Thursday, December 2, 2010


The house is noticeably colder when we get in, though the digital thermometer reads 68.4. December rain means highs in the 40s, even 50--not cold enough to keep a 24-hour fire in the stove. Colors along the backroads were all green and red. Green of lawn grass, that faded ruddy brown of dying-back marsh grass and leafless beech limbs. Still waiting for the white to cover it all.

I crank open the side hatch of the stove and a little cloud of ash and campfire perfume whirls out. I take three pages of newspaper, crumple each into a loose sphere, and lay them in a row across the primary airflow vent. Then I step out onto the side porch and reach into the box of thin, splintery wood shingles. I break one of the shingles in half lengthwise, leave one half in the box and bring the other inside. I half it again and rest both pieces on top of the paper. Next, I take two quartered pine logs from the bag by the door and set them as gently as I can on either side of the newspaper-shingle architecture.

The box of matches has a home on an upper shelf of the hutch by the chimney. I remove a stick and hesitate a moment, anticipating the satisfyingly analog rasp of phosphorus on sandpaper. It flares when I strike it, and I quickly jab the stick under a protruding corner of paper before it settles down. The flame spills out onto the paper like maple syrup, and I shut the hatch and twist the handle to lock it.

My part is done. I spin the living room recliner around to face the stove and watch what happens. Usually, the superbly engineered design of the woodstove takes over now: a draft of just the right intensity carries the fire from newspaper ball to newspaper ball. The splintery shingles catch, popping, and within minutes the flames have wrapped around the logs, growing until the entire cube of stove is one big orangey-yellow kaleidoscope.

But it's been stubborn lately. A buildup of soot is clogging the metal flue, cutting airflow, or ash has blocked the vents. Anyway, my best fire-starting skills yield only a crapshoot.

I sit in the recliner and, through the glass panel on the front of the stove, watch the flame reluctantly crawl along the row of newspaper. There's a pop or two from the shingle. And then nothing. A flicker. Then nothing.

I see gray on the bottom of the glass, the hardened, chalky accumulation of ash from past days, weeks, winters. But beyond that is dark, as black as the black glossy paint covering the exterior of the stove. I wait for two minutes, still nothing. Nothing.

There's no fire in there.

Another flicker. Five seconds of black. Then another.

It's coming faster now, flashes of flame from the back of the stove, somewhere underneath the pine log. It looks like lightning in a night sky. Lightning in a black box.

Maybe it'll catch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Different (Better?) California Wine Valley

It's 3:30, and I'm stuck on 29 between Napa and St. Helena, waiting for the several dozen vehicles ahead of me to get waved through the second stretch of construction in five miles. My car is black, and the A/C is broken. On the passenger seat, a tourist bureau map is folded open, showing the road I'm on and the 100 or whatever wineries/tasting rooms that line it. How the hell am I supposed to choose which 2 or 3 are worth my $5-$20 tasting fee this afternoon?

Napa Valley sucks.

But grapes grow elsewhere in California. Quite close, actually. Head north. Not to Sonoma--maybe it's better, but I've never been and it sounds like more of the same. No, keep going north till you hit the 128, another of those surprisingly mountainous and windy CA highways that cuts through the gold-grass-covered hills and scraggly trees. Keep driving till Boonville.

Now you're in Anderson Valley.

There's only about 20 wineries here, and not all are open to the public. I went to one last month, Foursight Wines, because it was the closest to town. I loved it. One of its four employees was too busy doing her twice-daily "punch-down" (thrusting a large blunt metal punch into a fermentation tank full of a juicy grape mixture to stir it) to give us a tasting right away, so she invited us back to watch her, and to have a sample of an aging white right out of the barrel.

"Laid back" is a good descriptor for Anderson Valley.

The General Store is where you go to eat, that bar on Main St. across from the hardware store to drink. There are multiple camping options right up the road (I stayed at Indian Creek, the closest), and if you keep going towards the coast, you'll come to Pacific Star Winery, one of my favorites anywhere.

Perhaps best of all, Anderson Valley Brewing is located in Boonville, with tasting room and 18-hole disc golf course. I mean, you can't drink only wine all day.

Photo: JoePhoto

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Following the Matador Trail

Editing Matador Trips is a constant source of travel inspiration. Within the last week, I've had the pleasure of uploading a budget guide to Helsinki, a surf guide to Fiji, a photo essay of portraits from Vietnam, and a rundown of adventure towns in the U.S.

I'm under no illusions of being able to visit every place featured on the site. But sometimes opportunities come unexpected.

Like last week, when I was in Northern California for a wedding. The ceremony was in Mendocino, on the beautifully cool and green grounds of the Standford Inn by the Sea, and we stayed up the road in Ft. Bragg. Which happens to be home to the glass beach, featured in Jason Wire's immensely popular 7 Beautifully Bizarre Beaches. In fact, it was a 5-minute drive from the hotel. Behold:

Now if I'd only noticed that photo #7 in that essay, Bowling Ball Beach, was in Mendocino. Damn.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Liquid Connoisseurship: Wine and Coffee in East Austin

I don't know if it's a part of being settled or more about the lifestyle choices I make, but since moving to Austin I've been exposed to "connoisseurship" of many different sorts. And I like it. It's as I tweeted a few days back:

"Just put in a millwork order with Somehow that feels special."

Why is it special? It feels more "human," I guess. The idea of individuals performing the act of creation. Apprenticeship. I can picture someone at Austin Lumber milling each board and focusing intently on what they're doing. Touched by human hands, rather than a Home Depot forklift.

Modern movements have been built around this principle. Slow food. Slow living. And of course slow travel. Which maybe is what I'm doing here, just a prolonged pit stop in the greater journey. Experimenting with place.

From the website
One place in Austin I visit a lot is called East End Wines. It's located in the little pocket of coolness that's blooming where Rosewood splits off from E. 11th (the shop is actually in a restored 1890s Victorian home right at that intersection, 1209 Rosewood Ave).

It's owned and managed by Matt Miller, who's worked hard to "bridge the gap between 'geeky wine-snob land' and everyday enthusiast." He's succeeded. My first time in the store, he brushed aside my anxious admissions that "I didn't know much" about wine and that "I probably couldn't afford any really good stuff." I've felt pretty comfortable there ever since. Plus, the purchase records he keeps for me have shown that my tastes trend towards "New World varietals" (makes sense, as I first really got into the stuff down in Mendoza).

The buyer at East End is Sam Hovland. I suspect he has a photographic memory, because he can quote vineyard stats and nose, flavor, and finish tones of most bottles in the shop. Even better, both he and Matt can listen to the characteristics I'm after (even if I just make them up on the spot) and pair me with a relevant bottle.

Prices seem reasonable. I usually spend $10-$15. My favorite so far has been the Postales Cabernet 2009 from Northern Patagonia. I'm also psyched to have gotten in on the "ground floor." The shop opened this past May.

They hold tastings at least once a week. Follow them on Twitter to find out when.

Photo: sheeshoo

This is another acquired-taste beverage that I've found the purchasing of nearly as enjoyable as the drinking. That's thanks to Texas Coffee Traders, at 1400 E. 4th.

It took me awhile to stop in despite driving by often, because the warehouse-ish building gives off a strong wholesale vibe. But they do sell straight to consumers like me, and if you ask, they'll even give you a tour behind the scenes of their massive roasting operation, showing the differences between various beans and roasting times/temps.

TCT is committed to offering Fair Trade products from all over the world (though they also sell conventional beans). So far, I've sampled brew from Ethiopia, Bolivia, and Mexico. They also partner directly with the Fair Trade Cafe Monteverde project of the Santa Elena Cooperative in Costa Rica.

But the best part about shopping there is that, just like Matt and Sam and their wines, the folks at Texas Coffee Traders know their product. They can explain why Ethiopian beans tend to have a fruity, almost "gamy" taste, while those from neighboring Kenya are more traditionally flavored. And they let you "blind smell test" the beans before buying.

Prices are on the high end, from $11 to more than $15 per pound. This reflects both the fair prices they pay their suppliers and the generous salary/benefits packages their Austin-based workers get. Oh, and it smells really, really good in there.

Looking Local: New Blog Concept at WayWorded

Living room paint color. Japanese-inspired bamboo blinds and noren curtains. Bathroom tile demo. Table saw and topsoil purchases. These are the things in my head on a daily basis. I've tried, but I either can't or don't want to twist them to fit a "travel" perspective fit for writing about here.

So I've decided to start a new series of posts instead, profiling points of interest around my new home: Austin, TX. The master plan is to compile writeups like these into some sort of "travel guide" to the city (or at least the East Side, where I live) down the road. For now, I'll see how it goes posting individual reviews here at WayWorded.

First trial coming shortly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Roadtrip Photos, the Last Batch

Been home for like 10 days, but I want to round out the trip with these puppies (for more on the journey, check out my Roadtrip Updates #1, #2, and #3, (#4 to be posted Thurs.)):

Crater Lake National Park, OR. Get there before 8:30AM and it's mirror-still.

Unexpected alpinism in Mt. Rainier National Park

Things get flat and scrubby dry around the Washington-Idaho border.
This was taken in Lewiston, ID, across the Snake-Clearwater confluence from Clarkston, WA.

Burned trees, Yellowstone National Park. These and many more were killed in the fires of 1988.
Which, coincidentally, was the last time I was at the park.

Lower Yellowstone Falls. Check the tiny peoples.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP

Grand Tetons. Last noteworthy shot of the trip.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

8 California Pictures, Mostly Trees

Group dynamics, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Self portrait, Muir Woods

Conzelman Rd., North Bay

Tasting, Black Stallion Winery, Napa

Needles and light, Humboldt

Backlit, Prairie Creek

Posing with a titan, Jedediah Smith

Monday, July 19, 2010

Photos Out West

I've been on the road for a week+ now. For more details on that, click here. Below are 10 shots from the journey.

Sunset over Abiquiu Lake, NM

Monument Valley, UT

Navajo sandstone cliffs, Zion

Car and tent, Snow Canyon State Park, UT

Nevada's Highway 375--definitely a strange road

Big trees in Crane Flat Campground, Yosemite

Half Dome from behind, Yosemite

Cable route up Half Dome

Top of Half Dome

Vernal Falls, from Mist Trail, Yosemite

Monday, July 5, 2010

Heading West Again

One of the first posts I wrote for WayWorded was a reminiscence on my winter/spring 2007 roadtrip through the West, running from Colorado ski mountains, through Arches NP, over to Las Vegas, and then down past the Grand Canyon to Tuscon and home to Texas on I-10.

It's time for a take 2...only now it'll be all the way to the Pacific coast. A family wedding in San Francisco is providing the perfect excuse, and I'm building on the experience of my Interstate-less Eastern roadtrip to get there. State highways and rural roads from Austin to SF.

And I won't be done after the wedding, either. In late July, I plan to shoot north, through redwood country, up into Oregon, and possibly as far as Seattle and Vancouver before turning around and cutting home through ID, WY, and CO.

Some things I'm particularly psyched about:

* National park camping/hiking in Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite. Maybe not all of those, but at least two.

* Driving American desolation, specifically central Nevada and eastern Oregon. Want to see what's there.

* Redwoods. I've been fixated on northern California's coastal rainforests since reading The Wild Trees. Now I get to explore in person.

* Meeting folks on the way. I put out a call for Matador members on my route to hit me up with their local travel secrets. Can't wait to map the Matador nation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Downsides of Freelancing, or the 1-Day Weekend Experiment

My ass hurts from sitting. I'm shocked that I don't have carpal tunnel like my sister, and that my glasses prescription hasn't changed in a few years, because there are times when the screen flickers and everything goes Gaussian blurry. When I'm profiling grocery store shelves, scrolling the product rows for baker's yeast, my left-hand pinky and index finger swipe the air instinctively. Ctrl+f. Find: Fleischmann's. I self-narrate events in blog post voice. In April, I stowed my computer in a closet for 48 hours to drive around Picos de Europa, and when I got back it was dead. I wasn't surprised.

Freelancing is cool. I can type an hour, read The Golden Spruce the next, then get back to work. I can play geography quizzes and read the NYTimes site during the middle of the day without intoning the phrase "time theft." I can spend a year traveling through five South American countries and still pull in a solid 30k.

What I can't do is stop. I don't work all day, but I do work every day, especially since joining the Matador team. The multi-project fluidity of my freelance lifestyle means there's always something to do. There is no downtime, only different manifestations of work. Research becomes writing becomes uploading becomes editing becomes publishing becomes promoting. And on.

But the part that freaks me out is the new habit I seem to have of turning even potential downtime into work time. When assignments from Korea have ebbed, and my Matador duties are crossed off (for the day), there's still more--planning a next book with Park Kyubyong, zeroing out my Google Reader, blogging here. Each minute, monetize. Not that I do all these things simply to make money, but the mindset is similar. Produce. Progress. Maximize.

On her blog Cuaderno Inedito, Julie Schwietert asks, "What if the Internet crashed today?" She uses the question to imagine pursuing projects in the "real" world, more closely, humanly connected with colleagues and communities than the Internet can ever allow. The prospect excites her. Right now, I'm taking the question in a different direction, but one equally exciting to me. If the Internet crashed today, I would...

I would go outside. Take mate to the park. Ride my bike to McKinney Falls. Fix my bike. Paint the living room "Balmy Seas." Go to a movie. Play frisbee golf at Bartholomew. Volunteer. Take a Spanish class. Work in the yard. Read an entire book. Locate the best draft beer bar in Austin.

Those things sound fun. So I've decided that every Sunday, my Internet will crash. I will shut off my computer Saturday night and won't touch it till Monday morning. It will not die--it will be fine without me. And vice versa.

This will be my 1-day freelancer's weekend. I will look forward to it all week, and then I will spend it frivolously.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pictures of Some Flowers, and a Fencepost

The Mazda was hot, like it's always hot. Black car in TX June sin A/C, you can't really help that. But once 290 got past Dripping Springs, out toward the turnoff for Pedernales Falls State Park, the Hill Country air was cool enough and the land de-paved enough that the open windows drafted something like A/C. I still sweat.

I didn't know until my tours around Mendoza last year that wine country is best when hot and dry. Everyone in Texas should grow grapes.

"The #2 Wine Destination in America" say the brochures in the dozen or so wineries along 290. A lot of them cluster in Stonewall, better known for its spring peaches. Then there are a handful in Fredericksburg, too.

Becker was nice. It wasn't a hard sell for the sommelier to get me into their "Wine Club"--lots of wine swag and "member privileges" in return for quarterly deliveries. Maybe their Malbec was what did it. A lot different from Mendoza's, better I thought. More earthy.

Torre di Pietra couldn't stack up after that, despite the cool name. Their stock was more "playful," I guess. i.e., weird flavors.

I walked out back after the tasting, through the covered "event space" and up to the cedar fence marking the start of the vines. The case with my Canon A630 over my shoulder. I've been proofing the MatadorU photography course, so pulling out the camera, I thought "f/stop" and "depth of field." I decided to finally start playing with my aperture. One of the major differences I've noticed between DSLR and point-and-shoot image quality is depth of field. Yes, getting a truly shallow DoF with a p&s is kinda impossible, but I dialed down the aperture to its lowest number (3.2 or something), jacked up the shutter speed and some other settings so it wouldn't overexpose too badly, and went for it.

This is the result--notice the blur in the background. Not exactly beautiful, but I got what I was going for.

Later, I found easier-to-shoot subjects at the Lyndon B. Johnson Natl. Historical Park, in a field of wildflowers. Can't go wrong. I played some more with exposure settings and the macro function and came back with the following images.

Flowers appreciate the hot and dry Hill Country as much as the grapes, I guess. I enjoy Texas in the spring, even if it's already pushing 95. Back at home, the crape myrtle in the front yard just exploded pink, another easy shot to make look good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The simple habit of keeping a blog has drawn so many connections between me and random points on the Internet fractal that I would never have known existed otherwise.

Like Sweet, a literary journal of poetry and nonfiction with a lust for desserts. "Head chef" Ira Sukrungruang contacted me months ago to ask permission to reprint part of my post How People Live (in Bolivia). I said yes, thank you.

You can find the excerpt in their issue 2.3, announced today.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

3 Years of Work, in My Hand

On my front porch this morning was a slender brown padded envelope containing an advance copy of Korean for Beginners, a book I coauthored with my Korean colleague, Park Kyubyong. It hits shelves (and Amazon trucks) August 10.

That'll make more than three years of on-again, off-again work on this project. We put together the first 10 chapters back in 2007 and sent them off with query letters to several publishers. We heard nothing...for a very long time. It wasn't until the middle of my bicycle tour through Maritime Canada that an editor from Tuttle Publishing got in touch.

After that, getting a contract was comparatively easy, and we were then tasked with actually writing the book--going back and recrafting those 10 nearly forgotten chapters and creating 17 more. Only, it was now December of 2008 and I was a month away from starting a year in South America.

The words in this book have moved around as much as I have. Their inspiration was drawn from my two happy years in Seoul and the struggles I encountered studying the language. The bulk of them were written on my bed in room #1 of the Sustainable Bolivia house in Cochabamba, or in a cafe called Casablanca on Calle España. I can't remember, but revisions probably carried over to Cuzco. And that's where Carey began in earnest on the book's illustrations, work which followed us to a beach hostel in Arica, Barrio Bellavista in Santiago, a chalet-style guesthouse in Pucón, and our volunteer homestay in Esquel, Argentina. I recorded the audio tracks in our tenth-floor Palermo flat in Buenos Aires.

Now it's in my hand in Austin.

It's not a travel book, but it sure feels like one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Antithesis of Travel

I watered my first lawn for the first time last night.

This wasn't something I thought about when buying a house. Watering a lawn sounds wasteful. But Ernest told me the grass would choke back the weeds with a little moisture. The hose was already there, a little Vigoro 5-setting hecho en china spray gun already attached. It felt good in my hand. I watered it all, the peach, pear, and crabapple trees, the two garden boxes, even the little nopal down by the curb.

Today, I battled the leaky toilet tank. It took some trial and error, but no more water in the drippy cup. I am the owner of a water-tight toilet.

This doesn't feel like travel.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

American Nomenclature, Roadtrip Notes

I just published some roadtrip highlights over at Matador Trips: 2,600 Miles through the Eastern Half.

Such a familiar drive, but long enough to mix it up fresh each time. And tomorrow we start heading back the other way.

But I haven't finished digesting the last leg yet. Below are some notes Carey and I took on the road. Lots of back roads, some interstate, all America:
  • central texas driving into the sun. elgin, hearne, franklin, jewett, oakwood, palestine, jacksonville. tail pipe rusted off. duct tape. highway 79 is long and it keeps going.
  • over the ar border to ashdown. cool name. camp at millwood state park. big dam, big lake, cold night.
  • tollette, saratoga, hot springs, pine bluff, back on 79. stuttgart, clarendon, marianna, onto the interstate in memphis.
  • lakeland, bolivar. coffee. pantry in an old bank vault. route 64. selmer, savannah, clifton, waynesboro, natchez trace parkway. i'd like to drive that.
  • lawrenceburg, davy crockett state park, pulaski, fayetteville, jack daniels. finally some mountains, sewanee, college town, chattanooga, beer.
  • scenic byway, ocoee river, been here before. into the curving and drooping mountains. long dusk. bryson city, smoky mountains, campsite, bears.
  • asheville, coffee shop, rosetta's kitchen, vegan restaurant. blue ridge parkway, sweet windy mountain views, slowing down, kinda lost.
  • linville, boone, independence. virginia border, galax. interstate surrender. claytor lake state park, camping, fire, no dew.
  • interstate driving, so fast. christiansburg, roanoke, harrisonburg, harper's ferry. civil war is heavy. frederick maryland, gettysburg pa. 30, past 83, lancaster, 222, reading, allentown. times square, nissan pathfinder, holiday inn fire alarm.
  • interstate morning, jersey, no toll (sweet), staten island, $8 toll (shit), verrazano narrows, atlantic ave, flatbush, park slope. big city, bsas, family, matador.
  • queens, kennedy bridge, bronx, 95. old hat from here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Morocco Audio-Visual

Here's what my four days in Marrakech and around sounded like (remix):

And here's what it looked like:

Typical Medina scene, Marrakech

Horse and monkey

Nighttime, Place Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Moroccan disco ball

On camels at dusk

Berber beat (drum track in the mix above)

Desert sunrise

And back out again

Sunday, April 18, 2010

11 Images from a Trip through Spain

1. Vaulted nave of the Gothic Cathedral, Barcelona

2. Cliff lookout of Ronda, Málaga

3. Big waves at Playa del Sardinero, Santander, Cantabria

4. Carving of the Palacio Nazaríes, Alhambra, Granada

5. Flamenco at Los Tarantos, Granada

6. Inside the Alcazaba, Alhambra, Granada

7. Sweet wines of Antigua Casa de Guardia, Málaga

8. Dusk in Potes, Picos de Europa

9. Door of the Passion Facade, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

10. Bathhouse ceiling, Alhambra, Granada

11. Don Quijote's windmills, Consuegra, Castilla-La Mancha