The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: On The Road (page 1 of 5)

What Do I Look Like, A Drug Lord?

When Jorge, Kelli, our friend Sam and I began packing up and shipping out of Argentina, we opted for the night bus between Mendoza and Valparaiso. About 9 hours long, it’s an easy way to save a night’s expense at a hostel, though you do miss some of the stunning views by day as you ascend the craggy, rusted mountains of the Andes.

Being that it was a full moon the night of our trip, we were able to catch ghostly glimpses of the terrain. And with our bottle of wine, the four of us had a fun time chatting, sipping delicately out of the world’s tiniest plastic cups, and planning for the upcoming days in Chile.

andes mountains

Here’s a shot of the Andes during the day, from a border run in late 2013.

A few hours into the ride, we knew the aduana, or customs control, would be happening soon. The typical steps of a land border crossing, at least between Argentina and Chile, are as follows:

  1. Approaching the border, a border official will board the bus to inspect things. He usually leaves after a quick once over.
  2. Fifteen minutes later, you’re at the actual border. Enjoy the frigid mountain air.
  3. Everyone must get off the bus, line up in front of two windows, and get their passports stamped/attended to.
  4. Linger outside for awhile, buy some Chilean sandwiches, wait until your bus pulls up to the next customs door.
  5. All the luggage is offloaded from the bus onto a conveyor belt, where it is automatically X-rayed.
  6. Passengers must line up in front of two long tables, where we place our hand luggage in front of us. Dogs sniff up and down the tables a few times.
  7. Our hand luggage is then scanned through the same machine. Anyone who didn’t pass the screening has to open their luggage so it can be inspected by an official. (And if they don’t pass the inspection…well, they don’t cross the border!)
  8. Re-board the bus, and try to catch a few more hours sleep until you arrive in Valparaiso!

Los libertadores border crossing

“Los Libertadores” border crossing; every Mendoza-Santiago bus route runs through here, high up in the Andes. [Photo Credit: Soy Chile]

Fairly straightforward. Getting INTO Chile is often more difficult than getting INTO Argentina because their import rules are much stricter. They do not allow any fruits or vegetables of any kind to be brought into the country, and most loose food is confiscated.

So around the time we knew we’d be approaching customs, we collectively realized we still had a crapton of chocolates leftover from our impulse purchases earlier that day at the Mendoza bus terminal. And nuts! We had so many nuts and chocolates.

TIME TO EAT. We began scarfing chocolate, unwilling to let Chilean officials confiscate our hard-earned candy. They were gourmet, for god’s sake! I’ll eat myself sick before I hand these over just so they can be tossed in the garbage.

Our bus shuddered to a stop at the first control (step 1) while we were mowing down. The official boarded the bus as normal. Our bus was oddly empty, only about ten people on the 2nd level with us, where normally it could fit up to 60. The official didn’t have many people to assess before he made it to us.

He paused at our seats. After a curt assessment, he asked if he could see all of our hand luggage.

I nodded and grabbed my backpack, still popping chocolate almonds into my mouth. He began to rummage, one by one, through our bags. We exchanged confused glances as he did so.

He hadn’t asked anyone else on the bus for their hand luggage. And in my ample border crossing experience, on this exact route, the most I’d ever been asked to show was my passport.

As he rifled through our belongings, I offered him some chocolate. He curtly declined.

“What is this?” He held up Sam’s lip gloss, which was in a spherical pod.

JUST LIKE THIS LIP BALM, except without the pineapple, the floating face, and the HILARIOUS ENGRISH. Take care of that crackle with this adorable lip balm.  [Photo Credit: Alibaba.com]

“Just lip balm,” she said, as he opened it up and examined it against the lights of the bus.

After he’d inspected all of our hand luggage, he told us to get off the bus. “Bring your hand luggage with you, we need to get your bags out from the bottom.”

Now this was really weird. Wordlessly, we followed him off the bus, sending wide-eyed looks between each other, wondering why we were being singled out. At the side of the bus where the luggage is stored, the border official and the bus employee pulled our bags down. They laid them unceremoniously on the side of the highway.

The official pulled me aside as he opened my big backpack. Wearing gloves, he pulled out my personal items and handed them to me to hold as he searched–my sandals, a Little Mermaid towel, piles of clothes. At the same time, another border official, who had already searched through some of Kelli and Sam’s things, grabbed my hand luggage and began searching through it again.

“Who’s is this?” His voice came out gruff, angry.

“Mine,” I told him, arms piled high with my crap as his colleague continued scouring my bag.

“Come here.”

I looked helplessly between the two officials. How was I supposed to go through two of my bags at once? “Uh…I don’t–…um, what do you–? It’s already been inspected!”

He grunted and pushed it aside. Then he motioned to Jorge to follow him behind the back of the bus. The official searching my bag finished, and told me I could put everything back inside. Then he disappeared to where Jorge and the other guy were.

All I could see was Jorge’s face as they talked. Serious faces; occasional nodding. Intense glances. They were fucking questioning him.

My belly flopped. Was this about to be a problem, like a real, honest-to-god IMMIGRATION PROBLEM? [Cue horrifying flashback to Bolivian Immigration problems.] My mind started doing somersaults as I waited for some word from them, or my husband. Kelli, Sam and I huddled nervously as we waited.

Finally, the officials motioned us over. “Get back on the bus.”

THANK GOD. We re-boarded the bus quickly, settling into our seats with something like delirious relief pulsing through the air.

“What did they say to you?” I asked Jorge as the bus rumbled to life once more. The passengers at the front of the bus side-eyed us, probably wondering what we had done to warrant such a search.

“They were looking for weed,” he said, and went on to explain that the officials were looking for marijuana in all our bags–all the way down to Sam’s lip gloss. Convinced that we had it stashed somewhere, that we had been smoking it somewhere. Behind the bus, the officials had tried to bargain with him–if you guys have any on you, just let us know and we can work something out for you. We’ll make you a deal. Just admit it.

SERIOUSLY.

We gaped at him, incredulous, horrified, totally confused. Why on EARTH would they suspect us for SMUGGLING AN ILLEGAL DRUG INTO CHILE?

Clearly, they didn’t find the treasure they were looking for, because we don’t smuggle illegal substances across international borders. 

Of all the passengers on the bus, they chose us. And why was that?

Was it because we were foreign? Maybe because of my dreadlocks? Was it because we were three American tourists, lost in a conversation in our own language, trying to be nice by offering chocolates?

Who knows. We sure don’t.

The incident weighed on us, hanging somewhere between astonishment and fear. What if this had been a different country, a place where cops bribe people to confess something, while they plant a drug in their belongings? What if this had been a situation where not finding anything in our luggage didn’t matter, and we’d be carried off to jail anyway?

Those places exist in the world. And oftentimes, it’s up to luck about what happens to you on the road: what society you’re traveling in, what border official is looking you up and down, what night of the week you happen to be traveling.

Once we made it to the actual border and our luggage was offloaded again to be X-Ray’d and sniffed out, none of the dogs noticed us, our backpack, or Sam’s “questionable” (yet adorable) lip balm.

It’s times like these that make you wonder all the ways that things can go REALLY wrong! Have you guys ever had a touchy situation like this traveling abroad? I want to hear about it!

South America Packing List: Winter 2016 Version

About this time last year, I was hopping planes from Peru to Chicago to India in order to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Kalit. Kelli and I made the voyage together from Chicago to India…but this year? We’re going from Cleveland to South America, to celebrate my own wedding.

This Saturday, we’ll head to the C-L-E for our summery Argentina & Chile excursion. We’ve got plenty of things on the docket: Mendoza wine tour, all of Jorge’s extended family (including the far-flung relatives I’ve never met), our wedding reception RURAL STYLE, bus rides through the Andes, and the lovely VALPARAISO, with all the graffiti, sea shore, and hill climbing we can stand.

Much like last year, I’m facing the problem of what the hell do I do about the different temperatures in all these places I’m going? Because right now, in Jorge’s homeland, it’s like 100 degrees. And in Ohio, right now, it’s 18 degrees.

One thing is for certain this time–I can at least leave my winter jacket behind in Ohio. It’ll go like this: my dad will pull up to Departures…he’ll slow to a crawl, keeping an eye out for the police officers who want to shoo everyone along before they’ve had time to even cough…I will shed my soon-to-be-unnecessary jacket, feigning I’m-about-to-unload-officer motions…I’ll glance heavily at the snowfall around me…and I will barrel roll out of the car with my backpack already strapped on, gathering momentum until I feel the whoosh of hot air as I glide through the sliding doors of the Check-In area.

VICTORY. No winter jacket…no hypothermia…no ridiculous, laden bags.

For my four week trip out of the USA this year, I am packing light. Or, as light as I can muster given that I need out-of-the-ordinary things like jewelry for my wedding dress and various flats in case I change my mind last minute.

Jorge warned me the other day to be prepared for the heat. I mean, it’s a valid warning, though my immediate reaction was “Pfff, OK. Like I need to prepare for that.”

But I do. I mean, if you get somewhere that’s 100 degrees and you don’t have a single pair of shorts or a single sleeveless shirt…that’s a special kind of hell already. Your limbs gotta breathe.

That said, I’m prepared for the damn heat. I have like, three summer dresses, two pairs of shorts, all of the tank tops I’ve ever laid eyes on, and two bathing suits. I’m prepared for the heat.

But I’m also prepared for other things. Let’s take a look at this snapshot of my packing progress today.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I've only packed five things. I swear there's a backpack with other stuff in it.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I’ve only packed five things. I swear there’s a backpack with other stuff in it.

What are we looking at here?

Sunglasses: check.

Passport: duh. Check.

Bindis: check. You never know when you’ll need a bindi to color-coordinate with your outfit at your Argentinian wedding.

Rattle: check. This is a magical rattle and was part of a larger rattle from my best friend Heather, so this is either self-explanatory or more confusing.

Mermaid leggings: check. I may very well not put these leggings on, especially since they are skin-tight and made of a fabric that seems like it would induce epic sweating. But, let’s be real…if I get to South America and there’s even one moment where I WISH I had these leggings and I DON’T? I’ll have failed as the resident Astronaut Mermaid. After all, it’s wise to plan for a little bit of space in your luggage…and whether that space ends up fitting mermaid leggings or bootlegged bottles of Malbec wine on your way back into the country, or BOTH…hey. That’s your call.

Those are the essentials….so far, at least. Luckily, my wedding dress is already in Argentina, waiting for me, probably sweating on my behalf in the San Luis heat. That’s one item you wouldn’t want to forget for your wedding in South America, but thankfully I sent it ahead with my personal husband courier.

Oh, and don’t forget to check back for more updates on our wedding, Southern Hemisphere Edition…there’s more Wedding Woes and Wonders ahead! Signing off, for now…

Anniversary Unintended

This blog title sounds like the name of a bad TV drama series, like something destined for Lifetime. I swear the contents of this post won’t be that melodramatic and full of bad acting. But I can’t promise there won’t be any babysitters wielding kitchen knives while the parents laugh gaily in the other room.

*looks around*

What? Anyway, I’ve been in reflective mode recently. Call it the full moon, the blood eclipse (that doesn’t sound right), the start of fall or the fact that I like to test my memory every once in a while; any way you slice it, I’ve been ruminating on facets of the past. In a good way. Like, the stroll down memory lane that makes you want to roll around in meadows and stuff your orifices full of flowers. Not the stroll down memory lane that leaves you mass-facebooking your friends for a new therapist recommendation.

It occurred to me, about two weeks ago, that just around this time two years ago, Jorge and I were moving into our first home together in Valparaiso, Chile.

What serendipity! What memories! What an accidental yet totally appropriate way to celebrate our unintended Moving Into A New House Anniversary. From here on out, I think we’ll ALWAYS have to move into a new place at the beginning of September. Even if it would be more convenient to do it in April…nope. Gotta be September. Just to adhere to the tradition that we started on accident.

But it’s true—on September 17th of 2013, I wrote about the sweet, new, empty house we had just scored in Cerro Carcel.  Ohh, there’s that lovely stroll down memory lane again (the one with the flower-stuffing). And this stroll includes that time that Jorge and I found a free mattress on our way to visit the house before we moved in. We thought, hey cool, free mattress. The house wasn’t so far away, we figured we could just haul it ourselves. On our shoulders. But then before we left with the mattress, the owner of the mattress was like hey, I have another mattress, do you want another mattress? And we were like, how can we say no to TWO free mattresses? To be fair, they were twin-size. So, two twin mattresses on two pairs of shoulders–easy, right? Well, when you haul two mattresses on your shoulders up a vertical,  twisting hill in Valparaiso, what seemed like a no-brainer turns into a hellish, gasping, panting sort of trek up a mountainside.

And this time, in 2015, I didn’t have to haul any mattresses anywhere, but my father and Jorge sure did! They lugged a memory foam mattress up to the second floor and my dad swore he almost had a heart attack. I’m glad to have missed the mattress penance this time around.

In that post from September 17th, 2013, I wrote the following:

In several more months, I will know what the next step will be. But for now, I’m excited to upcycle, recycle, compost, and create new collaborative works within the walls of this delightful house in Cerro Carcel.

And I feel like those words are still true, except this time for Vine Street. We don’t know what the next step is after our (year) lease runs up. But in the meantime, we’re upcycling, recycling, AND composting—in fact, my dad just made me a compost bin using some scrap (upcycled) wood that Jorge got from his job, so, I consider than a big win.

To me, it sorta looks like maybe I buried someone next to the compost bin, like the flowers are marking the grave...but I swear I didn't.

To me, it sorta looks like maybe I buried someone next to the compost bin, like the flowers are marking the grave…but I swear I didn’t.

And in the vein of unintended anniversaries…

Anyone remember that time I crossed from Chile into Argentina en route to go meet Jorge’s family, and it just so happened to be the EXACT DAY that I had arrived to Chile for the first time a year prior?

Pretty weird stuff, ya’ll. It’s like unintended anniversaries are woven throughout my life like the glow-in-the-dark-fabric of this new shirt I just bought.

But it’s not done yet.

Jorge and I started dating on March 18th of 2013. That day is ALSO my maternal great grandfather’s birthday.

WEIRD.

Also, our wedding day—August 18th? That’s the wedding anniversary of my grandfather’s parents.

If you asked me to describe these unintended anniversary phenomena? In a word, I’d say ‘cray’.

I don’t know what the strange proliferation of shared, and unintended, anniversaries means. Maybe it’s coincidence; maybe it’s a cosmic, higher-level funny; maybe I’ve got a real knack for accidentally celebrating dates that are not only important to me, but to others within my family.

Whatever the reason, I’m happy to note the occurrences.  It provides a fun, glow-in-the-dark background to my otherwise pretty normal t-shirt. And if you shine the light on it long enough…you’ll see the spectacular array of strange patterns and designs that congregate in the background.

 

What about you guys? Any strange repetitions of dates, anniversaries, or other important events? Have you celebrated anniversaries without meaning to? Do you even care about anniversaries?

Back In Ohio

Jorge and I landed in the USA mid-June. Per typical summer protocol, we were instantly swept up in a tornado of Midwestern fun, revelry, cookouts, and camping trips. Things have slowed down slightly, though not much, and I can’t complain. Being home is so special to me, made sweeter by the taste of missing the damn place so much.

In getting re-acquainted with the sights, smells, and language of home, I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments since returning. Some moments that really reminded me that I’m in Ohio, and that, for better or for worse, this is where I’m from.

1. Awkward compliments about my hair. I’ll be the first to admit that most people don’t know what dreadlocks are. I know this because most people ask me about them, fully admitting their ignorance in either baffling or hilarious disclaimers that only offend me some of the time. From being asked if I’ve ever found insects living in my head (I haven’t) to what percentage of the dreads are made of yarn (0%), sometimes I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to dread-speak. But then comes Mr. Drunk Ohio Guy at the bar the other night. Ruddy and happy on his artisan beers at the Small City Taphouse, he leans over to me while I’m waiting (patiently) to order my Malbec.

“That’s a heck of a weave you got up there,” he says, grinning, eyebrows wiggling in the direction of my hair, which is piled unceremoniously on top of my head in something akin to the Marge Simpson hairstyle. I look at him, expression somewhere between Complete Confusion and Distant Amusement. I try to speak several times, but nothing comes out. A weave? For real? That’s not even…but…OK. Whatever.

Finally, I say, “These are dreadlocks. It’s my actual hair. But, thanks, I guess?” He laughs, a little relieved, and says, “Well I don’t know what you call them. I just wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or if you were gonna hit me.”

His expression is endearing; he means well. He offered me a compliment using the only word he could muster; a weave. Thanks for trying, Drunk Ohio Bar Guy. I appreciate the compliment. And I told him so, before leaving with my glass of Malbec.

A shot of Small City Tap House in Sandusky, OH.

A shot of Small City Tap House in Sandusky, OH.

2. Unsolicited advice about cruises. I went to a wine tasting the other night at a local wine shop. It was my first wine tasting in the USA, but after hosting a wine club in my own house for 6 months back in Valparaiso, Chile, I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold a candle. I mean, inviting backpackers and vagabonds into my home space to share hand-picked, South American wines curated by one of my best friends? How could I ever top the fun and conversations?

What the Ohio-based wine tasting lacked in South American wine diversity (re: it had none) it made up for in interesting vegan food accompaniments and amazing music played by talented musician friends. And, in terms of unexpected conversations on the heels of a few varietals, it didn’t disappoint.

Before I left the tasting that evening, another attendee and I began chatting because of his curiosity about what my t-shirt meant, which led to conversations about where Jorge is from, why are we here, etc. Once some travel chatter had come and gone, he asks, “Have you ever been on a cruise?”

“They aren’t really my style,” I tell him, “but I’d like to go on at least one someday, just to try. Besides, I hear you can get some really good prices!”

“Oh yeah, you can,” he says. “You know how? Go during hurricane season.”

I stare at him a moment, wondering if I’ve misheard him or missed a necessary piece of sarcasm. But he wasn’t kidding.

“If you go during hurricane season,” he says, “not only are the prices rock-bottom, you also have the chance that they’ll completely re-route the trip in order to avoid the hurricane. So if you’re up for a little adventure, that’s the way to go.”

He and his wife do this whenever they can. I’m inclined to take his advice. Because, hey—if you’re gonna go on a cruise, might as well add a dimension of terror and spontaneity to it.

 

3.  Dealing with tornadoes. Three days after landing in Ohio and settling into my childhood home in Sandusky, Jorge and I are lounging in the guest bedroom, caught somewhere between jet lag and exhaustion from unpacking. It’s been raining on and off since we got home, with some impressively ominous storm clouds lurking on the horizon. Jorge, who is from a part of the world that doesn’t see tornadoes with any regularity, can tell that some of these storm clouds mean business.

Stormy Ohio skies...though not quite funnel cloud-grade.

Stormy Ohio skies…though not quite funnel cloud-grade.

“That sky over there looks pretty bad,” I tell him, nodding toward the particular swell of garish black cumulonimbus cloud. “It’s easy to tell if the weather will get weird, here. There’s something in the air that changes. You can just feel it.”

“So what happens if there is a tornado? How do you know?”

“A siren will go off,” I say. “That basically means run to your basement and hang out until the funnel cloud goes away.”

“Funnel cloud? You can actually see it?”

As if on cue, the curdling wail of the siren picks up. We look at each other; tension spikes in the air. We rush downstairs to find my father, who is looking out the back door and into the sky.

“Just keep an eye out for funnel clouds, basically,” I say, straining to see if the clouds are doing anything interesting.

“But it looks calmer now,” Jorge says. The winds had been a little boisterous before, but the world beyond our screen door featured a calmer scene. An eerie tranquility. “Maybe it’s going away.”

“That’s what we call the calm before the storm,” my dad says, his voice punctuated by the shrieking wail of the siren. “That’s when you know things might really go bad.”

Luckily, we didn’t see any funnel clouds, evacuate into the basement, or have a tornado touch down. But it’s a pretty spooky introduction—Tornado 101, if you will—for the foreigner visiting Ohio.

Interviewin’ a Badass Series: FENNA BLUE

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be interviewing some blogger ladies within the #LoudLadies community. I had the luck to join this group earlier this year because Fenna, the first interviewee of the series, found my blog and recruited me into this amazing community of woman bloggers and entrepreneurs.

(Anyone else notice the acronym of this series is IBS? No? Okay, moving on…)


 

Meeting Fenna was so special, and truly a moment I’ll never forget. I got the email as I was milling around a swanky hotel in Agra, India, waiting for a wedding event, feeling both spectacular and strange in my first-ever saree. At first I thought the excited email from Fenn was spam, because my brain was unable to comprehend that someone had found my blog and was compelled to write me about it.

But it turned out my First Official Fan had indeed emailed me, and I was so happy I told a large group of Indians in my immediate vicinity. Not only that, she’s a fellow Ohio girl. Meeting Ohio brethren, especially when swimming in the foreign waters abroad, is always a relief and inspiring. But Fenn moreso than others. She’s a prolific blogger, geocacher, photographer, AND entrepreneur (who has recently gone back to school), and shares reviews, thoughts, and inspiration on her blog The Honest Badger.

 

Astromaid: I’m so happy to have you on my blog today! Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What kind of traveler are you? A ‘I’ve been planning this for months’ type of girl? A ‘buy the first cheap ticket I see’ traveler? Or somewhere else on the spectrum?

Fenna: It varies, but more of a planning it for months kinda gal. I LOVE to travel, but I like to feel secure and I’m a hardcore planner. If I could plan out everything for the next five years, I would! I also have a tendency to live very fucking broke, and so traveling requires a strict budget and saving up for. HOWEVER, I also love how central to everything Ohio is and I can just go on a day trip to so many exciting places. On my Instagram (fennaramatron), people are always commenting on the cool places I go, and they’re all within a two-hour drive. I love to explore near and far!

 

AM: Bringing people’s attention to the cool parts of Ohio is needed. I grew up thinking it was all just boring and plain in the region, but that’s SO far from the truth. It just took me years and lots of life experience to get it. But outside of Ohio, what has been your favorite travel experience in the world, and why?

F: Stavanger, Norway just does it for me. I toured Europe for the month of April in 2007, entertaining U.S. troops in Germany, Norway, Belgium, and England (with a stop in France to catch the ferry). Norway was like nothing I had ever imagined (and VERY like Seattle, which is why Seattle feels very NOT American to me). Norway was so beautiful and stark and interesting and simple and wonderful. I had so much fun there. I was only there for about 48 hours, and only in Stavanger, but I managed to walk that entire city and eat reindeer and jump in the Black Sea (which is really a fjord of some type) and just…so breathtaking.

Stavanger, Norway. Photo taken by Fenna Blue.

Stavanger, Norway. Photo taken by Fenna Blue.

AM: I’ve never been in a fjord OR to Seattle, but both are now on my list. What do you like most about travel? And what aspect of travel just pisses you off?

F: I like seeing new places, even if they seem mundane. When I drove across the U.S. and saw Iowa for the first time (and then Omaha), I was blown away and how beautiful it is. Parts of the U.S. always end up being ignored or dismissed because it’s not, you know, fucking L.A. or New York or whatever. When I was in Europe, I was not in Paris and Berlin and other big name cities (I did see some famous cities). I was in tiny towns with little more than a ruined castle and a gas station and a military base Hitler had. But it was so amazing, all these tiny towns, and I realized, you can be anywhere and it will be cool. You don’t have to see the Taj Mahal, because somewhere that is far away and a different culture will seem awesome. I hate people and crowds and idiots in line for mass transportation.

 

AM: Really great point. Beauty and awesomeness are around us always, you just have to LOOK, which also implies being willing to accept it, even if it’s not something fantastic and faraway. You’ve moved across the USA a lot – and I mean A LOT, a lot. Can you tell us more about that, and why it happened?

F: I’ve been trying to remember exactly how it happened and in what order. I can’t remember if I first answered a Yahoo Classified ad (don’t even exist anymore, I think) and took a live-in nanny job in Olathe, Kansas (so awful) or if I sold my car and bought a plane ticket to Honolulu to start college in Hawai’i. I took a live-in nanny position in Seattle. I took a job in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (south of the Hoover Dam). I took a job in Death Valley. I tend to take jobs somewhere and then go. I like to see new places. I wanted to go to college for history, a degree you can get anywhere. I was looking at Michigan, where a lot of friends (from working at Cedar Point) were. But those friendships fell apart and Hawai’i had no application fees, and so I went. It was easy because school and dorm and just get there and do it. I think Hawai’i helped break the ice for traveling (maybe Olathe did first, I cannot remember which came first). After that, taking the leap was easier and easier and I just need to get away sometimes.

 

AM: And in all those moves across the country, was there any overriding sensation or conclusion that you felt? Even if it was about packing and re-packing, or friendships, or holidays, or how much you hate the humidity in Ohio, etc?

F: There is nothing like watching the sun rise over the Mississippi on the border of Illinois and Iowa and absolutely nothing like chasing down the sunset in the middle of the Great Basin. One awesome thing about the U.S. is how vast and amazing and different it is. I’ve been to 45 states (have not yet been to Alaska, North or South Dakota, Vermont, or Maine). I’ve travelled pretty extensively, but there is still so much to see. Being able to travel around Europe would be so cool. I’m jealous of those Brits who can get on a train and go to Paris for the weekend. But then again, I could go to New York City for the weekend. But I think it all started because I get tired of people and their bullshit and not feeling like I fit in. I know I fit in on the road. The highway always welcomes me. I fit in on strange streets and new towns and old trails. I like being in the new and the different. I don’t feel at home in the usual. I love Ohio and I will always return here, but there is so much to see and to do and so many people to meet and I’d rather be out on the road, finding those places.

 

AM: I’ve never received a better response than yours. I will be quoting you for years to come. What is your favorite among the following: A.) A Shire-esque hobbit home with round doors and tiny knobs, and most likely fragrant fields of flowers just beyond the bend in the road B.) A modern apartment overlooking an exciting, bustling city with lots of lights and shadows and fascinating steel contraptions C.) an 1800’s cabin (either legitimate or a re-make, you decide) in the middle of the Appalachians,  where the sounds of your neighbor’s horses whinnying waft in the evening breeze?

F: None of them. I need an island and water. But I’ll take a hobbit hole any day. I do dream of living in a cave.

 

AM: I couchsurfed Santorini, Greece once and our host lived in an honest to god cave. And now I also dream of living in a cave. But his was really well-decorated and didn’t smell musty or have stalactites. Which, really, when you think about it, a cave home should have at least ONE stalactite. Now, switching gears…

I don’t know much about geocaching, apart from what I researched once to use in a short story contest (I didn’t win—I’ll need your input next time). Does your geocaching take you on unexpected adventures? And what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever geocached/unearthed/stumbled upon/whatever verb you use in this situation?

F: I wrote a post about it on Steph’s blog! : http://www.the-loudmouth.com/2013/01/guest-post-geocaching-101-by-fenn.html : I have just about 400 geocaches under my belt, but the vast majority of them have been in Ohio. I have cached in several states, but only picking up one or two here and there. The coolest has been a geocache that is a book in a library. There was a weird one in Upstate New York that required pulling the cache up out of a hole in the center of a tree, but the cache broke as I was pulling it out (poor design), so that was annoying. I love cemetery caches because I love old cemeteries. Mom and I was found one inside a fake bird in a fake nest in a real tree, and that was cool. I HATE geocaches that are meant to be extra tricky or dangerous.

AM: Fake bird, fake nest, real tree. GENIUS! 

Have you ever eaten ceviche? If so, did you like it? And if not, will you go eat it with me?

F: It freaks me out, but I’ll try anything once. I don’t like the idea of a cold soup, but I’ll eat it. Definitely.

AM: Hold on – are you thinking of Gazpacho? Because THAT is a cold soup (from Spain), and yeah, I didn’t like the idea either NOR the taste. BLECH. Ceviche is raw fish and raw onion slices, bathed in lime juice and cilantro. I’ll take you to try ceviche sometime—we can save the gazpacho for a different day.  

What is your ultimate travel dream right now – and why?

F: Adam and I talk a lot about going to Romania, because he taught there in the Peace Corps. It’s exciting to me, to think about seeing a place he really loved and where he lived and seeing those places through the eyes of someone who lived there. We’ve talked about starting in Italy (’cause I wanna see Venice) and visiting other Eastern European countries on our way to going to his places. But…if I’m really talking about my ultimate dreams…hmm… Swing dancing on the Great Wall of China, a massive Southern Hemisphere trip with an outback tour in Australia, or road tripping all of the British Isles (or whatever the hell they’re called)…and of course, the Eiffel Tower! Oooh, or going to India and hanging with my friend, Debashree or coming to wherever you are in South America. I DON’T KNOW!!!!!! EVERYWHERE!!!!

AM: THE WORLD HAS SO MANY PLACES TO SEE!!! AHHHH!!! Which is why it’s EXTRA special that you’re able to see so many interesting nooks, crannies, cities, and otherwise in your daily life. You travel a lot for your creative work, which involves photography sessions with clients all around the state of Ohio – and sometimes even out of state. What is your favorite part about meeting these far-flung clients, wherever they are?

F: Oooh, I LOVE putting different states and countries on my photo shoot lists! I tend to marry landscape photography and portrait photography. I like to make epic photos where there is a person in this fucking awesome location. Shooting with the Alps in the background was awesome! Shooting in downtown Louisville was cool. Going somewhere I’ve never been and finding some little spot that speaks of that location is great. I actually had a collection of nude self-portraits in all the states I had visited. I was gonna do all of the states. I have since lost them in a hard drive crash, but a friend of mine and I were talking about them and she was talking about how good they were. It was cool to hear that from someone else, because it was such a personal project for me. It was all about my setting a timer in the middle of nowhere Texas and running around a field naked, or climbing a barbed wire fence on a dirt road in New Mexico and covering myself in red mud. It was so fun to create beautiful art in places I had visited that mirrored my own portrait photography with my love of new places I’d visited and secret spots I’d found.

Ms. Fenna Blue herself!

Ms. Fenna Blue herself!

AM: What a badass project! I am absolutely in love with it, and so bummed that this has been lost! Will you ever re-do it?

F: As my friend and I were talking about it and I realized how much she appreciated it, I thought about doing it again. Aside from enjoying the doing of it and the photos myself, it was really cool to hear that someone else enjoyed it. But it’s weird, too, because I had short black hair when I started and long black hair when I finished and NO tattoos. It was all me and bare skin. And now, I’m so different when it comes to my outward appearance. So I don’t know. Maybe! Probably. I mean, seriously, I’ll probably start it up again this summer, honestly.

 

AM: What are your favorite shooting conditions? I mean, if you could have an extremely photogenic stranger approach you and be like, “Listen Fenn, I need this really expensive shoot that I’ll pay you in advance for (possibly in euros and/or bitcoin), but I need you to plan all the details, down to my own pair of underwear”…what would it include?

F: It would be either a full nude shoot or a boudoir shoot. It would be outside, possible underwater. It would be all about natural sunlight and natural beauty. Probably right now, I’m dreaming of the Castalia Quarry and a beautiful, naked, black or brown body. That would be so fucking sweet.

 

AM: I think I know somebody who might be interested in doing the Quarry shoot. And yeah, all of those sound amazing. I think you are such a talented photographer, and I can’t wait until we get to work together (I’ll try not to make too many ugly faces, but, well, it’s just my nature).

Any travel discount sites or links to recommend?

I’m writing a guest post for Steph at The Loudmouth Lifestyle about how I’ve traveled, so come over there and check it out for my secrets!!!

 

Thanks for coming to visit with me today! And readers, don’t forget to check out Fenn’s blog: The Honest Badger!

That Time I Ate An Armadillo

Jorge’s family is sort of obsessed with quirquincho.

I’d heard this strange word hundreds times throughout my first visit to meet his parents. Quirquincho this and quirchincho that. Per Foreign Language Acquisition Rules, I just politely nodded and ignored asking what the word meant, because I had already pretended to understand too many times and finally asking what it meant would have been embarrassing (ONE MUST PRETEND TO KNOW ALL WORDS AT ALL  TIMES).

It wasn’t until visiting his brother’s house that they pointed to the quirquincho hanging on the wall that I realized OMG they’ve been talking about armadillos the entire time.

As in, hunting them. Eating them. Making stews with them. What a delicacy they are. How much they wish they could have another one. The way the flavors mix with fond childhood memories. And on. And on.

Like I said–a little obsessed with quirquinchos.

On my most recent visit to Candelaria, I got the chance to try quirquincho. It had been freshly hunted off their own farmland in the morning, courtesy of the three dogs that live out there. Seriously, armadillos roam their farmland. Pretty much the entire family looked at me strangely when I said I had only ever seen armadillo in a zoo.

And from my perfunctory knowledge of armadillos, I would never have guessed that it could be hunted. Isn’t it just one giant moving shell? Furthermore, how does one eat a giant shelled animal?

How does anyone even know there’s anything under there worth eating? Can’t we just let it stay out there and do its shelled thing?

These were some of my existential questions prior to the quirquincho.

Jorge's father and the catch of the day: QUIRQUINCHO

Jorge’s father and the catch of the day: QUIRQUINCHO

I’ll be honest, I was pretty hesitant to try quirquincho because, well, there’s no mistaking that IT’S A LITERAL ARMADILLO. Completely intact, just…you know…boiled. *gulp* Okay.

But hey. When you’re the partner of an Argentinian farm boy, you don’t want to offend what could potentially become your in-law family for life. So, you know, you eat the armadillo.

Even if it looks like it will leap up and ATTACK YOU at any moment.

A close-up of dinner.

A close-up of dinner. What are we even supposed to eat? I don’t get it, you guys.

Once we sat down at the table, the shelled carcass had been replaced with cuts of its meat. Could have fooled me that this bad boy would have had any meat under that shell, but hey, what does a suburban girl from Ohio know about eating this stuff? (Hint: nothing.)

The meat was pretty okay. Served cooled, it reminded me of dark turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving. The shock and awe of seeing the creature in a baking dish sort of marred the experience. But, really, every time I go to visit Jorge’s family, I’m pushed up against the glass wall of where meat really comes from. For them, and many others in the world, slaughter and meat preparation is as common place as cooking beans is for me.

But from my sterile North American, non-farm life, seeing these sort of things is still SHOCKING to me. I’ve been acclimating to sights like these since my first trip abroad to Mexico in 2006 — I can still remember the cresting nausea as I walked the central market with my Mexican Mama for the first time, observing with horror and pity the swinging slabs of cow and more.

That doesn’t mean I’ve adapted fully, though. Every once in awhile, a surprise armadillo will get the best of me, leaving me both slack-jawed and horrified as I contemplate putting it in my mouth.

But I respect their lifestyle, and I really admire their connection with the land, the animals they raise, and the purity of their intentions. It’s easy to forget that a large majority of the world still lives so closely with the land — especially in America, where most things are a car ride or a trip to Kroger away.

I’m the first to admit–I wasn’t raised with much contact with rugged nature, or any sense of living from the land. Sure, I played in the woods and climbed trees. But hunting to survive? I don’t know if it’s a luxury or a pity that I’ve been able to live a life without knowing that.

Adventures in Coffee: Argentina Edition

I REALLY LIKE COFFEE. And sometimes this leads to varied (and desperate) adventures with brewing coffee on the road (the true peak being sifting coffee through a pair of leggings). Like clockwork, another strange speed bump cropped up throughout what is an already sort of unusual winding road through Coffee Land.

We started our voyage into the rural midlands of Argentina with a jar of ground coffee. Regular stuff – some Columbian beans I had left over from Cusco. But as all ground things come to an end, before long I was eyeing the bright green packages of whole Peruvian coffee beans with something similar to a caffeine-induced hunger.

Audrey and Chevi bestowed upon us the generous gift of COFFEE before we left. Our bags were so stuffed that I had to cram three of these packs into my purse. Made for an awkward bag-search when we crossed the border, let me tell you (who carries three pounds of whole coffee in their purse?)

Once our ground coffee reserves came to a delicious end, I wondered how we might begin sampling the Peruvian jungle beans. Jorge’s parents live in town these days, but they still have a pretty rustic lifestyle when it comes to household appliances. I knew a proper coffee-grinding appliance was out of the question – I might not be able to locate one of those for 300 miles. But a blender? Those are pretty common place. And they’ll get the job done in times of coffee grinding need, even if it is a bit cringeworthy for certain types of coffee snobs.

But hey – when you’re out here in the farmland, you make do with what you have.

Except *record screech* they don’t have a blender. I was so sure they would, too. Turns out, they had a blender, long ago, but it broke, and was never replaced. (BUT WHAT ABOUT SMOOTHIES?!)

Fine. So let’s turn to our resourceful farmhand whiles. What this house does have is a mortar and pestle. And a pretty bad ass one at that – something of the mortar and pestle of my dreams (though not quite as large as ones I’ve seen in the Incan museums. Nor is it made of stone. Or forged from ancient remembrances.)

I asked myself if I could grind coffee with a mortar and pestle. And then I realized, how silly. You can grind ANYTHING with a mortar and pestle, especially one this size. I could grind my own teeth if I wanted. Even if they weren’t out of my head first.

So we got to work with the experiment. We poured in a small handful at first, to see how it might work. And then, voila – tantalizing aromas, more fragrant than anything I have smelled in my entire life, wafted from the mortar and pestle. The smell was truly sublime.

Grinding coffee with mortar and pestle

Here I am, using an antique mortar and pestle, happy as a coffee-grinding clam.

And though the grounds weren’t exactly even, it got the job done.

The resultant coffee was a DELIGHT.

In my never-ending journeys through unlikely and often-times very hillbilly methods of brewing coffee, I have unwittingly come across something that pushes me into the coffee snob end of the spectrum: GRINDING BEFORE YOU BREW IS OTHERWORDLY.

I’ve heard about this plenty, though mostly in reference to picking on the ubiquitous hipster and all the infuriating cultural quirks therein. (“Sorry, I can’t drink coffee that hasn’t been freshly ground, the taste is just sooooo much different.”) And yeah, maybe I’m afraid the hipster missile will seek me out, even down here in the South American pampas. But you know what? The taste is just sooooooo much different. (Though, all you experienced coffee drinkers knew this already, didn’t you??)

I’m definitely going to grind the rest of the bag like this, most likely in the serene breezes of the mild San Luis fall mornings, listening to the insane bird squawking like a goat in the neighbor’s house, or the roosters who literally crow at all hours of the day, beginning at 4:30AM. I recommend trying this with deeper mortar and pestles. Shallow ones would allow too much room for the coffee beans to jump out and otherwise avoid their untimely, flattened demise.

Not only is it an unexpected meditative time-out, the ‘I-just-ground-this-shit-right-now’ coffee experience is a subtle explosion of joy for the palate. Even if you have to do it with a mortar and pestle.

Now go try it and tell me about it! Seriously, share your results below. Did a coffee bean shoot out and lodge itself in your eyeball? Or were you wooed and seduced by the fragrant aromas wafting from the kitchen? 

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