Video: How To Cook A Sheep’s Head

One of the great pleasures of travel is the food. Of course, sometimes the food can be a bit strange. A new web series called “Africa on a Plate” takes you across the continent in search of unusual delicacies that aren’t so unusual in the local area. In the first episode, host Lentswe Bhengu shows us how they cook a sheep’s head in South Africa.

This video is part one of two. You can see the second half of this episode here, where Lentswe samples some home brew and eats a sheep’s head.

I must admit I was a bit put off at first, but as this episode progressed I could almost smell the rich meat being cooked to perfection. With a bit of seasoning I could eat this. Well, maybe not the eyes, but certainly the tongue and cheek.

For more “Africa on a Plate,” check out their YouTube Channel. They’re a brand new startup asking for funds on their Indiegogo site. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Best of luck to you guys!

This isn’t your usual how to cook show. Sit back and enjoy!

Heifer International: Working To End World Hunger, One Llama At A Time

Got an extra $20 burning a hole in your pocket and want to make a difference in the lives of others? Buy a flock of ducks. Eighty-five dollars will get you a camel share, while a mere $48 purchases a share in a “Knitter’s Gift Basket (a llama, alpaca, sheep and angora rabbit).”

Since 1944, Heifer International has provided livestock, and animal husbandry, agricultural and community development training to over 125 countries, including the U.S. The goal: to help end world hunger and poverty by improving breeding stock, providing valuable dietary supplements such as milk and eggs, and creating viable business enterprises for commodity products such as cheese, wool, honey, or crops cultivated by draft animals like horses and water buffalo.

The livestock species used to support disenfranchised communities are diverse, but traditional to their respective regions. They include goats, sheep, honeybees, beef and dairy cattle, water buffalo, yaks, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, camels, rabbits, guinea pigs and poultry.

When I was a kid growing up on a small ranch in Southern California, we used to donate our male dairy goat kids (which, if sold here, would most likely be relegated to dinner) to Heifer. Although the program no longer ships live animals overseas (it’s easier and safer/more humane to ship frozen semen), the concept remains the same: using top bloodlines to improve the quality and enhance the genetic diversity of herds or flocks in impoverished regions.

Heifer teaches the concept of the “Seven M’s: Milk, Manure, Meat, Material, Money, Motivation and Muscle.” These are the benefits livestock animals provide to people in developing nations. With the training provided by Heifer employees and volunteers, the cycle of poverty can be broken, and families and villages can thrive. During the holidays or for birthdays, I like to make animal gift donations in the name of the recipient, an especially valuable lesson for children (who, let’s face it, really don’t need another electronic piece of crap to foster their ADD and lack of global awareness).

Never doubt the power of a furry friend to change the world. To make a donation, click here.

Check out this Heifer International gallery of animals and their proud owners from around the world:


Hiking and politics in the Basque region’s Grand Canyon

“The Basques have the oldest history in Europe,” says Dr. Alberto Santana, historian and co-founder of Aunia, a Basque cultural magazine. “We have been here since the Stone Age and have the most distinct language in the world. There are some 6,000 languages in 12 language families. Basque is in a family by itself.”

The Basque language, Euskara, is the heart of Basque identity, he tells our hiking group. In Euskadi a Basque is a Euskaldunak (“one who owns the Basque language”) and the Basque region is Euskal Herria (“the land of those who speak Basque”). Yet only 28% of Basques can actually speak it. At a corner shop in Orduña, where we’re staying as we tour Spain’s Basque region, I only find books in Spanish, including a cookbook on Basque cuisine.

The Basques straddle the border of Spain and France, an independent people who have never had independence. Santana’s statement that they can trace their heritage back to the Stone Age isn’t nationalistic chest thumping; it’s the prevailing opinion among archaeologists and linguists. The theory is borne out by the language itself. For example, the word for “knife” is aizto, which translates literally as “stone that cuts”.

%Gallery-124109%While they may still talk about stone tools, the source of Basque wealth was iron. Basque foundries fueled the Spanish Empire. Basques were Spain’s great shipbuilders too.

He goes on to list several important Basques. Two names stick out. Juan Sebastián Elcano captained Magellan’s ship after the famous explorer was killed in the Philippines. It was Elcano, not Magellan, who circumnavigated the globe. The South American leader Simón de Bolívar came from a Basque family. Dr. Santana then talks about the sufferings of the Basque people during the Spanish Civil War, especially the infamous bombing of Guernica, leveled by the Luftwaffe. The slaughter was immortalized in Picasso’s famous painting.

“What about ETA?” a man in the audience asks after Dr. Santana finishes his lecture.

ETA is a terrorist group fighting for Basque independence. Formed in 1959, they’ve killed more than 800 people. People like Diego Armando Estacio and Carlos Alonso Palate, two Ecuadorians killed when ETA set off a bomb at Madrid’s Barajas airport in 2006. Talking about Basque history without mentioning ETA is like talking about Irish history without mentioning the IRA.

Santana pauses for a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully before saying, “ETA is a radical and violent organization formed by students during the Franco dictatorship. At that time giving a lecture like this one was illegal. I would be arrested. Now ETA is nearing its end. It’s leaders are looking for a way to end it. You will probably see its end this year.”

Indeed, I’m hiking through the Basque region at a critical period in its history. Local elections are being held across Spain. In the Basque region Bildu, a separatist party, is the newcomer and potential game-changer. It was legalized only last month. Many Spaniards believe it has ties to ETA and much of the public is strongly against it being allowed to run. The courts decided to legalize it, perhaps in the hope that with political representation, Basque nationalists will turn their backs on ETA.

Today we’re hiking far away from politics, or so I think. We ascend a steep slope, passing flocks of long-haired sheep and stout horses grazing on rich grass. While Basque ports made their mark on world history with whaling and shipbuilding, most Basques made their living as farmers or herdsmen. It’s these towns and villages that preserved the Basque language and traditions, and it’s in the rural areas where you’ll hear the most Basque spoken today.

Besides a couple of hikers sharing a bottle of wine, we see nobody. After a further climb we’re treated to a stunning view of the Nervion Canyon, a sheer drop of 2,000 feet. The canyon widens out to the north, opening onto rolling cultivated fields and little villages of red-roofed houses.

We head south, where the walls of the canyon close in on each other, finally meeting. The sheer gray rock looks impossible to climb, but in the shade of one overhang a couple of hundred feet down we see a herd of goats sitting away from the sun’s glare. In the air we see Griffon Vultures wheel and dive.

These are the largest vultures in Europe and they favor these high pastures, hoping to feast on a dead sheep or goat. When we stop for a picnic, one member of our group stretches out for a rest on the grass some distance from us. The vultures circle lower and lower above him. They must realize he’s alive because they never land to pick at his flesh. He continues to enjoy his vacation and I miss out on a chance for Gadling’s Photo of the Year.

As we continue, we come to a pair of man-made walls about two miles long. They form a giant triangle, mirroring the natural triangle of the canyon, but instead of ending at a cliff, they end at a deep pit.

“This is a lobera,” our guide Josu explains. “When wolves were common here the people from all the villages would beat drums and pots to scare the wolves into this space. They’d fall into the pit and could then be killed.”

Wolves still roam the mountains not far from here. Like in the U.S., there’s an ongoing controversy between farmers, environmentalists, the government, and pretty much everyone else about how to handle the predators. Should they be protected? Farmers worry about their flocks. Should they be hunted? Hikers worry about people prowling the countryside with guns. Should they be kept away entirely? Environmentalists say this species needs to spread to survive.

Like with human politics, the politics of nature has no easy answers.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque region.

This trip was sponsored by Country Walkers. The views expressed in this series, however, are entirely my own.

Hiking the Yorkshire Moors

England is a wonderful place to hike. When the weather is fine the countryside is as beautiful as you’ll find anywhere, and it seems that every step is steeped in history. There’s variety too, from idyllic hikes along the Thames to challenging treks along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

One of the more unique places for hiking in England is the Yorkshire Moors. Moorland is found in uplands that have acidic soils. There aren’t many trees and most of the vegetation is grass or heather. When a river cuts through it, like in the photo above, you’ll find trees and a richer variety of plant life. The moors in Yorkshire are some of the biggest in England and in the summertime are purple with blooming heather. Sheep graze on the slopes and a wide variety of birds can be seen. Parts of it reminded me of the Scottish Highlands but with gentler terrain and no lochs.

The Brontë sisters were inspired by this brooding yet subtly beautiful landscape and many of their stories are set on the moors. Local historian and hiking guide Steven Wood led me and my group out onto the moors to visit some of the Brontë’s favorite spots. In fine English tradition it started pouring as soon as we left the hotel. Waterproof gear is essential on any English hike. Even if it’s beautifully sunny, bring it anyway just in case. You won’t be sorry because the weather can change quickly. While it can go from bad to worse, it can also go from terrible to lovely. That’s what you get for being on an island between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Within half an hour the weather had cleared and we were walking through open fields. Yorkshire has been cultivated since Neolithic times and while there’s no shortage of civilization, it’s quite easy to walk away from it and into land that looks as it did centuries ago.

%Gallery-104950%Our first stop was Top Withens, an isolated stone farmhouse that may have been the inspiration for the location of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Located on a highpoint surrounded by low, undulating hills covered in heather, it’s a spot that could certainly inspire a novel. You can see for miles in all directions, the dull browns and greens of the land matching the slate gray of the arching sky. While this abandoned farm has been a pilgrimage site for Brontë fans for a century, today we had it for ourselves. With no other people about, no animals, and the jet contrails hidden by lowering clouds, it felt like we were the only people in all of Yorkshire.

We then headed to a waterfall that the Brontë sisters liked to visit. At least it’s said to be the waterfall. Like a lot of “George Washington slept here” kind of spots, the waterfall’s reputation is based on a slim bit of fact (they mention frequent visits to a waterfall) and a lot of local lore and wishful thinking. The main thing is that it’s beautiful. A little stream, stained brown by the moor’s soil, rushes through a narrow valley thick with greenery. Another stream cascades over a nearby hill, making a sparkling little waterfall before joining it to flow on towards Haworth, where the Brontës lived. A natural stone seat has “C. Bronte” carved on it, along with the mysterious initials “DWW”. A nearby bridge has a plaque talking about how this was probably where the Brontë’s like to spend their spare time.

It’s all a bit iffy, but who cares? If it wasn’t for its reputation, I wouldn’t have whiled away an enjoyable half hour watching the water flow between the heather. People from all over the world come to see this stream, and if they want to believe this was the place the Brontës visited, that’s fine. It may even be true. The crowds of Japanese Brontë fans who come here seem to think so. The Brontës are huge in Japan, and so many Japanese travelers show up that the signs marking the routes are in Japanese as well as English!

There are many different hikes in the Yorkshire Moors. Some are easy day hikes like the one we did. Others are long-distance paths that take days and pass by the rugged coastline. The Walking and Hiking website has a good listing of routes to get you started. The Welcome to Yorkshire website has free downloadable maps of several popular routes. The Walking Englishman has an amusing description of the walk we did (including a photo of a sheep stealing his lunch) and a map of the route.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: Brimham Rocks: weird natural formations in Yorkshire

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

In the Corner of the World – The Bay of Plenty

Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.

I arrived in the Bay of Plenty fresh off several days relaxing in the Bay of Islands. Now, don’t be fooled. Not every place in New Zealand uses the naming device Bay of [noun]. It’s not a game of Mad Libs. The Bay of Plenty, however, is so named because Captain Cook was able to replenish his supplies when he arrived there in the latter half of the 18th Century. That’s how things worked back then. It is also why his previous stop which netted him virtually no provisions has been saddled with such a tourism unfriendly name: Poverty Bay. However, the Bay of Plenty’s name is still deserved today as it remains just as lush as ever and now boasts myriad activities for travelers who pass through.

I visited the two most popular destinations in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. They go hand-in-hand and provide a fantastic opportunity to experience the North Island’s breathtaking topography.


If you’re visiting the Bay of Plenty, you will find most of the accommodation options in Tauranga. It’s a backpackers haven not only because of all of the tourists passing through but because of the seasonal fruit-picking work that draws young Europeans looking to extend their time in New Zealand. The Bay of Plenty is a major kiwifruit-picking region, so seasonal labor pours into the area from April through the winter (and by winter, I mean Southern Hemisphere winter). I found myself a double en suite at the Harbouside City Backpackers on The Strand, Tauranga’s main waterfront street. I was a short walk from every bar, restaurant and activity that I could possible want to enjoy.

Having arrived in the late afternoon, I got myself settled as quickly as possible and made my way out into the Tauranga nightlife. Before arriving, I had made connections with a few locals through CouchSurfing, so I had some drinking companions. Chris, a British doctor completing his residency in the Bay of Plenty, was more than happy to join me for some pints at the Crown & Badger, where Boston native and CouchSurfer Alicia kept the Tui flowing. I had never met these people in person before, but, like all my experiences in New Zealand, I immediately felt comfortable and welcome. We wiled away the hours exploring The Strand, discussing the Kiwi’s horrendous aptitude for dancing and finding the bottom of many glasses.

The next morning, having enjoyed Tauranga’s less organic pleasures, I was eager to take advantage of my natural surroundings. There is plenty to do on the water in the Bay of Plenty and I was ready to get out there. Having heard that New Zealand provides some of the best opportunities to swim with dolphins, I made a booking with Dolphin Seafaris (and not just because I love a good pun).

Dolphin Seafaris’ staff is comprised almost entirely of marine biologists who have dedicated their professional lives to studying and protecting these amazing creatures. To go out on their boat is the adult equivalent of a school field trip (and I mean that in the most positive way possible). You’ll learn about the dolphin behavior and also have the opportunity to get into the water and swim with them assuming that the conditions allow. I was fortunate enough put my wetsuit to proper use and will never forget the experience of being mere inches away from our aquatic cousins. The dolphins frolicked around the boat and I truly enjoyed a shared experience with them.

Rather than return to Tauranga, I asked the captain to drop me off at the pier near Mount Maunganui. The Mount, as it is often called (or Mauao in Maori) is connected to Taurangua by a thin peninsula. It’s not so much a mountain as it is a 700+ foot extinct volcano that is noticeable from virtually anywhere in the Bay of Plenty.

I decided to hike up the 2km summit trail and see the view for myself. From the pier, it’s only a five minute walk to the Mount’s base. If you are looking for a more leisurely stroll, you can take advantage of the 3km walking path that loops around the base. Shortly into the summit walk, I realized that I was not alone. The Mount is home to sheep. Lots of sheep. New Zealand boasts a 10-1 sheep-to-person ratio, so this was not entirely unexpected. But, as a New Yorker, until I found myself alone on a hill within spitting distance of two-dozen sheep, I didn’t really know what that ratio would look like in person. Well, it looks like a lot of sheep poop on the trail.

It’s a rather easy walk up to the summit and the views along the way are magnificent. At the summit, I enjoyed a 360 degree view of the entire Bay of Plenty and lingered there to catch my breath and be alone with my thoughts.

I made my way back to the base and realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since I took advantage of the free breakfast on the dolphin boat. I headed into Mount Maunganui (which is also the name of the town – try to stay with me) and immediately made my way to Maunganui Road, which is a stretch of restaurants, shops and galleries. Not one to pass up local fish and chips, I enjoyed the largest pile of fried food I have ever consumed at the tiny but excellent Mount Fish & Chips. Wrapped in newspaper and fried to golden perfection, it was the freshest serving of fish and chips that I have ever tasted.

Satiated, I hopped on the Bay Hopper Bus for the short ride back over to Tauranga. I cleaned myself up and decided to take advantage of my proximity to the bars yet again. Chris was nice enough to join me for another night on the town, and we enjoyed a few pints while watching the India-New Zealand cricket match that was being played down in Wellington. It was during this night out that I found myself comforted by a wonderful realization. I was an American who had learned cricket in India sitting in a bar in New Zealand watching a match with a Brit and it all felt normal. Maybe it was the euphoria from my fulfilling afternoon adventures or just the alcohol, but I felt like I was belonged there.

That’s the wonderful thing about traveling. You get back what you put into it. And if you share yourself with New Zealand, it will offer plenty in return. Just like Captain Cook discovered over two centuries ago.

View Mike’s Bay of Plenty photo gallery. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.