DON’T GET ME WRONG, it’s got a lot of other stuff going for it. But as an island that claims agriculture as its main economic activity; as the “Garden of Québec;” as one of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French…like I said, this place is for the foodies.
The only way to get to Île d’Orléans is on the bridge from Beauport, which takes you onto Route 368, a road that loops the island. Get off the bridge, take a left, and get ready to eat.Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau
The Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau sits on a 6-acre orchard that produces beautiful apples made into cider on-site – it was actually the first cider house on the island. Le Petit Bonheur includes maple syrup and is quite mellow, while La Tentation is stronger and has the added flavor of strawberries. Le Petit Pommier is light and (in my opinion) a good standard cider to go with, and the Nectar de Glace is an ice cider that makes a great dessert accompaniment.
Not all of the apples get turned into cider; this cidrerie also sells apple butter, cider jelly (yup, get your toast drunk), apple mustard, apple syrup (try it on crepes), super healthy apple cider vinegar, and of course, apple juice.
2200 chemin Royal
Owners Jocelyn Labbé and Diane Marcoux are keeping the tradition of Le Paillasson, the oldest cheese in North America, dating back to 1635. This cheese was popular to make at home, and because it’s neutral (not alkaline), it doesn’t melt when cooked. Le Paillasson is most often served baked, broiled, or grilled. The taste is fresh, creamy, and salty, and it squeaks pleasantly against your teeth like curds.
If you stopped at the cidrerie first, here’s an idea: get a baguette and toast a few slices topped with Le Paillasson, then smear on a little apple butter. This is one of those times when eating local seriously rocks.
4696 chemin Royal
They raise the geese, chickens, and ducks for eggs and meat, and the phrase “free range” is quite literal – many will likely greet you when you step out of the car. Jacques has also developed a method for producing amazing foie gras without force-feeding his ducks.
The garden? Not only does this couple plant, tend, and harvest it themselves, they do so without machines. “Nothing with a motor,” Jacques said. “It packs the dirt down hard; it’s bad for the worms.” To illustrate his point, he used a shovel and his hands to uproot the most massive celery plant I’ve ever seen.
The menu at the restaurant serves 90% ingredients from the farm, 10% other locally sourced ingredients. No butter – your potatoes are cooked in goose fat. And I wasn’t joking when I said this couple runs the place – there are no waiters, no kitchen staff. They pour your drinks, take your orders, cook your food, clear your plates. Understandably, you need to make reservations in advance. It’s worth it.
4311 chemin Royal
(call ahead for reservations)
Last stop – this wine cellar and boutique is located right by the bridge, so you can swing by on your way out of (or onto) the island. Bernard Monna, a Southern France native, settled here in the early ’70s and quickly realized that the climate was perfect for growing black currants.
Now his daughters Catherine and Anne are running the family business — a business which includes 5 hectares of land and produces over 30,000 bottles of award-winning cassis, wines, and other liquors a year. (Most recently, their Créme de cassis took the bronze medal at the 2011 International Wine & Spirit Competition in England.)
If you’re visiting in the summer, try a cold sangria made with their Le Fruité, an amazing black currant wine. Take home a bottle of the Créme de cassis to make one of the best kir (add white wine) or kir royales (add champagne) you’ll ever drink. Non-alcoholic products, such as black currant jams, mustards, and jellies, are also available (and delicious).
721 chemin Royal
In the interest of transparency, I will say that I harbor aspirations in the field of standup comedy. I started a storytelling group, in part, because I wimped out in trying to start an English standup show — especially after a friend of mine said, “Expat standup? Sounds like a bad idea.” I had to concur, given the general propensity we have for thinking we’re much funnier and more fascinating than we actually are.
But perhaps that jaded assessment was unfounded.
I was excited to hear about GrinGo!, a new (now just a month old) weekly English-language comedy event currently hosted on Tuesdays by New York comic Peter Ostrovski and Argentine standup Ana Carolina. I showed up for the show last week, then again this week, and now I’m hooked.
Buenos Aires has a big comedy scene in Spanish. There are improv and standup shows every night of the week down Corrientes in the theater district. But until this time last month, there was no venue or event that showcased comedy in English. And to judge by the size of the crowds the event is drawing, it’s something many English speakers have been missing.
Ostrovski reached out to producer Gabriel Grosvald before even coming to Buenos Aires. Says Ostrovski, “I did some googling and discovered that Gabo (Gabriel Grosvald) was the biggest comedy producer in Buenos Aires, so I sent him an email asking about opportunities for performing stand-up in English. He told me there were none, but he had thought of creating an English-speaking stand-up show for some time. I responded with an email, filled with exclamation points, voicing my enthusiasm for the idea and promising to dedicate as much effort as needed to make it happen.”
Grosvald knew of Ana Carolina’s prior comedy career in New York and put the two together to lead the shows which have just moved to Absinth Resto Bar in Barrio Congreso. Things got moving quickly, and there’s no dearth of talented people jumping up to claim their five minutes as openers. Depending on how many of them there are on any given night, Ostrovski and Carolina might host some games in which one or the other takes turns asking and answering questions. In any case, both of them know how to put on a show and that seems to be attracting people week after week to check out the widely divergent comedy stylings on offer.
Ostrovski is a comedian in the tradition of observational humor. He throws punchy lines out and his rhythm is impeccable. For someone who’s just 26, it’s pretty impressive what he’s doing and what he’s started here. Ana has an intricate system of callbacks and a vulnerable style onstage that is too endearingly sweet to ignore and mixes in a good deal of wordplay with personal anecdotes.
I asked Ana Carolina about the differences between doing comedy in English and Spanish and she told me she did comedy stuff — street performing and puppetry — before trying standup which she did for the first time in the US. “The main difference is that my stage persona developed in English while performing at comedy clubs in New York. And I feel I am still finding my standup voice in Spanish, in the paradigm that is the comedy scene in Buenos Aires, different from Mexico or Spain where I did most of my Spanish appearances until relocating here.”
Another regular in the lineup is local comedian Ezequiel Campa who Ostrovski describes as “a pretty big standup here,” who was also brought on board by Grosvald and who, each time I’ve seen him, has performed completely different high energy sets in a bewildered and hilarious tone. And both times, I’ve seen returning champion and LA comic Harry Redlich, whose deadpan delivery gets me, though his attempts to work in a political vein sadly fell on ignorant ears last Tuesday.
Ostrovski is slated to head back to the States in early December to start a career as a lawyer while he maintains the show, Beautiful Comedy, that he runs in New York.
All I can say is that I hope they keep it up. Ana Carolina says of the show’s future, “I love doing this show and it has every potential to grow so we shall continue honoring Peter’s legacy.” Be it legacy or a home for standup in Buenos Aires that Ostrovski can return to at a later date, there are plenty of strong comics who can keep the home-fires burning. The future frequency of the event is still in question, but it seems to be unanimous among the participants that the show will go on.
Even cooler: it looks exactly like a concrete version of your Thanksgiving dinner.
There’s no denying it, this building looks exactly like the monster from the Power Rangers Thanksgiving Special (if they ever had one). And given that it was built in the ’70s, I was surprised that a Google search didn’t turn up more people talking about what U of T folks call “The Book Fort.” Sure looks like a great place to get lost.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
SOMETIMES IT’S NOT only people who travel to do good. Books can too.
Like the artistic equivalent of the Olympic torch, the Sketchtravel project sent a little red sketchbook across the world, passing through the hands of 71 different illustrators on its way. The final product was auctioned for $96,000 – to be donated to the charity Room to Read.
We’ve covered Room to Read before in our list of 50 nonprofits making a world of difference, and it’s awesome to see that they will benefit from the project.
The video that Sketchtravel put together to celebrate the return of the book is beautiful, and really brings home the idea that there are amazing ways to inspire people into participating in creative projects.
By simply putting an empty space – or in this case, sketchbook – out there and inviting people to make something beautiful in the room it affords, you can create something far larger and more engaging than a simple sponsorship deal.
It’s also an exercise in trust. In hoping that each person in the creative chain will not simply keep the project going, but that they will take it somewhere new. Up the creative energy a little, and pass the stoke on to the next recipient.
It’s true of the Sketchtravel project, but it’s also true of everyday encounters in projects of your own. Whether you’re trying to navigate around a strange country, or collaborating with others closer to home. Each one is a chance to make something new in a metaphorical red book of your own, then trust someone else with your work, and the challenge to do better.
Or, y’know – hand it to a wolf-mounted rabbit. That would make for a pretty neat story too.
THIS SUMMER, 24-year old Seanna Sharpe did an illegal acrobatics show 285 feet up the Williamsburg bridge, 11 stories over rush hour train traffic, performing on a double-silk cloud swing of her own invention.
As you will see in this harrowing crowd-shot video, Seanna dares death to the pleasure of gawking pedestrians and to the chagrin of local of authorities. But she isn’t some random bridge climbing hooligan, despite being cuffed and driven away in a police cruiser, Seanna is one of New York’s top aerialists.
I guess you would have to be to pull a stunt like this!
I couldn’t resist checking out Seanna’s website, having developed a healthy video-crush on her and I was delighted to read that Seanna is a serious traveler.
‘In 2008, after dancing across 26 countries, Sharpe left everything and everyone behind and moved to New York City.’
I don’t know what ‘dancing across 26 countries’ looks like, but I would not mind finding out….where’s the link to that video?
Video crated by Ronan V
PEP FUJAS HAS earned a reputation as one of the world’s most versatile skiers. For 10 years, he’s traveled the world filming ski movie segments in high-risk environments and avalanche terrain.
“The easiest way I can justify the risks I take is by looking at the life I lead,” he says. “It is not ordinary in the least.”
I was recently able to have Pep expound on this, skiing, and co-founding a film company.
[JB:] Lots of us have dreamed of becoming professional action sport athletes. Of course, we picture everyday being filled with film-worthy moments. Can you walk us through a typical winter day as a pro-skier?
[PF:] If it has snowed at all, the alarm goes off before 6 AM. Hopefully we have a plan of attack regarding what terrain we want to ski and what aspects will get light first.
We always plan on skiing the aspects where the sun will be next, thus allowing time for our filmers to get into position.
We [access the] terrain via snowmobiles, lifts, climbing skins, boot packing, or, if we are really lucky, by helicopter.
Ski movies are full of close calls with avalanches, but few talk about what it takes to ski a line. How much work is involved in bagging an Alaskan peak and who is making the big decisions?
We do walk a very fine line in Alaska and many walk that line when going [into the] backcountry. The draw of getting that face-shot will override our best judgment, even though every avalanche forecaster and class will tell you to wait at least 24 hours to let the snow settle before skiing it.
That notion is thrown right out the chopper window as we gawk at the freshly blanketed peaks that we came to ride.
It takes a bit of guts, bravado, humbleness, stupidity, and mostly a great understanding of where you are and what you are attempting to do. It’s absolutely paramount to have a good guide and to listen to them.“My legs went weak after I looked back up and realized I had aired into the only snow pocket on the whole cliff band.”
You play in gnarly terrain all winter. Can you describe the scariest line you’ve skied?
The scariest line I’ve ever skied and got away with was originally going to be a fairly tame line. I was pretty new to Alaska and picked out a line I thought wasn’t too risky and didn’t put a whole lot of effort into making sure I knew where I was going. In a split second I had veered off course, even though I was confident I was still skiing exactly where I wanted.
I realized I was going the wrong way just before I busted through a small wall of snow that I didn’t remember. Upon exiting the cloud I produced, I had another split second to position myself to air a cliff.
It was about 30 feet, and I landed on my feet. My legs went weak after I looked back up and realized I had aired into the only snow pocket on the whole cliff band.
Do you often/ever feel pressured to perform despite poor conditions? How do you justify the risks you take?
I consider myself very lucky because I don’t feel very much pressure to perform in bad conditions. The risks far outweigh the rewards of a mediocre shot. If indeed you land something or shred a gnarly line in bad conditions, it simply won’t look that good.
And if something goes wrong, that could be the end of your season or worse. I’d say most of the risks I take are very calculated and I enjoy pushing my abilities and trying new things.
The ski community has lost its share of heroes. Jamie Pierre died in an avalanche so recently, while others like CR Johnson, Shane McConkey, and Doug Coombs have fallen in recent years. How much do these events impact your life and ski choices?
Accidents happen. The deaths of these individuals are tragic but they all went down doing exactly what they wanted to do. If I go down the same way, so be it. People die and not everyone truly lives.
I think these people led magnificent lives. I must say I would rather perish doing something I love than something I don’t, like getting hit by a car. I don’t think these events have impacted me too much. I still take the same risks I always have and still try to push myself yet stay somewhat within my comfort zone.
You’re part of Nimbus Independent with friends and skiers Eric Pollard, Andy Mahre, and Chris Benchetler. Why did you team up with these three skiers?
These three guys were all good friends of mine and at the time of our joining all wanted the same thing and that was to do a project together. Andy was the one who brought us together for the film IDEA. We had such a great time doing it, it was only natural to continue.
Why was it important to you to start an independent film brand and document your own point of view?
It was important to show the ski industry that we could do something different from the cookie cutter formula of many ski movies at the time. It also came down to control. We have control over everything we do and thus can be portrayed exactly how we want. As for the success of Nimbus, I can’t say we have won a lot of awards but to me it is a great success. It’s been going for 4 years and has a very strong following and is respected by many.
If you were suddenly limited to a single ski resort and a single pair of skis, where are you headed and what are you riding?
I would ride the Kung Fujas at Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth has a wide variety of terrain and an amazing park while the Kung Fujas has the ability to shred everything.
Anything you’d like to add?
Skiing is serious. Serious fun! Get out there, be safe and do something you wouldn’t normally do. Enjoy the ride.
1. GET UP AT 5 am. Ease open the lock on your cupboard and stuff your purse full of the only socks and scarves you own. Leave the key on the counter and walk through the black-morning streets. Think about how Genti said this city was best at 4am—a different place without the cars, all smooth and still; think about how you’re an hour off but how he’s right.
Meet Robo at the bus stop, which isn’t a bus stop but a street corner with two wheezing vehicles, bumpers touching like a kiss. Drink an espresso and still fall asleep before the bus leaves.
2. Wake up when your ears start popping, look out the window and see only mist—a kind of apocalyptic mist that’s mixed with pollution so you don’t know which is which—mist and trash and dogs sleeping in the median by the border control. Think of “The Road.” Hand the man your passport, remark how you thought you’d be the only navy one; have Robo reply, “The others are former Yugoslavia passports.”
It’s easy when the man comes back on the bus—he calls the names of everyone, groggy hands reclaiming documents—but for you, he just hands it over, doesn’t even look up.
3. Stop at the cafe, squat toilet, and sensor towel dispenser. Eat a salad for a Euro, wrap the hunk of bread in napkins and tuck it in your purse. Robo goes across the road to the market, comes back with a bottle wrapped in newspaper and a plastic bag, “Like in America,” he says and laughs and drinks.
4. Fiddle-rock and Turkish pop, Kosovo countryside through the window: tire-less cars on the roof, pile of trash burning and man warms his hands, leans his ear into a cell phone.
Dead dog in the ditch, blood-matted fur and lolling tongue. RC Cola ad. Hotel Luxory, Hotel Florida, Hotel OK—two points for honesty.
5. Arrive at the Pristina bus station. Jay-walk across the overpass and remark how cars actually stop for you. See a Bill Clinton statue, see Yankee flag and American knock-off products everywhere: American Hot Dog, American Doughnut, American Cola. Say: “They must be the last country left on Earth that likes us.”
6. Go to Tingle Tangle, a hipster coffee shop that could be in Brooklyn or SF, except everyone’s smoking, smoking, inside and out, and a 10-year-old walks by, box full of cigarettes and you shake your head no. Sit in the sun and order a cappuccino, which you find out is a mocha, and look at the macchiato Bledi orders and say, “That’s a cappuccino,” and he says, “No, it’s a macchiato.”
The kids are different here, in Kosovo, where you’ve come for a music festival called Cow Fest, or something like that. They speak Albanian, but a different type of Albanian, more slang, they tell you, looser and more wild.
The kids look more European or American or something—hip in the way we like to be hip, sweaters and beards and slept-on hair—less like Tirana, where most of the kids are trying so hard to look Western they just fail—an approximation based on music videos and bad Hollywood movies, a haughty snootiness the girls assume, cheap shoes and too-much make-up, in the face of that failure.
Say something about this, and they tell you, “Yes, yes”—how Kosovo’s been more connected to the Western world, how in Yugoslavia they could travel while Albania was on lock-down, how the music scene is better here but how the city’s smaller, less dynamic.
Nod and drink your fake cappuccino. See an “Occupy Pristina” sticker, and open your purse, your notebook, dig out one of the Obey stickers Greg gave you, metal drawer full. Peel off the back and put it up. Wonder if anyone will know what it means. Take a picture.
7. Take a taxi to the one cheap guesthouse in town, share it with Gredy, who’s got a half-melted face and you don’t ask why—with Mardi and Marin, who you remember from last year and who remember you too. Reception smells like stale smoke in the underground, and the cupboard’s got tea cups and condoms, and the staticy TV has an “I <3 English" sticker on it. Astro-turf-style carpet runner, crash for a disco nap—bleary limbs back awake for the walk down the hill.
8. Sound check at Oda, the theater where the festival will be: velvet wallpaper and cement floors. First espresso’s free. We leave Mardi there, cello and guitars—walk through a shopping mall where Marin stares through the window at hiking boots, “They’re all shit in Albania”—just finished another season tour guiding and wants to get out of the country fast (Pristina doesn’t count), wants to go to Rome or Berlin, wants to play the guitar, wants to meet a nice girl.
But first he wants a hamburger, so we go to Route 66, an American style diner with the requisite Monroe/Dean/Elvis pictures, and a Mexican section on the laminated menu. Shake your head and order the sorriest, soggiest salad you’ve seen all trip.
9. Walk the town, the cold hurts: back to Tingle Tangle, over to the opening of a photography exhibit where they play Son House and you laugh. Some other smoky bar, always a smoky bar, and, no, you still don’t want a drink. Clear liquid in short glasses, a kind of grappa, and you feel like you’re in the way. Walk again, and the cold still hurts.
10. Go back to Oda, wait for the first band. Proceeds from the festival go to purchase cows for local farmers in need, and you ask how much a cow costs—”500 Euros.” Figure out your entrance bought 1% of a cow. Try to figure out how many people there are, how many cows you’ve bought so far. “It was bigger last year.”
Marin’s bummed cause the DJ he wanted to see has canceled, and Robo stands in the back, and the first band sucks, a jazzy quartet with a hip-hop-style MC.
Go for another walk, the cold colder—buy chestnuts and sit at a table in the mall, shedding shells, and tell Robo your writing dilemma and ask for advice. It’s slurry now, but solid. Nod and know what you have to do.
11. There’s a fleet of teenagers back at Oda, and the floor is sticky and a punk band is playing and they’re decent, despite shotty vocal levels. Nod and watch the limbs of a mini-pit thrash, silhouette against the stage lights, not too unlike home. You’ll decide later it was the best band of the night.
The next band “is real shit”—girl with dreads pinned into a bun, scatting while the band jams, but no real set, no real songs—so you sit against the back wall with your knees to your chest, which reminds you of being a teenager. They’ve only raised a cow and a half so far, “Last year it was seven.”
And they say how the show wasn’t promoted this year, how everyone was fighting, how another band canceled last minute—how still, the scene is better than in Tirana, where they’ve nearly stopped having shows, where it’s all cover bands—”We lost our best guitarist to Pristina!” Marin exclaims as he grabs Bledi’s cheeks.
Decide it’s still decent enough to rock to, and nod your head, even though you’re sitting in the back and you’re tired, which is how you rock anyway these days—”Granny style,” you tell Robo and laugh, as he takes another swig from his plastic-bag bottle, America-style.
Editor’s note: This is a reprint from Lauren Quinn’s blog Lonely Girl Travels.
EACH SUNDAY MORNING at the Shambhala Meditation Center in town is a public meditation practice that runs from 9 am to noon. You can come and go as you please, and at 10:30 there is a tea break during which refreshments are available and you can talk to other guests of the center. It’s a fabulous way to start the day.
I decided to take a seat near the back of the room. I sat in my usual meditative position, which I just learned is called the Burmese position. I meditate mostly with my eyes open, gazing six feet in front with relaxed eyes. It seems counter-intuitive but I find that’s how I focus best. Plus, sometimes when I close my eyes I drift off and do the old “head nod.”At times I would take note of my own discomfort.
Because I was sitting at the back, I had a peripheral view of other meditators. As I sat I would notice the others shifting periodically in their seats. It wasn’t distracting, it was just on the edge of consciousness. It just was. At times I would take note of my own discomfort. My left hip felt tighter the longer I sat without moving. The long johns I was wearing on this cold winter morning felt a bit constrictive. My back muscles, contracted to keep my back straight and posture upright, felt a little tired.
Sitting in meditation is fairly uncomfortable. Physically speaking, it is not a relaxed position. Mentally speaking, to sit in silence and notice all of the “crazy” thoughts that come and go is far from comfortable. But this is kind of the point, to come to accept the discomfort and learn to work through it. Life can be uncomfortable, sometimes very much so, and practicing the ability to breathe through the discomfort, focus on it, and even ask questions like, “why is this so uncomfortable?” can lead to a shift. Fighting it, I’ve found, only makes the discomfort more intense, which isn’t to say I don’t do that. But the more I practice (and the more consistently I practice) the easier it becomes to sit through tough moments and to just be present and aware.
This can be an invaluable tool when traveling and can radically shift emotions while sitting on a bumpy 16-hour bus ride, dealing with a long layover, or going through homesickness. Check out our 10 meditation techniques for travelers for on-the-road peace.
This is a wonderful example of a travel video that is not a travel video. It offers truths about the yearning for movement and new frontiers that everybody and everything feels while never leaving the small office where it was shot.
I believe the miniature man in the video is capable of expressing these very human emotions for two reasons. The desire for travel is right on the surface of my skin, my mind relates and yearns for it and so it doesn’t take much to make me stare out the window imagining unseen vistas. The second reason this video works so well is that we all feel like inanimate objects left on the shelf from time to time.
So the little plastic man’s freedom is our freedom. His adventure is earned by both the banality of his existence and the balls it takes to realize that ultimately, he is in control.
Video created by theoryfilmsUK
[Note: This story was produced as part of the Glimpse Correspondents Program, in which ten writers and photographers receive a stipend and editorial support to develop two long-form narratives for Matador. The Glimpse Correspondents Program is open each fall and spring to anyone who will be living, traveling, working or studying abroad for more than ten weeks. Apply now for the Spring 2012 program!]
Aisha has a date tonight.
Aisha is twenty seven. Most of her friends are married. She’s still pretty, but worries she’s losing her looks. Her figure, which she once described as “professional,” has bagged down with plumpness, the result of a love of fried bananas.
And in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where sharia (Islamic) law reigns, a single date means a lot more than in the West. Meeting for coffee often means agreeing to be viewed as a couple in the eyes of Acehnese society. Certainly, after a second date, friends will start gossiping—jokingly and not—about a wedding.
Aisha isn’t sure if other people are labeling her and Fajar a couple yet, but she hopes so. They work together at the bank: she’s up front as a teller; he’s in back as an accountant. They’ve never gotten beyond casual conversation when he drops papers off at her desk—the other tellers are watching. Most of Aisha’s information about Fajar comes from gossip and Facebook stalking, but she’s liked what she’s heard: quiet but still friendly, a diligent employee, loyal to his widowed mother. She’s also noted that he’s older, expected to be promoted soon, dresses well, and drives an expensive Honda Tiger motorbike.
But in some ways he remains a mystery. Take, for example, the bruise—birthmark?—a little to the right of the center of his forehead. It’s so faint she’s not even sure it’s there. Could it be a developing zabiba, the callus exceptionally devote Muslims earn through a great deal of prayer, bowing with each verse until their heads bump the tiles?
Everyone says Fajar never misses any of the five daily devotions, but he dresses very modernly in jeans, a soccer warm-up jacket despite the heat, and knock-off Adidas. Never has she seen him in a peci, the traditional hat religious men wear. She’s also seen how tired he is after staying up until 4:00 a.m. to watch his beloved Manchester United soccer team play halfway across the world.
But Aisha can’t waste too much time debating whether it’s a zabiba or birthmark. Her shift at the bank has just ended at 3:00 p.m. sharp; the date is 7:30 p.m. at Q&L Coffee. If the night is going to be a success she needs a new outfit, especially a jilbab (headscarf). She knows her best friend, Putri, is a terrible person to ask for fashion advice, but she can’t imagine sorting through dozens of veils without help, weighing the messages they will send alone; it is too daunting.
Her cellphone clock adds a minute: four hours and twenty nine more until she will sip coffee with Fajar.
Aisha abandons caution and calls Putri.
Aceh, Indonesia, is a scarred land. It is the northernmost province in Indonesia, on the tip of Sumatera Island, and the only place in the world’s largest Muslim country to implement sharia law.
It is still recovering from twenty five years of separatist rebellion and the devastating 2004 tsunami, which killed approximately 125,000 people in Aceh Province. In ten minutes Banda Aceh, Aceh Province’s capital city, lost about a fourth of its population: 60,000 souls.
The rebuilt Banda Aceh is a puzzle of crooked lanes where honking motorbikes swerve around stray cows and old men push kaki limas – wheeled food-carts selling meatball soup or fried pastries – ringing bells. The buildings are mostly drab and single story, shedding peeling paint. The needles of cellphone towers and domes of hundreds of mosques dominate the skyline, their calls to prayer filling the city with haunting music five times a day.
When the azan, or call to prayer, echoes through Banda Aceh, the frenetic city suddenly calms. Once choked streets empty into haunting stillness; restaurants and shops shut their doors and draw their blinds; the population files towards mosques and prayer rooms.
Islam is central to Acehnese identity. Banda Aceh was the first place in South East Asia to convert to Islam, around 1,200 C.E. It spread from there, eventually encompassing all of Malaysia, most of Indonesia, and portions of Thailand and the Philippines.
The desire for sharia law has fueled separatist Islamic rebellions since the 1950s, as Indonesian’s central government insisted the province remain subject to the country’s secular constitution. In 2001, Aceh was granted the right to implement sharia law for Muslims (though not for Aceh’s minority Christian or Buddhist populations) in an attempt to appease separatists. Special sharia courts and a sharia “morality” police were created.
All forms of Western modernity in Aceh accommodate themselves to Islam: little signs hang in Internet cafes asking men and women not to share computers; the wide-screen TVs that hang in every roadside coffee shop stick to soccer, rarely showing the provocative music videos common elsewhere in Indonesia; and though Acehnese women might wear jeans, they also always cover their hair with headscarves. For a Muslim woman to show her hair on the streets is an offense punishable by law.
It is the responsibility of the sharia police to enforce prohibitions on infractions such as drinking, failure to attend Friday prayers, and all actions mesum (sexually inappropriate), from premarital sex to failing to wear a jilbab. Punishments can include: caning, fines, and public shaming, including having buckets of sewage dumped on offenders in front of a crowd. Although such cases are extremely rare, sharia courts can also sentence adulterers to be stoned to death. The most powerful enforcer of Islamic standards, however, is Acehnese society, its censure and gossip.
Correct dress and fashion for women are fraught issues in many Islamic communities. According to most Acehnese interpretations of the Koran, it is only appropriate for women to show their faces, hands, and feet. The neck and ears are a gray, verging into black, area.
But Banda Aceh is not Afghanistan or Pakistan. Burkas, the black “body tents” that conceal everything but a woman’s eyes, are extremely rare. Instead, walking down the street reveals a kaleidoscopic-whir of different jilbabs: headscarves of all colors and styles, combined in inventive ways with Western, Acehnese, and Islamic outfits.
A daring student sports a sheer lime-green jilbab above a knee length dress and leggings; an old woman carries a basket of mangos home from the traditional market on top of a tightly wound pashmina, her loose robe tangling around her; a housewife hurries down the street to buy sugar at the neighborhood convenience store, wearing only pajamas decorated by a motif of teddy bears and a jilbab songkok, a pre-made headscarf favored for its ease of use; a rich woman keeps her chin high, careful not to jerk her head and disturb the elaborate, almost sculptural, folds of her glittering sequined veil…
The number of styles is almost endless, as are the signals they send, in a society that very much judges a woman on what she wears.
Aisha and Putri shop at Suzuya, Banda Aceh’s biggest store, whose selection spans from durian to knockoff Calvin Klein underwear. It has the feel of a scaled down Carrefour or Wal-Mart. They like it because they can try on clothes in the aisles and not bother folding them back up correctly, unlike in claustrophobic traditional market stalls where the owner always lurks, peeking over customers’ shoulders.
Around 3:45 p.m., Putri stops Aisha at a table of discount tablecloths, picks one up, and wraps it around her head. “Here, this is it! And cheap too! Wouldn’t you look beautiful?” Putri says, laughing.
Putri describes herself as a “firecracker” and “a modern person who lives” – she highlights the irony – “in this place.” Certainly, her style calls a lot more attention to itself than Aisha’s. Putri wears a black and teal headscarf, the bold colors alternating in zebra stripes. The headscarf matches her outfit: a black pullover and shimmering aquamarine dress, and beneath that tight black jeans and flip flops pounded paper-thin by long use.
It’s harder to notice Aisha next to the flamboyant Putri. Aisha’s headscarf is black without pattern or texture, wrapped in a clean style, and pinned with an unobtrusive plastic rhinestone brooch. She wears a baggy maroon shirt with knockoff Louis Vutton symbols stitched onto the sleeves. Her pants and flip flops are the same mud brown. She thinks of herself as, “A good girl. Simple. Modest. I don’t demand a lot.”
When someone talks to her, she has a habit of stepping back so that if the person reached out to touch her she would remain just beyond their fingertips. She lives at home with her mother who spends most of the day studying Arabic so that she can read the Koran without translation.
“Oh, so you’re ready to serve?” Aisha says, slapping away Putri, who is trying to wrap the tablecloth around Aisha’s head.
They continue through the aisles, heading towards the jilbab section. The women appreciate the air conditioning: headscarves and full body clothing are hot, especially in tropical climates. The loudspeakers play the Indonesian equivalent, in both sound and sappiness, of an American Christmas pop tune—“Insyallah,” last Ramadan’s big hit. When it is time for one of the five daily prayers, the market broadcasts the azan over the same loudspeakers.
They start sorting through the hundreds of jilbabs scattered across the table.
There can be almost infinite variation in what constitutes a headscarf. Throughout history, women in cultures across the world have implied modesty and piety by covering their hair, from Catholic Nuns who wear wimples, to the women of modern-day Afghanistan who veil themselves with burkas.
The Islamic practice for veiling derives mainly from the following passage in the Koran, though there are other shorter elaborating verses and hadith. In them, Allah commands through Muhammad:
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their jalabib [cloaks or veils] all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known [as Muslim women], so as not to be bothered. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
What exactly women are being ordered to do has been heatedly debated ever since. Some Muslim religious authorities have interpreted the passage as a directive for women to cover everything except their eyes—or even a single eye, which is all that is necessary to see with.
Others take a more relativist approach, recommending that women should be modest within the context of their society and time. Anthropologists have suggested that the full body burkas worn today are nothing like those worn in Muhammad’s time.
Westerners often think of headscarves as designed to cover only a woman’s hair, but they are technically supposed to cover a woman’s breasts as well. This directive is often obeyed only cursorily, with women arranging a perfunctory corner of scarf so that it dangles down their fronts. A more orthodox woman, however, will wear a veil that covers her chest, or even extends to the waist.
The word jilbab in most Islamic countries denotes a longer veil that fully covers a woman, often to the ankles, but in Indonesia refers only to headscarves. Indonesian jilbabs come in a diversity of colors and materials, and can be arranged in an infinite variety of styles, from loosely flowing veils to artistic arrangements held together with seemingly hundreds of pins. All sorts of accessories can be added, from glittering pins and brooches to hold a veil’s folds in place, to sun-visors that integrate with the headscarf. For every occasion, from playing volleyball to praying, there is a different kind of veil.
Today, in Indonesia, the first choice a potential jilbab buyer has to make is “pre-made” or “loose.” Pre-made jilbabs, also known as jilbab songkok, are already formed, with a hood, facial opening, and drape sewn into place, so that a user only has to slip it on to be presentable. These kinds of jilbabs are especially popular for children; many are made up to look like popular cartoon characters or animals. A jilbab songkok with stuffed ears sewn onto the hood and tiger stripes has been especially popular lately in Banda Aceh.
Mature women wear “pre-made” veils around the home, for yard work or gardening, or to run down the street to complete a quick errand. Jilbab songkok are considered unfashionable in Banda Aceh, partly because of their popularity in the province’s many remote villages, where women are more concerned with ease than style.
Aisha chooses a “loose” jilbab.
A “loose” or “free” jilbab starts as a square, rectangle, or triangle of cloth, usually measuring around three feet long and two feet wide. Additional fabric allows for more elaborate designs, such as sculpted intricate folds and whorls, while smaller cloths create tighter sleeker fits.
Scarves come in all colors and patterns, each with its own meaning. Dark solid colors convey conservatism or modesty; intricate patterns of sequins or fancy stitching, often depicting flowers or religious themes, indicate wealth; western or non-traditional symbols, such as leopard print or even the anarchist “A” show the wearer is “less fanatical,” in Putri’s words.
Paying attention to color is especially important when a woman is choosing a jilbab because Indonesia’s standards of beauty favor pale skin. A woman with dusky skin can’t wear a dark hue for fear of making her skin shade blacker, while those with middling skin tones tend towards neutral light colors like pinks and creams to whiten their complexions by association. Only the luckiest, and fairest, can get away with bright hues; sometimes, Aisha gets jealous just seeing an orange jilbab float through a crowd. Her favorite color is orange and it has always seemed unfair that she cannot wear the color because of her complexion.
“How about this?” Putri says, holding up an ocean blue scarf with a light blue pattern, like watercolor clouds, brushed on. By 4:15 p.m., the friends have thoroughly searched all the jilbabs on the tables and winnowed them to four selections.
“I don’t want Fajar to think I’m already married to the American president,” Aisha answers. The headscarf Putri is waving is known as the “Obama headscarf” because of its popularity after the first lady of the USA wore it on a diplomatic visit to Indonesia in 2010.
So they’re down to three jilbabs: the first is simple, black and unadorned except for a thin fringe of lace; the next is a leaf-green scarf that signals conservatism—the color reportedly was Muhammad’s favorite—and is a little more eye-grabbing than the black veil; and the final headscarf is a thin, almost sheer, magenta, decorated by tassels strung with ruby-colored plastic globes. But now the friends are stuck.
Part of the problem is that they can’t figure out what, exactly, Fajar would like. Does he want a modern girl, someone with a little bit of flair and westernized views? Should they signal with the magenta jilbab that Aisha is bolder than the average girl? Or does he want someone more traditional? Will he be embarrassed by a showy jilbab, but impressed by Aisha’s modesty and humility in wearing a simpler scarf? Or might the black or leaf-green jilbab strike him as dull and chilly and turn him off?
Aisha also thinks about her neighbors: what would they think if they saw her in the tasseled veil? They argue the choices over and over.
“You say he has the zabiba, that he’s so religious. So chose something that would appeal to an imam,” Putri says, exasperated. She’d been pushing for something bolder even than the magenta jilbab, pointing out the tasseled scarf isn’t that radical.
Eventually, they decide it is better to play it safe. No one will be offended by a conservative jilbab, but Fajar could discount Aisha immediately for wearing the magenta scarf.
“Even if many guys say they don’t want a traditional wife, they really do, deep down. Or want you to act like one, for most things,” Aisha points out. That advice has been rattling in her head since reading an article in Paras, an Indonesian fashion magazine. The magenta scarf is flung back onto the table.
Next, Aisha decides, “Green makes my skin look yellow,” and picks up the black jilbab. Aisha recognizes the black headscarf as closest to what she’d wear in everyday life.
“If I wear that one,” she says, pointing to the magenta headscarf with the tassels, “it’s like false advertising.” As she looks at herself in the mirror, the black jilbab wrapped around her head, she sees a version of herself which is just a little big prettier, a little bit more elegant with the edge of lace softening her face, than the everyday, but which is still her.
“You do look really pretty,” Putri says, laying her head on Aisha’s shoulder.
Now it’s time to assemble the rest of the outfit. Putri parades graphic t-shirts with snarky cartoons on the front, but she knows Aisha won’t bite—she’s mostly doing it for her own amusement. Aisha has taken out a selection of Paras and is paging through the magazines for inspiration. Finally, she settles on a flowing white shirt/dress, with a collar and a row of buttons like a man’s formal shirt at the top, but billowing out into a shin-length skirt at the bottom.
“I’d like him to think I am a business woman, that I’m successful, but the dress shows I am still a woman,” Aisha explains.
In the shoes department, as it strikes 4:30 p.m., Aisha falls for a pair of gleaming white pumps, with a tiny window at the front so her big toe can be seen, but which otherwise cover her skin. No arguments from Putri: the shoes are that nice. Since the shirt/dress and shoes are both white, they decide that color is obviously the theme of her outfit.
So that Aisha doesn’t look like a blank canvas, they add purple waist-belt and cream colored slacks. Putri likes the first pair of pants Aisha tries on, which show a half-moon of plump bottom, but Aisha decides to buy a size up.
“Better safe than sorry,” she says again. That too is a sentiment from an article in Paras.
Jilbabs and headscarves around the world are part of a greater Islamic practice known as hijab, an Arabic word which means “cover” or “curtain.”
Hijab usually refers to appropriate Islamic dress for women, of which a jilbab is just a part. Body contours can be vaguely discernible, but too-tight clothing is looked on as “cheating” and “and not much different from being naked.” Hijab can also mean the veil, impossible to penetrate, drawn between man and Allah.
Some Islamic theorists, especially those supporting burkas, suggest that hijab was established not only to protect female modesty from men, but to guard women against their own vanity. A black featureless sheet, they argue, makes it hard to be vain about one’s body or clothing, allowing an individual to focus on spiritual concerns.
In Islamic countries where burkas are not the norm, hajib has often had the opposite effect, making women extremely conscious of their clothing. Women are brought up to see their clothes as expressing their religion and identities. Expecting to be judged on their dress, women calibrate their outfits down to the smallest accessory. Because so much attention is focused on women’s clothing, fashion becomes especially important to the population. The Middle East plays a key role in supporting the French haute couture industry, though most of the designer garments are shown off only in private.
Just as there are glossy fashion magazines in the West, they exist too in Indonesia, albeit without an inch of skin, besides the face and hands. Walk into any bookstore and you will find magazines pitched to every degree of religiosity. The most liberal magazines are generally international stalwarts—Vogue, etc.—translated into Indonesian and with a few country-specific articles, but they are difficult to find in Banda Aceh.
Magazines specifically for Muslim women, such as Paras, are significantly more conservative, showing only hand and facial skin, and occasional tight suggestive outfits, but they still include articles like, “Sex: The First Night” and “Asymmetrical Jilbab Arrangement”. Truly conservative magazines feature burkas. All of them are filled out with recipes, gossipy profiles of Indonesian or Arab pop stars, light reportage, informative articles about Islam (a sample title, “Islamic Info: the Tradition of Kissing the Hand”), and encouragement to remain true to the magazine’s interpretation Islam. They also, of course, display fashion shoots, advertisements, and pages of outfits.
In one advertisement titled, “Secret Garden Collection,” a light-skinned Indonesian woman poses before the ivy entangled wall of an English manor, leaning slightly into the vines as if pushed by an invisible force. She wears a duchess’s riding jacket with a pattern of roses, a high-waisted Victorian dress which nearly screams “corset underneath!”, and a red velvet sunhat with a gift-wrap bow. Mixed in with all this is a jilbab and, in a quirk of some Indonesian models, a wedding ring.
Many of the fashions displayed in the magazines, and most of the outfits seen in Banda Aceh’s packed cafes on a Saturday night, rely on suggestion. Putri, for example, has been noticing a certain style: a bang carefully combed so that it dangles just under the lip of the jilbab, almost like gravity has innocently teased it into that position. What is that lock hinting at?
Aisha and Putri analyze the bang like it’s evidence in a murder mystery. When Putri tries to explain her reactions to the hairstyle, she finds herself tripping on her words. Perhaps what she means, calling it “sexy but not really sexy,” is that the hair is not explicitly seductive, rather hinting that the woman has sexuality, which is what the headscarf is supposed to hide. More importantly, that twist of hair suggests the girl disagrees with the authorities, that she’s braver, a little westernized…
Aisha points out that maybe the bang signals the girl is “approachable,” that you could “ask her on a date.” Putri picks up on this, “Some women in Banda Aceh do not date before they get married. Sometimes the guy shows up, asks her father, asks her, and right away, that day, it’s agreed. Maybe it’s a way to have a choice about guys. Because it’s a lot harder to ask someone on a date if they’re in a very religious jilbab.”
In the end, neither Aisha nor Putri can quite pin the styled bang down. They agree it probably has meanings they can’t puzzle out. What is the bang trying to say? Maybe only the woman knows. Maybe the woman couldn’t quite say herself.
By now, it’s 5:15 p.m., and Aisha is supposed to meet Fajar at 7:30 p.m., after the magrib evening prayers. As they hustle towards the cashier, Putri stops and pulls a headscarf from a discount rack: it’s crimson with a leopard-skin pattern of black spots.
“How about this one?” she giggles.
Aisha can’t stop laughing. “Do you want him to think I am a wild animal?” But Putri gets her to try it on and pulls her to a mirror. The face that Aisha sees staring back is recognizable as her own, but also different: someone she only vaguely knows, capable of doing deeds she would never be brave (or stupid) enough to dare. It’s like meeting a lost twin, someone she shares a primordial connection with, but who she doesn’t know how to talk to.
“It’s so amazing. If you’re not going to buy it, I am,” Putri says.
When Aisha and Putri get home at 6:00 p.m., they take off their jilbabs. Jilbabs are required in public by sharia law, but not in private or among family members. Even Aisha is a glad to be free of the scarf now that it’s appropriate. The cloth was starting to feel scratchy where it rubbed her cheek and one of the pins holding the folds together kept poking her in the neck.
A bucket shower is Aisha’s first order of business. Aisha’s mother takes a break from translating the Koran to cook the two a fortifying snack of fried bananas. After washing, Aisha stands in front of a fan to dry her hair enough to get a headscarf over it.
Once Aisha is dressed, it is time for the jilbab. She gathers up her hair, bunching it so that Putri can slip a songkong on (not to be confused with jilbab sonkong), an extra tight-fitting hood that lies under a loose jilbab to make sure no hair escapes. Putri sighs in disgust, “Your hair’s so pretty, at least let a few pieces out.” Putri wants to comb in a slight bang, so that it’s just visible under the brim of the jilbab.
If Putri could, she wouldn’t wear a jilbab. There were times in a tumultuous youth when she didn’t, but she soon learned that her protests created more trouble than she could handle. This was before 2001, when sharia law was made official, so she was never arrested, but she got plenty of verbal harassment, “advice” from teachers and authority figures, and knew the rumors tip-toeing around the neighborhood.
Eventually, she proved the whispers true by dating a Western NGO worker after the tsunami. One might think she’d be numb to the criticism by now, but that’s not the case at all: she’s just gotten better at hiding her frustration and hurt. She hopes to get a scholarship soon, to America or Europe, somewhere she can abandon her jilbab and all the baggage that goes with it.
When travelling in more liberal parts of Indonesia—in parts of Jakarta or Indonesia’s Christian provinces jilbabs are the minority—Aisha has experimented with not wearing a headscarf. She liked how the wind blew in her hair, that her hair didn’t smell of sweat after taking her veil off, but ultimately she decided to keep wearing a jilbab.
It’s not that she felt naked or threatened without it, she’s tried to explain to Putri, it’s that she felt like the style wasn’t her. The jilbab is part of her faith, part of how she sees herself, part of her identity.
In the West, many organizations and individuals have attacked headscarves as anachronistic and repressive. There is an assumption that if women had a choice, they would remove them. Aisha knows many women for whom this is true, but she doubts the majority would. All the other provinces in Indonesia lack sharia law, she reasons, and most women in those places still wear headscarves.
Putri does not agree with Aisha. She is sure that if sharia law were lifted, “90%” of the population would fling off their veils. She believes most women, like her, wear the jilbab in frustrated acquiescence.
“Just look at the teenagers downtown on a Saturday night. Already some of them are getting braver. Sometimes they wear very loose veils, sometimes none at all. I like seeing their hair. It is beautiful.”
The exact number of women who would choose either side is uncertain. Apocryphal stories about how many women wore jilbabs before sharia law was introduced in 2001 vary wildly, usually depending on the teller’s religiosity or secularity. (Though perhaps it is telling that liberals confidently claim ninety percent of people would abandon their jilbabs, while conservatives hedge and haw, before asserting that “less than half, maybe forty percent, would remove their veils: many of the young people don’t like it.”)
Both sides claim a silent majority. Both parties allege a higher moral ground. Liberal activists claim the practice is barbaric. Some male imams warn that failure to wear a jilbab damns a woman to hell.
One point, however, most women, liberal and conservative, seem to agree on, is that individuals who abstain from wearing jilbabs are not going to hell. “How do people even know,” Putri asks, “exactly what someone was saying a thousand years ago meant? Maybe Muhammad only meant it for his time. And there are a lot of interpretations of those verses. They can’t say I’m going to hell for not wearing it.”
“Allah,” Aisha agrees, “is very kind. Allah is mostly concerned with people not doing evil, not hurting each other. It is pretty silly saying you’ll go to hell for not wearing a jilbab.” Most women they know hold a similarly benign view of future punishments. It is usually men who make more drastic claims.
As for accusations that jilbabs are barbaric and anachronistic, Banda Aceh’s women are acutely aware of the image of headscarves in Western eyes. Less than two weeks before Aisha’s date with Fajar, students from Banda Aceh’s universities took over a main intersection in the city, waving placards which read, “I am beautiful in my jilbab.”
Some of the women wore very conservative dress with their headscarves; others matched their veils with jeans and other western clothes. They were protesting French laws that ban headscarves in public institutions and burkas outside the home.
Putri cheers the French ban on headscarves, the smirk on her face suggesting she sees the irony of other Muslims being forbidden to wear veils, while she is forced to. When asked to describe what it feels like to wear a jilbab, her voice roughens with frustration and humiliation; it stretches until it is tenuously controlled.
“Yes, it represses me. How can I be myself wearing this? Headscarves stop me from being myself; they stop society from being fair in judging people because no one sees me when I don’t wear this. They only see—,” she flails her hand towards her head. “It makes it impossible to be equal between men and women. And it stops me from being normal and accepted in the international community. They will always look down on me because I am a Muslim.”
While burkas certainly strip women of their identity, according to Aisha, jilbabs do not always limit personality. Part of the rational driving feminist’s support of France’s ban on veils is that they obscure a woman’s identity. A burka is very different than the jilbab Aisha now models, but as Aisha looks into the mirror, she recognizes herself. The simple black cloth with the fringe of lace—it’s her—the same way the aquamarine and black zebra stripe jilbab is, in some way, Putri. Aisha would be concealing something if she didn’t wear it.
At 6:45 p.m., Putri paints Aisha’s toenails red so that her big toe shines bright as a diamond, emphasized by the oval window in the toe of her white shoe. The single drop of color is glaringly evident in the otherwise white and black outfit.
Aisha dusts her face with whitening powder. The hesitant sweet smell, its crisp dryness on her cheeks, sooths her nerves.
Aisha completes her preparations by pinning the folds of her jilbab across her chest with an heirloom brooch once worn by her grandmother. The brooch has only one of its three original pearls: the spaces the other two used to occupy are blank dents in the metal. Her grandmother, long dead, who lived before the implementation of sharia law, used the brooch to fasten her jilbab on holidays or when her children came to visit.
That is, when she wore a jilbab. Sometimes she chose not to.
Aisha pulls into the parking lot of Q&L Coffee fashionably late, at 7:40 p.m.
As she parks she glances around, wondering if she’ll see Fajar lounging at a table, smoking, scrutinizing her. Instead, a young couple rushes by, almost elbowing her into the gutter. Aisha prepares to snap at them then notices the girl’s headscarf: it is not crimson, but it is decorated with a leopard skin pattern of black spots. She stares at their retreating backs, noticing how close they walk, a thin inch apart, with such comfortable familiarity that they must touch when no one else is around.
She remembers the girl’s face, pouty, a little defiant, certainly in love. What if Aisha had worn the crimson leopard-print headscarf? She has a vision of herself in that jilbab, strutting into the café, a different person, another future waiting for her. Some part of Aisha will always be wondering what it would be like to sport a provocative jilbab, even to let her hair free, just as she knows Putri will always be questioning, in the attic of her heart, if it is her God-given duty to happily wear a jilbab.
Aisha shakes the image away. I am who I am, she thinks. She takes out a pocket mirror, adjusts the black jilbab, and reapplies her lipstick.
She has made her statement. She is ready to be seen. She walks into the café.
“YOU CAN GET to Orlando in four days,” my friend assured me. “You can work and stay with me until then.” He nodded once, satisfied that I’d stick around just a little bit longer.
I glanced out the window. My eyes darted past the casinos of the Las Vegas skyline and followed 95 east.
I caught his eye. “Yeah, I’m leaving tomorrow. It’s gonna take me two weeks to get to Florida.”But the sun set as I drove through Flagstaff, and I remembered why I keep getting stuck here.
He shook his head and tried again to convince me to stay, but my car was already packed. True, the half marathon I was registered to run in Orlando was a couple weeks away, but there’d be a lot to see along the way. I hadn’t been able to ride the Sandia Peak Tram last month in Albuquerque. My newest pair of cowboy boots had never been to Texas. I had a list of twelve restaurants I needed to try in New Orleans.
Two weeks wasn’t going to be long enough. I should have left last week.
I burst out of work the next day and headed straight for the freeway. My plan was to zoom through Arizona and slow down somewhere past Navaho country. I’d been through the Grand Canyon State on countless occasions, and it was the only part of the drive I wasn’t particularly excited about.
But the sun set as I drove through Flagstaff, and I remembered why I keep getting stuck here. In the daytime the place is all tumbleweed and dry sage brush. But at dusk the purple sky, red rocks, and streaky sunsets make the desert landscape look inviting. It’s false advertising, but I fall for it.
Next thing I knew a week had passed and I was barely out of AZ. So much for leisurely exploring Texas, for eating my weight in jambalaya and beignets.Winslow, AZ
My first delay took place just four hours out of Vegas. On learning about an upcoming small town festival and 10K race, I pitched my tent (with its four broken poles) at Homoluvi State Park. The next morning I threw on running clothes and drove three miles across I-40 to Winslow, Arizona.
Once I hit 3rd Street I turned my music down so the locals wouldn’t roll their eyes. I’d been listening to the Eagles’ “Take it Easy”:
“Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona / and such a fine sight to see.”
I pulled up alongside Standin’ on the Corner Park (2nd Street and Kinsley Ave), dashed into the Standin’ on the Corner store, registered for the Standin’ on the Corner 10K race, and soon found myself racing past food vendors setting up for the annual Standin’ on the Corner Festival.
My plan was to run at half-marathon pace, but when I noticed there were only three gals ahead of me at the four-mile mark, I decided to speed things up. Sixteen minutes later I was handed a first place prize of $18 worth of services at Pistols and Pearls Salon. If you want to win a race, go to Winslow.
Camping at Homoluvi State Park is $25, including park admission. Spend a few hours checking out the shards of Hopi pottery along the trails here. Free camping is an option at McHood Park, five miles south of Winslow on Highway 87.
There are also plenty of cheap motels (Sleepin’ on the Corner Motel, anyone?), but La Posada Hotel is the best place to spend the night. This “last great railroad hotel” has been renovated to include in-house museums, gardens, a restaurant, and rooms starting at $110.Snowflake, AZ
After spending a sufficient amount of time standing on various corners, I collected my mangled tent and had an early dinner at the Turquoise Room, the restaurant in La Posada. My waiter told me that all their cheeses were locally made at a little ranch near Snowflake.
Immediately interested, I called the ranch and was headed that way as the sun went down. I could’ve stopped forty minutes down I-40 to spend the night in a wigwam, but I turned south and found lodging in Snowflake instead.
After an early morning run down Five Mile Canyon and a quick tour of the town’s historic homes, I forced my little Honda Civic down ten miles of red dirt roads to Black Mesa Ranch, where David and Kathryn Heininger were having one of their popular open houses, complete with goat petting, cheese eating, and milking demonstrations.
The couple moved to Arizona in 2000 with the intention of retiring alongside the mesa. They were going to keep a few goats for milk and meat. That plan went out the window as soon as the first kid hit the ground. It turns out baby goats are pretty cute.
The Heininger’s now maintain over 80 free-range goats on their commercial farm. The goats don’t know they’re free range, though, and like to be near their buddies at all times.
“Sometimes thirty-five of them will cram into a pen,” says Kathryn. “I have to tell them to move so we won’t lose our certification.”
She’s kidding of course. Anyone who comes to the farm is duly impressed with the operation. The lab where Kathryn sends milk samples has been known to call and ask if she’s accidentally mailed in a pasteurized sample. It’s that clean.
She especially goes above and beyond her “Humanely Raised and Handled” certification during kidding season. A baby monitor and camera are hooked up in the barn so she can rush out at 2am when a mama-to-be starts a frantic bleating chorus of what can roughly be translated as “where’s my epidural?”
If you’re interested in a farm vacation or want to spend a week learning the ropes, David and Kathryn are usually open to teaching classes and entertaining guests on the ranch. Many visitors have gone on to start their own cheese farms after spending some quality off-the-grid time with the goats.Show Low, AZ
Although I could have easily spent the entire month at Black Mesa, I eventually moved out of their bunkhouse and headed back into town. After some “award winning” pasta at Enzo’s Italian Restaurant (928-243-0450), I continued south.
Just as the brown hills were turning gold, I pulled into Show Low. Thirty minutes outside of Snowflake on Highway 77, hiking and horseback riding are the main activities here in Arizona’s White Mountains.
If you’re staying in Show Low, there are plenty of campgrounds and cabins up and down Highway 260. Check out wmonline.com for lodging and the Lakeside Ranger Station (520-368-5111) for hiking options.
If you’re here during winter, there’s an Apache-run ski resort just outside of town at Sunrise Park.Pie Town, NM
The next afternoon, I broke my usual sunset-only driving rule in anticipation of dessert at the Pio-O-Neer Café in Pie Town.
I’d been through the tiny town a few weeks earlier for the Pie Festival, held annually on the second Saturday in September, and had fallen hard for the town somewhere between cheering on racing horned toads, listening to Ken Moore the Cowboy Poet, competing in water balloon tosses, and learning strategies for the high stakes pie-eating contest.
“I only eat spinach the week before the Pie Fest,” one contestant had informed me. “The gas expands my stomach.” I’d nodded seriously and made sure to not stand behind him during the big event.
Pie Town was a lot lonelier this time around. The café was on an extended hiatus, and no one was to be seen in Jackson Park. Not wanting to spend the night in the deserted town, I drove another twenty miles down the road to set up camp in the $5/night Datil Well Campground.
To get over my lack of pickle upside-down pie, I ran the three-mile loop above the campground. The dramatic shadows cast by the setting sun made the up-close views of the Cibola hills and San Augustin Plains well worth the possibility of rattlesnake bites and mountain lion encounters.
After my run, I tied my broken tent between a picnic shelter and a tree and went to sleep. Luckily I woke up in the middle of the night, because the stars were even better than the sunset. To the delight of several mosquitoes, I spent half the night on top of my car, just staring.
Click here to Google Map this route.
I WAS THE ONLY TOURIST LEFT. It was exciting, but a little daunting. I was going to spend the night here, in the middle of the Thai jungle, all by myself. I felt restless, aware of the eyes on me as I sat under the teak shelter, listening to rain pour from the roof and batter the leaves. My clothes were damp and fusty.
As I waited for the van that would take me to my homestay in Mae Kompong, doubt set in. I should have gone back to Chiang Mai with my newfound friends. We’d already zip-lined through the jungle canopy and trekked to a waterfall, and they’d decided they were happy enough with a single day in the wilderness. I could be sipping icy beer with them right now, instead of drinking powdery hot chocolate that I’d bought from the little bar in this village.
The van arrived and the barman waved goodbye to me, returning to the music video that was competing with the sound of the downpour. Maybe this would be good for me. Maybe it would help me get over the anxiety of travelling alone.
We rode past houses made of red-brown wood, water splashing in streams off the corrugated roofs of porches. The gardens were overflowing, with banana leaves, tea trees, and coffee plants spilling into the road. From the open window I could smell the crushed foliage, the wet earth, the smoke. I began to feel excited again.
As we reached the end of the road, I rehearsed my best Thai introduction. Jumping out of the van, I greeted my homestay host and ran with her up the small slope leading to her house. We stopped just outside the front door, under a shelter with a picnic table and bench. Pots of glistening orchids hung from the roof, dripping raindrops. I made a joke about the weather.
It was then I realized she didn’t speak English.
I kept smiling, feeling acutely embarrassed at not being able to say anything except sawatdee – the all-purpose Thai greeting – and kop khun kaa – thankyou.
She showed me around the two-storey lodging: the dark downstairs room with colourful rugs muffling the creaky floorboards; the open space under the house where a large vat sat over a smoking fire and puffed-up chickens sheltered from the rain; the second floor full of mattresses and gaudy fleece blankets laid out for guests. She spoke quietly, sparingly, using actions more than words. I wasn’t sure if she felt as awkward as I did, but after setting up my mosquito net, she disappeared.A shadow appeared at the doorway and I almost jumped, as if guilty to have been caught reading about Tom and his sexual exploits.
I wasn’t sure what to do. A cockerel squawked from somewhere startlingly close by. My instinct was to stay quietly out of the way, waiting for someone to call me to dinner. I looked out the window and watched a man splash through the rain, a piece of sacking held over his head. The cockerel crowed again. I knew I couldn’t just let myself sit here alone ignoring the opportunity before me. I crept downstairs.
In the dim kitchen I watched my host cooking. There was barely enough space for her, standing over a huge pan of boiling oil, throwing in small crackers that expanded triple-fold when they hit. She laughed when I asked to take a picture, and I felt a little happier when she gave me a hot, greasy handful of crackers to eat. Pieces of strange stalks and roots lay by a mini-machete, looking like chopped-up alien carcasses. The scent of chilli tickled my nose, making me hungrier, but I felt I was in the way so turned and went into the main room of the house.
There wasn’t a lot of furniture. Just a couple of tall dressers, a table with chairs, a humming refrigerator, and a TV. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was in a museum, looking at an ethnographic display. Family pictures hung next to portraits of the king. Without anyone to speak to I felt lost. Then I saw a curled pamphlet on the table: “Experience Thai Homestay: Host and Guest.” It was part phrase book, part language learning book.
As I studied the pages, my hopes of finding some sense of comfort evaporated. I couldn’t read Thai and there was no phonetic script for me to try and guess at the pronunciation. Instead I read through dialogues, comical in their total inappropriateness to the situation:
“Tom has lots of girlfriends. He’s not interested in going steady.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that! Does he like to dance?”
A shadow appeared at the doorway and I almost jumped, as if guilty to have been caught reading about Tom and his sexual exploits. The man was backlit, but as he came into the room I could see his broad face had deep wrinkles around the mouth and on the forehead. The rest of his skin was tight and smooth. He said something, gesturing to me with a large hand. I smiled, not knowing what else to do. When he sat down beside me I realised he was probably no taller than I was. He looked at the pamphlet still in my hand, and started talking. I couldn’t understand a thing but he didn’t seem to realise or care. I kept smiling, hoping to be rescued by a call to the kitchen to eat more snacks.
I glanced down at the pamphlet. Opening it, I pointed to, “What’s your name?” Thus began our roundabout conversation, each of us pointing to different phrases or words to try and get our meaning across.
His name was Bunsen. He was the grandfather of the household. He had two grandchildren, one playing somewhere outside, and the other still in school. His son was out working and his son’s wife, whom I’d already met, was still in the kitchen. He wrote my name in Thai, and I wrote his name in English.
After about 15 minutes, the conversation began to die as we exhausted all the possible combinations of phrase-pointing and word-matching. A cooler breeze blew into the room from the open door and window. It was beginning to get dark outside. We sat in silence, Bunsen leaning back in his chair, gazing at me with a half smile on his face. I didn’t know if it was rude to get up and leave, or rude not to. It was still raining a little so I didn’t want to go outside. Nor did I want to go back upstairs. Perhaps he wanted to be by himself in his own house. Or perhaps not.I didn’t know if it was rude to get up and leave, or rude not to.
I rummaged in my pocket, thinking I could at least pretend to look at my camera while I considered what to do next. My hand felt the mini deck of cards I often carry around. I took them out. Their small size and Hello Kitty pattern always draw interest, so I wasn’t surprised that Bunsen wanted to see them. When he handed them back to me, I began shuffling. I tried to remember the rules of Solitaire, but couldn’t. There was only one other option. I asked Bunsen to play. I dealt the cards to show what I meant and he sat forward in his chair.
I’m not sure why I chose Go Fish. It seemed easy to explain, but complicated enough to be interesting. With my cards in my hand, I put down the pairs to show Bunsen. “Two, two…five, five,” I explained, and pointed at his cards to indicate he do the same. Then I asked if he had any eights, and showed him the card so he knew the number. I had to look at his cards to help him understand he had to say “yes” or “no,” but once we’d done this a couple of times, he understood. I shuffled and dealt the cards again and we started playing for real. Bunsen said the numbers in Thai and I said them in English, each of us showing the cards face up so the other could understand.
And then he said something in English, “Seven.” I repeated the word carefully, helping him to pronounce it accurately, and he repeated the English after me. We carried on playing and he continued repeating the English, sometimes using it to say his own card number too.
We were interrupted by dinner. Folding tables were set up on the floor. Suddenly the place was full of people–people I’d not seen before, people who spoke English! I hadn’t realised there was a group of young Thais staying on a Buddhist retreat in the homestay just next door.
“So, you’re an English teacher?” one said to me. I wondered how they knew. “He says you’ve been teaching him English.” Bunsen was smiling and nodding at me, as if it was some kind of joke. Everyone laughed. I explained I really was an English teacher and they laughed again. In between mouthfuls of spiced mincemeat and aromatic vegetables, I told them about life in Seoul and my holiday so far. My words were translated and passed around like the bowls of food we were sharing. I told them how I had been nervous about coming here alone, but now I was glad I did. Everyone was happy to hear it.
“Perhaps later you can join us for meditation,” they said, as we began tidying up the plates and tables. “After you’ve finished your game.”
Bunsen had already gone back to the cards. He had his grandson next to him and was showing him the numbers. He said each one in English and made the little boy repeat them back to him. The wrinkles around Bunsen’s mouth deepened as he smiled. His grandson clambered up to sit on the table:
“Mai chai! One, two, three, four, five, six”
TELL YOUR BABYBOOMER parents who chose the “easiest password to remember.” Tell your friend whose ex hacked his email. When it comes to passwords, us tech users are dangerously predictable.
California software firm SplashData published a report of the 25 most common passwords of 2011. The data was compiled from millions of stolen passwords which had been posted online by hackers in the past year. The firm is trying to encourage folks to evade hacking by avoiding these popular passwords.
Top of the list? Unsurprisingly, it’s Password.
Other offenders?Keyboard patterns:
111111, Qwerty, 123456, and qazwsx made the listCommon names:
Michael, Ashley, Superman, (surprisingly) BaileyCommon nouns:
Football, Sunshine, Monkey, Baseball, DragonSimple letter/number patterns:
Abc123, passw0rd,Common phrases:
Iloveyou, letmein, trustno1
So how can you make passwords more secure? Mixed letters, numbers, and characters are the most secure. You can take a small phrase and put numbers or symbols between words. Something like i_love6cats4 or just5do/it should be tight.
The safest phrase should be uncommon and personal to you. Use the first letter of each word in that funny saying your aunt uses, or a word from another language, typed phonetically in English.
As a fairly paranoid Internet-user, my past passwords have included childhood pets’ nicknames, a street name spelled backwards, and my best friend’s favorite cocktail.
Another error is to use the same password for all your accounts. If you’re prone to forgetting, don’t just use princess1 for online banking and princess2 for Netflix. Companies like Datavault or Roboform offer secure password management applications.
Jimmy Chin and his Camp 4 Collective hip us to his recent North Face expedition at Denali.
WHERE WITHIN the recesses of your spirit do you find the strength to climb the highest mountain in North America–and then ski back down?
North Face-sponsored athlete and photographer Jimmy Chin left for this expedition shortly after our June interview with him in order to follow top-ranked freeskier Sage Cattabriga Alosa and snowboarder Lucas Debari as they summited their first big mountain to make the drop.
How does the team fare after almost burning out just to get to the base? Do our extreme ingenues make it? Check out TNF’s newest 15-minute film to find out.
LAST FRIDAY, FXI Technologies unveiled a prototype known as the “Cotton Candy” – a USB-sized device that “allows users a single, secure point of access to all personal cloud services and apps through their favorite operating system, while delivering a consistent experience on any screen.”
The device holds a dual-core 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos ARM CPU, wi-fi, Bluetooth, an HDMI jack, even a microSD card slot. FXI stated that the Cotton Candy can be used as a companion for smartphone, tablets, PCs, and Macs, as well as any other gadgets that support USB mass storage.
Why Cotton Candy? It’s weight – 21 grams – is the same as a bag of the fluffy stuff. Plug it (the device, not the fluff) into your PC, Mac, whatever, and your OS recognizes it as a USB drive. Launch the software and you can run its Android 2.3 environment in a secure window. Potentially, you could use this to connect to your iPhone or iPad and run Android – an interesting notion.
An even better scenario, especially for travelers: walk into any internet cafe, whip the CC out of your pocket, plug in, and you’ve basically got your own computer running on the cafe’s PC.
IN A RECENT QUESTION on our Facebook group, we asked the question, “What’s your favorite saying in a foreign language? (And, er, give us the translation please!), and the responses were pretty intriguing.
Language is the foundation for our entire understanding of existence. When walking down the street, we don’t gather information about our surroundings in abstract, undefinable symbols, sniffing like a dog or collecting data with our tongue like a snake; we store the words in our memory, and likewise recall them–which is why when traveling, being surrounded by foreign words makes you feel like you’re on some awesome crazy pills. Even when I go to Philly and everyone calls sandwiches “hoagies,” I’m reminded that I’m a visitor, that this place and all these people were here way before me.
But that’s the beauty of our languages, that they’re all so different, with different personalities and textures and rhythms and gestures. My favorite expression in Spanish is No tengo ganas, which translated literally means “I don’t have any wins,” but really means “I don’t feel like it.” Hey, take out the trash! No tengo gaanaasss. Fine, do your homework! Pero no tengo gaaanaaassss. You get the idea.
Here are some highlights (at least of the ones that provided some translation and context!) for your translating pleasure:
Lala Fofofo – Kiswahili, meaning, “Sleep as deeply as you would if you were dead.”
Wowowo – Pronounced “whoawhoawhoa”, it’s Kiswahili for “Big butt.”
De Madrid al cielo – A (probably central) Spanish saying meaning “From Madrid to heaven.” Once you’ve been to Madrid, the only place to top it is heaven.
Poco a poco, llena el coco! – In Spanish, meaning, “Little by little fills the coconut.” It relates how a person learns–the coconut being your brain!
Nakurmiik – The Inuktitut way of saying “Thanks!”
Goda ferd – Icelandic for “Go with God” or “Good travels.”
Bo – Italian slang for “I don’t know.”
In vino veritas – A Latin phrase meaning “In wine there is the truth.”
Ti telas pedagimu? – In Greek, a really nice was to say “How are you?”
Yallah – Arabic for “let’s go!” or “hurry up!”
Savi savi – In Moroccan Arabic, a way of telling crying and upset children that everything is okay.
CMC – It’s Spanish shorthand for LOL, meaning “casi me cago,” or, “I almost shit myself laughing.”
Ndakasimba kana makasimbawo – Zimbabwean Shona for “I am strong if you are strong.
Obras sona amores y no buenas razones – Another Spanish phrase that literally translated means “works of love and no good reasons,” or the equivalent of “actions speak louder than words.” Try saying it out loud–you’ll be hooked.
Allora – In Italian, this is a connective way of linking sentences and ideas–like “Okay, now…” or “So, then…”, but sounds much more beautiful.
La shokr, ala wajib – A North African Arabic way of saying “Don’t thank me, it was my duty.”
Poa kichizi kama ndizi – In Swahili this means “cool like a sweet banana.”
Ubuntu A great Zulu word meaning “I am because we are.”
I SPEND AN ASS LOAD of time sitting in this chair and I try to pretend that I love it. I would like to pretend that this travel blogger travels more than he blogs, but what is the point?
Back in the beginning things were simple. The travel had no obligations, no agenda. Travel was travel and travel was good. I wouldn’t thrust my thumb out in an attempt to hitch hike out of Amalfi Town and hope it would make a good blog. I didn’t jump the gate of a Saracen castle and try to think of a pithy 140 character tweet. I didn’t muse, ‘Will this incredible sunset make a good update?’
Of course I didn’t, that would be shallow, stupid even.
Then call me stupid, because after 4 years of broadcasting my travels online that is exactly where my mind goes.
I realize that a point has been reached where in order to remain honest and to continue to move forward, I must take stock. I must tally the pro’s and count the con’s in an attempt to make the scales balance. To pretend that all this social media diatribe is flawlessly good in and of itself would be more than silly, it would be deceitful.
The time I spend plugged in while traveling, updating my Facebook, blogging and tweeting my links is time I could be spending digging deeper into the culture I am purportedly there to visit. An average blog takes me anywhere from 30-120 minutes to write, format and publish. Then there is the time spent sharing and engaging with the community, the time spend checking stats, checking emails, chasing links, sifting through my cluttered hard drives in search of that certain photo…
This is perhaps the most grievous theft, the minutes that fall off the clock while I am busy online and not out in the world doing what you thought I came to do; travel. Then there is the time spent back at home, when my friends are hitting the karaoke bar I am resizing JPG’s. For every hour I spent traveling I will spend five geeking out on a blog.
When I am focused on my blog, shooting a video, or what my next post will be, I’m falling out of focus from my actual travel experience. With social media blinders on, a lot can go unnoticed or unexplored. Granted, thinking from the blog-end forward can also help me see things in ways that I may not have otherwise.
Then again, maybe not. I want to say that the focus of the traveler should only be the travel, that the articles, ‘Pix of the Day’ and the rest will fall into place. The travel media’s focus will be derived from the vision that was present at the time of travel.
Being a travel blogger isn’t all high fives and poolside IPA’s. There are many, many hours spent hunched over my laptop in dimly lit rooms (yes, I could turn on the lights). The process of storytelling is at times thrilling, and when the words flow, when I feel I am expressing something really worthwhile, and when I get a positive response from readers, I feel on top of the world.
However, the ‘this is work’ mindset can taint the enjoyment of the travel. Thinking ‘this is going to take two hours to blog about’ after a day of hiking and waterfall ruckus can to take the wind out of the day’s adventures. I love to write, but a self-imposed travel blog obligation creeps in like choking vine that threatens the tree that supports it. There has to be time for travel that is work free, with the camera left at home. I believe that when you can’t untangle work and play one or both tends to suffer.
Point blank, when I know am I traveling for the sole purpose to create media (as is the case during a press trip) the purity of the travel is compromised. Travel for travel’s sake goes out the window. Instead it is travel for positive press’ sake, travel for a satisfied tourist board’s sake.
Even if I am not on sponsored trips I believe the more I focus on social media while traveling, the dirtier things can get. And by dirty I mean further away from the core intention of discovery that I first fell in love with. I think that travel at its best is a series of happy accidents and the more out of control I feel, the more pure that travel feels.What blogging gives back to your travels.
The online travel community is a wonderful, supportive group of explorers. We are an inspired, motivating force that I am very proud to be a part of. I love living vicariously through, gaining inspiration from and offering support to the blossoming community of travel creatives. Nearly everybody I have met in the flesh who is a part of our community is a friendly, talented and welcoming person, at least to my face. Y’all are my kind of people.
Idle hands are the devils workshop, right? Blogging keeps my fingers flying and thus, as the old axiom goes, out of trouble. Writing, whether in a journal or on a WordPress template, is a noble use of your time, or so I tell myself. All in all, I think travel blogging is a pretty sweet hobby.
If I don’t expel creative energy I go crazy. My creative energy used to flow through theater and poetry and now it flows through telling travel stories, sharing the small epiphanies, embarrassments and triumphs that travel imparts. I’m very grateful and happy that this outlet is available to me, and the creative freedom I feel becomes bolstered by the support of the community and the creativity-love-cycle continues.
Travel itself is a creative act–my goal is merely to provide a lens unto the experience.
Skrilla. It is a good thing. I won’t pretend to be above the pursuit of cash and I am thrilled when what I love to do collides with what I am paid to do. If you are good at what you do and persistent enough to keep at it you will see money come in.
Online travel media is still in its infancy and there are so many ways to grab some of the millions spent on travel marketing and media. Get focused and get some!
With exposure and talent comes increased opportunity to travel and create more media. What a wonderful feeling to know that your stories and experiences are feeding more stories, more travels. The door for intrepid, opportunistic travel bloggers is wide open. The better you are at carving out an online niche for yourself and forging valuable relationships the more opportunities you will see roll your way.
The freedom to say whatever you wish to hundreds of millions of people. The freedom to rant, to gush and criticize in a format that would make Gutenberg drop a load in his breeches. The freedom that people in many parts of the world and most corners of history only dream of.
For this traveler, it means that not everything is black and white. What I do know is that I have to be accountable to the travel. After all, the travel is why I am here. I am online, with Matador, on this laptop and in this creaky-ass office chair for the sake of travel. I must recognize as I navigate the world of tourism marketing that the travel experience isn’t a commodity, it is a gift, and at that,
a gift that I am humbled and happy to share.
YOU’RE ON A FERRY. It’s big, it’s white, and it’s the best (and only) way to get from mainland Vancouver to Vancouver Island (or just ‘the Island’ as locals say). Unless, of course, you have your own boat. But then again, perhaps you’d still take a ferry – after all, who can resist those White Spot fries in the cafeteria?
So you’re on a boat, it’s very early, because you need to sit in the car lineup to catch the morning boat that takes 1.5 hours to Nanaimo, weaving through narrow channels and gorgeous islands, all of which you wonder who could possibly live on them. But there are houses among the trees. Go figure.
After docking and driving off the ferry in Nanaimo, you zip through town and traffic thins out. It’s a 40 minute drive up the coast, on a quaint highway that shouldn’t have stop lights but it does. On your right, you’re treated to the pristine (and cold) waters of the Strait of Georgia.
Shortly, after what seems like the perfect amount of time to listen to an entire Bon Iver album, you arrive in Parksville.
With a population of approx 12,000, Parksville is best known for its wide, sandy beaches at Parksville Bay and Craig Bay. You’ve also heard rumours of a mythical sandcastle-building competition held here every summer… if you’re lucky enough to have coincided this with your visit. Otherwise, you’re free to stroll the 5 kilometers of beachfront on your own.Afternoon
You grab lunch at a local eatery before heading to the meeting spot for your afternoon kayak trip with Jan from Adventuress Sea Kayaking. She has an easy laugh, and before you have the kayaks off her truck, she’s telling you a story about the mysterious island you can see in the distance.
“It was a dark and stormy night in the early 1900s when a couple landed on the beach,” she says. “They thought it was another island and when they woke up the next day and discovered it wasn’t the island they thought, they called this one Mistaken Island.”
Your paddle dips into the impossibly clear ocean. You wonder if your camera will stay safe and dry in the wet bag strapped to the bow. Jan tells you about the local flora and fauna, of which there are many. You wonder where the term ‘fauna’ actually came from, before realizing your arms are getting tired and you haven’t even made it halfway to the island.
You dig in and follow Jan and her promise of seals in the distance. Paddling is like moving meditation. The surface of the water is like your mind, ever changing, always churning, yet relatively easy to navigate if you’re low on friction and high on rhythm.
Eventually you feel eyes watching you with intent. You look up and you’re almost gliding directly into the glistening rocks peppered with seals of all shades of grey and brown. Their eyes shine with anticipation, belying their curiosity.
You can almost hear them thinking: “Uh-oh. Another human. Wonder what this one will do? Maybe he’ll just leave us… HEY WHAT’s he pulling out of his pack!?”
You clumsily pull your camera out of your wet bag, change to a telephoto lense, and struggle with balance as you hold your eye to the viewfinder and snap a few quick ones. Blurry. Another blurry. Finally, you gather your chi and find stillness enough to balance the kayak and take some clear pictures.
Success! The tide happens to push you into the rocks and now the seals take no chances – they dive into the water, disappearing beneath the waves. As you paddle away, their heads break the surface long enough to give you solid looks of disdain, before vanishing again.Evening
It’s getting dark by the time you arrive back at Tigh-Na-Mara, your accommodation for the night. You drive into the grounds, fill out the check-in form, and are pleasantly charmed by the thick wooden beams that make up the office. You wonder what “Tigh-Na-Mara” means in First Nations language, before reading the brochure on the counter and realize it’s actually Gaelic.
With your room keycard in hand, you hop back into your car and drive through the property, past even more charming log cabins complete with rocking chairs on their front patios, until you eventually reach the oceanfront apartments.
You dump your bags, grab your shorts and head out for the final attraction: the Grotto mineral pool. Rather than use prose you might be embarrassed about later, you quote the brochure instead:
This 2,500 square foot warm water pool is infused with natural minerals and trace elements which detoxify the body and rejuvenate the spirit. The pool area includes a two story waterfall, an invigorating glacial plunge cascade and a non-mineralized whirlpool.
Sitting on the edge of the pool, it’s a bit like stumbling into a magical cavern. You’re not sure exactly how the minerals in the water are affecting your body, but you know this just feels: different. You feel lighter, more buoyant.
The clock on the wall reminds you it’s time to grab your bathrobe and wander upstairs to the Treetop Tapas & Grill – essentially an excuse to have an eloquent waiter bring you wine and uniquely prepared dishes to your table.
Midnight. From your patio you can see the lights on the mainland, across the strait, farther away than they appear to be. Noises from down below, splashing in the water. Ducks, you realize.
Your eyes are weary. Tomorrow, you must awake at the quack… you mean… crack of dawn. Unless, of course, you have yourself another 24 hours in Parksville.
Don’t miss author Ian MacKenzie’s visit to the Horne Lake Caves in Notes from a modern Cave Man.
Matador is excited to welcome Big wave surfer, explorer, photographer and writer Rusty Long to the team. Rusty’s fluid and relaxed style is as recognizable in his images and words as it is when he’s riding the heaving barrels of Puerto Escondido or sticking a critical drop at Mavericks. He has been a regular contributor to both The Surfers Journal and SURFER magazine and his body of work speaks volumes about the type of person and surfer Rusty is. A world traveler who has always used surfing as his ticket to explore the world, more often than not searching out some of the worlds most remote locations, consistently favoring exploration and involved travel experiences over simply chasing waves. His voice and eye behind the lens showcase this dedication to travel along with a deep appreciation for both the journey and the culture he finds himself in. Check out his first piece for matador