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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Oh My Gourd! Engraving from Peru

Peruvian gourds

The mate burilado or carved gourd, is one of the most skilful examples of Peruvian folk-art. Dating back hundreds of years this tradition comes from the small village of Cochas in the Andean highlands near Huancayo.

The technique has been passed down from generation to generation, each workshop is a family run business and crafted by men, women and children who learn from a very young age.

Most of the colours are natural earthy tints produced by dyeing with minerals and by burning with embers and polishing. Charcoal or chalk are rubbed in the carved lines to better show the designs.The sun-dried gourds are related to pumpkins and come from the lowlands and were traded for corn and beans.

Historically gourds were used as storage jars for salt, spices and drinking vessels for chicha (corn beer). The images depicted told stories, myths and recorded events like weddings. The intricate designs are often carved from memory, more recently with images showing birds, animals, people and dances. Archaeologists have found carved gourds dating back from over 4,000 years. They make a great memento from Peru and are light and easy to carry home.

Want to pick up a gourd for yourself? Why not visit Peru in 2015.

RELATED: 10 classic things to do on your first time in Peru

Cola de Mono Recipe: A Delicious Chilean Christmas Drink


This unusual and traditional Chilean Christmas drink is a favourite right across the country.  Although there are now different versions, the simplest and most common recipe combines milk, coffee and aguardiente (fire water). The literal translation of the drink is ‘monkey’s tail’. There are few theories about its name, one of them is linked to the former president Pedro Montt and another theory is that it’s delicious taste will have you swinging like a real monkey.

Serving: 2 litres
Time: 25 minutes

5 cloves, whole
1 nutmeg, grated
2 cinnamon sticks
½ cup of water
3 tbs instant coffee
2000 ml milk
12 tbs sugar
250 ml aguardiente

Place the cloves, nutmeg, the cinnamon sticks and water together in a pot, bring to the boil and then simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on top. Add half of the coffee in the hot water with the spices, half of the milk and the sugar, stir until the sugar and coffee are dissolved. In a separate container mix the remaining coffee with the cold milk, once the coffee is dissolved add to the main mixture together with the aguaardiente and stir for a couple of minutes. Remove the cinnamon and cloves, put the drink into a bottle and store in the fridge.

RELATED: Take a real white Christmas in Antarctica

Celebrating Christmas Latin American Style


Argentina ChristmasFlickr/N i c o l a

Christmas in Argentina has is heavily influenced by Europe and North America although there are a number of differences. Argentines lay more emphasis on Christmas Eve, attending mass before returning home to celebrate and eat dinner together. As the festival falls in their summer, dinner is often eaten al fresco with a particular focus on barbeques. Panettone, traditional Italian sweet bread filled with crystallized fruits is also particularly popular.  Christmas spirit and celebrations are held all the way through to the 6th January, called Three Kings Days. On the 5th evening children leave shoes outside the front door which are filled with gifts to be opened the next morning.


Bolivia ChristmasFlickr/Rowan Robinson

With over 90% of the population Roman Catholic it’s no wonder that Christmas is such an important time in Bolivia. Like Argentina, Bolivians tend to visit mass before returning home for celebrations which often last until the wee hours of Christmas day. Traditionally picana, a stew made from roasted pork, lamb and veal, is eaten and hot chocolate and pastries are served in the morning.  The nativity scene plays an important role at Christmas with almost every home using one as the centrepiece decoration.


Brazil ChristmasFlickr/Alison Johnstone

Like most South American counties, many Brazilians visit midnight mass. It is often referred to as Missa do Galo (rooster) due to the time they arrive back home. A huge dinner is served when returning that includes ham, turkey, vegetable and fruit, often washed down with glasses of fizz. Papai Noel (Father Christmas) brings gifts to children and fireworks are let off throughout the night. On Christmas Day many families have a lie-in or visit the beach (remember it is their summer) before going back to church in the afternoon. Interestingly the word for turkey in Brazil is ‘Peru’.


Chile ChristmasFlickr/Nicole Rogers

Chileans visit midnight mass less than other counties, although it still plays an important role in religious traditions. Most Chilean families stay awake and enjoy a late dinner on Christmas Eve before opening presents at midnight. Traditional meals include turkey and depending on the area, lamb, pork or beef, which is usually barbequed. Cola de Mono (monkey’s tail), a drink made from milk, coffee and aguardiente (fire water) is particularly popular. Christmas Day is a relaxed affair with more food, family and friends, often in the countryside or at the beach.


Colombia ChristmasFlickr/Mario Carvajal

The official start of Christmas celebrations in Colombia is the Day of the Candles on the 7th December, although decorations are often put up well in advance. Throughout the country candles are places everywhere from street corners, driveways and balconies which illuminate the cities and towns. Christmas Eve is the most important day in the calendar with large gatherings of families and friends who stay up late for present opening and parties which often last until sunrise on Christmas Day.  Presents are given to children by the baby Jesus rather than Santa Claus.

Costa Rica
Flickr/Claudio Toledo

Costa Ricans like to decorate their homes with tropical flowers during the Christmas season. The nativity scene is also an important element of the decorations. After midnight mass on Christmas Eve, Costa Ricans return to their homes for food, drink and celebrations. Traditionally tamales made from grounded corn, vegetables and meat wrapped in a plantain leaf are eaten. Eggnog, made from egg, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut and rum, is drunk.


Ecuador ChristmasFlickr/Matt Lingard

Although celebrations are held throughout December, the most important is the Pase del Niño Viajero (the travelling infant child) on Christmas Eve. This all day event with parades shows the journey of Joseph and Mary and other biblical characters, with local carols sung by neighbourhood parties. Homes are decorated with a crib; the figures surrounding the manger often are made of painted bread dough that are only made in the town of Calderon. A traditional meal is eaten after midnight, whilst Christmas Day is often spent quietly recovering from the festivities. For a country that produces sugarcane, sweets are abundant everywhere.


Guatemala ChristmasFlickr/Gabriel White

The mix of Catholicism brought by the Spanish and ancient Mayan culture make for some interesting Christmas traditions. For nine days before Christmas, religious processions with statues go through the streets of Guatemala. These often turn into festive street parties with punch, food, dancing and music. German immigrant influence brought the Christmas tree which is now very popular as decorations at home. Children open gifts on Christmas morning whilst adults don’t exchange gifts until New Year’s Day. During Christmas celebrations many people dress in a hat called a puritina.


Mexico ChristmasFlickr/Doug Knuth

Like Guatemala, the festive season starts nine days before Christmas Day when Mexicans go from door to door to symbolise Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. Often they are invited inside to break a piñata, a bag filled with treats. Although presents are given to children on Christmas Day, they receive further gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January. The Three Wise Men will fill the children’s shoes with sweets, nuts and money to signify what baby Jesus was given in the bible.


Peru ChristmasFlickr/Rainbowasi

Like most other countries in Latin America, for Peruvians the most important day of the festive season is Christmas Eve, sometimes referred to as Noche Buena or Good Night. Mass is usually at the slightly earlier time around 10pm, after which families return home to a feast of turkey, tamales and fizzy wine. For desert Peruvians usually eat a Peruvian fruit cake called paneton. After the children have opened their presents and gone to bed, the adults usually have long parties that last through to the morning.

Latin America is an amazing place to visit all year around. Start planning your 2015 adventure today.

RELATED: Take a real white Christmas in Antarctica

The South American Herb Map

The South American Herb Map

A graphic look at medicinal and edible herbs found through South America. Use this chart for a remedy to just about any illness (although we suggest modern medicine for malaria!). It’s interesting that coca which is used as a tea in many parts of the Andes for hunger, energy and altitude sickness hasn’t been featured.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

Win A Limited Edition Copy Of The Book Plumas, The Birds Of Ecuador


Merry Christmas! To celebrate we’re giving away a limited edition copy of the fantastic coffee-table book – ‘Plumas – Birds in Ecuador’ by the wildlife photographer Murray Copper. Plumas (meaning feathers) is a photographic odyssey through Ecuador’s diverse landscapes capturing rare shots of colourful tropical birds.

To enter our draw sign up for our newsletter here
OR if you already receive this
Like our Facebook page here

The competition closes at noon on Friday 19th December. Good luck!

Congratulations to Stephen Wolstenholme for winning the book and a big thanks to all those who entered the competition.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America


Brigadeiros Recipe: Try Making This Brazilian Delicacy At Home


Brigadeiros are a highly calorific traditional Brazilian sweet, rather like a truffle made with butter and condensed milk. They are named after Brigadier Eduardo Gomes and were first created in the 1940’s to be served during his presidential campaign. The sweets are dusted with cocoa powder or chocolate, heated and rolled into a ball. Alternatively they are covered with grated coconut. They are popular at parties served as a treat or as a dessert.

Makes roughly 20

1 can of condensed milk
1 tbs butter
3 tbs unsweetened cocoa

Place the cocoa powder, butter and condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Then using your hands, shape the mixture into balls. Roll in chocolate sprinkles (or grated coconut), then place in small cake cases.Eat immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.They will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

RELATED: Peruvian Causa Rellena Recipe

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Rio de Janeiro

1. Rio de Janeiro has 56 miles of beaches

Beaches Rio Flickr/Alex Schwab

2. Corcovado, the mountain on which Christ the Redeemer sits, is over double the height of the Shard

CorcovadoFlickr/Rodrigo Soldon

3. A person from Rio de Janeiro is known as a Carioca

CariocaFlickr/Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

4. Christ the Redeemer is considered as one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World

Christ the redeemerFlickr/Mike Vondran

5. Copacabana beach hosted the world’s largest rock concert when the Rolling Stones played to over 1.5 million people there in February 2006

6. Rio de Janeiro will be the first South American city to host the Olympics

Rio 2016Flickr/Jorge from Brazil

7. Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the Southern Hemisphere

Rio travelFlickr/Mike Vondran

8. The first explorers arrived on 1 January and assumed it was the mouth of the great river so called it River of January or Rio de Janeiro

Rio de JaneiroFlickr/Brian Snelson
Got you in the mood to visit Rio de Janeiro? Start planning your trip today.

RELATED: Top 5 holidays in Brazil

To The End Of The World And Back, A Masterpiece

Guest Blog: Philip & Gillian Moss came on a four week bespoke adventure through Argentina and Chile. Below they write about their experience.

To the end of the world and back – the title David and staff chose for our trip of a lifetime to Argentina/Chile. Despite having discussed the trip in detail, made some adjustments and received a detailed personalised itinerary in a wonderful glossy picture brochure, little did we really imagine what awaited us.

Our first stop was Puerto Piramides on the Valdes Peninsula. We walked into our room at Las Restingas, situated on the beach, and there, from our balcony, we saw southern right whales out in the bay. Our adventure had really begun. Two trips out on the whaling boats brought us not just sightings but incredibly close encounters with mothers and their calves. Words cannot express the emotions at such an experience.

Las Restingas© Philip Moss

Puerto Piramides was referred to by some as a one-horse town, with nothing going on. Yes, it was isolated, the electricity may go off, the water may occasionally not heat up (neither happened to us) but you know what, the best time of day was when the day trippers went home and we were left to enjoy the lovely sandy bay – and the whales – all by ourselves!

Whales Valdes© Philip Moss

Onwards to Ushuaia, ‘Fin del Mundo’, a small but wonderfully characterful city – sporting many brightly coloured dwellings of varied constructions, including corrugated iron. A trip to the Harberton Ranch, where Tommy Goodall, great- grandson of Thomas Bridges, still manages the estate, enabled  close ups with Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins and a visit to a fascinating maritime museum set up by Natalie Prosser, Tommy’s wife. Cruising round Cape Horn on the Stella Australis brought adventures all of its own – clambering on and off zodiacs to land on remote shores – inc Cape Horn, where the weather changed from pleasant sunshine to snowstorm in the blink of an eye. Standing at the top of Cape Horn – if you could call a stoop ‘standing’, having had to crouch down to avoid being blown off, clothed in several warm layers of clothing and waterproofs, you could only wonder and admire explorers of bygone ages, especially when back on board enjoying the warm comforts of the ship.

After four days we disembarked in Chile where our highlight was a visit to the Torres del Paine National Park. A gloriously sunny day made the scenery clear, crisp and bright. The park itself was pristine, but I guess a 4million pesos fine and jail sentence provides a good incentive to take your rubbish away with you!

Torres del Paine© Philip Moss

Back into Argentina and El Calafate and a tour to the Moreno Glacier – awesome. Standing on the deck of a boat or strolling along the walkways you cannot help but be spellbound by the sheer size, the ice blue coloured streaking or the sudden ‘crack’ and calving as chunks of ice fall into the depths below.

Perito Moreno Glacier© Philip Moss

Another sunny day and we are in Bariloche touring the Lake District, one minute reminiscent of Switzerland, next of our own namesake in the UK, yet not ignoring the charm all of its own. An extended stay, due to the airport being unexpectedly ‘snowbound’ for two days, is not to be recommended but was expertly dealt with by SLA and its agents and made what was a difficult situation bearable. Finally away we flew to the Iguazú falls. Our first experience was from the Brazilian side. It was jaw dropping and we were doubtful the Argentinian side could compete the following day. However, with sunshine thrown in there was certainly no disappointment to even consider.

Iguazu Falls© Philip Moss

And so to the close of our trip – a five hour bus ride and then four hour car transfer to Estancia Rincon del Socorro in the Iberá wetlands. Going that distance we knew it had to be worth it; and it was. Not surprisingly it was out in the middle of nowhere so you were surrounded by nature in the raw and bird life and wildlife abounded, not only around the estancia but in the extensive surrounding grounds, where we witnessed a snake peeing and lagoons where birds and cayman flourished.

Ibera© Philip Moss

Our accommodation throughout was first class and our ‘alternative’ title for the trip was ‘Rooms with a View’. A phenomenal trip, well organised, managed and ‘executed’. A true masterpiece.

To start planning your tour of Latin America, get in touch with us here.

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America