This holiday season we were both south of the border and south of freezing temperatures in Mexico and New Mexico. It was fun in both environs.
I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months. There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them. Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life? One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)
Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016
- Lots of travel — twelve trips in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico. You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
- Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th. Both will shape LACI for years to come. I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
- 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric: we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%, and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries. Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
- “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session. The result; the family has a leadership problem. No s__t!
- Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far. KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015. Onward and upward!
- Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting. The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting. New establishments are popping up almost daily. The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses. Yaahhh boy! Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
- We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot. As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking. Not surprising, we need more electrical power!
Well, those are the headlines. Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now. For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)
In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.
This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done. We covered four cities in about ten days. I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.
It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business! Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous. Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles. But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax. When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day? Exactly my point:)
I’m still conflicted about India. We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India. Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences. It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles. I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.
Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place. 800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted. The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity. The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.
I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:) KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)
Cairo was a whole different deal. I liked the vibe immediately. The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way. The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang. The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.
No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true. The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it. Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests. I’m not sure this can be fixed…
KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating. And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy. We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.
We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business. I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality: entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands. Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems. It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.
A big part of travel is having the right mode of transportation:) To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):
- The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee): This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.” 162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in. Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it. I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt. Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
- The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone). The Bullet is now the LA version of the Duke. He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
- Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle): The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places. NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability. It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that NV I (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling. NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco. He’s barely broken in:)
- Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero): Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box. Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America. Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes. Fully functional means: bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet. Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
- Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter): Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked. Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history: two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s, and two Scarabeos… Go figure.
- Potential New Additions to the Stable: Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble. This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us. KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar. Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
- Planes, trains, etc. Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two. I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas. British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment. Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM. ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available. Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?
Life in the Loft
It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years! Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District. This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money. Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills. I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off. Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks. Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.
The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle. The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending. Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.
This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.” I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood. He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while. I recommend one to all:)
Life South of the Border
Let me state this up front: Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit. There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico. Narco’s? For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like, but it’s the truth.
The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar. When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos. As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos! For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference. It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.
Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life. We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month. That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!
Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed. He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix. Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)
The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc. Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.
Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use. LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat; just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:) Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.” Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)
Two Seismic Events
The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment. 2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event. Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews. The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs, a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’. The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.
Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling washed over LACI like a tsunami. We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end. And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”
My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what. Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change. This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich. If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on. Drought and crop reduction? We’ll just pay more for food. No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030. This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.
And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.” Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.
To the Future, we go!
I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less. KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows? We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!
Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
CAIRO (DEC 2016)
INDIA (OCT 2016)
LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)
MEXICO (DEC 2016)
ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)
I promise to write more often.
I don’t have much of a life in Los Angeles if one defines life as something other than
work. This is not a complaint, just a fact. LA is primarily for LACI and anything else needs to be fitted into the creases. Mexico is the reverse for me, it’s about living, not making a living, and I spend most of each December and part of January in Puerto Vallarta with The Boss of Corona and her best friend, Squirt. This post is what its like to go back home to Mexico and hang for a month.
It’s surprising how quickly comfortable being home in PV is, even after 11 months of being away. Well, its not quite immediate as it usually takes KR a couple of days to get use to me being around and for me to put away my CEO ways. After this initial roughness though, it starts being as smooth as a cold Corona (the beer, not the house) on a hot day.
First thing is the house. I would never have believed that 6200 feet of house would be comfy, but it is. Corona just flows right. We spend most of the time in the master with forays to the pool and top deck. The kitchen and dining room are usually for breakfast and entertaining. Most other meals are taken in bed or eaten out.
Our bedroom is really Operations Central. It’s on the third floor, with a balcony that I often wonder onto to check out the neighborhood or look at the skies or take in all the various water craft zooming along the beach. Size matters when it comes to TV’s and we have a large “smart” TV in the room. (let’s not go into how useful a Smart TV is with a dumb owner). KR usually has the TV on 24/7.
I’ve also slid a small desk into the corner next to the window overlooking the Bay of Banderas and do all my work here. There are very few better views around, especially for an “office.” I spend 80% of my day there, hitting the keyboards, gazing on the street below, taking a Skype call, or swiveling the chair around to catch Wolf Blitzer giving yet another perspective on the 14th Republican debate. Squirt provides the other source of constant entertainment.
KR does most of her B&B administrative work in bed as well, so
having the three of us in the bedroom as headquarters works well. Very well. Beyond our bedroom door looms two irresistible lures. At least twice a day I walk out the door, take five steps, and jump into the pool. Swim around, take in the view, listen to the cacophony of neighborhood sounds, and then hit the rays. KR can’t resist the 3rd floor garden that surrounds the Pool Deck. She’s always been a gardener and having three gardens (1st, 3rd, and 4th floors) and more planters than I can count means multiple chances to get covered in mud. This is a good thing.
Here’s a question for you: When was the last time you walked down your street, talked to your neighbors, watched kids play, and then stopped in the local grocery store to buy some food for lunch? In LA, my answer is never, and I’m not just speaking about the Factory Lofts in downtown LA. My answer would be the same for the Hollywood house.
In Puerto Vallarta, it happens every day, usually more than once. This isn’t by accident as we purposely moved into a “mixed” (read Gringos and Canadians along side Mexicans) neighborhood in the hills of PV. Our neighborhood consists of the small street in front of our house (Corona) and the two cross streets (Miramar and Metamoris) which happen to be the only ways up/down the El Centro Hills. This accounts for lots of street activity most days and most times of each day. And since most Mexicans around us live in something less than 6000 sq ft., they spend their free time sitting outside their houses on the porches or curbs.
Last night was typical. We went out the front door and started walking downhill toward the Malecon (boardwalk) to get something to eat. Karen dropped off some discarded clothes to the very extended family next door. Eduardo, the father and someone who I’ve taken tequila shots with at 2 in the morning, commented that I was looking a little gordo (fat) and I should keep eating so they could get more of my non-fitting clothes. We all laughed out loud.
We found a new place to eat on the Malecon, the Jazz Foundation, which had so-so food, great music, cold beer and really nice waiters who helped us map out our next trip. Walking up the hill on the way home, we bumped into a neighbor we’d met a year or so ago and invited him back for a cocktail.
These encounters happen every day here.
Noise is a controversial subject in our house and among our neighbors. Up the street there are a group of kids, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, that think there’s nothing better to crank up the boom box at all times of day or night. A couple of neighbors have called the police to complain, which generated a visit from the local police only to find out the primary source of the noise was…. an off duty policeman! The music keeps on playing giving us a dose of Mexican justice on a local level.
The young children next door play soccer in the street below us. Most Mexican cars make the Iron Duke look like a limo and announce their passing through their non existent mufflers. Roosters crow too early even for farmers, of which there are none that I’ve seen. Three blocks away the church bells ring at intervals that I can’t figure.
Noise, of course, is a two edged sword. It’s annoying and interuptive and … well…life affirming as well. This is a vibrant neighborhood in which life is visible and audible to all.
No week would be complete without visits to Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, the bank, Office Max and the assorted stores needed to keep a Gringo’s Mexican households running and in order. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’ve become a Kirkland Man, wearing Costco underwear and “dinner” shorts & shirts, drinking Kirkland wine and vodka, BBQing Kirkland ribs, and eating Kirkland ice cream (the Vanilla is the best ice cream yet created on this earth:)
Of course, not all is fun and games when you’re a B&W innkeeper. We have a staff to supervise, which KR keeps me away from, that includes a property manager, a maid, a pool guy, a carpenter, a handyman, an electrician and plumber. And this is just for Corona, as there’s a whole ‘nother crew for Little Big Sur. There are walls to paint, solar systems to repair, pool pumps to maintain, windows to fix, and…. on and on and on. Is there no rest for the weary? Don’t answer that:) Yet, I had it easy compared to this young man who went out to LBS to rebuild our solar system. It’s worth it to read his report:)
Finally, let’s talk money. Living in Mexico, even a tourist town like PV, is relatively inexpensive and getting more so every month. When KR and I started coming to PV, the dollar was worth 10 pesos. Last year around this time it was worth about 13 pesos. Today, the dollar is worth 17+ pesos, which is a very good thing if you’re a Gringo, less so if you’re a Mexican. Certain things remain expensive: gasoline is $3.20/gallon, electricity ranges from $200/2 months to $900/2 months depending on the use of A/C, and anything imported will have a duty of between 14-140% tacked on. Labor, food, rent, property taxes and such remain incredibly low, which is why this place continues to grow as a gringo/Canadian hang out during good and bad times. Please don’t tell anyone how good this is, we have enough folks here already:)
Well, that’s my report on life as a pseudo Mexican.
Mas Margaritas por favor!
This news just in! Karen has become so successful as an innkeeper that we don’t have a place to stay during the next six days. True to form, KR threw some things in the Iron Duke, made sure Squirt was comfy, and said, “Let’s head south!” Uh, what about a reservation or some place to head to? Over rated, I guess.
Here’s what everything looks like in pictures.
And…we party on a bridge that’s about to fall down, we finally open the La Kretz Innovation Campus, we successfully hold our third annual Global Showcase (GloSho’15), Karen goes south for the Winter, and I’m stuck at 29 countries. Where to start?
Well, let’s start four months ago when KR and I were driving the Iron Duke and Squirt back up to Los Angeles. We had a long time on the road and found my new mobile hot spot to be a very useful time waster. To pass the time, we started looking for RV’s. We’d search the web, find something interesting, do some research and then call the dealer. We did this through much of northern Mexico, Arizona and California. Long story somewhat short, we decided to actually buy a Travel Leisire Libero. Here’s its key features:
- Big enough to have a bed that doesn’t need to be made every night and a full bathroom (admittedly for small people) was a major step up from Casa Loca
- Small enough that it can be taken just about anywhere
- Inside finishes are great looking
- There’s a kitchen that’s “workable”
- It’s got a gas engine so we can take it to Mexico and other developing countries
- Has solar and generator power
- Satellite TV
- Three-way refrigerator works on shore, battery and propane
Only problem is there aren’t any dealers in Los Angeles (go figure?) and we were also about to go to Asia for ten days, making it was logistically challenging to complete a transaction.
But, where there’s a will (wife’s) there’s a way (husband’s) and we completed the transaction while standing in a Buddha temple in Kuala Lumpur communicating via text message with a dealer in Vegas. I’m not making this up:)
As soon as we got back we flew to Vegas to pick The Vehicle up (unnamed as of this writing) and drive him/her back to LA. Nothing is simple in our world, so we couldn’t even make it to Vegas without KR getting sick and having to go to the ER in a local hospital. That’s a way longer story to sort through, but she’s OK now.
Let’s stay on the subject of vehicles for a moment. You might remember that we had a tough time getting the Iron Duke to LA the last trip north. Five-hours-stuck-in-the-Mexican-desert tough would be accurate description. The only way we got him us home was to disconnect the muffler and go full blast down the highway.
Once in LA, I found the “Medico de Jeep” in South Central Los Angeles. After replacing the catalytic converter, the engine management system, something called a “crank sensor” (KR would like one of those for use around the house), the turn signal thing-a-ma-gig, and all bodily fluids, the Iron Duke has been reborn! Well, we had to also take all the light bulbs out of the interior lights as we couldn’t find the short, which kept draining the battery.
As I write this from my bedroom in PV, I can report that The Duke ran like a top for the 1500 miles from Los Angeles. Welcome back into the fold Duke!
It’s been pretty busy on the LACI front as well. In the same week, we moved into our five-years-in-the-making-new 60,000-square-foot-state-of-the-art cleantech-innovation-facility AND put on our third Global Showcase (GloSho’15) which attracted close to 600 people from 15 countries. Both came off pretty damn well and we’re now settling into our new digs, though I think we’re all a little shell shocked by how nice a facility we now have after years in a converted bus repair shop.
The downtown Los Angeles neighborhood that both LACI and we reside in, called the Arts & Innovation District, is undergoing rapid change too. For those of you who’ve been to New York’s Meat Packing District, the Arts District is a west coast version. Lots of new apartments, restaurants, bars (thank god), and retail stores are pushing up against the area’s historical industrial base of warehouses, cold food storage, transportation, and garment manufacturing encampments. Not all are happy about this change, of course. My street is an example of what’s happening: there are two world class Italian restaurants, a gun club, the largest indoor climbing wall west of the Mississippi, a coffee and bicycle bar, a cross fit gym, a vegi restaurant and my apartment complex called “Factory Place.”
We’re about a block away from the LA River, which runs north and south splitting the Arts District from Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights started as a Jewish neighborhood decades ago, but now is a great Hispanic community that borders the western edge of East LA. Boyle Heights is feeling the crush of yuppified development as well as we Hipsters try and find more affordable, cool digs close to the action of the Arts District. So on one side of the river we have a burgeoning Hispanic neighborhood with kids, cars and grass yards and two blocks away we have the artists, photographers, ad guys, and cleantech folks.
The 6h Street Bridge both literally and figuratively spans these two communities. Built in the 30’s, its an architectural treasure that you’ve seen in dozens and dozens of movies (To Live and Die in LA is my favorite). It seems that not all’s well with this bridge as there is a 70% chance it will fall down in the next 50 years, which is apparently a very risky situation for a bridge, as its being eaten from within by cement munching critters. I’m not making this up.
So, the wonderful, iconic, historic 6th Street Bridge is being torn down this January and is being replaced not by a bridge, no that would be too simple for us Los Angeleos. No, we’re going to build a neighborhood experience surrounding a new bridge. God only knows how much and how long that will take.
The one thing we do know is its a good time to have a “Farewell to the 6th Street Bridge Festival” one recent Saturday night. It was a great event where literally the Chicano’s and Hiptster’s met halfway across the bridge and partied pretty hard. The entire bridge was full of people when KR and I slipped out early (10PM).
Finally, this has been another year of continuously traveling. Between KR and myself, we’ve taken 28 trips to 32 different places the first 10 months of 2015 as I’ve reported in past blog posts. It seems that I will fail to meet one of my personal goals which is to visit 30 countries by the end of this year. Sadly, I’m stuck on 29. Here’s the current list:
Lots of holes in this list and we intend to continue filling them:)
This year began where last year left off; lots of work and lots of travel. Berlin, Abu Dahbi and Dubai weren’t enough to scratch KR’s itch to travel, so she went to Copper Canyon and Cuba without yours truly. Eleven trips, 12 weeks, and 14 cities kind of says it all. I’m on the hunt for new business. And, if truth be told, new experiences.
In the Book of New Experiences, there are few newer experiences than going to the United Arab Emirates for the first time. If I were a good travel writer, I would think up words to describe this place. Honestly, words escape me; I just don’t know how to describe the Other Side of the World adequately. Think the Cantina scene in Star Wars to get an impression. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but things are just so totally different that its hard to draw a comparison.
It’s pretty apparent there are basically two types of people: residents and citizens. Residents are there to work on everything from research institutes to driving taxis. Typical stay for a knowledge worker is about three years. The planes and airports are 90% full of residents from all over the world. Because of the UAE’s location, there are as many people from Asia as Europe. Dubai has just become the world’s busiest airport.
Citizens are a different thing altogether. They dress differently, practice a different religion, and generally live a dual existence trying to integrate Western ways in the Arab culture. Pretty interesting. As with most places we’ve traveled, most people are friendly and happy to help.
People that live in the UAE (and I suppose Saudi Arabia) live in a protective cocoon. There is no sense of the trouble just hundreds of miles away in Syria, or Yemen, or Iraq or.. Pretty amazing really. I don’t know how they do it, but one feels 100% safe.
Our stay in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was just a couple of days, so we weren’t able to sample much of the place beyond my meetings and our hotels. Yet we were able to… see the most outrageous hotel in Abu Dhabi (The Palace Hotel, which also serves as a palace); drive 100 miles through the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopping at a roadside McDonalds; go to the old part of Dubai and wander the markets (called Souks) in which we bought a camel; and get a glimpse of how the super rich and hipsters live in their Lambos and rooftop bars.
And the possibilities of doing some business with the Emirates seem reasonable. Lots of opportunity, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in April, so I’ll be going back and we’ll see.
The whole purpose of this trip was to go to Berlin, not Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We put on an “Expert Work Shop” for 35 GIN members from all of the world. For two days we worked on best practices and learned about how folks from Shanghai or Tokyo or Italy or Germany or Finland did things. Pretty damn interesting.
A not so pleasant experience happened at 4 or 5 in the morning, strapped into my seat, sleeping. Everything is quiet. I’m in a very long, dark, quiet tube of an airplane We’re flying from Abu Dhabi to London and we’re over the Mediterranean. I don’t know where the f___ we are. Never been here before. Then the plane starts bucking. Very significantly. The captain comes on in a clipped manner; “Buckle down!” Didn’t he mean buckle up? And here’s what I’m thinking: this must be exactly what the passengers in the Air France plane from Brazil or the Malaysian Air passengers felt right before it went down. Dark. Quiet. Somewhere over an unfamiliar ocean. We stop bucking and I go back to sleep. But I’ll never forget this feeling and mental image.
As I write this, Karen is in Cuba. I guess the Little Woman couldn’t wait for Her Man, so she and a girl friend flew from Mexico to Cuba. I’m awaiting her report, but this is what she wrote in an email:
From a day trip out of town. tobacco farm, cave, countryside. Pretty good. Free day tomorrow. Looking forward to spending the day in Old Havana!! Had a taste of it yesterday and I can’t wait to go back. No pictures because I used my camera. Will use iPad tomorrow.
This hotel was built in 1930. 19 people were killed in the lobby in the 40’s by Battista’s men during a coup attempt. In the 50s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky hosted the biggest ever gathering of Mafia men under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert in the hotel.The Mafia was responsible for bringing gambling and prostitution to Cuba. If the walls could talk.
I can’t get enough of the cars. I’d say 70% are from the 40s and 50s. Some are tied together with rope and are running with Russian, etc. auto and tractor parts. Mechanics are looking forward to US trade so they can get our parts. Or enough of the architecture-magnificent old mansions built by the sugar barons and taken over by Castro and turned into government/social service office- all in disrepair and sad looking. But there are many preservation efforts. Raul has loosened many restrictions and seems interested in change.
Will send photos tomorrow. We are leaving Wednesday am to stay at a famous beach resort. Yuk. I’ve opted for a day trip (6hours on a bus) to visit one of the best preserved colonial cities.
That’s all for now. Here’s what it looked like in pictures.
When I was a twenty something Account Man working on Madison Avenue, I yearned to work on international accounts as I wanted to see the world, even back then. But I was too career-obsessed then, as international assignments were often only a one-way ticket out of the Big Time. So I passed on “going overseas” and stayed in NYC, then LA, SF and back to LA. While I’ve always done a ton of business travel, two flights a week were not unusual, they were usually to such exciting places as Cincinnati (P&G), Denver (US WEST), Cupertino (Apple) and my favorite, Columbus, Ohio. Exciting travel was left to KR and my personal adventures.
As time marched along—shoot, its run at full trot, no? — KR and I have spent more and more time planning, prepping and going on more adventurous trips on bikes, cars, RVs, planes, trains and buses. We’ve seen Nepal, India, Argentina, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala and all of the U.S. And like a junkie who gets his first shot of dope, I’ve been yearning to go further, longer and more adventurously every chance I get.
And then LACI came along and all thoughts of prolonged, wandering travel have pretty much been put on hold. Instead, we did a “travel pivot” and decided to take advantage of whatever little opportunities came our way and not worry about missing out on the Big Kahuna of trips.
Voila! We took 24 trips to 35 cities in the last year for a combo of business (mostly) and pleasure. While I’ve traveled more often in my career, I’ve never traveled to as many interesting places in such a short stint. Here’s the stat sheet.
I‘m thinking, “How did this happen?” Why now? It certainly wasn’t planned. While I’ve never thought of retiring or slowing down, I didn’t think I’d become an International Man of Mystery at this stage:) About a year ago I dreamed up the idea of a Global Innovation Network, linking innovation institutions around the world together. Well you can’t build a global network without going global. And while we can, have, should, and will continue to debate why a little incubator in downtown Los Angeles is building such a network, we’ve been doing it for about a year and its starting to get momentum.
I guess the other reason is that just as in business the ability to “pivot” is often key to long term success, the ability to pivot in life is at least as important. All my life I’ve been a Man With a Plan, but most of the time the Plan gets thrown away as soon as life happens along. So, Karen and I pivoted off the Adventure Plan to the build a global cleantech ecosystem plan. Go figure:)
So, in celebration of the New Year, here’s what’s struck me as interesting during our Year of Traveling Continuously…
- I like airports, especially big, new, shiny international airports. They’re all the same in that you can figure out what to do and where to go no matter what far-away-land you might find yourself. And now they’re good places to hang with Wi Fi, Starbucks, pretty decent food, comfortable lounges and lots of stores. I feel at home in an airport. Sad, but true.
- There is one international language that most everyone knows and responds to: a smile. While cultures, values, life styles, dress, standards of living, and governments vary widely, the human spirit doesn’t. People are often surprised that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t go much further than “Mas Margarita’s, Pour Some More,” yet we spend so much time in Mexico, Central and South America without speaking much Spanish. How can you live in a country you don’t know the language? My answer is, “Are you going to restrict your travel to only those places you speak the language?” Of course not. We like people, we look for ways to connect in physical and emotional ways, and we treat people with respect. I admit we try not to go to places that are steeped in conflict and hatred, so I’m not sure that our international language will work everywhere.
- Like the pull of gravity, KR’s search for things to decorate Corona is an inexorable force that can’t be fought. No matter how small, light and swift-footed we start any trip with, we end up pulling the equivalent of a 20 mule team across Death Valley by its end: ) And I will always lose this debate because well, the end result is pretty damn neat. Corona is alive with stuff KR has carted back from all over the world and its great.
- From my perspective, China’s people have made an unspoken pact – give us a middle class standard of living and we’ll do what the government says. It’s a bargain most of us would make if in the same situation. China’s middle class looks prosperous, active, educated and pretty happy to this outsider. The same bargain is being struck with Hong Kong’s middle class; let us makes lots of money and we’ll look the other way as Beijing gets rid of the two systems, one country bargain made in 1997.
- This year’s trip along the Pacific edge of Mexico took us through the most notorious parts of Mexico without even a whiff of trouble. In fact, we spent Christmas Eve 2013 not too far away from the area where the 43 students were kidnapped and killed. Two points here; once again we see no signs of the crime and drug cartel behavior that is splashed on the front pages of U.S. newspapers. We love Mexico and its been a safe place for us. Yet, Mexico’s government and criminal justice system is totally corrupt and not to be trusted. If Mexico is ever going to take its place along other developing nations, it needs a deep-rooted cleansing. No one can predict if this will happen, but I keep thinking Columbia cleaned up its act, so Mexico can too.
- KR and I have settled into a new rhythm of the road in which we move often, stay in a city a day or two, and get just enough of a taste to know whether we want to come back or not. These trips are pretty strenuous, often lasting 18 hours a day rushing from one meeting to the next, usually in a different city. Yet, KR doesn’t complain as she gets to explore a new place a bit while I do business. She’s fearless and curious, which usually makes for a good time.
- Often the best part of the trip is riding up front in the leather. On really long trips we use frequent flyer miles to sit in Business Class as one of our many guilty pleasures. It’s amazingly comfortable with food at the push of button, more movies and TV shows than you can possibly watch. When was the last time you could hit the keyboards for 14 uninterrupted hours? It’s productive time in the lap of luxury. Does it get any better?
So, here are a few of our favorite pictures from 2014.
Take care and have a great 2015!
The answer is Los Angeles, as viewed from a dive bar in Skid Row-Adjacent. We haven’t had the opportunity to hang in said bar much because I’m not in LA a lot lately. Here’s my travel schedule of the last couple of weeks: LA, San Antonio, LA, Phoenix, LA, Berlin, Milan, Verano, Revoreto, Milan, Turin, Legnano, LA, Mexico City, LA, Puerto Vallarta, LA. Ninety-nine percent of this travel is LACI related because we’re building the Global Innovation Network (GIN), which will link together a couple dozen premier innovation institutions in key world markets. More about this is a bit.
KR and I are preparing to move further south into the industrial core of Los Angeles. While our current place is Frontier Land for most people, its becoming too gentrified for me, so we’re moving to an old fabric manufacturing building that’s being converted to lots of (even smaller than Factory Place) lofts. It’s in a good neighborhood: across the street from a strip club, next door to a marijuana dispensary, and it’s freeway close because its under a freeway.
It wasn’t easy to find because of its prime location:) We found it during one of our regular Sunday drives through the deserted streets of Vernon and surrounds. Vernon is best known for a Pedigree dog food plant, Jimmy Dean’s Sausage factory, and its the world’s metal recycling capital. I’m afraid these lofts will become a hot as well since Gino, the developer of said lofts, taped a telephone number on the side of his building to advertise leases and got over 100 calls for his 50 apartments in two days. He took the number down the next day.
Building GIN is rapidly becoming a full time gig in addition to my day job as ED of LACI. We now have partners in Germany (2), Italy (3), Sweden, Finland and Mexico. Next up is the rest of Latin America and Asia. Our goal is to have 12+ partners signed by the end of the year. Many of you may be asking the question that I get a lot from LACI’s stakeholders, “What the heck is a small incubator located in downtown Los Angeles doing building a global network?” I’m stating it much nicer than its usually asked.
Here’s the short answer: our goal is to make Los Angeles into a world-class innovation ecosystem and huge green economy. We believe we can’t do that without connecting to the world. What better way to connect to the world than placing LA in the center of an international network? The long answer would include that the environment and energy sustainability is a global problem, therefore its a global market that our companies need to take advantage of. One of LA’s key strengths is that it’s a leader in international trade and hence our efforts are in line with LA’s future. If we succeed in doing this, we will position LA’s economy for excellent growth for the remainder of this century.
As most of you know, I prefer to travel by motorcycle or at least by RV or fast car. Our European trip involved taxis, buses, trains, and planes over 5 days of 13 meetings in five different cities in two countries. Whew. We were always running for a train or bus and made all of them. I thought I was getting the hang of train travel until I took the wrong train in Northern Italy and came close to crossing the Austrian border before realizing that I had just spent 1 1/2 hours going in the wrong direction. Bottom line: lots of buses and trains, but I haven’t been on NVII in over 30 days. He barely has more than 1300 miles on him (I put 500+ on our first day together).
Here’s what all this looks like in pictures.
It’s difficult to summarize this past winter’s events. Where’s the theme in it all? It started with the following two-week travel sequence: DC – LAX- PV – Mexico City- PV – Guadalajara- LAX. The trip included meeting with the White House’s most senior energy staff and being told…”We talk about LACI all the time here. There’s no one doing anything like you guys…” I know that and $1.65 will get me a small Starbucks, but it was nice to hear anyway and certainly a 180 degree change from just three years ago. The trips also included signing an MOU with the Mayor of Los Angeles in Mexico City and being told “You’re exceeding expectations, Fred” by the Mayor. Please remember that when we’re asking for more money from the City to support LACI, I’m thinking:) Oh, and we began building a Global Innovation Network (GIN) which now has members in Germany and Mexico, soon to add Italy and the rest of Europe. And I’m part of the Mayor’s delegation on his upcoming trip to Asia this fall.
South of the border, KR has become a world-class inn keeper as the Corona Adobe/Little Big Sur vacation rental business has exploded. No one is more surprised than KR and I at this new development. Corona Adobe has become a very popular B&W to the point that KR has had to escape to LBS because the house was fully rented. That option soon disappeared as well since the Corona Adobe/LBS “metropolitan living and jungle escape combo package” has been very popular. Last week KR had to stay in a PV hotel because we had no space in our own home or out at LBS. KR is coming to LA for the month of April partly because there’s no room in PV. And to see Her Man, of course.
All work and no play makes for a dull boy (which I’ve been accused of being), so there’s been a fair amount of that including a couple of days in PV with friends (Puerto Vallarta is just a great, great town), a Saturday night bar crawl like I only vaguely remember in my youth, and….. A NEW MOTORCYCLE!
We welcomed Now Voyager II into the family about a week ago. He’s a 2014 BMW GS with every gadget, gizmo and option that the German’s could think of:) I spent about two months evaluating various choices for the Walti’s new DreamMobile, but settled on the biggest, fastest, heaviest, and most expensive alternative. Go figure. He’s so big that I’m thinking of getting special elevator shoes made:) None the less, he’s handsome, fast, comfortable and handles great. Why has it taken me all these years to man-up and get a GS? Go figure.
Maybe the theme for this winter is it’s been a time of transitions. LACI is growing up — in size, footprint and reputation. One of these days it will be a real force to be reckoned with. Our life in PV has transitioned to that of part-time/ full-effort inn keeper which has pretty much changed what KR does south of the border. We’ve shifted to a new motorcycle, leaving the stressed-out Now Voyager behind and welcoming the fully-capable Now Voyager II into the fold. And, as we all face the challenges of growing up (finally?), we lost two of our friends this winter. One, Jack Foster, was one of the greatest creative people I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the standard for how to have fun and do great work. Not a bad legacy.
Twenty-two of our twenty-three days on the road were great. The 23rd day wasn’t and turned out to be one of the toughest days we’ve had on a motorcycle. It ended in a minor, but stupid crash late that night. The scary thing is that it didn’t start out bad, hell, it was a beautiful morning and we’d just spent two fabulous days in Oaxaca. That morning our plan was to stop in a small village outside Oaxaca to buy some (more) Mexican carvings and then head over the mountains to the coast and return to my favorite surfing town, Puerto Escondido. It was going to be an easy 150mile-ish day…
Along the way we met another “Band of Brothers” member, David. David is from Colorado and is taking a year off to ride down to the tip of South America. I’m definitely jealous. His motorcycle is similar to NV, but bigger, faster and better looking. We discuss the route over an early lunch; he’s got a different set of GPS maps of Mexico than we. His route is much shorter, yet we’re both unsure what condition the road is. Up to this point, the road hasn’t matched either the paper or GPS maps. We decide to take his 125 mile route over the mountains vs. our 150 mile over the mountain route. Mistake #2.
Both maps and GPS show that the route climbs into the mountains to about 9000 ft., before descending to the ocean and Puerto Escondido. About an hour into the ride Now Voyager’s front tire starts to slowly deflate. It seems that somewhere on the way to Oaxaca I bent a rim on a tank-sized pothole. I knew I had a bent rim out of Oaxaca, but it seemed to be holding air and I decided to go with it. Mistake #3. There aren’t any Pemex stations in the Mountains which means that each little village we enter I look for a tire store to put some air in the front.
Shortly after this Now Voyager stalls dead in his tracks. It’s getting late and it takes a while to get him started again. I guess that we have about 100 miles to go, which means I now have to nurse a front tire and a stalling bike for a couple of more hours. I can do it, but managing those problems, trying to figure out where we are, and not going over a mountain cliff means that All Hands Are On Deck. We come to another junction and Dave’s GPS says its a short shot to the right. My GPS and map don’t even show a road where Dave wants to go. Since his GPS has been right more often than not, so we go right. Mistake #4 This route is barely paved, which means we need to go real slow so that I don’t deflate the front tire any faster than necessary. Before getting started down the road, we take a break. I say something to the affect that “What else can happen!” Mistake #5. KR tightens the gas can and the bike falls over because I didn’t balance it right. Mistake #6. I silently vow never to say that again, although I’m convinced we’re through the worst of it
About 25 miles and more than an hour later we enter a small town covered in fog and mist. We’re now 9000+ feet. The town hangs on the mountain’s edge, but is the biggest town we’ve seen all day (which isn’t saying much). We follow the GPS down a narrow street/alley and it ends into a Church parking lot. What the F?! I look left and there’s a Black Diamond pitch with rocks and cobblestones. After more than 20 minutes questioning various locals (Dave speaks some Spanish) we conclude that our destination is “just” 25 miles down that road, but its all dirt, gravel and rocks. That’s not going to work for us, so we need to retrace the last 25 miles, then follow my GPS. We are a good four hours from our destination and its about 4PM. The GPS says we’re not getting off the mountain before nightfall, much less our destination. We now start to motor “with vigor” hauling the freight off the mountain. Frankly, I’m worried that I’ll make a mistake as the bike is really heavy and I’m dragging metal at each corner, its handling and stopping poorly, and we’re in 30 mph mountain rough paved road. KR takes all this in stride, never saying a word about how fast we’re going. It takes us about three hours to get down off the mountain, the last 45 minutes are in the dark.
Once off the mountain, KR and I abort trying to make the remaining 45 minutes to Puerto Escondido and decide to go to a little beach town nearby. Mistake #7 since if we had went to Escondido, we would have known exactly where we’d stay. In Puerto Angle, we get lost immediately and can’t find a hotel. KR finds a woman who agrees to take us to one of the finest hotels in the town. Conveniently, its a close friend of hers:) You got it, Mistake #8. This place is an Italian-styled dump that hasn’t seen any rehab since Roman times. It’s being run by the Italian woman proprietor who’s nice but way over her head in workload. I feel sorry for her. For a minute:)
The Italian-dump hotel doesn’t have a garage, but a parking lot protected by what looks like a moat. “All” I have to do is ride NV over the bridge and we’re home free. I agree and start NV’s engine. This is Mistake #9 as I’m so tired that obviously I can’t think straight or, as it turns out, ride straight. I crash into the dry moat and wedge NV between the moat and bridge pretty badly. It’s now about 9 at night and I have to unload all of NV’s bags and panniers and recruit three locals to help heave NV out, which we do. We have a drink and retire for the night totally burnt — we barely get out of our m/c clothes.
Next morning I need to “reassemble” Now Voyager. After going around the moat’s bridge, I get him on the street. Ten minutes in and I load all the luggage/bags on one side first, unlike the normal balanced approach. Mistake #10 as NV falls over again. We have a new record of three tip overs in less than 24 hours.
That folks is how things get out of hand:)
Status Update: KR and I made it back to PV in one piece, if a bit tired. I spent two whole days relaxing and then started off for LA on Now Voyager. I’m writing this from a hotel in Los Mochis, about 1/3 of the way between PV and LA. See you soon!
I expect most of you will skip this post and I don’t blame you. The nuts and bolts of how two people travel by motorcycle for extended periods is pretty dry stuff. Those of you who do it, or will do it, or want to do it will find this fascinating reading, of course. This is for you!
How we organize our stuff and where we put it
As faithful readers know, one of KR’s objectives is to makes sure we have everything we might “need”, or at least have the space to buy it on the road:) We have 13 storage areas on Now Voyager moving from front to rear:
- Two front soft panniers over NV’s gas tank: Rain gear, bike cover, and first aid kit.
- FW’s tank bag: camera stuff, most often used tools, on-the-road charging stuff, GPS and phones.
- Two rear hard panniers: Left side contains all the spares and some tools, right side is the electronics and administration side
- Two soft rear wet bags on top of panniers: left side is KR clothes, right side in FW clothes. All clothes are put in numerous soft containers which makes it easy to find, take out, and put back
- Three moto tubes under the hard panniers carry most of the tools and some of the spares
- Two gallon gas cans hold one gallon extra gas each
- Rear upper hard case serves as KR’s junk drawer
Of course, we can strap more stuff on top of this, which we have on this trip. Here’s a more detailed description of some of this stuff.
- We each have a m/c riding suit, which we wear every day on the bike. It’s heavy, rugged and most importantly — has armor that provides some protection of the elbows, knees, and shoulders
- We each wear a back support best that provides armor protection of our backs
- They make under with butt padding that we wear as well, for obvious reasons
- M/c boots and gloves (two pairs each).
- M/c helmets with intercom
- Scarf to keep warm or dry
- Rain suit
- M/c goggles that have my prescription built in and are reading glasses for KR
You can imagine getting dressed or undresses isn’t a five minute project:) Here’s what I’d change/add:
- New m/c suits. Mine got fried on the muffler, KR’s isn’t comfortable
- New rain suit for KR
- Flip flops for walking and use in showers
- Walk around shoes
- Socks, underwear, etc.
- One pair of shorts and swimming suit
- Long-sleeve and short-sleeve m/c riding shirts which can be washed easiy
- Short and long sleeve shirt
- Packable jacket
- Folding parka for rainy weather
What I’m going to change/add:
- Two computers, both the same kind for KR and me
- Three phones: my Blackberry, KR’s U.S. Cell phone, and KR’s Mexican cell phone
- Headphone for Skype calls
- Three cameras (not including phone cams): Two small Canon and one G12 Canon. ALL the same brand with the same software
- Chargers for everything! Multiple chargers allow simultaneous charging.
- Adapters for every kind of socket
- Flash drives
- Charging device that connects to m/c and charges Blackberry when we’re riding
- Several types of reading lights
- Spares for important cables
- GPS with maps
What I’m going to add/change
- Video camera
- Make all cameras water proof
- Get KR a smart phone
- Maybe a small iPad for travel planning on the road that KR could put in the junk drawer
Software (on both computers)
- The basic stuff
- The basic Internet stuff
- Google Earth and Google Maps
- All kinds of photo stuff
- WordPress admin
- AirBnB admin
- Online banking and bill pay
- Six email accounts: )
Spare parts and stuff
This is obviously m/c specific and related to your past experience with the bike:
- Spare intercom parts and connectors
- Fuel pump and fuel pump sensor controller (both have been lifesavers)
- Two thermostats
- Electronic key ring (I’m not describing it right, but it controls if the key works)
- Spare keys for everything
- Hose and rubber/steal cement
- Clips of all kinds
- Straps, two types of bungee cords and spare buckles
- Temporary flat tire leak repair (cannister)
- Pressured air to re-inflate the tire on the bead
- Electronic air pump that works off the battery
- Duct and electric tape
- Plastic fasteners
- Rags and surgeon gloves:)
- I carried a spare chain for our South American trip
- Subscription to an online BMW repair manual
- Oil filters
- Small rubber tubes that can serve as gaskets
I carry most of the regular type of stuff. Here’s some of the not standard stuff
- Full allen wrench and the weird-ass BMW wrench set
- Tire irons and anything related to changing/fixing a flat
- Special BMW oil filter removal tool
- Swiss army knife with corkscrew:)
This is for a relatively short trip like the present one. There’s a whole ‘nother layer of admin stuff for longer trips that require shipping, etc.
- Passports (kept separately from everything else)
- Drivers licence and credit cards (kept separately)
- Fake drivers license, out of date credit cards and $20 bill in case we’re robbed. This is kept in the most accessible pocket
- Int’l drivers license for grins
- 10x copies of: title, registration, passports, drivers license
- Fake “original” title and registration. This worked excellently in South America, not so good in Central America.
- I would now bring original title as well, but I would hide them and never bring them out unless absolutely necessary
- Medical info
- M/c insurance info for all relevant countries
- Telephone numbers that you’ll need when your computer/phones get soaked
- Business cards and brochures for Corona Adobe
- A full set of Garmin maps (absolutely!)
- A full set of paper maps (absolutely!)
- Paper guide books that can be read where there is no Internet
- All-you-can-eat data international plan from AT&T. Watch these charges closely
- Copies of numbers/contacts for all credit card stuff
- A full supply of whatever meds you need
- Medivac emergency rescue insurance
It’s Been Hard on the Equipment this Trip…
This is what we’ve run through so far:
- Complete clutch assembly
- Fuel pump sensor
- Front wheel
- FW’s m/c jacket
- KR’s m/c jacket
- Four maps of Mexico
- Two Canon cameras
- Right pannier
- Lots of clothes
Living Two Up on a Bike for an Extended Period
Three words come to mind when thinking about how we handle riding the bike for extended periods: comfort, communications, and entertainment. Comfort is fairly obvious when it comes to clothing, etc. Seating position is a little more nuanced. For KR, we’ve constructed a Barko Lounger affect with back and arm rests made of soft luggage. I’ve modified the seat several times and she’s pretty happy. I’ve modified my seating position so that I “fit” on the bike. Communications is the key to enjoying traveling two-up on a m/c. There’s nothing more important than a clear, powerful intercom as KR and I are constantly chatting about all sorts of things, commenting on the scenery, occasionally singing, and problem-solving in real time (like navigation). Sharing what’s going on before us, around us an under us is the primary reason we go two-up. Entertainment is individual of course. KR reads books, magazines and the like while riding on the back. I can feel the book cover on my back. She wants an iPad so she can look up hotels while we’re moving. Sound right to me. For me, entertainment is all about gadgets: navigation, m/c dashboard, etc. The more the better! We have not taken full advantage of entertainment options, especially in the music department. We will hook up the ipod/iphone for our next trip.
Don’t laugh, but our biggest upgrade on this trip versus the South American trip is that I got good maps for the Garmin GPS for every country we entered. It made a world of difference. In fact, I don’t know how we survived in SA with only guide book maps:) Still, we got lost in almost every city we entered as its difficult to match the Garmin real-time instructions with the real world flying by. Good paper maps are critical as well since they give a larger view and can be cross-checked with the Garmin Instructions.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Sam Hershfield was our Guiding Travel Navigator in the Sky (GTNS) and he has a powerful knowledge of how to use Google Earth and Google Maps for everything from route planning, to seeing what hotels are in a city, to checking out the weather, elevation and most other things one would be interested. Sam has been giving me on-the-job training on these apps and I’m making progress:)
Over the years, KR and my responsibilities have become pretty clear. FW drives, navigates via GPS, makes mechanical repairs (OK, tries), packs and unpacks the bike, and keeps all electronics organized and running. KR is in charge of all trip planning, selects the hotel and/or wanders the city streets looking for one, registers, keeps all the money, pays all the tolls, and navigates via the map. I get her coffee in the morning and she gets me a drink at night. Simpatico:)
Most people agree that a picture is worth a 1000 words and this post puts that thought to action. These are the people, places and things Karen has seen in our trip so far. Most of the captions are by FW.
Along the way
Answer to the above quiz: We have a turkey top dead center, surrounded by chickens that are tied town. At least two people are in the truck bed.
The art of selling
Walls and other old stuff
A restless traveler
Progress Update: We have made it to Oaxaca high in the southern central mountains of Mexico. It’s Tuesday the 7th. We’re staying in a 100+ year old nunnery converted to a high-end hotel. Our general direction home will be to drop back to the coast and its 90+ degree temperatures and retraces our steps back to PV.
The pace of the trip has definitely slowed down a bit, at least the motorcycle riding part. We spent two days in Antigua and we’ll spend another two full days here in San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico). While the pace of the driving part of the trip has slowed, not much else has. I’m writing this post on Saturday, January 4th and its the first day of this trip that I’ve had nothing to do.
Much of my activity is getting us from here to there and keeping Now Voyager running. Frankly, the latter has consumed way too much time and energy. KR’s activities revolve around finding/checking into hotels, crossing border administration, keeping up with her ever-expanding innkeeping activities and Keeping Her Man Happy.
So here’s the headline version of what’s happened: We stayed in Antigua, which is a really charming and beautiful city in Guatemala. While KR went shopping, I drove over the mountains to Ciudad Guatemala to have Now Voyager’s clutch replaced. Next day we rode 300 miles northwest into the Guatemala mountains, hit a lot of rain, and crossed back into Mexico. We made it to San Cristobal de las Casas late last night. This is at least as charming as Antigua, but a bit bigger with more things to do. In both cities, KR has hit the shopping tour heavily.
Along the way I got lost in Ciudad Guatemala for the second time, this one in my attempt to find the BMW motorcycle dealer. After two different people led me there, I spent the whole day getting Now Voyager’s clutch replaced at a wonderful BMW dealer: Bavaria Motors. Now Voyager seems to be repaired as we’ve had no problems in the last 300 miles.
We hit rain, fog, clouds and muddy roads riding northwest toward the northern border crossing back into Mexico. This crossing was easy and painless. We rode 300 miles and crossed a border in one day — which is a distance record this trip. We then hit San Cristobal de las Casas at 6PM on a Friday night with no hotel reservations and pretty frozen (it got down to 47 while raining which is pretty damn cold). With Sam, Karen and Fred all looking for a hotel in real time, we found the weirdest hotel yet. It was so bad, we changed hotels today and added an additional day to warm up before pushing north again to Oaxaca.
Sitting on Now Voyager feels like home, finally. I’ve got KR’s seat cushion duct-taped so it doesn’t move around, providing a living room Barko Lounger affect with our bags serving as arm supports. With KR and bags, there’s just enough room for me to squeeze in. Once squeezed in, it feels comfortable and familiar. Frankly, its the place I like being the most. Getting on is pretty easy for both of us, but getting off is still a chore. When you have so much clothes on and packed so tightly, it takes some effort. The glances we get from passersby are priceless.
We didn’t experience (see yes, experience no) much of Guatemala, but it was totally different from what I expected. Aside from the beaches, which we didn’t get to, its a very mountainous country. Beautiful with clear bright blue skies and green, green mountains. It feels much older than Mexico, but that’s probably because we stayed in its most acclaimed Colonial town, Antigua. Antigua has had a hard time of it, being leveled in the early 1700’s by an earthquake and hit by a volcano eruption 30 years later, among other natural disasters. This of course makes for some wonderfully old, partially restored Colonial buildings, which are spectacular.
Guatemala is much more colorful than Mexico. Their traditional dress reminds us of Peru’s and most of the women in the countryside dress in similar clothing, again much like Peru’s. The buses are works of art in themselves, like those we saw in Nepal and India. 95% of private 4-wheel vehicles on the road old Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks that would not be allowed on US streets because of their condition. All these old trucks, buses, Tuk-Tuks, motorcycles and cars make for some pretty bad air quality at ground level. On a motorcycle, its hard not to notice and the last thing I wanted to do was hang behind one of these for any amount of time.
Like everywhere on this trip (and our past trips), Guatemalan’s went out of their way to be kind to us. We’ve been shown the way — i.e. led via vehicle– at least three times when we were lost. Kids wave when we ride by, old women giggle when KR take’s their picture, and people at the BMW dealership couldn’t have been more helpful.
We’ll be back to Guatemala to take in the rest.
We’ve crossed a few borders in our day, but never with an entourage of half a dozen adoring helpers:) Welcome to border crossing Guatemalan style. As we rode toward the border, dozens of men and boys ran in front waving their hands and urging us to stop. Since we knew the drill, I picked the oldest guy I could find who happened to be in a bright red shirt (note to self, bright colors do work in advertising). Cesar would be our Head Border Administrative Officer. His entourage included a boy to run in front of the bike clearing the traffic, a money exchanger (“You don’t have anymore dollars to sell? How about Euros?”) and two other groupies who kept an eye on us while Cesar did his work.
All in all, it took about 2 hours and 40+ US dollars to get through both Mexican and Guatemalan immigration and customs. That’s just the cost of Cesar’s crew, of course, as Guatemala charged us somewhere around $250 to bring the bike in. While certainly confusing and at times tense, this is the way all border crossing should be handled:)
Our original target for the day was Antiqua, about 140 miles due east, but since we didn’t get started until 11AM and the border chewed up two hours, we found ourselves riding into Guatemala with no clue of what to expect. Moreover, the map showed a road that was as squiggly as any we’d seen, so I assumed it would be all mountainous travel.
I was right in spades. The northern loop to Antiqua (and any city in the east, including the capital, Ciudad Guatemala) immediately took us into mountains that were very different from those of Mexico just of a few days ago, but hard to explain why. They were a unique shade of vivid green, feeling like a rain forest as there was mist in the air. We wound slowly into the mountain forest, feeling like we’d been there before, yet not quite knowing why. One thing was for sure, it’s beautiful.
As we bumped along through a dozen tiny tiny villages, it became clear that Guatemala had not only mastered the art of Tope Speed Control, but taken the art to a whole new level – multiple sets of topes for a village of two stores. While this gave us a chance to see the locals up close and slow, it definitely slowed our pace. We found ourselves winding ever further up the mountains in the late afternoon.
We crossed 9000 feet and it’s f__king cold. Isn’t Central America supposed to be tropical, I’m thinking? Fog and mountain mist make it feel even colder. While cold, all things were going along fine until rounding one corner Now Voyager dies with no notice. Unlike the previous dozen or so episodes, NV doesn’t start back up. Hmm. We’re a couple of miles outside of San Marcos, the first sizable town along our route, so we move into Plan B – somehow get NC to San Marcos and find a hotel.
Not quite so fast, there, son. First, while NV finally starts again, he quickly stalls a half dozen times as we coast down the mountain to San Marcos. Second, there aren’t any hotels in San Marcos as its another one of those gritty, commercial, drab Latin American towns that we’ve been through often. In the helmet intercom KR is making it clear that she has no interest in staying here! Great. Have you ever tried to drive fully loaded bike, over really bad cobblestones, in Latin American traffic, and with a bike that’s stalling every couple of blocks? And, oh by the way, you’re lost. This is not fun. The tension meter rises as quickly as the mountains.
So, we push on to a town whose name I still can’t pronounce –Quezaltenango – which is about 20 more miles east through the mountains. Surprisingly we make it with no further bike problems, except yet again we enter a sizeable town with no hotel reservations and no map. In high-traffic time on streets that are so narrow that there’s not room for a car and a bike side by side.
All during this time, our Internet Guide and Travel Assistant in the Sky – Sam Hershfield – kicks in with lists of hotels, navigation help, and general counsel. He emails me directions (god bless ATT and Blackberry) in real time and I put them into the Garmin, which then attempts to guide us to said hotels. Except as wonderful as Garmin’s maps are, they still can’t tell you which streets are one way, etc. We weave around the center of Quez… for a good 45 minutes until we give up motoring. We’re lost in this small town of intertwining cobble stone streets. KR dismounts and walks around a corner in the direction of the hotel. I’m stuck guarding NV and wondering what I’d do if KR gets lost. Ten minutes later KR rounds the corner with a big smile on her face. She’s not only found the hotel, but it’s great (in KR’s lingo, that would be charming). Fifteen minutes later we’re checked in our room at the Modelo Hotel and NV is parked in a garage down the street.
Since its 5:30ish I have no time to waste to perform brain surgery on Now Voyager’s fuel system. No surgeon wants to perform an operation in the darkJ No time to change into clean whites or for that pre-operation scrub, I rush into the operating theater, also serving as the car parking lot for our hotel. I pull the tools out and (this is the truth, I swear it) in less than 10 minutes I’ve installed a new fuel pump controller! Voila! Drinks and dinner here we come!
Sam can’t believe I’ve done this, so he’s still emailing me mechanics all over Guatemala to help fix NV… Sam, Sam, I’ve got this one, really! (Time will tell, of course). Before I can even get to the bar, Sam’s found the Hotel’s most popular cocktail via its online menu. This Internet Travel Assistant thing has promise: )))
Next day (New Year’s Eve) we’re planning on making Antiqua, but we don’t have a hotel. All seemed booked, but we finally find one that sounds good – terrific really—and it’s got a room. All right! But, why does this gorgeous hotel have a room on New Year’s Eve? Hmm. Note to self—always look closely at address. The Casa Miravalle Hotel is at best Antigua Adjacent as Culver City is Beverly Hills Adjacent too. Our hotel is in a small (tiny) town is the mountains above Antiqua – somewhere between 5-25 miles away. Anyway, off we go.
I’m going to make this very short. The day didn’t work out quite as planned. It took us a good hour to find our way out of Quez… (You laugh now, but you try it sometime), we fell over in the process necessitating a neighborhood help squad to get us upright and going again; we made a wrong turn and got real close to the Belize border which added another hour to our drive time; went through Antiqua and into Ciudad Guatemala looking for said Antiqua Adjacent resort only to realize we’d passed it miles back. Finally, we pay a cab driver 14 bucks to lead us to the road, upon which mountain goats would find it hard to climb, only to arrive at a beautiful boutique luxury hotel in the mountains with a spectacular view. “Reservation? We don’t have no reservation for you Mr. Rutherford…: )”
We’re now about 15oo miles from Puerto Vallarta and 3000 miles from LA. We’ve been in the saddle for nine days and we’ve had the following events happen to us…
- Now Voyager has stalled at least two dozen times, but keeps limping along.
- Of the eight nights, we’ve had really special places to stay in seven of them and had a great time each night.
- Wal-Mart is a good predictor of upscale business hotel locations.
- Lost our Mexico map (which could be a problem on the way home).
- Fried most of the left arm of my m/c jacket necessitating a repair job that will go down in Duct Tape Hall of Fame.
- Have gotten lost entering EVERY city we’ve stayed in.
- Experienced temperatures ranging from a high of 94 to a low of 60. You can feel the difference on a bike.
- Have developed a real craving for OXXO coffee, rivaling my affection for Starbucks. OXXO is Mexico’s Seven Eleven…
Our trip plan has changed pretty radically since starting off. We now realize there’s no way we can see anymore of Central America as it took way longer to get down here than originally guessed. We’ll spend a couple of days in Antiqua (“the cutest, most colonial town in all of Guatemala!” my Road Bunny exclaims. I don’t need Google Translate to know this means shopping: ) and then make a U-turn and start heading back. Sam is working on a new route back as I sleep.
I want to be a surfer dude, with a surfer chick, hanging ten on my surfboard, which is tied to my surfer dude van. I’d take said chick and board, climb into the van, and cruise way down here to Puerto Escondido, one of the few towns in Mexico where surfer dudes like me are king. Once in Puerto Escondido, I’d ride my board or buy a new one in one of the surf board shops, get even more tan, and prance my surfer chick around. Then we’d hang in surfer dude bars that play videos of surfer-dudes-who’ve-eaten-the-big-one and hang out with dudes and chicks like me and talk about today’s waves. I’d be a king in Puerto Escondido.
In the meantime I’ll settle for being a biker dude, with a biker chick, hanging out with all the dudes and chicks in this once sleepy surfer town gone wild. Eight years ago when we first started to think about a place in Mexico, we researched Escondido. We concluded it was too remote and small. It might still be remote, but its reputation is international as we saw surfer dudes from all over the world. Unfortunately, I think it’s on the way to being a surfer dude version of Cancun.
(As of Friday) We’ve gone south roughly 1000 miles from PV and the border is still nowhere in sight. This is a bit of a surprise as KR and I thought we’d be at the border in a couple of days, but then again everything is a surprise given our extensive trip planning regimen. We’ve taken Hwy 200, which shadows the coast but rarely reveals it, which cuts through really thick jungle and small, luscious farms mostly growing coconuts (first fun fact that KR screamed into my helmet speaker: the state of Guerrero is the premier coconut producing region of the world. I can’t tell you how much this running commentary through my helmet speaker adds to the scenery).
Every few miles there’s a small town — village really– that usually possess the bane of our existence: topes. Topes are raised bumps in the road constructed to slow traffic. Much cheaper than traffic signals and just as effective, provided you see them or know where they are beforehand. If you don’t see them, then one slams over them and I get a “uggggghhhh!” in the helmet speaker. We’ve developed a staged Tope Alert System in which KR announces: “Potential Tope,” “Tope Alert” Tope!!” Pretty exciting stuff, but it’s the little things that make travel safe:)
These first five or six days have all been twisty motorcycle-friendly roads. No more than 10% were in a straight line. This makes for great motorcycle riding as one is quickly forced to find the “rhythm of the road.” An impossible task if one’s passenger wasn’t into finding that rhythm, but I’m very lucky here, as for some reason, KR and I got into the groove of traveling by bike very quickly. There were still early-trip adjustments that needed to be made (think seat, think clothing, etc.). All’s well with biker chick, biker and bike.
Well, not so fast, as what Walti motorcycle trip would be complete without motorcycle problems? 30 miles north of Acapulco, Now Voyager began stalling, especially in traffic and when its hot. Riding a full loaded motorcycle in rush hour we’re-going-to-party-all-day/night Acapulco traffic brought up butt-puckering images of a certain tunnel in Argentina. Nursing NV to Acapulco was a challenge on all fronts — keeping the bike running, avoiding the kamikaze drivers, trying to find our hotel, and keeping the biker chick informed of when NV stalled so she could become an immediate Caution Flag was fun. Not.
To save us, our International Rescue Crew sprang into action again! Bruce Conrad, Ryan Reza and Sam Hershfield. First was a roundtable discussion (via email) on what the problem was (probably something to do with the fuel pump), then a city-wide search for a mechanic (on the internet again), then a wider search for BMW expertise in ANY city close by (there were none) and finally all kinds of advice on how to replace said fuel pump/filter by Yours Truly. Which I did in the front of the Holiday Inn Resort in Acapulco. More on this in a bit.
We stayed in Acapulco for almost two days making repairs. We’d never been to Acapulco, not heard anything good about it on the news (its full of Narco Gangstas!) and no one we knew had ever been. Well, its still not our cup of tea as its too big and too commercially touristy, but the physical place is stunningly beautiful, rivaling cities like San Francisco and Rio for beauty. Aside from the mechanical problems with NV, we had a thoroughly great time.
Next day we headed toward SurferVille, which is where this post was started. Here’s a recap in pictures of the first week on the road.
This just in — we made it to the Mexico/Guatemala border on Sunday night! According to our official GPS-oligist, Sam Hershfield, we’ve made it 3100 miles from LA. See below for route. Sam’s sent me a link to monitor live-on-the-ground trip progress, but I don’t know how to imbed it yet 🙂
Today — Sunday — has been a challenge on all fronts. We broke pushed our mileage record to 275+ miles at a record short 6 1/2 hours, due mainly to all straight roads allowing 80+MPH speeds. Unfortunately, once our speed got back down to earth as we entered the border town of Tapachula, NV went into fits. We then went to three — count them three– hotels to no avail and finally ended up at the Holiday Inn Express. All of this was happening as our first CoronaAdobe guest was having the visit from hell — five days of rain, no hot water, etc.,etc. It’s almost as tough being an Innkeeper as it is being an Adventure Biker Dude. Almost:)
I’ve been wanting to go south on two wheels ever since we got back from South America almost three years ago. Can it really be that long ago? Seems like a lifetime ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother tale. Exploring the remaining parts of South America and all of Central America feels like unfinished business. So, early this summer I came up with a plot to take Now Voyager to Central America during the holidays and sprung it on KR. I was half expecting her to say “have a good time,” but of course she said, “Great! When do we go?” “Sometime in December,” I replied and that was pretty much the extent of our planning for this trip.
Well, guess what? December’s here and we’re a couple of days from shoving off.
Preparation is concentrated on getting our house and business in order. LACI is now a burgeoning little enterprise that’s going …(hold your breath as this is really true) global. Ian H. and I recently spent a week in Berlin setting up the European leg of our Global Innovation Network (GIN – shaken, not stirred of course). When we get back its off to Mexico City with the Mayor, Washington DC to the ARPA-E Summit, and eventually the Far East with Mayor again in the Fall. Anyway, the good news is that one is never really disconnected in our world no matter how far you go or in what way. Which means one can always pull on the Oars of Commerce.
Getting our house in order has taken on new meaning around Corona Adobe, aka our Bed & Wine. Karen is working hard to be an Inn Keeper and has booked Corona for Christmas, New Years and much of January. Most of this will take place while we’re away, which adds a whole other level of complexity. We’re also renting out Little Big Sur this season which has necessitated a whole range of repairs and refurbishments. LBS now represents the ultimate in luxury camping:)
Getting Now Voyager ready consisted of buying a spare set of tires, changing his oil, and buying new maps for the Garmin. Done. Paperwork consisted of a temporary m/c permit for Mexico, some m/c insurance, an int’l drivers license for grins and copies of all documents that someone might want to take a look at. Done. I didn’t even have time to wash the guy.