Category Archives: Travel

Everyone is a Shill Nowadays

Instagram is my little curated slice of the Internet.  It is filled with post after post of people living and recreating in the mountains.  It is essentially the life I would like to lead if I did not have things like a mortgage, children, and a general sense of long term fiscal responsibility.  Yes, I am so basic in that respect but basic pays the bills.

Instagram is also a cesspool of shills.  It seems like everyone is shilling for someone or something.  I find Mikaela Shiffrin to be an amazing athlete and my nine-year-old daughter is infatuated with her skiing exploits, but I know that she is shilling for Barila or Vail Resorts when she posts on Instagram.

Loki the Wolf Dog is shilling for Toyota or whoever else is sponsoring the latest adventure.

Heck, even hippies in vans are shilling for potato chips.

All is not lost because we can peer through the marketing noise for the message we truly care about.  I am genuinely curious about the results from World Cup ski races and my daughter hangs on every post Mikaela Shiffrin makes but the occasional Barila blast is not going to change my pasta buying habits.  I enjoy watching Loki the Wolf Dog tear down some backcountry slopes in the San Juan Mountains but I am not going to test drive a new Tacoma.

Once we recognize that everyone online is shilling for someone or something we take the power away from the marketers.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik March 2017

This month’s box from Nomadik came a few days later than usual due to a “supplier issue.”  It does not really matter that my box came in March or the first day of April, but it does change the publishing schedule slightly.

A bottle of ReviveX Durable Water Repellent:

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This is like the safe entrée at your go-to weeknight restaurant.  What person who spends more than a couple of days per year outdoors does not have some article of gear or clothing in need of a weatherproofing plus up?  Like the carabiner from last month’s box this stuff is just useful for those of us engaged in outdoor pursuits.  It might not even last until the second week of April if the rains in Iowa keep up and my daily raincoat starts lacking in repellency.

A Wild Hedgehog Tactical Ouch Pouch:

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Bonus points for an awesome name.  I do not know if a wild hedgehog is any more capable than a domesticated hedgehog.  Heck, I do not know the first thing about hedgehogs save for some cute pictures I have seen on Buzzfeed.

This little plastic pouch of first aid items is already in my outdoor go bag.  You know, the backpack that you grab for a short hike or day outside.  The one with the well-worn Nalgene bottles in mesh side pockets, a Leatherman, flashlight, and questionably aged Clif Bars.  Would I have spent $15 on one these pouches?  Probably not considering that I fall into the “rub some dirt on it” school of first aid practiced by sadistic Little League coaches from time immemorial.  However, I like having some of the options in case someone takes a spill on the next day of hiking at Palisades Kepler.

An Epic Wipe:

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It’s big.  Like the size of a wall poster big.  It’s a wet wipe.  Like the ones I used to have bags of floating around my house when my kids were in diapers.  If there is one thing I miss about my kids being in diapers it was being prepared for everything with the contents of a diaper bag.  The first time you realize you no longer have the diaper bag is a terrifying moment.  Why did I let me kids get tomato soup if I did not have the diaper bag?  Damn…

Like the aforementioned Ouch Pouch this thing is going into my outdoor go bag.  The odds it gets used before April is out is high.  Unlike the Ouch Pouch I can see myself purchasing a half dozen of these to have ready in case of messy disasters like tomato soup or another incident with a blue raspberry gas station slushy.

The GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug:

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It’s a mug.  It’s has a top.  It’s light.  What more is there to say really?

Made of polypropylene and wrapped in an insulating sleeve the Infinity Backpacker Mug is meant to be an alternative to heavier stainless or enameled mugs.  However, I think it will have a hard time competing with my RTIC Lowball.

Oddly, a copy of Rova was included in the bottom of the box:

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The magazine claims to be about the “adventure lifestyle,” but it looked more like a slick sheet for RV manufacturers.  Nothing about an RV park says adventure or lifestyle to me, but I may be jaded by passing so many sad looking RV parks on the way to Colorado.

The Fingerprints We Leave Behind

What will we leave behind for people—hopefully there will still be people in the future—to ruminate on and wonder about Twenty First Century human civilizations? All right, that is a little deep for the end of the week but a couple of things got me to thinking about the subject.

First, on a recent vacation my family visited an archaeological site in the Yucatan:

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Chacchoben was a Mayan settlement where the remaining ruins date from somewhere around 700 AD. What is left does not represent the average Mayan’s life because what remains is a ceremonial site. The average Mayan’s ruins would have been made of wood and thatch, materials which long ago decomposed back into the jungle. You are left to wander among platforms that hosted the elites’ homes and some common areas for ceremonies.

Second, I finished Mary Beard’s very good SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome where she takes great pains to remind us how little we know about daily life in the words of the people who lived in Rome, elite or otherwise, and how what we reconstruct from the archaeological records is inevitably tainted by our own bias.

What will someone say when they unearth the hundreds of football stadiums in the former United States? I can almost read the interpretation of thousands of people gathering in a predetermined day of the week to watch teams of armored men do battle on the turf. Will tailgating be discussed as a ritual sacrifice of food and drink to the deities believed to have some interest or hand in the outcome of the contest to be decided on the field? What will someone make of the exalted position we give to athletes?

What fingerprints will we leave behind for future generations to judge us by?

Why New Orleans “Works”

After spending a few days in New Orleans I have come to a simple conclusion: There is no city quite like New Orleans in the rest of the United States. Its combination of old-world French influence, southern charm, bayou sensibility, and whatever other culture has passed through depositing some component of itself on this stalagmite of Americana.

For many of the same reasons and a lot of others New Orleans is lambasted by many who do not live in or who have never even been to the city. It’s below sea level, they cry. Or, it was ruined by Katrina so why bother? On and on the critics pile on and, yet, New Orleans survives and, dare we say, thrives. New Orleans “works.”

I do not mean “works” in the sense that someone steeped in the mythos of Rust Belt cities thinks of work—industrial facilities belching smoke, train yards full of cacophonous sounds, etc—but rather that something about the city, despite its many faults, attracts people.

It’s not about bars on Bourbon Street or voodoo tours, but that is part of the allure. It boils down to the bedrock principle that New Orleans was a city designed and built around people. Yes, interstates cut into the city along the western edge of the Central Business District and modern glass towers do rise from the same section of the city.

However, so much of the city is on the human scale. Cars do not rule as hordes of pedestrians make their way across streets and often times using a part of the street as a de facto sidewalk given the volume of foot traffic. As the city has been developed over hundreds of years and the limits of its geography forced the hands of the people building alcoves and pockets exist to surprise. In most modern U.S. cities the de facto answer when developing is to scrape as much clean as possible and build a monolith. If you do not believe me, spend an afternoon in Denver and tell me what developers prefer to do when given the choice. There is still space in New Orleans for the shop making hand loomed rugs because it is located in a storefront no more than ten feet wide.

New Orleans is also not homogenized like so many other American cities. If you get knocked out and woke up in many mid to large sized American cities you would be hard pressed to know where you were at save for the loyalties to professional sports teams. If you woke up in New Orleans almost everything would scream where you were finding yourself foggy headed. Now, there is the threat that New Orleans will become a bayou themed shopping center with Bubba Gump and H&M outlets like so many other places. Just imagine the horror on my face when someone tells me that they ate out in New Orleans and thought the Guy Fieri joint was so authentic.

If you get a chance, enjoy this unique piece of America before it gets wrecked by hipsters and developers.

Walt Disney World’s Eco-Hypocrisy

No one is going to claim that Walt Disney World is an eco-friendly destination.  Ever.  It’s built on what is essentially swamp land in the middle of the sprawl of Orlando, which has to be one of the most unsustainable developments in the history of mankind.

Some of the hypocrisy just gets to me.  Particularly at Animal Kingdom.  All throughout the park you are preached to about certain elements of eco-centricity.  There are no straws at Animal Kingdom because those are a common item that ends up polluting the animal enclosures at zoos all over the world.  I am down with that, but then explain to me why each tray of food at the quick service outlets had a small plastic card begging people not to litter?  Why not just print the message on the trays rather than include a disposable plastic card?  I cannot explain this conundrum.

However, you are given a paper straw with dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  So, not all straws are bad I guess.

Then there are balloons.  A common souvenir is a balloon that encases another balloon shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.  Cool right?  Except at Animal Kingdom you cannot get balloons because they might float away and end up in an enclosure.  Okay, but a balloon released at any of the other parks—Magic Kingdom is the farthest park away at less than 5 miles—could easily end up in Animal Kingdom.  Why not ban the balloons at all parks?  Oh wait, dollars…

There are dozens of examples of eco-hypocrisy that I witnessed in my five day trip to the resort.  I do not want to sound like a grump, but wrapping yourself in the flag of self-righteousness when everything else runs counter to that image is just wrong.

At least the toilet paper has 25% post-consumer recycled content:

Magic Kingdom Toilet Paper

You can understand my fascination with toilet paper considering that I started this blog talking about toilet paper so long ago.

One place where the resort does a better job than most other parts of the country is in terms of mass transit.  In the middle of Florida, which seems to hate mass transit because it just smells like some kind of socialist conspiracy, there is plenty of mass transit on the resort grounds.  You can spend your entire trip from airport and back in the embrace of Disney operated mass transit.

Even more impressive than its ubiquity is the organization of the mass transit.  There are no disorganized bus stops with people trying to figure out what queue to stand in.  Nope.  Each destination has clearly marked stops and where the frequency merits there are actual employees assigned to assist people in finding their way.  Even at the busiest of times the wait is rarely twenty minutes.  Granted, you are paying a premium to stay on-resort but getting to where you are going without renting a car is pretty sweet.

Now, about that monorail…

Why You Should be Watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

You should be watching Anthony Bourdain’s new television show on CNN.  It’s titled Parts Unknown and it looks a lot like his old show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations.

This is a good thing.  When he left the Travel Channel for CNN I feared that one of television’s most insightful voices was going to disappear into the abyss that is Wolf Blitzer’s awersome beard.  However, this was not so as evidenced by the first episode of the show that premiered this weekend.  Just the fact that the first episode focused on Myanmar, you might know it as Burma, is reason enough to give the show a chance.

Once you get past Bourdain’s bad attitude chef persona—read the now-infamous Kitchen Confidential to get an idea of what I am talking about—his work on television has been mostly excellent.  The episode of No Reservations that took place in Beirut during the resumption of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel was, in my opinion, a pitch perfect lens through which to view the odd spectacle of modern armed conflict.  It was silly and random and strange and macabre all at the same time.

The new show takes the best elements of No Reservations, cuts out some of the antics—witness the focus on late night escapades during one alcohol fuelled binge in Montreal, and injects some much needed perspective.  This is not just a travel show or a food show or a politics show…it’s some kind of hybrid that works real well because it shows us that, on the whole, people are pretty damn similar the world over.  Sure, the food we eat is different or the clothes we wear are different, but the vast majority of us are just trying to get through the days with a little flavor and beauty.

Kicking it off with a bang in Myanmar is a statement.  There are few countries less transparent to the West than Myanmar, maybe North Korea or some nations in Africa or central Asia.  Outside of Aung San Suu Kyi, most of us have no idea about Myanmar save for a bad movie with Bridget Fonda.  This is not like filming a show in Japan or China or even Vietnam.

Bourdain does not shy away from the bad parts of Myanmar’s history.  Almost everyone he speaks with who is local mentions the time they have spent in jail for various offenses.  Heck, one guy even details how the kangaroo court handed down his sentence in an almost arbitrary way.  Off you go to six years’ worth of prison!  As he says, when referencing the fact that government still restricts tourist travel, there is bad shit going down that the government does not want you to see.

It’s about more than exposing the authoritarian regime’s Orwellian nature.  It’s about showing the essential human qualities that exist regardless of geography.

Food and drink are humanity’s gateway into acceptance.  Share a meal or a drink with someone and the chances are that you will be more considerate of that person.  What Bourdain is doing in these shows, through the lens of food and drink, is showing you just how alike we all may be no matter how weird or bad the exterior conditions are locally.  I may be as different as someone from Myanmar, but hell if I don’t want to spend a night eating street food, drinking cold beers, and hanging out with an indie band.

It looks like next time he is going to spend the episode with the mad genius that is Ray Choi in Los Angeles.  Uh oh!

A Coffee Haul

I always have to be careful when travelling to Hawaii.  My checked baggage needs to come in several pounds under the weight limit so that I can bring home coffee.  Why?  I have a love affair with Hawaiian coffee of all kinds.

My visit to the Kauai Coffee Company yielded two bags:

Kauai Coffee Bags

I love the Peaberry, which refers to the type of coffee where only one bean is contained within the cherry.  The more round shape, as opposed to more traditional coffee’s flat side, is said to contribute to more even roasting and better balance.  Whatever, it makes for good coffee.

I tried a sample of the Typica while at the Kauai Coffee Company and liked it a lot.  The proof will be what the flavor is like when I make the first cup at the office.

However, I was not done.  The Costco in Lihue was a treasure trove:

Mountain Thunder

During my visit to the Big Island in 2010 I brought home several bags of Mountain Thunder.  It was a pleasant surprise to see a pallet of the coffee on the floor at a warehouse store, but I was willing to take advantage.

The price on the big bag of Kauai coffee was too good to pass up:

Kauai Big Bag

My coffee addiction does not end with just the foodstuffs.  How about soap:

Coffee Soap

There is nothing quite like the aroma of Hawaiian coffee exfoliating your skin to wake you out of a late winter coma in eastern Iowa.  One of my projects this summer needs to be finding a way to make my own coffee soap.  Hmmm….