The Pushkar Camel Fair is a circus and camel trading show that overtakes the small town every year. When I say circus, I don’t mean an everyone sit down in the big tent for a show sort of thing, I mean a festive, chaotic, mob scene in the desert. 50,000 camels, their neon turban clad traders and their gypsy families set up a tent camp outside of town. In the week before the fair, camels are bought and sold while locals set up the stadium and ancient carnival rides. We arrived a few days before the fair started, while the barefoot locals were swinging sledge hammers, erecting a stadium in the sand. Pre-fair Pushkar was filled with anticipation for the biggest week of the year and the heavy flow of tourist dollars.
The main drag in Pushkar is one narrow street, about the width of a car (sometimes at the expense of side mirrors) from one building to the opposite building. A few tinier side streets are home to the locals. There is no space for cars in town as the main bazaar is crammed with international tourists fondling camel statues, Israelis tearing through on Enfields and Hindu pilgrims visiting the holy lake and temples at the center of town. Fruit vendors, stray dogs, chai stands, and pashmina shopkeepers all add their voices to the chaos of the one street that runs through Pushkar.
While on the bazaar, there were so many people that hawkers would shout at you, but quickly move on to the next tourist. At the fair though, they followed you around. “Only twenty rupees, m’am. Twenty rupees for a bangle. Handmade, special.” (Clearly, it was not.) “Photo? Photo? Very nice my photo. Money? Camel ride? You like happy price for camel ride? Give me money? Chai? Chai? Chai?” It was endless. I must have said “No” more in an hour at the Camel Fair than in a month at home.
In the morning, while the sun was still waking up, we visited the fairgrounds and were back for lunch before the mobs of people and camel poo dust got too intense. We wandered through the scrubs to the open space where the camels were held and stood in the sea of beasts, just listening to their dinosaur like noises. This must be what Jurassic Park is like.
In the afternoons, we retreated to the garden at our guest house to edit photos and chat with family. We met some American travelers and enjoyed their familiar accents at tourist-friendly cafes that offered falafel, pomegranate juice and real coffee (!!). We stayed in Pushkar for a week and enjoyed a bit of routine simply by staying in one city.
Cromwell is 56k south of Wanaka. In The States, we would give it some kitchy name like The Fruit Bowl or the Wine Belt or something like that. It doesn’t look like much, the hills are pretty brown and the town is basically a big industrial park, but they grow massive amounts of fruit. So last week I took a trip to Cromwell to stock up on fruit and check out some of the vineyards.
My plan was to drive, but when I stopped by the house with the cats (where I often stop for a snuggle), the Cat Dad/our neighbor asked if I was driving or hitching. I decided to make an adventure of the day and hitch a ride. After ten minutes with my thumb out and a makeshift sign in my notebook, I hopped in with a grandpa who had just come from the medical center and had two bandaged knees from a fall that morning. We spent the next 45 minutes chatting about aleuvial soil and bizarre rock formations before parting ways at Aurum vineyard where I sampled Pinot Noir and their delicious White port made from Pinot Gris.
I bopped from Aurum Vineyard on the edge of town to Quartz Reef’s tasting room, located amongst the lumber yards and heavy machinery rental outfitters. I walked into a room full of vats and barrels and quietly slipped into the back of a group tour until a man tells me, “Oops, no, um. This is a private tour. They all work together and this is kind of a good bye party for some of their staff.” Being discreet has never come naturally me.
He kindly led me through a tasting on my own, but after my 5th or so question about how they make their sparkling wine, he brought me back to the private tour so I could get the full explanation of how they get the cork in. I mean really, the whole popping of the cork seems kind of like a one way trajectory, doesn’t it?
I stopped at a fruit stand before heading home since that was my “reason” for coming to Cromwell. With a bottle of Pinot Noir and a backpack full of peaches, pears, and apples all labeled “seconds,” I found a ride back to Wanaka.
Once home, I got down to business with my new favorite toy: the food dehydrator. Our friend lent it to us and I wouldn’t recommend this model or brand as it makes an annoying noise (like a hairdryer) and takes forever (6-10hours), but it does result in an exciting final product. Drying peaches took 8 hours, but now we have dried peaches for the winter. I’ve read that the fully dried fruit can be stored in jars, but I left some moisture in mine (think more like dried apples, less like banana chips) so I am concerned they they may mold in jars. One of the chefs at work has a vac pac that he uses for the sous vide machine, so I’m eager to give it a whirl on my fruit. Plastic bags are not the most eco-friendly storage solution, but new toys + possible solution to the problem = let’s give it a whirl!
Ultimately, I’d like to be using a solar dehydrator and find a way of storing the fruit that doesn’t involve plastic bags. But like any project, the second time around is where you improve.
A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation by The Localizing Food Tour, a group that puts on presentations and hands on workshops for communities to help them create a sustainable, local food supply. It was a super charged, energetic talk on food politics and issues like the upcoming food bill that is to be passed here in NZ, the possibility of a new trade agreement with the States and China, genetically engineered crops, and how these things affect us common folk. Their mission seems to be two fold: to educate people about food politics and to facilitate action in the community.
One would hope that the discussion around food would be about feeding and nurturing people, just as one would assume that decisions about education would be focused on educating students. Ultimately, food politics, like education politics, isn’t about how to support and strengthen people. It is about control and money. Shocker.
Jon Foote, the presenter, spoke about genetical engineered foods and how people’s eating habits have changed from whole, real foods, to packaged, processed foods and the corresponding rise in diseases and learning disabilities. I learned about irradiated fruits and vegetables, a process that keeps perishable foods from rotting and bruising, but kills the nutrients and puts radiation in your food. Irradiated foods do not have to be labeled.
Doesn’t that piss you off? That you make a point of eating healthy food, but you aren’t getting what you pay for? That you are trying to put something good in your body, but really you are consuming radiation, which we all know, treats cancer by killing cells. Killing nutrients. This is a legal practice. Why is this legal? Certainly not to provide healthy food to citizens, but simply to make money.
The solution is to learn about what you are eating, about what is in season and what grows well in your region. Support the community and good, honest people who specialize in growing good food. The presentation ended on a high note, imploring people to think about how you spend your dollar and what you do with your time. They also stressed that communities are stronger than individuals, so support one another and help your neighbors. I like that.
The Localizing Food Tour led a two day workshop developing an action plan to provide a sustainable, healthy food source for the people of Wanaka, just as they had done in Southland, Dunedin, Oamaru, and will do in almost every town in New Zealand over the next year. They emphasized community gardens, edible plants in public spaces, land sharing between farmers who may not use all of their land and those who want to grow food, but have no land. They brought attention to what Wanaka is already doing, to people who are saving seeds that grow well in this region, to the group who is developing a food forest outside of town, and to various community events.
Throughout the presentation, people referred to “what’s happening in America.” They talked about how large corporations, like Monsanto and the corn industry, influence government decisions regarding food and the health of the nation. They spoke about us like a bunch of uneducated fat kids, following a manipulative government that picks on all of the little guys. And for the most part, they were right, but it was uncomfortable to hear people who I respect talking about my country with so little respect.
Zach and I want to change that. We want to be a part of a community like Wanaka, but need to be that positive force in an American community. We’re not done traveling. We may never be done traveling, but that is what we plan to do when we get back.
Lizzy and I were in the midst of weeding the mandala, a spiral shaped garden hosting a combination of flowers, herbs and veggies, when Chad walked up and mentioned, “It’s 10:30, so if you want to get oysters, you should do it while it is low tide.” I was up and dusting off my hands before he even finished his sentence. I knew what time it was. We had been talking about going oyster hunting for a week and had checked the tide schedule the night before.
We grabbed buckets, chisels, mallets and Betty the dog, and headed across the road, down the muddy path, and out on to the rocky beach that is Cable Bay. Though we’ve been at Uma Rapiti for ten days, I had yet to venture down to the beach. I didn’t realize a) how close it was or b) that it was more oyster mecca than beach. Within three steps of the path and out onto the black rocks, I was crunching oysters under my feet. It was impossible not to step on them as they covered everything. I reached down, grabbed one and twisted it off the tip of the rock and tossed it in my bucket. Beginners luck though; none of the other oysters were that easy to get off.
Lizzy showed us how to chip the oysters off of the rock, but mentioned that if we broke the shell, it was best to eat them right then and there. So we squatted down where we were and started whacking away at the rock, carelessly breaking shells left and right. Since we had to eat them, I downed the first four plump, salty oysters that I attempted to harvest. Woops?
“Stina, you think it’s ok if they come off in a big cluster?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Ooh, look at this one!”
Grinning ear to ear, teetering from one rock to the next, and snapping ohmygod this is so awesome pics, we were on cloud nine.
Before the moment flew by, I perched on a rock to soak it all in and give a silent thanks to the powers that be. Holy shit. This is actually happening. Eating oysters right off the rocks. In New Zealand. Part of me couldn’t believe how exhilarating the whole experience was.
That pause also allowed me to realize that I could easily overindulge if I kept slurping oysters at a that pace. Also, I still only had one in my bucket, so I slowed down and worked a little more carefully from then on out, making sure not to break the shells.
Lizzy went off with Betty to collect driftwood and Zach and I unintentionally parted ways, as we both walked, noses down, in opposite directions down the rocky coastline. I could hear the chink chink chink of him collecting what I thought to be WAY more oysters than we four could eat, so I focused on looking for mussels, which were nestled in the tide pools and far less abundant.
About an hour later, we headed home to figure out how to shuck, fry, and consume the morning’s haul. Inspired by the fried oyster salad at Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore, we set out picking lettuce from the car tire planters in the garden, and roasting root veggies in the toaster oven. Zach figured out how to shuck and once he got a hang of it, taught me. The first one was the hardest, and I thought for sure I was going to impale myself with the shucking tool, but after a few, I got a hang of it. I imagine shucking oysters is a bit like killing an animal, in that it makes you appreciate something that is pretty hard to do, that one often takes for granted. Oh, they don’t just come on the half shell?
Harvesting, shucking, cleaning, soaking, battering (in cornmeal, not abuse), then finally fried and served up atop a salad. To celebrate our luxurious lunch, we unscrewed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Jurassic Ridge, a vineyard up the road. As we sat down to eat, someone pointed out that the oysters came from the beach, the herbs, lettuce, veggies, and oranges in the salad were all from the garden, and the bread baked fresh that morning. The salt, pepper, butter and oil were the only things not from within a mile of the farm.
The meal was the culmination of an awesome, inspiring experience. The day was the perfect combination of favorite activities, exploring new places, and learning practical skills. And yes, shucking oysters is practical.