The Corner of Calle Corona & Miramar

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, let’s revisit those four questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what things looked like so far.

 

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

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

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

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

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

View from our room

The beach. See any people?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

KR suited up for battle at Ralphs. I think this was our first excursion to a store. Because we were so young looking, we were shuffled to the front of the line.

Karen and I can’t remember the last time we spent four months together in one place.  Reason — I don’t think we ever have.  For the most recent five years we’ve taken at least 20 trips each and every year.  To almost every continent, by plane, train, ship, motorcycle, RV, car, Tuk-Tuk or any other means available (remember the camels in Egypt and Mongolia?)

It’s been a bit of cold turkey on the travel front.  I tell Karen that we were better together when we were on the road.  Better moods, a chirpiness in her voice, something new every day, meeting strangers that became good, if temporary friends, not having to worry about the mundane things of life and — of course — we’re both addicted to the “What’s around the corner?” disease.

We’ve learn to be “better” together in one place  in a 600 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles, which we used to refer to fondly as “Factory Place”.   The fondness started to wear off in Month Two.  We were forced, literally, to adapt.  Karen likes to have the TV on all day, which doesn’t really work when I’m on a zoom call six feet away.   Answer:  ear phone plugged into the TV.  I didn’t really have a home office.  Answer:  carve out space in the closet (literally).  I needed a “Zoom Studio,” since I was doing Zoom calls all day, and no one wants to look at a closet as a backdrop (although I’ve seen worse, a lot worse:)  Answer:  Get a bookcase, a rack and some mounted posters to hang in front of the clothes.  Voila: a studio.  Not surprisingly, KR and I are on different biorhythms:  I’m early to bed and early to rise; KR is the opposite.  Answer:  lots of ear plugs and rubber soled shoes.

Corner Office view its not. Instead, its the view of an alley from my Man Closet Office.

NGIN’s business has picked up.  We’re zooming with our members more often (we have 30 members in 14 countries) and we’re getting more calls from cities to help them build out their innovation ecosystems.  All of this is done in front of a Zoom screen, looking out on the alley between Factory Place buildings.  I’m writing more business articles and doing more videos.  I’m starting to watch my social media audience of all things.  These are strange times, indeed.

Evening cocktail sitting in the patio of a closed neighborhood restaurant

A lot of good things happened during our four month stay in our shoebox of an apartment. First, I’ve never eaten better in my life as KR had little else to focus on and we had great meal after great meal.  I shattered my belief that you have to go to the gym to workout.  I started running on our empty streets in place of the treadmill.  Much better. I used the stairs to our second floor as a built in StairMaster. Record: 55 times up 15 steps.  Weights were easy — there are thousands of videos on YouTube to choose from.

We got to know our neighborhood much better as we took Bogart and Squirt for long walks around the Arts District’s warehouses, historic buildings, closed restaurants/bars, and cold storage units.  We barely needed masks as there were few people in a part of the city  that is pretty busy during “normal”  times, but few people actually live here.  We got in the habit of having an eventing cocktail sitting in the patio of one of said closed restaurants.  It was good.

For about two months, and then things …

It rapidly went downhill for KR first.  She’s a passionate, knowledgable, extremely curious gardener.   A couple of pots in front of our door didn’t cut it, no matter how many times I offered to build a garden bench (don’t laugh, I wouldn’t have built it, of course, I would have bought one).   Her day job, that as InnKeeper of our BNB in Puerto Vallarta came to a screeching stop.  Since we weren’t there, it was hard to supervise decorating or repair projects from afar.

Formal dress for a Zoom business meeting

It went downhill for me as well.  We had to cancel our long-planned motorcycle trip to Africa.  We couldn’t even go on shorter trips.  All my races from Formula One to MotoGP were cancelled.  Bars closed.  Restaurants closed.  It got boring wearing shorts and flip flops to work every day.

We needed to do something.  We’d been wanting to get south to PV since early April, but could we get across the border,  could we gas, could we get all the vehicle permits required, is it safe to go anywhere?  We hesitated for about two and a half months.

On June 25th, all four of us climbed into Thor and started the drive south.  We took four days rather than our usual three.  We “camped” in a parking lot in Yuma and on the street in downtown Mazatlan on the way.  Result?   No problems at the border, in fact it was probably the easiest crossing we’ve had. They’d completed a long stretch of the main highway,15D, that has been under repair for the last several years, so the highway was better than ever.  It’s now been a couple of years since they eliminated Pemex’s monopoly, so we could find Shell and Chevon stations all the way down and for once we could use credit cards.  We rolled into PV on a Sunday night, parked the RV in a storage lot outside of town, and by 9PM that night we were having cocktails on the observation deck.

We’ve been in Puerto Vallarta for four weeks now and its a whole new ball game.  As in Wow!

It’s impossible to describe the bliss in going from 600 sq. ft. to 5,400 sf. ft.  For instance, more often than not, I have to yell “Karen, where are you, up or down?” from my office on the third floor.  Each direction offers gardens and all sorts of projects that KR is working on. Simultaneously of course:)

This time at our home is different from all the others.  This isn’t a vacation.  And there are no guests coming, forcing us to migrate to Thor to wait their stay out.   Since we are in middle of three NGIN projects (Riverside, Australia and India),  I couldn’t afford to miss a step during the relocation.  .  Finding reliable, high(er) speed in the El Centro part of Vallarta required getting two 5G lines in the house; one for the first two floors, one specifically to my office on the third.  Since its hot and muggy (87 with 60-ish humidity)in Vallarta, I had to close off and then air condition my office.  Result is that I have a fully functional office for the first time south of the border.   It’s good, very good.

Is it safe in Mexico?  Normally, people ask us this because of the drug cartels.  Now it’s COVID.  Here’s a comparison of relevant data:

Someone once said, “There are three types of lies:  lies, damn lies and statistics!” So, you can make your own conclusions about where its safest.

But the real question is:  “Is it safe anywhere?”  Not any place I can afford.  California is on the verge of a roll back of openness and are some of the other states with significant spikes.  When will this end?  Answer:  we don’t know.

We’re here for the duration.

Here’s what the Lock Down looked like north and south of the border.

 

We were off the coast of Phuket, Thailand right before we flew into the COVID crisis in LA.

Dulling the boredom. KR stocks up on every form of dope before we head south. “Sweet Flower” pot store was pretty sweet and only two blocks from our apartment.

Zoom session on a Sunday with Peter and Cindy.  Corona and tequila shots.  Good times.

Fake News reported the Corona Beer  company was shutting down their plant. 7:00AM next morning I filled the Jag with the best beer with the worst name.

We bought so much stuff at our first Ralphs shopping trip  that we had to put the top down in order to fit it all in: )

Even the Dos Diablos were going stir crazy. A romp around the parking lot had to be a substitute for the beach

 

 

 

 

 

Peter, Cindy, Karen and I dressed for dinner in a pop up burger place in the Arts District

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went on a picnic with Teri, Steve, Jenny, Bogart, and Squirt.

Bogart helps with the drive as we start south. I’m taking a meeting on the phone.  The larger than normal stomach is an optical illusion caused by the seat belt: )

Thor in the parking lot for a stay over in Yuma. Calm on the outside…

while on the inside, KR is looking where we put the dope on the trip south: )

This is KR the next day: ) Bogart is always there in case Karen needs some help.

My office. A lot better than a desk in a closet, overlooking an alley.

Construction begins almost immediately

We put a sign on the door that was pretty effective. Don’t come into the house without a mask or you’ll end up like the guy in the picture: )

Just an everyday dinner on the top deck: ) The large piece of glass leaning on the side is the only one of four to survive a BIG storm. More on that in a minute.

The neighborhood is pretty much the same except there seems to be a lot more young kids. Homework is done most afternoons on the sidewalk across from our house.

This is what a typical summer PV storm looks like as it gathers late afternoon.

This is what it looks like from the bedroom when it gets going. Winds are so strong that roofs are blown off, furniture gets blown to the street below, and the dogs stay under the bed.

Normal, everyday sunset. It never gets boring.

Local artist painted a portrait of the Dos Diablos over the winter

Bill and Maryann kept us company for the first couple of weeks, then deserted us for the North.

The summer is off season in Vallarta as its hot and humid. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Notice beach is closed.

Walking the dogs around the neighborhood a slightly different experience now.

All things considered, we’re happy campers.  We’ll be here for a while.

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This holiday season we were both south of the border and south of freezing temperatures in Mexico and New Mexico. It was fun in both environs.

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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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Just to show you that a day at the beach is not all that its suppose to be, here FW is in the process of painting the whole damn palapa so our soon-to-arrive rental guests can live the Palapa Life.  This was a banner repair trip as I repaired the refrigerator, painted and painted, got the hot water heater to work, hung mosquito nets, and replaced the shower faucets.  Oh, and I conferred with my engineering expert (thanks Bill!) to supervise the rebuilding of the solar system.

 

I don’t have much of a life in Los Angeles if one defines life as something other than

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New office at LACI is purposeful as is life in LA

work.  This is not a complaint, just a fact.  LA is primarily for LACI and anything else needs to be fitted into the creases.  Mexico is the reverse for me, it’s about living, not making a living, and I spend most of each December and part of January in Puerto Vallarta with The Boss of Corona and her best friend, Squirt.  This post is what its like to go back home to Mexico and hang for a month.

It’s surprising how quickly comfortable being home in PV is, even after 11 months of being away.  Well, its not quite immediate as it usually takes KR a couple of days to get use to me being around and for me to put away my CEO ways.  After this initial roughness though, it starts being as smooth as a cold Corona (the beer, not the house) on a hot day.

First thing is the house.   I would never have believed that 6200 feet of house would be comfy, but it is.  Corona just flows right.  We spend most of the time in the master with forays to the pool and top deck.  The kitchen and dining room are usually for breakfast and entertaining.  Most other meals are taken in bed or eaten out.

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Command Central: our bedroom

Our bedroom is really Operations Central.  It’s on the third floor, with a balcony that I often wonder onto to check out the neighborhood or look at the skies or take in all the various water craft zooming along the beach.  Size matters when it comes to TV’s and we have a large “smart” TV in the room. (let’s not go into how useful a Smart TV is with a dumb owner).  KR usually has the TV on 24/7.

I’ve also slid a small desk into the corner next to the window overlooking the Bay of Banderas and do all my work here.  There are very few better views around, especially for an “office.” I spend 80% of my day there, hitting the keyboards, gazing on the street below, taking a Skype call, or swiveling the chair around to catch Wolf Blitzer giving yet another perspective on the 14th Republican debate.  Squirt provides the other source of constant entertainment.

KR does most of her B&B administrative work in bed as well, so

KR in her happiest state — muddy.

having the three of us in the bedroom as headquarters works well.  Very well.  Beyond our bedroom door looms two irresistible lures.  At least twice a day I walk out the door, take five steps, and jump into the pool.  Swim around, take in the view, listen to the cacophony of neighborhood sounds, and then hit the rays.  KR can’t resist the 3rd floor garden that surrounds the Pool Deck.  She’s always been a gardener and having three gardens (1st, 3rd, and 4th floors) and more planters than I can count means multiple chances to get covered in mud.  This is a good thing.

Here’s a question for you:  When was the last time you walked down your street, talked to your neighbors, watched kids play, and then stopped in the local grocery store to buy some food for lunch?  In LA, my answer is never, and I’m not just speaking about the Factory Lofts in downtown LA.  My answer would be the same for the Hollywood house.

In Puerto Vallarta, it happens every day, usually more than once.  This isn’t by accident as we purposely moved into a “mixed” (read Gringos and Canadians along side Mexicans) neighborhood in the hills of PV.  Our neighborhood consists of the small street in front of our house (Corona) and the two cross streets (Miramar and Metamoris) which happen to be the only ways up/down the El Centro Hills.  This accounts for lots of street activity most days and most times of each day.  And since most Mexicans around us live in something less than 6000 sq ft., they spend their free time sitting outside their houses on the porches or curbs.

Last night was typical.  We went out the front door and started walking downhill toward the Malecon (boardwalk) to get something to eat.  Karen dropped off some discarded clothes to the very extended family next door.  Eduardo, the father and someone who I’ve taken tequila shots with at 2 in the morning, commented that I was looking a little gordo (fat) and I should keep eating so they could get more of my non-fitting clothes.  We all laughed out loud.

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To hear and see jazz, one has to be at the club later than 7:30PM:)

We found a new place to eat on the Malecon, the Jazz Foundation, which had so-so food, great music, cold beer and really nice waiters who helped us map out our next trip.  Walking up the hill on the way home, we bumped into a neighbor we’d met a year or so ago and invited him back for a cocktail.

These encounters happen every day here.

Noise is a controversial subject in our house and among our neighbors.   Up the street there are a group of kids, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, that think there’s nothing better to crank up the boom box at all times of day or night.  A couple of neighbors have called the police to complain, which generated a visit from the local police only to find out the primary source of the noise was…. an off duty policeman!  The music keeps on playing giving us a dose of Mexican justice on a local level.

The young children next door play soccer in the street below us.  Most Mexican cars make the Iron Duke look like a limo and announce their passing through their non existent mufflers.  Roosters crow too early even for farmers, of which there are none that I’ve seen.  Three blocks away the church bells ring at intervals that I can’t figure.

Noise, of course, is a two edged sword.  It’s annoying and interuptive and … well…life affirming as well.  This is a vibrant neighborhood in which life is visible and audible to all.

No week would be complete without visits to Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, the bank, Office Max and the assorted stores needed to keep a Gringo’s Mexican households running and in order.  I’m not ashamed to admit, I’ve become a Kirkland Man, wearing Costco underwear and “dinner” shorts & shirts, drinking Kirkland wine and vodka, BBQing Kirkland ribs, and eating Kirkland ice cream (the Vanilla is the best ice cream yet created on this earth:)

Of course, not all is fun and games when you’re a B&W innkeeper.  We have a staff to supervise, which KR keeps me away from, that includes a property manager, a maid, a pool guy, a carpenter, a handyman, an electrician and plumber.  And this is just for Corona, as there’s a whole ‘nother crew for Little Big Sur.  There are walls to paint, solar systems to repair, pool pumps to maintain, windows to fix, and…. on and on and on.  Is there no rest for the weary?  Don’t answer that:)  Yet, I had it easy compared to this young man who went out to LBS to rebuild our solar system.  It’s worth it to read his report:)

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Finally, let’s talk money.  Living in Mexico, even a tourist town like PV, is relatively inexpensive and getting more so every month.  When KR and I started coming to PV, the dollar was worth 10 pesos.  Last year around this time it was worth about 13 pesos.  Today, the dollar is worth 17+ pesos, which is a very good thing if you’re a Gringo, less so if you’re a Mexican.  Certain things remain expensive:  gasoline is $3.20/gallon, electricity ranges from $200/2 months to $900/2 months depending on the use of A/C, and anything imported will have a duty of between 14-140% tacked on.  Labor, food, rent, property taxes and such remain incredibly low, which is why this place continues to grow as a gringo/Canadian hang out during good and bad times.  Please don’t tell anyone how good this is, we have enough folks here already:)

Well, that’s my report on life as a pseudo Mexican.

Mas Margaritas por favor!

This news just in!  Karen has become so successful as an innkeeper that we don’t have a place to stay during the next six days.  True to form, KR threw some things in the Iron Duke, made sure Squirt was comfy, and said, “Let’s head south!”  Uh, what about a reservation or some place to head to?  Over rated, I guess.

Here’s what everything looks like in pictures.

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Mean streets. KR, Squirt and I were walking up a street and Squirt barks at a dog, then quickly retreats as said dog chases Squirt. Quicker than you can say, “What the F?” a giant-sized cat flies out the door with claws and teeth bared, jumping on KR, resulting in a 45 minute street-side emergency medical help session by the cat’s owner.  Squirt hid in the bushes during the entire episode

 

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Neighbor gets his house painted. Not sure I’d want to walk on the home made scaffolding.

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I have my own worries, though, as the carpenter works on one of KR’s many “improvement” projects, this one on the pool deck

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Rain or shine, kids gotta play. Five minutes after the rain, the game continues

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LACI Mexico headquarters. Don’t know where Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is? Just take a look at the world map as desk top:)

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A crime and protest of passion. A 19 year old girl was murdered by her x-boyfriend down the street from us. A couple of days later there were 120+ people holding a demonstration demanding justice for Lupita. Sound familiar? Big difference from the U.S., though, the boyfriend was still on the loose at last report.

 

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We look at the memorial created for Lupita

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Later that night, we happened across this sign at a marriage ceremony on the beach down the block from our house.

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KR says as innkeeper, she’s a captive to Corona

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Everyone is getting into the festive season

 

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Christmas eve dinner with the other PV orphans 🙂

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Kids next door sing carols with a microphone and big-as-a-room speakers

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Best part of Xmas Eve was going next door to Eduardo and Carmen’s house for pig’s ears, nose and feet all cooked in a festive broth. It helped to wash it down with a Corona

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The party picks up steam on the Malecon

We await the water taxi to Chonchos and LBS

We await the water taxi to Chonchos and LBS

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Job #1 in the jungle is to feed Her Man. KR scrambles up some lunch as

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I assume Position A. It’s been pretty stormy the last couple of weeks

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Stormy night, some music and appropriate refreshments

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The best part of any LBS trip are the spontaneous dinner parties that happen. Here, Bill, Karen, Keith, FW Rick and Maryann chow down

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The deck is ready

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and so is the Living Room

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Kitchen is spotless

 

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Some things don’t change, like the view

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Fancy new sign courtesy of Maryann probably sets expectations too high

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Los Chonchos is getting popular.  Gaggle of incoming and outgoing guests awaiting the return of the water taxi

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This is what I had in mind when we drove south in the Iron Duke — Costa Careyes, a very very very upscale resort way south of PV. Hey why not? We had both properties rented out!

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We almost ended up here, but it too was full:)

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An “eco resort” was promised at the end of this road. If one counts a resort that’s being overtaken by Mother Nature, then its truth in advertising:)

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We found a hotel with an alluring sign (on the tree)

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But all’s well that ends well. KR with drink and squirt in front of our room, all for about $45USD

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We stop at a small beach town, Melaque, about one hour north of Manzanillo. Great beaches and cheap rooms, not a bad way to bring in the New Year