Category Archives: travel

Deckman’s? Definitely!



vineyard views                                                                   © erin dunigan 2013

I’ve been meaning to try Deckman’s – one of the seasonal ‘campestre’ pop-up restaurants that are making their mark on the Guadalupe Valley’s culinary scene – for quite some time.  As it happened, last night was the night.

Deckman’s, I must say, did not disappoint.

This entirely outdoor (including the kitchen!) dining experience is the creation of chef Drew Deckman, American by birth, but a resident of Baja California Sur. For the past two summer seasons Deckman has brought his culinary skills north to Baja’s Guadalupe Valley.

Deckman’s is located at the Mogor Badan winery (which many in the region know for it’s Wednesday and Saturday organic produce market – produce which Deckman uses in his culinary creations) under a canopy of pines and with plentiful views of the surrounding vineyards.

The meal? Delicious.


vino tinto                                                                            © erin dunigan 2013

We chose the ‘three course’ (which was plenty of food though the ‘five course’ is an option as well) with a few additions along the way – and a bottle of the Mogor Badan ‘tinto’ red wine.

The food is ‘Guadalupe Valley gourmet’ – a style that is fresh, local, seasonal, and not your average daily fare – or at least not mine. I’d list the courses, but since I was too busy enjoying them I did not take pictures (or notes) to describe them in all their glorious detail.

So, you just might have to try it for yourself. Though do so soon – Deckman’s is only open until the end of September. It is sure to be open Thursday through Sunday, but check their Facebook page for specifics and further info.


sunset view                                                                 © erin dunigan 2013


subways, hospitality and risk

I had been warned about Cairo subways. I love to travel, to try new things, meet new people, experience things so different from my daily life. But it’s also been somewhat beaten into me – as a woman, you must be careful. As a woman, things are different.


cairo at night                                                                                       © erin dunigan 2013

I’ve ridden plenty of crowded subways in my life − in New York City, in Osaka Japan, in Mexico City amongst them. Subways where one has to push ones way just to board the train. Subways where women are warned to stay close to their male companions, lest the pushing from strangers become a bit too directed.

So as we descended into the station for the Cairo subway I was prepared with such stories. There was even a car just for women, I had been told, to help mitigate some of these issues. I chose instead to remain with my male colleagues, not wanting to get separated in the journey.

We stepped onto the car. It was rather full, but not so full that we had to push our way on. But standing room only full. As I looked around I saw that I was the only woman in the car.

And then it happened.

A man next to me, seated, got up and stood next to me. As he did so he motioned something to me. I quickly realized what he was suggesting. Was this really happening?

He was offering me his seat. I smiled, and thanked him, using one of my five Arabic words – Shukran. As I settled into my seat the man next to me leaned over and spoke something in my direction. “Welcome to Egypt,” he said and smiled.

I am not doubting that there are harrowing experiences for women on Cairo subways. I’m not doubting that it is wise to keep aware and watchful when traveling in new places, navigating other cultures. I have myself experienced such harrowing subway situations in other parts of the world, as have friends of mine. Caution and entering situations with eyes wide open seem to be wise ways of being.

But what I was struck by that spring evening leaving Tahrir Square, was that I had been taught to fear, to approach the situation with skepticism, with a bit of distance, while my experience had been so entirely opposite – one of welcoming, hospitality, and graciousness.  How often are we taught to fear ‘the other’ rather than to be open to him or her? I wonder if that fear of the other doesn’t keep us from the encounters, like my own, that would so completely disprove that generalized sense of disease? For there are some who, I am sure, would have avoided the subway entirely, having heard the stories, and in so avoiding, would have also barricaded themselves from the encounter to disprove those very stories.

This theme made its way to the surface again in a passage from Esther de Waal’s Living on the Border where she discusses white South Africa during the time of apartheid:

“The white proponents of that regime were so completely and utterly confident of the righness of their stance that they shut the door totally on the other. Metaphorically, they barricaded themselves into their laagers, those circles of upturned wagons that the Afrikaners traditionally used to protect themselves on their long marches. Two worlds had now become polarized, without contact, without sympathy or understanding.”

As I pondered her words it was not long before these stories began to overlap – mine on the Cairo subway, de Waal’s about borders and exclusion of the other, and, of course, current debates within my own society and culture about inclusion, exclusion, of whom to fear and what places and people to avoid.

I find that more than any other emotion, I am thankful for that nighttime subway ride in Cairo. Something that could be seen as inconsequential, or even as reckless or unwise. Perhaps it was more of a risk that I realized. But I wonder, if we barricade ourselves off from the other, if we keep ourselves ‘safe’ from encountering those we perceive as different or strange or alien, if we are not, in actuality, putting ourselves at a far greater risk.

“Across the border then, whether it’s a human border or the strange frontier with God, is something or someone who is more hospitable than we dreamed; and we learn this by taking the risk of hospitality ourselves.”                 -Ester de Waal

whose story?

journey             dreams

On Wednesday, in Mexico, I got an email – ‘This is last minute, but might you be able to travel with us to Africa?’

Today, Saturday, three days later, I am sitting in Newark airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Brussels and then on to Nairobi.

So, needless to say, getting myself packed, vaccinated, malaria pilled and ready to go took up much of the previous 72 hrs. I was able, in the midst, to get an old hardback copy of Out of Africa to bring with me on the trip. When I travel I like to be able to read something related to the place I’m going. I’ve never even seen Out of Africa, but it comes highly recommended, so it seemed like a good fit.

I also had a recommendation for Ngugi wa Thiong’o – a Kenyan author. Given my timeframe I wasn’t able to find a book copy of it, but did manage to download the audiobook. I’ve begun both on this first leg of my journey, from Orange County to Newark.

It’s a fairly startingly contrast, even this early in, of which story, or whose story, is being told – the story of the albeit sympathetic, but still colonizer? Or the colonized?

Who are the savages?

Who are the squatters?

These, of course, are not new questions – not new issues. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to raise them. But the multiple narratives are something I’m hoping to hold as I continue on in this journey – something I take with me as I enter in to my part of the story.


lost in translation…

Whenever I travel I like to learn at least a few words in the local language. To me, it is a sign of respect to chose to at least try and communicate in the language of my host country. So, for instance, in Korean I can say good morning and delicious – in addition to milk and apple, but that’s another story. In Arabic I can say thank you, hello, how are you and God bless you. The list goes on.

So, when I was in Japan this past week I wanted to pick up at least a few words. I did realize that I already had some simply from pop culture – sayonara, and domo arigato (mr. Roboto) amongst them. But there were nuances that I wanted to pick up – instead of simply thank you, what about thank you very much, or thank you in a respectful way. Instead of just hello, what about a greeting with respect.

I thought I was doing fairly well, considering I speak basically no Japanese.

That is, until I got home and realized that rather than saying good morning I was actually walking around saying, thank you very much. Which, it seems, is actually not a bad way to greet the world – especially as we in the United States celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday.

So, good morning. And thank you very much.

just say yes

“You don’t dig up a fruit tree every year, do you? If you do, you’ll never get any fruit!” It does make sense, when you think of it like that.

Pastor Chen, a Taiwanese Presbyterian minister, shared why he has chosen to stay put, in the same place, for the past 20+ years of his ministry.

In the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church when one is done training to be a pastor, the first ‘assignment’ is truly that – a lottery system, picked out of a hat, if you will, and you are told where you will go. Sort of like an arranged marriage. Pastor Chen, before receiving his assignment, decided that wherever he was sent, he would stay.

He wound up being sent to a poor, aboriginal (indigenous) area of Taiwan, to the Juang San Church. He himself is not of the aboriginal peoples, but that was where he was sent.

Though Taiwan has only a small percentage Christian population (around 3.5%) the aboriginals are overwhelmingly Christian (close to 70% of aboriginals are Christian).  They are a small portion of the total population (around 2%) and tend to be the poorest and most marginalized in society.

Pastor Chen quickly realized that not only could the congregation not afford to pay him as their pastor, but the church itself was already in debt, and the church members were themselves out of work.

Needing work himself, and needing to figure out a way to help the church become self-sustaining, Pastor Chen began to wonder what might be possible.

Nearby the Juang San Church is the Changua Christian Hospital – what has become the leading medical center in the area, and begun with Presbyterian roots.

As it happened, the hospital approached Pastor Chen to see if he and some of the church members might become the cleaning crew for it.  “Yes!” he said – explaining that those who have few resources always say yes. The new cleaning crew had to quickly figure out what it meant to be providing that service for the medical center – they didn’t have experience in this, just a willingness, ability, and a need.

After working through issues of the floors being a bit too polished – it could get dangerous if people were to slip and fall in the hospital – the crew settled into a routine and won the approval of the hospital.

After a while of this the hospital came to Pastor Chen and asked, “You are doing such a good job with the cleaning – do you do fumigation?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – having no idea how to do fumigation. “But we learned.”

Again, pleased, the hospital came to Pastor Chen and his crew – “Do you do landscaping?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – explaining to us that after trimming the trees back a bit too much, they learned.

What began as a crew of 4 is now a crew of over 300, including church members and non-members, now sustaining themselves, their families, and also the church.

Because it has become self-sustaining the church is able to give back more to the local community, offering after school tutoring to local aboriginal children, and helping them protect the local habitat – in danger due to the forces of globalization – whose destruction is the biggest threat to the traditional way of life of the aboriginal people.

“The purpose of the church is not just for evangelism” said Pastor Chen, “not just for spiritual things, but for the whole life – for the whole person.”

photo: taipei, from above


Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from its creation in 2004 until, in 2010, the inevitable happened and a taller building was built in Dubai.

On our first day in Taipei our PCUSA delegation was taken to the top – the 89th floor inside, with the optional climb to the 91st floor for an outdoor view, which was stunning on a fairly clear day.

Taipei, from Taipei 101
© 2012 erin dunigan

photo: candy cane flower

As we walked down the streets of Taipei with our hosts, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) Pastor Andrew pointed this flower out to me, growing like a ‘weed’ by the side of the road.

candy cane flower, Taipei, Taiwan
© 2012 erin dunigan