236

2013 Superlatives

2013 has been a year of spectrums, from long work hours to not working at all, from living where folks are comfortable to traveling extreme poverty, and from diving to the bottom of the ocean to trekking at the top of the world. We’ve had some of the most serene as well as the most trying situations that we’ve ever experienced together. It feels as though we ought to reflect on our travels and pull some sort of deep insight from our experiences. But instead, we’re going for superlatives. This is our year, in a bit more than bullet points.

Lake Hawea, New Zealand

Lake Hawea, New Zealand

Favorite City Moment
Zach: Arriving in Kathmandu, seeing nothing but Nepali signage and dust and realizing I’d entered another world.
Christina:  I got my tattoo on our first day in Melbourne. That afternoon, we went to the Central Business District to explore the town, but got caught in a late afternoon downpour and ran from bar to bar on a map that our friends from New Zealand had made for us. The kind folks at Penny Blue beer bar let us in before they were actually open, where we dried off, enjoyed Aussie IPAs and started working on the guest list for our wedding.

Favorite Nature Moment
Both: Sitting on a rock at Annapurna Base Camp watching the goats that the shepherd in the Free Tibet t-shirt brought down from the mountain, listening to the glaciers crack in the background, and sitting in an amphitheater of 8,000 meter peaks.

Best Non Alcoholic Beverage
Z: Banana lassi, India
C: Super sweet chai from street vendors in the tiny cups, India

Worst Illness:
Both: Alternating turns in the bathroom while we both had food poisoning on Gili Trawangen in Indonesia.

Biggest Adrenaline Rush
Z: Third pitch of Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out in Wanaka, NZ
C: 3am in Bali, I was laying in bed, not sleeping because my two friends from NYC were on their way to come see us. Finally hearing their voices then staying up eating cashews and chatting with them, in the flesh, into the wee hours of the night.

Fanciest Moment
Z: Drinking fancy scotch at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai
C: Having a lazy morning reading Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook and drinking a latte in the library at the Pen y Bryn Lodge in Oamaru, New Zealand with Zach’s dad and Janet.

Dirtiest Moment
Z: Day three of hiking Gunung Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia; so much dust and human waste.
C: The three consecutive days we spent on overnight buses and in dusty bus stations from Pushkar to Hampi in India.

Worst Decision of the Year
Z: Telling the Bollywood casting tout to get lost. One of our friends accepted the offer and came back with amazing stories.
C: Diving into the shallow end of the pool in Bali.

Best read
Z: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
C: Michael Pollan’s Cooked or John Irving’s The Cider House Rules

Favorite Photo You’ve Taken
Z:

Kaikoura Seal Pup

C:

 Portrait Arambol Boat Man-0009

Scariest Moment
Z: Sliding down the icy Crown Range road between Queenstown and Wanaka, NZ in our 20 year old minivan with bald tires.
C: The public bus ride in Nepal. Specifically, when it tried to cross the landslide.

Animal Highlight
Z: Stumbling over a three meter python at 10:30pm on a dark trail in Hampi, India.
C: Cuddling the nice, chubby stray cats in Istanbul.

Favorite Meal
Z: The next one!
C: Tie. Either dinner at the Francesca’s Italian Kitchen Staff Party or breakfast at Privato Cafe in Istanbul. So different. Equally delicious.

Thing You’d Be Happy If You Never Did Again
Z: Take an overnight bus in India
C: Visit East Timor

Encounter With a Stranger That You’ll Remember Forever
Z: The guy on the street in Jaipur who asked us why westerners are so rude to Indians and then immediately tried to sell us something.
C: Sitting on a stoop in Kathmandu talking with a shop keeper for like an hour. He told me a story about his friends saving up for years to apply for a US visa, then the chances of actually receiving one being like winning the lottery.

Place to Which You Are Most Excited to Return
Both: Nepal Himalaya

267

Thanks, New Zealand

In the last year I have:

Served as a guest judge in a lamb competition.

Delivered pizzas while loudly singing along to classic rock radio.

Learned a variety of food preservation techniques including fermentation, curing, dehydrating, and jarring.

Relaxed in natural, mud-bottomed hot pools after a seven-hour trek across treacherous swing bridges.

Learned how to make butter, cheese, bread, and whiskey (kind of).

Spent hundreds of hours climbing the schist cliffs around Wanaka and the limestone boulders of Castle Hill.

Failed (twice) to solve very simple problems with our van, which in my defense was of legal drinking age in the US.

Saw the sunrise on Mt. Cook/Aoraki with avalanches falling on peaks around me.

Visited and tasted wines from dozens of little-known-yet-world-class vineyards.

Harvested oysters, mussels, and red snapper from the ocean.

Learned how to skin, gut, and butcher poultry, small game, goats, and pigs for consumption.

Met dozens of new friends from all over the world (England, Australia, Argentina, Germany, France, Chile, Israel, New Zealand…) that I’ll share the rest of my life with. (But don’t worry, old friends, I still love you and miss you all.)

Got engaged to be married to the woman of my dreams.

It’s been a good year.

243

Vaccines, Visas and Decision Making

BAS Zach flinch

Today was the last of our trips to Queenstown to get shot full of vaccinations. We’ve gone three times over the last month, slowly driving over the snow covered Crown Range, to visit the medical center for consultations and “jabs” as they call them. Each time, we sit watching the clock as the harried nurses shuffle papers and vials around.

“So Christina, you’re getting Hep B and Japanese Encephalytis…”

No. That’s Zach.

“Okay and you’ve already had it, but still need your second rabies.”

No, third rabies.

Once we sorted out who gets what, it’s needles, bandaids, credit card rape, and you’re off! Then back up the switchbacks and into Wanaka just in time to go to work. Between the requirements for Indonesia and India, we have been vaccinated for just about everything out there (Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Rabies, Polio, and Japanese Encephalytis). Which means now we can go just about anywhere with the peace of mind that the diarrhea is probably just diarrhea and not typhoid fever.

With vaccinations out of the way, we have started researching visas. It turns out that obtaining visas has been a driving force in our decision making process. For example, my friend Melissa is coming to visit us in Indonesia in August (!!!!!). Amidst the excitement to see her, I think I said something like, “Whatever, whenever, ohmygod yeah, just come,” forgetting that we only have a 30 day visa. As I realized later, our visa expires in the middle of the days that she requested off from work. Woops. I emailed a representative at the Indonesian Embassy and asked what to do and she suggested leaving the country and coming back on a new visa. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll hop a flight to East Timor for a week and come back to Indonesia on a new visa.

When we leave Indonesia, we will make our way toward India. We plan to head to Kathmandu, Nepal to apply for a six month Indian visa. This looks like it will be a more complicated process, but the internet is a wonderful tool and we have taken notes from fellow travelers (check out Ryan Beale’s Super Trip of Awesome), government agencies, and Lonely Planet alike.

There is a spectacular feeling of freedom and adventure to be able to change plans at the drop of a hat. But it requires constant communication between the two of us, a willingness to be flexible, and to be able to trust that things are going to work out. We get excited to go somewhere, but after looking into the logistics, figure out that the plan isn’t going to work exactly how we had thought. Because our plans change all the time, long term planning is pretty difficult, but this also allows us to take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t know were going to come our way. A month ago, neither East Timor nor Nepal were anywhere on the radar, but now they are and that’s fantastic. We are ready to go!

257

Winter Gallery Through a New Lens!

We just upgraded from an iPhone3G to a 4 and have been having so much fun having a phone that takes decent pictures and can load data at a reasonable speed! We’ve also activated an Instagram account for Bring a Snack, so feel free to check us out there. Here are a few pictures from the past week, walking around the lake, some of the dishes I make at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and downhill skiing at Cardrona and cross country skiing Snow Farm.

312

Why New Zealand? This is why.

We’ve been veering mainly toward food-related things here at Bring a Snack for the past month or two, and will continue to do so. But now, something completely different. Sometimes people ask us why we chose New Zealand.  This is pretty much why:

375

Restaurant Review: Pegasus Bay Winery

pegasus-bay-6062

When you eat at an award-winning restaurant, you can be fairly sure that you’re going to have a good meal. Those kind of places just don’t let bad food leave the kitchen. At this tier, what separates the good from the great is more subtle: things like proactive service, thoughtful menu design and a setting that transforms you to another place. On all those subtleties, Pegasus Bay shows why it was named New Zealand’s top winery restaurant three years in a row.

Think of the last time you had a hard time choosing a meal at a restaurant. You were seated and you just stared at the menu for a while. The server came by and asked if you had any questions. You said you didn’t, but needed a few more minutes. They came back a few minutes later and you picked something arbitrarily to get on with the meal. There are two possible scenarios when this happens: either nothing on the menu appeals to you or everything does. The latter is how I felt at Pegasus Bay. I could have closed my eyes and picked anything on the menu and been excited about it showing up in front of me. There were no bad choices.

Next, think of the last time you chose to eat outside, then regretted it halfway through the meal. The wind picked up, or the sun went behind a cloud and the temperature dropped precipitously, or maybe you were sweating through your t-shirt and couldn’t drink enough water to avoid an inevitable headache. Did the staff realize this and suggest you move to a table that might be more comfortable, dragging along all your plates, glasses and silverware? No, because that would be a hassle and they didn’t have time or care enough to realize you were cold. Not at Pegasus Bay. Before we even considered moving to a table in the sun, they suggested it. Thoughtful service is more than just recommending the perfect wine.

These kinds of details, plus fantastic food and a gorgeous dining space that transported us to a garden somewhere in Mediterranean Europe, added up to a memorable dining experience. Expect to spend a shiny bit of coin, but if you’re traveling near Christchurch, New Zealand, put Pegasus Bay on the to-eat list.

Oh yeah, and the wines are awesome! Try the Reisling (dry and off-dry), Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet/Merlot blend. Oh hell, just try all of them. The region (Waipara) is known for its Pinot Noir and Reisling, but Pegasus Bay shows there are many more good varietals being produced there.

6

An Unexpected Autumn Adventure

Hitching

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?

$15 bucks in fruit from Webb’s fruit in Cromwell

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.

Dried pears, apples, peaches and strawberries are going to be so good in oatmeal when the snow is falling and the fire blazing!

224

Gibbston Valley Wine & Food Festival

Tasting at Gibbston

On a recent weekend, the dozen-ish vineyards in the Gibbston Valley held their annual wine and food festival. I like wine. I like food. I like festivals and sunshine and fun. Count me in! The event proved to be an awesome experience, but it wasn’t without a few disappointments.

The Gibbston Valley is home to a small sub-class of New Zealand’s Central Otago wine region. Like the rest of the region, it’s known for growing pinot noir, but a range of white wines are also produced. The valley is a short drive from Queenstown and about an hour from Wanaka, where we originated.

After we paid our entry fee ($15) we were given a tasting glass for the event that contained three small cards with winemaker logos. These represented free tastings at the corresponding tents. This was a nice touch; if we were just given three free tastings at the vineyard of our choice we would have probably picked the most well-known or critically acclaimed vineyards; or, actually, the first three we found. Their specific free tastings forced us not only to try new wines, but walk around the grounds searching for specific vineyards and seeing all else that was on offer in the process. Also, because there were four of us attending together, we were able to share tastes and get a bit from nearly every vineyard in the region. Standouts were: Highgate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Kalex Dry Riesling 2011, Kalex Medium Riesling 2011 (though I do have a bit of a sweet tooth).

In addition to the tents offering taste and glasses, there were blind tasting events and workshops throughout the day, led by winemakers and vigneron of the region.

The absolute highlight was the blending workshop ($10) lead by Sean Brennan. It was an opportunity to taste the 2012 Brennan pinot noir vintage straight from the barrels and create our own concoction. We sat down in front of four bottles from different clones and barrel types (old and new oak) and then blended them like mad scientists into a “finished” wine. They began as fizzy grape-like juice with biting tannins and emerged as something resembling wine! Sean tasted our concoctions, offered his opinions and we went back to the drawing board. It was amazing to see how a bit more of one kind of clone from old oak adds a completely different character. We really got to play winemaker for an hour.

So while the “wine” part of the festival was completely satisfying, the “food” part wasn’t. It’s not that the food was bad (it was good!) but when I think of a food festival, I imagine the best local chefs coming together to show off their finest creations. This was more a collection of the same half dozen food trucks that I’ve seen at events all over the area. They were good, but didn’t leave me wanting more. The event was definitely wine first, food second.

I’d recommend the festival to others and encourage you to attend the discussions and tasting events, but I suggest the organizers drop the “food” part of the name. It’s just a little misleading. Expect small crowds, lots of great Gibbston Valley wines and really knowledgable people giving you straight answers on both simple and complicated questions.

232

Real Journeys Does It Right

Dusk-8726

No, this post isn’t sponsored. We just really had a great time with Real Journeys.

Leaving Milford Sound with Zach’s mom and stepmom after having spent the night on the Milford Mariner overnight cruise, we were buzzing with satisfaction and picking apart the highlights of the last 18 hours, much like you might do after seeing an awesome concert. By awesome concert, I mean someone like Pearl Jam. An older band who have been putting on shows for twenty-odd years. For the Real Journeys tour company, rocking out is what they do every day.

The weather was clear, the jade colored water was sparkling, and the dolphins were a-plenty. We boarded at 4pm and were offered a bowl of mushroom soup. I suppose I was getting a little hungry, thanks Real Journeys for realizing that for me. We headed out past Mitre Peak, the tallest sea cliff in the world, while Kendra, our nature narrator explained how vegetation grows on the rock faces without any dirt. The loudspeaker system was set up so whether on deck, in the bar, or the bathroom, you could hear the announcements and Milford Sound trivia.

Mitre Peak, behind the boat, rises 5,551 feet straight up out of Milford Sound.

During afternoon activity time, Zach and I explored the coastline in kayaks while Pat and Lydia zipped around the bays checking out the Mollymorks, a type of albatross (albatrosian?) bird. We met back at the ship for a bottle of bubbly.

What a treat!

As the sun began to set, Kendra told us, “I see many of you are enjoying your cocktails. You might want to take them up on deck with you to check out the pod of dolphins that has come to play.” So, with a glass of wine in hand and the sun setting, we went onto the deck and watched the dolphins zip and dive and flip and swim around the boat until someone announced that dinner was ready.

 

Dolphins in Milford Sound at sunset

The staff anticipated every need and provided excellent service. Kendra’s nature talks never competed with the stunning sights of the sound and there were many moments of big, wondrous silence. The boat was immaculate, the food was good, the wine list reasonably priced, and even the 6:45am wake up call was as gentle as possible. We ate breakfast while the sound was still dark and watched the day lighten as we headed out to the feisty Tasman Sea. Adrenaline is never a bad start to the day!

Zach and I haven’t done something like this since being here in New Zealand. I often opt for a romp in the backwoods and write off cruises and tours as touristy. As if touristy is synonymous with tacky. But it’s not. Not when the service is subtle and the staff cares about everyone having a great time. At about $250 a head, the ticket was a special treat, but worth every penny. If you are ever in the Milford Sound area, treat yourself to a Real Journeys cruise. It was delightful.

The deets:
Milford Wanderer Overnight Cruise through Real Journeys departs from either Te Anu or the Milford Sound visitor’s center. From $189, though works out to be more like $250 in peak season.
495

Hiking the Copland Track

What’s better than a nice, long, hike up a gorgeous valley through untouched native forests? A nice, long, hike up a gorgeous valley through untouched native forests that ends at NATURAL HOT SPRINGS!

 

That’s right folks, we just returned from our latest adventure, a two-day, 36km walk to Welcome Flat Hut on the western end of the Copland Track. The full track connects the Fox Glacier area with Mount Cook Village, via Copland Pass over the Southern Alps. Copland Pass is notoriously dangerous and difficult, but the trek up the valley approaching the pass is quite easy and stunningly beautiful. Simply turn around and hike out after a night at Welcome Flat, avoiding the pass and any need for connecting transportation.

Oh and did I mention there are NATURAL HOT SPRINGS at the hut? And when I say natural, I mean natural: no concrete in sight. Bubbling, gaseous water is literally seeping out of the ground mere feet from the hut and pouring into several pools ranging from bathwater warm to “perhaps I’ll poach an egg in here” hot. A strange soft green mud lines the bottom of the pools, with which we promptly and thoroughly exfoliated. Who needs a spa? Nature’s got it sorted.

To top it off, the glacial Copland River flows steps away from the pools, so if you’re game you can easily go back and forth between sizzling and shivering. Sensory overload? Check.

A few words to the wise: bring some sandals for the path back and forth from the springs to the river and hut, unless your Kiwi Feet are well-trained. My tender dogs were a bit sore after jogging between the river and pools a few times in bare feet, and I paid for it on the six hour walk out the next day. Speaking of the next day, take a leisurely start and another wake-up dunk in the river/pools, then head up the valley past the hut (leaving your packs behind) toward Douglas Rock for about an hour. The views of Mt. Sefton and the rest of the craggy Southern Alps only get better and the track is often empty. Plus, now you’ll have the majority of the crowd well in front of you for the walk out.

Photos by Robyn Wilson. Thanks Robyn!

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