Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sean Does The Arab Taco

Well, here we are back in Kuwait, with nothing better to do than go out for dinner (and breakfast, and lunch), ride my bicycle, play cribbage, soak up the rays, and walk along the ocean contemplating our next chapter in life. (Don’t worry, what I mean by that is deciding our plans for summer vacation…)

We thought it was high time we shared with you the Arab taco.

ta·co/ˈtäkō/

Noun:
A Mexican dish consisting of a fried folded tortilla, filled with various mixtures, such as seasoned meat, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes.

 

The above definition asserts the notion that tacos are strictly Mexican in origin. To me, a taco is a bit like a vehicle. Everyone has their favorite mode of transportation, but how you choose to get there can make all the difference. Bicycles, SUVs,public transportation, rocket ship, mental journey, the possibilities are endless. To pull this nauseating metaphor to an end, I want to venture in saying that tacos do not have to fit into a specific genre. You can make a “taco” out of anything.

Intro the Arab taco.

Step 1: Go to your nearest souk. If you’re at all lost, look for alleyways filled with colorful fabric, skewered meat, and people calling you, “For you, special price!”. Sit down in an eating area—bonus points if you find a place with no menu.

Step 2: Order copious amounts of food on accident. (Try not to eat anything after 8am the morning of, if you can help it.) In your best “I know what I’m doing, I swear” accent, ask for the following:

– hummus (The soupy-looking dish on the left.)

– shish tawouk (The chicken in the center.)

– bread (Still haven’t figured out how to ask for this one. They bring it on the house anywhere you go.)

– salad (Again, on the house, the dish on the far right of the screen.)

– rumman khair o-salada (The pomegranate masterpiece to the right of the chicken.)

Step 3: The hummus. The Arabic version of guacamole. It’s everywhere. Made out of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed oil), lemon juice, garlic, salt, and lots and LOTS of olive oil. I just may have more hummus coursing through my veins than I do blood cells. While you wait for the rest of your food to arrive, feel free to dip a few pieces of lettuce into your hummus. Or just eat it with your finger.

Step 4: The chicken. We always order only “one”, but end up with four skewers. Since I’m a vegetarian, the daunting task of demolishing all this chicken lies to my husband alone. He never fails to disappoint.

Step 5: My personal favorite. Pomegranate cucumber salad. Have you ever SEEN so much pomegranate? I am also fairly certain this dish costs around $2.00. There’s a reason why they stick spoons in it when they serve it to you…

Pomegranate is one of the most beautiful reasons to live in the Middle East. Did you know they symbolize fertility? They are in abundance everywhere you go. We are spoiled!

Step 6: Liberally slather your bread with hummus, and place some chicken in the center. Don’t worry about being cleanly about it—with bread this size, you just yank off a corner.

Step 7: Top the bread/chicken/hummus combo with the pomegranate salad and a bit of lettuce & lemon juice. Before you know it, you’re in heaven. Twenty minutes later, you’ve eaten your weight in bread, pomegranates, and hummus, and you’ve paid $12.00 for the two of you.

Now that’s a date night if I’ve ever seen one.



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Gihilla ennang, Sri Lanka! (The Final Chapter)

Before I lament the snail’s pace at which this school year is coming to an end, I need to begin by saying I should be at work right now. It’s 2pm on a Wednesday, and I am writing a new blog post from the comfort of my couch, nibbling on a fresh batch of pomegranate white chocolate chunk cookies (crafted by yours truly—there are a few perks living in the Middle East, one of them being that we’re situated so close to the regions where pomegranates are grown).  Instead of facilitating literature circles and grading papers, school was canceled today due to a power outage. (I believe this is day #8 they’ve called off this year… and we don’t have to make any of those days up!) The day started out like any other day, and then at around 9:30am everything shut down. The school was eerily quiet, and I was thankful to be on a planning period. An hour and a half later—during which I held class in the dark—they cancelled the day and we all went home. I’m not quite sure what caused the outage, but as they say, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

I come to you today with the FINAL blog post on Sri Lanka. It’s been a long journey, but it’s gotten me through the last few weeks of school. (We’ve only got 18 school days left!) To assist in brevity, I fused the last three days of Sri Lanka together into a single post. Hold on tight, and try not to book your plane ticket! Our journey begins when we head to Hatton to climb Adam’s Peak…

We arrived in Hatton at around 4:30pm. We stayed at “Slightly Chilled” guesthouse, which was perfect for our climb. It included dinner and breakfast the next morning, and had an amazing view of the peak from the dining area. The picture above was taking as Sean and I sipped tea and played cribbage. The plan for climbing Adam’s Peak is this: You’ve got to wake up at around 2:30am and start the hike at 3am so that you can get to the top by sunrise. I forgot to mention a very important aspect of this endeavor—Adam’s Peak, known by most as “Sri Pada”, or ‘sacred footprint’ is one of the holiest sites in Buddhism, and popular for pilgrimages. It is also sacred for Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. For Muslims and Christians, it is where Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden. For Buddhists, the ‘footprint’ on the top of the peak was left by Buddha. For Hindus, it is the footprint of Lord Shiva.

With an elevation of 7,359 feet, we wanted to be on top of it.

There are 5,200 steps to the top.

The tricky part was convincing Sean to wake up at 3am to climb it…

The evening before our trek, we walked to the beginning of the trail head. (I know, unnecessary walking, we aren’t looking any pity here.) We were touched by the translated English sign for all pilgrims and tourists trekking up Adam’s Peak.

After dinner, when the sun had set, we snapped a picture of our soon-to-be route up the peak. Just writing this can I feel my knees shaking from all the steps…

There were Buddhist shrines all the way up. We snapped a few pictures, but the chilly temperature and thrill of getting to the top for sunrise kept us going.

Once at the top, the sun began to rise around 5:45am. It was truly stunning.

Sean was saying, “Thank you, dear wife, for encouraging me to complete the hike for the sunrise. You’re right. It is completely worth it. You are so wise.”

One of the most interesting things about making it to the top for sunrise is the Brocken spectre cast on the opposite side of the sunrise. You can see the peak’s shadow on the clouds! It was incredibly difficult to capture on camera, but the affect was haunting.

True pilgrims ring a bell when they reach the top. They are supposed to ring the bell the number of times they made the pilgrimage. We saw one man ring the bell over 25 times… I didn’t know which was more inspiring; him, or the sunrise.

A new days is dawning, even for puppy dogs.

On our way down we managed to snap a few pictures, in awe of what we had accomplished.

As we took a tuk tuk back to the train station, we paused for this great photo—can you spot Adam’s Peak in the background? 🙂

Our last destination was Kandy, the largest town we would be spending our time in. It was about two and a half hours from the airport, and we had been recommended by friends to stay in the “Kandy Mansion”. Skeptical at first, when we got there I was COMPLETELY blown away. For $50 a night, we were staying in LUXURY! It was truly a mansion, built by the Sri Lankan elite in the late 1800’s. It had a colonial feel to it, even though it was built by a Sri Lankan native. Ghandi stayed there, as well as Gregory Peck when he was filming his movie, “The Purple Plain”. Located outside the city of Kandy, it was built in the rainforest with sweeping verandas, spacious, architecturally beautiful interiors, amazing meals, and, oh yeah, a pool!

Our room at the Kandy Mansion.

The inside of the Kandy Mansion.

Moth (also at the Kandy Mansion…)

Sean in the doorway of the Mansion.

The next day, we went into the town of Kandy. There is a lake, with an island in the center, which used to be the Chief’s harem!

Kandy streets. (We were in love with the tuk tuks by the end of the trip!)

Our entire trip, I was in love with how beautiful the women looked in their saris. We stumbled upon a touristy clothing store, and the two ladies who worked there were more than eager to doll me up in one!

The sad news? I looked pathetic. I had nowhere near the grace and beauty of the women I saw on the streets. I’d like to blame it on the thick fabric… had I been dressed in a lighter version instead of the heavier cloth it would have been more delicate… but I know this is a lie that I tell myself. My cultural heritage is that of lederhosen and bratwurst.

This was me before I saw the pictures—optimistic at the thought of resembling the local women… little did I know…

After we perused the town a bit, we quickly got sick of the crowds and car exhaust (we get enough of that in Kuwait), so we headed to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

Sean had fun playing George of the Jungle.

He also learned that pineapples grow on bushes!

We found a bat colony. Can you spy all of the bats in the trees? There were over forty trees housing bats… I was afraid to stand too long underneath them…

We concluded our vacation with a swim in the pool and a last meal of rice and curry. Sri Lanka really is a dream come true. When all the world turns to concrete and parking lots, I will retreat to Sri Lanka, where the beauty of the natural world is only paralleled by the kindness of the people.

The final countdown until we leave Kuwait begins! We fly out on June 10… which means 33 days left in the sandbox… Don’t worry, you will be treated with at least a few more blogs of our adventures here before summer begins. Until then, keep smiling!

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sri Lanka: The Long Walk

Sea

I’m not jealous of the pond
that’s sleeping so quietly
in the middle of the forest.
I’m the sea,
I’m not afraid of the storm.
The sea’s dream is always
turbulence.
If I don’t have waves and storms,
I won’t be the sea anymore.
I’ll be the pond—
and stinking.
– Shafee’e Kadkani (Translated by Ali Maza-heri)

Having encountered this poem today in a compilation of Arabic poetry, it seemed natural to include in my post on a particular adventure Sean and I had in Sri Lanka.

I hope you don’t mind the extent to which I am posting on Sri Lanka, but it such a place of beauty and wonder that I cannot help but dwell on and extend the delight of the senses as we bring our final month in Kuwait to a close. Don’t get me wrong, I am stocking up on some great local photographs for a few concluding Kuwait blog posts, but I just can’t move on from Sri Lanka quite yet!

After leaving Ella, the place where dreams go to live forever, we moved on to Horton’s Plains National Park. Horton’s Plains is known for having a steep escarpment that drops thousands of feet onto a valley floor below. A straight drop—no guard rails, no slope, no nothing. Just a few weeks before we visited Sri Lanka, a German tourist actually tripped on the viewing platform and tumbled off the Plains into the valley below. (If he was lucky, he went to Ella in the afterlife…) Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to visit a National Park in Sri Lanka, so I booked a hotel titled “World’s End Lodge”.  Remember the valley floor where the tourist tumbled hundreds of feet down? That’s where the lodge was. As I said in my last post…

“…any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel…and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.”

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I narrate that hike.

We set out early in the morning, on a small path that was not well-trodden. Brushing spiderwebs out of our faces and dew drops off our cheeks, we began to climb upward through the rainforest. The path was not part of any national park, and the man at the hotel said, “It’s very long…” We soldiered on. In the above picture, you can see our hotel as we began to climb the mountain.

Already you can see a fantastic view that we were treated to only twenty minutes into our hike. Here is where the storm began brewing…

While Sean stood near a puddle to take a picture of me, all of a sudden he broke into a writhing spasm, screaming and jerking his arms and legs. I had no idea what to do, and upon looking down at his foot, I realized he was trying to peel off his sock while he shoe was still on. As he pulled the sock away from his skin, I saw a long, wiggling leech stuck onto his skin! When he managed to pull the leech off his skin, he began to bleed. Growing up in Wisconsin, we were used to leeches that thrive in lakes and ponds, not crawling along the ground in wet areas and jump onto any passer by. When the leech was thrown on the ground, it rose up on it’s hind legs and began moving TOWARDS Sean again!

After the leech fiasco, we managed to take a few lovely photographs. As you can see, Horton’s Plains rises in the background behind us. Where we are standing was a “viewpoint” the man at the hotel recommended us to trek to. Here, he said the path ended, and we would begin, in his words, “hiking up mountainside”.

He was not kidding about the “up mountainside” part. When we began to climb, we managed to eke out a lightly trodden path, simply of tamped down leaves through the rainforest. As we climbed, we heard a coughing ahead of us. We eventually gained on a man hiking along the same trail we were traveling on. He was a Sri Lankan man in his… I would estimate… sixties? He was older, and he was all skin and bones. And he was barefoot. And he was carrying a thirty pound bag on his head. He managed to hike at the same pace as us all the way up the mountain, and you can see him in the background of the above photo. We all took a break together, shared crackers and bananas with one another, and appreciated each others’ company. Through the language barrier, we managed to enjoy a fleeting moment of community and understanding. A moment that no National Park could charge admission for.

Another view as we climbed up the mountain. Horton’s Plains was growing closer…

At last, we came to a plateau, with an isolated tea plantation nestled between the hills. Where else to go but into the village?

As we approached the village, children came out to visit us, shouting, “Hi!”, “Hello!” and asking for school pens.

As we walked along the road, we saw beautiful terraced farming.

The path began to wind down to the valley floor again. We were as high as we were going to get on our hike. Our next stop? Bambarakanda falls, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka! When the guy at our hotel told us we could make a loop, he said we could find a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) at Bambarakanda falls. He said it was a long hike, but as long as we continued to say “Bambarakanda?”, we would be pointed in the right direction by any local. Try saying it, I dare you! It rolls off the tongue rather nicely, “Bam-ba-ra-kanda” (For you linguists out there, all of the “a”s are long, and roll the ‘r’.)

By noon, we had been hiking for four and a half hours. We set out at 7:30am to avoid the afternoon showers. We reached a conundrum when the road we were following ended in a cow pasture. After asking a few local picking tea, “Bambarakanda?”, we were pointed down a slope, through another forest, and through another tea plantation. If you’ve ever seen or read Lord Of The Rings, we were living it. It as at this point that I truly became afraid. We had no idea where Bambarakanda was, and even if we got lost, how would we get out? Sure, we could ask someone with a car to drive us to the nearest town, but these villages (like in the above photo) had only one community car, which was used as a storage shed rather than a mode of transportation. I swore we were doomed.

As doomed as we may have been, finding a tree growing out of a rock made up for my despair. In hindsight, I wish we had spent an hour or two relaxing under the tree and soaking up it’s beauty. Instead, I was fearing that our five hours of walking, thunder clouds rolling in, and complete lack of any trail would turn our paradise vacation into a battle between us and the elements for survival.

But I digress. Honestly, I am sure that if we were in any trouble at all, any one of the local villages would help us immediately. The people we met on our journey were the nicest, friendliest people you could imagine. We were never in any danger. The only danger we truly had were leeches and the likelihood of some nasty post-hike blisters.

After forty switchbacks, we popped out in front of Bambarakanda! Sure enough, there it was, Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall.

As you can see in the above two pictures, the clouds rolled in just as we neared the end of our hike. We didn’t dare venture to the base of the falls—we made it indoors just as we were hit by a torrential rain.

What I find the most awesome about our hike was that we were two or three thousand feet higher in elevation a few hours ago, where the source of the falls began. We saw the mountainside villages, the children playing in the fields, and the valley floor below. Once we left the highlands, all those huts and smiles back up there seemed like a daydream.

If our day couldn’t possibly get any better, I was determined to continue walking until we found a place to sit, eat, and gather our wits about us before finding a tuk tuk. Sure enough, after another forty-five minutes of trekking, we find, “Bambarakanda Lover’s Cafe”. It was the upstairs of someone’s home, which looked to me like a den that highschoolers would put together back in America for weekend poetry readings.

We ordered a big bowl of fried rice, the only thing on the lack-of-a-menu, and rested our aching limbs which it rained cats and dogs outside. We saw the mother of the man who took our order enter her kitchen to prepare our meal, and we were truly amazed by our adventure. You could not put an entry fee on the experience we had. You could not capture it in a single photograph or postcard. It was real, true Sri Lanka. I don’t know if I would do it all over again if I had the chance (we figured it out and we ended up walking twelve miles), but I do know that for the rest of my life I will look back on these photos with a smile.

…I hope I can say the same for Sean 🙂

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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