About Kelli Mutchler
Kelli Mutchler left a small, Midwest American town to prove that Yanks can, and do, chose alternative lifestyles. On the road for five years now, Kelli has tried news reporting and waitressing, bungy jumping and English teaching. Currently working with Burmese women refugees in Thailand, she hopes to pursue a MA in Global Development. Opportunities and scenes for international travel are encouraged on her blog, www.toomutchforwords.com.
Latest Posts by Kelli Mutchler
Auki warned us about the gelatinous creatures we’d discovered in tide pools along ‘Eua’s coral shelf. The sea slugs had always been part of the Tongan’s diet, with natives picking and eating sustainably. But now, aid and corporate funds from China had purchased the foreign investor free license to over-consume and threaten the islands’ delicate ecosystem.
This is one of many reasons why Tonga – and the South Pacific – are hailed as the “last frontier” in tourism.
Tonga now faces the same challenges as destinations in the Caribbean and Central Asia: how to protect its unique culture from an influx of outsiders, while improving infrastructure to draw in tourism money, and carefully balancing growth without destroying the scenes such travelers are desperate to see.
Headhunters On My Doorstep – J. Maarten Troost, 2013
Robert Louis Stevenson. Photo credit: Wikipedia – University of Edinburgh.
You can only imagine how exotic and pristine these isolated countries must have appeared to early expatriots, such as the renowned Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson.
After penning the classics Treasure Island and Kidnapped, a deteriorating health condition sent Stevenson sailing through the South Pacific in search of warmer climes. Troost, though never a huge fan of the Scot’s writing, decides to follow Stevenson’s route on his own journey of self-improvement. Only Troost isn’t struggling with weak lungs, he’s battling alcoholism.
From the Marquesas to Kiribati, Troost’s cocktail-temptation-trail between remote island chains is only slightly less difficult than Stevenson’s original route. With his usual ability to turn small details into entertaining anecdotes, Troost faces devious gold smugglers, starving sharks and the ghosts of old islanders. A bit more candid than in his previous South Pacific narratives (read: The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stone With Savages), the author returns to familiar settings in order to compare how they – and he – have changed over the decades.
The result could be ‘yet another South Seas story’ of predictable fact and wit; luckily, Troost’s personal demons and Stevenson-influenced itinerary turn Headhunters into something slightly more than expected.
Most of the titles on Longitude’s list study heavier subjects of social, political and economic impact. While Headhunters seeks to compare environmental and emotional instability in some of the Pacific’s most unique locations, it does so with a quick but lighthearted perspective guaranteed to educate the reader without becoming overtly academic.
Plus, though Troost’s movements and style may seem rambling at times, they subtly reaffirm Stevenson’s own motto for travel: “Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.”
Pele, Vanuatu. Photo credit: Nicky Fernandes, Flickr – Boat Boys.
Why it’s relevant to travel in 2014:
Auki was right; there are few other destinations in the world so physically removed from modern society that the sheer tyranny of this distance protects regional identity. Flights and ferries to the South Pacific don’t run frequently, or on time. Travel here is dictated not by man-made schedules, but by tides, storm fronts and the whim of locals. Though previous attempts at colonization – through whaling and trading, missionary work, and goodwill aid efforts – have already brought about noticeable damage to cultures and environment, optimistic efforts at preservation are growing.
It may sound hypocritical to trumpet a location’s delicate natural beauty, then prompt travelers to rush there. But, if you believe in tropical paradise and want to experience it before it’s destroyed, follow Stevenson and Troost to the south seas.
“This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea…” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Welcome to Tasmania, the place of two heads, snaggle teeth and webbed feet. An assortment of unflattering body parts that supposedly separate inbred Tasmanians from the rest of Australia. However mercilessly the Mainlanders may laugh at the island, locals shrug it off with a stoic pioneer spirit. During my six months here, I’ve realized that they’ll gladly trade a little laughter in order to keep secret the paradise that is their home.
How do you actually distinguish Tasmania from other Aussie states? The devil is, quite literally, in the details.
1. Loony Toons’ spinning maniac isn’t far from the real thing. Tasmanian Devils are noisy carnivores with sharp teeth and a ferocious jaw. Rarely seen in the wild, the Devil population has been slowly declining due to an incurable facial tumor. Make a difference by adopting a devil, or purchasing one of the many souvenirs that donate a percentage of sales to the Save The Tasmanian Devil appeal.
2. With a human population of about 512,00, it doesn’t take many visitors to make a crowd. In 2013, a record 1 million tourists explored the state – a number slightly less than Tasmania’s total population of sheep. Join the journey on the newly-created tourist highway, The Great Eastern Drive, which will rival mainland’s Great Ocean Road.
3. Regional alliances aren’t based on politics; instead, they’re shaped by beer. Southerns swear by the striped mascot of Cascade’s Tasmanian Tiger, while Northerners sip up the ales of James Boag’s. Why the dividing boundary? Cascade, Australia’s oldest beer, is brewed down in Hobart, and Boag’s is bottled in Launceston, up top. Taste a bit of local flavor with Cascade Draught or Boag’s Wizard Smith Ale, two unique beverages only available within the state.
4. The main road between the two largest cities, Launceston (or “Lonnie,” as the natives call it) and Hobart, is a one lane highway. Expect to travel it in fits and starts, as your route is slowed by road-killed wallabies, suddenly changing speed limits, nervous tourists in camper vans and neighborhood farmers chugging home in tractors.
5. Shopping can still be done at roadside folding tables. Hand-painted advertisements for cray pots, potatoes and sheep poo line the winding highways, with tin can collection jars acting as cash registers. Need used books or Tassie Devil oven mitts? For another rural shopping experience, swing past Shop in the Bush, a lonely bric-a-brac store on the outskirts of the Blue Tier Forest.
6. The hottest event of the summer will not be the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but the United Nation’s decision to uphold Tasmania’s World Heritage site. The Tasmanian Wilderness is one of the largest conservation areas in Australia, covering nearly 1/5 of the island. The federal government has petitioned the UN to reduce the size of the site in order to increase logging. Keep an eye on the news in mid-June, when a decision on the Tasmanian Wilderness will be made at the 38th World Heritage Committee session.
7. The most popular and recognizable style of architecture is Convict. While Britain’s transportation policies to the mainland ended in the 1850s , Tasmania remained a penal colony until the 1870s. The bricks and mortar of this recent history are evident around the island, especially in jail settlements like the infamous Port Arthur. Built on the edge of the Tasman Peninsula, this was a prison within a prison, a place where eternal punishment destroyed rehabilitation. Explore the grounds of Port Arthur with a sense of reverence; nearly 130 years after the final prisoner was flogged here, Australia experienced it’s biggest public massacre when a gunman opened fire and killed 35 people.
8. Thanks to a rich soil and the ban of all genetically modified crops, Tasmania is an agricultural haven. Savor salty Pacific oysters, succulent Cape Grim beef, aromatic wheels of King Island brie and crisp red apples – the fruit behind Tasmania’s nickname, “The Apple Isle.” With multiple wine, cider and microbrewery trails, it’s quickly becoming a gastronomic destination. Don’t stop at the food stuffs; try Lark, a distillery product that just won the title of “World’s Best Single Malt Whiskey.”
9. People often refer to the island as “the New Zealand of Australia” because it’s smaller, more scenic, more colloquial, and all jokes involve sheep and cousins. Much like residents of Alaska or the Isle of Man, folks relate foremost to the soil beneath their feet, and not the nearby mother country. To be Tasmanian is to protect a parcel of land so wealthy in history, wildlife and natural resources, that insulting generalizations are simply empty sentences. Look closely and you’ll see, the joke is really on those unlucky folks stuck on the mainland.
A clod of dirt caught between my front teeth, earthly particles burying my taste buds under the distinctive flavor of ground soil. When Geoff passed around the plate of raw Wichetty grub and dared us to take a piece, he described it as a traditional Aboriginal snack. “Very high in protein, tastes just like chicken.”
Guffawing with typical Australian good humor, Geoff squished a segment of grub between thumb and pointer finger. “On the count of three: one…two…luckiest person gets the brain…three!”
There are certain foods you’re fortuitous enough to try just once. And the exploding brain of an obese native bug tops the list.
But the rest of Australia’s indigenous and exotic foods, so often misrepresented by Vegemite and “shrimp on the barbie”, are far easier to try. And – unlike my introduction to the Witchetty – pleasantly unexpected.
I didn’t always consider Aussie meals, tucker, to be an ethnic cuisine; at first, I didn’t consider it much of anything. Greasy chips, English-style roasts on a Sunday, mince beef pies and sausages drowned in tomato sauce.
Yet the danger in categorizing a country’s national dishes so simply is that we, the Visitor, miss out on its more subtle and unique local palates. Down Under, you have to dig a bit to discover the tastes that shape this island.
Flavors of summer and sea, from fresh Pacific oysters to Barramundi fish and crisp, bright native limes. Quandong fruits, with their heavy round pits and the tart flesh that melts into jams and chutneys.
If you’re caught in a Melbourne rain storm, nothing comforts better than a crumbly chocolate Tim Tam dipped into a cup of black tea. After roasting through a Western Australian afternoon, caramel ice cream infused with Murray River salt lowers your body temperature as quickly as air conditioning.
Learning to shuck Pacific oysters. Fowler’s Bay, South Australia
Kangaroo, wallaby, crocodile and emu appear in unfamiliar shapes on restaurant plates. Crusted in wattle seed or spiced with Kakadu plum sauce, each bite brings the rugged Outback directly to your tongue.
And then there’s my favorite – Pavlova. Though Australia and New Zealand fight lightheartedly over this desert like they do over sporting events and the origins of Crowded House, it’s a regional dish that reminds me of my first backpacking adventures in this part of the world.
Picking wild blackberries in the bush. East Coast, Tasmania.
The knife slices through meringue crust, exposing soft, sugary insides. Unlike the Witchetty grub, one bite is not enough. I scoop the escaping passion fruit off the plate and back onto my fork, devouring the syrup and cake combination.
“It’s a Kiwi specialty,” my Kiwi boyfriend reminds me.
Lost means little when you’re halfway up a rock face, wedged furtively between towers of stone. Every surface looks the same from this angle; no map promises us stable footing. My partner and I are chasing cairns to the top of Mount Parsons which is located in Abbecville County South Carolina. Whether meaningful trail markers or merely lose rubble, these rock soldiers silently mark our ascent.
“Up there,” Hadyn points toward five pebbles stacked on the shelf above me. How can you be sure? I wonder for a third time. Who left them here before us, and how do I know we share a destination? Trusting these inanimate guides is either a trick for the faithless, or an assurance to the faithful.
But then – as all travel writers do when the next blog post is absent and an angry wind threatens to topple a cairn on your forehead – I realize that this man-made monument is symbolic of a much greater universal truth.
Every other peak in the Hazard Range of Freycinet National Park can be reached on a maintained trail, but this one has not been tamed. The only proof of previous human touches are these granite guides. To trust them is to trust everyone who has climbed ahead and kept them in place.
Isn’t there something all-inclusive about these wee piles? Throughout the ages, humans have written sagas with nothing more than a few stones, carefully placed one on top of the other: to indicate hunting ground in Greenland, to commemorate grave sites in Portugal, to garner good luck in South Korea.
And almost everywhere, they are used to mark trails and point a traveler in the right direction. So I wedge my heel into a narrow crevice, sigh and stretch upward. We can doubt, or we can learn from the signs left by others. After all, it is always better to climb forward than to slide back down.
Fidel Castro’s mustache instantly attracted Michelle’s attention, but his oratory prowess and political passion piqued her interest soon after.
“Everyone always loves Che, but I’m trying to convert them.”
Curious to the point of obsession, my flatmate devours biographies and fictional histories, printed interviews bigger than a Bible and Fidel’s own heated publications. After reading about the Cuban leader, Michelle will visit his small but proud Caribbean country. And while she’ll travel with more knowledge than most, few books will help her accept those upcoming experiences better than this one.
Cuban Revelations – Behind the Scenes in Havana – Marc Frank, 2013
U.S.-born Marc Frank spent nearly 25 years living in Cuba and working as a foreign news correspondent.
From the fall of the Soviet Union (and its subsequent influence in Cuba), through the proceeding decades of governmental transition between Fidel and his brother Raul, Frank recounts the political and economic developments that have reshaped this island nation.
Marrying a local and raising his children here, Frank’s observations are made with the interest of an outsider and the healthy realism of a citizen. He gives special attention to U.S.-Cuban relations, candidly recording a quarter century of trial and error.
The book is a blend of travel narrative and journalistic commentary, with sources cited, credits quoted and personal experiences described in just enough detail. This style infuses the pages with confidence and authority. Even when the reading gets stuck in technical references, Frank’s honest version encourages you to see things through ’til the end – much the same feeling he subtly encourages you to keep toward Cuba.
Why this title made the list: You could liken Cuba to Myanmar: that still-untrampled country, with stringent visa requirements, a complex history and international outcry over the dos and don’ts of visiting. The average backpacker cannot enter either country without warnings on safety, human rights concerns, nefarious Western influences and dictatorial regimes. Yet both sets of borders protect rich cultures and citizens hopeful for change.
Luckily, Frank’s Revelations will not only bring the reader up to speed on the most recent political and economic developments, but establish a better (and nonpartisan) comprehension of Cuba’s history.
Plus, for those of North American descent, this book does what few other Cuban tales have done before: challenge the preconceived stereotypes of Fidel as a demonic, ruthless ruler.
Photo credit: Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons
Why it’s relevant to travel in 2014: As the changes within the country allow for further foreign investment and travel (though Americans face a few extra hurdles in the visa application process), more and more visitors will drift in. Foreign dollars will be spent, tourism will increase and, with it, slowly replace all those iconic images we apply to the mysterious country. Cuban cigars will cease to be a unique commodity, and those big, pastel-colored vintage cars will disappear from the streets.
So now is the time to go; it’s just not the time to go without some basic background research. Follow the example of Fidel – an avid reader himself – and let a little bit of self-education guide your future movements.
Before The Rat Pack crooned to crowds and themed hotels broke the desert skyline, gamblers, outlaws and opportunists were raising ruckus in the Wild West town of Deadwood, South Dakota. The discovery of gold in 1876 changed this outpost into a bustling city that promised riches to the lucky and daring. Though its lights no longer shine as brightly as Vegas, they still twinkle with a hint of that old mischievous mineral wealth. Next time you pass through these parts, try a few of my favorite experiences.
Wild Bill Hickok, a gun-slinging sheriff and folk hero, is one of the most well-known figures of the west. He spent his final years policing the streets of Deadwood, until a vengeful miner shot him during a game of poker. As the story goes, Hickok never played with his back to the door; but, distracted by his winning hand, failed to notice the gun barrel behind him. To this day, the aces and eights he held are called “Dead Man’s Hand.” Now, you can step into this historic gaming hall to see the chair he died in, and play a hand of your own.
Founded by an eclectic collection of immigrants and local entrepreneurs, Deadwood’s current eating options reflect its diversity. While family-operated venues like the Howlin’ Hog Diner offer hearty steak-and-potatoes fare, you can also find homemade Mexican tamales, sweet and sour pork in old Chinatown, and Native American fry bread tacos. Local wildlife – buffalo, venison and pheasant – feature on most menus. For a bite of fine dining, make a reservation at Jake’s. Owned by actor Kevin Costner, the restaurant is filled with set pieces from Dances with Wolves, which was filmed in the region.
Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark. A portion of all revenue from the many casinos and slot machines is set aside for preservation, meaning even the cobblestones under your feet have been here since Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock strolled down them in the 1880s. These days, you can be part of the living history by witnessing a reenactment of Wild Bill Hickok’s death, a shoot-out between desperadoes, and the trial of Hickok’s murderer, Jack McCall. Street shows are free to the public and held on Main Street throughout the day.
Days of ’76
Nothing says “Welcome to the West” better than tickets to a rodeo. While regional and state competitions take place here year round, the biggest bronco show in town happens each July. The Days of ’76, which commemorates the golden discovery that brought Deadwood to life, is a rowdy occasion with parades, parties, steer roping and a lot of patriotism. Trust this native – it’s as down-home as you can get! But even out-of-towners will find something to smile at during the week-long celebration.
Deadwood is truly a scene pulled from history, with enough glitz and risky business to entertain everyone. Events go on throughout the year, so keep an eye on the local calendar to find your perfect visiting season.
Photo credits: Dan4th Nicholas, Flickr; Wikimedia Commons; tpsdave, Pixabay; micadew, Flikr
Fish scales have a way of slipping into my morning coffee cup. The car always smells of salmon flesh, and frozen fillets tumble out whenever I open the freezer door.
But Hadyn feels about fishing as I feel about traveling: that it is an act of passion, of reverence, which must be practiced as often as possible in order to feel a legendary moment of aliveness. Both activities share a pull that only the dedicated will ever understand.
Expectations can be deceiving; in the end, you never know what you’ll end up with.
In the right locations, it’s easy to lose yourself in isolated reflection. After all, those visions on the horizon belong to no one else.
You spend so much time waiting, time itself can loose importance and become merely a part of the experience.
The most awe-striking experiences aren’t always easy to reach. Sometimes, you have to wade through a lot of crap to get there.
What is it that elates us, the journey or the destination? Throwing your line out into the unknown or finding a surprise when you reel it in?
Often, you grow so focused on details in the foreground, you miss the ethereal scene developing in all directions.
In the end, all those little annoyances – the biting flies, the dusty trail, the early wake-ups, the over-charged transportation – lose their significance. Nothing matters but the taste of the story in your mouth and the knowledge that you have earned it.
Smear your cheeks with red, white and blue paint. Crack open a Coopers Ale and line up a backyard cricket pitch. Flaunt your Southern Cross constellation tattoo under a sweltering summer sun. Yes, you can even chuck some shrimp on the proverbial “barbie”.
Whatever you do to celebrate Australia Day, be sure of what you’re celebrating.
January 26th commemorated the arrival of the First Fleet – ships carrying British settlers, soldiers and convicts – into Sydney harbor in 1788. While Aussies around the world will recognize the national holiday with outdoor festivities and that quintessential Down Under optimism, the event also has a fair crowd of protestors.
Like Columbus Day in the United States, Australia Day has been challenged as a racist, inconsiderate reflection of imperial colonization that ignores the indigenous peoples who suffered after the arrival of – or ‘discovery’ by – Europeans.
Our traditions define our national identity; so, before you tie a flag around your shoulders, here are six other thought-provoking ways to prepare.
- LEARN: As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, places have a way of changing history. Before you make an opinion about the political correctness of Australia Day, pick up the facts from an unbiased source, such as The Australia Day National Network.
- READ: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz. If the bold Englishman, Cook, had not landed on the world’s largest island in 1770, we might be partying for different reasons today. Latitudes cleverly combines historical analysis of Cook’s original ocean voyages with Horwitz’s own modern travels through the places Cook landed. Observations about Cook’s relatively humane treatment of indigenous peoples, and the twists in his current reputation, are especially relevant to Australia Day.
- WATCH: Rap News 1, with Ken Oathcarn. I’ll let you decide if Ken is being objectively critical of the national holiday, or simply deceptively self-deprecating. Well-written rap verse asks “What, exactly, are you celebrating?” The development of a great nation, or genocide and colonization? And is it possible to applaud a history that involves both?
- LISTEN: Triple J’s Hottest 100. Show your support for another side of Aussie culture: its flourishing music scene. Over 40% of the artists to earn credit for the 100 greatest songs of 2013 are Australian. The annual list, voted on entirely by listeners and broadcast live on Jan. 26th, has become a more recent addition to the yearly occasion.
- CONSIDER: Australian of the Year Awards. A handful of individuals are nominated and chosen as nation-wide role models, people who “make us proud to be Australian.” From singer-songwriters to athletes and educators, this year’s winners have been especially recognized as instigating change on Aboriginal rights issues.
- EAT: And finally, because the bbq is still a central point of the holiday, how about stretching your taste buds beyond grilled sausages and trying a few of the lesser-known dishes, like lammingtons, that you can only find in this Great Southern Land.
After all, that’s where you’ll find me on Australia Day: applying sun cream in a city park, hoping to integrate the country’s unique beauty and contentious history with a lazy sky above me, and a wallaby burger in one hand.
Top photo Australia Day fireworks in Perth, Western Australia. Image courtesy of Creative Commons Google Images.