I saw it out of the corner of my eye – a swelling river of hot, starchy pasta water careering across the dry, dusty ground towards me.
I’d done it again! I hurled my Lonely Planet across the tent and fumbled frantically to unzip the flysheet. Three weeks of making penne pasta on a camp stove, and I’d lost interested in cooking entirely. My culinary creativity came to an abrupt halt after week one with chili and rice; it was now a purely functional activity.
I’d endured almost the whole sweltering month of July in Andalucía, traipsing across the same eight square kilometers of barren, volcanic coastline, trying to make sense of the local geology as part of a university mapping project. Evenings were spent thumbing through a small collection guidebooks, often by torchlight, plotting future travels and fanning myself to try and keep cool. The Basque country in the north always captured my imagination for its gastronomic association, especially in the dark aftermath of another bowl of tuna pasta.
That was five years ago; I never made it that far north, but here I am again thumbing through photos of local pintxos and reading about San Sebastián. Only this time I’m not in Spain, or in a tent eating tuna pasta (thank goodness!); I’m holding an iPhone in the comfort of an air conditioned room.
Mobile devices have flourished in those five years and new digital travel guide publisher Sutro Media is also thriving. Freelance journalists-turned-local-travel-experts like Mark Ayling have flocked to the app publishing platform, and developed some very impressive, highly localized guides for a very small price tag.
The new Basque Country Cuisine & Culture guide packs everything necessary to function without an Internet connection – perfect for browsing in even the most remote location, far from the reach of a WiFi signal. The home screen is an alphabetized list of everything in the guide: restaurants, beaches, towns, points of interest and more. You won’t find any accommodation listings; it’s not what the app is about.
The photo library alone would have kept me salivating for weeks in my tent – it’s packed with foodie photos and links to where you can find the dishes. Information is detailed and navigation is well thought out. You can even click through to Google Maps for directions to a particular point of interest. Most of what you’d expect to find in a regular, old-fashioned guidebook is here, just embellished with the help of a little technology.
I felt the app is missing a general introduction to the region. The geography, politics, economy and history – these are sections of a guidebook that I often enjoy reading the most – but on reflection this type of general overview is not really at home in such a localised app.
As a detailed on-hand local reference (that works offline), it’s a fantastic addition to your trip, particularly for the foodie. Also, if you’re looking for some inspiration from your tent in a hot, remote part of Spain, it will certainly serve that purpose too – but you might want something else on hand to use as a fan.