Feeds:
Posts
Comments
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.

Catching water taxi, Cambodia; May 9, 2015

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

Introducing my first-ever post on Refinery29. Can you believe a red hot fashion-y site let me contribute? Neither can I, but I’m super stoked on this piece, “10 Reasons Why Women Should Travel Solo.” Read it for inspiration and motivation to take that dream trip, stat.

P.S. Dudes, I’m not sexist. You go get your solo on, too. Go on, git.

This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Signage at Angkor Wat

Signage at Angkor Wat

I didn’t plan to come to Cambodia. Not that I hadn’t dreamed about it. It’s simply that Laos won the mental coin toss when I was planning my post-Nepal travel. But then I woke up one morning, two weeks ago, and hopped a flight to Siem Reap. Five days spent lazing about indulging in the charms of Luang Prabang (in my case, street food, banana shakes, and $5 massages- sans happy endings- rather than hookers and opium) had left me feeling too much the douchey Western tourist.

I craved action, adventure, perhaps a touch of almost-danger. Cambodia beckoned. Upon landing, I bought a bootleg copy of Lonely Planet Cambodia (yes, I realize many of my fellow travelers see that as a douchey Western tourist thing to do; to them I say, “I like to know where the fuck I am.”).

IMG_4542
I gave the Siem Reap section a quick look before hitting the streets. I noted with interest that the city’s most notorious con is the “milk scam,” in which a child or woman with an infant begs a tourist to buy them formula. Unsuspecting mark goes to store with grifter, and is talked into purchasing the most expensive brand. The proceeds are then split between the con and the shopkeeper. Seemed pretty harmless, as far as these things go.

Yes, Pub St. is douchey and touristy. Photo love: Massageprices

Yes, Pub St. is douchey, Western, touristy. But still kind of fun. Photo love: Massageprices

Not five minutes later, I was accosted by a filthy street urchin in the midst of bustling Pub Street. He couldn’t have been more than eight. He tugged my arm as I passed.

Kid: “Please, I hungry. Milk. I need milk. Buy me milk.”
Dazed from sweating out a week’s worth of electrolytes after just one hour in Siem Reap heat, I agreed. Then, logic kicked in and I realized I was being scammed. The following is a verbatim and completely unembellished account of what happened next:

Me: Um, no, no milk. Fruit. Fruit healthy, I buy you fruit.
Kid (raising voice in angry manner): No! Milk. I need milk! Milk!
Me: No. Fruit. I buy you fruit, yes? What kind you want?
Kid (pretending to weep loudly, yet obviously incredibly pissed off): You said you buy milk. I so hungry. I need MILK! MILK! YOU BUY ME! YOU PROMISE!
Me (uncertain what to do, casting nervous glance around and notice entire patio of adjacent tourist restaurant is watching this little melodrama with interest): I know what I said, but I change mind. No milk. Fruit. Yes or no?
Kid (morphing into miniature version of Pol Pot): NO NO NO! MILK. I.WANT.MILK! MILK! YOU BUY ME MILK NOW! NOW!
Me (totally over this and trying to edge away): Nope. No milk. Only fruit.
Kid (screaming at top of lungs to attract maximum attention to evil round-eye lady who hates Cambodian children of the street): YOU LIE! YOU LIE! YOU PROMISE ME MILK!
He then lowers his voice so only I can hear, and says, “You fucking bitch.” Then he punches me. Hard. On my ass.
I reacted without thinking, grabbing his shoulder and shaking it. “NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT. IT IS NOT OKAY! YOU GET NOTHING!” [good thing I decided not to have kids, no?]
Kid (attempting to vaporize me with his demonic eyes): Fuck you, fucking bitch.

Scene.

As I stood in the street in a state of shock, the male half of a sympathetic British couple sitting on the patio told me, “We ran into him yesterday. He’s very aggressive.”
Me: He’s a monster.
Woman: “I refused to buy him milk. He stuck his hand down his pants, grabbed his penis, and wiped his hand on my face.”
Me: (rare moment of being rendered speechless)

I highly recommend visiting Cambodia, as it’s an incredible country, with warm, gracious people. Just watch out for the little bastard working the corner of Pub and Street 8.

Just add milk. Photo love: Crave Online

Just add milk. Photo love: Crave Online

IMG_4423

A. So a truck could run it over, enabling a guy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth to scoop it up 30 seconds later and cook it for breakfast.

True story.

IMG_4245

Yes, this get-up really was necessary.

I have a broken heart.

I departed from Nepal, where I was researching a story, on Friday, April 24, exactly 24 hours before the earthquake. Because I was in transit to my current location in Laos and not checking email, I didn’t find out until the night of the tragedy. Needless to say, it’s been messing with my head ever since, as I spent my last days Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley, epicenter of the quake.

I was going to write about this entertaining, über-Nepali cheese delivery experience anyway, but given the circumstances, I also wanted to use it as a way to draw attention to the urgent need for relief efforts in the form of donations (for Red Cross, click here).

Consider this a good-natured love letter to Nepal, a country that showed me so much graciousness, humor, hospitality, and great times over the past two weeks. Please get well soon.

The lovely Mitra Kala Khanal, maker of yak cheese

The lovely Mitra Kala Khanal, maker of yak cheese

As a former cheesemonger, marketing director for a cheese company, trade show ho, and educator, I’ve done my share of schlepping dairy products. While packing cheese into a cooler requires some organizational skills, it’s not exactly rocket science. This, of course, excludes the time I accidentally left an empty box from a shipment of washed rinds (read: stinky cheeses) in my car overnight during a heat wave. I spent nearly 15 minutes the following morning crawling underneath my car and peering into the fan belt and engine block trying to find the dead animal causing the unholy stench, before I clued in to my error.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit sort-of shotgun on a cheese delivery in the Kathmandu Valley. I was working on a Nepal cheese feature for culture: the word on cheese (look for it in the Spring ’16 issue pending circumstances; I’m still trying to find out if all of the cheesemakers I interviewed are okay), and was on my way to the Himalayan French Cheese (owned by entrepreneurial genius Frenchman Francois Driard). It’s located eight kilometers north of Kathmandu, epicenter of the quake. Accompanying me was Francois’ Nepali business partner and a driver, who was later going to drop me at Francois’s sister’s farmstay on the other side of Kathmandu.

How many wheels of cheese does it take to fill a Suzuki Maruti?

How many wheels of cheese does it take to fill a Maruti Suzuki?

Let me explain something about driving in Nepal (beside the fact it’s done on the left). It’s motherfucking terrifying. I had just come off of a 17-hour ride in a clapped-out Indian bus (I suspect Uttar Pradesh traded it to Nepal for a plate of dal bhat), returning to Kathmandu across the Terai (Eastern Plains) after a 12-day trek/whitewater trip on the Tamur River. Tip: Xanax is also essential for developing nation long-haul bus rides, especially in cultures where the main objective is to drive as fast as possible whilst playing chicken with oncoming semi’s and other buses on high-mountain passes with blind curves. Good times.

These were our bus seats. No worries, we also had 500 lbs of rice on the floor which made for good sleeping.

These were our bus seats. No worries, we also had 500 lbs of bagged rice on the floor which made for comfy sleeping.

I digress. The point is, when you have a car the size of a Maruti Suzuki- essentially a SPAM can on wheels- there’s not much room to spare. With three passengers, my 40-pound backpack,  a loaded daypack, and what turned out to be over 300 pounds of cheese (hefty wheels of lusty Belkot- Francois’ signature creation- as well as dozens of tommes, Reblochon, camembert, St. Marcellin, some trial bries, and buckets of yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta- there wasn’t much room to spare). It was also hellishly hot and humid.

After the cranky driver tied my backpack to the roof of the car with a piece of twine, I folded myself and my daypack into the back seat (which was broken, so it flipped forward at every application of the brakes, which in Nepal, like the use of the horn, is constant). Behind me were two loaded coolers and boxes; beside me was a cooler and a weathered cardboard box of tommes that split at the corner seam the first time our driver slammed on the brakes to avoid an oncoming suicidal motocyclist.

Francois' lovely cheeses at rest

Francois’ lovely cheeses at rest

Thus, I spent the next 90 minutes with my left arm awkwardly bracing the torn box to prevent the pristine tommes from flying through the windshield, and having 175 pounds or so of Bellecotes slamming into my back and effectively bending me in half every time we braked. Because Kathmandu’s pollution (hello, inversion layer) is so epic, most locals wear face masks; I developed what I affectionately called KTM black lung on day two of my arrival. Thus, I was forced to wear a scarf around my nose and mouth to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning whilst holding down the dairy fort, so to speak.

Eventually, after bumping (shock absorbers? Hells no!) through back alleys and potholes big enough to swallow a water buffalo, we made it to the Kathmandu office of the cheese company, from which our precious cargo would be distributed to nearby restaurants and hotels.

All in a day’s work for an immgrant cheesemaker in Nepal, and a terrifically entertaining cultural experience for me. My thoughts are with all of my new Nepali friends and cheesemakers; thank you for an incredible trip and for showing me, in the words of churppi maker Mitra Kala Khanal, that, “In Nepal, cheese is life.”

Yak in the mist

Yak in the mist

Photo love: Gogetterjetsetter.com

Photo love: Gogetterjetsetter.com

It’s the eve of my departure for a six-week trip to Nepal and Laos (blatant self-promotional moment: look for my feature on Nepalese cheesemaking in the Spring ’16 issue of culture: the word on cheese). Since you’re reading this blog, presumably you’re aware of the fact that I’m extremely flight-phobic.

Given the recent spate of air disasters, paired with the excessive number of connecting flights and crap airlines I must endure in order to use frequent flyer miles for this trip, it’s understandable that I’ve been, how you say, shitting a giant brick over these impediments to adventure.

I mentioned to a friend the other day that due to Colorado’s recent- and inexplicable, given our freewheeling attitude toward pot– crackdown on Xanax prescriptions, I’ve had to go to extraordinary- if still legal- lengths so I can fly. In response, he sent me this clip from comedian John Mulaney, which made me realize that I’m not alone.

Thanks, Tony, for the solidarity. To all you other Xanax-fiending white knuckle flyers out there: I salute you.

Stay tuned for my updates from the road!

This Cessna almost crashed on take-off on my trip to the Ecuadorean Amazon. No exaggeration.

This Cessna almost crashed on take-off when I was in the Ecuadorean Amazon. No, I am not exaggerating.

Meet Alison Krauss; last year's name them was "music."

Meet Alison Krauss; last year’s name theme was “music.”

To know me is to…know I have a thing for goats. Get your minds out of the gutter; I just mean that I adore caprines. Intelligent as dogs, with the individualized personalities of mules (two of my other fave furry critters), they’re also milk-making machines that yield the main ingredient for some of the world’s most delectable cheeses.

As if these aren’t reasons enough to dig goats, there’s nothing on this earth- nothing!– as adorable as their offspring. This is why, every spring, I willingly deprive myself of sleep and pull all-nighters at the dairies of cheesemaker friends near and far, so I can selfishly have 24/7 access to baby goats, and the birthing, bottle-feeding, and cuddling that go with.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

I’m lucky to have award-winning Avalanche Cheese Company as a neighbor; last year I helped out with kidding and had the honor of being one of the first guests in the historic, renovated farmstay cabin at their dairy in Paonia. Formerly, it was cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell and family’s part-time home; they now live in Aspen full-time since she opened her insanely awesome restaurant/farm shop, Meat & Cheese. Which isn’t to say Wendy’s not still totally involved with life at the dairy and creamery, because she’s one of those freaks of nature possessed of boundless energy, ideas, and entrepreneurial prowess (luckily for us, her consumer base).

Happy hour at the cabin (cheese & salumi welcome basket included). Photo love: Avalanche Cheese Company

Happy hour at the cabin (cheese & salumi welcome basket included). Photo love: Avalanche Cheese Company

As the new Blog Creator for Edible Aspen, I ensured our first post was about Avalanche’s agriturismo, because their kidding season just kicked off and there’s no better time in which to spend a day or three on the farm. You can help out with the chores (no more bottle-feeding; this year, they’ve switched their herd management to the all-natural method of leaving the kids with the does until their weaned, more on that in my Edible post). But you can still spend time with the babies, chill out in one of the most scenic- and least-touristed- parts of Colorado and most important, totally get your goat geek on.

For booking info and the full post, click right here, s’il vous plaît.

Happy chevre season, and thanks to culture: the word on cheese for the link lovin’.