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.

 

 

 

 

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:

 

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

I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months.  There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them.  Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life?  One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)

Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016

  • Lots of travel — twelve trips  in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico.  You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
  • Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th.  Both will shape LACI for years to come.  I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
  • 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric:  we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%,  and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries.   Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
  • “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session.  The result; the family has a leadership problem.  No s__t!
  • Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far.  KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015.  Onward and upward!
  • Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting.  The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting.  New establishments are popping up almost daily.  The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses.  Yaahhh boy!  Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
  • We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot.  As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking.   Not surprising, we need more electrical power!

Well, those are the headlines.  Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now.  For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)

The Geography

In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.

This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done.  We covered four cities in about ten days.  I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.

It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business!  Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous.  Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles.  But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax.  When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day?  Exactly my point:)

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

I’m still conflicted about India.  We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India.  Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences.  It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles.  I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.

Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place.  800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted.  The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity.  The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.

I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:)  KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back.  Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)

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

Cairo was a whole different deal.  I liked the vibe immediately.  The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way.  The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang.  The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.

No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true.  The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it.  Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests.  I’m not sure this can be fixed…

KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating.  And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy.  We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.

We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business.  I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality:  entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands.  Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems.  It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.

The Vehicles

A big part of  travel is having the right mode of transportation:)  To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):

  • The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee):  This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.”   162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in.  Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it.  I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt.  Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
  • The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone).  The Bullet is now the  LA version of the Duke.  He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
  • Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle):  The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places.  NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability.  It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that  NV I  (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned.   NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling.  NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco.  He’s barely broken in:)
  • Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero):   Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box.  Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America.  Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes.  Fully functional means:  bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet.  Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
  • Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter):  Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked.  Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history:  two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s,  and two Scarabeos… Go figure.

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

  • Potential New Additions to the Stable:  Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble.   This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us.  KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar.   Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
  • Planes, trains, etc.  Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two.   I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas.  British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment.  Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM.  ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available.  Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?

Life in the Loft

It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years!  Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District.  This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money.  Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills.  I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off.  Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks.  Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.

The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle.  The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending.  Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.

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

This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.”  I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood.  He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while.  I recommend one to all:)

Life South of the Border

Let me state this up front:  Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit.  There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico.  Narco’s?  For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like,  but it’s the truth.

The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar.  When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos.   As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos!  For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference.  It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.

Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life.   We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month.  That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!

Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed.  He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix.  Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)

The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc.  Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.

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

Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use.  LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat;  just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:)  Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.”  Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)

Two Seismic Events

The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment.  2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event.  Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews.  The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs,  a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’.  The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.

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

Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling  washed over LACI like a tsunami.  We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end.  And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”

My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what.  Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change.  This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich.  If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on.  Drought and crop reduction?  We’ll just pay more for food.  No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change.  The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030.  This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.

And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.”  Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to  jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.

To the Future, we go!

I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less.   KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows?  We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!

Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.

CAIRO (DEC 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Egyptian guide not only gave us a quick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIA (OCT 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

 

MEXICO (DEC 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KR explores the ruins

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

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

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

I promise to write more often.

 

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.

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

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

Maybe the best way is to go to the stats:

Trip Stats & Awards

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

The Beaches of Southern Spain

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

Getting to Madrid

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

Madrid

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

Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn if I know.

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

A Couple of Final Thoughts

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

Here’s what everything looked like.

Take care, fred

SPAIN

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

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

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Bolonia was a great place to write the Ethiopian speeches

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Cows and horse roamed the Balonia beach

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Happy camper

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Versatile work horse:  NV II as clothes line

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Bolonia beach

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Rock concert in Toledo

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

ETHIOPIA – ADDIS ABABA

Addis Ababa University Lecture 4

“Lecture” at Addis Ababa University

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Meeting the “Girls can Code” group

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Speaking to the AmCham Steering Committee

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

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

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

Holding up the poster advertising my lecture at Addis Ababa  University

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

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

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Addis street

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

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

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

THE “SUBURBS” OF ADDIS ABABA

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Karen got a chance to get outside Addis in the countryside

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

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Their kitchen with the oven on the floor.

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A bedroom

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Mom making afternoon tea

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Some of her children, who brought

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home an English test they took that day.

 

THE FAR NORTH OF ETHIOPIA

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

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

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House in Lalibela

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

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This is church #2, or is it 4….

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A visitor praying in one of the churches

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

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

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

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

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

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Spices

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Tools, knives and plow heads

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

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

THE FINAL LEG HOME

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

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

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Awaiting loading on the ferry back to Portsmouth

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

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

Until the next time.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We checked out next morning.

Take care,

Fred

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

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

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Scenes from the Tanger kasbah

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Olives anyone?

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I think she’s making cheese

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KR’s art shot of hanging chickens

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Stone carver

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“Residential” street in the kasbah

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

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Repetitious…

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

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

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

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

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Mooooo

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Farmer’s house

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A village appears

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

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Parking lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tile work in our hotel’s lobby

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Another day, another good road with lots of traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep in touch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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