Posts tagged ‘Food’

Scenes from beachy Morro de São Paulo

After three weeks in the magnetic city of Salvador I was getting mighty used to its comforts, neighborliness, and vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture – not to mention two rollicking weeks of non-stop festivals. I was falling for its charms and feared I might never leave.

Yet as alluring as Salvador is, underneath the party dress it’s a dense and exhausting city. I was ready to move on to somewhere more relaxed.

The beach was calling me…

The serenity of Quarta Praia in Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

So the inner rambler got me packing and off I went to Morro de São Paulo via ferry, bus, riverboat and finally wheelbarrow (i.e. “taxis” on the car-less island). On the boat over I met two robust Uruguayans, Marisa and Rosita. We hit it off instantly.

The gals lassoed me into staying with them on the Segunda Praia (aka the Party Beach) where we could split the costs for a triple room which would be about the same price as bunks in the hostel. Sounded good to me – my intuition gave me the green light so I bunked with two crazy chicas for the next four days.

Local tout Luis latched onto us as soon as we stepped off the boat. He was at first our taxi driver (i.e. hauling our backpacks in the wheelbarrow), then our hotel booking agent, and later our “Julie McCoy,” planning our activities and events. He received a kickback from the operators (i.e. no cash directly out of our pockets) and he was goodhearted in nature and genuinely friendly towards us.

With Marisa and Rosita, the indefatigable Uruguayans, at our perfect <em>pousada</em> above Café Marilyn

We stayed at the personable Marilyn Café (as in Monroe) where we rented a second-floor triple (with a spacious terrace) right on the beach with great views of surfers, volleyball players and passing pedestrians. The owner, Alessandro, a transplant from Milan who landed in Morro de São Paulo, fell in love with a Brazilian beauty and started a business and family. The pousada was small and family run and the perfect place to kick back for a few days.

Quaint and colonial Morro de São Paulo, perched at the northern end of Ilha de Tinharé, can be magical: the beaches are pleasing, the atmosphere is laid back, and the nightlife is chill with candlelit dinners and easy-breezy music. People are receptive, fresh-catch seafood and ice cold beers are always at hand, and the rhythms of surf and samba flow through the air.

Smiling local youngsters add to the warmth of Morro de São Paulo

Morro de São Paulo is touristy. Very. A fortress outpost established in the early 1600’s, it protected Portugal’s American Empire for three centuries. But Morro de São Paulo has been less successful in withstanding the tourist invasion in recent decades. This onslaught has turned practically every square inch into a pousada guesthouse, café bar, pizzeria or flip-flop shop peddling the ubiquitous Havaianas brand – Brazil’s de facto national footwear.

Salvadorans, Brazilians, Argentines and Uruguayans flock here in droves – especially on weekends – but the island does a respectable job of absorbing the masses. With the right attitude, Morro de São Paulo is pure pleasure.

Continue reading ‘Lindo Maravilhoso! Merrymaking in Morro de São Paulo’ »

There was so much we loved during our weeks in Ecuador but here are the standout “Number Ones” from each of us:

Paul’s #1 Thrill:

Paul’s #1 Thrill: Riding the “milk truck”

Riding the “milk truck” on a journey that seemed to climb its way to the apex of a very remote and stunning area of the Andes. We enjoyed the open air with the camaraderie of the locals who, like us, were taking the only ride out of town that day. The only thing missing was a thermos of nice hot coffee because we did have the luxury of an endless supply of fresh creamer right at our fingertips.

Peter’s #1 Natural Wonder:

Peter’s #1 Natural Wonder: The captivating Quilotoa Crater Lake

The captivating Quilotoa Crater Lake was a supremely blissful start of our 3-day trek through the remote Andean highlands. Every step of our walk was beautiful but the splendor of Volcán Quilotoa’s turquoise water was the most dazzling of all.

Paul’s #1 People:

Paul’s #1 People: The group of young Ecuadorian hikers we met

The group of young Ecuadorian hikers we met at the waterfall near Baños. If they are an example of the young and upcoming generation in Ecuador I have great hope for that country. I was thoroughly impressed with their enthusiasm, curiosity and manners not to mention they were just plain fun.

Peter’s #1 Animal:

Peter’s #1 Animal: Felipe the Cat

We encountered countless friendly critters in Ecuador, but none endeared our hearts like Felipe in at our hostal in Chugchilán. This lovely little cat spent every moment with us: purring on our laps, rambunctiously playing with peacock feathers, knocking over beer bottles, sneaking in the dining room to sniff our food, and generally being an entertaining nuisance. Oddly the owner said Felipe was in “mourning” over the recent death of his sister, but to us Felipe was always in the highest of spirits – he certainly lifted ours.

Continue reading ‘Peter and Paul’s Numero Unos of Ecuador’ »

The many joys of Baños, Ecuador

What fun we had in Baños! I was somehow expecting this given that pretty much everyone we met had told us so. “It’s touristy,” they all warned us, “but you’ll barely notice it once you start doing stuff.”

Normally when my expectations are high about a place I tend to be underwhelmed when I get there. But in the case of Baños, I can honestly say it was more pleasing than I anticipated.

Baños is touristy. So much so that there are literally hundreds of hotels and restaurants in the relatively small town of 10,000 residents. But this also means that competition among businesses is intense so the quality is high and the prices very favorable to the tourist.

Our hotel, for example, Hostel La Chimenea was a delight: sparkling clean and spacious rooms with private bathrooms and balconies, a pool and sauna, wireless internet, a rooftop terrace with views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls, a great breakfast restaurant, and friendly laid-back management. All this for a mere $8.50 a person!

Baños' distinctive church made from black volcanic stone ~ The tidy main plaza ~ Baños is "green" in more ways than one ~ A passing funeral procession

Baños’ distinctive church made from black volcanic stone ~ The tidy main plaza ~ Baños is “green” in more ways than one ~ A passing funeral procession

The real charm of Baños is not the town but the surrounding area. There are miles of excellent hiking trails with views of the active Tungurahua volcano which towers above the valley at 5,023 m (16,480 ft). There is mountain biking past scores of waterfalls, mostly down hill with frequent buses to whisk you (and your wheels) back effortlessly to Baños. You can whitewater raft, bungee jump, zipline, rappel down waterfalls and rent ATV’s. And since the mountains descend rapidly to the eastern Amazon, you can even tour tropical indigenous areas and spot jungle wildlife.

After all this adventuring, you can relax in the numerous hot mineral springs in Baños (known officially as Baños de Agua Santa or “The Baths of Sacred Water”). Our favorite were the baths just two blocks from our hotel which sit beneath a striking 100 m waterfall. We went every day, sometimes during the mornings when we encountered quiet older Ecuadorians, and a couple times during the evening when it is packed with locals and travelers – the happening social scene in town.

Clearly there is much to love about Baños. Here are some of the many things we enjoyed during our visit:

Fantastic Food

Pizza and boxed wine in our hotel room... sometimes you just want to eat in! ~ Peter protecting the sugar cane juice lady ~ Our favorite breakfast: a pancake pile with fresh fruit ~ Sharing a HUGE portion of shrimp and rice at a local eatery

Pizza and boxed wine in our hotel room… sometimes you just want to eat in! ~ Peter protecting the sugar cane juice lady ~ Our favorite breakfast: a pancake pile with fresh fruit ~ Sharing a HUGE portion of shrimp and rice at a local eatery

Continue reading ‘Baños: Getting Wet and Wild in Ecuador’s Outdoor Paradise’ »

Vilcabamba: Land of Longevity

We rushed to escape the clouds and cold of Cuenca, traveling about six hours south to the small town of Vilcabamba. Nestled in the green hills near the Peruvian border, Vilcabamba has attracted a fair number of expatriates who appreciate the laid-back feel, the mild climate, the relative isolation and its attractive natural setting.

The verdant valley of Vilcabamba

The verdant valley of Vilcabamba

Paul and I immediately took to the town. We settled into our cozy hostal just a block off the main square, replete with a hammock on the balcony and lush gardens inside the expansive walled patio. We chatted with the caretakers, an English-Romanian couple who own a well-regarded restaurant in Cuenca and agreed to run the hotel in Vilcabamba while their friend/hotelier takes a much-needed sabbatical.

Paul lounging on our comfortable balcony

Paul lounging on our comfortable balcony

Vilcabamba has a great feel. It attracts a trickle of backpackers and the expat residents are mostly alternative/hippy types who seem to integrate well with the locals. We met young and old, and many families live here. It’s not uncommon to see bilingual European or North American kids playing in the main square with their Ecuadorian friends.

Continue reading ‘Vilcabamba: Land of Longevity’ »

Scenes from my daily life in Cochabamba

My life as a Kiva Fellow was obviously different than my normal travel mostly due to the fact that I lived primarily in one city, had an apartment, went shopping for food, spent time in an office, and had time and energy to socialize at night.

Here are some pictures and captions that I hope give a sense of my daily life in Bolivia.

Home: More than just a place to hang my hat for a night or two…

Office: No cubicles, a 10-minute commute, a two-hour lunch break, and not a word in English…

Continue reading ‘A Day in My Life: Scenes from Cochabamba’ »

La Paz, Bolivia

My first week in La Paz has left me breathless.  Quite literally.  At nearly 12,000 feet (3600 m), La Paz is the highest capital in the world. The lower-altitude Sucre remains the official capital, but La Paz is the de facto power center in the country housing both the executive and legislative branches of government.

The magnificence of the setting is striking: the towering Andean peaks of the Cordillera Real to the east, crowned by Mount Illimani which soars to over 22,000 feet (6465 m).   The dense city center flows downwards through the canon along the mostly covered Choqueyapu River.

The wealth of the residents increases as altitude decreases, from the ever-expanding shantytowns of El Alto on the high altiplano rim and down through the dangling Aymara neighborhoods perched precariously on the steep slopes.

Below is El Centro a.k.a. la hoyada (the hole), the crowded heart of the city and home to the government buildings and the scant colonial architecture that remains after decades of rapid change resulting from mass migration from rural areas.

The city sinks further to the upscale neighborhoods of Miraflores and Sopocachi, home to expensive apartments and a wealth of chic bars and restaurants.

Finally, La Paz comes to rest in the newly-minted Zona Sur neighborhood where most of the expats, diplomats and rich paceños live in gated communities.

Standing in the bowl of La Paz at the city center at sunset, millions of lights from the buildings and homes sprawl in every direction.  At night the city glimmers and shines with all the energy of a modern metropolis.

This is my new home for the moment and in my first week I started to settle into the rhythms of my new world.

Below are ten morsels of my first week in La Paz.

Continue reading ‘Week One: Living the High Life in La Paz, Bolivia’ »

Unfortunately my visit to Cambodia was just short of two weeks.  It was hardly enough time to take in all the sights and appreciate the people as much as I had hoped.  Yet I loved what I saw and know I will return again to enjoy the country with a more leisurely pace.

Here are some of the highlights of my travels in Cambodia:

1 — The temples of Angkor

Angkor Wat at sunrise ~ Children admiring the sculptures at Bayon temple ~ Temple overtaken by the trees ~ Gods in front of the gate of Angkor Thom

I simply cannot put to words the magnificence and marvel of the temples of Angkor.  This sprawling, massive concentration of architectural richness is one of the most extraordinary places on earth.  My days exploring the ancient sites were exceptional and enjoyable.

Spanning three periods of the great Khmer empire which prospered from the 9th to the 15th centuries, the temples that remain are awe inspiring.  I spent three exhausting days trying to take it all in: the early Hindu temples and terraces, lofty imperial palaces, the enormous playgrounds and pools of mighty kings, the later Buddhist temples and stupas.

There were crowds aplenty at the significant sites: iconic Angkor Wat, enormous Angkor Thom and the surreal Bayon, and the root-ravened Ta Prohm.  Yet I found many other temples and structures that were completely off the tourist beat so I enjoyed these sites in complete solitude.  These were my most magical moments.

I visited the sites early (setting out between 5-6 am) by bicycle and pedaled over 30 kilometers per day.  Tired and sweaty by lunchtime, I returned to my hotel and to laze away the afternoon hours, reading by the refreshing pool.  The good restaurants of Siem Reap (the gateway city to the temples) kept me well nourished for the energetic sightseeing.

I did not come close to completing all there is at Angkor, but it was a great introduction.  I look forward to the day I return to this unquestionable Wonder of the World to further explore and admire its splendid beauty.

2 — The superb yet solemn torture and genocide museums

Stark images of the Killing Fields and S-21 Torture Prison in Phenom Penh

Nearly one out of every four Cambodians died in the brutal and bloody civil war and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge that followed.  When the ruthless regime was defeated in 1979, the country was collapsed with no infrastructure, the people were starving, and communities and families were broken apart.  The Academy Award-winning filmThe Killing Fields and numerous acclaimed memoirs such as Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father and journalist Jon Swain’s River of Time document the horror, bloodshed and suffering of those dreadful years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Cambodia.  Only one generation has passed since this tragedy so the Cambodian victims’ memories are still raw and injuries healing.  Yet I was impressed by the outstanding museums in Phnom Penh, notably the Killing Fields Genocide Museum of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Torture Museum.

The Killing Fields, on the outskirts of the city, is where victims by the thousands were taken secretly and brutally killed and today a reverential temple presides over the sacred ground.  Tuol Sleng, a former high school, was converted to the notorious S-21 prison where countless genocide victims were processed and tortured before execution.  The extremely detailed records left by the Khmer Rouge document the indiscriminate war of terror waged against its own people.

These were weighty and sorrowful visits but a necessary part of my travels through Cambodia.  I am thankful that this country is keeping the memory alive in appropriate and respectful ways;  an important aim is that the Khmer people and the world can learn and prevent this from happening again.

The memorial sites are presented with dignity and sincerity.  Cambodia rightfully honors the millions of its people who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and those survivors who continue to live with these nightmares today.

Continue reading ‘10 Gifts from Cambodia’ »

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a metropolis on the move

Crossing into Vietnam airspace from the South China Sea with the infamous Mekong Delta below us, our flight from Hong Kong landed easily in sizzling Saigon. After waiting an hour for our visas to be issued, we breezed through customs and immigration and soon were afoot in Vietnam.  Still it was hard to believe:  Vietnam… VIETNAM!

This country, looming so large on my childhood and all of America in the 1960’s and 70’s, this city Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Viet Cong’s successful capture of the South Vietnamese capital).  Unreal.  Yet here I was, extracting Dong bills from the ATM, purchasing an iced tea, freely walking outside of the airport.

Continue reading ‘Ho Chi Minh City (née Saigon) – Metropolis of Market Socialism’ »

An uneventful spring, busy with work as usual but I did find time to spend with family and loved ones.  Here’s a collection of random pictures from my post-winter goings on.

I enjoyed an early spring visit from Mom and Ray, freshly returned from hot Mexico only to face the April chills of New England:

Mom and Ray walking at Fort Foster overlooking Whaleback Light and the Isles of Shoals

Mom and Ray at Fort Foster overlooking Whaleback Light and the Isles of Shoals

Continue reading ‘Springtime Scenes’ »

peters-pad thai

What a better world it would be if everyone had their own Pad Thai recipe and cooked it regularly for others. The perfect combination of sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy, hot and cool. Asian home cooking at its best.

I have my own version, more complex but nevertheless delicious, and I am drawn to this recipe for its simplicity.

Pad Thai, an Easy Stir-Fry

4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered

  1. Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
  2. Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
  3. When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 25 minutes