Assorted trip reports from assorted places

A conference in Montreal in which I gave a presentation. Which is it, work or play?  For work I’ve been to India, Brazil, Toronto, Montreal, and DC. The play part has been Mexico and various environs around LA.  Why pick?

 

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..

  • India
  • PV (about six times)
  • Toronto
  • Baja
  • Brazil
  • 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:

 

Every trip to Mexico starts and ends with the Dos Diablos. Here Bogart (on the left) and Squirt await customs clearing in Puerto Vallarta

Home sweet home. One of the rare instances that there’s no action on the street (read noise).

I have two offices. This is the penthouse office

 

My office on the third floor overlooks the pool and the El Centro barrio

Super Hostess. We now rent out the Corona Adobe as a Bed & Wine. it does very well because of KR’s effort as this guest attests

Bogart approves of the new paint job

Speaking of paint jobs, yours truly painted LBS. LBS has been pretty much refurbished this year.

Even during an overcast day, the view of LBS is special

Dinner in the jungle. From left: Yvonne, Chuck, KR, Ken, Maryann, Chris and Bill. All or fellow palapa owners

Still in Mexico, this is a Trade Tour that we led to Mexico City. Very motley crew

Back at Corona, we did a three day strategic retreat.

Broken Arrow has been resurrected from the dead. Elias totally rebuilt him and he now serves his new purpose in life: taking me to/from Starbucks in the morning.

Outside was a street parade, this one held for the kids to knock the s__ out of the pinata swinging over the street.

One night we stayed out way past… 9PM and found ourselves in the local Mezcal Bar. Yes there is such a thing and the stuff’s pretty good. It gets better the more you try it:)

Whale watching in Baja. KR thinks I scared the whales away because of style choice. Hey, when in fishville, look like the fishermen…

The aforementioned whales.

Brazilian Chariot.  We’re on a business trip to Foz do Iguacu and this is our get around vehicle…

The helicopter is parked to the left as we land next to a swine farm to see the latest biogas generation. Here Kevin is explaining to Liz “when is tips over this much, you can kiss your….”

This is what the Iguacu Falls looks like from above and…

This is what it looks like up close and personal

Inside the world’s most powerful hydroelectric dam. It has 20 turbines the side of the circles in the background.

What do you do when you go to Brazil? Well find the nearest “Ice Bar” of course. About $20 gets you 45 minutes in the bar and six free drinks. We made it 14 minutes and didn’t finish the first drink:)  Here Liz and Karen wear the latest in ice wearables.

You don’t have to go to Brazil to see beautiful country. This is Big Bear Lake from the steps of Thor

 

Bogart is definitely a beach dog. This is from the Dockwieiler Beach RV park. Its on the beach, right under the LAX flight path, across the street from LA’s largest sewage treatment plant and just past the Chevron refinery. Only in Los Angeles…

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It’s probably appropriate that our trip begins with a plea to the Undoer of Knots…

 

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.

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Twenty seconds after arriving in Southampton and we’re on a tour of underground wine caverns.   This is riveting stuff.

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I came to learn that Europeans take their pigs seriously.  This is in the “Pig in the Wall” pub in Southampton.  The Spanish make the English look like amateurs when it comes to pig worshiping.

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Thirty miles into the English countryside and I arrive at this shed containing one studly motorcycle.  We were both happy to see each other.

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The Queen Mary of ferries as we exit to Santander

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NVII is stuffed in its lower belly along with a couple hundred other m/c’s.  Getting on/off ferries is never my favorite thing.

One of the smarter things I've done is get an outside cabin, which was very cozy.

One of the smarter things I’ve done is get an outside cabin, which was very cozy.

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One of the two clear days we’ve had on the trip so far was at sea

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It was clear, but windy. KR pretty much stayed inside with the rest of the landlubbers

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Just an FW art shot. It’s my kind of ferry — big

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Whether on land, sea or air, KR is always looking to find the next place to stay or next thing to do. This process, called itinerary planning by normal folks, does not start for KR until the trip has atcually commenced

 

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Portsmouth is a university town.  This group of professors and students discuss the only class I did well in, “Beer Master Class”

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FW looking like an international man of mystery…on a motorcycle

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A street scene as the citizens of Pamplona start to awake

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Now they’re starting to rock as

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we tourists ogle the sights

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Remember the love of pigs I was referring to earlier?  Well, this is a whole shop dedicated to the fine swine

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Tapas as art.  KR and I had the best meal so far, one little plate at a time.

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We arrived in the northern city of Jaca on the only Friday to find an all day street party with multiple processions celebrating some battle in Medieval times between the Moors and the Christians.  These guys are the Moors

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and so are these

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Only to be greeted with a happy Christian warrior

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We were lucky to be introduced to two of Sam H’s friends, Fred and Debra Hart. Fred’s a great guy with a great name.  Deb was equally great, but without the name:)  They showed us around Jaca, including this bar that had its own special concoction of cocktails.  Of course I tried one.

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Finally, we get to go motorcycling. Here’s the Hero of this Blog

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And his traveling Adventure Woman

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Lots and lots and lots of motorcycles and scooters in Spain.  I’m getting good at parking in tight places.  This is San Sebastian.

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Now some would say, what all do you have in there?  Just the bare essentials, I assure you.  The left pannier has spares and tools, the right pannier is full of electronics and FW’s brief case.  The two black bags are our clothes – one for each of us.  The two red things are spare gas tanks.  The big box in the center is KR’s “junk drawer”.  The two round things below are more spare tools.  Like I said, just the essentials:)

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This fellow motorcyclist takes a different approach.  60 year old Harley with a 60 year old owner has nothing but a duffle bag strapped on the handlebars…

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Before we go too far, we need to make some repairs.  On the ship over to the UK, someone stole every stitch of clothing on NVII, his spare battery charger, the good tools, AND the additional driving lights and horn.  The latter item they had to cut out.  This fine gentlemen is wiring a new horn into NVII and putting a new tire on the front.  We also purchased new rain suits for both of us which were also stolen.

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Village in the Pyrenees

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For the bikers reading this post, write this down:  N260, which is a great road that winds in, along side and through the Pyrenees.

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Sun is still out, but not for long

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Clouds and rain start

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“Just” another mountain road

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We eventually make it to the Mediterranean town, Cadaques.  In addition to being one of the hardest places to find, its a cute little village that Salvador Dali had a vacation house.

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KR taking a picture of… who knows:)

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Friendly weather makes you want to stroll down the beach.

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Next day we got into Barcelona later the next day. More rain awaited

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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..

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The inside of the dragon bones house

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This is the work Gaudi is most famous for — the La Sagrada Familia church, which he worked on for 40 years and its still far from done. There is a team of 20+ architects working to finish it, which they promise will be by 2016, the 10oth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Seeing this alone is worth going to Barcelona.

 

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One shot of its interior, which is impossible to capture.

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One more shot will kind of giving you the sense of the place – a parachuting in Jesus

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Street in Barcelona

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KR taking a picture of one of her favorite items…

Karen's is of two minds about getting back on the road...

Karen is of two minds about getting back on the road…

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Karen converted to Islam this trip… not. She needed to put on this robe in order to enter a mosque in Kuala Lumpur.  She wouldn’t tell me what she was praying for, but I like to think she was thanking Allah for Her Man:)

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.

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The scale on the right hand side says it all.  And this is just China.  Not India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the rest of Asia which have the same needs and usage patterns.

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…

 

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Most trips west to Asia start late at night. Our flight left close to midnight on Friday and we arrived in Kuala Lumpur mid afternoon on Sunday.  Here KR stands in front of our apartment in downtown LA awaiting a taxi.

 

We had a half day free in Kuala Lumpur and KR wanted to do some sight seeing.  So, we came here to a huge Buddha statue with a unique temple inside the cave up those stairs.  And yes, we humped those stairs in 90 degree heat.  This is fun?  I’ll take that meeting now, thanks.

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Gee, this is my kind of place:)

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While KR is looking at the temple, I’m getting the financing in place for our next vehicle via texting.

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We got lucky and happened on a practice session for Malaysia’s independence day celebration. A couple of thousand people were dancing, marching, playing instruments in 90 degree weather.  It was impressive.

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Senior staff of the primary clean technology government agency within Malaysia.

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My new love; afternoon tea British style. Nothing like scones and tea with jam and clotted cream. At the Majestic Hotel, no less.

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It took some guts to try and figure out the KR monorail system, but we did.

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Especially with all the rules.  We messed up on the second one from the right

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Typical KR picture –having a good time with the shopkeepers

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This is as close as we came to the world’s second tallest building.

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Of course, we always find the night life in any city, and Kuala Lumpur was no different.  Big English speaking population and thus lots of restaurants with names we could read

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I took the Little Woman shopping for some new outfits.  Modest perhaps, but certainly colorful.

 

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Singapore still has visages of the British colonial feel.

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but these are being rapidly crowded out by things like this

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The Marina Sands hotel/casino on the left consists of three towers topped off by a three football long infinity pool.

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This pool probably makes the hotel stay worth it!  We snuck in for a look before getting kicked out.

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This sign was in the bar next to the pool.  Yes, I would agree.

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This young lady insisted on taking a picture with Karen. Check out the shoes:)

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Technology at work:). In a Singapore taxi on the way to a meeting while Skyping with Dan W on my computer while connected to the Internet via a mobile hot spot.

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This poor lady had to withstand an hour long “brainstorming” session in which I drew the thing on the white board:)

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Guess where we are now?  Delhi, India of course.   This is a normal family “sedan.”  I count five people on this scooter.

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This is a “people’s taxi,” Tuk Tuk. They’re all over India and can easily take ten people.

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Roadside fruit and vegetable stand. Typical side-of-the-road shop.

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Neighborhood shot in Agra, a town 3 1/2 hours south of Delhi by car where the Taj stands.

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Siesta time,  guess.

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And then there’s the world of the rich and foreign.  My favorite hotel among many great ones, the ITC Maurya in the Diplomatic Enclave in Delhi.  The ceiling is a painted mural that is perhaps the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen.   Service is in another stratosphere.  Karen got sick and in less  than 30 minutes there was a doctor at our door on a Sunday afternoon.

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Any great hotel serves Corona, known far and wide as the “1.8 on a scale of 10” for quality.

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If its good enough for Obama, its good enough for me:)

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Karen wanted to take the Taj home.   20,000 men worked 22 years on building the Taj in the 1600s.

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Lots of people, but the place is big enough it doesn’t bother you until you get inside the tomb.

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The fine detailing of the gems set in the marble aren’t appreciated from afar.  Karen and our guide talk art.

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One of the four towers on each corner of the Taj, whih is built on a river in the background.

The Taj is on this river. Those dots in the water are cows taking an afternoon swim

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Back in the other world, I have dinner with an Indian executive at this country club.  Here he greets business associates just hanging after a hard day on the links.

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Our hotel in Mumbai (Bombay) was the Taj Majal Palace. Aptly named.

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View out our window was a park and bay

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The staircase ceiling

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Five minutes walk from the Taj is this neighborhood apartment building.  Since there are cars in the parking lot, I  assume its a middle class apartment building.

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Another Mumbai street

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Scattered throughout the neighborhood are these very large colonial mansions falling down.  They’re inhabited by dogs, birds and a guard.  Anything worth stealing was gone long ago

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Sidewalk barbershop

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Indoor spice merchant

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Outdoor market

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They take their beer drinking seriously in Mumbai. A gumball machine that dispenses beer instead

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Baaaaahhh

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We travel literally half way around the world so KR can find some window latches for Corona Adobe.  Go figure.  We bought 30+ latches in this small hardware shop.

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Just a street in Mumbai.  Turning left and

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we see a funeral procession

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Another street with another market

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Cafe/bar

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At first I wondered why bikes only had panniers on the right side, then I saw this rack on the left and I finally figured it out — the rack is for women in India who almost all ride side saddle

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You cant’ fall asleep in this cab

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Best I could get of the Mumbai skyline

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Fifty feet outside the Taj and this guy came up wanting to give us some flowers and put a red mark on our foreheads for luck.  The red dot on the forehead has nothing to do with luck, it just marks us as easy-targets for every street hustler in Mumbai

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Options at a Mumbai airport. I strongly suggest you pick the door on the left, though neither is a day at the beach…

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Stopping over in Hong Kong, KR awaits the final 14 hour leg to LAX.

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Less than an hour after landing in LAX, KR is at the kennel awaiting the arrival of Squirt. Squirt somehow survived the two week stay in her OWN PRIVATE ROOM…

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A little bit of everything, from the French Riviera to the coasts of the Isle of Man; our south, north, west, east, north, south, west, east route was half planned and half we’ll figure-it-out-as-it-comes.  This Google Earth route map was prepared by Supreme-Navigator-in-the-Sky, Sam Hershfield.

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.

fred

 

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Dogs were a big big part of this trip. KR took dozens of pictures, which we’ll make a Dog Album from some day. Among other things, we saw lots of Westies, which made us decide to get a new Westie ourselves.

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Everybody’s happy when KR asks if she can photograph their dog:)

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There are a lot of bikes throughout Europe.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  This was my favorite, captured waiting for the Ferry to IOM.  It’s from Spain and its the best Rat Bike I’ve ever seen.

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Canterbury Cathedral courtyard,

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Inside.  I promised KR I’d put a couple of pictures in.

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Canterbury,  located in the south east of England,  was really really beautiful.

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Surprising what a couple of days walking around old churches does to KR’s mental state.  Hard to imagine this woman just spent a month on the back of a motorcycle:) Canterbury was a very good stop.

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First thing upon arriving in a hotel for the night is immediately plugging in our various electronics.  Helmet intercoms are plugged while were at dinner, the rest over night.

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Northern coast of France and we hit our most serious rainstorm.  2-3 hours of riding in the rain, getting totally soaked and pretty cold.  Yet, we’ve done it so often, its no big deal.

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French country side.

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Who says I don’t recycle?  Duct tape over the two holes in my right hand glove perfectly matches the left one.

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We arrive in Fecamp on the Coast late in the evening, looking for a hotel.

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Next morning really crazy Germans go for a swim in the English Channel.  It was f__king freezing, but at least plenty of blubber to keep them warm.

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Frequent event;  people gather around NV II and want to know where we’re from, we’re we’ve been, etc… “We picked the bike up in Belgium and rode it to Nice…”  Guys usually are all smiles.  By the time I get to the Alps, women are less interested.

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Beach at Entretat, a charming town on the northern coast. Lots of history around these parts…

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Boardwalk

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How they sun themselves on French beaches.  Whether its Nice or Entretat, all the French beaches we saw were gravel.

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Dinner in Fecamp.  I wanted a change-up from my normal French Rawhyde (steak) and went for the seafood platter.  Big big mistake.  This was the worst meal of the trip.

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Entretat street

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Life size Pirate served as a merchandising display.

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I was more attracted to the woman Pirate, despite the hook for a right hand.

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The British have a slightly different approach to merchandising.

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On the way back to Brugge, we stayed in this wonderful little B&B in the French countryside near Arras.

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The end — FW.  “OK, when and where are we going next!”

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The end KR:  “I want an RV!”

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Until the next one, its been terrific keeping in touch.

 

 

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I was expecting to see Julie Andrews singing around any of these bends as the Alps were really Sound of Music green. “Typical” shot of the road and Alps, this one in the Swiss Alps.  We were extremely lucky weather wise as we skirted rain every day only getting caught once in the Italian Alps.

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.

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All layers are in force as we get ready to go into the Swiss (higher up) Alps

 

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On the road

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Despite what you might be thinking, its not all stress and adventure.  Here KR takes a nap on the bike.

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Alps and more

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This shot is in the Swiss part of the Alps at about 6000 ft, which was the highest we got.  Yes, it was nippy.

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Midway in the afternoon we start to think about where to go/stay for the night.  A couple of pops, reading guide books, looking at maps and doing route calculations on the Garmin are the tools at hand.

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Road hazards of a different kind;  getting peed on by a passing cow:)

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We take the train through a very long tunnel to avoid a closed pass

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Successfully got NVII off the train.  Not as easy as you might think.

 

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VII as Dressing Room Table.  KR applies makeup from her cosmetics drawer, NVII’s back box.

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One of many many many many church steeples we see throughout Europe

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I had to put in an old door shot

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Reward after a long day is getting a pop at a local bar and catching up on email

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Does he look familiar?  Reminded us of Lotus, a great dog of ours.  We vow to get another Westie soon.

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Night shot of Annecy, one of many many many charming little old towns we ride through and/or stay in.

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Annecy looking toward the lake

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The world’s hardest to find hotel in Annecy.  Garmin couldn’t find it.  We had to walk the neighborhood to find the place.

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The lake. How could I be happier?

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Every town has its vagabonds.  This young crew traveler with their pets.

 

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More potential art for Corona Adobe.  You’ll have to ask KR what she has about decorative skulls.

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Things pick up in Annecy as we come across a really good rock & roll band.  French band plays nothing but American R&R hits to loud applause

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Another route planning session.  Looking at the map and Miguel says “its a looonnng, looonnng, looong road!”  We’re all laughing despite none of us speaking the other’s language.

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Route comes into focus with a glass of wine and a plate of crustaceans.  Maps help too.

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In a more sober state, route planning continues

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Beauty shot!  Now Voyager II stands ready early one morning in Bad Ragaz. Hey, if you don’t like bikes get your own blog:))

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France KR and I head out looking for dinner in Strasbourg, France. KR has pleaded that we spend Two Whole Nights here:)

 

 

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This is very close to heaven. Riding in the Sequoia National Park, on the General’s Highway (all tall trees here are named for Generals), at 7AM with No One on the Road and the smell of camp fires in the air. Thirty extraordinary minutes.

 

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.

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Typical planning session. ” I’ll have a screwdriver.” followed by the two most relevant questions: Where am I now and where do I want to go next?

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.

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Mad Max, the artist. Mel Gibson’s latest creations include a hood-full of battle ships — both the sea and space variety. Max has evolved into a trusting sort as he’s in the back room bar, not worried too much that someone will steal his gas or art… BTW, Mel is hanging out in the forest south of Three Rivers:)

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Get over it ladies!  No biker post would be complete without a Beauty Shot. NV II in the Sequoia National Park at 7:00AM. God, I could kiss him…

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I spent a night in Tahoe.  I highly recommend this little motel.  Charming, well-run and right across the street from the action…

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Speaking of which, there was a lot of partying going on in Tahoe this Sunday night.  I, of course, being a man of judgement, just walked on by without even having one itsey teeny weeny drink.  Pretty damn impressive or depressing…

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This is the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, which stretches from Susanville on the East to Redding in the West, way up toward the top of the State.  It’s the northern most road in which you can go from side of the state to the other.   It’s one of the most beautiful areas I’ve been to  (well, more accurately, one of the most beautiful places that I’ve been through)

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Great road as far as one can see.  I chickened out at 120, although NV II was still pulling strong.

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Road Warrior.

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For three days straight temperatures were 109, 107, 108.   Then I hit the Coast and the temp went down 50 degrees in 30 minutes.  This is a picture early in the morning as I climb the mountains that surround the Lost Coast.

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In addition to the above, large parts of the Lost Coast were clear cut for timber to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

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As close to an art shot as I’m going to get.

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Coming down from the mountains to the Coast line.

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It takes close to 1  1/2 hours to get from the 101 to the Lost Coast, partly because one has to wind  through the Kings Range park.

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Almost five years ago, KR and I went to the Lost Coast for a Horizon’s Unlimited meeting.  We wandered around and found a remote camp ground on the beach.  I some how found it again this trip  (its not marked on the road) and decided to try m/c camping for the first time in ages.   Making like a Camping Machine, I set up camp in 15 minutes using a tent that KR and I first used in 1993.

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After a quick run to the store to get provisions, I’m settling in for a night of getting close to nature.

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Bear Grylis Rule No. 1 is to be  creative in solving problems.   So, out goes the computer and other electronics, and in goes the ice, beer, wine and.. voila, we have a moveable cooler.:)

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This coast looks beautiful from afar, but up close, it looks real cold.  Even Bear wouldn’t be dumb enough to go in the water here.

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This is the Travel and Leisure photo of Man Taking a Coastal Vacation article.

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This is the its “F__king Cold and I need some fortification for the night ahead”  shot in Biker Dude magazine

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Problem:  aside from the beer and sandwich that I bought, I have no other camping supplies with me.  I need a fire.  So, who say’s newspapers are dying?  I use a couple of days worth of the NYTimes, some lost-and-found wood, a borrowed lighter and…

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I have the strongest fire at the camp site, which is not too difficult to achieve as my fellow campers are all in their RV’s/trailers and not dumb enough to be outside.

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Tent up?  √  Fire started√  Beer and wine in use √  Night vision goggles ready √  What’s missing?

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Tunes, of course.  Fellow campers are thinking this biker dude is crazy as he’s playing his music way too loud and dancing around…

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On the way home,  this is the typical view.  Just miles and miles of I-want-to-soak-it-in scenery.  At 60 mph of course.   This shot is somewhere north of SF.

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I have a weird relationship with the town of San Luis Obispo.  Seems I’ve ended up there on numerous m/c trips.  I know the hotels, the Starbucks, the  movie theaters and the places to eat (CA Pizza Kitchen above).

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No m/c trip  on a BMW would be complete without a visit to a BMW M/C dealer for service.  NVII’s Cray Computer Sized Brain had some electrical seizures, so I thought I’d stop at a dealer on the way in to get an MRI.   Service department is booked to September.  Not really a confidence-giving signal to a new BMW owner.

 

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.

IMG_6276What city is this?

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.

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This is what most people see when in San Antonio

 

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This is what I came to see: a very very long meeting with various  State Department and  Mexican staff discussing a new alliance

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KR ready to go on our first day in Berlin

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Just a street in Berlin

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Where I spent most of my time

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One of the few forms of transportation we didn’t use

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Could be my favorite train station in the world – Milan’s Centrale

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A bullet train awaits us

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An international man of mystery

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One of the reasons I loved Milan is that its a city of motorcycles/scooters.   Everyone uses them.

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If you can’t live in the country, crane some trees up your skyscaper.

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The Duomo cathedral in Milan — it took SIX centuries to complete by 1400.

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KR’s picture from the top

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Milan Plaza

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Very funny guy

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KR’s attitude about train travel may be changing:)  “Why  do I have to get here 30 minutes before the train comes?”

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I’m not sure what KR’s point with this picture is aside from saying something to the effect that we had similar expressions

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This was a large cigarette factory in Rovereto that was converted to a very impressive cleantech incubator focusing on green buildings

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Great shot out the window of a train in Northern Italy.  Don’t have the slightest idea where this is as I spent hours on the train going the wrong way.

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This is what I needed after another 17 hour day.   Dinner and drink(s) in the center of Verona, a beautiful little city.

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Verona street close to our hotel

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If I didn’t know better I’d say this was Mexico with similar aversion to 90 degree angles.

US Ambassador to Mexico speaks to entrepreneurs in Mexico City

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Lots of happy campers sitting in Mexico City airport

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Back at the ranch we are taking green literally.  Some of the team have planted a vegetable garden.

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The alley next to our new home.  The “Arts District Healing Center” is a pot dispensary.  Very convenient.

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Future home for the Bullet and NVII.  Parking lot underneath the 10 Freeway.

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How the Other Half live —  a car show in Beverly Hills.   I was thinking of buying a Morgan 3-Wheeler like the one above until I found out it cost $85K.  I don’t think so…

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Back to reality. The Iron Duke on the way from PV to LA.

 

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Just to prove that I haven’t lost any of my fix-it-while-on-the-road talent…

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This is what happens when you cross the border in the “wrong” lane — that of the Semi’s.  We were searched by three different teams in addition to a dog.  Their thinking was probably something like…”Anybody this dumb must be dangerous..”

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The King is Dead. Long Live the King! Our last episode ended with Now Voyager making it back to LA. One week later he had a new owner.   Before moving on, he set a new record: 730 miles in one day and averaging about 100 mph for more than an hour.  He acquitted himself with honors on his last mission.  Here he gets his first wash after getting back from Guatemala by our neighbor in Puerto Vallarta.

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.

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The year started with my first ever Chinese New Years (its the Year of the Horse ) formal celebration.  This one was given by Hong Kong’s Trade and Invest group out of LA.  It was quite a fascinating experience as I was one of the few non Chinese heritage folks.  Pretty crazy dragons manned by young women danced and danced.  I got tired just watching.

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“Fireside Chat” with the new Secretary of the Department of Energy in Washington DC at the ARPA-E conference. It’s a great conference, brimming with mind-boggling innovation.

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Walking past the White House after a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  It was sunny, but nippy out.  Barack asked me to stay for dinner, but I had something already booked.  Next time.

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How can the coolest motorcycle themed bar that I’ve been in is located in Washington DC?  The Iron Horse Tap Room has the best collection of pristine 60’s and 70’s era motorcycles that I’ve come across.  One of my all time favorite bars, but I doubt that there was a motorcyclist in the place.

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Reception in Mexico City welcoming the Mayor’s “Invest L.A. “delegation”  It was held in Carlos Slim’s museum named after his wife.  Very, very nice.

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This is what it looks like from the outside.

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The Mayor, Eric Garcetti, giving the last speech of the day.  His schedule was packed — eight meetings each day for two days straight — and he was brilliant in each and every one.  Antonio was pretty damn good on his feet, but Eric is better, giving off a lot of warmth.

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The signing ceremony in Mexico City

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I didn’t get much chance to see Mexico City aside from a brief walk in Polanco, one of Mexico City’s most upscale neighborhoods.  Walking the streets you’d think you’re in some European city as well-off Mexicans are very stylish people.   This is the view from the Argentine steak house that I had lunch at.

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Outside Carlos Slim’s museum in Polanco, Mexico City’s version of Beverly Hills.

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The sweet smell of cement.  LACI’s 60,000 sa. ft. La Kretz Innovation Campus under construction.  Move-in date is summer 2015.

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Morton La Kretz and his daughter Linda visit their namesake.  You haven’t lived until you’ve walked around a site in a DWP hard hat.

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The neighborhood’s most popular Bed & Wine stands over its domain:)

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The two views of inn keeping.  To get the cash, you

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need to make sure the place is spic and span for the guests.  My favorite inn keeper preps for new guests

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Street life in Puerto ‘Valarta

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It’ can  be dangerous in Mexico; you never know what’s going to jump you.  Here a man-shaped iguana gets ready to pounce.

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This is the face of someone who’s going to pick up his new motorcycle.  At the train station waiting to go to Orange, CA.:)

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Picking up NV II at Irv Seaver BMW.  Not sure who’s the most handsome, but the other one has 125 hp.

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New parents document their baby’s first step, I document NV II’s first meal.

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The second stop after NV’s meal is Ryan Reza, the ultimate BMW doctor.  We (OK, he attached I watched) extra gas tanks and tool tubes among other gadgets and gizmos.

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(Almost) fully outfitted NV II overlooking the Angeles Crest forest.

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You can never have too many shots of the new baby

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There are few better moments in life: a screwdriver and reading over the new owners manuals after a first day’s ride:)))))

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All trips should start at 5:30AM:) Now Voyager is loaded and ready to go outside my Factory Place apartment, in the Arts District of downtown LA. “Light” load included two spare tires, KR’s m/c clothes, my clothes, assorted electronics, spare parts and tools.  Oh, and two spare gas cans.

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.

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This is the second new member of the family – Izz the iguana. KR found him on one of the trees in the courtyard and has since adopted him. When he “got out,” KR and the neighbors chased him into one of the neighbor’s houses, found him on their Xmas tree and “trapped him.” He’s now hanging out in the garage watching over Now Voyager.

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.

 

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What stuff? And this is BEFORE KR moves in:)

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Sunrise over the northern Mexico desert on the way to PV to pick up Karen. I broke two personal records this trip: (1) 88 miles in one hour; (2) 689 miles in one day.

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This is the face of a happy camper. First serious motorcycle trip in three years. My god, it feels good to be doing nothing but hauling ass down the highway.

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Extra gas is a good thing, especially when I’m only getting about 30 mpg (see comment on 88 miles in an hour) and a touch more than 120 miles to the tankful.

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The Paradise Hotel in Culiacan (see picture below) on the second night offers close parking facilities.  This is a bit of a long story, so hang in.  The night before leaving for PV, I saw a new documentary, “Narco Cultura,” about the music and musicians celebrating the Narco Life in Mexico.   Think the Mexican version of Gangsta Rap and you get the idea.  Fascinating and disgusting at the same time.  Anyway, I find out that the headquarters city for this particular cartel is Culiacan, which I’ve never been to.  Now fast forward and I’m on the road and read the GPS incorrectly thus getting stuck out on the highway late at night. This is the day I do 689 miles.  I drive another 100 miles at night and pull into the next town… Culiacan:)

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So, I hit Culiacan which is a very large city for Mexico late at night AND CAN’T FIND ONE HOTEL.  Dozens of farmacias (I don’t get it), but no hotels.  I spend 30 minutes driving through this Cartel Capital and nada.   I backtrack to the  highway and find one hotel.  This one:)   Well, I got charged 450 pesos ($37USD), had a clean room, a pretty damn good dinner, and the coldest Corona south of the border.  Go figure

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On the other side of the scenic scale was lunch in San Blas.  Almost home (2 more hours).  Not speaking Spanish has its downsides.  It took me 15 minutes to convince my fellow diner that I wanted him to take MY picture, not the other way round. He had about four cans of Corona on the table, so it wasn’t all my fault.

 

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Close to 1600 miles later, I pull into my Man Cave.   10 minutes later I was taking a swim and less than an hour we were on the beach having cocktails.

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Ye of little faith, count the motorcycles in my Man Cave.  True, there’s all that stuff on the left…

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Once in PV, first order of business was getting the tires put on NV. Go to Honda dealer (we can’t do it), then Yamaha dealer (we don’t have the right machine), then a “real” retail tire store (we always give our m/c tires to Gordo down the street) and finally to “Gordo’s  place on a little street in some part of PV that I’ve never been to before.  Picture is of his showroom of his current stock for sale.

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It takes Gordo about 30 minutes to change both tires with modern day tools. Total cost: less than $20 US

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It’s been a very long time since I’ve gotten to work on my m/c in my garage. OK, perhaps not the neatest guy around and with a limited set of tools, but if Gordo can do it…

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Remember I said we had TWO new members of the family? Well, meet No. 2, “Squirt.” Another long story, but I’ll get even with Debbie H once I get a chance. Seems Debbie rescued Squirt from two down and out kids on the Malecon only to immediately bring him/her? home to Karen. Case closed… Lilly now has a bed mate.

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Road hazard Puerto Vallarta style. Close the street, put up a gigantic screen and have a party on a Wednesday night.

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Calm before the storm? Still three days left of prep before shoving off, but there’s always time to gaze at the Bay and dream of what may lay ahead.

150+ adventure motorcyclists came to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Cambria, California for a weekend of presentations, how-to clinics, bike goggling, and old fashion story-telling.  It was heaven.

 

 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’s been a while since Now Voyager got to stretch his legs.  This is on Hwy 58, a terrific road from the San Joaquin Valley over the mountains to the Coast.

Lunch on the first day.  This camp ground on the cliff overlooking the Pacific is the best HU facility so far.  Food was always good, if a bit on the “family style” side.

Typical presentation room.  This guy was giving a talk on how to travel cheap, real cheap.  It was well attended and full of good ideas.

An outdoor amphitheater serves as the “big room,” reserved for well known authors and famous travelers.  This is not where I presented: )

A “for women only” seminar on traveling by bike lasted for two hours.  Closed session, so I don’t have the slightest idea of what they talked about.  I’m sure it was something long the lines of  “How to make your man happy while on the road”

Must be a Republican

Nor do well behaved men

I liked this guy as he’d traveled a lot south of the border

My kind of license plate.  I think I’ll get one for KR at Christmas

Couple from Wales going around the world.  I was envious of all the space to store stuff on a sidecar versus Now Voyager.  It’s the first time I actually thought about owning a sidecar.  For a brief moment.

All kinds of motorcycles show up. This is an old restored Indian

And this is Craig Vetter’s latest design.  Vetter is a m/c pioneer as he was one of the first people to sell fairings for m/cs.

This is a BMW like Now Voyager, but with a backup mode of transportation in the back.  We could have used something like this in South America.

Lots of fog surrounds the “dining hall.”

Grant Johnson demonstrating the right types of wrenches to use changing a tire.

This is another old Indian, in slightly rougher, but more patriotic condition.

“Lucy” was ridden all though out Vietnam.

After dinner cocktails on the patio overlooking the ocean.  Some of us were smart enough to bring a thermos of Screwdrivers…

 

The sun sets on another great HU weekend.

My kind of Sunday breakfast;  a cup of coffee, a bear claw and a NYT perched on NV.  I was awaiting the sun so we could get on the road again.

Roads through the hills of Paso Robles are made for bikes and bikers.   Five hours door to door, including getting lost in said roads and having a sit-down breakfast in a diner on Petroleum Blvd, in downtown Taft.

 

 

 

The one room in La Corona that won’t have a view is my office/Man Cave, which is quickly turning into a Man Dungeon. This is the view up through the “sky light.”

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.

Fun or no fun, we were selecting tiles within minutes of me landing in PV. Here KR gets up close and personal with some alternatives while overseeing what Isidro and I were considering.

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…

 

 

Architectural files…  KR has gazillions of pictures of things she likes; yours truly attempts to organize them for a day.  Each pile represents a different room.

 

The front entrance is getting close.  Still lots of detail to add.

Isidro and Jaime consult with carpenter (center) on where to place window in downstairs bathroom.  EACH window and door for La Corona is being made by hand.  Try that in the US.

This is the old living room, which will become the Guest Sitting Room.   While it may not look it, this room is almost done.

When you walk through the front door, this is what you see: what’s left of the fountain and courtyard.  This will be totally redone, but is probably the last area (besides my Man Dungeon) to get worked on.

Looking up from the courtyard. That’s Raphael’s tower going up on the right, the living room/master suite up on the left.  In the upper center is the covered bridge from our bedroom to KR’s studio.

Looking at Raphael’s Tower from the pool area.  Room directly across is KR’s studio.

Who says that Mexican’s aren’t technically savvy.  Pulley system is used to move buckets of cement to the top of the Tower from …

Here.  Ropes descend through the Man Dungeon’s ceiling to the cement mixer.

Observation deck terraza.  This shot is taken from the “secret garden” on the roof of Raphael’s Tower.

View from Observation Deck is still pretty good, even in July.

View of the top of the Tower from the Observation Deck.  What was once suppose to be a not so secret “Secret Garden” has evolved into a combo of outdoor bed and potting bench.

View of the pool deck’s terraza.

The pool equipment.  Only Hershfield knows how to work it.

Standing in the living room, looking towards the outdoor living room extension between main house and Tower.

Living room remains pretty much unchanged.

On the way to the airport we stop in a shopping mall to look at refrigerators.  Instead, we catch a quick meal and I buy a couple of suits (they were on sale!)

Our longest-running PV tradition is having our first cocktail together on the beach at a restaurant called La Palapa.  We’ve been coming here since 2006.  There’s nothing like getting a bit sloshed looking at Los  Muertos Beach.

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South American Checker Cab. Many South American's can't afford a car and Tuk Tuks are the primary method for inner city transportation. They're a three wheeled version of a m/c with an enclosed (canvas) passenger compartment. Engine serves as heater as well.

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.

Need a washing machine or TV set? You can buy them in the same store in many towns in SA. Motorcycles are viewed in the same mode as a washing machine -- basic utility. Small m/cs (125ccs and less) are the primary method of personal transportation throughout SA. Probably more so than washing machines and ovens.

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.

This house was a five hour drive from Copiapo, Chile. Located in the high Atacama, recent addition of solar panel allowed refrigeration, lights and ... an Internet satellite dish!

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.

Even toll stations have Wi Fi connectivity in Argentina. This shot is in the middle of the Pampas at a toll booth, which has a 100 sq ft convenience store and one table. We used the one table to Skype Sam and Ryan to get advice on another road side repair.

We stayed with a family on a remote island in Lake Titicaca, Peru. The kitchen served as living room, dining room and itchen. Floresent lights allowed kids to show pictures from previous gringo guests.

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.

On almost any day, but especially on the weekends, Tango dancers can be found on most parks in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. They dance for tips in the day and then perform formally in shows at night. Never a dull moment in BA.

Loading supplies onto the only train that goes through the Sacred Valley. This woman loaded as much, or more, than her husband during the few minutes that the trains was available

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.

This isn't a posed picture. Everyday working people were quick to smile. This is a truck driver in the city of Ilo as he backs his truck up to the fish market.

My hero. This guy has two computers going in a cafe in Buenos Aires. He's using Skype to talk with a customer while using the second one for some other task, all the while sipping a beer. They do business differently in Latin America.

Typical South American dexterity of thought. Jam-packed Internet Cafe in San Pedro de Atacama is combined with a mountain bike rental agency. Makes sense if you think about who uses both services.

Grid or maze? Typical "infrastructure" in South America is not too scalable without access to a Ouija board. Puerto Vallarta has similar electrical spaghetti. Makes for happy workers with lots of job security.

Always time for a cold one. Group of women standing in the street in La Paz, celebrating.... Carnivale.

No mandatory retirement age. Or dental health care. Woman in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Merchandising in La Paz Mercados and food stalls was immaculate. Pricing of eggs reflects size. Based on the cartons, the customer can individually select which eggs they want.

Counter space? Next time The Little Woman wants to remodel the kitchen, show her this picture. This is a kitchen hut on a reed island in Lake Titicaca. Bucket has water from the lake that is boiled for eating/washing.

The Iguacu Falls. Up close and powerful.

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…

The Videos

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


The Pictures

Carumba, Brazil. The only picture we have worth showing. Our first two days in Brazil were spent crossing the Patanal, which is eastern Brazil's equivalent to the Florida Everglades.

Since our grasp of Portuguese is even less than that of Spanish (is that possible, you ask?), road signs and instructions from road construction workers don't sink in. Result? We proceed down a construction site when we're not suppose to -- ie. when the oncoming trucks are using the ONE available lane.

This is the second most expensive hotel we've stayed at during the entire trip -- in Campo Grande, Brazil. This picture is false advertising as the pool was unuseable, they closed the restaurant the day we were there, and the room was dark because of the iron-gated windows.

Most pleasant meal in a long time was in this fast food restaurant in the fine town of Mercedes, Brazil. How'd we get there?

Our trip has been full of really nice people who for whatever reason are kind and gracious to us. Latest case in point: Jean. We're parked on the side of the road and Jean pulls up and says something to the affect that we're not gong to make the Falls by tonight, so why don't we come to his town of Mercedes and he'd like to show us around. And, there's a hotel in the city (that his family built) and so we say... why not! We have dinner with Jean and his girl friend and are then taken straight away to our hotel. Wonderful, unexpected night.

The next morning we all gather at Jean's automobile business for a quick Sunday morning ride. They show us the way toward the Falls.

The closer you get, the more impressive they are.

What's better looking? The Falls or The Big Guy? Tough decision ...

Hand painted? By Mother Nature of course

News just in — our route has changed again

This is a REAL ferry. You ride on one end and off the other. Piece of cake

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.

Follow me! And we did. We encounter a couple of hundred brahma bulls on Bolivian Ruta 4. We follow a cowboy closely to thread our way through the herd. By this time, potentially getting stomped by a ranging brahma bull didn't seem so out of place.

Eleven days in Bolivia are simultaneously too much and not enough

We never gave Bolivia much of a chance to impress, though it certainly did. La Paz during Carnival is wild.  Cochabamba is a rocking town.  The mountains between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz reminded us of the Sierras.  Dropping down from the Altiplano into the lush tropical jungle was like heaven.  Miles and miles of jungle split by an almost perfect piece of asphalt makes for unique motoring.  And the people, oh the people, they were terrific: curious, helpful, and warm.

Yet, we know we didn’t see Bolivia at its best.  We couldn’t make it to the Salar de Uyuni because the rains washed out the roads.  We didn’t have the time to go into the Bolivian Amazon or to really explore La Paz and Santa Cruz.   We never even made it to Sucre and Petosi, reportedly two of its most interesting cities.  And, some of the scenery is a blur as we motored through it with haste.

We never found all the things we were warned about.  Overwhelming poverty?  Poor yes, but India’s level of poverty, no.  Terrible, impassable roads?  Most were pretty good, considering the HUGE amount of rain Bolivia just received.  Crime?  No, we just lost one camera stolen out of our hotel room in Santa Cruz.  We never felt afraid on the streets.  Political protests blocking the road.  Huh?   Bolivians and Peruvians take their politicking seriously, so there were frequent rallies in the cities.

So, just eleven days after entering Bolivia, we leave it for Brazil.   Too short, for sure.  But powerful none the less.  My strongest memories will be…

  • The visual shock of seeing La Paz for the first time spread out below us as we enter via the Autopista.  Its size, its redness, and the way it just fills the mountains and hills.  Breathtaking.
  • Riding right into the middle of Carnival 2011!  On a Saturday night and into the neighborhood for partying.  Crazy.
  • Anxiously awaiting the fresh rolls for breakfast at our hotel in La Paz.   The only hotel we’ve encountered where one of the girls picked up fresh rolls on her way to work every day.  She was inevitably late : )
  • The dim, bleak hotel in Oruro.  No Wi-Fi, no Internet, five cable stations, and depressed attitudes.  We beat it out of there post haste.
  • The cold, beauty and rain of more than 30 days on the Altiplano (both Peru and Bolivia).  All the time spent at 10,000+ feet, most of the time at 12.5, and at least a half-dozen times at 13-14K.  Clear, crisp, green and cold.  Rain at 38 degrees is ruthless.  I don’t think KR and I ever got warm the entire time we were up there.  Not being able to sleep as a byproduct was the pits as well.  But pretty, and oh so green.
  • Cochabamba!  A three night stay in the finest hotel we’ve been in since Santiago.  A rocking middle class.  Another Carnival celebration complete with street parades.  And really nice folks at Masters BMW who worked all day on servicing Now Voyager.  Cochabamba was great.
  • The mind-boggling change that occurs in the course of an hour as we ride over, and then down, the mountains going south from Cochabamba toward Santa Cruz.  All of a sudden, we’re in the tropics!  80 degrees.  Jungle vegetation.  Houses built on stilts because of water and various animals.  Eastern Bolivia is a vast jungle.
  • One of the best moments of the trip:  sitting on the curb under the canopy of the only gas station that was working west of Santa Cruz.  KR is looking at The Book (Footprint’s South America Handbook) trying to find us a place to stay in Santa Cruz.  We’re tired, but have a coke and beer.  Then the sky opens up with a monsoon style rain storm.  We sit there “safe” and watch the rain crash down and about.  Of course, twenty minutes later we had to ride into this storm, but we felt safe for a few minutes beforehand.  An admittedly weird great moment.
  • Being on Now Voyager, running straight and fast east on Bolivian Ruta 4.  The road is so smooth because its perfect cement. KR comes over the intercom and say, “Wow, stress free riding!”  Five minutes later the road ends abruptly with a hand painted detour sign.  This commences a two hour fight down a dirt road connecting the western and eastern part of Ruta 4.  The most stressFUL riding we’ve been in 🙂
  • Making our own coffee in a restaurant in Carmen.  The proprietor also sold us some gasoline.  We sat there and made coffee and somehow communicated with Johnnie and took photos of him and his kids.
  • The last 200+ miles to the Brasilian border on Ruta 4.   Cement smooth, fast, and the landscape was stunning.  Had to hold NV back at 85.

Riding with risk

When you’re flying along, running fast and smooth, one has a lot of time to think.  Any motorcyclist knows what I mean when some of my clearest thinking occurs at these times.  Seventy-five days on the road is a long time to be riding a motorcycle (for most people!  for some reading this this post, it’s just a short stint).

Both KR and I are tired.  Strangely, not from the physical effort, which is much, much more than I remember.  Nor from the hassle of packing and unpacking everyday.  We’ve got that down to easy to assemble modules.  Nor is it from the few really scary situations we’ve been in.  Or the sometimes very long days in the saddle.

No, we both agree that most of the weariness comes from not knowing something(s) key about the day ahead.  (Note:  this is not a complaint as its also the source of much of the thrills).   Most days, we don’t know at least one of the following:

  • Where we’re going the next day?  Week?  Month?
  • How far the next night’s stop is
  • How do we get there?  What route will be best?
  • What’s the road condition.  Is it passable?
  • What’s the weather going to be like?  How much rain will we get?
  • Where we’re staying
  • Will we have enough gas and will the gas stations be operating
  • Where do we get local currency when we need it
  • Some part or aspect of NV is questionable and needs attention.  Will I — or whomever — be able to fix it?
  • How much is this all going to cost?  How are we going to pay?

There have probably only been a handful of days in the past seventy-five that haven’t had a mixed collection of the above.  Sometimes they’re really minor and just take up a small amount of our “worrying capacity.”  Others consume our attention for days at end.  Should we take the “New Road” from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz? The bridge is supposedly out.  Or, maybe the “Old Road” is passable now?  It’s longer, but maybe we can get trough…

Once again, none of this is a complaint.  This is exactly what KR and I signed up for.  If we wanted it any other way, we would have signed up for a tour.  Yet, there ARE days that a tour sounds pretty damn good 🙂

Another note about logistics:  money

It’s true that one can go through much of South America on an ATM card as cash machines are in most decent-sized towns.  The best offer both local currency or dollars.  Yet, a couple of notes of caution here.   First, your ATM card will not work with all cash machines — especially in Bolivia.  If your ATM card is a Visa bank card, most of the ATMs won’t work.   Secondly,  ATMs are scarce when one really needs cash — small towns.  Most establishments only take cash.  This is especially true of gas stations.  Only hotels in sizable towns take credit cards.

Dollars are a decently traded currency in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.  They are the only currency Border crossings take from Norte Americanos.  Chilians won’t take  a dollar even if you wanted to just  it to them as a present.  For that reason, I would always recommend keeping a stash of dollars with you as a fallback position.

Exchange rates and bank charges vary widely and its difficult to decipher how much you’re getting f___ed.  For example, hotels and such apply a really low currency exchange rate (low as in lower # of their local currency to each dollar) if you ask how much something costs in dollars.  But they always charge your credit card with the local currency, which means your credit card institution is the ultimate decider of the exchange rate.  I’ve found that they’re usually much better than local cambios and this advantage often offsets their 3% “international transaction” fee.  Same principle applies to ATM machine commissions, which are charged in local currencies.

And aside from exchange rates, what do things cost?  Varies greatly by country.  Most expensive is Chile, then Argentina, Peru and finally Bolivia.  We just entered Brasil, but I’m afraid it will be on the top of this list.   Hotel rooms in Peru and Bolivia are $30-$40.  In Argentina, $50-$75.  Chile you can easily spend $75 and we were hit for $160 in Santiago.  Also depends on whether you’re in-season or not (evidently, we were in season in Chile and the off season in Peru).   Wine is consistenly cheap.  Food can be, but we got screwed with really expenisve meals in Chile a couple of times.  We unknowingly spent $55 for lunch in one out-of-the-way Chiliean resort.  And it was horrible: )

Gas?  Between changing currencies and converting litres to gallons, I don’t have the slightest.   But, gas won’t be a budget buster on a bike anyway.  I miss the Altiplano where I got great gas mileage enabling us to go more than 300 miles with all our on-board gas.  Down at sea level, I’m lucky to get 200+.

Here are the videos

We shot some more amateur-hour video while in Bolivia.   Sorry, most of its on the road. And I still haven’t figured out how to adjust the camera’s brightness settings.

#1. Bolivian mountain road:  Deep in the heart of South America we discover… pine trees and the Sierras!

#2. 26 miles of dirt:  A clip on riding in mud and dirt of a Ruta 4 detour.   Although it was just 26 miles, it took us a full two-hours to get through.  Both KR and I thanked our lucky stars that it hadn’t rained for a day or two, or we would not have made it

#3.  FW comments on 26 miles of dirt:  Look closely and you can see my riding partner give me the thumbs up with a different finger.

#4. Welcome to New Mexico — not! KR and FW riding on Ruta 4

#5.  FW in the middle of the jungle and New Mexico: Ruta 4 is ever changing

#6.  Ruta 4 at speed. The Bolivians have spread miles and miles of glass-smooth concrete on Ruta 4

Here are the pictures

Wherever we go,there's a party. One week to the day after experiencing Carnival in La Paz, we experience Carnival in Cochabamba. This time we spend an afternoon watching the parades and celebrations jammed in with all the Cochabamba(ians). Great people watching.

The only thing nice to say about Santa Cruz is that they have a very neat church. My camera stolen out of our hotel room -- a first for the trip.

Seeking advice and gas from a Russian Mennonite in Bolivia? The only reason we got gas here was that we saw this gentlemen's horse-drawn wagon getting his barrels full of gas. Gave us the lowdown on the road ahead. Not surprisingly, he was wrong.

Great ass. NV is starting to look and act like an adventure machine. We kept hoping that around the next corner pavement would await. For two hours we fought clay, mud, dust, rocks, ruts, and the occasional cow. Trucks and buses that broke down built camp fires to signal oncoming (night!!) traffic to be aware. We knew if we broke down, we were cooked.

This is the reward for poor planning. No money. One hotel. No bar. I bought the combo meal from the only food vendor. I couldn't super-size because we didn't have enough money.

The proprietor of said fast food restaurant took great pride and fun in sitting on NV for his friends and customers.

The best thing I (OK, Ryan actually found them and installed them) put on the bike were the spare fuel tanks. Practically eliminated the risk of running out of fuel.

But not completely: ) Here we buy some gas from a restaurant owner in Carmen, Bolivia.

We had a great cup of coffee in Johnny's restaurant. He insisted on getting his picture taken with and the picture of his son on the wall.

I know we're talking a lot about gasoline on this post, but its mother's milk to NV. This station was manned ONLY by Bolivian police. They kept close watch on NV's gas consuming requirements.

The easy part: going through Immigration, Customs and Policia on the Bolivian side of the border. Difficulty began when we went 100 yards up the road to the Brazilian entrance...

Quick, what does this look like? Whatever your answer, it's wrong. You're looking at the Brazilian Consulate's office in Puerto Suarez, Bolivia. Tough to find in a town of dirt roads and no road signs. Tough to get them to do anything in real time. The problem? We couldn't purchase Brazilian visas at the border. Sammy Hershfield told us this two weeks beforehand, but we ignored his sage advice.

It took us a total of 27 hours to get through the border. Here, KR waits in the Brazilian Immigration line.

I told you wherever we go, a party follows. First night in Brazil and we crash a party of friends and relatives on a three day fishing vacation. All welcomed us warmly and we danced, sang, ate and drank together like we were old time buddies. Very, very nice people. Only one person spoke English. We're beginning to realize that Portuguese is going to be a real foreign language...