Only the adventurous eat swamp pizza…

Nearly a year ago I stumbled on an article about about Everglades Pizza in Ft. Myers, Florida. The pizza had all the best of the Everglades on it: snake, gator, swamp cabbage and frog’s legs. I promptly emailed a few friends about this and then began harassing them on Facebook about making the trip as a guys outing. One was tepidly interested, the foodie was sarcastically interested (which meant he wasn’t interested) and the rest shared varying levels of being grossed out. Those were my guy friends, quite the manly and adventurous bunch.

Last weekend Laura came to town. Somehow we started talking about Everglades Pizza, which we keep calling swamp pizza, and she was intrigued. Once we nixed a spontaneous day trip (Laura, unforgiving, didn’t think to bring her passport!) to the Bahamas, Laura suggested we drive across Florida to try the pizza. My guy friends have nothing on Laura.

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I went back to that old Facebook thread and email list to let my buddies know we were actually going to do it. The one who was tepidly interested in the past decided to come on for the ride, along with his family, and no others joined. We did alert Jillian’s parents, who live in the area, and they met us as well. I made it clear that everyone agreeing to try the pizza, it is $45 after all, needed to commit to eating at least one slice. In the end that meant that of our caravan of 7 adults and 3 toddlers, only 4 of us were going to make the try. Oh, and we planned to have the kiddos each try one new meat….we were expecting leftovers and those kids eat ANYTHING! Needless to say, I was relieved when we arrived and learned that our pizza was a medium with 6 slices rather than a large with 8 slices, far less food to eat.

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The pizza arrived, it clearly had frog’s legs on it but otherwise looked, more or less, like any other pizza. I dove in and found it delightful with just a hint of spice courtesy of one of the meats. The others did more or less the same but took the time to take apart their slices so that they could try each of the tastes.

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Rob, the guy friend who made the trek, was surprised at how flavorful the whole thing was when he was expecting it all to be gamey. He thought the gator was the best part and thought the python was chewy but still incredibly flavorful. Jillian’s dad, Jimmie, agreed with Rob on the python and compared it to Rabbit. He also felt the Alligator was spiced just right. Unlike Rob though, he really enjoyed the ‘swamp cabbage’ which was hearts of palm. Neither seemed too entranced or offended by the frog.

Laura pointed out, and I have to agree, that it was a bit annoying to have actual bone (from the frog) on the pizza, which we all had to pick off. She had actual been quite nervous and non-committal toward eating the entire slice but loved it all and the frog best, pointing out the frog had a nice, crispy skin. If anything, she was disappointed that the gator reminded her of chicken.

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As for me, I just ate the whole thing and didn’t look back. Had the frog not had a bone and you told me it was a meat-lover’s pizza I might not have known the difference.

We ordered three pizzas and some other food and the Everglades pizza was the first item finished. We all had our initial one slice and we dived up the leftovers as equitably as possible. The next day, no stomach ailments were reported.

 

Interested in trying it yourself?  Head to Evan’s Neighborhood Pizzeria in Fort Myers, FL.  Call ahead if you want the Everglade’s Pizza – it takes an hour to make.

Turn my hair PINK and PURPLE for my 70.3 Triathlon

Working towards taking items off a bucket list is a pretty awesome feeling.  Being able to cross item #1 off that list is even better.

On October 26th, that’s this coming Sunday, I am going to compete in the Miami Half Ironman 70.3 race.  This is 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling and then a half marathon.  In total 70.3 miles.  I’ve been training hard for about four months now.  Getting up when it is still dark in the morning to swim, bike and run my to work each day to hopefully make it to the office by 9am.  My weeks have consisted of anywhere from 10 to 20 hours of exercise.  I’ve lost weight, purchased a fancy bike, eaten gobs of food and [luckily] managed to avoid major injury.  The worst part, Florida’s summer sun and time away from my family.

With the race so close though, some friends have asked me if I’m racing to support any charities.  Until yesterday, I had not set anything up but…..that was yesterday.

In the past, I have done an occasional race in support of the RSDSA in memory of my sister, Rachel.  The problem with this is that this charity is more a memory of Rachel’s death rather than her life.  In life my sister was interested in three things: helping people, helping animals and doing things with glitter glue.  (I’m sure there was something else but those three are pretty encapsulating.)

Specifically, I remember my sister in her younger years collecting wildlife card files, books she would fill with information about wild and endangered animals.  In her ‘later’ years she and I spent a lot of time working with what was then called the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). The mission was to stop racism and hatred of all types.  Unfortunately, NCCJ has not survived the test of time but the Miami Chapter lives on as the MCCJ.  Most important to the sparkling memory of Rachel’s life was her constant obsession of decorating everything with glitter glue.

For each of the first two items, I’ve decided to create fund-raising pages with The MCCJ and The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN). Their connection to my sister should be obvious to all who knew her.  To memorialize the glitter glue is a bit more difficult so instead of donating do the American Association of Glitter Glue Enthusiasts (gosh, I hope that’s not a real organization) I will instead place one centimeter of glitter glue on my helmet for each $50 donated to the above charities.  And to make sure it is clear I’m memorializing my sister, I’ll use purple glitter glue for donations to MCCJ and pink for donations to WCN.  (If you’re curious, the helmet is black.)

There is one other item about my sister that is relevant.  This Friday, October 24th, would have been her 30th birthday.  So, with only a few days to go we’ll set the fund-raising target at $3,000.  It’s a stretch, I know, but as an incentive if $1,500 or more is raised for MCCJ, I’ll dye my hair purple.  If $1,500 or more is raised for WCN, I’ll die my  hair pink.  If we meet both goals, I’ll be running the triathlon as the Miami Beach version of the villain Two-Face from the Batman comics.

The race is THIS Sunday, October 26th.  I’m not going to do this again.  Click the fund-raising links (MCCJ | WCN), share this post on facebook, and help give my race outfit some serious style points!

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Rachel as a bunny!

That time I finished a race in first place…and didn’t realize it!

Checking items off a bucket list is always a lot of fun.  Checking an item off and not even realizing can be even more rewarding.

In early 2013 I challenged a couple of friends to walk with me from Washington, DC all the way to Harper’s Ferry, WV.  We did it, unfortunately that item wasn’t on our bucket list.  Several months later, one of those friends challenged the group to another silly idea, competing in a really long triathlon.

We all took the bait.

This past August, six friends and a pair of one year old twins descended on Penn Yan, New York for the Peasantman Triathlon.  The friend who challenged the group to the event was planning on competing in the Steel Distance Triathlon, effectively a half iron man.  His girlfriend and I signed up for the Olympic Steel Triathlon, while Jillian and the other pair of athletes took care of the Half Steel Relay.  We focused on keeping the race low-key and fun.

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We all finished our triathlons, some of us in first place.

Fast forward to the end of the race… when the two of us who ran the Olympic distance triathlon got the surprise of our athletic careers…we were first place in our respective divisions.  Despite coming in the bottom half of the overall race field, we cleared the first place position in our divisions and, that means item #46 on the bucket list has been achieved.  I came in first place in a race, it doesn’t matter that I was the only one in my division, my certificate says 1st and so… item #46 has been officially checked off the list!

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Just don’t ask how many people I had to leave in my dust….

The only problem is that in training for that Olympic distance triathlon (which I WON!), I somehow managed to sign up for a half Ironman race, something I like to call the “Aluminium Man”.  The reason I signed up is that completing the aluminium man (70.3 miles total) happens to have been the first item on the bucket list.  Wonder if I’ll come in first again….

Getting the local perspective when you travel

One of the greatest gifts you can receive as a traveler is the gift of hospitality.  The world over we were invited into the homes of locals, sometimes for a coffee, sometimes for a meal and still other times for a safe, warm place to rest.  In fact, spending time with locals played a huge role in our trip around the world.  Locals served as hosts, tour guides, drivers, advisors and more often than not travel companions. The kind of generosity and hospitality we experienced is far and beyond the greatest souvenir we could take home because it was authentic.  It was real.  It was a genuine experience.

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Bowl of Pho.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Michael Pittman

I remember being in Vietnam and getting into Ho Chi Minh City late in the day. We looked all over for a nice place to stay, settling in at a hotel that was modernly furnished in the heart of a tourist zone.  It was inexpensive and couldn’t have been more comfortable, but we walked for what seemed like forever looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a menu in English and tables full of Westerners.  Of course what we found was a small cart with little white stools around it. We had a delicious bowl of Pho, communicating with gestures and broken English with the proprietress.  It was delicious, but more than the food I remember her smile and her gesture for us to sit down.

These experiences happened to us all over the world, but they were more often than not the result of happenstance. Now of course, just a few years later, there are websites like Withlocals and even apps that will help you connect with locals.  From a home cooked meal to a cooking class with someone’s grandma and a local tour on the back of a motorbike exploring the countryside, the possibilities for authentic travel are expanding and that makes me excited to get back to exploring.

I’m looking forward to sharing the world with the twins.  Of going to places and having experiences that will share with them the amazing people and places that make up this world.  We had to wait until we were in our 20s to have those kinds of experiences, but with the opportunities that exist in travel today there’s no reason why they should have to wait.

Let’s just hope the girls master the art of chop sticks soon, I don’t want to see them attempting Pho with their hands!

Choosing the Right Backpack

When people think about choosing the backpack they need for their travel they often have a preconceived notion based on what they’ve seen other people use.  Obviously, it’s always best to choose the right pack for you, but even more important is to choose the right pack for what you’re going to be doing.  Most large backpacks are really made for camping and hiking, true backpacking, when it comes to travel you needs will likely be different.  Let’s first take a look at what the traditional backpacker needs to look at for taking a hike, and how that changes for the traveler.

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Knowing how you’ll use your pack is important

For the backcountry backpacker Size and Fit are the most important factors.  These are important for the traveler as well, but differ in a few specific ways:

·         Size.  When a hiker is going into the backcountry, he or she needs to ‘pack in’ all their own food as well as a cook-stove, tent and sleeping bag, and then all the other gear like clothing.  A traveler doesn’t need quite so much large equipment.  A backpacker might be looking at a 60L-80L outdoor rucksack, depending on the type of trip, while the traveler should be looking at 40L-60L.  (For our 21 months we had under 50L by the end)

·         Fit.  Have you ever met a traveler, who sleep in a hostel and takes a bus from city to city, who wears his pack for 8 hours a day while hiking over mountains?  No…me neither.  After making sure your pack fits all the gear you need to survive, making sure your back doesn’t fall apart at the end of the day is the next most important job of the backcountry backpackers pack.

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Size and fit are important considerations

For the traveler, the backpack game is different.  The traveler carries his or her pack far less time and over far fewer mountains.  The traveler should be concerned with comfort, yes, but that applies more to security and convenience than it does to size and fit.

·         Pockets.  Lots of different compartments helps to keep your life organized.  Remember, at home your milk is stored in your kitchen and your shoes are in your closet, keeping some semblance of organization is a plus.  Also, are you carrying a laptop or a tablet, you’ll probably want a sleeve against your back to keep this safe.

·         Security.  For me, this comes in having a smaller, nondescript pack.  For others this means having locks all over the thing.  After 21 months on the road, and never having anything taken from my pack, I’ll keep it small and unappealing.

·         Comfort.  Those big packs come with lots of big cushions.  Sometimes it is better to save on bulk, make sure you bag can fit in the overhead bin space on an airplane, and go lighter and forgo the extra cushioning.

·         Waterproofing.  This doesn’t hurt and can only help.  Even if the pack is only water resistant it can mean a big difference in comfort if you’re caught in the rain.

adventure travel Choosing the Right BackpackThis post was made possible by Berghaus who sell waterproof jackets and outdoor clothing.