#1-When traveling in the Caribbean remember to factor in ‘Island Time’ into your itinerary. Island time means that what you want to get done takes a minimum of twice as long, more than likely three times as long to actually happen.
#2-When factoring in island time, don’t try to cut corners! Always take the sure bet.
#3-Make sure to travel on non-holidays (I actually didn’t know there was a St. Maarten Day). Nothing gets done.
#4-Always, I mean always, make sure all of your luggage is in the cab before you go peeling off to try and barely make it somewhere. Remember, people on some Caribbean islands don’t really care if you make it anywhere on time, and actually want to keep you in their back pocket as long as possible.
#5- If you end up trapped on a Caribbean island don’t forget to eat some wholesome street food! American stomachs can handle almost anything right?
With all of that said, I’m about to crash out in a pretty sketchy hotel in St. Maarten worried about bed bugs while listening to some pretty big bumps in the night. But with a Jolly Cake and chicken leg in my tummy I’m pretty satisfied. Yep, my problem is I always try to cut it too close, so when I thought I could catch the four o’clock ferry out of Oyster Bay, well I was pretty damn wrong about that. See, the guys controlling the cabs out of St. Maarten Int. don’t care if I actually get to St. Barth today. I mentioned Oyster Bay and they sent me on my way. I think another tip should be not to suggest anything EVER! Just let them lead you to more of a sure thing.
The cab driver was nice enough and sometimes flew past cars like he cared, but other times it was like he fell asleep at the wheel. Sometimes when someone else is driving slow I wanna just slam my foot on the gas. It turns out getting to Oyster Bay for the ferry didn’t even matter at all! It’s St. Maarten day. The ferry never came period! So the security guard at the hotel there called his brother to help (you know where this is going right?) and he came to pick me up. The security guard pushed me to the front seat while he threw in my bags. So we whisked down the winding patched up two lane road all the way to the port where a ferry was leaving. We rounded the last bend and I saw the ferry still docked. Yes! I thought there was no way we were gonna make it, but there we were parked right outside the ticket center while they were closing the storm shutters. I jumped out and said, “wait, wait can I still buy a ticket?” The thin French accented lady behind the counter asked for my passport so I came back to get it out of my bags on the sidewalk. But wait, something is missing..NO! The vinyl branding for the boat that I tediously carried in my paws all the way from Orlando was not there! I couldn’t leave without it so we had to go back to Oyster Bay. Luckily it was still there, but I missed my chance to get the bounty of St. Barth.
No problem, the security guards brother drove me out of there and called a ‘friend’ for a hotel for me to stay. So here I am. Tomorrow’s another day and the adventure is what makes life so grand. I will make it to St. Barth! The problem today was that I could see my favorite island looming in the distance singing a siren’s song.
July was my birthday and my girlfriend had a little something special planned for us, adventure in Chicago with two tickets to see a superfight. When we arrived I had a plan that I just hadn’t fully plotted out. Hey, it’s not an adventure if you know exactly what you’re gonna do. Luckily we knew The Windy City is known for much more than a little breeze..food and beer!
Although she disagrees, I believe I’m a simple man with simple pleasures, and what’s more simple than street food!? Curb venders usually aren’t investors in a building and a kitchen looking for some coin, but lifers who deliver their food culture to passers-by and more importantly, their local community.
The famous Chicago-Dog has become a street food hybrid, sold on the corner or in chain establishments that still try to capture the old Chicago feel with faded pictures of Model T’s and proud butchers standing next to their hanging Chicago-Dog linked chains. Although half the city’s society has emigrated over the past 60 years, the hot dog institution of the great depression has remained. It’s so beautifully simple. Poppy seed bun, all beef hot dog, mustard, green relish, onions, pickled sport peppers, tomato slices (although some feel a true Chicago Dog is done with wedges), a dill pickle spear and the key ingredient..celery salt.
When we first arrived in the city after taking the Blue Line from the outer city limits, we popped in to catch some ale and split an award winning burger at Poag Mahone’s. We didn’t want to hit the wrong Chicago-Dog joint and waste calories, so we had a plan to ask a local. Next to me at the shiny oaken bar of Poag’s was an aged local trader with a loosened tie washing his tears down a Budweiser since his son just received an ‘ass whuppin’ in the wrong part of town. “Damn South Side,” He said. My first Chicago enlightenment, I thought. When I asked about the best Chicago Dog he brought one grey bushy eye brow down, squinted his dark eyes, raised his red stickered brown bottle halfway to his lips, turned to me and declared, “ahh, they’re mostly the same, but P-P-P-Portillo’s is pretty fackin good.” Portillo’s it was.
Click to enlarge….
The dog was all it was built up to be. The jumbo dog casing exploded between my teeth and the juices ran, mixing with sweet relish and mustard. The onion set in at the end of the taste. The second bite was my favorite with a whole sport pepper and part of the pickle spear. It was gone so fast I almost ordered another, but I sat for a minute to let my brain catch up with my stomach, thought better of it and had another local India Pale Ale instead.
History of India Pale Ale, from bland British to full volume U.S. classic.
After our indigenous chain food experience we headed to Sears Center for a blockbuster fight between Russia’s Fedor ‘The Last Emperor’ Emelianenko and one of my favorite old school mixed martial arts stars, Dan “Hendo” Henderson. Fedor’s been ruling the heavyweight MMA world outside the UFC for the last ten years, but has fallen on some hard times lately with two straight losses. Hendo’s been on a stellar win streak, but is actually a light heavy or even middleweight so he was giving up about some lbs. to Fedor.
They met at the center of the arena and held nothing back, both winging fists from the rafters and knees from hell. The two heavy handed icons wore on each other for four minutes until Emelienenko landed a couple clean shots to Hendo’s jibber sending him reeling backwards onto the cage floor. The Last Emperor crashed on him with fists reigning down like the hammer on the flag he represents. The Russians a couple rows behind us came alive with an unintelligible eruption, flags flying and feet stomping. Aaagh, it was over!
But wait, in a flash, Henderson slipped from the grasp of the pudgy Russian and landed an uppercut while Fedor was still on all fours. Just like that, the big guy in tiny shorts splashed on his face like a dropped bowl of Cream of Wheat. A few more Hendo patented right fists and Herb Dean pushed in to save Fedor. Our USA chants throughout the fight weren’t for naught. Dan won, and in a way I felt like we won too. Hardcore Fedor fans believed the fight was stopped too soon, but he was a mess. The referee had to help the big guy stand after he got up and fell into the cage until his corner man came in. Here is our video of the fight, with me jumping up and down like a crazy man at the end.
The next day, energized and with my Hendo shirt on, we went back into Chicago to get down on some more street food. We heard about the Maxwell Street Market (only open on Sundays) and shot back over on the L. It was as billed with vendors peddling perfumes, power tools and basically anything you’d find down at the pawn shop. We came for something completely different, authentic city Spanish morsels, a place where they live food, a subculture of the Windy City.
I couldn’t wait to stuff my face with a churro, a long deep fried fruit filled pastry coated with sugar. A word to the wise, go to a churro truck where they inject the filling after you order it. I had one that was fresh and it’s definitely the way to go.
After my little snack, we hit Rubi’s to enjoy a quesadilla. This curbside establishment was made of only tables, a small wood grill, pots filled with cooking veggies, a corn tortilla flattener, and a family that lives and works together. My order went back and forth, me wanting more food, and them putting one item on at a time. After a few rounds, I ended up with a quesadilla filled with steak, cheese, veggies and cactus. We sat down on wobbly sun bleached plastic chairs and indulged after adding some homemade hot sauce. It was amazing. We could tell that they’ve spent a lifetime perfecting this little bundle of joy. The fatty beefy mystery meat gave a deep taste. The sauce dominated a little, and the cactus was surprisingly soft and tangy. As we dined on this treat we knew we were experiencing something good, different and together.
Saving the best for last, we popped over to Logan Square to catch the Chicago Art Festival. Art’s cool and all, but the real reason I wanted to check it out was to try a special street meat called Cevapcici (chey-vop-chi-chi). I really enjoy food from the Queen’s armpit of the Med. You know, Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Albanian, and where this meat was first made, Bosnia. Foods from this area taste more earthy, probably because they use a lot of lamb (and mystery ingredients). This minced meat kebab is beef, lamb, pork, onion and garlic cooked over an open coal grill. Placed on flat bread with a little fresh onion and a sauce called ajvar (Serbian vegetable caviar), it is an amazing dance of flavors, with spice and very slight game from the lamb, the lightness added by the onion, and the back of your mouth tickling of the ajvar sauce. I think I had three.
If you go to Chicago and are looking for a street food named desire, find Cevapcici. You need to check their Facebook Page to find them since they move around to different events. It was a perfect topper to send us back to FL on a full stomach, sleeping on the plane most of the way back. Thanks Chicago!
After beating ourselves up for a couple days at the Canadian F18 Championships, Robbie, Mischa, Dalton, Jill and I went over to Niagara falls to get in touch with Chi, but that didn’t last for long. The Cave of the Mist’s rickety red stairs rise right up to the US side falls where we couldn’t resist getting up close and personal to the avalanche of water. We were a bit soggy on the drive to the Toronto airport to drop Mischa off on his way to ADam. Good Times. It’s better to watch this in 480p.
Last year, we were lucky enough to do a long distance race in Morocco (Raid Maroc).
We had some interesting eating arrangements while we were there. On one particular night in Rabat, our liason came to pick up our group for dinner. After a short drive we came to a small city surrounded by high white walls. Inside, there were various shops selling everything one could imagine. During the day, the shops look something like this:
We pulled up over the curb in an area that felt dark and eery. You know, the kind of place where a hungry vagrant can leap out for a free swipe at anything valuable. Since we were invited by the King, we had government officials with us always, so we felt pretty safe. Besides, these officials could do anything they want, looking at the way our vehicles were strewn over the sidewalk and street.
Every night there was something special for us to do, and this night was no different. None of the racers actually had any idea exactly where we were going. The excitement was palpable.
We crossed the street into the darkness of the warm cloudless night. We disappeared between two nondiscript white walled buildings and began our descent into the unknown. Flashing cameras lit our way, all of us trying to get that eclectic picture one sees in National Geographic. The officials led the way through the uneven, crooked pathways. The men had a swagger to them, the kind that high ranking officers have in any part of the world, an aire of power and aloofness. They were clean cut gentlemen. They generally wore slacks or “clamdiggers,” with a white linin shirt straight out of Casablanca. They usually wore loafers, but at times they had on leather sandals over their tanned skin. They all had parted black hair and most wore thick mustaches that ended where their lips joined. And people listened to these guys. When we went down the sidewalk, the crowds split like we were an arrow through an apple. When these men wanted something to happen, they just said one word and we were inside restricted places.
The ladies who escorted us were quite cheerful, educated, elegant and pleasant. They dressed in a professioinal manner usually with ladies slacks, a bright blouse and casual slippers. They wore little makeup, I think, as they skin tone was even enough it wasn’t necessary. Their hair was pulled back, and they spoke perfect English. I will always remember them for their fine treatment of us.
As we followed down the path, each building we passed looked like the next, with wandering cracks running up the walls. The buildings were three to four stories tall. Some had clothes lines full of brightly colored clothes strung between them. A few window ledges had small flowers, but that was the only discerning mark from one to the other. Plumes of smoke rose out of a few shafts at the building tops. Satellite dishes were everywhere on the roofs, bringing out the mixture of old and new.
On we went, a short left here, long right here, moving closer to the center of the village. The English and French voices of our group echoed between the buildings. The smell in the air was spicy, almost a curry smell, but I couldn’t exactly make it out.
At our last right turn, one of the officials opened a solid heavy door. An inviting amber glow shown out when he opened it. He gestured us in. I was the last one to enter, so as I went by, he put a hand on my shoulder. It felt like he was pushing me in somewhat of a controlling manner. I knew that it was in his culture to do such things and it’s more a sign of affection than being pushy.
As we entered, there were such intricate mosiac patterns on the walls. I couldn’t keep my eyes focused in any one place, as the patterns played tricks on me. The high arched doorways led us into an ornamental eating area, with white tablecloths over round tables and helpers at every corner in the room. It was a three-story building with a second story veranda that provided a perfect viewing point down at the eating area. We were amazed at what we saw. The outside of the building looked like any other, but inside it was a palace.
Now, on to the meat of the story. After we were done gazing at the walls and “oohing and ahhing,” we took our seats. The first round of food were small pastries, some cream filled, and others were white cake. My stomach was still churning from something I ate a couple days before that had me in the bathroom ever since. The joke that was circulating around the group was..”The American’s sick ALREADY?!” They probably had bets on when I would get sick. Maybe some money with the King on it exchanged hands. I wouldn’t blame them for it. I would do the same thing. Anyway, I figured pastries are somewhat of a safe food, so I picked a few off of the silver plates when they came around.
The next course was a “meat pie.”
As you can see, we really didn’t know what to think of it at first. On the far right is Mr. Piet, who would love to get stuck on a deserted island with that pie! I wasn’t really in the mood to eat, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. The spicy taste was excellent. I’m not sure what exactly was inside, but it also had some peas and carrots mixed in, which gave a nice familiarity that I needed. The pastry part on the outside was perfectly cooked as well. We were impressed.
The next round was a little different……….
Yum, sheep! Look, I know I’m no Anthony Bourdain, so I wasn’t too excited to dive into this one. We all looked at each other and some of us shrugged and started picking at the well cooked display. After a few minutes of jeering, I picked up my fork and pulled a piece from the shoulder. It was actually pretty good. It did taste like lamb, and I’m not a big fan of it. To me, it has a gamey taste, which reminds me of the times I fell off of my horse in Missouri and ate dirt. Not that this dish tasted more like dirt than other times I ate the same animal. It didn’t. I picked off a little more and smiled while eating it, wondering how much longer I’d have to sit on the toilet or hang over the sink afterwards. I didn’t though.
I felt like I was eating in a place far from home, a guest experiencing the best another culture has to offer. I thought, “How many people get to eat at this place?” Of course, I’d never know the answer. It didn’t really matter. What did matter was they made us feel very special during that meal and the whole event. For that, I’m totally grateful.
During the “Pub Journey” this week, we met some real Irish fellas. No, not the kind that pick fights and throw burning cocktails, the kind that make up the backbone of this small island state. The ones that slept through the parade today and didn’t even turn on the TV to see another St. Patrick’s day parade slink down O’Connell St. They didn’t wear green and they may even be drinking Budweiser right now. We were befriended by a special Irishman, Paul, who gave a bit of a tour today. Times like today make me realize that people around the world are not much different and enjoy the company of new faces, and the chatter about politics, religion, origins, and cultures across time and oceans. After all, we are together on this rock, and if we give a little bit of time to travelers who cross our path this world feels just a little bit warmer.
U2 likely has helped fill in the rifts between cultures, and at the same time helped us realize our differences and the fact that we are not the only ones with strife and love in the world. Today we visited Bono’s house.
Well, didn’t exactly get inside, but here is the gate. Poetry filled the flat copper surface as if it meant more than a divider between a man’s family and the rest of the world.
His home is perched on the edge of a cliff facing east, looking towards Her Majesty’s land which once held her fist over all Ireland, and still owns the northern counties, which made me think of their song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”
Next, we made our way back into the heart of Dublin to visit their studios. U2 recorded in two studios in Dublin. The first one we visited was where they made their second album. It rests by the docks facing the Dublin port. There was quite a bit of Graffiti in the area.
Next, we went to the studio where they recorded their first album. The graffiti strewn over the walls is pretty intense. Here is a little view.
Whether you like U2 or not, they have had an effect on fans over the world basically unrivaled. Thanks again to Paul for giving us a journey through Dublin unlike any regular tourists have the opportunity to experience. He is an ambassador to Ireland, and hopefully I will be able to do the same for someone soon.