Recipes from the Road

A few weeks ago Katrina posted a list of some of the best food we’d had on our trip through Central and South America and in my last blog I mentioned the amazing Chicken Parmigiana we gorged on in Paraty, Brazil.

I’m not sure how this recipes has become associated with Brazil but we saw it on menus all the time, while the breaded chicken it’s formed of is pretty much the milanesas that form part of cheap set menus throughout Latin America.

Chicken Parmigiana as we had it is effectively a breaded chicken breast smothered in cheese and a tomato sauce, so a really simple first recipe for this blog.

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To make this recipe you will need:

Fresh chicken breasts (1 per person)
2 slices of white bread
50 grams of plain flour
1 egg
150 grams of mature cheddar cheese
1 tin of tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
A good handful of fresh basil
1-2 fresh chillies
A splash of balsamic vinegar

How to make this recipe

Flatten the chicken breasts with a mallet or rolling pin. Beat up the egg and dip the chicken breasts in it. Make breadcrumbs by putting the bread in a food processor, season well and coat the chicken breasts.

Fry off the chicken breasts on either side until cooked through and the outsides are nice and golden, add any leftover egg and bread to the top of them. Pre heat the grill to finish them off.

To make the sauce, fry off the garlic and chillies in a pan with a little oil. Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Add the vinegar and basil towards the end of this process.

Cover the chicken breasts in the the sauce and liberally cover with the cheese. Grill until the cheese has melted and is starting to crisp on top.

Serve with chips and salad.

 
 
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It’s amazing what you learn in less than 2 weeks

I didn’t decide to go travelling for a bit of a jolly. Though I admit lounging on tropical beaches and climbing volcanoes certainly isn’t without its charms!

Travel has its charms.

Part of the reason for choosing Latin America was to learn Spanish and it’s going relatively well. Less than 2 weeks ago my Spanish was pretty much limited to “Dos cervezas por favor” following spending time in English speaking Belize and the formerly British Bay Islands in Honduras. Now however, I’m relatively confident to attempt a conversation with local Guatemalans about last night’s match vs. the USA as well as the ongoing Euro 2012 tournament while getting a pretty decent hair cut this afternoon!

I’ve not been in the learning mode for a while, probably since University or a few CIMA exams until I decided accountancy wasn’t for me. I expected it to be tough to get back into the discipline of learning but it’s been relatively easy.

I’m currently in Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala, which is a bit of a hub for those wishing to learn Spanish. For $100 a week I’m receiving one on one tuition 8am to noon from Rolando at the Antigüeña Spanish Academy and I couldn’t make a better investment. I can now pretty much converse in the present (and some basic future) tense with a small Spanish vocabulary which is growing with time. By the end of the week I should be able to use the past tense as well.

Time to hit the books.

I’ve long been embarrassed that my foreign language skills have been limited to some basic French and a few words of Mandarin.Following my crash course in Español in Guatemala I’m not only feeling confident about the rest of my trip from here to Chile but also (fingers crossed) utilising what I’ve learnt in the future.

Gracias Guatemala, yo estoy aprendiendo mucho aquí!

I Forgive You Honduras

I’ve been pretty grumpy a lot of the time in Honduras. It was a long journey by boat and bus to get to La Ceiba from Belize and there were a few attempts to rip me off on the way. The places we’ve stayed in have been pretty crap so I’ve been short of sleep. I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos to the extent I had 52 bites on one leg in one night. It’s also rained a lot here during the so called ‘dry season’.

But that I can live with. The worst part has been Katrina getting really ill and having to be sedated while an only Spanish speaking doctor shoved an endoscope down her throat. Not fun for her but it wasn’t great for me to worry about either. To top that off, I’ve had my wallet stolen and had to bribe a policeman to get some kinda of report to make an insurance claim.

That’s enough to make me fall out with a country, but Honduras has had a couple of redeeming features. Notably it’s total lack of Health and Safety meaning we’ve been zip lining and climbing around waterfalls. Epic fun!

First the zip lining. This was at Sambo Creek, near La Ceiba and involved taking a bent up pick up truck along a steep mountain track to then clip ourselves to a wire and throw ourselves back down the mountain. Incredible! There were 16 zip lines and with the help of two guides we were launched down them with a clip to hold us on and a pair of gardening gloves for brakes. On one line about 500m long they jumped up and down on the steel rope to make us bounce up and down. Katrina screamed many, many a profanity!

After this excitement the fun wasn’t over. Underneath our monkey antics were hot springs bursting boiling hot water down streams where it would meet cooler tributaries to form bath like pools. Bliss. After a soak in these was a massage and a rub down in sticky orange mud to leave us looking like a cast member of TOWIE. Katrina came away looking like Tony the Tiger. I’m not sure about me, make your own mind up.

Tony the Tiger?

Looking like a right prat!

Then there’s the other ridiculous thing we’ve done here – climbing behind a waterfall nearly has high as Niagara Falls. We’d made our way down to a microbrewery in the middle of Honduras, Kat’s find when researching the trip. Sadly due to her ongoing throat problems she can’t drink the beer, all the more for me (he says quietly). Near said brewery is a waterfall called Pulapanzak (say then when you’re pished) which was frankly, incredible.

Pulapanzak Waterfalls

With the help of a guide, you go through a barbed wire gate and start wading through pools of water beneath the falls. These gradually become deeper and the spray becomes heavier until the point when you can barely see where you’re going. With the guide you climb over a couple more boulders and dive into a cave underneath the falls with the roar of the falls above your head. I’m struggling to describe the noise and feeling of having made it to this point, so here’s a picture.

On the way back is the chance to leap off places you’ve already climbed into pools beneath. Suddenly the enthusiasm for travel that had waned from illness and bad experiences is racing back and you’re ready for the world again.

I’m sorry I held the grudge Honduras, all is forgiven. Cheers!

An Early Morning with the Mayans

Incessant loud beeping from a mobile phone at 4.30am is just about my idea of hell, I’m not a morning person. I’m grouchy, dopey and virtually useless first thing in the morning. So I wasn’t in the best of moods when Katrina woke me by holding the noise to my ears!

Nor am I a particularly good person for travelling. I love going to places and I love different modes of transport but I have an incredibly short attention span so just over an hour on a hot minibus at this hour equally isn’t my idea of a good time. I just feel sorry for Katrina having to put up with me during this trip!

There was a good reason for being up this early however. One of the biggest attractions in Central America are the Mayans, or rather their ancient cities such as Tikal (where we were visiting), Chichen Itza and Copan of which we know comparatively little about. With this being the alleged year of impending doom according to many people predicting the apocalypse, there has been greater coverage in the media of the Mayans too.

By the time we’d arrived at the site the sun was baking down on the Guatemalan rain forest and it was only just after 6 in the morning. Getting used to the heat here is taking me some time – northern boys weren’t made warm weather!

When you arrive at Tikal, there is just a car park, a restaurant and a few stalls selling souvenirs. Apart from that, you can’t see anything else apart for the green of the forest, and before heading in we were introduced to Boris, our guide. I’m not entirely sure we’d booked a guide but Boris was pretty insistent we follow him so we did along with a handful of other tourists from Israel.

Looking back on this I sure am glad we were with him – Tikal is surrounded by dense forest which is navigable via a few pathways with relatively few signs. It’s definitely a good thing in terms of a getting what  feels like a more real experience however we were told of a tourist getting lost for 8 days in here some years ago.

As we walked Boris explained a little about the background to Tikal such as it potentially being home to over 100,000 people in its heyday 1,000 years ago or so as well as the fact all the forest which now surrounds it would not have been seen for miles around with the land used for agriculture. The best guess as to what happened at Tikal are that the people migrated further south into Guatemala due to drought or to flee stronger surrounding kingdoms.

By this time we had come to a ‘small’ pyramid in the jungle which we climbed to the top of, and already we could feel the strain. Curiously, the average Mayan person was only about 5ft 3in and the kings were maybe 5ft 9in – incredible given the steps to the top of these structures are at least 1ft in height each! Add in the fact the king would be draped in gold and jaguar skin (very bling) and I’m not sure they tried to fit into their surroundings.

A further walk through the jungle brought us to an incredibly large structure simply known as Temple IV and immediately we were eager to clamber up the rickety wooden steps to the top of it. Despite being so early in the morning the climb in the heat had both of us sweating and a little short of breath and the view took a little bit more of that away. Looking out from the temple across the expanse of jungle below all you can make out are a couple of other temples peaking over the tree canopy, the odd Macaw flying from tree to tree in the distance and a curious roar of which we did not know the source.

Tikal

I could have stayed at the top of that temple all day and just watched the day go by but there is a great deal more of Tikal to see before the sun becomes unbearably hot and at the same time taking advantage being one of the few people on the site.

Back on the ground I asked Boris what the noise was, to me it sounded like a lion or a dinosaur both of which would take you by surprise in the middle of Guatemala! He simply said it was a howler monkey and we could go find them and within a few minutes of the ever increasing roars there they were, high in the trees, defending their territory against another group of spider monkeys.

I’d heard of howler monkeys before but never realised just how appropriate their name was. They actually used the noise of these creatures to create the sound effects for dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park. And while we’re on the subject of movie trivia, Tikal was also the location of a small scene in Star Wars Episode IV.

Moving on through the forest from the monkeys we were coming to the main centre of Tikal where many temples are located and were left to explore on our own after some final information from Boris. Clambering over these kinds of things really does make you feel pretty good about yourself but you can only imagine how the explorers felt re-discovering these ruins amongst the rainforest.

Exploring temples can be exhausting!

A couple of hours of clambering and doing our own little exploration we’d grown tired and sat to reflect on what we had seen. I’ve been lucky enough to visit other ancient cities like Pompeii, Angkor Wat and Borobodur however I still find new ones just as impressive, although by this time I needed a huge drink of water – Lara Croft movies make these things look so much more glamourous!

BUT. The early morning was worth it.

A Quick Blast Through Mexico

Mexico was never really a big part of the travel plan, the reason for coming here was Cancun was the easiest and cheapest place for myself and my girlfriend to meet coming from Canada and Europe. We didn’t intend on doing anything here really.

This changed when I found the Cancun Underwater Museum which looked incredible to someone like me who’s addicted to scuba diving!

It wasn’t possible to dive the museum on day 1 so that fell to going to the beach. And wow what a beach, crystal clear blue sea and white powdery sand.

Sadly, the many hotels that are on the beach try to deny access to non guests and there are limited public access points.Luckily for us, once you are on the beach it can be easy to use some facilities at hotels. Thank you very much Ritz-Carlton, you make a tasty margarita and have a luxurious pool! As silly as it sounds, I’d actually be tempted to book one of their hotels one day now as I know how good they can be while the Melia that denied access I might avoid. Funny how little things like that can influence your opinion!

As for the museum, it felt a bit like a wreck dive with many different cement sculptures. The idea of the museum is that is will eventually become the home to a new coral reef on top of the artwork and help reduce to the pressure on Cancun’s other coral reefs, a very nice idea I think.

Immediately after a short descent to 10 meters we came to an inspired replica of the terracotta warriors. Some of which you can put your regulator up to and purge bubbles through the sculpture so it looks like they are exhaling underwater! The sculptures are already developing plant life on them which perhaps takes away a bit of the drama but is good for the longer term plan.

Later in the first dive we came to a sculpture of a VW Beetle (a car formerly made and still loved in Mexico) as well as a cube of bricks. Both were already becoming home to small fish.

My favourite part of the experience came in the second dive. I didn’t realise the museum was spread over such a large area so when we came to a sculpture of a man at a bar, writing something with a tankard near his hand and a dog asleep by his feet I was really taken aback. It’s nice that for someone who grew up in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a little part of home sat at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea!

Photo from Brits at their Best

On the way to the border with Belize where this trip was really planned to begin we stopped off at the town of Tulum – known for its Mayan ruins by the sea. However it wasn’t these that we enjoyed the most (especially after a visit to Tikal in Guatemala, but more on that in a later post).

All around the coast in this area are features known as cenotes. This is where the limestone rock collapses due to the vegetation above and to form a hole down into water running below. Near Tulum is the Grand Cenote where you can swim down into the caves with tropical freshwater fish (like you may have in an aquarium at home) as well as with terrapins. It really was a refreshing and well needed experience after the cycle from town in sweltering temperatures.

Cenote

Although a bit touristy, Tulum was a fairly relaxed place with one of my favourite treats of the tropics – sugar cane! And I’m not sure you’ll see a better sugar cane juice vending stand than a converted VW Beetle! It was an especially good addition to a mojito!

Sugar Cane Beetle

P.S. If you’re reading this before you leave Mexico to enter Belize and are using the Lonely Planet guidebook for Central America. There might be a couple of things I can clarify.

1. For a bus to Belize from Chetumal you need to go from the new market, not the bus station in an old American style school bus.

2. When leaving Mexico you may be charged 200 Pesos to leave via land. If you arrived via air be persistent as this tax should be included in the cost of your air ticket and therefore not be valid. If you are reluctant to get your wallet out they should just wave you through.

A Quick Blast Through Mexico

Mexico was never really a big part of the travel plan, the reason for coming here was Cancun was the easiest and cheapest place for myself and my girlfriend to meet coming from Canada and Europe. We didn’t intend on doing anything here really.

This changed when I found the Cancun Underwater Museum which looked incredible to someone like me who’s addicted to scuba diving!

It wasn’t possible to dive the museum on day 1 so that fell to going to the beach. And wow what a beach, crystal clear blue sea and white powdery sand.

Sadly, the many hotels that are on the beach try to deny access to non guests and there are limited public access points.Luckily for us, once you are on the beach it can be easy to use some facilities at hotels. Thank you very much Ritz-Carlton, you make a tasty margarita and have a luxurious pool! As silly as it sounds, I’d actually be tempted to book one of their hotels one day now as I know how good they can be while the Melia that denied access I might avoid. Funny how little things like that can influence your opinion!

As for the museum, it felt a bit like a wreck dive with many different cement sculptures. The idea of the museum is that is will eventually become the home to a new coral reef on top of the artwork and help reduce to the pressure on Cancun’s other coral reefs, a very nice idea I think.

Immediately after a short descent to 10 meters we came to an inspired replica of the terracotta warriors. Some of which you can put your regulator up to and purge bubbles through the sculpture so it looks like they are exhaling underwater! The sculptures are already developing plant life on them which perhaps takes away a bit of the drama but is good for the longer term plan.

Later in the first dive we came to a sculpture of a VW Beetle (a car formerly made and still loved in Mexico) as well as a cube of bricks. Both were already becoming home to small fish.

My favourite part of the experience came in the second dive. I didn’t realise the museum was spread over such a large area so when we came to a sculpture of a man at a bar, writing something with a tankard near his hand and a dog asleep by his feet I was really taken aback. It’s nice that for someone who grew up in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a little part of home sat at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea!

Photo from Brits at their Best

On the way to the border with Belize where this trip was really planned to begin we stopped off at the town of Tulum – known for its Mayan ruins by the sea. However it wasn’t these that we enjoyed the most (especially after a visit to Tikal in Guatemala, but more on that in a later post).

All around the coast in this area are features known as cenotes. This is where the limestone rock collapses due to the vegetation above and to form a hole down into water running below. Near Tulum is the Grand Cenote where you can swim down into the caves with tropical freshwater fish (like you may have in an aquarium at home) as well as with terrapins. It really was a refreshing and well needed experience after the cycle from town in sweltering temperatures.

Cenote

Although a bit touristy, Tulum was a fairly relaxed place with one of my favourite treats of the tropics – sugar cane! And I’m not sure you’ll see a better sugar cane juice vending stand than a converted VW Beetle! It was an especially good addition to a mojito!

Sugar Cane Beetle

P.S. If you’re reading this before you leave Mexico to enter Belize and are using the Lonely Planet guidebook for Central America. There might be a couple of things I can clarify.

1. For a bus to Belize from Chetumal you need to go from the new market, not the bus station in an old American style school bus.

2. When leaving Mexico you may be charged 200 Pesos to leave via land. If you arrived via air be persistent as this tax should be included in the cost of your air ticket and therefore not be valid. If you are reluctant to get your wallet out they should just wave you through.