Quin's Progress


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Some Stuff – Pacific Islands Edition

In Batangas, Philippines.

In Batangas, Philippines.

As of today, I have been on the road for exactly six months. I can hardly believe it. Seems like just a few weeks to me, and yet, when I consider how much ground I’ve covered since leaving San Francisco, how far away my life as an office denizen feels, and how many truly lovely people I’ve been privileged to meet along the way, it seems like an awful lot for such a short period of time.

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One of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Steven, of Yap.

In this edition of Some Stuff, I bid adieu to the islands I’ve visited since New Year’s Day 2014, in Micronesia and the Philippines (I know the Philippines is officially categorized as part of Southeast Asia, but it’s also one of the Pacific island nations, so I’ll cover it here). There are so many wonderful people and amazing things I will remember fondly from my travels around the Pacific. Without repeating things I’ve already written in other posts, here are just a few.

Everything’s Pretty in Saipan

Saipan

Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Saipan is pretty. It’s quiet and lush and the water is so blue it looks fake, like it was dyed with Tidy Bowl toilet cleaner.  But, when I say everything is pretty in Saipan, I mean everything is “Pretty” in Saipan.

Kokoda, Kelaguen & Corndogs

Foodspotting App.

Foodspotting App.

I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings by saying that I don’t think the food is the best reason to travel to Micronesia. The Philippines, yes. But, Micronesia’s culinary offerings are, to me, a bit less of a draw, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining fresh ingredients, other than fish and taro root. That’s just my opinion, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. In fact, the Foodspotting app—which uses GPS to direct foodies to delicious dishes in their immediate proximity—recommended popcorn at K-Mart as one of the top lunch options in Guam. This, I don’t understand, when there are corndogs on that island.

IMG_6843Yes, corndogs! There is a Wienerschnitzel inside the airport, and a Hot Dog on a Stick in the Micronesia Mall, where, on weekdays, it’s buy one get one free. IMG_6737I was so happy! By the time I left, the girls at the Hot Dog on a Stick and I were on a first name basis.

As much as I would like to try, one cannot live on corndogs alone, and there are a couple of stand out Micronesian foods that I still crave.

Kokoda

Kokoda

Kokoda is the Marshall Island’s coconutty take on ceviche. It’s a soupy concoction of lime-marinated seafood—squid, fish, clams, whatever is fresh—with chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro and coconut milk. You scoop it up with salty tortilla chips and wash it down with beer. So delicious, so rich, so messy.

Kelaguen is Guam’s culinary crowning glory (if you don’t count barbecued fruit bat, which is illegal now). Saipan’s, too. A Chamorro specialty, it is actually pretty healthy, and would be a huge hit with anyone watching carbs, or looking for a unique dish to bring to a barbecue or potluck. KelaguenEvery local family has its own recipe, and most of it is inexact kitchen science; a little of this, a little of that, spicy or not, as you like. Originally, kelaguen was made of minced raw fish or shrimp, cooked only in the acid of lemon juice. Today, the one I saw most prevalently was made with barbecued chicken, but you see it at the night markets made with any and all types of lean protein, including beef, shrimp, fish or even octopus.   Some add shredded fresh coconut, usually to chicken or fish versions, but I prefer it without. It’s served by itself with “titiya” flatbread, as a salad topping, or as a side dish with barbecue, or grilled fish. Here’s the recipe and instructions I got from Randy, the ATV driver on my jungle safari, after we bonded over a mutual love for kelaguen. It’s his family’s recipe.

Randy’s Chicken Kelaguen

ŸBarbecue a whole chicken, cut into parts, making sure to get it black in places, so the flavor of the smoke and char gets into the chicken meat, without drying it out. (You could use a rotisserie chicken, but Randy says it’s best to barbecue the chicken yourself, so you can make sure it’s good and charred and smoky.) Let cool, and remove skin and bones.

Ÿ Chop the meat very finely. The chopped bits should be about the size of grains of rice. You can use a food processor, or if you have some aggression to get out, a Chinese cleaver works well, too. Transfer chopped chicken to a mixing bowl.

Ÿ Finely chop about six or so scallions, and add to the chicken. You could use a red or a Spanish onion, if you prefer, or a combination, but the classic has scallions.

Ÿ If you like a little spice—and Randy and I both do—finely chop a Serrano, jalapeno, or bird chili—any hot pepper of your choice—and add as much or as little of that as you like. You can take the heat level down and keep the flavor by removing the seeds and ribs before you chop the chili. Add to the chicken and onions.

Ÿ Add the juice of one large lemon, and toss to coat well.

Ÿ Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ÿ If you want to add some coconut (I don’t care for it in this), mix in a handful of FRESHLY grated, unsweetened coconut. Don’t even think about using dried coconut. If you do, the police will spontaneously show up at your door and…pull your hair. I don’t know, just don’t.

Ÿ You can serve it right away, but Randy says it’s better if you let it sit in the fridge, and allow the flavors to marry really well, for a few hours at least.

Enjoy!

Candygram

Dear divemasters of Palau:

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

If there is even a slight possibility that there will be a school of huge sharks circling under the boat, please do your divers a favor and tell them about it before they jump in the water.  It’s just good manners.

Coconut-Eating Chickens & Snorkels the Pig

ChickenutsHere’s something I bet you didn’t know: Chickens love coconut. I learned this in Yap. I know chickens aren’t typically discriminating diners. I had chickens when I was a kid, and ChickensI saw one eat a piece of string so long once, that it started pooping out one end of the string before it had finished swallowing the other end of it. But, they go really bonkers over coconut. It’s like…chicken nip.

Also learned in Yap, vis-à-vis barnyard animals and coconuts: you shouldn’t park your pig under a coconut tree. This is Snorkels. Snorkels was my friend. Snorkels lived under a coconut tree.

(If the video doesn’t show above, click here.)

Gentle friends, may you never hear the sound of a coconut falling on a pig. (Don’t worry, Snorkels was okay.)

Tuba

IMG_6543“Sweet Tuba” is not a really nice brass musical instrument. It’s a milky wine made of the fermented sap of a coconut tree. You see Tuba all over Micronesia and the Philippines.

Bottles of Tuba

Bottles of Tuba

The Tuba Man has to climb up the tree and hack at the base of the fronds every day to make sure the sap continues to run, so he can gather enough to make Tuba.  Tuba comes in sweet, for beginners, or the regular, high-octane variety for the hardened Tubaholic.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

I only had the sweet version, which is not as lethal, but will still give you a hell of a hangover. The morning after I hung out with the Yapese Tuba guys, I felt like Snorkels after the coconut.

Subterranean Flows

On an island in Palawan, in the Philippines, there’s a deep system of limestone caves, through which one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world flows directly to the sea.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

UNESCO put it on the World Heritage list in 1999, and in 2012, it was named one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” by that group in Switzerland that has appointed itself arbiter of such things. I can see why, too, it’s a pristine and eerie Underworld.

He's about to snatch my friend's purse.

He’s about to snatch my friend’s purse.

The mouth of the river is guarded by a band of extremely larcenous monkeys. Underground RiverIts vast caverns are full of bats, stalagmites and stalactites. They said there were tarantulas, too, but thankfully, I didn’t see any, or I would have jumped out of the boat.

Midget Boxing

If you’ve been watching the news about the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, you may have noticed reports that the USS Pinckney—a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer—was dispatched to assist in the search. IMG_6853It was close by, according to the Pentagon’s official explanation, conducting “training and maritime security operations” in international waters. Well, apparently, by “training and maritime security operations in international waters,” they mean refereeing midget boxing matches over drinks at the Ringside Bar in Manila. Busted!

I want to join that Navy.


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Lords of Corndogtown

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Santa Monica Beach and Pier

Santa Monica Beach and Pier

I was hanging out in Los Angeles last week with my friend Wendy.  The weather was perfect, cinematic Southern California summertime glory, so we wandered over to Santa Monica to go to the Pier.  One couldn’t ask for a more perfect afternoon.  Seventy-four degrees, cornflower blue skies, beautiful, tan, mostly naked people everywhere, gentle zephyrs softly distracting me from the fact that I was getting a sunburn on my pasty San Francisco skin.  It was dreamy.

"Get your kicks, on Route...."

“Get your kicks, on Route….”

I didn't even have to ask him to do that

I didn’t even have to ask him to do that

Several interesting bits of historical Californiana and pop culture intersect at the Santa Monica Pier and beach.  It’s the end point of the notorious Route 66, for one.  The original Muscle Beach was located at the Pier’s base, before Venice Beach, just a couple miles south, later assumed the title.  And more importantly, multiple episodes of Charlie’s Angels, The Incredible Hulk and Three’s Company were filmed there.  Oh yeah…and Baywatch.

Moondoggie and pals, looking for Gidget

Moondoggie and pals, looking for Gidget

He just might be cuter than Paul Newman in "The Sting"

He just might be cuter than Paul Newman in “The Sting”

That scene in Rocky III, where Rocky and Apollo are frolicking training on the Beach, was shot on Santa Monica beach.  The carousel scene in The Sting?  Santa Monica Pier.  In fact, the carousel is still there, and still in operation (sans bordello).  And don’t forget about Lords of Dogtown!

The Pier at sunset, from Santa Monica Beach

The Pier at sunset, from Santa Monica Beach

Oh, if you haven’t seen it, Lords of Dogtown is awesome!  The acting is passable at best, and Heath Ledger’s bucktooth prosthesis was distracting, but the story is great, and it is set in 1970’s Southern California, which is when/where I grew up, so it really transports me.  The astonishing soundtrack alone gets it on my list of perennial faves (along with Pretty In Pink) to tune in to whenever it’s on TBS or WGN as I’m cooking and doing laundry on Sunday afternoon.  Plus, you can see Sofia Vergara, before she was well known, make a cameo as an honest-to-goodness Dogtown Chola, as well as Alexis Arquette in drag, of course, twist her ankle and fall off her stilettos trying to get into a limo with Johnny Knoxville, which was clearly not in the script.  PS: They were both fabulous.

Surfers practicing their balance skeelz on tightropes

Surfers practicing their balance skeelz on tightropes

“Dogtown,” of course, is Santa Monica’s nickname–more specifically, the nickname of the grittier south side of Santa Monica, all the way down to Venice Beach, around where the old P.O.P. (Pacific Ocean Park) Pier was, before it burned down, and where 70’s surf and skateboard culture spawned Zephyr Surfboards’ pro skateboard team, the “Z-Boys”: Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta, among others, i.e., the Lords of Dogtown.  So, strictly speaking, Dogtown proper is a smidge south of the Santa Monica Pier, down the skate/bike path a bit toward Venice Beach.

But, there at the base of the Santa Monica Pier, at the site of the original Muscle Beach, is something far more marvelous than the P.O.P.  A holy site, of sorts.  A place to which every fiber of my being was drawn, as if by gravitational force, in an unplanned mystical pilgrimage.

They seem to have dispensed with the preposition and article...or maybe the "on a" stick came later

They seem to have dispensed with the preposition and article…or maybe the “on a” stick came later

I didn’t know why I was being pulled in that direction, down the steps behind the carousel to the sand, as if in a trance.  But when I saw it, my arteries vibrated with excitement, and I just…knew.  It was the original…Hot Dog On A Stick.  The very first one, opened in 1946!  Oh yes, gentle friends.  It was the place where it all began.  To be perfectly honest, I previously had no idea that Hot Dog On a Stick originated at the Santa Monica Pier, but as I stood there, awash in the angelic choir that emanated from the

Did I have one?  Why, yes I did.

Did I have one? Why, yes I did.

ancient temple/shipping container-like structure, under the watchful eye of the corndog archangel disguised as a giant pigeon perched on the light fixture over the order window, I had an epiphany (that I immediately confirmed by looking it up on Wikipedia on my iPhone).  It was the real deal; the corndog Mecca.  So, I did what the devout do, and I got in line to receive my corndog communion.

And it was good.