Blogger Jessica Marati

Introducing another new blogger at Gadling, Jessica Marati…

Where was your photo taken: This photo was taken on my family’s beach in the southern part of Guam, the tiny Pacific island territory where I grew up. It’s probably one of my favorite places on the face of the earth.

Where do you live now: I’m based in New York, but I’ve spent the last several months living in Phnom Penh, where I’ve been researching and writing about ethical fashion, sustainability, and travel.

Scariest airline flown: Laos Airlines, on a particularly memorable flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. I had been warned that their track record was less than perfect, so I was hyper-sensitive to every unfamiliar whirr and pressure dip. The landing was bumpy, but thankfully I’m still here.

Favorite city/country/place: Are four-way ties allowed? New York, Paris, Bali, and the aforementioned beach.

Most remote corner of the globe visited: Probably Carp Island, a private island in the Palau archipelago in Micronesia. One night, we were sitting on the dock when the sea started lighting up in brilliant blues and greens — my first encounter with bioluminescent plankton. All seven people staying on the island came out to watch. Combined with a star-filled sky, it was pure magic. Tierra del Fuego was pretty quiet too.

Favorite guidebook series: These days, I’m really digging my iPod Touch and the variety of travel tools available in the iTunes App store. Triposo offers free interactive city guides, World Nomads has great phrasebooks, and nothing beats TripAdvisor for the latest hotel and restaurant reviews. I also like to save travel articles, like the New York Times 36 Hours series, to my Instapaper for later reading. It’s allowed me to ditch the massive Lonely Planet budget guides I used to haul around.

Solo or group traveler? A little bit of both. I love taking trips to visit friends living abroad, because I get to experience the place with more context and better restaurant recommendations.

Favorite means of transportation: Hopping on the backs of motorbikes here in Cambodia used to terrify me, but now I’ve become quite used to it. Nothing beats weaving through oncoming traffic with the wind blowing through your hair.

Favorite foreign dish? Restaurant? My Roman grandmother makes the absolute best parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan). Beats any restaurant in Italy, or anywhere else for that matter.

Dream travel destination: Havana, Cuba. I think this might be the year!

Top U.S. ports of entry

Eighty-six percent of international arrivals to the United States come through only 15 ports of entry, according to data from the Department of Transportation. This represents an increase of one percentage point over last year (measuring the first five months of 2008 to the first five months of 2009.

The top three ports of entry are hardly surprising: New York (specifically JFK), Miami and Los Angeles. How insane is it that the leading first impression of our country is in Queens?! These three spots were responsible for 40 percent of all arrivals so far this year. Their share of all international arrivals – trending with the top 15 – increased by roughly one percentage point year-over-year. Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia were the only members of this group to post increases.

Six of the top 15 ports of entry into the United States sustained double-digit decreases in arrivals. The stream through San Francisco is off 18 percent, moving it into the #6 position on the list (behind Honolulu). Detroit dropped 32 percent, pushing it to fifteenth, behind Boston and Philadelphia, and Agana, Guam fell 9 percent, putting it behind Chicago on the list.

The Best Holiday Light Displays Around the World

Travel and Leisure compiled videos of the best holiday light displays around the world into one handy album right here. If you wish to feel inferior about your outdoor decorative efforts, look no further.

Actually, these displays are far too fantastic to even inspire envy. Most, like the Brussels and the Tokyo (Roppongi Hills, above) ones, will inspire awe and wonder. So get your coffee, sit back, and let other people take care of the cheer for a little while. It’s beautiful!

[via Travel and Leisure]

The Amazing Race All-Stars: Episode 11 Recap

We’re down to our second to last episode with the Amazing Race All-Stars. As always, if you didn’t get a chance to watch last night’s episode yet, stop reading now! I’d hate to spoil all of the fun. But for those of you who saw it, or want the juicy details right now, continue on. Let’s go!

Last week the “beauty queens,” Dustin & Kandice drove their mini-moke to the island of Taipa, and reached the put-stop first, so they’re the first team to depart. The clue reveals that the teams will now by flying to the island of Guam in the Western Pacific Ocean. Guam’s full name is US Territory of Guam, and it is home of Andersen Air Force Base, where much of the episode’s tasks take place.

The air force base played a key role in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, and it remains today a key a strategic points for US military efforts in the Southwest Pacific and Indian oceans.

After some trouble at the airport in China, each team finally makes it on a flight; Dustin & Kandice, Charla & Mirna, and Erik & Danielle on one flight, and Danny & Oswald on another. Both flights connect in Tokyo before heading off to Guam, but Danny & Oswald — who are marked for elimination unless they arrive first on this leg — are on a flight that arrives later, leaving them only 45 minutes to make the connection. It’s a mad rush to the gate when they land, but their hustle pays off and, much to the disappointment of the others, they make the flight which puts all four teams are on the same flight to Guam.

Danny & Oswald are first off the plane in Guam, only to find that they’ll need a military escort to drive them to the location of their next task — something they can’t get until 7:00 AM. After waiting it out, each team gets their escort and heads to the next detour: Care Package or Engine Detail. In Care Package, teams fill two large boxes with 500 pounds of supplies to be loaded onto a C-17 cargo plane and then go along for the ride as they drop the supplies on a neighboring island. In Engine Detail, teams have to hand wash a portion of a B-52 so that its shine is up to military standards.

This is where I would really struggle in the race; If I were forced to pick between a really crappy task that was quick (Engine Detail), or one that would allow me to fly in a C-17 but takes twice as long, I’d have a hard time passing up the awesome opportunities in favor for the grunt work — even if it means losing the race. Saying that, however, I remember that I don’t have a million dollars dangling in front of me, so it’s hard to put things into prospective.

Danny & Oswald, Dustin & Kandice, and Erik & Danielle all chose Engine Detail, while Charla & Mirna (with her “This is what cool looks like” shirt. Seriously.) head for Care Package. The three teams on clean-up duty have their work cut out for them as they don plastic yellow suits and go to work., Meanwhile, Charla & Mirna have relatively no trouble filling the boxes and hop on the cargo plane in no time. The only downside is it takes a long time to get in the plane, take-off, drop the goods, and land, and by the time Charla & Mirna are finished, the other teams have already completed the grueling tasking of cleaning the bomber, and are on their way to the U.S. Naval Base, where they receive their next clue.

Upon arrival at the Naval Base, teams learn of the next task: a roadblock. In this roadblock, one member from each remaining team must use a hand-held Garmin GPS device to locate a pilot hiding in the jungle. When they’re discovered, the pilot will input new coordinates into the GPS which will send them looking for a drop zone, where they’ll radio for a nearby helicopter to “request extraction,” which is a fancy way of saying “get me the hell out of the jungle and back to my teammate.”

Dustin & Kandice are the first to arrive, and Dustin heads out with her GPS to find the hidden pilot. Anyone who has used a GPS device before can tell you this shouldn’t be too tough, and Dustin breezes through the task by quickly finding the pilot and then the drop zone, and before long she’s on the helicopter and heading back to Kandice.

At this point, the other teams have arrived, and are having a lot of problems. For some reason Charla keeps touching the GPS device’s screen — something frowned upon by her military escort, and no less than 5 times do I hear him say “Ma’m, please don’t touch the screen.” Why can’t you touch the screen? Why can’t Charla keep from touching the screen? Who knows!

As the teams wander aimlessly (with GPS!) through the jungle, Dustin & Kandice learn they’re now headed for the next pit-stop: Fort Soledad, where they are once again first to arrive. Phil awards them an ATV or something, they celebrate, Phil smiles, a local looks on… you know the drill.

Danielle had an especially rough time in the jungle. She cried, she wept, she cursed her GPS device. She finally pulled herself together enough to figure out how to actually use the device, and makes her way to the drop zone while Oswald and Charla lag behind. Completing the task, Erik & Danielle head to the pit-stop and are the second team to arrive, leaving just one spot open in the elite final three.

While Charla and Oswald battle it out in the jungle for the final spot, Mirna and Danny wait back at the landing strip, wondering who will complete the task first so they can head to the pit stop and secure the final spot. This is when Oswald says, in his thick gay-Cuban accent, what could be the funniest, and most cruel line in Amazing Race history to Charla — dressed in full military gear — as she waits for her helicopter extraction: “Oh my god, the Teletubbies go to war!” Finally the Amazing Race crew picks a good quote to title the episode with!

Bad comments mean bad karma, however, and Charla finishes the task first. Not even the skills of the Amazing Race editor can make the end of this one a nail-biter; It’s pretty obvious that Danny & Oswald are headed home. It’s too bad… I liked them.

Charla & Mirna arrive at the pit-stop, securing their place in the top 3. Who would have thought?

Charla & Mirna, Dustin & Kandice, and Erik & Danielle: who will it be? Find out next week for the two-hour season finale!