9.22.10 West Virginia, Driving as far as we can.

The two hard-workin’ folks who bring you The Anti Tourist, Ben Britz and myself, are driving RIGHT NOW. We’re driving and hoping to get to Austin this weekend. We’re moving there. We’re experimenting with LIVE blogging. And I just wrote a blog on Facebook! I did it while… LIVE! LIVE from the 1996 Honda Accord with 268,000 miles on it! Keep up with our Facebook page for continued entries from this trip and check out the first chronicling of the journey here.



The Anti Tourist goes to Costa Rica 2k10!

What follows is a series of photographs by Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward which, we’re confident, perfectly capture the bon vivant essence of this beautiful country. And if not perfectly, then acceptably. Anyway, here are some pictures of Costa Rica.

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

Elizabeth in our room, looking out…

at the view.

A restaurant. A Costa Rican restaurant…in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Surf ‘n’ Turf in that restaurant.

On a mountaintop near the Pacific in Costa Rica.

Tropical storm’s a-brewin’.

Elizabeth Seward chillaxin’.

Outdoor massage huts, Los Sueños, Costa Rica.

Los Sueños Marina by night.

Costa Rica from above.

The Yellow Deli People – Great Deli, Controversial Religious Practices

After Bonnaroo, we were tired, footsore, and hungry. Chugging around in Chattanooga, Tennessee, late afternoon, right after we checked out Ruby Falls, we just wanted something relatively healthy to eat. I was sick of our makeshift peanut butter on dry rolls and banana chips, supplemented with my one or two Bonnaroo food stand foods I allowed myself each day. I just wanted something fresh, tasty, organic, if possible, and unaffiliated with any cult. Is that too much to ask?

“Go by the university, where the yuppies and foodies are,” offered my companion. Signs pointed uphill. I made a right and a left and another few rights and then an attractive building flashed by and a sign, The Yellow Deli. It seemed like the kind of place you’d find near a university, with branded organic foods and teas on the shelves, track lighting, varnished wooden tables, a hand-drawn menu covered in soy products. We walked upstairs to the mezzanine and were seated at a table near a tastefully lit lounge section with couches, lamps and a fireplace. I joked with Elizabeth about some spelling mistakes on the menu, trying to impress her with my overly pedantic sense of humor, but the waitress overheard me say “‘jalapeño’ is j-a-l-a, not j-a-l-e”.

“Oh, sorry” she laughed nervously. “There might be some typos in there.” I felt guilty about returning their politeness with criticism. Elizabeth said good-naturedly “You can ignore him, he’s an editor.” Everyone laughed politely. I felt like some pretentious New York asshole, sensitive to things like grammar but I couldn’t help but mutter “you can’t make ‘typos’ in something handwritten” to Elizabeth, who rolled her eyes. I turned my eyes to the pamphlet they pushed on me as I walked in the door, unnoticed till now. It was some editorial missive on the hippie, organic lifestyle, a similar agenda as many food coops and organic cafes.

We had chili and a salad, and while we ate we studied the elaborate wall mural. There was a kind of Christ figure or an Elijah, some prophet, leading a group of people. Written over the mural was the story and philosophical declaration of the flower children of the ’60s, and about their disillusionment with our vain earthly pursuit of peace. There was some more stuff about Timothy Leary, which is to be expected, but there was a distinctly Christian-ish bent. We began to feel slightly disquieted; usually the organic movement and the flower children are maligned by the religious as fanciful hippies, dedicated liberals who embrace lives of promiscuity. This oil/water mixture shouldn’t be allowed, I thought. And what’s this? Scripture on the check…I started reading the pamphlet they gave us upon walking in, skipping past the friendly, familiar hippy declarations at the beginning and getting to the part about some version of Christ and some leader we all should follow. Still, it was decent food and it’s tough to feel alarmed by those who feed you. To me, people take on a definite maternal quality as soon as they hand me a plate, which is as a proffered breast to my trusting, infantile eyes. And they were all so nice.

Each step on the varnished staircase was inscribed with the name of a tribe of Israel, written in transliterated Hebrew or Aramaic or something. “Maybe this is some kind of Jewish place,” I conjectured aloud to Elizabeth. A woman at the counter smiled.

Back in the car we did our research. It turns out The Yellow Deli People, or The Twelve Tribes, is a fundamentalist religious group with arcane practices and rigid, draconian rules—and a great deli. They also proselytize and compel each of their converts to give up their possessions to the community, including their children, who are raised communally and according to their strict religious practices. In other words, a cult!

“Oh my god we ate at a cult!” screamed Elizabeth, and we made the usual jokes about suicide kool-aid and sexual initiation rites, tantalizing to our overactive, alarmist imaginations.  She read an article about a former Yellow Deli member who escaped, and we loved the creepiness and the chills down our spines. You might too? For a good time, eat at the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga! The food is good, don’t drink the kool-aid, skip the pamphlets, enjoy the feeling of being stared at.

By: Ben Britz

Photos by: Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward

Read about how one of our writers came to stay with them for a while!

Chewing the leaf – Coca in Coroico, Bolivia

I love a lot of things about Bolivia. It is an incredibly beautiful country, first of all, mountains, plains, rivers, valleys, giant freshwater lakes with silly names really high in altitude…Still though, the Andes (and especially Bolivia) is the only place where the coca leaf is chewed as a matter of course. It is of course the raw ingredient behind cocaine, which is of course illegal everywhere since it is a dangerous drug. This has given the coca leaf some undeserved notoriety. By itself, it is harmless—the number of leaves it takes to create a small amount of cocaine is staggering—and in any case, as an old Bolivian man said to me,  shrugging, “One makes wine from grapes”.

No one gets pissed about grapes, was his point. So don’t get all worked up from the coca.

It is said that the best coca is found near a small town called Coroico, which is a mountain town on the way down the scariest highway in the world, an epic, one-track road, collapsed in places, steep, narrow, and teeming not only with reckless drivers but burros and people and rocks and mud. Most of the time is spent veering near the edge of thousand-foot cliffs. In any case, the Coca of Coroico is sweeter, stronger, and more desirable. A large bag will set you back about 15 cents at a market or so, unless you get cheated, which you most certainly will. Don’t sweat it though, because getting cheated means you’ll pay like $2 instead of 15 cents, still no big deal. I spend $2 on dumber shit in NYC.

Coca has been used for centuries by Andean natives, and was valued for its healthful and stimulating properties. Placing a chaw in your cheek for a bit you’ll enjoy the lightly sweet flavor and perceive over a short length of time a sense of energy, power, confidence, and well being. Your breathing is easier, you can hike on forever, even at high altitudes. In fact, the first time I was there, I was helping to lead a group of kids through the country, translating for them and forcing them to chew coca leaves and so on, and I often prescribed coca, or a tea made from it, to combat altitude sickness, malaise, and homesickness.

From Wikipedia: “Besides cocaine, the coca leaf contains a number of other alkaloids, including methylecgonine cinnamate, benzoylecgonine, truxilline, hydroxytropacocaine, tropacocaine, ecgonine, cuscohygrine, dihydrocuscohygrine, nicotine and hygrine. When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue.”

None of the euphoria or psychoactive effects which result in the irritating sociopathology of cokeheads are present when chewing coca, though tests have shown that trace amounts of cocaine are present in coca-chewers’ bloodstreams after chewing—but experts agree that the addictive properties of cocaine are not an issue, or very much present, in the unprocessed leaf in its natural state.

Because folks up here tend to shit their pants about everything they can possibly figure out how to judge each other for, even the harmless coca leaf is illegal to buy and sell here in the US, but there are several googleable online stores from which you can buy it in teabags—and I’m sure you can find whole coca leaves as well. Still, it’s nothing like Coroico; the air is thin, mountains surround the area, the sun shines brighter, and the coca tastes like the energy of the intense Andean sun. Go to Bolivia for the myriad cultural and ecoantitourism possibilities, but don’t forget to try the coca.

By: Ben Britz

Ghost Town in Pennsylvania – The Centralia Mine Fire

When I was first forwarded the Wikipedia page for Centralia, Pennsylvania, I was a little confused. The page cited Centralia as the town that inspired the horror movie, Silent Hill. But I thought Silent Hill was in West Virginia…isn’t there where all creepy horror films are set? Wrong. Centralia, PA is, in fact, the town that movie was based off of and surprise surprise, the movie was (kinda) based on a true story:

Centralia was a quaint little American town with thousands of residents not all that long ago. Then, in 1962, the coal mines in the town caught fire. People are still disputing how exactly this happened, but the most popular notion is that trash burned in abandoned strip mine caused a vein of coal to start burning. It has never stopped, in fact, it has only spread since then. Things started unwinding in Centralia from there. The families didn’t move out right away. But then dangerous gases from the fire started polluting the air, the amount of carbon monoxide spewing out of the mine began to reach dangerous levels, a kid fell into a HOT sinkhole (he survived!), and families generally started to worry about raising their families above raging mine fires. I can’t blame them. As cool as the idea of living directly above Hell is, I’d probably move out, too.

From a site devoted to the Centralia mine fire: “An engineering study concluded in 1983 that the fire could burn for another century or even more and ‘could conceivably spread over an area of approximately 3,700 acres.’” No one really knows how far it has spread, or how deep, or where new, hell-hot sinkholes could appear.

But not everyone wanted to go. SO what happened when good citizens didn’t want to leave a town deemed too dangerous to live in? The government stepped in and starting buying out families to relocate to a nearby town. Most families couldn’t turn down the money—in fact, almost all of them took it. There are only 5 families holding out in Centralia today, a town that, may I remind you, had thousands of citizens just a few decades ago. Their rationalization is the the gummint knows there’s rich coal deposits under there and is forcing them to move and give up their mineral rights.

This is all Scary Shit! Sinkholes swallowing up entire homes, steam and smoke billowing up from cracks in the earth; it is said that you can hear Satan joking around with Beezlebub just by putting your ear to the ground.

I just couldn’t resist that! I decided to go to Centralia myself. On the way to Centralia, I was already getting the feeling that I was being stared at. Maybe because the locals didn’t recognize my car. Or appreciate my giant Lyndsay Lohan sunglasses. There may have been zombies lurking in the shadows, too, I couldn’t really tell. I drove on anyway.

Imagine any suburban neighborhood you’ve ever been in. You make a left a Cherry Lane and a right at Oak Road and these small communities go on like this, with quaint streets squaring off the corners of the community, one evenly paved road at a time. I drove down roads that were once these roads, but they weren’t named. No homes existed in the overgrown lots of land. It was an empty grid of cracking, paved residential streets, sans houses. Nature had reclaimed the tar and plants burst out from the cracks in the streets. All that remains is a charred skeleton of a town.

Just beyond a graveyard, I climbed over a rock and dirt pile that had been built to keep people out of the area just beyond it. Not surprisingly, as I walked on past this dirt pile, the air started to smell funny.  Noxious, even. There was an attempt to prevent sinkholes from form by relieving the pressure of  the gasses building up underground by placing pipes in the ground for ventilation. A couple pictures later and I had enough of that.

Curious about the giant crack in old Route 61 that I’d seen pictures of online, I climbed over another barrier and ventured down the now feral highway, complete with graffiti from the local teens. Some disturbing graffiti at that. I left my car, which had just been inspected by my  mechanic days ago and which was, he said, in “perfect condition”, on the side of the road in the care of the recently ankle-sprained fellow TAT editor and photographer Ben Britz.

I arrived at the crack in the road. Not seeing any smoke or smelling any gas, I leaned in closer, and: Heat. I felt heat on my face. “What the hell,” I said. “This town certainly is on fire!” Sweating now, freaked out, I headed back the mile or so to my car to find a bloody scene. Ben had died at the hands of zombies.

But also, transmission oil was everywhere! The car would start, but it would not go. “Great”, I thought. “Frickin’ zombies in in frickin’ Zombietowne USA gnawed through the transmission line!” And I wish I could say that with another attempt to start the car that all was fine…but all was not fine.

Not that I had to battle zombies or anything. A tow truck from the nearest town (SHOCKER:  Centralia does not have a tow service or mechanic) came to my rescue, towed my cursed car away, and dropped me off at a Holiday Inn Express. The driver was a little funny, but probably not a zombie, I think. The mechanic ate Ben, though.

I don’t regret going to Centralia—it’s spooky as Hell (haha!). But I do kind of think Silent Hill was at least partially responsible for my car troubles. Be warned. The spirits of fire-demon town may not want you there. Go anyway. But maybe ride your bike.

By: Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward

Crocodiles in Costa Rica–Alive and Everything

The first time I went to Costa Rica was last summer. I was staying at an eco-lodge called Nicuesa in the middle of the rainforest close to the Panama border. For whatever reason, I preoccupied myself with Google searches before the trip, trying to figure out which creatures down there in the wilderness would kill me. I started having nightmares of crocodiles. I studied exactly how I should run away from a crocodile should it chase me (in a zig-zag), but was surprisingly disappointed when the local crocodile at Nicuesa didn’t show his face.

A recent second trip to Costa Rica left me more satisfied. On a winding, hilly, beautiful drive out to the Los Suenos Resort on the Pacific, my driver stopped off the newly built Caldera Pacific Highway for what I thought was a courtesy, a blessing from him to me, a way of saying, “go ahead, go buy handfuls of the $5 handmade earrings hanging from the roadside stand”. So I bought the earrings. I went to the restroom. I eyed some tapestries. And then I realized what everyone else at the stop had already realized: there were a shit-ton of crocodiles nearby.

Just a minute walk away from us was the Tarcoles River—better known to gringos (and maybe locals?) as Crocodile River. I approached the bridge over the river with caution, fully prepared to zig-zag back to my car. I peered over the bridge’s edge and gazed down onto mud-brown waters ornamented with the bulging eyes and thick skins of crocodiles—many of them. I mean, at least twenty of them. Maybe twenty thousand.

I’d bet any nearby locals were scoffing at my excitement over a creature they’ve grown up with, but you know what? Whatever. Seeing crocodiles in the wild is freaking awesome and viewing them from atop a little bridge like this is the best way to do it…and, you know, probably the safest way.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Ruhr 2010 – Dortmund, Germany: HirschQ Punk

This year Ruhrgebiet, an industrious region in western Germany, is Kulturhaupstadt (Culture Capital) at Ruhr 2010, an event created to celebrate the cultural and historical offerings of the cities in the area, including Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, and Bochum.

In DortmundACHTUNG: Weltreisende Punks, hör zu! This is the most punk place I’ve ever seen outside of the East Village. (Ha ha.) The bar is in Dortmund, called HirschQ, and subtitled “Asozial aus Tradition” (“asocial by tradition”). From the bottled Astra beer (brewed in Hamburg and popular with hip young people—think about PBR’s place in NYC only imagine PBR tasting like actual beer ) to the snarling visages of blue-haired, overweight young people, to the punkrock and skacore blaring on the ancient sound system, the curling blue cigarette smoke chokes your raucous, shrill punk laughter in direct rebellion against German anti-smoking laws. As my guide explained to me, smoking is not allowed in public places any more, but, as my guide explained further, you can’t really tell a German what to do. (Most bars still allow you to smoke, usually through a loophole in the law where they classify themselves as “Smoking Lounges” even though it’s obvious to everyone they’re just your average dive bar on the corner.)

The atmosphere of HirschQ is great, though, loud, messy, broken, dirty, a real rat’s nest of a place. Back in my high school days, “touring” with my skacore band, the venerable and popular Jake and the Phat Men played in many places with a similar aesthetic. It brought back many adolescent memories of undirected anger and antisocial behavior, of piss, of vinegar, of hormones. It’s has a certain beauty—go here for the music if nothing else.

On the way out, there’s a döner stand with döner for sale, of course, but also beer. I stopped there to get one more for the road, for the walk back to the apartment. In Germany they have no open container laws, so this option is available to those of you who can’t wait for the next bar. Hansa Export cost 60 cents for a half-liter bottle—not too bad, I thought, but Christoph, my guide, said it was a little pricey, about twice what it would have cost in a store. It’s really a nice way to walk around town, with a beer bottle in hand, and beer flows here like water, it rains beer, the rivers gurgle and spit pure beer, so it never runs dry, the bottle in your hand need never be empty as long as there is another kiosk or imbiss or döner stand nearby, and there always is.

By: Ben Britz