From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.
We’ve moved South of the Border
This holiday season we were both south of the border and south of freezing temperatures in Mexico and New Mexico. It was fun in both environs.
I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months. There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them. Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life? One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)
Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016
- Lots of travel — twelve trips in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico. You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
- Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th. Both will shape LACI for years to come. I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
- 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric: we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%, and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries. Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
- “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session. The result; the family has a leadership problem. No s__t!
- Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far. KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015. Onward and upward!
- Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting. The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting. New establishments are popping up almost daily. The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses. Yaahhh boy! Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
- We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot. As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking. Not surprising, we need more electrical power!
Well, those are the headlines. Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now. For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)
In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.
This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done. We covered four cities in about ten days. I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.
It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business! Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous. Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles. But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax. When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day? Exactly my point:)
I’m still conflicted about India. We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India. Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences. It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles. I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.
Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place. 800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted. The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity. The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.
I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:) KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)
Cairo was a whole different deal. I liked the vibe immediately. The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way. The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang. The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.
No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true. The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it. Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests. I’m not sure this can be fixed…
KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating. And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy. We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.
We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business. I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality: entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands. Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems. It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.
A big part of travel is having the right mode of transportation:) To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):
- The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee): This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.” 162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in. Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it. I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt. Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
- The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone). The Bullet is now the LA version of the Duke. He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
- Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle): The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places. NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability. It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that NV I (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling. NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco. He’s barely broken in:)
- Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero): Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box. Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America. Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes. Fully functional means: bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet. Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
- Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter): Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked. Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history: two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s, and two Scarabeos… Go figure.
- Potential New Additions to the Stable: Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble. This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us. KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar. Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
- Planes, trains, etc. Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two. I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas. British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment. Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM. ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available. Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?
Life in the Loft
It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years! Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District. This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money. Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills. I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off. Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks. Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.
The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle. The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending. Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.
This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.” I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood. He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while. I recommend one to all:)
Life South of the Border
Let me state this up front: Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit. There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico. Narco’s? For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like, but it’s the truth.
The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar. When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos. As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos! For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference. It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.
Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life. We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month. That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!
Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed. He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix. Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)
The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc. Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.
Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use. LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat; just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:) Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.” Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)
Two Seismic Events
The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment. 2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event. Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews. The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs, a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’. The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.
Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling washed over LACI like a tsunami. We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end. And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”
My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what. Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change. This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich. If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on. Drought and crop reduction? We’ll just pay more for food. No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030. This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.
And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.” Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.
To the Future, we go!
I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less. KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows? We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!
Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
CAIRO (DEC 2016)
INDIA (OCT 2016)
LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)
MEXICO (DEC 2016)
ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)
I promise to write more often.
I don’t have much of a life in Los Angeles if one defines life as something other than
work. This is not a complaint, just a fact. LA is primarily for LACI and anything else needs to be fitted into the creases. Mexico is the reverse for me, it’s about living, not making a living, and I spend most of each December and part of January in Puerto Vallarta with The Boss of Corona and her best friend, Squirt. This post is what its like to go back home to Mexico and hang for a month.
It’s surprising how quickly comfortable being home in PV is, even after 11 months of being away. Well, its not quite immediate as it usually takes KR a couple of days to get use to me being around and for me to put away my CEO ways. After this initial roughness though, it starts being as smooth as a cold Corona (the beer, not the house) on a hot day.
First thing is the house. I would never have believed that 6200 feet of house would be comfy, but it is. Corona just flows right. We spend most of the time in the master with forays to the pool and top deck. The kitchen and dining room are usually for breakfast and entertaining. Most other meals are taken in bed or eaten out.
Our bedroom is really Operations Central. It’s on the third floor, with a balcony that I often wonder onto to check out the neighborhood or look at the skies or take in all the various water craft zooming along the beach. Size matters when it comes to TV’s and we have a large “smart” TV in the room. (let’s not go into how useful a Smart TV is with a dumb owner). KR usually has the TV on 24/7.
I’ve also slid a small desk into the corner next to the window overlooking the Bay of Banderas and do all my work here. There are very few better views around, especially for an “office.” I spend 80% of my day there, hitting the keyboards, gazing on the street below, taking a Skype call, or swiveling the chair around to catch Wolf Blitzer giving yet another perspective on the 14th Republican debate. Squirt provides the other source of constant entertainment.
KR does most of her B&B administrative work in bed as well, so
having the three of us in the bedroom as headquarters works well. Very well. Beyond our bedroom door looms two irresistible lures. At least twice a day I walk out the door, take five steps, and jump into the pool. Swim around, take in the view, listen to the cacophony of neighborhood sounds, and then hit the rays. KR can’t resist the 3rd floor garden that surrounds the Pool Deck. She’s always been a gardener and having three gardens (1st, 3rd, and 4th floors) and more planters than I can count means multiple chances to get covered in mud. This is a good thing.
Here’s a question for you: When was the last time you walked down your street, talked to your neighbors, watched kids play, and then stopped in the local grocery store to buy some food for lunch? In LA, my answer is never, and I’m not just speaking about the Factory Lofts in downtown LA. My answer would be the same for the Hollywood house.
In Puerto Vallarta, it happens every day, usually more than once. This isn’t by accident as we purposely moved into a “mixed” (read Gringos and Canadians along side Mexicans) neighborhood in the hills of PV. Our neighborhood consists of the small street in front of our house (Corona) and the two cross streets (Miramar and Metamoris) which happen to be the only ways up/down the El Centro Hills. This accounts for lots of street activity most days and most times of each day. And since most Mexicans around us live in something less than 6000 sq ft., they spend their free time sitting outside their houses on the porches or curbs.
Last night was typical. We went out the front door and started walking downhill toward the Malecon (boardwalk) to get something to eat. Karen dropped off some discarded clothes to the very extended family next door. Eduardo, the father and someone who I’ve taken tequila shots with at 2 in the morning, commented that I was looking a little gordo (fat) and I should keep eating so they could get more of my non-fitting clothes. We all laughed out loud.
We found a new place to eat on the Malecon, the Jazz Foundation, which had so-so food, great music, cold beer and really nice waiters who helped us map out our next trip. Walking up the hill on the way home, we bumped into a neighbor we’d met a year or so ago and invited him back for a cocktail.
These encounters happen every day here.
Noise is a controversial subject in our house and among our neighbors. Up the street there are a group of kids, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, that think there’s nothing better to crank up the boom box at all times of day or night. A couple of neighbors have called the police to complain, which generated a visit from the local police only to find out the primary source of the noise was…. an off duty policeman! The music keeps on playing giving us a dose of Mexican justice on a local level.
The young children next door play soccer in the street below us. Most Mexican cars make the Iron Duke look like a limo and announce their passing through their non existent mufflers. Roosters crow too early even for farmers, of which there are none that I’ve seen. Three blocks away the church bells ring at intervals that I can’t figure.
Noise, of course, is a two edged sword. It’s annoying and interuptive and … well…life affirming as well. This is a vibrant neighborhood in which life is visible and audible to all.
No week would be complete without visits to Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, the bank, Office Max and the assorted stores needed to keep a Gringo’s Mexican households running and in order. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’ve become a Kirkland Man, wearing Costco underwear and “dinner” shorts & shirts, drinking Kirkland wine and vodka, BBQing Kirkland ribs, and eating Kirkland ice cream (the Vanilla is the best ice cream yet created on this earth:)
Of course, not all is fun and games when you’re a B&W innkeeper. We have a staff to supervise, which KR keeps me away from, that includes a property manager, a maid, a pool guy, a carpenter, a handyman, an electrician and plumber. And this is just for Corona, as there’s a whole ‘nother crew for Little Big Sur. There are walls to paint, solar systems to repair, pool pumps to maintain, windows to fix, and…. on and on and on. Is there no rest for the weary? Don’t answer that:) Yet, I had it easy compared to this young man who went out to LBS to rebuild our solar system. It’s worth it to read his report:)
Finally, let’s talk money. Living in Mexico, even a tourist town like PV, is relatively inexpensive and getting more so every month. When KR and I started coming to PV, the dollar was worth 10 pesos. Last year around this time it was worth about 13 pesos. Today, the dollar is worth 17+ pesos, which is a very good thing if you’re a Gringo, less so if you’re a Mexican. Certain things remain expensive: gasoline is $3.20/gallon, electricity ranges from $200/2 months to $900/2 months depending on the use of A/C, and anything imported will have a duty of between 14-140% tacked on. Labor, food, rent, property taxes and such remain incredibly low, which is why this place continues to grow as a gringo/Canadian hang out during good and bad times. Please don’t tell anyone how good this is, we have enough folks here already:)
Well, that’s my report on life as a pseudo Mexican.
Mas Margaritas por favor!
This news just in! Karen has become so successful as an innkeeper that we don’t have a place to stay during the next six days. True to form, KR threw some things in the Iron Duke, made sure Squirt was comfy, and said, “Let’s head south!” Uh, what about a reservation or some place to head to? Over rated, I guess.
Here’s what everything looks like in pictures.
It’s difficult to summarize this past winter’s events. Where’s the theme in it all? It started with the following two-week travel sequence: DC – LAX- PV – Mexico City- PV – Guadalajara- LAX. The trip included meeting with the White House’s most senior energy staff and being told…”We talk about LACI all the time here. There’s no one doing anything like you guys…” I know that and $1.65 will get me a small Starbucks, but it was nice to hear anyway and certainly a 180 degree change from just three years ago. The trips also included signing an MOU with the Mayor of Los Angeles in Mexico City and being told “You’re exceeding expectations, Fred” by the Mayor. Please remember that when we’re asking for more money from the City to support LACI, I’m thinking:) Oh, and we began building a Global Innovation Network (GIN) which now has members in Germany and Mexico, soon to add Italy and the rest of Europe. And I’m part of the Mayor’s delegation on his upcoming trip to Asia this fall.
South of the border, KR has become a world-class inn keeper as the Corona Adobe/Little Big Sur vacation rental business has exploded. No one is more surprised than KR and I at this new development. Corona Adobe has become a very popular B&W to the point that KR has had to escape to LBS because the house was fully rented. That option soon disappeared as well since the Corona Adobe/LBS “metropolitan living and jungle escape combo package” has been very popular. Last week KR had to stay in a PV hotel because we had no space in our own home or out at LBS. KR is coming to LA for the month of April partly because there’s no room in PV. And to see Her Man, of course.
All work and no play makes for a dull boy (which I’ve been accused of being), so there’s been a fair amount of that including a couple of days in PV with friends (Puerto Vallarta is just a great, great town), a Saturday night bar crawl like I only vaguely remember in my youth, and….. A NEW MOTORCYCLE!
We welcomed Now Voyager II into the family about a week ago. He’s a 2014 BMW GS with every gadget, gizmo and option that the German’s could think of:) I spent about two months evaluating various choices for the Walti’s new DreamMobile, but settled on the biggest, fastest, heaviest, and most expensive alternative. Go figure. He’s so big that I’m thinking of getting special elevator shoes made:) None the less, he’s handsome, fast, comfortable and handles great. Why has it taken me all these years to man-up and get a GS? Go figure.
Maybe the theme for this winter is it’s been a time of transitions. LACI is growing up — in size, footprint and reputation. One of these days it will be a real force to be reckoned with. Our life in PV has transitioned to that of part-time/ full-effort inn keeper which has pretty much changed what KR does south of the border. We’ve shifted to a new motorcycle, leaving the stressed-out Now Voyager behind and welcoming the fully-capable Now Voyager II into the fold. And, as we all face the challenges of growing up (finally?), we lost two of our friends this winter. One, Jack Foster, was one of the greatest creative people I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the standard for how to have fun and do great work. Not a bad legacy.
Twenty-two of our twenty-three days on the road were great. The 23rd day wasn’t and turned out to be one of the toughest days we’ve had on a motorcycle. It ended in a minor, but stupid crash late that night. The scary thing is that it didn’t start out bad, hell, it was a beautiful morning and we’d just spent two fabulous days in Oaxaca. That morning our plan was to stop in a small village outside Oaxaca to buy some (more) Mexican carvings and then head over the mountains to the coast and return to my favorite surfing town, Puerto Escondido. It was going to be an easy 150mile-ish day…
Along the way we met another “Band of Brothers” member, David. David is from Colorado and is taking a year off to ride down to the tip of South America. I’m definitely jealous. His motorcycle is similar to NV, but bigger, faster and better looking. We discuss the route over an early lunch; he’s got a different set of GPS maps of Mexico than we. His route is much shorter, yet we’re both unsure what condition the road is. Up to this point, the road hasn’t matched either the paper or GPS maps. We decide to take his 125 mile route over the mountains vs. our 150 mile over the mountain route. Mistake #2.
Both maps and GPS show that the route climbs into the mountains to about 9000 ft., before descending to the ocean and Puerto Escondido. About an hour into the ride Now Voyager’s front tire starts to slowly deflate. It seems that somewhere on the way to Oaxaca I bent a rim on a tank-sized pothole. I knew I had a bent rim out of Oaxaca, but it seemed to be holding air and I decided to go with it. Mistake #3. There aren’t any Pemex stations in the Mountains which means that each little village we enter I look for a tire store to put some air in the front.
Shortly after this Now Voyager stalls dead in his tracks. It’s getting late and it takes a while to get him started again. I guess that we have about 100 miles to go, which means I now have to nurse a front tire and a stalling bike for a couple of more hours. I can do it, but managing those problems, trying to figure out where we are, and not going over a mountain cliff means that All Hands Are On Deck. We come to another junction and Dave’s GPS says its a short shot to the right. My GPS and map don’t even show a road where Dave wants to go. Since his GPS has been right more often than not, so we go right. Mistake #4 This route is barely paved, which means we need to go real slow so that I don’t deflate the front tire any faster than necessary. Before getting started down the road, we take a break. I say something to the affect that “What else can happen!” Mistake #5. KR tightens the gas can and the bike falls over because I didn’t balance it right. Mistake #6. I silently vow never to say that again, although I’m convinced we’re through the worst of it
About 25 miles and more than an hour later we enter a small town covered in fog and mist. We’re now 9000+ feet. The town hangs on the mountain’s edge, but is the biggest town we’ve seen all day (which isn’t saying much). We follow the GPS down a narrow street/alley and it ends into a Church parking lot. What the F?! I look left and there’s a Black Diamond pitch with rocks and cobblestones. After more than 20 minutes questioning various locals (Dave speaks some Spanish) we conclude that our destination is “just” 25 miles down that road, but its all dirt, gravel and rocks. That’s not going to work for us, so we need to retrace the last 25 miles, then follow my GPS. We are a good four hours from our destination and its about 4PM. The GPS says we’re not getting off the mountain before nightfall, much less our destination. We now start to motor “with vigor” hauling the freight off the mountain. Frankly, I’m worried that I’ll make a mistake as the bike is really heavy and I’m dragging metal at each corner, its handling and stopping poorly, and we’re in 30 mph mountain rough paved road. KR takes all this in stride, never saying a word about how fast we’re going. It takes us about three hours to get down off the mountain, the last 45 minutes are in the dark.
Once off the mountain, KR and I abort trying to make the remaining 45 minutes to Puerto Escondido and decide to go to a little beach town nearby. Mistake #7 since if we had went to Escondido, we would have known exactly where we’d stay. In Puerto Angle, we get lost immediately and can’t find a hotel. KR finds a woman who agrees to take us to one of the finest hotels in the town. Conveniently, its a close friend of hers:) You got it, Mistake #8. This place is an Italian-styled dump that hasn’t seen any rehab since Roman times. It’s being run by the Italian woman proprietor who’s nice but way over her head in workload. I feel sorry for her. For a minute:)
The Italian-dump hotel doesn’t have a garage, but a parking lot protected by what looks like a moat. “All” I have to do is ride NV over the bridge and we’re home free. I agree and start NV’s engine. This is Mistake #9 as I’m so tired that obviously I can’t think straight or, as it turns out, ride straight. I crash into the dry moat and wedge NV between the moat and bridge pretty badly. It’s now about 9 at night and I have to unload all of NV’s bags and panniers and recruit three locals to help heave NV out, which we do. We have a drink and retire for the night totally burnt — we barely get out of our m/c clothes.
Next morning I need to “reassemble” Now Voyager. After going around the moat’s bridge, I get him on the street. Ten minutes in and I load all the luggage/bags on one side first, unlike the normal balanced approach. Mistake #10 as NV falls over again. We have a new record of three tip overs in less than 24 hours.
That folks is how things get out of hand:)
Status Update: KR and I made it back to PV in one piece, if a bit tired. I spent two whole days relaxing and then started off for LA on Now Voyager. I’m writing this from a hotel in Los Mochis, about 1/3 of the way between PV and LA. See you soon!
I expect most of you will skip this post and I don’t blame you. The nuts and bolts of how two people travel by motorcycle for extended periods is pretty dry stuff. Those of you who do it, or will do it, or want to do it will find this fascinating reading, of course. This is for you!
How we organize our stuff and where we put it
As faithful readers know, one of KR’s objectives is to makes sure we have everything we might “need”, or at least have the space to buy it on the road:) We have 13 storage areas on Now Voyager moving from front to rear:
- Two front soft panniers over NV’s gas tank: Rain gear, bike cover, and first aid kit.
- FW’s tank bag: camera stuff, most often used tools, on-the-road charging stuff, GPS and phones.
- Two rear hard panniers: Left side contains all the spares and some tools, right side is the electronics and administration side
- Two soft rear wet bags on top of panniers: left side is KR clothes, right side in FW clothes. All clothes are put in numerous soft containers which makes it easy to find, take out, and put back
- Three moto tubes under the hard panniers carry most of the tools and some of the spares
- Two gallon gas cans hold one gallon extra gas each
- Rear upper hard case serves as KR’s junk drawer
Of course, we can strap more stuff on top of this, which we have on this trip. Here’s a more detailed description of some of this stuff.
- We each have a m/c riding suit, which we wear every day on the bike. It’s heavy, rugged and most importantly — has armor that provides some protection of the elbows, knees, and shoulders
- We each wear a back support best that provides armor protection of our backs
- They make under with butt padding that we wear as well, for obvious reasons
- M/c boots and gloves (two pairs each).
- M/c helmets with intercom
- Scarf to keep warm or dry
- Rain suit
- M/c goggles that have my prescription built in and are reading glasses for KR
You can imagine getting dressed or undresses isn’t a five minute project:) Here’s what I’d change/add:
- New m/c suits. Mine got fried on the muffler, KR’s isn’t comfortable
- New rain suit for KR
- Flip flops for walking and use in showers
- Walk around shoes
- Socks, underwear, etc.
- One pair of shorts and swimming suit
- Long-sleeve and short-sleeve m/c riding shirts which can be washed easiy
- Short and long sleeve shirt
- Packable jacket
- Folding parka for rainy weather
What I’m going to change/add:
- Two computers, both the same kind for KR and me
- Three phones: my Blackberry, KR’s U.S. Cell phone, and KR’s Mexican cell phone
- Headphone for Skype calls
- Three cameras (not including phone cams): Two small Canon and one G12 Canon. ALL the same brand with the same software
- Chargers for everything! Multiple chargers allow simultaneous charging.
- Adapters for every kind of socket
- Flash drives
- Charging device that connects to m/c and charges Blackberry when we’re riding
- Several types of reading lights
- Spares for important cables
- GPS with maps
What I’m going to add/change
- Video camera
- Make all cameras water proof
- Get KR a smart phone
- Maybe a small iPad for travel planning on the road that KR could put in the junk drawer
Software (on both computers)
- The basic stuff
- The basic Internet stuff
- Google Earth and Google Maps
- All kinds of photo stuff
- WordPress admin
- AirBnB admin
- Online banking and bill pay
- Six email accounts: )
Spare parts and stuff
This is obviously m/c specific and related to your past experience with the bike:
- Spare intercom parts and connectors
- Fuel pump and fuel pump sensor controller (both have been lifesavers)
- Two thermostats
- Electronic key ring (I’m not describing it right, but it controls if the key works)
- Spare keys for everything
- Hose and rubber/steal cement
- Clips of all kinds
- Straps, two types of bungee cords and spare buckles
- Temporary flat tire leak repair (cannister)
- Pressured air to re-inflate the tire on the bead
- Electronic air pump that works off the battery
- Duct and electric tape
- Plastic fasteners
- Rags and surgeon gloves:)
- I carried a spare chain for our South American trip
- Subscription to an online BMW repair manual
- Oil filters
- Small rubber tubes that can serve as gaskets
I carry most of the regular type of stuff. Here’s some of the not standard stuff
- Full allen wrench and the weird-ass BMW wrench set
- Tire irons and anything related to changing/fixing a flat
- Special BMW oil filter removal tool
- Swiss army knife with corkscrew:)
This is for a relatively short trip like the present one. There’s a whole ‘nother layer of admin stuff for longer trips that require shipping, etc.
- Passports (kept separately from everything else)
- Drivers licence and credit cards (kept separately)
- Fake drivers license, out of date credit cards and $20 bill in case we’re robbed. This is kept in the most accessible pocket
- Int’l drivers license for grins
- 10x copies of: title, registration, passports, drivers license
- Fake “original” title and registration. This worked excellently in South America, not so good in Central America.
- I would now bring original title as well, but I would hide them and never bring them out unless absolutely necessary
- Medical info
- M/c insurance info for all relevant countries
- Telephone numbers that you’ll need when your computer/phones get soaked
- Business cards and brochures for Corona Adobe
- A full set of Garmin maps (absolutely!)
- A full set of paper maps (absolutely!)
- Paper guide books that can be read where there is no Internet
- All-you-can-eat data international plan from AT&T. Watch these charges closely
- Copies of numbers/contacts for all credit card stuff
- A full supply of whatever meds you need
- Medivac emergency rescue insurance
It’s Been Hard on the Equipment this Trip…
This is what we’ve run through so far:
- Complete clutch assembly
- Fuel pump sensor
- Front wheel
- FW’s m/c jacket
- KR’s m/c jacket
- Four maps of Mexico
- Two Canon cameras
- Right pannier
- Lots of clothes
Living Two Up on a Bike for an Extended Period
Three words come to mind when thinking about how we handle riding the bike for extended periods: comfort, communications, and entertainment. Comfort is fairly obvious when it comes to clothing, etc. Seating position is a little more nuanced. For KR, we’ve constructed a Barko Lounger affect with back and arm rests made of soft luggage. I’ve modified the seat several times and she’s pretty happy. I’ve modified my seating position so that I “fit” on the bike. Communications is the key to enjoying traveling two-up on a m/c. There’s nothing more important than a clear, powerful intercom as KR and I are constantly chatting about all sorts of things, commenting on the scenery, occasionally singing, and problem-solving in real time (like navigation). Sharing what’s going on before us, around us an under us is the primary reason we go two-up. Entertainment is individual of course. KR reads books, magazines and the like while riding on the back. I can feel the book cover on my back. She wants an iPad so she can look up hotels while we’re moving. Sound right to me. For me, entertainment is all about gadgets: navigation, m/c dashboard, etc. The more the better! We have not taken full advantage of entertainment options, especially in the music department. We will hook up the ipod/iphone for our next trip.
Don’t laugh, but our biggest upgrade on this trip versus the South American trip is that I got good maps for the Garmin GPS for every country we entered. It made a world of difference. In fact, I don’t know how we survived in SA with only guide book maps:) Still, we got lost in almost every city we entered as its difficult to match the Garmin real-time instructions with the real world flying by. Good paper maps are critical as well since they give a larger view and can be cross-checked with the Garmin Instructions.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Sam Hershfield was our Guiding Travel Navigator in the Sky (GTNS) and he has a powerful knowledge of how to use Google Earth and Google Maps for everything from route planning, to seeing what hotels are in a city, to checking out the weather, elevation and most other things one would be interested. Sam has been giving me on-the-job training on these apps and I’m making progress:)
Over the years, KR and my responsibilities have become pretty clear. FW drives, navigates via GPS, makes mechanical repairs (OK, tries), packs and unpacks the bike, and keeps all electronics organized and running. KR is in charge of all trip planning, selects the hotel and/or wanders the city streets looking for one, registers, keeps all the money, pays all the tolls, and navigates via the map. I get her coffee in the morning and she gets me a drink at night. Simpatico:)
We’ve crossed a few borders in our day, but never with an entourage of half a dozen adoring helpers:) Welcome to border crossing Guatemalan style. As we rode toward the border, dozens of men and boys ran in front waving their hands and urging us to stop. Since we knew the drill, I picked the oldest guy I could find who happened to be in a bright red shirt (note to self, bright colors do work in advertising). Cesar would be our Head Border Administrative Officer. His entourage included a boy to run in front of the bike clearing the traffic, a money exchanger (“You don’t have anymore dollars to sell? How about Euros?”) and two other groupies who kept an eye on us while Cesar did his work.
All in all, it took about 2 hours and 40+ US dollars to get through both Mexican and Guatemalan immigration and customs. That’s just the cost of Cesar’s crew, of course, as Guatemala charged us somewhere around $250 to bring the bike in. While certainly confusing and at times tense, this is the way all border crossing should be handled:)
Our original target for the day was Antiqua, about 140 miles due east, but since we didn’t get started until 11AM and the border chewed up two hours, we found ourselves riding into Guatemala with no clue of what to expect. Moreover, the map showed a road that was as squiggly as any we’d seen, so I assumed it would be all mountainous travel.
I was right in spades. The northern loop to Antiqua (and any city in the east, including the capital, Ciudad Guatemala) immediately took us into mountains that were very different from those of Mexico just of a few days ago, but hard to explain why. They were a unique shade of vivid green, feeling like a rain forest as there was mist in the air. We wound slowly into the mountain forest, feeling like we’d been there before, yet not quite knowing why. One thing was for sure, it’s beautiful.
As we bumped along through a dozen tiny tiny villages, it became clear that Guatemala had not only mastered the art of Tope Speed Control, but taken the art to a whole new level – multiple sets of topes for a village of two stores. While this gave us a chance to see the locals up close and slow, it definitely slowed our pace. We found ourselves winding ever further up the mountains in the late afternoon.
We crossed 9000 feet and it’s f__king cold. Isn’t Central America supposed to be tropical, I’m thinking? Fog and mountain mist make it feel even colder. While cold, all things were going along fine until rounding one corner Now Voyager dies with no notice. Unlike the previous dozen or so episodes, NV doesn’t start back up. Hmm. We’re a couple of miles outside of San Marcos, the first sizable town along our route, so we move into Plan B – somehow get NC to San Marcos and find a hotel.
Not quite so fast, there, son. First, while NV finally starts again, he quickly stalls a half dozen times as we coast down the mountain to San Marcos. Second, there aren’t any hotels in San Marcos as its another one of those gritty, commercial, drab Latin American towns that we’ve been through often. In the helmet intercom KR is making it clear that she has no interest in staying here! Great. Have you ever tried to drive fully loaded bike, over really bad cobblestones, in Latin American traffic, and with a bike that’s stalling every couple of blocks? And, oh by the way, you’re lost. This is not fun. The tension meter rises as quickly as the mountains.
So, we push on to a town whose name I still can’t pronounce –Quezaltenango – which is about 20 more miles east through the mountains. Surprisingly we make it with no further bike problems, except yet again we enter a sizeable town with no hotel reservations and no map. In high-traffic time on streets that are so narrow that there’s not room for a car and a bike side by side.
All during this time, our Internet Guide and Travel Assistant in the Sky – Sam Hershfield – kicks in with lists of hotels, navigation help, and general counsel. He emails me directions (god bless ATT and Blackberry) in real time and I put them into the Garmin, which then attempts to guide us to said hotels. Except as wonderful as Garmin’s maps are, they still can’t tell you which streets are one way, etc. We weave around the center of Quez… for a good 45 minutes until we give up motoring. We’re lost in this small town of intertwining cobble stone streets. KR dismounts and walks around a corner in the direction of the hotel. I’m stuck guarding NV and wondering what I’d do if KR gets lost. Ten minutes later KR rounds the corner with a big smile on her face. She’s not only found the hotel, but it’s great (in KR’s lingo, that would be charming). Fifteen minutes later we’re checked in our room at the Modelo Hotel and NV is parked in a garage down the street.
Since its 5:30ish I have no time to waste to perform brain surgery on Now Voyager’s fuel system. No surgeon wants to perform an operation in the darkJ No time to change into clean whites or for that pre-operation scrub, I rush into the operating theater, also serving as the car parking lot for our hotel. I pull the tools out and (this is the truth, I swear it) in less than 10 minutes I’ve installed a new fuel pump controller! Voila! Drinks and dinner here we come!
Sam can’t believe I’ve done this, so he’s still emailing me mechanics all over Guatemala to help fix NV… Sam, Sam, I’ve got this one, really! (Time will tell, of course). Before I can even get to the bar, Sam’s found the Hotel’s most popular cocktail via its online menu. This Internet Travel Assistant thing has promise: )))
Next day (New Year’s Eve) we’re planning on making Antiqua, but we don’t have a hotel. All seemed booked, but we finally find one that sounds good – terrific really—and it’s got a room. All right! But, why does this gorgeous hotel have a room on New Year’s Eve? Hmm. Note to self—always look closely at address. The Casa Miravalle Hotel is at best Antigua Adjacent as Culver City is Beverly Hills Adjacent too. Our hotel is in a small (tiny) town is the mountains above Antiqua – somewhere between 5-25 miles away. Anyway, off we go.
I’m going to make this very short. The day didn’t work out quite as planned. It took us a good hour to find our way out of Quez… (You laugh now, but you try it sometime), we fell over in the process necessitating a neighborhood help squad to get us upright and going again; we made a wrong turn and got real close to the Belize border which added another hour to our drive time; went through Antiqua and into Ciudad Guatemala looking for said Antiqua Adjacent resort only to realize we’d passed it miles back. Finally, we pay a cab driver 14 bucks to lead us to the road, upon which mountain goats would find it hard to climb, only to arrive at a beautiful boutique luxury hotel in the mountains with a spectacular view. “Reservation? We don’t have no reservation for you Mr. Rutherford…: )”
We’re now about 15oo miles from Puerto Vallarta and 3000 miles from LA. We’ve been in the saddle for nine days and we’ve had the following events happen to us…
- Now Voyager has stalled at least two dozen times, but keeps limping along.
- Of the eight nights, we’ve had really special places to stay in seven of them and had a great time each night.
- Wal-Mart is a good predictor of upscale business hotel locations.
- Lost our Mexico map (which could be a problem on the way home).
- Fried most of the left arm of my m/c jacket necessitating a repair job that will go down in Duct Tape Hall of Fame.
- Have gotten lost entering EVERY city we’ve stayed in.
- Experienced temperatures ranging from a high of 94 to a low of 60. You can feel the difference on a bike.
- Have developed a real craving for OXXO coffee, rivaling my affection for Starbucks. OXXO is Mexico’s Seven Eleven…
Our trip plan has changed pretty radically since starting off. We now realize there’s no way we can see anymore of Central America as it took way longer to get down here than originally guessed. We’ll spend a couple of days in Antiqua (“the cutest, most colonial town in all of Guatemala!” my Road Bunny exclaims. I don’t need Google Translate to know this means shopping: ) and then make a U-turn and start heading back. Sam is working on a new route back as I sleep.
I’ve been wanting to go south on two wheels ever since we got back from South America almost three years ago. Can it really be that long ago? Seems like a lifetime ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother tale. Exploring the remaining parts of South America and all of Central America feels like unfinished business. So, early this summer I came up with a plot to take Now Voyager to Central America during the holidays and sprung it on KR. I was half expecting her to say “have a good time,” but of course she said, “Great! When do we go?” “Sometime in December,” I replied and that was pretty much the extent of our planning for this trip.
Well, guess what? December’s here and we’re a couple of days from shoving off.
Preparation is concentrated on getting our house and business in order. LACI is now a burgeoning little enterprise that’s going …(hold your breath as this is really true) global. Ian H. and I recently spent a week in Berlin setting up the European leg of our Global Innovation Network (GIN – shaken, not stirred of course). When we get back its off to Mexico City with the Mayor, Washington DC to the ARPA-E Summit, and eventually the Far East with Mayor again in the Fall. Anyway, the good news is that one is never really disconnected in our world no matter how far you go or in what way. Which means one can always pull on the Oars of Commerce.
Getting our house in order has taken on new meaning around Corona Adobe, aka our Bed & Wine. Karen is working hard to be an Inn Keeper and has booked Corona for Christmas, New Years and much of January. Most of this will take place while we’re away, which adds a whole other level of complexity. We’re also renting out Little Big Sur this season which has necessitated a whole range of repairs and refurbishments. LBS now represents the ultimate in luxury camping:)
Getting Now Voyager ready consisted of buying a spare set of tires, changing his oil, and buying new maps for the Garmin. Done. Paperwork consisted of a temporary m/c permit for Mexico, some m/c insurance, an int’l drivers license for grins and copies of all documents that someone might want to take a look at. Done. I didn’t even have time to wash the guy.
Some thought it was the height of conceit or stupidity (take your pick) to think that a 6-person nonprofit housed in a converted bus repair garage should put on a conference focused on the globalization of the cleantech business. Moreover, professional conference planners cried, “You’re ____ crazy!” to start planning this conference only three months out, rather than the one year planning period that’s normally taken. Our thinking was simple: we’re addressing global problems, it’s a global business, hence we need to start thinking about it in a global fashion. And, by the way, no one else was stepping to the plate, so why not? How hard could it be?
Well, the answer to the last question is its really, really can’t-sleep-at-night, this was my dumbest idea yet hard. More than once we thought it would be a disaster. Two weeks out and we only had 25 registered guests! And the cost of putting on a conference at the JW Marriott/LA Live facility was easily 5X more expensive than anything else we had done. Which, of course, requires generating 5X more sponsorship dollars than we’ve ever generated. We achieved a lot of these not so good “firsts” along with a few very good firsts. For example, we..
- We went from 25 to 400 attendees in less than two weeks.
- Had more than 70 speakers from more than 20 countries over two days. The Mayor, DOE Under Secretary, California Air Resources Board Chairman, the past President of the Int’l Brotherhood of Longshoreman, the Governor’s senior adviser on the Environment, three of the most prominent VCs in Southern California, 20+ leading entrepreneurs, the City’s Director of Import/Exporting, among many more.
- We raised more money from more sponsors than at any previous time
- We have been contacted directly by Germany, Mexico, Hong Kong, China and Israel to create formal MOUs. I’m flying to Berlin to review how they do incubators and to provide them with some best practices.
Not bad for six guys in a garage.
Five of those six guys got on a plane early the day after the Showcase for our first annual LACI South of the Border Strategic Retreat. Said retreat was held at “Corona Adobe” and “Little Big Sur”, both in Puerto Vallarta of course. First reports indicate no brain cells lost due to alcohol poisoning (though all the tests aren’t back yet), intense strategic discussions took place in between snorkeling, drinking, eating, and repairing my motorcycle, one jelly fish sting was incurred during an underwater expedition, and we found out that several of the team had pretty good pitching arms. All in all, we did a lot of work on vision, mission, strategy, business model, revenue-generation programs…