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    Christmas in Oaxaca: Three in the Manger

    School librarian Linda Lakshminarayanan found the perfect way to spend her holiday break last December: Christmas in Mexico.

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    Antarctica: Trip of a Lifetime

    Journeys traveler Ellen Schwab went on the “trip of a lifetime” to Antarctica in 2015—and fielded many questions from friends and family upon her return.

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School librarian Linda Lakshminarayanan found the perfect way to spend her holiday break last December: Christmas in Mexico. Encouraged by a friend who had travelled to Oaxaca and knew of its history and traditional arts, Lakshminarayanan set out on her first trip south of the border. Her desire to explore a new place was quenched by warm days spent in the company of new friends and the generous people they met along the way.

Oaxaca, here we come

Guide Stephanie was intimately familiar with Oaxaca and its treasures and catered the trip to her travellers’ interests. Lakshminarayanan and her companions visited Mesoamerican archaeological digs and the small museums where found artifacts were displayed. They spent a day shopping at the mercado with the chef of a local restaurant, who worked with them to buy ingredients, then taught the group how to prepare the meal. They took the recipes and new knowledge of preparing these authentic meals home with them.

They visited friends of Stephanie’s, a family of woodcarvers who transformed a piece of wood into an armadillo before their eyes and then proceeded to paint the animal in an array of bright colors, a style traditional to the region. They spoke with a man who uses natural substances to produce dyes in “a rainbow of colors” and can turn one hue into another with just a pinch of this or that. The radish carving festival is part of the Christmas celebration in Oaxaca, and Lakshminarayanan got the chance to witness it first-hand. Everything on display at the city square was carved out of vegetables—even the sardonic scene of a woman making tortillas for dinner while her husband slept on the couch. The woodcarvings, rugs, pottery, and other traditional arts of the region took on special meaning as Lakshminarayanan and her friends learned more about the creative processes cultivated by the people of Oaxaca.

Christmas Day

The group spent Christmas Day visiting a small church in a nearby village. A garden of lush plants was growing down the middle aisle, and there were three Baby Jesus dolls in the creche. The caretaker explained that each had been kindly given to the church, one by an elderly woman nearing the end of her life. Not wanting to turn any of the donors away, the members had decided to embrace and display all three in the manger. “What a wonderful story of love for the church, community, and holiday,” said Lakshminarayanan, remembering her favorite day of the trip.

Looking to get out of town this December? Join Christmas in Oaxaca December 19-26!


Journeys traveler Ellen Schwab went on the “trip of a lifetime” to Antarctica in 2015—and fielded many questions from friends and family upon her return. Here, she shares stories from her trip.

Was it really cold there?

Not really – it was summer there and the temperature was usually in the mid-30s. Whenever we went to land, we wore long underwear, warm pants and tops, two hats, two pairs of gloves, a warm, waterproof jacket (given to us by Quark), and waterproof boots (loaned to us for the trip). We went to shore (via rubber rafts called zodiacs) usually twice a day, to a different place every time. Some areas were rocky; some were snow and ice. One could stay on the beach or go for hikes. Sometimes we went to active research stations or ones from the past. One stop was at a British post office from which we could send postcards!

Where did the ship leave from?

We embarked from Ushuaia, the town at the southern tip of Argentina. We crossed the Drake Passage and went south along the Antarctic Peninsula, crossing the Antarctic Circle.

How many people were on the trip?

The ship had about 100 passengers – a nice-sized group.

How long was the trip?

We were on board for 13 nights.

What did you see?

We saw thousands of penguins (several types), plus lots of birds, whales, and seals. The views of icebergs and water were fantastic.

How was the food on board?

The food was quite good. We had buffet-style meals for breakfast and lunch (and afternoon snack), and then dinner was served. There were no assigned seats in the dining room and it was fun to sit with different people and get to know them.

How was your cabin?

I shared a cabin with a friend and it was very comfortable. We had lots of storage space and our own bathroom. The travel style on the ship was quite informal. The ship had a lounge, a bar, and a place for coffee, tea, and snacks. There was even a library. The bridge was always open to visitors.

Quark, Journeys’ Antarctica partner, ran a wonderful trip. Their guides were great. Most of the guides were experts in their field and provided on-board lectures about what we were seeing. The expedition staff also gave a daily recap. I would definitely travel with them again.

Joslin Fritz, the guide for Journeys International’s new Cuba trip Rhythm of a Lively Land, talks about why you should travel to Cuba now. 

Cuba seems to pop up on the news reel daily, and with good reason. Obama’s announcement last December to work to normalize relations with the Caribbean nation has catapulted Cuba into the spotlight. But what is it really that makes this destination the next hot spot? Here are five reasons why you should travel to Cuba now.

1. Dance

When you think of Cuba, you probably envision old American cars, thick Cohiba cigars and steamy salsa dancing. What you might not associate with this tropical island is the other types of dance that are done here. The emphasis on the arts has led to a profusion of highly talented and creative dance troupes. Think flamenco, rumba, contemporary dance, or a mix of all three. You’ll be awed and impressed by what you see.

2. Paladares

“Pala what?” Paladares are privately-owned restaurants that serve food and drinks and are located inside a home. There’s a wide range of paladares now open and operating throughout the country, from two tables in a spare room to fifty tables that are fully functioning as a “restaurant.” While Cuban food traditionally isn’t spicy, the cuisine has improved substantially over the years as spices have become easier to obtain. Fresh fish, slow-cooked beef and roasted chicken are just a few of the many options you can choose as your main course. The best thing about paladares is their unique character; not one is exactly the same.

3. Change is coming

Many people are convinced that Starbucks and McDonalds are days away from setting up shop in Cuba. They want to travel before the country transitions. Change is slow on the ground, and these businesses are a long way away from investing. It anything, people should go to Cuba now in order TO see all of the exciting changes that are taking place. New private businesses are popping up every day, and it is a thrilling time to see the change first hand.

4. Art

The quality of artwork ranges quite dramatically, but you can be certain to see something in Cuba that will catch your eye. From your run-of-the-mill old american car paintings to vividly bright wall-sized murals, there is more artwork to see than time permits. Artists such as landscape painter Tomás Sánchez, up-and-coming Frank Mujica, and sculptor José Fuster are just a few who are guaranteed to impress you.

5. Old Havana

Named in 1982 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a trip to Old Havana is like going back in time. Havana Vieja has gone through a remarkable process to repair crumbling old buildings and restore the beautiful 20th century architecture. Cobblestone streets connect the four main plazas, and each plaza has its own unique feel and design. Enjoy a cerveza from a local brewery in Plaza Vieja before perusing the antique books for sale in Plaza de Armas. There’s plenty to explore in Old Havana and the photographs never seem to quite capture the charm.

See the full trip itinerary on the Journeys website.