Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Who has not ever dreamt of going to Hawaii? Yes, to any of the Hawaiian IslandsThis paradise on earth frequently cited in songs, TV shows or luxury travel magazines. “All my life I wanted to see. The island called Hawaii” was sung by Beach Boys in the fifty’s. But why are these islands so idealized? Is it because of its marine wildlife, landscapes, a surfers haven or for its quality of life? Or is it just because it is part of the United States of America and its propaganda machinery?
With no doubt, the Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most desired destinations for travelers around the worldSo here I was, arriving to Maui, the second largest island of Hawaii, hoping to see people with flower garlandscanoes on the sea and Polynesian hula dances all over the place. That's not what I found, I found something even betternature, genuine experiences and happy people, truly happy people.

Hawaii is a U.S. territory and its colonization has erased some of its exoticism, replacing local markets and restaurants for Walmart’s, Starbuks and mobile carts of Mexican tacos. It was in the late eighteenth century when the explorer and British Captain James Cook achieved the first recorded European contact with the islands of HawaiiAnd not long after discovering the island of Maui, his compatriots opened the first school to indoctrinate the natives, so the Anglo seed was planted in Hawaii long time agoNevertheless, the Polynesian roots and extreme natural beauty remain, but we must look a little deeper.

Dusk in Lahaina Beach Maui Hawaii

Getting to know the wonders of Maui requires effort and adventurous spirit. Renting a car and prepare to face dizziness are two basic premises to start with
In the treasured natural areas there are no amenities, so bringing fresh water and some food is highly recommended, along with a map, as Internet signal is quite limited in certain areas. Along the northeast coast of the island runs Hana Road, a scenic road that goes through forestsviewpoints, waterfalls, bridges and natural pools. The trail begins at Haiku and ends in the small town of Hana. A sixty mile and about six hundred curves drive to get to Hana, but in this case, is not about the destination, it is about enjoying every little thing throughout the journeyTwin Falls is the first stop on the roadmap and the first waterfall to stare at on your waythe more easily accessible and therefore the most crowdedIf you have a desire to explore, the trick is to hold up at the beginning and save forces to get lost at the endunpopulated and wilder waterfalls and landscapes, where nothing is markedthe trails can be craggy and slippery, so be careful there.

Pools and falls in Hana road Maui

Red Sand Beach. Hidden places in Maui
However, getting to Hana has its rewardsRed Sand Beach. A red sandy beach with clear green waters, hidden among volcanic walls. It lies behind the bay and the only signs you will find on its hidden sneaky path, is the one informing you: “walking at your own risk” because of the danger in precipitating off the cliffs.  As for me, not to inconvenience anyone, I opted for dragging down my rearMy shoes ended up with a hole and the rump of my pants unrecoverable but was really worth it, indeed. It is the place with the best energy I've ever been. The feeling when we lied down is that the earth was embracing us, so there we stayed, being cuddle by mother earth until the sun fell.

But the wonders on this side of the island do not end in Hana, so spending the night in this small town and continue the journey further down the south the next morning can be a very smart choice. And this is getting to Waimoku Fall, a four hundred feet fall, and to the Sacred Pools of Oheo Gulchseven natural pools surrounded by vegetation where you can swim contemplating the sea. These pools are located on the slopes of Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano and from whose entrails gushed to what is now the island of Maui. To visit it is strongly advisable to have a look at the weather forecast beforehand, otherwiseas in our casewill be a waste of time and money, because if there are clouds on the top you won’t see nothing up there. Welcoming the hikers there are some annoying rangers, who have chosen to sing to distract the attention from disappointed tourists- Yes, singing with tremendous effort and intonation telling the history of the volcanothe crater routes or the characteristics of the floracertainly ridiculous.
Once at the top of the mountain, reaching the mouth of the volcano is not as easy as some guidelines suggest as it can take up to four days walking, so that part of the adventure we left it to the well-equipped and experienced hikers.

Twin Falls at Hana Road Maui Hawaii

Octogonal church at Kula, Makawao Maui
In the downhill of Halekeala’s you will find some little cute inland towns that deserve a stop. Kula has a unique octagonal church that the Kings of Portugal donated to workers of sugarcane plantations in 1894. Several miles down the road, you will find Makawao, a reminiscent of the far west, a village of wooden houses and chickens running around everywhere. And then some miles down the road, almost touching the coast, is Paia, also small and cozy but much more lively as it is the town that provides all kind of goods and services to Hamoa Beach visitors, one of the best places on the planet to catch the waves, it has actually been the hosting beach of several surfing world championships.

honolua and mokuleia bay in maui

You do not need your sunglasses to see the best of Maui, but your diving goggles, the beauty that stands apart of Maui is on the inside, inside the sea.
That day was late and threatening rain, so we decided not to explore and bet on a quick win; Slaughter House Beach in Kapalua Bay, west of the island. A pretty wild beach with reef corals where the day before we saw a good quantity of different fish. Upon arrival I put my goggles and went snorkeling straight away, fulfilling my new facet as an amateur diver. Once in the water, I noticed something odd, the water was more turbid than the previous day, the fish were moving faster and interestingly all in the same direction; I followed mine. Until one of my neurons connected with my film archive and found the similarity of those moments with previous shark attacks in such movies. Instinctively I turned sure enough that something was about to happen, and there it was, something huge, less than two feet next to me; an eye, a wing, a shell… a turtle bigger than me! I freaked out! Five seconds took me to return to the mainland. Poor thing, I must have scared him well but at that instance, my only thoughts were to run and evacuate the children from the beach.
 Once the initial shock passed and calmly thinking of what just happened, I decided to return into the water, much cooler and excited of the possibility of reuniting with my old friend, I found out that there was not one, but four majestic creatures. They were eating seaweed from the rocks. I stayed contemplating their moves as if I was one of them for hours until my strength allowed me, after that I kept watching them from the outside rocks, seeing pulling out their heads periodically to breathe. It was something hypnotic, because I was not able to leave, a unique experience, one of the best ones of my life.

Green turtles in turtle town kaapulua bay

The next day we took a boat heading for Molokini, a moon crescent shaped little island that two hundred thousand years ago was part of the mouth of an ancient crater. Remaining just half of it and because of its morphology, similar to a gigantic ship, during the Second World War was used by the U.S. military for shooting practices as a target. Today, freed of ammunition exploding, is a reserve for birds, fish and corals and is preserved with care; it is considered one of the top ten diving sites in the world. 
The water, deep blue and very clean, especially in the outer wall, offers visibility hundred feet beneath and that's when you say; “Oh My God, I am a microbe!” Hundreds of peaceful fish swimming around you; parrotfish, triggerfish, butterfly, globe or trumpet fish and even the occasional octopus. But not all fish are so naive. Hidden among the rocks we spotted a moray eel showing us his sharp little teeth, and seen on the bottom are regularly sharks, though we were assured that they tend to be quite shy when humans are around. According to statistics each year many more people die on the beach by the drop of a coconut in the head than due to a shark attack. But we know that there is nothing worse than taking a bad rap.

Not far from Molokini, just a few miles towards inland Maui, you arrive to the waters of Makena peninsula, an area also known as Turtle TownWe let ourselves dropped the boat again for diving and soon enough those majestic creatures appear again, this time with no surprises. Although they should be frightened by human presence, they were not, at all, on one occasion we had to go back to not crash with oneGreen turtles are endangered and trying to touch them or disturb them in Hawaii is punishable by fines of up to one hundred thousand dollars.
 The next bay towards the south is La Perouse, the youngest piece of land on the island formed by the magma and sediments spitted by the volcano when last erupted in 1790. A deep dark barren land that can be hiked and from where is also relatively easy to spot groups of bottlenose dolphins by the coastline.

green turtle breathing in turtletown Maui

Today Maui is a safe area for turtles, dolphins and whales, but there was a day, as in many other parts of the world that it was hell for them. From December to April, humpback whales, "Koholas" in Hawaiian, migrate from Alaska to the warm shallow waters of Maui to breed. The town of Lahaina, today a lovely place, full of nice shops and restaurants, was a whaling town that gathered each winter the most prolific harpooners across the Pacific. Thus, in the late nineteenth century, whales came to be virtually extinct in the area. From that, luckily nothing remains today and Lahaina is home to the Pacific Whale Foundation, the organization responsible for the study and protection of these sea creatures that also offer tours for sighting and whale watching.

Lahaina, whales town. Shave ice Maui

Lahaina is also a good place to stay, not just because the serenades of courting whales can be heard but because it is a good alternative if you want to avoid the colossal resorts of Kaanapali. Finding small family hotels or private guest houses allows you to deal with locals, a highly valuable experience in Maui. People are calm, respectful, wise and what is most important; smiley. The people of Maui are happy, so maybe their local saying of Native Hawaiians it’s true,  that the health of humanity is inseparably linked to the sea.

I could be writing more about Maui for ages. I could write tons of new things about it. 
I also have the feeling that if I’m back again I still have amazing things to discover yet as I definitely feel I've left things in the pipeline. In fact; I would live there, but for now and until I do so, I just have this paradise freshly in my memories and beach boy’s melody that helps too. 


Thursday, June 5, 2014


Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, is a neighborhood known for its flea markets, modern bars, vintage shops, art galleries and because it is one of New York’s cutting-edge sceneries. Prosperous, trendy and modern residents with irresistible hairstyles and outfits that vanish once they get close to "The Border".
Broadway Street marks the line between hipsters and ultraorthodox Jews in the same neighborhood. Crossing the street involves traveling to another reality and bumping into an antagonistic world within twenty yards.

Families of eight members, all dressed in black, heads covered, trellised buildings, modesty and silence. Reactions of who enters for the first time in the ultraorthodox side of Williamsburg may vary from curiosity, perplexity or even fear. I have seen a variety of reactions but they all have a common cause: Ignorance. Who are they and why do they not share our way of life?
                 familia judía ultra ortodoxa pasea por Nueva York
For the Hasidic Satmar community, formed mainly by Hungarian and Romanian Holocaust survivor Jews, religion is a way of life that marks strictly how to dress, what to eat or how to spend their leisure. Everything in their lifestyle has an explanation and to discover why, it's exciting. Married women must cover their hair, there are those who do by a hat or turban, although most of them wear a wig called "sheitel" which allows them to have a common look and yet reserve their beauty only to their husband . The Hungarians also tend to wear cropped hair under the wig. Decorum is an essential quality in them, so the rest of your outfit is on the same line. Skirts below the knee, long stockings, never necklines and sleeves to the elbow. A consistent aesthetic that makes us perceived them as clones.

                    "Mujeres judías ultra ortodoxas usan pelucas"

"barrio judío Nueva York"
Men cover their heads, first with the yarmulke, typical Jewish beret, but larger and made of black velvet, and then a wide-brimmed hat covered with fox fur called "spodic". So, they cover their heads, and they do it twice, to always remember that above them God is watching all their movements. Males also have two curls on the sides of the head.

The rest of their clothing is very similar to that used by their ancestors in the eighteenth century, the same as the first ultra-Orthodox Jews who came to New York after World War II. First settled in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, where they left a beautiful synagogue in Norfolk Street, the oldest in the city. But in 1950, Rabbi Teitelbaum, one of the lucky few who made ​​it out of Auschwitz into a rescue train called the "Noah's Ark", decided to establish the center of the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. At that time were a small group, today they are about eighty thousand and in twenty years their numbers would have doubled. Every night in the community are being celebrated from ten to twelve weddings, divorces hardly exist and each couple has an average of six children.

No need to do any population study to realize its unstoppable growth by just walking the streets. Before crossing the border, in Broadway St, children are uncommon and there are many dogs, once in the Jewish area, there are only children and not a single dog.

The high birth rate with the lack of higher education makes poverty rates quite high in the community. This was a feature that surprised me about them. Far from the image we have of Jewish people, of success and wealthy businessman, about half of the ultra-Orthodox families are living below the poverty line and this is due to several factors. To begin with the lack of higher education necessary to achieve high-wage jobs and children attending their own schools where education is focused mainly on the study of the scriptures, does not help a lot. A study that still devoting much of their time as adults, forcing women to work at home and away. Most of them also in low-skilled jobs.
                                            "niños judíos ultra ortodoxos Nueva York"

Out of the benefits provided by the State of Israel to the Jews, the ultra-Orthodox do not take any advantage. Moreover, they reject them as if scum was. One afternoon while doing a transfer in the subway I saw who seemed to me a Hasidic Jew carrying a banner that read "Israel is the devil", as in New York there are all sorts of everything, I just thought it would be a performance, but sometimes true is stranger than fiction. For ultra-Orthodox Jews the state of Israel is the cause of much of the evils of this world. They crave the Promised Land but not the one is reached by war, but the one the messiah will bring, when he arises. Furthermore, they believe that the Holocaust was a direct cause of the birth of Zionism in the nineteenth century, just as it is today terrorism and violence in all its forms.

                            "judíos ultra ortodoxos Brooklyn"

But borders often have more leaks which at first sight appear. The word "Ikea" seems incompatible with the term ultra-orthodox, well, it's not. Maybe you have more Hasidic buying there per square meter than in Lee Avenue, the high street of the community, any given Sunday. The grocery store with the best bargains in the area: "Doña Piña", is also shared by hipsters, Latinos and Jews to claim a dollar pack of asparagus. The contrary also happens; I repair my shoes in a small shop owned by an ancient Jew who charges me half price of the average cost and leaves them as new. It is their traditional lifestyle which makes them great cobblers, craftsmen or bakers. Quality products behind miserable shop-windows that make you think twice about coming in.

They eagerness in not showing-off makes them to overlook the image of their business and storefronts to the unimaginable. But what was a surprise for me and my friend from Alicante, that stayed with me for a few days, was that while visiting the area, she realized that the shoes "Chupetín" made ​​in her hometown; Villena, the ones that Spaniards have stopped buying in favor of cheaper choices of different origins, such as the Chinese, are sold today in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Williamsburg.

                                     "autobuses escolares barrio judío Nueva York"

The relationship between this community and New York City Council passed its tense moments but overall is good. The city politicians know that the group votes as a bloc and to have their religious leaders happy is crucial. The city has not agreed to his demand of libraries closing on Saturday (their Sabbath), the day of rest for Jews, and then opening on Sundays. Neither the municipal swimming pool lifeguard being a woman in the female classes. But they succeed, for example, in being allowed to use water wells to make their bread, setting up some anti-bacteriological filters and not having to use chemically treated water from the tap.

The Jews can only eat "Kosher" foods, which means adequate or suitable. What is suitable and what is not, is also written in the scriptures. The Kosher laws are widespread; they only eat ruminant animals with cloven hoofs, i.e. sheep, cow or goat, never horse or pig. The animals have to be slaughtered while are conscious through a cut in the neck to lose all the blood, because blood is not allowed to eat. Fish must have tail and scales, seafood is not kosher. Milk cannot be mixed with meat and wine is Kosher if it is made by a Jew. Usually a rabbi is who certifies whether something is suitable or not.

                             "judío y comida kosher Brooklyn"
They are different, very different to me, they are my neighbors and I love walking their streets on a Sunday to buy some pastries, which certainly make great, and liking the idea that you can live in many other ways. That's the best of New York, which is not in the travel guides, nor the movies, the cultural diversity and the different ways of living, you can like it or not but they are like you and live next to you. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


In peace and in balance, as simple and as complex as that.  You only live to breath and stroll. The archipelago of Bocas del Toro, on the west end of Panama, has as a clean energy that surrounds and calms your soul. A place where my subconscious was carrying me to continually be humming the original sound track of the film “The Mission”.

I doubt that Father Gabriel came all the way up to these islands in his evangelizing feat, although, Columbus actually did on his last trip. He repaired his ships, filled his pantries and continued his way. It is said that the ferocity of the indigenous, natural obstacles and misfortune, prevented a complete take over by the Spanish to colonized the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. As a result of this, its uniqueness. Getting there is still hard even today. Travelling by aeroplane from Panama City, I guess it is the most comfortable and quickest option, I said “I guess”, because we chose to do it by night-bus, a cheap option , but sacrificed. Ten hour journey with constant stops and disturbing curves for sensitive stomachs that I overcame thanks to my good sleep and realizing of saving a plane ticket and a hotel night each way.

Once in the town of Almirante, a small boat takes you to the town of Bocas on Isla Colon. A paradise for surfers, nature lovers and adventurers. However, if you prefer the easy life, this is definitely not your destination. Bocas is a small town with all the amenities but no luxuries, no big hotels nor fancy restaurants. The most expensive hotels are around one hundred dollars, the cheapest fifteen per night but are really basic. Most of these cheap hotels are not found on the Internet, that’s why I recommend booking with just a couple of nights beforehand and then, once there, you can choose your accommodation. There are indigenous communities and individuals offering cheap and interesting options. We made ​​the mistake of booking everything in advance. The Hotel El Limbo is cozy. The breakfasts on the dock-terrace over the water watching the bay were amazing, moreover the visitors that came during the night were too. The balance was over sixty bug bites.

To move around the archipelago and to enter the Natural Park of Bastimentos, where several groups of dolphins live in freedom, you need to hire a boat or an agency tour, but beware of them, the same tours are available with significant differences depending on the agency. Some merely take you without giving any information and what is worse, without respecting the rules for dolphin watching, stalking and chasing the animals. We saw dolphins, yes, but the experience left me pretty bad taste and the belief that if this continues, soon will cease the dolphin watching in the bay. Something similar happens in “Playa de la Estrella”. The area is full of signs warning you not to touch or take the starfish out or they will die. Nevertheless there are people who do corroborate the warnings messages including Albert Einstein’s famous quote: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity." Nonsense aside, this beach is spectacular: crystalline and calm water, soft sand, lots of vegetation and several beach bars run by local Indigenes to eat what the island produces, “patacones”  banana cakes, beans and fresh fish.

This is a peculiar land not only for biodiversity but also for its people. Spanish conquistadors never founded any sort of settlement in these islands and that radically marks a different from other cultures of Central America. Bocatorian population is formed by several indigenous groups; they are known for their good manners, secretiveness and shyness, so introverted that it is difficult to take out of them more than one syllable word. They communicate with each other in their own language and many have difficulty speaking in Spanish.

The other largest ethnic group is the Afro-Antilleans who came to the islands in the nineteenth century, mainly from Jamaica. It was them who founded the town of Bocas del Toro, also speak their own dialect “Guari”, of Anglo-Saxon roots. Unlike indigenous people, they are outgoing and talkative. Where you can best meet their lifestyle is on Bastimentos island, five minutes by boat from Isla Colón. Old Bank is a small town of a single paved street lined with houses built on stilts. Children and dogs play in the street, the clothes are hanging on the balconies and everything there seems to be made by a dawdling improvisation. In less than ten minutes, the walk along the road ends and the forest begins. From this very moment and for the next thirty minutes of walk, there is only silence, birds signing and a few growls of uncertain origin. That's when you get to Playa Wizard, the most magical beach that I have ever seen in my life. A secluded place because of the difficult access and for its bravery waves, where there is no trace of civilization.

In Bastimentos you can also find the opposite: Red Frog, a beach full of wealthy gentlemen, with restrooms facilities and Burger restaurants where you pay to get in. It all depends on your preferences, of course, but after seeing Wizard beach, I didn’t feel neither hot or cold. Another interesting island in the archipelago is Carenero, named after Columbus stopping exactly there to "carenar", which means to repair, his ship. Pantry of pirates for years, today is a paradise for surfers. Good waves, budget hostels and bars over the sea where to lay and kill the end of the day.

And talking about the end, I have to admit that Bocas del Toro has left a sweet & sour taste in my mouth. Before leaving the islands, a barefooted child of no more than 9 years old came to talk to us and in one sentence simply summed up what happens there: "We used to be poor, now the problem is the garbage." It shook the hell out of me!. Ten years ago Bocas had no tourism, the local population did not drink cokes, brought any food packages or sun-blocker to the beach, manufactured goods were very limited. Today, behind the bushes you find junk and tomorrow there will be more. The Papal Nuncio that allows the killing of Indigenous and Jesuits in the film The Mission, concludes with the message to the slave traders: "The world is not like this, we have made it this way" which I subscribe it.