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November 28, 2007

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DAVID'S DEN                               V!va List Latin America



by David Zuchowski

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  • Book review: V!va List Latin America
    V!va Travel Guide brings Latin America to life
    Review by Dave Zuchowski

    If you’re looking for a memorable taste of riveting, south-of-the-border travel adventures, The Viva List Latin America: 333 Places and Experiences People Love takes you on an extensive tour of 25 countries as seen through the eyes of 140 travel writers and photographers from six continents.

    This diverse group of writers and photographers – an adventurous 57-year-old grandmother, a college student, a semi-retired radio announcer, extreme sports enthusiasts, novice and seasoned travelers and even regular folks – retell their adventures in 333 places with passion and verve. The commonality they share is an enthusiasm for their destination and a zeal for telling others about it.

    Interestingly, the 356-page book begins with a visit to Ushuaia, Argentina by journalist Will Gray from England and ends with a write-up of Puerto Williams in Chile (home of one of the world’s smallest yacht clubs with three boats) by Pete Nelson from Chester, Maryland. The two towns are only a few miles apart and claim to be the world’s southernmost city. In between, this band of intrepid travelers covers 23 other countries from Mexico and Bonaire in the north to Bolivia and Brazil in the south.

    Most of the pieces are short and concise and rarely, if ever, fill more than a single page. Yet the tales they tell are so vivid and interesting, the length of their narrative is a negligible factor. One disappointment, however, is the lackluster quality of some of the black and white photos that embellish some of the narratives.

    The idea for the book first emerged in October 2005 and took form the following February with the launch of the V!va List portion of the V!va Travel Guides website. Through the website, travel writers and photographers were invited to nominate places for inclusion in the book or to let editors Paula Newton, Michelle Hopey and Crit Minster, Ph.D know that they intended to write about one of their favorite Latin American destinations.

    Several popular must-see places like Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls get their due, but the real focus is on places off the beaten path and away from the “Gringo Trail”. Furthermore, the book’s emphasis veers in the direction of adventure, cultural, ecological and culinary travel at the expense of fancy hotels and restaurants.

    The tales told are as diverse as the group of contributing writers. One minute you’re at a viewing station at the southern tip of South America, hoping to catch a glimpse of Magellanic penguins in their native habitat, then it’s off for a bike tour around Antigua, making tamales with an octogenarian in Mexico, getting a cook’s tour of Montevideo, discovering a lavender farm in Argentina’s lake district or exploring the virtues of that nation’s premier wine grape – Malbec.

    Sports and adventure enthusiasts might enjoy reading about the Las Olas Surfing Camp, (a fifty minute drive from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), rafting the Coyolate River in Guatemala or the best ways to get to Venezuela’s remote Angel Falls, the tallest in the world.

    Gastronomes should appreciate the information about the unusual way Paraguayans drink yerba mate, a highly caffeinated drink made by steeping dried yerba leaves in hot water, from a wampa or cow’s horn through a sliver bombilla or silver straw. They may also want to take note of the eco-friendly Black Sheep Inn, located in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andean highlands where the owners serve family-style vegetarian meals and offer a 10 percent discount for visitors arriving on bicycle.

    Culture vultures should enjoy the essay on a twelve-sided building in Mexico City, the Polyform Cultural Siqueiros, considered muralist David Siqueiros’ masterpiece, which took the artist six years to complete the 8,700 square meters of decoration composed of paint, acrylic and metal on asbestos and concrete.

    The anthology of writings is organized by country and comes with a handy index for easy reference. My one complaint is that the print is a tad too small, but the pleasure that this exciting new book gives, more than makes up for this minor gaffe.

    V!va List Latin America retails for $13.57 in soft cover at {ISBN #978-0-9791264-0-6}.

    Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his 15-acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.

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