Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Composting Toilet Lady and her Doggies!

For a cheap flight via Spirit Airlines to Cancun Mexico, I lived and worked with Dinah Drago in Puerto Morelos and learned all about the important work she is doing to protect the water table and coral reef in Mexico.

Dinah is a care-giver of the highest order. Shes a biologist who builds composting toilets in the Yucatan. Of course as soon as one thinks of 'composting toilets' our noses crinkle up and we think smelly. But no. On the contrary. Dinah has several on her property and not only are they aesthetically pleasing little structures, they are also fragrance free. She chooses to design the interior floors and sinks with an artisanal treatment of mosaic tile art.

Dinah was a bit of a maverick 2o or so years ago when she started all this. As a cave diver and environmentalist, Dinah's been a champion of many initiatives to protect the earth, over the years. Composting toilets caught on and are being seen as a super alternative waste system, highly regarded now in many countries around the world.

Dinah's also a dog lover and rescues and rehabilitates street dogs in Mexico, which is how I came to know her.

And, she's an indigenous plant rescuer. The little town of Puerto Morales, just 30 minutes from Cancun, is being encroached on by big resort corporations. Dinah finds herself rescuing indigenous palm trees and such from construction sites. She's set up a little arboretum on her property to protect these plants.

When we met, we hit it off instantly. I had another month to spend in Mexico and she thought she could use a hand with the dogs. Before we knew it I was making their daily midday stew (chicken and vegetables and other things...); walking them individually on the beach daily(tough job but somebody's gotta do it); helping with meds or trips to the vet and bonus... I got to spend time with the dog trainers in helping rehabiliate these loving doggies so they can trust humans. I had worked on a documentary series about working dogs for television and was pretty savvy in knowing what was possible. But it was hugely gratifying to get some solid training and one on one experience with two of my favourite little buddies -- Tio Juaro and Miss Pesca.

Dinah's Breakfast Juice
many mandarin oranges (10 - 15)
1-2 limes
2 stalks celery
1 clove garlic
several chaya leaves
This makes 2 - 4 nice glassfuls

Juice the oranges and limes and throw that and everything else in a blender. Whir it up and enjoy. It is luscious yet light and a great start to Dinah's day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Experience the world on a dime

Whenever I talk about my travel adventures to friends and folks, I am always met with a dramatic reaction. "Wow! How do you do all that?"

Over the past 5 years I have lived these amazing adventures:
-Making fresh and aged goat cheese at a wilderness goat farm near St Tropez, Provence, France (a 3 week adventure)
-Harvesting rice at a macrobiotic farm and health retreat on East coast of Japan for 2 months
-student of an in depth Tai Chi course in Chiang Mei, Thailand for 2 weeks
-Cooking 2 French feasts daily for 15- 40 people at an artists colony in Angouleme, France for 3 weeks
-Nanny for a small compound of 5 rescued dogs on the beach in Puerto Morelos, Yucatan
-Chief cook for an eco tourist group,that included baking bread with hand ground whole wheat flour, in a wood fired outdoor oven at a northern wilderness log cabin camp in British Columbia -- oh yeah. I had to FLY IN to get to the camp in a floater plane, as the closest road is a 2 day hike through the bush!

Yes I do all that and no I am not rich. I make an average living in television producton and have chunks of time off in between my gigs. But I have found a way to incorporate fabulous travel adventures into my budget! And now, there's no turning back.

Why do I do it? Simple. I get to live the life and become a part of the family of the folks of an unknown place for me. I see the world under a different kind of microscope. And it's not always easy to change your ways or adapt to someones life and schedule. But that is part of the excitement of it.

It's true. How can a person actually live in Japan for 2 months for the price of a plane ticket? Or how can a person live in a beautiful home on the beach just south of Cancun for a month, for the price of a plane ticket! Or fly into a northern BC wilderness eco camp to live in my own log cabin for 2 weeks? It's called Wwoofing: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

I've talked briefly about how to be a WWOOFer in past posts but here is the whole enchilada.

The organization was founded in the early 70's aimed to foster partnerships between curious volunteers and folks with small holding type farms. It's grown world wide to include eco-tourist hospitality ventures, health retreats and the like. It is a place where like-minded folks can come together. Hosts need workers and are willing to provide room and board. Workers want an experience of a lifetime and find their own transport there, work for an agreed upon amount of time and get to really live that culture, that life. Nothing beats this for a travel experience that I know of so far.

Peruse the various WWOOF websites online. www.wwoof.org has links to all the associations around the world. Pretty much any country in the world has a wwoof org. Each website offers a listing of profiles of their hosts looking for workers, and once you pay memberships dues (around $30 CAN/year) you get more detailed information including contact emails for the hosts. Then you can select the Host that suits your needs and begin emailing them to see if you are a good fit. The work required at each host is different, but often there is gardening, cooking or handyman type work required. Most hosts ask for about a 6 hour workday, with some asking for more or less. It's all laid out in their profile, and details can be ironed out when you begin corresponding with them.

Hosts often have bedrooms (either private or shared) as well as camping facilities.

IN my first WWOOFING experience I stayed at an old restored stone farmhouse in my own room overlooking a man made lake. I rose early, made goat cheese in the fromagerie,(training was provided) then made an elaborate vegetarian lunch for the farm hands,my host and me -- a gang of 8. AFter lunch my time was my own to wander, read, write and explore. This place was atop a little mountain near St Tropez France, and it was heaven! My host and I became good friends and on days off she would take me on drives to little villages in the south of France.

Want to go pick olives in Italy? Help with winemaking or cheesemaking in the Auvergne region in France? Work in the kitchen at a yoga retreat in India (and do yoga in your spare time...)? It's all out there for the taking.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mud Love

The importance of rice to the Japanese diet cannot be over stated. Rice has had a long, rich history in Japan, and even as times and trends change, rice will continue to play a part in Japanese culture and cuisine. It’s really the backbone of everyday life.

Since its introduction to Japan more than 2000 years ago, it has become the staple grain of this island nation. It grows well in Japan’s climate, and the annual rituals of sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting follow the seasons. Many homes in rural Japan have their own rice paddy.

When I stayed with Chef, Deco Nakajima and husband Everett Brown – at Brownsfield, an organic rice farm and health retreat – I helped bring in the rice harvest over the course of the fall, and over several paddies. Brownsfield grows enough rice to feed their family of 5 plus 5 interns for the whole year. That’s a bit more than 1000 pounds!

But, before you can harvest the rice there are structures to be built. Fence units made of bamboo need to be erected. Long 30 foot poles are harvested from the forest, the ends hollowed out so that one can handily fit into another. Support poles are fashioned, 2 together to create upside down v shape. The resulting fence will hold the bundles of rice, hanging to dry.

In fact, on my arrival at Brownsfield I was immediately sent into the forest with a hand scythe to go fetch some bamboo. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but didn’t want to seem like a wimp, either. Off I went, and figured it out pretty quick. You want to work fast and efficiently in those woods since they are infested with mosquitoes!

Some folks wear rubber boots to venture into the paddy, but Everett subscribes to the barefoot method. Prepare to get very muddy! At first it’s a little creepy but after a while the cool mud is quite refreshing. Usually you work in pairs, with one person cutting off the sheathes of rice and another taking 2 bundles and tying them together with lengths of dried grasses. Big buzz of pride, once mastered!

Harvesting is a time for celebration, and usually a festive meal ensues, often pot luck. Once everybody gets hosed off! And while Deco and her crew are famous for their fabulous macrobiotic dishes, no meal is complete without a simple bowl of nutty organic brown rice, and a bowl of soothing Miso Soup. Intern Yuma, who was my farm boss and subsequently became my protégé in the kitchen (in breadmaking!) taught me this simple version that you can whip up on the spot in time for breakfast.

Miso Soup – Feeds 10
2.5 L water
1 yellow onion peeled and cut in 8 wedges
1 large carrot, scrubbed, cut in large dice
1 piece seaweed (kombu is good)
2 or 3 dried shitake mushrooms
2 – 3 large T of miso (can use white, yellow or red)
Optional garnishes: sliced green onions, enoki mushrooms, slivered red raddish.

In a large pot put all ingredients (except miso) on and bring to a boil. Turn heat to med and let simmer about 20 minutes. Scoop out mushrooms, remove and discard stems, cut cap in slivers and return to pot. Use a bit of the stock to moisten your miso, and return to pot. Let it warm through and garnish as you wish.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Be a WWOOFER... huh?

Another cool way to discover the world is through an organization called: W.W.O.O.F. Joining up is easy online, with many countries having their own membership guidelines. Fees are nominal and give you access to the huge database of local WWOOF Hosts. Then you can target specific folks to visit and work with and begin to chat with them to see if you'd be a good fit. Check out: www.wwoof.org, for example.

The following excerpt is from a fellow WWOOFer's article...published in Concordia Link.

"How to be a raging WWOOFer
For a fee, an individual becomes a member of WWOOF Canada and is sent a booklet that lists national host farms. WWOOF Canada is among one of the sister sponsoring countries that branched off from the idea, which took root in England in 1971 by a woman named Susan Coppard.

Originally called Working Weekends on Organic Farms, the idea was based on providing keen city-dwelling supporters of the organic processes with access to the countryside. While it all started with a trial weekend, WWOOF has now spread into an internationally recognized volunteer organization. Thanks to the British innovation, today's traveller can pack a bag along any global trail to experience what it is like to truly be a part of the eco-farming movement.

TV producer and experienced WWOOFer Patti Murphy knows the desire to discover a foreign place well. Willpower drove her to spread her volunteering career past a plethora of organic garden love affairs in Mexico and France and to take a chance in Japan's rice fields.

Murphy coins her experience as "traveling deep" - getting out of the comfort zone and into a cultural exchange to develop a new perspective on something meaningful. "That's when you find out things about yourself," she added.

There's a fear of the unknown and you do't know what to expect but you have to be willing to do it" she explained. "It's kind of mind blowing".

View entire article by Chloe H. here: http://bit.ly/3D6up
 and check back later for a super recipe for Miso Soup I learned while there from my friend Yuma.

Friday, June 19, 2009

No Hotel Bills!

First post! Mixed in with my own musings and stories, I'm going to post articles from others about alternative travel. I spent a month in this lovely Yucatan home caring for the owners 5 rescued dogs... on the beach!

Here's an article from Ian White who lives in Australia and why house sitting is a cool alternative to traditional travel... read on.

It's true, people need to escape the burdens of daily life 
for awhile--from things like mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, painting, gardening, remodeling, home repairs, pet care, checking the mail, and paying their bills.  Even a break from nosy neighbors is reason enough to get away for a while.

But weeds don't pull themselves. Bills don't pay themselves.Most pets won't feed themselves. Yet, the grass keeps growing beneath their feet. Ironically, people become tied to their homes by the same responsibilities that they are trying to escape. And, since the families that play together, stay together; people are not likely to leave a sibling or spouse at home to keep up on these tasks.  It's a really discouraging circle.

For homeowners, the solution seems clear: find somebody to stay at their house, and take care of everything while they're gone.The challenge, however, is finding somebody they can trust. Friends? Perhaps. But most people feel uncomfortable asking their friends to shoulder such a tremendous burden.  Relatives? Possibly, but many homeowners don't like the thought of leaving their homes in the care of their crazy cousin, Eddie. Or worse.

What homeowners need are honest people to occupy their homes. People who desire a change of scenery, for example, or save for homes of their own. People who wish to be closer to their own families; writers seeking peace, quiet, and inspiration. And they definitely need people who understand their specific requirements, and someone they can trust.  Enter www.housecarers.com, an online search and screen database for house sitters and homeowners to share information. The introduction of Housecarers.com allows people to leave their troubles behind. Literally.

At Housecarers.com, a unique search utility allows users to screen thousands of registered house sitters according to age, location, occupation, and just about any other requirements that they select. From short to long term, and from yard to garden, people can find a perfect match, including a house sitter who will manage all lawn and garden needs, pet care (no boarding fees), mail collection, bill payment, utilities, and any other issues that may arise.

And the service is very easy to use. For instance, when a homeowner registers with the system (a free service), they will be notified by e-mail any time a new house sitter matching their criteria signs up with the program.  House sitters, in turn, are motivated to register because of the fast and reliable way in which they can find free accommodations in exchange for housesitting.

According to Jim Hale, who used Housecarers to find a house sitter, the system works remarkably well. Says Hale, "I looked on the Internet, found the HouseCarers web site, and registered our information. Within a couple of days, we had many responses -- some as far away as New Zealand! We got in touch with a couple in their 50s, and they turned out to be some of the nicest people we've ever met! The whole thing worked out very well -- they stayed with us a few days before our trip, they did a great jobof watching over our house and our pets, and they even emailed usevery day to let us know everything was ok!  The amazing thing is that we didn't have to spend a penny to have these great people take care of things!"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Me in a floater plane flying into the northern interior of BC for 2 weeks of log cabin dwelling and wilderness cooking for canoers!

Stories from the frontlines of adventure travel

This is me writing my first blog post as I am learning how to blog.
How behind the scenes can you get? Claiming my blog. w2rsq5tebi