“Hole in the Wall” Fish Restaurant.

One of the great things about traveling is of course getting to experience great foods that you would not normally eat in your hometown.  I certainly try to experience as much different food as possible and most of the time I am glad I did.  I often push the limit on places, eating at “holes in the wall” that probably would receive a “F” rating on the hygiene rating system in the USA.  But adventure is adventure and as they say “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  Eating some foods, one can certainly gain at least a few pounds.  Malabo has about a dozen places that most travelers would feel safe visiting and then there are probably another dozen or so that most would probably not eat at during a short stay in town.  But for folks like me, after months here, we are always looking for new places to try.
The “Hole in the Wall” fish restaurant I eat at once in a while would most certainly not be on Anthony Bourdain’s food-network program.  It’s not only a “hole in the wall” but a first class one at that.  It’s off the beaten-path a bit, not on a main street and I would probably miss it for sure if it wasn’t for the Heineken sign hanging out front.  The place only serves two things, fish and fried plantains.  As you enter, the fresh fish are in plastic pales on a table to the right.  There are 3 sizes of fish and only one kind.  Prices are 4,000 central african francs (CFA), 5,000 CFA and 6,000 CFA or about 8 to 12 US Dollars.  After you pick out your fish and let the cook know, you seat yourself at one of the plastic tables and chairs.  Make sure you pick a chair that has been reinforced with another chair stacked on top to avoid the legs from bending as you lean back, otherwise you will end up on the floor.  I have actual seen that once before, a pretty funny sight! It’s certainly why almost all the chairs have been double reinforced.  A young, attractive lady from Cameroon, stops by your table and takes your drink orders when she feels like it.  An African “Futbol” game and African music videos are usually playing on the 2-1980s era televisions, of course with the volume turned up way too loud.  The place is dark and smokey from the charcoal grill working overtime to cook the 10 or so fish stacked neatly one next to the other.  Kind of like sardines in a can.  Don’t worry, somehow you will actual get the fish you ordered, I don’t know how, but it eventually finds its way to your table.  Served on a metal, cafeteria-type tray with onions, fried plantains, a spoonful of mayo and a side plate of “picante del pais” 
(local hot sauce) your meal of fresh grilled fish is complete.

Above, the grill at my favorite, “Hole in the Wall” fish restaurant in Malabo.

Below, the meal ready for consumption!

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Crab Soup for the Soul…….

Last weekend my African friend Francisco invited me to a party at his home.  He was keen to have me meet his family and enjoy the tastes of some Portuguese dishes from is native Sao Tome and Principe.  He told me to arrive anytime after 10:00 am Sunday morning and we would have lunch around noon.  Francisco lives in the Ela Nguema neighborhood, about a 10 minute drive to the east of downtown Malabo, along the north coast of Bioko Island.  Ela Nguema is a very interesting place, full of activity anytime of day or night.  On any typical day, the small corner grocery stores are busy until the early morning hours with teenagers buying candy, a soda-pop and a 6 pack of beer for their fathers.  The sidewalk bars, complete with plastic chairs and tables are a definite hub of activity, a place to get a cold San Miguel beer, a bowl of Pepe Soup and hear the latest gossip from the neighborhood!  Roadside mechanics, with nothing more than an air compressor and a few hand tools, patch car tires for waiting customers.  A group of children play a game of “futbol” in the street with an empty 2 liter water bottle as a family in their Sunday-best, navigate the potholes on their way to Church or a friend’s house.
I  arrived at about 11:00 am and parked in front of Francisco’s home, surprised I found it without assistance, having only been there one time before to drop him off.  As I exit the car, a young boy, no more than 4 or 5, says, “Oi chino…”  Basically “hey china-man…”  Haha…. there are so many chinese workers in Malabo that the term “Chino” or “China-man” has come to mean any non-black foreigner.  Well, I am a non-black foreigner, so I’ll be “chino” for the moment.  I responded “Oi amigo.”  Francisco’s home is off the street a bit, up a narrow hard-packed dirt walkway.  Sunday must be laundry day, a young girl helps her mother hang wet clothes on the line.  Must be a large family, the weight of all the clothes stretch the line to it’s limit, almost touching the ground in the middle.  A baby, in only a diaper, sits next to a mountain of laundry still waiting to be hung-out to dry, he is completely occupied with a set of skateboard wheels attached to a stick.  Francisco and his wife are in the small courtyard next to their front door, preparing the meal.  The first time I meet his wife she has on an apron and a large butcher-knife in her hand.  She wipes her hands on her apron and apologizes for her appearance.  We shake hands and she calls her daughters out of the house to meet me. After the obligatory 2-cheeked kisses, the girls return to their chores, preparing the Sunday meal.  Francisco’s wife continues to chop-up the crabs for our crab soup.  What can I get you to drink, asks Francisco?  A coke will be fine, I thought everyone has coke….right…?  Yes, as luck would have it, he quickly returns with an ice cold can of coke.  The other lunch guests begin to arrive, some in jeans, some in just shorts and no shirts and no shoes.  I feel better, realizing that I have not under dressed in my Levi and T- shirt combo!  By noon, the small courtyard of maybe 10 ft by 30 ft in size is full of friends and neighbors, maybe 30 people or more.  The meal consists of crab soup and a pork and bean stew, both very delicious!  Some of the guests brought their own bottles of wine and beer, San Miguel of course.  When the initial supply runs out,  teenage boys scramble to the corner store for another six pack or two!  African hip-hop music blasts from the small boom box in the corner of the courtyard, am I the only one who doesn’t understand the French lyrics?  There seems to be an endless supply of soup, stew and beer…. after more than one bowl of each, I am full!  “No mas,” Thank you!  After a few hours of eating, drinking and story-telling, the drunks decide it’s time to start to dance.  One over-weight guy in his mid-30s does his best African booty-shaking routine, knocking over a table in the process, causing everyone to laugh hysterically!  These people are alright!  By about 2:00 pm, the other guests start to depart.  Many have other commitments, other parties to attend later that afternoon.  Francisco and his family are wonderful hosts, I never felt like the foreigner, just one of the many friends at the party.  As I get ready to leave, I thank he and his wife for a wonderful lunch and I am reminded by Francisco that … “Mi Casa es tu casa”  My house is your house!  Thanks Francisco for a great day!
  

Above, the bean and pork stew, very tasty!

Below, the scene of the party, just before the other guests arrive!

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Close Encounter with a Mamba…..

This morning I was free from work, so I decided to go to the beach.  I haven’t just swam at the beach in a long time, so I headed to another favorite spot known as “French Beach,” south of Malabo on the West Coast of Bioko.  The beach is not far from the Fazenda I like to visit once in a while.  I arrived early to enjoy a swim and catch some rays before others arrived.  It’s not a well known location and one that requires about a 3 km walk from the spot where you park your car to the beach.  I think it’s the distance that keeps many beach goers away.  Another nearby beach you can reach by car is more popular.  I arrived at about 10:00 AM and was the only one on the beach.  It was a great day to relax, it was warm, about 80 degrees, with a slight breeze off the ocean.  I swam for about an hour, exploring the coral around a small island a few hundred meters off the coast.  It’s always amazing the life that lurks just below the surface of the wave tops… beautiful schools of colored fish darted back and forth,  nice corral formations providing them shelter from larger fish.

Above and below, a few pictures of “French Beach” near Luba on Bioko Island.

Not wanting to fry myself the first time out in full sun in quite some time, I called it a day at about noon and headed back toward the fazenda.  My friend Tio Paco was on another beach hunting crabs.  I stopped to visit and he paused to show me another one of his Cayucos (canoes) he’s building and tell me some stories.

Above and Below, Tio Paco shows me another one of his Cayucos (Canoes) he’s building.

We visited a bit, he again telling me more about the history of the island.  I really enjoy his history lessons and must look like a little kid listening to Grandpa tell war stories…. after an hour or so…. I departed the coast and continued my walk the last kilometer to my car.

Along the way, I had only my second encounter in my life, with a really scary snake, a Jameson’s Mamba.

Above and Below, the path from the beach to the Fazenda where I encountered the Mamba.  As you can see, the vegetation is pretty thick, a great place for a snake to make his home!

The Mamba was in a tree, about 3 feet from my head along the trail when I noticed him!  When I realized what it was, I was startled but knew I needed to take a few pictures to show my friends.  Without proof they probably wouldn’t believe me…. unfortunately my camera is just a small pocket job and doesn’t loom in too well, so I needed to get as close as possible.  I snapped three pictures while the snake was making his way out of the tree, to the safety of the bushes.  The worst thing about the encounter was that after he escaped into the brush, I needed to walk in the same direction he had just fled!  I waited about 10 mins to give him time to disappear and then I continued my journey.  Back at the Fazenda I ran into a few of my African friends and quickly showed them my pictures.  Of course they all asked “did you kill it…?”  Of course I didn’t, it was a beautiful creature and he was in his home.  I was the intruder… so I thought we could just treat each other nicely and then go our separate ways…. lucky for me he cooperated.  My friends were disappointed I hadn’t killed it…. my excuse was that I didn’t have my machete!  They all agreed without a machete I could not have killed the beast… so all was forgiven!  When Tio Paco showed up at the fazenda, he said “You are lucky, that’s a Killer…..”  Needless to say I puckered up a bit.  It was one of those things you look back at and say, hope that never happens again.

When I got home to Malabo, I started to investigate the snake a bit on the internet and found out that the Jameson’s Mamba often fall out of trees onto their prey!  Wow…. great news!

Above and below, my close encounter with a Jameson’s Mamba Snake on my walk through the jungle today!

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52 Days to Timbuktu……..

Above, in the center of the town of Zagora is a sign that reads…. 52 Days to Tumbuktu.  It was said that from that point it was a 52 day walk to the northern trading city, Timbuktu!


Above, one of the many picturesque Berber Villages I visited during my journey through the Atlas Mountains.


After a few enjoyable days in Marrakech, I decided to see a little more of Morocco and hired a car and driver to take me south east over the High Atlas Mountains to the gateway city to the Sahara, Zagora.  About 60 kilometers outside of Marrakech, we reached the foothills of the Atlas Mountain Range.  The Atlas run from Algeria in the north east all the way to the Moroccan City of Agadir in the south west, reaching the Atlantic Ocean.  Historically mountain ranges have played an important role in dividing peoples and ultimately nations, here in Morocco it’s no different.  The Atlas naturally separate Morocco and Algeria. The Mountains are home to the Berber people, the real indigenous people of Morocco.  I must admit I didn’t know too much about the Berbers before this visit, but I am intrigued by what little I have learned in a short two day visit to some of the Berber towns.  A rugged, diverse people, they have inhabited the Atlas Mountains for as long as history has been recorded.  It was interesting to see that some Berbers were black and others were almost Irish looking, fair skinned and red-headed!  Everyone I met was very friendly and tried their best to be helpful in answering my questions even with a language barrier.  Unfortunately my French is very limited, my Arabic even worse, and I don’t speak a word of the numerous Berber dialects.  Full of life, ever village we passed was a buzz with activities.  Donkey powered carts carried people and materials every which way.  Young boys, maybe no more than 5 years old, helped their mother’s load donkeys with containers of water and perhaps goods destined for sale at the local markets.  I was impressed by how independent many of the young children were, often walking alone, along busy roads, carrying heavy bags.  Many appeared to be on a chore for their parents, not just playing in the streets.  Another surprise to me was to see many people, even women in small groups, hitch-hiking.  They never seemed to wait long before someone would give them a ride to the next town.  Even on mopeds, it appeared that young people often gave rides to a friend, or perhaps a stranger in need.  There seemed to be a level of trust between the Berber people I met.  They helped one another without hesitation.  Perhaps the reason they have not only survived, but also thrived in difficult conditions is because they have worked together and helped one another.   The Atlas Mountains I visited, reminded me a lot of parts of central Arizona, rocky, sparsely vegetated and often red with iron.  The peaks were covered with snow and small rivers snaked their way down the steep hillsides, cutting deep gullies along the way.  The red clay brick homes of the Berbers popped up every dozen kilometers or so, clinging to the sides of the mountains.  On the eastern side of the High Atlas Mountains we crossed, we descended into beautiful green valleys, bursting with date palms.  Literally hundreds of small stands were set-up just feet from the road, selling handicrafts, rocks, fossils and of course dates.  In one small town, it was market day.  Hundreds of farmers were selling their boxes of dates to the middle men with large trucks, ready to deliver the them to Marrakech or other large cities.  My driver, Rachid, was from the fairly large city of Ourzazate, on the eastern side of the High Atlas Range.  Ourzazate is home to Africa’s version of Hollywood.  It’s a great location due to its proximity to both mountains and the beautiful sand dunes of the Saharan Desert.  I visited the Film Studio Museum and was surprised to see that parts of the movies Gladiator and the Mummy were filmed in Morocco.  Numerous stops along the way involved the mandatory mint-tea or coffee break.  My driver knew someone at every stop and looked genuinely happy to see them and would always visit for a short while.  During the 2 day excursion, I think I ate Tagine (the delicious clay-pot, oven cooked dish with meat and vegetables) at least 4 times.  Each time it was a different version, beef, chicken, meatballs or just vegetable.  After a full 7 hours of driving on the first day, filled with numerous stops, to see sights and drink tea, we arrived in Zagora, some 60 miles from the border with Algeria and the gateway city to the Moroccan Sahara.  We only had about an hour before sunset, so after checking into our hotel, we headed for a visit to the sand dunes.  They were not the huge rolling sand dunes one often sees in the Hollywood movies but rather smaller ones that were at the end of the line, the ones that give way to the mountains to the west.  They were pretty nonetheless and the star-filled sky, in pitch blackness of the desert it made the drive back to the hotel very enjoyable.  After a meal of tagine, of course, I headed for bed and a good nights rest.  The next morning, we started our journey at 8:00, we had a lot of driving ahead of us, and Rachid wanted me to see many sights along our return trip to Marrakech.  On the way out of Zagora, we stopped in the center of the city to see a sign that read, “Timbuktu 52 days.”  Evidently, the town is located 52 days walk to the Trading Center in Mali, know as Timbuktu.  West of Zagora we stopped at a number of wonderful Casbahs, or fortresses, dating back hundreds of years.  They were wonderfully picturesque with their red mud-brick walls in front of a backdrop of rocky mountains.   The Casbahs are no longer strategic to the defense of the cities but are still home to many people and often the center of the town’s activity.  We did not take the exact same route back to Marrakech, instead we went up another valley to see a slightly different landscape.  With more water in the valley, more vegetation came with it and more villages, more life…as we all know, water is life!  Darkness fell on our journey the second day and as were came out of the Atlas Mountains heading west, we could see the lights of Marrakech off in the distance, one last stop at a roadside cafe to drink some tea and then a short drive to my hotel in town.  I had a great first visit to the Atlas Mountains and the many Berber Villages along the drive.  This trip made me more interested in the people of the region and their culture, I will definitely come again, for a slower, more deliberate visit.  

Below, a few pictures from my visit to the Atlas Mountains and home to the Berber People.


Below, Rachid my Driver for two days, purchased some meat to take home.  He said the quality and price were much better in the country than in Marrakech.

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Hotel Room, Hot Meal Preparation 101, for the Wanderer.

I have spent a lot of time in hotel rooms over the past 3 years.  From 2010 to 2011 I spent so much time in a hotel (almost one year) that I knew about 30 hotel staff by name.  It’s not that I particularly enjoy staying in hotels, but rather my company requires it!  Many people think it’s great fun to stay in a hotel, and it is for a short period, but after about 2 months the fun wears-off.  The 4 walls suddenly begin to close-in on you.  Even worse than the lack of space in the typical hotel room, is the inability to cook for yourself.  Unfortunately, my hotel here in Equatorial Guinea does not have a kitchenette, so conventional cooking is not possible.  But there are always alternatives to the “conventional’ way of doing things and cooking is no different.  There are about a dozen restaurants within walking distance of my hotel but after a while they become “boring” and “expensive.”  The high price of prepared food here in Malabo forced me to look for other options.  As a result, I have become fairly skilled at preparing tasty, hot meals in my hotel room, for a fraction of the cost of local restaurants.  Not to mention the meals taste pretty darn good too!  Remember, you want to be a good hotel guest and not set  the curtains in your room on fire (so cooking with an open flame camp-stove is not recommended) and you don’t want to bother other guests with the smell of fried fish emanating from your suite.

What’s the solution?

Thermos cooking!

Tips for Hotel Room Hot Meal Preparation;  Thermos Cooking.

– If your hotel room does not provide an electronic “tea-kettle” I recommend you invest in one.  They are cheap, around $20.00.  Make sure the kettle brings water to a boil and has at least a 4 cup capacity.  All hotels nowadays have electricity, don’t they?

-Bring a small “Thermos” type insulated Bottle / Flask with you on your travels.  I have been using a
“Hydra-Flask” and really love it.

-Find a local supermarket / fruit and veggie stand and buy some of your favorite canned goods and fresh veggies / fruits.

-Now comes the really easy step, combine the canned food with your fresh veggies in the “Thermos” and simply add boiling water.  Put the top on the Thermos and let stand for about 30 minuets.  Since the canned meats are already cooked, you are simply trying to soften the veggies and heat the meat in the Thermos!

-Now comes the even easier step, consumption.  Place the contents of the Thermos into a serving bowl  and enjoy.

Above, an example of what I have been using to prepare hot meals in my hotel room, a Hydra-Flask insulated bottle, an assortment of shelf-stable foods, my “Sea-to-Summit” camp bowl with top and fork / spoon combo-tool.  Add food to the flask, add boiling water, place top on flask, let stand for 30 mins and then eat!
  

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Cooking in a Thermos

Tropical Storm Isaac has brought rain and clouds to Central Kentucky for the past few days.  As you know, solar cooking doesn’t do as well in cloudy conditions.  So today I decided to cook lunch using a single burner camp stove and my “Nissan Thermos.”  The “Thermos” functions much like my thermal cooker with a few differences.  The inner-pot of the thermal cooker can be placed over the cooking flame and once the contents are rapidly boiling, you then place the inner-pot into the outer pot.  With the “Thermos” you need to have a separate pot to cook in and then you transfer the boiling food into the Thermos.  The advantage the “Thermos” has over a thermal cooker is that the thermos has a secure top and can be easily placed in a backpack, or laid on its side without spilling.  A thermal cooker is less secure, or at least the one I have is…. I need to use small bungee cords to securely hold the outer pot’s lid in place if I am driving on a rough road in the Truck Camper!  But, both a “Thermos” and a “Thermal Cooker” cook in the same way…. they maintain the food’s temperature high enough to continue to cook without a heat source.  They are great for the mobile lifestyle, where you want to use as little fuel as possible and let your food safely cook while you do other things!  Would you feel safe leaving a pot over a gas burner on low in your RV for 3 hours while you went hiking?  Probably not!  That’s why the Thermos or Thermal cooker are so awesome…. You simply, cook the food long enough to get it to a rolling boil and then place it into the “Thermos” or “Thermal Cooker” and it continues to cook!  And cook safely!  Even a crock-pot requires a constant heat source!  Not a “Thermos” or a “Thermal Cooker”…. Cook for a few minutes, place the food into the Thermos or Thermal Cooker and let stand for a few hours… then the meal is ready!

Above and Below, cooking with a single burner multi-fuel camp stove and a “Nissan Thermos.”

Today’s meal was, black beans with diced ham.

Ingredients;
-one can low sodium black beans.
-one small can of lean diced ham.
-one small can of diced jalapeño peppers.
-a few dashes of habanero sauce.
-a pinch of sea salt.

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Let’s Talk About Fresh Baby…. Fresh Tomatoes that is…

I just ate some of the best tomatoes I have ever eaten.  It’s kind of a tie between some tomatoes I ate in Crete in 1994 and the ones I ate a few days ago on the farm…. the tie breaker would have to go to the Kentucky tomatoes because I grew them ….  Man they were good, and talk about fresh, they were on the vine one minute and on my plate the next!  I love fresh tomatoes!

Below, a few pictures of the fresh tomatoes I grew and then consumed this Summer!

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A Small Harvest

I have grown a 1/2 dozen different vegetables this year.  I’m trying to learn as much as possible about organic gardening before next Spring when I plan to plant enough for canning!  It’s amazing how much information is available on numerous blogs concerning organic gardening.  There are plenty of people eager to share their knowledge with others!  I planted a pretty good size pumpkin patch a few weeks ago and hope to have them ready before Halloween!

Above, a small harvest from my garden!

Above and Below, preparing the pumpkin patch!

Above and Below, as you cam see, after a few weeks of sunshine and little bit of rain the pumpkins are a jumping!

Above, a regular visitor to my farm!  So far I’m lucky she hasn’t eaten any of my vegetables! 

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Secret Weapon Salsa

I don’t consider myself a great cook… yet… but I have been trying to improve my culinary skills over the last few years.  It’s funny that when I lived in a multi-100-thousand dollar home with a nice big kitchen I didn’t cook very often.  But now residing in a small RV, I have really gotten more excited about trying to learn to cook!  One doesn’t need to be a great cook to eat healthy foods!  I have been eating pretty well in 2012.  The proof is in the 30+ pound weight loss since Christmas 2011!  I’m trying to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and eat less sugar and simple carbs!  I feel a lot better!

One of my weaknesses is “chips and salsa.”  I know tortilla chips are not the best food on the planet but boy do they taste good with the right salsa!  This week I made some fresh salsa with ingredients from my garden.  I grew the tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, thai peppers and cilantro.  I bought the lime juice, garlic, olive oil and sea-salt.  My secret weapon for the salsa is the thai hot pepper!  Just a few add a nice kick to the typical salsa!  You know that good tongue and lip tingle that the right amount of spice adds to the appropriate dishes?  That’s what the thai hot peppers do to my salsa, they add a great hot kick….very tasty!

Above, some of the fresh ingredients assembled for the “Secret Weapon Salsa!”

Below, the “Magic-Bullet” works great to blend ingredients!

Above and below, some of the ingredients of my “Secret Weapon Salsa” just minutes before being ready to eat!  Talk about fresh… on the vine at 10:00 AM and then ready to eat at 10:10 AM!

Below, “Secret Weapon Salsa” ready to eat!

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Bean Curry in a Thermal Cooker

I love curry!  Anyone who has followed the blog knows I have posted a few times before about curry dishes I have made.  Today I made a vegetarian bean curry on the single burner camp stove and after the contents reached a rolling boil I moved them to the thermal cooker for a few hours.

Vegetarian Bean Curry,

Ingredients;

-olive oil, 2 tablespoons
-1 large white onion
-1/2 cup dry lentils
-2 cloves garlic minced
-3 tablespoons of curry powder
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 pinch of cayenne pepper
-1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
-1 can garbanzo beans (15 oz)
-1 can kidney beans (8 oz)
-1/2 cup rasins
-salt and pepper

Cook the onion in the olive oil, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a rolling boil.  Then place the pot into the thermal cooker and let cook another 2 hours.

Above, the assembled ingredients for the Vegetarian Bean Curry Dish.

Below, sauté the onion first, then add the rest of the ingredients.

Above, the rest of the ingredients being brought to a rolling boil, then into the thermal cooker for a few hours!

Below, the finished product ready for consumption!  Very tasty!

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