Bread So Delicious Grown Men Fight Over It

Bread So Delicious Grown Men Fight Over It

Sometimes a single meal deserves its own dedicated post because it’s just that amazing. It possesses that certain combination of delicious food, ideal ambiance, and possible violent, drunken brawl that makes a dinner unforgettable. After a day on our tour of Munnar gone-wrong-gone-right, we set out that evening to hunt down something tasty for dinner in the city. The main draw to the town is its surrounding tea plantations and mountains. Munnar itself is actually a bit dark and dingy, but, after sampling food from a few shops, we discovered the city was also pretty tasty. Along one of the streets, a food stall was set up under a barely-lit tarp. There were rows and rows of benches filled with rows and rows of Indian men chowing down on chicken, curry, chickpeas, and some sort of amazing looking bread.   To the right, a man was doing the Indian equivalent of flipping pizza. He took tiny balls of dough, flattened them out, spun them around on his hand, and then twisted them into neat piles. We walked over and started to chat with him. He introduced himself as Raju and explained that he was making paratha – a sort of flaky pita. They were passed out to customers as quickly as he could make them. Then someone ordered a dish called kothu paratha. Several pieces of the bread were thrown on the grill, chopped into tiny bits, and mixed with shredded vegetables, egg, and sauce. There was a sudden chorus of “That! We want that!,” from our group and Raju happily showed us to a few open seats. We ordered four...
How We Made Our Package Tour of India Not Suck

How We Made Our Package Tour of India Not Suck

“Where are we stopping now?” I asked. “We’re at The Super Awesome Fun Park,” Jessica answered. “Are you serious?” “Yeah, for 300 rupees we can bounce on a trampoline.” [Hand smacks forehead] I’d reunited with my favorite on again, off again travel partner Jessica, and her friends Lyric and Dhaak, for a three day tour of two cities in Kerala, India. Packaged tours are not at all how I like to see a country. But, I was feeling travel weary, so the thought of someone else being in charge of me for a few days had some appeal. Our tour would start in Kochi and take us to Munnar — a hill station with beautiful mountains and tea plantations.  Along the way we were promised various “natural wonders” and “cultural sites” – words that definitely struck a fair amount of tourist-trap fear in my heart. Our driver, Sebin, met us at our guesthouse in Kochi on the first morning. He seemed nice, but a little withdrawn and quiet as we made our way out of the city and slowly started climbing into the mountains. Then the “tour” portion began. We started off by stopping at two “waterfalls” that trickled more than fell. “They’re bigger in rainy season,” Sebin reassured us. We were then treated to a visit to a chocolate shop and “herb garden” which looked reminiscent of the gardening center at Home Depot – plastic planters, bags of mulch, and a few wilted flowers. We unanimously declined to pay the two dollars to walk around. Next, we stopped at a “flower park” which also looked like the Home Depot...
Christmas in Kuta: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like A Trip to the Emergency Room

Christmas in Kuta: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like A Trip to the Emergency Room

“Daddaddaddad! Guess what’s outside!” My dad looked at me groggily from his pillow. “Whaaaaat?” “SUNSHINE.” It was Christmas day and, like any respectable kid, I woke my dad up with abundant enthusiasm, irritatingly timed to sunrise. Over the last three days, my dad and I had fallen in love with Kuta, Lombok and its friendly locals. But, monsoon rains prevented us from exploring the island and cabin fever was wearing me down. Luckily for all parties, the clouds finally parted on Christmas morning With perhaps overzealous intensity, (me standing outside the bathroom shouting at my dad to pull it together because at any moment, the sun was going to disappear forever and his alleged need for a shower was going to ruin Christmas) we put on our bathing suits, rented a scooter, and armed ourselves with a hand drawn map to go check out the beaches surrounding Kuta. We headed north out of town and entered a gorgeous landscape of rolling hills and ocean coast. We passed through tiny villages, got lost, asked for directions, made friend with some kids — — and I made my dad stop so I could snap a quick picture of a passing pack of wild monkeys. Apparently, my dad is not a monkey fan: “Dad! Monkeys.” “I hate monkeys.” “Monkeys.” “Gross.” “Monkeys.” “Get back on the scooter.” After forty minutes, we arrived at Selong Belanak beach. The shore was full of actual Indonesian people swimming, grilling, and listening to music. Pretty much every beach I’d been to in Southeast Asia had been packed with Westerners, and the only locals were the ones serving...
How My High-Maintenance Dad Learned to Love Indonesia (It Takes a While)

How My High-Maintenance Dad Learned to Love Indonesia (It Takes a While)

Indonesia is the land of pizza. Or at least it is when you travel with my dad. For our first week together, pretty much any time I asked him what he wanted to eat, he replied with “pizza” (or gave me a particularly forlorn look and whispered “Chik-fil-a”). My dad is open to new experiences, but he’s also self-admittedly high maintenance and considers A/C, cable TV, and sanitary cooking conditions non-negotiable. So, when he offered to meet me in Indonesia for two weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d never been to a developing country, but promised he was ready to get outside of his comfort zone — or at least take a closer look at its edge. As our trip progressed, it became clear that his coping strategy when things got overwhelming was to hunt down pizza. So, on our first day on the island of Lombok, I wasn’t at all surprised to find us wandering down the streets of a tiny village looking for somewhere with a vaguely Italian name. Coming to Lombok had taken us miles outside my dad’s comfort zone and had subsequently fast-tracked us to the nearest cheese covered bread dish calling itself pizza. We’d spent the previous three days in beautiful Ubud, Bali, of Eat, Pray, Love fame — — and then the manicured tourist trap of Kuta, Bali: think American chain restaurants and overly aggressive Ray-Bali sunglass vendors. (I have no photographs of Kuta. It wasn’t worth photographing.) I convinced my dad we should head one island over to the city of Kuta on Lombok, which touts the same name but with more...
A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

This post is continued from part 1. By 1pm, lunch is finished and we pile our dirt-crusted selves back into the jeepney and drive to an elementary school across town. Many of the classrooms are flooded and torn apart, but school is still held in the remaining usable spaces. Every day the kids play around rubble, rusted nails, and barely standing walls. We move desks, bag broken glass, and break-down timber  to clear out the school yard, while kids sing our names and giggle in groups around us.   One of the teachers brings out a bag of tuna salad sandwiches and insists we take a break. I happily consume three. A young boy shyly carries over a tray of mismatched glass cups and pours us all warm soda. I take a few quick gulps and watch the kids play while I uselessly wipe the beading sweat from my face and arms. The constant smiles and warmth from everyone make it easy to forget I’m in a disaster zone. People have come to us crying with relief and thanking us for our help. But, I have yet to encounter someone who was angry, despite being the victims of a disaster that has robbed them of their homes, jobs, and stability. Their single goal seems to be to rebuild their lives and remain unflappably positive while doing it. An hour before we are supposed to finish for the day, we head to the street outside the school building. Smoke is rising from several trash burn piles as children play on the half-roofed basketball court nearby. The remaining wind-torn tin clings in...
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