Assorted trip reports from assorted places

 

Sunset over the African bush. Every afternoon’s game drive ended with cocktails in the bush, watching these magnificent sunsets.

After 12 days of always being cold, Karen and I took a 35-minute plane ride back to Kruger National Park in search of warmth and a game lodge named Hoyo Hoyo.  From the beginning Hoyo Hoyo was different.  We flew into one of the smallest – and definitely the most charming – airports we’ve ever been to – the Skukuza airport.  We see  the “Walti” sign and quickly learn its a two hour ride to Hoyo Hoyo. Well, LAX can be two hours from Hollywood on some days, so this shouldn’t be too bad.

Thirty-five minutes into the trip we leave the pavement for a dirt road stretching off into the bush as far as one can see.  For the next hour and a half our dirt road goes from pretty nice, to much narrower, to getting bumpy to being an animal trail twisting and turning through the bush.  Where is this place?!

Answer:  in the middle of nowhere, inside the Kruger National Park, which is South Africa’s largest game reserve.   Eventually little huts with thatched roofs appear through the trees and we finally get to Hoyo Hoyo.  Stepping out of the van we learn the Golden Rule of Hoyo Hoyo:  It’s OK to go back and forth to our bedroom hut during the day, buy we need to be escorted during the night. Unlike all the other game lodges we’ve stayed in, Hoyo Hoyo has no electric fences to keep the animals out and the tourists in.  Oh boy…

Ten minutes later and we scramble into our Safari Jeep for the afternoon game ride.  Twenty minutes in and we come across a small herd of big elephants next to the road. The biggest one, that would be the one with the big tusks, takes one look at us and begins flapping his ears vigorously and making grunting noises.  I don’t need a hunting guide to know this isn’t good news.  Before I can say “he’s coming” he charges the Jeep.  Our guide puts it in reverse with a Formula One quick move, Karen screams and I freeze.  The guide slams his hands on the side of the vehicle, yells, and The Big Guy stops in his tracks, looks startled, turns 180 degrees and hauls back into the bush.  This is going to be some kind of jungle stay!

Two hours later and I want to die.  The sun has gone down, we’ve already stopped for our mid-ride sip of frozen wine, and it’s so cold I’m thinking just shoot me and get the misery over.  The two light weight blankets aren’t enough to keep one warm on a fall afternoon, let alone in this arctic night. This is probably our sixth game ride, each one ending in frozen misery, and I’m wondering, why?  Are the Big Five worth it?   We vow to layer up for the next one with SIX top layers, three bottom ones, a hat and balaclava, and two blankets.  We learn to fight the cold to a standstill.

Hoyo Hoyo serves just twelve guests.  The main “building” has a living room, dining room, two outside palapas, a pool and fire pit.  It sits on a riverbank overlooking the gently sloping bush.  It’s small, lovely, authentic and immaculately decorated with African art.  The best times are when everyone else is either on a drive or napping so that we have the place to ourselves.  Across the river is a small watering hole attracting elephants and lions, among others. I’m writing this early one morning, in front of a fire, overlooking the bush, and hearing only the crackling of the fire and the squawking of a couple of birds.  For the first time, I feel that we are in, not next to or close to but in the African bush.

The staff, “Give and Take,” “Easy,” “Herald” and “Just Fine” are always on call for a morning coffee, an evening sip, and whatever meal you’re in the mood for.   All meals are “custom” and made when you’re ready.

A daily ritual easily unfolds.  Up at 7 am for coffee to see if there’s any animal activity on the riverbank.  Around 9:30 we get a 20-minute ride to the next nearest lodge that has wi-fi (the Hoyo Hoyo has no cell phone nor wi-fi).  Answer emails, download movies, have a late breakfast or early lunch, then back to Hoyo Hoyo for a mid afternoon nap.  At 3:30 we clammer on the Safari Jeep for the three-hour afternoon arctic game drive.  Back at 6:30-7pm, totally frozen, we huddle by the fireplaces, have a glass of sherry, eventually have dinner and chat among our fellow explorers.  We then get escorted back to our cottage and immediately turn up the heat.   We’re out like a light by 9:30pm.  .

Animals and the Hoyo Hoyo coexist, each without noticing the other.  Lions, elephants, herds of impalas, monkeys and lots of birds all pass by without a glance.  The Hoyo Hoyo staff go about their business despite a lion being a dozen yards away, or elephants bathing themselves right there.  In this place, the world seems in balance, in harmony.  There’s no “Breaking News” or foreign invasion or congressional committees to worry about.   No place seems farther removed than here.  Who needs CNN or Fox?  Nothing seems less important to this world.

We make very temporary friends among the other guests that cycle in and out during our stay.  The young Canadian woman taking four months to see South Africa who tries to give us hints on how to stay warm.  The German family of 8 that swarm the dining room each night, cheeks all red from the evening’s game drive, and talking excitedly about whatever they saw.   The single Australian woman who looks like she’s lost all her friends (and probably doesn’t care) wouldn’t crack a smile even if it was warm enough to allow for one.  The father and son duo from Munich visiting South Africa for maybe the tenth time.  Dad is German handsome, hale and hearty, and walks around in one lightweight layer of clothing as KR and I have three layers of fleece and a hat – and we’re sitting by the fire!  Like the wind blowing, guests keep flowing in and out.  We’ll be just like them in another day or so.

Kruger is different from Pilanesberg and the Black Rhino.  It’s much much larger and it seems rougher, wilder. The roads aren’t laid out in a nice grid, rather they meander, sometimes roughly and rarely smoothly.  The bush is taller, with a greater number of trees.  It’s difficult to see far; our imagination sees wild beasts behind every bush or crouched in the grass.  It’s just our imagination of course.  Then we almost run over a pride of lions laying in the grass just beside the road. There are animals behind every tree!  We cross two or three rivers on each of our game drives.  They’re dry this time of year but serve as superhighways with lots of tracks – some of them huge – crisscrossing the sand.  The dry riverbed in front of the Hoyo Hoyo is frequented by a herd of elephants on most mornings and late afternoons.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like a hundred years ago, when the park was formally set aside, or decades before that as first the Dutch, then English, then Portuguese and English again tried to traverse what is now known as Kruger.  For hundreds of years there were few successful treks through the bush, most perishing from the beasts or various diseases carried by flies and mosquitos.  Even now there is just no way I would trek through this area without an army of riflemen.  Reading about those times in books scattered on the coffee tables tells of expeditions that learned the hard way that you don’t make camp without fortifying its perimeter with thorn branches to keep the lions out.  And yet, here I sit just a few feet away from these beasts now, completely at ease visiting their home.  Yesterday morning we awoke to a crew of elephants just outside our window munching on the trees.  Last night on the escort back to our cabin we crossed paths with two hyenas scampering off into the trees.

Over these past four days we’ve seen great and small animals in their daily lives.  A pride of lions sleeping in the grass all day.  An elephant taking a shower.  A water buffalo getting an early morning sip of water.   Impalas, zebras, blue wildebeests, kudus and water buck casually grazing.  Baboons, monkeys and birds bursting into screams and frantic jumping and climbing trees as some enemy has been spotted.  Driving down one of the paths at sunset we follow a hyena as it trots down the road, head down, oblivious to the gaggle of tourists in the jeep behind clicking on their iPhones.  Vultures and eagles sitting way atop their nests surveying their domain.  Off in the distance we see a herd of giraffes as they saunter along, stopping by each tree to have a late afternoon salad.

There is of course violence here as well, but it is the natural way of life.  No gun shots ring out in the distance. Predators hunt for their next meal, or two males fight to be The Boss of their crew.  Lions don’t mess with elephants, cheetahs don’t mess with lions, and no one messes with rhinos. Baboons, hyenas, jackals and vultures await their turn at the dinner table. We’re told one zebra will last a lion for two days before getting hungry again.  The weak and small need to be fleet of foot and always on the outlook for trouble in order to avoid being the main course.

Few places we’ve been to feel less connected to — or affected by –the modern world.   This is a world unto itself, with its own rhythms and rules and inhabitants.  I feel extraordinary lucky to have visited.

On the road to Hoyo Hoyo. This is the beginning of the trip as the road is pretty wide and smooth

Hoyo Hoyo in the afternoon. Looking at the main dining room from the outside deck.

View from main Hoyo Hoyo deck.

Hoyo Hoyo Living Room

Early morning animal viewing from the deck of Hoyo Hoyo

FW reading, writing and eating

Our guide decides to go off the road…

And comes across this pride of lions taking an afternoon nap. This photo is maybe 10 feet away

The King yawns

Mother stretches. Lions, and most of the predators, hunt at night. She’s starting to wake up

There’s a leopard in this picture

Scariest animals for me were the baboons. We came across a pack 20+ who were agitated by the leopard. They were running around, hissing, growling and generally making a lot of noise.

Driving down one of the roads and this guy sees us and

Charges the Safari Jeep. He got a lot closer than this but I froze

What do you think these two giraffes are doing? Courting? No. Talking with each other? No. They’re fighting! They use their horns to pound the other guy.

Mid game drive evening cocktails on the road. As soon as the sun drops down, the temperature plummets too

Driving back to the lodge at night. We don’t see a lot of animals during this hour drive

After each drive, we run for a fire

KR in the tub getting warm for the first time

Undated painting

1923 “Bush Lunch for King George”

The departure lounge at the Skukuza airport. There’s no question when the aircraft arrive as the trees and bushes bend to its engines

Love in the Jungle. Two elephants across from the Hoyo Hoyo: )

 

 

 

 

 

Big Blue is my new best friend. He’s 2019 GS1250 HP. He’s a bit taller, heavier and faster than Now Voyager II., but he has a way better dashboard. After the first day of getting to know each other, we became fast friends.

Karen and I had opposite views of our Africa trip.  She could endure the motorcycle part in order to go on the animal safaris.  I could endure the animals in order to get to the motorcycle part.  This post is all about my turn.  Getting on the m/c was our first chance to see a bit of Africa, aside from the to/from the game lodges of the first or last legs.  Even though we were most often whizzing past the sights, we did get a feel for SA.  More on that in a bit.

Here’s the tour basics:  12 days through three countries on a GS 1250 with two other bikes, a tour leader, and a chase vehicle.  Our first day was June 3rd  and our last day was June 15th.  Here’s the map from our tour company,  SAMA used.

The Tour started in Pretoria and made a clockwise circle, starting northeast to Kruger National Park, then south through Swaziland, to St. Lucia and the Indian Ocean and then further southeast to Lesotho.  We turned almost directly north and finished the loop at Pretoria.

 The Pros and Cons of a Tour

We debated long and hard whether to take a tour or not.  As you would expect, we’re not real good at going along with a group on almost anything, let alone motorcycling.  After experiencing our first tour, here’s the pros and cons (most of these would be true for any tour, not just motorcycling).

The Pros

  •  They take care of EVERYTHING from bikes to routes to accommodations.  It’s pretty nice having someone do all the stuff that we normally do.
  • No shipping of m/c required.  My GS1250 was a 2019 HP model that was in excellent condition and hauled butt.  We showed up, adjusted a few things, and off we went.
  • We saw things and stayed at places that only someone experienced in the area would know about.  This was especially true of hotels in the middle of nowhere.
  • Having a chase vehicle is a big deal.  Unfortunately, KR rode in it most of the time because she contracted a virus, which is one of the reasons I wanted a chase vehicle. It was a great luxury to not have to cram things into two small bags and to have the chase vehicle carry all of your stuff (including loading and unloading).  Our vehicle had room for 8 passengers, a spare m/c and all of our stuff.
  • All of the above eliminates most of the drama of a trip.  By drama, I mean breakdowns, getting lost, worrying about whether we were going to find a place to sleep that night — all the things that a non tour rider faces.
  • You meet and travel with other people.  We spent 12 days with Darrell (the tour leader), Clayton (chase driver), Allan (retired Brit) and Duncan (Florida construction mgmt.).  Fortunately, we all got along well and had some interesting conversations.  And, most importantly, we were all talking to each other on the 12th.

The Cons

  •  Well, it’s not really an adventure anymore, with all the  fear and excitement that discovery that entails.
  • There’s very little flexibility as to timing, route, start/finish times, where to eat & drink, etc.
  • Riding in a group with other riders is mostly a bore.  Our group was saved as the Tour Leader, Darrell (who is also the owner of SAMA) was a very good rider and upped the pace often enough to make it interesting.  Darrell and I set a faster pace and Allan/Duncan set a slower one.
  • The people.  If you’re not lucky to have people you like or at least can live with, then it could be a long trip.
  • Price.  It’s obviously more expensive to pay someone to do all the work.  SAMA is an excellent tour company and they were thousands of dollars less than the big name global companies.

The Do Overs

  • We would definitely read the details of the tour more carefully, paying special attention to accommodations.  Once again, we were lucky as we had only two semi-duds in 12 nights.  This is a habitual problem of ours as we very rarely pay close attention to anything regarding a trip much before we go on it.
  • Paying close(er) attention to weather is a must.  We basically got colds and didn’t feel well most of the trip because it was really cold — on or off the bike.  It would have been much better if we’d brought along the right clothes (no bathing suits, shorts, flip flops or t-shirts as suggested).
  • 12 days was the right amount of time for us this trip, but now I wish we’d signed up for one a bit longer as I was just getting into the swing of things and it was over:)

We’re glad we went this direction.  We can’t say enough good things about the SAMA team:  Nicole, Darrell and Clayton.  They took care of us and everything we needed including going way out of their way to find Karen a doctor and getting me tons of cold meds.  If you’re going to SA, give them a call.

South Africa Impressions

Like so many countries we visit for a short time, we only come away with impressions rather than a deeper understanding and appreciation.  Same goes for South Africa (and Swaziland and Lesotho) we’ve driven hundreds and hundreds of miles down its roads, seen or rode through dozens of small towns and villages, seen thousands and thousands of South Africans on its roads waiting for taxis, growing corn, eating sugar cane, washing the laundry, and seeing their children playing.  Yet, we only have a very shallow understanding of the country and its people. Bottom line, we like the country and wish we could see more of it (especially Cape Town).  Here’s some impressions

  • Much of the countryside looked like countryside anywhere.  It’s only when you get to the bush and tall grass of the game reserves do you get a sense of Africa. We saw gorgeous pine-covered green mountains that could be in the American West.  And rocks, canyons, and cliffs that made us wonder if we were in Arizona or Utah.  To me, the real Africa were the grasslands in the southeastern part of SA and Lesotho.  Dotted with round huts with straw roofs and the assorted stuff of homes, it was breathtaking in its expanse and beauty.  The game reserves were in the brush, which is brush, except there might be a lion or elephant behind any bush!
  • Everyone we met was incredibly nice to us and had the brightest smiles.  Of course most were service folks, but they all made us feel comfortable.  In a country that is 80% black, we never felt uncomfortable as the minority population(we didn’t even notice it). We felt the warmth of South African people.  We met a lot of South Africans in the lodges and hotels we stayed in and once again, they were always smiling and offering help.
  • Like most other countries  the top live very very well.  Huge houses out in what I would call the bush, lots of land and very high fences (are they to keep the animals away or their neighbors?).  All of the businesses we patronized were owned/managed by white people. Of the thousands and thousands of people we saw along the roads, at bus or taxi stops, and in small towns or farms, they were 100% black.  This is going to sound terrible– that no matter where one goes, poor people are poor people — they may look different, live in a different kind of squalor, survive doing different kinds of work.  In SA, they live in tin shacks or small huts.  In India, they live in shacks down narrow, filthy streets.  In Mexico, they live adobe huts.  And in America, they live on the streets.  My heart goes out to all these people while at the same time thinking that I could be one of them except I was born in America, my parents had jobs and provided us with a good upbringing.  The more we travel, the more we realize that the majority of the world lives in much much worse conditions than we.
  • Crime is  a problem in SA. Our guides told us of car jackings and other violent crimes happening every day.  While I always felt safe, we were in our guided little cocoon. We saw absolutely no violence or robbery on this trip.  Yet, while Karen was in a local clinic, a white woman was ushered in by her husband.  She had just barely escaped a car jacking/kidnapping that left her with a broken nose and a slashed throat.  She barely made it away.  Most of the middle to upper middle class residential neighborhoods are fenced and gated with security.
  • Once we got off the main roads, especially in the mountains, we started to see the Africa of picture books.  Small round huts made of brick, grouped together in a family unit or village, with children playing in the yard and women doing the laundry.  Crops were carried to market via an ox-pulled two-wheel wagon.  Crops seemed to be sugar cane, corn, bananas and wheat.  Most houses looked like they had electricity running to them with many having TV antennas sticking out from the roof or window.  Yet, just like Morocco or Ethiopia, there seemed to be one well in each village that was visited each day.
  • Aside from the occasional horse or donkey, the main transportation for regular Africans were either mini-vans serving as buses and small cars serving as taxis.  There were a fair amount of cars on the major highways, always hauling butt and impatient to get around.  Drivers in SA are somewhere between Mexicans and Indians.  They drive really fast, use only signals occasionally, but don’t seem to have the kamikaze attitude of Indians.
  • Of course the most lasting impression will be of the animals.  We saw dozens of them, from the exotic (leopards, cheetahs
  • elephants) to the mundane (Impalas and Blue Wildebeest, but pictures just can’t convey the size of a rhino or elephant, the beauty of a zebra, the gracefulness of a giraffe or the shoulder muscles of a cheetah. If any of you readers are thinking about going, you must go if only for the animals.
  • Country roads and highways were sometimes a problem for bikers.  None- OK a few kilometers- were dirt or gravel or any way non-drivable.  But surfaces were uneven and there were tank-sized potholes.  We used a buddy system to spot and mark potholes for the riders following.  It worked as no one disappeared down a hole.

The Ride

I’ve already written about how rejuvenated I felt on this ride (see “Is there a use-by date for motorcyclists).  It was exactly what I needed as there is no way not to have a great time on a m/c.  Darrel and I kept a brisk enough pace to make it interesting.  Any experience level would be good to go on this trip, but expect a couple of kilometers of dirt and gravel every once in a while.  My GS 1250 was exactly the right bike for this kind of trip, excepting its still too tall for yours truly,  Speeds ranged from 30 to (very occasionally) 200KPH with most settling in at 60ish.   Gas stations were a plenty with plenty of roadside restaurants to check out.  The “Panoramic Ride” near Hazyville (right on the border of Kruger in the east) and the mountain road in Lesotho were the most memorable.  Twisty with great scenery.

Here’s what the ride looked like in pictures.

The Beginning. This would be the only day KR rode the bike.

Lunch stop along the way served African dancers with food. I grew to like African music alot.

Dinners were always a time for recapping the day or delving into important world issues (not). Duncan in foreground with Darrell and Clayton in background. This was one of the first game reserves we stayed in

For most of this trip, its been very very cold. This is on Day 2, in the mountains. Karen wisely stayed…

in the chase vehicle. The chase vehicle would serve many purposes: Karen’s limo, luggage transport, transport to dinners, tool chest, spare bike carrier and medical transport to a local clinic.

Allan on the left and Duncan on the right. We visited a lot of battle sites in this trip. Most of the battles were between colonialists and locals. Guess who won and built all the monuments?

The Man. Darrell set the pace that was perfect for yours truly. It was fast enough to make me work (75-120mph), yet pretty safe as Darrell knew all the road sand signaled the potholes ahead. I came away from this ride feeling pretty damn good about riding a motorcycle.

Allan and Duncan at a site seeing vista called the Pothole. Allan is a retired nurse from Liverpool (that’s where he was born, never could get the name of the town where he lived). Duncan is a recent transplant from Chicago to Tampa. Both were terrific riding mates for very different reasons. Made for some interesting dinner conversations. I think we got lucky with this crew.

One of our days was spent on a 300km loop in the mountains next to Kruger National Park. I call this the Green Grand Canyon.

More Green Grand Canyon

Lunch stops were always needed and welcomed. This is a little mountain village called Pilgrims Rest.

Useful windshield reminder.

We took part in an “Elephant Interaction” and it lived up to its name! No picture will do a giant like this justice. Just touching his “skin’ or feeding him was an other worldly experience.

We stayed two nights in a beach town called St. Lucia. St. Lucia is famous for its hippos. Lots and lots of hippos that walk the streets at night. Despite going on a couple of late night hippo sighting runs, we only saw them in the river. Earlier the same day a woman was killed by a hippo near the water’s edge. Seems like it was a regular occurrence.

Big Blue’s only problem was one morning he wouldn’t start. It was an electrical problem that was “solved” by jump staring him via another bike. Man, its nice to have a crew along who can fix it when it breaks:))

One of dozens of happy camper motorcyclist pictures

Stopping at a famous British/Zulu battle museum. This time the Brit’s lost.

If you write down one name, let it be this: Isandlwana Inn. This is one of the most unique, best mini hotels/lodges that we’ve ever seen. No words or pictures will do it justice. Go there.

Looking out over the Isandlwana Battle scene.

Great conversations occurred around the bar. Allan is making an important point that Clayton doesn’t appear to get.

Dogs are dogs, no matter the size. These two giants liked their couches and chairs no matter the size

Team pic at what looks like the Arizona or Utah mountains. It’s called the Golden Gate.

Unfortunately, this is the closest KR got to the bike for most of the trip. She was a trooper though.

We spent a day riding through the mini country of Lesotho. Much or the countryside was small villages/houses that looked like we were in the 1800s.

We rode up and down a 4000 meter mountain . And no, we didn’t pay any attention to the sign

Adventure man shot. Top of the mountain and top of the spirits. Hair and makeup didn’t show up for this shot: )

Now THIS is a motorcycle road

Women and children carrying wood and food on their heads.

While 90% of the roads were paved, there were occasional dirt and gravel stretches

The after shot. Everyone was happy getting through it all

I’m proud to say that Big Blue made it through without a new scratch — a first!

Last supper and we’re all still talking to each other. From left, Clayton (the all time best Chase Vehicle Driver and all around good guy), Allan (Brits U have a sense of humor), Nicole (the best “adventure” logistics planner ever), Darrell (the Man) Duncan (grew in stature and m/c riding abilities during the trip) and Karen (one tough cookie)

What trip would be complete without Karen finding a plant she wanted to take home. We’re bringing a lot more than just flowers home.

 

 

When is it too late to ride motorcycles?  This shot is at the top of the Chilean Andes.  I was 62.

This question that I keep thinking about is, Am I just too old to ride a motorcycle any more?  Should I find something else to do?  The question is nothing new as you’ll see below, but here it is  again.  After all, motorcycling isn’t like golf, if you hit it out of bounds you don’t just take a Mulligan.  Chances are, there’s a more serious price to pay.  Yet, for those of us who ride, it’s a passion that’s hard to shake off for too many reasons to explain here.  I’ve been riding since I was 15 and its still a central part of my life.  Go figure.

My riding ability has gone downhill ever since I quit racing in the late 1970’s. The first thing to go is confidence.  Just about any athlete will cite a lack confidence when he/she is having a bad day.  Confidence on a bike means knowing that no matter what situation you find yourself in, you can handle it.  Confidence in attacking corners.  Confidence that I could beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.    Confidence I could ride any bike, any where.

The next thing to go is the size of your balls.  Fear slowly enters the picture.  Going into a blind corner is no longer a manageable challenge, but rather a pull-up-your-pants and hold your breath leap into the unknown.  Then thoughts previously unheard of start to creep in, “What happens if right now — in the middle of this corner —  the rear tire deflates?”   What the f___?  What had been a youthful “need for speed” becomes a fear of speed.  Keeping  the throttle twisted as long and hard as possible is no longer a joyous pursuit, but rather a test of will power most often not met.

A lack of confidence combined with an increased sensitivity to risk should make for a safer motorcycle rider, no?  Unfortunately it almost has the opposite affect.

Next to enter the picture are one’s decreasing physical skills.  Quick reflexes become incrementally slower.  Eye sight is fuzzier at speed.  What looked like slow motion at 100 mph when young now comes rushing by in a blur at 65.  Muscles ache after just a couple of hours of riding, and it’s harder to pick up the bike when it tips over and things heal slower.

Riding at 65 isn’t the same as riding at 25

I’ve been doubting whether I could still ride for decades.  Even in the beginning when KR “persuaded” me to buy my first street bike shortly after we moved to LA from NYC I wondered.  It was the first time in fourteen years I’d ridden a bike since I stopped racing.  I remember thinking in one of our earlier trips to Mexico, “I can still do this!  It popped up again after Full Moon (first internet company) went south around the turn of The Century.  I rode my bike up to Laguna Seca to attend the GP motorcycle races.  Laguna was the scene of my best race and I wanted to see what racing was like after so many years.   Simply put, it was light years ahead of when I stopped.  Now, street bikes had morphed into Sport Bikes as powerful as  full racing machines of decades past.  Riding home on Highway 1 along the coast between Big Sur and Jagged Point, I kept getting passed by all these faster, younger riders on their superbikes brushing past my wimpy Honda PC 800.  I was feeling pretty damn old as bike after bike wizzed by.  Then I grew a pair, and thought “F— this!” and proceeded to keep the next group of sport bike riders behind me for ten solid miles down the coast.  They couldn’t figure out how to pass a lowly Pacific Coast. Wow, I wasn’t done just yet!

By  2008 I’d been off a bike for years when Karen and I decided to ride to Colorado to attend our first Horizons Unlimited adventure riding meet-up.  By this time, we’d been all throughout the Western US, Mexico, much of Canada and Alaska on our bike, yet wondered how we compared to the real adventure riders who were members of HU Unlimited.  After our first HU weekend, KR and I looked at each other and said, “We can do that!”  and started planning our Around the World Motorcycle Trip that we’re still (kinda) on.

Charles “Chuck” Brown. Chuck is one of the best motorcyclists I’ve ever ridden with. He’s fast on dirt, fast on pavement, fast everywhere. He’s the best student of riding that I’ve ever spoken with. I wonder what he was like at 25 rather than his 67? Perfect example of you are as old as you feel. Chuck hauls ass.

In 2010 I went to South America to chase the Dakar Rally for the first time.  It was 14 days of riding every kind of road and surface following the race as it charged through Argentina.  I was with a group of very experienced riders, on an unfamiliar bike that was larger and faster than I was use to.  This time I was all-in and ready.  Over the next 14 days I was among the fastest, most skilled riders.   More often than not, I found myself at the head of the pack as we rode though the Andes.

But I couldn’t shake one guy.  No matter how fast I went, he’d eventually catch and pass me like I was going backwards.  Now, this guy was good!   It turns out he was also 67 years old and by far the best rider of the group.   I got to know Chuck a bit.  He was a retired BART employee that loved riding bikes.  It was much more than love as he was a constant student of how to ride better.  He studied everything he could and practiced various techniques every week.  He made me feel like the true amateur I was.  He was the oldest among us and he was the fastest.  Maybe there was still hope?

In 2016 Karen and and I went to Europe to ride NVII for five weeks.  We shipped the bike to England and then spent the next five weeks riding through Spain and Morocco.  In the years prior we’d already ridden through much of South America, Europe, Nepal, Vietnam and Guatemala.    Yet, the old self doubts kept coming back.  Then one night we were having dinner in Valencia and met an American who was riding his bike in Spain with a bunch of younger sport bike riders.  I don’t remember the how or why of his trip, but the conversation is still vivid.  Steve, who was 70+, described  how he was not only keeping up with them, but could occasionally out pace them!  I stopped worrying and concentrated being the best rider I could be.

Nepal in 2008.

I write this post from South Africa after a few days into our SAMA motorcycle tour and am refreshed with hope once again.  Before coming, I was again worried that I was too old to keep doing this kind of thing.  Most of my friends have stopped riding and I was questioning what kind of acid I’d been dropping to think that I should still do this at my advanced age.  And then along came Darrell, our motorcycle tour guide.  Darrell is about my age.  “I’ve been riding a bike every day for the past 50 years” and it shows.  Yesterday Darrell took us on a 200 mile ride through the mountains on roads  surrounding Kruger Park.  I followed him as he gradually went faster and faster, and before I knew it we were riding between 80-120mph for long stretches at a time.  As we entered a sweeping right hander, I’m thinking,  I can still do this.  I was born for this!   No more errant thoughts of all the bad things that can happen on a bike, but the joyous feeling of going fast and being in total control.

Maybe I’m not past use by date after all?

 

Aside from going fast, the other joy of motorcycling is seeing the world with my girl on back. This is 2009 in the Lost Coast area of northern California.  Yet, along with the joy of having my woman on the back comes the responsibility of not making a mistake and injuring her.  I tape a piece of paper into my sunglass cases that I see before getting on the bike every time: “Pay Attention!” it commands.

2008 in Colorado on the way to our first Horizons Unlimited adventure biker meeting.  (Don’t get worried, we were only helmet less for a few miles)

Now Voyager I before crating and shipping to Buenos Aires. This is December 2010. I probably scared the natives with that haircut.

Somewhere in the Atacama desert.  Early 2011.  We were probably lost again.

Motorcycles take us to places like this and experiences we can’t forget.  Peru 2011

The worst 42 kilometers of dirt road we’ve experienced. One mistake and we would have been history.  There were remnants of camp sites next to broken down vehicles reminding one that it’ll be a long time before the calvary shows up.  Bolivia, March 2011

Hard core. Old Harley saddlebag depicting the 100+ countries they’d been to on their bike. These are the kind of hard core adventure travelers who attend the HU rallies.  They were easily in their 60s.  This is the HU Rally in Cambria, CA in 2013.

Some time in the early 90s in Colorado. Fred, Karen, Cindy and Sam

One of my worst decisions was riding Broken Arrow to Puerto Vallarta. A year later one of my friends borrowed him and hit a cow. BA is still in the hospital

The worst bike I’ve owned, the 650 BMW “Now Voyager I.” Here I’m changing his fuel pump in the parking lot of a hotel in Acapulco on our way to Guatemala. 2013ish.  Still didn’t fix the problem nor the half dozen other attempts.  As soon as I got back to LA, NV I had a new owner.

Riding through the Alps. June 2015

Not smiling for long. We’re in the ferry on the way from Spain to Morocco

Seriously lost in Morocco.   Mile after mile on dirt roads not on the Garmin.

For a nanosecond we considered swapping out NVII for a sidecar in order to take the dogs.

Riding through dozens of fires in the Pacific Northwest in October 2020.

KR refueling Now Voyager II just outside Reno in 2016ish. For whatever reason, Karen’s never suggested that I was past my sell-by date on riding motorcycles.

Happy camper. On the “Panoramic Loop” around the Kruger National Park, South Africa. June 2022

I guess this could be our last m/c trip.  I don’t want it to be, but time may sweep by the “Use By” date.  I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

 

 

ANIMALS, LOTS OF ANIMALS

We’ve been trying to do a motorcycle trip into Africa since before COVID began.  Our concept started out manly (let’s ship NVII to South Africa and just wander the continent) to less manly (let’s do a month guided m/c tour in seven countries) to full wimp (12-day guided m/c tour in three countries bookended by visits to two safari lodges).  It’s pure coincidence that the concept softened as we’ve gotten older.  But hey, we’re here!

I’ve broken this trip into five parts:

  1. Preparation: This trip required more than our usual amount of preparation (focusing on a trip the day the day before) because it was far away, there was a bunch of medical stuff we needed to get done, and we were living in Mexico and all of our m/c stuff was in New Mexico.  Most of the tough stuff revolved around medical prep:  COVID tests, getting four months’ worth of medications for FW/KR, travel/medical/bike insurance, etc. Two weeks before shoving off we made a blitzkrieg run to New Mexico and back, getting all of m/c stuff and making sure Laguna had made it through the winter (it had)
  2. Getting to/from: We booked the flights (seven legs) five months in advance and, if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to go.  We used miles and tried to get as upfront as possible.  Its taken four flights and 53 hours to get to Johannesburg.
  3. The Black Rhino Safari Lodge in Pilanesberg National Park: Who comes to Africa without going on a safari?  We will have spent four days driving around the African countryside looking for animals.  This is what Part 1 covers.
  4. The M/C Tour. The reason we’re here in the first place. We used SAMA Motorcycle Tours and they’ve taken care of everything since we stepped off the plane.   People here at the Lodge keep asking us where we’re going on our tour and we say…we don’t really know: )
  5. The Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park: Can a guy get too many safaris in one trip?  We’re about to find out.

My idea of what to expect of Africa came from watching Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep:). Perfect casting for an FW/KR documentary, don’t you think? Surprise Surprise! Our visit to Johannesburg, Pretoria and Pilanesberg is nothing like Out of Africa.

So far, South Africa is pretty much like any other place we’ve visited.  Big, modern cities, four lane highways, small towns and houses scattered along the side of back roads with all your normal conveniences, including a KFC and Mug & Bean roadside shops.  Poor people here, just like Mexico or most other countries we’ve visited,  live in run-down houses/shacks that would be at home anywhere except for the materials they’re built from.

Everything pretty much changes once you enter the Black Rhino private park, a 55,000 square mile nature preserve.  Dirt roads of various widths go off in every direction to the 35 lodges in the Black Rhino concession.  Our lodge is the main one and is comprised of a main building with 25+ individual cabins scattered in the bush.  We’re in cabin #25 and are issued a flashlight for getting to/from our cabin.  I wonder if they’re ever lost any guests at night…

Twice a day, before god gets up and when he’s about to have an afternoon cocktail, we pile into a Safari Mobile and drive down said miles and miles of dirt roads on what is called a “Game Drive.”   All looks normal as African brush is pretty much like most brush we’ve been in.  Then, our guide slams on the breaks and right there – I mean right there! — is a White Rhino.  Five more minutes and there are a couple of hippos chilling in a water hole.  Wait!  Look over there!  A gaggle of giraffes are strutting by.  After a couple of hours of doing this, it dawns on me that driving around and casually seeing all the animals that one sees in the movies/books feels normal here.  And that’s what starts to sink in…this place is very different.

Surprisingly, a few people actually live out here.  All of these houses, indeed all human structures, are surrounded by 8-foot-high electrified fences.  No one walks down these roads, in fact no one gets out of their vehicles for fear of becoming some beast’s lunch.   When we stop during our game drive to have a glass of wine or cup of coffee, we stop in a fenced in area complete with bomb-shelter like watering hole viewing bunkers.  The maintenance man that greets us ventures only a few feet outside the fence… (this reminds me of a hotel in Glacier National Park that Sam/Cindy and us rode our motorcycles to.  We were in this wonderful hotel in the woods, and one of the staff casually said, “Yah, we lose a bookkeeper every winter…”  I bet they lose some park maintenance guys here too: ).

Typically, less than twelve hours into a four day excursion, KR asks, “Do we have to stay here the whole time?”   Two things color her question:  It’s cold in the Safari Mobile.  Greeting the sun happily as it rises or sets is difficult to experience with one’s teeth chattering.  KR does not do well in cold.  We look at animals and admire their fur coats: )   Second, beyond looking for/at animals and our two meals a day, there is absolutely nothing to do here.  There’s even no wifi in our cabin.  This is OK with me as I have plenty to do on the keyboards.  Not so for KR.  My prediction is that we don’t make it through two days: ))

11:30PM at JFK waiting to see if we’d lost a piece of luggage. Lots of luggage is needed because we’re carrying all of our m/c stuff with us

Lots of time spent in airport lounges. Quickest and most expensive way to fly is to go directly from A to B. We went from A to B to C to D which meant two 12 hour stints in airport lounges`. Good news is that we used miles and flew up front on the way

A glass of champagne before heading out over the Atlantic. This is business class on British Airways: )

Our first African sunrise as we fly into Johannesburg.

 

Lobby of the Black Rhino Lodge in the Black Rhino park.

Our room

This is what a Rhino looks like at 5 in the morning

This is what they look like up close and personal. This is a White Rhino.

Our guide, Marion, driving down a typical road in the park.  Behind him there are bench seats for six

Two hippos taking a break. Hippos apparently kill more people than any other animal because they can submerge for 5+ minutes, thus surprising boaters, swimmers, etc.

KR and the Safari Mobile, at an African Sunset.

We were at DEF CON 5 with regards to clothing. Four layers up top, two on the bottom, boots, gloves, and two ponchos and we still froze during the morning trips. Here, our guide mercifully stopped and we made coffee. We’re standing inside one of the few picnic areas in the part which is surrounded by 8 ft. high electrified fence.

Who says sustainable energy isn’t flexible. This is how they power all that electrified fence.

How can you not love zebras?

This is a Blue Wild Beast, which often travel with Zebras. Don’t know why they’re called Blue, but they are definitely ugly beasts.

Viewing bunker next to our lodge

Here’s what KR was looking at: a male Great Kudu

Heard of Cape Buffalo, said to be the most aggressive of the animals in the park.

KR is praying for warmth

 

By far my favorite animal is the giraffe. They are truly weird, they’re huge, and they are amazingly graceful

Outside the lodge recovering from the afternoon drive

They’re not kidding:

 

This is what I mean: I’ve been wanting to get back to Palm Cove in Brisbane, Australia for four years. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. So, this trip to Australia KR and I allocated five whole days to Palm Cove. Mistake, big mistake, as you can see most of PC in an hour. It has four restaurants and two bars — all of which are crowded, offer really bad food and warm beer. And, it took us five flights to get there and back. As I said, be careful what you wish for: )

I ended our last post with this hope:  that we’d travel more in the immediate future.  Well, we’ve been on 23 flights in the last month to India, LA, Australia, India, LA and back to PV!  I want to take that wish back and insert another –  I want to stop moving for a bit and figure out how to do this easier.

This is what the last 30 days have looked like (flights):

India Trip No 1

Kartikeya Singh was among our group in West Bengal. We went to 5-6 universities and gave speeches, did panel discussions, and then held photo sessions. This was a typical crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • PV to Houston
  • Houston to DC
  • DC to London
  • London to New Delhi
  • New Delhi to Kolkata
  • Kolkata to Newark
  • Newark to LA
  • LA to PV

PAUSE

Trip to Australia

I was a speaker at the first “National Clean Tech Conference and Expo” in Brisbane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • PV to LA
  • LA to Sydney
  • Sydney to Brisbane
  • Brisbane to Cairns
  • Cairns to Brisbane
  • Brisbane to LA
  • LA to PV

PAUSE

India Trip No. 2

We officially launched the West Bengal Innovation Network at the Bengal Global Business Summit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • PV to Houston
  • Houston to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Delhi
  • Delhi to Kolkata
  • Kolkata to Singapore
  • Singapore to Tokyo
  • Tokyo to LA
  • LA to PV

PAUSE…

It’s tough for me to admit, but I’m getting older.  It’s harder and harder to walk the mile between gates at the Frankfurt airport.  Or to bench press my 40+ pound carry-on to the overhead bin for each of these flights.  It’s getting harder to go take meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting when I’m on the road for NGIN – all while feeling jet lagged.

Twice in the last month people have asked me, “Well, how long are you going to work?”  I know they’re think’n that Walti is 70+ and how much longer can he last?  And here’s the gods-honest-truth:  until someone asked me that question, I’d never even thought about it.  But, you can’t put the spilled milk back in the bottle so I’ve been thinking about the question.

My answer is I don’t f___ing know; I don’t really care to know, and I’ll know it when the time is right.  The way I’m feeling today, I’m done right now.  But then I think about how inspiring it is to meet all these young entrepreneurs all over the globe.  How much I like speaking about how entrepreneurs can and must stop climate change.  How I like pushing the ball uphill, thinking that I can change city’s actions on climate and entrepreneurship.

And here’s the rub, I don’t want to take a break ’cause I’m afraid if I take a break the downhill slide will just get steeper.

All my friends have long ago hung up their spurs and they seem to be having a lot of fun.  I’m jealous as I want to have fun too.  But, I don’t want to have fun enough to let go, or as Michael Corleone said, “Whenever I try to leave, they keep pulling me back in!”  Or something like that.

Air travel is tougher today than ever before.  Consider:

  • The airports are more crowded than I’ve ever seen them.  People are done with COVID lockdowns.
  • Getting a visa  is harder and harder because of health and security concerns.  I filled out a 17 page application to get into Australia and I applied three times to get into India. Often, the process at the airport is show passport/boarding pass at the airport entrance, check-in at the counter (I have not been able to check in digitally for any of my trips), go through immigration, go through security, and go through security again at the gate.  If you’re unlucky, they’ll open your bag at each opportunity just because they can. This is after you’ve gotten a visa, taken a RAT  test, filled out the form that they can use to track your movements in country.
  • You need to take lots of COVID RAT tests to/from a lot of places
  • It’s getting much more expensive.  The airlines are charging for everything.  Want an electrical socket at your seat?  You’ll have to upgrade to the special seats-just-in-front-of-the-cattle-car.
  • The most expensive way to fly is to fly non-stop.  This is especially true when you’re flying to far away places.  Going non stop can cost $5K (coach) vs $2K for the three-hoppers I take.
  • There are no travel agents anymore who can help you. No, one has to get good using Google Flights and the various other travel platforms.  If you make a mistake or want a refund, good luck with that.
  • And now that there’s war in Ukraine, two of my international flights were cancelled because the route came too close to Russian airspace.  But, hey flying over Iran and Afghanistan is fine…

To combat the above, here’s Fred’s rules of the road:

  • Book far out
  • Use Google Flights to ID potential carriers, schedules and prices, then go to each carrier to see if you can get it cheaper direct.  Join every airline’s frequent flyer program that you use.  Same for hotels, etc.
  • Join any airline lounge you can (most only let you in if you’ve reached a certain level of frequent flyer status and/or if you’re traveling on business class or above).  Credit cards — especially AMEX — sometime come with lounge access.  Being comfortable and getting free food during long layovers is worth it.
  • Never check a bag, especially on international trips where there is a stopover as you have to go thru immigration, get your bag, go through customs, re-check your bags, and then go through security.
  • Only use luggage with four wheels (called spinners) and make sure they’re sturdy enough to hold your backpack, etc.
  • Download lots of entertainment as a backup to airline movies
  • If you’re renting a car, don’t go by the $/day quote as rental companies add on different kinds of fees.  So a $50/day car may cost you a lot more than the one listed for $75/day.  Bring proof of insurance so you don’t have to purchase their insurance.
  • Don’t save your airline miles too long as they expire sooner than you think

Here’s what the past month or so looks like in pictures.

INDIA NO.1

Sunrise over a rice field about 200kms north of Kolkata. Days began early and ended lated

Kartikeya, Vinay and Fred about to address an auditorium full of engineering students

An organic farm company’s team retreat in West Bengal. About 70 members of the company attended the retreat.  Pretty cool to see how organic rice is made (hint: not easily)

A sign that says it all

West Bengal has excellent universities and colleges. While their facilities may not be as nice as the US, I found the professors and administrators to be very very innovative. This is how one engineering college teaches.

Lots and lots of selfies. I almost felt like a rock star…until I looked in the mirror.

AUSTRALIA

The “National Clean Tech Conference and Expo” in Brisbane was the first in-person conference I’ve attended in 2+ years. It was a bit early as maybe 200 people were physically there.

The only thing to do at night was eat as it was pouring rain in Brisbane the entire time we were there. This is a Thai restaurant in which robots delivered the order which turned out to be one of the more personable waiters we had in Australia

We rented a car in Cairns (about two hour flight north east of Brisbane) and drove up the coast. This was a pretty amazing scene on the beach with hundreds of cairns.

I came across another huge man-eating turkey in downtown Brisbane. Long story short, KR and I have had some health challenges recently and this shot is in front of a hospital in Brisbane. All turned out well.

INDIA #2

The purpose of my second trip to India was to launch the program we’ve been working on for the past 1 1/2 years: West Bengal Innovation Network. Here the team signs an MOU with the government at the annual Bengal Global Business Summit

Lots of speeches. This one is at the Earth Day Festival on Saturday afternoon on the last day of the trip

We even made it in one of India’s largest newspapers

 

 

This was one of my favorite meetings; a work session with the Director of a Kolkata university designing a curriculum to focus on entrepreneurship.

This is how I got around in West Bengal — in the back of a car/cab. While I don’t think it’s the best way, it is the easiest and safest. You have to practice keeping your eyes open as near crashes with everything from buses to cows happen every minute

Workshops along a street

The everyman’s taxi — tuk tuks.

I tried to do some tourist things during the afternoon of the last day, but couldn’t quite pull it off. The Victoria Memorial only takes cash and I was out. It was nice looking at it through the fence, though. Temperatures hit 103F.

On the way home I stopped in LA, rented a car, and drove to Borrego Springs to attend an annual Boys in the Desert event that’s been going on for x30+ years. This is CB and LJ

New beginnings — LowBuck’s new (rebuilt) engine ready to be inserted. My mechanic in Sandia Park has been working on LowBuck since November…

 

BREAKING NEWS

We made it back to NoHo! After five months away and countless number of winter storms, all seems well at Laguna.

 

First stop is always the Lucky Lizard 

 

Successful heart transplant. Surgeon stands next to LowBuck after resuscitation

 

We go back to PV in five days and then off to Africa at the end of this month.

 

fw

Even Bogart is going stare crazy while KR and I get through a mild case of COVID

Is it still too early to hope for an end to the COVID Life?  I’ve thought we were done with this at least three times before.  Are we entering a new, lingering, “Age of Despair? ” or can we hope that we’re about to emerge.

I don’t know.

Getting on with it post-COVID life is going to be different from pre-COVID days.  We’ll  be carrying masks for the foreseeable future.  Maybe forever (does it really matter?) Ditto for hand sanitizers and signs on the floor marking 6 ft separation. We’re not embarrassed to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated and if the answer is “no,” we tend not to hang together.  Working from home is here to stay, even though home for some of us is a transitory concept.

There’s so much we don’t know about this virus and its various mutants.  For example, why is it statistically safer to be in Mexico, India, or even Brazil than it is to be in the U.S. and most of Europe?   Is it because populations from poor nations can’t afford to move around?  Is it because they live a more outdoor life style?  Is it because they know that if they get sick, their health systems won’t help them so they take extra care?  This is more than an intellectual exercise for us as we plan on going to Australia, South Africa, India and most of Europe in the next six months.  How do we mitigate the risks?  All I will say is that staying home isn’t an option.

As I write this, KR and I are in our regular RV park in Puerto Vallarta riding out mild cases of COVID (and/or the flu).  I’m starting to come out of it while KR is about midway through.  This is easy stuff compared to others, but its still painful, energy-draining, and time-consuming.  I try to think about the other 326M cases and 5.5M deaths (and counting) globally, and tell myself to shut up, smile and get on with it.

Which is what we’re trying to do.

We’ve been in PV for about two months.  It was sad leaving NoHo ( North of the Border Home) but at the same time we were anxious to get to SoHo (South of the Border Home), driving our MoHo (Mobile Home).  I went through my first winterization with the Laguna house and feel like an old hand now.  It’s now prepped for winter.  I traded my Mountain Man boots for flip flops.  I miss the boots, but there’s something to be said about flip flops: ).

We haven’t found our rhythm here yet. It’s tough to settle in because we rent often –  and therefore have to leave — as I’m loath to turn down the extra money.  We’ve spent half our SoHo stay either at friends homes or in Thor as a result.  We have another month or so and then we’re out of here again, so maybe feeling displaced is our new norm?

We’re Triple-Vac’d, masked up and ready to go!  First stop is LA followed by an NGIN trip to Australia and surrounds.  Then I need to be in West Bengal India for NGIN.  In June KR and I are off to Africa for a bike tour and in mid-July we leave for a TWO AND A HALF MONTH BIKE TRIP THROUGH EUROPE.   We’re back in New Mexico early October and then to PV in January ’23.  ISH: )

There’s been something really good about the last couple of months that I appreciate anew– hanging with friends.  Our best times have been with new and old (as in meeting them, not chronologically) friends.  We’ve met some great new friends in Sandia Park (Curtis/Laurie, Chuck/George, Arthur/Joze) and feel really lucky to have met each.  We’ve spent some really really good times in each other’s homes over a glass of wine or two.  We had a great great three day weekend with Cindy/Petey  at the El Rancho Hotel in… Gallup NM.  We haven’t seen each other for months and months so it was good to catch up.   No sooner had we put our bags down in Corona and Steve/Rita came for a visit.  Steve and Rita were our neighbors in Hollyridge and this was the first time we got a chance to spend time together in years…maybe a decade?  Anyway, we picked up like we were still next door.  Then, on a whim, we caught a plane to Florida and spent a couple of weeks with Sammy/Jill in Bradenton. Just a great great time. We even found a little time to see my sister Judi in Titusville.

If you can believe it, plane travel has gotten worse!   Additional fees for everything are the new norm;  checked bags, carry-on bags, picking one’s own seats, boarding before Group 8, electrical sockets, food beyond a bag of peanuts and we’re not even into the “Main cabin,” Economy Cabin,” “Premium Economy”, etc.  People are downright grumpy elbow to elbow, all masked up.  The only light is that someone must have gotten the memo about airports — they are on the rise.  Houston is our latest discovery.  I don’t mind hang’n in Houston’s airport for a couple of hours as there’s food, drink, wi-fi, electrical outlets and shops with everything you need, even if way over priced.

We’ll keep you abreast of how things unfold.   Here’s our world in pictures

 

Cindy and Petey met us for a three day weekend in Galllup NM. Great great time. Why Gallup?

The El Rancho Hotel is worth the trip.

Hanging in our room before dinner, drinking some champagne. We liked the room so much, Cindy is looking up where we can buy the bed cover:)

Art shot of Laguna’s fireplace. I think I have potential as professional photographer.

Until one gets to this shot. Neighbors Laurie and Curtis are barely visible.

PV is not waiting for the return of normalcy to start celebrating Christmas and New Years.  I don’t think I’ve seen PV this crowded before.

It was tough figuring out what to get the dozen or so neighborhood kids for Xmas as they come in all shapes and sizes. We decided money was the best option:). Here KR visits with some of the kids at Edwardo’s place

Steve and Rita visited us during December. Since Steve is such a Francophile, we went to PV’s best (only) French Bistro

We went for a day trip up to San Sebastian in the mountains. Took 3+hours to get there, about 15 minutes to see everything: ).

Many good nights eating, drinking and talking on the deck.  Bogart is listening closely: )

Pretty stylish crew. We’re in PV’s Botanical Garden, which is perhaps the best one I’ve seen

Karen is looking toward the future, in this case from the Gardens.

This is my typical outlook post when looking to the future. This one is called Baracuda and is a 20 min walk from Corona.

We visited Sam and Jill in Bradenton for almost two weeks.  Surprisingly, we were all speaking to each other at the end: ) Had a great time. Here we’re having dinner with friends on a rooftop bar

They like their boats big and fast in Florida. I was a little disappointed that Sam didn’t offer to take us out on his cigarette boat: )

This could be my all time favorite photo as I’m just crushing Sam in some kind  gin rummy game. I might frame this one: )

Karen yearns for the golden age of air travel. Personal service.  Luxury seating.  Smiling attendants. Yah right. This is at PV airport in the 50s.

This is what air travel is today — the good part. Houston airport is now a favorite. All food/drink is ordered and paid for via iPad. Plenty of electric sockets.

The new uniform for travel– masking up. I know I’m crazy, but I want to do more of this. Soon.

The Corner of Calle Corona & Miramar

Aren’t you afraid to live in Mexico?  Is it safe? What’s it like to live there?  Do you speak Spanish?”   One gets a bit tired of answering the same questions after telling someone that we live in Mexico, but everyone seems curious about life here.  Here’s the short answer: No, Yes, Very Good, and No.  A more descriptive answer requires getting a sense of what day-to-day life is like.  How do I do that?

Hmm.

Watching YouTube videos only gets you the tourist-eye view.  For us, day-to-day life in the El Cerro neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta takes place within steps of the intersection of Calle Corona and Miramar.   It’s just one corner in one neighborhood, so it can’t possibly be representative of life in Mexico.  Or can it?

I guess we need to start with the basics – where and what is Puerto Vallarta? Puerto Vallarta lies on a half-moon shaped bay just beneath the Sierra Madre mountains, in the center of the Bay of Banderas on the Pacific shore of Mexico.  Once a mining town, then a fishing village, and now a major tourist destination, Vallarta attracts Canadian snow birds, gringos, Europeans, inland Mexicans seeking an ocean vacation, cartel members, billionaires in huge yachts, and on-the-run Americans.

Like many Mexican towns, Vallarta is bright and cheery on the outside, but dimly lit below the surface.  It’s essentially lawless on the important stuff. Oh sure, petty crimes are pursued vigorously, taxes are collected, late night parties are sometimes quieted, and speeding tickets are given to many. Yet, for some, laws don’t govern what happens. Condos go up past the height limit with no fuss, people “disappear” with no trace or mention, mayors and governors own monopolies without restrictions (think taxis), and gangsters kill each other in broad daylight with no worry of being caught, let alone punished.  The best way to stay on the bright and cheery side is to make sure you don’t walk on the wild side.

The El Cerro neighborhood of Vallarta clings to the hills above El Centro.  Made up of tiny streets, walkways, alleys, a funicular or two, and an endless number of stairs, it’s the oldest barrio in Vallarta.  Most of the houses – everything from shacks to multimillion dollar villas — are open to the city’s prying eyes.  It’s too hot in Vallarta to live inside, so most of us live in indoor/outdoor houses so close together that one can knows what programs Grandma across the street is watching.

We live in the older, less prosperous section of El Cerro.  Entire generations of Mexican families live in the same adobe house that their ancestors have occupied since the early 1900s.  We know our neighbors and they know us, even though we speak little to no Spanish and they speak little to no English.  We live totally different lives, yet, somehow, we figure things out and take care of one another.

Sprinkled throughout the hood are a few expats like us full-timing it.  While most seem to be retired, there’s a bunch of us working from home. Most expats are not the well-off retirees of Gringo Gulch or Conches Chinas (the equivalent of PV’s Beverly Hills or Brentwood), but rather working class folks who’ve found their place in the sun and a way to make living here sustainable.  Others look to be escaping from something, someone, or some life, keeping a very low profile.  Airbnb has turned this residential neighborhood into an off-the-beaten path vacation destination like almost everywhere else. This gives us a supply of fresh faces walking down the street to check out.

El Cerro contrasts sharply with the neighborhoods either to the north or south.  South across the Rio Quale river is the Romantic Zone, Vallarta’s main tourist playground.  Known as one of the best gay cities in the world, its usually party time any time on its beach, restaurants, bars, and cabarets.  It’s good for a night out as Vallarta has some of the best restaurants we’ve ever been to.

Immediately north of us is 5th of December, named for Mexico’s revolution.  Mostly working class Mexicans sprinkled with working class gringos, it’s the place for hardware, appliances, auto parts, two funeral parlors, and the city’s best street food.

The corner of Calle Corona and Miramar, with its uneven cobblestones below and gordian knot of wires overhead, is the heartbeat of our part of El Cerro.  Accessible from the north only by a street so perilously steep that most neighborhood residents avoid driving up it.   To the south, Miramar’s uneven cobblestones undulate for five or so blocks (is anything level in Mexico?) between its mishmash of houses, apartments, villas, a five-star hotel and our bodega. Despite its narrowness and potholes that require a snail’s pace to not break a wheel, it’s one of the busiest streets in all El Centro as it’s one of only two southbound streets through downtown.

Calle Corona, also a main artery of this hillside enclave, runs uphill from the ocean in the West to the top of the peaks behind our house.  Like most of the streets and alleyways in El Cerro, it converts from street to stairs without much of a warning.  Streets here are so narrow that any wrong turn usually requires backing down as there is no room to turnaround.

All manner of vehicles pass below our living room windows overlooking this corner.  Cars, pickups, SUVs, motorcycles, trash trucks, gas trucks, taxis, police vehicles, ATVs and cement trucks rattle, bark, growl, and squeak by us at all hours of the day and night.  Since our second floor overhangs Corona a bit, neighbors often help larger trucks navigate so they don’t’ take another chunk of the house or one of four telephone poles on the corner.  Our neighborhood is tight.

I’m not sure why, but most buildings in El Cerro are painted white, usually with some color or tile work as trim.  I used to hate it as it seemed so bland, but now I’ve come to like it as all the buildings and streets glow from the ever present sun.  You can’t help but be in a better mood when everything sparkles.  Upon closer inspection, while most houses are white, they are very different because of trim colors, window shapes, tile work, wrought iron railings, etc.   Construction and size also differentiate.  Small brick and adobe houses still squeeze in between newer, larger structures.  A few are continuously “improved” as fast as money allows with new floors, walls and windows slowly popping up.

Our house, “Corona Adobe,” is one of the outliers in the neighborhood.  It’s hard to miss as it sits on the corner, is one of the bigger single family units, and is painted a pale yellow with patches of old abode brick still exposed. Its either a sore thumb or a gem depending on your taste.  It started out as a low, one story adobe home and stable built around 1900.  It became the seventh house on the electrical grid shortly thereafter and pictures of it in the 60s show little change. Around 2000 it was modernized on the inside, retaining its adobe hut look on the outside.

We tripled its size in 2012 adding two floors, a pool and observation deck.  At first, our neighbors viewed us as sinners for demolishing a large part of the original house.  Over time it began to blend in with the neighborhood as did we.  Now, it’s a regular stop on tourist walks through the neighborhood.

Our neighbors immediately to the west are Carmen and Eduardo and their extended family.  By extended, I mean Carmen/Eduardo, their two daughters, their six kids, their grandmother, two tea-cup Chihuahuas and frequent visits from other members of the family.  Their house is two stories not much wider than a one-car garage, crunched in between our house and the behemoth condo next door.  Tight, very tight.

All social activity in the barrio takes place on the street, usually on the steps or sidewalk in front of each house.   It’s also where Eduardo fixes everything from refrigerators, TVs, BBQs, various pieces of furniture and anything that needs to be repaired on his maroon Subaru station wagon.  He has the fullest set of tools in the neighborhood.  The man can fix anything and is a constant source of amazing ingenuity.

Eduardo, Carmen, my wife Karen, and I have shared many tequilas on the stoop in front of their house at all hours of the night.  We speak almost no Spanish and they speak almost no English, but it doesn’t seem to matter, especially after a tequila or two.

Like almost every family we’ve met in Mexico, they’ve been touched by drugs.  Our neighbor’s son was a low level dealer who didn’t come home one night.  Ever. Another son struggles with addiction and no longer lives at home.  Whether it’s a brother, son, uncle, or sister, most everyone in Mexico knows someone who is/was in the drug business.  Gringos think of El Chapo and other horrific cartels when thinking of drug dealers.  That’s not what it looks like at ground level here in El Cerro.

At the next intersection up from our house, which is maybe 50 feet away, dozens of tied together sneakers are thrown over the telephone wires announcing to those in the know that this is a drug dealer’s corner.  Transactions are so subtle that I’ve only seen a couple in the ten years we’ve lived here.  While the transactions may be subtle, the dealers’ presence is not.  Three or four guys are always standing on the corner, either just standing there, or playing their boom boxes, or having one of their frequent parties, or just making noise.

Selling drugs is both subtle and obvious.  A motorcycle will pull up, someone steps off the curb, greets the rider, shakes hands, and then said motorcyclist drives off.  This happens day and night, with cars, pickups, taxis, and police vehicles taking their turn.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the father of one of the dealers is a policeman, hence there isn’t much worry about law enforcement.  This has been happening for ten years.

The Main Man periodically sits on the curb or walks about, sometimes coming down the street to the local look-out point, making sure his presence is known.  He’s not big, he’s pretty good looking, and wears an expressionless look on his face.  I get the vibe that when he gets serious, things get serious.  Now that we’ve known each other for a couple of years his face lights up in a smile and we exchange “Buenos Dias, Amigo” whenever I walk the dogs or drive by.  It’s taken a while, but it’s always good to be “friends” with the Main Man.

Last night I was standing on our 2nd floor balcony looking up and down the street at around 10PM. More than a dozen kids under the age of twelve were running about, with the girls playing with their doll house and the boys either kicking a soccer ball or laughing on the corner below our house.

Just around the corner Elvira was starting up her street cart offering late night tacos to go with cold Coronas.  Elvira’s brother died last week, so a nine-day wake was taking place next to her taco cart, in front of his house.  Literally, families live and die in their houses.   Friends and relatives were milling about for hours, as the sound of prayers and songs were escaping from the house

Music was coming from all directions.  The neighbor’s roosters were crowing in the distance even though it’s night.  We have perhaps a half-dozen or so roosters within shouting distance, who seem to have around-the-clock cock-a-doodle dooling schedules.  Our dealers were entertaining guests, with what looked like a party on the second floor of their place.  Lots of people laughing and moving to the music under the streetlights. The normal assortment of traffic was driving by listening to their radio turned up loud enough to sing along.  This kind of night happens two or three times a week.  Sometimes it ends early, say 11 o’clock or midnight, and sometimes it goes to 7 in the morning.  After a while, it just becomes a background hum.

Life inside the walls of Corona feels like a world apart.  We hear, smell, and see the outside, but it rarely affects our cocoon.

I spend most of my time in my “office” on the third floor.  Most days are spent on Zoom calls with LA, DC, Logan (Australia), West Bengal (India) and several of our 30 members in 14+ countries.   Outside the balcony door to my right is our pool and the hills of El Cerro.  Straight ahead is a window to the Hotel Zone a mile or so away.  There’s a couch in the office too, where the dogs and I take naps.  There are days when I don’t come out except for lunch and dinner.  It’s at once insular to what’s happening in the world and totally connected to the neighborhood.  Sounds and smells remind one where we are.

Little things we take for granted in the States are missing here.   There is no mail delivery.  The phone company and other utilities send messengers into neighborhoods to deliver their bills.  Everyone else calls or texts instead.  The only way to send something to/from the U.S. is FedEx or one of their competitors.

The propane truck comes regularly with a speaker announcing its availability.  Trash pickup happens a couple times a week, but this isn’t your U.S. style trash system.  There are several corners that have been designated as the neighborhood’s trash collection points.  I have no idea why these points were chosen.  There are no trash cans, so we all just drop our trash bags in said area. Then a larger than normal pickup truck comes by and three guys work the trash:  driver, recycling separator and on the trash gatherer.  Its messy, but it happens without a hitch several times a week.  Each corner is spotless after each stop.

Every morning I take Bogart and Squirt for a walk.  All three of us walk carefully on the cobblestones, as we all suffer from tender feet and a lack of coordination.   It’s slow going, much like Mexico.  It gives one the time to ponder, to enjoy, to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of life.  Here’s what I think about on these mornings; its very very good here.  We’re very lucky to be here, to have a style of life that moves and grooves as we do.

So, let’s revisit those four questions.

Aren’t you afraid to live in Mexico?  I never think about it.  We wouldn’t live here if we felt unsafe.

Is it safe?  Yes, just don’t walk on the Wild Side.

What’s it like to live there?   Strangely enough, it feels like family.

Do you speak Spanish?  ¿Puedo tomar otra cerveza Corona, por favor?

The real purpose of this trip was to see if KR and I could get on our m/c horse again after a couple of years away. Our unstated goal was to make it to Catavina, about 400 miles south of the border, to see the extraordinary cacti and rocks in the Baja mountains. We found this horse wandering in the desert though I didn’t try to ride him.  But we did get on our m/c horse again and found our groove.

My strategy for this trip was to recreate our first motorcycle trip to Mexico thirty years ago.  Back then, Karen had never been on a motorcycle, so we didn’t take any freeways south to avoid going over 50mph.  It’s been a while since we were both on the bike so I wanted to ease us into it.  Karen had been giving me the “I don’t really want to go, but I’m not letting you go by yourself” vibes for the prior two weeks.   She didn’t start packing for this trip until the morning we left.  As she pulled on her helmet, she wasn’t a happy camper.

It was probably a blessing that it took me three full days to figure out how to operate our helmet intercoms, hence there was no f___ you’s”coming through the speakers.  Technology hasn’t always been my friend, but in this case silence was golden.

I’ll cut to the chase:  twelve days and 1,700 miles down Baja to Loreto (about 2/3rds of the way down) and then back.  It didn’t take us long to find our groove, both good and bad.  On Day Two we took our obligatory low speed spill, this time in soft gravel as we entered a Pemex station.  Neither one of us felt anything.  NVII just got a few more scratches and we were off.

The road (Mex Hwy 1) has pretty much been transformed into a smooth, Two-Laner snaking  through the desert and mountains, with only a few car-eating pot holes.  Even a Prius could make it: )   I used an incredible amount of restraint in our pace, not going over 80 (OK 85) but once.  Most of the time, I let everyone pass us as we sauntered down the road.  Not too long down the road and I heard my all time favorite sound — Karen “chirping” in the intercom and having a great time talking while seeing the sights. We had found our Rhythm of the Road.  Perhaps it was a bit slower and the days were shorter, but everything else felt exactly the same.

One of the great things when traveling by m/c is the daily routine.  Get up early, have a cup of coffee while packing up, carry all the stuff to the bike and strap it on, and shove off for the day’s sights.  Breakfast is about two hours out and lunch is later.  We typically rolled into our last stop and revered the process.  Unpack the bike, unpack our stuff, get cleaned up, and head out to see the sights and find a Corona.  Rinse and repeat.

Both times we crossed the Border at Tijuana, which is usually the THE border crossing to avoid.  No papers or Temporary Tourist Visa necessary, but I did buy a week’s worth of m/c insurance.  Going down we went through the border and never stopped, probably not going slower than 20 mph as the border to TJ was empty.  Coming north, border traffic was pretty normal, which is to say daunting.  Various Apps were predicting 2-3 hour crossing times.  We did it in 20 minutes from start to finish by splitting lanes and dodging hawkers, cutting back into the line right before the guard stations.  The most difficult thing was not tipping over as the road was greasy and tough to get a grip with my “compact” stems.

We made it to Loreto which is 700+ish miles below the border, after a fairly grueling ride.  No chirping in the helmet on this leg as KR was Done going south:)  We stayed at a very nice hotel, Posada de Las Flores, in the center of town. We decided to spend a second night here as its so nice and I have a bunch of work to get done.  It’s very expensive at…. $103/night US.

The next day we made a U-Turn and headed back up.  We had some really great nights, a few not so great riding segments, and perfect weather for the entire twelve days.  This would be classified as a short trip for us, but I think we’ll look back on it with fondness with the realization we’re still young enough to be doing this kind of stuff: )

Here’s what things looked like so far.

 

There’s not a lot of love beneath the smile as KR suits up before shoving off

Believe it or not, we’d never been to downtown San Diego. It was a happening place this Saturday night and we were very happy to jump in.

Many hotels and AirBnB’s have eliminated human check-ins as a result of COVID. Here KR stands in front of a hotel in Coronado while texting to see if there’s any availability.

Typical small restaurant. This one in San Vincente, which is in Baja Norte’s wine country.

One of my favorite place ever, the Mision Santa Maria Hotel in San Quintin. We first found it 30 odd years ago, and while the name has changed, its pretty much unchanged

View from our room

The beach. See any people?

The beach stretches as far as you can in the other direction as well.

 

Motorcycle Dude needs a Corona at the bar.  I thought it was a look, KR not so much: )

We had a near-death experience, but it wasn’t on the bike, it was in a Mexican cab on the way to this famous old restaurant in San Quintin. The taxi driver was looking at his phone, playing with his kid, and talking with his wife on the 25 minute drive at night down a two-lane road. No one had seat belts.  I couldn’t stop thinking about  f___ing ironic if we got killed in a taxi crash on a m/c trip: )  I finally crawled over the front seat and shouted at him to shut up keep his eyes out front.

One of the coolest places on earth, mountains of Catavina with rocks and cactus

We took a walk down this dirt road/path behind our hotel. The Catavina Desert Inn is a great hotel with pretty shitty staff and an outrageous $30pesos/hr/128MB charge.

The 150miles between Catavina and Guerro Negro going south is pretty desolate with no “real” gas stations in between. Here, we stop at an abandoned Pemex station that is now manned by guys selling gas out of 1 gallon jugs.  A mechanical breakdown out here would not be a good thing.  Of course, NVII does not breakdown unlike his predecessor NVI.

On the other end of the scale, we stay at the Posada de Las Flores Hotel in Loreto for a couple of days. One of the great things about traveling by m/c is the extreme contrasts in surroundings and accommodations one can seek out.

While Loreto is small, its a pretty happening place. This is the town square on a Wednesday night. Bars, restaurants, music and dancing. Like I said, contrasts.

My Loreto office was on the pool deck of the Posada de Las Flores. And people ask me why I use a small computer: )

The next night all the beach hotels in Santa Rosalia were booked (we didn’t know it was Spring Break) so we stayed at this hotel in El Centro. Plastic table worked just fine as my office. Cost per night: $30US

The more mundane part of m/c travel: KR’s one pair of shoes broke, so we went shopping in a zapateria.

Motorcycle Stud. All systems worked well. Karen and I decided that our next m/c trip will be to South Africa this fall.

 

Getting ready for dinner in the jungle. Even here safety is all relative. Can we safely jump from the boat into the waves to get here? Am I going to step on a scorpion at night? Will I fall over the railing after too many Coronas?

What and where is safe?

Much of our lives these days is spent trying to figure out the balance between safety and having a life.  How does one get safe — from COVID, from crime, from storms, from financial disaster, from…?  I’m writing this from the safest place on earth we can get to – our palapa in the Mexican jungle which is off the grid, off the road, and generally “off civilization” — yet, even here safety is a question as I don’t walk barefoot at night for fear of stepping on a scorpion: ) Is there no respite?

No, I don’t think so.

2020 will certainly go down as the year we all tried to get (stay) safe.  The world learned the hard way that a virus can kill hundreds of thousands of people silently and invisibly.  Our home in Los Angeles isn’t even safe as COVD is spiking everyday with record numbers of infections and deaths.  Even LA hospitals are running out of beds!  And this is Los Angeles, not some third rate developing country like…Mexico.

Mexico is no day at the beach relative to COVID either.  While the official data show Mexico is ranked #13 in the world both in total infections and infections/M pop, can you really trust a corrupt government to tell the truth about this?  Nope, I don’t think so.  Yet, I feel much safer here than anywhere else.  Check that — I feel safest on my motorcycle, but this is a close second.

And what about another kind of safety — from crime or other sources of violence.  2020 will go also go down as the year video cameras provide proof that some police are killing people needlessly.  George Floyd sparked the kinds of street protests and riots that I haven’t seen since 1968.  Karen and I stood outside our loft in  downtown LA and listened to the protests and helicopters flying above.  Even in our skid-row-adjacent neighborhood in downtown LA, we moved all vehicles behind the fences as looters made a pass down our street.

Last week the x-governor of Jalisco was shot dead next door to my favorite Puerto Vallarta restaurant.  Even his 15 security guards weren’t enough.  Purely by accident of course, the restaurant workers quickly cleaned up the bathroom he was killed in, thus eliminating the remaining 1 percent chance anyone will be caught for this crime.  Most of Mexico is a prosecution-free zone for gangsters.

Karen and I weren’t affected by any of this.  We’re not a young black man, we’re not poor, we don’t deal drugs, we don’t party to two in the morning (oh, those were the days!), and we keep away from places that are questionable.  Mostly.

Millions and millions of people are fearful of not being able to feed their families.  From no fault of their own — they didn’t under perform, they didn’t show up late, they didn’t steal — millions of people are out of a job because of the economic havoc that COVID has brought.   I don’t think of myself as a “socialist lefty liberal,” yet shouldn’t everyone who wants to work be able to work?  Or, be able to survive while looking for work no matter how long that takes?  This is the United States of America, for goodness sake.  What’s the point of being the richest country on earth if we can’t take care of our neediest?

This past fall I rode my motorcycle (unknowingly at the time) through the worst forrest fires the West has ever encountered.  The fear of out-of-control-fires was palatable from people across the eight Western states engulfed.  If you want to see what its like, watch Rebuilding Paradise, a movie about the devastation of Paradise, CA.

Most of us in the clean technology/climate change/environment business are fearful that its too late to turn the tides and prevent the meltdown of our planet.  This despite that most experts estimate that we have 30 years to make the transition to a carbon free economy.  Seems like plenty of time, no?   Its less than a nanosecond relative to what needs to get done.  Fear of climate change isn’t some made up, existential fear of a warming planet.  This isn’t ‘Turn on the air conditioner Sweety as its a bit hot today,” type of warming.  Forget the idea of warming and think about energy because that’s what’s being created by green house gases.  Heat is energy and energy needs to get spent — floods, draughts, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, melting ice, etc.,etc.  The World Bank estimates that 100 million people will be thrown into poverty just by climate change alone.

Our Balancing Act

We’ve tried our best to find a balance between safety and living. Despite the above, 2020 has been a good year for us on a number of fronts.  Like many of you out there, Karen and I have rediscovered that we can actually live together for 24/7!  Even if its a 600 sq. ft closet-sized loft.  We spent five months locked in said loft and the last six here in Puerto Vallarta. While we miss all of you out there, we found that Karen, Fred, Bogart and Squirt can be happy campers no matter where we reside and how small our social circle is.

Without COVD, Karen and I would never have spent this much time in Puerto Vallarta.  Until now, it was a place we went to a couple of times a year in between everything else.  Thats changed totally:  PV is now our home and we’ve enjoyed a style-of-life that is remarkably stress free.   In fact, I feel guilty with how good a life we have.  At least for a minute: )

We try to use our head when living this new style of life.   All work men who come into Corona Adobe must wear masks and stay socially distanced. For five of the months we’ve been here, Corona Adobe has been more construction site than resort, meaning we’ve had carpenters, A/C men, tile layers, window makers, etc.,etc  on a daily basis.  We go to the store at least once a week, hitting La Comer, CostCo, Petco, the bank and the nursery in our normal swing.  We normally eat on our observation deck, but go out to a restaurant/bar once a week (mostly outdoors, but always socially distanced).  Lots of hand washing and surface cleaning at all times.

We didn’t travel nearly as much this year (we’ve averaged 20 trips per year ), yet we still did 10 trips to Paris, Thailand, Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.  We went by plane, RV, motorcycle and boat.  Aside from sitting in the coach section of an airplane, we never felt more at risk while we’ve been on the road.  In November we took a nine day RV trip around central Mexico and discovered a whole new area we’d never really seen before.  It was fun, interesting, and safe.

Remarkably, my company, the Network for Global Innovation, is up about 60% in revenues this year and we have projects in California, Australia, India, South Africa, Ukraine, Morocco and Thailand.  Why?  I think the act of staying connected to what’s happening around the world is a counterbalance to the isolation we’re all living through.  Our members and partners are much more active.  And, Zoom has made us much more efficient as we deliver all of our services virtually now.  All in all, NGIN has nothing to complain about.  Except, I miss seeing what’s going on in the world firsthand: )

Finally, while we’ve had our health challenges this year, they didn’t include any COVID issues and nothing serious.  We are very very very blessed on the health front.

I am actually pretty optimistic on what 2021 will be like.   I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train, but the sun.  Please take care and have a terrific holiday and great new year.

Here are some recent pictures.

 

Home sweet home – Corona Adobe today. Subtle, its not: )

The Dos Diablos on the Malecon. I’m getting into the habit of running along the Malecon three times a week.

Seeing double

OK, maybe its not all work and no play. The only bar we’ve been to is a Cuban place with lots of dance action.

The last dog picture, I promise. Bogart on the top deck

We went to Mexico’s best surf town, Sayulita, on one of our RV trips. Sayulita isn’t on lockdown: )

Thor parked on the street in the El Centro part of Morelia, Mexico.

We stayed in a hotel on Election Night. Spent it in this room on Zoom with friends keeping all body parts crossed: )

RV park in Lake Chapala. This is typical of many RV parks in Mexico which have permanent residents, hence this Tahitian structure as our neighbor.

KR and dogs walk along Lake Chapala

Very tall cactus. Didn’t stop Karen from climbing up and getting a “cutting”. Now planted in our cactus garden

Thor kissed this guy’s car on a very very narrow street in Queretaro, Mexico. We settled up via email. fw

A beach on the other coast of Mexico. Karen and dogs walking on beach north of Veracruz

I made a solo dash up to Los Angeles and back to take care of some admin stuff. I listened to all 32 HOURS of Obama’s book. And it only covered his first term.

Peter, Cindy and I partied at Factory Place. It was very cold for a warm-weather kid like me

Newest member-to-be of the Walti stable of vehicles. I bought this 87 Jeep Grand Wagoneer for Karen as an early XMAS present. Its 9 years older, but 30,000 miles fresher, than the vehicle its to replace, the Iron Duke. Yet unnamed member of the family is in Texas awaiting refurbishment.

13 days through the west on a motorcycle shows me what Left Coaster Life will be like for the foreseeable future.

From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.

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

 

It’s getting more difficult to describe our life and its direction.  This has caused writer’s block, which is the reason you haven’t heard from me lately.  I’m still trying to figure s__ t out.

On the one hand I’m embarrassed that I can’t seem to hang up the spurs after promising everyone (including myself and especially Karen) that I could and would.  For god’s sake, I’ve started yet another company!  Is it hopeless?

The problem of course is I like working, at least this work.  And since resigning as CEO last July, I can pretty much bend the work schedule to my schedule.  Of course no matter where I am, I pretty much work off and on around the clock anyway.  Working may be the only thing I’m good at.  Did I tell you I started a new non-profit–the Network for Global Innovation?  Just last week:)

I’ve drank the cool aid of climate change, trying to help the poor, and helping young entrepreneurs.  In fact i’m pretty much punch drunk on this stuff as I can think of little else.  I’m writing speeches for conferences in Nairobi and Barcelona, becoming the Pied Piper of Innovation Will Solve All Problems.  It would be fun to chat about whether that’s true or not.

Karen no longer takes anything I say seriously.  We‘re moving out of Los Angeles by April!  Scratch that, we might need to stay in LA for another year!  I don’t want to work any more.  Honey, Saturday mornings are the best times for me to really concentrate and get some solid work done. She just kind of rolls with the punches and says “whatever!”  And she really means it.  How great is that?

For those of us in the 4th Quarter, figuring out how to play the end game is a tricky deal.  Roll the dice and play hard?  F__K the final few years (or is it a decade?)  How risk adverse should we be?  Will the odds catch up with us at some point, as I know we’ve burned through a more than a couple of Nine Lives already. Yet, Time Waits for No Man, so if I’m going to Africa and South America on NVII, it better be sooner or later.  Did I mention that KR and I are thinking about taking a Trans-Siberian train trip across Russia, Mongolia and China?

Its hard to hang the spurs up knowing you still have a couple of rodeos to go.  And riding the bronco pays for lots of other stuff.

I told you, its complicated.

We haven’t been staying in one place very long.  In the last five months we’ve been to..

  • India
  • PV (about six times)
  • Toronto
  • Baja
  • Brazil
  • San Diego

And tomorrow I’m about to make my first trip to The Swamp after Mr. Trump has drained it.  Should be interesting, but for us clean energy guys its going to be a lonely trip.

  • Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks in the Little Tokyo part of downtown LA.  Last week I was in a Starbucks in Puerto Vallarta.  The week before we were in Brazil.  The week before that we were on NVII in Baja (yes, stopped at a Starbucks in Ensenada), the week before that I was in Toronto.  The week after next I’ll be in DC on another “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” trip.
  • KR and I are thinking about our three potential next big trips: (1) Trans Siberian Train  (2) Combo cargo/cruise ship around Tahiti; and (3) M/C ride from South Africa up the eastern coast of Africa’.
  • KR and I are really enjoying PV a lot.  We just came back from a fabulous 4 days at Corona Adobe.  We’re refurbished LBS.  I want to go back tomorrow, but…
  • I’m writing speeches for conferences in Nairobi and Barcelona.   I like writing and speaking about climate change and innovation ecosystems.
  • Also, who am I kidding, how can we go back to PV when I have a company to launch?  But…. I can pretty much work from anywhere that has an airport.  Maybe we will go back to PV next month?  See what I mean.?
  • Karen is caught in the middle of this twirling mess of stuff.  One minute its “pack up LA we’re outta here!” and the next is let’s buy some more art for Factory Place.
  • Have I mentioned the Dos Diablos?   Bogart and Squirt are a major part of our lives and KR pretty much makes sure they live the life of a Trump (OK, I take that back).  They’ve been in three different kennels looking for the right place to stay while we’re on the road.  When on the road, we watch the “Doggy Cam” every night making sure they’re comfy.

So here’s what the last couple of months have looked like in pictures:

 

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

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

I have two offices. This is the penthouse office

 

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

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

Bogart approves of the new paint job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aforementioned whales.

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

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

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

This is what it looks like up close and personal

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Nine days in and we’ve traveled less than 900 miles by motorcycle, the only mode of transportation that counts on this trip.   Yet, it does feel like we’ve been on the road for nine days as 90% of said 900 miles have been in the rain or near-rain.  This is no big deal from a riding POV, but it does lengthen the amount of time it takes to get into/out-of the four-plus layers of motorcycle clothing required.

The biggest impact of the rain is that we’ve gone through my beloved Pyrenees Mountains in the rain and/or misty clouds, forcing me to go somewhat slower than I’d like on some of Spain’s best killer roads (that’s killer in a good way), but KR doesn’t seem to mind the lower speed:)

Here’s the headlines for those of you who have a life and can’t waste it reading this post:

  • It took us a very full day to get to Southampton, UK via plane
  • Retrieved NVII from a Southampton farm only to find that all of our m/c clothes and a bunch of other stuff had been stolen on the ship over
  • We took a 24+ hour ferry ride on the Queen Mary of ferries from Portsmouth to Santander, on the northern coast of Spain.  It was by far the best ferry ride ever
  • Left Santander and went northeast to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Jaca and then through the Pyranees and finally ending up in Barcelona
  • We ran where the bulls run in Pamplona without the bulls.  This worked for me:)
  • In Jaca, we met two friends of Sam (Fred and Debra) and experienced a full-on street party celebrating a Moorish/Christian battle from Medieval times.   I’m happy to report that there were no new casualties, although a lot of folks were trying to hurt themselves via drink:) Fred and Debra were great and its nice to meet some locals
  • We’ve pretty much eaten and drunken our way through this tough duty.  Nothing better to get one warm and toasty than tapas and vino.
  • No problems with NVII as he ran beautifully.  He’s waiting patiently as I’m slowly getting back to the Rhythm of the Road feel

Our general plan is to continue southwest along the Spanish Coast toward Gibraltar, but I have no faith that we’ll keep to “Fred’s Plan” as KR hasn’t really weighed in yet. I know I owe her lots of Medieval churches, houses, castles, and all things generally ancient.

Here’s what it’s looked like so far.

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

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

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

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The Queen Mary of ferries as we exit to Santander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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A street scene as the citizens of Pamplona start to awake

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Now they’re starting to rock as

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we tourists ogle the sights

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

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

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

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and so are these

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Only to be greeted with a happy Christian warrior

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

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

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And his traveling Adventure Woman

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

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

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

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

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Village in the Pyrenees

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

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Sun is still out, but not for long

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Clouds and rain start

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“Just” another mountain road

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

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KR taking a picture of… who knows:)

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Friendly weather makes you want to stroll down the beach.

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

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Who says that I don’t appreciate culture? (my wife).  We spent a whole day visiting the works of Antoni Gaudi, Spain’s most famous architect.  This is the outside of a house he designed around 1900 that takes its inspiration from a dragon and the skeleton of its victims..

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The inside of the dragon bones house

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

 

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

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

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Street in Barcelona

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KR taking a picture of one of her favorite items…

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

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

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

KR and I just spent 14 days in Malaysia, Singapore and India as I tried to add to the Network for Global Innovation membership roster.  Singapore is one of the more go-go places we’ve been to, very similar to Hong Kong and Seoul in feel.  Kuala Lumpur is a Muslim-run country stuck halfway between modernity and the way it use to be.  And India, well India is a whole different bag with huge swaths of the very poor surrounding pockets of extreme wealth (the richest man in India has built himself a real skyscraper as a home in downtown Mumbai).

We’ve now been to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Delhi, and Mumbai in the past year, which is a pretty good sprinkling of Asia. One can’t help but notice that air pollution is a pan-Asian problem as each of these places wears a gray blanket of smog that literally blocks the sun most of the time.  Gray is the new black in Asia.   Asia is creating pollution on a scale that’s hard to imagine.  (BTW, many Asians think its “their turn” to industrialize in order to catch up with the West.  They argue we polluted big time during our industrial revolution and now we’re crying foul when we started the problem.  There’s  some merit to this argument).

Most of these places are huge.  Delhi is the second most populated city in the world with Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai and Tokyo all having way more than 20 million people each.  China has 1.3 billion people and India has 1.2 billion.  Their 2.5 BILLION+ people are burning fuel as fast as they can find it to build their middle classes.  This fuel is mostly coal;  incredibly cheap and incredibly dirty.  To get a sense of the scale we’re talking about, take a look at this chart.

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

Looking at how China and India are handling this problem is reflective of their systems of government.   China’s central government is making sweeping changes, calling for things like the  shuttering of Beijing’s last coal plant in 2016.  India can make no similar move as India has a strong local democracy in which 29 states determine energy policy to a large extent.  The Prime Minister can set the vision, but Modi can’t decree it like the Chinese Commi’s.  Authoritarian governments can make things happen… or else:)

Singapore is an interesting case in point on how “control” can deliver good things.  While Singapore has a form of democracy, its a society that’s notoriously rule-oriented.  For instance, Singapore doesn’t have a traffic problem because it costs $150K just to get a permit to own a car.  You want a taxi?  You can stand out in the street until hell freezes over watching empty cab by empty cab drive by.  Walk to a taxi stand and presto a cab appears immediately:)  Everyone jokes that its illegal to chew gum in Singapore because the residue might end up on the street, but it is illegal!  But the streets are damn clean.  And Singaporeans actually drive in the lanes that are painted on the street unlike Malaysia and India in which lane markers are totally ignored.  Singapore is working pretty well for Singaporeans as one out of six families in Singapore have a net worth of at least one million dollars.  We’ve never found more knowledgeable and happy cab drivers than in Singapore either.  I received our best economic lesson from one happy cabbie as he explained the difference between Singapore and Malaysia (Singaporeans care about one thing in government:  will the policy work?  Malaysia cares whether it corresponds with the Muslim faith… whether it works or not is at least second in priority.

We spent the most time in India – about a week first in Delhi (the government capital) and then Mumbai (the financial center) and Ahmadabad (university town).  I’m still conflicted about India and frankly don’t know what to make of it.  On the one hand there are so many poor people everywhere that we were a constant target of the street hustle.  It’s part of the way of life;  if you don’t ask for it, push it, seize it or drive through it, someone else will:)  Yet, we were taken care of really well by Indian citizens that we met and the entire staffs of every hotel we stayed in.

I could never figure out if there was a middle class in India.  There was a ton of squalor on the side of almost every road and street. There were dilapidated apartment buildings on crowded, narrow streets that we American’s would consider part of a ghetto.  One out of a 1000 buildings had paint on it, fresh or not.  But, maybe this is their middle class, much like grading on the curve.  Is it fair to compare the US’s idea of Middle Class with Indians?  I doubt it.

More than anything, India strikes me as a place in which infrastructure of any kind — roads, electricity, waste, water, buildings — was hopelessly overrun long ago and it will never catch up.  60% of the liquid human waste in Mumbai is dumped directly into the sea.  Every building of any size has its own generator and even these aren’t enough to deliver electricity all the time.  Most places have regular 2-4 hour periods of no electricity.   In India, 350 million people — the size of the US’ total population — will never experience electricity in their life times.  In a world like this, what do you do?  Fend for yourself.

Perhaps because of this striking contrast, the rich live very well.  The hotels we stayed in were world class — the Taj Mahal Palace (Mubai), the ITC Maurya (Delhi) and the Majestic (KL).  BTW, we could never have afforded these hotels except that the dollar is ridiculously strong against almost any currency in the world — go travel now while its cheap(er)!  We were treated to a new level of service that frankly we’ve never experienced anywhere in the world.  Service happily provided with genuine warmth and thoughtfulness.  I admit it was nice to come back from a day of meetings/traffic to the cocoon of the Taj or ITC.  One could get use to this:)

Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures…

 

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

 

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

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Gee, this is my kind of place:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Typical KR picture –having a good time with the shopkeepers

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

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

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

 

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Singapore still has visages of the British colonial feel.

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but these are being rapidly crowded out by things like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Siesta time,  guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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View out our window was a park and bay

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The staircase ceiling

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

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Another Mumbai street

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

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Sidewalk barbershop

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Indoor spice merchant

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Outdoor market

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

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Baaaaahhh

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

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Just a street in Mumbai.  Turning left and

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we see a funeral procession

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Another street with another market

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Cafe/bar

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

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You cant’ fall asleep in this cab

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Best I could get of the Mumbai skyline

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve taken a lot of trips, but this one’s had the most contrasts.  We’ve partied on the French Riviera with the One Percenters (OK, we were in the same town:) and drank beer with hard-core motorcyclists on the roads of the Isle of Man.  We’ve stayed in tiny towns in France, Switzerland and England and visited one of the world’s great (big) cities — Paris.  We’ve seen the rolling countrysides of England and France; the mountains of Switzerland/Italy/France/Germany; and the ocean cliffs and pastures of the IOM.   We’ve been on autobahns at 90+mph and tiny tiny mountain roads at 9 mph.  All in all, a jammed-packed 30 odd days.

Here are the basic facts & stats:

  • NY II shipped to & from:  Zeebrugge via RORO on Wallenius lines
  • 36 days, 19 travel days on the bike
  • 3500 miles (<100 miles per day total and > 180 miles per travel day)
  • Methods of transportation:  plane, train, bus, ferry, taxi, subway, m/c
  • Countries (9): Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Germany, England, Isle of Man
  • Problems with the bike:  0
  • Tip-overs: 1 (while packing him up one night)
  • Electronics:  two computers, two iPads, two cameras, one GPS, one video camera, two phones, two helmet intercoms, and one mobile Wi-Fi hot spot
  • Longest # of nights in any one city: 4 – Nice
  • No. of pubs/bars slept above: 2
  • No. of rain storms encountered while riding: 3
  • No. of Westies sighted: 12+
  • No. of “old” churches visited:  too many to count:)
  • Best hotel: La Mirande, Avignon France
  • Worst experience:  Iberia airlines — 12+ hours in one of the last analog planes + lost bags

We spent the last week of the trip meandering from the IOM through England, staying a couple of nights in Canterbury.  We then crossed the Channel and spent two nights in Normandy on the French coast, wandered through the French countryside and spent another day/night in Brugge.  I rode NVII back to Zeebrugge and put him on the boat.  KR and I then took a train to Brussels airport and caught a flight to LA via Madrid.   Simple:)

Net Take Aways:

  • The Little Woman no longer likes 500 mile long days on the m/c.  Go figure.
  • Too much space allocated for tools, not enough for personal electronics.  NV II is rock solid, so I don’t need to carry a mini tool chest.  You can never have enough electronic toys, however.
  • There are no hotels in Europe for less than $100 that the Little Woman wants to stay in.
  • BMW rain suits suck
  • We need a bigger “junk drawer” (top box:)
  • RORO (roll on, roll off) is still the best way of shipping a motorcycle.  But, one needs to make sure not to put any small value items where freight handlers/shippers can steal them as they will.
  • God bless Garmin and GPS.  How did we ever travel before them?
  • Ditto for Schuberth helmets with intercom/radio/phone.  They’re expensive, but flawless.
  • Wolfman water proof bags are the best.  When you combine them with separate, shaped mesh containers for clothes it creates an easy to pack/unpack clothing system.
  • BMW’s electronic suspension pretty much solved the short guy problem of putting two feet on the ground.  System can be used as an instantaneous lowering system when in traffic by putting system in “Soft” mode, “Hard” mode when on the highway.  Technology can be your friend:)
  • Contrary to going-in perceptions, motorcycle parts/accessories in Europe (not England) are cheaper than here.  The devaluation of the Euro is probably the main driver of this short term bonus.

Thanks for keeping in touch with us.

fred

 

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

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

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

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Canterbury Cathedral courtyard,

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

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

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

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

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

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French country side.

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

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

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

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

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

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Boardwalk

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

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

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Entretat street

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Life size Pirate served as a merchandising display.

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

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The British have a slightly different approach to merchandising.

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

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

then

The end KR:  “I want an RV!”

then

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