Category Archives: travel

Japanhandling it!

Hello junkies,
Well this may be another shameless travel post but I bet you will survive. About a month ago my friend Luke was in Seattle visiting from Japan. He said, “Devo” I said “What?” He said, “when you coming to Japan? ” how about next week I joked. Well, there I was, the very next week.

I arrived Tokyo and had a very short time to change planes so I barely had time to look out of the windows of the airport. It was by all accounts, hot. I took the next plane to Sapporo and hopped a train from the airport into town. I tried desperately to memorize the kanji (Japanese letters) for Sapporo so I knew where to get off of the train. I secretly like it when I cannot understand the signs because it means I am somewhere I’m probably not supposed to be. My flash memorization worked and I met the fabled Luke with his friend Shun a few minutes later.

They took me to Shun’s house where his mother Hiroko, quite possibly the most boisterous, energetic and kind 52 year old lady I’ve ever known, met us at the door with equal parts hugs and broken English. She had made a big dinner in celebration of my coming. It was “oishii” (delicious.) Some sort of ground meat stuffed inside of a cabbage leaf, an amazing salad that had greens in it I had never tasted, and a number of other wonderful dishes. Luke and I ate our fill and then the beer came out. Now I can drink a lot of beer and Kirin is light in flavor and alcohol so it is no difficult task, when Hiroko opens a new one for you as you set down the old one, to drink too many. I slept well that night.

When I arose the next morning, I was about to take a shower when Nozomi, Hiroko’s sister said, “Don’t shower we are going to the baths.” And so we did. Not, however, before she fed us an amazing breakfast of curry rice; incidentally some of the best hangover (futsukayoi) food on the planet.

Japanese baths are quite the experience. You go in, take off all of your clothes and get a tiny little towel to cover your unmentionables. From there you shower sitting on this little stool and then hop in the baths. It was amazingly relaxing and just what the Devo ordered after a long plane ride. Shun and I went in the sauna and challenged each other to stay in longer and longer. I of course lost this battle. Luke intelligently abstained from the sauna. When we met back up we decided to go into the electric bath. It was the strangest sensation I have ever felt. Somehow they were pumping electric current out of jets on either side of the bath so when you got in, you were lightly electrocuted. Ding, chicken’s done! It kind of hurt but the Japanese are a long lived and learned culture so I just went with it. What good for the Shogun is good for the Geisha right? Shortly after being electrocuted we showered up and left the bath where there was cold beer waiting for us. This was around noon. I love Japan.

Soon after the bath we went to the Hokkaido Jingu (a large Shinto shrine) where a wedding was actually taking place. Luke was surprised because he had been there many times and never seen a wedding. I am still convinced Hiroko arranged the event for me. At the shrine they gave us these little soba cakes full of bean paste that were warm and comforting. Snacks and beer. That’s just how you roll in Japan.

Since we hadn’t eaten for a full 20 minutes it was time to go to get Yakisoba noodles. We went to a place where they make it right in front of you, flinging pots and colanders around like was their job…oh, I guess it was. Of course, it was super oishii! At this point I was genuinely concerned that I was going to have to start refusing food for fear of intestinal rupture.

Later that night  Luke and I walked to an area of town called Tanuki Kogi. It is a sweet outdoor shopping mall with a retractable roof. Tanukis are animals that have magical powers in Japanese lore. Their most notable ability is to shape-shift their testicles into things…oh and they have a gargantuan set of them. You can’t make this stuff up.

Luke and I then got another Sapporo beer along that mall and headed back to meet up with friends.  It was a birthday celebration for Lucas San (which is what the locals call Luke) and some other friends so they want to go to a place called Round1.

Turns out Round1 is an all night sports / gaming/ karaoke extravaganza. It’s kind of like the ball pit at McDonlads but for drunk adults. We played games all night. One of the highlights was a place where you shoot balls at each other with little railing mounted ball guns. We then proceeded to sing karaoke until 6am. It really just devolved into Luke and me singing duets. We nailed “Landslide,” but was there ever any doubt?

On our walk (of shame) home in the morning Luke introduced me to the most amazing snack food ever, Onagiri! Basically it is just a triangle of rice, stuffed with fish and healthy dose of amazing, all for about a dollar that you can get it at 7-11.
Perfection.

We spent the next week or so gallivanting around Shakaotan which is the small town where Luke is ensconced most of the year. We ate at local restaurants, the highlight of which was when we had fresh squid that the owner cooked in front of us and umi (raw sea urchin). We cooked for ourselves as well. We drank like warrior poets.

One day when Luke’s work schedule was particularly light we headed to the tip of the peninsula. Through a tunnel and jutting from the sea we found an amazing rock formation. He and I spent the better part of the afternoon circumnavigating the rock clinging for life, all the while with the possibility of falling into the sea, uncomfortably visceral beneath us. Never the less, we survived and honestly I do not think I will ever forget climbing around that spire.

Once our week was over we headed back to Sapporo to meet up with some friends to watch a Lebanese girl sing some amazing singer-song-writery soul-filled lyrics. There may have been some drinking involved. The next day we headed to Rusutsu, a theme park with some new Polish friends we had made the weekend previous. There were very few people there so we got to go on the corkscrew ride 3 times in a row! Sweet mother of god it was fun.

After a long day of hanging out at an amusement park the only thing for it was to head to a swanky Sapporo club and dance the night away. Consider, regardless of skill level, it danced. There exists somewhere in the whiles of the inter-webs a video of Luke, Tomo and me doing the Gangnam Style dance, before it was cool!

The next thing I knew we were in a Karaoke club and I was singing “A Whole New World” (the Aladdin part) with a Japanese girl who was…”Nailin’ it”! I mean look at the adulation of the crowd! We sang, what little was left of the night away and emerged from the club to the morning sun. We made our way to Hiroko’s house just in time for me to make the last train to the airport…

 

St. Lucian with Absolution

“What do you call a St. Lucian who has made his peace with a deity?”

Hello junkies! I know its been a long time since I posted but life sometimes derails one in such a way. I decided to take this week off from cooking and let the fine people of the island of St. Lucia do it for me. WARNING: Below does not contain any recipes. Now with little caution to what it might do to my readership, allow me to subject you to my travel prose! Though I went to sample the foods of these island people, my culinary skills were called upon almost immediately. Win some lose quite a few.
My first day in St. Lucia was a blur of site and sounds that are difficult to reconcile into a day. I headed from the airport in my rented car for the opposite end of the island. After narrowly avoiding hitting a delivery truck I was reminded that as a ex-British Provence St. Lucians  drove on the opposite side of the road. Fortuitously I had flown in on the last day of carnival as the proprietor of my hostel reminded me when I checked in. Undaunted, I took my trusty rental car, which I affectionately called the, “Hair dryer” into Castries to see the end of Carnival. I took a few pictures and then I met the two ladies to the right below. They cautioned me that carnival was ending early this year because someone had been shot. Now I don’t always listen but when locals tell you to pack it in because it’s too dangerous, it’s time to head home, so I did.

The second day I had my first Lucian fare. It was a soup called Callaloo. Not only is it fun to say but it is tasty and filling. After exploring a strategic Napoleonic fort on Pegion Island in Gros Islet, this soup full of onions, spices and the wilted greens of the Callaloo plant provided an adequate sufficiency for this sweat-covered weary traveler. As I waited I enjoyed a local brew, Piton!

While I was eating said soup I heard a voice from behind me say, “Hey man what kind of camera is that?” I turned and much to the delight of a man traveling alone, the voice was addressing me. Over a beer or two Rebecca and Nima and I became friends. They were staying at the house of Nima’s sister, Maryam and invited me over to drinks. I was pleased to find out that Maryam’s husband Fred was St. Lucian. I also met his friend Ray who is as close to an ambassador of place as anyone I’ve ever been. His knowledge of St. Lucia and its natural beauty enriched my trip greatly. Later that night the topic came to food and I indicated that I make a mean batch-o-pancakes. The next day I came back over and we made pancakes with fresh mangoes from Maryam’s yard!

After breakfast I headed down the coast to a town called Soufrière. It was a harrowing journey highlighted by a wet, narrow mountain road in disrepair beset with switch backs, goats, tied up horses and the occasional St. Lucian, yet I prevailed. I took the rest of the day to drink fresh tamarind juice by the pool of the Hummingbird Hotel and read Games of Thrones.

The next morning I awoke early to the sun shining. I had an perfect breakfast of fresh star fruit, two types of mangoes (St. Lucia has 24 different species of Mango!) a few bananas and some exquisite local coffee.

I headed out to see what this part of the island had to offer. My first stop was a water fall hot springs. It was warm, like someone slowly pouring the contents of a hot tub all over you. I shared a few moments of warmth and rejuvenation with some locals.


After that I headed to the famed Jalousie beach. Surrounding this beach is grip of 100 or so villas for the super rich. Apparently Oprah has a place there. Anyway, commoners are still allowed to descend to the beach so of course that is exactly what I did. It was one of the finest beaches I’ve ever seen. White sand gave way to idyllic grass covered huts shading white cloth covered chaise lounges. I swam the bay but was soon compelled to move on. I heard a lot of people using phrases like, “All inclusive,” and “limo driver” and “Talk about reasonable, dinner was only 500 dollars.” Rubbing sandals with the super rich is not really my cup of tea, but I would still recommend the experience.

After that I headed to the volcanic sulfur baths.There I bathed in almost scaldingly hot water and smeared myself with exfoliating volcanic mud! There I met a Mexican couple and we talked of the restorative properties of the baths to our skin. Soft as a baby’s bum! The guy behind them in the photo looks like a volcanic troll.

On my way back I stopped at one of Ray’s suggested places, New Jerusalem Falls and hot springs. I was the only soul there or so I thought, however, when I reached the baths I found two naked and consequently, startled, St. Lucians. I talked to them for a while but quickly took my leave as the lady in the couple was embarrassed. There are no pictures for obvious reasons but here is the river I had to ford to get to them. (Johnny died of dysentery on the way).


Later that night I once again braved the mountain roads to go to the fish fry-day in Anse la Raye between Soufrière and Castries. This was another of Ray’s suggestions. There was all manner of baked and fried seafood, music playing and a lot of honeymooning couples. St. Lucia was rife with women wearing tank tops that said things like, “Cutest little Bride,” on them. I ate “bakes” (biscuits) and red snapper grilled in butter and spices.

I also sampled the locally made spiced rum, which was tear-your-face-off spicy! Then it was the long ride back to the hotel where my mosquito-netted bed was a welcome site.

The following day I went to a small beach called Anse Chastene which was located up an impossibly steep hill that near proved impossible for Hair Dryer to conquer. Though with some patience I made it up. I swam the whole lagoon of white sand but soon grew tired of the hotel staff eying me. Game of Thrones under arm I slunk valiantly back to the hotel, grinding through at least 200 pages of the book my brother and I affectionately refer to as “Tits and Swords.”

Later that night I sat at the bar chatting with the delightful bar tender Lea, who turned our to be a karate master. As I ate my amazing veggie curried crepe a, local woman came up to me and said, “How can you eat something that doesn’t have meat?” “Like this,” I said giving her a grin and taking a big bite.

After that a kind yet drunk American approached the bar. He said he was Marty and it came around that he worked for Virgin Galactic! He said that he was designing the new space port (Many Bothans died to bring us this information). We chatted for a while and then he and his host packed it in for the night.

The next day I said goodbye to Lea and the Hummingbird Hotel and headed up the valley to a place called La Haut Plantation. It is probably one of the most amazing views I’ve ever had. The pool at this Bed and Breakfast had a full view of the valley below and the two Piton mountains of St. Lucia. When I got to my room I was greeted with fresh fruit, a green orange and three types of mangoes!

Quite possibly the most idyllic setting for a swim ever. I took the plantation tour where we saw that the kitchens were stocked with fruit and cacao from the plantation, they showed us the sugar cane crusher and a slew of decorative donkeys and birds that were therein housed. I spent my last day sitting by the pool, reading and drinking in a truly unforgettable view.

Thank you wonderful people of St. Lucia for an amazing experience!