the Long's Strange Trip
into the unknown...
French Fries for Breakfast
(ccl) The average person typically looks at vacation as a time to let themselves go. If he gets up at 6:30 every morning for work, on vacation he sleeps in 'til 9:00. If he regularly tries to avoid red meat, on vacation he has a big, juicy steak. If he hits the gym every day after work, on vacation he does nothing more strenuous than flagging the waiter down to bring him another boat drink. Imagine being on vacation for twelve months...herein lies the problem.
Wiley and I lived pretty healthy before we embarked on this trip. We weren't poster children for a healthy lifestyle, but we did get to the gym three times a week, and both of us are fairly accomplished runners. I guess I'm most proud of the way we ate. A typical day's eating for us included an organic fruit smoothie with protein powder and flax seed oil (gotta get those Omega 3's) for breakfast, tuna packed in water with whole-grain bread, yogurt, and fruit for lunch, and fresh grilled fish or chicken, brown rice, and salad for dinner (with possibly a couple of glasses of a nice Oregon pinot noir, but that's for another day). Living on the road has many challenges, but one of the greatest has to be eating healthy.
In Peru, when we lived with the Landa family, we were served two huge meals per day, as part of our room and board agreement. They were always home-cooked and always delicious, but the Peruvians like their meat red and their vegetables well-done. One thing you can console yourself with when eating in this type of situation is that you're eating food "close to the source". Most leading-edge thinkers in the nutritional world believe that the more processed our food gets, the worse it is for us. In Peru, as in most third-world countries, the grocery shopping is still done at huge open-air markets, where the produce and meat, chicken, and fish, are brought in fresh each day. We often see people carrying home live chickens by their bound legs for consumption that evening. It doesn't get much fresher than that. We also had great food - in fact, some of the best we've had on this trip - while staying at the Amazon Lodge in the rainforest. Again, that food was super fresh, straight from the source, but the cooking methods were probably not the healthiest.
In Morocco, we reached all time lows. The Moroccans love their meat. I can't imagine going to Morocco for any length of time and trying to stick to a vegetarian diet. You would be left with omelets, french fries, and rice at lunch and dinner. Breakfast usually comes from the local bakery, and the Moroccans learned their trade well from the French. Pan de chocolat is typically the local specialty, which is a croissant stuffed with gooey, warm chocolate. Absolutely delicious, but you won't find it on the training tables of the American Olympic team. Lunch and dinner are identical, and always involve meat. Please don't misunderstand me - Moroccan food is probably the best-tasting we've had on this trip. Couscous made with lamb, vegetables, and a savory sauce, tagines piled high with tender beef and carrots, potatoes, and turnips - we ate WELL in Morocco. But we found that nearly every meal came with French fries and a lot of French bread. The French fries are pretty much irresistible - they are fried crispy brown in some of the best olive oil you can get, so they have a delicious, rich taste. The bread is fresh and sometimes hot, and comes in servings of at least one loaf per person, because the Moroccans don't use utensils - they scoop up their food with pieces of bread. Despite the fact that Wiley and I had both sworn off fried food and white bread, for the most part, several years ago, we found ourselves eating both of these things with abandon.
In Egypt there is definitely less meat to be had, possibly because it's expensive and the average person can't afford it. Three staples of the diet are fu'ul, falafel, and kushari. Fu'ul is nothing more than cooked fava beans, mashed and eaten with pita bread. The pita bread is Egypt is delicious, and many times you get whole-grain pita bread, which is obviously a lot healthier than the stuff made from white flour. Falafel was already a favorite of mine from Mediterranean restaurants around Atlanta. Falafel is ground chick peas, or garbanzos, mixed with fresh chopped parsley, then formed into patties and fried. A couple of patties are usually stuffed into a piece of pita bread, then fresh chopped cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes are added, along with a generous spoonful of tahina, a sauce made from ground sesame seeds. OK, so it's fried, but it's extremely tasty.
Eating kushari is a cultural experience in Egypt. We had read about it from our guidebook, which is Lonely Planet, and which typically caters to the budget traveler, so they do a good job of telling you where the cheap, decent food is. Some of you who have traveled for extended periods of time can probably identify with our need to "eat with the locals". It's typically cheap, and it's nice to get away from the other tourists. Anyways, kushari is a mixture of short, tube-shaped pasta, rice and vermicelli, lentils, garbanzos, and spicy fresh tomato sauce, all topped off with a sprinkling of fried onions (think: the stuff that goes on top of the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving). You can spice it up pretty good with the optional hot sauce, and a large bowl of it costs anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds, depending on how much the shop keeper thinks he can gouge the tourists. There are kushari shops everywhere in Egypt, and the quality varies greatly. We nicknamed kushari "gruel", because its variety of ingredients reminded us of the culinary specialty of one of our friends in Atlanta, Bob Lutz.
So how do you eat healthily on the road? We don't have all the answers, but we're learning. The other day Wiley ordered a breakfast, and it was served with French fries. That was a new low. One of the things we like doing is stopping in the local market, picking up tuna, whole-grain bread, maybe a tomato or an avocado, and a couple of apples, and having a picnic in a nice spot. Peanut butter is available in some places, and while it's not the healthiest stuff, it's high in protein. We like to try to keep fruit on hand, and many of the little hotels we stay in provide small refrigerators in the room. It's interesting: in a place where there are more budget or younger travelers, the food that the restaurants offer is usually healthier. Here in Dahab, where the average tourist is probably 24 years old, the restaurants serve tuna and chicken salad, grilled fish, cornflakes, yogurt, and fruit for breakfast, and fresh juices all day long.
The important thing, at least for us, to remember is that we're not really on vacation anymore. This is how we live, and if we're committed to a healthy lifestyle, then that commitment should extend throughout this trip. So we're trying to keep up our fitness regime, as well. We do a lot of walking, regardless. It's just typically the easiest way to get around, and sightseeing requires walking. We try to add a strenuous activity once a week, like a power walk down the beach or a substantial hike. We also brought with us a product that I bought at Magellan's in Atlanta, a travel store. It's called the Figure 8 Expander, which sounds a little goofy, but it's turned out to be really handy. It's nothing more than a piece of rubber tubing, fused together into a circle, and joined in the middle by another rubber piece, so that it looks like a figure 8. Handles allow you to do all types of exercises, from leg extensions to lunges to bicep curls. It weighs nothing, so it's great for traveling. We probably won't come home with perfect bodies, but at least we'll retain some muscle tone while on the trip.
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