Where to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Chicago

It has been a while since I last posted, but I am back to tell you where to celebrate the next big holiday in Chicago. Historically, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that commemorates the victory of Mexico over France in the battle of Puebla in 1862. This holiday, however, is more popular in the United States than in Mexico. Why? Changing demographics and the enormous repercussion this victory had on the outcome of the U. S. Civil War. Some historians state that had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla, France would have gone to the aid of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War and the United States’ destiny would have been different. Nowadays, Cinco de Mayo’s historical significance got lost in time and the holiday is more of a cultural celebration of everything Mexican and and an excuse to party than anything else. 

Chicago holds one of the largest Mexican-American communities in the country and the city offers many choices to celebrate on May 5. However, out of all those options, my recommendation is to network and socialize with a great organization that will be hosting a huge Mexican-American celebration in Chicago: the Cinco de Mayo event put on by HispanicPro at the Godfrey Hotel. HispanicPro is the premier networking organization for Hispanic professionals in Illinois and the largest producer of networking events targeting the Hispanic professional community in Chicago. It’s free to join, you get access to some of the coolest venues in Chicago and meet interesting people from different professions. I was invited to their April event at Ronero, and while enjoying some light food and beverages, I had an interesting conversation with the president of the Chicago Symphony Latino Alliance (CSLA). CSLA is another great organization that hosts pre Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert networking events with special guest artists who give insights into the evening’s concert. I learned a lot about their membership (it’s free!) and some of the interesting events they offer. If HispanicPro hadn’t invited me to their professional event, I would never have learned about this unique experience from CSLA. HispanicPro functions are not only great for networking, professional tips, and discovering unique opportunities, they’re also festive events to attend. The music and the conga player at the end of the event I attended had many of us going to the networking floor and turning it into a dance floor. This organization definitely strikes the perfect balance between function and fun. If you want to find out more about them and their upcoming Cinco de Mayo event, visit their website.

A couple of days later, on May 7 at noon, head to the Cinco de Mayo Parade in Little Village, one of the signature Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago and home to more people of Mexican ancestry than any other community in the Midwest. It is one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the city. The parade goes from Cermak Rd. and Damen Ave to Marshall Blvd. By the way, did you know that Little Village retail strip is the second highest grossing shopping district in Chicago after glamourous Michigan Avenue? Now that you know, on Cinco de Mayo, let’s raise our Margaritas and make a toast for the brave Mexican and Mexican-American people who contributed and keep contributing to the greatness of the United States of America.

 

 

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9 tips to Survive the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

I know, I have been on a blog hiatus for a while. The reason? I took a break from Chicago and travelled to Peru, my home country. The objective? Challenge myself by doing my first trek ever: the 4-day Inca Trail to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas and one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Despite being my fourth time going there, I knew this time would be something special. The Inca Trail (also known as Camino Inca) is the most famous trek in South America and one of the most beautiful treks in the world.

 

INCA TRAIL

This trail is part of a vast network of stone-paved roads that connected all corners of the Inca empire. Walking the 26 miles of this portion of the trail entails going up and down infinite, narrow and steep stone steps (climbing up and down stairs takes on a whole new meaning!), walking through valleys, mountain passes that can go as high as 4300 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, precipices, rivers, gorgeous snow peaked mountains, lush cloud forests, tropical vegetation (including orchids) and amazing Inca ruins.

INCA TRAIL MAP

Yes, the trek is challenging, but it is also magical. Walking the trail feels like walking with the Incas through history.

INCA SITE AT INCA TRAIL

I kept thinking about the time and effort they must have spent to build it and of the harmony with its natural surroundings. This talks volumes about Inca cosmology. Andean people thought that “in order to maintain some sort of peace, they had both to maintain a careful equilibrium between themselves and their environment” . And they definitely followed this principle when building this trail: I was in awe of the beauty of it all!  After arriving in Machu Picchu and hearing the incredible stories from our guide, I felt a strong connection with a part of me that had been submerged by the colonial mentality that is so prevalent in Peruvian society since the arrival of the Spaniards to Peru: my Andean roots.

MACHU PICCHU

As we were leaving Machu Picchu, an intense emotion overcame me. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, but also a mixed feeling of nostalgia and rage. I felt the weight of history in my heart right then. It was the end of an incredible journey that challenged me physically, emotionally and spiritually…but the challenge was totally worth it! I would suggest adding this trek to your bucket list, especially if you have Peruvian roots. Sadly, only very few us do it. Here is a nice video that really brings back how I felt walking the trail:.

If you are ready to go, then keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Book in advance. The Peruvian government has limited the access to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to 500 people per day (including porters), so it is recommended to book at least six months in advance, especially if you are planning on going during the peak season (June-August). I would be careful doing the Inca Trail during the rainy season (November-March) as it can get even more challenging. Also, it is required to be part of a tour group, so you need to contact a travel agency to make arrangements. Hiring a good one will make your experience a pleasant one. I took this tour with Peru Experience, and the service was great. They took care of everything. Our guide, Jose Sotelo, was excellent and enhanced our experience with his love and deep knowledge of Andean culture.
  2. Arrive to Qosqo (The Quechua word for Cusco) at least 2 days before starting the trail to get used to the altitude. Once you get to Qosqo, you should take it easy, very easy. Drink lots of muña tea (the Andean mint) or coca leaf tea to help you acclimatize (don’t worry, coca leaves are legal in Peru. Chewing the leaves or drinking the tea does not have narcotic effects, but will help with altitude sickness. In fact, the coca plant was sacred during Inca times and is still widely consumed in the Andes. Our hotel offered it for free along with coffee in the lobby.) You may also get sorojchi pills for the altitude.
  3. Bring a book that will help you immerse into Andean culture. I brought Los Comentarios Reales by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a 16th century chronicle of The Incan Empire written by the child of a noble Spaniard and an Incan princess (he is considered the first Peruvian ever because of his Inca and Spaniard blood).
  4. Bring money to buy snacks and water (or to use the toilet) along the road. I was surprised to find people living along the trail during the first segment of the trip (there is even a small cemetery that we passed. And no, it is not a cemetery for Inca Trail trekkers). Save some cash for the third night to tip the porters and the cook. Tips are optional, but it is expected to tip if you are happy with the service.  By the way, I have the utmost admiration for the porters. These guys had to walk the same trail but with huge bundles on their backs and had everything ready for us ahead of time. You should also tip the guide at the end of the trip.
  5. Buy a portable charger for the road for any necessary batteries and charge them up before you start the trek. I forgot to bring one so I could not take as many pics as I would have liked.
  6. Pack lightly. Yes, I know, it is hard for some of us to wear the same clothes twice in a row. But trust me, you will be thankful you did. When packing, keep in mind the following:
  • Bring a day backpack . There is no need for a big camping backpack. The porters will carry everything for you except your clothes, water, and necessities. Bring a headlight or a lamp/flashlight.
  • Bring repellent, sunblock, water, long underwear, toilet paper, wipes, soap, and a towel.
  • Toilets during the trek are not the best. Avoid them if you can and use the “Inca bathroom” for number one.
  • Bring rainproof gear, particularly during the rainy season. The second night is the coldest, so bring a fleece sweater, hat, gloves and long undies. You will also need some of these for the second day, when you reach the highest pass of the trek. Remember to wear layers as temperature changes frequently

7.Once you start trekking, be aware of how you walk. The steeper the slope, the slower and shorter your steps should be. When going down, keep your weight in the front half of your feet. Don’t place all your weight on them. Walk as if you were stepping on eggs and step down sideways when the steps are narrow. Remember to breathe slowly, deeply and steadily all the time.
8. This trail can be challenging for people who are afraid of heights. You will pass a lot of cliffs through while going down narrow roads that have steep steps (which makes me wonder: were the Incas giants? Did they have long legs that were fit for these high steps? Did they just like the challenge?). The third day was the hardest day for me because of that. We descended thousands of steps along these narrow roads next to precipices. My knees were in pain, and I felt exhausted. I was ready to quit and take the next bus to Machu Picchu out of my fear of heights. If you feel like that: don’t quit! Keep going. Take an ibuprofen for the pain, rest and pat yourself on the back for having survived a day of hard trekking. Let me tell you: by the fourth day I was a trooper! We did the last day of the trek to Machu Picchu in less time than what it normally takes.

9. Try to learn some words in Quechua and talk to the porters (ask your guide or click here for some words). It will enhance your experience and the porters will appreciate your interest in their culture.

Interview: video of Novalima concert in Chicago

Novalima brought the house down during their fourth concert in Chicago! Here is a video of their last concert with some interviews before and after the show. The first two interviews are in Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, here is a summary:  Cotito, one of the percussionists of the band and the ambassador of Peruvian cajon, talks about their latest Novalima CD: Diabolic. I ask him about the origin of this name and he doesn’t know the answer, so I suggest one: it must be due to the diabolic sounds of his cajon that gets everybody crazy. Then it is Ramon Perez Prieto’s turn, one of the co-founders of Novalima, talking about the beauty of Chicago and expressing his interest in exploring bars here. He also explains that Novalima music is a fusion of rhythms from around the world but with strong Afro-Peruvian roots, which includes the use of traditional Afro-Peruvian musical instruments.

Chicago Drinks You Can’t Live Without

I recently read an article titled  25 Drinks Every Chicagoan Should Try. It contained a list created by the staff of  RedEye Chicago with recommendations for drinks in the Windy City.  I am curious to know what you, a Chicago Urbanite follower with an international perspective of the city, would include in a list like that.  I would recommend the blackberry Cuban mojitos served at Argentinian Barra Ñ during Brazilian nights on Tuesdays or the Blood Orange Martini served at Dunlay’s in Logan Square. What about you? What are your favorite drinks in Chicago? Please leave your recommendation on the comments section below. Maybe we could all meet in the future and explore our choices together? Cheers! b7 Drinking in Chicago

Photos of Femi Kuti Concert in Chicago

2012 in Review

2012 has been a very fun year! Just looking at these videos and pictures makes me smile and be thankful for your support.  Here are some of these awesome moments. You can see more pictures in the Gallery section.

Peruvian Pisco and Gourmet Food Party.

We had a great party celebrating Peruvian gastronomy and music. We learned about Pisco, the history behind some Peruvian dishes that are signature of the cuisine of Lima, and discovered why Lima in particular is considered the gastronomic capital of the Americas. See pictures of this fun event here.

First Year Anniversary Party

World music artists got together to celebrate Chicago Urbanite First Anniversary party. Here are some videos and pictures of the event:

Tribute to Inti Raymi Party

This was such a fun event! We got our friends from Pachacamak Folk Dance teach us a little bit of Andean culture, rites, and the importance of Inti Raymi in the Andean communities of South America.

Miki Gonzalez Pan-American Independence Day Concert

Miki Gonzalez, a star of the Peruvian music scene, came to Chicago to help us celebrate the Independence Day of Peru and other Latin American countries.  Here is a video of that memorable concert:

Dance Flashmob

Chicago Urbanite organized a dance flashmob in Chicago to celebrate the day of Peruvian Criolla Music.  The video of this flashmob was published Peru 21, a major Peruvian national newspaper,  in an article on their website. The article became the sixth-most-viewed on its website within a day. The event was also retweeted by TV Peru, the official broadcasting news network of the Peruvian government, as well as by other celebrities and journalists in Peru and the United States.

Thanksgiving Party

We had a great time celebrating Thanksgiving with our friends of Nu Bambu, the hottest rumba reggae band in Chicago. The event was also an excuse to get together and help our friend Juan Medrano Cotito, the Ambassador of Peruvian Cajon and member of the Afro-Peruvian electronica band Novalima,  to get donations for Christmas events that benefited children from Lima and the Afro-Peruvian community of el Guayabo, Chincha.

Giving Thanks World Music Party at Mayne Stage

We got together with some of Chicago’s cultural music instigators like Sound Culture, Worldfusion Chicago, and Akasuba to give thanks for a wonderful year in world music by hosting this free party with some of our city’s emerging talent at Mayne Stage. Here is a video of my band Nu Bambu performing at this fun party:

Review and Video of Jovanotti concert in Chicago

Safari (Jovanotti album)
Safari (Jovanotti album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I went to Jovanotti’s concert last night and let me tell you: the Italian superstar delivered! He got us dancing and kept us entertained with his  joyous, genuine, and contagious energy.   Jovanotti is definitely a GREAT live performer. He managed to project his energy all the way to the back of the room.  American neophytes who have never heard his music before, and others like me who just know a few of his songs, connected to each one of them.  The guy was as hot as the complete head-to-toe red outfit he was wearing for the occasion.

Jovanotti did not forget to acknowledge his hip-hop roots. He paid tribute to Black American musicians like Sugarhill Gang, and along with his funky music, he played  some Mediterranean and Latino rhythms (he has two Brazilian percussionists in his band and ended the concert with a “Salsa” version of a piano tune). He even rapped and interacted with the audience in English, Spanish, and Italian, showing a musical and language versatility that goes hand-in-hand with his progressive global vision.

For someone who is a superstar and sells out stadiums in Europe, it was a special treat to see him perform in a more intimate concert venue such as the Vic Theater. Next time he is in town, you should go see him, even if you are not familiar with his music. You will enjoy the concert regardless!  Here is some footage of last night’s concert. Enjoy!