After an eleven day splurge in Italy, we found ourselves crossing into the country that we’ve had our travel sights set on since we began planning this adventure over a year ago. Something about Slovenia has been drawing us in like a magnet, and now that we’re here, it’s quickly and unabashedly revealing itself to us. Our first stop, the capital city of Ljubljana is only a few hours drive from Venice, but it bears very little resemblance to that epic port city, and indeed the entire country of Slovenia takes on a completely different feel than it’s neighbor to the west. The first thing I noticed was the air. It’s got a quality to it that is crisp and delicious. And it smells good here. Then there’s the water. Slovenia is renowned for having some of the finest drinking water on the planet, and they know it. The government declared in 2016 that access to pure water is a sovereign right for all citizens and therefore has placed strong protections on maintaining pristine water throughout the nation. It is now written into the Slovenian constitution that water cannot be regarded as a market commodity, and that international corporations cannot exploit Slovenia’s water resources for commercial gain.
As our ongoing, open-ended journey continues, we slipped out of slow-travel mode for a spell to indulge in a quick little 11 day tour of northeastern Italy. For quite a while now, we’ve had our travel sights set on the southeastern region of Europe that lines the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, and we plan to explore that area thoroughly over the next 5 months. We were able to score a cheap airfare from Mexico to Milan, so it seemed a shame not to take in some of the splendor of Italy along the way.
After a quick look around Milan in the daze of jet lag, we spent 4 days in the medieval city of Verona, another 4 in the picturesque town of Malcesine on Lake Garda and then two nights in Venice. It took a few days to get over the sticker shock, as we were suddenly spending 3 times more per day than we were in Mexico for the same level of comfort. We probably could’ve scrimped hard and only spent double of what we were used to, but what fun would that be in a country like Italy, gushing with food and fun. Certainly we knew what we were getting into well ahead of our arrival, and we also know that we’re headed for more frugal times in Eastern Europe, so we designated Italy as a splurge destination. After all, if you’re not in it to enjoy, then why even bother to travel?
This past week, since we landed in Italy, has felt like a decompression period, allowing our bodies to recalibrate to the 7 hour time difference and giving our perspectives the space to adjust to cultural differences. Initially, I felt a tad melancholy leaving Mexico behind. Nation of chefs, artists, musicians and lovers. Land of eggs sold individually, free tortillas with every meal and snack vendors on every bus ride. A place where strangers greet strangers with “holas”, people refer to you as amigo whether they know you or not and the typical greeting is a hug (with a peck on the cheek if a woman is involved). Some adjectives that readily come to mind when thinking about the people of Mexico are carefree, tolerant and unobtrusive. Perhaps some foreigners may interpret those same traits as lazy, indifferent and unhelpful, but I would postulate that those folks haven’t taken the time or allowed themselves to slide below the surface a bit and get to know the true Mexican character.
After nearly 3 months of staying in Airbnbs and guesthouses, we shifted gears into the realm of Workaway. Workaway is a global network that connects hosts with workers through its website. Each host has their own set of guidelines and expectations for how their arrangements are set up, but the generally accepted parameters for a Workaway stint are that the worker puts in 5 hours of labor per day, 5 days a week in exchange for accommodations and food during their stay with the host, with no money exchanged. Workaway is similar to its predecessor, WWOOF, but where WWOOF is primarily focused on placing workers on organic farms and other sustainable agriculture projects, Workaway is much broader in it’s scope. A Workaway host may request a wide variety of tasks to be performed, from farming to construction to language teaching to child care to helping out in a hostel, and any number of other odd jobs.
This was our first Workaway experience of many to come. We have 3 lined up in Slovenia this summer, and we’re working on setting up a few more in Croatia and Montenegro. Besides being an ideal vehicle for sharing our skills and also picking up new skill sets, it’s an excellent way to extend our travels, as virtually all of our basic expenses are covered. And after 3 months of not working at all, it feels good to get our hands dirty again, not to mention the satisfaction of getting something productive done. A 25 hour work week with 2 days off gives us plenty of time to explore the area, which is why we choose Workaways in regions that are beautiful, interesting and ripe with exploration opportunities. And certainly Valle De Bravo fits that description perfectly.
As we wind down our last week in Mexico, I’d like to reflect on some of the incredible street food we experienced over the past 2 1/2 months. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to all street food in Mexico, as it would take years to explore all that this country has to offer. Rather, this is a greatest hits of some of the tasty treasures we discovered on our journey. Many travelers feel that it is risky to eat street food here, but I think it’s as safe or even safer than restaurant food as long as it’s hot and the cooking area is generally clean. On the street you have the advantage of seeing exactly what’s going on, whereas you have no idea what kind of sketchy shit might be happening in a closed restaurant kitchen. And a lot of the time I found that food on the street just tastes better than comparable dishes in a restaurant. Street food is also extremely affordable. For a frame of reference, one dollar was worth between 19 and 20 pesos during our time here.
Years ago, our dear friend, Carol Hewitt introduced us to the concept of ‘Slow Money‘… an ingenuitive alternative to conventional money lending from banks. ‘Slow Money’ is driven by private citizens who sponsor local projects, often in the realms of farming and food by providing loans to be paid off slowly over time with low interest rates. Indeed ‘Slow Money’ enabled us to purchase a walk-behind tractor which gave a huge boost to our farm business and especially our rice growing project at the time. And certainly ‘Slow Money’ played in beautifully with the ‘Slow Food’ nature of Edible Earthscapes. ‘Slow Food‘ blossomed into an international movement over 30 years ago as a counterpoint to the fast food industry’s increasing presence around the globe. ‘Slow Food’ as an organization, provides education and support for businesses like Edible Earthscapes in what is literally a food revolution to take back our food systems. It represents a return to a more traditional and certainly slowed down approach to producing, preparing and consuming food.
As Edible Earthscapes evolves from a farm/edible landscaping biz and into a 2 person, global traveling crew, we carry on with the values of ‘Slow Money’ and ‘Slow Food’, and embrace all things ‘Slow’. ‘Slow’, as we see it implies mindfulness within everything we do, and it turns travel into a deep, contemplative and fully conscious experience. In the past when we embarked upon lengthy travels, it was about covering as much ground as possible and squeezing as many sights and experiences as we could into any given country. This time around, our focus is on delving deep into each location we visit, cultivating relationships with the people we meet and absorbing the fine nuances of the cuisines and the cultures of each magical spot we happen upon…. Slow Travel.
Our short stay in Puebla was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this big, bustling city is full of color and creativity around almost every corner, and the cuisine here is some of the tastiest in the whole country. On the other hand, there is an undeniable accumulation of poverty and filth throughout the city, and at least for us, there was a large dollop of misinformation. Never in my life have I encountered so much false information in one place by so many different people in such a short period of time. None of these cases did us any real harm, and I doubt that any of these people had any ill intentions, but so many different folks all over the city fed us stories that soon after we got the information, we were able to confirm it as complete nonsense. Haruka and I now affectionately refer to Puebla as ‘The City of Misinformation’.