Friday, March 28, 2008

Volunteer Opportunities In Thailand

Exciting news!

My friends at the Panya Project were just featured in an article on the Travel Channel's website, "Volunteering Goes Green In Thailand".

Even cooler, the article was written by Matador contributor Mei-Ling McNamara.

Mei-Ling leads off with this description of Panya:

"The Panya Project, located near Chiang Mai in the lush region of Northern Thailand, is much more than a sustainable living center.

Founded by Christian Shearer, an American who spent his youth in Thailand, the Panya Project focuses on natural building, organic agriculture and permaculture -- designing human systems based on natural ecosystems. The result brings greater benefits to the land and to the people who work it."

To learn more about other volunteer opportunities in Thailand, including Wildlife Conservation, check out Mei-Ling's full article.

To read my account of life adjacent to Panya in Northern Thailand, check out this article:

"From The Ground Up: Planting Seeds In Northern Thailand"


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Baghdad Bureau Blogs

For a few weeks now I've been reading blogs by members of the NY Times Baghdad Bureau.

These first person dispatches are often heartfelt and gorgeously written, far more evocative than standard journalism and much closer to deeply informed travel writing.

"Even In War, Not All Is War", published today by Edward Wong is the best piece of writing on Iraq that I've encountered in years.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Favorite Empanada Stand

Go for the pescado y queso and wash it down with cold beer...


Friday, March 21, 2008

The Silver Lining in the Imminent Collapse of the U.S. Economy

I've dipped my toe into political essay writing again.

"Will The U.S. Recession Lead To Reflection" argues that a slow-down in economic growth is a good thing for people and the planet.

Read the full essay here.

I'd really like to hear your thoughts, which you can add by commenting at the original post.



Tuesday, March 11, 2008

El Diablo Tranquilo, Uruguay

It’s 5:20 am here in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. I’m perched on a stool behind the reception desk at El Diablo Tranquilo hostel, listening to the Killers and waiting for the sun to rise.

In the past two weeks I’ve seen a lot of sunrises. The hostel faces east, towards the ocean, and every day the black velvet night turns into a purple bruise, then a metallic blue. A thin line of pink eases onto the lip of the horizon. Finally fire-orange streaks light the bellies of cumulus clouds and ignite the pale morning light.

Sometimes I see the sunrise on the walk home from El Pico, a grungy little surf bar where stray dogs wander the dance-floor and the local 2-man reggae band plays an epic cover of Bob Marley, Guns and Roses, the Police and the Cure all in one song.

On days like today, though, I see the sunrise at the end of my nightshift at the hostel reception desk. I’m trading 3 shifts a week for room and board, a deal I worked out with Brian Meissner, the 25 year old owner of El Diablo Tranquilo.

Even though I’m already plenty busy with my writing and editing work, I really enjoy working at the hostel. I like being part of the staff. I like selling beer to the late-night crowd. I like going into the kitchen at the El Diablo restaurant and asking Cho Cho the Cook for my meal.

Cho Cho the Cook is a perpetually stoned 23 year old Uruguayan with an impressive pot-belly. If he’s in a good mood, the food is fantastic – slabs of fish on rice with vegetables, steak milanesas lightly fried with baby potatoes…

If Cho Cho the Cook is in a bad mood, or if he hasn’t had enough to smoke, the meals are awful – 2 fried eggs on French fries with mayonnaise, or on one sad occasion a can of corn mixed with a can of tuna fish.

Cho Cho is actually second in command in the kitchen. The head cook is Diego, alpha male of Punta del Diablo, a ripped big-wave surfer with an easy grin that shows off perfectly white teeth, as if he brushed three times a day with baking soda.

Diego lives in a shack behind the hostel and wakes up early every morning to check the surf forecast on the computer. If the wind is from the north, Cho Cho will be on his own in the kitchen.

“My life is only four things,” Diego told me once, speaking easy Spanish for me to understand. “Surfing. Cooking. Smoking. Women.”

Brian the Owner could fire Diego for skipping work for surfing, but he likes him too much.

“I swear the guy can’t even write his own name,” he said one morning while Diego (shirtless as always) was checking the surf forecast. “But he takes one look at all those little wind arrows on the screen and knows EXACTLY where the best wave in Uruguay will be today.”

My life in Punta del Diablo isn’t quite as simple as Diego’s, but I’ve developed a tranquil routine. I have my favorite empanada stand, down past the fishing boats on the beach, where a grandmother makes the oily meat pastries from scratch, feeding the dough through a metal roller, filling it with fish and cheese and dunking it in light oil to fry.

I do my editing work plugged into my laptop in the hostel common room, on white couches in front of the fireplace. If the common room is too busy I go upstairs and write on one of the little tables by the foosball table. Travelers pass through all the time, and usually I stop work a few times every hour for a conversation, a cup of coffee, or maybe a ham and cheese sandwich if Cho Cho is slow with the mid-afternoon meal.

Everyday there’s an hour or two before dusk when the light turns golden and I walk the two blocks down to the beach, fly a kite off the rocky point while watching cormorants and surfers, or take a run down the beach in Santa Theresa National Park.

I’m really content these days. Work is going well. The Fodor’s assignment in Patagonia is finished. had more visitors in the last 30 days than in all of last year. The Matador network is coming together, and it’s a great privilege to work for an exciting startup alongside such talented, good people - Ian MacKenzie, David Miller, Ross Borden and Ben Polansky.

I feel comfortable with where I am right now. It will be great to get home to Vermont, but Punta del Diablo is a good place too.

Everyday it seems like I have at least 4 or 5 moments when I feel really, really lucky, happy and blessed. I dance and goof around. I smile. And these moments are just getting more and more frequent, lasting longer and longer. I can imagine living wide-open again, embracing every ounce of beauty in the world.

6:20 am. I’m going outside to watch the sun come up.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 07, 2008

Every One Of Them Words Rang True....

I’m typing on the deck of a hostel in a little Uruguayan surf town called Punta del Diablo.

Travelers are chatting around me; the usual conversation about where they came from and where they’re going next. Down on the beach, surfers are catching the last waves of the day and men driving horse-drawn carts haul firewood into town.

In many ways this is an idyllic scene, but to be honest, for a while today I was feeling a bit tired and jaded about travel. When you’re on the road too long the spark of newness fades, and travel can feel like a long, pointless slog, a detour from loved ones and from life.

Then I started reading the quotes you’ll find below. Some made me laugh. Some made me wince.

But all of them rang true, and reminded me of why I travel: to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the chair waiting in front of the woodstove back home.

I hope you’ll find similar inspiration in these quotes. Without further ado…

The 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes Of All Time

Thanks to Lola for compiling these quotes!

Labels: , , ,