Today, I ate all my snails at breakfast.

Normally, I might have balked at the idea: a few dozen tiny, round, green-gray bodies floating in a bowl of murky broth, partly hidden by a thick layer of cooked greens. But today, at this table, with this Korean drumming troupe, I ate every single one. I finished the last of the broth with an exaggerated slurp to show I’d enjoyed it, which is what you do when you don’t know how to say you did.

I’ve eaten everything offered to me since I arrived three days ago at the Nanumteo farm in South Korea: countless bowls of chicken, stuffed with dates and rice and garlic, and boiled in a ginseng broth; pork hooves; and dried squid in sweet sauce. I’ve eaten, of course, because I’m hungry, and when you’re in a place where you can’t communicate, you eat when and what you’re given. But I’ve also eaten because I’m deeply, profoundly grateful to have a place at the table.

I’m here because in 1971 a British secretary named Sue Coppard thought it would be nice to get a group of people together to visit organic farms on the weekends.

Because the group she founded became the sprawling grassroots organization called Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming, or WWOOF.

And because a WWOOF branch was founded in South Korea in 1997.

Continued on Student Reporter: http://studentreporter.org/2014/09/wwoof-korea-a-bridge-of-the-agricultural-past-and-urban-modernity/

Space. Food.

Here on planet Earth, it was another bountiful day. On billions of acres of farm and forest, trillions of plants went about their humble business of turning sunlight into food, and food into….more food. Taproots stretched in earthy soil, stalks sprouted determined from the ground, leaves broadened, fruits swelled. Billions of times. On planet Earth. Today.

Not so on the red planet. On the surface of Mars — well, I won’t pretend to be an expert here but — we can safely imagine that gases swirled and time sprawled out immemorial. As far as we know, not a single ray of sunlight was turned into chlorophyll and not a single drop of chlorophyll was turned into roots, stalks, leaves, or fruits. Not a single cow grazed and not a single chicken hatched.


Not a problem, you might say, because lucky for us it was another bountiful day on planet Earth. Chances are good that the startling lack of food on our great neighbor planet didn’t even cross your mind today. Unless, of course, you are one of the fortunate few planning the first manned mission to Mars. Then, you have probably been thinking about it a lot.

Today researchers ended a mock space mission, in which they spent several months isolated in a space dome on the big island of Hawaii. Their goal: subsist on freeze-dried, pre-packaged, and shelf-stable for 118 days, creating recipes, tracking moods, and monitoring health status. Because somehow, with all we know, we don’t know what happens to us when we go months without fresh food, let alone years. We’ve never had to know.

Explorers of the New Age will not be able to set forth with a pocket full of seeds or a hunting spear, like those past. They will need to gather their ingenuity, spices, and Spam if they hope to survive. For the first time, we need to figure out what will happen to those who leave Earth’s bounty in the rearview mirror. What an exciting and terrifying proposition.

You can read more at: http://news.discovery.com/space/mars-food-scientists-end-mock-space-mission-130814.htm or by using the incredible powers of Google.

Paradise & the places that scare you

Travel is scary, dredging up from deep within us an exhilarating fear. Fear of the unknown, the unexplored, the not-yet- understood. And that is precisely what makes it so enticing. Terri de Roche, the force behind the Fearful Adventurer, just came out with a new book and to celebrate it she is challenging her readers to write a blog post about their own fearful adventures. Here’s but one of mine:

I am on a nearly deserted island in southern Thailand. I am standing at the edge of a mangrove forest and I am terrified. Twenty yards up the sandbar I can easily spot our beached kayaks and twenty yards ahead I can see the waiting posture of my friend and guide, who has ducked seamlessly into the wall of mangrove skirting the island. My fear fills the chasm between us, a short section of deep ocean which taunts me. My breath shortens, its return to a natural rhythm in no way aided by the snorkel valve snugly flanking my face. The waves have picked up unexpectedly and they break at the tree line. “Maybe I’ll stay here”, I shout, almost succumbing to my senseless phobia. But Tom can’t hear me. He waits.

By all accounts, this is paradise. And the opportunity to snorkel through a mangrove forest? Something I have only imagined might someday come true. Here it is — and I want to turn around, because of an irrational fear of deep water. This moment becomes one like so many others I encounter while traveling. My hand is forced and I have to face my fears head on. Conquering those fears of all shapes and sizes, and proving triumphant, is a rush that drives me on, seeking the next and the next.

African savannah? Check. Western highlands of Guatemala? Check. Learning to navigate in places where language proves impossible? Check. Learning that foreign countries are generally not the harbors of crime and fear they are portrayed as in America? Check.

Somehow, I can’t seem to stay out of the places that scare me. I don’t know what the next fear I set out to conquer will be, but I’m sure it won’t be long before it makes itself known. And if history is an indicator, it will hopefully be in paradise.

Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

"Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow." Australian Associated Press

"… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams." Nomadicmatt.com

"In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction." Courier Mail

Find out more…

The Long Road Home

Like so many others, begins with a single step. A single, sandy step.

The azure waters hugging Ko Tao lie behind me now; longtail boats with red umbrellas float lazily in the shallows at my back. Tiny grains of sand are crushed against my skin, woven inextricably in my hair. Twelve thousand miles and six days from home, I begin the sweeping arc of return.

The first stretch is made on foot, pack laden on my back — by now a weight of second nature. For the rest, we will rely on unseen, pre-carved pathways. Taxis and boats, buses and planes: an almost impossible testament to our global connection. And ingenuity.

Day 1, 3:00 pm: Endless Ocean

Leaning against the outside wall of Raung Rang IX’s VIP cabin, my legs dangle over the endless sea. Water stretches to the edges of a clearly flat Earth, where it tumbles over the edge in a horizon-wide cascade. Occasionally a silver fish leaps from the frothy waters of our wake and once a flock of diving birds appears at our flank, diving for dinner. But mostly, it is just us. Us and water and sky. It is a moment I could rest in for a long time.

Day 2, 3:37 am: Cities Never Sleep

“Last stop, Bangkok,” our driver announces to the crowded bus, before disappearing outside to unload luggage on a dark and mostly deserted sidewalk. 3:37 am and we are tumbled unceremoniously onto an anonymous roadside, still rubbing the sleep from our eyes. Lucky for us, Khoa San Road is gracefully nearby and it never sleeps. At 3:30 in the morning, it’s just starting to look a little worse for the wear. Drunk tourists and their conquests stumble toward hotel rooms — and we do the same, hoping to find one willing to let us check in at 4:00 am. Miracle of miracles, we do, after an hour of wandering and looking and waiting. Twenty four final hours to party like it’s… Bangkok.

Day 4, 1:15 pm: Sightseeing in Santa Monica

The sands of Santa Monica beckon our travel-weary bones, providing promised solace from the airports and climate-controlled cabins of our many days. When we touch down at LAX, I am still in travel mode — finding first a map, then the $1 bus route to the coast, and we are on our way. The sun is lightly toasting the earth and air of southern CA, nothing like the ardent boil of South East Asia. People pock the long beach next to the Santa Monica pier with picnics and sand pails — or like us, with nothing at all. We lay fully-clothed and face-down in the sand, crashing into a grateful beach-side sleep.

Our days of movement are filled with moments like these, an ever-changing set of circumstances drawing us closer to home. And then, finally and suddenly, there it is.

Day 6, 7:48 pm: There’s No Place Like Home

The Greyhound pulls into Syracuse as the sun is setting over Onondaga Lake and Alliance Bank stadium — so casually familiar. I stoop to pull Lug Bug from the side of the bus and throw it over my back. I walk outside and scan the sidewalk for a place to wait. Then a familiar shout and there they are: the people who will always be waiting, who I will always wait for – to embrace upon return. I could have traveled for weeks or months, or clicked my heels three times, there is no mistaking where I’ve ended up.

And one for Singapore

As far as I can tell, Singapore seems fabled in the American lexicon for one thing, and one thing only: illegal chewing gum. I remember so clearly learning about this in elementary school and thinking, among a few other places, that this was about as far outside my world as I could imagine. A place where the government decides everything, even the availability of chewing gum! In Singapore, I thought, everything must be so clean, so precise.

And so, I stepped off the plane from Hanoi into what is routinely voted the world’s best airport and had a look for myself. First stop customs: on the counter was one basket of candies, for while you wait of course, and a tiny receptacle, for ‘candy wrappers only’. Where was I? The bathrooms had touch screens with surveys for you to rate your experience. Walking to the ground floor, we hopped on the spotless MRT subway system, and with the help of our free city map, easily found our stop three lines over. Then it was onto the street, where there was not a single piece of litter and everyone used the crosswalk. And so it was, the fabled land.

As one of the richest nations in the world, the city-state-country of Singapore rests far outside our meager traveler’s budget, making it a place that had to be seen but not one for lingering. Two nights and a day for Singapore. True to character, we spent most of our time at the city’s free, sprawling botanical gardens.

We just hopped off the MRT at the stop labeled Botanic Garden and turned right into a stunning expanse of greenery; every part of this sentence unimaginable in our last six weeks of travel. With flashy tourist attractions like the island-dwelling Universal Studios, the “world’s first angry birds cable car experience”, and many other self-proclaimed biggest and brightest and firsts, it would be easy (and confusing) to blow a week’s Malaysian travel budget on a single day in Singapore. Luckily, we are suckers for flora; wandering instead for hours in a lush urban landscape.

Throw in lunch in Little India, dinner at the People’s Park Complex of Chinatown (great for a $3 backpacker’s feast), and an unexpected visit to an MRT-attached shopping mall which boasted $15,000 furniture and $200 steak dinners for two, and we found our way through one day in Singapore:










A day in Hanoi

I’m not one for big cities, generally avoiding them at all costs in favor of greener pastures. The irony is that I can go anywhere in the world and tell people I am from New York — and they will know exactly where I mean. What they won’t know is that I’ve only been to that big city they picture once in my 26 years of living. Not a city girl. Mostly…

When planning our (too) limited time in Vietnam, we slotted only two nights, one full day, for the country’s capital city, Hanoi. At one thousand years old (!) and boasting a population of 6.6 million, this is a city without an identity crisis. It knows exactly what it does best: thrum with the activity and aspirations of six million.

One day to wander the streets of Hanoi. Here are some of its pieces:












La Lumiere

The streets of Hoi An bend gracefully toward and away from the river, its Old Quarter a maze of roads too small for cars. Motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians vie for space between faded French colonial buildings of an almost-uniform antique yellow. Dominated by tailor’s shops and restaurants, the quarter seems like the world capital of hand-made clothes — and lights. Strung from one side of the street to the next and bursting from tiny store fronts, recently crafted cloth-and-bamboo lanterns disrupt the evening’s cloak with gorgeous abundance.


When we arrive in Hoi An, we’ve been four days traveling, on at least as many modes of transport. We have bartered with a one-eyed boatman under a bridge, drawing numbers in the sand. We have braved a hail storm at the border with passports in hand, eaten bowl after bowl of pho in stolen moments between transport, and weathered the erosive forces of constant movement and the unknown.

Like usual, our lack of planning finds us at a bus station in Hoi An with nothing but the names of two potential hotels scrawled on a piece of scrap paper. We walk. It is forty-five minutes and four hotels later when we find a room off an alley, on an islet, looking out toward Old Town. Spilling out onto the main drag we find it closed to everyone but walkers. Yes!

Later, leaving Mark at dinner, I hurry out into the street to find a birthday candle for my travel companion. Miming “candle” to a street vendor turns out to be a skill more advanced than I could have imagined. Why, oh why did I never play charades? I get as far as incense. Not bad for body language and hell, I can light one on fire for a birthday wish. My vendor drives a hard, impossible bargain, not wanting to sell me only one stick of incense. Understandable, but I need a flame. Overhearing my dilemma, another vendor points me toward the street — ‘candle for the river, 10,000 VND’. Fifty cent candles by the river? Done. We head toward the water.


Then, unexpectedly, at precisely 8:30 pm, for a reason apparent to everyone but us, an air raid siren blares three times and all the lights go out along shore. Throngs of people fill the streets on both sides of the water, buying candles in paper baskets, and descending into wooden boats to set their flames afloat in the river. Thousands of birthday candles, wish candles, good-luck candles float in a stream toward the horizon.

It is Earth Hour, an international hour of darkness started by the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness for energy conservation. We find ourselves celebrating this moment in a city well-versed at honoring light amidst darkness. While the monthly Full Moon Festival is a practiced occasion, this night is packed, overwhelmed with the new and novel. We came for the Full Moon Festival but we arrived for Earth Hour.

Two nights later the Full Moon festival again dominates the night. Celebrated on the 14th day of each lunar cycle, all electricity is shut off, except for the lanterns forming a net of color overhead. Candle baskets beckon along the shore. In every store front, tables laden with offerings overflow with food, candles, and incense.