RELATED: Amaz, amazon gastronomy in Lima

Peru’s jungle treehouses

For those with a head for heights, who wish to spend a night perched up in the forest with monkeys and sloths, the Canopy Tree House is for you. Nearly 30m above ground this is a really exclusive hideaway, connected by suspension bridge to a walkway through the Amazon trees. Nowhere else will you get the macaws-eye sights and intense sounds, which will give the dawn chorus a new meaning. The mod-cons include twin beds, mosquito nets and a portable toilet but with an additional touch of luxury: a butler on call to bring snacks and chilled drinks. The tree house is an addition to the large and most luxurious Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Lodge, which is accessed from Puerto Maldonado in Peru. Inkaterra have shown that eco-tourism can still be comfortable and responsible.

RELATED: Our Top 25 Most Unique Hotels In Latin America

Surf’s up in Ecuador

For the surfer visiting Ecuador it is easy to grab a board, book a lesson, find a place to stay and wonder where all the time went right before your flight home… The 1400 mile stretch of Ecuador’s coastline is in full swing right now. The season lasts until late April. Average wave height is between 2-5ft. There are a series of breaks between Salinas and Mompiche making a trip up or down the coast an adventure. For laid-back coastal hang-outs try Canoa, Muisne, Montanita and the other nooks and crannies that make Ecuador a place to visit and re-visit but we stress the country is not just for young beach bums.

RELATED: Best places to go surfing in Latin America

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