The Colours of Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso just oozes colour, in both housing and street art, even on a cloudy day. A collection of dozens of steep hills around a port, each cerro (hillside) is effectively a barrio (suburb) strewn with haphazard and squashed-in buildings clinging to the hillside. It was once a rich port city, but that was a long time ago and it now has a general air of dishevelment. In the absence of money, the people of Valparaiso have turned to whatever paint colours they can scrounge to paint what are often just particle board and tin dwellings.

A few Cerro still have a working ascensor (funicular) to help with the very steep hills, but the majority have now fallen into disrepair, so everyone gets to work their glutes on the stairs, usually multicoloured as well of course. Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre are the two most touristy, renovated, and probably safest areas of the city, although thefts and mugging are still a risk. It’s a beautifully grungy place, which Unesco agrees with, giving it world heritage status in 2003.

And Valparaiso’s arty soul is not restricted to the buildings, the walls and stairs are alive with wonderful colourful street art as well.

 

Dining Solo in Santiago – fine dining at Borago

Dining solo in Santiago – Borago

Staying on in Santiago for a few days after my travelling companions depart gives me a wonderful opportunity to try out some of Chile’s finest food and drink, as well as testing Chilean service attitudes to solo diners. And Borago, rated in the top 50 South American restaurants, does not disappoint. One of the nicest touches is being seated with a clear view of the kitchen at work – combine this with the conversation with the staff around every plate (and bottle) as they were brought out and described one by one, and for once there was no need of the solo diner’s crutch, the book to read between courses.

I loved each and every plate, the great intensity of flavours plus the humour of the plating –  if I had to pick favourites from this night, they would be both the savoury and sweet mushroom dishes and the conger eel.

Starting with the snacks

The degustation is described as 10 dishes, but that doesn’t include the 6 “snacks” offered first, in two sets of three.

The first includes a potted cactus breadstick made from black lipped oysters; abalone and seaweed between crunchy papery thin crackers; and the unusual local shellfish, piure, filled with mandarine.

The second is a dish call “pig in stone” including a crackling cracker; a pate filled bricohe made to look like a popular breakfast sweet; and a take on the standard marraqueta (bread roll) and pepper paste, including a layer of ash on the paste, with the bread roll coming in a paper bag, as though I’m about to take it to work for lunch. With the snacks came Laurent Zapphire, Viognier 2013, D.O. Padre Hurtado.

Starting the main menu:

  1. Crudo of Venison from Patagonia (Deer tartare) was almost hidden under its forest of standing edible leaves – with a glass of Aquitania, Sol de Sol, Chardonnoir, 2010, D.O. Malleco.
  2. Salad of Plants from the Andes includes tiny apples and fermented quinoa, with a side of frozen snow – with Zarander Muscat, 2011, D.O. Itata.
  3. Chupe of Wild Pine Mushrooms is the most intensely rich flavoured mushroom pate, with mushroom crackers and edible wild leaves – with Polkura, G+ 1, Syrah, 2010, D.O. Marchigue, Colchagua.
  4. the Quails Nest is the most spectacular plating, with the edible nest, straw and egg nestled into a small tree, bonsai style.

    The menu then moves into the “rock sequence” with:

  5. Cremoso of rock plants, samphire/sea asparagus,  – with Koyle, Costa, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, D.O. Colchagua.
  6. Conger Eel (a saltwater eel from the ocean) in Quintay cooked with the blackened wrapping layer on the left, with a strong fishy paste covering the rock on the right – with Close Des Fous, Pucalan Arenaria, Pinot Noir, 2013 D.O. Aconcagua Costa.
  7. Veal in milk from a specific farm in Parral, – with  Re, Syragnan, Ensamblaje 2012, D.O.Casablanca

     And then the desserts

  8. Camanchaca and Rica Rica from Atacama – the coastal fog (camanchaca) inspires the egg in the atacama bush, while the the pink Rica-Rica flowers cover a sweet yoghurt dessert log among the stones.
  9. White Strawberries from Puren with sheeps milk ice-cream and an acidic herbal frozen snow – with Erasmo, Late Harvest, Torrontel 2010, Maule Leche de Alpiste-Melisa
  10. And the dessert of Pine Mushrooms – yes, a mushroom ice-cream, it is sweet, rich and delicious, with a sand of nuts and spices – with a Gonzales Bastias, Matorral, pais 2012, D.O. Maule Ulpo de Almendras – Safas.
  11. plus the surprise ‘frio glacial’, which looks like a spoon of ice-cream, and sends frozen vapour out your mouth and nose, a nice chocolately-mint to freshen at the end, you can’t help but laugh.

     

     

What (and where) has been your favourite “great food, great price” restaurant find in your travels?

 

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, I paid full price for this meal, and at $99 including matching wines it has to be the steal of the century! see here for my full disclosure policy

Winter is coming, time to brew some masala tea

Each year as winter approaches and the nights get chilly, I start craving masala tea to warm me up. I learned to make it in Afura’s house in Zanzibar, doing a cooking course in the packed earth courtyard of her home, over a charcoal brazier.

Masala tea at cooking class in Zanzibar village
Masala tea at cooking class in Zanzibar village

 

The refreshing taste of hot Masala tea in a hot climate.

Masala tea in Zanzibar is similar to spicy chai teas worldwide, with a few differences. It is drunk both hot and cold, and is always drunk black, no milk. Even cold, the taste of spices creates heat in the mouth and a lingering aftertaste. It’s become a winter staple for me, and is very easy to make.

Start with a litre of boiling water in a saucepan on the stove top and add:

  • half a cup of lemongrass chopped into rough lengths of 2-3 inches,
  • half a cup of roughly chopped fresh ginger,
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, and
  • half a tablespoon each of crushed cardamon seeds and cloves from the mortar and pestle.

Let the pot boil for 10 – 20 minutes and then add a quarter cup (or 2-3 teabags) of black tea leaves on top of the boiling water. Boil for another 2 minutes maximum (the tea leaves can quickly taste bitter if boiled longer ) then take off the heat and pour through a fine strainer. The tea is now ready to drink, add sugar or honey to taste. I love how the cloves give it a nice peppery, slightly numb aftertaste.

Have you discovered a new favourite tea in your travels?

 

Removing background crowds from photos

Taking photos in popular public locations is complicated by that very thing – popularity. There are a lot of other people there to walk into my shot, or stand right in front of my raised camera to take their selfie. Every year I look forward to the stunning Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in Bondi, it is a photographer’s paradise, beautiful art in front of beautiful views. Plus forty thousand other people on the path at the same time as me. Many of them with children who will look great in front of, or on, every sculpture for a photo.

To make it look like I’m the only person there takes a lot of patience. I line up what I want and wait for 5, 10, 15 minutes for that split second break in the crowd. I look for vantage points, get low, get close, get high, get a long telephoto, crop in, wait, wait, wait. Or I incorporate them into the photo, if it adds to the composition.

So today I am celebrating the crowds, with these photos of what the Sculpture Walk really looks like, with all these marvellous people  getting out in the sun and enjoying the very same art as me.

Stunning Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi

The annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition is on again

This is one of my favourite times of the year, as spring is turning into summer and the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk hosts over one hundred stunning sculptures. With a backdrop of beautiful beaches, and ocean all the way to the horizon, it’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of people visit it over 18 days each year in late October/early November. You should too.

Gallery of the sculptures.

#CTC13 Capture The Colour 2013

Five colours, five photos, that can’t be too difficult can it? Thanks to the talented Lani Cox, who kindly nominated me to participate in this devilish competition devised by Travel Supermarket, I’ve now discovered just how hard it is. The aim of this cool competition is to go through your travel photographs, (which most of us have far too many of), and pick five photographs in five colour categories: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and White.

Which is why I am now scrambling to get this up at about five minutes to deadline. Because searching for just the right photo can lead me off daydreaming for long periods of time. So lets just get on with it.

 Red – the monks of Mandalay

red - monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar
red – monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar

 

I am no stranger to a good monk photo, but normally the robes are various shades of saffron. In ancient Mandalay however the monks robes are generally a red wine colour. This photo was at an alms procession at a major monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Yellow – enormous bunches of yellow flowers in the local markets of Mandalay

yellow - markets in Mandalay, Myanmar
yellow – markets in Mandalay, Myanmar

I really thought yellow was going to be my ‘hard’ colour. As it turned out, I was completely wrong, I found many more favourite yellow photos than any other colour. So many that I’ve included a little gallery of the runner-up’s at the bottom of this page. Keeping to the Mandalay theme here, these huge bunches of flowers were all destined for the receptions and dining rooms of the hotels in Mandalay.

 Green – the blue hole in Vanuatu

green - the blue hole, vanuatu
green – the blue hole, vanuatu

The blue hole on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu is a glorious place to swim in deep clear blue waters. Except for the corner which is more shaded, and is all glorious greens in the water and the surrounding vegetation. It’s a beautiful spot to relax.

Blue – fins, togs and the sea

blue - at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu
blue – at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu

If you head to the very northern islands of Vanuatu, you can eventually find the tiny island of Rah. It’s warm blue waters, hospitable families and cheeky children will have you donning snorkel and fins to spend the day in the water as well.

White – girl in white in Mandalay, Myanmar

white - girl in white, mandalay, myanmar
white – girl in white, mandalay, myanmar

This young girl was a vision in white, including the complicated tanaka pattern on her cheeks. She was in the old teak palace grounds in Mandalay.

 

And some more yellow

I couldn’t narrow it down to only one yellow or green, so here’s a few more.

Now it’s my turn to nominate! And thanks again Lani for thinking of me. Unfortunately due to my very late attempt to get this finished, I doubt I have given my nominees any time left to enter the comp, but its such a fun post to do, I hope they will give it a go anyway!

Melissa at Mellovestravels
Laura at Little Travel Bee
Terri at Black Chick on Tour
Emily-Ann at The Grown Up Gap year
Mike and Linda at Moving Sushi

>>>> the rules:

To enter is simple, you write a post with your five best photos from these color categories: RED, BLUE, GREEN, YELLOW and WHITE. Be sure to nominate five other bloggers and tweet it with the hashtag #CTC13.

There will be a winner from each color category who will get: an 128GB iPad, a Fuji camera or £750 worth of Arc’teryx clothing and equipment (you choose). Then from the five winners, an overall winner will be chosen to win: £3,000 travel fund (worth about $4633 USD).

For the full contest rules go here.

To follow the entries watch the contest’s pinterest boards.

Or follow the Facebook page.

 

4 good reasons to go to Kep, Cambodia

The perfect recipe for a joint birthday party with your best friend – travel with a group of friends and family to Kep, on the south coast of Cambodia. Which is exactly what my BFF Helen and I did recently. Why did we pick Kep? I’ve been there before and liked it a lot, it’s hot and coastal and very laid back. And it has a few extra attractions to seal the deal.

1. Crabs and peppercorns

Kep is famous for it’s bountiful supply of delicious crab. Next to the fish markets in town are a row of crab/seafood restaurants, built out over the sea on stilts. There is no better way to have dinner than to pick one of these restaurants and order up a large serve of crab in peppercorn sauce (Kampot peppercorns are another local speciality). Wash it all down with cold beers while listening to the sea wash under your floorboards, and get your hands very sticky pulling apart a dozen or so freshly cooked crabs, cut in half and covered in sauce. Or maybe the squid in peppercorn sauce for a change? There may be a power-cut while you are eating, it doesn’t matter, candle light will do nicely.

2. Kep Lodge

There has been a big increase of accommodation in Kep in the last three years (from a low base), but I’m sticking with my original favourite, Kep Lodge. A boutique lodge with only a handful of cabins and a big open air communal restaurant/bar and  pool, it’s a couple of hundreds of metres back up the hill, amongst lush vegetation, and it’s great value too – very affordable and very comfortable. My front deck with its armchairs and hammock was a great excuse for a siesta, and the pool and bar were both good options to cool off.

3. Rabbit Island

View my previous post to see why this is such a bonus: Rabbit Island.

4. Kep fish markets

In addition to spending lunch or dinner in the crab restaurants, a visit next door to the fish markets is a must-do. This is a true village market, with locals selling to locals, although there are often a few tourists with cameras wandering around as well. The crab traps are brought ashore here and their bounty immediately put up for sale, as well as the current catch of squid and a variety of fish. Many locals come here for a meal fresh off the BBQ, and it’s great lunch option for us too. There are stalls for clothes, shoes, homewares, basic electronics, and plenty of fruit and veges. And you can’t miss the durian, the smell is impossible to ignore. It’s a small market and a great place to browse, people watch, and chat with the locals.

Where would you like to have your next birthday party?

Relaxing on Rabbit Island, Cambodia

Cambodia does not have to be only about the heat (and hectic exploring of all those glorious temples) of Siem Reap, or the chaos and nightlife of Phnom Penh. When it’s time for a bit of back-to-basics relaxation, Rabbit Island is the place to go.

Known locally as Koh Tonsay, Rabbit Island is offshore from Kep, on the southwestern coast of Cambodia. To get to the island, head to the Kep port pier before 9am to catch one of the boats for a 20-30 minute (5 km) ride out to Rabbit Island. The island itself is two square km in size. Remember the number of your boat, as you have paid for the return trip and you need to catch the same one back in the afternoon, or you’ll be hit up for another fare.

For me, a big part of the attraction of Rabbit island is how undeveloped it is. It’s as loved by locals as by tourists. There’s a long golden sand strip shaded by towering palms. A few sun-loungers and low bamboo platforms are spread along the sand, all free to use. The water (in April anyway) is body temperature, as tranquil as a lagoon, no waves here. And being saltwater, it aided our buoyancy as we floated around happily for hours, only emerging occasionally to top up our sunscreen. There’s an open air tent for soothing massages, a couple of basic-but-good open air restaurants with cold water and beers, and a public long-drop toilet just out behind the trees. And thats all. A perfect place to relax with a few friends. Let’s hope it stays undeveloped for a while longer.

And if you want to stay overnight, there are a handful of nice little cabins that can be rented, I think I might need to try those next time.

Where have you found your ideal relaxation island?