It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
5:20 AM – Woken by very, very loud horn
5:30 AM – Chant mantras in sanskrit
6:00 AM – Meditation
8:00 AM – Breakfast (Rice, nuts, tea)
11:00 AM – Traditional kriya/hatha yoga
12:30 PM – Lunch (Dal, curried vegetables, chapati, rice)
4:00 PM – Pranayam (breathing exercises)
6:30 PM – Chant mantras in sanskrit
7:00 PM – Meditation
8:00 PM – Dinner (Dal, curried vegetables, chapati, rice)
9:30 PM – Ashram gates locked
This was our schedule for the time we spent in the Kriya Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh, India. Sex, alcohol, and garlic were strictly prohibited anywhere in the ashram facility, and quiet conversation was only allowed with members of same sex in private rooms, outside of mediation and mealtimes. Silence was to be observed at all other times. If you’re looking for an authentic spiritual experience, this is the place for you. We thought that was what we wanted, but the demanding schedule and rules wore on us pretty quickly. We lasted three days.
I think it was the repetitive food (so much rice!) and prohibition of conversation during meals that did us in. To be fair, we were warned that the food offered was “very simple,” and we could have eaten elsewhere (at additional cost of course). I found the yoga and breathing (pranayam) exercises to be accessible and useful, and the mediation challenging but relaxing. A certain amount of proficiency was expected in meditation, which we didn’t have, so some instruction in that regard would have been nice, but it was at least an opportunity to reflect and relax. I think I learned a few things about myself through the meditation and mantras.
My initial reaction to the mantra chanting was to retreat. I saw these as religious rituals that I had no interest in. So, just like my Catholic school days, I sulked awkwardly in the back. Eventually I realized that my presence was distracting others so I played along. I still think it’s silly to chant sounds to whose meaning I’m completely ignorant, so I stayed in the back, muttering “Brangelina, Yamaha, Shaquille O’Neal, kazaam!”
After day three, we’d had enough of quiet time and really missed coffee, so we high-tailed it to a more easy-going facility. At Shiva Yoga Peeth we’re allowed to come and go as we please and attendance is never required. We can mainline espresso and garlic bread (ew, not at the same time), and there’s twice daily ass-kicking yoga and significantly less ass-kicking but very nice meditation time. Oh, and we can actually talk about our day during dinner! What a revelation!
Your mileage may vary. I can see how the quiet life in a traditional ashram could be extremely beneficial. It wasn’t right for us, but I’m glad we gave it a whirl.
I’m reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. I haven’t read any of his books other than the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but from the first page, I felt like I was spending time with an old friend. If you haven’t read anything by Pollan, do. He will teach you things that will change your life and make you laugh while doing so. In Cooked, Pollan learns how to cook. (Duh.) He divides the book into sections about cooking with fire, water, earth and air.
As he learns about cooking with each element, I feel like I’m learning a little alongside him. Learning about what exactly happens when you are salting or browning a piece of meat. Pollan is takes concepts that I kind of know, or often do, and explains them clearly. For example:
If you begin by sauteing a mince of diced onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (and perhaps some garlic, fennel, or parsley), you’ve made a soffritto, the signature of an Italian dish. However, a “sofrito”-when spelled with one “f” and one “t”- is a dice of onions, garlic, and tomato in place of celery, and identifies the dish as Spanish. (Cajun cooking begins with a dice of nions, garlic, and bell pepper- “the holy trinity.”) If a recipe calls for a base of diced spring onions, garlic, and ginger, you’ve left the West entirely and made what is sometimes called an “Asian mirepoix,” the foundation of many dishes in the Far east… Even if we’re unfamiliar with these terms or techniques, the aroma of these chopped up plant bases instantly tells us where in the world we are, culinarily speaking. (Pollan, 127)
So while walking home today I was thinking about how to use up the ingredients we have in the house and still eat something exciting. Onions, carrots, potatoes, noodles….. Not exciting. I wasn’t getting anywhere until I came back to that onion. I’ve been been reading about the onion for days. The onion is the base for most flavor profiles around the world. So instead of thinking about what the end product was going to look like, a pile of roast veggies, or a soup, I thought about what kind of flavor I could make with my onion. A woody stub of ginger and some garlic that were hiding in the bottom of the fruit bowl brought me to asian, which reminded me that we have Pak Choy in the garden of winter greens that Zach has been cultivating. Bam! Instead of settling on a random pile of ingredients that need to be eaten, I had an awesome stir fry. It just took thinking about it from a different angle, which is what Mr. Michael Pollan helped me do tonight.
A good book keeps me thinking even when I’m not reading it. It improves real life. And this good book made dinner better. That’s a winner!
Last week we returned to Steve and Lyndal’s, the farm where we butchered the pig, to help prepare for their housewarming party. Their whole property is centered around growing and preparing food, so it made sense that their party was an elaborate feast. Lyndal said that this party was a way to say thank you to all of the people who helped them develop their farm. I like that idea.
The food showed off what they were up to and allowed everyone to enjoy in the final product. And I got to spend the week in the kitchen working with gorgeous ingredients largely from the farm and learning all sorts of new techniques.
On Monday morning, we made a chart for the week that broke down all of the dishes into parts that could be made ahead of time so that the morning of the party was simply assembling the parts. Over the course of the week, we made enough food to put 50 people into food comas.
Their cooker is not your typical oven and stove setup. It is a wood stove and the temperature is controlled by airflow and the type of wood on the fire. It takes a long time to heat up, requires constant tending and baking often takes longer than in a conventional oven. But, it is way more fun to use!
Because the oven operates differently, following recipes is harder and often impossible. So you have to think, “Okay, why does the recipe say to do this? Is there another way to achieve the same result?” When we started cooking together, my first instinct was to google the answer. But Lyndal would say, “Oh don’t look it up, use your brain! It’s why you have one!” And that is when I started learning. The week felt like an apprenticeship. I was given a lot of freedom to do things like make fava bean hummus or follow the recipe for ham croquettes, but there were also lessons. I told her and showed her that I wanted to learn, so she told me and showed me things I didn’t know.
“You need to know how to make pastry. Want to watch me or do it yourself?” Lyndal asked. “You also need to be able to read recipes in French. Go see if you can figure out the pate a choux recipe and then we’ll go over it together,” she nodded toward the three inch thick cookbook, 2000 Recettes de la Cuisine Francaise while up to her wrists in butter and flour.
And so I did. Except that my translation went something like this: Heat butter, cold water, something something, eggs, something, mix flour until it sounds like “plouf pouf.” She filled in the gaps in my translation and showed me how to make eclairs, reminded me of the need to prep ahead of time, the difference in her knives, and made me appreciate good vinegar.
At the end of the day, when we talked about our highs and lows for the day, mine was always about new things I learned in the kitchen.
The party was a smashing success. People dropped in and out all afternoon and evening and there was enough food that everyone left happy and full. But for me, since it wasn’t my house and they weren’t my friends, the best part was all the work leading up to the party.
P.S…. Can you tell that I wish it were my party? One day, friends. One day…
Before packing our bags three months ago, Christina and I talked a lot about whether or not this was the right time for us to travel. We came to the conclusion that it was, without a doubt. Assuming you’ve been persuaded by the tales of our travels, I hope this post helps you choose the perfect time to hit the road for some long-term world travel.
Our situation was clear: we had jobs that we were ready to leave, we had some (but not a ton of) savings to make things easier, and we had a little bit of perspective on the world and ourselves. We’d both done smaller-scale trips before and spent more than five years in the workforce. I firmly believe that this last point: maturity or some sense of “knowing what you don’t know” is vital.
Here are the general options, and some pros and cons for each.
Pros: most disposable time, most time afterwards to benefit, least risk of lost income
Cons: least maturity, least money
This is a popular option, both in the US and abroad. We meet a lot of travelers taking some time between college and a career to “find themselves” or stretch their legs as adults. I think this is a great thing for young people to do, but it’s not for everyone.
I’m certain that the experience gained by living in a new culture and meeting different types of people is excellent training for all types of life. Potential employers will look favorably on the skills gained: organization, negotiation, problem solving, and critical thinking are just a few of the valuable traits that some time on the road can provide. However, not all of us are automatically able to learn these things. Some need a bit of priming in a career to have the perspective necessary to make the most of their time traveling (or time-traveling if you’re Marty McFly). I know I wasn’t ready to take such a leap at 18 or 20.
There’s also the wee problem of money at this stage. While recent graduates are rich in time, they’re usually broke in the traditional sense. This is hard to solve outright, but can be helped by traveling cheaply and utilizing work trade programs like WWOOF and Help Exchange. And honestly, it isn’t as expensive as you might think.
Pros: Some time, Some perspective, some disposable income
Cons: Potential career interruption
This is the option that we chose, so obviously I’m a proponent. I think it’s the perfect balance: you’re likely to have some money, you’ve primed for positive changes, and you aren’t taking a massive risk dipping out of the workforce at this stage.
Pros: Disposable income, lots of experience and maturity
Cons: Greatest cost of time, potential family obligations
If you’ve got a young family, this would be incredibly difficult. We do, however, hear of parents packing up their kids and hitting the road for a while. I can see such an experience reaping huge rewards for the kids involved, but it takes very unique people and circumstances to make it viable.
If you don’t have kids I can see this being successful, but not without some significant costs. Prime earning years are lost and the future benefit is diminished. These factors may not matter if you’ve got plenty of disposable income, but you could say that for all of these categories.
Pros: Plenty of free time, lots of experience and maturity, some disposable income
Cons: Physical things may be impossible
This is another popular option. Retirees that are suddenly blessed with time and eager to use every bit that they’ve got left routinely pack into motorhomes and putter around the countryside. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not one to wait for. It’s likely that age will prevent you from doing some of the adventurous things you might have done in your youth.
It’s also risky to bide your time for too long. Every day you wait gives other things a chance to get in the way and derail your plans. So pack a bag, bring a snack, and come out and join us, whenever works best for you.
It turns out we were both working on posts about how things have changed since we left New York. Written individually but presented together, we hope they offer some insight.
It was a difficult decision to drop everything and travel. I gave up a job I liked for an organization that I believe in. I said goodbye to an amazing group of friends that continuously brought new and exciting things to my life. I left behind the best city in the world. In the days and months approaching my departure, I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I was doing the right thing. Would I miss it? Would I regret making this move? After a month on the road, I’m confident that I made the right call.
But I wasn’t wrong about the things above. I miss my job. I still check in on my old projects religiously – and the paycheck was nice. I certainly miss my friends and family, whom I think of often. New York restaurants make my mouth water from the other side of the globe.
It was still the right decision. In a few weeks I’ve realized immense clarity about myself and my future, a clarity that has eluded me for my previous twenty-eight years. A supernova-sized weight has been lifted off my shoulders. If that weren’t enough, I’m learning how to do things that I’m excited to take back home and having a blast. Without this fresh perspective, filled with new people living different lives and new experiences outside of the cocoon I’d constructed, I never would have been able to examine my priorities this way. I didn’t even realize that I was unhappy in my old life. So I guess there’s one less thing to miss.
If, unlike me, you’ve got the self-awareness to acknowledge your own unhappiness, make a change. The answer might be hidden in one of those cracks that you haven’t examined in years. Sometimes shaking things up is the only way. Yes, you have responsibilities you should be aware of, but all too often we create a false sense of obligation. Give your two weeks notice, put your couch on Craigslist, take care of the things that are tying you down, but don’t let them dictate your life. You aren’t obligated to live a life that doesn’t completely fulfill you. A job is mostly just a way to pay your rent; a couch is just a collection of fabric and wood. Give up the things standing in your way.
This doesn’t necessarily even equate to an extended time traveling. Maybe it’s moving to a new city, or separating yourself from an unfulfilling situation, or opening yourself up to a new experience. Travel is just a convenient way to remove oneself from a previous life and force the kind of introspection required for real answers. Plus you get to meet new people, experience new cultures, and become inspired along the way. If you have the tiniest of inclinations to travel – do it. Find the means. There was a time in my life when I thought I might never discover what I wanted to be. Escaping from that over the last month has been one of the benchmarks of my life, and I want everyone to experience this euphoria. Please join me.
3:45 am Woke up to pee like an hour ago. Can’t go back to sleep. Writing always helps. The BIG IDEA here is that life is changing in a major way and I don’t think I can or want to go back. I like living simply. I like growing food. I like being on a farm.
This trip started out as a bit of an experiment. When we first set out, farming was something that I was interested in, but working on farms was largely a means of traveling. Not any more. The more I learn and do, the more this way of life makes sense and feels right.
For example, composting table scraps makes sense. We have yet to fill one garbage bag in the three weeks that we have been here at Uma Rapiti. We eat as much as possible from the garden, compost food waste, then put it back into the garden. All while reducing the grocery bill and eliminating the need for soil mixes from Home Depot. Having chickens that lay eggs make sense. All you do is feed them and they give you eggs. It is like getting a present every morning! Oh really, Stina? You’re impressed that chickens lay eggs? Did you miss that part in first grade? No, I didn’t. I have just never seen it happen. I have never had free eggs. FREE! (Note: Free Range, Organic eggs are $8 at the Union Square Farmer’s Market)
Maybe that is my favorite part of all of this, that we are helping to produce the best tasting, healthiest food and it is free if you just put in the time and work. I can totally do that. I can only imagine having a pig and eating that, too. So many delicious parts… loins… chops… ribs…. And that is what now guides our next step. I can only imagine having a pig. Okay, so let’s go see what having a pig is like. September is a vineyard, October is TBD and November is pigs, cows and chickens. Or chops, milk and eggs.
I learn something new every single day. Whether it is through talking to Chad and Lizzy, the farm managers here, who have worked with all sorts of animals on farms of all different scales, through the books we are reading, or by getting my hands dirty in a new project. How to keep slugs out of the garden, use a table saw, brine and marinate olives, use a sewing machine, how to fish. Doesn’t it make sense to know how to fish if you eat fish?
I’ve also figured out that my interest in farming stems from a good meal: good for you, good tasting, and sustainable so you can do it again and again. I love learning about food and spending time preparing something that makes others happy. There is some combination of plants, animals, cooking, eating and sharing with others will be how we make our way in the future. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I’m curious and excited to find out. We are going to spend this year exploring anything and everything that seems interesting. What do we like? What could we see ourselves doing? Our trip has become a workshop for our next phase of life.
A few years ago, reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma flipped my world-view on its head. It showed me that many of the problems we face as a society (health and energy, notably) can be solved by more responsible agriculture. As that book began my path toward eating more naturally, The One-Straw Revolution (1978) hammered it home. If you care about food, farming, or achieving a sustainable society, it’s truly revolutionary.
Fukuoka (1913-2008) was a proponent of “do-nothing” farming. That’s a bit of a misnomer, as his methods still involve lots of work, but he certainly did a lot less than the average farmer. Distilled, his philosophy is: let plants grow as they do in nature. He advocated four main principles:
- No cultivation. This means no tilling or disturbing the natural structure of the soil.
- No prepared compost or chemical fertilizer. This comes with a few qualifications, but essentially it’s: keep the level of fertilization in the soil balanced.
- No weeding by tilling or herbicides. “Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community.” Though he does admit that weeds should be controlled through other means – ground cover, mostly.
- No dependance on chemicals. Duh.
So some of his ideas are radical even for the crunchiest of alternative farms. After having seen the beautiful vegetables that thoughtfully prepared compost produces, I’m having trouble reconciling the idea of giving up that black gold. But his explanation makes sense: when you add or subtract anything from soil, you’re upsetting the natural balance. Weeds will grow better in compost too!
The book is mainly about food and farming, but delves into some interesting facets of his own brand of eastern philosophy. Some tasty nuggets:
I do not like the word “work.” Human beings are the only animals that have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is.
High five, Fukuoka-san! I can certainly get on board that train.
Of course, the “food mandala” above will vary based on where you are in the world, and I’m sure you’ve heard the “eat seasonally” refrain, but boy-howdy does it help to see it laid out like this. The meals practically jump off the page, don’t they? I’ll take some of this, with a little of that, and voilá! Here’s a balanced, seasonal, and healthy meal. I’ll pass on the pig fish though.
By realizing “no-mind” without becoming lost in the subtleties of form, accepting the color of the colorless as color, right diet begins.
Ok, that one is a little kooky, but I included it to give you an idea of what you’re in for. Most of the book is totally normal, practical advice and evidence about farming, but at the end he goes off the rails a bit, getting occasionally touchy-feely and frequently soup-spoon obtuse. I didn’t want you to read through the book and think I was about to join a commune in Nepal. Fear not, I still wear nylon.
So this is all very nice, but hardly revolutionary. Well, the best is yet to come. You’ve heard the old adage: “you can have it cheap, good, or fast: pick two.” The same applies to local, organic, and cheap, but you’re usually allowed only one. Imagine if you could have all three! It would absolutely be revolutionary, as Fukuoka insists.
But, how? He contends that because his principles are easier and cheaper than more intensive organic farming (remember, “do-nothing”), he can match or beat the prices of the good ole boys using nasty chemicals and petrol-guzzling combines. All of a sudden, we can have cheap, local and organic!
Nothing will change consumer’s habits faster than hitting them where they feel it most: the wallet. When the modern organic grower realizes this, they will truly have a toehold in the marketplace.
The One-Straw Revolution made me think long and hard about some principles I’d taken as fact and offered solutions to some major hurdles of modern organic agriculture. If you’re game for a similar adventure, pick up a copy today.
Some memories are more vivid than others. It’s as if time slows down and everything becomes clearer. Usually these are big things: first kisses, going skydiving, seeing your kid do some inane crap for the first time. And then there are smaller things. These are things that you’d never guess would become a lasting memory – just normal parts of another normal day, but for some reason they stuck. For me, one of those is when I picked up Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding.
It was Christmas 2010. I was at Christina’s parents’ home in Baltimore, sick as a dog. This was the second major holiday in a row I’d spent there, and I’d been ill for both of them. I’m pretty sure they thought I was faking it to avoid going to church.
I was curled up on the couch in blankets, trying to keep the bitter cold wind that shook the window panes from penetrating my shivering bones, unable to move. There were a stack of books within arm’s reach, one of which happened to be Vagabonding. I read it without moving off that couch. My mind wandered to far-off destinations and cutting the cord from a domestic lifestyle.
It’s a slim volume that can be read in an afternoon, but will inspire you for a lifetime. It’s, without a doubt, the most influential book I’ve read on overcoming the obstacles that I thought were preventing me from long-term world travel. It’s the reason I’m here today, writing from New Zealand, a month into a two-year trip. If you’re interested in doing something like this, pick up your copy today.