Change of Plans

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Going with the flow here in Ecuador

When I began this journey, I had a very rough itinerary in mind. In fact, my preferred way to travel is to leave things a bit open ended, to slow down and to allow myself to test the waters in a place before I commit to more than a few days there. There is so much world to see that I try not to waste time by hanging around in a place if I’m not enjoying it.

An example of this from my last trip in 2008 was Vang Vieng in Laos. Although I was traveling with Jess at that time, I had set off to explore Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam solo before meeting up with her again. Everyone says Vang Vieng is beautiful and it was, with beautiful karst peaks jutting out of the still river water. I was genuinely excited for the beauty of the place as well as some time to relax.

When I got to town, it was a different story. I found a place to stay for the night and set off in search of something to eat. At restaurant after restaurant, the menu included “happy” pizzas (made with “special” mushrooms) or shakes, and backpackers lounged about, tripping out, watching loud reruns of Friends on the ubiquitous televisions overhead. I had planned on staying a few days, but checked out as early as I could the next morning. Not my scene.

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Centro Historico in Quito is beautiful at every turn

So far here in Ecuador, the opposite has been true. While Kim and I kept our itinerary a bit flexible in Colombia, now that I’m truly on my own I’ve had the luxury of being able to embrace serendipity and to linger here in Quito, which I’ve come to love. I had planned to stay for a few weeks, studying Spanish, but that changed when I decided to try learning on my own instead. I’m by no means fluent (or even conversational, really) but it’s worked out just fine.

The people that I’ve met here have also been a big part of why I stayed. My very first weekend, I was able to tag along with a new friend of a friend of a friend – Andres and his friend Carter to the jungle in Tena and on food adventures to Misuahualli to try chontocuro and nearby Sangolqui for hornado. They even invited me to spend Thanksgiving with the family, which was lovely.
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Things to Do in Portland: Wine Tasting by Helicopter

It might seem odd that, although it’s been a good 15 years since I’d seen her last, Coral looked exactly the same as she stepped out of the helicopter and ducked across the helipad. Come to think of it, she pretty much looked the same as I remembered her from elementary school days, going on adventures up in Piiholo or hanging out in Pukalani. Suddenly, I was giddy with happiness at seeing my old friend and simultaneously fighting the urge to pinch myself as the helicopter blades swooped overhead.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug“Who does this?” I thought.

I’ve had my share of visits to wine country regions in California and abroad in New Zealand. I’ve been on self-guided tastings by car, with friends in a stretch Hummer limo, and even once by bicycle. But wine tasting by helicopter? This was something new for me. And an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, of course.

If you’re ever lucky enough to have the time and ability to invest the money in getting a group together for a few hours of wine tasting in Oregon’s wine region – home to some of the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever had – I highly recommend Precision Helicopters. It may seem like a luxury only available to the rich and famous. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s not cheap, but if nothing else, it’s a once in a lifetime indulgence that truly made the most of the precious few hours we had, covering a wide range of geography without the hassle of fighting traffic in and out of Portland. Instead, we were whisked away and treated to a bird’s eye view of the surrounding towns and landscape, and in a mere 10-15 minutes, we’d arrived at our first tasting room.

Wine Tasting in Oregon

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPenner Ash has a beautiful tasting room and we were able to try a Viogner and a Reisling before moving into their popular Pinots. Afterwards, we sat outside to enjoy the view over Chehalem Valley. I love the thought of being able to come here to have a picnic or to enjoy wine by the glass or by the bottle, which is one of the tasting options available, weather permitting.

As we climbed back into the helicopter, I got my first taste of what it must feel like to be a celebrity. As the helicopter blades whirred to a steady hum overhead, I looked out and noticed some of the winery staff standing outside with cell phone cameras in hand, filming our lift off. I hate to disappoint them if they were expecting someone famous, so I we all put on our shades and gave a little wave. Ha!
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Lost in Translation

Learning the word "delicious" and how to ask "what do you recommend?" are two of the easiest ways to break the ice doing something you do every day - eat!

Learning the word “delicious” and how to ask “what do you recommend?” are two of the easiest ways to break the ice doing something you do every day – eat!

One of the things I love best about traveling in a foreign country is the feeling of being out of my comfort zone. When I’m in a place where I don’t speak the language, every day tasks such as finding a good place for lunch, catching the right bus or trying to buy shampoo become learning experiences. Although it can be challenging at times (and I often feel like an idiot) it forces me to be humble, to ask for help and to use more of my brain every day.

In 2008 when I was in Laos, I wrote a post about the language barrier and how it was frustrating when it prevented me from doing simple things like getting where I wanted to go. In Asia, being half-Japanese worked to my advantage because I didn’t stand out as obviously as being foreign. It’s the same here in Ecuador until I open my mouth and I’m forced to show how bad my Spanish is!
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Sprawl

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Shadows growing long
Palm trees rising like dots against the horizon
As the California sun drips into the sea

Cars going round the freeway clovers
Orderly stops at each entrance
Concrete baking in the sun

A thousand blue pools shining
Like turquoise jewels
In the midst of the arid grid below
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Hawaii Food & Wine Fest 2014

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSeptember was truly a month of gluttony for me. Knowing that I’d be on the road for months with a mostly street food diet to stretch my budget over the course of my trip, I wanted to be sure leave on a high note. I created a “Honolulu bucket list” of sorts – places I’d never gotten around to dining and things I’d always meant to experience, like riding around Oahu via The Bus, trying to omakase menu at Sushi Sasabune, watching the sunset from Kaena Point or having a picnic lunch on the lawn at Iolani Palace. Thanks to my amazing friends, I made it to most of them.

Of course, I also went out with my foodie friends to my favorite spots more than a few times, trying to soak it all in. Now, almost two months into my trip, I miss the familiar flavors, even as I’m experiencing new ones daily. I can’t help but crave dry mein from Sam Sato’s, a good cocktail from the Manifest, just about anything on the menu at town or The Pig & The Lady, not to mention poke, sashimi, ramen, pho…

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSo I suppose it was perfect that one of my “last hurrah” food events in Honolulu was Hawaiian Airlines presents: Corks & Forks at the 2014 Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. I’d attended last year’s festival as a guest at the Under A Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends event and loved it. As it was my first time attending, I quickly joined up with a little group of social media acquaintances and food lovers – Dawn & Derek Paiva and Martha Cheng. It was only fitting that for the 2014 event, we once again worked on our strategy to secure a table as a “home base” while we took turns making the rounds, photographing chefs and their dishes and scouting out the best plates to bring back to the table. I have to say, it’s pretty much the perfect way to attack an event like this. Dawn quickly scored us a table right in front of one of the cocktail stations and I was free to roam. Continue reading