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Travel insights,
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Postcard from Aarondell, Traveler Profiles.
Perspective from the Galapagos,
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Email in Paradise reconsidered,
Elephant bathtime in Thailand.
Travel journal from Kathmandu,
Lhasa and the islands of the Andaman Sea.
Our own adventure travel tours to Bali, Peru, Nepal and Africa.
Reports from world nomad/travel writer Bill Strubbe, now in California
Journal entries from our young backpacker/adventure seeker Nick in New Zealand South Africa, Patagonia.
Mikal beams a sensual look on Rio, Havana, and the Aeolian islands.

Photo by: Michael Levine

Our correspondent,
Michael Levine
has sent in these rapturous descriptions of hedonistic Carnival celebrations in Rio and Havana:

Mr. Levine is an unabashed sensualist, photographer and raconteur. He can be contacted for exhibitions, sales and engagements through Inspired Planet.

Michael, a modern Odyseus.

Carnival Brazil
Departing for Carnival in Rio de Janeiro from the frozen tundra of North America and arriving in the super-heated mythic realm of Carnival Rio is a bit disorienting at first. The steamy hot waves of Brazilian air are laden with an almost tangible eros which seizes the heart and mind, sending anxiety waves through the psycho-sexual body. The scent and journey to come is unknown to most new virginal Carnival seekers. The urban metropolis lies cuddled right next to the famed tanga filled beaches, a valium inducing spectacle for the first viewer, who is groping breathlessly for a taste of that mythic Brazilian anatomical splendor. Where is that girl from Ipanema or that boy? After a bit of acclimatization, our minds and hearts are now swirling into gladness, having ingested the beachfront intoxicants: salt smell, some mariscada (a seafood stew of mussels over white rice), precocious children and laughter, plugging us into that timeless circuitry of Rio cafe nocturnal life.
In Carnival, for four days, caste is suspended and those who spend the rest of the year in the muddy back alleys of Brazilian society own the streets. The city erupts into Carnival balls, parties, spontaneous street marches and the samba parade which is the main thing, where only seeing is believing.

Old Havana Carnival
Amidst the rambling decaying backdrop, the cacophony of visual uniqueness breaks down the accustomed dimensions of experience and possibility. Just as the whole stage is set in another time, so does the Havana experience create a new relm of sensuous thought and actualities. The usual sociological restraints seem to be removed here in Cuba -- As if the governmental restrictions and limits have engineered another dimention of openness to offset the neglect and material impoverishment -- An amplification of sexual energies; as if the whole town were saturated with the drug ecstasy. Dream-like walks and sensuous meetings happen easily; as if in a cocoon of protection.

You walk down the street and meet a gorgeous doe-eyed beauty. "We passionately kiss at the fabled Naciaonal Hotel over Hemingway's favorite drink, mojitos. Such lips -- ambrosia from the heavens as late afternoon light falls." Twilight arives and the girls keep coming. The decaying stage set is filled with a cornucopia of the lushest actresses. Lolita lives in Havana. "Her eyelashes and jewel-like eyes took me over, kisses laden with drug-induced potency." One leaves the previous winterized dimensions and enters the realms of the Gods thru her lips. She stuns me with her sexuality and skillful surrender and is in possession of the power of trance.

My mind is boggled by the sudden cornucopia of heat and lust and possibility. One must be a phenomenal master to handle the matrix of exponentially expanding possibilities. Is this fiction, fantasy, a dream or all? Itıs an intoxicating pleasure to float thru this sphere constantly replaying the dance of love, as if you were cast in one fiery, fluid, sensuous comic sex drama.

The dark sultry backstreets remind one of ancient India. The bright rich Havana light fills the dark recesses of the muddy watered soul. Last nite, a serenade on the streets, a lullaby of violin, conga and cowbell love, from open air bars that pull in the thirsty walker to sing the songs of love. The heart remembers its beat and rhythm. I've breathed the vapors of a unique essence. Little did I know the powerful brew that has been stirring here for centuries.

Our correspondent, Michael Levine sent us this wonderful description of fiery volcanoes and voluptuous females

Stromboli and Panarea
Jewels of the Aeolians

Who would fathom that such seemingly innocent specks on the earth's grid, within eyesight of each other, could produce such uniquely wondrous pleasures. From Ingrid Bergman's fearful landing on the island in the classic 1949 movie Stromboli, to Jules Verne's return exit in Journey to the Center of the Earth and Aeolus's residence as God and King of the winds, Stromboli has had classic billing from the mythological past to the cosmic present. It doesn't disappoint. A bit foreboding at first glance with its black sand and rocky beaches, but then you look up and are captured by the light, seemingly alive on the volcanic peak and signaling you're in for something special. A frequent visitor told me the island chooses you -- you don't choose the island. The unique mystery of an unknown destination is always a test, even for the seasoned traveler. There were stories in Rome from a friend who said you must go to Stromboli; the smells, the flowers. The vision was planted. I was guided to a charming cliff-side gem of a hotel called Villagio Stromboli.

A silken powerful light on the volcano's top encompassed the island, the God's housekeeping seal of approval. A twilight walk through the environs yielded visions of lemon trees with clusters of big fat lemons, splendid purple wisteria, and whole trees of white, red, and pink hibiscus. A slow, soft pulse was the rhythm of the island which has the only active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. As you float home at night, the hum of the cicadas, the starry sky, and bursts of night flower ambrosia are your companions. A chorus of ciao, ciao and buono sera on dark walkways from passing strangers are a sweet song. You can take a short hike to an observatory and over a sensational plate of Sicilian pasta you can watch the volcano spew out red embers with the waxing moon as a backdrop. What a sight it is, better than Old Faithful. You know that making the full ascent is a certainty. From the observatory you witness singing Germans float down from the top and French contingent with hiking poles, a mini Mt. Fuji pilgrimage. I can't wait to do the whole ascent. I met a lady from Rome who told me about Stromboli 20 years ago when there was no electricity, and water had to be shipped in from Naples. An Austrian lady who owned a watercraft business for many years next to the Villagio Stromboli tells me people either love or hate the island.

Try as you might to retain your urban heritage, Stromboli reduces you to some elemental primal beginnings. Most clothes are stripped. The overpowering mid-day sun wets anything you try to produce as an accustomed ensemble. A Balinese sarong for a man seems to work well, and you slowly acclimatize. Beware as you wile away the hours consuming the potent Strombolian wine or else you will have a head-on collision with the rampaging lush bougainvillaea omnipresent. The intensely sun-drenched volcanic hillsides slowly transform you into being a humble servant of an ancient power. The Gods of fire and wind rule here. Pay respects or forever be banished.

Stromboli is reserved for the visionaries and the humble willing to be subservient to an ancient process. It spews out like the fiery embers, those unwanted. The earth has certain places reserved for all seeing and prayerful devotees. Stromboli is not a pagan stronghold. As the sun sinks, one waits for the emergence of the cool magical lunar night light to conduct its stellar show of matchless fireworks. No computer runs this masterpiece theater. Aeolus and Ulysses are the masters here.

The strong vibrations of the island can open oneself up to deep stirrings, especially enhanced with the fabled wine. One seems to be ready for the ascent and visitation with the Sciara del Fusco, the pit of fire, and meeting with the crater's top.

I signed up with an authorized guide for the volcano's ascent as advised. Almost immediately the guide knows a more direct way to the observatory, the first leg of which proves to be surprisingly arduous ascent, just as advertised. We began at 7 p.m. with a hot sun still alive and distant islands in view. It's a steady climb at first and then quite steep. A French mother urges her son, who falters a bit, in her inimitable French "Allez courage." A truly special communal event is in progress with about 50 international travelers. It takes a full three hours to reach the top of the crater. The hypnotically alluring big white moon kept pulling us upwards. At the top are three different craters with intermittent displays of red cascading explosions in the black night and a middle crater that roared like a monstrous jet engine preparing for takeoff. I laid down on my back on the ground and the earth's heat penetrated my inner core. At 11:30 p.m., we started the descent and said, "arriverdici." What an absolutely unique challenging descent it turned out to be. The first 20 minutes were like skiing down deep soft black sand. The quick way down proved to be a novel kind of workout. We donned protective breathing masks to protect our dainty lungs from the black sand dust. A Dutch couple had geologists lights on the foreheads with their masks that made them look like they were about to do micro-surgery. We were hilarious as our socks and sneakers filled up with black sand to the intolerable point. We all stopped and everyone de-sanded; a unique pit-stop. Little French children were real warriors in the arduous descent. Finally, the lights of town appeared and soon friends were sitting together imbibing sweet almond granitas, celebrating the rich journey we had all successfully undertaken. Wonderful moonlit serenades filled the enchanting hill-top square. As you float through Stromboli at night, your nose is thrilled and surprised by an endless cavalcade of wondrous infusions. Distinct volcanic emissions, like the burning wood of a fireplace, fill one layer. Then a super cool night flower section Sirocco African wind section appears. The experience is very similar to the layers of the sea water that go from hot to cold depending on which section you're swimming in. Your senses are dramatically and ecstatically awakened as you partake of the Strombolian symphony.

There are wondrous open air pizza restaurants where little children scamper around merrily, and girls named Valentina hover around the deft pizza maker who throws in new wood to the sizzling fire. Italian life is civilization long in counting with certain strut and look. You come to enjoy the wondrous expression and pay your respects to the cumulative masterpiece.

Panarea, a 20-minute hydrofoil ride away, has a whole other rhythm in motion. The first moments I entered its hallowed territory, a truly shimmering lush breathtaking light enveloped it. At first glance in August, it looked like an outdoor Milan fashion boutique. A profusion of sensational matching colors and barely covered voluptuous breasts were everywhere. A literal nubile parade of rich young Italian eros ruled Panarea. Gorgeous sarongs covered an infinite array of temptresses, one after another, after another, as if on a great Aeolian fashion runway. Imagine Arizona desert boulders, newly minted white-washed Mykonian houses and blushing pink bougainvillaea, cactus, and hibiscus, and you have Panarea. A white plume of volcanic smoke on Stromboli hovers in the distance. It's as if the roaring craters spewed out a new carnal oasis in the footsteps of Ulysses, a young Sardinia. New wealth is creating their own manifestation. Throughout the day and night, Panarea looks like an outdoor Italian supermodel lingerie convention to befuddle mortal mind. An epidemic of mythic beauties mushrooms at all angles of sight, enough to cause angst or potential heart attack situations for the more vulnerable to this type of onslaught. Italian exhibitionist eros is something to behold. You must adjust your sensory frequencies or the box will overload. There's a wonderful multi-level disco complex with a rooftop lunar seaside candlelight dining scene. It feels like entering a mysterious white spaceship. It is certainly one of the best disco complexes in Europe. At 4-5 a.m., hot fresh croissants await to be consumed on the beach front. A local jewelry seller says many men can't handle the visual erotic scene and start drinking and ruin their vacation. There's sensational food at the Hycesial Hotel and Restaurant; baked mozzarella, smoked antipasto, stuffed brochette swordfish, black ink squid pasta, and grilled calamari. A beautiful girl from Rome tells me the upper class comes to Panareo, but she was certainly in her own class. It seems as if the girls have to pass a breast examination on the mainland before they're allowed to enter the sacred runways of the island. An endless invasion of anatomical splendor arrives by ship and hydrofoil, a true peacetime assault of lithe nubile youth ready for the social wars of Panarea. The daytime party scene is a commingling of an armada of spectacular boats, patrolled by dancing goddesses.

You walk out at night with the handful of delicious jasmine flowers that you just picked with one of the lovely ladies in mind that you met and hope she will offer you a dance of love on a magical night. You take your chances, but you know you fought a brave battle in these remarkable places.
Michael Levine lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts when he's not traveling to sensational islands with beautiful babes. You can contact him through Inspired Planet.

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