Learn Spanish With Lonely Planet’s Fluent Road

Traveling to Spain or Latin America this summer and want to say more than “Donde esta el bano?” (though, that’s an important one to know)? Lonely Planet has just launched a new online foreign language program, Fluent Road, partnering with Spanish language program Fluenz. The focus is on Spanish for now, but you can choose from dialects from Argentina, “neutral” Latin America, Mexico, or Spain.

Fluent Road is designed for travelers to get the basics before a trip: Spanish for transportation, finding accommodation, ordering food, etc. It’s also a good stepping-stone to a more intensive learning program, and travelers could easily work up to a Fluenz course after completing Fluent Road. What differentiates this from other language learning like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur is a dissection of the language, showing you how Spanish works and providing explanations, not just rote immersion. Fluenz founder and avid traveler Sonia Gil guides you through obstacles, pronunciation, and practice speaking, writing and reading as a native speaker and “language geek.”

As with all online learning, you can go at your own pace; there are 30 video lessons that can be completed in one to six months. Other useful features include the ability to record yourself to compare pronunciation a native Speaker, and customizable digital flash cards to help practice. You can also contact the teacher and program designer via Twitter.

Take a free 12-hour trial now, subscriptions start from $9 for a month to $30 for six months of access, at www.fluentroad.com.

Video Of The Day: Modern Day ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’

Before beginning his doctorate in biomedical sciences, “Alex the Adventure Biker” took a break to realize his lifelong dream: to ride a motorcycle through the Americas. Over the course of nearly a year and a half, he rode his bike through 22 countries as he made his way from El Paso, Texas, to Argentina and then back up through Brazil and all the way to Alaska – a journey of more than 82,000 miles.

“In short I drove solo half way around the world, through interstates, highways, dirt roads, no roads, mud, rivers, through hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, rain, hail, sun shine, snow, ice roads you name it and I made it back,” the adventurous biker wrote on his website. Ride along and check out the varied landscape as he saw it (and some disco dancing, too) in the video above, which was created from more than 600 hours of footage.

Cheesey Street Foods Of Latin America

With the possible exception of Argentina, most people don’t associate Central or South America with cheese. Like all of Latin America, these countries are a mix of indigenous cultures, colonizing forces, immigrant influences, and varied terroir, climatic extremes, and levels of industrialization. They possess some of the most biologically and geographically diverse habitats on earth. As a result, the cuisine and agricultural practices of each country have developed accordingly.

The use of dairy may not be particularly diverse in this part of the world, especially when it comes to styles of cheese, but it’s an important source of nutrition and income in rural areas, and a part of nearly every meal.

While writing a book on cheese during the course of this past year, I tapped into my rather obsessive love of both street food and South America for inspiration. As I learned during my research, the sheer variety of cheesey street snacks from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego are as varied as the ethnic influences responsible for their creation. Read on for a tasty tribute to queso.

Arepas: These flat little corn or flour cakes from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama may be grilled, baked, boiled, or fried. They’re usually stuffed or topped with a melting cheese, but may also feature meat, chicken, seafood, egg, or vegetables.

Anafres: Essentially Honduran nachos, composed of giant tortilla chips, refried beans and melted cheese. Named for an anafre, the coal-fired clay pot the dish is served in.

Pupusas: This Salvadorean staple is similar to an arepa: a thick, griddled corn cake stuffed with meat, cheese–usually a mild melting variety known as quesillo–chicarrones (pork cracklings), or queso con loroco (cheese with the buds or flowers of a vine native to Central America).Choclo con queso: Boiled corn with slices or a chunk of mild, milky, fresh white cheese may not sound like much, but this roadside and market staple of Peru and Ecuador is irresistible. The secret is the corn, which is an indigenous Andean variety with large, white, nutty, starchy kernels. It’s satisfying as a snack all by itself, but it’s even better between bites of slightly salty queso.

Empanadas (empadinhas in Brazil): Perhaps the most ubiquitous Latin American street food, riffs on these baked or fried, stuffed pastries can be found from Argentina (where they’re practically a religion) and Chile to Costa Rica and El Salvador. The dough, which is usually lard-based, may be made from wheat, corn or plantain, with fillings ranging from melted, mild white cheese to meat, seafood, corn, or vegetables. In Ecuador, empanadas de viento (“wind”) are everywhere; they’re fried until airy,filled with sweetened queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar.

Quesadillas: Nearly everyone loves these crisp little tortilla and cheese “sandwiches.” Traditionally cooked on a comal (a flat, cast-iron pan used as a griddle), they’re a popular street food and equally beloved Stateside.

Provoleta: This Argentinean and Uruguayan favorite is made from a domestic provolone cheese. It’s often seasoned with oregano or crushed chile, and grilled or placed on hot stones until caramelized and crispy on the exterior, and melted on the inside. It’s often served at asados (barbecues) as an appetizer, and accompanied by chimmichuri (an oil, herb, and spice sauce).

Queijo coaljo: A firm, white, salty, squeaky cheese from Brazil; it’s most commonly sold on the beach on a stick, after being cooked over coals or in handheld charcoal ovens; also known as queijo assado.

Croquettes de Queijo: Cheese croquettes, a favorite appetizer or street food in Brazil.

Coxinhas: A type of Brazilian salgado (snack), these are popular late-night fare. Typically, coxinhas are shredded chicken coated in wheat or manioc flour that have been shaped into a drumstick, and fried. A variation is stuffed with catupiry, a gooey white melting cheese reminiscent of Laughing Cow. Like crack. Crack.

Queijadinhas: These irresistable little cheese custards are a popular snack in Brazil. Like Pringles, stopping at just one is nearly impossible.

Pão de queijo: Made with tapioca or wheat flour, these light, cheesy rolls are among the most popular breads in Brazil.

[Photo credit: Empanada, Flickr user ci_polla; food vendor, Provoleta, Laurel Miller]

Archaeologists explore “Pompeiis” in Bulgaria and El Salvador

Pompeii is an archaeological wonder, an entire Roman town preserved by a volcanic eruption. Now archaeologists are investigating two other “Pompeiis” to learn more about the past.

In El Salvador, a team has discovered a village dating to c. 630 AD that was covered in volcanic ash. Joya de Ceren was sealed up so well that archaeologists have been able to examine corn cobs, the logs used to build homes, and even the paths leading through the village and how crops were planted.

Archaeology is generally biased towards big sites, both because they’re easier to find and because it’s easier to get funding to excavate them. Finding a small village that was inhabited by only 100-200 commoners helps us understand how the other half lived. The village has been declared a World Heritage Site.

At the Roman city of Nikopolis ad Istrum in Bulgaria, an archaeological team is working on another “Pompeii”. This Roman city was never buried in a volcanic eruption but it’s so well preserved, scientists make the comparison anyway. An archaeological team is exploring a temple to Cybele, a mother goddess.

I’ve been to Nikopolis ad Istrum and was very impressed. The city was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 101-106 AD. It was a major center of trade and culture until Attila the Hun trashed it in 447 AD. So it goes. Attila wasn’t very thorough and the town soon flourished again under the Byzantines. Today you can walk the streets, see the foundations of many buildings and even spot some of their decoration. You can even trace the sewers, which are a lot less stinky than they used to be.

[Photo courtesy Klearchos Kapoutsis]

Latin America on a budget: Suchitoto, El Salvador

We launched Gadling’s Latin America on a budget series last week with a post on Antigua, Guatemala. This week, we check out the impressive budget-friendly credentials of Suchitoto, El Salvador. Suchitoto is a well-preserved colonial town overlooking a scenic reservoir, situated about thirty miles from San Salvador. Suchitoto is a peaceful town that moves at its own quiet pace. It’s beautiful, charming, friendly, and absolutely picturesque, and should have a much higher profile as a tourist destination. The fact that it isn’t well known can be ascribed to El Salvador’s unfortunately poor reputation as a country for tourism.

Several tour operators in Suchitoto ply tourists with brochures hawking volcano hikes, kayaking expeditions, beach trips, and archaeological adventures across El Salvador. Though the town itself does not come with a long checklist of activities and specific attractions, there are several places and points of interest that shouldn’t escape the attention of visitors. And happily for our purposes here, just about every activity in Suchitoto can be sampled for $5, tops.Admission to Suchitoto’s one church, the blindingly white Iglesia Santa Lucía, on the town’s central plaza, is free.

A smattering of galleries in Suchitoto justifies the town’s reputation as a place receptive to artists. Galeria de Pascal, which has a deep inventory of art objects, home décor items, books, and honey–mostly from El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America–is likely the best of the crop.

Galeria de Pascal is owned by Pascal Lebailly, who is also the co-owner of Los Almendros, the fanciest hotel in Suchitoto. Even for visitors on a budget, Los Almendros is a great place to stop by for a cappuccino ($2.70). The lush courtyard is welcoming and the price of your cappuccino, while about as expensive as a filling meal elsewhere in town, is still pretty reasonable.

A donation of $2 gets you into Centro Arte de la Paz, with exhibits on Suchitoto’s cultural and physical history. The center hosts a number of programs and activities designed to promote nonviolence and also build skills and competencies among locals. The center operates an exhibit devoted to El Salvador’s civil war (1980-1992), and is a very useful resource for visitors interested in the war’s history and significance.

Another top attraction is the Museo Alejandro Cotto (admission $4), a museum with lots of photographs chronicling the life of Cotto, a film director who took the lead in working to preserve the colonial nature of Suchitoto. Views of the reservoir from Cotto’s museum are quite possibly the best in town.

There are physical activities as well, none particularly demanding. Los Tercios waterfalls, dry for much of the year, can be visited with a tourist police accompaniment. (Suchitoto is very safe and the presence of the tourist police is gratuitous, but the tourist policemen often enjoy having the opportunity to converse.) There are also some waterfalls on the other side of town, which should only be visited with a local during dry weather. The path is steep and not marked terribly well. My guide led me down to the waterfalls, swam with me, and walked back with me along narrow trails, charging me $5 for his time.

And if you’d like to laze about by a pool, stop by El Tejado hotel and restaurant, where use of the pool costs $3.25 for the day. The views from El Tejado are outstanding as well.

Beds and grub are remarkably cheap in Suchitoto.

I stayed at El Gringo, a tiny hostel run by Robert Broz and his wife Tita. Robert, an American man of Salvadorean descent resident in El Salvador for many years now, is an expert on all things Suchitoto. Robert and Tita’s rooms run just $10 per person per night. The rooms are very simple and somewhat cavernous but comfortable. The toilet and shower are shared, and water from the shower is cold.

Food in Suchitoto is extremely inexpensive and in many cases delicious. Outstanding pupusas begin at 60 cents at El Gringo’s restaurant; they can be purchased for much less from street vendors. A full meal at El Gringo, including a beer, can be had for under $3.50. And while El Gringo is inexpensive, it is not vastly cheaper than many other restaurants in town. I strayed from El Gringo for a few meals; the most expensive of these topped out around $10.

One nighttime highlight is El Necio. a leftist bar filled with language students, volunteers, and locals. Shots of rum begin at $1.25. And for snacks, there is Pan Lilian, where an alfajor is yours for 25 cents.

Amazingly, a comfortable day on a budget of $20 is completely doable in Suchitoto. The only expense of note is transportation to and from the airport. It’s possible to take buses all the way to Suchitoto, with a change in San Salvador. But for anyone on a tight schedule, it makes more sense to negotiate a shuttle with your hotel. Mine cost $30 per person, and the journey took around an hour and 45 minutes. This cost seriously ate into my $75/day allotment, although costs are otherwise so low that I was able to meet my budget.

Who should visit Suchitoto on $75 a day? Couples, relaxation-minded travelers, and adventurous retirees.