Mongolian Ger on the edge of the Gobi desert was the best “hotel” we stayed in.

 

We’ve been on lots of trips, but this has been like no other.  We flew the equivalent of 1 ½ times around the world, from the warmth of the Coral Sea to the howling winds of Mongolia.  From the sweet sophistication and beauty of Sydney, to the stark grandeur of Kazakhstan’s new capital city, Nur-Sultan.  We’ve walked the streets of the almost tiny Ulaan Baatar’s 1 ½ million people to Beijings’s 20+ million people and everything in between.  We dived on the Great Barrier Reef, 75kms off the Australian Coast, and ridden camels in the Gobi desert eight plus hours from “civilization.” We’ve conducted an “intimate” workshop among 50 people and spoke at global events with thousands of attendees in Central Asia and China.  We’ve talked Big Data, big vision, the impact of the One Road, One Belt initiative on Central Asia and the nuts and bolts of how to build companies. 

We’ve had to buy extra shorts because it was too hot and parkas because it was too cold.  We’ve sipped lattes watching the sun rise over Australia and gulped hot coffee shivering on a stool outside a ger on the Mongolian Steppes.  We’ve slept in cozy boutique hotels, in gigantic conference palaces, on a cot in a ger and in a flea-bag hotel down an alley next to Beijing’s airport.  Along the way Karen fell in love with all-things-Koala (as in the little furry animals); I saw my first giraffe up close and personal; we were just feet away from the most feared animal in the Daintree Rain Forest – the guerilla-sized Cassowary bird; and in China Karen was warned not to make eye contact with the monkeys because they can become vicious.

If you have a bit of time, grab a glass of wine, settle in, and come along on this trip.   It’s five in the morning, I have plenty of time, we’re in Row 59 of 60 conveniently located next door to the head, and just about to cross over the most eastern tip of Russia to Alaska.

Where to begin?

We didn’t know where we were going when we started. It just kind of unfolded as we went along.  I know this sounds crazy for a 13 flight, 35-day, two business conference trip, but it’s the truth. When we got on our first flight to Sydney, we didn’t realize we would have twelve more flights to catch, none of which were booked yet.  Things changed and morphed so often that we almost never knew where we would be staying more than two days out.  I took care of the flights and business stuff, Karen took care of lodgings, eateries and entertainment. 

Our “Itinerary” eventually unfolded to this:

  • Fly to San Francisco, then catch a flight To Sydney
  • Spend a couple of days in Sydney, then
  • Fly to Brisbane for a week of business workshops
  • Fly north to Cairns, gateway to the coast along the Great Barrier Reef
  • Rent a car, drive further north to Port Arthur for a couple of days. Swim on the reef, trek through a rain forest
  • Drive to Palm Cove and just hang in one of the most beautiful beach towns we’ve ever come by
  • Drive back to Cairns, fly back to Brisbane, catch a flight to Abu Dahbi, and another to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (all in one day)
  • Speak at the Astana Economic Forum and see a bit of Nur-Sultan.
  • Jump a plane to Beijing, miss our flight, spend a night in Beijing, then fly to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia the next day
  • Hop in a Russian knock-off of a VW van and drive 8 hours west into the Mongolian steppes.
  • Spend two nights staying with two different families in Mongolian yurts (called gers)
  • Drive back another 8 hours, spend the night in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar.
  • Next day, catch a flight back to Beijing, then meet up with the “Silicon Valley Talks to Big Data Valley” business delegation I’m joining, and all of us fly to Guiyang, China. After  2/12 hours on one of the worst flights we’ve been on, we get to our Guiyang hotel at 2AM.
  • Next morning we’re off to the Big Data Expo and do a panel discussion, some interviews and various other events.
  • Have one free night to explore Guiyang and to my utter disbelief, I actually loved this Tier 4 City of 5M people.
  • At 4:30 this morning we begin the 24+hour sojourn home
  • 35 days, 37,000 miles, 13 flights, 10 airports, four countries, and nine cities.
  • Modes of transportation: plane, subway, catamaran, bus, car, camper van, ferry, camel and a horse

No matter what type of government or place, the rich and powerful live differently than you and me. There can be a pretty stark difference when traveling. One gets a flavor of what it’s like when you’re treated like a VIP in Kazakhstan or China.  In China, we went to an entire “VIP Wing” of the airport where we lounged in a comfortable room (there were about a dozen of these rooms) while visas, boarding passes, luggage, etc. were handled.   In Kazakhstan, we had similar treatment, never having to worry about transportation or travel arrangements of any kind.

KR at the first of ten airports. Red is a good color as its easier to spot her in the stampede to get off the airplane or rushing to immigration.

This pampering contrasted sharply with the more normal brutal experience of long distance travel.  In Beijing’s airport it took us THREE HOURS just to check in and get through all the various immigration, security check(s), customs, etc.  We were lucky to have five hours between connecting flights as we needed most of it.  In a previous flight to Beijing, we missed our connection out of Beijing to Ulaan Baatar. We had to stay in a dirty, stained-carpet, brown-water-out-of the-tap kind of hotel down a back alley close to the airport.  I think we had three 24hr+ travel days that were so long  we couldn’t remember where we had started that morning.  We also broke a record of more than a dozen “fasten your seat belt” notifications on a single flight that was constantly rocking and rolling from Beijing to Los Angeles.

But, as they say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  Good, bad, ugly and horrible coincide with the great, breathtakingly beautiful, and the wondrous that is long distance travel.  We had no major mishaps, we lost nothing important, we made all of our meetings, and walked away from every flight.

We’ll be ready to go again, soon.

Australia

 The Cliff Notes Version:  Go. Beautiful, clean, friendly, the most “like us” place we went, high standard of living and quality of life.  It’s all about the outdoors, whether “the bush,” the beaches or the Great Barrier Reef.  Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to (physically reminds me of SF). Write this down:  Palm Cove, north of Cairns.  It’s just a great little beach town.

What We Did:  Sydney Zoo, traipse around Sydney, toured the Sydney Opera House, watched a Memorial Day parade, went to the Great Barrier Reef, took a tour in the Daintree Rainforest, went to a immaculately preserved mining town from the 1800s, various animal sanctuaries, swam in the ocean, a rain forest river and a pool.  Goes without saying we hit lots of bars and restaurants

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The GBR is north of Brisbane along hundreds of miles of coast and is THE place to go.  We took a catamaran from Port Douglas 75 kilometers to a part of the reef where this company had a giant pontoon boat anchored.  Think beautiful ocean, snorkeling, bars and food.  Spent an entire day along with 300 of our closest friends snorkeling and “ocean walking.”  No question though, the GBR is in trouble.  Rather than a cascade of underwater colors we all see in pictures, it is gradually turning brown, then bleached white as it slowly dies.  Yes, its all about the water temperature and climate change.  Yet, snorkeling over the GBR for a couple of hours is my most vivid memory of the trip.  It was an out of body experience that I will never forget. 

Animals: Seeing lots of animals has never been on my list of great things to do; seeing lots of animals is one of Karen’s favorite things to do.  Guess what happened?  Within 24 hours of landing in Sydney, we had hit its world-renowned zoo.  Karen fell head over heals for the fuzzy little Koala bears.  It was my first time seeing a giraffe up close and personal.  The tigers just kind of looked at you wondering which one of us was for dinner.  Kangaroos. Wallabies.  Tasmanian Devils, and on and on and on.  A couple of days later we were gliding down a river in the Daintree Rain Forest looking for crocodiles, which we found plenty of (KR even went to a Croc ranch).  I’ve never been to so many animal sanctuaries in my life:  butterflies, said Koalas, rain forest animals, etc., etc.  By the time we left Australia, I was thinking of starting an Animal Picture Book.

Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove. These are all beach towns along the north Queensland coast.  All can get you to the GBR.  I hated our one day and two nights in Cairns.  Couldn’t find a decent bar or restaurant.  Tourist Trap.  Port Douglas is a wonderful little village that is probably the main jumping off point for the GBR.  Very charming.  Maybe a dozen or so of restaurants.  Served as our headquarters while seeing everything.  Palm Cove.  Literally, the minute I stepped out of our car I knew I loved this place.  Tiny. Right on the beach. Palms blowing in the wind.  Swimming.  IF we ever get back to Australia, I’m going back to Palm Cove.  I wanted to stay two weeks, not two days.

Big love. KR finds her favorite animal. I think she visited 3 or 4 parks/zoos that had Koala bears.


My first giraffe. Bigger in real life and pretty neat to see them start trotting.


“Hmm, whats for lunch? That guy in the bright shorts looks good. Can you please pass the salt?”


Karen went to a Croc Ranch. I passed on this exciting event. I like my crocs further away


Sydney Darling Harbor. Sydney probably has a dozen or so harbors


Sydney is a city of ferries. We’re on one underneath Sydney Harbor bridge.


Inside the Sydney Opera House, which was pretty spectacular from any angle.


View of same from a ferry


Man ready to challenge the elements. About to jump in and snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef.


Picture does not do it justice. One of the most iconic images I’ll remember from the trip. We’re about 50 miles off the coast of Australia, just 20 or so feet above the Great Barrier Reef. Cool, very cool.


We were all alone on the reef. Not. A couple of hundred people took a two hour ride on a catamaran to get to this pontoon boat. Among other things, this floating barge had a bar, restaurant, “divers lounge,” etc. Despite all the people, this was a great experience.


Glass bottom boats are a good way to see what’s underneath the surface while staying dry. Provided you can get over the claustrophobia feeling and the lack of seaworthiness of the boat. KR and I also “walked on the ocean floor” using air-filled helmets.


This is what I do. The workshop at Logan City.


This is work also. Dinner with some of the folks from Logan City’s innovation group at a restaurant in Brisbane.


No worries. Various friendly warnings about anything that moves on land or water.


Sure, I’m going to just stroll along this beach, knowing that a croc could jump out from the left or crawl out from the right. Australia is a very relaxing place in May


This is my preferred distance to the beach.  I can see the crocs as they come on shore.  It does not get any better than this when it comes to offices. My office in Palm Cove.


Running on the beach at sunrise in Palm Cove. I figured the crocs couldn’t catch me ’cause I’m too fast


I don’t get it. What’s the problem? KR was embarrassed to be seen with me in this outfit.

 

Kazakhstan

Why/Where/What is it. It’s in the part of the world called Central Asia.  Think all of the countries between Russia and China and you’ll get the general idea.  Kazakhstan was a Soviet controlled country until the collapse of the USSR in ’90.  Now it’s an independent country with strong cultural and business ties to Russia.  Nur-Sultan is the capital created just 20 years ago in the northern part of Kazakhstan.  Recently changed its name from Astana to Nur-Sultan, after the “First President” who is still the only President.  I was invited to speak on a panel at the Astana Economic Forum about “Building Innovation Ecosystems.  The AEF takes place at the 2017 Expo park built in 2017 to house a world expo that attracted more than 100 countries.   It’s a truly spectacular place, built on a grand scale with some of the most stunning architecture I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, it’s on the outskirts of Nur-Sultan with nothing in walking distance but a US-style mall.  Nur-Sultan is one of the two coldest capital cities on earth.  Temperatures get down to -30F with 50 mph winds in the winter.  BTW, the other coldest capital city is Ulaan Baatar, our next stop: )

The People/Culture:   Aside from looking different from Karen and I, most everything else was relatable.  People in every city (towns are another story) dress pretty much the same, they buy the same (American) branded merchandise, and do the same things.  Babies cry. Girls giggle.  Boys run around. Boyfriend and girlfriend hold hands.  Families take selfies.  While many of the restaurants looked the same, the food was something other-worldly as I had my first piece of Horse Meat and sipped some Camel’s milk.  It’s reassuring to know that one can get a Corona almost everywhere: )

The Physical Place:  We only saw parts of the 20-year new capital in the northern part of Kazakhstan, which is in the middle of the Kazakhstan steppes.  Weather changed pretty rapidly from 35ish to 65ish in 24 hours.  It’s the wind however that makes the biggest impression.  Even in the summer, the plane was rocking and rolling on our approach to Nur-Sultan. 

There is a “grand vision” nature to all the  architecture we saw.  Buildings are built for scale, huge in size and shape.  Style is hard to describe, something between over-the-top Vegas and Eurasian.   Even in early summer, there isn’t much green yet around.  The one exception to all of this is…  a shopping mall which looks and feels like a shopping mall anywhere.

View of Nur-Sultan from the 2017 Expo Sphere


It rained for 30 minutes while we were in Nur-Sultan.


View from the Astana Opera House.


View from our hotel window, the 2017 Expo Sphere. The entire campus is architecturally brilliant. There are eight floors in the sphere, each one an expo of a specific type of renewable energy.


The opening ceremony of the Astana Economic Forum


The Astana Economic Forum opening session. The AEF is the largest, most important conference in Central Asia.


Just another TV interview in another city…: ). I’m told we made it on the major news channel in Nur-Sultan.


This is the indoor campus of the main university in Nur-Sultan. Everything is connected with inside courtyards, passage ways, etc. It gets cold, real cold.


Karen tries a hookah in a Kazakhstan night club. One of our hosts, Zahssulan, gives Karen pointers. Smoking hookahs is one of the things KR liked about Kazakhstan.


Drinking camel’s milk less so. Camel’s milk is a delicacy, but a taste that is acquired over time.


Saule, our host, and KR in the lobby of the Astana Opera House. We went to a piano concert which was very entertaining. Afterwards, we went to dinner and Karen had the above camel’s milk and I had to have more Horse Meat: )


AEF Gala Dinner included local entertainment. These guys were very good.


Immediately after this picture I went across the street to the mall and bought a coat. Temperature was one thing, wind is what really gets you.

 

 

Mongolia

Since we had three days between the end of Kazakhstan and the beginning of the Chinese leg,  we thought we’d see what Mongolia’s like.  After all, it was half way…

Not exactly on the way:). We needed to get from Kazakhstan to Guiyang, China (lower western part of China), so we thought Mongolia was on the way (not). We ended up flying from Kazakhstan to Beijing to Mongolia to Beijing to Guiyang and back to Beijing for the flight home.

The Cliff Notes Version: We flew into Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar in the upper eastern part of the country, hired a guide and driver, and then proceeded to spend the next two and a half days going west into the Mongolian steppes and Gobi desert.  We spent two nights with two different families sleeping in Mongolian gers.  We rode camels, horses, and had a cocktail sitting next to a goat.  We watched a real Mongolian BBQ get cooked and huddled around a cup of coffee sitting out side in the “brisk” Mongolian morning.  We learned about Genghis Khan and how Mongolia dominated the world around 1200 BC.  We spent our last night in Ulaan Baatar doing what tourists do — shopping.

The Nomads and Herders of Mongolia: By far and away the most amazing thing was to experience/see how most Mongolians outside the city live.  They are called nomads for a reason.  The easiest way to describe them is to understand that they aren’t farmers or ranchers in our sense of the word, but rather “herders.”  Most have up to five different herds of animals — goats, cows, horses, sheep, camels for example — and no fenced in land to graze.  Instead, they “herd” each type of animal throughout each day, moving from one pasture to another.  They do this on horseback and (the younger generation) on motorcycles with the help of a dog.  It starts at sunrise and goes on past sunset. 

They’re nomadic because they literally move their gers each season.  They plan these moves very carefully, relocating to particular pastures for specific reasons.  They usually have a winter place that has a more permanent structure for the family and animals, still primitive. 

A typical family (BTW, that means the extended family of mom, dad, grandparents, brothers, grandkids) might have 2-3 gers, a small Russian truck, a motorcycle, and all the things that might go in them.  They can put up a ger and fully furnish it in one hour, which seems impossible when you see how they’re constructed and what’s inside one.   Each ger has a couple of hard cots, a stove in the center, a couple of wooden dressers to store stuff, plastic table and chairs to eat and sit at, and…. a flat screen TV which is powered by a couple of solar panels stuck in the ground with a couple of wires running to a car battery inside.

There is no running water, no indoor plumbing, no “trash collection,” etc.   Everything is carried in, grown, harvested or carried out.   Usually in the truck, motorcycle or horse.

As you would expect, mom takes care of the food and house, dad, grand dad and son take care of the animals.  If they have breakfast, its very very early in the morning before starting to move the herds.  Dinner takes place around 6 or 7, after which they prepare the animals for night.  During the night one can hear lots of conversation and laughing.  Vodka is the preferred drink.

While the herder life wouldn’t be characterized as civilized by those of us living in cities, especially cities in the West, I’m not so sure it is not civilized in the usual meaning.  These folks have a close relationship with each other, the land and their animals.  They eat what they grow or can find.   There isn’t a lot of time for things that aren’t work related, but once again, they seem to be a happy bunch.  No one punches a clock, no one take orders, no one has the stress of a deadline.

 

Without a doubt the highlight of the trip was staying a couple of nights with herder families in gers. This is before dinner cocktails, on a couple of stools, watching the kid play.  Dog is at our feet.  Her uncle is in the background.


Our ger is on the left. This family moves four times a year. They had just set up their summer camp before we arrived. It took them an hour to set these up.


Inside. Grandma watches grandchild play at the “dining room” table. The mother’s brother plays with the youngest child in the background.


Even Mongolian Nomads need some basics: solar panels, battery, inverter, satellite dish and flat screen TV. These are apparently more important than running water and indoor plumbing.


Ever since the idea of going to Mongolia came up, KR has been dreaming of staying with a family in a Mongolian yurt. Here she sits at the dining room table of our abode.


Taking a sip of Mongolian Fire Water.


This is what a Mongolian hangover looks like. It seemed like a good idea at the time…


This is Grand Dad just before sunset. Hes riding out to move his herd of cows.  He’ll move them again at 5:30AM


Mom and oldest child. Dad was nowhere to be found, but she has the support of her extended family. All in all, Mongolian herders seem to be a happy lot.


Little did I know they were waiting for me: ). Mongolian camels are shorter than Egyptian camels with much longer hair.


And into the Gobi desert we go!


We drove EIGHT HOURS west into the Mongolian steppes from the capital. This is an example of the very occasional tiny town we came upon.


Basically, its 8 hours of this


We arrive at the second family’s “house,” On the left is our 4WD Russian knock-off of a VW van. Not very fast. Not very comfortable. But it took us everywhere.


This family’s summer camp is overlooking a valley in the steppes. Structure on the right is a permanent shelter for animals when it gets cold.  Look hard enough and you’ll see a river than runs through the valley.


Mongolian BBQ before our eyes. This was about a two hour process not counting killing, skinning and chopping up the lamb.  She’s putting hot coals directly on the meat before letting it simmer for a while.


This is dad waiting for dinner. This is about 6PM. After dinner, the son gets on a small m/c and rides over the hills and brings the sheep/goat herd home. Then everyone herds the sheep/goats into the corral to separate the mothers from the children. That way, the mothers will produce milk for the farmers. Only after all of this is done do they settle in for the night. Repeat the next day at 5:30.


Dinner is served. Only utensil used are knives.


After dinner round up.


All the animals were pretty friendly. This goat reminds me of Bogart, our Westie.


Trying to remain warm, awaiting dinner. I bought the jacket in Nur-Sultan, but would have frozen you know what off if I didn’t have it in Mongolia.


This is a Mongolian outhouse.  This particular model comes up to one’s chest.  Notice the missing plank in the floor?  There will be no reading a magazine while doing #2 here.  I count my blessings that I didn’t fall in, drop anything, or miss the target.  The idea of using a Mongolian outhouse several times a day is daunting, perhaps even frightening.  In summer, it’s a doable but carefully planned endeavor.  I can’t imagine using one in the winter: ))


We spent one night in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia’s capital city of 1.5M people (there’s only 2.5M in all of Mongolia). It strikes me that even in the furthest city I can think of, everyone is much the same. Here a young lady crosses the street and you wouldn’t know where she lives without this caption.


The Prius Capital of the World. I’ve never seen so many Prius’ in one place. It seemed that 1/2 of all cars were Prius’! This is a good thing as Ulaan Baatar is one of the most polluted cities in the world. During the winter, they burn anything/everything to keep warm.

 

China

The Cliff Notes Version. I was asked to speak on a panel at China’s largest Big Data conference on the future of work and cities, all of which I know little or nothing about.  Who was it that said, “Often wrong, but never in doubt”?  That’s my motto in these situations: )  Anyway, I was a part of the “Silicon Valley in Dialog with Data Valley” delegation to this conference in Guiyang, China, which is a rather small (5M) 3rd or 4th Tier City in Southwest China.  It was a hit and run kind of event since we literally flew in at 2AM on Saturday and flew out at 7AM on Monday.

Boaz making a presentation on the future impact of technology on city governments.

The group included entrepreneurs, futurists and forward-thinking folks from government and business.  It turned out to be a really good group, we did a couple of really interesting panel discussions and had a fun time exploring Guiyang on the last night.  Even though they were from Germany,  SF and LA, we all kind of clicked.

Guiyang and China:. I have very conflicted feelings about China and the Chinese folks I’ve met. I’ve been to China 2-3 times previously, but only to the Tier 1 cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is pretty and interesting, I’m not too enamored with Beijing and Shanghai, mostly because of the depressing pollution and the always-present oversight of the Chinese government.  Everything about China’s government is pretty antithetical to us Americans.  But, that’s probably MY problem as most of the Chinese people I see and interact with seem pretty happy.  This is a much longer discussion for a different time, so let’s just say that much of China’s way of governing isn’t for me.

So it was pretty surprising when I fell in love with the city of Guiyang!   It’s mountainous, green, has at least one river running through it, and is pretty interesting architecture wise.  Its the first night out that I’ve had in China that I wasn’t totally aware that we were in China.  It seemed like just another city in some part of the world where the language and visual sightings were different, but the rest felt comfortable.   I tried more “real” Chinese food this trip than in all my previous trips combined and liked most of it.  I even saw KR try a piece or two:)

This report wouldn’t be complete without at least one picture of the 10 airports we visited. This is Beijing’s airport, which we visited four times.


Big Data conference was….big.


Just like an airplane, you want to be in the leather. The closer to the front, the more VIP you are. We were relative VIPs, sitting a couple of rows back with our own name plates, etc.


Remember the dining room table in Mongolia? This was the table setting for the Big Data Gala Dinner a couple of nights later: ). Once again, we didn’t make the main table as we sat off to the side in the kiddies table.  But it was interesting to see.


More typical setting: “Lazy Susan.” The good news is that you can wait for the dishes you like to come around again. The bad news is that just keep coming around. Great food the entire visit.


Quick shot out the back of a building into the yards of nearby apartments. This shot does not do Guiyang justice, but I’ve never seen a shot like this is Beijing or Shanghai with so much green.


This isn’t typical either, but real none the less. Our last night was spent exploring the night life of Guiyang.


The Big Data crew. Karen, Chris, Boaz, Zak, Catherine, Dave and yours truly. This is a bar off a back alley that we happened on while looking for a taxi.


I will leave you with this picture of some children in front of a statue of Mongolia’s #1 Dude: Genghis Khan.  Around 1200 BC, Genghis ruled much of the known world. Now, Mongolia is just a blip on the geographical map. Same for the Roman Empire.  It strikes me that we’re all very temporary. The US has been dominant for the past 100 or so years. Maybe China will be in the next hundred or so?  Nations have always been fighting and conquering each other. Yet, the more we travel far and wide, the more I’m convinced that we’re more alike than we are different. Most of us live with governments that rarely touch our day-to-day lives, work day to night to eat and prosper, and raise our families.  City dwellers in Ulaan Baatar have more in common with city folk in Brisbane than those living on the steppes of Mongolia.  As a famous Los Angeleno once said, “Can’t we all just get along?”  I hope so.

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far!   You’re probably as tired as we were.

Until the next time.

fred

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

When all else fails, self-medicate.   Dope worked to dull the pain  from my surgery– thanks Jill for the idea.

 

Warning: this post covers almost six months, so its a bit long. Skip to the pics if you want  a scan.

This is how we spent the second half of 2018:  We took four RV trips, I gave four speeches at a m/c rally, attended a climate summit in SF, took two train trips, flew to PV a couple of times, went to Pakistan for the first time, I worked with the Trump Administration and to top it all off –  I go under the knife for a 4 1/2 hour surgery.

One of our pleasant surprises of the second half is we use Thor (25 ft Class B RV) much more often than we expected and in a totally different way. We bought it for long, meandering trips as well as a second bedroom in PV.  But most of our trips have turned out to be short stints to beaches and lakes in which Bogart and Squirt can run free.   We’ve made a “Thor Weekend” really Plug & Play as we can be packed and ready to go in under an hour.   There’s an RV park on a beach 45 minutes from downtown LA..  We go there most often despite being directly beneath LAX’s runways and across the street from a huge sewage treatment plan and oil refinery:)

Going to Pakistan wasn’t on my bucket list.  The Taliban. Radical Islam. Osama bin Laden and the land of the Burka sums up what I knew of Pakistan before getting the invitation to speak at the 021Disrupt conference in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.  I could only stay 3 1/2 days, so KR didn’t come along.

Let me cut to the chase.  Here’s what I encountered in Karachi.

  • I continue to be surprised that there are young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs in most emerging countries and Pakistan is no different.  The 021Disrupt conference drew 500+ entrepreneurs, students, and investors. I met with a great many very fine young people who were all earnestly trying to build a company.  But, like most every other developing nation, Pakistan’s entrepreneurs have little support from government, businesses, investors, universities and other stakeholders. It’s this “ecosystem” that accelerates innovation in developed nations.
  • Pakistan is country of paradoxes for an American entrepreneur.  First, the country was created specifically so that Muslims could live the life that their religion specifies.  This is not just a country that has a Muslim population, its a country that was created for them.  It’s a country which is tightly controlled by its federal government and military.  Yet,  I didn’t see a country that looked 100% traditional Muslim.  At least at the events I went to — diplomatic, entrepreneurial, academic, social — there was a mix of traditional and Western dress by both the women and men.  The women I spoke with were smart, articulate and independent.  Net net, it felt comfortable.  I discovered to my surprise that no alcohol is served anywhere except private clubs and only available for sale in black market stores.
  • I was more aware of security in Pakistan than any country I’ve been to.   It wasn’t blatant, no armed soldiers on street corners and in hotel lobbies as in Ethiopia.  No, it was a serious consideration whenever outside the hotel.  For the first time, I learned what US Green Zones, Yellow Zones or Red Zones meant.  Green = an American government employee on station can go there anytime without permission.  Yellow = an American can go with the permission of their immediate boss.  Red= an American only can go with the permission of the Ambassador.  This was the first time I’d been to a Red Zone.  Yet, it was pretty heartening to listen to Pakistani government officials at a lunch meeting discuss the causes — and potential solutions — of radicalism in a realistic, long-term way.  There was no white-washing.
  • Physically, Karachi is a lot like Mumbai or Delhi.  At 20+ million people, all three cities are of similar size.  Karachi looks a lot like India, except possibly less depressing, slightly less garbage, with more cars vs Tuk Tuks.  Karachi is located in a desert — it gets 2 days of rain each year!  There doesn’t appear to be a lot of infrastructure (sidewalks and things like that) and like Delhi, it doesn’t feel like a walking city compared to Mumbai.
  • Finally, Pakistan provides a real-life prism into the immigration issue.  Pakistan is one of the biggest supporters of radical Islam and supports terrorism against the US in Afghanistan.   Its one of the last countries I’d want someone immigrating from.  Yet, the young entrepreneurs I met would be welcome additions to our country.  All you have to do is look into the eyes of a young Pakistani who visited US once, thinks its a magical place, and desperately wants live here to know what “I want to escape a bad place for the opportunity of America” looks like.  Go figure.

On a lighter note, KR and I went to the annual Horizons Unlimited meeting of motorcycle adventurers in Mariposa, California this September.  Its a three day event filled with training sessions, war stories, how-to sessions sprinkled around meals with fellow motorcyclists.  We all camped in tents at the county fair grounds. We spent five days to and from  the meeting, riding around California’s gold country.  I was asked to make four — count’m four — presentations: “How to go to the Isle of Man TT races”,  a travelogue of our two trips through Europe, unusual places to ride in California, and how to “rewire” your life for travel.  While I was sure the last one would be the least popular, it was actually the most popular and generated the most interaction.  Apparently getting one’s life under control in order to pursue your passion is a pretty important subject no matter the passion..

I finally got the chance to take the Amtrak train down the coast to San Diego and then north to San Luis Obispo.  It was unique mode of transportation from our norm and I highly recommend it.  The view is great, not worrying about the drive was terrific, the food was acceptable, and it made for great scenery — inside and outside the coach.  If any of you are contemplating this trip, email me and I’ll give you some pointers.

I’m writing this post from bed two weeks after going through a 4 1/2 surgery to resection my colon.  Basically, they cut a six inch section out and re-attached the ends.  It’s been quite an experience that I’m glad to have come through fine.  I have one peace of advice for everyone reading this over the age of 50 – get a colonoscopy now if you haven’t had one for a year.  It saved my life.

OK, enough with the words, here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.

Getting met at the airport is a good thing. It kinda spoils you.

Plenty of hookhah smoking at a Karachi restaurant. Lots of hookahs, but no booze. Food was pretty good, a blend of Indian and Thai.

I gave a speech at one of Karachi’s leading universities. Great place. Yet, it was in a Red Zone because it was so far away from the US Consulate that if something happened, they couldn’t get there very fast.

Its a bit disconcerting walking into a room full of people with your pictured blown up on a wall

Entertainment at an evening dinner/reception. They were pretty good, but I still left early: )

021Disrupt conference which had a full house of 500 people for two straight days.

Karachi looked a lot like any city in India.

On my way back from Pakistan I stopped in DC because I was  invited to join the Secretary of Commerce’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (REEEAC). It was fascinating to work across the isle and I met a lot of really smart people.  REEEAC is chartered for two years.

The HU meeting is a totally different kind of event. Three days of motorcycles, adventure motorcyclists, training, how-to’s and…

Camping. This is was considered a great campsite as it was under a tree, which sheilded us from the100 degrees. It’s been a while since we last camped, but we got into the swing pretty quickly

Slightly different deal than Karachi. Lots of fun.

I know many of you think we’re crazy when we say that the best way to meet new people is a bar along the road. Jim is a world-recognized car restorer and mini real estate magnet in LA. A couple of years ago he moved everything to Kernville, a very small town along the Kern River. He now does his car business in this tiny town, and just for the fun of it, bought the saloon we were in.

How many times have you seen similar pictures of KR?  I love them because you can’t really tell what she’s thinking, “I’m ready (for anything), lets go!” or…“What kind of god-for-saken place are you  going to take me to now?” I prefer the first translation.

There is absolutely NOTHING that beats being on the road on your motorcycle with your girl on the back.

The best part of weekend RV’ing is going to the beach or lake and letting our dogs have fun.

No matter where we go, its always great to put the chairs out, grab a bottle of whine, and let dogs have fun. Whether its at Big Bear or

Or at the beach. Even with a refinery and waste treatment plant across the street, its a great time.

On the train to San Luis Obispo watching the coast go buy…

Just like a plane, you can work along the way. Wi-Fi is free on the train though.

While not the Orient Express, the train had business class, a bar car and a dining car with very interesting people watching.

But there’s something to be said for solitary dining in business class on Turkish Airlines..

KR waiting for me to go to surgery

4 and 1/2 hours later, I’m out. I stayed in the hospital for only 3 1/2 days, which my surgeon said was a record-breaking short stay.

Live to ride (forget the HD part).  Nine total incisions of one kind or another.

A couple of weeks later we received a letter from St. John’s hospital.  Karen thought it was a bill.  Instead we got this extraordinary note, reinforcing its extraordinary service.  I’ll be up and around in the next week or two, then its off to Mexico!

That’s it for now.  I’ll try to write more often.

FW

PS:  One fun fact for 2018:  We took 18 trips this year, which is the fewest number in the last four years.  We’re at 42 countries and counting.  We need to pick up the pace : )

 

Big Game Hunting at the United Nations Industrial Development Agency in Vienna (UNIDO). The original purpose of this trip was to somehow find a way that UNIDO would fund NGIN.  Twenty six days, three speeches and a couple of dozen meetings later and its still… a maybe:)

 

Trying to start a company isn’t for the weak-kneed.  I’ve tried eleven times so far, with NGIN being No. 12.  Measured by money, and most would argue there’s no other measurement worth calculating, only one of them has made a lot of it.  Two of them have been truly special places to work, having a lasting effect on all of us.  Just one of them has might make a lasting impact on something greater than those who have worked there.

Building companies is a young man’s (and woman’s) game as only they have the energy and are blind to the risks.   Being resilient is essential if you’re going to push through the daily set-backs.  “Peaks and valleys” is too kind of a phrase to describe what its like.  There is nothing remotely valley-ish about the life-changing, gut-wrenching consequences of the failures that inevitably happen.  Nor does peaks describe the pure, unadulterated joy of succeeding, even for a moment.

Which brings us back to No. 12 — NGIN.  I’m old enough  to know the chances of success are low and the risks of failure (it will be expensive).  I get exhausted quicker and it takes longer to recover.  I’ve already had too many “What the f__k am I doing?” sessions while nursing a screwdriver and ruminating over some lost opportunity. Geez, who needs this?

Well, that’s the rub because I think the whole world needs what NGIN is trying to accomplish.  I keep thinking that if we can build a global innovation ecosystem, we can slow climate change, help the poor, and spread the entrepreneurial spirit.   The other part of the answer to “who needs this?” is apparently, reluctantly, sheepishly — me, I need to be doing something that’s challenging.  So, we’re going to run at this pretty hard and see where it goes.

Which brings us to the last 26 days as KR and I have been traipsing through Europe looking for funding for NGIN.  This is not an academic exercise as NGIN has at best a couple of thousand dollars in the bank and isn’t paying its team of three much of anything but the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing something “good.”  NGIN runs out of money in September.

When we got on the plane to DC, I only had a vague notion of a plan.  I was going to go to as many conferences, speak on every panel I could find, talk to as many potential sources of funding that I could corner, and come up with as many fundable ideas as I could.  Basically, the plan was  to hustle, just like FMIG or LACI or whatever else I’ve done.

Twenty-six days, seven cities, seven countries, six plane rides, two train rides, dozens of Ubers, a bus ride or two, miles and miles of walking, five conferences,  three speeches, and 26+ meetings later… I still don’t know if I found us some money.  That’s just the way these things roll, you never know until you know.

Yet, I’m f___king proud that I found three real, serious (as in $100M serious) chances to get NGIN funded.  I did what I set out and now its time to drag one of these over the finish line.   The biggest thing we accomplished was giving us some hope that we have a chance.

We moved around like we were on the run from the law, never staying in one place very long and changing our mode of transportation constantly.  We packed light (considering those 26 meetings), got conversant in the language of trains, subways, trams, taxis et al – all of which were in something other than English, and learned to not unpack if not needed. We ate well, drank at will, crammed in as much prowling around as we could, and met tons of nice people.  Note to self:  scrambling around Europe is a lot nicer than scrambling around India or China.

There were lots of firsts on this trip. Of the seven cities/countries we went to, four countries (Austria, Hungary, Denmark and Finland) and five cities (Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, and Helsinki) were new.  I’d never packed for a twenty-six day BUSINESS trip, with suits, ties, shirts, et. al in sufficient quantity to look fresh at every meeting.  I’ve never made a pitch for a $100M program in a train station before and I’ll remember Malmö’s train station for a while.

We went to our first Mozart concert in a marvelous Vienna theater.   We went to our first bar in a converted canal control tower in Copenhagen (and it was a non profit too!).  Speaking about bars, we went to our first “Ruins Bar” in Budapest and the “First American Bar” in Vienna.  The most unexpected great meal, of many great meals, was a Swedish restaurant tucked in a shopping mall in the party district of old Budapest.

Being an AirBnB guest rather than as our normal role as a host was new as well.   It’s not an accident that KR gets lots of great reviews for Corona Adobe as our guests get treated to a whole other level than we generally experienced.  Finally,  we did not lose one item, although we might have come close a couple of times.  KR and I have a workable “have we got everything” and “always look back” routine.

Here’s the speed dating version of our trip

  • DC, Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and London (in that order)
  • Vienna was regal, pretty, clean, well-organized, a bit formal, the locals were kind of cold and there were a ton of tourists even in May. Probably not our favorite place.
  • Budapest was gorgeous, both physically and architecturally, it looked lived in, has a great vibe, faster paced, and the Danube is, well the Danube. Definitely on the return list.
  • Malmö was, well, Swedish. The land of IKEA architecture, clean lines, homogeneous people, lots and lots of runners and bikers, and is worth a half day to see (we were there two).  Everyone was outside as it was warm and sunny in May, a phenomena not usually experienced, if at all, until July.
  • Copenhagen rivaled Budapest for beauty and KR would argue it was prettier. Canals, charming neighborhoods,  the first rush hour traffic jam of bicyclists I’ve seen, people were edgier (there were five tattoo parlors on our little street).  Ditto for the sunshine impact – the canals and cafes were lined with sunbathers.
  • Budapest was the easiest on the pocketbook, bordering on inexpensive. Copenhagen was by far the worst, followed closely by Helsinki.   Copenhagen is so expensive that I wouldn’t go back for that reason alone.
  • All the Nordic countries are clean, modern, pleasant and white. I’m not talking about snow.  Only “service” people were a different shade, and the number of African Americans we saw on this whole trip could be counted on both hands.
  • If you want to see what a city looks like whose primary mode of transportation are bicycles, go to Copenhagen. Everyone rides, in all manner of dress, in all directions, all the time.   Maybe its because there’s a 150% tax on new cars. I wonder what it looks like in mid-March when it gets dark at 3:00PM and its snowing?
  • All of Europe, and especially the Nordic countries, were celebrating truly spectacular weather for May. We only had a day or two of rain, the rest was great.  We love traveling in May as it’s a “shoulder” month in which prices are still not the high season and you can get lucky with the weather.

Here’s what our twenty six days looked like in pictures:

Wash DC: My favorite bar in DC, the Iron Horse Saloon. Seven years ago when I started going to DC frequently, I needed a place to touch base with my soul after trying to sell it all day:) The Iron Horse was it.

Vienna: Typical Vienna sight, this is the Hofburg Palace, which at one point housed the family that ruled the “civilized” world.

Vienna: The patio of our Vienna apartment. In many ways, this was the ideal apartment for living in the city. This shot is not Photo Shopped as it was about to rain.

Vienna: The theater where we went to hear a Mozart concert by the Vienna Orchestra.

Vienna: Inside the concert hall. This was quite an experience given that I’d never been to a Mozart concert, let alone one in Mozart’s home and in his hometown theater.   It was terrific.

Vienna: The opening of the Vienna World Summit which is an annual climate conference organized by The Arnold (as in Schwarzenegger ). It was the most elaborate opening I’ve ever seen.

Vienna: Dinner with 40+ folks who worked for/with UNIDO. One of the best things about this job is meeting people from a wide variety of countries/cultures, etc. This place was famous for…

Vienna: I ate this whole rack of ribs. It was literally the last time I’ve eaten meat as I’ve sworn off it. Long story, but think methane.

Vienna: My semi art shot of a typical street in the older section of Vienna.

Budapest: You know you’ve left the clean, orderly world of Vienna as soon as you walk onto the platform of the Central Train Station in Budapest.

Budapest: The courtyard of our AirBnB apartment in Budapest.

Budapest: The stairway wasn’t much better. Surprisingly, (as in welcome) the apartment was very modern and pretty nice.

Budapest: One of the few rainy days on the trip. This is our street in Budapest. This neighborhood was a two-edged sword. Today, its known in the city as the “Party Neighborhood” and it was pretty raucous  all night and morning. This district is also known as the “Ruins” and they’re aren’t Roman ruins, but the ruins of the Jewish Ghetto because thousands of people were executed…

Budapest: The next day this is what we saw. View is of the Danube from “The Palace.” One of the many many river boats pass below.

Budapest: For obvious reasons, this is called the Chain Link Bridge, which is Budapest’s most famous.

Budapest: KR is concentrating on the job at hand… which is:

Budapest: Which is basically walking up the side of this hill top Palace. We both made it:)

Budapest: Mozart would be disappointed

Budapest: Misc street scene

Budapest: One of ten meetings in Budapest. Young man on the right was my Business Navigator. We should all be so smart, confident, good looking and well-off.

Budapest: The only big game I bagged was a shot of this unusual beast.

Budapest: Parliament shot from the Danube

Budapest: Even the restaurants are good looking

Budapest: The Palace from the Danube

Budapest: KR can’t believe her eyes…this is a tribute to Michael Jackson:)

Malmö (Sweden): View from our room in Malmö, Sweden.

Malmö: The town square. There’s only one in Malmö 🙂

Malmö: Lots of business dinners, lunches, etc. This one is with two folks from UNIDO’s clean energy program.

Malmö: I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think this is Malmö’s Central Train Station. We were in a lot of stations…

Copenhagen (Denmark): Train or subway commuters are the same the world over. This is on the train between Malmö and Copenhagen.

Copenhagen: Sitting outside “our” apartment waiting for early check-in.

Copenhagen: The canal scene. Not sure it could get any cuter than this

Copenhagen: Unless its this. Canal Control Tower is really a tiny bar. The place is so small that its impossible not to talk to the other patrons. Very good time.

Copenhagen: Canal life — lots of boats. Considering its sunny for about two months every year (in a very good year), not sure what you do with the boat during the other 12.

Copenhagen: Picnic time. When we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, the entire city was outside basking in the sun. The locals know how to picnic.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen was the most athletic city we came across. Everyone rides, rows, runs and walks. This shot is during a weekday.

Copenhagen: This is a small bicycle parking area. Bikes are THE mode of transportation. One quickly learns that its more important to look while you cross a bike lane than a car lane.

Copenhagen: Changing of the guard at the Queen’s palace. Pretty impressive, even for a non-royalist like me.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen restaurants fall into two basic types: cute, charming and old. Or, like this one, sleek and modern. They all have one thing in: very expensive. A so so lunch with a beer and wine cost $80+US.

Copenhagen: Our apartment, which was very charming and well decorated. All AirBnB hosts need to learn to stock the place with supplies as all of them were totally devoid of anything needed.

Copenhagen: Some things don’t change no matter where you are: street musicians playing American songs

Copenhagen: Only in Copenhagen, a traffic jam of bicyclists waiting for a drawbridge to lower.

Helsinki, Finland: The coolest thing about Finland — the offices of “Business Finland”

Helsinki: NGIN was putting on a 5-day training course for Business Finland executives and entrepreneurs. Here my associate, Kevin Randolph, is providing entrepreneurial wisdon

Helsinki: I need a drink!  Fortunately we came across a great little bar that was a period accurate bar celebrating the Mille Miglia (look it up:)

Helsinki: Helsinki is surrounded by water too. I still can’t figure out what they do with the boats when everything ices up:)

Helsinki: The Finns are VERY BIG on saunas. Saunas are only taken nude, preferably with easy access to cold ocean waters. This is the first Sauna Boat I’ve ever seen.

Los Angeles: Back to normality means getting Bogart and Squirt from the Dog Hotel.

Now Voyager II somewhere in the mountains of the Klamath National Forest. Helmet is KR’s. She’s stage left wondering why the hell she agreed to go down (up?) this road and how much more of this “don’t-look-down-winding -by-the-side-of-a-mountain-with-sheer-cliffs” road is left?  Answer:  about six hours.

 

Two factors drive FW’s Trip-O-Meter’s index:  Are we going to someplace interesting, different and far away?  And are we getting there on something with wheels (e.g. motorcycle, then RV, then car, etc.).   Our current trip scored about a going-in “6” as it included twelve days on the motorcycle (a very good thing) but we were going north in California on a route that I’ve been on before.  What’s far away about another California trip?

For the answer, go to a place called Sawyer’s Bar Bar (it’s a town, not a bar).  Located deep in the Klamath Forest, packed along side the Salmon river, its one of the remotest places we’ve been to regardless of continent.  Easily three plus hours to the nearest store of any kind (in a town called Forks on Salmon — no kidding), down a gravel road that requires 100% concentration to avoid pot holes, cliffs and said river, it reminded one of the West Coast version of Deliverance.    What makes it all the more other-worldly is that Sawyer’s Bar Bar residents are still in the 21st century: trucks, indoor plumbing, off-the-grid electricity, etc.  Why would anyone want to live so far-out, yet still enjoy the perks of the civilized world?  My only conclusion is that they love animals more than people:)

Another rather remote place is the “Lost Coast” area just south of Eureka.   While it doesn’t have the Deliverance feel, its remote and foreboding.  Walk along the beach, with the slightly-below gale force wind and gray skies, and you shiver thinking about being in any kind of boat out there.   We camped along the beach at a campground that had more warning signs about various dangers (from bears to tsunami) than most army bases.  It’s also about two hours away from any civilization, in this instance Garberville.

Garberville  is in another world, namely the Hippies of the 60’s.  Located in Humboldt county, Weed Capital of the US, Garberville is all tie-died shirts and dresses.  Just like the ’60s, there are a lot of street kids looking for their next high, either pharmaceutically-induced or other wise.  Garberville and other Humboldt towns are undergoing a major economic change as California moves toward legalized pot. Among other things, this is causing a severe housing shortage as most homes are being used as grow-houses.  I’m not making this stuff up:)  Try buying a shack in Humboldt and it will cost as much as our house in Hollywood.

We tend to meet the nicest people in local bars, which probably says too much about us and how we travel:)  Maybe its because we look like we need some help after a long days ride?  A bartender in Chester clued us in on which roads to take to Mt. Shasta.  It was fascinating to listen to  him explain why on earth he made the move from LA to Chester.  After listening to him describe the wonders of Chester (population is in the hundreds) I was thinking of making the move myself:)  We had a great chat with some fellow bikers in Garberville and learned about a guy who’s criss-crossed the U.S. numerous times on a quad pulling a trailer, mostly on dirt roads!  He almost convinced me that pulling a trailer with NVII isn’t a big deal.

After 2100+ miles and 12 nights, we’re  ready to get home and do the complete opposite – get back on the road again:)  We miss the Dos Diablos (Squirt and Bogart) and I can tell that KR is getting tired of moving every day.  Factory Place here we come.  We also talked about going to Central America/Columbia/Ecuador/Peru after the first of the year.  Admittedly we had this conversation after a couple of drinks.

Here’s what this trip looked like.

The Route as produced by Mr. Sam Hershfield, Navigation Advisor Extraordinaire.  Here’s the detailed route as prepared by Mr. Hershfield: http://mapq.st/2rtYYzH

I like a bike that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. NV II ready to rock and roll in front of our apartment at Factory Place

The official “Before Picture” picking up last minute things at the CVS.  Were carrying our typical light load.

This is what you don’t want to follow on a mountain road in the Sequoia’s: a bunch of Harley riders who are experiencing their first curved road at RV-pace. At least they were serenading the park with rock music.

Everyone knows that I’m a big history buff, hence I had to see the oldest saloon in California.

Only in America can one get this kind of greeting for a Memorial Day weekend.

If you have to add gas, doing it the Sierras just west of Lake Tahoe works. Once again, the extra fuel tanks came in handy. With everything emptied, we can hit 300 miles per tank(s).

Looking south from North Lake Tahoe. We had 12 days of spectacular weather and skies.

We’ve stopped at dozens of places to take a break. This is typically untypical located about 3 hours north of Lake Tahoe in the center of the state. Cafe, bakery and custom carpentry. Three bikers came up during our 45 min stop. Also saw the largest dog ever, which KR gave him part of her muffin.

This is an all too common sight in the North — road work takes place everywhere while the the ground is soft and the air warm.

Waiting for the road to clear, this guy rolls up. He takes the “Easy Rider” style award for this trip.

Mount Shasta ahead, somewhere on Hwy 89.

When something becomes useless out here, its just abandoned.

a route planning session at the Club Mt. Lassen, a bar in Chester on the shores of Lake Almador. Somehow the route came into focus as the Corona’s flowed. North! Yes, that’s what we’ll do!

About half way to Sawyer’s Bar Bar, which is about half way over the Klamath Mountains. This is by far the remotest part of California we see on this trip. Road is mostly a pot-holed, one lane affair. Sign 30 miles back discourages RVs, then a logging truck whooshes by and you get the real message: tourists stay away:) Here, KR looks at the Salmon river and is thinking unkind thoughts about Her Man.

Downtown Sawyer’s Bar Bar

On our way down toward the Lost Coast and our camp ground.

Who says this isn’t “adventure motorcyling?”:) Here NV II navigates a fast moving, death-defying puddle.

Welcome sign at the camp ground. This is next to the sign warning about bears and don’t leave any food out (which is kinda difficult to do when you’re on m/c.

 

Let’s see, the sales guy at REI said this was a very simple tent to set up….

Now THIS is camping as practiced by a pro:)  Not sure BMW had this in mind when they described the 1200GS as a an all around motorcycle.  And ice chest.

We came across this hand-knitted totem pole. Where did come from it? How did they get it up? And how did they cover the entire pole with woven cloth?

Close-up

FW looking for firewood

Outdoor Man at Leisure, awaiting dinner. Notice crown of weeds provided by the Little Woman and the gloves purchased in the Andes

KR making dinner. We brought NO food, cooking utensils,wood, pots, etc.

The result: sausage and chips on a napkin with a plastic fork and a wine opener:)

Through the Forest of the Giants (redwoods)

Garberville

Notice the socks

Garberville sporting goods store.  I bought the world’s best Leatherman knife I’ve ever seen.   It comes with an instruction manual which I’ll get around to reading someday soon.

The total Adventure Man and his Adventure Machine

The night after camping in the Lost Coast we spent a couple of nights in the “Historic Benbow Inn” just south of Garberville. Even though KR wanted to keep moving:), I put my foot down so that I could watch the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.  Quite a change of envions…

We swung by the Tesla Factory and we’re pitching some business in the city of Fremont, where the factory is located.

Learning to juggle in a bar in Mendocino. I’ll probably need to do a better job of juggling more balls in the future.

I’m leaving for China tomorrow with Gov. Brown (well, we’ll be in the same conference:).  Somebody has to pick up the leadership mantel for saving our environment now that Washington DC has abdicated.  California is stepping forward as its the perfect case study for countering alternative facts:  we have the most regulations regarding pollution and carbon emission yet our economy is growing much faster than the national average.  The single largest factory in California — employing more people than any other  —  is the one I stopped on the way home:)

I’ll let you know how it goes.

img_6713

The last six months have included lots of “firsts” for us. Seeing the pyramids is on the top of my list, right up there with seeing my first real belly dancer.

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:)

The Geography

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:)

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It’s good to know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to liver transplants:)

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:)

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“She’s got talent”! My first ever Belly Dancer was memorable. She has a future beyond belly dancing on a dinner cruise along the Nile:)

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.

The Vehicles

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.

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    Three wheels for four-up adventure traveling. The “Ural” is modeled after a 1940’s era BMW motorcycle with sidecar. KR, Bogart and Squirt get the right seat. Generous, I thought

  • 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.

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KR and Rover in Little Tokyo on the way home from dinner.

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.

An invitation to LBS is anything but a day at the beach. Here, Larry Jones works on one of KR’s innumerable projects.

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.

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Karen, MIke Swords and a couple of hundred HRC supporters watch the election results in disbelief. There was a major run at the bar

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)

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Fred of Arabia.  Getting ready to lead my Desert Marauders into battle.   Those pointed things in the background are the pyramids:)

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KR has a lot more experience than I on camel herding, having ridden a camel when she was last in Egypt. Look beyond the pyramids and you can see that the city of Cairo is right “there.”

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The pyramids become even more impressive up close and personal.  Each one of these stones in 4-6 feet high.  They are the rough under pinning as each pyramid was supposedly covered by a smooth gold leaf surface. 3000 years has a way of wearing surfaces away:)  These things are massive.

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Cairo is a city of abut 20 million, most of which appear to live in pretty drab apartment buildings. This is a view of “old Cairo,” which makes the US’s city with the most polluted air (LA) look like a rainy day clear paradise.

We took a short sall across the Nile in a "Faluca". I happen to be sitting in the same boar as a guy from Korea who supplied the solar panels to LACI's campus. There's less than 6 degrees of separation in the clean tech world.

We took a short sail across the Nile in a “felucca.” I happen to be sitting in the same boat as a guy from Korea who supplied the solar panels to LACI’s campus in downtown LA. There’s less than 6 degrees of separation in the clean tech world.

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Butcher shop in Cairo. Cut to order right in front of you and all the other pedestrians. Not exactly an appetizing display of one’s goods except you can’t argue with freshness.

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Like most emerging/developing countries, car repairs are done in the street. This one is under a Cairo expressway.

Our Egyptian guide not only gave us a quick

Our Egyptian guide not only gave us a quick tour of Cairo (Pyramids, a camel ride, two or three shops, three churches and the Egyptian Museum) but also explained the Muslim religion in a way that was understandable and appealing (for someone into religion).  All in all, a very nice young woman who taught us as much about daily Egyptian life as the historical sites.

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The very first mosque I’ve ever laid bare foot in.  Big, very big.  This is in Old Cairo, about a 100 yards from a very old Christian church and Jewish Synagogue, proof that at some point we were all able to get along.

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The aforementioned Belly Dancer gave KR a lesson. She’s promised to keep practicing:)

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This electrified Whirling Dervish was the opening act for the Belly Dancer. All this occurred on a dinner cruise on the Nile.

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The last couple of trips have been the Walti’s version of the Wedding Crashers movie.  Here KR gets her picture taken with a happy Egyptian bride willing to get her picture taken with anyone.  See India below for the Wedding Crash of all time.

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Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs, no matter where. This is the technology exhibit at the “Rise Up!’ entrepreneurial conference I was invited to speak at.  Young lady in the middle is pretty serious about demonstrating her technology.

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Basic staging:) This panel discussion included two really bright guys. The guy on the left is the Founder of Cleatech Arabia and wrote one of the most inciteful economic analyses that I’ve ever read. The guy on the left if the Founder of a British solar-in-a-box product aimed for poor farmers in Sub Sahara Africa. Cost of his product in $250 dollars, which would not have been affordable without Kenya’s micro payment system via mobile phones.

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All tech conferences must have after parties.  This one was held on the lawn of the Ritz Carlton.

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My first real Egyptian meal with folks from the World Bank, USAID, and various entrepreneurs invited to the conference. Only afterward did KR inform me that the food was Lebanese:)

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The Marriott hotel in Cairo was first built to house all the dignitaries for the Suez Canal grand opening. Located on an island in the middle of the Nile. Always something happening: we arrived at two in the morning after a 22 hour journey and found that the restaurant was still open and abuzz.

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As close as I got to Christmas cheer this year was the tree out front of the Cairo Marriott.

INDIA (OCT 2016)

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First night in Delhi and we crash a wedding that was being held on the lawn of our hotel. Everything you see was constructed in a day and then torn down in the next.

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This was by far the most elaborate, outlandish, marvelous wedding we’ve ever been to and we were crashers! Wedding’s are big in India, lasting three days. This was the final reception which began around 7 at night. There was the bride/groom receiving line, two or three dance numbers on a stage, then the full course meal seen here, followed by dancing in the Hotel’s bar. All in all, it was great fun.

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KR talking to a fellow guest in the specially built Hookah lounge.

This blotto young man is the groom about two in the morning. He happily danced with KR, whom he'd never met, and posed for this picture. After all, there are bound to be people from the Bride's side who you haven't met yet:)

This blotto young man is the groom about two in the morning. He happily danced with KR, whom he’d never met, and posed for this picture. After all, with a thousand guests, there are bound to be people from the Bride’s side who you haven’t met yet:)

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The first time I got a greeting like this was pretty weird.  The Vice Chancellor is on the left and he and many of his faculty met me at the sweeping driveway entrance to his university. I’m holding the obligatory gift, this one an engraved plaque.  After a couple of these greetings, you kinda get in the groove and go with the flow:)

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They misquoted me in this Indore newspaper:))  My first ever “news event” in which one sits down in the middle of a room with a dozen reporters and answer questions resulted in a number of stories in Indian media.

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Nice looking hospital in Hyderabad.  Not sure I would want to try it out.

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An Indian version of the universal family sedan:) Mom, Dad and three children ride in Indore traffic.

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The view from the “Ambassador Club’s” lounge in the Taj Krishna hotel in Hyderabad. Taj hotels have the finest service of any hotel we’ve stayed in the world. They made it easy to hang in the hotel.

LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)

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Back in LA, October 7th was a big day as we celebrated the Grand Opening of the La Kretz campus. The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony included the two architects on either end of the ribbon, then from the left: the GM of the LA Dept of Water and Power, Mort La Kretz’s daughter, Mort, the Mayor, me, and then two VIPs from the SBA.

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It’s difficult to say how many were there, but 2300 people RSVP’d.

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My favorite shot: the current Mayor, Eric Garcetti on the left and his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, on the right. It wasn’t easy getting them in the same room, but without their support,  LACI would not be what it is today.

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Typical night in downtown LA — a free concert in a park. I’d never heard of the band, but most of the crowd had:)

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It takes a village to put together a motorcycle rack and get it on Thor. These are folks who work at LAC: KR, Squirt, Neal, Liz, Ernie, and Brandon.

 

MEXICO (DEC 2016)

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Our trip to Mexico started by driving Thor to Puerto Vallarta.  Here Thor rests in an PV RV park.

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The reason we have Thor; Bogart and Squirt. Both are good travel dogs, although applying the word “good” to anything related to Bogart is an exaggeration.

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Every trip to Little Big Sur starts with work, even for friends. Here Larry Jones repairs a chair that lost its ten year battle with the jungle. Other recent repairs to LBS include refrig, inverter, lights, toilet, and outdoor bedroom.:

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KR took a new “let’s simplify” approach to LBS this year. This is not trash in the normal sense, its “stuff” we don’t need in LBS. She’s holding an electric chain saw, which would be useful if we had enough juice to run it, which we don’t:)

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Jones is waiting for the storm, which was probably the biggest we’ve experienced in all of our times at LBS. Climate change, anyone?

 

ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)

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This is the living room, dining room, office and kitchen of Thor.  We left Puerto Vallarta a few days after Christmas on our way to Vegas to drop Thor off at the dealer.  More on that in  a minute.

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And the “master suite.”  This works fine as long as the master is pint sized like KR and me.  Frig is conveniently close for late night beer runs.

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View out the front window of Thor towards the beach at a RV resort in a small Mexican town.  We met Dennis and Debbie here.  In the background, an Ex-Pat Texan makes another beer run.

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Best RV park so far was this five space mini park right on the beach at Playa Matanchen, a couple of hours north of PV.

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Two generations in more ways than one:)   Ancient Dodge on the right has SIX twenty.-somethings from France and Belgium on their way to South America.  Brand new Chevy on the left has two none-of-your-business somethings and a couple of dogs on the way north.

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Tight parking job or improvised ladder?  I needed to get on the roof of Thor to pull off the remains of my air conditioner and satellite dish since I trashed them under the awning at a Home Depot parking lot.  I’ve buried this f___ up deep in the blog so that most of you will miss it:)  This is one of many reasons we need to get to the RV dealer in Vegas.

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Yes, there is an RV in there somewhere:) We came across this RV resort in Mazatlan, which was by far and away the most unique. Each owner puts their trailer in their space and then proceeds to build a palapa around them. They are therefore no longer movable, but very very creative.

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Not your normal RV park with a pool overlooking the Pacific.  Nice, very nice.

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In the RV world, there’s something called “Wild Camping” or “Boon docking” which refers to camping overnight on a street, in the mountains, in a parking lot — basically anywhere you don’t pay. We took the concept to a different place as we “broke into” a  failed beach development in a little town on the Pacific Coast. KR literally had to take the chain down that cordoned off what was left. So, we decided to camp on an abandoned street.

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KR explores the ruins

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This is the pay off — miles of deserted beach that Bogart and Squirt can play until they drop, which is a long, long time.

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This is my punishment for not reading the owners manual thoroughly — 30 degree morning in Vegas. I didn’t figure out how to turn the furnace on until afterwards:))

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Everyone was cold and under the covers. Karen, Squirt, Bogart and FW.  We dropped Thor off at the dealer and rented a car back to LA.

I promise to write more often.

 

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Karen with two customers in an Ethiopian brew pub just outside Addis Ababa. One sip was enough:)

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Southampton, UK, awaiting a taxi to Heathrow and the flight(s) home after 46 days on the road.  How do I wrap this trip up?  As with most of our trips, this has been a trip of extremes, but in some ways it feels extremely extreme:)  We’ve been in the lap of luxury and in the very definition of poverty.  We’ve laid around and did almost nothing and dragged our bags/bike/whatever across more airports, ferry stations, bus stations, and city-scapes than I can remember.  We’ve been in mountains, desert, seaside, countryside, modern and ancient cities.  On planes, ferries, buses, cars, taxis, and a motorcycle — more than once each time.  We’ve gotten drunk on a beach and had a lunch hosted in our honor at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the capital of Ethiopia).  We’ve been hot, cold, dry and wet, often in the same day.  We never knew the language of the country we were in, but somehow found ways to connect with the people there.

Maybe the best way is to go to the stats:

Trip Stats & Awards

  • Countries:  UK, Spain, Morocco, Ethiopia
  • Cities visited:  best guess is 21
  • Miles on a motorcycle:  2975
  • Overall miles: My guess is 20,000
  • Plane legs: 11 including prop planes landing on unpaved runways
  • Ferries: 4
  • Speeches made in Ethiopia:  24
  • Press interviews:  4
  • Ethiopian Officials met with:  Mayor of Addis, Minister of Water, Irrigation & Electricity, State Ministers of Industry, Science & Technology, Small & Medium Business, Investment and Urban Development
  • Least Friendly Awardee:  Any airport employee at Charles DeGualle airport with a special shout out to Air France employees
  • Most Accommodating New Friends:  Maureen and Miguel in Madrid who single-highhandedly made our trip to/from Madrid and Ethiopia painless and quite enjoyable
  • Best Beach Town and Beach:  Tarifa and Bolonia, both on the tip of Spain
  • Number of Motorcycle Problems: 0:))

The Beaches of Southern Spain

After five days in Morocco, getting back to the “civilization” of Southern Spain was needed.  A couple of weeks earlier a bartender in Granada had told us to go to a little-known beach named Bolonia on the southern coast.  He assured us it was worth it, but it wasn’t on any map or in the GPS.  As luck would have it, we found Bolonia and it IS one of the best beaches we’ve ever been on.  It was so great, we spent three nights there just hang’n at the beach and prepping for Ethiopia.  We met some folks there from the UK and had a great time partying Spanish style. It’s one of those places I could of hung for much longer, but we needed to get to Madrid.

Getting to Madrid

After Morocco, we needed to weave our way towards Madrid to catch the plane to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).  We skipped Seville and spent some terrific nights in Cordoba and Toledo.  Both towns were in the midst of festivals and such, so in the space of a couple of nights we went to a rock & roll concert, an equestrian show, a flamingo dance show, and a couple of tours of old churches thrown in.  Each night was filled with something old and new.

Madrid

Before our trip, someone told us to skip Madrid as it was “just another big city”.  Well, our time in Madrid was terrific, mainly because we met Maureen and Miguel there.  Long story short, Maureen is a friend of Sam H.’s and she agreed to be our Logistics Command Center.  We left the bike and all our m/c clothes and gear with her, which made the entire Ethiopia leg possible.  More importantly, we had a couple of great nights out with them and thoroughly enjoyed the city.  I was even getting use to eating dinner at 10PM!  Madrid has a vibrant night life, which was a nice contrast to Morocco before and after Ethiopia.  Both KR and I could live there.

Ethiopia

IMG_20160615_160125There is no way on earth that I can describe Ethiopia to you.  This was our first trip to Africa (Morocco doesn’t count) and we didn’t know what to expect.  My purpose in going was to give a lot of speeches and take a lot of meetings extolling the business opportunity that clean technologies represent for Ethiopia and Sub-Sahara Africa.

Development wise, Ethiopia makes India look like a fully developed paradise.  There is little infrastructure, even in its capital City, Addis Ababa.  Side walks? rare.  Electricity? 10 million people have been on a waiting list to get electricity for ten years.  Water?  They’re in a much worse drought than California.  Traffic?  Yes and its made up of cars, buses, cows, people, m/c’s, bicycles and tuk tuks.  With few traffic signals, no street signs and no addresses.  Modern buildings?  Well, yes and no.  There are dozens and dozens of new building part way finished (in Ethiopia, you build the basic structure, put a bank on the first floor, and hope you generate enough profits from the bank to finish the building.)  Yet none of them look new.

Aside from all of that, Ethiopia is a lovely country.  The people, despite their relative poverty, are generally a happy/smiling lot.  They are as honest as the day is long.  They’re colorful and energetic.  Addis is a dirty hub bub of a city, but there’s a lot of action.  The young people that I spoke to,  were bright, energetic, hopeful and determined to make things better.  The government officials seemed genuinely interested in making things better for their citizens.

I was only able to experience a tiny bit of Addis as most of my days consisted of getting driven around to various meetings in an Embassy car.  That’s literally how I saw Addis – through the windows of lots of Toyota Land Cruisers.

Over the weekend,  Karen and I took a plane to northern Ethiopia to see the “real” Ethiopia, which is the cradle of civilization.  The remains of the oldest human being was discovered in Ethiopia and dates back millions of years.  We went to Lalibela, a village in northern Ethiopia that has 12 churches carved into granite mountains, each church from a single piece of stone.  Took 14,000 people about 100+ years BC to build.

Ninety percent of the people outside the cities are subsistence farmers.  They farm the way their ancestors did — by hand and with donkeys.  Their key assets are goats and cows, live in grass/mud huts, with no running water.  With a few exceptions, of course:  cell phones and satellite dishes:)

It does beg the question:  how did one of the oldest civilizations on earth not develop further and faster?  What happened?

Damn if I know.

Both Karen and I would go back, and probably will because of business.  Now that we’ve had our first taste of Africa, we’re curious about the rest.  That’s for another day and time.

A Couple of Final Thoughts

  • If you’re going to Spain, go in May before everyone gets there. It only rained about a week out of five and was otherwise beautiful.
  • Maybe as a result of the above, Spain was incredibly cheap compared to the US, UK, France, Swiss, etc.  It was easy to find a decent hotel for less than 100 Euros.
  • Stay off the main Autopista’s and take the back roads.  Once we did that, we saw a wonderful countryside of small villages, rolling hills, and a few mountains.  The m/c riding is better that way, too.
  • If you take the ferry from the UK to Spain or France, spend the extra bucks for a room or mini suite.  It was lovely and a nice way of spending 24 hours.
  • BMW 1200 GS’s rule!  Long live Now Voyager II.

Here’s what everything looked like.

Take care, fred

SPAIN

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One of the most welcome sights on this trip:  KR bringing us drinks in Bolonia

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Tim and I are engaged in “lunch” Spanish style. That would be a couple bottles of wine, a couple of beers, two or three different kinds of pig, and a couple of tapas. Lunch goes from 12:30-4:30 in Bolonia. Then back to the room for a nap and ready to go by 7:)

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Bolonia was a great place to write the Ethiopian speeches

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Cows and horse roamed the Balonia beach

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Happy camper

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Versatile work horse:  NV II as clothes line

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Bolonia beach

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Rock concert in Toledo

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Maureen and Miguel in Madrid.  And I was just getting use to eating at 10PM

ETHIOPIA – ADDIS ABABA

Addis Ababa University Lecture 4

“Lecture” at Addis Ababa University

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Meeting the “Girls can Code” group

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Speaking to the AmCham Steering Committee

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Getting out of the car at the Ethiopian Investment Ministry. Notice the “side walk”:)

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The information booth at the “American Center.” No kidding:)

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“Principles of Ethical Behavior” posted outside a minister’s office. While certainly needed in much of Africa, we could probably remind ourselves of these as well

Holding up the poster advertising my lecture at Addis Ababa  University

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Tanya and Yemi, from the U.S. Embassy, took great care of us.

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The Palace.  We stayed at the Sheraton Palace, by far the most luxurious hotel in Ethiopia.  The Sheraton’s lobby was the ad hoc meeting central for all International business meetings.

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Addis street

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The “shopping center” that the U.S. Embassy recommended Karen shop at.

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Shopkeeper. He’s probably smiling because KR bought something.

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My normal view of Addis– through the windows of an Embassy car

THE “SUBURBS” OF ADDIS ABABA

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Karen got a chance to get outside Addis in the countryside

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Karen insisted on meeting real people, so her tour guide knocked on a door of a random house.  K.aren spent a couple hours with a woman and her 19 children

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Their kitchen with the oven on the floor.

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A bedroom

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Mom making afternoon tea

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Some of her children, who brought

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home an English test they took that day.

 

THE FAR NORTH OF ETHIOPIA

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Two of my least favorite things:  prop planes and gravel runways.  We land way up north in Lalibela.

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Three men carrying hay for their animals.  When we caught up to them, they were easily a mile from town and almost race walking.

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House in Lalibela

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Lalibela is famous for 11 churches carved into the mountain, each from a singular piece of granite.  Built between 1000 BC and 600AD when Ethiopia was a large Christian empire spanning the Horn of Africa and much of Arabia.

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This is church #2, or is it 4….

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A visitor praying in one of the churches

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Each church as a resident priest.  For a pennies, you can get a picture with the priest

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Our guide took us to the Saturday market.  We started walking down this path, which had a lot of traffic.

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We rounded a corner and came upon this;  hundreds of people and their animals in the market.

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We of course waded right through the middle of the crowd.  Unbelievable.

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It was a very competitive marketplace with lots of people offering goats, cattle, donkeys and everything in between.   Not knowing a good goat from a bad goat, I wonder how one picked one over the other:)

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Spices

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Tools, knives and plow heads

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Stall after stall of grains, teas, spices, coffee, et al.

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Back to the Sheraton, and a toast among the crew to a great trip.

THE FINAL LEG HOME

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Back home on NVII on our way from Madrid to Santander on the northern coast.  We had one more great day of riding.

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We kept off the main roads and came across lots of villages like this

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Awaiting loading on the ferry back to Portsmouth

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One of my better decisions was to get a mini suite on the Mini Queen Mary. A great way of spending 24 hours.

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Back at Southampton and NVII is ready to be loaded on the ship back home.  NV II is one great motorcycle.

Until the next time.

 

 

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Fred of Morocco: When in Rome, dress like the Moroccans:) I bought a traditional desert robe, called a Djellab, and blended right in.  KR couldn’t stop laughing and thought I looked like an idiot.  Maybe so, but I got a lot of smiles from my fellow Desert Kings.  And it was pretty comfy.

We expected to get robbed at knife point, harassed endlessly, lost continuously, battered by the Kafkaesque traffic and shunned because we were Westerners based on all the “advice” we’d been given on what to expect in Morocco.  Karen was genuinely worried, which is rare for her given where we’ve traipsed, and was only willing to step off the ferry and see if we should go further.

Well, none of that happened of course, with the possible exception of being lost (but not continuously).  We spent 4 1/2 days in Morocco, keeping to its northern most area, wandering south from Tanger to Fes, then south and west touching the Atlas Mountains to Meknes, then north to the Atlantic coast in Asilah, then back to Tanger and the ferry to Spain.  My guess is that went about 500 miles total.

We saw a lot, but I know we barely touched the surface.  Yet, if I were to be honest, this was enough for me.  Why in a minute.

First, the really good stuff.  Life inside a Medina, which is the name for the oldest part of a city surrounded by an ancient fort’s wall, is Other Worldly.  I’m not able to describe it, but everything is different:  smell, sights, colors, noises, space, style, etc.  Medinas are shops/stalls/housing contained in a labyrinth of walkways and alleys.  All set in what feels like another century.   Well, another century that still sells cellphones and every kind of sneaker you can think of:)

On the hills on top of Tanger’s medina, is the remains of the old forts that protected the inner city – the Kasbah.  As is often the case, we end up where we shouldn’t, but had a terrific time trying to find our way through the kasbah around midnight.   All the shops are gone, replaced by windows and doors that give a peek into how people live.  Fascinating in a voyeuristic way:)

We ended up in the Kasbah late at night as KR had read a review of a restaurant, the El Morocco Club, that sounded really neat.  How hard could it be to find?  You know the answer to that with few street signs, most not in English, and a restaurant facade that looked rather… run down.

But, once inside, ohhh man now this was a restaurant!  Downstairs there was a piano bar that you’d swear was high-line London bar, with the most wonderful music and walls covered with photos of the rich and famous that had been there.  Upstairs was a high style, sophisticated intimate dining room.

The El Morocco Club was great, which is how we found ourselves at the top of the Kasbah needing to find our way to our hotel, the well-worn but still dignified, Hotel Continental (NOT part of the Intercontinental chain:) around midnight.  This was a walk to remember.

The next morning we went  south along the Atlantic coast, then cut inland southeast toward the ancient town of Fez, about 200 miles away in the low mountains of north central Morocco.

About 30 miles into the trip, I can only assume I made a wrong turn as we started down a single+ lane road.  Mrs Garmin was telling me that we were going the right way, so onward we plowed.  Long story short, we spent 8 hours pretty much lost in the Moroccan countryside.

This was both scary and fascinating.  The scary part was we found ourselves way out there, where the predominant mode of transportation has four legs, and there was nothing around.  If we had a problem; say we fell over in one of the dirt sections, or we had a flat tire, or NVII suddenly turned into NVI and stopped running, we were really shit out of luck.  No cell phone.  No Internet.  No electricity. No English.  No gas stations.  But, none of that happened fortunately.

As a result, we got to see a part of Morocco (and indeed the world) where there was one communal water well for a village, where the only mode of transportation was a mule, donkey, pony, beat up horse or the power of your own feet.  This was farm land farmed the old fashioned way- by hand and beast of burden.

We would go for miles and miles and not come across a single village.   And when we came upon one, it was too small to be on the map or in Mrs. Garmin’s database.  Whenever we came across a junction, my hopes surged:  is this the road to the highway?  Answer: no.

We wound our way toward Fez, on these back roads and trails, for almost eight hours.  When we got to Fez, a pretty big city as Moroccan cities go, we didn’t know where our hotel was as it too wasn’t in Mrs. Garmin’s GPS database.  The only reason we eventually found it inside Fez’s Medina was because a local scooter rider called his brother, while riding his scooter of course, and then led us to it.  There is no way in the world we would have ever found this place without Annan’s help.  Which he expected to be paid for, of course.

Another night, another Medina, but this night was pretty short and we found ourselves in an upstairs restaurant, “Cafe Smiles” (I’m not kidding), listening to a band of young men play what we assume was traditional Moroccan music.  You’re invited to come over sometime and listen to the CD.

The next day we went a total of 50 miles into the Atlas Mountains to a beautiful old town called Meknes.  We spent most of the day in…. its Medina… but with some success as Karen a couple of rugs she liked.  Dinner on the hotel’s terrace was lovely way to spend the evening, having a glass of wine and overlooking the walls surrounding the… Medina:)

The next day we went northwest to the Atlantic coast, stayed a night at the Moroccan seaside resort of Asilah, and caught the ferry back to Spain the next morning.

Seeing life in the Moroccan countryside and deep inside Tanger’s Kasbah were the highlights for both of us.  Just for these experiences, we’re thrilled we made it to Morocco (admittedly, a very tiny bit of Morocco).

But, both Karen and I found the Muslim life that we encountered to be colorless, humorless, and pretty desperate.  Whether in the cities or countryside, few people were smiling or outwardly having fun.  Each city street’s were lined with cafes in which the men of the town sat, sipping coffee and chatting with no women in sight.   I found it hypocritical that many of the men dressed in Western clothing, but none of the women were allowed — 99%  of the women we saw were dressed in the traditional style.

There’s no doubt that my view is fully colored by being a Westerner, a liberal Westerner at that, and one who lives life pretty much to the “live and let live ” philosophy of my neighbors.

In the last hotel in Morocco we stayed in, there was a sign on the wall warning that if either member of the  couple was Muslim, they’d have to show their marriage certificate in order to check in.

We checked out next morning.

Take care,

Fred

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First step in Morocco – we find our hotel, which is about 100 yards from the port.

The faded glory of our Tanger hotel, the Continental. Once the home for jet setters and Hollywood celebrities, its now home to bikers from the U.S.

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Scenes from the Tanger kasbah

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Olives anyone?

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I think she’s making cheese

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KR’s art shot of hanging chickens

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Stone carver

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“Residential” street in the kasbah

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And another.  Keep in mind we had to negotiate these coming back at night

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Repetitious…

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Coming back from the restaurant late that night. Well, it kinda looks familiar

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Follow me!  We’re getting out of here no matter what.

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Apparently, I wasn’t the first guy who dressed native:)

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On the road south.   The most frequent mode of transportation was a donkey/horse drawn cart like this one.

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Mooooo

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Farmer’s house

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A village appears

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If it weren’t for the dress, these small towns could be anywhere:  Morocco, Guatemala, Peru, India…

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Parking lot

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This boy on a donkey is carrying two giant plastic water jugs from…

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THE community well.  All these people are filling up plastic jugs with water from the one well.

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Trying to impress the locals with my “I’m in command pose”.  I’m thinking: Where the f__ are we?  This is the fourth town we’ve rolled into and can’t find it on the map.  Where’s the GPS when you need it? 

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The “street” in Fes where our hotel is located.

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Here’s the lobby.  Like many of the smaller hotels, this was a wealthy family’s house in bygone years that has been updated and made into a boutique hotel.  Very beautiful and a nice surprise.

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This is what 8 hours of riding a motorcycle in the countryside of Morocco feels like:)

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But hey, after a shower and a push from KR, we’re in Fes’ medina at the aptly named Happy Cafe.

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Rug merchant in Meknes trying to figure out how much to overcharge KR on two rugs:)

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Morocco medinas also have live/work lofts, like this one in Meknes. This is shot standing in the 3 story living room looking into the display area.

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We walked by this stall in the Meknes’ medina and were stopped by the stench. On closer look and its a tannery where sheep skins are being made into… sheep skins

Tile work in our hotel’s lobby

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Another day, another good road with lots of traffic

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We roll into Meknes and start the process of riding down these streets looking for the hotel.

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Playing chicken.  Either the car or we stop to let the other one through.

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Always happy to hear from you…. this is a CAGIX Board call taken in the Meknes medina.

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Now Voyager II back at the Tanger dockside.  All three of us are ready to get back to Spain.

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A lot about what’s good about motorcycle touring is captured in this picture. This is a small town somewhere southwest of Valencia and we’ve just stopped after a full day on great roads. Yours truly is having a cup of coffee, we’re having a bit of pan with world-class olive oil, and we meet the owner of the pictured motorcycle. Neither one of can speak each others language, but we communicate none the less: these are great roads!  One of the waitresses and I get into a conversation about architecture and how hard it is to get a beginning job (I don’t know how we got into this conversation) as an architect.  So, in the meantime, she was working in the cafe while looking for a job in Valencia, about 100 miles away.  For some reason, people want to strike up a conversation with motorcyclists.

We woke up on the last day in Barcelona to find that NVII had been burglarized the night before.  This time the thieves pried open the locked pannier cases and stole my battery charger (again!).  This pissed me off even more than the ship burglary.  We immediately went to a m/c store and got the panniers fixed, then went down the street and bought 5 pad locks.  I’ve just begun the implementation of the FW Bullet Proof Security System:)

We left Barcelona late that afternoon and rode south along the coast to Valencia.  Valencia is probably prettier than Barcelona, certainly the street that our hotel was on was stunning.  After unpacking and cleaning up, we spent the night wandering around the jazz/bohemian section taking pictures of old churches (what else?)  finding interesting bars to have a pop in. Next morning, we thought: who needs more cities?  We were off with a different plan in mind.

No longer willing to ride on super highways along the coast of Spain, we made a sharp right turn and went into the hills and mountains, about 100 miles inland.  Now we were on narrow two lane roads meandering through the hills, which became mountains.  Sun was out, but very ominous looking dark blue rain clouds were always just over there, so we never knew when the fun was up.

One night we stayed in a spa/hotel in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.  It was kinda weird as  everyone walking around in white robes, but I liked it as its not often are we the youngest in any group.

Perhaps its a sign of “maturing,” but we’ve changed the way we wander pretty significantly.  When we were in South America for three months, we rarely had a hotel booked anywhere as we weren’t willing/able to predict where we’d end up at day’s close. This resulted in some truly horrible scrambles for a hotel room late in the day after a long ride.  Not good for one’s mood at night:)

We now book a hotel online the night before in the town we think we’re going to make.  This constitutes a major improvement in our long-term planning routine and greatly reduces the tension (but not all tension as we may have it booked, but we need to find it to use it, a sometimes baffling problem).  But it also eliminates the “pure” wandering that I love most.  We always have a place in mind to head towards and we can’t really change half way through because we’ve paid for the hotel.  Truth be told, the pluses far outweigh the negatives as the line between end of day and first night’s cocktail is a lot shorter.

Technology that helps one travel has revolutionized the experience.  Or, perhaps more accurately, technology can empower one to go over there because its easier.  The GPS on NVII is a life saver.  I can’t imagine what it was like not having a good GPS for the majority of my motorcycling life. “Mrs. Garmin” as we call her, takes 80% of the worry of finding something off the table. Need a BMW dealer?, just hit the m/c dealer button.  Gas?  Same thing.  The Starbucks location App has been a bit disappointing since there never seems to be one close by:)

Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb and the lot allow one to find really interesting places that would have been impossible to find before.  Reviews give a lot of information about what to expect.  And its easy to check prices.  We’ve had just really really special times in all the bars, restaurants, and hotels that KR first found online.

We rolled through the mountains and entered Granada late one day, a city renowned for beauty and a huge Moorish palace, the Alhambra.  Finding our hotel became a challenge as Granada is mostly made up of tiny streets/walk ways that are occupied by people, dogs, bicycles, motos, cars, and trucks all at the same time.  Have you ever tried backing up a 500 lbs m/c with a passenger and another 100 lbs of stuff?  On your tippy toes as yours truly remains vertically challenged despite nightly prayers.

We spent two hours touring Alhambra’s palaces, gardens, a grounds, which I’ll admit  was great and worth the stop, but I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of dodge.  We were on our way to Tarifa on the tip of Spain to catch a ferry to Morocco, so we decided to take the back roads southwest.

This turned out to be a spectacular choice as we rode into the mountains on back roads with small villages tucked away.  This was the best motorcycle riding we’ve had so far (#1 was this day, #2 was the stretch out of Valencia, and #3 was the Pyrenees stretch along N260) with equal parts twisty roads, spectacular mountain views, and tiny picture-book villages.

Fifteen days after starting, we rolled into the tiny seaside village of Tarifa on the southernmost tip of Spain.  Now this place is beautiful, helped by bright sunlight, the mineral-colored waters of the Straight of Gibraltar, the totally white walls of every building in town, and a miles-long sandy beach that seems to be Sail Board Central.  All of this is wrapped in a hundreds-year old fort wall with turrets and everything.  This place could be good.  So good, that we immediately decide to stay for two days to prep for crossing the Straight to Morocco.

We were shocked to be greeted by a smile and an offer to carry our luggage by Carlos, the proprietor of the tiny “Tarifa Room” hotel.  In 14 days, not one hotel service member had offered to help with our bags.  And, frankly, we haven’t received very many smiles from restaurant/bar/hotel/shop folks along the way either.  We’re not that unlikable, making me believe there is some inherent reason that many of the Spaniards we encountered are not happy campers.  I have my theories, but will leave those for another time.

It’s time to go.  It’s almost 10PM as I write this in my hotel room in the Moroccan town of Fes.  But Morocco is a whole ‘nother story, for another day.

Fred

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Touratech/Barcelona repaired our pannier locks for free.

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Street outside our hotel in the El Centro part of Vaencia

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Tapas bar/restaurant in Valencia

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Back on the road and we’re both looking forward

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Young grape vines in Spain’s smallest wine region, which is west of Valencia in the mountains

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What’s a trip without a tip-over?  I was trying to make a tight turn while going slow uphill and it didn’t quite work out.  Guy in the car down the street reluctantly came to our rescue and helped right NVII.

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Back to civilization and the famed “Alhambra,” which is reported to be the finest Moorish architecture still in existence. I was good with just this view, but KR wanted to actually see the inside. What’s the point in that?

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On the way toward the Alhambra, a modern city street:) Notice its angle. And yes, I was dragged up it by KR

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Wait , wait, its….. another old house! Wow, can we pretty please see some more

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Street scene in Granada

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I’m thinking she must be a relative as we’re both at the same level of excitement

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The Towering Tapa. Even the couple who ordered it  had to wonder at this architectural achievement

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OK, one last picture of beautiful Granada. Nice, but we spent one day too many there (two:)

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OK, NOW we’re talk’n traveling!  Just cruising along at an indicated 100mph:)

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Somewhere along N330 in the Spanish countryside

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Ohhh man, bring them on

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And on

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And on

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Communicating in the only language needed:  Motorcycle Speak!  We’re both feeling the same way about biking this day

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Karen kept poking me on the shoulder whenever she saw this sign.  Hey, braking is for wimps, real men pass.

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We finally arrive in Tarifa, a tiny little town on the very tip of Spain.   After conversing more narrow, uphill alley’s (without falling over), we arrive at the “Tarifia Room” hotel.  This was a great find, but but not because of the room..

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This is the view from the deck.  The Straight of Gibralter and the hills of Morocco.  You can see that the weather god has smiled on us finally as well.

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Super Highway in Tarifa, which by law makes all houses painted white.

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Morocco across the Straight.

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Tarifa is very very cute.  I like beach towns

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It’s also the wind surfing capital of Spain.  This beach is on the Atlantic coast

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Surfers make it look easy, but just getting in/out of the surf can be a challenge

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Just so no one thinks its all play and no work:))), my office in The Room.  Wrote first draft of my speech for Ethiopian leg

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This is how I’d like the Little Woman to think of her man:  A King among lions…

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Back to the beach scene again…

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I could get use to this.  Really.  With a little practice, I could get the hang of just hang’n and drink’n

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But no rest of the non-weary, we’re off on another ferry to Morocco.  I’m writing this post from a Moroccan Atlantic coast resort called Asilah.

Take care,

fred

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KR sprays protectorate on NVII’s destination stickers in preparation for another adventure.  We’re both really looking forward to adding more stickers to his panniers. The next day we put NVII on the ship to Southampton.

It seems like ages since KR and I were on a “serious” trip.  Mexico, DC, Dallas and the beach don’t really count.  That’s all changing as we’re flying to Europe for a month of riding NVII and then going to Ethiopia for two weeks on business.  Here’s the headlines of the “plan:”

  • Fly to London, take the bus to Southampton
  • Pick up NV II, ride to Portsmouth and catch the ferry to Santander, Spain
  • Ride east to through the Pyrenees, then to the Coast of Spain and Barcelona
  • Go south east along the Spanish coast
  • Catch a ferry from Gibraltar to Morocco.
  • Ride to Casablanca, make a u-turn and go back up the coast and catch the return ferry
  • Ride from Gibraltar to Madrid
  • Leave all of our stuff with Maureen in Madrid, pick up our (business) luggage
  • Fly to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) for business
  • Take a 4 hour bus ride to Awassa and then back to Addis Ababa
  • Fly back to Madrid, drop our clothes off, pick up NVII and ride to Santander
  • Take the ferry back from Santander to Portsmouth
  • Drive NVII to Southampton, drop him off for shipping back to LA
  • Take a bus to Heathrow and catch the plane to Seattle and eventually LAX

Just your basic 42 day plane, bus, ferry m/c, ferry, m/c, plane, bus, plane, m/c, ferry, bus  and plane trip.

Of, course who knows what we’ll actually do as this itinerary is a lot like a battle plan- it won’t survive the first contact with the wifey:)

Our first planning session occurred the night before we left as we drove to meet friends for dinner.  Karen began reading from a used book she’d picked up that day, “Vagabonding”, by Rolf Potts.  Here’s the section that caught my attention:

…” Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move:  On the road, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance.  This is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear–disruption, in other words (or emancipation), from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide” – Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”

Pico, of course, never saw Karen’s suitcase, so we all know the bit about “with no possessions” doesn’t apply to us.  But the thought that travel is about fear and disruption rings true for me.  Fear and its companion, adventure, are the most important parts of travel for me.  Going over there and not knowing what’s over there is an adrenaline rush.

As I get older, taking fear-inspiring trips is harder and harder as my urge is to seek comfort and (relative) safety.  Hence, we’re taking a m/c trip to Spain, not through the Bolivian jungle.  Let’s face it, this trip is for wimps:)

On the other hand, going to Ethiopia has a lot of unknowns.  We’ve never been to Africa, let alone Ethiopia, so it is both intriguing and fearful:)  You might be wondering why we’re going to Ethiopia in the first place, and the answer is the U.S. State Department.

The State Dept. is sponsoring a 9 day speaking tour for me since someone in our Embassy in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital city) thinks I’m a “world cleantech expert.”  I’m not telling her differently so we’re going:)

What’s the connection between LACI and Ethiopia, you’re probably wondering?  Simple, LACI has been hired by the World Bank to help make their Climate Innovation Center in Addis Ababa work better.  And perhaps help Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan Africa countries go green.

As I write this, I’m not sure what the series of “speaking events” will be nor what I will be talking  about, but we have 30 days to figure that out and a bunch of miles and plenty of vasos de vino to figure it out.

I’ll keep in touch.

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Talk about a strange land, try hanging in the back of Tony’s bar in the Arts District on a Friday night. No one over 30ish. This is what constitutes planning in the Walti household before taking off the next day:)

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This is just the electronics we were planning.  I counted the need for 11 charging cords…

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The little woman looking bright and bushy tailed.  This would be categorized as the “before” picture.

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NVII at the Port of Long Beach, before being taken for a boat ride.  We’ll see what he looks like after his trip in a few hours.

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With Squirt in Mexico City.  Squirt has a big surprise when we get back.  See below:))

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KR and I visiting soon to be Dog #4.  One of these little guys will join the Walti Crew when we get back.

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Thor’s feeling left behind.  Next time Big Guy.

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Just to show you that a day at the beach is not all that its suppose to be, here FW is in the process of painting the whole damn palapa so our soon-to-arrive rental guests can live the Palapa Life.  This was a banner repair trip as I repaired the refrigerator, painted and painted, got the hot water heater to work, hung mosquito nets, and replaced the shower faucets.  Oh, and I conferred with my engineering expert (thanks Bill!) to supervise the rebuilding of the solar system.

 

I don’t have much of a life in Los Angeles if one defines life as something other than

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New office at LACI is purposeful as is life in LA

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.

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Command Central: our bedroom

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

KR in her happiest state — muddy.

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.

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To hear and see jazz, one has to be at the club later than 7:30PM:)

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:)

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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.

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Mean streets. KR, Squirt and I were walking up a street and Squirt barks at a dog, then quickly retreats as said dog chases Squirt. Quicker than you can say, “What the F?” a giant-sized cat flies out the door with claws and teeth bared, jumping on KR, resulting in a 45 minute street-side emergency medical help session by the cat’s owner.  Squirt hid in the bushes during the entire episode

 

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Neighbor gets his house painted. Not sure I’d want to walk on the home made scaffolding.

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I have my own worries, though, as the carpenter works on one of KR’s many “improvement” projects, this one on the pool deck

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Rain or shine, kids gotta play. Five minutes after the rain, the game continues

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LACI Mexico headquarters. Don’t know where Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is? Just take a look at the world map as desk top:)

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A crime and protest of passion. A 19 year old girl was murdered by her x-boyfriend down the street from us. A couple of days later there were 120+ people holding a demonstration demanding justice for Lupita. Sound familiar? Big difference from the U.S., though, the boyfriend was still on the loose at last report.

 

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We look at the memorial created for Lupita

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Later that night, we happened across this sign at a marriage ceremony on the beach down the block from our house.

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KR says as innkeeper, she’s a captive to Corona

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Everyone is getting into the festive season

 

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Christmas eve dinner with the other PV orphans 🙂

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Kids next door sing carols with a microphone and big-as-a-room speakers

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Best part of Xmas Eve was going next door to Eduardo and Carmen’s house for pig’s ears, nose and feet all cooked in a festive broth. It helped to wash it down with a Corona

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The party picks up steam on the Malecon

We await the water taxi to Chonchos and LBS

We await the water taxi to Chonchos and LBS

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Job #1 in the jungle is to feed Her Man. KR scrambles up some lunch as

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I assume Position A. It’s been pretty stormy the last couple of weeks

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Stormy night, some music and appropriate refreshments

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The best part of any LBS trip are the spontaneous dinner parties that happen. Here, Bill, Karen, Keith, FW Rick and Maryann chow down

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The deck is ready

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and so is the Living Room

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Kitchen is spotless

 

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Some things don’t change, like the view

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Fancy new sign courtesy of Maryann probably sets expectations too high

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Los Chonchos is getting popular.  Gaggle of incoming and outgoing guests awaiting the return of the water taxi

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This is what I had in mind when we drove south in the Iron Duke — Costa Careyes, a very very very upscale resort way south of PV. Hey why not? We had both properties rented out!

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We almost ended up here, but it too was full:)

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An “eco resort” was promised at the end of this road. If one counts a resort that’s being overtaken by Mother Nature, then its truth in advertising:)

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We found a hotel with an alluring sign (on the tree)

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But all’s well that ends well. KR with drink and squirt in front of our room, all for about $45USD

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We stop at a small beach town, Melaque, about one hour north of Manzanillo. Great beaches and cheap rooms, not a bad way to bring in the New Year