Authors Posts by Fly Brother

Fly Brother

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Full of sensual chords and jazzy rhythms virtually unheard on any contemporary record, Sweetback’s 1996 self-titled album took me on an aural adventure through time and space during my very early days of travel. Comprised of the UK-based backing musicians for Sade, without the cosmic songstress herself, Sweetback elevated multicultural, ambient sounds to 30,000 feet before lounge and ambient music became popular. Many of the songs had been written for Sade to perform on her studio albums, but a line-up that included conscious rapper Bahamadia, eclectic chanteuse Amel Larrieux, and bohemian crooner Maxwell guaranteed luscious vocals laid elegantly over lush instrumentals.

But it was indeed the instrumentals that would propel me sonically into another dimension. “Chord,” with its slinky opening saxophone and popping drum cadence, was the perfect traveling music for a daylight hop from Atlanta to Washington National. Sexy slow jam “Walk of Ju” kept it steamy for the nighttime La Guardia to Fort Lauderdale flights. “Come Dubbing”—with tinkly percussion recalling a Tiki Bar in space, while the piano sneaks in and takes the party to the penthouse—paired excellently with a westward flight at sunset. Ethereal, airy “Cloud People” worked on any route, at any time of day or night, as long as there was a window to look out of and a wish to whisper to yourself.

There may be years that pass between the last time I listen to Sweetback and the next, but each time is like hearing the music of the air—and flying through it—for the first time.




What’s  your original traveling music?

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In Venezuela, the Médanos de Coro fan across the northern coast of Falcón state like a scarf in a perpetual breeze. Rippling, undulating, incessantly moving waves of sand rise and fall with the crest and trough of every dune. Grains of sand sparkle in the tropical sun as the expanse of tan and beige and gold stretches toward the horizon, broken only occasionally by fingers of bright green shrubs in interstitial spaces where plants took root before the rainwater could dry. The Médanos lap dangerously at the edge of the crumbling town of Santa Ana de Coro, threatening to swallow the place grain by grain just as the sands of time swallowed the Colombian village of Macondo. Or did that only happen in a book?

Medanos de Coro _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 1 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 2 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 3 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 4 _ Ernest White II

 

The Médanos de Coro begin just north of the town of Santa Ana de Coro, Venezuela, located three hours east of Maracaibo by bus. American Airlines flies nonstop to Maracaibo (MAR) from Miami.

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One of the things I love about flying foreign carriers is the little bits of culture that you get to experience on the airline. With SAS, which connects the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to the rest of the world, you get a very Nordic combination of friendliness and efficiency that make traveling with the airline an enjoyable experience. Since 1946, SAS (read as an acronym in English, but pronounced “sass” in Scandinavia) has used geography to its advantage in offering one of the shortest routes between continents in the northern hemisphere via the North Pole. In fact, in the days when multiple refueling stops were required for long-haul aircraft, SAS was the first airline to provide transpolar passenger service: a thrice-weekly flight from Los Angeles to Copenhagen—with fuel stops in Canada and Greenland—and free onward connections into Europe.

SAS vintage poster

With its main hub at Copenhagen Airport and two smaller hubs in Oslo and Stockholm, SAS competes directly with Finnair for the lucrative Asia-Europe market, and with Icelandair and low-cost airline Norwegian for passengers between Europe and North America. As a member of the Star Alliance and with a fleet of spacious, slickly refurbished Airbus A-330 jets, and a trio of comfortable, beautifully designed transit hubs, SAS is one of my favorite airlines for transatlantic travel. As long as expectations aren’t as high for the intra-European operation—the only free beverages are tea and coffee, and the leg-room is a bit tight—I think you’ll end up flying Scandinavian at every opportunity.

SAS

SAS Scandinavian Airlines flies daily from Boston, Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles to Scandinavia.

 

Images courtesy SAS Group

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“I don’t care where we go.
I don’t care what we do.
I don’t care, pretty baby,
Just take me with u.”

Ever since Prince first whisked Apollonia off on his motorcycle to get purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka in the 1984 rock film Purple Rain, The Artist has been an unlikely source of travel inspiration. Not only was his music daring, provocative, and unlike anything else played on urban contemporary radio in the ’80s and ’90s, Prince pushed the boundaries of identity and cultural expectation in a way that I could relate to even before realizing it.

Prince—music incarnate—came to represent the absolute expansiveness of blackness by hailing from a geographic and cultural region not traditionally associated with black culture. But he also opened up the possibilities of language and experience to me well before I even understood what was happening. I was ten years old when the goofy but sumptuous Under the Cherry Moon first aired on cable TV. Ridiculous script and laughable acting aside, it’s the brilliant cinematography, exotic setting (Nice, n’est-ce pas?), and lush, phenomenal score that still makes me want to―just for a moment―run off and be a gigolo on the Riviera. Indeed, half of the songs on Parade, the film’s masterpiece of a companion album, feature the sensuous vowels of French, with “Vous êtes très belle” joining that other soulful French refrain, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?,” on the list of half-baked French phrases that every American of a certain age knows.

But beyond the language,  Prince made it okay to think differently, to desire a life beyond your own immediate borders, and to go after that life. In flamboyantly seducing every socialite and debutante on the Côte d’Azur, he made it okay to travel abroad and to live, unabashedly. And in heels, too.

Thank you, sweet Prince.
__________

Let Prince take you on a trip to the Moon:

 

Image by Robert Whitman

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In the filtered sunlight of the bus window, the little boy’s straight, yellow hair streamed from the top of his head like a sparkler. He peeked over at me, again, and this time, I gave him the most sour grimace I could muster. “What are you looking at?” I thought, again, but didn’t say because he was, after all, a child. But so was I, really: a 16-year-old spending the summer between his junior and senior years of high school in the northernmost province of Sweden, a hair south of the Arctic Circle.

I must have been the last foreign exchange student placed with a host family because, of all the American students placed in Sweden that summer, I was the farthest north and the furthest away from the capital city of Stockholm, where I had requested to be placed. The hamlet of Råneå was an hour outside of Luleå, itself not even topping 50,000 people and whose most famous export was ‘70s model and Bond girl Maud Adams. A bus that ran three or four times a day connected the town to the city, and neither town nor city was very racially diverse in 1994.

In fact, aside from a brown-skinned Sri Lankan girl adopted by Swedish parents in Råneå, it seemed I was the only other person of color in that section of the province, a flat, swampy expanse with Mesozoic-sized mosquitos and a sun that never set in summer. Not so very different from Florida, after all. The adults and other teenagers I was around—mostly, my host sisters’ friends—didn’t seem too scandalized by the skin tone difference: The Oprah Winfrey Show aired on Swedish television and two of the star players on Sweden’s World Cup soccer team were half-black.

But the little boy on the bus couldn’t stop looking. And finally, I stopped grimacing and smiled. He smiled, too, then I got off the bus.

 

Image by Daniel Glifberg via Flickr.

TheCanJam isn’t just a musical group, it’s really the spirit of the music. What the music does for people.” Germaine Thomas, American chanteuse and long-time resident of Stockholm is one of the featured performers of TheCanJam, a musical experience inspired and nurtured by magician and performing artist Christiano Can. “Performing with the Jam puts you in a different dimension of music, circling around all genres. It’s specific but non-specific, stepping out of boxes and touching souls,” says Thomas. “It’s music for the soul, not just soul music.

Currently cycling through music-savvy Stockholm, TheCanJam offers performers, musicians, and the surprisingly game audience a space to tap into their souls as they tap their feet. The core group of jammers—including Thomas and an internationally groovy crew of funk and soul musicians—unites rhythms from around the world under the mesmerizing strains of Christiano’s impactful, conscious lyrics and arrangements.

“At TheCanJam, the individual takes a back seat to the music, which leads to a collective consciousness, a letting go of self. You end up in a state of euphoria and heightened awareness,” says Simon Teng, a percussionist originally from Malaysia who joined the Jam in its second season. Participants and audience members alike speak to the spirit of TheCanJam as being about much more than music. “I had just moved to Stockholm after 15 years in Switzerland, but had no friends here when I walked in on a Jam one cold, rainy day,” recalls Teng. “I walked out with a family.”

Get TheCanJam’s recorded project, Money Can’t Kill Music by the Neverland Collective, “a multifaceted fine art project composed of sonic vibrations, voices, instruments, illustrations, animations, dinner table discussions, and hippie-fire-side-chats.”

And listen to TheCanJam live, plus other aural delights at Candid Radio.

 

Image by Petra Rolinec.

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Read Cash Money in Havana  — Part One.

The Malecón lines the northern shore of Havana, holding back the waters of the Florida Straits about as effectively as it holds back dreamers from taking to those waters in rickety vessels bound for the Sunshine State. Before night falls, families with children, elderly couples, and tourists stroll the promenade under the tropical sun. After dark, lovers—clandestine or otherwise—promise each other eternity or just one night in the shadows between each wave.

I wandered down into the sticky, salty air of the Malecón needing $60 to change my plane ticket and, as a writer, open to considering any and all possibilities. Amid the scores of lusty young men looking for release, I met a slim, sinewy, dark-skinned brother just a bit taller than me and wearing a black tank top and khaki shorts. We exchanged smiles and lingering eye contact, inching closer to one another with pleasantries in Spanish. But as the space between us narrowed, we both noticed a tall, pinkish older man with receding blond hair and swollen muscles squeezed into a tight German soccer jersey. He was looking at both of us with pointed interest, his nod conveying an unequivocal proposal of transactional sex. This was the standard arrangement between most foreigners and Cubans on the Malecón at night. I say most, because that was not the implied arrangement between the slim, sinewy, dark-skinned brother and me.

He looked at me with questioning eyebrows and a forward posture indicating that I should accompany him over to the pinkish German. I thought about the $60, the brother’s smile (and privates), the epic story that the scenario would make, and potentially great sex; the German wasn’t exactly bad-looking, just sunburned. In the end, though, my ingrained American prudery won out, and I slowly shook my head no. “Vayas, tú.”

“Okey,” he said, “gracias.” He put his hand around my waist and pulled me closer, his lips brushing against my neck just below the ear. He slowly, slowly dragged his hand across my lower back as we unfurled, then winked and smiled before walking over to the German. I turned back towards town and my casa particular, knowing that I needed to wake up early if I hoped to sell anything for cash down at the souvenir market.

 

Image by truebacarlos via Flickr.

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DO YOU WANT TO GO TO BRAZIL? LET ME SHOW YOU HOW!

Oi gente! Let tell you about an exciting, comprehensive web course I’ve developed to give you everything you need to know about traveling to Brazil. Not only do I visit often, but I lived in Brazil for three years, working as an editor at Time Out magazine and spending my weekends on the beaches, in the clubs, and falling in love with this magnificent place. And I want to share all the tricks and tips—the jeitinhos—I’ve learned about traveling to Brazil, with you!

 

WITH THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR, YOU’LL LEARN:
✓ About the history, culture, and beauty of Brazil

✓ How to get to Carnival in Rio, Salvador, and other party capitals

✓ How to get your Brazilian tourist visa

✓ Where to go for beaches, city breaks, or outdoor adventures

✓ How to find affordable accommodations

✓ How to enjoy yourself and stay safe while in Brazil

✓ How to say “please,” “thank you,” and “Where’s the bathroom?” in Portuguese

 

THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR INCLUDES…

SIX 20-MINUTE VIDEO SEGMENTS:

  • Introduction and Country Overview, which describes the infinite wonders of Brazil: the culture, the people, the sights and sounds and magic of the place, and why you’ll end up returning again and again.
  • Visas and Documentation, which is all about securing your Brazilian tourist visa and navigating the process.
  • Where to Go: Rio de Janeiro? Salvador da Bahia? Florianopolis? Sao Paulo? The Amazon? Iguazu? It’s all in there.
  • Finding Accommodations: hotels, hostels, bed-and-breakfasts, CouchSurfing, apartment rentals.
  • Staying Safe and Having Fun: How to maintain your belongings and your sanity, and also how not to be an entitled foreign douchebag while traveling.
  • Introduction to Brazilian Portuguese, where I teach you the basic phrases for fun, safety, and even hook-ups.

 

TEN SINGLE-PAGE, DOWNLOADABLE PDFs

  • Fly Guide to Brazil General Overview
  • Flybrary: Brazil Primer
  • Flybrary: Brazilian Music
  • Flybrary: Brazilian Film
  • Fly Guide to Rio de Janeiro
  • Fly Guide to São Paulo
  • Fly Guide to Salvador da Bahia
  • Fly Guide to the Amazon
  • Fly Guide to Florianópolis
  • BONUS: Fly Guide to Carnival in Brazil

AND a 20-MINUTE SKYPE CALL with me to answer your specific questions about traveling to Brazil.

 

ALL THIS:
6 videos
10 downloadable PDFs
AND a 20-minute Skype session for only $149!

ORDER THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR ON UDEMY TODAY!

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Once, I ran out of money in Cuba. It was 2009, and I had returned to Havana after two previous trips with the purpose of experiencing the place before Fidel Castro officially kicked the bucket and KFC brought in theirs. Alas, I had miscalculated my finances, as friends and family can attest that I am wont to do, but decided to go on the trip anyway, as I am also wont to do.

Five days into my eleven-day sojourn in Cuba’s crumbling, captivating capital city, I found myself with less than $10 and no way to borrow money from the U.S., with the embargo and all. I had paid up for the next few nights at my casa particular, so I at least had lodging for a couple of days, and my Cuban friends would make sure I was properly fed and had some floor space somewhere, should it come down to that. I knew that, in Cuba of all places, I’d be all right. But I would still need cash.

I went to the Cubana office to talk with a ticket agent about taking an earlier flight back to Bogotá, where I was living at the time. The agent said it would cost me $60: a $50 change fee and a $10 typing fee. I was not mad at her hustle in the least; in fact, I appreciated her directness.

The task, then, was to figure out how I could earn the money. Previously, I’d brought basic goods—tube socks, deodorant, toothpaste, cans of chunk light tuna, packets of hair weave—to barter in exchange for Cuban souvenirs. This time, I only had the clothes I brought with me to wear, a clunky digital camera, my early-model laptop, and zero interest in or need for specially carved maracas or a linen guayabera.

I only had two places to find cash money in Havana: the souvenir market near the cruise ship terminal during the day, and the seafront promenade called the Malecón at night.

To be continued…

 

Read about my previous experiences in Cuba here.
Image by helenedancer via Flickr.

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One of the major joys of international travel, for me, is to take what I call an exotic flight. For some people, that might be the short hop from Honolulu to Hilo or Madrid to Barcelona. True, those destinations can be exotic for people who aren’t from those climate or cultural zones, but my type of exotic tends to mean flights connecting unexpected city pairs or crossing thinly-traversed parts of the planet. I get excited even at the mere idea of these flights, and even more so when one is booked, boarded, and finally plotted on my Flight Memory map. Here are five of my favorite exotic flights, straight from the annals of Fly History:

map

Copenhagen to San Francisco
Connecting two of the world’s most expensive destinations, SAS—the collective airline of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—flies between the Danish capital and America’s most beautiful city every day. I was mercifully upgraded to business class for the 11-hour-long flight over some of the northernmost reaches of the globe. That’s exotic for a raised-in-the-sunshine Florida boy like me.

Johannesburg to São Paulo
South Africa and Brazil are probably my two most favorite countries on the planet, and flying between the two megacities of the Southern Hemisphere had always been on my to-do list. Also, South African Airways’ 11 weekly flights linking the countries’ financial capitals ply one of the scant few routes across the South Atlantic Ocean. Arriving at sunset over the exhilarating sprawl of São Paulo while finishing up a bag of beef biltong is an underrated joy.

Miami to Berlin
For a while, I spent several months each year in Berlin, arguably the most dynamic city in Europe at the moment, and the polar opposite of a place like Miami, where I also spend several months each year. Airberlin, much like me, has an on-again-off-again relationship with Florida’s sun-slash-sin city, flying to the German capital a few times a week every winter. This time, I was shoehorned into a middle seat for a cramped 11-hour transatlantic schlep.

Mumbai to Johannesburg
Culturally, this now-defunct route isn’t as strange as it might seem: South Africa is home to the largest population of Indian-descended people outside of India. Unfortunately, South African Airways dropped the route after 20 years of service, just a few months after I had flown it in early 2015. While travelers can still connect easily through the Gulf or East Africa, I think it’s a shame that these two incredible places lack a direct air link.

Santiago to Auckland
Not only is this one of the few routes to cross the South Pacific—and approach the South Pole—but it’s also flown by one of the world’s newest jets, the Boeing 787. LAN (soon to be LATAM) jaunts from from Chile to New Zealand, then on to Australia, twice daily. LAN’s reliably good service and the newness of the planes offset the 13-hour flight time.

What are your favorite exotic routes?

 

Image by David Spinks via Flickr.