Traveler Profile: Richard Gordon

This is an interview with Richard Gordon in El Nido, Philippines that took place at The Alternative Hotel.  Richard is a well-seasoned traveler and has good bits to share.

Richard Gordon in his finest Traveler Chic

Name:  Richard Gordon

Nationality:  British

Sign:  Scorpio

Sex:  Male

Single/Married:  Single

Where are you now?

El Nido, Philippines

Where are you off to next?

Indonesia

Continue reading “Traveler Profile: Richard Gordon”

Bakso: The ‘New’ Pho

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Move over Pho, you’ve got some competition. Its name is Bakso. I’d certainly never heard of it in foodie mecca of San Francisco prior to arriving in Bali, but now it’s become a daily obsession. It’s good, healthy soup, and considering it’s between 7-10,000 rupiah ($0.80-$1.15) per bowl, it’s also healthy for the wallet. To glass and rice noodles, they add a light beef broth, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, chopped cabbage, crispy fried onion, smashed peanuts, 6-8 small beef meatballs, and 1 large beef meatball with a surprise in the middle: a chicken or quail egg. You can add chili to taste, or go local and use a sweet ketchup. Usually served with banana leaf-packed rice as well as whole peanuts. Yelp Indonesian food now and try for yourself. Ini Ana Sangali!

Filipino Food Bible: What to Eat and Drink

For any traveler arriving in the Philippines with the foodie disease, this is your bible. When it comes to eating local cuisine, we intensely question everyone we meet, from hostel-owners to passers-by, taxi drivers to locals alike, all so you don’t have to. With fresh seafood galore and a near-unhealthy obsession with swine, Filipino cooks consistently knock it out of the park, and it’s so damn delicious. Wash it all down with a Red Horse or a fresh-squeezed, ice-cold glass of sugarcane juice and you’re in business.

Chicken Adobo

Eat:
1. Adobo. Soy-stewed chicken or beef. Must be the national dish because it’s everywhere.
2. Sisig. Sizzling, of course. Pork ears and fat stewed to perfection served over rice. Wow.
3. Pinakbet. Veggies stewed in fish paste.
4. Lechon. For those who worship bacon, Lechon is your new god. Do not leave without trying it. Word is it’s best in Cebu but you’ll find it everywhere.
5. Kare-Kare. Oxtail, fatty as fatty gets, stewed in a beef broth-infused peanut sauce.
6. Lumpia. Philippine egg rolls. A staple.
7. Bangus (rellenong). Had this less-fishy sardine on our last day and it became my favorite dish. Smoky, salty, and soaked in olive oil. Simple dishes do it again. Try it at ‘Lola’s Best’ in Makati, Manila.
8. Diniguan. Pork stewed in it’s own blood. Not as gruesome as you think and really nice. Even Erin liked it.
9. Crispy Pata. Another pork dish not worth missing. Fatty, fried chunks dipped in chilied soy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
10. Ube. Purple yam used in every dessert possible. Sweet and abundant.
11. Adobong Pusit. Squid stewed in it’s own black ink. In-freaking-credible.
12. Halo-Halo. Translates to mix-mix. Basically a hodge-podge of Asian desserts covered with sweet condensed milk, sugar, and ube ice cream.
13. Lapu Lapu. Another local white fish that is flaky, firm, and wonderful.
14. Taho. Soft tofu covered with sugar water and tapioca.
15. Buko Pie. Coconut meat in a pie.

Balot

16. Buko Vinegar Sauce. This will be a staple in my cupboard for the rest of my life.  Pour over rice, meat or just drink it.  It’s that good.
17. Beef Tapa. Stewed-then-sautéed beef strips typically served at breakfast with an over easy egg and garlic rice. Probably ordered this at least a dozen times.
18. Garlic Rice. Last nights leftover white rice fried up with some veggie oil and an ample amount of garlic. You’re more likely to wake to this smell than anything else.

and last but not least,

19.  Balot.  A half fertilized duck’s egg.  Crack and peel the top, add some salt and drink the juice first.  Peel more, add more salt and dig in.  The secret, apparently, is to close your eyes or be filled to the brim with Tanduay so you don’t notice what you’re sinking your teeth into!

Drink:

Beer
San Miguel holds the monopoly on beer and it’s OK. Pale pilsener is the standard and you can also opt for light. When available, we skipped both and went with Red Horse, SMG’s more tasteful pilsener, priced equally, but with 7% alcohol. You can even buy them in liter-plus sizes to share. A cheaper, more tasteful, higher-gravity nightcap? Yes, please. Better make it two.

The Best Beer in the Philippines

Booze
Tanduay! The local rum and given the abundance of sugarcane, it’s cheap (less than $2 per 750ml) and tasty. I like it straight but even the locals think that’s loco loco, and prefer to mix it with–you guessed it–good ‘ol Coca-Cola. Add calimansi, the local lime, and it’s Cuba Libre’s for a party of 5 all night at a $1 a head.

If rum’s not your thing, Ginebra, local Gin, is also popular. Mix it with pomelo juice and you are in for a treat. Sip slow though, it packs a mean punch.

Sin-Free
Mango shakes rule our world and often made up our merienda, an afternoon snack. Philippine mangoes are world-renowned for their sweet flavor so the shake doesn’t need much sugar to make you happy.

Calimansi juice is always good too, but request less sugar because in typical sweet-toothed Filipino fashion, they overdo it.

Sugarcane Juice is ridiculously good and is often found fresh-squeezed. It boasts many health benefits as well.

Tuba, pronounced with a lot more flare than our giant bassy brass, tooo-baaahhh, is not only fun to say, it’s delicious too. It’s young coconut (buko) juice but only has a shelf-life of 8 hours before fermenting and being turned into vinegar. Tuba is hard to come by so when you do find it, drink up, it may be your last chance.

The wild thing is this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cuisine of the Philippines.  The further you get from the main cities in the 7,100 island archipelago, the more local flavors you’re going to find.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  For those at home, Yelp Philippines for your food and enjoy!

40-Liter Backpack: Is it Mandatory Gear for Long-term Travelers?

Erin ~ 40-Liter
JV ~ 40-Liter

In 2008, Erin and I traveled for a year with 60 and 65-liter backpacks; the same ones we use when we go camping.  They’re big enough to hold a tent, cook-gear, and lots of extra layers for those cold mountain nights.  In hindsight, when it comes to what we packed back then, it’s almost laughable.  Fast forward three years, with an 18-month multi-continent itinerary in tow, and behold, our new 40-Liter backpacks have revolutionized our travel lifestyle and are permanently in the “don’t-leave-home-without-it” category.  Let me explain how to make the 40-liter pack work:

Clothing: Less is More.  Packing four pairs of shoes for those what-if scenarios of travel?  Forget it.  Pick 2, a sturdy hiking shoe (I prefer trail-runners which can also be worn to the gym) and your sandal of choice and be done with it.  Shoes take up tons of room in your pack, are super heavy, and chances are you’ll be sporting your flip-flops 99% of the time anyhow.  Have a pair of jeans packed?  Unless you can’t live without them, those Levi’s will probably see more backpack-time than wear-time.  They’re heavy and don’t breathe and like most travelers, you’re probably hitting up the tropics where the only temperature is hot and the dress code is no-shirt-no-pant-no-problem.  Leave ’em at home.  You’ll appreciate them that much more once you’re back.  Try a zip-off pant or a pair each of ultra-lightweight pants and shorts.  Shirts?  4 Tees/tanks and a long-sleeve of choice.  I like a short-sleeve button up too.  Jackets?  If you’ll be in cold temperatures on your trip, and if you’ve got the room (you will), a thin rain jacket and a Puffy sleeping bag-style jacket in a compression sack are just what you need.  Stuff the Puffy with thin gloves and hat and you’re set.  And last but not least, your smalls, panties, and unders.  Guys, 3 pairs of undies should do the trick.  Make sure they’re the kind that dry fast and more importantly, get comfy with going commando.  Laundry day comes fast.  Ladies, a weeks worth is Erin’s mantra.  Anything else you need or want once on the road, you can enact the BIT philosophy (But It There.)  After all, Tees are only $1 in India and renting is always an option for excursions.

Dr. Bronner All-One!

Other crap.  Sunscreens, bug sprays, twelve types of medicine, shampoo, conditioner, hair products.  No, no, and no.  Leave ’em in the medicine cabinet.  Buy sunscreen and bug sprays in small doses when you’ll need it and where you’ll need it.  Medicines?  Outside of mandatory prescriptions, buy them when you need them.  Don’t worry, every country has some sort of pharmacy and drug prices abroad are jaw-droppingly cheap.  Damn pharma companies.  A small bottle of Dr. Bronner soap is the only thing you need to carry; it’s shampoo, face wash, body and laundry soap all-in-one and leaves your skin feeling minty fresh.  And it’s crazy how well salt-water mixed with a heavy dose of sunshine gives your hair hold, bounce, or whatever else you’re looking for.  There’s always the option of shaving your head or growing your hair too.  Either way, removing all of these bulky, hard to pack, heavy items from your pack list (and keeping everything below 3.4 oz, 100ml) will make life on the road that much easier.

Checked bags: Dollars and Sense.  But most important of all, more than than not being weighed down, is the 40-liter backpack is the max that airlines consider “carry-on” luggage.  Check-in lines?  No chance.  Baggage fees?  No way, Jose.  Roller suitcases, eat your heart out.  Once you arrive, while everyone else on the plane is filling out lost-baggage claims or jockeying for position to grab their enormo rollerbags-from-hell off the belt, you’ll have already been through customs and hailed a cab, well on your way to experience the world.  Don’t want to shell out another $150 for the pack right before the trip?  You’ll end up spending more than that once on the road.  Checked-bag fees are $25-50 almost everywhere now plus when the train runs late to the airport and you’ve got 30 minutes to get through security, having to check a bag could be the difference between making the flight or paying a $125 change fee and spending the night in the airport.  Case in point, on a recent flight from NYC to Hong Kong, American Airlines, bless their little hearts, had the wrong terminal on the departure board, turning what was a cushy 90-minute before departure cruise into the 30-minute fight-or-flight Amazing Race dash.  We’ve all been there.  Finally at the correct terminal and gasping for air, the only reason we were able to board was because we vehemently stated “we don’t have any bags to check!”  One phone call later and we were through security and boarded our plane with time to spare.  The pack nearly paid for itself on day 1.

All in all, the nomadic, backpacker life is just plain easier with the 40-liter backpack.  And the same holds true for weekend warriors and 10-day summer vacationers.  Keeping things simple and lightweight makes the travel experience that much more enjoyable.  Plus, once you’ve worn through and stained all of your Tees, you get to go shopping for local, handcrafted clothes.  After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a new $5 wardrobe?

How to Afford Travel for 10 Months Each Year

Could you handle this for 10 months?

“People don’t want to ‘be’ millionaires–they want to experience what they believe millions can buy.” – Tim Ferriss

Meet Reed*. He travels every year for 10 months and has been doing it for the past 8 years. “That’s right,” he proudly stated after I had to make sure I had heard correctly. “I call it personal fiscal drift,” he added.  After some friendly Q&A with the Aussie over a cup of joe, here’s the financial breakdown of how he does it:

***All figures reflected in Australian Dollars.  The exchange rate as of this writing is $1.06 USD = $1.00 AUS**

Those Damn Taxes. No way to avoid them as we all know. Reed is smart about it though to the nth degree, understands his tax laws and goes completely by the book.  When planning, he is certain of four things:

  1. He needs $16,000 saved to travel for 10 months.
  2. He needs $4,000 to get re-acclimatized once back in Oz.
  3. He needs to keep monthly expenses low while in Australia, where the cost of living is on par with the USA, especially since driving is the norm as well and gasoline prices are roughly $6.50/gallon.
  4. The tax structure in Oz, a progressive, tiered structure similar to the USA, is such that you pay 15% taxes up to $37,000 and 0% on your first $6,000 earned.

Saving 20K.  Two months of work to make $20,000?  Not the easiest thing to do, but also not completely impossible, especially with two jobs. Plus, if worse comes to worse and it takes another month to hit the goal, you’d still be traveling for 9 months; Not too shabby.  Reed divides and conquers.  $10,000 per month divided by 30 days is $333 per day. “Find a job that pays a high hourly wage,” is his sage advice. Easier said than done however, Australia is the home of $15/hour minimum wage.

By day, Reed teaches Aboriginals literacy, an above average paying and high-demand job due to having to live in the
bushies, far away from any metropolis. By night, he repairs computers with his own side business, mainly for the elderly at a plush $80/hour.  This is predominately paid in cash, which as we all know, can really boost tax-free savings.  He purchased a company van (complete with banners of advertisements on the side) since he makes house calls and because it’s his own business, he gets to deduct the car payments, gasoline, and maintenance costs from his “on-the-books” income.

Business Write-Off or Home Sweet Home?

Cutting Costs.  Here’s where it gets interesting and where his bottom-line is most affected.  What his customers don’t know, is his business van doubles as his bedroom.  The old van down by the river skit in true form, only this van is a top-of-the-line travel rig. With a gym membership at the local high-end fitness center, he stays fit by swimming in the morning and rarely misses a day lest he also misses a shower.  The gym also handles his laundry and he has a dedicated locker.  For food, he takes the simplest and cheapest options available, preferring to save up to splurge while traveling.

Between the two jobs, working 6-7 days per week for two months, he has rarely missed his goal. With his day job, he maximizes the amount of tax he pays and once he hits $4,000, the refund he calls “in the bank,” he switches gears and minimizes the tax he pays. When he gets home from his travels, the refund check is sitting in his PO Box.  His night job is money in the bank and aids him in massive tax savings.

While this may be extreme for some, it’s a good example of the creative lengths that travelers will go in order to realize their dreams.  It’s nothing more than societal pressure that prevents us from mimicking Reed, but at what cost?  The idea that you need to be some mega-rich movie star to globe trot has proven time and time again to be nothing more than a myth.  Setting goals and making sacrifices to achieve them is the only tried-and-true method.

*Name changed for requested privacy

Funny Song from the Philippines

It’s impossible not to comment on the Filipino’s undying love of all things music. Karaoke is the national pastime and you’d be hard-pressed not to pass a kitchen, guestroom window, or front porch without hearing someone unabashedly singing, humming or whistling a tune. Man, woman or child, it’s all the same. They love music.

While enjoying yet another mango shake in our gorgeous beach-front (almost an overstatement as it’s on stilts over the water) pensions’ restaurant bar, this song came on the speakers. While super simple, it brought smiles to our face and we thought you might enjoy.

Just Had a Flashback to Sayulita…

Erin and Cat

…partly because of a song that just played on my ipod, partly because of some damn roosters that just won’t give it up, and partly because of the effects of my first true dance with the local Filipino rum last night, Tanduay. I see Cat and Erin singing and dancing–well, singing might be an exaggeration–more like screaming with all of their might at the top of their lungs. The dancing was frantic yet fluid. They hugged, swayed, almost stumbled, belted out the chorus, and both laughed hysterically because each knew the words. The song jammed us from Steve’s penthouse once again into the streets of Sayulita but it never left the girls’ minds. With the help of a bit of Sol, and maybe a few glasses of famous fruit smoothie, the chorus soon carried onto Las Gaviotas and the night became ours.

You can have a listen here:

Dog Days Are Over

“Run fast for your mother run fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive!”

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Pilipinas and Tagaytay

“I feel good,” I said.

“You feel good?” Erin replied, only to make certain she had heard me correctly. The comment had, after all, come after a long silence.

Jeepney
Jeepney in Manila

We were in our second jeepney of the morning, this time in the front seat, bouncing and swerving our way up to Tagaytay (tah-guy-tie), a cool mountain retreat famous for it’s views of Lake Taal below and for being a religious epicenter; it was the Vatican of the Philippines before tourism set in.

“Yes, I feel good. I needed this,” was my reply.

“You needed another jeepney ride?” Erin half-jested.

Our morning had started early–Grandma Maggie early–thanks to several days of overcoming jet lag which basically consisted of 5 to 7-hour naps midday. Starting with a jeepney to the central transport area of Manila followed by an hour of trying to locate the correct bus, hawks attempting to pull us in every direction and a 30-minute wait in a van that never departed, we were bound for Maryridge convent where we’d be spending the night soaking in Mother Nature and being served authentic home-cooked meals. The recommendation for this retreat had come from Ronald, one of five proprietors of Our Melting Pot, a non-profit hostel centered in Manila with the goal of spreading positive and sustainable tourism throughout the Philippines.  Ronald could sense we would appreciate this type of retreat the night prior, where he accompanied us to dinner, because we had insisted on trying local Filipino cuisine.

Lake Taal from Maryridge

Imagine a small lake within the world’s smallest erupted volcano. Next to it is another small, but active volcano, that canceled our plans to hike to the small lake, where you can take mineral baths in the sulfuric water. “Too dangerous,” says a local.  These two volcanoes are sitting in a lake that is nestled in what is the crater of a much larger erupted volcano. Perched on the edge of this volcano’s crater, is Maryridge convent, a nature-lovers paradise complete with exotic flowers and plants, sweeping views, and the constant harmonious hum of cicadas, tree frogs, and tukos.

“Nah,” I jabbed back, “I feel good because of the adventure and excitement of it all.”  We were passing pineapple farms, left and right, roadside stands selling coconuts, bananas, and of course, pineapple, while we steadily climbed up to paradise.

Moments like these are what drive us. The uncertainty of departure let alone arrival, the fumbling-around with a new language, and the smiles we receive for trying. The chance encounter with a vendor of meat and pigs head, only because we stopped and asked for directions. The jeepney driver who laughs at us as we try to pronounce good morning in Tagalog, magandang umaga,–the good-natured attempt that created the bond that would land us the locals rate on the final tricycle ride to the front door of the convent. The three-hour journey that would take one with a car.

“I know,” she said.  She knew what I meant.

Sayulita: Beach Living

Shrimp tacos. Guacamole. Fresh fish. Spicy salsa. Ceviche. Surfing. Ocean breezes and majestic sunsets. It’s all here but that’s just the obvious stuff.

The real charm, the true I-get-it-moments lie in not knowing what time it is when you wake, when you eat, when you surf, when you drink, and ultimately, when you rest. It’s the locals who have gigante smiles with silver and gold fillings front and center, trying to hock you a bracelet they spent 20 minutes making for only a buck. The three musicians who ask for pay to play but after your 30th uber-polite “no gracias” of the day, sing you a love song, well, just because that’s what they like to do. It’s learning the local handshake and hunting out good local eats like bodelis de coco.  And aaah, the hamacas and palm trees. The delicious local, fresh food. The warmth, the sand, the sound of the oceans swell lulling you to sleep. It’s here and so are we.