From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.
Assorted trip reports from assorted places
It’s getting more difficult to describe our life and its direction. This has caused writer’s block, which is the reason you haven’t heard from me lately. I’m still trying to figure s__ t out.
On the one hand I’m embarrassed that I can’t seem to hang up the spurs after promising everyone (including myself and especially Karen) that I could and would. For god’s sake, I’ve started yet another company! Is it hopeless?
The problem of course is I like working, at least this work. And since resigning as CEO last July, I can pretty much bend the work schedule to my schedule. Of course no matter where I am, I pretty much work off and on around the clock anyway. Working may be the only thing I’m good at. Did I tell you I started a new non-profit–the Network for Global Innovation? Just last week:)
I’ve drank the cool aid of climate change, trying to help the poor, and helping young entrepreneurs. In fact i’m pretty much punch drunk on this stuff as I can think of little else. I’m writing speeches for conferences in Nairobi and Barcelona, becoming the Pied Piper of Innovation Will Solve All Problems. It would be fun to chat about whether that’s true or not.
Karen no longer takes anything I say seriously. We‘re moving out of Los Angeles by April! Scratch that, we might need to stay in LA for another year! I don’t want to work any more. Honey, Saturday mornings are the best times for me to really concentrate and get some solid work done. She just kind of rolls with the punches and says “whatever!” And she really means it. How great is that?
For those of us in the 4th Quarter, figuring out how to play the end game is a tricky deal. Roll the dice and play hard? F__K the final few years (or is it a decade?) How risk adverse should we be? Will the odds catch up with us at some point, as I know we’ve burned through a more than a couple of Nine Lives already. Yet, Time Waits for No Man, so if I’m going to Africa and South America on NVII, it better be sooner or later. Did I mention that KR and I are thinking about taking a Trans-Siberian train trip across Russia, Mongolia and China?
Its hard to hang the spurs up knowing you still have a couple of rodeos to go. And riding the bronco pays for lots of other stuff.
I told you, its complicated.
We haven’t been staying in one place very long. In the last five months we’ve been to..
- PV (about six times)
- San Diego
And tomorrow I’m about to make my first trip to The Swamp after Mr. Trump has drained it. Should be interesting, but for us clean energy guys its going to be a lonely trip.
- Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks in the Little Tokyo part of downtown LA. Last week I was in a Starbucks in Puerto Vallarta. The week before we were in Brazil. The week before that we were on NVII in Baja (yes, stopped at a Starbucks in Ensenada), the week before that I was in Toronto. The week after next I’ll be in DC on another “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” trip.
- KR and I are thinking about our three potential next big trips: (1) Trans Siberian Train (2) Combo cargo/cruise ship around Tahiti; and (3) M/C ride from South Africa up the eastern coast of Africa’.
- KR and I are really enjoying PV a lot. We just came back from a fabulous 4 days at Corona Adobe. We’re refurbished LBS. I want to go back tomorrow, but…
- I’m writing speeches for conferences in Nairobi and Barcelona. I like writing and speaking about climate change and innovation ecosystems.
- Also, who am I kidding, how can we go back to PV when I have a company to launch? But…. I can pretty much work from anywhere that has an airport. Maybe we will go back to PV next month? See what I mean.?
- Karen is caught in the middle of this twirling mess of stuff. One minute its “pack up LA we’re outta here!” and the next is let’s buy some more art for Factory Place.
- Have I mentioned the Dos Diablos? Bogart and Squirt are a major part of our lives and KR pretty much makes sure they live the life of a Trump (OK, I take that back). They’ve been in three different kennels looking for the right place to stay while we’re on the road. When on the road, we watch the “Doggy Cam” every night making sure they’re comfy.
So here’s what the last couple of months have looked like in pictures:
Nine days in and we’ve traveled less than 900 miles by motorcycle, the only mode of transportation that counts on this trip. Yet, it does feel like we’ve been on the road for nine days as 90% of said 900 miles have been in the rain or near-rain. This is no big deal from a riding POV, but it does lengthen the amount of time it takes to get into/out-of the four-plus layers of motorcycle clothing required.
The biggest impact of the rain is that we’ve gone through my beloved Pyrenees Mountains in the rain and/or misty clouds, forcing me to go somewhat slower than I’d like on some of Spain’s best killer roads (that’s killer in a good way), but KR doesn’t seem to mind the lower speed:)
Here’s the headlines for those of you who have a life and can’t waste it reading this post:
- It took us a very full day to get to Southampton, UK via plane
- Retrieved NVII from a Southampton farm only to find that all of our m/c clothes and a bunch of other stuff had been stolen on the ship over
- We took a 24+ hour ferry ride on the Queen Mary of ferries from Portsmouth to Santander, on the northern coast of Spain. It was by far the best ferry ride ever
- Left Santander and went northeast to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Jaca and then through the Pyranees and finally ending up in Barcelona
- We ran where the bulls run in Pamplona without the bulls. This worked for me:)
- In Jaca, we met two friends of Sam (Fred and Debra) and experienced a full-on street party celebrating a Moorish/Christian battle from Medieval times. I’m happy to report that there were no new casualties, although a lot of folks were trying to hurt themselves via drink:) Fred and Debra were great and its nice to meet some locals
- We’ve pretty much eaten and drunken our way through this tough duty. Nothing better to get one warm and toasty than tapas and vino.
- No problems with NVII as he ran beautifully. He’s waiting patiently as I’m slowly getting back to the Rhythm of the Road feel
Our general plan is to continue southwest along the Spanish Coast toward Gibraltar, but I have no faith that we’ll keep to “Fred’s Plan” as KR hasn’t really weighed in yet. I know I owe her lots of Medieval churches, houses, castles, and all things generally ancient.
Here’s what it’s looked like so far.
Who says that I don’t appreciate culture? (my wife). We spent a whole day visiting the works of Antoni Gaudi, Spain’s most famous architect. This is the outside of a house he designed around 1900 that takes its inspiration from a dragon and the skeleton of its victims..
KR and I just spent 14 days in Malaysia, Singapore and India as I tried to add to the Network for Global Innovation membership roster. Singapore is one of the more go-go places we’ve been to, very similar to Hong Kong and Seoul in feel. Kuala Lumpur is a Muslim-run country stuck halfway between modernity and the way it use to be. And India, well India is a whole different bag with huge swaths of the very poor surrounding pockets of extreme wealth (the richest man in India has built himself a real skyscraper as a home in downtown Mumbai).
We’ve now been to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Delhi, and Mumbai in the past year, which is a pretty good sprinkling of Asia. One can’t help but notice that air pollution is a pan-Asian problem as each of these places wears a gray blanket of smog that literally blocks the sun most of the time. Gray is the new black in Asia. Asia is creating pollution on a scale that’s hard to imagine. (BTW, many Asians think its “their turn” to industrialize in order to catch up with the West. They argue we polluted big time during our industrial revolution and now we’re crying foul when we started the problem. There’s some merit to this argument).
Most of these places are huge. Delhi is the second most populated city in the world with Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai and Tokyo all having way more than 20 million people each. China has 1.3 billion people and India has 1.2 billion. Their 2.5 BILLION+ people are burning fuel as fast as they can find it to build their middle classes. This fuel is mostly coal; incredibly cheap and incredibly dirty. To get a sense of the scale we’re talking about, take a look at this chart.
Looking at how China and India are handling this problem is reflective of their systems of government. China’s central government is making sweeping changes, calling for things like the shuttering of Beijing’s last coal plant in 2016. India can make no similar move as India has a strong local democracy in which 29 states determine energy policy to a large extent. The Prime Minister can set the vision, but Modi can’t decree it like the Chinese Commi’s. Authoritarian governments can make things happen… or else:)
Singapore is an interesting case in point on how “control” can deliver good things. While Singapore has a form of democracy, its a society that’s notoriously rule-oriented. For instance, Singapore doesn’t have a traffic problem because it costs $150K just to get a permit to own a car. You want a taxi? You can stand out in the street until hell freezes over watching empty cab by empty cab drive by. Walk to a taxi stand and presto a cab appears immediately:) Everyone jokes that its illegal to chew gum in Singapore because the residue might end up on the street, but it is illegal! But the streets are damn clean. And Singaporeans actually drive in the lanes that are painted on the street unlike Malaysia and India in which lane markers are totally ignored. Singapore is working pretty well for Singaporeans as one out of six families in Singapore have a net worth of at least one million dollars. We’ve never found more knowledgeable and happy cab drivers than in Singapore either. I received our best economic lesson from one happy cabbie as he explained the difference between Singapore and Malaysia (Singaporeans care about one thing in government: will the policy work? Malaysia cares whether it corresponds with the Muslim faith… whether it works or not is at least second in priority.
We spent the most time in India – about a week first in Delhi (the government capital) and then Mumbai (the financial center) and Ahmadabad (university town). I’m still conflicted about India and frankly don’t know what to make of it. On the one hand there are so many poor people everywhere that we were a constant target of the street hustle. It’s part of the way of life; if you don’t ask for it, push it, seize it or drive through it, someone else will:) Yet, we were taken care of really well by Indian citizens that we met and the entire staffs of every hotel we stayed in.
I could never figure out if there was a middle class in India. There was a ton of squalor on the side of almost every road and street. There were dilapidated apartment buildings on crowded, narrow streets that we American’s would consider part of a ghetto. One out of a 1000 buildings had paint on it, fresh or not. But, maybe this is their middle class, much like grading on the curve. Is it fair to compare the US’s idea of Middle Class with Indians? I doubt it.
More than anything, India strikes me as a place in which infrastructure of any kind — roads, electricity, waste, water, buildings — was hopelessly overrun long ago and it will never catch up. 60% of the liquid human waste in Mumbai is dumped directly into the sea. Every building of any size has its own generator and even these aren’t enough to deliver electricity all the time. Most places have regular 2-4 hour periods of no electricity. In India, 350 million people — the size of the US’ total population — will never experience electricity in their life times. In a world like this, what do you do? Fend for yourself.
Perhaps because of this striking contrast, the rich live very well. The hotels we stayed in were world class — the Taj Mahal Palace (Mubai), the ITC Maurya (Delhi) and the Majestic (KL). BTW, we could never have afforded these hotels except that the dollar is ridiculously strong against almost any currency in the world — go travel now while its cheap(er)! We were treated to a new level of service that frankly we’ve never experienced anywhere in the world. Service happily provided with genuine warmth and thoughtfulness. I admit it was nice to come back from a day of meetings/traffic to the cocoon of the Taj or ITC. One could get use to this:)
Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures…
We’ve taken a lot of trips, but this one’s had the most contrasts. We’ve partied on the French Riviera with the One Percenters (OK, we were in the same town:) and drank beer with hard-core motorcyclists on the roads of the Isle of Man. We’ve stayed in tiny towns in France, Switzerland and England and visited one of the world’s great (big) cities — Paris. We’ve seen the rolling countrysides of England and France; the mountains of Switzerland/Italy/France/Germany; and the ocean cliffs and pastures of the IOM. We’ve been on autobahns at 90+mph and tiny tiny mountain roads at 9 mph. All in all, a jammed-packed 30 odd days.
Here are the basic facts & stats:
- NY II shipped to & from: Zeebrugge via RORO on Wallenius lines
- 36 days, 19 travel days on the bike
- 3500 miles (<100 miles per day total and > 180 miles per travel day)
- Methods of transportation: plane, train, bus, ferry, taxi, subway, m/c
- Countries (9): Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Germany, England, Isle of Man
- Problems with the bike: 0
- Tip-overs: 1 (while packing him up one night)
- Electronics: two computers, two iPads, two cameras, one GPS, one video camera, two phones, two helmet intercoms, and one mobile Wi-Fi hot spot
- Longest # of nights in any one city: 4 – Nice
- No. of pubs/bars slept above: 2
- No. of rain storms encountered while riding: 3
- No. of Westies sighted: 12+
- No. of “old” churches visited: too many to count:)
- Best hotel: La Mirande, Avignon France
- Worst experience: Iberia airlines — 12+ hours in one of the last analog planes + lost bags
We spent the last week of the trip meandering from the IOM through England, staying a couple of nights in Canterbury. We then crossed the Channel and spent two nights in Normandy on the French coast, wandered through the French countryside and spent another day/night in Brugge. I rode NVII back to Zeebrugge and put him on the boat. KR and I then took a train to Brussels airport and caught a flight to LA via Madrid. Simple:)
Net Take Aways:
- The Little Woman no longer likes 500 mile long days on the m/c. Go figure.
- Too much space allocated for tools, not enough for personal electronics. NV II is rock solid, so I don’t need to carry a mini tool chest. You can never have enough electronic toys, however.
- There are no hotels in Europe for less than $100 that the Little Woman wants to stay in.
- BMW rain suits suck
- We need a bigger “junk drawer” (top box:)
- RORO (roll on, roll off) is still the best way of shipping a motorcycle. But, one needs to make sure not to put any small value items where freight handlers/shippers can steal them as they will.
- God bless Garmin and GPS. How did we ever travel before them?
- Ditto for Schuberth helmets with intercom/radio/phone. They’re expensive, but flawless.
- Wolfman water proof bags are the best. When you combine them with separate, shaped mesh containers for clothes it creates an easy to pack/unpack clothing system.
- BMW’s electronic suspension pretty much solved the short guy problem of putting two feet on the ground. System can be used as an instantaneous lowering system when in traffic by putting system in “Soft” mode, “Hard” mode when on the highway. Technology can be your friend:)
- Contrary to going-in perceptions, motorcycle parts/accessories in Europe (not England) are cheaper than here. The devaluation of the Euro is probably the main driver of this short term bonus.
Thanks for keeping in touch with us.
Riding through the Alps is a primal draw for most motorcyclists. We’ve spent our entire lives looking at pictures of soaring peaks with roads winding up there sides, each with captions like the World’s Best Motorcycle Road! It’s a motorcyclist’s dream to ride the Alps. Well, it’s no longer a dream for me as we’ve spent the last several days riding through the Italian, French, Swiss, German, and Lichtenstein (yes, even tiny Lichtenstein has Alps). It’s been terrific. For me. For Karen, a little less so.
Lets just say that Karen doesn’t lie in bed at night dreaming of riding the Alps. Old charming medieval cities? √ Cozy cute cafes to have a pop? √ Little streets crammed with interesting shops? √ Soaring motorcycle roads over the tops of mountains with lots of death-defying curves? Not so much.
Hence about 2 1/2 days into our scheduled 10 day Alps tour de force motorcycle ride my intercom crackles, “I never want to see another f__king swiss chalet!” This could be a problem given I think we’re just getting into our “stride” and I know we’re going to see a lot more Swiss Chalets before we’re finished:) Time for a little route rethinking.
For those of you keeping track, we were last on the French Riviera, in the seaside town of Menton, which is a short drive in your Ferrari north of Monaco on the Italian border. We headed due north into the Italian Alps for a day, then swerved west and then north back into the French Alps for a day or so. Then due east again into and through much of the Swiss Alps, then north through Lichtenstein and north west through the center of Switzerland. We left Switzerland through its north border with Germany, enjoyed a brief spurt up one of the Deutschland’s Autobahns (using only the middle lane at a mere 93mph). We are now nestled in the French town of Strasbourg, rethinking our route and doing some much needed wash.
Our choices are four fold: (1) Continue toward the Chunnel at a snail’s pace, then head toward the ferry to the Isle of Mann to catch the TT race; (2) Vere sharply north through Luxemborg and to Amsterdam for a couple of days, then to the Chunnel, etc.; (3) Haul ass to the Chunnel and then spend 3-4 days in the South of England; and (4) Vere sharply left, go to Paris and hang for a couple of days before going to the Chunnel, etc.
I’ll let you know what happens next time.
None of this is to take away from a great couple of days. Highlights include
- More great roads, mountains, and (yes those f__king) swiss chalets than you could wish for. Just like British Columbia, Peru and Alaska; beautiful scenery becomes the norm…
- We spend two days in the town of Annecy in the French Alps, which rivals Brugge for beauty and charm. Like Brugge, we find the bars and scenes that present a less-than-normal-tourist experience:)
- We– KR, me and NVII — take a train for the first time with no problems through the part of the Alps that are still closed due to snow.
- The Germans know how to build highways and they like to drive fast. 93 mph doesn’t allow you in the left lane. Always drive with one eye on the rear view mirror.
- We’ve seen a ton of bikes on the road, but can’t seem to connect with any of them. They come in all shapes and sizes, but 1200GSs are the most common.
- Bike-wise, NVII has run like a champ. Not a single problem. Put on a new rear tire in Annesy and waited less than an hour to get it done.
Life is good. Here’s what it looked like in pictures.
Every once in a while, a man has to be a man. A biker has to be a biker. No more meetings full of smiles. No more doing the laundry. No more taking the dog out for a walk. All these and many more are all necessary parts of life; no argument here. But what about one’s inner Bad Ass Biker Dude self? When does he get to play?
Today, right now.
Well, at least the older and slower-moving version of my Bad Ass Biker Dude self is out amongst them on my steed. I decided that a mini-trip around California was in order to make sure all things were still working. My Biker Babe couldn’t make it as she’s in Mexico playing Innkeeper to the World. This was an opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Men, read that again and try to memorize it.
Most of our trips answer some question beyond the most basic of all, “What’s over there!” This one is no different:
- What will NVII be like to ride? Can I get comfortable on him? This will be NVII’s first real trip of any length. A: Simply stated – NV II is the best bike I’ve ever owned. He makes riding easy. Even though he’s pretty heavy, NV II feels stable as a rock in corners. Having 125 HP means never having to say “Move over!” as acceleration eliminates all arguments.
- Can I still ride a bike? Not as dumb of a question as it might seem. In fact, it’s probably the question. Can I get back to being a smooth riding dude? Can I get over being sick-to-my-stomach on a bike? Will I ever get my confidence back? Will the little voice in my head always whisper, “The front! The front won’t stick and you’ll end of up in the bushes!” A: See above for much of the answer — NV makes riding fast, easy. But, it’s also been days and days of nothing but riding twisting roads and I now feel as one with NV. The tires are getting scuffed on the side walls and I’m wearing out the new-tire-nipples on the sides (Biker dudes will know what I mean). Yet, I’m still rusty as things move a lot faster than I remember at 120mph.
- What’s it going to be like traveling without my Biker Babe? This is the first significant m/c trip I’ve taken without KR. Will I cry like a baby from loneliness? Or will I be the m/c equivalent of Bear Grylis, fending for myself no matter what is thrown my way? A: Well, I haven’t cried out loud, but its much better sharing with the Little Woman on the intercom. KR wouldn’t have liked the first three days — ride hard, ride fast, don’t stop until you drop. After that, she would have loved experiencing travel vs. riding.
I also discovered some things that weren’t expected:
- Riding with a helmet-mounted radio and mobile phone is pretty damn cool. Up until now I’ve been a purest, only wanting to hear the sound of the engine and wind in my face (OK, that’ not counting the melodic beats of KR telling me to slow down). Not anymore. There’s nothing like listening to good tunes cruising down the Coast Highway. Or taking a phone call and having the caller not know I was on my bike.
- California still holds surprises. I’ve lived in California for decades and have ridden most of its roads lots of times, yet there are still places that seem like another world. Take the little towns of the Eastern Sierras, or the Way-Back-Time-Machine of Garberville with today’s hippies looking as grungy as I did when their age. What other town would have an annual Reggae on the River festival?
- I like camping (still)! Just for giggles, I took our camping gear along just in case. Good thing as I used it in a deserted camp ground on the Lost Coast. Was able to pitch the tent et. al. pretty easily and even figured out how to light a fire. All the while consuming alcohol and listening to music. National Geographic eat your heart out.
- I tried every electronic gadget on NVII and didn’t see the point. I couldn’t tell the difference between the “Road” and “Dynamic” settings. Changing spring rates didn’t seem to make much difference either. Maybe that’s the point — they’re not there to be effective, just more toys to play with while riding. Works for me.
My trip plan was pretty simple: Go north along the eastern edge of California, make a left turn at some point and go to the Coast, then turn left again and head south back down the Coast. Basically an inverted “U”. I went north staying in the Sierras and avoiding any Freeways, past Tahoe and up to the fine city of Susanville (Susan must have been a hell of a chick as her namesake even has a Starbucks, which is my first measure of a City That I’d Want to Visit). Then I hung a left and sprinted across the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway running 100+ in mph and degrees Fahrenheit. Stayed in Eureka and then went down a combo of Hwy 1 and 101. Pretty simple. And pretty great.
Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures.
2100 miles in seven days is kind of wimpy, I admit. On the positive side, there were no crashes, breakdowns, robberies, or bear sightings. And we’re ready for the next one.
The answer is Los Angeles, as viewed from a dive bar in Skid Row-Adjacent. We haven’t had the opportunity to hang in said bar much because I’m not in LA a lot lately. Here’s my travel schedule of the last couple of weeks: LA, San Antonio, LA, Phoenix, LA, Berlin, Milan, Verano, Revoreto, Milan, Turin, Legnano, LA, Mexico City, LA, Puerto Vallarta, LA. Ninety-nine percent of this travel is LACI related because we’re building the Global Innovation Network (GIN), which will link together a couple dozen premier innovation institutions in key world markets. More about this is a bit.
KR and I are preparing to move further south into the industrial core of Los Angeles. While our current place is Frontier Land for most people, its becoming too gentrified for me, so we’re moving to an old fabric manufacturing building that’s being converted to lots of (even smaller than Factory Place) lofts. It’s in a good neighborhood: across the street from a strip club, next door to a marijuana dispensary, and it’s freeway close because its under a freeway.
It wasn’t easy to find because of its prime location:) We found it during one of our regular Sunday drives through the deserted streets of Vernon and surrounds. Vernon is best known for a Pedigree dog food plant, Jimmy Dean’s Sausage factory, and its the world’s metal recycling capital. I’m afraid these lofts will become a hot as well since Gino, the developer of said lofts, taped a telephone number on the side of his building to advertise leases and got over 100 calls for his 50 apartments in two days. He took the number down the next day.
Building GIN is rapidly becoming a full time gig in addition to my day job as ED of LACI. We now have partners in Germany (2), Italy (3), Sweden, Finland and Mexico. Next up is the rest of Latin America and Asia. Our goal is to have 12+ partners signed by the end of the year. Many of you may be asking the question that I get a lot from LACI’s stakeholders, “What the heck is a small incubator located in downtown Los Angeles doing building a global network?” I’m stating it much nicer than its usually asked.
Here’s the short answer: our goal is to make Los Angeles into a world-class innovation ecosystem and huge green economy. We believe we can’t do that without connecting to the world. What better way to connect to the world than placing LA in the center of an international network? The long answer would include that the environment and energy sustainability is a global problem, therefore its a global market that our companies need to take advantage of. One of LA’s key strengths is that it’s a leader in international trade and hence our efforts are in line with LA’s future. If we succeed in doing this, we will position LA’s economy for excellent growth for the remainder of this century.
As most of you know, I prefer to travel by motorcycle or at least by RV or fast car. Our European trip involved taxis, buses, trains, and planes over 5 days of 13 meetings in five different cities in two countries. Whew. We were always running for a train or bus and made all of them. I thought I was getting the hang of train travel until I took the wrong train in Northern Italy and came close to crossing the Austrian border before realizing that I had just spent 1 1/2 hours going in the wrong direction. Bottom line: lots of buses and trains, but I haven’t been on NVII in over 30 days. He barely has more than 1300 miles on him (I put 500+ on our first day together).
Here’s what all this looks like in pictures.
It’s difficult to summarize this past winter’s events. Where’s the theme in it all? It started with the following two-week travel sequence: DC – LAX- PV – Mexico City- PV – Guadalajara- LAX. The trip included meeting with the White House’s most senior energy staff and being told…”We talk about LACI all the time here. There’s no one doing anything like you guys…” I know that and $1.65 will get me a small Starbucks, but it was nice to hear anyway and certainly a 180 degree change from just three years ago. The trips also included signing an MOU with the Mayor of Los Angeles in Mexico City and being told “You’re exceeding expectations, Fred” by the Mayor. Please remember that when we’re asking for more money from the City to support LACI, I’m thinking:) Oh, and we began building a Global Innovation Network (GIN) which now has members in Germany and Mexico, soon to add Italy and the rest of Europe. And I’m part of the Mayor’s delegation on his upcoming trip to Asia this fall.
South of the border, KR has become a world-class inn keeper as the Corona Adobe/Little Big Sur vacation rental business has exploded. No one is more surprised than KR and I at this new development. Corona Adobe has become a very popular B&W to the point that KR has had to escape to LBS because the house was fully rented. That option soon disappeared as well since the Corona Adobe/LBS “metropolitan living and jungle escape combo package” has been very popular. Last week KR had to stay in a PV hotel because we had no space in our own home or out at LBS. KR is coming to LA for the month of April partly because there’s no room in PV. And to see Her Man, of course.
All work and no play makes for a dull boy (which I’ve been accused of being), so there’s been a fair amount of that including a couple of days in PV with friends (Puerto Vallarta is just a great, great town), a Saturday night bar crawl like I only vaguely remember in my youth, and….. A NEW MOTORCYCLE!
We welcomed Now Voyager II into the family about a week ago. He’s a 2014 BMW GS with every gadget, gizmo and option that the German’s could think of:) I spent about two months evaluating various choices for the Walti’s new DreamMobile, but settled on the biggest, fastest, heaviest, and most expensive alternative. Go figure. He’s so big that I’m thinking of getting special elevator shoes made:) None the less, he’s handsome, fast, comfortable and handles great. Why has it taken me all these years to man-up and get a GS? Go figure.
Maybe the theme for this winter is it’s been a time of transitions. LACI is growing up — in size, footprint and reputation. One of these days it will be a real force to be reckoned with. Our life in PV has transitioned to that of part-time/ full-effort inn keeper which has pretty much changed what KR does south of the border. We’ve shifted to a new motorcycle, leaving the stressed-out Now Voyager behind and welcoming the fully-capable Now Voyager II into the fold. And, as we all face the challenges of growing up (finally?), we lost two of our friends this winter. One, Jack Foster, was one of the greatest creative people I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the standard for how to have fun and do great work. Not a bad legacy.
I’ve been wanting to go south on two wheels ever since we got back from South America almost three years ago. Can it really be that long ago? Seems like a lifetime ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother tale. Exploring the remaining parts of South America and all of Central America feels like unfinished business. So, early this summer I came up with a plot to take Now Voyager to Central America during the holidays and sprung it on KR. I was half expecting her to say “have a good time,” but of course she said, “Great! When do we go?” “Sometime in December,” I replied and that was pretty much the extent of our planning for this trip.
Well, guess what? December’s here and we’re a couple of days from shoving off.
Preparation is concentrated on getting our house and business in order. LACI is now a burgeoning little enterprise that’s going …(hold your breath as this is really true) global. Ian H. and I recently spent a week in Berlin setting up the European leg of our Global Innovation Network (GIN – shaken, not stirred of course). When we get back its off to Mexico City with the Mayor, Washington DC to the ARPA-E Summit, and eventually the Far East with Mayor again in the Fall. Anyway, the good news is that one is never really disconnected in our world no matter how far you go or in what way. Which means one can always pull on the Oars of Commerce.
Getting our house in order has taken on new meaning around Corona Adobe, aka our Bed & Wine. Karen is working hard to be an Inn Keeper and has booked Corona for Christmas, New Years and much of January. Most of this will take place while we’re away, which adds a whole other level of complexity. We’re also renting out Little Big Sur this season which has necessitated a whole range of repairs and refurbishments. LBS now represents the ultimate in luxury camping:)
Getting Now Voyager ready consisted of buying a spare set of tires, changing his oil, and buying new maps for the Garmin. Done. Paperwork consisted of a temporary m/c permit for Mexico, some m/c insurance, an int’l drivers license for grins and copies of all documents that someone might want to take a look at. Done. I didn’t even have time to wash the guy.
This past weekend I felt like I was arriving home, even though I was hanging with 150+ motorcycle adventurers, most of whom I’d never met. This was the fifth Horizons Unlimited USA meeting that I’ve gone to in the past four years. Those regular TRT readers will remember that it was the 2008 HU meeting in Silverton, Colorado that started this whole “we gotta get out of here” thing for KR and me. This s a meeting of, for and by serious adventure bikers.
For those of us who dream of adventure travel on a motorcycle, there isn’t a more interesting group of people to hang with. For those who don’t have such dreams, this might be a painful weekend. I was even smiling while watching Grant Johnson (the founder of HU) give his “how to change a tire” seminar for the fifth time. Knowing the right wrench to break “the bead” during a tire change is interesting:) Over a two day period, there were about 50 presentations on everything from trip reports to how-to-tune your suspension. This is heaven, beaten only by actually taking a trip on a m/c.
I counted no fewer than ten people/couples who had or were in the process of traveling around the world on their motorcycle. That’s a pretty high concentration even among a group of 100+hardcore adventure bikers. These meetings become destinations for people in the middle of their trip. There “local” travelers from North America on their way to South America and points East and West. There were lots of accents around the dinner table too with bikers from Wales, Australia, France, and Spain, among others. This year’s crew was noticeably different than past years’, as the age mix was broader and there were a lot of families with children.
I felt a bit like a charlatan amongst this crew as we’ve not taken a serious bike trip since South America, almost 18 months ago. Yet, I was asked to give two presentations this year. One was the “2 Up, 9000 Miles in 90 Days” presentation on our South America trip that I’d given last year. For some reason, this year’s presentation was given to a standing-room-only crowd and got lots of laughs and questions. It was a lot better feeling than giving an LACI presentation to a group of politicians in LA.
I had to write a new presentation for this meeting, “Rewiring Your Life for Travel: A Work in Progress” which I was pretty apprehensive about because I didn’t feel much like a real expert in Rewiring. I wondered if anyone would come as it wasn’t about the fun stuff of travel, but the more mundane part of getting your act together so you can travel. I was really surprised with a standing room only crowd and lots of applause again. I even picked up a new consulting client for TPG from the audience!
It had been a very long month since visiting KR and La Corona. It took a trip to Toronto to find the time to fly to PV (long story) and see if all was well. I’m happy to report that “Lefty” (KR) is doing remarkably well, Lilly has found new enthusiasm for the beach, and La Corona keeps rising toward the sun. Despite being in the heart of the off-season, PV was still gorgeous and I felt at home for perhaps the first time. Funny how seven trips in seven months will do that for you.
Sometimes you get to pay back people for their deeds, and this summer I was able to pay Sam Hershfield back for a deed he did for/to me twenty-one years ago: I convinced him to buy a motorcycle again and his subsequent cross-country Trip Report is published here. Fortunately he didn’t kill or maim himself, thus shielding me from the wrath of the entire Hershfield Clan. His Honda Pacific Coast now makes five (5) PCs we’ve owned between us.
KR is rapidly recovering from her broken elbow and subsequent operation. The stitches came out and the sling was tossed aside a couple of days before my arrival. Resilience is the only word I can describe KR in dealing with her misfortune. She’s about to start physical therapy so we expect her to be up to full strength by the Fall.
This trip was actually fun and as-close-as-one-can-get-to-relaxing given we’re building a four story Goliath in a country not known for on-time, on-quality, on-budget delivery. Not that we didn’t have lots of stuff to do and decide, which we did, but we actually got to spend one out of the three days I was there just hang’n. La Corona, or more precisely its neighborhood, now feels like home after 2+ years. While I’m sure the neighbors still think of me as the Crazy Gringo Who’s Letting His Wife Build the Four Story Museum, I know most of them and vice versa. We found a new restaurant that was great and visited some old favorites as well.
I was expecting PV to be hell in mid July, and it was hot and humid, but only in the mid-afternoon. The mornings were quiet, calm and really nice. Evening were breezy with the threat of thunderstorms never far off. While I couldn’t imagine living there in July without a monster fan or air conditioning unit, it was surprisingly pleasant. And here’s the real surprise: the plane coming in was packed and the Malecon was still pretty full. Maybe the economy is turning up…
Back to the business at hand, progress on La Corona is happening in every area big and small:
- Raphael’s Tower is now structurally done. KR’s studio will be the best room in the house.
- The solar hot water system is installed and operational
- The pool is done and operational
- There are terraza’s on both the Observation and Pool decks
- The Observation deck is 90% done
- The ground floor living room and original master bedroom are almost finished
- The basic layout of the kitchen is done
My couple of days in PV were spent deciding the following:
- Selected all floor tiles (third time)
- Decided what to do with the roof of Raphael’s Tower (implement his new design of course)
- Came up with the design for the second floor bathroom (now just two to go)
- Refined the kitchen design
- Agreed on the position of the first floor windows
- Came up with the initial concept for the courtyard
The biggest issue facing us is the design of the two remaining bathrooms on the third floor. Isidro looks increasingly uneasy about the pace of our design decisions as he’s warning that we have about two weeks to make it happen.
Time is marching on as we’ve now been in the construction phase of La Corona for 6 1/2 months , with another 6 months prior to that spent in the planning stage. Now that all the structural work has been done, and 75% of the design decisions have been made, I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel appearing late September or early October. I guess time will tell…
Going to a foreign country, or in our case a foreign continent, gives one the chance to get an insight into how other people live. South America was a perfect place to do this as its close enough to get to, yet far enough away to be different. I was expecting to be impressed by the food, dress, architecture, art — the regular stuff of visiting foreign lands.
But it was the nuts and bolts of their life that stuck with me most after our trip. We Americans live a charmed life in so many little ways. Our trash is picked up every week, we always have enough electricity. Paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper are in abundant supply. We don’t have to memorize three different ways to dial a phone depending on what kind of phone we”re using and where we’re calling from/to. We have street signs and good maps. Money is available on every corner as banks and ATMs are ubiquitous. Want to buy a TV that’s more than you can afford this week? No problem, put down the MasterCard and pay it off next month or the one after that.
It’s these little things that make all the difference. And so it was that over the 90+ days we were in SA, we became more familiar with the nuts and bolts of life, which gave us a better insight into how people in SA live than any of the regular stuff.
Let’s talk trash, for example. We pay a company/city to pick it up every week. There’s a system of containers, times, recycling, etc. that happens as automatically as a dial tone on our phone. It’s not so automatic in small towns in Bolivia or Peru. Or, for that matter, in lots of places in Mexico. There’s not much infrastructure to do this because there’s no… (1) tax base to pay for it (2) no place to put it (3) no money to pay for it (4) no containers to use, etc.
Here’s the rub: most South American towns/cities that we visited were remarkably free of trash. So, what do South American’s do? They do it on a block by block basis; pickup trucks come by and take the trash piled on an agreed-to street corner every day. I assume that these trash picker uppers make their money by selling the recyclable trash, but I don’t know.
Once outside bigger cities, you see dumps that collect trash in almost every village. Can you imagine having to carry your trash to a dump every couple of days? And if you don’t have a car, how likely are you to take the trash down the street to the dump? Hence, many houses create their own mini dumps and eventually burn it.
The lack of high-volume trash processing infrastructure has other affects; South Americans consume less and reuse more. Toilet paper is a well-regulated commodity in hotels; you get one small roll per day. Napkins? Paper thin and watched closely. Plastic soda bottles? Reused to carry everything from gasoline to water. After a while, the idea of consuming less becomes a habit, and not a bad one at that. You need smaller dump sites and Toyota pick ups can handle the neighborhood trash needs.
Technology is your friend, especially if you live high up in the Andes. Living “off the grid” is the only alternative in many villages and towns in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Laying electrical, telephone, water, sewage lines isn’t going to happen in our life time. Remote villages in South America are discovering solar power. We stayed with a family who had one panel on the roof of their house with a wire strung to a set of car batteries. This single solar panel gave each room light via a single florescent bulb. And for the first time, this family could read, or listen to a radio, or look at pictures from gringo tourists at night in their kitchen.
Much like the USA, solar power is made affordable by government grants in countries like Peru. There are a lot worse uses of tax dollars (or Soles or Bolivianos) as it literally changes lives and living conditions. Imagine what will happen when the cost of solar and other alternative sources becomes affordable on a large scale in South America?
South American kids aren’t suffering for lack of mobile phone connectivity. Whether in Seattle or Santiago, their attachment to all things mobile is the same. Every kid had some kind of mobile phone or game and had their head buried in its screen. Same thing goes for adults as mobile phone use on the road is widespread. Conservation of this critical resource (minutes) is top of mind. Since there is no monthly billing for the most part in South America, everyone buys minutes from magazine stands and mini markets. (I’m not sure whether mobile phones can be used as payment vehicles like they are in Asia) Mobile phone reception was remarkable even in the most remote places. My Blackberry rarely gave me the SOS indicator.
Same thing goes for Internet connectivity; it’s everywhere in most of South America. Only two hotels in 95 days of traveling didn’t offer Wi-Fi. Many Argentine and Chile gas stations offer free Wi Fi. Internet cafes are still going strong, tucked away in every nook and cranny of Cusco, or Arequipa, or Puno. Everyone has an email address, or a blog, or a FaceBook page. Exchanging contact information with people we met along the way meant getting their email address, not their phone number.
Traveling in South America is an audio experience as much as a visual one. There’s lots of noise. Trucks grunt, cars and m/c’s beep their horns, pickups with loudspeakers in their beds blast advertising messages, and even trash trucks play music as they move down the street. Street musicians and bands can be heard on many city streets. The Latin stereotype of being passionate people is to some degree accurate, as people in South America tend to speak louder with more gestures than we Norte Americanos. And, they do it more often with a smile on their face.
Women of all ages are beasts of burden in Peru and Bolivia. They carry wood, crops, food, kids, tools, clothes and anything else you can imagine on their backs via a sack called Keperina. It’s common in the Andes to see women and their children walking along a road with their Keperina’s stuffed full, far away from any apparent destination. These women are strong, as I know I couldn’t carry all this stuff at altitudes of 12-15,000 feet. What’s more, their faces mask any exertion, as they are more likely to be smiling than grimacing. ( A side note to illustrate the point. While we were staying with the family on the Lake Titicaca island, we decided to walk up to a nearby mountain top to take in the view. OK, we’re not talking about K2 here, but I was huffing and puffing just taking one step at a time. I look over at our guide — the mother of the family we were staying with — and she’s knitting while she walks. Evidently, we were going so slow that she could catch up on her stitches;) ) We didn’t see many men carrying stuff as we women. Karen wondered if the men worked at all. If not, Peru is on my list of places to live 🙂
Yes, I”ll remember Machu Picchu, the snow packed peaks of the Andes, the thunderous sound of the Iguacu Falls, and the vastness of the Atacama forever. But I’ve also come away with what I really wanted, which was to get a taste of how other people live. I’ll never take trash removal for granted ever again.
Did I get it wrong or do you have something to add? We met a lot of people in South America who became our friends and now read TRT. There’s no way the above can be anything other than a Gringo’s view, so I’d love to know if you think the above is “right” or not, or what else would you add ?
Comments are welcome from everyone, of course. Karen and I look at TRT as just a place where we can talk with our friends along the way.
We make a hard right turn and head toward Buenos Aires
Once we crossed the border into Brazil, we had a decision to make. What’s next? One look at the Brazil map brought a gasp at how big it was. Our original plan (Version 6.0 really) was to beat it to the northeast coast to Salvador, then follow the coast south all the way to Buenos Aires. It would be the last great leg of our circling of South America.
This was looking unrealistic now. Business– the mother’s milk of travel– was raising its green head. Karen’s back was more consistently calling out in pain since our two-hour dirt road excursion in Bolivia. And, admittedly, we were both tired. So, we decided to set the GPS way points southeast toward Buenos Aires where we would finish the tirp where we started. I would either ship NV home or sell him there, details to be worked out later (what’s new)
In the meantime, there was an important piece of business to attend to; we wanted to go see the Iguacu Falls as everyone who’s ever seen it says its a big, big deal. Now that we were on our way to BA, it was easy to head toward the Falls.
The three day ride southeast through Brazil’s farming area was strange because it wasn’t … strange. The roads, even the secondary ones, were great. They even had painted lane dividers and they were fast. We were back among the civilized, in this case the civilized who drive fast small cars, and were no longer the fastest thing on the highway. There were 5X as many trucks, but these babies were all new and big. Scania, Volvo, VW, and Mercedes 18 wheelers barreled along. And we all — cars, m/cs, and trucks — had plenty of really big gas stations to choose from. Gone were the one-pumpers of Bolivia replaced by my favorite retail establishments in all of South America– the gas station as food/wi-fi/fuel stop.
A couple of things become crystal clear in this part of Brazil (A note on where in Brazil we were. We ONLY visited the very south eastern tip. No Sao Paulo. No Rio. No Amazon. No Coast. Just a small sliver). Farming is taken seriously and meticulously. Huge farms with perfect fields on rolling hill after rolling hill. This is big agribusiness and it shows. All the little towns that pop up along the road are well kept. Nothing is falling down and little is unpainted. This is culture shock to people who’ve just spent a month in Bolivia and Peru. Second, we were really lost in terms of language. Perhaps we are deluding ourselves, but we felt we had a fighting chance with Spanish in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Not so in Brazil. Portuguese was Greek to us and we understood nothing. If the person we were talking with didn’t speak English, we accomplished nothing. Not the big 25% communications success with Spanish. Zip, zero.
And then there’s the cost. How can anyone afford to live in Brazil? It makes Chile look like a pauper’s retreat. Everything we’ve tried is expensive: hotel rooms, gas, food, booze — yes booze, is there no mercy? I need to look up the average annual income for Brazil as it must really be impressive.
Riding along, being passed by every model of VW, Toyota, Daewoo, Renault, Nissan, Hundai, Fiat, Peugeot and anything else built by a non-US company, I”m struck by one overwhelming thought. What the f___ were US car makers doing when every European, Japanese and Korean car manufacturers took over this (South America) market? What is it that gives VW or Renault a better chance to penetrate the South American market? Just another sad example of the American car industry asleep at the switch. But, I guess we can rest easy as our pickup trucks are well regarded here.
I won’t bore you with my description of the Iguacu Falls as I’ll let the video and pictures do the talking. It’s a place where Mother Nature speaks loudly and carries a big stick. Standing in the well guarded viewing stand is a powerful experience. Sadly, we read today that two American tourists were killed at the Falls yesterday when their boat hit some rocks and capsized. We were going to take a boat excursion — maybe even that excursion, but both KR and I needed a day to chill and decided not.
Another note on logistics – maps
Most real Adventure Men don’t worry too much about maps. Go where the road takes you is the modus operandi for AM. For the rest of us, maps are damn important. GPS’ don’t really cut it either as they don’t give you an overview and are only useful if you can find detailed GPS maps of the specific area you’re riding in (most of the time, I couldn’t). I brought about a half dozen maps from my South America collection bought in the world’s best map store in Houston sometime in 2003. I thought I was set, yet for most of the trip we were starved for good road information as our maps didn’t cut it.
Our biggest problem was the least expected: cities of all sizes and shapes. It’s relatively easy to navigate on highways and roads, but try driving into a city (or town or village) without a map and you’re screwed if you need to find a particular place (like a hotel). I thought we could easily buy whatever maps we needed, but that proved to be a false assumption. The only reliable source for maps were travel book stores in large cities. Unfortunately, they usually carried only the maps of their country.
A couple of days ago I finally found a great source for maps: gas stations, especially Shell. Before you say “duhhh,” remember that 90% of all the gas stations we visited barely had gas, let alone something other than a warm coke to sell. Until we reached Brazil and Argentina. Next time we come to SA, we’re heading for the Shell gas station and I’m buying every may they have. I just bought one of Brazil (now that we’re leaving) that makes you cry with detail
Oh well, traveling is a learning experience…
Video #1: We’re approaching the Falls.
Video #2: FW at Iguacu Falls
Video #3: The Sounds
Video #4: KR at the Falls
Video #5: People on the Catwalk
Video #6: Road Construction
News just in — our route has changed again
We’re back in Brazil! We decided to slash to the Atlantic coast of Brazil so that we can ride along Uruguay’s entire coast. So, we crossed another border and even caught another ferry as we went from Argentina to Brazil. This time we went through Immigration and Customs for both Argentina and Brazil in less than two hours — a record. The roads are really good (85+mph) so we’re going to try to make it to Rio Grande, Brazil tomorrow.