What did the nut say to his buddies as he left the cocktail bar?

Realising that I was slouching on my stool, I made an effort to straighten my spine. A minute later, I spotted my reflection in the mirror, his posture once again failing as he leaned with his right elbow on the bar table, which was bolted to the floor. The tabletop was a slice of a tree trunk with a jagged split that had been filled with translucent resin. Red LEDs glowed through from below.

Mirror reflection at the Keefer Bar in Chinatown, Vancouver

Sitting in this atmospheric cocktail bar in Vancouver’s Chinatown during my first ever “online date”, I had no idea that my mind was about to be blown. My date pulled out her iPhone. Swipes, scrolls, and taps followed in quick succession, and before I knew it the screen was facing me and I gripped my chin in pain from my jaw having dropped so hard.

What, you may wonder, could be so amazing?

Cashews, that’s what.

She showed me a series of photos of cashews from a trip she’d made to Brazil. In all these years of eating cashews, I never knew that they grow out of the bottom of cashew apples. Wrapped in a green protective casing, a single cashew nut clings tightly to the bottom of each cashew apple.

48 days later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of a Land Cruiser pickup somewhere between Kissidougou and Kankan, in northeastern Guinea. Red dust shot out and upward from the tires; billowing clouds lost their definition almost as soon as they formed, leaving a thick, rusty fog in our wake. A small orchard of unfamiliar trees on the left hand side of the road caught my attention, but it was out of sight as soon as I’d noticed it. No more than five minutes had passed when more of these trees came into sight, lining both sides of the road for hundreds of metres. This time, it was impossible not to notice the yellow fruit on the trees: cashew apples!

Two nights later, I paid 40 cents Canadian (about 32 cents US that day) for eleven cashew apples, and 45 cents Canadian for four mangoes.

11 cashew apples and 4 mangoes in Kankan, Haute Guinée, Guinea

I downed five cashew apples and a mango in one sitting, even though I was stuffed from a large dinner.

Biting into my first ever cashew apple, in Guinea

Next, to gain a little perspective on cashew nuts, I spent half an hour fumbling with my Leatherman to get them out of their protective casings.

Cross-section of a cashew nut in its casing

This bunch of eight cashew apples:

8 cashew apples, with cashews still clinging on

…gave me this set of cashews:

8 cashews, unopened

…which in turn held this little set of cashew nuts:

8 cashew nuts

In case you ever find yourself face to face with a real live cashew apple, here’s a protip: don’t consume any milk products before or afterwards. I haven’t yet verified whether this is a legitimate problem, but when he was in the Gambia, my friend Zack (who insists his name is not spelled with a “k”) was told that combining dairy with cashew apples is a recipe for a gastric disaster. My Guinean colleagues told me the same thing, without any prompting. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might be able to shed some light on whether such a reaction really results from mixing milk and cashew apples, or if it’s perhaps a folk tale serving another purpose.

“Cashew later!”

Picking a cashew apple right from the tree, somewhere between Kankan and Kouroussa, Guinea

Tasty, tasty Guantanamo

On Wednesday I taught our cook how to make guacamole. Friday afternoon he made it for the second time, somewhat less successfully (he forgot the lemon, didn’t add enough garlic).

“Chris, j’ai fais guantanamo pour toi,” he told me. Yes, our cook now knows how to make “Guantanamo.” Côte d’Ivoire is excellent.

(He has also now learned how to make great garlic bread and fantastic fruit salad)

A few random photos from Vancouver, Ottawa, and Salt Spring Island

Here are a few random photos I felt like posting when I was in Canada, but which didn’t really merit posts…

Framed portrait:

Framed portrait

I glued a 1-cent stamp from 1935 onto a parcel wrapped in blank 1960s sheet music paper to give a gift to a friend:

1935 1-cent stamp

A tasty cracker manwich, with Oker in the background:

Cracker manwich

Denise’s crazy nails, which were done by a lady at Lady Orchid’s Rejuvenating Spa down on West Broadway a few doors west from Manitoba Street:

Nails looking sharp

I made strawberries stuffed with chocolate mousse and added a peppermint leaf to each one:

Strawberries stuffed with chocolate

And I also made peanut butter cup cookies. I didn’t make the peanut butter cups, though, they were in a package…

Peanut butter cup cookies

After the Vancouver Canucks won Game 5 of Round 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, sending them to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, a bunch of us went downtown to celebrate – we weren’t the only ones!

Celebrating after the Canucks Round 3, Game 5 victory

I had to go to Ottawa to get my visa for Côte d’Ivoire, and as I do on every visit to Ottawa, I took a quick walk around Parliament Hill:

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

While in Ottawa, I also visited the Canadian Museum of Nature, which has some really cool dinosaur fossils, including this triceratops skull:

Triceratops skull, Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Back in BC, my last weekend in Canada was spent with a bunch of friends on Salt Spring Island. The float plane is faster than the ferry:

Float plane en route to Salt Spring Island, BC,Canada

The trip by ferry is really beautiful, winding between loads of little islands along the way:

View from the ferry to Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada

On Saturday morning, we went to Ganges, the main town on Salt Spring Island, to have a look at the market. This busker, Mack Pinchbeck, was amaaazing!

Busking skateboard bluegrass fiddle prodigy Mack Pinchbeck in Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Later on, we headed to a dock so people could take a dip in the water. Conrad the 4-legged, 4-armed wonderboy dove right in:

Conrad, the 4-armed, 4-legged wonderboy