Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Simple rules of Spanish adjectives

One of the biggest differences between English and Spanish is the order of the adjectives and nouns. In English, you say,
white horse; in Spanish, you say, horse white (caballo blanco). Descriptive words always come after the noun they describe. Though this rule does have exceptions but they are very few.

Here are some common adjectives in Spanish:

alto tall

bueno good

bajo short

caliente hot

brillante bright

chico small

claro clear

débil weak

frío cold

fuerte strong

grande big

hermoso beautiful

oscuro dark

malo bad

mojado wet

sucio dirty

rápido fast

The two most common words used to link nouns and descriptive words are ser (to be—a permanent condition) and estar (to be—a temporary state). The rules on how to use these verbs have been discussed in a previous post on ser and estar.

Spanish adverbs must reflect the gender and number of the noun they describe. Adjectives ending in –o are already in the masculine form. To change to the feminine form of the adjective, just change the –o to –a. To make an adjective plural, simply add an –s. Por ejemplo (for example), let’s consider lento (slow):

lent-o (masculine singular)

lent-os (masculine plural)

lent-a (feminine singular)

lent-as (feminine plural)

Adjectives ending in –e or any consonant will not change their form no matter what the gender of the noun. In other words, their masculine and feminine forms are the same. However, they do change according to whether the noun is singular or plural. To convert the singular form to the plural, simply add an -s to the ending. Por ejemplo, fuerte (strong):

Fuert-e (masculine or feminine singular)

Fuert-es (masculine or feminine plural)

Nationalities in Spanish

Note that in Spanish, unlike English, adjectives of nationality are not capitalized. For example:

Mi padre es alemán y mi madre española. (
My father is German and my mother Spanish.)

Nationalities are often expressed using the preposition, de (from/of). For example:

Soy de Alemania. (I am from Germany.)

Soy alemán. (I am German.)

Adjectives of quantity

Unlike descriptions of qualities, these adjectives are usually placed before the noun. Some examples are:

Muchos/as many

Mucho/mucha much

Pocos/pocas few

Poco/poca little

Suficiente enough

Demasiado too much

Carlos Slim Helú: A latino, wealthier than Bill Gates!

So the picture has finally changed! Mexico's telecom tycoon, cigar-chomping Carlos Slim Helú
of the America Movil group, has overtaken Bill Gates to become the world's richest person, according to the Mexican online financial publication, Sentido Común.

Mr. Slim had rocketed through the global wealth-creators’ league quietly edging past the legendary investor, Warren Buffet behind for the second position, four months ago. Mr. Slim’s worth now stands at $67.8bn, well above Microsoft founder, Mr. Gates' $59.2bn, the website says. Thanks to the recent 27% surge in America Movil’s shares over the second quarter.

So, with a 33% stake in the largest mobile network in Latin-America, Mr. Slim has become the first tycoon to have beaten Mr. Gates as the world’s richest person in over a decade. Born to Lebanese immigrants, the 67-year-old, Mr. Slim has based his empire in Mexico City.

He started with property, moving on to stock-investment, starting a bottling company, and, more recently, the telecom sector. Mr. Slim also owns the Inbursa financial group and the Grupo Carso industrial conglomerate, whose interests range from retail stores to restaurants. Inbursa did well too, with a stock jump of 20% against Microsoft’s 5.7%.

During the Latin American economic crisis of the early 1980s, Mr. Slim made a name, and substantial profits, for himself by buying out many struggling companies at rock-bottom deals before turning around their fortunes.

In April, Forbes magazine estimated that Mr. Slim was the world's second-richest person behind Mr. Gates and ahead of US billionaire investor and the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

Like Mr. Gates, Mr. Slim is well-known for his generous philanthropy. Though his wealth is in stark contrast to the 53% of Mexico's population that are living in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Cited from BBC News.

The mysterious goat-sucker of Latin-America

Gonzalo Rodriguez
heard strange noises at night and sent his son to investigate. The son saw "a strange black animal resembling a small dog with a long tail and standing on two legs with a very long tongue. Upon seeing the light, the creature fled into the vegetation, skillfully leaping over a wall."

The El Norte news website in Argentina reports that a woman was almost battered to death by a strange creature that was short and black, like a dwarf. Liliana Nieves says her attacker battered her and wanted to drag her away.

Chupacabra (from Spanish chupar: to suck, cabra: goat; goats sucker) is a cryptid said to inhabit parts of the Americas. It is associated particularly with Puerto Rico (where it was first reported), Mexico, and the Hispanic United States. The name translates into goat sucker, from the creature's reported habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats. Physical descriptions of the creature vary. Eyewitness sightings have been claimed as early as 1990 in Puerto Rico, and have since been reported as far north as Maine, and as far south as Chile. Mainstream scientists and experts generally hypothesize that the chupacabra is an urban legend.
The legend of cipi chupacabra began approximately in 1987, when Puerto Rican newspapers El Vocero and El Nuevo Dia began reporting the killings of many different types of animals, such as birds, horses, and, as its name implies, goats. It is predated by El Vampiro de Moca (The Vampire of Moca), a creature blamed for similar killings that occurred in the small town of Moca in the 1970s. The killings had one pattern in common: each of the animals had their bodies bled dry through a series of small circular incisions. Puerto Rican comedian and entrepreneur Silverio Pérez is credited with coining the term chupacabras soon after the first incidents were reported in the press.

In July 2004, a rancher near San Antonio killed a hairless dog-like creature, which was attacking his livestock. This creature is now known as the Elmendorf Creature. In October 2004, two animals said to resemble the Elmendorf Creature were supposedly observed in the same area. Specimens of the dead animals were studied by biologists in Texas, who found that the creatures were coyotes suffering from very severe cases of demodectic or sarcoptic mange.

In Coleman, Texas, a farmer named Reggie Lagow caught an animal in a trap he set up after the deaths of a number of his chickens and turkeys. The supposed animal was described as a mix between a hairless dog, a rat and a kangaroo. The animal was provided to Texas Parks and Wildlife in order to determine what species it belonged to.

In April of 2006, MosNews reported that the chupacabra was spotted in Russia for the first time. Reports from Central Russia beginning in March 2005 tell of a beast that kills animals and sucks out their blood. Thirty-two turkeys were killed and drained overnight. Reports later came from neighboring villages when 30 sheep were killed and had their blood drained. Finally eyewitnesses were able to describe the chupacabra. In May of 2006, experts were determined to track the animal down.

In mid-August 2006, Michelle O'Donnell of Turner, Maine, described an evil looking rodent-like creature with fangs that had been found dead alongside a road. The mystery beast was apparently struck by a car, and was otherwise unidentifiable. Photographs were taken and witness reports seem to be in relative agreement that the creature was canine in appearance, but unlike any dog or wolf in the area. The carcass was picked clean by vultures before experts could examine it. For years, residents of Maine have reported a mysterious creature and a string of dog maulings.

In May 2007, a series of reports on national Colombia news reported more than 300 dead sheep in the region of Boyaca, and the capture of a possible specimen to be analyzed by zoologists at Universidad Nacional of Colombia.

The most common description of Chupacabra is a lizard-like being, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. This form stands approximately 3 to 4 feet high, and stands and hops like a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature hopped 20 feet. This variety is said to have a dog or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue protruding from it, large fangs, and to hiss and screech when alarmed, as well as leave a sulfuric stench behind. When it screeches, some reports note that the chupacabra's eyes glow an unusual red, then give the witnesses nausea. For some witnesses, it was seen with bat-like wings.
Another description of Chupacabra, although not as common, is described as a strange breed of wild dog. This form is mostly hairless, has a pronounced spinal ridge, unusually pronounced eye sockets, fangs, and claws. It is claimed that this breed might be an example of a dog-like reptile.

The corpse of an animal found in Leon, Nicaragua is claimed as a specimen of this genus. Pathologists at the University found that it was an unusual looking dog-like creature of an unknown specie. Unlike conventional predators, the chupacabra is said to drain all of the animal's blood (and sometimes organs) through a single hole or two holes.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

El Muerto: The Headless Horseman of South Texas brush country

Out of the badlands of the Rio Nueces and across the pages of western lore galloped the most fearsome rider of all time, the dreaded Headless Horseman of South Texas brush country. People called him El Muerto, the Dead One, and all who saw him ran screeching like banshees into the night. El Muerto brought terror and fear to the south plains for years.

Unlike Washington Irving’s rider in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this mounted specter was no figment of the imagination by any means. There is probably no legend in Texas history more frightening and terrifying than that of the headless horseman. He seemed to be everywhere, and his nightly rides caused more wide-spread panic than did the Indians, bandits, and outlaws combined. All efforts to destroy him went futile, as did all attempts to explain him. Credited with all sorts of evil and misfortune, El Muerto galloped across South Texas like wildfire.

The gruesome horror began turning up in conversations one summer around 1850 after one of two ranch hands out tending cattle in the Wild Horse Desert, which at that time stretched from the Nueces River practically all the way to the Rio Grande, happened to glance off into the darkness and saw what he thought was a lone rider silhouetted against the moon on a nearby low rise. The rider looked odd, and the cowboy wasn’t sure why. Since the cowboy and his partner were frying fatback for their evening fare, and the flickering flames of the campfire made viewing poor, if not totally obscured, the cowboy cautiously stood up for a better view. Squinting into the darkness, he suddenly turned and reached for his rifle. Not only was the rider sitting stiffly upright in the saddle, there was absolutely nothing above the shoulders! When the cowboy turned back around with his weapon, however, the horse and rider had vanished.

Thinking the Comanches were on the move and playing tricks, the two men quickly doused their campfire and spent a tense, restless night on the prairie listening for war whoops that never came. Daylight found them carefully picking through the brush for any signs of Indians or their pony tracks. They found none. What they did find, however, were the faint traces of a horse---a lone, unshod horse which had milled and moved about the meadow in an apparent grazing pattern. The tracks led over the rise and disappeared into the next valley.

With passing time, more and more cowboys and travelers spotted the dark horse with its fearsome cargo. All claimed that the rider carried his head under a Mexican sombrero tied to the horn of his saddle. The rider himself wore the light tan, rawhide leggings of the Mexican vaqueros, and a brush-torn serape which fluttered over his shoulders and out behind him like a wind-blown cape. Some people even claimed to see Indian arrows and spears dangling from the body. But El Muerto wasn’t yet ready to be explained. Stealing through the night, creeping up on the unwary, he made the South Texas brush country a place to avoid, a place associated with evil and misfortune. It would be years before the real truth could be learned.

From the outset, Texas was probably the most savage and brutal of all the western states. It was never a Territory---it went from a Republic in 1836 directly into Statehood in 1845---and it had to rely solely on its own wits instead of the United States Army for survival. It was prime Indian and bandit territory, and the lawless took every advantage of it.

Fortunately, Texas was never totally defenseless. It had a group of peace officers determined to drive the outlaws from the land. Called Texas Rangers, this roving posse of expert gunmen existed long before the bid for independence took place. Two of these men were Creed Taylor
and William Alexander Anderson "Big Foot" Wallace, who was himself a folk hero. It was Big Foot, with Creed’s blessing, who unwittingly created El Muerto.

Creed’s ranch lay west of San Antonio, in the thickest of bandit territory, not far from the headwaters of the Nueces River. He had cattle and horses, and like all stockmen on the open range, he also had a devil of time keeping tabs on his stock. At the time Creed Taylor and Big Foot Wallace created their headless horror, Mexican bandits were a dime a dozen in South Texas.

One well-known raider was a Mexican horse thief known as Vidal, who had always been as elusive as the will-o’-the-wisp. Back in the earliest days of the Texas Revolution, he had been a lieutenant in the Mexican army. However, after the war, Vidal turned to horse stealing with his area of operation stretching clear into Louisiana and Mississippi and soon he had a price on his head all over South Texas. That summer of 1850, taking advantage of a Comanche raid which pulled most of the men northward in the pursuit, leaving the sparse settlements temporarily unguarded, he and three of his top confederates made off with some of Taylor’s prized mustangs. Taylor lost all his patience.

Unknown to Vidal, Taylor was not out chasing Comanches. Where the river bends below Uvalde, Taylor and his aide ran into Big Foot Wallace. But Big Foot already knew how to get to the Indians: mutilate the body in some fashion---like scalping---and then leave the body to rot. But, getting to the Mexican superstitious beliefs required a little more thought.

When the three men finally located the camp of their quarry, they waited until night, when all the thieves lay sleeping, before making their attack. An ensuing gunfight down the line, the thieves were quickly killed, and that included Vidal. Although Vidal was wanted dead or alive, Big Foot had other plans. As disgusting as the task was, with the help of his friends, he severed Vidal’s head from his body.

The men then lashed Vidal’s body on a young, charcoal-colored stallion, binding the hands to the saddlehorn, legs to the stirrups, and securing the torso in such a fashion that it sat upright in the broad, Mexican saddle and couldn’t fall out. They then tied the stirrups to each other under the horse’s belly so they could not fly up. When that was finished, Big Foot worked a rawhide thong through the jaws of Vidal’s decapitated head, and with the chin strap of the sombrero, secured it in the sombrero, which he tied to the saddlehorn where it would flop and bounce with each step of the horse. He then turned the terrified mustang loose with an ear-splitting yell that could have been heard in the next valley. The maddened pony went bucking and stomping over the hill...and into legend.

Big Foot’s creation rode into legend. Why? Because no one knew what it was. No one was ever able to kill it. The black horse never came close to anyone or anything. It just milled about on the fringes of vision, scaring everyone who saw it. Furthermore, although frontiersmen took long shots at it and claimed that they hit it, it continued to ride. Creed Taylor and Big Foot couldn’t advertise what they had done because then it would not have been effective. No doubt they chuckled every time they heard stories of the fearsome rider. As it was, the specter, clad in its Mexican rawhide leggings, buckskin jacket, and blowing serape, with its severed head tied on the saddlehorn beneath the tattered Mexican sombrero, frightened everyone on the south plains for years. As more and more ranchers, cowhands, and stage drivers saw the dark horse with its gruesome cargo galloping through the brush, more and more outlandish characteristics were added to its countenance.

Eyewitnesses claimed the horse spouted flames from its nostrils and sent lightning bolts skyward with each clop from its hooves. The eyes in the head under the tattered sombrero were said to be like two fiery coals chipped from the cinders of hell. Some even claimed the specter glowed with an eerie green light and smelled like brimstone as it thundered through the tumbleweeds and desert sage.

People credited it with all kinds of curses and misfortune. When a posse of local ranchers and cowboys finally became brave enough to bushwhack it at a watering hole on a ranch at the tiny community of Ben Bolt just south of Alice, they were thunderstruck to discover a dried-up Mexican corpse riddled with hundreds of bullet holes, arrows, and Indian spears. It was lashed to the horse and saddle so tightly that the rope had to be cut to unfasten it. Beneath the rotting sombrero was a small skull, shriveled from too many years in the grueling, Texan sun.

Vidal---what was left of him---was finally laid to rest in La Trinidad’s tiny ranch cemetery at Ben Bolt. The grave lies back in the brush marked only by a small, jagged chunk of limestone.

Although El Muerto was now properly dead and buried, his ghost apparently never got the message. Right up until the fort closed in 1869, soldiers at Fort Inge (present-day Uvalde) saw the headless rider---and properly avoided him. So did travelers and ranchers throughout the No-Man’s Land.

At the turn of the century, the headless horror rode straight through a wagon team in Old San Patricio, passing soundlessly through the traces, the wagon, and the terrified occupants at a place now called Headless Horseman Hill. The site is on the outskirts of town, near the old cemetery. Even today in the tiny community of San Diego in Duval County, a headless rider can occasionally be seen on dark nights, galloping through the desert sage toward a dried up pond once known as Dead Man’s Lake.

There are still rumors that El Muerto continues to ride. In a modern-day manhunt in the brush near Freer in 1969, members of the mounted posse reported a strange horseman off in the distance. Two men rode to investigate, but they found no indication that a horse and rider had been in the area. Furthermore, although unwilling to admit it in front of other members of the posse, one officer was overheard to whisper that he thought the unknown rider had no head.

Although everyone is gone now, the legend lives on. The Headless Horseman of South Texas Brush Country is still very much real.

Cited from TheOutlaws.com.

Ever been called a gringo and felt insulted?

If you have ever visited a Latino neighborhood, chances are that you have been called a
gringo by the natives if you happen to be a non-Hispanic White. At the same time, I can bet, most of you must have also taken offense at this reference! Well, you can’t be blamed as it has been drilled into our brains that this is a term of racial abuse for non-Latinos used by the ones who speak Spanish.

But did you know how this word came into being or what it actually means? Well, it’s true that this is a Latino slang term that they use for any White whose native language isn’t Spanish. The American Heritage Dictionary and other English dictionaries classify the term as offensive slang, usually disparaging or often disparaging. However, the fact remains that many native speakers who use it do not do so pejoratively. Actually, it’s the context that decides whether the word has been used as an insult or a general reference. There is furthermore some variation in the connotation of this word between Latin America and the rest of the English-speaking world, and even among the countries within Latin America.

The Hispanic migrants in the United States occasionally use this word as a derogatory synonym of Anglo, though a more frequently word used in that sense is gabacho. In Mexico, the word gringo is not used for Americans. They use gabacho instead. And natives of Central-America use the word, gringo to refer to any North-American in general, with no insult intended. With no pejorative sense, the Caribbeans use gringo for all citizens of the US, while the Puerto-Ricans use the term for all Americans who live on the mainland United States. The Chileans, however, mean pure insult when they call you gringo!

According to the Spanish etymologist Joan Coromines, gringo is derived from griego (Spanish for Greek), the proverbial name for an unintelligible language (a usage found also in the Shakespearean, it was Greek to me and its derivative, It's all Greek to me). From referring simply to language, it was extended to people speaking foreign tongues and to their physical features - similar to the development of the ancient Greek word, βάρβαρος (bárbaros), meaning barbarian. Still, scholars are not in agreement about the correct origin of this word.

So the next time somebody calls you a gringo, relate it to the context and the situation and judge whether it was an insult or not before you start sulking. It could be just a friendly term with no hidden intent!

The legend of the Weeping Woman: La Llorona

This is a story that the old ones have been telling to children for hundreds of years. It is a sad tale, but it lives strong in the memories of the people, and there are many who swear that it is true.

It can be traced back many miles and three centuries to become a part of the Mexican border folklore. Among the old folk tales told up and down the Rio Grande is the story of Maria Gonzales. Some say she was the most beautiful girl in the world! And because she was so beautiful, Maria thought she was better than everyone else.

As Maria grew older, her pride in her beauty grew too. When she was a young woman, she would not even look at the young men from her village. They weren't good enough for her! "When I marry," Maria would say, "I will marry the most handsome man in the world."

And then one day, into Maria's village rode a man who seemed to be just the one she had been talking about. He was a dashing young ranchero, the son of a wealthy rancher from the southern plains. He could ride like a Comanche! In fact, if he owned a horse, and it grew tame, he would give it away and go rope a wild horse from the plains. He thought it wasn't manly to ride a horse if it wasn't half wild.

He was handsome! And he could play the guitar and sing beautifully. Maria made up her mind-that was, the man for her! She knew just the tricks to win his attention.

If the ranchero spoke when they met on the pathway, she would turn her head away. When he came to her house in the evening to play his guitar and serenade her, she wouldn't even come to the window. She refused all his costly gifts. The young man fell for her tricks. "That haughty girl, Maria, Maria! " he said to himself. "I know I can win her heart. I swear I'll marry that girl."

And so everything turned out as Maria planned. Before long, she and the ranchero became engaged and soon they were married. At first, things were fine. They had two children and they seemed to be a happy family together. But after a few years, the ranchero went back to the wild life of the prairies. He would leave town and be gone for months at a time. And when he returned home, it was only to visit his children. He seemed to care nothing for the beautiful Maria. He even talked of setting Maria aside and marrying a woman of his own wealthy class.

As proud as Maria was, of course she became very angry with the ranchero. She also began to feel anger toward her children, because he paid attention to them, but just ignored her.

One evening, as Maria was strolling with her two children on the shady pathway near the river, the ranchero came by in a carriage. An elegant lady sat on the seat beside him. He stopped and spoke to his children, but he didn't even look at Maria. He whipped the horses on up the street.

When she saw that, a terrible rage filled Maria, and it all turned against her children. And although it is sad to tell, the story says that in her anger Maria seized her two children and threw them into the river! But as they disappeared down the stream, she realized what she had done! She ran down the bank of the river, reaching out her arms to them. But they were long gone.

The next morning, a traveler brought word to the villagers that a beautiful woman lay dead on the bank of the river. That is where they found Maria, and they laid her to rest where she had fallen.

But the first night Maria was in the grave, the villagers heard the sound of crying down by the river. It was not the wind, it was La Llorona crying. Where are my children? And they saw a woman walking up and down the bank of the river, dressed in a long white robe, the way they had dressed Maria for burial. On many a dark night they saw her walk the river bank and cry for her children. And so they no longer spoke of her as Maria. They called her La Llorona, the weeping woman. And by that name she is known to this day. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for, La Llorona might snatch them and never return them.

La Llorona still cries for her children. She comes in the dark, on the wind, seeking that which is forever lost to her.

La Llorona - from the Mexican folktale.

Don’t go down to the river, child,
Don’t go there alone;
For the sobbing woman, wet and wild,
Might claim you for her own.

She weeps when the sun is murky red;
She wails when the moon is old;
She cries for her babies, still and dead,
Who drowned in the water cold.

Abandoned by a faithless love,
Filled with fear and hate.
She flung them from a cliff above
And left them to their fate.

Day and night, she heard their screams,
Borne on the current’s crest;
Their tortured faces filled her dreams,
And gave her heart no rest.

Crazed by guilt and dazed by pain,
Weary from loss of sleep,
She leaped in the river, lashed by rain,
And drowned in the waters deep.

She seeks her children day and night,
Wandering, lost, and cold;
She weeps and moans in dark and light,
A tortured, restless soul.

Don’t go down to the river, child,
Don’t go there alone;
For the sobbing woman, wet and wild,
Might claim you for her own.

Courtesy Joe Hayes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Whales barf...and they sell it too!

We truly live in a world of strange or, at least, overrated events occurring every other moment around us. So much so, that even a lowly blob of vomit (vómito) makes for sensational headlines! So what if it’s a whale’s? Isn’t it still a trash thrown up by an animal like us all? Why go so hysterical about it? Well you do so when your puke sells for $300 an ounce!

So whales (las ballenas) puke. Just like all of us. And they sell it too! It happened so that this lucky Latina, Dorothy Ferreira, 67, just received a 4-pound doozy from her 82-year-old sister in Waterloo, Iowa. The ugly box had no receipt and contained a gnarled, funky, wax-like blob that looked, well, ugly.

“I called my sister and asked her, ‘What the heck did you send me?’ ” Recalled Ms. Ferreira, who has lived here on the eastern tip of Long Island since 1982. “She said: ‘I don’t know, but I found it on the beach in Montauk 50 years ago and just kept it around. You’re the one who lives by the ocean; ask someone out there what it is.’ ”

So Ms. Ferreira called the Town of East Hampton’s department of natural resources, which dispatched an old salt from Montauk named Walter Galcik.

Mr. Galcik, 80, concluded that the mysterious gift might be ambergris, the storied substance created in the intestines of a sperm whale and spewed into the ocean. Also called whale’s pearl or floating gold, ambergris is a rare and often valuable ingredient in fine perfumes.

“He told me, ‘Don’t let this out of your sight,’ ” Ms. Ferreira said. She was soon summoned to show the thing at a town board meeting, after which a story in The Independent, a local newspaper, declared Ms. Ferreira the proud new owner of “heirloom whale barf.” Friends and neighbors flocked to her tchotchke-filled cottage overlooking Fort Pond Bay, the very shores where her sister, Ruth Carpenter, said she found the object in the mid-1950s.

Childless and never married, Ms. Ferreira bounced from job to job, most recently as a short-order cook at a local deli, and now lives on her Social Security income. “If it really does have value, I’m not silly, of course I’d want to sell it,” Ms. Ferreira said as she looked out past her lace curtains and picket fence at the whitecaps on the bay. “This could be my retirement.”

After researching ambergris on the Internet, Ms. Ferreira’s neighbor, Joe Luiksic, advised, “Put it on eBay.” But endangered species legislation has made buying or selling the stuff illegal since the 1970s; a couple who found a large lump of ambergris valued at almost $300,000 on an Australian beach in January has had legal problems selling it.

“If I get locked up, will you bail me out?” Ms. Ferreira asked her friends.

Ambergris begins as a wax-like substance secreted in the intestines of some sperm whales, perhaps to protect the whale from the hard, indigestible “beaks” of giant squid it feeds upon. The whales expel the blobs, dark and foul-smelling, to float the ocean. After much seasoning by waves, wind, salt and sun, they may wash up as solid, fragrant chunks.

Because ambergris varies widely in color, shape and texture, identification falls to those who have handled it before, a group that in a post-whaling age is very small. Ms. Ferreira says she has yet to find an ambergris expert.

Adrienne Beuse, an ambergris dealer in New Zealand, said in a telephone interview that good-quality ambergris can be sold for up to $10 per gram, adding that for the finest grades, “the sky’s the limit.”

At $10 per gram, Ms. Ferreira’s chunk, according to a neighbor’s kitchen scale, would have a value of $18,000. “The only way to positively identify ambergris is to have experience handling and smelling it, and very few people in the world have that,” Ms. Beuse said. “Certainly, if she has it, it’s like winning a mini-lottery.”

“The older folks would always tell us, ‘Keep your eyes open for that whale vomit because it’ll pay your way through college,’ ” Larry Penny, 71, director of East Hampton’s natural resources department, recalls. “We used to bring home anything that we thought looked like it, but it never turned out to be ambergris. The average person today could trip over it on the beach and never know what it was.”

Ambergris has been a valued commodity for centuries, used in perfume because of its strangely alluring aroma as well as its ability to retain other fine-fragrance ingredients and fix a scent so it does not evaporate quickly. Its name is derived from the French ambre gris, or gray amber. During the Renaissance, ambergris was molded, dried, decorated and worn as jewelry. It has been an aphrodisiac, a restorative balm, and a spice for food and wine. Arabs used it as heart and brain medicine. The Chinese called it lung sien hiang, or “dragon’s spittle fragrance.” It has been the object of high-seas treachery and caused countries to enact maritime possession laws and laws banning whale hunting. Madame du Barry supposedly washed herself with it to make herself irresistible to Louis XV.

“We always heard about it, but I don’t remember finding any,” recalled Encie Babcock, 95, of Sag Harbor, whose great-uncle Henry Babcock was captain of a whaling ship in the 1800s.

Mrs. Carpenter, Ms. Ferreira’s sister, said she was about 30 years old, beachcombing with her dog in front of the family house, when she spied the object and “and just liked the way it looked, so I kept it.” After moving with her husband to Iowa, Mrs. Carpenter kept the waxy hunk in a box in her bedroom closet.

“Anytime we had houseguests, I’d take it out and ask them if they knew what it was,” she said. “Of course they didn’t. This is Iowa.” She sent it to her sister, Mrs. Carpenter said, because “I’m not feeling too good, and I don’t have much time left.”

Cited from The New York Times.

Gloria to release a Latino album

Spain's 20 Minutos reports that Gloria Estefan is set to announce tomorrow a new album in Spanish, with a focus on getting back to her Cuban music roots and reviving some Afro-Cuban rhythms

The album 90 Millas (90 Miles) is "an amazing explosion of rhythm" because of the influence of the r a genre, which is typically recognized for its use of the backbeat.

On the topic of the song Cuando Cuba Sea Libre (When Cuba is Free), Gloria clarified that it isn't a political song but a celebration for a free Cuba. The first promotional single, No llores, is already in the first spots on the Billboard charts.

The album, which is set to hit stores on September 18th, will be formally presented tomorrow at an event in Miami, along with a documentary which follows the making of the album and includes images of Cuba. Gloria has recruited a star-studded lineup of collaborators for this project, among them Carlos Santana, Andy Garcia, Sheila E., Cachao and India.

Cited from 20 Minutos.

Beyonce's Spanish just got a celebrity fan!

Beyonce's foray into Spanish language singing on a duet with Shakira is already stale tale now. Late last year, it had everybody talking about it. Well, the video's been out for a while, but now Shaki is amazed at what a polyglot Beyonce has become, and the experience of working with her overall:

Shak told MTV, "(Beyonce) has a very good accent when she sings in Spanish and I think anything that she wants to do she will do just fine, because she is a very determined and focused woman and that is something to admire. She is a great artist."
She added, "I am very happy and very excited about (working with Bey). I have just finished shooting a video with her. It was a fantastic experience to work with her, to get to know her as the great artist that she is.

"She is an amazing performer and also a sweet person and a very nice human being, and I am so thrilled and thankful for her invitation. It was her idea to make me a part of her album and it has been wonderful."

If you still haven't seen the video, check it out here.

Cited from MTV.

Which is the second most studied language worldwide?

Newt Gingrich might think that Spanish is the language of the ghettos, la lengua de Cervantes is now the second most studied language in the world, after English. According to Spain's 20 Minutos, there are now more than 14 million people studying Spanish in 90 countries in which Spanish is not an official language.

According to the Director of the Instituto Cervantes (the Spanish organization that looks to promote the language all over the world), one of the main reasons that people are choosing to study Spanish is because they believe that it will professionally benefit them in today's global economy. He also pointed to Brazil's decision to make Spanish an mandatory subject in schools as an example of the growing importance of Spanish in the world.

There are currently one million Spanish speakers in Brazil but Molina estimates that in 10 years there will be more than 30 million Spanish-speaking Brazilians, adding to the already 500 million Spanish speakers in America and Spain, making it the fourth most spoken language in the world, after Chinese, English and Hindi. Brazil's new Spanish initiative will call for 210,000 Spanish teachers to teach the language.

Molina, speaking at a language school conference in Coruña, Spain, also said that the United States -- currently with (according to his estimate) 36 million Spanish speakers -- is the frontier that must be conquered, calling it a decisive platform for Spanish to reaffirm its role as the second language of international communication.

Cited from 20 minutos

Ever seen a true Latino URL?

Spanish speakers have gotten used to seeing their language take a beating when it comes to URLs, since such common accents and even an entire letter (the beloved Ñ) have previously been unavailable for use in our browser address bar.

Given the constraint, concessions have been made over the years, or people have simply had to call their website something else so as not to risk embarrassment in the form of words like year (año) becoming anus (ano). But that's all going to change now, as the Spanish government has labored to get the standards changed to accommodate the proper use of the language on URLs, as well as the characters associated with the other languages of Spain (Catalan, Valencian, Euskera and Galician):

Red.es, the industry in charge of domain registry in Spain, has informed the 62 accredited registry agents to allow names with the the characters á, à, 'é', è, í, ï, ó, ò, ú, ü, ñ, ç, and ll.

The initiative will go into effect in October, and there's already worry of speculation. As with prime real estate, there are just thousands of people out there waiting to snatch up previously unregistered URLs. Imagine the value of a site called niños.com (which when you type into a browser now, redirects to http://xn--nios-hqa.com/) to a baby products company, or elpaís.com to newspaper El País (previously found at elpais.com, without the accent on the i).

With so much at stake, they've set up a way to make sure vultures don't swoop down and take all the prime domain names. Priority will be given to holders of URLs already registered with the .es extension (for Spain) to register for the proper spelling or punctuation of their name, and a live auction will be held online in the case of disputed URLs, according to Spain's El País (or El Pais).

El País seems to imply that this only applies to sites in Spain. What isn't clear to me is where this leaves domain holders who don't have the .es extension for their sites. Will this apply to people with sites ending in .com or .com.mx, for instance? This measure is needed not only in Spain but in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world as well.

Cited from El País

Time to regret being a Latino?

New Jersey state officials are using the horrific murder of three black college students by Latinos at the beginning of this month to spark the fire of hatred and divide and conquer politics with the target being Latinos, specifically undocumented Latinos.

Newark is (rather, used to be) a sanctuary city for immigrants, meaning that immigrants, regardless of their status should have felt safe going on with their daily business (don't forget however that Los Angeles is allegedly a sanctuary city and yet Elvira Arellano was arrested while conducting a most American practice, a press conference). Some are predicting that the issue of sanctuary cities could become a hot button issue in the 2008 presidential campaigns.

While there is no evidence to indicate that undocumented immigrants (racialized as only being Latinos) have unleashed a crime wave in the United States (Diversity Inc. points out that cities with large undocumented populations are the cities touting huge crime drops), cities are changing their policing policies to target undocumented immigrants, which means de facto that anyone looking like an undocumented immigrant (Latino) will be affected.

New Jersey, where the Newark murders happened, was ordered by the state attorney general to notify federal immigration officials whenever someone arrested for an indictable offense or drunken driving is found to be an undocumented immigrant. This means that police officials will be acting as ICE deputies and asking people's immigration status. New information which links the suspects tied to the murders to sexual assaults adds a whole extra layer to tag onto undocumented immigrant stereotypes (they'll kill your children and rape your women).

Cited from The Albuquerque Tribune

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Some Spanish verbs easy to learn - IV

Here's the much awaited fourth installment in the series on Spanish verbs easy to learn due to their similarity with their English counterparts. So, following are the 47 new Spanish verbs that, believe me, you already know!

Concentrar to concentrate

Concernir to concern

Conciliar to conciliate, to win over, to reconcile

Concluir to conclude, to finish

Concordar to agree, to be in harmony (similar to concord)

Concurrir to concur, to meet together

Condensar to condense

Condenar to condemn, to sentence

Condescender to condescend

Condimentar to season (similar to condiment)

Confiar to confide, to entrust

Conectar to connect

Confederar to confederate

Conferir to confer, to give, to bestow

Confesar to confess

Confirmar to confirm

Confiscar to confiscate

Conformar to adapt, to adjust

Confortar to comfort, to console

Confrontar to confront, to face

Congelar to congeal, to freeze

Congratular to congratulate

Congregar to congregate, to call together

Conjeturar to conjecture, to guess, to surmise

Conjugar to conjugate

Consentir to consent, to permit

Conservar to conserve, to keep

Considerar to consider

Consignar to consign

Consistir to consist, to be based on

Consolar to console, to cheer

Consolidar to consolidate, to make solid

Conspirar to conspire, to plot

Constituir to constitute, to form

Construir to construct, to build

Consultar to consult

Consumar to consummate, to complete

Consumir to consume, to waste

Contaminar to contaminate, to defile

Contemplar to contemplate

Contener to contain, to restrain

Continuar to continue, to last

Contradecir to contradict

Contrastar to contrast

Contribuir to contribute

Controlar to control

Convencer to convince.

What's the best way to improve your Spanish vocabulary?

I've tried many things; some things work and others do not work so well. Usually if I hear the word or phrase spoken it sticks better than if something I read from a book and tried to memorize. Well, that's my personal opinion. What do real learners feel about this question? Here's a discussion.

I've heard that using a word 10 or 20 times will make it stick (some say 10 and others say 20). But it's not always easy work a word into a conversation and I don't always have the chance to speak to someone in Spanish. I read books, look up words if I can't tell the meaning by the context. I watch Spanish programs, mainly the news and soaps. I watch soaps to try to get the gist of the way people talk in a conversation.

I've tried witting new words, making flash cards and carrying them with me. I never know if this worked until I really need the word. When I work in different places that require me to learn different vocabulary words I tend to learn more. I worked awhile in security at a racetrack for horses. That built up my vocabulary for things that had to do with racing and horses, words like horseshoe, bridle, etc.

Working in the school system, I've learned more about things that have to do with children. Measles, mumps and chickenpox were words unfamiliar to me until I had to write notes to parents to make sure their children were vaccinated. Calificar was a verb I should have known before but it just never came up.

I would just like to build up my vocabulary without having to go into another profession to do so. Does anyone have any advice on this?

Response 1 There was an English vocabulary-building program (I think it was a feature in a long-ago magazine) whose slogan was: Use a word three times and it is yours. And I think that is the key — that's why your vocabulary increases when you are in certain environments, for there you don't just receive the words passively, but use them actively.

Since you may not often be in such environments, perhaps inventing sentences that contain the new words would help. Or maybe you could look for opportunities to use the new words, even if it means talking to yourself.

Response 2 I really don't think there are many "tricks." You basically have to slodge through the memory process. I have a German friend living here who has come to speak Spanish enough to get along very well. One of his tricks is, when he comes across a new word in conversation, he will use it two or three times within the next twenty minutes. Sometimes what he comes up with seems a bit forced, but I think it really helps him to plant" the word in his head. Of course, the larger your English vocabulary the easier it will be since you can find more cognates. And your vocabulary within the sphere of your professional or social life will always be much larger than your average vocabulary.

What I mean is, sitting here right now without thinking, I would have no idea how to say piston ring in Spanish (and I really don't care) simply because I have nothing to do with engines, except to use one to get around, on a day-to-day basis. But I suppose I could get around it if I had to by trying to describe it with vocabulary I do know, and eventually the mechanic will tell me what it is. But isn't that true of English also?

Response 3 I agree, thinking in Spanish and simultaneously translating it and using it all the time. I learned Portuguese because I wrote to about 20 people a day. When you write to 20 different people, just as if you were to talk to them, you'd be talking about a lot of different things and using a lot of different words, and thus increasingly your vocabulary without even thinking about it. What's really cool is the thing works.

Response 4 Another oldie-but-goodie idea: E-mail practice partners. I think that if you can find a Spanish-speaking English student whose English is on par with your Spanish and whose motivation and ability to commit time is similar to yours — for me that has worked as well as anything. My experience was that it wasn't as difficult to find someone like that for e-mail exchange as it was to find someone to practice with in person. If you can't find that situation, trying to keep a journal in Spanish might serve somewhat the same purpose.

Response 5 Reading is good too. But for building vocabulary, it is better to be reading from newspapers, magazines and literature (this can also give you cultural insights you don't get from textbooks). There is a lot of Spanish-language literature and there are a lot of Spanish language newspapers and magazines on line.

Response 6 I have a few pen pals that I write to. One in particular I have written to for about five years and he has helped me a great deal. Some of them are learning English and I can help them as well.

I would not have gotten as far as I have had it not been for these good people taking the time to help me. Sometimes there are things that they can't really answer, but just being able to write freely to them has been great. Not only have I learned a lot about Spanish but also about their country and culture.

Response 7 I really do believe in reading as a way of building vocabulary, although it must be done in conjunction with speaking the language to someone every now and then! I find that the more I read, the more when I get stuck trying to express something in spoken conversation, a phrase will spring to mind that I have read — perhaps in a slightly different context — in a newspaper or magazine. I have really stepped up my Spanish reading when it occurred to me that my English vocabulary is infinitely richer for all the reading I do. In the past I would be reluctant to spend money on reading material in Spanish because I was afraid the subjects would be too obscure or the vocabulary too hard. Now that there is so much free on the Internet, it is much easier to do!

Response 8 My advice is to keep a journal in the language you are trying to learn, put in all your days activities and also add a list of the words you learned that day with the native language translation and a sentence in both languages.

Response 9 It seems to me new vocabulary is good learned in sentences, but even better learned in stories or environments. Also, enhanced further by actual kinetic activity
doing or acting out the story or word you are learning. This is why i feel you learn so much through new jobs or trips.
So try acting out or doing the words as you learn them: Maybe try to learn food-words in the grocery, or while cooking. Translate the word, say garlic, then speak out loud (important: not in your head) a sentence describing what you are doing: I am cutting garlic. Every one will think you are crazy now, but a linguistic genius later.

Luckily I live in a major city, New York, with huge Spanish speaking communities, radio and TV. For those who don't and who can't take trips to immerse themselves in the language try this one: I help achieve a level of immersion at home by videotaping Spanish language television, especially news, soaps, a. k. a. diarios, and movies with the closed-caption feature turned on. I also rent Spanish language movies and turn on the English subtitles, then rent English-language movies and turn on the Spanish subtitles. I hunker in with a dictionary and a cup of tea and enjoy the ride.

Response 10 Mostly it is practice, practice, practice speaking, especially with native speakers. Be bold and unafraid to make mistakes and tell your Spanish friends (victims?) to correct every one. Because I am already fluent in one Romance language and read Spanish reasonably well, my teacher concentrates on getting me to talk about things that interest me, and we work on my weaknesses. Try to make it fun, don't get too serious. You need to make the time you spend in Spanish, with Spanish people, something you enjoy and look forward to, and this will become easier as you get to know them in their native language. You will make very rapid progress this way. If you have a skill, such as playing an instrument or a sport or game that your Spanish friend(s) would like to learn, then it's good idea to offer to teach them, or if you know a Spanish speaker who wants to improve his or her English, try doing half an hour each day. The sharing of the learning process makes the whole thing much more fun for both sides, and somehow the vocabulary is locked in better.

Learning a new language requires making a complete clown of yourself on a regular basis, but it's worth it.

The above discussion has been adapted from forums.about.com.

Claro: The most frequently used word in Spanish

Other than , the word for yes, claro is probably the word most commonly used in Spanish for expressing agreement, either with something someone has said or with a statement expressed earlier by the speaker. As an intensifier, claro can be translated in a variety of ways, depending on the context.

Common translations include of course, evidently, obviously and yes. In such usages claro usually functions as a sentence adverb or an interjection. Here are some examples of its use:

Claro que no es bueno. (Clearly it's no good.)

Claro que no todo es un lecho de rosas. (Obviously not everything is a bed of roses.)

Sí, claro, quiero saber dónde estás, cómo estas. (Yes, of course, I want to know where you are, how you are.)

¿Me reconoces? ¡Claro que sí! ("Do you recognize me?" "Of course!")

¡Claro que no puedes! (Of course you can't!)

Claro que tienes pruebas. (Surely you have proof.)

¡Claro que no! (Of course not!)

¿Salimos? ¡Claro! (Are we leaving? Sure!)

Sabemos lo que sabemos, claro. (We know what we know, evidently.)

Additionally, as an adjective, claro has a variety of meanings including light in color, clear, evident, weak or thin (in the sense of being watered down), and frank.

In a nutshell, Spanish claro can be understood to be a term denoting some kind of assertiveness, a certainty. As in, "This will certainly happen," or, "Of course, this will happen." Taking this concept further, we can assume this certainty to be clearly definite which gives a visual hint to remember the word: Clearly. Clearly sounds similar to claro and can thus be used as a mental hook to remember the sense and meaning of this Spanish word!

Who, exactly, is a Latino?

L.A. law actress Michele Greene, supermodel Christy Turlington, Wonder Woman Lynda Carter, baseball legend Ted Williams, New Mexico governor & presidential candidate – Bill Richardson: What do these individuals have in common?

Their American-sounding last names – and their Latino cultural heritage. I call them Latinos incognitos, because at first glance, they might not easily be recognized as Hispanic. With Anglo fathers and Latina mothers, the institution of marriage automatically hid the Latino heritage of all these individuals – at least on paper. As a result, they certainly don’t “sound” Latino. They may not even “look” Latino, either. So are they really Latinos?

Because of his name and his part-Anglo heritage, Bill Richardson has been accused of being “not Latino enough.” But at the same time, he is also accused of being “too Latino,” trying to leverage his Hispanic heritage for political gain.

The reality, of course, is that Bill Richardson is Latino, and he is Anglo. The two cultures are not mutually exclusive – although they are often treated as such. When was the last time you saw a box for “multicultural” on any official form? Our society does not easily accept the middle ground between two heritages.

On official forms, as in life, bicultural Latinos are pressured to choose. And inevitably, they will receive criticism for their choices. Kevin Johnson (another Latino incognito), in his memoir, How Did You Get to Be Mexican?, recalls being accused in college of “checking the box” as a Latino to get preferential treatment, but not being “Latino enough” to back it up with political activism.

Even Latinos with two Latino parents can have their Latinidad challenged. A dear friend of mine, who proudly describes herself as Puerto Rican, was often made to feel less so by her native Puerto Rican peers in New Jersey, because she wasn’t “born on the island.” Another friend who doesn’t "look" Latina recalls that the only way she could convince her Hispanic classmates that she was indeed Latina was to tell them she watched Walter Mercado’s horoscopes with her grandmother.

But who is a Latino, anyway?

Is it someone who is born in this country, a descendant of the original Spanish settlers?

Is a Latino someone whose family immigrated from a Spanish-speaking country and created a home here?

Can you be a Latino without a Hispanic name? Without speaking Spanish?

Without a direct connection to your heritage?

What makes someone a Latino?

It’s certainly not just the name, despite the U.S. Census’ original method of counting Latinos by using the category “Hispanic surname.” Where does that leave Governor Bill Richardson or Michele Greene (who, as a bilingual singer/songwriter, recently released her second CD in both English and Spanish)?

Language helps – but you don’t even have to speak Spanish to be a Latino (and a growing number of Latinos don’t). The reverse, however, can be true – you can start to feel Latino just by speaking Spanish. There is something in the sound of the language, the words themselves, that bring Latinidad to those who choose to celebrate its beauty, its richness, and its innate poetry.

Those who learn Spanish in order to bark orders at employees or simply to fulfill a foreign language requirement are not likely to feel it, though. Here, intention is everything.

Being a Latino is more than just a language or a last name, or even what country you came from or can trace your roots to. Being a Latino is about a feeling, an attitude, a connection to life and culture and family and music, and a desire to experience it all to its fullest.

Being a Latino means living life with sabor, and taking the time to appreciate and enjoy everything – and everyone – that makes life worth living.

And we can all use a little bit of that Latinidad.

Cited from HispanicTips.com.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CIA paid mobsters to eliminate Castro!

The CIA worked with two of the United States' most wanted criminals in a botched attempt to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro in a gangster-type action in the early 1960s, according to documents released by the CIA on June 26, 2007.

Hundreds of pages of long-secret records detail some of the agency's worst illegal abuses during about 25 years of assassination attempts and kidnapping. Some describe efforts to persuade Johnny Roselli, believed to be a mobster, to help plot Castro's assassination.

In August 1960 a CIA official, Richard Bissell, inquired about "assets that may assist in a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action," according to the documents.

"The target was Fidel Castro," one memo says.

The story Roselli was to be told was that several international businesses were suffering heavy losses in Cuba as a result of Castro's action and were willing to pay $150,000 for his removal.

"It was to be made clear to Roselli that the US government was not, and should not, become aware of this operation," a document says.

The pitch was made to Roselli at the Hilton Plaza Hotel in New York and Roselli was initially unenthusiastic. But the contact led the agency to two top mobsters, Momo Salvatore Giancana and Santos Trafficant.

Giancana, who was known as Sam Gold, suggested firearms might be a problem and said using a potent pill that could be slipped into Castro's food or drink.
Six pills of high lethal content were provided to Juan Orta, identified as a Cuban official who had been receiving kickbacks from gambling interests. He had access to Castro and also had financial troubles.

"After several weeks of reported attempts, Orta apparently got cold feet and asked out of the assignment. He suggested another candidate who made several attempts without success," the document says.

Cited from news.scotsman.com

Latino Gods of fire: Mexican volcanoes

The Aztecs saw only Godly ire in the fire and smoke spewing from the icy peaks around them, but the first climbers and scientists to visit Mexico's fire-breathing mountains recognized a unique string of 3,000 volcanoes piercing the landscape — of which fourteen are still considered active today. Even tourists who don't know a carabiner from a cabana will find that the heady cocktail of magma and margaritas makes Mexico's volcanoes worth a visit. Here are some of the most remarkable, best visited in the dry season between November and March.

Best-known: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl

When not obscured by Mexico City's famous smog, the country's second- and third-highest mountains dominate the skyline south of the capital, with the classic, symmetrical cone of Popo rising above the four irregular peaks of craterless Izta. It's an iconic image that inspired the Aztec version of Romeo and Juliet, in which the warrior Popo stands inconsolably over the dead princess Izta for all time.

Popocatépatl (Smoking Mountain in the Náhuatl language), whose explosions were recorded in Aztec codices, has been closed to climbers since it roared back to life in 1994; although it has since simmered down, Popo still sends up the occasional ash plume. Hikers can still explore forested trails, including educational nature paths, at lower elevations. Climbers, who for decades have used Popo's icy slopes as a training ground for Himalayan peaks, can instead ascend long-dormant Iztaccíhuatl (White Lady).

Parque Nacional Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatéptl is 45 miles southeast of Mexico City. The base town of Amecameca, with its 16th century churches and lively market, is worth exploring. So is Puebla, a picturesque colonial city renowned for its cuisine and Talavera pottery, 27 miles east of the park. Literary-minded visitors might prefer to bunk south of the capital in Cuernavaca — fictionalized in Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano as the city of Quauhnahuac.

Most active: Volcán de Fuego and Volcán Nevado de Colima

Parque Nacional Volcán Nevado de Colima, is home to the snow-covered, sleeping Volcán Nevado de Colima, but it's the younger, tempestuous Volcán de Fuego that steals the show. The volcano of fire has lived up to its name with a vengeance, erupting more than 30 times since 1585 — and still fuming. The University of Colima Volcano Observatory has monitored its activity for 20 years, including a June 2005 explosion that shot ash 3 miles into the sky.

Travelers can book a tour or hire a guide in Colima to explore Fuego's lower reaches or hike to the top of Nevado de Colima. Campsites and a basic hut are also available at the park entrance, where trails lead into wildlife-rich pine forest on Nevado de Colima's slopes. Dry months are December through May, though December through February can bring freezing temperatures.
The national park extends into both Jalisco and Colima states, about 19 miles from Colima, the semitropical state capital. Ciudad Guzmán, home of muralist José Clemente Orozco, is closer but has less to offer tourists.

Highest: Pico de Orizaba

Novice climbers need not apply: This is North America's tallest volcano (alt. 18,700 feet), known as Citlaltépetl (Star) in Náhuatl. Its perfectly shaped cone encloses a 1,000-foot-deep crater, the product of repeated explosions in the 16th and 17th centuries. Luckily for alpinists, Pico de Orizaba has been quiet since 1687 and was made a national park in 1936.

Experienced ice-climbers flock to Pico's glaciated slopes in December and January, but even non-climbers can enjoy hiking or riding horses in the foothills; October to March is best. Fit — and altitude-acclimated — hikers can also get a taxi to the village of Villa Hidalgo and walk about 5 miles up to the mountain hut called Piedra Grande at about 14,000 feet, where climbers stage their summit assaults.

The volcano straddles the PueblaVeracruz state border about 15 miles northwest of Orizaba, a laid-back city that caters mostly to climbers but has some fine colonial architecture, including the Iron Palace, an Art Nouveau building by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel that covers a city block. The base town of Tlachichuca offers lodging, supplies and guides. The nearest major city is Veracruz.

Newest: Paricutín

What little Paricutín lacks in stature, it makes up for in drama: In 1943, an unsuspecting corn farmer's fields ripped open and red-hot boulders rained on the surrounding landscape, burying two whole villages in Michoacán state. When the volcano fizzled nine years later, lava rock covered 10 square miles around a mountain rising 1,100 feet.

To explore one of the few volcanoes witnessed from birth to death, head for the gateway town of Angahuan, where guides on horseback line up at the highway intersection year-round to offer their services. The 8.5-mile round trip through pine forests to Paricutín's slopes is about a six-hour ride; hale hikers can handle the route on foot and continue to the summit. A shorter trip, about an hour each way on horseback, goes to the edge of the lava field, where a church spire piercing the black rock is all that remains of the village of San Juan Parangaricutiro.

Simple cabins are available in Angahuan, but day-trippers can also stay 22 miles east of Paricutín in Uruapan, known as the avocado capital of the world and home to a lovely, tropical national park.

Cited from sfgate.com