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Kristen Cashman

I’ve heard there’s a floating village in Peru. True?

On the bosom of the mighty Amazon river, our correspondent Kristen Cashman stumbled upon a peculiar Peru secret – a village where banks and churches float.

At the end of a three-month trip through Latin America, I found myself with an afternoon to spend in Iquitos, Peru. Perched on the banks of the Amazon River, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the largest city in the world not accessible by road but only by plane and boat, Iquitos is the country’s jumping-off point for trips upriver to remote jungle lodges.

After weeks of solo travel, I was feeling a bit lonely, so I sought out an American Cafe for lunch: The Yellow Rose of Texas. Gerald, the boisterous Texan who ran the place, introduced himself as soon as I sat down and was happy to oblige when I asked him for advice on how to spend the afternoon. “Walk down to the riverfront,” he said, “and hire a boatman to take you on a tour of the floating village of Belen.”

floating village peru

Following the map that Gerald had sketched for me on a napkin, I passed through the Belen Marketplace, a sprawling bazaar where vendors sold fruit and veg, fish, meat, and eggs, as well as sundry supplies and trinkets.

Beyond the market I emerged onto the banks of the river, where my eyes drank in a crowded riverscape of thatched huts floating on the water. Several young men sat by their boats, eager to take visitors on a tour of their village. I negotiated a price with a pair of teenagers who approached me — one lanky and gaunt-faced, in a faded black T-shirt that said “Kool,” and the other compact and muscled, with the deep-set eyes and wide, prominent cheekbones common among the locals. Soon I was seated in their skinny wooden boat gliding along the river.

Churches, petrol stations, restaurants, and hundreds of family homes — all were essentially large rafts, tethered to pilings, accessible only by boat. I was surprised to see utility poles with streetlights and electrical wires punctuating the primary thoroughfares.

floating village peru

A lovely young woman sat on a dock, shampooing her hair in the river. An old man stood waist-high in the water, brushing his teeth. Groups of children jumped off a dock and wrestled in the opaque brown water. A woman in fetal position napped on a front porch. A group of men in a pub waved and called to me through a window as we passed. Boats zipped by in all directions, some loaded down with passengers, others piloted by only a child or two.

The still water reflected the bright blue sky and puffy clouds above, except where thickets of emerald green aquatic plants pierced the surface from below. My guides pointed out notable buildings to me but otherwise were quiet, our communication limited by my rudimentary Spanish. Every so often, to cool himself off, the lanky one dipped his hat in the river and then placed it back on his head, rivulets streaming down his face. For about an hour they navigated the dug-out canoe through crowded central canals, then skirted the edge of the settlement, then returned me to the launch where they had picked me up.

peru floating village

Until that day, when I had imagined Amazonian culture, I pictured shamans and tribes people in remote jungles, untouched by modern culture. The people of Belen, on the other hand, lived and breathed the river, without solid ground beneath their feet, yet they were part of a greater, twenty first-century urban culture. They straddled two worlds — the traditional and the contemporary, the aquatic and the terrestrial — in a way I hadn’t known was possible.

Stepping from the boat back onto the cement, I effusively thanked my guides, and said a silent thank you to Gerald for tipping me off to this other face of Iquitos.

The Story was first published in Travel Secrets Magazine's March-April 2014 issue.
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I am new to Mexican cuisine. Can you suggest some delicious dishes?

Fiery, flavourful, fabulous: Mexican cuisine guarantees non-stop excitement for your taste-buds. Our California correspondent Kristen Cashman has picked her favourites from the region’s cornucopia of culinary delights – you could try these too.

Guacamole and tortilla chips

guacamole_20538757
A scrumptious mash-up of avocados, sea salt, tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and cilantro, guacamole is most commonly served with tortilla chips. Tortillas — flat, disc-shaped breads made from corn or sometimes flour —form a mainstay of the Mexican diet. When deep-fried, they become a crispy vehicle for dips and salsas.

Fish tacos

Crispy-Fish-Tacos
Top a tortilla with deep-fried or grilled catch of the day, pile on some condiments, fold it in half, and voilà! The condiments include shredded cabbage or lettuce, lime juice, diced onions, and a variety of sauces — known as salsas — of chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados, sour cream and/or mayonnaise.

Mole

mole-poblano
With dozens of regional varieties, mole is considered a national treasure. This rich, complex sauce of chile peppers and spices can contain up to 30 ingredients, including chocolate, and it takes a whole day to prepare by hand. Usually topping poultry or pork, mole has a deep flavour that enlivens any meal.

Huevos rancheros

huevos-rancheros-5
This breakfast masterpiece consists of fried corn tortillas topped with fried eggs and a salsa of tomatoes and chiles. When pierced, the runny yolks ooze into a sublime union with the refried (that is, cooked and mashed) pinto beans and rice that fill the rest of the plate.

Nopales

nopales
As you survey the Mexican desert, it’s hard to imagine eating a prickly pear cactus, but when peeled and de-spined, the plant becomes a unique delicacy. Commonly served in salads or with eggs or meat, nopales have a tart flavor and a texture reminiscent of grilled bell peppers or overcooked green beans.

The article was published in Travel Secrets magazine's July - August 2013 issue. 
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Can you recommend a good hotel in Venice Beach, California?

Glad you asked. Our US correspondent Kristen Cashman spent a refreshing weekend at this seaside resort town, and could not stop gushing about Hotel Erwin.

Over to her:

venice beach, california

Los Angeles, California, offers visitors a wide assortment of attractions and landmarks to check out—from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the Sunset Strip to the luxury shopper’s paradise, Rodeo Drive. But for a sprawling ocean view coupled with unparalleled people-watching, the Venice Beach boardwalk is not to be missed. Historically a mecca of surfing, skateboarding, and bodybuilding, and the birthplace of the legendary 1960s rock band The Doors, the boardwalk teems with colorful, oh-so-California sights and sounds, including tattoo parlors, bikini-clad rollerskaters, fortune tellers, and a smorgasbord of shops and vendors.

If you want to spend a night or more perched above all the hubbub of the boardwalk, the Hotel Erwin is the place to stay. Gelling with the neighborhood’s young, hip, laid-back feel, the hotel is decorated in bright colors and modern design details.

Hotel Erwin's half-circle driveway
Hotel Erwin’s half-circle driveway

lobby

The six-storey building has standard rooms as well as suites. My 750-square-foot suite felt enormous, with a kitchenette, dining area, living room, funky bathroom, and bedroom. The minibar featured offbeat options beyond the usual snacks and spirits, such as surfboard wax, sun-protective lip balm, and a portable torch for late-night strolls. The living space had a gas fireplace, a large flat-screen TV, and a desk. WiFi was complimentary throughout the hotel, and the connection was speedy and reliable.

room

suite

The suite’s best feature by far? Its balcony, with a stunning panoramic view of the boardwalk’s happenings as well as the vast Pacific Ocean beyond. I soaked up the varied eye candy below—the skateboarders careening down the slopes of the beach’s skate park, the surfers stacking up along the faces of the waves, and the acrobatics of street performers surrounded by throngs of tourists.

If you’ve been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo and are ready to take the plunge, you’re in luck! The Erwin offers an “Ink n Stay” package that includes overnight accommodations, a $100 voucher for tattoo services from a local acclaimed tattoo and graffiti artist, lotion, an ice pack, and a bottle of tequila. Where else but Venice?

HIGH_SouthView_high1

The hotel’s crowning jewel is its rooftop lounge, High. The only place of its kind in town, it boasts a fabulous vista of the sea, the boardwalk, and the city rooftops. At $11–13 each, the cocktails aren’t cheap, but they are tasty—I sampled a blackberry Collins and a passion fruit mojito, both made with fresh fruit and high-quality spirits. The lounge also features an eclectic but limited snack menu whose offerings include guacamole, chicken skewers, and hot dogs. Although Venice enjoys a warm, Mediterranean climate with over 250 days of sunshine per year, evenings can be cool, so the lounge has propane heaters to keep its clientele cozy.

Barlo

On the ground floor is the hotel’s restaurant, Barlo, which serves breakfast, dinner, and cocktails. The menu showcases local, sustainably grown produce and meats, and I was pleased with my breakfast of eggs from pastured hens with goat cheese, tomatoes, and spinach. Barlo is known for its fabulous burgers, but as a non–beef eater, I didn’t partake.

Everyone at the hotel was extremely accommodating, helpful, and informative, while also exuding the casual, low-key vibe that coastal LA county is known for.

All Photos courtesy of www.hotelerwin.com.

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