Some eat bat. Others eat Balut.

Since I’ve been trying to figure out how one guy eating bat soup collapsed the world economy, I thought it would be interesting to post this little video of the time I ate what many consider the most disgusting, strangest, and unsafe thing … Balut, or pong tia koon as it’s called in Cambodia.

I was there shooting a documentary in Phnom Penh with my compatriot Sami Joensuu and we asked one of the local handlers to take us to the real Phnom Penh. He brought us to the central night market which was teeming with life; seemed like the entire city descends upon this epicenter of hawker stalls to chow down and chat up.

Wanting to try the ultimate delicacy, he brought us to this food hall that was known for their Pong Tia Koon. Basically what you are getting in for is a duck egg that is about half way through it’s gestation period. Inside the egg the unhatched chick is boiled, then served up warm with a bunch of accoutrement like lime leaf, chili pepper and seasoned salt.

First the smell hits you. It’s a mixture of egg and soup. It’s intense. Then the texture hits you. The chick, although fully formed with feathers, beaks and claws, is rather gelatinous, except for a hard, waxy white piece which I was told was part of the embryonic sac that feeds the development of the chick. Then, finally, there is the taste, which to be honest, isn’t that bad. It’s like really intense egg, and when you start adding the citrus, salt and heat of the birdseye chili its not bad, but still cannot save you from the thought that you just put a rubbery chick head in your mouth hole.

The entire experience was intense as you can see. The Cambodian people are super lovely, and really enjoy sharing their culture. Trust me I had some of the best meals of my life in Cambodia, and while this was by far the strangest, I would never call it disgusting, just, unnerving. Perhaps the funniest part was when we were asked if we enjoyed it, and as polite people we said, “Bat. La nasa.” (yes. very good) to be polite, which unexpectedly got us an immediate other round of Pong Tia Koon we certainly did not want, no were ready for. Hence, the time I ate two Balut against my will.

If you wanna see more random crap I get myself into … www.youtube.com/travelclast 

 

So this is how pandemics start: Beijing back alley market.

China and the Wuhan Coronavirus flu have been in the news lately, so it seemed appropriate to share this little impromptu video I shot while in Beijing, discovering friendly local markets, some killer street food, and the very cool 798 Art Zone in an abandoned military factory.

We were staying at the East Hotel], which is a phenomenal place in itself. Connected to an opulent mall that puts most in the US to shame, it is a palace of light and glass, with amazing shops, fantastic restaurants, and luxurious accommodations. While this complex certainly exudes Western sensibilities, the Jiantaixiang district it’s located in is very much proletariat China.

Taking one of their loner bikes out, my friend Mikko and I donned our very necessary face masks to battle the thick haze, and went for a little adventure. Traveling south over the Bahe River on the busy Jiuxianqiao Road we ducked off down a quiet alley to come to a sprawling  market, overflowing with energy. Sliding inside I felt like we were seeing the real city, not the one built for Westerners. Butchers and fish mongers, spice sellers and repair men, this place was like Amazon.com but alive and visceral. Eels were being skinned and frogs chirping as we waded through the crowded isles. Off to the side a woman used an electric sander to descale a river fish, scales flew like sparks off a grinder, and a female butcher slurped noodles sitting amidst large bricks of pork.

For me it was a beautiful site, to see such a collection of interesting food and services under one roof, people buzzing from stall to store arguing about the price or weight, but it made me understand how easily influenza and disease can spread in places like these. I never understood how they could trace a pandemic back to a single market, even a single animal, but once you see how fluid everything is here, you see contamination isn’t a possibility, but a probability. If you have Netflix, and want a quick and well produced understanding of exactly how this happens, let me suggest watching “Explained: Pandemic” produced by Vox. It’s excellent (albeit frightening) 

Looking back, it’s a pretty ballsy move to eat street food anywhere, especially in a market with livestock. That said, I think irrational fear is truly the scariest thing of all, and keeps all of us from exploring and connecting. I’ll gladly risk an hour in the bathroom to make the world a smaller place. With this benevolence, I dove into one of the hawker stalls making some sort of fried dough sammy that smelled pretty damn good. Basically a pancake in a pancake with a fried egg, it was a delicious snack (meal) that would fuel another few hours of bike riding.

One thing that has to be said is that the people were outstanding here. Lovely, friendly, interested to share, and made an equal effort to try to communicate. I’ve been to countries where I fluently speak the language that aren’t remotely as welcoming as China, so discovering the people here was a true gift.

After a quick game of Chinese Hacky Sack, we headed north to the 798 Art Zone, which is a reclaimed abandoned Military Complex that is now full of contemporary and street art. This place is not to be missed, first the art here is provocative and brilliant, but the complex itself is a bit of a wonder. In a country so controlled by the state, having a military complex turned into a center for free thinking and art is remarkable, and the art doesn’t hold back from viciously commenting on the current state of affairs. It reminded me of the Biennial in Havana many years ago, where the art movement fueled revolution from the art galleries to the streets. In any case, this area is lousy with shops and restaurants too, a bit safer than pancake sammy’s in the back alley.

While I love making more in depth/produced segments, I do cherish these random off-the-hip videos that to me illustrate the true nature of “place”. This is an experience that literally anyone would have jumping on a bike and cruising round Beijing, although it does make me laugh seeing a 200 lbs Italian kid from NYC trying to make friends in a river of Chinese shoppers.

Oh, if you are wondering about my bondage gear (camera strap) they’re this super hipster jam called Holdfast. I did a little video about them too … they rock, and definitely save your back.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not for the faint at heart.

Edinburgh, Scotland. August. Fringe Festival. Amazing. This is a little guide/taste of what fringe is like in Edinburgh. It’s fun, silly, serious, insane, intense and pure delight. It’s when art takes over an already artistic city and puts it into overdrive.

There is performance happening in every single corner of this town, from large concert halls, to bathrooms inside of chip joints (no, really, we saw a show in a bathroom and it was wild.) Not just theater, its music, comedy, and pure performance. If you do go, keep an eye out for Richard Templeton’s “The Piece”  – it is not to be missed.

Crowded? Yes. Fun? Hell yes. It’s kind of like Burning Man, except you dont need drugs and you are never more than 5 minutes from a cold beer or a shower. So not like Burning Man at all but still a lot of fun. Go. https://www.edfringe.com/

 

 

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Edinburgh Travel Guide. Where to Eat, Drink & be Merry.

 

Edinburgh, Scotland, is such a perfect travel destination with world class food, amazing nightlife and killer culture that will leave any traveller wishing they had more time to explore. This city is a pleasure center, full of amazing museums, fantastic oddities like the Camera Obscura, killer hikes up to Arthur’s Seat, and the food, dear Lord the food is so good. No longer is it just known for Haggis (although we did have that, but in croquette form with lingonberry jelly) there are Tacos, and pizza, and amazing Halal all for the taking. Obviously the Scots prize a good drink, and while the bar and nightlife scene is up to 11 here, there are special places to do it a bit differently. Perhaps try a Gin themed escape room at Pickering’s Distillery, or, for the refined crowd, head over the Leith to check out the Whisky Scotch Society to try the golden nectar that is older than you. Not only will you be schooled by aficionados who can teach you a thing or two about this amazing liquor, but you can try some very rare breeds for a fraction of the normal cost. Its amazing.

Unsilent Night: NYC most weird & wonderful holiday tradition.

Unsilent Night is by far my favorite (and surrealist) holiday activity. Phil Kline composed a song in 1992, and each year he comes out to Washington Square, with a bunch of boom boxes and cassettes to meet up with hundreds of people.

You can download the song or grab a cassette (yes, cassette) and everyone starts the song at the same time. Because of the beautiful humanity of it, the song isn’t ever perfectly in-sync across the sea of people, and the resulting sound is a cacophony of bells, chants and holiday cheer. From the square we walk across the village to Tompkins Square, in complete silence, taking in the city as a slow moving, unrelenting serpent, drowning out the normal chaos of NYC with our haunting procession.

Passersbys watch slack jawed not knowing if they are witnessing a silent protest, a cult suicide or a pure form of holiday reverence. It’s powerful, simple, weird and wonderful just like the holidays should be. Much love to Phil who does this just for the love of doing it, without charging a penny, or requiring an email address or a like to a Facebook page. It’s purely about magic, and pure NYC. #unsilentnight #philkline #nyc

Papeete – hotel and mountain tour.

Just a quick peek into my favorite place to stay in the city of Papeete, Tahiti, and this great little jeep tour that explored the inner beauty of the island, with waterfalls, tall mountain peaks, and lush valleys. The Hotel Tahiti Nui is a great place to stay, very centrally located, super modern, safe and quiet. If you’re looking for something close to downtown and minutes from the cruise lines, you really can’t do better. http://www.hoteltahitinui.com/

And if you have an afternoon free you should definitely give Marama Safari tours a call. They’ll pick you up right at your hotel (their driver is adorable;) and cart you up to some of the most beautiful locations on the island, that you simply cannot reach without a guide or 4×4 truck. We even got a little impromptu class on how to make a traditional fern crown from our local guide. So sweet. http://www.maramatours.com/

 

Bora Bora drone aboard the Aranui 5.

Do I have your attention? Bora Bora? Drone? Aranui? Good. Listen up.

The Aranui, half cargo ship half luxury liner, is one of the wildest cruises I’ve been on, visiting some of the most extraordinary places in Polynesia, like Bora Bora and the remote Marquesas.

It’s a fantastic vessel, with 5 star accommodations, an incredible kitchen, lively lounges and divine communal spaces, but really it is the hosts that make the experience heavenly. The attention to detail, the high level of service while still being familiar and friendly, and simply the way they help you slip into island life is nothing short than other-worldly. I hope you enjoy this little drone peek at one of my most favorite ships in the sea, and if you are interested in cruising French Polynesia, seeing Bora Bora or the amazing Marquesas, check out one of my other videos aboard the Aranui, or hop over to Get Lost Magazine to read all about the adventure! #aranui #borabora #boraboradrone

ARANUI FAREWELL PARTY! Goodbye Tahiti, Marquesas and beautiful Polynesia!

You want to talk about epic trips? This was one of them … cruising around for 10 days aboard the crazy Aranui 5 through some of the most remote, beautiful, idyllic islands of French Polynesia was an adventure and a treat. And this party the last night aboard was the bomb. A feast unlike any I’ve seen before, with dancing, partying and just all around good times with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. So glad I got to have this one of a kind experience with such special, lovely people. Thank you Aranui and of course, thank you Get Lost Magazine for giving me experiences that I could never have wished for in my wildest dreams. So grateful.

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Fatu Hiva: The best of the Marquesas.

Today aboard the Aranui we visit perhaps my favorite of the Marquesas Island chain, Fatu Hiva, which has some of the most amazing culture, local arts, beautiful bays, and amazing hiking that Polynesia has to offer.

From Tahiti Island Travel: At about 75 kilometers from Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva is the southernmost island in the Marquesas and has a striking outline, particularly when approaching the famous bay known as the Bay of Virgins. The island offers a number of interesting excursions, the cross-island road that joins the two villages of Hanavavae and Omoa, a 4-hour long hike, is unmissable. The route has spectacular views and passes through luxuriant tropical vegetation, with its heady mixture of exotic fragrances.

The 650 inhabitants live mainly from fishing, coprah production, growing nono – a fruit with astonishing medicinal virtues.
The talented Local sculptors have a vast array of materials to choose from, including sandalwood, rose wood and coconut wood. There are also a variety of vegetable fibers, at hand, the island continues to produce tapa or bark-cloth, decorated with traditional designs – it is a forgotten art on many other islands.
Fatu Hiva is a world lost in time, even within the Marquesas!

Fatu Hiva is the island of tapa, a magnificent cloth which is made using the bark of the Banyan, Breadfruit and Paper Mulberry trees. These large sheets of fabric, laboriously made by beating the layer of bark, were traditionally used to protect ones’ privacy, making curtains, coverings or clothing. Large lengths of cloth were worn during important ceremonies and tribal war, the length and quality of the cloth being a sign of wealth and status. Today the smaller pieces are more commonly decorated with geometric or natural designs.

There is also a unique opportunity to visit the turn of the century home of M. William Grelet, a Legion of Honor general who’s amazing island home has been perfectly preserved, right down to the bed linens. Very cool to be able to walk through history.

The highlight of the trip for me at least was the hike up the center of the island which is a plateau covered largely by tall grasses and pandanus trees. To the south of the plateau, running to the south, is a mountain ridge, called Tauauoho, its highest peak, at 1,125 m (3,691 ft.) is the highest point on Fatu-Hiva. From there you can almost touch heaven.

Stay tuned as we explore these amazing Marquesas Islands aboard the dope Aranui 5 for Get Lost Magazine!
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Bora Bora: Paradise on earth.

Bora Bora might be the most perfect island on the planet, with crystal clear blue lagoons, amazing scuba and snorkeling, and some of the most amazing beaches in the world.

I was fortunate enough to explore this island paradise with Aranui cruises this year, and got to experience first hand what island life is like. Music, cookouts, swimming, and a lot of petanque is pretty much guaranteed on the menu.

Scuba diving here is also a delicious treat, where you can easily swim with giant rays or black tip reef sharks, and of course the entire painter’s palette of colorful tropical fish.

Stay tuned for this ten part series as I travel through Tahiti and the Marquesas islands aboard the very cool Aranui 5.


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