Category Archives: Local Culture

Taxi Tales

I don’t take taxis often at home. When I do it is usually to get a ride to the airport or train station en route to a vacation or business trip somewhere. But, when I arrive in a new destination, taxis become a more common form of transportation for me. They are a great way to get from an airport to the city center where you can then get to know a place by foot or public transit.

Besides the obvious benefit of hailing a taxi (getting you from point A to point B), there are also other curious advantages and experiences one can glean from their ride.

On a recent trip I took to the East Coast, I had two such adventures in taxi-riding that I will lovingly call The Culture Cab and The Translationally Challenged Taxi.

THE CULTURE CAB
I arrived at Boston Logan Airport on the first day of my week long vacation. I got in fairly late that first night, so had booked a hotel for the evening before heading back to the airport the next day to catch another flight to TDot (Toronto). My “airport hotel” happened to be about 30 minutes from the actual airport. While I was able to catch a shuttle to the hotel that night, I missed the shuttle the following morning and decided to bite the bullet and pay for a taxi ride to the airport so as not to miss my very first Porter Airlines flight. (It is important to note the airline here because they are like the Canadian version of Southwest except their mascot is a raccoon. Both of these facts making them a NOT TO MISS ride in the sky.) After about a 10 minute wait, a nice gentleman pulled up in front of the hotel, helped me with my bag, and we set off for Boston Logan.

One of the first questions my taxi driver asked me was where I was from. California, I replied. That was all I needed to say for him to open up his heart, soul, and city to me for the next 25 minutes that we shared together. Dave, that was his name, used to live in California, but moved back to Boston two years ago to be with his family after his nephew was murdered. Dave told me about his nephew’s legacy that he left in their neighborhood in Boston. How he was always a sports kid, and while he never made it on a professional level, he dedicated his life to coaching kids in the neighborhood he grew up in. This nephew was all about giving back. He told me about the day of his nephew’s funeral, when over 1,000 people lined the streets to watch the procession of cars pass through the place where this young man had touched so many. Dave was so moved by this whole experience that he decided it was time to leave California and come back to his home, Boston. Thrown into this story were snippets of what life in Boston was/is like. He told me about the amazing Italian food, about the city’s love of sports, and about the friendships and bonds that Bostonians have with their neighbors. It was clear that if you live in Boston, you can count on Boston having your back.

Honestly, it was a lot to take in at 5:45am. But, by the end of the ride, as we pulled up to the Porter Airlines terminal, I knew that I had just experienced a sliver of Boston culture. That strong sense of bond and kinship that pulses through the veins of the locals and transplants that now call Boston home. One short taxi ride and I was convinced that Boston would be a great place to visit one day, and maybe stay for a while longer. As Dave once again helped me with my bag, I thought about giving him a hug. He shared a part of his history with me, what did I have to give him? Instead of a hug I promised him I would be back, and I would take the time to get to know his city. With a huge smile on his face, he bid me farewell.

THE TRANSLATIONALLY CHALLENGED TAXI
After having a fairly moving taxi ride in Boston, I looked forward to my next ride which happened to be a few days later when I was leaving Toronto to head back to the States. It was early morning again (no, I don’t know why I keep choosing stupidly early flights.) Thankfully I had some fresh Timmy Ho’s (Tim Horton’s… but the locals, aka my friend Lindsay, calls it Timmy Ho’s) in hand and was ready for the next leg of my trip. I hopped into my cab and the following conversation ensued…

Driver: How are you?
Me: Good, and you?
Driver: Happy to have you inside of me.
Me: (awkward silence)
…………..

Driver: How was your stay in Toronto?
Me: Great! But it was cold.
Driver: That’s OK, because you are hot.
Me: (more awkward silence)

The best part of this brief eight minute ride was that I honestly don’t think the driver had any intention of hitting on me and instead it was just some perfectly placed translation mishaps that delighted me so. As we rode up to the Toronto City Airport the driver told me to come back to Toronto, but never again in the winter time because it is too cold. I wouldn’t say he was the best brand ambassador for his city, not like Dave from Boston, but our chuckle-worthy conversation made me want to come back for more. Even if for just the self-esteem boost.

Those are my latest, and quite possibly greatest, taxi experiences. Do you have any good taxi ride stories to share from your travel adventures?

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Dancing Matt Does It Again

Remember Dancing Matt? The guy who taped himself dancing around in different countries from his travels, posted the video online, and then became an instant viral sensation?

Let me refresh your memory…

7 years later and he is still dancing, traveling, and living life to the fullest. He just posted his most recent “Where the hell is Matt” video.

I dare you not to smile/dance along/love the world you live in while watching this.

Beauty In Your Own Backyard

All too often I find myself daydreaming about my next travel adventure. I would say 95% of the time, my mind wanders to international lands where I can find food, culture, and environments vastly different from my regular life.

But, then the financial reality of paying for these exotic trips that I dream of hits and I realize that the only way I can experience them as soon as I would like to is if I a) win a trip or b) win a trip. Seeing as I likely tapped out my trip winning luck for life, it’s time to look for alternatives.

Thankfully, last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 International Pow Wow in Los Angeles where Brand USA launched its first official marketing campaign for Discover America. Their ads are based on the four senses and how you can experience America through them.

See it. Hear it. Taste it. Touch it.

I got goosebumps when I saw this ad. Almost immediately my traveling mind started to wander to lands in my own backyard. Exploring the stunning landscapes of Yellowstone National Park. Enjoying the food, music, and culture of New Orleans. Experiencing the autumn glow of Vermont maple trees. I was excited about traveling and exploring the beauty and wonder that my own country as to offer.

Have you been surprised by what travel adventures your own backyard has to offer?

The Taste of Travel: camel pizza and other strange eats

On my own home turf, I would not necessarily call myself an adventurous eater. But that all changes when I travel. Nothing is off of limits for me. Well, almost nothing. Eating out of my comfort zone adds an exciting new element to my travel experience that I look forward to every time I travel.

Food is an integral component of culture: from the way it is prepared, to the ingredients used. Understanding the local cuisine of a destination helps you understand the people and history of the place. Therefore, what better way to show your interest and appreciation for a destination than eating like the locals!

Yummy food - Morocco

Following this philosophy, it isn’t surprising that many of my ‘food firsts’ have happened while I have been traveling around the world. From fried alligator tail in Louisiana, reindeer stew (sorry Rudolph) in Finland, to durian fruit in Bali. I love the taste of travel.

Other travel ‘food firsts’ for me have included:

First Green Tea Waffle - Kyoto, Japan

First Lobster - Barcelona, Spain

First fish with eyeballs attached- Marathon, Greece

I racked up a lot of travel food firsts on my trip to Morocco in January with Intrepid. Some more strange the others. Moroccan tea, gazelle horns, harrira, and camel meat. Yes, camel meat. And it was AMAZING.

As soon as I found out a lunch stop for camel burgers was on our itinerary, I squealed with delight! I did not know what to expect, but knew, good or bad, eating camel was going to be a good story to tell when I got home. The whole group, minus the vegetarian, was excited for “Camel Burger Day.” Little did I know, I was actually going to be eating camel the night prior to the designated special day.

We got into Meknes pretty late in the evening and struggled to find restaurants open near our hotel. A couple of us finally decide on a pizza place that looked legit, and I had remembered seeing it in our Lonely Planet book. We ordered a couple of pizzas to share: a sausage and pepper one and one called pizza du maison (house pizza). The menu was in french, and my high school french failed me in deciphering what what was on this house pizza. But, I thought “when in Morocco, eat what the Moroccan’s eat.” If it was a house special, it must be good. What came out was some sort of mystery meat and cheese pizza. Lamb maybe? Goat? We didn’t know, but we didn’t care… it was delicious! Especially when doused in sriracha sauce .

Fast forward 12 hours and it was lunchtime on “Camel Burger Day”. We headed into the souk in Meknes and landed at a camel burger whole in the wall. 12 westerners in a very non-western spot was apparently a sight to be seen. People starred, but most were pleasantly surprised by our adventurous meal choice. After a cup of Moroccan tea and a 10 minute wait, our camel burgers arrived. As soon as I bit into my mouthwateringly delicious burger I started cracking up. I looked at my sister and said, “Katie, we totally ate camel pizza last night.”

Camel burger - Meknes, Morocco

It was good times and good eats. The only sad part was that a week later we rode camels in the Sahara desert. My camel, who I was sadly told had no name, seemed rather disinterested in me.

Riding camels in the Sahara

I am pretty sure he knew I ate his cousin the week prior. It made me feel pretty guilty, but not guilty enough to never eat camel again.

Do you have any good food stories from your travels?

Here are some other travel food posts to get your taste buds watering…

An Indulgent French Afternoon Picnic

Nicaragua: Rondon Recipe

Culturezest

Experience Ukraine as a local: comfort foods, bread, grandmas and bazaars

Day 4 in Morocco

We are closing in on the end of day 4 of our 15 day trip through the Best of Morocco and I am already amazed and smitten with this country and it’s people. Equally, I am impressed by the quality of learning and experiences Intrepid offers on it’s tours. I cannot imagine having a 1/100th of the experience I have had so far if I planned this trip on my own.

Here are the top 5 lessons/facts I have taken away from my experience so far (not in any particular order):

1) Moroccan history and culture is ingrained with respect for humanity and tolerance for all religions. While the country is 98% Muslim, over a thousand years of their history indicates they have always welcomed, protected, and included Judaism, Christianity and Muslim faiths in their country without war or persecution. The rest of the world could learn a lot from this country.

2) Everyone should follow the rule of the Moroccan spice of life. Indulge in 15 minutes of crazy everyday. This includes laughter, dance, celebration, etc. If you do this it will keep you happy, healthy, and wealthy.

3) Camel meat is delicious. No joke. Moroccan food in general is pretty amazing. I have indulged in olives, tangine, couscous, lentils, moroccan whiskey (aka moroccan mint tea), harira soup….

4) Moroccan man love melts my heart. I love the affection that is shown between male friends here. From the way they great each other with hugs and kisses to the dance moves they share when moved by their favorite traditional tunes.

5) Pigeon poop is the key to soft and colorful leather. Gross, but kind of fascinating.

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The day I won the trip of a lifetime…

I woke up on August 29th like any other weekday morning.

Step 1: Turn off iphone alarm.

Step 2: Put on glasses.

Step 3: Check email on phone.

Step 4: Email from Intrepid, could be interesting. I open it and it says “Dear Lizzie, Congratuations for being one of the winners…”

Step 5: WHAT???????????????

I can probably stop with the steps now. So, after seeing my name and the word congratulations in the same email, I realized this was something I should read on the big screen of… my laptop. I whip it open, and before I could open up my curious congratulatory email, my friend Lindsay starts sending me messages to the likes of “OMG!!! YOU WON!!! WHY DID IT TAKE YOU SO LONG TO WAKE UP!!!???” (please note, she lives in Canada and saw that I won on Facebook about 3 hours before I did).

As it turned out, I had entered an Intrepid Travel contest on facebook in early August. The concept of the competition was to win the ultimate adventure, where you don’t know where you are going until you get to the airport. In order to win, you had to identify the person you would want to take this ultimate adventure with and explain why you wanted to go with them in 25 words or less. So, out of 20,000 entries, my 25 words of why I wanted to take an ultimate adventure with my sister WON!

Now we fast forward to today, December 20th. My sister and I leave on our adventure in 17 days. Do we know where we are going yet? No. Do we have any hints? Kinda.

It will be entering the cooler months of the year where we are going = North of the equator? Or, very far south?

We need typhoid and Hep A vaccinations = South America, Africa, Middle East, parts of Asia (ya, that didn’t narrow it down too much)

We need to pack sleeping bags = Camping?

Basically, there is an infinite number of possibilities of what this trip has in store for us. And I can’t wait to find out!

One of the best parts about winning this mystery trip is that it is with Intrepid Travel, one of the pioneers in sustainable/responsible adventure travel. They use public transportation rather than high carbon emitting tour buses. They have participants stay in small locally owned accommodations and eat at local restaurants to help create revenue for the communities they travel through. They educate their travelers and the local people they visit on sustainable tourism policies. Being considerate of the environment, supporting the economic development of local communities rather than international investors, and supporting education. Does it get any better?

So my question to you is, have you ever wanted a trip planned for you, where all you have to do is show up at the airport and go? Could you handle giving up control like that?

Stop And Smell The Travel Experience

The summer before I started college I participated in a month long world arts and cultures study abroad program in Bali, Indonesia. This was my first travel experience away from my friends and family. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck about going.

Thankfully the program was lead by Prof. Patricia Harter, a UCLA professor who specialized in Asian theatre and had led this program before. One of our class assignments for the duration of the program was to keep a journal throughout our time in Bali to describe and reflect on our experience abroad.

Pat told us that the journal should not only be for her benefit, but also our own. Every once and a while she would give us some direction on themes she wanted us to write about. Our first journal assignment was give to us the day before we left Los Angeles for Bali. Pat requested that we write an entry about our initial observations about Bali; from the moment we landed till the time we went to sleep our first night in Sanur. Then she added, “as soon as you step out of the airport, make sure to take a moment and SMELL Bali.”

Smell Bali? I didn’t really know what she meant. Did the Balinese smell different than Americans? Was I supposed to walk up to someone, lift up their arm and take a whiff?

Up until this point I had never taken a moment to smell my surroundings when I traveled. Since I wasn’t quite sure how of why I was supposed to smell the tiny island nation, and was too shy to ask about it, I decided I would just follow what the other students did as we exited the airport and hope that I figured out what it was that I was supposed to do.

Segway to our arrival at Denpasar airport…

Just as we were about to exit the airport and take our first steps on this new land, I looked around to see if anyone else was following the professors directions. No obvious sniffing was to be seen. So either 1) I wasn’t the only one who was unsure how to smell Bali or 2) I was the only student who paid any attention to our homework.

I am a bit of a brown noser, so wanted to make sure I didn’t disappoint my new professor. So, without any helpful direction from my classmates, I took this smelling task into my own hands, or nose rather. As soon as we stepped outside, I took a big whiff.

Snfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

WOAH.

The smell of humidity. Clove cigarettes. Rotting garbage. Spices. Car pollution. Incense.  And a hint of Jack fruit. All of these, and many other components, wrapped up into one complete smell of Bali. The smell was overwhelming, yet calming. As I let my olfactory sense take over, I was physically and emotionally transported to this new destination. So long California, hello Bali.

Throughout my month in Bali I learned to love the smell of the island. Even with it’s rotting components, every whiff was a constant reminder that I was in a place completely different than my home, and it helped me appreciate the opportunity I had to experience it.

The best part about taking that initial moment to “smell Bali” was that it left a memory imprint in my brain. To this day, I have moments when I am out experiencing life and am stopped in my tracks and realize that I smell Bali. Sometimes it is when I pass by a sewage vent on the street, or when I walk by a store that sells incense. Wherever it occurs, when I smell Bali, I am instantly transported back to my time there, living among the people, learning their history, culture, and arts.

So, as a work of wisdom to anyone who has yet to take a moment to smell their travel experience, do it. Your olfactory memory will be one of the best souvenirs you can bring home for yourself. And it is free of charge.

Want to read more about travel smell memories? Take a look at “Want memories? Follow your nose” in the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Smell ya later.

An Urban Adventure In Your Own Backyard


Staycations seem to have become a rather popular replacement for vacations these days due to the current economic environment and growing environmental concerns over vacation related carbon footprints.

But doesn’t STAY sound boring? I don’t know about you, but when I take vacation days off of work I want to GO somewhere, not STAY at home. So the question is, how do you GO on a vacation while sticking to a low budget and a commitment to a small carbon footprint? An urban adventure, that’s how.

What is an urban adventure?

Urban Dictionary defines it as:

1. urban adventure
when you intend on looking up 1 random word on urban dictionary, but actually spend hours being entertained by the randomness

Well, that is one version of an urban adventure, but not really what I was aiming for. The Urban Adventure League in Portland, however, describes it more accurately as:

“…events that explore the urban environment using feet, bicycles, public transit, and possibly other alternative forms of transport… events and projects will emphasize fun, de-emphasize competition, and foster connectivity and awareness. There’s plenty of interesting things to be done in an urban environment, and we want to encourage and foster creative ways to enhance out living experience to its fullest. Boredom will no be allowed.”

Exploring urban environments while away on vacation is a pretty common activity. Most people, while away on a vacation, stay in centrally located accommodations so that they are able to walk around a town’s historic center or downtown area. But what is less normal is taking the time to explore the urban environment in your own backyard. This allows you to STAY at home, while still getting the sense of adventure that you would come from GOing on vacation.

There are two ways to participate in an urban adventure.

1) Book a tour with Urban Adventures.

Urban Adventures offers unique local day tours in over 100 cities around the world. They follow a simple recipe: small groups + local transportation + local guides + real local experiences = urban adventure. The best part? The affordable prices. For example, in New Orleans, for $25, you can: “See Hermann-Grima House, learn about Creole mourning customs, visit the oldest cemetery in the city, wander past the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, spot the tomb seen in the film Easy Rider, and take a peak at the future tomb of Nicolas Cage.”

So, the next time you plan your staycation, see if Urban Adventures has a tour in your city and maybe you can learn something new about your homestead.

2) Plan your very own Urban Adventure in your home or neighboring town.

Plan 2 was exactly what I did for myself and four of my friends a couple of weeks ago. We went on a homemade urban adventure in… drum roll please…. SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA!

After preaching about the benefits of sustainable tourism to my friends for the past couple of months, they finally gave in and demanded I plan a day of sustainable tourism for them. With some creativity, a sense of adventure, and a bit of research, I planned an urban adventure in Sacramento. The theme was Art in Public Places. I can guarantee that my friends were not expecting our plans would be to spend the day in our own city, Sacramento. But, at the end of the tour they were all asking when the next urban adventure would be.

The Sacramento urban adventure included the following: using public transportation (the light rail), visiting and learning about locally owned shops, uncovering and learning about some of the public artwork Downtown Sacramento has to offer, and some treasure hunting in the form of geocaching.

All-in-all the urban adventure was a great success. My friends were surprised at how much fun they could have by exploring their own city in a new way. So, with a little bit of creativity, I was able to successfully plan an urban adventure that was both economically and environmentally friendly, while also making it feel like we got to GO somewhere as opposed to STAYing at home.

Below are some photos from our Sacramento urban adventure:

My traveling companions and I enjoying the sunshine while on a break by the Capital.

Stanford Mansion - It was Free Museum Day so we were able to check out the Stanford Mansion for free, among other museums along our route.

We spotted this on top of a rooftop garden.  Photo by Emilia Cottrell.

"Golden State" by Lita Albuquerque and Mitchell De Jarnett

Music and Travel: Jason Mraz, From Grammy Award Winner to Global Traveler

I’m a touring artist who seeks out unique corners of the world to find influences for my music. – Jason Mraz
(Jason Mraz concert, Manchester, UK, 2003)

(Jason Mraz concert, Manchester, UK, 2003)

You may not believe me, but I have traveled around the world multiple times with the Grammy award-winning musical wordsmith, Jason Mraz. Albeit, the majority of the time he was encased in my ipod and communicated with me through my headphones. But a few times he was on stage, in his element, as a traveler just like me.

For me, and I imagine many others, music and travel go hand in hand. Can you really imagine a road trip without the radio on or your favorite “on the road” playlist? For musicians, like Jason Mraz, travel can be a form of inspiration and musical education.

Not only is Jason Mraz an amazing musician and songwriter, he is also a thoughtful, inspired traveler. Below are some excerpts from a recent interview Jason did with National Geographic Traveler, for their One on One feature.  The full interview can be found here: Traveling Troubadour.

What style of traveler are you? A spontaneous one, with little preparation. I pack light. I don’t feel a need to rush through all the major landmarks. Like, if I go to Paris, I might just take a walk, with no map or tourist site in mind, and end up in a neighborhood coffee shop. That’s how I ended up in San Diego. I traveled there and found this great coffee shop that I love to make music in and I ended up staying. I’ve lived there for 12 years now.

Are there places that have moved you to write songs? Many. I wrote several songs during my time in Ghana. I made a return trip to Brazil for a week to absorb the music and culture, and I wrote many songs. New York had a profound effect on me, as well as California. I’m a touring artist who seeks out unique corners of the world to find influences for my music.

What has really surprised you in your travels? I’m constantly surprised that no matter where I go, people are similar, just trying to make it. We’re all quiet and shy in an elevator with other people. Most people hesitate to make eye contact. Before I ever traveled to Japan I thought maybe it would be like another planet. But when I got there I realized, oh, these are just humans over here doing the same human thing, perhaps with different resources. It made me feel less timid about going places and more able to just walk through a village in, say, Ghana, looking like the only white guy alive.

Are there places you haven’t been to yet that you want to visit? I’ve always wanted to take that cruise to Antarctica to see the unspoiled continent. That would be just a brilliant trip for nature, solitude, and for writing in the journal. To really see Earth, you should visit all seven continents, and that is the only one I have not been to.

This interview got me thinking about how much music has influenced my travel experiences. I am curious how it has influenced yours as well.

What are some of your favorite music/travel memories?

I’ll start things off…

  • Always seeing Peruvian Pan Flute bands when I travel outside of the US.
  • Going on a road trip to the Grand Canyon with my family and listening to REM and the 4 Non Blondes on repeat the entire way.
  • Singing so loud at the karaoke club in Kyoto, Japan that my friends took my microphone away from me.

Sustainable Travel? There’s An App For That

There seems to be an app for everything these days. From different knock off versions of scrabble, to camera effect apps that make you and your nearest and dearest look fat, old, and/or bald.

So I was thinking, if there is an app to make you bald, there must be an app, or multiple apps, that can aid you in making more sustainable travel choices on your next vacation or weekend excursion.

I dug around the internet searching for mobile apps that might help the average traveler participate in sustainable tourism and found these 3 gems: LocalEats, Green Travel Choice, and World Customs and Cultures. Combined, these apps will help you cover all the bases of sustainable travel: supporting the local economy, supporting the environment, and supporting the local community and culture.

LocalEats – This app is hosted by www.WheretheLocalsEat.com. It is a great resource to find the best eats in town while supporting the local communities economy. The purpose behind the website and app is that it promotes local eateries in cities as opposed to large chain establishments. By supporting local businesses, you are supporting the local economy, as opposed to giving your money to international investors who are less likely to be connected to the communities they do business with. Favorite App Feature: The app has a ‘search nearby’ function. So, as long as your phone has GPS functionality, LocalEats can identify where you and produce a list of all the best local eats options in your immediate area.

Green Travel Choice – This is a pretty simple app that calculates and tracks your total carbon emissions as you travel. You can enter your starting and ending point and the app will produce a chart for you listing what your carbon emissions will be for 9 different transportation choices. For example, if I were to travel from where I am sitting right now, in Davis, California, and go to New York City, these are the carbon emissions I would potentially produce:

  • Hiking/Biking – 0.0lbs
  • Train/Subway – 573.9 lbs
  • Bus – 684.6 lbs
  • Motorbike – 1167.8 lbs
  • Small Car – 1409.5lbs
  • Medium Car – 2114.2 lbs
  • Large Car – 2970 lbs
  • Medium Hybrid Car – 1761.8 lbs
  • Airplane – 1872.6

I think the most interesting result here is that taking an airplane to NYC creates almost the same carbon emissions as driving a hybrid to NYC. This is a great resource to help you realize how your travel choices affect the environment. This app, however, could improve itself by offering a carbon offsetting program where you can donate money to tree planting to offset  your carbon footprint. Favorite App Feature: By purchasing the Green Travel Choice app, you get a $15 discount code for membership to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES).

World Customs and Cultures – I recommend this app to any international traveler. The value get from this app is that it covers a huge variety of country specific customs and cultural eccentricities. By studying up on the country you are visiting ahead of time, you can save yourself from potentially embarrassing and/or rude interactions with the local people. Topics covered range from communication styles, to eye contact rules, to local taboos. There is also a great greeting component that goes over the expected greetings between different relationships with people: man/man, man/woman, etc. If you have ever been to Europe I am sure you have encountered the awkward “how many kisses do I give this person” moment. This app could have saved you from that experience. Favorite App Feature: The random button. Every time you hit it, it will tell you a random cultural custom or ritual from around the world. Example: In Cameroon, sometimes the forefinger and pinky are extended and used to mime Dracula teeth, making fun of someone for having bad teeth.

Those are my mobile app recommendations. What are yours? Do you use any apps that help you travel more sustainably? Make better choices in your everyday life? Get you more connected with your community or other communities?

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