September 2010 Archives

Rolf Potts, of Vagabonding fame, is currently making a trip around the world with no baggage.  It's called, appropriately, the "No Baggage Challenge".  Recently he wrote about a Thai train trip and meeting an unfortunate traveler with nine pieces of luggage, including one monstrous 60kg bag.  Go read his excellent article and then come and make fun of me for carrying too much stuff to Costa Rica.  Our next trip, we shall be packing much lighter.

However, unlike Mr Potts, I will still have at least a little bit of luggage.

The other day I came across an article about a Belgian beer brewed during the full moon, which claims that, apparently, yeast is more active during the full moon, giving the beer "an extra punch."

Is that really true?  I'd like to hear from some brewers about this.  Do you want a quick, vigorous fermentation, or a long, slow one?  Does the speed of fermentation really affect the flavor of the beer that much in the end?  My impression has always been that a faster fermentation means that the wort is warmer than usual, and that yeast fermenting in hotter environments can produce strange off flavors.  But in this beer's case, the speed comes from the full moon.  I mean, if that can actually happen.

Homebrewers, brewmasters, chime in and let us know what's up with this sort of thing.

alfa-wireless-adapter.jpgFinding an Internet connection on the road can be really tricky, but if you're near a city or town it shouldn't be completely impossible.  Sometimes you will find yourself just a little bit too far away from a signal to be comfortable.  My advice in this sort of situation is to find yourself a bigger antenna and more power.  Pictured to the right is a 1W wireless network adapter from Alfa, which should boost your broadcasting and receiving power enough to double or even triple your range.

As a caveat, know that the USB ports on a computer only output 500mW (that's half of 1W) of power, so it may not be possible to reap the full benefits of one of these guys.  I have heard that one can purchase special dual-plug USB cables that harness the power of two USB ports, but I've yet to try one.

Make sure to get ahold of the wireless adapter long before you leave home, because you'll want to test it as much as possible to make sure it works.  This can require quite a bit of fiddling and research, as the proper hardware drivers are not always available.  These guys are for those times when you really need a broadcasting boost to connect to that distant access point.

Another handy feature of the Alfa external adapters is that they have a replaceable antenna, so you can always swap it out with something more specialized, like a directional antenna.  Read more about antenna choice at RadioLabs.  Do not be afraid to experiment, but make sure to test out your equipment at home before you need it desperately abroad.

Pilsen: Another Light Beer

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pilsen-beer-cr.jpgWith a slightly richer color than Imperial, Pilsen is also drier and has perhaps a hint more hops.  It thus ranks as a superior beer to its yellow-labeled brother, but not by much.  And superior is such a strong word for a beer that barely manages to register as a pilsner.  In fact, it's a rotten insult to the style, but in a difficult beer-land like Costa Rica, one must cope with what's available.

In a cold glass, Pilsen holds a nice, thick head just like Bavaria Dark, and it keeps up a pretty good effervescence.  It also manages to pair pretty well with spicy foods.  In the photo you're seeing its fancy new label, which just debuted in the past couple of weeks.

The heat and humidity here make the beer drinkable, and its dryness makes it far more thirst-quenching than Imperial, which can be cloying and obnoxious as the last few sips in the bottom of the bottle warm up.  At 5.1% ABV it packs a heftier punch, too.  If we had half-stars, I would rate it half a star over Imperial, but on a five-star scale, it's still just a two-star beer.


ExOfficio Travel Underwear

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exofficio-briefs.jpgThis may seem like an odd thing to write about, but earlier this month I mentioned I'd be talking about some non-natural-fibers that I enjoyed traveling with.  I've had a couple pairs of ExOfficio Men's Briefs for almost three years now, and they have proven to be invaluable travel companions.  They are light, comfortable, and remarkably sturdy.  They are easy to clean, easy to wear regularly, and I am confident that a man could get by for several months with just three pair if he was diligent about washing them.

So the drill is that each morning when you shower, just take your briefs with you and wash them.  After the shower, wring them out, roll them up in a towel and ring them again, and then just hang them up to dry.  In a humid climate, they will still managed to be clean and dry later in the day.  In a dry climate, they will be ready in just a couple of hours.

These guys are entirely artificial: 94% nylon and 6% spandex.  They're odor-resistant, anti-microbial, and very stretchy.  You can also find them as briefs, and I'm pretty sure that ExOfficio makes a whole line of men's undergarments in the same material.  I can't say that I'd want to wear an undershirt made of this stuff, though.

I was curious about travel underwear when I first purchased these, and thought that the high price tag (usually over $15) was a bit excessive.  However, on this trip I've been traveling with both normal cotton underwear and my fancy space-age ExOfficio underwear, and the latter have outperformed in every way.  They dry faster, are remarkably easier to clean, and I'd love to have another pair.  The two pair I have, as I mentioned earlier, are three years old and still going strong; my normal underwear rarely lasts that long.

In a foreign country, one will spend a great deal of time dealing in a different currency.  Learning how to deal in a currency can be kind of tricky: it's very easy to either empty one's wallet prematurely, or to look very foolish when attempting a transaction.

Before arriving in a distant land, one should check out the way the currency usually trades, using a website such as XE and maybe by downloading a currency exchange rate program such as a mobile currency converter from Oanda.  These can be great tools, but in addition, one should do two simple things.

Learn Typical Conversions

Figure out currency conversions for basic amounts:  $1, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100.  Once these basic conversions are memorized, one can then easily estimate most values in one's native currency.  The conversion does not need to be exact: it doesn't matter that $5 is exactly €3.88, just remember that it's about €4.  If one is really great with math, it makes even more sense to just remember a basic multiplier: the price in Euros times 1.25 is about the price in dollars.

Learn to Count

In the official language of the foreign land, that is.  Learn all the numbers one can remember and then practice them.  Count, listen to native speakers, and listen carefully.  If one doesn't have a lot of experience with foreign languages, this can be a very difficult skill to pick up, but it's so helpful that it should not be neglected.  And it may not come easily.  The words for numbers are so commonly used that they are almost always spoken quickly and slurred together.  Indeed, think of how frequent it is for "fifteen" and "fifty" to be confused in spoken English and imagine how difficult it must be for one who barely speaks the language.

If any of you readers have additional tips for dealing with foreign currencies, please share them in the comments!

Imperial: A Very Yellow Beer

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imperial-on-beach.jpgThere is something romantic about having a cold beer in the tropics.  It was hard to put my finger on at first---the beer is not particularly good, most of it isn't particularly famous, and it's something beyond the "tropical paradise" cliché that folks seem so hung up on.  I finally got it:  the sweat on the bottle.  Leave a beer out in the humid heat for a minute here and its frosty surface is glistening with so much icy condensation that I feel like I'm in the middle of a Budweiser commercial.

This week's beer review is on Costa Rica's iconic brew, Imperial.  A domestic lager suitable for comparison with Budweiser or Coors, it is a pale, straw yellow with a thin white head and fine effervescence.  The flavor is not remarkable.  It tastes a little like corn syrup that's been fermented dry, with some sweetness and no detectable hops.  It is, however, almost as thirst-quenching as water, and at just 4.6% ABV, one can drink nearly as much of it.

If you are going to stick with a light beer down here, you might be able to do worse than Imperial.  In fact, check back next Friday and I'll see if I can find something for you.

On Tuesday, Martyn Cornell published an excellent article in which he dives into the differences between old ale and barleywine, and after a bit of a foray into the history of mild ale and the historical difference between "ale" and "beer", finally comes to an interesting conclusing.  I won't spoil it for you, though.  Go and read his article, because he's a great writer and you shouldn't pass him up.

Mr. Cornell's articles frequently include some great examples of old advertisements, and my favorite in this one is the ad for Smith & Bruce's Barrack Ground Brewery, which has a couple of Masonic symbols in it.  It's very neat to spot that sort of thing in a beer ad.

In North America, the barleywines tend to be split pretty evenly between the more old-fashioned English barleywine and the newfangled American barleywine.  The latter is certainly an extreme beer, being overly malty and usually heavily hopped.  Personally, the English style is preferred, with a slightly subdued malt character, well-balanced hops, and a slightly lower ABV that makes it an excellent brew to sip by a roaring fire in the winter.

Of course, in Costa Rica there are neither winters nor roaring fires to sit by.  But I will bide my time, because such things are certainly in my future somewhere.
David Malki over at Wondermark recently delved into what he calls the "Oenophile's Quandry".  When is an occasion special enough to merit that special bottle of wine?  It's a common problem facing those with collections of tasty beverages (see, for instance, this conversation over on Snooth), and I have in the past encountered champagne past its expiration date because that special occasion never arrived.

Psychologists have examined this problem, too, and perhaps it's wiser to approach it from that point of view instead of the economist's.  Basically, opening that special bottle is a special occasion all on its own, so please go for it.  Drink up!

Earlier this year I reviewed Boulevard's Smokestack series with mixed results, but then I read on that they will be released in 12 oz. bottles next!  This is exciting, because I see amongst their labels is one for "Tank 7", a farmhouse ale of some sort.

Though I didn't review Boulevard's other saison in the original post, I did get a chance to try it a few weeks later, and they have promise.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do with this new farmhouse ale.  Also, I'm hoping that somebody back home will manage to save me a bottle.


my_beautiful_bike.jpgBicycles are far more common in other countries than they are in the United States, so it is very likely that wherever one ends up, one will be renting or buying a bicycle to get around. It follows that learning basic maintenance on a bike is a helpful skill and will save both time and money.

Unless one happens to be a really hard-core cyclist, a single-speed used bicycle will probably be perfectly sufficient.  One should of course always take the bike on a test ride, and then give the bike as much of an examination as possible.  If one already knows how to tune and inspect a bike, that will be a huge advantage.  One should try not to spend more than is comfortable, but also remember to compare the price of the used bike with the cost of long-term rental.  For instance, in Costa Rica we paid ₡25,000 (about $50) each for our ugly used bikes.  This seemed like a rip-off until I compared that price to the price of renting bikes for even just a month or two.  (Note that the beautiful beach cruiser in the photo above is actually back home in storage and cost considerably more than $50.)

Before riding a bike in a foreign country, make sure to learn the basics of the traffic laws there, and try to figure out the basics of bicycle safety in that country.  Will there be a need to travel at night, for instance?  Which side of the road should a cyclist be traveling on?  If there's a lot of heavy traffic and hand-signals are expected or required, figure out what they are before needing to use them.

Among the things that one should learn about a bike are the very basics, such as adjusting seats and handlebars, to the slightly less-basic like changing tires and tubes and tightening bike chains. One should also become familiar with basic maintenance, such as lubricating bike parts and inspecting spokes and wheel alignments. Here's a list of resources for learning basic bicycle repair and techniques:

The other day we were discussing some ideas for our long trip to Europe in the Spring.  We talked about Eurail Passes and how confusing they are, and then I found this great article on Vagabondish about choosing between passes and point-to-point tickets.  It's quite informative.

Bavaria Premium Dark

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bavaria_premium_dunkel.jpgThe beer situation in the Limón province of Costa Rica is a dire one, as Vera wrote the other day.  I believe the two largest are Heineken and Cerveceria Costa Rica, the latter being a huge state-owned monolith that produces such classics as Imperial and Pilsen.  Today we are going to take a look at one of Cerveceria Costa Rica's premium beers, Bavaria Premium Dark.

This lager is, I believe, a German-style dunkel, and actually comes pretty close to matching the style.  It is rather light-bodied, but heavier than the other domestic offerings.  It pours a nice ruby-tinged chocolate brown, pleasingly translucent, with a good creamy head that actually sticks around for a while.  Of the Costa Rican beers I've tried so far, it actually has the most pleasing appearance and nose when poured into a glass.

Bavaria Premium Dark does carry a nice dose of roasted, dark malt flavor, though it lacks some of the pleasing German yeast flavors I usually look for in a dunkel.  And frankly, though I would quickly pick this beer over Spaten Dunkel, I cannot honestly say it will go in my list of top dark lagers.

If you find yourself in Costa Rica, you owe it to yourself to try this beer.  But otherwise, avoid it and head for an authentic German or German-style dunkel with heavier flavor and heartier body.

read on Vagabodish the other day about the World Testicle Cooking Championship, and knew it was something all of our readers had to find out about.  It takes place annually in Ozrem, Serbia, and it's probably not on my list of things to see next year.  Because, you know, we'll be getting ready for Oktoberfest.

According to the AP article, they cook testicles of all sorts of animals---including kangaroo, camel, and wild boar---into a very wide variety of dishes.  There should also be plenty of beer and wine to wash down the food (I suspect it's needed).

Is anybody out there interested in reporting on this event next year?  Come on!  Think of the prestige!
tropical_beach.jpgThis has been my first trip to the tropics as a somewhat responsible adult, and there have been a few interesting lessons learned along the way.  For instance, choice of clothing needs to be adjusted for a long stay in the tropics.  Even though Fall approaches in the northern latitudes, down here the weather remains the same.  All of my tweed and worsteds remain in Oregon where I left them.  I should also note that I'm not a big fan of weird modern fabrics, and tend to stick with old-fashioned natural fibers most of the time.  However, I will write about a few exceptions to this in the future.

I was very worried about the heat down here.  It is warm, but not so hot as high summer in Southern Oregon.  It is humid; in fact, far more so than Oregon, but not so humid as Georgia in the Summer.  My ability to handle this sort of climate for a long period of time was completely unknown, so it was difficult to know what to pack.  The following are a few lessons that I hope our readers can benefit from.
Now that Leisure Nouveau is finally starting to include articles about travel (frankly, we've been wanting to do this from the beginning, but for some reason got really hooked on just beer and cigar reviews), I thought it would be great if all of you loyal readers took a look at WikiTravel, which is a collection of free travel guides posted online.

They need more writers and many articles need fleshing out.  You could help by looking up your hometown or some location dear to you, and expanding their guides.  Then post something in the comments about what you changed, so we can all marvel at your works.

Planning for Long-Term Travel

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Chris Guillebeau recently wrote an article called The Calm Before the Storm, about the stress and unpredictability of a big event in one's life and the difficulty of planning for it.  No plan should be so inflexible that it cannot adapt to new situations.

Long-term travel can be difficult to plan.  It's not exactly the same as a three-week vacation in another country, because you have to decide what to do about everything.  Recurring bills are a big one:  what should one do about car insurance, telephone bills, and even rent?  As Mr. Guillebeau writes, it is a process.

Among the times to think about for long-term travel are the following:
Since we've been in the tropics, I've found the climate to be too humid to wear a sportcoat all of the time.  However, I've still found that carrying a pocket notebook is absolutely essential, so I've found a way.  Read about the importance of carrying a notebook in this recent article on the Art of Manliness.

Beeradise Lost

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As a seasoned world traveler I know that different destinations offer their own plusses and minuses.  When I did my stint in Antarctica I was surprised by how many women bemoaned the loss of their favorite hair stylist or manicurist.  Or the fact that extreme cold makes nails break.  I however missed my guilty pleasure of hitting up Taco Bell after an evening of drinking.  But the plusses were palpable; beautiful vistas, the shock and adrenaline of negative fifty degrees, the camaraderie that comes with being stranded on the edge of the world.  Everyone had something they missed.  Everyone had something that they would miss when they left.  Which brings me to my current predicament, primarily, Beer.

The first time I stepped foot in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, I felt a liberating exhilaration.  The lazy pace of the people, the cool ocean breeze, the smell of jerked chicken, combined with being able to go topless on the pristine beaches left me feeling like I had finally found my home.  Indeed, I tried to make it my home, spent a year and a half in a tent on the beach until I had to leave due to extensive drug use.  When I arrived home in Medford, Oregon, my father took one look at my 90 pound body with scars and bug bites and for the first time, broke down and cried.  Coke is hell of a drug:  something I will write in a later post.  The plus side is that I seem to have developed an allergy to it, and even the sight of it leaves me nauseous.  That aside, I have developed another addiction that has put a slight dampener on my home town.  Again, Beer.

I fully blame my beloved boyfriend for my current dilemma.  I should have known, I met him in a beer store:  an oddly erudite and well dressed man with a curly handlebar moustache and a boyish smile.  I was a beer punk.  I wanted it cheap and preferably in a can I could crush on my forehead afterwards.  He introduced me to a line of high alcohol content beer, which was a plus for me because why drink if not to get drunk?  I slowly started discovering that I was put off more and more by the prospect of PBR.   When we moved in together in May of last year and the idea of moving to Costa Rica was raised one of the first questions he pressed was "What about beer?"  I was incensed!  How could he pose such a frivolous question when the purpose of life, we had both agreed, was to travel the world!  Beer, shmeer! I wanted to go back to Costa Rica and see it through sober eyes (coke sober, that is).  Now, after a year of him exposing me to the greatest beers in the world, I know what he meant.  Jerk.  If it were not for him I would not be sitting here craving an IPA or Stout, or Rogue's delicious Chipotle Ale.  If it was not for him I could sit with my ignorant bliss on the shore with an Imperial happily in hand.  Now I feel like I am forced to drink piss.  Ahhh, Beer.

We have found some gems, but all at ridiculously high prices.  Lindeman's Framboise is here, along with Duvel, Leffe, and Guiness Export Stout, a really delicious version of the usual we buy in the States.  The lack of taps is disappointing too, as an Imperial from the keg has got to elevate its flavor somewhat.  I haven't figured out the mailing system yet but as soon as I do, I fully expect my friends to send us some Dogfish Head, or even Nikasi, I need my hops!  So while loyal reader may be jealous of our stint in Costa Rica, know at least part of me is jealous of your delicious beer selection.  Enjoy one for me.  Beer.
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