On a recent work trip to San Marcos, I decided to seek out some of the highest-praised BBQ in central Texas. Like many of my travels, it began with an idea and led to an obsession and gluttonous adventure. My ultimate goal was to visit a different place each day and then rank them. To maintain fairness, I decided I would order the same items at each location: brisket (some lean, some fatty), pork spare ribs, coleslaw, and beans. I conducted some preliminary online research to identify the highest rated barbecue places within a 1 ½-hour drive of San Marcos. After considering each location’s days and hours of operation against my schedule, I narrowed down the list and began my “7 days of Q.”
I don’t envy the tourist board tasked with attracting travelers to a destination called “Iceland.” There are no large amusement parks, tropical white sand beaches, or even a single Starbucks. Most people might recall its recent financial meltdown, or perhaps the volcanic eruption that closed European airspace for several days. Its only highway, shockingly donned Highway 1, provides a 2-lane ribbon of asphalt around the perimeter of the island, while the river-breached roads of the interior are restricted to 4-wheel drive vehicles. Iceland’s culinary all-stars include fermented shark, roasted sheep head, minke whale, puffin, and horse; all of which can be washed down with the national firewater: Brennivin, otherwise known as “Black Death.” All of this begs the question: Why would anybody want to travel to Iceland? It’s exactly this type of question that drives me in search of an answer.
We were late... We woke up late. We ate breakfast late. We filtered water late. We broke down camp late. We eventually hit the trail a little after 9:00AM. Trust me, that's hella late. We had over 7 miles and two passes to cover before early afternoon when the mountain weather gets as unpredictably moody as a newborn.
Last year a friend and I traveled to Barbados. I crafted a fine itinerary of rum, flying fish sandwiches, surfing, and island exploration over the course of 5-days; it was active, but not overly ambitious. Our reservations were confirmed, routes were identified, and excitement was high. Everything was going exactly to plan until we met Shawn.
I fantasized about visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos for years. The exotic street food, pristine beaches, ancient temples, and frenetic city centers called to me like an alluring siren. Being a leave-starved American, I’ve pushed this trip back several times because I wanted to spend as much time and see as much as possible after flying 20-hours to get there. However, I eventually had to face the fact that I would rather settle for a whirlwind Indochina sampler than no trip at all. With that said, traveling through 4 countries in 17 days is like riding a slip-n-slide down a buffet table: it’s a barrage of flavors and you’re not quite sure what you’ve consumed until you pick through the mess on laundry day. Despite the compressed timeline and logistical challenges, the unique personalities of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos left my mouth tingling and my mind satiated with memories.
“Why did you decide to go to Newfoundland?” is the most common question I receive about my latest road trip. For the uninitiated, Newfoundland is a mystery. A Canadian commercial campaign tempts viewers with dramatic oceanside cliffs and nearly 300 year-old fishing villages, while a hypnotic soundtrack of crashing waves, traditional folk music, and narration deliver a simple message: “Newfoundland is about as far away from Disneyland as you can possibly get.” It may be true in the literal sense; however, figuratively, perhaps it’s only a matter of time… Regardless, I have “newfound” appreciation for the affable people who make this rugged landscape their home and struggle to find stability in an unforgiving global economy.
When I hear the term “ecotourism,” chills run down my spine. I envision hoards of Northface-wrapped families bumbling down paved jungle pathways and posing for pictures in front of caged animals. Corporate-sponsored mountains, fast food picnic areas, animatronic wildlife, air-conditioned cabins, and manmade waterfalls; all at family-friendly prices! As much as tourism may benefit a beauty-rich and economically-poor country, it can destroy the essence of what made the country worth visiting. A slight apprehension haunted me before a recent trip with three friends to one of the first and most popular ecotourist countries in the world. Had the raw beauty and unique experiences that made Costa Rica worth visiting been incorporated, diluted, and packaged for the masses? Upon reflection of our trip, my conclusion is a conflicted “sort of…”