The ABCs of Summer in Portland

Summer is indisputably the loveliest time of year to experience Portland.  In three days, I was able to make it through the As, Bs, and Cs of sights, sounds and smells in this charming city.  And because I couldn’t resist sharing some of said loveliness, here are a few of my favorite things about Portland, in photos.

A is for…

Architecture…IMG_0113 IMG_0080

Artisans…

IMG_0153 Lush_soaps

and Alcohol.

IMG_0216 IMG_0217

B is for…

Books…IMG_0108

Bridges…

Bridge_PortlandPortland_bridge2

…Beauty and Brunch.IMG_0262 IMG_0343

C is for…

Concerts…tycho_in_portland

Coffee…stumptown_portland

and Culture.IMG_0291mural_portland Portland_taco_truck

Help me finish the alphabet…what are your favorite parts of Portland?

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Friday Snapshot: Sunset at Angkor Wat

Friday Snapshots: A new series bringing you travel inspiration just in time for the weekend.  Have you bought your ticket yet? 

Angkor_Wat_sunsetSunset at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Posted in Friday Snapshots, Southeast Asia, Travel | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

6 Great Places to Brunch Your Face Off in Portland, Oregon

Ah, brunch!  Is there a sweeter portmanteau in existence?  A better way to spend a tipsy summer afternoon?  A classier way stuff your face for hours-on-end?  Hint: These are rhetorical questions.

Despite the fact that I didn’t fall head-over-heels for Portland, there’s one aspect of Portlandic life I definitely jive with: brunch culture.

Portlanders have really taken it upon themselves to do brunch properly, much to my inner fat kid’s delight.

After talking to some in-the-know residents and trying out a handful of places myself, I got the lowdown on some of Portland’s best brunches.

Clyde Common
This place only serves brunch on the weekend, and unfortunately for me, we wandered in on a Friday; but their lunch was spectacular, which I can only assume means their weekend brunch is even better.  I liked that the menu wasn’t overwhelming, and the reasonable portion sizes matched the reasonable prices.  The traditional brunchy cocktails we ordered (a mimosa for me and a bloody mary for Daicia) were ace as well.

IMG_0093Fried rockfish sandwich and chevre-stuffed pansotti with summer squash at Clyde Common.

Tasty n Sons
The Tasty n Tasty chain of restaurants includes east Portland’s Tasty n Sons and downtown’s Tasty n Alder.  We’d originally planned to go to the downtown location for their Friday brunch, but the waiting list was so long they weren’t even taking more names (hence how we ended up at Clyde Common).  The next day we managed to pull ourselves together a bit earlier to head out to Tasty n Sons, and it was worth the wait.  Like most things in Portland the brunches don’t like to conform to societal norms, and Tasty n Sons definitely doesn’t play by the rules.  While we waited, we ordered some non-traditional bloodies (mine was made with tequila) and once seated at the bar, proceeded to drool over the very unbrunch-like brunch menu.  We settled on sharing a Malaysian curry noodle soup and a Burmese pork stew with eggs two ways, though it was a struggle to pass up the Shakshuka, or anything else on the menu for that matter.

IMG_0139View from the Tasty n Sons bar at Saturday brunch. 

Jam on Hawthorne
Because there are only so many days in a weekend and so many dollars in my wallet, I didn’t get to try Jam myself; but this southeast Portland restaurant touts some of the best breakfast in the whole city and is one of Daicia’s favorites.  One glance at their menu and there’s no question why; the dishes are decadent and their ingredients are as Portland as they come–locally sourced, organic, free-range, hormone-free, house-made. They don’t call it “brunch” but their breakfasts are served until 3pm.

Mother’s Bistro and Bar
Another of Daicia’s favorites.  “At Mother’s, we take traditional homemade favorites and refine them with classical cooking techniques.”  Traditional is definitely the name of the game here, but always with a gourmet twist; a breakfast scramble with prosciutto, basil, and provolone cheese, hash with wild salmon and leeks, challah french toast…I think you get the idea.  Again, not a true “brunch” place, but at 2:30pm the breakfast items are replaced with a whole new slew of drool-worthy lunch plates.

Portland brunch selfieWith my partner-in-brunch, Daicia (pronounced: day-sha).

Besaw’s
Grass-fed beef isn’t always easy to come by in the US, but Besaw’s has got you covered. So order that burger without guilt, or go a little wild with the ground buffalo burger complete with Sriracha aioli on a sourdough bun.  They’ve got the vegetarians taken care of too, of course–black bean patties are available as a substitution.  Most of the other items are pretty traditional, but any pretense of “boring” this may lend Besaw’s is erased by their delightful list of specialty cocktails.

Screen Door
More than one Portlander I spoke to (all of them, methinks) sang the praises of Screen Door, a restaurant that has brought traditional southern cooking to the Pacific Northwest.  The reception has been a warm one to say the least.  The fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, grits, po-boy sandwiches, cajun scrambles, benedicts, and waffles keep people coming back, if not a little heavier each time. Saturday and Sunday brunch is served until 2:30pm. Don’t forget your extra napkins.

Even if brunch isn’t your ideal way to spend an afternoon, Portland’s restaurant scene is sure to have something to suit your fancy.  The famous Stumptown Coffee isn’t half bad either if you’re in need an after-brunch energy boost.

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Lastly, I have to give an honorable mention to the 500+ food carts the city has, organized into “pods” that sometimes take up an entire city block.  The food isn’t necessarily cheap like one might expect from street fare, but the options are endless and it’s a great way to grab a delicious meal on the go.

Portland_food_cartAlder pod, downtown Portland.

What’s your favorite Portland brunchery?

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Emails from Abroad #16: Holidays in the Southern Hemisphere

The final travel email before finally starting The Mochilera Diaries.  Maybe meeting the lovely Alex from Alex in Wanderland was the final push I needed!  Written from Cusco, Peru, December 15th, 2013.

“I knew you were all dying to know what I’ve been up to between Halloween and my arrival back in Cusco so here’s the follow-up email I promised.

“After Halloween, the group I’d been traveling with on and off since we met in Quito (a guy from England traveling solo, a pair of sisters also from England, a Dutch girl and an Israeli girl) parted ways.  I still had things to explore in Peru, and they were heading for greener pastures (quite figuratively) in Bolivia.  Well, my friend Matt stayed with me through one more city–my next stop, Puno.

“Puno sits on the northern shore of Lake Titicaca, “The World’s Highest Navigable Lake” (weird title) at 3,830 meters (12,556 ft).  Lake Titicaca is the cultural gem of this region of Peru with several indigenous groups populating the islands (and building some!) on the lake.  Puno itself is nothing to write home about, but having taken the advice of another friend, we planned our arrival to coincide with Puno’s anniversary celebrations, a 3-day festival jam-packed with parades, religious ceremonies, music and dancing in the streets at all hours of the day and night.  This time around, Matt was the one with a limited schedule; he had a huge list of things to see in Bolivia and about 3 weeks to do it, so Puno didn’t merit more than a few days in his mind (or mine for that matter–probably less had we not been there during the festival).

“We booked a day tour to a few of the islands, the first being one of the many floating islands of the Uros people.  This was one of the more fascinating things I’ve seen in Latin America.  The Uros are a pre-Incan people who build islands using the roots and stems of totora, a reed that grows abundantly in the lake (which is also edible and less-than-delicious).  They have to add fresh layers of reeds every week and their islands can last for nearly two decades.  After some traditional songs, a demonstration of how the islands are built and a ride in a huge reed boat (for a gringo fee of 10 soles per person), we headed to the island of Taquile.  This is a much larger island with a population of just over 2000; here, the men and women wear garments that indicate their marital status.  The details of the women’s attire is escaping me at the moment, something to do with the size of the fluffy balls that dangled from their hoods.  The men wore knitted hats, either of one single color (married) or two colors (single).  The men exclusively do the knitting, and a poorly knitted hat could mean a man will never be considered eligible for marriage.  They also employed an interesting system of finding a compatible mate…a man and woman will co-habitate for a trial period of 3 years…if they come out of this period and are still happy, they marry.  If not, they separate and look for a better match (pretty logical, eh?).  Oh, and of course they are obligated to marry if a child results from this trial period, as is many times the case.  Ha.

“After Puno, I was left on my own to head to my next destination, the colonial city of Arequipa.  A bit south of Puno and further west toward the coastal desert, Arequipa is blessed with gorgeous sunny weather most of the year.  This was a very welcome change from the high altitude cold of all my previous locations and a bit of a trap for me.  I ended up spending a week and a half in this beautiful city.  I made some immediate friends in our shared cab from the bus terminal and spent much of my time with them, two lovely girls from New York, Zoe and Alex.  We celebrated Alex’s birthday at an up-scale Peruvian restaurant called Zig Zag where I tried the most delicious alpaca steak and drank a cocktail from an ostrich egg.  I don’t splurge often so it was fun to indulge for a special occasion.

“One of the main draws for tourists to Arequipa is its proximity to the Colca Canyon, a truly breathtaking place.  Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and home to a large population of condors, it’s a popular hiking destination.  Alex happens to be a travel blogger and she has very wittily and eloquently chronicled our hilarious and haphazard trip into this unassumingly harsh environment, so if you’re NOT sick of reading yet, follow these links for more details about our adventure or even just to look at her lovely photography (I’m featured in a few).

The Colca Canyon: A Comedy of Hangovers

A Comedy of Hangovers: The Colca Canyon Part II

“I parted once again with my new friends–Zoe flew back to her new job in New York (designing book covers for Penguin books…why didn’t I go to art school??) and Alex bussed back through the mountains to meet her Danish giant of a boyfriend in Cusco–but we promised to meet again a few weeks down the road.  So far, Arequipa has been the southernmost point I’ve reached on this continent.  I was actually only 6 hours from the border of Chile, which is NOTHING in South America time.  But, I headed back north to the REAL desert of Peru to have a go at sandboarding.  The hostel I stayed in is located on a tiny little oasis called Huacachina.  It’s a literal oasis…surrounded by palm trees and towering sand dunes…a very surreal experience.  The day I was supposed to hop in the dune buggy and zip down the dunes face-first on a slab of wood, I woke up feeling miserably ill for pretty much the first time since I’ve been traveling.  Determined not to miss out, I guzzled water all day and lounged (fell asleep) by the pool (= sick + sunburnt) and managed to drag myself along with the group.  I’m so glad I did- this was absolutely one of the best things I have ever done.  I laughed, I cried, I ate sand, I weed myself a little.  Amazing experience.

“Still feeling a little ragged, I was excited to have some quality time to recuperate in my next destination where I would volunteer at a hostel for a little more than two weeks.  Paracas (or more accurately, El Chaco…Paracas is the name of the region) is on the Pacific coast, 4 hours south of Lima.  I had contacted the hostel beforehand through a workaway site I joined before my trip and agreed to stay on staff for the minimum time of 2 weeks, with flexibility to stay longer.  The hostel itself was gorgeous…covered in colorful and sometimes provocative artwork and right on the beach.  In exchange for working 5 shifts per week in the bar, I got free accomodation 7 nights a week, a 40% discount on food and drinks and some free drinks on my shift days.  It was fun learning some new things, including how to make two of Peru’s most famous cocktails (pisco sour and chilcano) and nice to save a bit of cash for a change.  I made some amazing friends in my 2+ weeks in Paracas, learned how to slackline, and got a tan.  I even got to see Alex again when she passed through with her man and some of his friends…it is ALWAYS nice to see a familiar face.

“Leaving Paracas was bittersweet as the hostel had come to feel like a home and a family, but El Chaco is absolutely miniscule and city girl here started craving the excitement and energy of something a bit larger.  Cue: my return to Lima.  This time I actually had the opportunity to get a feel for the enormous city, and as a cherry on top, my friend Katie from my travels in Colombia had FINALLY broken free of the amorous grip of the Colombian salsa instructor “boyfriend” she’d acquired in Quito, Ecuador, and had made it to Peru.  We explored the city together and at times had the extra assistance of her couchsurfing host and felt accomplished at the end of the weekend.

“One horrendously long, sleepless bus ride and a couple B-grade movies later (couldn’t justify springing for a flight this time) and I’m back in Cusco.  I’m currently taking 10 hours of one-on-one Spanish classes per week and patiently awaiting the arrival of some friends to ring in the new year, and loving being rooted in one spot for awhile.

“Ok I really think I’ve covered it all now.  The tentative “plan” for after the new year is to head through Bolivia and northern Argentina to arrive in Buenos Aires around the end of February.  That will probably change, but for now it’s my best guess.  ¡Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo a todos!”

DSC04142 Halloween in Cusco with my travel crew! 
IMG_6385 Puno Day celebrations.
DSC04175The floating islands of the Uros on Lake Titicaca.
DSC04212 With Alex and Zoe in Arequipa!
DSC04237Beautiful Arequipa.
DSC04248Hiking the Colca Canyon without a guide.
IMG_6721The Huacachina oasis.
IMG_6744Dune buggying and sandboarding in Huacachina!
IMG_6862Hostel Kokopelli in Paracas. 
IMG_6848_3“Working” in Paracas.
DSC04328Reunited with Alex for a spin around the Paracas National Reserve.
DSC04380Reunited with Katie in Lima!
IMG_6968Aaand finally back to Cusco for Christmas and New Year’s Eve!
Posted in Emails from Abroad, South America | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Portland At A Glance

Greetings from Portland, Oregon!

I’m loving my time here so far–the weather is absolutely perfect and my friend Daicia is the most gracious hostess I could ask for.

Here are some fun things I’ve learned about the city so far:

The Willamette River separates Portland into east and west, and there’s a bit of a cultural rift between the two sides.

There are 12 major bridges that span the river, which make getting where you want to go a cinch.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening, a Portland native, drew inspiration for character names from the streets of the Alphabet District (where I’m currently staying); notably Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Mayor Quimby, Milhouse Van Houten, and C. Montgomery Burns[ide].

Portland loves brunch!  And so do we.

We love nightlife!  Portland…not so much.

There’s an abundance of…uhh…very interesting sculptures around town.

Driving around here feels like an obstacle course–pedestrians, bicyclists, unexpected one-ways–and parking is damn near impossible.

It’s already very clear to me I could never live here.  Just one of those things you know, ya know?

IMG_0129 IMG_0127 IMG_0128More to come soon!  Have you been to Portland?  Would you call this city home?

 

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Month in Review: July 2014

Things are about to get a little more intimate around here.  Starting NOW I’ll be doing roundup-style posts at the end of each month, highlighting some of the things going on in my life aside from all the travel-related stuff.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

In July of 2014…

  • I discovered a lot of people still don’t know what mochilera means.  Mochilera is Spanish for backpacker.  So essentially, my blog name is The Backpacker Diaries…but I prefer the Spanish flair.  The more you know.
  • My family spent our last 4th of July ever at Hood Canal, and said goodbye to an amazing house full of memories.
  • I got to spend a beautiful day with my friend Megan, the talent behind the lens at Megan Kathleen Photography.  You’ll see her work around here sooner than later…in the meantime, you can check out some of her stunning photography (and give her a “like”) on her facebook page.
  • Raging wildfires, including the largest in Washington state’s history, consumed hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and completely wiped out several small orchard towns in central Washington.  Dry heat, lightning storms and strong winds caused thousands to lose pretty much everything they had (homes, businesses, entire orchards, farms, or herds of livestock) but it makes me proud to see our communities rallying to support them, and even prouder that my wildland firefighter brother has been on the front lines helping to get these fires under control.
  • My mom and I put on our first ever yard sale to lighten our material burden and make a little cash (for travel!).  There’s a lot I would do differently next time, but I still consider it a huge success.
  • I bought flights!  Lots of them!  I’ve already mentioned my plans to travel the USA, but I’m now officially leaving the country September 10th.  Stay tuned for details!
  • We said goodbye to an amazing furry friend, our awesome 15-year-old cat Barney.  I’ve never been so devastated by the loss of an animal.  Time heals all wounds…right?
  • I finally took the plunge…and bought an iPhone!  Let the app downloading insanity begin…
  • I won a set of 50 prints from Printic, an app that lets you create beautiful polaroid-style prints from your iOS photos or Dropbox files, care of the fun-loving duo Esther and Jacob of the blog by the same name.  They love travel and their site is loaded with beautiful photography–and every now and again they give away awesome stuff!  Check ’em out!
  • Finally, I’ve been planning lots of big changes for The Mochilera Diaries, and I can’t wait to share them with you!  Except I have to wait just a teensy bit longer, but it’ll all be worth it!JulyCollage

Onward and upward…bring on August!

 

Posted in Musings, Roundups | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cusco, Peru: A Foodie’s Paradise

IMG_7097

Peru is well-known for having some of the best food in all of South America, and the high-altitude city of Cusco is no exception.

The city is overflowing with superb dining options, and it’s certainly not limited to traditional Peruvian cuisine.

Don’t get me wrong–Peruvian food is outstanding–but for a food-lover like myself, variety is key.

With so many of my friends and acquaintances heading to Peru in the near future I thought it was time to compile a list of my favorite Cusco eateries, so here you have it.  

¡Buen provecho!

The San Pedro Market – Wide variety of cheap street food.  Sandwiches, fried goods, fresh produce; you name it, they’ve got it.

Juanito’s – This place serves up some insane sandwiches and burgers with unique toppings, a huge selection of condiments, and affordable prices.  Great lunch spot.

Greens Organic – All organic and super-fresh.  Great vegetarian options and good coffee.  Perfect for breakfast or lunch.

Korma Sutra – For the curry lovers, this is the best Indian restaurant in Cusco.

Bodega 138 – Awesome pizza with interesting topping combinations.  Wide selection of craft beers to choose from to wash it down.

Nuna Raymi – Upscale Peruvian cuisine.  This place served up THE best lomo saltado I tasted in my three months in Peru.

UCHU Peruvian Steakhouse – Second-best dining experience of my stay in Cusco.  Incredible steaks cooked to perfection, and an intimate setting.

Marcelo Batata – If you take only one recommendation from my list, make it Marcelo Batata.  Their specialty is char-broiled alpaca steaks in a sauce of your choice; I opted for the Frutito del Aguaymanto & Chicken and had my freakin’ mind blown.  The best part?  It’s not an outrageous splurge.  It has a lively atmosphere and is always packed, so make a reservation–you won’t be sorry.

Where do you like to grub in Cusco, Peru?

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