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Monday, November 20, 2017

Top 10s

We’ve been on the road for six months now, months that have flown by and yet have been filled with experiences. We’ve shed a lot of stuff and gotten used to the idea that this is our present life. And inevitably, there are moments that stand out more than the others. We started talking about what our most memorable moments of the traveling have been—our “top 10.”

Of course, I couldn’t just pick 10. It quickly became apparent that I would use up ten slots just with eating and drinking experiences, which I’m sure is one of the deadly sins. Nevertheless, in order to accommodate some of my favorite photographs—most of which have not appeared in The Discreet Traveler before—here are two “Top 10s.”

10 most memorable occasions:

Photo: Kandoo Adventures
1. Trekking the Lemosho Route, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. It has to be. Of course it didn’t turn out as I’d planned, and I still go over those days and moments in my mind, wondering if I went too fast or started out wearing too many layers…Nevertheless, it was unforgettable from beginning to end, and I’m so glad I did it. This picture is from day 4, when Claire and I were setting the pace, and therefore still having fun. 

Scrubbing Grandma in the river
2. Karen Elephant Experience, Banpakangdoi, Thailand. I’m not sure what more I can say about Elephant Nature Park and this project they do with a Karen tribal village near Chiang Mai. It was just an amazing day of feeding, walking and bathing with elephants. I hope I never forget the feel of an elephant’s skin, especially rubbing mud on it!

3. Tengeru Cultural Experience, Arusha, Tanzania. The most unforgettable moments of this very worthwhile outing were when local Meru kids came out and talked and clowned around with us. It was all unstaged—they were just neighborhood kids who saw us pass by. And, they gave me one of my favorite pictures, possibly ever.

With our guide Sereu

4. Beaches. Okay, some of this has just been fun. We’ve hit beaches of various kinds in Donegal, Ireland (brrr!); Mimizan and Cagnes-sur-Mer, France; Bakio and Barcelona, Spain; Cape Town, South Africa; and of course, Mauritius. This picture was at Île aux Benitiers, where we went on a particularly memorable day, following…

5. Swimming with dolphins, Tamarind Bay, Mauritius. There are no dolphins in this picture but it wasn’t about photographing the dolphins for me; it was the experience. And that was made possible by T’s sister and brother-in-law, who at the very least, deserve this spot in the top 5.

6. Hiking with T. One of the unexpected pleasures of these travels has been how much hiking we’ve done together: at Glendalough and Diamond Hill in Ireland (pictured), the Cinque Terre in Italy, Šmarna Gora in Slovenia, Lion’s Head in South Africa, Black River Peak in Mauritius, and Doi Inthanon in Thailand. T. was never into hiking and, I thought, was only accompanying me so I could train for Kilimanjaro without hiking on my own. She tells me that the viewpoint above Nong Khiaw, Laos will be the last mountain we climb together, as it nearly killed her. We shall see.

7. Biking in Ayuthaya, Thailand. If T’s hiking surprised me, my getting on a bicycle apparently surprised her. It’s supposed to be the best way of getting around the ruins of Ayuthaya’s many ancient temples, and it is. We wouldn’t have visited as many without the bikes and it wouldn’t have been as much fun. I wouldn’t say it was a unique experience because I’d do it again. Not in a city, though.

8. Township tour, Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town, South Africa. Not the most fun or comfortable outing, but a real highlight of our time in Cape  Town. Most black South Africans still live in these circumstances and it was good to meet some of them, as well as learn some of what’s being done to improve things.
With our guide Kenny Tokwe
Melaji's brother finally makes himself useful.
9. Being searched by soldiers, Monduli, Tanzania. Most of our day with Melaji (and his brother, whose unexplained presence kept us crammed with Melaji in the backseat all day) was the opposite of what we’d expected—an undriveable road, hardly any hiking, no visit to his village—but this really took the cake. Because we’d passed Tanzania Military Academy on the way, we knew that was who was doing the checkpoint on the way back, and so we concluded that it must have been some kind of military exercise. No one told us that, though. All I knew was that Tanzanian soldiers made us all get out of the car and walk separately, at gunpoint, into the bushes, where we were told to empty our pockets. The Maasai guys got grilled about their knives, and T. and I were frisked by female soldiers. Not being able to talk to anyone I knew, knowing the woman behind had a gun pointed at me and was shouting at me to move, was not an experience I am soon to forget, although I remember feeling quite calm at the time. I just kept saying “Okay” which I hoped would be okay. I don’t have a picture of this, for obvious reasons.

10. Slow boat down the Mekong River, Laos. I haven’t had a chance to write up Laos yet but this was something I’d really recommend. We spent two days aboard the slow boat (with an overnight stop in the village of Pak Beng) and it was like going back in time. Not in the sense that the boat was uncomfortable, which it remarkably wasn’t, but because it appeared to be full of hippies of all ages. With all the long hair and card playing going on, we could have been back in the 1970s, which is quite evocative in southeast Asia. By the second afternoon our American acquaintance from the last post got out his harmonica and was playing us down the river. One of the young women got up and danced, and the character I will call Apostle-looking Guy clapped from his seat on the window ledge. I bet the American had dreamed of doing this for forty years.

Now the food and drink top 10, in reverse order: 

10. The cocktails at Be Cosy, Trou aux Biches, Mauritius. Partly because they had the only good margarita I’ve found outside Greater Mexico; partly because of the pina coladas (the last time I had one of those was when my Puerto Rican co-worker, Dalia, made her own recipe for a staff holiday party). But mostly because they had a swim-up bar.

9. Koaleng boat noodles, Chiang Mai, Thailand. There have been a lot of noodles in Asia and I’m sure there are a lot more to come, but it is possible to have bad and mediocre noodle soups. Not here, though. They only do six dishes: soup with noodles or with rice, and with chicken, beef, or pork. Simple. They know what they’re doing and we ate there every hot lunch we had. 
Chicken or beef? Note my iced coffee, the best drink in Thailand.
8. Soup, Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania. Every day of our trek, every hot lunch and supper, we started the meal with soup. It didn’t matter what kind it was or what kind Innocent, our waiter, called it, we ate bowlfuls until it was all gone, even if it meant we couldn’t finish the rest of the food. Chef David wanted to warm and hydrate us and we cheered when he did. Ask anyone on my team: soup was what we looked forward to most. (After all, they don’t have beer on the mountain.)

I don't have a picture of soup on the mountain, so here are tapas at El Tigre in Madrid--the best deal in all of Spain.
7. Baguettes, from France to Laos. Is there anything better than fresh French bread? Well, I’m sure there is, but it was ubiquitous in France so we could never be hungry. And I was glad to see it again in Mauritius and in what used to be French Indochina. Just wish they sold it out of street corner machines here.

Here I am drinking a mango lassi. 
6. Indian food. Indian restaurants aren’t found in quite as many places as Chinese restaurants, but they are in most countries we’ve visited and make a welcome change. Here in Southeast Asia, Indian restaurateurs tend to be Muslim, so no alcohol (and of course, no pork). The samosas and rotis in Mauritius made a wonderful cheap lunch. But this picture is from the curiously named Milan Indian restaurant in Moshi, Tanzania. All vegetarian, and really good. 

5. Shiraz, Cape Town, South Africa. I love shiraz and South Africa was really the last place I drank wine instead of beer. Why wouldn’t you? If it’s not too hot to drink red wine, there’s nothing better than a South African shiraz.

4. Everything we ate at our cousins’, Liguria, Italy. Every day at Gianmarco and Fiona’s we had something amazing and homemade. I’ve never had anything like Gianmarco’s seafood pasta, and it didn't last long enough for me to take a picture. So here’s one of me in Grinzing, Austria drinking white wine, which we also did a lot.

3. Wenceslas sausage, Prague, Czech Republic. I don’t know what the other types of sausages sold at street stands taste like because I never tried them. This one was the most delicious thing I’d tasted on all our travels. Or at least so I told T., every day we were in Prague and I ate another one.

2. Le Petit Verdot, Aix-en-Provence, France. For us, this qualified as a splurge, but it wasn't fine dining. They serve hearty Provençal fare here, along with wine so good even T. had a glass. We both had the slow-cooked lamb with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Really, this is one of the best restaurant meals I’ve ever had. Still thinking about it now.

1. Peach ice cream, Cacao, Ljubljana, Slovenia. I never knew this before but apparently Ljubljana claims to be ice cream capital of the world. I can tell you that the white peach flavor at Cacao is the closest thing I’ve ever had to the peach ice cream in Lakeside, Ohio when I was a kid. Ice cream isn’t my favorite food, but peaches are. This was another thing I went back and ate every day.

Having hiked Šmarna Gora, looking forward to my next peach ice cream 


Anonymous said...

A library of amazing experiences, gustatory and otherwise! We are puzzled only by the absence of any notes of outrage as you remember the experience of being taken off into the bushes, one at a time, by a soldier pointing a lethal weapon at you and shouting. G & P

J. E. Knowles said...

I, too, am puzzled by my response. At the time it felt like emergency mode: just do what she says. I think I was aware even at the time that I was not going to get hurt, or it would have been scarier. Afterwards I was just glad not to be in the situation anymore. Constant checkpoints are a fact of life in these countries--citizens don't have the rights that we have. But you're right, it is outrageous!