Friday, 24 August 2012

Stories from a Suitcase

My sister once showed up at my house in New Mexico, having driven 500 miles from Colorado, with four suitcases and a box of shoes, for a weekend visit. I couldn't help but laugh. She brought, among other things, an entire country-western outfit complete with cowboy hat and boots, just in case we might go two-stepping, and half a dozen elegant outfits with matching shoes for dining out.

Talking with my friend Sheila this morning, I am reminded of how much I've had to learn, unlearn and relearn about traveling. Sheila asked me for a list of what I thought she should bring, since she and her friend Ann are joining me for a week in Italy in November. She wants to travel, but hasn't done a lot of it yet. So this list is for her, as well as anyone else interested in what to pack for long or short term travel.

1. For this upcoming trip I purchased a bigger wheeled suitcase, a good sized one made by Heys, and gave my smaller one away. It sold for a deep discount at TJ Max because it had a scratch!! (Like it won't get ten new ones on the first trip!)  It's essentially a plastic clamshell with four wheels at the bottom, a pull-out handle and two other handles on the sides. It's also brightly decorated with a scene from Italy. Now there is NO chance I will mix up my suitcase with any other at the baggage claim.

2. Basics for health and survival: a first aid kit with extra things like Tums for indigestion and Kaopectate for diarrhea. A sticky ace bandage that does not need 'clips' for the occasional sprained ankle or torqued thumb. For the older traveler....knee braces for hiking. If the suitcase is long enough, maybe a foldable or telescoping walking stick would be good to take along. My walking stick also has an attachment at the top to mount a camera, so it doubles as a monopod. Bring all the vitamins and drugs you normally take. If you are packing prescription meds, make sure they are in the original bottles with the labels. Sunscreen (a travel sized one is fine), and a good hat that can be tied so it won't blow off, like a Tilly hat.  Basically, go through your own supplies at home to see what you normally keep around for emergencies, then pack a few of those things. Creams and gels can go into the small screw top containers made for traveling, there's a travel size tube of aloe vera for sunburns. Think about bringing a small container of Metamucil or psyllium fiber, fiber tablets, or small package of fiber cookies. (Travel on buses, trains, and planes has a tendency to constipate a person!) A couple of items you may want to have in your carry-on: something warm to wrap around yourself, a pair of socks for chilled feet, and a neck pillow. Lots of pillow styles are available, try them out carefully, you'll be glad you did. (The absorbent towel mentioned later in this list is great as a cover or a pillow.) I was once advised to have a toothbrush, comb, and clean underwear in my carry-on, as you never know when you might be stranded for the night without your big luggage. That actually happened to me in Dallas, but had I heeded that advice? Nope.....I was stranded with only my fingers for a comb.

3. If you like day trips and hiking around, you'll want to pack a pack, preferably a thin camel-back that holds a couple liters of water, with a few pockets for lunch and essentials. In the pack you can stash a light plastic poncho, sunscreen, a bandana, your hat, maps, etc. But when you're out with the pack, remember not to put any real valuables in it, as people can easily distract you, unzip a pocket and take whatever is inside. Pickpocketing happens to just about every traveler eventually.

4. Electronics and cameras. Make a list of what you must have on the road and bring all the battery chargers, data transfer cords, disks, docking stations, etc. If visiting outside the Americas, purchase an electrical plug adapter before you go, as most adapters sold in other countries are for those people needing adapters for the US, not the other way round. I find a medium sized zippered bag is great for all those loose adapters, batteries, and cords. You'll want to put any valuable electronics and cameras in your carry-on bag for security. Small cheap phones with limited minutes can be purchased in most countries if you need one, the iPhone can be reconfigured by changing out the sim card if you have the right model.

5. Papers and books: Bring only what you really need. Books weigh a LOT and bog you down. Most travel guides can be purchased at the destination and left behind or resold to second hand book stores. If you pick up a second hand guide, cut out the pages you need and toss the rest. It'll lighten your load. If you have an iPad or iPhone, download some guides from the App Store, and use those maps.

6. Washing;  I take enough underwear for 7 days, figuring I can do laundry on the road, even if I wash only the underwear by hand. Most clothes can be worn many days without ill effect on you or others. A super-absorbent towel is handy for use after a shower, mopping up, or to squeegie out the underwear before hanging up to dry. A light cord about six feet (2 meters) long and some small clips are good for all kinds of purposes, including a make-shift clothesline. Travel sized liquid detergent is good to have, as are some smaller absorbent towels for the kitchen. (By the way, shampoo is also excellent laundry soap!)

7. Clothes: I highly recommend taking very few clothes. 2-3 pairs of pants, one light weight, one heavier weight (unless you're going to Antarctica or someplace!) The light pants could be the zip-off legs type that also give you a pair of shorts in case you need them. One dress up thing:  (for men) a dress shirt with a tie, (for women) a nice dress with a shirt jacket over (that you can use anytime), and a pair of decent looking shoes that double as good for walking long distances too. A couple of short and long sleeve shirts, a good velour pullover or jacket, and an over-jacket that is water resistant (like Gortex). Unless you're in a rain forest you probably won't need a folding umbrella. You will need something comfortable to sleep in that would NOT be an embarrassment if you end up sleeping in other people's homes or a hostel. The thing about clothes is they are available everywhere, unless you're really hard to fit. Many times, for an extended stay, I buy a few extra clothes and then leave clothes behind. It's good for you, and for their economy too. The nice thing about traveling is that hardly anyone will see you in the same clothes more than once! Ditto for jewelry, which is small and easily taken back home as nice souvenirs!

8. Shoes. In addition to the comfortable but dressy shoes, you may want hiking boots and sandals. Find a pair of shoes you can live in, because you'll probably be walking a lot. And you'll want shoes that won't slip on wet cobblestone streets and turn an ankle. I have some Teva all-terrain sandals that I wear year round unless it's really cold. I can walk for miles in them. But I take hiking boots too. Under long pants they look a lot like normal walking shoes, but have much better ankle support.

9.  CookingOnTheRoad is a previous post with all kinds of suggestions for what to take and do if you are on an extended stay and will be cooking for yourself.

10. Personal grooming: Again, go through your own bathroom, and decide what you must have to get ready on a daily basis. Check out the travel sections at stores like REI, WalMart, and Target. You'll find squashable hair brushes, mirrors, sewing kits, cosmetic travel kits, small deodorants, tiny toothpaste tubes, etc. If you can live with a minimum amount of makeup, fingernail polish, hair gunk, blow dryers or curlers, try to take as little of this stuff as possible. Most hotels have blowdryers. For a longer trip, you can buy what you need along the way. Better yet, find a nice hairstyle that doesn't require more than a comb through (or comb over!) and go with that!

11. And most importantly!! Money, passport, tickets, and visas for whatever countries you'll be visiting. And a travel pouch to wear under your clothes for keeping the your money and passport safe. Ladies - carry a purse if you need one, but make sure it zips, has a long strap you can wear across the chest, and is leather or some tough material that is not easily cut. Men - carry money in the front pocket, you're more likely to notice a strange hand in your pocket if it's in the front! Think about how you'll get money on the road. Make sure you know the passcodes for your credit cards and debit cards. I have two debit cards, one for travel (not too much $ in that account!), and one from my regular account. I keep the regular one, the credit card, and my passport together at all times, and only use the travel card for getting money at ATMs. That way, if the travel card gets stolen (or I am abducted and forced to withdraw all the money in my account) the thieves won't get much, and I'll have a backup!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The next big trip

In about a week, I will be going to Albuquerque to see my mother, and spend the night with friends who live near the airport. The next day, I'll go to Madrid.

The Mother-Country. The country from which the Americas sprang. Not to say the Americas wouldn't have been eventually discovered, but it was the foresight and confidence in Columbus on the part of Queen Isabella that led Spain to become a world power and to leave Spanish around the world as its legacy.

I speak Mexican Spanish, and not well. I'll probably never be a fluent Spanish speaker unless I stay somewhere for a very long time, and have NO expat friends. Unlikely on both accounts.

But I am looking forward to learning in the old country. I'll have to tune my ear to thhhh sounds instead of sss's. And many new words that already (from maps and reading) sound more Italian than Spanish. My lodging for the entire month of September is sewed up and paid for, thanks to the Internet and credit cards.

Hat on volcanic tuff,
the dominant rock in Capadoccia
AirBnB is a godsend. In so many ways. I'm too old to sleep in cheap hostel dorms with a bunch of loudly dreaming post-teenagers and snoring dogs. And I'm too cheap and too poor to stay in nice hotels for three and a half months. So AirBnB to the rescue! All over the world, people have a spare room, or maybe a spare master suite, or even an teepee in the backyard, and they are willing to rent it by the night to weary travelers. I am simply amazed at how many options there are in largish cities, hundreds of possibilities ranging from $10 a night to $700 for an entire eight bedroom home. I have focused on single women with a spare room, preferably with its own bath, and so far have not paid more than $35 a night, way cheaper than a hotel room in say, Barcelona, where the cheapest ratty hotel gets $65.

Trusted Housesitters is another website I've put to good use. The annual fee has almost doubled, I think I paid around $35 last year, now it's over $60. For good reason. There are way more sitters than homes, and Trusted Housesitters charges on both sides of the fence. Either way, the owners get pet care and home care for nothing, and I get places to stay for sometimes a month at a time, for nothing as well.

Part of this trip will be spent in Turkey, four nights at an AirBnB home in Istanbul, and a month in Capadoccia, in the super touristy center of the country, housesitting a cave home. I'm looking forward to this trip so much. The time is speeding up to departure date, so stay tuned. It won't be long, I'll post photos of Europeans doing such European things as drinking espresso in sidewalk cafes, and pinching women on the butt. And maybe some not-so-stereotyped things too!!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Greenbacks and Green Mole

The fundraiser for Casa de las Flores went very well. I've thanked everyone in my Unitarian Community and great friends who helped, as well as many who donated food and money! We raised almost $700.00. Enough for the school to get the bathrooms back online and to buy some food for the kids in case they run out of money for that.

Felicia Orth made red mole using the Pink Adobe (restaurant in Santa Fe) recipe and I made a green mole with chicken that Malena Martinez, my friend in San Cristobal, taught me how to make.

Here is the recipe. Note, I could not find the epazote (dried) that I'd purchased in Albuquerque, and there was no fresh to be found, so I left it out. 2 leaves of cabbage can be substituted for the endive lettuce. That's what I did and it was just as good as when Malena made it. I love this sauce. I used to eat just the sauce on eggs, and also on rice sometimes, if any was left over when the chicken was done.

So, if you're up to a challenge, have fun with it.

Malena Martinez’ Green Chicken Mole

1 kilo of chicken pieces, skin on
1 kilo of tomatillos, size doesn’t matter, peel off the light skin
Epazote, 4 stems (Mexican herb)
½ normal bunch of cilantro (fresh coriander), washed
2 leaves of endive lettuce
1 t. cumin (powdered)
Garlic, 4 cloves
Onion, ½  white, chopped
Pepitas, raw, about ½ cup
Salt, less than 1 T.
2 large rectangles of KNORR chicken boullion or Caldo
1 med. chile verde or a small jalapeno

Boil the tomatillos whole with the chile verde.
Separately boil the chicken pieces (with extra onion and garlic)
After 15-20 minutes…..

Put the chopped onion in a blender with garlic, lettuce, herbs, cilantro, cumin, and some of the chicken broth

Pour the blended stuff into a deep skillet with a little oil, heat to simmer

Blend the cooked tomatillos and pepitas with broth and process in the blender. Add to the herb mix in the skillet. Add the Knorr boullion and then cook about 15 minutes until it thickens. Taste and add salt if needed (probably won’t be!) 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Fundraising for kids

Being back in my own home after 6 months in Mexico has been like a vacation from traveling retirement, my new lifestyle. I kinda like it. So true of vacations, you think you could live in that vacation destination forever, but after a while, it gets to be like real meet people, problems arise, health issues come up, you need a haircut, you start setting goals....

One of the goals I wanted to accomplish before taking off to Europe and continuing on with living at large in the world, was to earn some money for Casa de las Flores, so they could get another bathroom working.  Read about the school here:  CasaFlores

So tonight, in Los Alamos, with the help of longtime friends, we will put on a Mexican dinner (no not tacos) of moles, a red and a green. I learned to make green mole from Malena and will post the recipe here. The kicker is you need fresh epazote and that is very difficult to find, even in parts of Mexico. Many stores in New Mexico cater to Mexicans, but those people are mostly from Chihuahua and Sonora, not deep in the heartland...Oaxaca or Chiapas. So consequently, epazote is not readily available. I did buy some dried and that will just have to do.

We hope to raise about $600 and early donations have netted $120. Thirty people are signed up for the dinner and I expect about ten others to show up at the last minute, they always do. It will be a lot of fun, we're showing the movie Which Way Home, the story of children, from 9-17 who travel alone or in pairs across Mexico to reach the US. It's so dangerous, yet they do it and some do it more than once. One boy in the documentary reached the US only to be detained by immigration and ultimately sent back to Guatemala. He did it again before being detained in Washington state. Amazing. He was 13.

The kids in San Cristobal are equally street savy and grow up tough and wary. Most never learn to read unless they can occasionally go to a school like Casa de las Flores. Too many of them only see a future outside of Mexico. And getting out can be deadly.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

North of the Border, Top of the Mountain

Horace Greeley once famously said, "Go west, young man" with the idea that prosperity and a better life would be found there. With that in mind, I followed the compass north to the 2012 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this past July. Microsoft led more than 16,000 partners from over 150 countries to the banks of Lake Ontario to share their vision for the upcoming fiscal year that could well change the competitive landscape much as they did back in 1995. The weeks-earlier announcement of the availability of Windows 8 preview release accelerated speculation about the direction of Microsoft's vision, and the buzz was palpable in the tech community and media.

DAY 1 - Welcome to Canada!

After arriving the day before, and successfully negotiating the serpentine queues of Pearson Airport's customs line, I was rested and ready for CEO Steve Ballmer's annual keynote. Treated to a blazing performance by Cirque D'Soleil and an introduction by Partner Network VP Jon Roskill, Ballmer ascended to the circular platform with Forbes staff writer Rich Karlgaard in tow. In a departure from previous years where the charismatic CEO addressed the partners solo, this incarnation of opening day keynote featured a more laid back Ballmer answering questions in an informal interview setting. Even with the more subtle approach, the message was clear. Microsoft is in it to win it and expects the next year to be a banner year for product launches, competitive advantages, and all-around industry buzz. Coming into WPC 2012, I was fully aware of the Windows 8 preview release availability, but was surprised by the announcement that was Windows 8 was within weeks of being released to manufacture and with an expected sell date in late October.