I'm sitting here at the gate in LAX dusting off the magic of a week cruising in the Galapagos. It's my penultimate experience before filing the manuscript for my next opus - The Great Global Bucket List - and I was a little worried about the hype. I mean, everyone has the Galapagos on their Bucket List right? Well, they should.
My chariot for the experience was Haugan Cruises' fantastic Ocean Spray catamaran, as fine a boat as one could ever hope to be a guest on. On a six night itinerary (slightly delayed because of flight mayhem courtesy Avianca), I fully realized the scale, abundance and accessibility of the archipelago. Stepping over marine iguanas, playing with giant sea turtles, snorkelling with tropical penguins and flightless cormorants and hiking on lava flows with dozens of endemic species of birds...it's like nothing else on the planet. Of course, being accompanied by wonderful people ensured a wonderful time, and so a tip of the hat to my travelling companions, and the Ocean Spray's terrific crew. Check out some of the pictures above and you'll see what all the fuss is about.
I just popped across the corridor and picked up a copy of today's Wall Street Journal. A couple weeks ago I was contacted by a writer putting together the ultimate globetrotter's bucket list. In between flights getting back from the Yukon Arctic, I emailed her some answers, and lo and behold, there's my name, upper case and bolded, leading the story. It includes an inspiring look at some personal bucket list experiences from authors, chefs, actors and media stars. An honour to be in their company, and great buzz for the Global Bucket List, which is shaping up to be a bucket list bible of sorts. For the record, here's my answers to writer Lauren Lipton's questions:
1. What not-yet-achieved travel goal do you hope to accomplish during your lifetime? This could be visiting a specific city or country, staying at a certain hotel, or seeing a particular attraction or site
I've ticked off my impossibly dreamy bucket list in over 100 countries, and it's a little like whack-a-mole: you tick one experience off the top and three more pop up at the bottom. This summer it's been the Amazon, Arctic and Galapagos. The moles that keep popping up: Indonesia, Vietnam and Morocco.
2. Why is this destination or experience personally important to you?
It seems a little ridiculous that I've explored Albania, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, but have missed these countries that blip so loudly on the global adventure radar.
3. What already accomplished travel goal would you recommend to others?
Antarctica. The expedition cruises are pricey and it is quite the adventure crossing the Drake Passage, but every human on Earth should have the opportunity to see how vast, remote and spectacular the seventh continent is. Protected by the international community, sailing alongside icebergs under the midnight sun puts a lot of things in perspective. I'd recommend One Ocean Expedition's chartered Russian research vessels for an authentic, fun and responsible experience.
4. Finally, ave you ever been disappointed by a travel experience that seemed like a good idea…but didn’t turn out that way?
I've found expectations to be the scourge of modern travel. The least you have, the better your experience will be. Traveling on a tight budget, I felt priced out by Croatia's Dalmatian Coast (which is how I ended in Albania, which was fantastic). I couldn't enjoy Cuba after a local showed me life outside the resort bubbles, dictated by a ridiculous and oppressive dual currency system. It seemed like a good idea to visit a massage therapist in Taipei who sets his patients on fire. I can still smell my burning skin. In future, I'll also think twice about accepting a cup of prized fermented horse milk from a Mongolian chieftain, or eating raw baby beluga whale in the Canadian Arctic.
My Favourite Global Condiments
This is me opening my fridge to reveal some of my favourite condiments from around the world. Open yours, and let me know what tickles your own taste buds.
The best condiments start with a homemade recipe, and the devoted and addicted sauce-makers who receive so much acclaim from friends and family they dare to dream, what if? Such is the case with Marie Sharp out of the small Central American country of Belize. Combining grapefruit or orange with local habanero peppers has created spicy greatness. One Belizan joked it could be the country’s biggest export. I brought back 14 (!) bottles of Marie Sharps back with me from Belize, which says all you need to know. Beautiful country, beautiful hot sauce.
Kecap Manis ABC Sauce
I know a tiny authentic Indonesian eatery that makes the crispiest veggie spring rolls, served with a thick, dark sauce for dipping. Since discovering it was ABC Sauce, widely available, a bottle has never been far away from my kitchen. This dark soy sauce has been sweetened with palm sugar, giving it the texture of molasses. I use it to sugar up just about any dish, always adding it to my secret BBQ marinade, and a dribble on the side for spring rolls or chicken wings.
It would be simple to describe Pickapeppa as a steak sauce, an HP or Worcester substitute. Condiment connoisseurs know the fruity flavours run much deeper in this brown sauce, brushed with the faint heat of scotch bonnet pepper that lingers on the tongue. Jamaica is famous for its jerk sauce – a sweet and spicy marinade that turns nondescript meat, chicken, veggies and fish into supermodels. Pickapeppa is not a jerk sauce, but the complexity of its ingredients perfectly captures that sweet and spicy world of the Caribbean.
Nandos / Mama Africas / Mrs Balls
Call me biased (I was born and raised in South Africa), or call me a knowing insider. These sauces are now available worldwide and for good reason. Nandos African birds eye peri-peri sauces come in dozens of delicious guises. Their cooking sauces, most notably the Sweet Apricot or Roasted Red Pepper, make casseroles all they can be. Slather the sauces on your order at Nandos restaurants while you're at it, which serves what is hands-down the world's greatest chicken. Mama Africas, which began in a small suburban house, is a thick chili relish of varying heat, and is to a cheese or meat sandwich what air is to our lungs. Finally, Mrs Balls hot or peach chutney is my must-have condiment, as a dip, sauce, or cheese accessory.
Yes, I know there are hundreds of hot sauces available from the US, many with names like “Brain Damage” or “Assblaster”. It’s about flavour, not about heat. I travel with Tabasco because it’s small, the bottle doesn’t break, and I’ve grown so accustomed to its distinctive taste I can literally drink it neat. Unbelievably, I grew up in a house with very little spice, but my mom always sprinkled Tabasco on her famous potato salads, a drop or two in her curries. Today I empty half a bottle in my bloody mary, almost like comfort food.
I was over at a Japanese friend’s house, and she steamed up some gyoza and dribbled a little bulldog over it. Another brown, fruity sauce, Bulldog is somewhat sweeter than Pickapeppa, thicker than HP, and used quite a lot in Japanese restaurants. Try as a dip for edamame, or another special ingredient in your homemade BBQ sauces or stews.
Sweet Chili for Chicken
It is sold in various brand incarnates, but usually described as sweet chili for chicken. Syrupy with subtle garlic undertones, poultry isn’t the only beneficiary of this Southeast Asian staple. Perfect on sandwiches, or for a sweet-spicy kick in a stirfry. Like most hot sauces, it also adds a compatible kick to mayo for a makeshift dipping sauce.
Sriracha Rooster Sauce
Rooster sauce, far more pronounceable than Huy Fong Sriracha, is a common condiment throughout North America. It’s originally from Southeast Asia but produced wherever it is sold. The “rooster” sauce you know is produced in the United States, and used commonly on buffalo wings, even on hot popcorn. With its bright red colouring, it’s not my go-to sauce, but it does have an acceptable heat and consistency for sandwiches, not to mention its best asset – the no-mess easy to squeeze bottle.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.