IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD – PART ONE (well maybe part 125 by now)

Tracey says “you always say you travel for the food, but you haven’t really written about it.”

Well, here it goes.

As a chef, I learned that Mexico has one of the five ‘master’ cuisines, along with India, China, France, and the fifth one which I cannot remember (too many Pisco Sours I guess).  Mexico did not disappoint – Standouts included:

  • Menudo:  a tripe soup with fresh oregano, onions and lime in a thin broth with hominy. One of my all-time favourites.
  • Limonata:  a wonderful fresh lime juice with a touch of sugar and sparkling water.  This was made outstandingly by the bartender on the Mazatlan ferry.
  • Horchata:  a rice-based drink with vanilla and cinnamon.  Wow!  Made in a small village near Mezcal.
  • Hot Chocolate:  made fresh for Tracey.  The chocolate was ground in a mortar and pestle, added to rich milk, and cooked on a tin sheet – over a cactus wood fire no less.

I don’t think we had a bad meal in Mexico. We searched out roadside stands and only ate inside once!  The people are eager to add complex spices to the meals and the freshness was outstanding.

I have to mention the Chorizo.  Being a sausage freak, I was happy to try out every variation of sausage to be found. Where was the best? Easy answer! We stopped at a roadside stand in Guatemala, where a man with a mop was brushing his grill with water to create steam for the cooking sausages. They were amazing! Just the right amount of smoke and stuffed with a very herbal mixture. I could have stayed at this roadside stand for a week.

Antigua,Guatemala surprised me. Confit? That’s what the menu says. Do they actually cook them in the melted goose fat?  I must order it to find out.  It’s just OK – not completely traditional, but the ambience and the 35 year old rum contributed to a great night out. The Sangria was pretty good too and Tracey said the bread pudding was her favourite.  This same night we had an aperitif of hibiscus flowers and aguardiente (fire water) a great blend, not too toxic and very unique!

Nicaragua. In Leon we went to a traditional restaurant and I had the local specialty ‘Chanco con Yucca’ otherwise known as Sauerbraten. It was a fermented/pickled pork roast with a southern twist!

Gallo Pinto – rice and beans – all the time, everywhere – you can’t escape them.  The same with Pollo Asado – roast chicken. In Mexico I kept screaming ‘pollo asado’ every time we passed a sign advertising roast chicken, harping on about getting some. Never had any the entire time we were in Mexico. Good thing, Seven countries later and it is the only thing on every menu and most times the only thing on the menu. I’m ready for something different. Oh, the Gallo Pinto was best in El Salvador.

Motoring down the highway in Costa Rica, we spot a couple of semi trucks out in front of a restaurant and a couple of  local workers seem to be enjoying their meal inside. The decision is made, we pull in.  Uh Oh, it is a Chinese restaurant.  Well let’s try it anyway. One of the best chow meins we have ever had!

Panama forgot how to cook.  No salt, no spices, no flavour?  We ended up cooking our own food here, not for lack of trying the local fare. We went down to the ‘row’ where all the best restaurants were and……. Still the same result. Pack your own lunch here.

From Panama we hopped onboard the Stahlratte.  One night we set up a grill on the beach and made skewers of some local fish. I did not see the fish but it’s meat was the toughest I have ever seen! I could not cut it with a knife let alone chew through it. Pass the salad.  Otherwise the food on the boat was quite enjoyable.  I volunteered to do the cooking for our merry band of 25 travellers for a couple of days and had fun rifling through the galley and trying to build a meal. Thanks Ludwig for letting me play.

Colombia beckons. Stayed tuned it starts to get funky now.

 Cheers

Miles

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RAIN, RAIN, IT’S O.K.

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Mucho lluvia – lots of rain.

But not that much and not when we are out.

Many people have commented that we need water wings or scuba gear for this trip. While it is entirely true that we have commented about the rain, it is not a continuous thing. It just seems like the adventures have been happening around it.

A quick recap:

  • USA – ten minutes of rain while we are at a gas station.
  • Mexico – 2 minutes while at a market and a great thunderstorm, while in the comfort of a room with a great view.
  • Guatemala – maybe an hour, can’t remember where.
  • El Salvador – rained just as we got our hotel sorted in La Libertad. Rained hard the next morning all the way to the Honduras border.
  • Honduras – rained at the border then cleared up.
  • Nicaragua – Rained as we came into Leon.
  • Costa Rica – rained at the border, then again as we entered La Fortuna. Rained big-time from San Jose to just before the Panama Border.
  • Panama – rained a bit at David.

So looking back we actually only got good and wet a couple of times. The side benefit is that it is usually very light and usually still a hundred degrees outside. We probably could have stayed dry in most places by choosing to get a hotel a bit earlier or lunch a bit later.

In ten thousand kilometers it is amazing that we have only really been caught in one big storm – in Costa Rica while climbing out of San Jose, heading over the mountains and toward the ocean. (Incidentally, this is where we saw a perfectly good jetliner parked beside a river in the jungle. No idea how it got there or why!) The flooding in Nicaragua was caused upstream from where we were, so we got wet from the bottom up on that one.

The rain that I encounter during my commute from Calgary to Red Deer every week is a lot more unpleasant!

We are still laughing.  We knew this was the rainy season and it has actually been far less unpleasant than we were prepared for.  The Ural continues to allow us an opportunity to experience our world through the smells, the sights and the smiles of the locals.

Oh, I have stopped chastising Tracey for bringing her hair dryer – I have been using it to dry my boots out!

Adios for now.

Miles

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SPEAKING OF LESSONS LEARNED…

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Tracey’s last post ended at – lessons learned.

So, what have we learned?

Lesson One: The best way to improve our Ural’s braking ability is to leave a wet towel hanging off the back to dry, allowing it to drop into the driveshaft while zipping along. Stops the bike much more quickly than the brakes. There is a side benefit as well – a nicely polished driveshaft.

Lesson Two: The world is full of information, sometimes accurate and sometimes not. Honduras is a country we were warned about by every fellow traveler- military shakedowns for money, corrupt police, and unfriendly people. Nobody seemed to have a good story to tell. Well, some lessons you just need to learn for yourself.

We were leaving town one morning when two motorcycle police pulled in behind us. They began to follow us and eventually slowly passed us on the right, continuing down the road. My spidey senses started to tingle. I made a quick detour for unnecessary fuel… eventually, we pulled back onto the road and continued…about two kilometers down the road on a blind bend with jungle on both sides, a motorcycle was parked across our lane and two policemen lay in wait for us…one of them motioned us to stop and we thought the gig was up…slowly he looked around and approached us…. he extended his hand to mine and said “Welcome to Honduras! We just saw you back there and wanted to tell you to have a safe trip and enjoy our country” Then he went around to shake Tracey’s’ hand and we were off. This same scene was repeated less than an hour later with the same results. Honduras treated us well.

Lesson Three: When the rains come – make tracks. As the tropical storms battered the countries in different ways we learned to keep going. Other travelers chose to wait. Waiting allowed the water to build up – with bad results. We drove over many landslides, including one while it was happening. Being stuck on the wrong side, when there is only one road leads to…. being stuck. By shifting our routes and plans to take advantage of good spots of weather, we were able to be rained upon but always continue. As we learned later, other travellers were stuck for as much as 5 days in various places due to ‘waiting it out’. Waiting it out means waiting until December.

Our biggest ongoing lesson is still ‘people are people’. Guarav Jani, the Indian film maker, said to us one time “Reach out with your hand, put it on the other person’s chest and feel their heart – it is the same beat as yours.  That person is not a newspaper or a government. That person is the same as you.”

We are reminded of the power of his statement every day, it is a message we will always carry.

Miles

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