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
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.
Each year, four international tennis championships – called Grand Slams – are held around the world, to determine the sports’ top athletes. Through January 26, 2014, Melbourne will hold the Grand Slam of Asia Pacific, the Australian Open.
Held at the Melbourne Park, matches are scheduled for both day and night sessions. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone or agent. Prices vary depending on the match session. Ticket holders can ride public transportation to and from the Parks’ arena, free of charge, during the Open.
Though tickets are coveted by the half million sports fans who will attend, the Open is also an excuse for one big city party. Matches are shown live on big screens in downtown’s Federation Square, with themed parties, sponsored beverage booths and entertainment lasting well after the final shot.
Tasmania may be too far off the map for many travelers; but, while it basks in the summer of the Southern Hemisphere, this Australian state is holding one of the country’s best and biggest food festivals. From local cuisines and wines to regional artists and entertainers, Festivale 2014 will highlight all that is unique – and edible – to the island.
Called “Tassie” by its many proud residents, the state is renowned for fresh seafood, micro-brewed beer, fruits and cheeses. Cider experts, celebrity chefs and international buskers add prestige to the event’s world-famous tastes.
During the three-day festival, held in Launceston’s City Park, visitors can sample home-grown produce such as marine farmed Pacific oysters, cloth-strained aged chedders, east coast pinot gris, and cherry ciders. Over 100 wines from 23 Tasmanian wineries will compete for Festivale’s top wine awards.
Festivale runs from Friday, February 7 – Sunday, 9th, with three-day tickets selling online for $39.00. Tickets may also be purchased at the gate, upon entry.
Places have a way of changing history.
200 years ago, the chalice-shaped inlet of Wineglass Bay oozed with the blood of butchered whales, turning the peaceful waters into a glass of Merlot and invoking its descriptive name.
But today, as tourism draws ever-increasing numbers to Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park, this gruesome truth has been swapped with a more romantic story. Modern visitors are awed by the view from Wineglass Lookout, and assured that the pristine stretch of shoreline is merely titled after its elegant, natural shape.
Considered one of the world’s top 10 beaches, Wineglass is a haven. Regardless of how many tourists crowd the platform overlooking its milk-white sands, the beach creates an eternal sense of discovery. To trek down and strip off your socks is to reenact the original exploration by French seafarer, Nicholas Baudin.
And watching vigilantly over every person and plant are the Hazards. These five mountainous brothers protect Wineglass from the population of nearby Coles Bay, presenting a rocky obstacle for hikers and day-trippers.
Declared a national park in 1916, Freycinet is one of the first federally-protected wildlife regions in Tasmania. Australia’s endemic creatures haunt its underbrush: wallabies, striped skinks and venomous tiger snakes, rosellas and oystercatchers and kookaburras. Dolphins and tentative Humpbacks ride the waves. Perhaps they remember Wineglass’ past better than we do?
At Friendly Beaches, the sand squeaks in surprise at my body weight. I am continually caught by the distinctive colors of this shoreline: the fervent reds of the lichen, the Kelly-green turf grass, the pale granules beneath my feet. Though initial European explorers described Aboriginal fires along the coast, it is now the bright orange moss that inspires the same flaming description.
My boyfriend and I like to come here after work, to stand over the red rocks and watch the tide wash around our ankles. When the sun hits the water at just the right angle, the sea glitters with strips of turquoise and sapphire. Yet the weather is a fickle lover, ready at any moment to scorn our presence. Give her ten minutes, and heavy clouds flood the sky. The water, once again, becomes a vast sheet of grey.
Four months ago, I wrote “This is the closest I’ve ever lived to the ocean.” The distance between our bedroom and the South Australian coast could be measured in a 30-minute drive.
Now, that claim has been shattered. The distance between our kitchen and Wineglass Bay can be measured in seconds. This is my new backyard, a place that has already changed my own history.
In 2002, Kaikoura, New Zealand, became the world’s first Green Globe certified community. Previously known for the pods of dusky dolphins that cruise the nearby coastline, visitors now flock to this South Island town for the beautiful, environmentally proactive experience at Hapuku Lodge.
Sustainability and conservation are two concepts dear to Kiwi hearts, and guests will discover from the moment of their arrival that Hapuku is less about high prices and more about comfortable, native hospitality – with a green twist.
The Lodge itself, from the youthful tree house rooms to the furniture within them, was predominately hand-made and locally-sourced. Ingredients in the kitchen are regionally-produced, or grown in the chef’s own, organic, garden. All waste is composted.
Hapuku encourages guests to explore and appreciate the area’s unique, indigenous flora, and is responsible for replanting over 11,500 native plants and trees – one for every guest night at the lodge.
Perhaps the best immersion opportunity is a night in Hapuku’s tree house rooms, towering 30 feet from the ground in the branches of New Zealand’s Manuka trees.
From either the one or two-story leafy accommodation, guests can see the Kaikoura coastline – and maybe even spot some passing sea life!
Seal swimming, sea kayaking, deep sea fishing and albatross encounters are just a few of the marine activities guests can participate in. Nearby attractions also include Maori culture tours, wine tours and night sky tours, as well as hiking, biking and golfing.
For rates and reservations, contact Hapuku Lodge online.