About Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
Latest Posts by Jessica Festa
While you’ve probably heard of swimming with fish, dolphins and other marine creatures, Big Major Spot in the Bahamas’ Exumas Cays is the only place I’ve ever heard of where you can literally swim with pigs. Locals brought the enormous hairy pigs to the island during the First Gulf War, just in case things got bad and they needed to repopulate their farm animals. The island is also home to sheep and chickens, although no people. The pigs have gotten used to humans coming to see them, so as soon as they hear your boat approaching they’ll run out of the bush and jump into the water, swimming up to your boat so you can feed them. Feel free to jump into the crystal waters and swim with them.
I was able to experience this through the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, although most hotels in the Exumas will be able to organize a guided tour to Big Major Spot or rent you a boat so you can go there yourself.
Indigenous culture is often a curiosity for outsiders, one we often want to know more about but which we have a hard time relating to once we do in. In my opinion, this is often because people are educating themselves through reading or listening instead of immersing.
In Jordan, I was given the opportunity to truly get to know Bedouin culture, which has a strong focus on strengthening relationships. These people aren’t concerned about money; in fact, they think it’s dirty. Instead, their rituals and traditions revolve around forming healthy and helpful relationships with each other and the land.
My first encounter with the Bedouin community comes in Feynan, one of the few places in Jordan where authentic Bedouin culture still exists. Toward the end of a beautiful but arduous hike from Rumanna Camp to the Feynan Ecolodge through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, I begin to see numerous black Bedouin tents woven out of goat hair. One of the men from the tents notices my flushed face and shirt soaked in sweat and extends an invitation.
“He wants to know if you’d like some goat’s milk,” translates my local guide, Ibrahim.
We’re lead by the man, whose name is Saladin*, to a shaded outdoor area with cushions and pillows. We take a seat as his wife comes out with a giant bowl of thick white liquid for us to pass around the circle. The milk is thick and slightly sour, although as I sip I can feel my energy levels rising. This is not only my first taste of goat’s milk, but also Bedouin hospitality.
A Taste Of Bedouin Coffee Culture
As Feynan Ecolodge, the destination of my hike, is not only committed to helping the environment but also the local community, they offer a range of experiences to guests that allow them a glimpse into this culture. Some of these include spending the day with a shepherd; learning how to make bread, weave goat hair and apply kohl eyeliner; sunset walks led by Bedouins; and becoming acquainted with the rich coffee culture.
This is how I find myself at the home of Adnan*, a local Bedouin employed by the hotel who brings me to his home for some coffee. The goat hair tent is spacious, and once again the guests are seated in a circle on cushions in front of Adnan’s father. Adnan speaks English, and I’m told that in Bedouin culture both friends and strangers are always welcome. In fact, Bedouins begin brewing coffee early in the morning to make sure they’re prepared for unexpected visitors.
Adnan’s father roasts the coffee beans in a pan over the fire. From there, he boils the water while also grinding the coffee with a mortar and pestle. As he grinds, he creates a rhythm that sounds like a song with a distinct beat, which I’m told is what lets others in the area know coffee is being brewed and they can come over to enjoy some. Because there is no doorbell, it is customary for visitors to cough as they approach.
Bedouin culture takes receiving guests to another level, as it is customary to allow guests — whether friends or strangers — to stay as long as they please. No questions are asked by the host for up to three days; however, on the fourth day the hosts are allowed to ask you your name and what you want, but not before.
When the coffee is finished Adnan’s father takes a sip. It is customary for the one who made the coffee to be the first to taste it, to show guests it is tasty and okay to drink. From there, a few cups are passed around to the group to share.
“Each person is allowed up to three cups,” explains Adnan. “Cup one is for the guest, cup two is for the mood and cup three is for the sword.”
When Adnan gets to me I inhale the liquid of the cup, taking in the steamy heat and spicy aromas. Sure enough, the coffee tastes deliciously bitter yet sweet with a touch of cardamon. While freshly brewed coffee is always a treat, this cup is particularly special as it is more than just a drink to these people, it’s a way of life.
In fact, coffee isn’t just about hospitality, it’s also a big part of negotiation in Bedouin culture. When Bedouins do business, negotiate or discuss marriage coffee is the vehicle for the discussion. For instance, if a man wants to marry a women he will go to the house of her family for permission. The answer comes through the coffee, with either the entire family drinking a cup together or nobody taking a sip, no verbal communication needed.
Traditional Bedouin Camping
While up until now I’ve been privy to a series of encounters with Bedouin families, I opt for an immersive experience at Wadi Rum by staying at a Bedouin camp. I arrive at Captain’s Desert Camp at night, walking into a whimsical outdoor world of paper lanterns which illuminate the property’s paths. My room is a spacious goat hair tent, lit only by candlelight.
Video taken at the Captains Desert Camp (dark but gives a sense of the music)
From my room I can hear music, the sounds of a lute (pronounced OOD) — a plucked string instrument with a neck and deep round back — tableh drums, and people singing. As I make my way to the center of the grounds I see the Bedouins are singing around a fire and smoking some fragrant apple shisha.
What begins as a calm sing-a-long soon escalates into a full-on dance party. The energy is high, as everyone forms a circle, holding hands and kicking out their legs as they laugh and run. Soon, the Bedouins begin picking guests out one-by-one to join them in the center of the circle for a dance off. While I can be shy when it comes to public speaking, I am overconfident when it comes to dancing. Once in the circle, however, I’m pleasantly surprised when one of the men gives me a run for my money, breaking out moves I’ve never seen before (some of which I wasn’t sure were physically possible).
Not only are the Bedouins desert-dwellers and traditionalists, they also know how to let loose and have a good time. And while I have a hard time believing Bedouins who around running tourist camps sit around their goat hair tents in the hot desert having dance parties on a regular basis, it opened my eyes to the reality that these native peoples didn’t have to be viewed as some kind of mysterious entity. They had their particular traditions and their way of life, but many of them also had jobs in tourism and in the village, carried iPhones and went to school. They were a group of people who adapted to living off the desert land without the need for riches, but still wanted to enjoy life. And after my time getting to know this culture, I can honestly say I not only learned about them, I learned from them.
For travelers to Jordan wanting to have a similar experience, here is some essential information and recommendations:
The national airline of Jordan is Royal Jordanian, although there are over 20 international carriers that fly into the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Upon arrival, all nationalities are required to purchase a tourist visa for 20 Jordanian Dinars (about $30).
While public buses can take you cheaply along major routes, for example, between Wadi Rum and Aqaba, the country is small enough that using taxis to get around — even for long distances — is a convenient and affordable option. Moreover, to be able to take your time and enjoy the many scenic drives Jordan has to offer, renting a car can be worthwhile.
1. Bull Penis Soup, Bolivia
Called Caldo de Cardan, this soup contains bull penis and testicles, which, by the way, looks exactly like a bull penis and testicles. I got to taste this at the home of a local, and although I knew “caldo” meant soup, I wasn’t aware of what the “de Cardan” would be. However, it became obvious that I would be eating genitals as soon as the bowl was placed in front of me.
While the broth is flavorful, with herbs and spices, the actual “meat” is a bit too chewy for my taste. For many, the meal is like an inexpensive all-purpose medication, helping to aid fatigue, anemia, and hangovers. And like most foods that make you gag at the thought, bull penis soup is considered an aphrodisiac.
2. Big Butt Ants, Colombia
In Colombia, Big Butt Ants, or Hormigas Culonas, are snacked on like cocktail nuts. The delicacy is so highly sought after, they bring in ten times the amount of money per pound than Colombian coffee.
The preparation is a bit like a horror movie, as the ant is held in place, its head snapped quickly and without mercy. Next, the wings and pincers are plucked, and the body is left to soak overnight in salt water before it is fried. The finished product tastes and chews like bacon bits. Some consider it an aphrodisiac. I wonder if these people have ever tried wine and porn?
3. Coconut Grubs, Ecuador
Coconut grubs — larvae that live in dead palm trees — are mainly eaten in the Amazon jungle. To help keep them flavorful, the stomachs are removed so you don’t taste the wood they dine on. From there, they’re marinated in wild orange and grilled. They’re actually delightful and crunchy, as long as you can forget you’re eating a fat, just-hatched insect from the rainforest. If you want a unique Amazon experience, and like the taste of citrus and peanuts, try this.
4. Cuy, Andes Mountains
You may recognize these little guys as your childhood pet. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a common Andean staple eaten throughout Peru and Ecuador, and in parts of Bolivia and Argentina. The animals are fed special diets, like lemongrass and yellow carrot, that give them a distinct flavor. They are served whole with the head and feet still on. Once I got past that, guinea pig was actually pretty delicious, with a greasy chicken flavor. In fact, it became my favorite food in Ecuador.
5. Llama Brain And Tongue, Bolivia
While eating llama meat isn’t so strange, eating brains of any kind is a lot to handle. And eating a tongue is almost like French kissing the animal. However, in Bolivia, where llamas are the national animal and are used for everything from clothing to fetus rituals to labor to food, llama brains and tongue are considered a delicious meal.
As a westerner, the brains almost brought me to vomit from the slimy texture, although the tongue was firmer and a bit easier to eat, as long as you don’t see it being prepared. For something a little more digestible, try the salted dried llama jerky, which I actually snacked on religiously.
6. Ant Eggs And Worm Tacos, Mexico
I ordered this dish in an upscale restaurant in Puebla called El Mural de los Poblanos. A local friend told me about how eating these insects, called Hormigas Escimoles (the ants) and Guasanos (the worms), is a delicacy in Mexico, and very typical.
The insects are cooked over an open fire in a pan, then presented with tortillas and guacamole to make soft tacos. While the worms have a distinct mesquite flavor, the ant eggs reminded me a lot of eating a sunny-side-up omelet. While the dish looks unappetizing, it’s actually very delicious, especially with some onions added.
7. Moripan, Argentina
I accidentally ordered this having no idea what it was because it was cheap. I knew “pan” meant bread, and although I wasn’t sure what “mori” was, I figured it couldn’t be that different from its delicious sister, the juicy sausage sandwich called choripan. Oh, how wrong I was. Moripan is actually blood sausage wrapped in cow intestine. While the dried blood has a mushy, bean-like texture and flavor, the intestine was extremely hard to chew.
8. Mondongo, Colombia
Just enough cud flavor to let you know you’re eating stomach. Photo: alextorrenegra
The name of this dish sounds like a new Latin dance craze. In reality, it’s a soup made of cow stomach and entrails. They use all four stomachs of the cow to make it, and it also includes carrots, peas, avocado, and potatoes. The stomach has a chewy texture, which goes well with the thickness of the soup.
9. Chicha, Amazon Jungle
There are different varieties of chicha around South America. This traditional corn beer is made by the chicha maker chewing and moistening the corn in his mouth, which he then molds into small cakes with his teeth. These are laid out in the sun to ferment.
Natural enzymes in the human saliva convert corn starch into sugar, allowing for the beginning of the fermentation process. If offered the uniquely brewed beer, it is considered rude to decline, so you’ll need to forget what you know and just chug away. The beer is boiled before served, so technically it’s sterile, but still.
10. Huevos de Tortugas, Nicaragua
Although eating sea turtles is looked down upon in most parts of the world, it is part of the culture in Nicaragua. Huevos de tortugas involves eating the eggs of turtles, which have a very soft shell.
A hole is made at the top of the raw egg, and hot sauce or lemon juice is squeezed in to help cure the concoction, followed by a shot of rum. Not only is the meal very odd, it’s also dangerous. When eating sea turtle eggs, you’re also ingesting toxins, bacteria, and pollutants. I’ll leave turtle eggs for creating life, not eating.
Feeling: No way
Photo Credit: flickr
“Jordan is actually a very old wine country. They discovered vines from Petra from 2,000 years ago.”
I’m at Zumot Winery, owned by Mr. Omar Zumot, near downtown Amman sampling the organic Saint George Wine of Jordan. The space is grand yet cozy, with a spacious interior, two floors, walls adorned with local artwork, a long tasting table, cozy couches and shelves upon shelves of wine bottles that make you feel like you’re in a vino-inspired library. Zumot planted his first grapes in 1996 in the fertile region of Madaba. While Jordan — or the Middle East for that matter — isn’t typically known for their wine, Zumot makes strategic use of Jordan’s reliable climate (the dryness eliminates common plant diseases) and soil rich in clay and basalt. Not only that, but they do it sustainably.
“If you work with nature you have a healthy product,”explains Arnist, a staff member at the winery. “If you use chemicals you’ll have chemicals in your body.”
Zumot Winery doesn’t use chemicals. In fact, they create biodynamic ecosystems on their vineyards where animals cohabitate to create an excellent grape-growing scenario. For example, while owls scare away the mice, sheep are brought onto the property to defecate and naturally fertilize the soil. This leads to an impressively delicious wine that you can feel good about drinking.
Traditional Jordanian foods at Zumot Winery & Vineyards
Because I’m with a large group of about 20 people, the winery has seated us at a long glass table with wine glasses already set out. Not only that, but they’ve had it catered with traditional Jordanian foods like samosas, spiced rice with fish, stuffed grape leaves topped with lamb, sheep with vegetables, falafel and salad. After everyone tops their plate with typical fare, the tasting begins, moving from white to red. We start off with a Tokai, a grape famous in Europe that has been planted in Jordan by the winery. The liquid has a greenish straw color with an apricot nose and hint of exotic fruits that adds some contrast to the spice-rich meal. Moving on to their Chardonnay, I notice the flavor is much more buttery and olive-flavored than a usual Chardonnay, although it still has the usual tastes of citrus that pair well with the flaky white fish on my plate.
When people begin asking questions about flavors and pairings, Arnist explains, “Drinking wine is never rational. It’s always emotional. It depends where you are, the time of year, who you’re with. Everyone’s taste buds are different and influence what you feel and taste in a wine.”
I appreciate the winery’s unpretentious approach to wine tasting. It’s true that everyone tastes differently. For example, while I immediately notice the Saint George Sauvignon Blanc’s mix of mint and vanilla, the man sitting next to me has a fruitier experience. For me, each sip transports me to the French Polynesian island of Tahaa where everything smelled sweet and fresh. As I had just been there touring vanilla plantations and hiking through lush foliage, the rich wine makes me smile at the memory.
While the whites are good, I particularly enjoy Zumoy Winery’s reds, most notably their Graziano. While it’s very fruit-forward with flavors of berries and plums, there is also a hint of eucalyptus that reminds me of how much I love trying new wine flavors. Their Shiraz-Grenache — a deep ruby-red wine with intense black cherry aromas and hints of dark chocolate — also makes me smile as I remember an experience I had making my own blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mouvedre at Penfolds in South Australia.
Around the table everyone is laughing and talking, the volume of the room growing increasingly more boisterous.
“As you drink, the evening becomes more interesting,” laughs Arnist, who is sipping an interesting glass of Merlot with flavors of bacon, cashew, plum and touch of tobacco. While I’m not usually a big Merlot fan, I particularly like how the smokey flavor blends with the spice of the lamb and heartiness of the potato-stuffed grape leaf.
For those visiting, large groups can organize a similar situation and have the tasting catered. Alternatively, individual tastings are possible with an appointment and allow you to sample an array of wines in a structured manner with baguettes, cheese and cold cuts.
Photo Credit: Knafeh via avlxyz
First-timers to South America will probably find the bus system daunting in the beginning. That being said, it’s actually a fairly easy system to navigate. Use this guide to ease your worries and ensure stress-free overland travel throughout the continent.
Don’t Book Early
Yes, you read that right. When traveling around South America it’s really easy to purchase your ticket the day you decide to depart. When backpacking South America plans can change quickly. You may fall in love with a city and decide to stay longer than you planned, or you might meet a group of travelers going somewhere else that sounds interesting and you want to tag along. Give yourself room to have spontaneous adventures and wait to book your bus ticket until you’re completely sure of your next move.
Check The Departures Timetable When You Arrive
That being said, it’s a good idea to write down the departures timetable for the route you want as soon as you arrive to the bus station. It’ll save you a trip back to inquire later, as well as aggravation if you realize there are no buses running on the time/date you were hoping for.
Many times, bus stations have many different companies offering the same route for a different price. Ask around to find out who is offering the best deal.
…But Realize A Higher Price Means More Luxury
That being said, ask questions if one bus is exceptionally higher than the others. For example, some are a little pricier but in that case, you’ll get a very clean interior, comfortable reclining seats with foot rests, multi-course meals, sparkling wine and movies in English as entertainment.
Ask If There’s A Bathroom
South America is the land of long bus rides. In fact, many routes take longer than their anticipated times. Before buying a ticket ask if there is a bathroom on board. If not, try to find a company that has one, even if it’s a little more expensive. That is one amenity you really don’t want to go without.
Ask If There Is Food Served
Some of the buses offer meals and snacks in the ticket price, so you may want to ask beforehand if something will be served. This way, you’ll know if you should eat a big dinner or not or if you should bring your own meal on board.
Even if food is served, however, you should still bring snacks. You don’t want to be stuck on a 20-hour bus ride with a rumbling stomach. Moreover, it’s nice to have a backup plan if you don’t like the food being served on the bus.
While South America is home to some of the most inspiring and diverse scenery on the planet, there’s only so long you can stare out the window and not be bored. Download offline games on your phone, charge your iPod, bring a journal to write in, pack a book and some crossword puzzles, and try to keep yourself entertained while on board. Another idea is to interact with the locals on board to have an added cultural experience on the bus. Personally, I always enjoyed having a language exchange with the person sitting next to me to sharpen my Spanish skills.
If You’re Crossing A Border, Research The Rules Beforehand
While this usually isn’t a big deal (although always have your passport handy), some of the borders can be a little tricky. For example, trying to smuggle fruit, vegetables or other plant and animal products into Chile can result in an extremely large fine. Moreover, crossing from Peru into Ecuador can be a harrowing experience, especially if you do the Huaquillas/Tumbes crossing. Hint: Don’t ever take that route! Instead, opt to go through Macara, which can be aggravating but not at all as scary.
Just because a bus says it will depart at 3pm doesn’t mean it will. Be on time in case it does; however, plan with the thought in mind that it will probably be delayed, or at least late in getting you to your destination.
Appreciate The Culture
Many times the long bus rides award you an interesting glimpse into local culture. You’ll see women in traditional dress carrying market goods, vendors coming on board to sell local street food, entertainments popping to perform a song and local interactions. Moreover, you’ll get to experience a piece of everyday life in the city you’re in.
Be Aware Of Your Belongings
One not-so-fun reality of bus travel in South America is having your stuff being stolen while you’re sleeping isn’t unheard of. Not saying it will definitely happen, just that you should take precautions. Make sure important items like your passport, money, credit cards and ID are on your person and not in the backpack you stow under the bus. Moreover, I recommend wearing some pickpocket-proof clothing — I wear Clever Travel Companion — so you can hide valuables in hidden pockets. Additionally, if you do go to sleep have your purse inside your shirt and your day pack looped around part of your body so you can feel if someone tries to snatch it.
Realize The World — Or Continent — Is Your Oyster
The bus system in South America may mean your overland travel is slow, especially compared to a train. That being said, it makes anywhere you want to go accessible as long as you have the time. Go without a set itinerary and let the wind be your guide. I promise you won’t regret it.
Photo Credit: Via efe jota, hvaldez1,obr_sandro
“I enjoy bourbon. Nothing too sweet. And flavors that are sour and spicy.”
I love venues like this. Mike and I are exploring Boston’s nightlife, starting with the Eastern Standard. The dim restaurant and bar is littered with high-top tables and soft candlelight, giving the allure of romance. While we love the elegant yet cozy ambiance, we are here for one reason: classic cocktails.
There is a parchment paper menu in front of me, but instead of browsing it I tell the waitress what flavors I like so she can recommend something special. She brings me a Lion’s Tail, a mix of bourbon, lime juice, pimento drams, gomme syrup and Angostura Bitters, with the ingredients being mixed and double strained into a chilled cocktail glass. The bartender has crafted these cocktails with the precision of a scientist, and the flavors compliment each other strikingly well.
Mike orders a Manhattan, his go-to drink of choice no matter what bar we go to; however, his reaction to the mix of sweet vermouth, bourbon whiskey and Angostura bitters tells me it’s as if he’s having the libation for the first time.
We sip slowly, wanting to savor every moment of the drinks. I can’t believe these cocktails are only $10, as I would have paid triple that to enjoy something so well-crafted. The Bar Manager, Jackson Cannon, comes over to our table to chat with us. I had interviewed him a few months ago for a piece on classic cocktails, and he wanted to thank me and show me around.
“Have you seen Island Creek Oyster Bar or The Hawthorne yet?” he asks.
I’m unsure what he’s referring to. “No. Are those nearby?”
He smiles. Apparently, they are more than nearby. They are in the same building, The Hotel Commonwealth, where Jackson influences all three cocktail venues. And so, our night of classic cocktails in Boston continues.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Is it possible for an upscale bar to moonlight as an oyster farm? At Island Creek Oyster Bar, I’m astounded at how they’ve managed to bring farm elements into this space and make it look pristine. Moreover, I’m a bit taken aback by the quick change from dimly lit romance to glitzy white interiors. Gabion cages filled with tens of thousands of oyster shells makeup the three-dimensional walls, while reclaimed Wyoming snow fence is used to create the shutters and wood from a restored Vermont farmhouse has been refurbished to build the wainscoting. Even when perusing a menu you’ll notice the names of small farms carefully listed next to each dish, each specializing in farming freshwater and marine plants and animals.
While Eastern Standard breathes life into pre-Prohibition cocktails and creates new cocktails, Island Creek focuses on quality cocktails with a local and seasonal twist. Although I know we have another stop after this one, I can’t help but order something just to sample, and Mike follows my lead. I opt for a mixture of crushed lime, Rich Demerara syrup and ICOB’s house 4 Rum called the “Snug Harbor Mash,”while Mike is well-behaved and samples an “ICOB Pilsner,” an exclusive pilsner brewed with jasmine and orange peel.
We take our drinks to the center of the restaurant, where our eyes settle on a stunning 38’ x 18’ photograph of Duxbury Bay at low tide, brought to life by artist Stephen Sheffield. Wanting to get to know the specialties of the venue a bit better, Mike and I order a plate of crispy oyster sliders with lime chile aioli and a helping of Steamed Duxbury Littlenecks with ICOB slab bacon, rosemary fennel broth and scallion butter. I’m seamlessly immersed in local aquaculture, while still being able to wear a clean party dress.
We finish only half our drinks, but all our food, as we know we still have on more stop on our classic cocktail’s in Boston crawl.
Next, we move on to Jackson’s newest project, The Hawthorne. Here, the focus is truly on the bar and craft cocktails, with an expansive cocktail menu filled with nouveau classics, rediscovered favorites and rotating creations. Because the bar is technically a hotel bar, the idea is to bring some of the homey, residential feel into design of The Hawthorne. Jackson shows Mike and I around. It’s comfortable yet sophisticated, with an upscale urban apartment theme. In one area, a group of imbibers relaxes on a loveseat and plush chairs, surrounded by works by artists like Stephen Sheffield and glass coffee tables.
As we walk into a separate room off the bar, the background noise seems to go completely silent, and the ambiance softens. Tall bookcases and a globe sit next to a mix of nude, orange and zebra print chairs. Look closer at one of the bookcases, and you’ll notice it’s not just books in there, but some of Jackson’s favorite things, like his favorite spirits line and personal glassware. A simple rolling cart is setup in this quieter room, and Jackson shows us just how much they can do with a few feet of space and some drawers.
“Ready for some cocktails?” Jackson asks, taking us to meet Head Bartender Nicole Lebedevitch. I would actually pay money to sit and watch her make drinks. It’s as mesmerizing as a Broadway show. Except, there’s no acting here. Nicole seems to know everything there is about classic cocktails and making quality drinks, as she muddles, pinches and mixes hard-to-find spirits and ingredients, using about 20 different instruments to accurately pour each shot of liquor.
Once we are seated at the bar with our liquid masterpieces, Mike turns to Jackson. “So, do you have a favorite on the menu?”
Jackson looks perplexed, and we’re not sure if he heard the question. He turns to the bartender for help, but she just shrugs and laughs.
“Sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult,” explains Jackson. “It’s just that there is a time and place for each cocktail. It depends on what you’re eating, what your mood is. There are many factors that come into play.”
I must have been in the right mood at the right time, because my “Scarlett,” a mix of Russian Standard, berries, lime and ginger, is perfect. The ginger is the best part, spicy but not overwhelming. Mike seems to be enjoying his usual “Manhattan,” the rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters flawlessly strained and served in a rock glass.
As we sip, I think of how nice it is to indulge in a quality drink, instead of chugging the cheapest wine a place has (guilty as charged). It takes us an hour and a half to finish our drinks, as we savor every sip, not wanting to the magic happening on our taste buds to end. When we are done, we thank Nicole and Jackson, and head for the door. I’m not drunk at all, just relaxed and happy, like a good cocktail should make you feel.
“Excuse me miss, you forgot your coat,” a gentleman in a black suit calls from the bar.
I guess a few classic cocktails can make me tipsier than I thought.
Top Image via Eastern Standard
“Woodstock came to symbolize our solidarity…the connection to one another felt by all of us…we showed the best of ourselves…the time was right…the spirit was right, and we were right. What resulted was a celebration…when joy became big news…It was a strange, sometimes magical trip…Woodstock was an opportunity, a moment, a home…” – Michael Lang from “The Road to Woodstock”.
While many people know of Woodstock as the site of one of the world’s craziest festivals, the truth is Woodstock 1969 happened in Bethel, New York. That being said, festival organizer Michael Lang was not only from Woodstock, but inspired by it. Being that the town was America’s first arts colony, surrounded by natural beauty and filled with creative minds, this should be no surprise. Even today, you can still experience this vibrant culture. To help you plan your itinerary, here are some quintessential experiences to have in Woodstock:
1. Gallery Hop
The charming, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks of Woodstock are littered with galleries, all easily visited without a car. Start your tour at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, where you can explore two floors of diverse works created by local artists. Another popular stop is the nearby BYRDCLIFFE Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, another place to see works by local artists as well as take in live performances and purchase artisanal handicrafts. For a range of creative spaces, take a stroll down Gallery Row on Tannery Brook Road, which has five exceptional galleries located one next to the other.
2. Take A Walking Tour Of Byrdcliffe Arts Colony
Byrdcliffe Arts Colony is America’s oldest continuing arts colony and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Featuring 300 wooded acres and 30 “Arts and Crafts Style” buildings, visitors can take a self-guided one-mile walking tour taking in heritage buildings, still-in-use artist studios and artist residences. Check out The Forge, built in the summer of 1903 for iron, brass, jewelry and silver workers. Today, it is used as an artist home and work space. There’s also the White Pines, built in 1903 as a home and the heart of the colony, the structure is the quintessential example of Arts and Crafts Style architecture in harmony with nature.
3. Browse The Books In The Golden Notebook
Woodstock’s independent bookstore since 1978, The Golden Notebook showcases quality titles and rare gems in a space that is surprisingly big as far as Woodstock shops go. The atmosphere is laid-back, and you can browse the novels at your leisure without being pressured. Additionally, staff here know their stuff, so if you’re looking for a stimulating literary conversation this is the place to go. What’s also intriguing about The Golden Notebook is you never know who you’ll find perusing the shelves (I saw Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, chatting with staff when I was there). On weekends you can always find events happening in the store, like book signings, lectures and literary programs.
4. Enjoy Free Jam Samples & Artisanal Salted Caramel At Chez Grand’Mere
Chez Grand’Mere is a one-of-a-kind gift shop with a vintage feel. Browse antiques, hand-knit sweaters, French linens, old time postcards and classic bath and beauty products. The shop’s real draw, however, is the shelves lined with homemade spreads, with certain ones set out for free sampling, and the counter display of artisanal chocolates. Try the dark chocolate salted caramels, decadent, gooey and sprinkled with sea salt.
5. Hunt For Hippie Memorabilia
Walking along the sidewalks of Woodstock, you’ll notice myriad hippie-inspired stores and head shops. The Forge on Tinker Street blasts classic rock and has hysterical signs advising hippies to “enter through the side door” — despite the fact these are undoubtedly the store’s biggest customers. You’ll find Woodstock memorabilia, peace t-shirts, old records, pipes and 70s inspired paraphanalia. These types of shops epitomize Woodstock’s free-thinking philosophy, and you won’t have to look hard to find them littered throughout the town.
6. Check Out The Midnight Ramble
Started by The Band’s Levon Helm, The Midnight Ramble was what his early performance career revolved around in the 2000s, taking place in his barn home and studio in Woodstock. At the time Helm had been diagnosed with throat cancer — which he passed away from on April 19, 1012 — and the concerts were a way to help him raise money for his medical bills. Today the lively nightly shows continue, taking place at least once per month to pay tribute to Helm and his music. You never know what type of music will be played or what famous musicians may show up to play a set or just take in the energetic atmosphere
7. Eat Innovative Farm-to-Table From A Chopped Winner
Just outside of Woodstock you’ll find New World Home Cooking, where Chopped-winner Ric Orlando does farm-to-table dining in an innovative way. You can get everything from Thai to Italian to Southern to burgers, all made with local ingredients and bursting flavor, but without “secret ingredients” to help make dining fun and simple for people on special diets. Some typical menu items include a “Pan Roasted Organic Salmon Filet” made Sardinian-style with blood orange sauce, Gaeta olives, fregola and arugala; “Cage Blackened Mississippi Catfish” with Wild Hive yellow grits, braised kale and Louisiana bearnaise; and “Hudson Valley Duck and Sausage,” a dish featuring conﬁt leg and cotecchino sausage, black trumpet sauce, corn pudding and fresh greens.
8. See What The Woodstock Town Crier Has To Say
In the center of Woodstock you’ll find a chalkboard, also known as the Town Crier, advertising the town’s upcoming events. There is always something happening in Woodstock, whether it’s a concert, gallery exhibition, creative performance, horse parade or community festival. It’s an interesting landmark to see, as well as a great way to experience the best the town has to offer.
9. Take A Hike
Surrounded by the beautiful Catskill mountains, there are many opportunities for hiking around Woodstock. One of the most scenic treks is to the top of Overlook Mountain, accessible from Mead Mountain Road across from the across from the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Budhist monastery. You’ll make your way uphill for about two miles before reaching the ruins of the once- luxurious Overlook Mountain House. Continue uphill to the top summit, which is about 3,140 feet, climbing the fire tower to give yourself even more height. While you may feel accomplished, the best views are actually had at the rock ledge accessed via a narrow trail behind the information cabin. Here you’ll be awarded aerial views of the Hudson Valley and Ashokan Resovoir.
Other popular hikes in the area include Bellayre Mountain, Mohonk Preserve, Balsam Lake Mountain, Black Creek Forest Preserve and the Codfish Point Trail.
10. Have Your Aura Read
While River Rock Health Spa offers the ambiance and professionalism of a luxury health spa, as well as typical treatments like Swedish massage and anti-aging facial, you can also experience quintessential Woodstock culture through their alternative healing offerings. Ever heard of Aura Photography? It’s when your unseen energy is captured on camera. A certified aurographer will read your aura colors and tell you what your energy means. The spa also offers hand analysis where you can have your handwriting, finger prints or hands read to tell you what your natural gifts are and how you can find fulfillment. Additionally, Intuitive Kinesiology is offered. This is where your muscles are assessed in order to clear the body of imbalances. For example, a traumatic experience that is causing you anxiety can be found and removed in order to give you a sense of euphoria.
Photo Credit: phre3a, ba1969, Gronvik, Chef Ric Orlando.
“We create a culture here based on traditions while coexisting with nature,” explains Kyoko, the marketing representative for HOSHINOYA Resorts, which includes the property we’re currently touring, HOSHINOYA Okinawa. “The design of the property is based on the traditions and heritage of Taketomi island.”
Of the hundreds of islands in Okinawa, Taketomi is the only one to truly preserve the ancient traditions. The island is heritage listed, and as you walk through the village you’ll notice the buildings all look alike: red-tiled roofs, one-story homes, narrow coral and sand roads and coral lined yards.
While the Japanese are often touted as a stressed people, the people of Taketomi Island are the complete opposite, relaxed and laid-back. With only 323 people on the island, everyone knows each other and works together. Goods are made by hand using local resources and services are provided with passion and a smile.
At HOSHINOYA Okinawa, this traditional culture is reflected not only through the design of the property, but also the services and amenities. The self-contained villas are actually luxury ryokans, featuring tatami mats, futon beds, zori sandals, shoji sliding wood doors with paper screens and Yukata robes worn as leisure wear around the property.
When we get to my ryokan, I notice a menacing lion on the roof.
“That’s a shiisa,” explains Kyoko. “You’ll find it on every house in the village and on our property. It protects you from bad fortune.”
Apparently, some of these shiisas also hold objects that are good luck. After venturing around the property, I find a ball, a pinwheel and a ladder. The ball represents how when a person gets into their 70s they’re as well rounded as a ball, while the pinwheel signifies the child inside when a person gets into their 80s. Additionally, the ladder symbolizes the steps people take to reach their goals and their accomplishments in their 50s and 60s.
As I go to walk onto the yard of my villa, which has a partial standalone wall sitting in front of it, Kyoko stops me.
“You must enter to the left of the coral wall,” she explains. “The right side is for gods only.”
At the door, I’m instructed to take off my shoes and replace them with the slippers provided. I feel instantly at peace as I step inside, taking in the room’s light wood walls, naturally dim lighting and traditional touches. An oversized stand-alone tub sits in the center of the room and I see two over-sized tea bags containing bath herbs. I know what I’ll be doing after dinner.
The restaurant at HOSHINOYA Okinawa showcases an innovative type of cuisine brought to the island by the resort. Called Ryukyu Nouvelle, it makes use of French techniques, typical Okinawa foods and local ingredients, including herbs and produce from their onsite garden.
As I walk into the upscale restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the in-ground pool and lush forest, I’m brought a hot towel and washi paper menu. The dishes are innovative, with traditional staples like Ishigaki beef and Okinawa potatoes, and I feel excited to sample true Taketomi culture.
The amuse-bushe for the night is a hearty piece of fresh marinated tuna from Yaeyama Island with green onion compote. The fish tastes like it was caught five minutes ago, while the onion gives the dish a bit of contrast. This is followed by a roasted Ise lobster from Taketomi, flavored with tropical spice as well as a protein-rich slice of juicy Ishigaki miya pork, served with an organic side salad.
By now I’m feeling satiated and happy, although the freshness of the food leaves me curious as to what other creative dishes the chef can come up with using only local ingredients. My question is answered as a steaming bowl of clam and winter melon is placed in front of me. The fruit adds a slight bitterness to the sweet and salty clams, making it a delicious dish of contrast.
More courses are brought out – butter-roasted Mibai Okinawan grouper dressed with coulis of Island spinach; oven-roasted Yanburu chicken topped with Tancan tangerine marmalade and Yaima miso paste served with Island potato and banana puree on the side; and seafood taco rice flavored with local vine-ripened tomatoes. I have never been much of a vegetable person, but when they’re fresh from the garden it’s amazing how they can enhance a meal.
My sweet tooth smiles once the desserts are brought. The Avant Dessert is a compote of tropical fruits, fragranced with sweet hibiscus, followed by a scrumptious Ishigaki Mango Tarte Tatin served with Jimami peanut ice cream. Knowing it’s sustainably prepared leads to me to believe I’m eating healthy, and I choose not to stray from this line of thinking as I finish every bit of ice cream and pie.
After dinner, Kyoko and I head out by the pool for some Tin Nu Deep Breathing, or “Breathing of the Sky” exercises. It’s one of the many cultural activities offered by the resort, some others including morning Yonna Deep Breathing on the beach, a water buffalo cart ride, making cultural handicrafts and traditional weaving. Tin Nu breathing is designed to relax the body before bedtime while releasing toxins from the body through controlled breathing. With a bit of light from the pool illuminating our yoga mats, we breathe in through our mouths for four counts then exhale for eight, expanding and contracting our bellies. We begin standing, then sit Indian-style and practice our breathing while rolling in a circular motion on our backsides. From there, we’re instructed to reach as high as we can for the moon to grab its power and bring it into our bodies. By the time we get to the lay down position I’m so relaxed I think I may pass out.
The instructor, Tokiko, tells us an old story from Taketomi Island and the Yaeyama Archipelago of the Star Child which Kyoko translates for me. Once upon a time there was a mother and father star, who had a baby star. While they told the God of Sky, who gave approval, they didn’t tell God of Ocean. God of Ocean became very angry, using a big snake to kill the baby star. The snake’s feces became fossils, which is why you find star-shaped sand on the beaches of Taketomi. Because the mother and father star were sad, God of Sky put baby star into the sky as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky. It’s also why once a year the servants of God on Taketomi Island put the star-shaped sand in an “aroma pot” and give the sand a prayer in an “On” or “Shrine of God.”
Back in my room, I steep my tea bags for a soothing bath. Submerging my body in scents of locally-sourced lemon grass, fennel, dill and pineapple mint, I feel completely immersed in Taketomi culture. And with the island’s traditional weaving culture to locally-sourced food to the pure pride these people have in their heritage, it’s a beautiful feeling to have.