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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.

Who can argue with this? We came across this Mark Twain quote on a bike in Colorado. TheRestlessTraveler.com is all about "Explore, Dream, Discover."

TheRestlessTraveler.com is both a journal of off-the-beaten-path travel and off-the-beaten-path living. On our way to figuring out how to travel more, we decided to change just about everything else in our lives.  So,what started out as a journal of our off-beat style of travel has turned into a window on our adventures off the road as well.

In 1992 I mapped out an around-the-world-motorcycle trip and said "let's do it!" I got the "are you crazy?" look from Karen and quietly waited for my next shot. Eighteen years later I'm not so crazy afterall as KR has joined me in the asylum.

There are a couple of story arcs that might interest:

  • Reports from Afar: We (and you) will be reporting from the places we go.   Nepal and the Dakar Rally are the two first installments along with a motorcycle trip in which we rediscovered our inner biker selves. We chronicle  our latest trip — a three month journey on our m/c through South America.
  • Rewire Journey to a New Life: This is the ongoing story of how we’re reconfiguring our life-style.   This is a perfect case history that  no plan is ever executed as envisioned.
  • All Things Puerto Vallarta: Thinking about living in Mexico or just visiting Puerto Vallarta?  Here’s our experience with Little Big Sur and La Corona.
  • Links: I intend to grow a link farm here to help all of you who might want information about the what/how/when/who/why’s

It’s all about you. Just kidding, I wanted to get your attention. But this is more about all of us than just me.  It would be thrilling  if any of you wanted to write a guest post as ultimately TheRestlessTraveler.com will become something beyond just KR and I.   I’m literally sitting on the edge of my chair hoping that you get some enjoyment from TRT.  If you do, please let me know and send it to someone you know. If you don’t, please let me know what’s wrong with it and how to make it better.

Finally, a few notes on help.  Dan Weil designed the entire thing, so if you like its look, hire Dan.  Amy Gelfand helped Dan and I make the thing work. She’s a WordPress maven.  And to all of you who said, “do it!”  Thanks.

Fred Walti

fred@therestlesstraveler.com

You're invited! Come along for the ride.

 

The Complete “Little Big Sur” Users  Guide

What is “Little Big Sur”

Little Big Sur is a 1500 sq ft palapa on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. This view is toward the front door and looking at the back patio, which faces the mountains. The ocean is on the other side.

“Little Big Sur” (LBS) is our palapa in the jungle about two hours south of Puerto Vallarta in a village called Los Chonchos.   It is only accessible by water taxi from a beach town called Boca de Tomatlan (about 45 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta).   LBS is totally off the grid, but has electricity, full kitchen, full bathroom and enough room to sleep anywhere from 2-8 people.

You will be visiting a place of paradoxes.  LBS is miles and miles away from anything, yet you’ll be able to see civilization pass you by each day and night.  You’ll be living OUTSIDE, affected directly by the weather, insects, animals, ocean, and everything that crawls around; but you’ll have ice, electricity, indoor plumbing, and your Blackberry will work.  After the first 30 minutes on the water taxi towards LBS, you’ll think, “What have I got myself into?” After the first 30 minutes at LBS, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, this could be good.” If you’re like me, you’ll be worrying that there’s nothing to do out here, but you won’t be bored for one minute.

Because LBS is in a remote location, one generally has to cart in food and everyday supplies.  For this reason, we recommend staying the previous night in Puerto Vallarta to do your shopping.

This Users Guide will make more sense once you’re there.  In the meantime, print this for reference.

Getting to Puerto Vallarta and the airport

Many airlines fly to Puerto Vallarta either directly or indirectly.  Indirect flights via Phoenix (the best alternative), Dallas, Guadalajara (a great little airport) or Mexico City (to be avoided if at all possible) are all available.  Prices range widely by season and we recommend booking as far ahead as possible.

PV’s airport is modern and compact.   You’ll go through Immigration first and then walk to baggage claim, pick up your luggage and go through Customs.  All luggage is x-ray’d at customs to see if you’re bringing in undeclared items.  If you are one of the unlucky ones and get a red light at customs, your bags will be searched.  This is not a big deal as we’ve literally brought in tons of stuff to PV and only once paid a 100 peso fine.  If you’re bringing in any new items, we suggest taking them out of their boxes and keep your receipts.

Once past Customs, just walk through the doors and keep going despite a bunch of official looking folks aggressively trying to get your attention.  They are all time share salespeople.  Just ignore them or tell them you live here.  Go out the door on the right and look for a white taxi.

If you’re staying at the Corona Adobe, tell the Taxi driver “Corner of Corona and Miramar in El Centro.”   Ask what the cost is ahead of time (there are no meters on taxis, rather they charge by zone).   Fare is about 230 pesos.

Your Stay in Puerto Vallarta before going to LBS

IMG-20130929-00434

The Corona Adobe is located in the hills of El Centro in the oldest section of Puerto Vallarta.

More often than not, you’ll end up staying a night in PV prior to going out to Little Big Sur.   We offer combination packages of our Bed & Wine and Little Big Sur.   When you arrive at Corona Adobe, just ring the bell and you’ll be let in.  You’ll be shown to your room and given a set of keys.

  • Everything you eat and drink needs to be brought in with you, including booze, food, HB&A, water, bug repellant, etc.  LBS has a fully operational kitchen and solar refrigerator.  All kitchen utensils are included.

It’s easy to get around in Puerto Vallarta as there are taxis everywhere.  You will need to walk down the hill from Corona Adobe to get a taxi.   Tell the driver where you want to go and always ask what the cost will be before getting in.

There are many, many things to do in Puerto Vallarta.  Go to http://www.coronaadobe.com website for some ideas.

Getting to Boca de Tomatlan and the water taxi ride to Los Chonchos

The first step is a 45 minute land taxi from Puerto Vallarta to a beach town called Boca de Tomatlan south of PV. Walk down the hill from Corona Adobe and flag a taxi.  Tell them you’re going to Boca (the charge should be around 200 pesos).  Since you’ll probably be carrying a lot of stuff, have the taxi go back up to Corona Adobe to get your things.

then

The taxi loading up at the Boca pier. It can sometimes get crowded. The good news is that the more people there are, the smoother the ride.

The morning taxi leaves at 9:00AM.  You should be in the land taxi on the way to Boca no later than 8:00AM.

Once you arrive in Boca, tell the driver to drop you off at the pier (there’s only one, but its way to the right as you drive down the hill).  There is one water taxi that goes to Los Chonchos and its called “Nayalit II”.   You load onto the taxi at the lower platform at the end of the pier.  You can pay 50 pesos to one of the kids to help you cart your stuff to the end of the pier.

At 9:00AM (or 3:00PM in the afternoon) they start to load the taxi. The taxi drivers will load your belongings.  SIT AS FAR BACK IN THE TAXI AS YOU CAN. for a smoother ride.  This should cost anywhere between 125-150 pesos.  If you have lots of stuff, its nice to tip the drivers 50 pesos each.

The water taxi ride to Chonchos is either one of our favorite or least favorite parts of the trip, depending on how much stuff we have and how rough the Bay is.   The ride hugs the shore going south and the view is spectacular, with the jungle mountains coming right to the water’s edge.   The taxi stops at little villages along the way and you’ll be amazed that people of all ages and health climb in and out of the boat.   This should give you encouragement that you, too, can do it.

Landing on the beach at Los Chonchos

Ass over tea kettle: CB mounts the taxi on the way home. He’s the one in the green shorts.

Unloading the taxi at the Chonchos beach

We unload the taxi from the front.  Which means that once you get close to Chonchos, you’ll crawl toward the bow and get ready to jump off the boat into the surf.

  • Off-loading Hints to Keep in Mind. (1) You will jump/slide off the boat in the surf.  You will get wet.  Everything in your pockets will get wet.   Anything that you value should be put in a Ziploc bag – wallets, passports, watches, etc., etc.  We’ve never lost anything to the water, but we’ve seen it happen.  So, just assume it’s a Normandy-style landing.  (2) Get off the boat as it goes down in the surf, not up.  The driver and his helper will signal you when to jump off.  (3) Don’t carry anything when you jump off, or else you’ll probably lose your balance.  Once in the surf, we’ll begin the process of grabbing stuff off the boat and carrying it up the sand to safety.

Finally, don’t bring a lot of stuff because you’ll end up carrying it up the Mule Highway. No nice suitcases.  Preferred luggage is an old duffel bag that has wheels so you can pull it up the hill, rather than carry it.

then

Artemio and Pamela can be used if you have a lot of stuff.  Cost is about 50 pesos

Once onto the beach, you’ll be greeted by one of the men and taken up to Little Big Sur.  LBS is high on the cliff overlooking the bay, about 1000 yards from the landing beach.  The path to LBS meanders in through the jungle and requires something other than flip flops to negotiate safely.

The weather and what to wear

The official Season in PV is from November-May with the weather usually in the 80’s during the days.  It sometimes gets a bit windy/chilly at night, especially in the Feb-March timeframe.  Since we’re in effect living/sleeping outside, one “dresses” for the weather.

Shorts and a swimsuit, no long pants are required.  I would bring a couple of  tops– t-shirts, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a fleece jacket/vest for night.  For a couple of days last March, we had on every layer at night as there was a 20+ mph winds etc.

Shoes are the hardest to figure out.  Flip-flops are the shoe of choice in PV and once at LBS.   I use water-shoes for the trip out and back, but bare feet are fine as well.  You’ll probably want to bring a hiking sandal – something that’s open, has straps and is waterproof.   Flip flops don’t work for hiking.

Sleeping Accommodations

There are three beds and two couches.   Only the master bedroom has walls.   There is a Queen size bed upstairs, which is the second best place. There is a King size bed outside on the lower deck.  This has the best view and ocean sounds, but is totally outside.  Bundle up. There is a big couch in the living room.   And another smaller couch on the outside deck that is large enough for sleeping.

The deck, with the outside lounging bed on one end, and the built-in couch on the other.

The deck, with the outside lounging bed on one end, and the built-in couch on the other.

The living room, looking out toward the deck. “Dining room” is on the right. Kitchen is further right out of camera view. The

The living room, looking out toward the deck. “Dining room” is on the right. Kitchen is further right out of camera view. The

Primary outdoor activity at Little Big Sur is laying on the outside bed and watching the whales. We spotted whales every day, with the record being a gaggle of more than 30+ swimming by.

Primary outdoor activity at Little Big Sur is laying on the outside bed and watching the whales. We spotted whales every day, with the record being a gaggle of more than 30+ swimming by.

then

LBS front yard

The Kitchen and Cooking

In most ways, this is your standard kitchen, except it has no Microwave.  And its outside so the wind can blow the flames out of the burners.  And you never, ever leave anything out, as all sorts of animals will have a midnight snack.  Equipment includes oven, range, solar refrigerator, and Mexican Weber.  All the pots and pans you’ll probably need are also there.  If you have a question, ask for it.  There’s full electricity, but we’ve never used a plug-in appliance except for a blender.   We have lots of light.  Drinking the water is fine.

“Open air kitchen”. Like everything else, the kitchen is open air. The most important feature? The solar-powered always-mak’n-ice refrigerator.

“Open air kitchen”. Like everything else, the kitchen is open air. The most important feature? The solar-powered always-mak’n-ice refrigerator.

Daytime Activities

The number one activity is lying around and reading.   We have a lot of books and magazines, but I suggest you bring reading material of your own. You’ll probably hike around some.  You can go swimming and snorkeling (we have snorkeling equipment).  There are kayaks if you’re brave enough.  And, of course, there’s lot’s of fishing, but of a different kind.  The locals use a line and some bait thrown into the surf.  You may not believe me, but you won’t be bored.

Entertainment

There’s no TV, VHS or DVD player. Bring a computer if you want to watch movies and stuff off that.  If you have a favorite DVD, bring it.  Music is like important. We only have a flimsy portable CD player with aux speakers.  If you have an iPod, stuff it and bring it.   There are plenty of wall sockets if some of you want to bring your computer, etc.  BUT, make sure its adequately covered in multiple zip locks in the unlikely case it is dropped in the surf.

A Few Rules

  • Never walk around at night in your bare feet.  Always wear open toe shoes (like flip flops).  While most of the things you might step on are harmless, one – a scorpion – is not.  They like closed-toe shoes, etc.
  • Never put toilet paper down the toilet (this goes for most of Mexico, not just LBS.)  There will be a trash bag for used paper.
  • There is no medical help out here.  We have some basic first aid stuff.  So, if you fall over the railing and break your leg, we’ll have to carry you to the taxi and get you back that way.  I would avoid edges when drinking.
  • We have no personal injury insurance, so give up on that idea as well.

Packing Up and Catching the Water Taxi

Taxis back to the mainland run twice a day (about 11:00 AM and about 5:00PM.) These times can vary by as much as an hour – if you miss the taxi, you’ll have to wait for the next.   Sometimes the taxis don’t/can’t stop because of rough seas.

Packing up LBS is a lot like packing up a boat – everything needs to be put away, out of nature’s reach.  All perishable food should be given to neighbors (unless  someone is coming out in the next few days).

Getting Back to the Airport

It’s possible to catch a plane out the same day you leave LBS, but its difficult. You’ll need a late afternoon flight (from 4:00PM+) so you can catch the water taxi the same day.  Here’s a rough guide for planning purposes:

  • Catch the taxi (11-11:30AM)
  • Water ride (1 hour)
  • Unload, find a taxi/private car at Boca (30 minutes)
  • Taxi ride to Old Town PV (45 minutes)
  • Taxi ride to airport from Old Town (30 minutes)

It’s good to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight.