Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The body knows

February in Saskatchewan was overcoats, snow shovels and block heaters. February in Puerto Vallarta though, was beach vendors, banana daquaris & cold Pacifico cervezas, and nights at whatever spot the music dragged you into. Somewhere in that swirl of vacation haze a bug found its way into my lower GI tract – microscopic in size, but titanic in its ability to bring my carefree winter respite to a screeching, cramping, shitting halt. I felt the first ominous twinge one evening as I wandered home at oh-dark thirty, the heavy night air cloaking my tank top & shorts-clad body like warm cotton. Hm, I thought… probably shouldn’t have had that last beer. Then – whoa. Soon I was racing through the empty open-air hotel lobby and dashed upstairs to my room, which is, by the way, frighteningly hard to do when your ass-cheeks are clenched like a set of vice grips. I made it to the commode in the nick of time – I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say the awe-inspiring projectile emptying of my digestive contents (and then some) was to be repeated many times over the following 18 hours.

The night passed in a misery of fitful sleep, abdominal cramps, and the routine dragging of my unwilling and abused carcass to the bathroom. Even when it seemed there couldn’t possibly be another ounce of anything left in my system, there was just a little more ejecta waiting to be processed – from whence it came I do not care to know. Fortunately I had the foresight to bring Immodium, and the common sense to drink a little water from time to time, but the following day passed in a series of uncomfortable naps and fetal-position-inducing cramps. When the maid made her daily appearance it was all I could do to toss a half-grimace her way – I’m sure my story was retold later with great amusement as she communed with her co-workers.

Around sundown I noticed to my great relief the cramps were subsiding, and I could again stand upright with a minimum of vertigo. After another few hours I actually felt good enough (and bored enough) to venture again into the warm night. Old town Puerto Vallarta was (and is still, I imagine) a seeming unplanned and unzoned hodge-podge of stalls, shops, and half-finished buildings with retail on the main floor, residences on the often open-air second floor, and a third floor which was surely planned and indeed may someday happen. It was one of these ad-hoc squatter-like restaurants which I had no doubt passed before but never noticed… open front, bare concrete walls and ceiling, as wide as a single-car garage and about twice as deep, with unblinking naked bulbs illuminating the checkerboard black & white floor tiles on which sat a few plastic tables and chairs. But it was the smell… the pungent aroma of garlic and spice and the promise of wonderful culinary delight which dragged me inside. Italian food… pasta. Suddenly I craved it – needed it. Couldn’t go another step without it. The place was about empty and I poured my abused butt into a stackable patio chair and ordered spaghetti bolognese.

The service was fast and courteous (I may have been the only paying customer in the joint), and before long a plate of steaming perfection appeared in front of me. I breathed it in… simple, fresh, and irresistable. And the taste… glorious beyond words. Spaghetti and meat sauce has always been  my favorite pasta dish, and is my go-to when I want to judge an Italian restaurant. If they can’t make a decent bolognese, then it’s a safe bet the rest of the menu will be mediocre at best. That particular dinner on that hazy night has become my personal gold standard for pasta bolognese. Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe it was because my system was craving whatever was in that mass of noodles and sauce. But it was, and is to date, the best bolognese I have ever eaten. The meat was the  perfect texture, the sauce was mildly seasoned, tangy, and not too sweet, the spaghetti cooked just right. I ate it slowly, mindfully, savoring every bite - admittedly I was a little fearful of reloading the ejecta-machine, but I hated every bite because that was one less I had on my plate.

I walked out of there a new man. The rest of the evening is lost to me, but I do know that after that meal my vacation was firmly back on track - my day of misery just an ugly memory. It’s kind of fascinating to me… a food craving has never hit me like that before or since – my body knew what it needed. I was just along for the ride.

Everybody panic!

Warning: this is my little rant about the death of common sense – sorry, need to vent. We travelled internationally on Dec. 24th. As you may remember, that idiot Islamic extremist tried to explode his underwear a day or two later while en-route to the U.S. In spite of the fact that everyone acknowledged he acted alone and it was an isolated incident, the people in charge of the much-reviled TSA and/or Homeland Security (led by Janet Napolitano, who I used to like) did what government does best… jumped around, flailed its arms and screamed ‘Yaaaaaa – we’re fucked!!!’ Because they had to be perceived as doing something besides screaming and flailing, they also implemented a bunch of needless and idiotic new restrictions on airline flight into the U.S., such as:

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The importance of math skills

We were in Vancouver, Canada for the Christmas – new year week. We had a great time and that’s a whole other post, but a visit to a Tim Hortons sticks out in my mind. For those south of the border, Tim Hortons is a Canadian institution… a franchised coffee/donut/snack shop slash goldmine. So there we were, travelling around the Vancouver area doing some sightseeing, and we stopped at a Timmie’s for a break. I ordered two coffees and an assortment of Tim bits – little deep fried nuggets of glazed goodness – and my total was something like $12.14. I handed $20.25 to the high-school age girl behind the till, and to my surprise the register showed the change as $17.11. She handed me a fistful of bills and coins, so I told her she gave me too much. I got a blank stare in return. So I reminded her my total was twelve dollars and some… my change should be closer to eight bucks.

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The best chicken-fried steak ever

We all have at least one culinary guilty pleasure… admit it. Mine is chicken-fried steak. Bad chicken-fried steak is like eating a breaded and deep fried mudflap, but when you find a good one… well, it’s heaven on a plate. With real mashed potatoes (no fries, please) and rich, thick and peppery sausage gravy on the side. Purists may argue the gravy needs to be *over* the steak, but I say nay nay. With kitchen-applied gravy the crispy breading gets all soggy before you’re half done. I prefer to be in control of the gravy delivery process and thus enjoy my crispy breading right to the end.

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