From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.
I’m writing this from a hotel room in Southampton, UK, awaiting a taxi to Heathrow and the flight(s) home after 46 days on the road. How do I wrap this trip up? As with most of our trips, this has been a trip of extremes, but in some ways it feels extremely extreme:) We’ve been in the lap of luxury and in the very definition of poverty. We’ve laid around and did almost nothing and dragged our bags/bike/whatever across more airports, ferry stations, bus stations, and city-scapes than I can remember. We’ve been in mountains, desert, seaside, countryside, modern and ancient cities. On planes, ferries, buses, cars, taxis, and a motorcycle — more than once each time. We’ve gotten drunk on a beach and had a lunch hosted in our honor at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the capital of Ethiopia). We’ve been hot, cold, dry and wet, often in the same day. We never knew the language of the country we were in, but somehow found ways to connect with the people there.
Maybe the best way is to go to the stats:
Trip Stats & Awards
- Countries: UK, Spain, Morocco, Ethiopia
- Cities visited: best guess is 21
- Miles on a motorcycle: 2975
- Overall miles: My guess is 20,000
- Plane legs: 11 including prop planes landing on unpaved runways
- Ferries: 4
- Speeches made in Ethiopia: 24
- Press interviews: 4
- Ethiopian Officials met with: Mayor of Addis, Minister of Water, Irrigation & Electricity, State Ministers of Industry, Science & Technology, Small & Medium Business, Investment and Urban Development
- Least Friendly Awardee: Any airport employee at Charles DeGualle airport with a special shout out to Air France employees
- Most Accommodating New Friends: Maureen and Miguel in Madrid who single-highhandedly made our trip to/from Madrid and Ethiopia painless and quite enjoyable
- Best Beach Town and Beach: Tarifa and Bolonia, both on the tip of Spain
- Number of Motorcycle Problems: 0:))
The Beaches of Southern Spain
After five days in Morocco, getting back to the “civilization” of Southern Spain was needed. A couple of weeks earlier a bartender in Granada had told us to go to a little-known beach named Bolonia on the southern coast. He assured us it was worth it, but it wasn’t on any map or in the GPS. As luck would have it, we found Bolonia and it IS one of the best beaches we’ve ever been on. It was so great, we spent three nights there just hang’n at the beach and prepping for Ethiopia. We met some folks there from the UK and had a great time partying Spanish style. It’s one of those places I could of hung for much longer, but we needed to get to Madrid.
Getting to Madrid
After Morocco, we needed to weave our way towards Madrid to catch the plane to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). We skipped Seville and spent some terrific nights in Cordoba and Toledo. Both towns were in the midst of festivals and such, so in the space of a couple of nights we went to a rock & roll concert, an equestrian show, a flamingo dance show, and a couple of tours of old churches thrown in. Each night was filled with something old and new.
Before our trip, someone told us to skip Madrid as it was “just another big city”. Well, our time in Madrid was terrific, mainly because we met Maureen and Miguel there. Long story short, Maureen is a friend of Sam H.’s and she agreed to be our Logistics Command Center. We left the bike and all our m/c clothes and gear with her, which made the entire Ethiopia leg possible. More importantly, we had a couple of great nights out with them and thoroughly enjoyed the city. I was even getting use to eating dinner at 10PM! Madrid has a vibrant night life, which was a nice contrast to Morocco before and after Ethiopia. Both KR and I could live there.
There is no way on earth that I can describe Ethiopia to you. This was our first trip to Africa (Morocco doesn’t count) and we didn’t know what to expect. My purpose in going was to give a lot of speeches and take a lot of meetings extolling the business opportunity that clean technologies represent for Ethiopia and Sub-Sahara Africa.
Development wise, Ethiopia makes India look like a fully developed paradise. There is little infrastructure, even in its capital City, Addis Ababa. Side walks? rare. Electricity? 10 million people have been on a waiting list to get electricity for ten years. Water? They’re in a much worse drought than California. Traffic? Yes and its made up of cars, buses, cows, people, m/c’s, bicycles and tuk tuks. With few traffic signals, no street signs and no addresses. Modern buildings? Well, yes and no. There are dozens and dozens of new building part way finished (in Ethiopia, you build the basic structure, put a bank on the first floor, and hope you generate enough profits from the bank to finish the building.) Yet none of them look new.
Aside from all of that, Ethiopia is a lovely country. The people, despite their relative poverty, are generally a happy/smiling lot. They are as honest as the day is long. They’re colorful and energetic. Addis is a dirty hub bub of a city, but there’s a lot of action. The young people that I spoke to, were bright, energetic, hopeful and determined to make things better. The government officials seemed genuinely interested in making things better for their citizens.
I was only able to experience a tiny bit of Addis as most of my days consisted of getting driven around to various meetings in an Embassy car. That’s literally how I saw Addis – through the windows of lots of Toyota Land Cruisers.
Over the weekend, Karen and I took a plane to northern Ethiopia to see the “real” Ethiopia, which is the cradle of civilization. The remains of the oldest human being was discovered in Ethiopia and dates back millions of years. We went to Lalibela, a village in northern Ethiopia that has 12 churches carved into granite mountains, each church from a single piece of stone. Took 14,000 people about 100+ years BC to build.
Ninety percent of the people outside the cities are subsistence farmers. They farm the way their ancestors did — by hand and with donkeys. Their key assets are goats and cows, live in grass/mud huts, with no running water. With a few exceptions, of course: cell phones and satellite dishes:)
It does beg the question: how did one of the oldest civilizations on earth not develop further and faster? What happened?
Damn if I know.
Both Karen and I would go back, and probably will because of business. Now that we’ve had our first taste of Africa, we’re curious about the rest. That’s for another day and time.
A Couple of Final Thoughts
- If you’re going to Spain, go in May before everyone gets there. It only rained about a week out of five and was otherwise beautiful.
- Maybe as a result of the above, Spain was incredibly cheap compared to the US, UK, France, Swiss, etc. It was easy to find a decent hotel for less than 100 Euros.
- Stay off the main Autopista’s and take the back roads. Once we did that, we saw a wonderful countryside of small villages, rolling hills, and a few mountains. The m/c riding is better that way, too.
- If you take the ferry from the UK to Spain or France, spend the extra bucks for a room or mini suite. It was lovely and a nice way of spending 24 hours.
- BMW 1200 GS’s rule! Long live Now Voyager II.
Here’s what everything looked like.
Take care, fred
ETHIOPIA – ADDIS ABABA
THE “SUBURBS” OF ADDIS ABABA
THE FAR NORTH OF ETHIOPIA
THE FINAL LEG HOME
Until the next time.
When I was a twenty something Account Man working on Madison Avenue, I yearned to work on international accounts as I wanted to see the world, even back then. But I was too career-obsessed then, as international assignments were often only a one-way ticket out of the Big Time. So I passed on “going overseas” and stayed in NYC, then LA, SF and back to LA. While I’ve always done a ton of business travel, two flights a week were not unusual, they were usually to such exciting places as Cincinnati (P&G), Denver (US WEST), Cupertino (Apple) and my favorite, Columbus, Ohio. Exciting travel was left to KR and my personal adventures.
As time marched along—shoot, its run at full trot, no? — KR and I have spent more and more time planning, prepping and going on more adventurous trips on bikes, cars, RVs, planes, trains and buses. We’ve seen Nepal, India, Argentina, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala and all of the U.S. And like a junkie who gets his first shot of dope, I’ve been yearning to go further, longer and more adventurously every chance I get.
And then LACI came along and all thoughts of prolonged, wandering travel have pretty much been put on hold. Instead, we did a “travel pivot” and decided to take advantage of whatever little opportunities came our way and not worry about missing out on the Big Kahuna of trips.
Voila! We took 24 trips to 35 cities in the last year for a combo of business (mostly) and pleasure. While I’ve traveled more often in my career, I’ve never traveled to as many interesting places in such a short stint. Here’s the stat sheet.
I‘m thinking, “How did this happen?” Why now? It certainly wasn’t planned. While I’ve never thought of retiring or slowing down, I didn’t think I’d become an International Man of Mystery at this stage:) About a year ago I dreamed up the idea of a Global Innovation Network, linking innovation institutions around the world together. Well you can’t build a global network without going global. And while we can, have, should, and will continue to debate why a little incubator in downtown Los Angeles is building such a network, we’ve been doing it for about a year and its starting to get momentum.
I guess the other reason is that just as in business the ability to “pivot” is often key to long term success, the ability to pivot in life is at least as important. All my life I’ve been a Man With a Plan, but most of the time the Plan gets thrown away as soon as life happens along. So, Karen and I pivoted off the Adventure Plan to the build a global cleantech ecosystem plan. Go figure:)
So, in celebration of the New Year, here’s what’s struck me as interesting during our Year of Traveling Continuously…
- I like airports, especially big, new, shiny international airports. They’re all the same in that you can figure out what to do and where to go no matter what far-away-land you might find yourself. And now they’re good places to hang with Wi Fi, Starbucks, pretty decent food, comfortable lounges and lots of stores. I feel at home in an airport. Sad, but true.
- There is one international language that most everyone knows and responds to: a smile. While cultures, values, life styles, dress, standards of living, and governments vary widely, the human spirit doesn’t. People are often surprised that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t go much further than “Mas Margarita’s, Pour Some More,” yet we spend so much time in Mexico, Central and South America without speaking much Spanish. How can you live in a country you don’t know the language? My answer is, “Are you going to restrict your travel to only those places you speak the language?” Of course not. We like people, we look for ways to connect in physical and emotional ways, and we treat people with respect. I admit we try not to go to places that are steeped in conflict and hatred, so I’m not sure that our international language will work everywhere.
- Like the pull of gravity, KR’s search for things to decorate Corona is an inexorable force that can’t be fought. No matter how small, light and swift-footed we start any trip with, we end up pulling the equivalent of a 20 mule team across Death Valley by its end: ) And I will always lose this debate because well, the end result is pretty damn neat. Corona is alive with stuff KR has carted back from all over the world and its great.
- From my perspective, China’s people have made an unspoken pact – give us a middle class standard of living and we’ll do what the government says. It’s a bargain most of us would make if in the same situation. China’s middle class looks prosperous, active, educated and pretty happy to this outsider. The same bargain is being struck with Hong Kong’s middle class; let us makes lots of money and we’ll look the other way as Beijing gets rid of the two systems, one country bargain made in 1997.
- This year’s trip along the Pacific edge of Mexico took us through the most notorious parts of Mexico without even a whiff of trouble. In fact, we spent Christmas Eve 2013 not too far away from the area where the 43 students were kidnapped and killed. Two points here; once again we see no signs of the crime and drug cartel behavior that is splashed on the front pages of U.S. newspapers. We love Mexico and its been a safe place for us. Yet, Mexico’s government and criminal justice system is totally corrupt and not to be trusted. If Mexico is ever going to take its place along other developing nations, it needs a deep-rooted cleansing. No one can predict if this will happen, but I keep thinking Columbia cleaned up its act, so Mexico can too.
- KR and I have settled into a new rhythm of the road in which we move often, stay in a city a day or two, and get just enough of a taste to know whether we want to come back or not. These trips are pretty strenuous, often lasting 18 hours a day rushing from one meeting to the next, usually in a different city. Yet, KR doesn’t complain as she gets to explore a new place a bit while I do business. She’s fearless and curious, which usually makes for a good time.
- Often the best part of the trip is riding up front in the leather. On really long trips we use frequent flyer miles to sit in Business Class as one of our many guilty pleasures. It’s amazingly comfortable with food at the push of button, more movies and TV shows than you can possibly watch. When was the last time you could hit the keyboards for 14 uninterrupted hours? It’s productive time in the lap of luxury. Does it get any better?
So, here are a few of our favorite pictures from 2014.
Take care and have a great 2015!
China has never been high on my list of places to visit. Crazy perhaps, but if I can’t ride my bike there it’s not a priority. Not a particularly helpful attitude, however, if one’s building an international network of cleantech organizations given that China is a huge market. We’d already found Global Innovation Network (GIN) partners in Finland, Germany, Italy, and Mexico; now it was time to look toward China. So I flew to China for a week to expand GIN’s small footprint on to Asia.
Our usual approach to a trip wasn’t going to cut it for this trip. KR and I never plan where we’re going, leaving most of the specifics to the wind and chance. Planning for this trip was different; I spent a month trying to pack as many meetings into five days as possible. I was fortunate enough to make contact with some folks in China (thank you Diane , Tony and John!) that took pity on me and helped arrange 12 meetings in both cities. Preparations included getting a Visa (China wins the contest for easiest and fastest visa ever – three days for a six month visa), getting GIN documents translated to Mandarin, reading every “How to do business in China” article I could find, and arranging the logistics of a schedule that had me arriving in Shanghai on a Sunday night and leaving Beijing the following Saturday night.
I was actually looking forward to the 11 hour flight there, chilling out while hitting the keyboard is a real treat (no comments, please). I could read and get some work done in peace and quiet. I might even find the time to read a book, something I can never seem to finish. So, I settled into my seat at 3PM on a Saturday, waved goodbye to LA, and got to work, expecting to land in Shanghai the next night 11 hours later.
Three hours over the Pacific the plane icon on the flight path tracker started heading in the wrong direction — back to LA, not China. Must be a glitch in the system, it was a 777 after all. Wrong. Long story short, the pilot finally informed us that we had an electrical issue and we were going back to LA. This started a series of events that included rebooting the trip for the following day, cutting my stay in Shanghai a day short while lengthening my stay in Beijing an extra day.
One of the results of the one day delay was that I was switched from American Airlines to Cathay Pacific. For those of you thinking about going to China, write this down: Cathay Pacific is one great airline experience. It makes you wonder what the f__ happened to US carriers?
It’s impossible to get an accurate impression of a 1.2 billion person country in just six days, but its also impossible not have lots of impressions from such a different experience, whether accurate or not. So, here are my net takeaways, which I reserve the right to change after more investigation:
- Shanghai and Beijing, huge cities of 20+MM people each, are both very similar to other large cities and very different. Different language, style of dress, cultural heritage, history, race, forms of transportation, and of course a totally different system of governing. Yet, they’re full of people just like you and me, hustling to get somewhere, stuck in mega traffic, everyone reading their smart phones, lots of stores we’d recognize, and more people willing to smile than scowl.
- China isn’t as “foreign” a culture as say, Nepal, or some parts of South America. Everyone pretty much stays in their lanes while driving in China, except using the right or left shoulder is a congestion-beating technique widely practiced. Try driving in Kathmandu or Arequipa, Peru to experience the thrill of anything-goes-anywhere-cut-and-thrust traffic. Shanghai and Beijing may be in a developing nation, but these cities look and feel prosperous and grooving. Pretty much everything works like electrical grids, subways, etc.
- China has a huge middle class (by number of people, not by % of the total population) that seem pretty happy. While business customs are a bit different, business is business. Kids wear weird outfits. Commutes, kid’s education, electronic toys are all subjects of conversation. Things seem pretty normal.
- The presence of a controlling government is everywhere, but subtle, and its a “given” to the Chinese. Want to get on Google or Facebook? Nope. Lots and lots and lots of security check points in public places. Pretty much only good news reported in the newspapers. Government is business in China. Freedom of speech, thought and protest are only missed when you realize that most other folks in the world don’t have them.
- What’s not normal is the scale of things. Massive office and government buildings for as far as you can see or as long as you drive. Parks are big and jammed with people. Roads are six lanes. Beijing has 24M people, 6 million cars, and 15 subway lines. No one lives in houses so there are high rise apartment buildings everywhere.
- International airports, no matter where, are all the same. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing airports are all modern and pretty well run. Most signage is in Mandarin, but there’s enough English to get by. Starbucks, Apple, Armani, McDonalds, et. al are all there, pretty much recognizable. Chinese airports are also remarkably fast in the security and immigration processing department. In fact, one pretty quickly realizes that China has systems that move lots of people very efficiently (not counting street traffic) in most areas.
- Waiting in line is a contact sport. Don’t take offense, its just part of everyday life as you’re as likely to be elbowed aside by a 70 year old grand mother as a 16 year old.
- To state the obvious, air quality is appalling, affecting everyone, everywhere, all the time. It’s just always grey and overcast unless it rains, in which case its only overcast. Everyone knows this and the Chinese will I’m sure attack this problem with the force and scale that they’ve build a new industrial economy.
I’m going back to China in November with the Mayor so I’m going to get a second chance to experience China. It should be interesting to see the place after the initial shock has worn off.
Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures.
The answer is Los Angeles, as viewed from a dive bar in Skid Row-Adjacent. We haven’t had the opportunity to hang in said bar much because I’m not in LA a lot lately. Here’s my travel schedule of the last couple of weeks: LA, San Antonio, LA, Phoenix, LA, Berlin, Milan, Verano, Revoreto, Milan, Turin, Legnano, LA, Mexico City, LA, Puerto Vallarta, LA. Ninety-nine percent of this travel is LACI related because we’re building the Global Innovation Network (GIN), which will link together a couple dozen premier innovation institutions in key world markets. More about this is a bit.
KR and I are preparing to move further south into the industrial core of Los Angeles. While our current place is Frontier Land for most people, its becoming too gentrified for me, so we’re moving to an old fabric manufacturing building that’s being converted to lots of (even smaller than Factory Place) lofts. It’s in a good neighborhood: across the street from a strip club, next door to a marijuana dispensary, and it’s freeway close because its under a freeway.
It wasn’t easy to find because of its prime location:) We found it during one of our regular Sunday drives through the deserted streets of Vernon and surrounds. Vernon is best known for a Pedigree dog food plant, Jimmy Dean’s Sausage factory, and its the world’s metal recycling capital. I’m afraid these lofts will become a hot as well since Gino, the developer of said lofts, taped a telephone number on the side of his building to advertise leases and got over 100 calls for his 50 apartments in two days. He took the number down the next day.
Building GIN is rapidly becoming a full time gig in addition to my day job as ED of LACI. We now have partners in Germany (2), Italy (3), Sweden, Finland and Mexico. Next up is the rest of Latin America and Asia. Our goal is to have 12+ partners signed by the end of the year. Many of you may be asking the question that I get a lot from LACI’s stakeholders, “What the heck is a small incubator located in downtown Los Angeles doing building a global network?” I’m stating it much nicer than its usually asked.
Here’s the short answer: our goal is to make Los Angeles into a world-class innovation ecosystem and huge green economy. We believe we can’t do that without connecting to the world. What better way to connect to the world than placing LA in the center of an international network? The long answer would include that the environment and energy sustainability is a global problem, therefore its a global market that our companies need to take advantage of. One of LA’s key strengths is that it’s a leader in international trade and hence our efforts are in line with LA’s future. If we succeed in doing this, we will position LA’s economy for excellent growth for the remainder of this century.
As most of you know, I prefer to travel by motorcycle or at least by RV or fast car. Our European trip involved taxis, buses, trains, and planes over 5 days of 13 meetings in five different cities in two countries. Whew. We were always running for a train or bus and made all of them. I thought I was getting the hang of train travel until I took the wrong train in Northern Italy and came close to crossing the Austrian border before realizing that I had just spent 1 1/2 hours going in the wrong direction. Bottom line: lots of buses and trains, but I haven’t been on NVII in over 30 days. He barely has more than 1300 miles on him (I put 500+ on our first day together).
Here’s what all this looks like in pictures.
It’s difficult to summarize this past winter’s events. Where’s the theme in it all? It started with the following two-week travel sequence: DC – LAX- PV – Mexico City- PV – Guadalajara- LAX. The trip included meeting with the White House’s most senior energy staff and being told…”We talk about LACI all the time here. There’s no one doing anything like you guys…” I know that and $1.65 will get me a small Starbucks, but it was nice to hear anyway and certainly a 180 degree change from just three years ago. The trips also included signing an MOU with the Mayor of Los Angeles in Mexico City and being told “You’re exceeding expectations, Fred” by the Mayor. Please remember that when we’re asking for more money from the City to support LACI, I’m thinking:) Oh, and we began building a Global Innovation Network (GIN) which now has members in Germany and Mexico, soon to add Italy and the rest of Europe. And I’m part of the Mayor’s delegation on his upcoming trip to Asia this fall.
South of the border, KR has become a world-class inn keeper as the Corona Adobe/Little Big Sur vacation rental business has exploded. No one is more surprised than KR and I at this new development. Corona Adobe has become a very popular B&W to the point that KR has had to escape to LBS because the house was fully rented. That option soon disappeared as well since the Corona Adobe/LBS “metropolitan living and jungle escape combo package” has been very popular. Last week KR had to stay in a PV hotel because we had no space in our own home or out at LBS. KR is coming to LA for the month of April partly because there’s no room in PV. And to see Her Man, of course.
All work and no play makes for a dull boy (which I’ve been accused of being), so there’s been a fair amount of that including a couple of days in PV with friends (Puerto Vallarta is just a great, great town), a Saturday night bar crawl like I only vaguely remember in my youth, and….. A NEW MOTORCYCLE!
We welcomed Now Voyager II into the family about a week ago. He’s a 2014 BMW GS with every gadget, gizmo and option that the German’s could think of:) I spent about two months evaluating various choices for the Walti’s new DreamMobile, but settled on the biggest, fastest, heaviest, and most expensive alternative. Go figure. He’s so big that I’m thinking of getting special elevator shoes made:) None the less, he’s handsome, fast, comfortable and handles great. Why has it taken me all these years to man-up and get a GS? Go figure.
Maybe the theme for this winter is it’s been a time of transitions. LACI is growing up — in size, footprint and reputation. One of these days it will be a real force to be reckoned with. Our life in PV has transitioned to that of part-time/ full-effort inn keeper which has pretty much changed what KR does south of the border. We’ve shifted to a new motorcycle, leaving the stressed-out Now Voyager behind and welcoming the fully-capable Now Voyager II into the fold. And, as we all face the challenges of growing up (finally?), we lost two of our friends this winter. One, Jack Foster, was one of the greatest creative people I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the standard for how to have fun and do great work. Not a bad legacy.