Just About Travel

Guatemala greats

Eight, great things to see, do and experience in Guatemala


“You’re going to Guatemala? I really wish you’d reconsider your decision,” said my friend Henry. “I hear it’s dangerous down there.” Henry wasn’t the only one with concerns. Plenty of acquaintances wondered what my friend Amanda and I were  thinking, when we boarded a plane to Guatemala earlier this year.

We were thinking that Guatemala (which is sandwiched between Mexico to the north, El Salvador and Honduras to the south and Belize to the east) is home to vast rainforests, volcanoes, Mayan sites, mountains, cobblestone villages, postcard-pretty beaches and major cities – meaning we could effectively combine several holidays in one.

Sure Guatemala suffers from a bit of a public image problem (the Foreign Office website claims that 5,000 violent deaths occurred in the country in 2015 alone) but I’m here to tell you that situation on the ground couldn’t be more different from what’s reported in the media, with most deaths being almost gang murders that don’t affect tourists.

Here’s eight reasons why gorgeous Guatemala, an underrated, affordable corner of Central America, should be on your bucket list…


Lago de Atilan

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Praised by 19th century travel-chronicler, John Lloyd Stephens, as being "the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw”, Lago de Atilan can’t fail to charm even the most jaded of traveller. Indeed its lure is so strong that many foreigners now call Lago de Atilan home, having  fallen for the area while on holiday.
This beautiful Highland lake – which is at least 320m deep and measures 18km by 12km at its widest point – is ringed by small towns, each with their own character. 
Panajachel is the most popular resort town and therefore the busiest, being crammed with travel agencies, tuk tuks and dive bars.
Quieter, more peaceful options include, Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito. Looking to party? San Pedro La Laguna is where it’s at, but the prettiest and most laid-back late is San Marcos.

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Antigua

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Less than an hour away from the concrete jungle that is Guatemala City, lies Antigua – one of Guatemala’s most appealing destinations.

This picturesque colonial town is packed full of cobblestone streets lined with elegant buildings, whose yellow and orange facades are framed by a backdrop of three volcanoes.

Browse the the craft markets, galleries and chi chi shops before stopping off for an enchilada (a super Central American pie) in a spot such as Cafe Condesa (cafecondesa.com.gt), a charming old world cafe that’s set around the patio of a 16th century mansion.

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Tikal

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What’s the number one tourist attraction in Guatemala? Take a bow Tikal, the mother of all Maya ruins. 
Here the reminders of a once great Mayan civilisation cast their compelling shadow across the Guatemalan landscape. Towering pyramids pierce the skyline as visitors gaze upon the remnants of what was one of the most dynamic and sophisticated civilisations.


Flores

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Santa Elena is the town that most tourists  stay in, when taking a day trip to Tikal. However I’d recommend giving Santa Elena a miss (unless banks, buses and shopping malls exert a pull on you) and basing yourself in the island town of Flores. 

Set against  backdrop of the emerald waters of Lago de Peten Itza, Flores is far prettier – and full of boutique hotels (many of which boast rooftop terraces), and fabulous restaurants where you can feast like a king for less than 100 quetzal (under £10). 

A couple of places worth knowing about… Overlooking the lake, Raices (7867 5743) specialises in seafood and chargrilled meats and enjoys possibly the prettiest setting in Flores for a meal. Meanwhile Cool Beans (5571 9240) is a laid back hangout whose verdant garden is a great spot for a light bite.

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Livingstone
Sometimes all you need is a little sun, sand, and sea… if you agree, look to Livingstone. The beaches in Livingstone proper are nothing to write home about,  but venture a few kilometres to the north west and you’ll find beauties like Playa Quehueche and Playa Blanca (be prepared to take a boat to get there).
Beyond the beach, don’t miss Los Siete Altares – an array of freshwater lakes and pools. A series of boats make the journey to Los Siete Altares but, if you like walking, it’s a pretty walk along the shore of Bahia de Amatique.


Celebrate Semana Sanata
Guatemala's Semana Santa isn’t like any Easter you have ever experienced. The country comes alive with its annual ‘Semana Santa’ Holy Week, especially the city of Antigua which covers its streets in intricate alfombras (carpets) as well as quetzals, flowers and crosses in preparation for the processions on Good Friday –  which are announced by a battalion of roman soldiers. It’s a cliche I know, but to miss Semana Santa in Guatemala is to truly miss out.


Guatemala City
Guatemala’s capital is often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons – read crime and congestion – but don’t be scared by its sinister reputation. 
True Guate (as the city is affectionately known) can’t be described as an effortless destination – it’s undeniably dirty and big – but the country’s capital is cleaning up its act. Subsequently those who do decide to explore this fascinating city are guaranteed brilliant museums and galleries and, in areas, like Downtown Zona 1, a new wave of bars, restaurants and cafes.
Still inclined to skip the city? You might not have a choice: Guate is the transportation hub of the country.


The people

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Wherever you go in Guatemala, a welcome as warm as the weather is assured. Even off the beaten track, out of the big three tourist areas, Guatemalans will go out of their way to help – and you’ll leave having amassed a book’s worth of tug-at-your-heartstrings experiences.
Guatemalans have rightly earnt a reputation for being among the happiest people in the world, despite the poverty and hardships they endure on a daily basis. 
They don’t ask for more from life than it can give, and as such smiling faces are evident everywhere: from the taxi driver who starts crooning his favourite tune to help pass the time while going absolutely nowhere when stuck in Guatemala City traffic, to the teenagers playing an impromptu football game on the rubble. 

View the post at: http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/09/26/guatemala-greats/

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Where the experts holiday: Heidi Fuller-love, travel writer and broadcaster

British freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer/broadcaster, Heidi Fuller-love, lets us in on her top travel experiences

What do you like to do on holiday?
I generally like to go somewhere as remote as possible. Because I travel so much (a lot of which is luxury travel, lucky me) I want to be in simple accommodation by the sea or up in the mountains and away from ‘the madding crowds’

Where did you last go?
On holiday? I was in Kep, a delightful coastal village in Cambodia.

Do you know where you’re going later this year?
One of my favourite things to do is to just take off for several months and wander. I’m thinking of Laos for later this year.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
There are many favourites but I think a favourite trip was island hopping in the Maldives– staying in local guesthouses, meeting local people. But I also loved my small cruise around The Galapagos  and a wonderful wild two weeks in the Azores.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?

I’ve barely nibbled at China, so that’s on my books. I generally say I want to go everywhere that I haven’t yet been!

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
In Crete I would say go to a  local bar and drink raki (an unsweetened, often aniseed-flavoured, alcoholic drink) until dawn!

How do you plan your holiday? 
I work a lot with PRs, but I rarely use guidebooks. I tend to subscribe to sites like Atlas Obscura to get lots off offbeat ideas. I also belong to lots of digital nomad forums.

How often do you go away?
I travel for six months of the year.

Who do you travel with?
Mostly alone.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
Booming! But with much more of an eco tourism aspect.

Heidi Fuller-love is  an experienced British travel, food, and lifestyle writer/broadcaster currently based between Spain and Greece. She speaks French, Greek and Spanish, and travels for five months of the year.  Heidi pens food, and travel features for publications ranging from World of Cruising, Rough Guides, High50, Britain magazine and Food+Travel,  to Selling Travel,  ABTA and The Guardian and others. She is also a judge in this year’s Wave Awards.
In addition, Heidi produces audio  for various outlets, including Deutsche Welle  Afropop, RFI and  BBC RadioFour's From Our Own Correspondent.
To view her work, visit HeidiFuller-love.com

View the post at: http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/08/28/where-the-experts-holiday-heidi-fuller-love-travel-writer-and-broadcaster/

What's hot: August 2018

Just About Travel tells you what’s hot (and what’s not) in the travel world

HOT

Carry on cruising
To mark 60 years of the Carry On film franchise, a Carry On-themed cruise will set sail from Bristol this autumn. The 15 night Med voyage departs on 22 September with double cabins starting at £1,239 per person. Expect to see stars such as Bernard Cribbins, Liz Fraser and Angela Douglas on board. For the full low-down, visit www.cruiseandmartitime.com


Showing your respect to Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has approved a new statue of himself at the airport on his native Madeira after the original statue, delivered by local artist Emanuel Santos, was ridiculed around the world when it unveiled in March 2017 to make the renaming of the airport as Aeroporto Cristiano Ronaldo. The identity of the Spanish artist behind the new work is unknown but Ronaldo’s older brother, Hugo, confirmed that the Portuguese football ace had given his blessing.


Saluting sausage dogs
The world’s first museum dedicated exclusively to sausage dogs has opened in Passau, Bavaria. As well as browsing its 4,500 exhibits – think dachshund-themed puppets, stamps, salt shakers and beer mugs – you’ll read about the dachshund’s history. Picasso, Napoleon, Einstein and Warhol were all huge fans of the breed. For more information, visit dackelmuseum.de


Payouts for connecting flights
Passengers can now claim compensation for connecting flights outside the EU that are delayed or cancelled. A ruling by the European Court of Justice states that if you check in at an EU airport and an onward flight from a non-EU country that is part of the same booking is delayed for more than three hours or cancelled, you can claim up to £530. To make a claim, which can be backdated six years, visit the respective airline website.


Help is at hand
UK airports are making progress when it comes to helping passengers with hidden disabilities, according to a new report.
These can include autism, dementia, hearing loss and many other conditions that are not obvious. “We are pleased to see how well airports have responded in improving the assistance they offer,” says Matt Buffey of the Civil Aviation Authority.

 

Introducing tourist taxes
New Zealand has proposed introducing a ‘tourist tax’ of NZ$35 (£18) for visitors entering the country. Expected to come into force in late 2019, the tax’s purpose is to ensure tourists “contribute to the infastructure they use and help protect the natural environment they enjoy,” according to a statement from the New Zealand government.
The money, accumulated by the new tax – upto NZ$80 million (£42 million) a year – will be spent on tourist amenities and conservation projects.


Music in Melbourne
It’s official – Melbourne is the live music capital of the world. With a total of 465 live music venues, Melbourne has become the live music capital of the world, according to new Census data. The city is home to more live music venues per capita than any other major global city including London, New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles. The music industry generates in excess of $1.42 billion in the city, with 62,000 annual performances attracting more than 12 million patrons in Melbourne. Melbourne is also the music festival capital, with an estimated 350 festivals that feature live music.


Staycations
If there’s something the UK can pride itself on, it’s the vast array of famous monuments and historical landmarks. From one end of the country to the other, there is a dazzling range of history that draws tourists in from all over the world. Despite that, it seems we’re not actually as clued up on our landmarks as we’d like to think and perhaps rather than jetting off abroad this summer, we should take some downtime to appreciate the wonders of our little island.
WestLand London, dealers in antique fireplaces, decided to conduct a survey of 2,000 people in the UK to find out exactly how much they know about our famous monuments and landmarks. And, er, it’s shamefully rather little. Overall, Brits scored just 44.5 per cent on the test to identify historical monuments and landmarks – bearing in mind these included The Angel of the North, Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge, Blackpool Tower, and The Royal Liver Building.

Holidaying with Peter Kay, Emma Watson and Julie Walters
Peter Kay, Emma Watson and Julie Walters are the unlikely group of celebrities that UK adults most want to share a holiday villa with. Travel agent, Florida4Less, asked 2,000 people which British stars they’d most like to take a Florida holiday with and why.
Funnyman Kay came top of the list largely because of his sense of fun, which a quarter (25 per cent) of the people who voted for him cited as the main reason.
Actress and activist Emma Watson came second on the list, with one in three (29 per cent) saying her good looks made her the ideal companion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, three times as many men voted for her as women did, making her men’s top choice.
Julie Walters came in as the nation’s third choice, with her voters split between the fact that she’d be entertaining to talk to (12 per cent) and her sense of fun (10 per cent) as the main reasons. She was also women’s favourite celeb choice.

 

NOT

Exploring Cinque Terre
A cemetery in a village on the Cinque Terre coast of Italy is overrun with tourists – so much so that locals have been recruited to patrol around and keep order. Fabrizia Pecunia, the mayor of Manarola, wants to enforce a ruling that noboidy can use the site for picnics, selfies “or other disrespectful activities.”

Where the experts holiday: Susannah Cery, Founder of Our Tribe Travels

Susannah Cery, founder of Our Tribe Travels – an online community for families who love independent travel – shares her travel highs and lows with JAT readers

 

What do you like to do on holiday?
We (myself, my husband, Kelvin, and son, Alfred) love to explore a location and try and experience as much of the local culture as possible. We rarely stay in the same location for more than four days, preferring to move from place to place to get a real feel for what a country has to offer. In most instances we have a rough plan of where we want to go, but we prefer to book accommodation as we travel as this usually uncovers the more unique, under the radar local guest houses or home-stays.
Meeting the local people and getting an insight into local life is one of the biggest attractions of travelling. We love frequenting the eateries, shopping areas and local hubs that are away from the main tourist hot spots.

 

Where did you last go?
Our last family adventure was a 13 day trip to the Yucatan Peninsular. We flew into Cancun and spent one night in a £30 a night Airbnb before hiring a car and exploring. We spent four nights on Holbox, one night in Chichen Itza, three nights just outside Tulum and four nights on the beach front on the outskirts of Mahahual. We covered over 1,500 miles and had an amazing holiday with a combination of historic sights, beautiful beaches and adventure in the form of swimming in open cenotes, cave swimming and zip lining. One thing I’m passionate about is helping families to travel on a budget. Our car hire and accommodation costs for the 13 days totalled £880 and this was during their peak Christmas period. I want to encourage families to explore more and spend less.

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Do you know where you’re going this year?
We are heading to Palma, Majorca for a few days in the summer. We’ll be eating a lot of tapas and we’re taking the Lemon Tree Train up to Soller. We’ve been throwing a few ideas around for the latter part of the year. The two front runners are a two week trip to Tanzania; flying into Dar Es Salam, booking a 3 day safari, taking the local ferry over to Zanzibar to spend a few days in Stone Town and then on to the beaches. The other option is two week break to Thailand to re-live some of the fun that we had when we backpacked around the country back in 2011.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
Trekking in Nepal is definitely one of our family travel highlights. Trekking wasn’t something we felt we could do with a toddler in tow, but with a bit of research we realised that it is indeed feasible and when kids are between the age of three and seven, it’s a really easy age to facilitate. We chose to Trek the Poon Hill route, which is a five day route in the Annapurna range with spectacular Himalayan views. Our son, who was three at the time, sat in a traditional basket carrier called a Doko. He absolutely loved relaxing in his comfortable seat as we climbed up through the mountains. We visited in early January during the coldest period, when temperatures drop to minus seven degrees celsius at night. Our basic accommodation was unheated with very few amenities, so we felt a sense of achievement when we retuned to Pokhara. This trip proved to us that even an adventurous style of travel is feasible with kids. You just need to approach it with a positive attitude and accept that you need to slow down and will find some logistical aspects more challenging.

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Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
This is such a difficult question as there are so many on my list. We are hoping to spend a few months backpacking around South America and Colombia is on the top of my list for places  to explore as a family. The country has changed so much in the last decade, but it’s becoming more popular so we would like to explore it before it becomes too mainstream as a holiday destination. Many of the Our Tribe Travels community members have backpacked around Colombia, and their feedback is really positive.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
If you love hiking and being outdoors then you can’t beat a trip to Shropshire. It’s the area that I grew up in and it’s stunning. Head to Church Stretton, a small market town which is surrounded by beautiful scenery and great walking trails. There are walks to suit all levels of walkers and you can plan your day to stop off at one of the many country pubs en route. Carding mill Valley, at the base of the Long Myndd, is a great day out with kids. Take a picnic and enjoy the low-level walking, paddle in the stream, or follow one of the many sheep paths up the hillside.

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How do you plan your holiday?
We are independent travellers and prefer to book everything ourselves. It gives us the freedom to select the best value elements and as we always try and travel using the local transport options, we usually book this when we arrive in our destination.
Historically my husband and I had always referred to guide books to plan our trips and used Trip Advisor to find accommodation options, but as Trip Advisor has become more mass market we’ve found it harder to locate recommendations from like minded travellers. We now use the experiences and knowledge in the Our Tribe Travelsgroup to plan our trips and this was one of the reasons I initially launched the OTT Facebook community. Members ask questions and receive advice and recommendations directly from other family travellers. Not only is the advice current, but it’s comforting to know that our adventurous travel style and expectations are similar.

How often do you go away?
We ALWAYS travel on a budget, so it does mean that we can travel more frequently than the average family. We usually go away at least three times a year, but slot in a lot of UK camping adventures in-between.
As we are very value driven, we tend to have a short list of places that we would like to go to so that we have flexibility in trying to secure the best flight prices. If you become fixated on a particular destination it’s disappointing when you can’t find a good airfare. I recommend that you have 5-10 places on your ‘travel list’ so that you can take advantage of deals or error fares.

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Who do you travel with?
My husband and seven year old son, Alf. My son has been travelling in an adventurous way since he was seven months old so he’s a seasoned backpacker. He’s backpacked around 28 countries to date, so he’s seen a lot in his short life. I believe that travel is the best education. It helps develop culturally sensitive, open minded and adaptable kids.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
With Brexit on the horizon it’s hard to predict what impact this will have on tourism. I guess we’ll have to see.

 

Thanks Susannah!
For the full low-down on Our Tribe Travels, visit www.ourtribetravels.com
Follow Our Tribe Travels on social media at:
Facebook community: www.facebook.com/groups/OurTribeTravels
Instagram:@ourtribetravels
Twitter: @ourtribetravels

 

View the post here: http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/06/29/where-the-experts-holiday-susannah-cery-founder-of-our-tribe-travels/

Where the experts holiday: Omar Beretta, travel writer

Travel writer, Omar Beretta, shares his experiences on the road with JAT readers

What do you like to do on holiday?
I like to go to to places that are not spoilt by Western consumer habits, meet the locals, learn about their music and traditions, and find some quiet space to read and write.

Where did you last go?
I just came back from a month in Lima, Perú where I took notes to write an article about Trans Diversity in Perú. I read books by Peruvian authors that helped me connect with the mood of the city, namely Julio Ramón Ribeyro, probably my all-time favourite writer in the Spanish language, (especially the short stories in La Palabra del Mudo) and Jeremías Gamboa’s Contarlo Todo, destined to be one of the most powerful novels of the twenty firsy century.
I also spent some time in a hamlet called Yarina, near Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, learning and writing about shamanism. Preparing for Yarina I re-read Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan as well as The Yage Letters by Burroughs and Ginsberg. I am writing a series of articles about shamanism in the Peruvian Amazon, the first of them can be found here.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
In 2018 I will travel all year! I will visit Paraguay, Peru, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Cambodia and Brazil.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
Asunción del Paraguay, South America’s best kept secret. Expect very friendly people in the middle of majestic nature, namely the mighty Paraguay river. It’s one of the oldest cities in South America with unspoilt colonial architecture, a rich cultural scene, vibrant night life and expats that never ever want to go back home. Last March I taught a creative writing workshop in Asunción and I wrote about this experience here.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Myanmar.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Many years ago, I was hitchhiking in southern Patagonia with a friend and we got stuck in a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, halfway between the towns of Rio Gallegos and Calafate. A truck that was taking goods to a nearby farm took us from Río Gallegos to the petrol station. We had purposefully missed the daily bus from Gallegos because we preferred to hitchhike, and there was no other bus going in that direction until the following day. It was winter. We spent the rest of the day by the road, waiting for a car that never came. There, in the middle of nowhere, we experienced the vast expanse of the Argentine wasteland like never before. We felt the night crawling, a few animals curiously watching us from a distance, and the Milky Way brighter than ever enveloping us. That unknown corner where we spent the night was the most beautiful spot that I have ever seen in Argentina, and yet I could not point it in a map because I do not know exactly where we were. We took the bus to Calafate the next morning. We were going to see the glaciers, the highlight of that trip, but I was sad to leave our petrol station in the middle of nowhere. So I would recommend to take the less known roads and get lost!

How do you plan a holiday?
I still like to own guidebooks whose weight I can feel in my hands, that I can scribble and leave marks on it. I especially like second-hand guidebooks that have notes or drawings from previous travellers. I own a 1925 Baedeker guide to Egypt and the Sudan that belonged to my great Grand Uncle that I enjoy reading from time to time, especially when I come across passages like “travel in Egypt is as safe as in Europe,” advising that “weapons for self-defence are an unnecessary encumbrance.”
I rely very much on advise from other travellers that I know personally, whose blogs I follow, or whose interests I share. Another important source of inspiration are essays and novels. Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder and most of the work by Colin Thubron encouraged me to travel in Siberia, because they presented the remote in a way that I can relate to. In fact, in our novel Shaman Express, one of the main characters reminisces about a trip he took in Central Asia and says: “Being buried in the anonymity of a remote part of the world proved soothing,” which is a line I wrote in my travelling journal when I was in Kyrgyzstan. The books by Willliam Dalrymple are a mine of information and I brought some of them with me on trips to Western China and India. Bruce Chatwin is always a great source of inspiration for new destinations. The Songlines is probably my favourite because it deals with aboriginal communities, they are my main area of interest now. Claude Lévi-Strauss Tristes Tropiques can be read as an adventure novel and a must read for anyone going to the Amazon. Last but no least, Nicolas Bouvier’s L’Usage du Monde (The Way of the World) is my favourite travel book and a great influence when I hesitate about going away.

How often do you go away?
As often as I can. In 2017 I realised that I had gone away so many times, that I would have saved money on air tickets if I had not came back home to Buenos Aires after each trip. So I sold everything, including my books: I put up my house for sale and I decided to take one long trip during 2018.

Who do you travel with?
Alone, almost always alone. Traveling alone gives me all the room I need to read and write. However, I have friends in most of the destinations I travel to. For example, as I write these answers, I am sitting at the terrace of the house of an old friend in Catania, Sicily with fresh coffee and a fantastic view of the Etna volcano. We just came back from nearby Noto, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we spent the weekend with friends. He will join me in the evening when he finishes work and, together with other friends, we will go a Pink Floyd event with live music in a nearby country house. Early next month another friend that plays in the band Gabacho Maroc has invited me to go on tour with them in the South of Spain, where I plan to write an article about fusion of Western and Middle-Eastern music, a topic that I am very interested into. So I travel alone, but I get to spend a lot of time in excellent company.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
Thriving. Argentina has fantastic travel potential and it is a safe and friendly place to be: I can see a large increase of visitors in the next ten years. So pack your backpack and come visit soon, before it gets too crowded!

Omar Beretta is the co-author with Bénédicte Rousseau of Shaman Express . A former lawyer, yoga instructor and publishing company owner who – after a near-death experience – left his corporate career to practice yoga and shamanism, Beretta is now a full-time world traveller. He learns from people living in countries not yet fully spoilt by Western capitalism as well as indigenous communities.Beretta teaches creative writing workshops in Asunción del Paraguay. For more information, see www.yacarevolador.com

About Shaman Express by Bénédicte Rousseau and Omar Beretta (31 May 2018; paperback £9.99; I eBook £3.99; Amazon)
Although they barely know each other, a depressed divorcee and a recovering addict – both at a crossroads in their lives – decide to embark together on a journey with the intention of writing a book on experiential shamanism. But spiritual retreats and self-help books haven’t prepared them for what lies ahead.  Moving between pastoral Italy, the rugged steppes of Siberia, and the crowded streets of Thailand, the story alternates between ordinary reality and shamanic non-ordinary reality, the borders of which become blurred along the way.  They may not find what they thought they sought, but they will be forever transformed.