November 28, 2012
What would you want to eat if you were starving on a dinghy lost at sea? In the 2001 novel Life of Pi, adapted as a movie now in theaters, the castaway protagonist, a 16-year-old Indian boy nicknamed Pi, spends the better part of a year on a lifeboat—and one day as he reaches a near-death pinnacle of hunger, suffering and delirium, he envisions a tree full of ripe figs. “‘The branches…are bent over, they are so weighed down with figs,’” Pi drones to himself in reverie. “‘There must be over three hundred figs in that tree.’” Readers are convinced: Perhaps nothing beats a fig for a starving man.
Life of Pi is fiction, but daydreaming of food is a real-life tradition as old as the saga of man against the elements. If we scour the pages of the many books about grueling expeditions across land and sea, we find an impassioned menu of sweet and savory delights to make the mouth water. In his 1986 memoir Adrift, author Steve Callahan—a sailor who was lost at sea for 76 days in 1982—sets a lavish table of dreams on page 108: “I spend an increasing amount of time thinking about food. Fantasies about an inn-restaurant [I dream of opening] become very detailed. I know how the chairs will be arranged and what the menu will offer. Steaming sherried crab overflows flaky pie shells bedded on rice pilaf and toasted almonds. Fresh muffins puff out of pans. Melted butter drools down the sides of warm, broken bread. The aroma of baking pies and brownies wafts through the air. Chilly mounds of ice cream stand firm in my mind’s eye. I try to make the visions melt away, but hunger keeps me awake for hours at night. I am angry with the pain of hunger, but even as I eat [the fish I caught] it will not stop.” (Film director Ang Lee consulted Callahan during the making of Life of Pi for accuracy in portraying the hardships of being lost at sea.)
Men Against the Sea, the historical fiction account of the sailors cast away on a lifeboat by the mutineers of HMS Bounty, is a novella steeped in stomach-scraping hunger. At one point, a man named Lawrence Lebogue exclaims after a failed skirmish with a huge sea turtle he had nearly pulled into the boat, “‘A monster…all of two hundredweight! … To think of the grub we’ve lost! Did ‘ee ever taste a bit of calipee?’” (Calipee is a main ingredient in turtle soup.) Moments later, Capt. William Bligh tells the crew’s botanist, David Nelson, of the feasts he sat in on in the West Indies. Bligh describes “‘their stuffing and swilling of wine. Sangaree and rum punch and Madeira till one marveled they could hold it all. And the food! Pepper pot, turtle soup, turtle steaks, grilled calipee; on my word, I’ve seen enough, at a dinner for six, to feed us from here to Timor!’”
Bligh and the loyal men of the Bounty lived like princes compared with those of the Essex, the Nantucket whaling ship rammed and sunk by an angry bull sperm whale in 1820. In Owen Chase’s autobiographical account of the ordeal, part of the book The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, the first mate holds a mostly dry and colorless course: He tells of how the 20 men journeyed for weeks in their small open boats, racing time, dehydration and starvation. They attempt in vain to kill sharks and porpoises, they land on an island and quickly exhaust its thin resources of bird eggs, and they continue across the open Pacific, hoping always to see a sail while growing ever weaker and emaciated. Through it all, the New Englanders essentially never eat or drink. Finally, Chase pauses in his chronology of dates and coordinates to tell of a moment in which he dozed off: “I dreamt of being placed near a splendid and rich repast, where there was every thing that the most dainty appetite could desire; and of contemplating the moment in which we were to commence to eat with enraptured feelings of delight; and just as I was about to partake of it, I suddenly awoke….” Chase leaves us with our eager forks aloft—and we never learn just what it was that he hoped to eat. Turtle soup, likely. In the following days as the anguished men expired one by one, Chase and his companions resorted to cannibalism. Just eight of the lot were rescued.
While stranded for the austral winter of 1916 on the barren Elephant Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, after escaping from Antarctica in three tiny lifeboats, the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition passed the time reading through a Penny Cookbook that one of the men had kept dry through many months of dire tribulations. And how that book made them dream! The men had been living for months on seal (and sled dog) meat, and Thomas Ordes-Lee, the expedition’s ski expert and storekeeper, wrote in his journal, “[W]e want to be overfed, grossly overfed, yes, very grossly overfed on nothing but porridge and sugar, black currant and apple pudding and cream, cake, milk, eggs, jam, honey and bread and butter till we burst, and we’ll shoot the man who offers us meat. We don’t want to see or hear of any more meat as long as we live.” Their carb cravings were more apparent when one man—the surgeon James McIlroy—conducted a poll to see what each sailor would have to eat if he could choose anything. Their answers included apple pudding, Devonshire dumpling, porridge, Christmas dumpling, dough and syrup and a fruit tart—with most of these dolloped with cream. Just two men wished for meat (pork was their choice), while one with a bleaker imagination said he just wanted bread and butter. For three more months until their rescue, they ate seal and rehydrated milk.
Author Jon Krakauer tells us in his 1990 Eiger Dreams of the time 15 years before that he and a climber friend named Nate Zinsser were holed up during a storm while ascending a new route up the 10,335-foot peak Moose’s Tooth, in Alaska. Dreaming of food, Zinsser said, “If we had some ham, we could make ham and eggs, if we had some eggs.” In The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, an expedition member on Robert Scott’s doomed Antarctic voyage of 1901-1903 on the Discovery, recalls one frigid winter’s day, saying, “And I wanted peaches and syrup—badly.” And Felicity Aston, a modern explorer from Britain whom I interviewed last January about her solo ski trip across Antarctica, recalled as a highlight of her journey receiving a gift of a nectarine and an apple upon reaching the South Pole research station.
There was no food shortage on the Norwegian research vessel Fram, which Fridtjof Nansen captained into the Arctic Ocean in 1893. His sturdy boat was built with a fortified hull under the plan that she would become frozen in the sea ice and thereby allow Nansen to track the drift of the ice layer by watching the stars—classic, rock solid science in the golden age of discovery. It was a planned “disaster” voyage—and the men went prepared. Nansen, who finally stumbled home again in 1896 caked in campfire soot and seal grease, wrote in his 1897 memoir Farthest North that the expedition carried at the outset several years’ worth of canned and dried foods of numerous sorts. Only during foot or skiff expeditions away from the boat—such as Nansen’s long hike home—did the team members experience great monotony of diet. On one outing, they forgot butter to slab on their biscuits and so named the nearest land “Cape Butterless.” They lived during longer forays on seal, walrus and polar bear—pinniped and bear for breakfast, lunch and dinner; so much pinniped and bear that the reader feels an itch to floss his teeth and scrub down with dish detergent. Meanwhile, Nansen stops to take depth soundings, sketch fossils, study rock strata and express interest in every piece of possible data—and though the pragmatic scientist never does slip into a shameless food fantasy, we know he had them.
If you’d been in Nansen’s boots, what would you have piled on your plate?
November 8, 2012
Ever since Sean Connery first strode onto the screen in 1962 as a dapper secret agent with the code name 007, the world has been riveted by the character called James Bond. He has grace, confidence, delivery and deadly power—and he also travels. Dr. No, the inaugural film in the series, featured the gleaming waters and blazing beaches of Jamaica. The next year, From Russia with Love took audiences farther afield to Turkey, the Balkans and Venice. Through the ’60s, Bond’s creators drilled audiences with film after film, almost every year, as James Bond appeared in such places as Egypt, the Bahamas, Amsterdam, Japan, the Alps and Portugal. All the while he wooed sizzling exotic women and outsmarted absurdly wicked villains. Though Bond’s was a dangerous world of spies, gold, weapons, ninjas and nuclear war, he swaggered fearlessly through it, from one fantastic landscape to another.
In 1960, fewer than 2 percent of Americans had traveled abroad by air—and many who watched Bond do business in one thrilling place after another were enthralled.
Perhaps, millions pondered, America was not enough.
Through the 1970s air travel become mainstream, replacing trans-Atlantic ocean liners. Europe was suddenly just hours away, and Americans began turning up in numbers throughout the world. By the 1980s, the airline age was in full swing, and with the rise in global travel, James Bond tourism attractions would begin to appear. Consider Khao Phing Kan: After it was featured in 1974′s The Man with the Golden Gun, this beautiful Thai island became a hot tourist attraction and even gained the popular nickname “James Bond Island.” And in the 1980s the very abode in Jamaica where author Ian Fleming dreamed up the Bond world opened as the luxurious GoldenEye Hotel.
Bond’s association with travel and place would solidify through the years. Most recently, with the British release last month of the 23rd Bond film Skyfall, travel agencies and publications have pushed a flurry of James Bond tourism campaigns. Forbes Magazine recently listed the best luxury hotels at which James Bond ever spent a night; on November 2, DesMoinesRegister.com named the best places for following in Bond’s footsteps; a Caribbean “adventure tours” company called Island Routes features a “007 Thunderball Luxury Tour“; a Japanese tour agency is promoting a 13-night Bond-based itinerary inspired by 1967′s You Only Live Twice”; and VisitBritain, the tourism agency of James Bond’s home country, is hinging a fresh tourism push on the hype surrounding Skyfall.
With the American release of the new film this weekend, starring Daniel Craig in his third venture as 007, the James Bond film franchise turns 50 years old. The immortal spy has now traveled in 50 countries and logged 180,000 miles of air travel, by the Huffington Post‘s estimate. Surely, Bond has out-traveled virtually all of us in a world often depicted as absurd and cartoonishly implausible. Yet Bond’s world is the real world, and where he has gone, his fans are sure to follow.
These are just five of the most beautiful sites where the world’s favorite spy has done business.
James Bond Island, Thailand. Classic James Bond met classic Thailand in the 1974 film The Man with the Golden Gun. Actor Roger Moore, who had by then replaced Connery as the dashing spy, pursued Bond’s nemesis Francisco Scaramanga to Khao Phing Kan, a pair of craggy islands draped in greenery that jut like monoliths from a placid turquoise sea. It is the Thailand of a million tourists’ dreams—of a coastline so stunning it looks at times more like a computer-generated dreamscape than a real product of time, water, jungle and geology. Bond was there in its virgin days, before the crowds, and before it became known as James Bond Island.
Contra Dam, Ticino, Switzerland. The opening scene of GoldenEye featured Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, taking a dizzying leap from an enormous dam in what would later be voted the greatest film stunt of all time. The Contra Dam, also called the Verzasca Dam or Locarno Dam, is located in the Swiss Alps on the Verzasca River. Tourists may visit the dam—and those with a heart for first-class spy-style adventure may even bungee jump off the face. The top of the dam is 720 feet above the stream below, making it one of the world’s highest bungee jumps.
Gibraltar. In 1987, the famed rock set the stage for the opening scene of The Living Daylights, in which Timothy Dalton as Bond leaps off a cliff and onto the roof of a runaway Land Rover in one of the finer Bond action sequences. The scene, actually filmed through repeated runs on the same short stretch of road, ends with a turn off a cliff, a parachute leap, a fiery explosion and a suave Bond-style landing on a yacht.
Meteora Agia Triada monasteries, northern Greece. In the 11th century, Byzantine hermits perched upon the spectacular pinnacles; in the 1300s and 1400s, the monasteries were built; and, in 1981, popular fame finally arrived for the monasteries of Meteora with the Bond film For Your Eyes Only. James Bond was still in his Moore days when he scaled the limestone cliffs to reach the lair of villain Kristalos. Today, rock climbing is one of the attractions of Meteora.
Green Grotto Caves, Jamaica. The 1973 Bond installment Live and Let Die leads our spy into the voodoo world of New Orleans and the thug lairs of New York. Finally, Bond enters the Green Grotto Caves of Discovery Bay, Jamaica, where he deals appropriately with the villainous drug lord Kananga. The caves, which lead for a mile underground and are inhabited by several of Jamaica’s 21 bat species, have been used as a hideout for escaping slaves, as a stash for weapons smugglers and as a storage depot for rum handlers. Stalagmites, stalactites, sun holes in the ceiling, a subterranean tidal pond and green algae coating the walls create the incredible beauty of the caves. Also featured in Live and Let Die was Jamaica’s Falmouth Crocodile Farm, where Bond ran across the backs of a line of lounging crocodiles to reach safety. The farm, also known as the Falmouth Swamp Safari, is now a tourist attraction that, like so many others on earth, flaunts the fact that, once long ago, James Bond was here.
October 23, 2012
India and Turkey are currently two of the hottest tickets for traveling Americans—but the arid Muslim nations in between are not. Once an exotic region hospitable to travelers, the Middle East has changed—especially in recent tumultuous years, and today the area is often perceived as a murky and dangerous blur on the map, and many otherwise adventurous travelers have placed all nations from the Nile to the western Himalayas essentially off-limits. A popular assumption is that Americans are not wanted there—understandable considering the events surrounding 9/11, America’s invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the imprisonment of three U.C. Berkeley graduates in 2009, the recent Islamic outrage over the YouTube video mocking the prophet Muhammad, and, most recently, the murder of four Americans in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. But rather than red-list every nation of this diverse and misunderstood corner of the planet, let us consider which remain hospitable to travelers—and also feature must-see-before-we-die sites.
Iran. Friendly, generous, inviting, gracious. Such is the general description bestowed by traveling Americans upon the Iranian citizens who have welcomed them. Though the Iranian government requires that American visitors arrange a group tour or travel with a private guide, tourists report having plenty of opportunities to visit sites unchaperoned and interact independently with locals. If you go, you may wish to see the ancient city of Persepolis and the Friday Mosque. The mountains near Iran’s northern borders are also gorgeous—and the wild abode of the Syrian brown bear—but keep in mind that this is where the three U.S. hikers seem to have been arrested in 2009. Also note that there is no U.S. Embassy or consulate in Iran, that your ATM and credit cards will probably not work, and that Iranians may be very fussy about what you wear in public. Moreover, the U.S. government issued a warning to traveling U.S. citizens on April 27, encouraging them “to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.” Hostile “elements” are a considerable concern, the warning states, and the American government’s ability to assist its citizens in times of trouble is “extremely limited.”
Saudi Arabia. Traveling is difficult in Saudi Arabia for Americans, if not dangerous. According to the travel warning issued by the U.S. government on May 18, “There is an ongoing security threat [in Saudi Arabia] due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some affiliated with al-Qa’ida, who may target Western interests…and facilities where Westerners congregate.” It makes visiting this land of crude oil and enthusiastic religion sound less than lovely. But if you insist on going, you’d better make it for business, as Saudi Arabia does not currently grant tourist visas. Instructions are available online for obtaining a work visa, a business visa or several other forms of entry permit. Travelers should note that their visit duration may be given in lunar, not Western, months—a detail that can fool visitors into overstaying by several days. This can mean a fine of almost $3,000 and incarceration. Also remember that during your business travels in Saudi Arabia, you may have to stop short at the gates of Mecca, inside of which non-Muslims are forbidden.
Israel. Make this the last country you visit on your Middle East tour, as port officials in Muslim nations may bar entry to anyone bearing evidence of having associated with Israel—like entry and exit stamps on your passport. A country of holy sites and biblical geography, high mountains, vineyards and beaches, it is also a land of sweltering political tensions. Ongoing hostilities with its neighbors make Israel an enemy to much of the Muslim world. (Even in Turkey, this animosity is thick—and I was almost arrested while cycling along the Black Sea in August 2010 when Turkish police mistook me for an Israeli. The encounter turned into handshakes, smiles and sightseeing suggestions when I produced my American passport.) USA Today Travel suggests staying out of crowds and abstaining from participation in political protests in Israel. Though a political friend of the United States, Israel can offer dangers to American tourists. The U.S. government advises staying “mindful of security factors” while planning a trip to Israel—and avoiding the Gaza Strip altogether.
Egypt. The land of the great pyramids, the sphinx and the desert shores of the Red Sea has been in the news lately through coverage of heated protests at the U.S. Embassy—but such unrest and anti-American sentiments may be entirely unrepresentative of Egyptian people’s general feelings toward Westerners. In fact, the American government has issued no formal warning against visiting Egypt, as it has with nearly every other Middle East country. According to this travel article in the Huffington Post, “Americans sailing down the Nile in Luxor at this very moment are having a great time. Those visiting Aswan report no incidents. And those vacationing in Alexandria are there, making new friends.” The same article points out that the rioters skirmishing with police amount to less than 300 dissidents. Yet tourism is down in Egypt, leaving some of the most famous sites of the ancient world to be enjoyed in the absence of the teeming masses of visitors that generally congregate before the pyramids and other such attractions. Consider going now, before the crowds surge back.
Dubai. Travel in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is generally considered safe, and that has helped make Dubai, the UAE’s most famous city, one of the hottest tourist destinations in the Middle East. It is a center of skyscrapers, malls, resorts and glittering urban extravagance—most of it generated by the region’s oil reserves. The world’s tallest building stands in Dubai—more than half a mile in height—and the world’s most expensive cocktail was sold here for just shy of $8,000 (plus a buck, we may suppose, for the tip). If you were hoping to see austere holy sites and crumbling ruins, then Dubai is not for you.
Jordan. The problem with American perceptions of the Middle East is exactly that: They are perceptions of a large and unofficially demarcated area containing different cultures and a variety of landscapes and languages. All that millions of outsiders really know for sure about the area is that missiles seem to fly readily across international boundaries and turn outdoor markets and shopping centers into rubble. In Jordan, the recently foiled terrorist attack produced a scare, though authorities say the perpetrators were under watch every step of their way. In fact, Jordan has remained relatively peaceful through years of violence in its neighboring countries—yet the country may suffer from associations with violence, as Jordan shares borders with five nations, including Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But travelers who have gone there to see for themselves often return with glowing reports of Jordanians’ hospitality and genuine kindness. The nation is largely of red-hued desert and rough and rocky hills, and amid this landscape are such spectacular historical sites as Jerash, the Ajloun Castle and Petra, the ancient city included in Smithsonian Magazine‘s list of 28 places to see before you die.
Libya. Put your family vacation plans to Libya on hold for a while. Perhaps a few miles too far west to be categorized as a “Middle East” nation, Libya’s Muslim populace and hostility toward American earns this Saharan nation a place in this discussion. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American colleagues were killed here during a siege of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11. (Note: Libyans were killed, too, as they tried to protect the Americans.) The next day the U.S. government issued a stern and formal warning against any travel at all in Libya. Take the advice–unless the rest of the world is really not enough.
For the following nations of the Middle East (or adjacent to it), the U.S. government has issued travel warnings this year: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen. Like so many nations, though, each of these likely has its highly publicized dark side, and its lesser-known archaeological attractions, hospitality and scenery.
What about Turkey? Escalating conflict between Syria and Turkey have raised concerns that travel in the latter will become unsafe. However, those who have recently been in Turkey deny that tensions or danger is increasing there. Rather, life has continued as usual, especially in the western realms of the nation. In related gossip, a number of nightmare scams reportedly pulled recently on women travelers in Istanbul may shock readers and open the eyes of travelers—but the stories, described here, probably illustrate nothing more hostile than snake-eyed thieves preying on unsuspecting outsiders.
October 3, 2012
Where would we be without snakes? Rodent populations might boom, the native bird assemblage of Guam would probably remain mostly intact today and 100,000 people every year would not die of venomous bites. As we can see, snakes bring both good and bad to the world we share with them. But mostly, these reptiles have been cast in the role of evil.
It’s easy to see why, if we just take a glance at the scariest of the lot—the venomous snakes. Indeed, it might take a very persuasive herpetologist on field sabbatical in Ecuador to convince the locals that the pit viper of his thesis focus is anything but a device of the devil. Throughout the New World tropics, roughly 2,000 people die every year from the bite of the pit viper (Bothrops atrox), known also as the fer-de-lance. Its close cousin, B. asper, goes by the same common names and is comparably devastating and said to be so aggressive it will chase people, bent on sharing some of its powerful venom. And in Africa, the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) seems so wicked it’s absurd: It is the fastest snake in the world and can slither more swiftly than the average city cyclist pedals to work; it is the second-longest venomous snake, growing to 14 feet; it may strike a single victim repeatedly like a psycho with a butcher knife; its venom is so potent it can kill a horse—and a person in just 30 minutes; and, in bite victims who go untreated, the mortality rate is—get this—100 percent. In other words, nobody—that’s nobody—on a trek in the wilderness of tropical Africa, hours from the nearest doctor and without antivenin, survives the bite of the black mamba. As locals say, this snake delivers the “kiss of death.”
Stories of such creatures can leave indelible impressions on the tender minds of men—so indelible that no matter how plain and obvious it is that the harmless gopher snake—or king snake, or rat snake—is a peaceful friend of society that wants little more than to eat a rat (a job that somebody’s got to do, and how grateful we should be that snakes have volunteered), many people still call snake control and removal experts when one appears on their property. Forgive them, Mother Nature, for they know not what they do. Now, whether you love them or hate them, here are a few iconic species to watch for when traveling, from those wickedly venomous to those worth learning more about before you cast your judgment.
Reticulated python (Python reticulatus). Probably the longest snake in the world (if not the heaviest), the reticulated python of Southeast Asia is also an occasional man-eater and a popular pet. (Go figure that one. I’ll stick with my yellow Lab.) Recently, a 25-footer weighing 350 pounds was named the largest snake in captivity—but just how big the largest “retic” ever to have lived might never be known. In 2003, one snake was reported to be 49 feet long and weigh more than 900 pounds. Only when journalist John Aglionby of The Guardian made a trip to see and measure the creature, being kept in a cage in a village in Java, was its real size revealed: 23 feet. Why should we believe an English journalist and not the keeper of the snake, you ask? Come on. Forty-nine feet? Anyway, read Aglionby’s article, which explains the difficulty in measuring large, coiled-up snakes. Worthy to note when discussing the biggest snakes is that between 1997 and 2002, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society offered a $50,000 reward to anyone who could produce a 30-foot snake. The prize was never collected.
Ashe’s spitting cobra (Naja ashei). And you thought camels were nasty for spitting in strangers’ faces (they’re actually belching up their cud). Well, the spitting cobra doesn’t just spit; it spits venom. And since the venom is harmless to intact skin, the mean evolutionary tactic behind this nasty habit seems to be, precisely, to hit the victim in the eye, which can cause permanent blindness. Ashe’s spitting cobra is the largest of the dozen or so spitting cobra species, which live in Africa and Asia. N. ashei, first named only in 2007, reaches nine feet in length, has been seen eating five-foot-long puff adders (another deadly venomous snake) and, like all the spitting cobras, can also inject venom by biting. And while we’re discussing cobras, the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) can grow to twice the length of the Ashe’s spitting cobra and may administer, in one bite, two-tenths of an ounce of venom to its unfortunate victim—enough to kill an elephant. The species acts aggressively when cornered or when guarding a nest, in which the females lay their eggs, but does not commonly attack humans.
Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus). It is the biggest of the boas and perhaps the bulkiest of all snakes, but the South American green anaconda’s pop culture reputation as a killer may be entirely undeserved. The snake, which gives live birth to 20-inch babies and can reportedly grow to 28 feet and 280 pounds (according to the San Diego Zoo), is relatively sluggish and does not, with any regularity, attack humans.Yet people hate the creatures. Just check out the comments following this blog post about a pregnant anaconda killed by South American villagers. The author of the post questions why the animal was killed. Scores of readers responded like raving idiots at a public hanging. One argued that with 70 baby snakes inside her, the big snake was a population bomb about to go off and would have left the village crawling with hungry anacondas. And another reader said, “[W]e don t need snakes on this world.they are dangerous. i hate the snakes it s the animal of the devil…” Well spoken. Thank you. Next! “[T]hat thing could kill a horse.” No, it probably couldn’t. Next! “How could it possibly have been pregnant? It’s a SNAKE, snakes are REPTILES, and reptiles LAY EGGS!!!” Obviously not a herpetologist. Next! “[S]nake’s aren’t nice animals…there more like monsters who just wanna eat.” Brilliant. Next! “Either you eat the Anaconda, or the Anaconda eats YOU !” All right, all right! Order! In fact, there is no documented case of an anaconda killing a human.
Beaked sea snake (Enhydrina schistosa). Though the Australian inland taipan tops the list of the world’s most venomous snakes, the beaked sea snake isn’t far behind. Rated as the world’s sixth most venomous snake, it is considered the most dangerous sea snake. Its fangs may measure just four millimeters, and surfers and divers wearing wetsuits may be protected, though just barely, from this animal’s bite. Yet nine of every ten people killed by sea snakes are killed by the beaked sea snake, which is said to be easily provoked and very aggressive. It inhabits shallow, murky waters in Australia and much of the Indian Ocean, often among mangrove roots. Wading fishermen are frequent victims.
Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinesis). If the flared hood of a cobra is the icon of danger in the heat of Africa and Asia, then the sound of a rattlesnake giving its warning might be that of the American desert. Which makes the rattlesnake without a rattle a riddle of evolution—though scientists have supposed that its rattleless tail may be a result of evolving on an island mostly absent of other creatures to communicate with. Otherwise, the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is a rattlesnake in every way—from head almost to tail. It is a dwarf among rattlesnakes, however, reaching a maximum size of just 28 inches long. It is also endemic to (that is, entirely limited to) the single Sea of Cortez island on which it lives, and—with just 100 square kilometers to call its own—the species is critically endangered. Predation by feral cats is a considerable threat.
Sobering facts about snakebites: In 2011, the BBC reported that snakes bite as many as 5.5 million people every year, killing at least 100,000. In India alone, the article stated, a million people may suffer snakebites every year. The Indian cobra, Russell’s viper, saw-scaled viper and common krait are the main perpetrators in India, while the king cobra tends often to be wrongly blamed. In sub-Saharan Africa, carpet vipers, black mambas, puff adders and boomslangs are snakes to be feared. In Australia, the snake blacklist is long and frightening, while in Europe vipers are the main culprit, and in North America, rattlesnakes. What to do if bitten by a snake? Antivenin is said to be the only reliable treatment, unfortunately. According to the 2011 revision of Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, the wound of a snakebite victim should be firmly wrapped in a bandage before the person is carried on a makeshift stretcher to the nearest doctor. “If you can, also take the snake,” the authors advise, as identifying the needed antivenin can otherwise be difficult. And things not to do after receiving a snakebite? Cutting the flesh near the wound, applying ice, trying to suck the venom out of the bite and having a beer (as alcohol can reportedly make symptoms worse).
August 3, 2012
“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.”
I didn’t say that. Anthony Bourdain did. Actually, the TV chef thought it first, then wrote it, read it over a time or two, passed it by his editor and finally saw that it went to print in his 2000 hit memoir Kitchen Confidential. Even today, Bourdain is known for trash-talking vegetarians. He seems to hate them, really, with an enraged, pit-bull-on-a-rope passion. Their selective eating patterns offend Bourdain, who proudly devours anything that another person tells him might be food. Meanwhile, he has called vegans “self-indulgent,” and in his 2001 eat-your-way-around-the-world chef’s adventure story, A Cook’s Tour, he flaunts a bean-brained idea in Chapter 13 that First World vegetarians are somehow, to some degree, to blame for the misfortunes of hungry people in developing nations. Isn’t it just bizarre how a group of people that elects not to participate in the killing of animals can incite such boiling antipathy?
Anyway, last time I discussed some of the impacts that raising livestock incurs on the planet. This time, I suggest a few things to eat abroad, where many diners discover that the world is a vegetarian’s oyster.
Mexico. Corn tortillas, beans, avocado and salsa. It’s the bread and butter of Mexico and perhaps the most common table staple in Central America—yet there’s not much that beats a hot-off-the-skillet handmade corn tortilla, especially when stuffed with basic vegetarian taco fillings. Such tacos were a staple for me about a decade ago, when I spent many months trudging around the deserts of Baja California. Often, as I hiked across the sunburned wilderness, I caught a whiff on the wind of cooking tortillas—that toasty, warm scent of carbohydrates turning brown on a cast-iron pan. The telltale smell of a ranch! Following my nose, I would soon hear the pat pat pat of tortillas being made by hand (as well as the jingling of goat bells). I was a cheese-eater without relent in those days, but often I would buy 30 corn tortillas and for dinner have tacos filled only with avocados, tomatoes and lime. But travelers, watch out for lard; though corn tortilla dough usually consists only of masa, water and salt, some tortillas are cooked on skillets rubbed with swine fat. If you make them at home, rub the pan with a fleck of coconut oil before cooking each tortilla.
India. Chana masala. The great garbanzo bean (a.k.a. chickpea) stars in this classic dish of India, home to about 400 million vegetarians. Chana masala is simply protein-packed garbanzos stewed with onions, tomatoes and a curry of spices, including coriander, cumin and turmeric—and is often served over rice or eaten with naan (beware of buffalo butter, called ghee, or, heck—just enjoy it). Garnished with cilantro, mint or green onion, chana masala, though almost always a staple of cheaper Indian restaurants, can be as elegant and satisfying as any celebrated dish of Mediterranean Europe.
Thailand. Coconut curry. For many travelers, Thailand means bamboo beach huts, elephant rides in the jungle and snorkeling in water as clear as air, while for those of the epicurean persuasion, Thailand is just about synonymous with thick and creamy coconut curries. These are often based on animal broths or spicy shrimp pastes, and are often served with meat. If you want vegetarian options and can’t find any at the street stalls, make your own back at the palapa. You’ll need a pot, a fire beneath it, vegetable broth, coconut milk, palm sugar, lemongrass and curry spices. Beyond that, the curry crock is your playground. Try stewing sweet potatoes, taro root and plantains. And for dessert, step over the border to Laos and try a scoop of khao niao durian, the flesh of the famously pungent fruit smashed into a helping of sticky rice with coconut milk.
Italy. White Bean Peasant Soup. They wrap their figs in bacon, they stuff their truffles into veal slabs and they grate cheese over nearly every main plate—and Italy is hardly a vegan’s paradise. But white bean peasant soup, or ribollita, was traditionally a vegetarian dish, and often without even cheese. Chef Mario Batali explains here that the poor of old Italy often had no meat to cook and, when fortunate enough to have leftovers (or unfortunate enough to have only scraps and crusts), they sometimes combined all in a stewing pot. With white beans, the dish provided protein and carbohydrates in one hit. For those trying this dish at home, add some dried porcini mushrooms and red wine to the broth for a heartier kick. Or follow this recipe, which leans to the lighter side, and includes sautéed apples. As Batali says, “You can’t mess up ribollita.”
Chile. Porotos Granados. Built of New World ingredients, porotos granados is a stew of pumpkin, cranberry beans, corn, onion, spices and broth. The final consistency is much like porridge, with the squash mashed into a purée. Flavor can be enhanced by roasting the corn over a flame first, and caramelizing the onions in the pot before adding the broth also enriches the dish. Kabocha squash can be substituted for the pumpkin, and a light sweetness can be added with mashed overripe plantains.
Lebanon. Tabouleh. It’s made of bulgur, onions, parsley, mint, tomatoes and cucumber, with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. Light but substantial, tabouleh, eaten cold, is refreshing on a hot evening and an easy last-minute make for a bring-along party dish. Home cooks might even take the Middle Eastern theme a step further and add diced dried and toasted walnuts. Served with hummus, olives and falafels, tabouleh completes a classic vegan feast of the Middle East.
Eritrea. Injera and Wat. One of the most memorable parts of any Eritrean or Ethiopian meal is the simplest—the injera, or sour, spongy flatbread. Injera is made with the flour of teff, an indigenous mountain grain, and wheat or barley. Mixed with water, it is left to ferment for several days until the batter smells like buttermilk. The bubbling batter is ladled onto a skillet and cooked like a pancake. On the table, the injera serves as a utensil, a sponge and a napkin, and the meal is officially over when the sheets of injera spread over the table have been eaten. Injera is typically eaten with soups, such as wat, a dense and spicy lentil stew.
Greece. Dolmas. I was devastated in 2006 after traveling from Italy to Greece by ferry and discovering, after several visits to produce markets, that hummus simply didn’t exist in this land. After 30 hours aboard the boat, I had been anticipating a meal of hummus and dolma grape leaf wraps. Turns out, hummus is strictly Middle Eastern. However, my expectations of the illustrious dolma, or dolmade, were met—for rice seasoned with olive oil and spices and wrapped in grape leaves is the ubiquitous bread-and-butter comfort food of Greece. Like so many vegetarian staples, dolmas are as delicious and satisfying as they are simple. They can be bought nearly anywhere for a trifle, or they can be made at home—and whether you’re camped alone in the woods after a long day of journeying, or hosting friends for a potluck, a plate of dolmas meets the mark.
Lesotho. Moroko. OK—so this dish may underwhelm, but when I asked a friend what vegetarian dishes she enjoyed while traveling recently in Lesotho, that little landlocked island of sovereignty within South Africa, she immediately said, “Moroko.” So simple and nondescript that I’m surprised it even has a name, moroko is just greens roughly chopped, simmered with some oil and broth and mashed into a soggy green porridge. Should you visit Lesotho, take a drive, inhale the astonishing mountain views, then gather wild greens along the roadsides to stew later for dinner. Vegetables like kale, spinach, chard, dandelions, mustard and radish can all be used in moroko. The dish is often eaten with rice or potatoes.
A few famous vegetarians:
Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay.
Brad Pitt, actor.
Paul McCartney, musician.
Gandhi, pacifist and social revolutionary.
Larry Mullen Jr., drummer of U2.
Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plutarch and Socrates, scholars of ancient Greece.
A few famous vegans:
Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead.
Kevin Nealon, comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member.
Tobey Maguire, actor.
Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders.
Scott Jurek, long-distance runner. I spoke with Jurek recently by telephone. One of the world’s most acclaimed long-distance runners, Jurek was the featured superstar in the 2009 book Born to Run. He has been a vegan since 1999 and names quinoa, brown rice, beans, hummus and burritos as a few of his favorite plant kingdom staples. Jurek partly credits the very absence of animal protein in his diet as a source of his health, athletic dominance and collection of world records—including the world’s fastest time on a 165-mile run.
Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Have environmental factors played a role in your decision?
And what foods did I miss from this list?