Taos Mountain, New Mexico

Taos Mountain, New Mexico - ©Susanna Starr

The temperature reading on the bank clock, as we passed by on our way north to the Taos Pueblo, registered 6 degrees. We were on our way to the Turtle Dance held every New Year’s Day to celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another. Read more at Examiner.

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico - ©John Lamkin




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Story by Susanna Starr
Photos courtesy of Riviera Maya/Turner PR

The designation “Riviera Maya” is a fairly recent one. For many years, even after the advent and development of Cancun, then Playa del Carmen and finally Tulum, this magnificent stretch of beach along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, was little explored. When I first arrived in that area in 1973, there were a few narrow sand roads leading to some small places where you could find some basic accommodations. Of course, there was the beautiful resort development of Akumal, still in its early, formative years, but after that, there simply wasn’t much happening. Driving down to Chetumal was an adventure on the gravel roads that traversed long, lonesome stretches of undeveloped jungle.
Riviera Maya, Mexico - Lodging
Riviera Maya Lodging

Now the entire strip of land from Playa del Carmen to Tulum has been developed with magnificent hotels, many of which are all-inclusive. Other properties are simply upscale, grand hotels owned and operated by world consortiums, designed to entice passersby, as well as vacationers who have made their reservations online. Many look like backdrops for movie scenes: lush, tropical landscapes with sparkling white sand beaches, brilliant turquoise waters and, of course, ubiquitous palm trees swaying in gentle breezes. Read more at Global Writes.

Vendor at Pochote Market in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

Going to any town in Mexico you will somehow find yourself at an outdoor market. Large cities have permanent markets with stalls set up for vendors who rent the spaces on a regular basis. But there are always street or neighborhood markets held weekly often specializing in something specific, such as flowers or crafts. Just passing through the fruit sections in any of these markets virtually compels the visitor to reach for their camera….Read More

Story & Photos by Susanna Starr

Mayan Ruins at Becan – Campeche, Mexico  ©Susanna Starr

In the nineteen seventies, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was just becoming accessible to the foreign traveler. Roads from Mexico City led to the Spanish colonial city of Merida, once known as Mayab, a major center of the Maya. Some even ventured as far as the magnificent stretch of beach that would later become the thriving tourist destination of Cancun. A small airport would be built, allowing even more people the opportunity to discover for themselves some of the mystery of the ancient Maya….Read more

Becoming a travel writer is certainly a personal decision and, although there may be some common denominators, we each hope to satisfy something within ourselves that calls to us. Some of the advantages in being a travel writer are obvious ones — seeing new places, FAM (familiarization) trips and discounts on travel and lodging and just the sheer enjoyment of travel.
Just as important as these general motivations, it might be worth your time to ponder on a few more abstract benefits of being a travel writer. For one thing, it provides a practice of connection. No longer will you be a tourist, passing through, but someone who is genuinely interested in new places and people. The mindfulness that you embrace becomes a necessity, because it´s the only way to really ¨be there¨ in a meaningful way. Along with this is the awareness and attention which are part of the whole idea of being mindful in all that you do. Being a travel writer heightens your sense of awareness as a good condiment heightens your sense of taste and smell. The attention you pay to what people are saying and doing, as well as the attention to your surroundings are something that is part of a travel writer´s way of making that important, personal connection.
So much of travel writing is in the details. Once you start writing, you´ll find yourself noticing so many more of the details that might escape just an ordinary visitor (can I say ¨tourist¨without being condescending?). Tuning into people you might have simply passed by can yield the fruit of a rich personal exchange. Hearing other people´s stories connects you in the most authentic way possible. Being able to convey that to others is the gift of the travel writer that transcends mere reporting.
Mayan Fresco recently discovered - behind glass Becan Mayan Ruins, Campeche, Mexico

Mayan Fresco recently discovered - behind glass. Becan Mayan Ruins, Campeche, Mexico ©Susanna Starr

Last, but not least……..minimizing what you carry as a travel writer can be a metaphor for life. By eliminating all the excess baggage and superfluous clothing and miscellaneous extras that are not really needed, it allows you the opportunity to lighten your load. At the airport, next time, notice how much baggage the ordinary traveler carries and what you, as a travel writer, has stripped down to. Unless there´s a real reason to carry something, you´ll find yourself pared down to only the necessities.
So, if you have a flair for or a love of writing coupled with the interest and desire to travel and explore new places and cultures, travel writing can be for you. It´s work, to be sure, and not the kind that will be financially rewarding, but the reward you receive will be on an altogether different level that will often exceed any expectation you might have. Have fun!!

Travels of Mind and Heart

Travels of Mind and Heart

 For the past dozen or so years I’ve been on a constant journey. I’ve traveled virtually every day, from the Pacific North West to India. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been deeply immersed with the people, heard their stories, learned a little about their culture, shared their thoughts, connected with their dreams and visions, felt their pain, exulted in their joys.

 Their stories have come to me on my daily journey, often in the hours just before sleeping, sometimes during the day, as a break from my normal routine or work and responsibility, of things needed to be tended to. I’ve been busy tending to my own soul which has expanded so much during this journey,that it now seems ready to burst out of its confines and take soaring to the air.

 Sometimes there have been tears, sometimes an agonizing lurch as my heart, once again, breaks open. Often there are laughs, more often smiles. My heart warms and my spirit glows. There are times of anger, especially when I encounter the ongoing saga of man’s inhumanity to man, the suffering of innocent children, the isolation and alienation that seems to be so all pervasive.

 I love these journeys that began so many years ago, when I was a child just learning to read. By the time I was five, I was reciting from memory the epic poetry from William Wordsworth Longfellow that my father used to read to me from the black leather covered book of poetry. I knew of the adventures  of the Skeleton in Armor as he told his story, of the wrath of the stormy seas in the Wreck of the Hesperus, of the chilling voice of the Raven and the memories of the lost Lenore.

 For many years, I immersed myself in the material things of the world, taking care of children, building homes, businesses that started out as dreams, as ways of being where I wanted to be. There was real adventure, incredible scenery, losses that forever tied me to others who also suffered their own. And there were boundless joys that have never receded as the anxieties and tensions have done. Although I was still reading some, there no longer was the imperative to make the journeys I so loved through the written word. I was too busy creating my own story.

 That story continues, and will as long as there is breath within the body. But the stories, the ones written by others and read by me, feed my soul virtually every day now.  I’m constantly on this journey that takes me to other lands, accompanying the characters that have been created through the written word, people and places that take on the reality of the imagination, rich and powerful.

 There are always differences, as we know exist, between people, landscapes, culture, weather, circumstances and psychological interiors. But, always, I’m reminded of the common threads that reoccur through countless ways of telling about them all.

 Often, I experience the exquisite phenomenon of putting down a book and coming back to my own reality, richer and more open. The birds sing with greater range, the mountain tops are reminders of the unmoving quality of that which endures. The sun shines brighter or the cloudy day seems to hold a certain depth of feeling. The day is more precious and everything seems more noticeable, as if seeing for the first time, with that special feeling of freshness.

 This is the journey that I love and cherish, that enriches me, that expands my horizons, that adds a measure of wisdom, that feeds my soul. There is no way that I could ever travel as I do through the written word. There is no way I could every meet all these others, hear their stories, share their ways except through these travels made by the mind and the heart.



Casita on Laguna Bacalar

"Casita" on Laguna Bacalar, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico - photo © Susanna Starr

Just a little more than half an hour away from the city of Chetumal and its airport, and about the same distance as the border with the country of Belize, is the small town of Bacalar, nestled on the shore of the pristine waters of Laguna Bacalar, one of Mexico’s hidden treasures.

Bacalar Wildlife

Bacalar Wildlife - photo © Susanna Starr

This area, in the southernmost part of the Yucatan Peninsula, is just at the point of developing as a tourist destination for the eco-minded traveler who seeks escape from the larger, often over-developed areas of the northern part of the Peninsula. Just an hour away from the nearest seaport of Mahahual on the Caribbean coast, a stopping point for cruise ships, the laguna is virtually undiscovered by tourism. It has always been known for its spectacular colors, much as the waters of the Caribbean, with its range of hues from emerald greens to azure blues and the famous brilliant arrays of turquoise and aqua. It is commonly referred to as “la laguna de los siete colores” (lagoon of the seven colors).

Becan Mayan Ruins

Becan Mayan Ruins - photo © Susanna Starr

Being sheltered from the ocean’s winds and salt sprays, the fresh waters of Laguna Bacalar provide a gentler, more nurturing feeling, making it ideal for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and other water sports. Fishing, too, is more of a relaxing sport than the challenge of deep ocean water .For deep-sea fishing, the Caribbean coast is only an hour away, as is the famed nature reserve of Sian k’an.

View of Laguna Bacalar from Rancho Encantado

View of Laguna Bacalar from Rancho Encantado - Photo ©Susanna Starr

In the other direction, south of Bacalar is the capitol of the state, Chetumal, which is located on the bay leading out to the Caribbean ocean. Long a major water route for the Maya, it was also used by the marauding pirates active in the area during their heyday. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that Quintana Roo became a state, with Chetumal as its capitol. Now a beautiful, tropical city with a broad boulevard along the “bahia,” it is home to the Museum of Mayan Culture, providing a superb introduction to this ancient civilization. This museum has stunning reproductions of ancient Mayan sites in the area as well as a complete representation of the Maya “Tree of Life” extending three levels from the underworld to the topmost branches reaching toward the heavens.

Cocodrilo Dorado Balneario(Golden Aligator swimming hole) near Bacalar

Cocodrilo Dorado Balneario(Golden Aligator swimming hole) near Bacalar - Photo ©Susanna Starr

Just across from the museum is the Mercado, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to modern electronic equipment. Also available throughout the city are numerous internet access as well as dentists, doctors and hospitals. The restaurants along the “Bahia” provide cool outdoor dining. There is also a zoo and the close proximity to the border with Belize now provides a new, Las Vegas style casino in the “free zone,” connecting the two countries. The country of Belize, with its various cultures and diversity of terrain is often included in vacation plans for this area of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The drive back and forth from Bacalar to Chetumal affords the opportunity to give the traveler the feeling for the small, traditional villages that dot the highway, most of which are populated by contemporary Maya. The Fort, located in the center of the village of Bacalar, was built by Mayan labor when the Spanish first landed in the late 1500’s. Like the charming “zocolo,” or central plaza, the Fort has undergone extensive restoration in the past year, making it a major attraction. The town of Bacalar has retained it’s feeling of authenticity, with no attempt toward tourist oriented activities, but rather remains a town where “real” people carry on their everyday lives. Many of the Mayan women can be seen in their traditional colorfully embroidered huipiles, especially on market day.

Julia Chay - Mayan Chef at Rancho Encantado

Julia Chay - Mayan Chef at Rancho Encantado - Photo ©Susanna Starr

At the south end of the town is the lovely Cenote Azul, located on the edge of a beautiful, palm-fringed cenote, whose depth has never been plumbed. The large, semi-outdoor restaurant is housed in a spacious palapa and serves primarily fresh seafood from the area as well as venison when available. The swimming is wonderful and many people take their bathing suits when going there for lunch. At the north end of town, lies the charming eco retreat/resort of Rancho Encantado with its extensive tropical landscaping and twelve individual casitas scattered along the shore of the Laguna. Well prepared, health-oriented food is served in their palapa restaurant on the water’s edge.

Mouth of the Dragon - Chiccana Mayan Ruins

Mouth of the Dragon - Chiccana Mayan Ruins - Photo ©Susanna Starr

Because of the close proximity to some of the most major Mayan sites in the region, the capital city of Chetumal and the border with the country of Belize, the location of Bacalar on the shores of one of the jewels of Mexico, Laguna Bacalar, provides opportunities for exploration of one of the last areas in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to develop. Its fascinating history and natural ecological beauty has accorded it the status of “pueblo magico” by the Mexican government.

Laguna Bacalar Sunrise

Laguna Bacalar Sunrise - Photo ©Susanna Starr

Where to stay Rancho Encantado, eco-resort

Where to Eat  Rancho Encantado & Cenote Azul