Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Khalid Freeman loves dancing in Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson tribute

Cirque du Soleil’s acclaimed production show MichaelJackson The Immortal World Tour is finishing its three-year international run in August 2014 with performances in Cedar Park (Austin) and Houston, Texas and Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. I was able to interview Khalid Freeman, a dancer who has been with the show since its beginning to get his thoughts on the show.

Khalid Freeman, dancer with
Cirque du Soleil
“Being a part of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour is a lifetime experience for me,” Freeman says. “It’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. Every night is different, but it’s all about collaboration. There’s just so much going on with 49 skilled performers doing a variety of artistic and athletic endeavors,” he adds.

Freeman’s enthusiasm is contagious. No wonder—with all the high flying acrobatics, contortionists, and dancers performing amazing feats throughout the show. Even with all that spectacular activity demanding eyes on the stage, it’s the musicians that make this show unique. What could be more authentic in a tribute to the King of Pop than having musicians from the actual band that played with Michael Jackson on his world tours?

Jackson’s family supports this Cirque du Soleil creation, which has toured 27 countries and numerous cities around the world since its first performance in Montreal, Canada in 2011. Freeman has been in the show since since rehearsals began four months prior taking the show on the road. “Creating new material and learning the choreography was very physical and tedious,” Freeman said. But he is grateful for the learning opportunity and experience of being part of something on such a large scale.

Freeman performs as one of the Fanatics in
Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour
Freeman started his professional career after moving to California from Detroit at age 18 to attend music school. From there he went to New York and joined the cast of Stomp as a body percussionist. Freeman also danced in theatrical shows, movies, and television shows prior to auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. He performs as a Fanatic, one of the characters in the Cirque du Soleil production. “Being an artist is more than lights and cameras,” Freeman, 34, says. “I’ve learned much about myself and my future goals as well as cultures all over the world from touring in this production.”

The Cirque show has a “Disneyland effect” because of its enormous scale and the hybrid nature of so many different talented artists melding into a show that appeals to all ages. The excitement, spirit, and energy created by Jackson’s music and legend cross generations, giving audiences a glimpse into his soul and conveying his messages of love, peace and unity.

Michael Jackson's spirit infuses the Fanatics in
Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour
The live music vibe is almost like a rock-concert. “People in the audience want to sing along,” Freeman says. Being interactive is encouraged: There is even a flash-mob type sequence in the show that is guaranteed to bring people to their feet. From an insider’s viewpoint, Freeman believes this is one of the best shows you’ll ever see.

Tickets for performances of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour at Cedar Park Center, (Austin) Texas on August 5 and 6 are available at or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Tickets range from $50 to $175 each.

Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil







Thursday, July 24, 2014

International Galapagos Tour Operators award $65,000 to Galapagos conservation

The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) is a nonprofit association of travel companies dedicated to the complete and lasting protection of the Galapagos. Since 1997 IGTOA and its member companies have raised more than $600,000 USD--partly from tourist fees--in support of conservation in the Galapagos. I’m happy to report that this organization includes International Expeditions, a U.S. tour company we have traveled with several times.

Conservation is essential to preserve the Galapagos Islands.
Photo courtesy IGTOA

The archipelago’s endemic wildlife and natural beauty have made travel to the Galapagos Islands increasingly popular in recent years. The islands face serious environmental threats, including invasive species, which often outcompete or prey upon native and endemic species, illegal poaching and fishing, and population growth.

WildAid, The Charles Darwin Foundation CDF), Ecology Project International (EPI) and Friends of Galapagos New Zealand (FOGNZ) will receive a total of $65,000 from the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association this year to assist in efforts to conserve and protect the Galapagos Islands. The funds were raised through contributions from IGTOA member companies and donations from travelers to IGTOA’s Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund.

"IGTOA continues to be a consistent ally in our efforts to conserve the Galapagos,´ said Marcel Bigue, WildAid’s Marine Program Director. “This year IGTOA funding has been especially critical in raising awareness among both residents and tourists with respect to the threats that invasive species pose to the Galapagos.”
Protection of native species is essential to the Galapagos.
Photo from

EPI co-founder Julie Osborn said, “Thanks to IGTOA’s support, EPI will bring dozens of local youth into the field to help study and protect giant tortoises. For many, it is their first opportunity to explore the National Park. Together we are creating the next generation of conservation leaders in one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.”

"IGTOA and its member companies recognize that tour operators have an obligation to ensure that tourism remains a positive force in the Galapagos Islands," said Matt Kareus, Executive Director of IGTOA. "Through our Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund our members and their travelers are able to support projects that will have a lasting, positive impact.”

Information courtesy of Emily Harley, IGTOA Vice President

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Has skydiving gone mainstream?

Who would have thought skydiving would become a trendy activity?
Judging from multiple offers found on group discount buying websites like Living Social and Groupon, people are stepping out (literally) and taking the plunge. Has the public become more daring, or are we marking items off the bucket list? Or is the attraction of a large discount luring participants to this thrilling adventure?

My first skydiving experience was awesome.
When I first took advantage of such an offer about a year ago, I thought it was a novelty and a one-time splurge. I wasn’t alone in that thinking as it seems many people realize such offers make what could be a pricey endeavor more affordable. Within the past few months I’ve seen offers from Lone Star Parachute Center in Lulling, Texas (central to Austin, San Antonio, and Houston) and Texas Skydiving Center in Lexington, Texas.
Larry surveys the ground below during the free fall.
A quick check for the Dallas area revealed that more than 100 vouchers were bought on Groupon for a recent deal with Dallas Skydive Center. Prices are generally about half the rate stated on their websites.

So, I bought vouchers from Living Social to jump again--along with my husband who wouldn’t go with me the first time but later wished he had. If discounts aren’t currently availble, but you’re interested, keep watching for these to appear again.

Why skydive?
What a thrilling experience!
  • It’s a thrilling experience that will make you friends envious.
  • Free-falling is unlike anything else you can imagine—it goes by so quickly you’ll wish it lasted longer.  
  • You’ll feel incredibly brave, even if you did a tandem jump in which you leave the technical part to an expert. 
  • Drifting to earth after the free-fall is amazingly peaceful—with incredible views of the countryside.
  • You’ll have a great excuse to celebrate with a toast. And you can relive the experience by showing videos or photos to anyone who will watch.
Photos by Larry Burmeier and Texas Skydiving Center.
Check out

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ancient Spanish mansion is now luxurious Casa Andina in Arequipa, Peru

If you like to travel off the beaten path, you’ll find the High Plateau region of southern Peru to be worth a journey. Just because you’ve chosen to explore lesser visited regions doesn’t mean you’ll have to “rough it.” New highways provide comfortable driving, and superior hotels are available in cities of the Altiplano. (One caution: When traveling in high altitudes take precautions if you’re susceptible to altitude sickness. If you do have symptoms, don’t hesitate to ask for oxygen; it’s as common as a coffee pot in the lobby.)

View from the deck at Casa Andina in Arequipa, Peru

The city of Arequipa, in southern Peru, is the historic center of the Highlands Region, and it provides a banquet of cultural sites and natural beauty. Its Inca legacy is overshadowed by remnants of the Spanish colonial period such as the renovated house that has become the foundation for Casa Andina.  This Spanish mansion, named a National Historic Monument, has been expanded into a luxury hotel in the heart of town. It’s as much museum as hotel in this traditionally elegant city.

Exterior of Casa Andina retains the Spanish architecture.

After a restoration project that rescued the mansion from a century of neglect, the hotel opened in 2008 with five large suites containing original two-foot thick stone walls.  One window in our suite opened to small private courtyard that was planted with tall, slender cacti. A pull string on another window allowed us to bring in light and air as needed. Luxury touches included an alpaca blanket, 10-light chandelier, and flat-screen television.  High vaulted ceilings, original frescoes, and an original herringbone walkway of rocks embedded in stone maintain the colonial character.

Interior courtyard of Casa Andina has comfortable areas for socializing.

A modern two-story section with 36 additional rooms overlooks an open air sitting area made comfortable with cushioned wicker sofas and chairs. From the deck at Casa Andina, you’ll have great views of the volcano Misti and other volcanoes that surround the city.

One courtyard of the Santa Catalina Convent
Casa Andina is surprisingly quiet, especially since it’s just around the corner from the renowned 16th century Santa Catalina Convent (heavily visited by tourists) and a few blocks from the main square. A full buffet breakfast is served at the main courtyard of this historic, yet comfortable, accommodation. 

Peruvian cuisine is attracting international attention these days.
A short walk from the hotel takes you to a hive of activity in town and shopping opportunities. Be sure to tour the convent and monastery to hear remarkable stories about how the nuns lived there centuries ago and their modern day lives of religious service. For Peruvian culinary specialties, dine beside the beautiful gardens of Sol de Mayo, a favorite restaurant of locals and tourists for more than a century.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier