Guatemalan Volcano Eruption Terrifies Villagers While Drawing Tourists

A volcano right outside Guatemala‘s tourist attractions has exploded into a series of powerful eruptions. The natural occurrence was so intense, more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities were forced to evacuate.

“It thundered and then it got dark as the ash began falling,” Miriam Curumaco, a 28-year-old homemaker from the village of Morelia who had evacuated along with 16 family members, told “It sounded like a pressure cooker that wouldn’t stop.”

While the popular travel destination of Antigua has not yet been affected, 17 villages around Volcan de Fuego, a 12,346-foot volcano, have had to vacate. According to Guatemala’s head of emergency, Sergio Cabanas, the volcano spewed lava nearly 1,969 feet down slopes with thick ash, gas and smoke. Additionally, cinders shooting out of the volcano were measuring a half-inch thick in many places.

As worried locals leave their homes and seek refuge, the eruption has become a huge draw for tourists who want to get close to the volcano and take photos.

“Now that we know it erupted, we’re going to try to stop on the way and maybe take some pictures,” said Nilton Dasilva, a church group leader from Northfield, Illinois.

Most of the area has received an orange alert, the second highest level, although in the south and southeast of the mountain they are in almost complete darkness and have received a red alert. Many people in these areas have been affected with respiratory and vision problems. Luckily, the Guatemalan Red Cross has set up 10 shelters in the area where people can receive hygiene kits and water.

[Image via luisfi]

Photo Of The Day: Antigua At Sunset

Tucked in a valley in the central highlands of Guatemala, the colonial town of Antigua is one of Central America’s greatest treasures, as well as one of its best budget travel destinations. The town is captured magically at sunset in today’s Photo of the Day, taken by Flickr user Adam Baker from his perch at the Earth Lodge, an eco-resort and avocado farm located just outside the city. According to Baker, “Even the bartender came out to enjoy the view.”

Have you captured any awe-inspiring sunset photographs lately? Upload your travel shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Things I learned in Antigua: Luffas grow on trees

Antigua is a lush, green land of 365 beaches (one for every day of the year!), warm sunshine, and laid-back island culture. It is also the land of the luffa.

Beauty junkies the world over are familiar with these excellent exfoliating tools, perfect for sudsing up and washing down in the shower or tub. We may even know them by other names – shower sponges, poofs, etcetera. Today, many are made of plastic and come in a variety of colors and textures.

What we might not know: the luffa, also known as a loofah, is a fruit.

That’s right. Just like that old fooler the tomato, the loofah is part of the fruit family. That’s right – we thought it came from the ocean too. Doesn’t the little sponge-like apparatus look like it came from the sea?

Well, it doesn’t. This edible “climbing vine” with beautiful yellow flowers – if one wasn’t aware of what they were seeking, the luffa might be mistaken for a beautiful tree. Resembling a cucumber when ripe, luffa is often cooked eaten as a fuit in some Middle Eastern and Indian cultures and sometimes prepared with crushed dried peanuts and bans. Some even use its juices as a natural treatment for jaundice. In Canada, the luffa is known as a Chinese Okra and in India the fruit is called a Sebot. In Paraguay, the fruit is combined with other vegetable matters and recycled plastic to create furniture or construct houses.

When dried out, as shown in the gallery below, the luffa can be peeled or chipped away to showcase the mature and dry fibers underneath. Shake out the seeds, which resemble oversized watermelon or sunflower seeds, and viola! The world’s only natural bath or kitchen sponge. The coarse network of fibers makes the luffa a perfect exfoliator for both dry and wet skin.

These fruits grow in dry, warm climates throughout China, Korea, Japan and Central America as well as my own personal land of discovery, Antigua.

I’m proud to say that the phrase “you learn something new every day” stands true – it just turns out that this day was more memorable than most!

*A big thanks to Vorn Johnson, an Antiguan nature enthusiast, who accurately pointed out that one of the island’s many plants is indeed the luffa fruit. While we can’t find data verifying if the plant is native to the island, research shows that the fruit also grows on nearby Barbuda.


Photo of the day – Cathedral dome, Antigua, Guatemala

Ponder today’s Photo of the Day, by BaboMike. What looks at first glance like some sort of space-age cushion is in fact the interior of a cathedral cupola dome in Antigua, Guatemala. That this stark simplicity depicts a cupola dome seems improbable at first glance; after a sustained gaze, however, the surprise fades. What else, one wonders, looks simultaneously like itself and like something utterly different?

Optical illusion isn’t really a common Photo of the Day theme. But why shouldn’t it be? Upload your favorite image of an optical illusion to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. If we like it, we might just choose it as a future Photo of the Day.

Top 5 MTV music videos that inspire travel

If you’re as old as or younger than MTV, which turns 30 today, then you probably can’t recall when MTV (short for “Music Television”) played music videos and nothing but. MTV launched on August 1, 1981, with a handful of videos filmed mostly on stages or sets tricked out with some lighting and a few props. As MTV grew in popularity, more and more musicians went on location to shoot miniature films backed by pop music soundtracks. Indeed, some of these videos, shot in places such as Venice and Prague, were like postcards beckoning viewers to find out more about the locales.

I grew up in the years when MTV was at the forefront of popular culture and credit the network with fueling a number of my travel fantasies. It is in this spirit that I list the top 5 MTV videos that inspired my desire to travel. Note that all of these videos were made in 1989 or earlier.

1. Like A Virgin – Madonna. As a known Italophile, I’m often asked what my favorite film set in Italy is. This Madonna classic, which must have single-handedly inflated ticket prices for a gondola ride when it was released in 1984, is always the first thing that comes to mind. Watch the video and tell me it doesn’t make you want to go to Venice.

2. Never Tear Us Apart – INXS. The sweeping views of Prague and INXS’ somber walks through that city, in particular their stroll through the Jewish Cemetery, is one of the most beautifully filmed music videos of all time. I still haven’t made it to Prague and that fact makes me sadder than this video usually does.

3. Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode. I distinctly remember the first time I saw this video and perked up when the VJ announced it had been shot in Spain. “Personal Jesus” was filmed in the Tabernas Desert in southern Spain, the location for many Spaghetti Westerns of yore.

4. Rio – Duran Duran. There is really nothing particularly related to the city of Rio de Janeiro in this memorable video by Duran Duran, but the shots of the white sand beaches and glossy sailboats gave me an itch for Caribbean travel. Apparently this video was shot in and around Antigua.

5. Going Back to Cali – LL Cool J. Even 24 years after it was made, LL Cool J’s funky black-and-white homage to L.A. is a love letter to the City of Angels even if LL continues to insist he’s not going back there.