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March 2009

February 2009

Mmmm....Be My Guinea Pig on Isla Mujeres

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So, just off the main plaza in downtown Isla Mujeres is a narrow alleyway.  In that said alleyway is a rickety-ass grill.  Charring up on that said grill is some downright sultry smelling meat.  Sometimes it's slung up; sometimes not.  The day I happened upon it, I'd already downed something at Manana, and I could not even think about another morsel of food.  But, man...how I regret that right about now.  I left the dang island without trying it.   The horror.

 IF you happen to be strolling near the grocery store and plaza, please glance over to the far southwest corner near the basketball courts and go try what this lady is making.  And, then send me photos.  I beg of you.  As you can see I hit her up from every angle.  Just like being in Barcelona, kids.

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Killer El Salvadorean Food in LA: El Guanaco

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So, I have a feeling that the next 4th World Love will be opened in El Salvador (possibly Baja)...you never know which country/people/spirit will strike you and after eating what was possibly one of the Top 5 meals I have ever wolfed down in LA last weekend at a tucked-away storefront El Salvadorean joint in Hollywood, well let's just say that El Salv is looking mighty fine.

There was a smoky chicken tamale, an oozing cheese pupusa con creama, some sassy huevos rancheros and the best super-thick, hand-slapped tortillas EVER.  The whole mess was just over $10 and easily fed two straving bellies.  Reminded me of all my favorite pupuserias in Chicago, up on N. Clark St.  Full as I was after a few bites of the pupusa, I soildered on when the perfect tamale rolled out.  Then came fluffy rice, then came poached huevos, then came an aching belly.  But, such a happy belly.  Joy.  Lot's of it.

El Guanaco Restaurant & Pupuseria
5656 Santa Monica Blvd.

Hit it up.  And, the funny thing is, after breakfast there, later in the day, I headed up to Malibu to get some dessert at this little funky grocery store up there -- all kinds of gourmet things peppering the shelves -- and after spending a wad on practically nothing, I walked away so unfilfilled. 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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4WL - It All Came Together in Senggigi...

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When I left Indo last summer, I came back to the US full of piss-n-vinegar, all riled up to get 4th World Love off the ground.  And, I did.   All it took was a little brainstorming with my brilliant boys on the ground over there and some time putting together a budget for Phase 1, and we were off.    Just like that. 

Once I got home and got my pal Lisa involved, before you know it, we had the website built, a killer contest in the works, and some fundraising 101 to keep us busy.  Now, in less than three weeks, I'm heading back.  A/  I Can't Wait and B/ I could never do this without the help of Mister Am and my good buddy Royal.  Those two are the glue that binds the whole project together...they help me facilitate every single move we make in the village of Sembalun; they round up people and get them excited about learning; they go with the families of the babies who need cleft palate surgery to the hospital (staying with them as long as needed, and in Rako's case, it was 18 days in Bali); they help implement new ideas; they tool around with me on scooters; they plan things and get me inspired every single time we text or email; they organize Rinjani treks for me; they feed my belly; they make me part of their family and let me stay in their homes; they make me laugh til I cry....and they do it all for free, without complaint EVER.  They just can't believe that I keep coming back, keep sending dinero and good vibes, keep helping out, keep showing interest in them, and keep making them see the sunshine on not-so-sunny days.  What an honor.  

Even as we speak, Am is with Baby Azi in Jakarta, helping organize all elements for his surgery and Royal is helping me organize getting a bunch of tools for Tindih so he can build a bunch of tables for our computer room and start a little wood-working business.  Turns out Am will get the tools in Jakarta and haul them all the way back to SMBL cause it's way cheaper to buy them there.  Help me, help you, help us all.  I love it.

To plan Phase 1 of 4WL, we had a drink in a little cafe in Senggigi on my last night on Lombok (love that Bintang) and Am scribbled out a budget for all that we needed to do (my arm is slung around Royal and Am is on the left hamming it up--they love cameras).  The plan came in no time and I cannot wait to go back over there, full of goodies that so many generous people have donated (meanwhile, how the heck am I hauling all this stuff?). 

Phase 2 is coming up and in the meantime, check out this nice bit Ruth over at Reel Chicago did on 4WL.  If you are in Chi this summer (mid-June), you gotta come to the fundraiser we're going to put together - it will make ya wanna jam to Indo STAT.

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Here is the article  and the link is here:

Tosh, Colangelo demonstrate 4th World Love
Producers head for Indonesia to help poor villagers

When Misty Tosh completes her reality show assignment in mid-March, the globe-trotting producer will spend a month of humanitarian work in the slim volcanic Indonesian island of Lombok.

There, in the tiny village of Sembalun, Tosh and her production partner, Lisa Colangelo, will resume their mission of providing English education and self-help programs to the island villagers.

The traveling filmmakers first went to Indonesia two years ago after working on back-to-back production projects, one of which had a profound effect on Tosh.

She had been the line producer traveling all over the U.S. as line producer on Oprah Winfrey’s “The Big Give” reality show, where the prize went to the persons who performed the highest number of philanthropic deeds.

On her first visit to Sembalum on Lombok, Tosh fell in love with the villagers and saw ways to help improve their lives. “They are very poor but very happy, beautiful people,” said Tosh.

On Tosh's first visit to Sembalun, she lived with a family and taught them English in exchange for their hospitality.

Soon they extended free English and computer lessons to eager guides and porters who escort tourists, most of them English-speaking, to Indonesia’s second highest volcano, a major tourist attraction and the village’s sole source of income.

By time Tosh returned for another work respite, the wheels were spinning. “Being the schemer dreamer I am,” she said, “I felt we could start a permanent English program for these people by hiring a bilingual teacher.”

To accomplish this, they formed non-profit 4th World Love last fall and raised $15,000 and made the community center a reality.

“We found a bungalow, opened the school, bought desks and hired teachers. Classes immediately filled up with five classes per day and 15 students per class,” she said.

During their March 16-April 16 return to Sembalun, the producers will start the next phase of their mission. “We want to bring in volunteers to teach organic farming and to create self-help program, such as sewing, where the people can sell the things they make,” Tosh said.

Towards this end, 4th World Love will hold a giant event this late spring or summer not only to raise cash, but to solicit donations of books, computers and printers and cameras for a documentary Tosh and Colangelo will shoot with the villagers assistance.

At the moment, Tosh and Coangelo are in Los Angeles for the post phase of the realty show, “Southern Belles,” shot in Kentucky for Endemol Productions, the biggest reality production company in the world.

The 10 hour-long series will debut the end of May on SoapNet, the Disney-owned cable channel.

“It’s been a blast,” said Tosh, who was line producer, Colangelo production manager, for the eight months total they will have spent on the show.

To find out how you can be part of 4th World Love, see www.fourthworldlove.org. Email misty@fourthworldlove.org. —Ruth L Ratny


Mango Cafe - Coffee of the Kings

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The best cup of coffee on Isla Mujeres has to be at Mango Cafe.  It's piping hot, it's organic and it's incredibly potent.  Lorrie is the sweetest gal and she opened this place a few months back, with her adorable man, Polo.  They've pretty much nailed it when it comes to grub.  Let's just say the food is spot on.  I mean, what can you say about french toast that is soaked overnight and comes out like a flash of lightening to satisfy all the grumbling's a stomach craving loads of SUGAR at 9 am elicits (not to mention the goblet of steaming maple syrup that rolls out with it).  And, the scent of frying bacon wafting out of the open door is enough to drive an early bird walker straight-up MAD.   So much for exercise.  They also do a really nice Monday night BBQ every week--changing up what's on the grill each and every time.  I had some of the tenderest chicken of my life there and the ginger beer she whips up is especially good with a little tipple of Nicaraguan rum--Flor de Cana (which I found downtown for $13 per bottle, to my delight).  They will also host special events for ya, on the days they are closed.  And, I can't even talk about how good the homemade strawberry shortcake is.  It hurts just thinking about it.

But, it's the addictive black gold that keeps me coming back.  Thankfully, I've found some almost as good out here in LA, at this little joint near my place called Mermaids.  Rocket fuel for the workaholic in me.

You can find Mango Cafe across from the pozole place I wrote about last week, in the center of mid-island on the East side.  Very cool place to go, I promise.  (*cowgirl, you will LOVE it and PS, I am back in my little trailer in San Miguel de Allende on April 22 for a spell, so I will be thinkin' of ya)...

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Baby Azi Finally Gets His Heart Surgery

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4th World Love had its first volunteer show up a few months ago.  Even though I did it, it literally amazes me that people make their way halfway around the world (trust me, it's not easy getting there) and give their time/energy/soul to making the world a better place.  It warms me up.  Angela (our super-handy volunteer who was full of all kinds of ideas) is a super cool chick from Canada with some pretty dang good photo skills.  She snapped this photo of Baby Azi while she was in the village, and it honestly takes my breath away.  Azi has got to be the cutest kid in the WORLD.   The first time I met him, I wanted to snatch him  away forever...and guess I still do.  You might remember my photo in an old post of his itty-bitty ponytail (it looks like a little baby feather)?  How can you not want to eat him up?

Now at this very moment, little Azi is sitting tight with his family in Jakarta (still part of Indo, but a trillion miles away from Sembalun) getting heart surgery.  He came down ill a few months back and once I heard he needed a wad of cash for a life-saving heart surgery, 4th World went to work.  We quickly raised the $1300 needed to take care of Azi and he should be back home soon...just in time for me to see him again in March!


Isla Contoy - Worth the Trip?

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So, the question of the day is this:  Is Isla Contoy, an uninhabited bird sanctuary a few hours boat ride from Isla Mujeres, worth the trip?  Well, why the hell not!  We rented out an old pirate ship looking vessel (free drinks all day long, included lunch and snorkel gear too) and hauled over to Contoy one fine morning on the PURE retreat.   The morning began with shots of tequila (dear lord) and mountains of sunshine.   Water was crazy, crazy blue.  And, the beer chasers were icy cold.  Already, perfection.

We stopped for some semi-uneventful snorkeling along the way, which is very much enhanced by cheap tequila shooters practically at the crack of dawn.  Once you get over to Contoy, things become very, very quiet.  Which I adore.  Silence makes me happy.  We all jumped off the boat immediately and everyone went their separate ways--some went on the guided birdie tour, some wandered through the palm trees looking for a patch of sand, and I donned snorkel gear and immediately waded out into the water...almost at once crossing underneath the NO-GO zone around the bend in the island.  Why?  Tequila, I'm sure. 

But, thanks to my intrepid spirit, I (along with Matt, one of PURE's Pilates instructors who was just thrilled at following me) managed to see loads of GINORMOUS sting-rays floating all about.  It was pretty dang stunning.  Some were buried in sand, some were headed right toward us, some were just circling lazily...though the viz wasn't as good as the Gili islands in Indonesia or off the remote sandbars in Zanzibar, t was some of the best snorkeling once you go past the no-fly zone that I've come across.  All cause of big creatures--Dangerous out there, so be careful...

And, when we got back to the boat, there was a full grilled fish spread, more cervezas and some killer mac and cheese.  Then naptime on the dock and back to Isla M. for yet another sunburned nap.  Yup, totally worth it.  One, for the quiet, two for the briliant sting-rays and three for the decadent mac-n-cheese.  Oh yah, and there were birds everywhere!

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Tamales From the Orange Building -- Best on Isla Mujeres

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My first day back on Isla, I went for a nice walk in the rain.  Along the way, I found a little place that sold tamales.  I had one, while standing up and shooting the shizz with an old friend, Penny.  A week later I went back and the tamale place was gone.  As I stood staring into the void that was the old Concina Economica, a local noticed my awestruck face and pointed a half block down.  Ah, the tamale place had moved, seemingly overnight.  I went in and ordered 25 tamales for breakfast for the PURE folks the next morning.   I spoke combat Spanish and took some photos.  I inhaled the amazing smells of fresh tamales being made.  Later that night, I went to pick them up.  25 incredibly hot, steaming tamales ready for immediate consumption.  But, since breakfast was 12 hours away, I had to suffice with sneaking one.  The next morning, everyone plowed through that pan of tamales like it was nobodies business.  I saved a few for later.  I ate them all in one fell swoop.  I worship tamales.  These are not to be missed, if you've got any sense about-cha!

This homegrown tamale joint is on the Southeast side of the island (more toward mid-island), just when you pass Casa Ixchel, instead of making the curve like you are heading toward Mango Cafe, just keep going straight.  They are about 1/2 mile down on the right.

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Casa O's + Ceviche = Isla Mujeres Perfection

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I hit up Casa O's every single time I'm on Isla for one reason only.  The ceviche.  I guess you could call me  a ceviche (mixto for me) nut.  And, no matter what you hear from anybody on the entire island, the best ceviche is at Casa O's.  Peeps try to convince me otherwise, but then I ask there where to get the best huaraches and if they don't way El Huarache, well then...I know they are not to be trusted*

Not too many  people know this, but Casa O's inherited its name due to the fact that that all the workers who spent many months building the palapa-style structure years ago were all charmed enough to have their last names start with the letter O, so the sweet owners decided to pay tribute to them and name the place Casa O's.  Very cool thing to do.

Now, the proper thing to order up at this tucked away gem is mixed ceviche, creamy-like-pudding guacamole, and a freezing cold Sol.  They open around 1pm and if you want, you can bring your snorkel gear and dive off the long pier that sits directly in front of the place.  It's fair game for anyone to take advantage of, but I rarely (never, ever) see peeps out there in the middle of the day (which is when I like to go).  The views are drop dead gorg...and you could literally wile away an afternoon staring at birds, boats, and clouds.  Cut to hammered by 4pm on Sol after Sol, but who cares, that is nap time anyway.

Ask anybody on the island and they can direct you to the best ceviche on Isla.  Ok, I digress...there was one day I was wandering on the North side of the island, right on the beach, and some locals had just come in from a barracuda fishing contest...they were whipping up barracuda ceviche on a rickety old wooden table in the same and when it was done, they shoved a big, spicy bowl of it my way (I guess curiosity is a grand thing).  That was some pretty killer stuff, all topped off with hefty squirts of fresh lime....con frosty Sol of course!  But, when the heck is that gonna happen to anyone?  I just got lucky that day...when you need the fix, hit up Casa's!

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Manana Still Has the Goods {Even If They Don't Have a Liq License}

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I've said it once, I'll say it again.  Manana, the super-fly used bookstore/cafe/coffee house on Isla Mujeres is just the numero uno when it comes go food, chill atmosphere and a place to wile away the day.  Yes...entire days...til they kick you out at closing time. 

Imagine my horror when I rolled back in (after a full year away) to find out that their liquor license had been yanked.  Christ in heaven, what a travesty.  Thankfully, we were able to BYOB a bit.  Then, imagine my delight to find out they extended their hours and instead of closing at 3pm, they locked up 'round about 8pm.  Nice.  I have heard they are getting the liq. license back this month, so we shall see next time I'm in town (if they do, and you are down on Isla, have a strawberry daquiri--just the best ever).

Manana is downtown--ask anyone and they should know.  And please, please, please if you go...get some hummus (skip the pita and go with chips) and a Greek salad.  Those two together will make you swoon*

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The 4th World Love Sign...just too cute...

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Not to bust in on the Isla Mujeres party, but I just wanted to post a quickie about 4th World Love and its super-cute new sign slung up right outside the community center in Sembalun.  How cool would it be to cruise thru a remote mountain village...on Lombok...in Indo...and see this little sign?  Of course you'd be like--well, now what the heck is this adorable establishment?  And, then you'd pop in...and then you'd want to volunteer...and then you'd want to buy a t-shirt...and then you'd get interested in all the programs...and then the locals learn new things...and then, and then, and then.  And, that, my friends, is the whole point of 4th World Love!

I just get all goose-bumpy when I see that flag, thanks to Jessica Perilla Design for that one!