Book Review: ‘The Food Traveler’s Handbook’

Full disclosure: I know Jodi Ettenberg, author of “The Food Traveler’s Handbook.” I’ve eaten with Jodi and explored cities with her; she’s even inspected the spices in my Istanbul sublet apartment. Rather than let my friendship with her just guarantee a great review of her book, I will use it to vouch for the fact that she’s the perfect person to write a food guide for travelers: intrepid, resourceful, curious and (of course) always hungry.

On the road full time since 2008, Jodi has explored the world through food on her blog Legal Nomads. To keep costs down and her palate happy, Jodi strives to eat as locally as possible, chasing down the best street eats, cab driver hangouts and mom-and-pop restaurants. With this handbook, she shares her tips and resources for eating well, cheaply, and safely anywhere in the world. The guide is peppered (pardon the pun) with anecdotes from Jodi and other travelers (blogger Nicola Twilley recommends revisiting a market at different times of the day for different experiences), quirky facts (how about a 1742 recipe for ketchup that will keep for 20 years?!) and guidelines for local dining culture (you’ll keep getting your coffee refilled in Jordan until you learn the proper way to shake the cup and signal you’ve had enough). The book is infused with an enthusiasm and passion for food that’s contagious, and you may quickly find that planning a tour of the world through dumplings seems like a must.Jodi’s travel style may not be for everyone – some people crave familiarity and easy comfort, especially when traveling, and the prospect of eating a mysterious dish at a tiny food stall might be daunting. But for those looking to expand their horizons through food, connect with locals while traveling or just get a good meal without risking food poisoning, “The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is worth tucking into. Just be wary of reading it on an empty stomach, or you might find yourself, as I did, propelled out of bed at 8 a.m. with a strong craving for soup.

The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is available in paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. Additional books in the Traveler’s Handbooks series include guides for Career Breaks, Solo Travel, Luxury Travel and Volunteer Travel. Additional resources for food travelers can also be found on Jodi’s blog here.

[Photo credit: Jodi Ettenberg]

Saturday Is National Archaeology Day

This Saturday, October 20, has officially been declared National Archaeology Day here in the U.S. and to celebrate, the Archaeological Institute of America is hosting a number of events across the country. Additionally, the National Park Service is helping to promote the day as well, offering up opportunities to visit archaeological sites and even volunteer on a live dig.

Now in its second year, National Archaeology Day was founded to not only help raise awareness of the importance of archaeology but also to celebrate the thrill and excitement of discovery. To that end, the AIA, working in conjunction with local chapters and clubs, has come up with some fun, family-friendly activities that can help everyone get into the spirit of the celebration. There are literally dozens of events taking place across the U.S. (and some abroad!) that will give everyone the opportunity to learn what archaeology is all about. To find an event close to you, check out the NAD events page. You’ll find everything from film screenings, guided tours, lectures, simulated digs and much more.

Many U.S. national parks were created around important historical sites, making them popular destinations for professional and amateur archaeologists alike. For those interested in gaining first hand experience and knowledge of what takes place on an archaeological dig, the Park Service has posted a list of volunteer opportunities within the system. Those opportunities include fieldwork with the Smithsonian Institute and the AIA, volunteer programs with the Forest Service and collaborations with various archaeology centers across the nation.

If you’re someone who is fascinated by the study of human history or would just like to know more about archaeology in general, than Saturday will definitely be a day for you. Judging from the various activities that will be taking place around the country, it should be a fun and fascinating day.

Celebrate 2012 National Public Lands Day With Free Entry To National Parks

Saturday is National Public Lands Day in the U.S. and to celebrate, the National Park Service is waiving entry fees to all of the parks. The day is set aside on an annual basis to not only recognize the value and importance of public lands but to organize opportunities to maintain and protect them as well.

During last year’s National Public Lands Day, more than 170,000 volunteers worked on 2067 sites spread out across every state in the country. They spent the day collecting over 23,000 pounds of invasive plants, building or maintaining 1500 miles of trails, removing 500 tons of trash and planting 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants. Their efforts helped to improve some of our favorite national parks and forests while protecting the environment and other natural resources. A similar number of volunteers are expected to turn out this Saturday as well, with opportunities in abundance once again. To find a work site near you, simply click here.

Even if you don’t plan on volunteering for the day, you can still enjoy free entry into the national parks. For a complete list of locations that will be completely free on Saturday, click here.

On a related note, the final fee-free days for the national parks in 2012 will be November 10-12 in celebration of Veterans Day.

One Good Use For Leftover Foreign Currency

When traveling abroad, I often find myself frantically running around the airport shops before my flight home, trying to spend the last of my spare foreign currency. Although I attempt to make smart purchase choices, I usually end up just grabbing cheap junk I’ll never look at again.

Fortunately, numerous airline carriers, like American Airlines, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, are partnering with UNICEF to take part in their Change For Good program. The project takes traveler’s spare change and uses it to help children in need.

According to Smithsonian’s The Constant Traveler, proceeds have gone to purchasing immunizations, birth registration and HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, helping earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan as well as drought sufferers in the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, airline staff is often deeply committed to the project, sometimes even visiting the communities where the funds are being put to use.

If you’re flying with an airline that doesn’t participate in the program, you can still mail in your spare foreign change. Click here for more information.

[Image via bradipo]

Human Hammocks And Howler Monkeys: Visiting Costa Rica’s Jaguar Rescue Center

“Why don’t they like me?” my travel companion huffed in frustration, abandoning what he had hoped would be a welcoming hand gesture toward a group of rehabilitated baby howler monkeys. Maybe they sensed our initial apprehension. After all, we had been nervous to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, given the world’s alarming amount of faux sanctuaries that operate more akin to zoos and tourist destinations, but many locals in Puerto Viejo, a small beach town in the southern Caribbean of Costa Rica, spoke highly of the experience in Playa Chiquita, telling of the daily free-range policies where the animals may decide for themselves if they are ready to leave.

So we rented bicycles in town: cruisers – the kind with large baskets and banana seats that position the rider as almost a parody of leisure (our uptight go-go city bikes would never forgive us for crossing over). Truth be told, the lazy cycling on stretched lanes along the Caribbean with backpacks snug in our front baskets seemed like perfection when compared with the pre-traumatic stress of avoiding car doors that so often invade Chicago’s bike lanes.
No – here things were different. Here, tranquility was the goal. Costa Rica sinks into the bloodstream like a rich dessert – best enjoyed slowly.

After a 20-minute ride down a sun-drenched road dotted with open-walled cafes, vegan restaurants and yoga schools, we rolled into the Jaguar Rescue Center for an 11:30 a.m. tour.Founded by Barcelona Primatologist Encar García and her herpetologist husband, Sandro Alviani, the rescue serves as an educational beacon along Costa Rica’s Caribbean edge. Jaguar strives to rehabilitate its residents with the end goal of releasing sloths, toucans, ocelots and howler monkeys back into the wild.

We joined the dozen or so in the small crowd and were immediately greeted by Encar, a serene and natural beauty whose eyes smiled and set in exhaustion on the horizon of her cherub cheekbones – a ringer for a young Jane Goodall on several counts.

Perched on her hand was a toucan whose beak had been mangled by a feral dog one year earlier. We were pleased to learn that the complicated operation of gluing its beak back together at the facility had allowed the strange bird to heal properly and once again enjoy a staple of fruits. Soon, Encar explained, it would leave the sanctuary like many before.

A guide directed us through an exhibit of venomous snakes and small tree frog habitats. The intimacy of the tour allowed its guests to share their own stories in between the cooing and chittering of happy travelers facing a sloth’s crooked smile.

We excitedly approached the baby howler monkey lodging, realizing for the first time that we were going to be allowed to touch them. But suddenly, our guide directed his attention to Encar who let out a surprised cry.

The tour followed, surrounding the sanctuary’s founder. She was calling to a wild adolescent howler monkey that had scurried in from the deep canopy. The animal recognized her and ran in for a full embrace, Encar holding it to her chest and crying. “This is a special moment,” she revealed to the crowd. “I have not seen her for a long time; we raised her and she left into the wild.”

The monkey who came back was Cuca, one of the original animals housed when the rescue center first opened. At the time she was a tiny baby, malnourished and ill. “We did everything we could,” the founder explained. “We were not sure if she was going to recover.”

She did recover, and three years later left the rescue center on her own accord. This return was touching (Encar later emailed that not long after, Cuca joined a wild troop and is now fully rehabilitated); it only further fueled our excitement to hold a howler ourselves. Our guide ushered us into the cage and we extended our arms and waited, but to no avail.

“Am I doing something wrong?” I asked in concern. The small faces could not answer beyond sharp chirps.

A volunteer leaned in with an insider’s tip: “They like it if you make a hammock shape with your arms.”

We folded them into cradles and before I could finish asking, “Like this?” four howler monkeys jumped into our arms, channeling a cartoon dust cloud of pushing and fighting, all vying for the ultimate comfort of resting one of their apple-sized heads in the palms of our hands. We smiled from ear to ear, happy to oblige as one winner wrapped its digits around our “pillows,” fluffing for comfort and allowing us to study the similarities of our fingernails.

It was peculiar to be so close to an animal whose more wild brethren stirred us from our cabinas each morning with a startling bellow. In time, perhaps these little heads would soon echo the chant throughout the canopy and only vaguely recall the time spent here at the rescue center.

The Jaguar Rescue Center offers tours ($15 per person) Monday through Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. They accept volunteers for a minimum commitment of three weeks. For more information visit

[First image courtesy of Jaguar Rescue Center; second by Robin Whitney]