Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mexico's Eye Candy - food for the camera

I've been feeling very Mexico lately - no reason really.  I haven't been south of the border in ages and I have no plans to go in the near future. But I've been dreaming about it, so I decided to feature a few photos from Mexico for this week's Wanderfood Wednesday (and TravelPhoto Thursday, and Photo Friday!), to indulge my camera's appetite more than anything.  Enjoy some eye candy from Mexico!


Verduras Marinadas


Helados y Sorbetes

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Taste of Darjeeling

So, if you're like most people, you hear Darjeeling and you think tea. As well you should! Darjeeling is best known for the tea, and also known for the best tea. The finest tea, in fact, whose flavor is not replicated anywhere else in the world.

Darjeeling tea plants cover the slopes of this Himalayan region of West Bengal. I managed a glimpse of the tea pickers with my iphone from the car as we rounded a bend - as you can see the tea plants cling to the hillsides....so do the roads, and apparently, so do the tea pickers!

Here are the goods freshly picked:

Here is the tea being measured for prefect brewing:

And here are the cups poured for tasting:

A visit to a plantation factory in the region is probably not worth all the hype. You'd have to visit early in the morning to see the activity of sorting, and without a guide you'll have no clue what goes on in each of the machines. Fortunately for our guide, we did happen to catch a few workers loading a conveyor with fresh leaves for drying:

And that was just one load.....of many:

But tea isn't the only thing you'll find to taste in Darjeeling.  They also grow plenty of other good stuff, namely, spices (including saffron), nuts, and berries. 

These food vendors are perfectly situated along the long walk up the hill to get to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Darjeeling Zoo, well worth the effort even on the hottest of days.

Yes, those peanuts and berries were wonderfully familiar...and delicious! But what really got my attention was this roadside snack mix I saw being served up in rolled paper cones (like above), and being gobbled up by local kids on their walk home from school.

Basically, you get a scoop of this stuff, to which you can add an optional mix of fresh chopped onions, peppers and cilantro. Then, to seal the deal, fresh lime juice is squeezed all over it!  I couldn't tell you exactly what it was - kind of breakfast cereal flakes with the crunchy texture and flavor of corn chips.  But when you add the lime juice (a must!), and the fresh onion/cilantro mix (I know, I know, last thing you want to eat from a street vendor in India - but I didn't get sick, I promise!), you've got yourself a perfect taste of Mexico right in the heart of the Himalayas.  For this Californian, a taste of home was more than welcome, and such a delightful break from Indian. Only thing missing was guacamole!

So there you have a taste of what there is to taste in Darjeeling.  I can't stop thinking about this snack mix, it's delightfully addictive, and I'm craving it now! Almost to the point of begging anyone who might be headed to Darjeeling to bring me back a sack of it.  Or better yet, if anyone knows how those flakes are actually made and what goes into them, please share a recipe!

Had I been in front of rather than behind the camera that day, I might have looked something like this Himalayan Bear (as observed at the Darjeeling Zoo):

This post was prepared especially for sharing on Wanderfood Wednesday - be sure to follow the link to find other wanderful foodies and blogs about food!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Calcutta the Beautiful

When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It's all there. Open your eyes.
Children of Calcutta

Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn't help but notice the lush green surroundings - a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal.  I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box.  I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone....

...before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.

So this is Calcutta. Through the window....it looks like a beautiful dream.

While it's certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you'll barely scratch the surface.  And it's easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I've seen it happen, I've watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you'll adjust, and you'll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.

Once you've successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you're home free. You're no longer just a visitor.... you're a part of life....

The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the "must-see" of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa's Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for...

"The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." --- Mother Teresa
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told "please don't pick them up" was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding.  This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love - love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children - although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.

The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River.  I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities.  To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make - the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.

I'm not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell.  Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.

Now, what the video doesn't show, and the camera can't really capture, is the temperature. It's hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90's (and it's early).  As if the heat in itself weren't enough, it's humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can't walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there's your sense of touch put into words.

Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life.....oh, the life.  At times it was like walking through someone's hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses.  I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers - imagine, doing that for your living.  Working with flowers, nature's beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.

                                Calcutta Flower Market - Images by Kymri Wilt

As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious.  Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.

A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter's village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India...and the world.


So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India... with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open.  Namaste.

View more:

Calcutta Flower Market Gallery

 India Image Gallery

Favorite Guidebook for India

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Puerto Ricotecture

The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is a popular cruise destination with many national historic sites as well as interesting architecture of the capital Old San Juan, which I call "Puerto Ricotecture".

USA - Puerto Rico - Images by Kymri Wilt

What most cruisers don't realize is that the sites are quite accessible without boarding a large tour bus and elbowing your way amongst 50 other visitors struggling to get on and off and rush through according to a schedule.  Delightfully, San Juan is an easy place to stroll around on your own and visit sites in your own time.