When I backpacked through Costa Rica in my 20s I wanted nothing more than cheap accommodations, two-for-one drink specials, and late nights. My idea of a perfect Costa Rican vacation in my 40s would bore my younger self to death.
The world’s best artists paint over-sized murals on the the facades of six warehouses. The 1.6-acre gallery is one of the largest concentrated public displays of street art showcasing more than 30 major works of art. It is also the primary catalyst for transforming what used to be a sketchy part of town into one of the nation’s hottest urban neighborhoods.
If you are curious about Austin’s sizable homeless population or if you just want to see someone shoot heroin right in front of you, then Radiolab's Servant Girl Murders Walking Tour is the tour for you. The audio guided tour will lead you on a mile loop around downtown Austin pointing out buildings famous during the Servant Girl Murders of the 1880s. Simultaneously, the tour guides you through some of downtown Austin’s most drug-infested back alleys and underpasses.
It is not hard to imagine the smell of the horse-pissed streets of 19th century Austin as you walk under bridges dripping with urine. Nor is it hard to imagine the trepidation women must have felt at night as you question, even though it is daytime, should you really go down that alley filled with what appears to be cracked out battalion of men behind the Driskill?
If your tour is anything like ours, you will excuse yourself past men exchanging money for drugs, shimmy around passed out homeless men who recently defecated themselves, watch a woman stick a needle into her arm and step over empty bottles, needles, puke and used condoms.
The tour is equal parts fear of one’s safety, informative tidbits of life in Austin’s early days and dwindling belief in humanity.
I went to the Austin Christmas Market last night in hopes of starting and completing my Christmas shopping.I envisioned something reminisce of a European Christmas market where my friend and I would wonder long isles of booths sipping mulled wine with gloved hands while shopping for cute handmade trinkets, wooden elves, elaborately painted ornaments and funky artwork. I bought many Christmas gifts in such a markets in Ann Arbor and in New York City during the last few years.
Austin’s Eastside Christmas Market, however, was decidedly different. I wasn't bothered by the fact organizers placed small booths at the edge of the sidewalk in front of El Corazon Luxury Apartments ensuring that the flow of traffic would stop for minutes at a time while 20-year-olds looked at the same wispy gold necklaces over and over again. I wasn’t bothered by the fact no mulled wine or spike tea or even hot chocolate was available or that the lighting was an afterthought forcing vendors to continuously hold their smartphones in the air shining the flashlight over tables. What was disappointing was the “locally, sourced curated talent”.
Yes, women love candles, but how many handmade lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint soy candles does one need? Not enough to justify half the booths selling them. And handmade soap, does anyone REALLY like handmade soap? No. And the beard oil. Ever since I realized it was easier to find beard oil than it was a head of broccoli at my local “farmer’s market”, beard oil has been on my shit list and it was out in full display last night. Cinnamon mint beard oil. Sexy Simple Beard Oil. A Big Thicket Beard Oil and Balm combo. How much oil does one really need for a beard? And honestly, hasn’t the sexy lumberjack thing run its course?
Maybe I am being old fashioned, but last night I was expecting to see a few Christmas related items. A wooden Santa, maybe a Mrs. Claus dish towel or cookie set or even an ornament. And where was Jesus? I am not a religious person, but the whole freaking holiday does revolve around his birth. Would it kill a hipster to make a nativity set?
And if so, what about the art? Besides a few booths with hand lettering prints, I saw nothing. When I moved to Austin 13 years ago local markets were full of badass, original multi-media prints, photography, paintings and wood carvings.
This is what the continuously rising housing prices has done to Austin during the last ten years, forced artists to pack up and move leaving us with Etsy artists in front of overpriced apartment complexes named after the once heart of Austin’s Hispanic community that was priced out of their homes. Artists in Austin used to work a few shifts at Mr. Gatizs to pay bills, then spend all their free time creating original works of art. Now all the young people are so fucking busy working to afford their $1,500 a month one-bedroom apartments that all the creative energy they have left is to add some essential oils to a candle base, a beard oil base or a soap base and call it a day.
I have always thought Leslie was the soul of Austin. Last night I pictured him walking through the Christmas Market wearing his high-heels, short skirt and belly shirt giving the finger to anyone who suggested he need beard oil to groom his massively wild, overgrown beard.
Detroit: The great American city built on hard work and honest wages. A city whose residents built the first affordable cars forever changing the way we live, then two decades later created the Arsenal of Democracy by manufacturing a WWII bomber every hour helping the Allies win the war all the while creating a strong middle class. A city that through the collapse of the auto industry, the rise of racial tension and the lure of the suburbs lost half its population as entire neighborhoods fled the city abandoning all hope along with once stately homes suddenly only worth an insurance claim after a fire. When the 2008 recession put the final nail in Detroit’s economy the city gained a reputation as a failed metropolis of deserted buildings, widespread poverty, and rampant crime. But the news of rock-bottom real estate prices enticed investors to purchase block after block, then let that real estate ripen until the time was right for development. Now is that time. In the last five years, the occupancy rate of downtown Detroit has skyrocketed from 11 percent to 78 percent. The $862 million dollar Red Wings arena and its 50-block entertainment district is underway, 70 new bars and restaurants opened in the past two years, Quicken Loan founder Dan Gilbert bought nearly 100 buildings ready for rehab and new startup companies are opening their doors every day. Downtown streets are safe at night. White lights hang along alleyways inviting visitors to stop by open doors for a craft cocktail. “It is unbelievable how much it has changed in the last two years,” is the common sentiment.
Like any rapid development, it is not all positive. Rents and property values are quickly rising pushing out artists and activities who have added to the city’s vibrancy for years. But the excitement of the possibility to build a city to be proud of is palatable.
Some, especially those profiting from the development, rave about where the city is heading. “Never in my day did I think I would see Detroit heading so quickly in such a positive direction. I never thought a comeback like this was possible in my lifetime,” said Tom Wilson president of Olympia Entertainment. Others bury themselves deeper in the angry “Detroit v Everyone” mentality distrustful of rich outsiders profiting off the decaying city, while in the process squeezing them out of a city they stood by during its darkest days.
Detroit still has a long way to go. Abandoned buildings and homes line almost every street, broken out windows are not uncommon and vacant lots add to an eerie silence of an abandoned city. Sidewalks are clean, but graffiti still lingers. Some want to leave dirty edges of the city, using it as a benchmark to measure how far the city has come. “We embrace our grit. We have been up and down so many times that we know no matter how far we fall, we will always get back up again.”
Nowhere is that more clear than the Dequindre Cut Greenway, a former railway line recently repurposed into an urban recreation path. Decade-old graffiti associated with the rail line covers walls alongside new murals expressing the sociopolitical climate of new Detroit. The walls along the greenway are the new canvas of Detroit turning the greenway into the part recreational path and part art gallery.
The world’s largest continental mountain range is a great secret keeper. For centuries the jagged peaks of the Andes hid the legendary 16th-century Inca city Machu Picchu from the Spanish. Today, those same mountains hide one of Peru’s best kept secrets, the rainbow-colored Vinicunca mountain. Since pre-Incan times the Vinicunca mountain range has been a place of worship and offering. However, in a country overrun with adventure tourists, very little is found on the internet or in travel books about this stunning geological feature. With the amazing views and natural beauty, that is soon to change.