A brief spell of rain has resulted in water logging across the city, and off-peak traffic snarls are worse than usual. Two years on, UB or Ulaanbaatar continues to grapple with infrastructural constraints. But a few things have changed, since SK and I were here last. The venerable Chinggis Khaan International is slated to get a swanky new home in a matter of months. The main highway leading out of the city is undergoing extensive repairs, and all along it, modern apartment blocks are rising, looking astonishingly un-Soviet as they do so. The city center now has a bike share – who would’ve thought? And our US-issued mobile devices finally have data coverage in the country. This time around though, we’re headed out. East of the Capital, to be precise, past Nalaïkh – a town who’s name SK and I derive immense pleasure from – into quintessential Mongolian countryside.
Overcast conditions, a cover of threatening clouds, and a thickness in the air that is unmistakably tropical. Stepping out from the climate-controlled interiors of Tocumen International couldn’t be more predictable. Racing along the Pan-American highway some 15-minutes later, from the comforts of my air conditioned Uber, the distant skyline appears almost as dramatic as the sky above it. The highway, at this point, nothing more than a causeway, with low tide conditions to the right, and the vastness of the Pacific to our left. Up ahead, Ciudad de Panamá or Panama City.
It was a longstanding dream of mine to visit, and getting there wasn’t without its share of hiccups. So after a few rounds of questioning, when the big cheese at immigration finally waved me through, it was a momentous occasion to be sure. I now had a José Martí stamp on my passport, and unfettered access to Cuba…
It was 2013, on my second visit to Mexico, when I had a longish layover at Benito Juarez International, en route to the northwestern city of Chihuahua. Determined to get a taste of the country’s capital, I made the dash into el centro, returning suitably impressed, and vowing to return for longer, sooner rather than later. Years passed. A half dozen or so friends and acquaintances visited, and every one of them came back singing peans. FOMO ensued.
In the second half of 2018, I finally made it back there. The city had rebranded itself, appeared even more welcoming, and I realized quickly that my first foray there was not even worthy of a teaser. There was just too much to see, do and absorb – I had my work cut out for me. And so I’m back, less than 6-months later, to pick up where I left of; that love affair only getting stronger. Wish I could say the same about my Spanish.
Speaking of love…
The BN-2 Islander is a nifty little aircraft. Probably one of the smallest I’ve flown in. Over five decades in production, its been the light utility aircraft of choice for militaries and police forces alike. In the Caribbean particularly, its found favor amongst civilian operators too. The airstrip at Ceiba, a tiny coastal town on the eastern edge of the Puerto Rican mainland, is home to over a dozen of these, flying regular eight-minute sorties to the little island of Vieques…
An early morning arrival at Santa Apolónia Station – a culmination of three rail journeys that started in London – puts me right in the heart of the Alfama district, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. Like every other tourist, I’m probably a nuisance to locals here, as I drag my bag up its steep cobblestone streets, awaking everyone in my path. Truth be told though, this is an excellent bit of acclimatization for me. In a city renowned for near vertical alleys, lofty perches and great vistas, Alfama is quintessentially Lisbon.
Welgelegen is Afrikaans for well-situated. Located in the Oranjezicht neighborhood of Cape Town is a namesake guest house, comprising all of 13 rooms, housed in two late 19th-century Victorian buildings. With Table Mountain visible right behind, it certainly lives up to its name. For me, its the perfect antidote to nearly 17-hours of flying. Continue reading “The lure of the Cape”
Any hopes of eating southern-style barbecue are quickly dashed at JFK itself. Presidential activity, the pilot informs us, as we finally join the endless queue for takeoff. I arrive at ATL so late that even the airport’s own restaurants have called it a night. Save for a lone Diner, downtown Atlanta doesn’t fare too much better, and to make matters worse, its several degrees cooler than NYC…
How long are you in Toronto for? Just a few hours, I reply. I’m actually headed to Vancouver. How long are you spending there? Not a lot, I’m literally taking the train west and flying back home from there. Perplexed for a moment, the immigration officer at Pearson International hands me back my passport. Hope you’re carrying a good camera, he says, as he ushers me through.
By the time I’m done wandering around downtown Tee Dot – a city that looks and certainly feels very different in the winter – I saunter in to Union Station, with only a half hour or so to spare before departure. Blissfully unaware, all the while, that there is a special lounge for sleeper class passengers within.
Patagonia, that humongous swath of land, which makes up the southern half of Argentina, is also its least populated region. Only a handful of towns exist within, most of them established in the late 19th or early 20th-centuries. San Carlos de Bariloche, in the Patagonian province of Rio Negro, is one of its better known ones.
A favored winter sports destination by Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians alike, it is equally popular in the summer months, attracting hikers and mountaineers from across the continent. Not one to betray its European roots, Bariloche is also known for its alpine-style architecture, specialty chocolate shops, and an ever-expanding roster of microbreweries.