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Archive for the ‘Outdoor adventures’ Category

Ready to head to Africa in September!

You know you’ve made it as a travel writer when you’re headhunted to write about diarrhea.

 

 

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The #OOTD

I woke up the other morning in the back seat of my car, which was parked on a side street in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Still bleary from the Xanax I’d taken to ensure a decent night’s sleep and clad in the above attire, I stumbled to a small park populated by resident tweakers and assorted vagrants, in dire need of the public restroom. I looked- and probably smelled- like their kin, so it seemed right I not get hoity-toity about the toilet situation.

A shirtless meth head, his wiry, tattooed body muscled like a fist, saw me and smiled. “I love your outfit,” he said cheerfully. When I snorted in surprise, he said, “Seriously. It looks really cozy!” Never underestimate the sartorial assessment of a guy who’s been awake for three days.

Indeed my ensemble was cozy, because I’d slept in it. I’d driven up to Idaho Springs from a food conference in Denver the night before, having engaged in a bit too much day-drinking with my publisher and colleagues (I’d had every intention of driving home after manning our booth, but then the Bloody Mary’s commenced, and there was nary an affordable room to be had).

After a sweaty car nap on a sketchy block downtown, I was sufficiently sober to drive the 30 minutes to Idaho Springs, but too exhausted and night vision-impaired to make it home. Even the dumpiest motels charge extortionist rates once you hit the mountains, and what the fuck, I’ve lived in my car before (see, Summer of ’94, San Diego). I’d just conk out and hit the road in the morning.

Photo love: YouTube

This very scenario is why I keep my car-sleeping essentials in the back seat at all times. In addition to a sleeping bag and blankets for padding/emergency blizzards, I have an LED headlamp (you don’t want to drain your car battery, nor draw attention to the fact that you’re, you know, sleeping in your car) extra batteries, baby wipes (No shower? No problem), reading material, a pair of sweats and a winter jacket, drinking water and a sleep aid. I’m an insomniac of epic proportions- there’s a reason this blog is dedicated to a certain pharmaceutical.

I know I’m not the only dirtbag/cheapskate out there who actually enjoys sleeping in my car, so I’ve provided the following tips to make your experience a little more comfortable and a whole lot safer. And fyi, Idaho Springs is adorable- it’s just off the I-70 corridor so it attracts some nefarious types at the fringes. Solo female travelers who sleep in their cars are attuned to these things.

Without further ado:

Do your research
If you’re somewhere urban, be sure to scope out signage so you don’t end up ticketed or towed, or arrested. It’s a fairly well known fact that most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking. It ain’t the Ritz, but it works in a pinch.

A large cup
How do I put this delicately? Sometimes, you’re just not parked in a place where it’s feasible, as a woman, to pop a squat. I learned this while “living” in San Diego. All of the homes in the cul-de-sac had motion sensor lights and a lack of shrubbery, making bladder relief extraordinarily complicated. After complaining to a fellow car-dweller, he told me, “Dude, you totally need to get a Big Gulp cup.” Dude, it totally solved the problem. Just remember to dump it down a storm drain, and not on someone’s landscaping- you’re not a fucking animal.

A shower plan of action
Depending upon your situation, you can often shower for free at the beach (skip the soap and shampoo or ask a ranger or lifeguard if biodegradable products are okay to use), or pay at a rec center, gym or campground. I confess I’ve snuck into campgrounds before and poached a shower but I try to avoid such shady behavior, mainly because I’m afraid of getting caught. Also, keep a towel in your car-  you’d be amazed by how useful it is (providing traction when you’re stuck in the snow, anyone? Anyone?).

Lock your doors, but crack your windows
Don’t compromise your safety, but you do need fresh air.

Be sure your cellphone is charged and within reach
This is useless if you’re in an area without service (if you have an inkling that’s going to be the case, call, text, or email a family member or friend with your approximate location for the night before you get out of range). A phone can prove invaluable if you run into trouble. Sweet dreams.

Sweet Idaho Springs. Photo love: Mille Fiori Favorti

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When I was seven, my parents took me and my older brother on a ski trip to Vail. The thing I remember most vividly isn’t schussing the slopes, but rather, a restaurant named after a convicted cannibal. If you know anything about my childhood, this should come as no surprise.

In search of a place for dinner one evening, we stumbled upon a creekside eatery called Alfie Packer’s- I can recall my parents cracking up at the name. I think I had a mouthful of cheeseburger when they explained the story behind the restaurant’s moniker, thus instilling in me a lifelong obsession with cannibalism and a lust for fucked-up survival stories.

Just to clarify, it’s a happy memory.

Alferd Packer. Photo love: Lake County-Hinsdale County Chamber of Commerce

For the uninitiated, the “Colorado Cannibal,” Alferd (née Alfred) G. Packer, was a prospector convicted of murdering and eating his five companions while trapped at the base of Slumgullion Pass, outside of present-day Lake City, during the winter of 1875. (read the dirty details in my post for 5280 magazine).

Packer was eventually released on parole, and became a Colorado folk hero of sorts. The embodiment of pioneer badassery, gumption and fortitude, he’s been immortalized in everything from film and song to food service (the University of Colorado Boulder cafeteria is named the Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill; when it opened in 1968, its catchphrase was, “Have a friend for lunch!”). My brother lives in Truckee, and I’m fond of pointing out that California could stand to get a sense of humor about the the whole Donner Party thing (note that both of us live in areas infamous for cannibalism: Coincidence? I think not).

“Downtown” Lake City. Photo love: LCHC-CCC

This Memorial Day weekend, Lake City is bringing its defunct Packer Days festival back from the dead (sorry, had to). It’s less a celebration of cannibalism than survivalism, featuring events like a Run for Your Life Survival 5k, a Mystery Meat Cook-off, and Scavenger Hunt.

Lake City is worth a visit even if you don’t consider cannibalism cool; it’s a bitch to get to, but the region’s alpine lakes, outdoor pursuits and scenery are worth the effort. The town itself is just as alluring, nestled as it is in a pocket of the San Juan Mountains. It’s a legitimate relic of the Old West, boasting well-preserved buildings, a dusty main drag, and a handful of saloons, restaurants and a truly excellent museum; just up the road is the famed Alferd Packer Massacre site and Cannibal Plateau.

Ready for a road trip? Hit up the Lake City Chamber’s site for details, and don’t forget to pack some snacks- you can never be too prepared.

When in Lake City…

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villager

A year ago today, a 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. I missed the disaster by 24 hours. I’d been in Nepal for two weeks to trek, run the remote Tamur River, and research a feature for culture: the word on cheese, on Nepali cheesemaking. The story, which was slated to run last fall, was by necessity postponed to this spring; most of the cheesemakers I profiled were affected by the earthquake, but fortunately, they suffered only minor losses and no casualties.

Churrpi- dried yak cheese- air-dries in Gufa Pokari

Churrpi- dried yak cheese- air-dries in Gufa Pokari

On this, the anniversary of Nepal’s deadliest natural disaster, I’m sharing my culture feature in its entirety. It includes relief donation information (still critically needed), but it also it shows the beauty, generosity of spirit, and resilience of the Nepali people. It’s my dairy-centric love letter to the most incredible country I’ve ever visited.

“It’s perhaps the most unlikely spot on earth to taste locally made, French-style cheeses: the rooftop of an apartment building in the Lazimpat neighborhood of Kathmandu. It’s April 10, 2015, two weeks before a devastating earthquake will level much of the city and villages throughout this region of Nepal, causing an avalanche on Mount Everest and resulting in over 9,000 fatalities. An aftershock on May 12 will cause further devastation and increase the death toll.

 At the moment, however, I’m sitting with French cheesemaker François Driard in a high-rise urban oasis that seems a million miles from the smog and chaos below, watching the sun set and sipping Pastis between bites of his superb tomme. Driard owns Himalayan French Cheese and produces a diverse array of pasteurized cow’s and yak’s milk cheeses at his two creameries in the foothills of some of the highest mountains in the world.

 I’ve been fascinated with Nepali cheesemaking since researching my book, Cheese for Dummies, mostly because little has been written about it. Last spring I traveled there to explore both rural cheesemaking traditions and how Kathmandu-area producers such as Driard are modernizing their craft for a feature in the Autumn 2014 issue of culture. But nature had other plans. Now it’s also a story about how Nepal and the cheesemakers I met there are moving on, one year after the country’s deadliest natural disaster on record.”

Read the rest of the story here.

IMG_4059

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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

If you’ve ever platonically loved and lost while on the road, don’t feel bad. Shared adventures and totally fucked up circumstances often make for great- if short-term- friendships (as well as strange bedfellows, but that’s a different post). It’s a common phenom that I explore in this post on Refinery29. Sometimes, it really isn’t you- it’s them. Or me.

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Nepal, April, '15

Nepal, April, ’15

Backpackers are, as a species, short on money and space. We’re also often short on time, what with needing to make tight bus (see above), train, and janky plane connections, awakening still drunk at check-out time, or urgently needing a toilet (or bush, rock, or roadside) after eating dodgy street food.

Thus, things like showers, laundry, and basic hygiene often fall by the wayside. In my 15 years as a travel writer, I’ve oft found inspiration amongst fellow nomads- as well as come up with a few genius ideas myself- with regard to repurposing items or turning specific-use products into multitasking workhorses.

Presenting my top five travel hacks for dirtbags, tested and approved by yours truly. Happy holiday weekend!

Photo love: Elite Daily

Photo love: Elite Daily

1. Airline-size booze bottles for shampoo and body wash

While it’s shocking I didn’t come up with the idea myself, I recently discovered this hack after several dirtbag chef friends crashed at my apartment. I wasn’t remotely surprised to find a mini bottle of bourbon in my shower; what amazed me is that it was filled with castile soap (perhaps the most epic multitasking product on earth). Brilliant.

Photo love: Amateur Outdoorsman

Photo love: Amateur Outdoorsman

2. Carabiners to carry extra items on your pack

I draw the line at stuffing sweaty, smelly, muddy hiking boots in my pack. That’s why I like to clip ’em to my day pack for transit (because only fools entrust their pricey footwear to the random sketchballs who handle checked baggage). Does it piss off my seatmates, who are forced to huff the fumes (see Hack #5)? Of course. Tough shit. ‘Biners are also ideal for holding wet swimsuits, shopping bags, and other stuff.

Photo love: ToysR'Us

Photo love: ToysR’Us

3. Baby wipes

Not just any brand will do. It’s Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes or nothing (especially if you have, you know, sensitive skin…or a vagina). It was my tentmate on the Inca Trail who turned me on to this basic travel hack. Not only ideal for an improved version of the so-called Mexican (insert minority slur of your region’s choice) shower, they’re also aces at removing road grime, makeup, sunblock, deodorant marks from the tank top you’ve been wearing almost daily for a month, degreasing hair, and blotting up the gallon of cooking oil (?) that exploded all over your pack while it was in the hold of a clapped-out Cambodian bus. Wiping the backsplash from your ass after using a fetid squat toilet? Priceless. If you travel with nothing else, make it these puppies.

There is a point to this photo. Keep reading.

There is a point to this photo. Keep reading.

4. Sarong

For a few bucks, you have a lightweight, non-bulky souvenir/beach towel/bath towel/blanket for over-AC’ed buses/sunshade/pillow/sling/tourniquet/face mask for choking developing nation pollution/on-the-fly changing room/padding for the hematoma on your tailbone from an ill-fitting pack. Bonus: It will last forfuckingever.

Your average Bolivian toilet

Your average Bolivian toilet

5. Free sample sizes of perfume/cologne

Beyond handy for travel hook-ups (carry in your pocket!) and destinking clothes, stanky hostel rooms, befouled restrooms, sweaty shoes, midewy backpack interiors, your hair and bod after one too many days on the road, and to use in place of deodorant when you run out, mid-trek.

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Catching water taxi, Cambodia; May 9, 2015

Catching water taxi, Cambodia; May 9, 2015. Photo love: Ania Kolarska

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a Millennial (breathes sigh of relief). Despite my advanced age, Refinery29 let’s me write for them. Check out my first piece for them, “10 Reasons Why Women Should Travel Solo.”

P.S. Dudes, you should probably go get your solo on, too.

This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

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