“When I was 31, it was a very good year…”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo

As the last two weeks of 2008 spin towards history, I find myself in bitingly cold New York City, where I’m wrapped in at least two layers of clothes by day and sleeping under two comforters at night.

New York has been my home since I moved here in 1999 after graduating from college, accepting an internship, and deciding to stay. It’s a city I love for a thousand reasons at least.

But in 2008, I didn’t spend a lot of time here. It was a very good year for travel–the best yet–and now that I’m finally settling down at home for a period of more than a week, I’m sorting through the year’s (and a 250 GB hard drive’s) photos, stories, and memories.

Here are a few I wanted to share with you….

JANUARY, Cuba/South Carolina, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, Tijuana, San Diego, Pacific Coast Highway, and San Francisco:
Francisco and I started the new year apart, he with family in Cuba and I with family in South Carolina.

We met up at our part-time home in Mexico City, made quick trips to Cuernavaca and Puebla, crossed the border, and then drove the Pacific Coast Highway before…

We practiced settling for a while in this city where we met each other and where we both feel at home. We saw a Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert, watched old buildings be demolished and observed the new contour of this city begin to take shape.

MARCH, Mexico City & New York:
A split month, half in el DF and half in New York. In DF, I’m working on an assignment. In NYC, I’m a passionate observer of my own neighborhood.

APRIL, New York, Washington, D.C.:

It’s spring in the city, one of the very best times of year for a New Yorker. But I’m getting restless. I organize a trip to Washington, D.C. for my mom’s birthday.

Francisco and I also meet fellow Matador editor and the amazingly talented photographer, Lola Akinmade. Still, there are stories all around, as there always are, no matter where we are.

MAY, Cuba:

I visit Cuba for the first time since Fidel handed power over to his brother, Raul. Of seven or so visits to Cuba since 2005, this is the most special one, filled with incredible moments.

I interview Chinese Cubans, spend hours with a Cuban musicologist, & work on a documentary about Juan Antonio Picasso.

Francisco’s son and I go to Mariel, where Francisco set off from Cuba in 1980. We visit Cojimar and Hemingway’s home. And I celebrate Mother’s Day with Francisco’s mom and the mother of his son.

JUNE, New Orleans:

Francisco and I meet up in New Orleans to volunteer with the Culinary Corps and write about New Orleans. Seeing the state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina reminds me why traveling and stories are important & why I believe so passionately in both.

JULY, Colombia:

A full month in Colombia, with the bulk of our time spent in Mompox, where we meet the coolest kids in the world and begin making plans for an after-school program for them.

We also visit Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Barranquilla.

AUGUST, Guadalajara, Mexico:
Back home in Mexico, we also visit Guadalajara on assignment. Not only does Sally Rangel and the staff of Villa Ganz set a totally new standard for service and hospitality, we discover that Guadalajara is quite possibly the only city where we’ve enjoyed every single meal we’ve eaten in restaurants. We were also fortunate to participate in and interview others who attended the Iluminemos Mexico march for peace.

SEPTEMBER, Perote and Veracruz, Mexico:

Perote: The town that tourism forgot. Not for long, if we have anything to do with it. Along with our friend, Carmen, we toured the San Carlos prison, visited an ostrich and orchid farm, dreamed about opening a bed and breakfast in an abandoned hacienda in the middle of a corn field at the base of some mountains, and found ancient pottery sherds just littering the side of the road as we drove up into the mountains. We also happened upon a local boxing match.

We drank strong coffee and had my palm read in Veracruz.

OCTOBER, Mexico City & Oaxaca, Mexico; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

October was all about connection.

We met Matador member Teresita and her husband, Ibis, at our home in Mexico City, reconnected with my old friend, Arely, and her husband Ivan at an airport restaurant, and visited with weavers at their home and interviewed protesters in Oaxaca.

I also traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to report about the military detention facility there.

I could have spent weeks there. In any event, I have a notebook full of stories that I’d like to write.

NOVEMBER, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chile:

NYC: To vote. Of course.

Washington, D.C.: To blog live from NPR on election night.

Chile: The press trip of a lifetime: 7 days. Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine. Cordero (lamb). But most of all… incredible people: Roberto, Francisco, Andres, Paloma, Carolina… que buenos son!

DECEMBER, Puerto Rico:
Francisco and I moved to Puerto Rico (shuttling back and forth between the island and NYC) in 2005 and left for good last December. While we had no active plans to return for a visit, our friends Wally and Marina asked us if we wanted to take care of their dogs for a couple weeks while they went on a much-needed and deserved vacation.

It was nice to see the sun every morning, to feel it on my skin, to watch as it penetrated just-rained skies and made light shows with rainbows, and to collect the grapefruit it ripened and scattered the ground with.

As visitors, we also went to places we’d never visited as residents, including the small island of Culebra and the town of Guanica, where the US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War 210 years ago.


As I write this, I begin to realize that everything important is left out. It’s the people and the stories, and there’s a hundred folks at least. And for every person, a hundred stories.

I haven’t forgotten a single one of them. The stories are on the way….

“I’m holding dinosaur water!”

Text & Photos: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Translated by: Francisco Collazo

[vease abajo para la version en espanol]

There are a hundred thoughts that pass through your mind when you’re standing in front of glaciers and icebergs in Patagonian Chile.

You think about time and the environment, about beauty and what it means to see something with your own eyes that you’ve only heard about.

And you think about dinosaur water.

As we trekked across the rocky beach ripped with wind, Alison Brick (a writer for Vagablogging) and I listened to the sound of the water lap up against the crystals of ice that lined the shore like an enormous diamond necklace.

“It sounds like windchimes,” she said, and she was right.

We walked up to a high point to look out towards the glacier and to get close shots of the icebergs.

And then we came back down to the water again. Alison picked up a piece of ice and held it in her hands.

“I’m holding dinosaur water!” she said with a tone of awe.

Her spontaneous exclamation was perfect. What strikes you more than anything as you stand at the foot of icebergs in Chilean Patagonia is the sense that you are just the latest addition in the universe’s long and lovely timeline.

Hay cientos de ideas que pasan por tu mente cuando estas frente a frente a los glaciales y tempanos de hielo en la patagonia de Chile.

Uno piensa en el tiempo y en el medio ambiente, de la belleza de ser testigo y ver las cosas que antes solamente las oias decir y ahora las puedes ver con tus propios ojos.

Y piensas de estas aguas tan viejas como el dinosaurio.

Mientras caminamos en la playa rocosa acosada por los fuertes vientos, Alison Brick (una escritora para Vagablogging) y yo, nos detenemos a escuchar el sonido de las olas que golpean las formaciones de cristales de hielo que se forman en la orilla como si fuera un collar de diamantes.

“Esto suenan como moviles de viento,” me dijo ella, que de hecho era cierto.

Ambas caminamos hacia el punto mas elevado y cercano al glacial para tomar una mejor foto a los tempanos de hielo.

Luego bajamos a la orilla. Alison recoge un cristal de hielo en sus manos.

“Tengo en mis manos aguas tan viejas como el dinosaurio!” dice con tono de sorpresa y asombro.

Su exclamacion espontanea fue perfecta.

Lo que mas te choca de toda esta experiencia en la Patagonia Chilena mientras observas los tempanos de hielo, es el hecho de que te das cuenta que eres el ultimo objeto agregado a esta linea de tiempo y maravillas.


9 PM in Patagonia/9 PM en Patagonia

Photos taken on the road between Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine, in Chilean Patagonia, between 8:00 and 9:00 PM on November 13.

Fotos tomadas en el camino entre Punta Arenas y Torres del Paine, en la Patagonia chilena, entre 8 y 9 de la noche el 13 de Noviembre.