Category Archives: Travel

Valhalla, Big Sur California

The second leg of my trip.

While Mary Ann went to Panama, a place I am not ready to visit again, I went to California. I had not seen my mother for over a year and I was due. I also needed a New Driver license. I also was gifted great seats to a Dodger game. AND I wanted to visit my oldest friend in Big Sur.

My mom was great. She will probably outlive me. She still drives around, although it is time for her to buy a smaller car.

The driver license thing had me worried. I had not driven anything other than a boat, a camel and an elephant for over 5 years. I studied for the written test for a week before I left. I want to be able to rent a car here in the UAE if I need it  for a weekend excursion to some oasis, but I could not because my California license had expired. My sister set me up with an 8 a.m. appointment. I was out of the DMV at 8:07. No test. Just $32 and a how do ya do. My sister, while happy for me, mumbled something about now she knows why there are so many fools on the road. Heh, if you can drive an elephant…

This is lot harder than driving a car and should probably be made part of any driving test.Well, maybe not.

That afternoon I rented a car. It was a 2011 Ford Fusion. It was great! I was able to plug in my Ipod and play my own music. All there is on the radio in LA anymore is versions of Mariachi, Chinese gongs, and right wing talk shows. Anyone of which would drive me to drink. Now I know why there are so many drunk drivers…

The next day I went to Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium to the unfamiliar). I picked up tickets a buddy had left for me at will call.  The price tag on these tix was like $120 apiece. Ridiculous. But they were great seats.  It was a midweek day game, my favorite. It was against the Phillies who will probably go all the way this year.  The Dodgers took a seemingly insurmountable lead in the first couple if innings, then the Phillies came back and trounced them. But it was great game. Thanks for the tix Robbie, I owe ya.

Me and my buddy KK. He was best man at my wedding. I am older than his father, but we get along like brothers. He is the kind of friend that you can make half a joke with and he is already at the punch line. Love ya KK

Our seats were so close we could smell the sweat coming out of the Dodger dugout as they blew a six run lead.

The next day I took off on unarguably my favorite drive, Highway 1 to Big Sur. I know this road like nothing else. If I knew anything else as well as I know Highway 1 I would have a PhD in the subject.

Ths drive is as exciting as it is beautiful. If you get lucky and there are no Winnebagos, or if you drive it very early in the morning, and you have a sporty car, you can be Mario Andretti for a couple of hours.

I timed my arrival to meet up with my oldest pal John at Lucia Lodge where he has been a waiter longer than either of us can remember. He works two days a week and gouges enough tips to survive just fine. Lucia Lodge sits on a south facing cliff overlooking the granite cliffs of the Big Sur coast. All year long you can watch the waves crash against the cliffs, and red tailed hawks soaring overhead.

This what you pay for when you stop for lunch at Lucia. The proprty has been in the same family since it was homesteaded. It is an old Kentucky family called Harlan. If you know any American history you should know that the Kentucky Harlans produced two of our best Supreme Court Justices. The other side of the family headed west, as far west as they could go, and settled here.

If you can take your eyes off the view you will notice  tourists from all over the world who stop in for an expensive lunch. As John tells them when they say “15 dollah for buggah?” he just points at the ocean and says “$7 for the burger, $8 for the view, and don’t forget to tip”.  By the time 4 Germans are done eating and drinking $8 beers, (and of course a couple of $5 coffees for the driver) the tab for lunch runs about $100. But John has created an art form out of being a waiter. He has them laughing so much that they do not mind that he added an 18% service charge and  fork over the big green backs. And as he reminds them “enjoy the view”.

John moved here in 1976. He bought 20 acres of land that yours truly wanted, but he ponied up the money first. I would never had made the paradise out of the place that he has, and I am lucky because I can visit it whenever I want. I used to take advantage of that privilege quite often when I lived in Sonoma County, but I think it has been 5 years since I last visited my Valhalla. It is now at exactly the comfort level I would have made it, if I had the gumption.

I like to sleep in the hammock John bought in Costa Rica after we drove there together.

His views are incredible. He can see 50 miles out to sea, over valleys chock full of redwoods.

This is just a piece of his view.

No one can get to his place without knowing the combo to his locked gate, and even more importantly a very sturdy vehicle to climb the roughest road I have ever been on, and I have been on a few.

This gate prevents any damn tourists from getting to his property. It has been rammed, sawed at, everything but blown up. Keeps the rif raf out!

A mile closer to his house is his country style gateway. I laughed when he planted these trees. They were just little things that I thought would never grow. But 35 years later...

He is what you might call "off the grid". He has been since he lived there. In fact the entire "south coast" of Big Sur is off the grid. He has enough solar panels to light up a small village. He has his own well with really sweet water. He gets cell phone reception and satellite TV. He could get internet, but he just does not want anything to do with it. I have to call him from home and send him post cards when I travel. He and my mother are the last two off-line people I know.

He has friends that stop by. I have known this guy JC for many years also. Here they are sharing a smoke of something I cannot talk about in this public forum. They play guitar, argue politics, and try to predict the weather by staring out to sea after they are done smoking. You know, normal stuff.

On "town day" we left early in the morning. You can see the fog creeping up the valley. When you drive down from this 3000 foot elevation, you drive through it, then under it when you get to the coast. The tourists do not know that it is 40 degrees warmer 1000 feet up, so they keep driving.

Once you get below the morning fog, along Plaskett Ridge road,you get some excellent views. This is a view of Sand Dollar Beach. Back in the day when I drove a VW bus and spent a lot of time here, this was an unofficial nude beach. Now, between the wanna be surfers and tourists, you cannot get nekkid there anymore. Hell, it is tough to find a place to park. Over-poulation screws up everything.

This is the school on Highway 1 right under Johns house. It is called Pacific Valley School. The community has a lot of truly talented people who teach beyond what the teachers teach (music, ceative writing, arts etc) and someone there is an excellent grant writer. They keep getting more money for neccesities like solar systems and niceties like tubas. The school is currently down to 20 students, grades 1 through 8, but with their funding they have 4 paid teachers. It is a great example of what a community can do when talented people are motivated. With all that said, very few of the students who graduate the local high school go away to college. Why? Because they live in Valhalla, Big Sur!

These flowers are called Naked Ladies. I just may be responsible for bring the bulbs to Big Sur from Sonoma county where they are endemic. At least I hope I am, but I cannot be held responsible for anything I did back in those days. These were outside the school yard, a place I probably would have planted them.

On his “town” day, we drove through a town called Cayucos. I had to laugh. I had never noticed the name of this little ville before. This time I made him stop at a couple of realtors. I would truly like to retire there, all I have to do is convince my wife.

Sadly it was now time for me to drive back to Los Angeles. I should mention here that gasoline costs about three times what it did in my old days of driving a VW bus on this trip. However, I actually spent less on gas because of the mileage on the Fusion. People should stop complaining and embrace the federal MPG statutes. It all works out in the end.

Thanks for reading. Tell a friend. Make a comment.

Next post, the ‘Nam. I never thought I would go there, but I am married to the most wonderful woman who makes even my wildest fantasies come true.

Vagabounding.

 

No, I did not spell the title wrong. I made up the word to describe a new philosophy of travel.

The real word is Vagabonding. Vagabonding has a new guru. His name is Rolf Potts. In his book, called not surprisingly Vagabonding, he defines vagabonding as “The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time.” And “A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible”.

The book does a fine job of advocating vagabonding as an alternative to taking vacations. When Potts is talking “extended periods of time” he means six months, or two years.

“A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible” basically means not spending a dime you do not have to when you are home, and working jobs that you can drop like a bad habit when you have saved up enough to head off for Timbuktu and beyond. He does not discuss personal relationships that might develop whole gathering your travel loot. He also assumes you have no desire to own a pet. He assumes you can live a life that has no ongoing debt. These things among others are what a cage is to a bird.

Potts does a very good job of instructing the potential vagabonder to not put off your dream. Even if you cannot take off on your journey today, this is the time to start preparing for it. Saving money by doing things like cutting off your cable service and divesting yourself of the silly luxuries you might find indispensible right now.

If studying a map, and reading Tripatini.com, gives you goose bumps, you are a potential vagabonder. Potts tells us that vagabonding starts now and it starts in the conscience refusal to relegate your dreams to “later”. If you do, later will never arrive. The day you decide you do not need a new car, or that a less expensive beer will give you the same buzz as the expensive six pack, you have begun to vagabond.

I was one of those who said later. I did my fair share of traveling, and touring in my younger years, but I always had that cage to fly home to.

Now circumstances, good fortune, and love have made a new type of lifestyle available to me.

I have named it Vagabounding.

Instead of setting off with a back pack and no set itinerary, like a vagabonder, I leave home knowing I will be back in ten days or two weeks and immediately start preparing for the next excursion. This is vagabounding.

A perusal of my blogs for the last 15 months (www.theothersideofthecoconut.com) will show that my travels have a center point like the jeweled bearing on a compass. My bar needle is not directionally motivated any magnetic pole, it is determined by curiosity and desire. Many times this desire is a life-long wish to see a particular site. This has led me to the pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal, and to experience Kathmandu. Most recently one of these life-long wishes led me to a photo safari in Kenya. Vagabounding keeps the compass needle spinning and instead of pointing north, it always points home.

My jewel bearing, my home, is a place called Sharjah. The American University of Sharjah employs my wife and is very generous with vacation time, very generous. I won’t even tell you how generous for fear that you will stop reading because you do not like fiction. They are very generous in many other ways as well. In short, we have no bills. We pay for nothing but food. We do not own a car. We do not have a pet. Our next door neighbor loves it when we are gone because he can pick up our newspaper. We could travel for extended periods of time, except that would mean the end of the employment. I could take off by myself and go vagabonding, except that my wife pointed out to me in no uncertain terms “that would not be fair.” Besides having her along makes each destination even more enjoyable.

So I vagabound. Sharjah is in the Middle East, next door to Dubai. This is the cross roads of the world and air travel from here to Europe, Africa and Asia is amazingly inexpensive.

Let me further define the term vagabounder.

A vagabounder is a person who bounds back and forth from home to a desired destination and back. Then he chooses another and does it again. It is like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. Travel, rinse, repeat.

A vagabounder is not defined by use of luggage or a backpack. Traveling light is always good, but do not try to be someone you are not. A baby boomer carrying a backpack is a bit off the point.

A vagabounder might be confused with a tourist or a traveler, when in reality he is neither.

A vagabounder is defined however by a destination and a purpose for the trip.

Taking a week to zip off to India to see the Taj, or Rome to see the Vatican is a perfect example. A vagabonder would encounter these items in the middle of a long excursion simply because “they are there.” A vagabounder makes it the sole reason for the trip.

Obviously being a vagabounder is a rare privilege. A person must be independently wealthy or like me, have a marvelous spouse with an incredible job. A vagabounder could be a self employed professional with the forethought to schedule a lot of travel time. Another type of vagabounder could be a person who travels for work extensively, gets a whole lot of frequent flyer miles, and is smart enough to arrange his business travel at or near places he wants to see. I used to work with a person like that. He saw the Great Wall, skied the Alps and more all on weekends after business meetings.

The accommodations a vagabounder chooses can be hostels to five star hotels. Vagabonders on the road for a year or two tend to stay in hostels so that maybe they can extend that stay another few months. I say hooray for them!

Vagabonders tend to make more travel buddies than vagabounders.  They can hook up on the road and move on together. They trade travel trips about places if going opposite directions. Again, hooray! That makes the travel experience even better.

In Rolf Potts book, he talks about vagabonders making acquaintances with locals easier than a tourist does. For the most part that is true. But a vagabounder can also make those friendships if desired. Maybe he will not find himself working with tea pickers in Thailand out of the desire to stretch the travel budget and therefore making dear friends. But he can still take a day to visit with the chief’s son in a Masai village and trade baubles. The difference is the vagabounder sets out to do something like that and the vagabonder stumbles upon the chance. Both are great.

One thing both should do is write about it. Use this forum, your own blog,a post card home or maybe just give tips on a bathroom wall. Just be sure to share.

Thanks for reading. Go book a trip. May I suggest……

Please share this with your friends and make a comment.

Going Bonkers At 35,000 Feet.

"Fuck you I'm French." Photo used for illustrative purposes only, I have no idea who this guy is. )

“Fuck you, I’m French.” Really,  this was the response to an air marshal aboard a Delta flight from Nice to New York by a passenger when confronted by flight attendants for repeatedly smoking in the restroom. I guess all the no smoking lamps and little signs aboard the plane were not as strong as his nicotine urge. I can almost understand this. Nice to NY is about 8 hours in the air. If you factor in the time in the no smoking airport you probably have ten hours you have to live without satisfying the urge. But “fuck you, I’m French” seems a shallow defense. However believable.

This blog post is about a slew of whacky events in the air lately. Not that zaniness in the friendly skies is anything new; it just seems to be occurring more often. Let us look at a few events that have made the news in the last month.

Passengers going bonkers for one reason or another and trying to open the door of the plane at 35,000 feet has recently become the act of choice for the unbalanced traveler. Aviation experts are at a loss as to why this is the case.

In one recent event, being over served could have been the cause. Flight attendants make poor bartenders. They really should be trained to recognize a person who cannot handle any more booze and cut him off. I say that although I was on a flight from Santiago to Lima one night when a pair of guys who were getting rowdy and demanding more Scotch were cut off. This was in business class! You never say no to premium fare passengers. The two of them made quite a scene, demanded to speak to the captain, and then, thanks to St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) they passed out. They were so out of it that they slept through the landing and debarking.

Back to recent events. A 43 year old man on a flight from Orlando to Boston was “apparently drunk” when he tried to open an emergency exit door. He was also upset because the plane was late.  A flight from Orlando poses other possible reasons a person would want to jump out at cruising altitude, I’ll get to that later.

Two days prior to this a very similar incident happened on a Continental flight over fly-over country.

The week before that a man rushed up the aisle of a Continental flight from Houston to Chicago, pinned the flight attendant against a wall with one hand and tried to open the door with the other. The flight was diverted to St. Louis and the man was led away hopefully in chains. I guess he just thought better about going to Chicago, or maybe he was a Cubs fan.

According to experts, due to the difference in air pressure inside the cabin and the air pressure at 35,000 feet simply prevents the door from being opened The air pressure in a cabin, according to your source, or the carrier, is kept at an equivalent atmospheric pressure of 5000 to 8,000 feet. So what if the plane is below 8000 feet? In that case the door can be cracked open (as is done if there is smoke in the cabin) but the wind speed would still prevent it from opening enough for any fool to leap out.

So let us examine possible causes for these acts of irrational insanity. I will approach this from my personal experience. No, I have never gone bonkers on a plane, at least demonstratively. Henry David Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” If he were around today I truly believe he would expand that gem of wisdom to include all airline passengers. Don’t get me wrong. I love flying. My father was an airline exec and we flew “non-rev” all the time. First class. It wasn’t until I was in college and bought my own ticket that I ever flew “economy”. Talk about desperation.

The difference between first class and cattle class is like the difference between a suite in the Hilton and a park bench. But then so is the price of the ticket.

A big advantage to flying in first or business is accessibility to lavatories. In the rich folks section, you practically have your own lavatory. In cattle class, depending on the airline and the type of plane, the ratio can be a very scary. 72 passengers to each lavatory is the number number for Delta on domestic flights using a 737-800.

"Ahh stewardess, Ahh Stewardess.

In my recent travels on my first flight to Bangkok from Dubai, I took Gulf Air because it was incredibly cheaper than Emirates or Qatar. I found out why. This was a triple 7 with over 250 seats in steerage, and it was full. There was ONE, 1 ,UNO y no mas, working lavatory in the cheap seats. It got so rank that about an hour out of BKK, they shut it down. A passenger unlocked the door to use the toilet, and he was summarily abused verbally by the flight attendants. I flew back on Qatar and will never fly Gulf Air again.

On a flight from Rio to NY JFK a passenger went “berserk” when his access to the lavatory was blocked by a beverage cart. He was returning to NY after an extended vacation in Brazil because he had run out of his anti-depressant meds.  His FB profile lists his hobbies as “shooting guns and helping to maintain the freedom of this country and bring the Constitution back into focus.” He kicked over the beverage cart and punched a flight attendant. Upon arrival he was turned over to an area hospital for a psychiatric   evaluation. This event was thoroughly covered by Fox news, which just might be responsible for his state of mind in the first place.

I have learned to book my seats in the last few rows, close to the lavatory, and time my bladder discharge with the passing of the beverage cart. And I do not watch Fox news.

Maybe these people desperately trying to open a door just need to pee.

At least that idea was what some flight attendants figured on an American Airlines flight into SFO last month. A Yemeni passenger started pounding on the door to the cock pit and yelled “Allah Akbar” over and over. The flight attendants thought he was trying to say “I have to pee” and showed him the door to the lavatory. Needless to add, he was arrested upon arrival.

Is your seatbelt properly fastened?

Another thing that perturbs a lot of fliers and for sure me, is when I have to sit next to an obese person.

Many airlines have been criticized for making the obese buy two seats. I will not criticize them for that. If a person is so damn fat that they cannot put down both arm rests they should pay up. Incredibly, some airlines have seat belt extenders for the incredibly obese. There are civil rights activists who fight airlines for profiling fat people. I bet none of their lawyers have ever had to sit next to a 350 pound guy and have him invade the little space you get in a cookie-cutter economy seat. I have not found a reference to anyone going berserk because of this, but I see it on the horizon. Maybe my horizon. But I don’t drink or take meds, so maybe not.

Now, just shudder at the thought of a screaming baby or toddler in your face for 4 to 12 hours. When it happens on an airplane, you simply cannot get away from it.

Someone shut this brat the hell up or I'm gonna jump off this plane!


Remember the guy on the flight from Orlando who went bonkers and tried to open the door? I will be that plane was full of kids who wanted to go back to see Mickey and screamed enough about it to drive passengers Goofy.

There is a lot of talk, just talk, about banning children from business class, and having “family sections” on planes. I cannot help but support this. The only defense is headphones and a good in-flight entertainment system. If you are flying “El-cheapo Airlines” which provides neither, be sure to have an Ipod.

There is a FB page titled “Airlines should have kid free flights.” This page has quite a lively discussion on the subject.

For an example of how bad a flight can be, open this link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmUWjoKvb6I&feature=related

The last episode of the mindless in-flight is the story of an “emotionally disturbed” woman in her late twenties stripped nude and ran down the aisle while flight attendants tried to cover her with a blanket. She ran away from them screaming no-no-no. The end result…”she is not expected to face criminal charges” according to NBC. Maybe she was just getting ready for her next TSA experience. Finally some good in-flight entertainment. No photos available, bummer

I hope you enjoyed this. Please hit the share button below so your FB friends can enjoy it too. Make a comment. Share your worst in-flight trauma! I’ll be writing again soon, this time on Safari!

“Quote” I Love to Travel

Where to next?

I have a new bucket list item. Someday, someone, anyone, anywhere will pay me to be a travel writer. As long as it is in English, I really do not care if the assignment is to report on the mating habits of Fiji islanders, or to cover the efforts of the DOD to clean up Christmas Island after 4 decades of thermo-nuclear target practice. I might insist on Business class for the latter, but I would go.

It seems fitting that I have this goal. My favorite place to write is in airport coffee shops or aboard an airliner somewhere between tedium and delirium. I love to write in anticipation of what I might see, or in reaction to it.

Maybe Elizabeth drew has the best warning for people like me.

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”

I choose to write about my travels because I choose not to bore people in person. If you are reading this, heck , you do not have to worry about insulting me. You can just vote with your mouse, and shut me down. In person you might be reticent to turn your back, walk away and mumble “what a putz.”

Still here? Ok let’s see how long I can keep your attention. Take your hand off that mouse.

There are many famous, funny and sometimes poignant quotes about travel. I’ll pop a few in here and add my observation as to their validity and/or value.

The first that comes to mind is “Wherever you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzai

That is actually a piece of Buddhist philosophy intended to suggest that inner peace is the key to happiness and fulfillment.  I’ll buy that, but I would rather have a boarding pass in my hands.  To me it also means that I carry a lot of preconceived notions about the way “it” ought to be. As much as I make an effort to shed this baggage, it is still there. Smiling acceptance of anything unusual, from a culture that drives on the wrong side of the road to a sub-par French fry at a 3rd world McDonalds, is a hollow effort to outwardly project  “I’m cool with that.”

The next quote is by a guy who could not help but be funny “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” –Yogi  Berra

This is a very valid and very simple observation.  I mean, what else are you going to do, debate with yourself? You could be making the right decision, or not. But only travelling down that road will reveal the secret. The last time I choose the wrong fork was at a dinner part where I embarrassed my much more sophisticated wife…but I digress. Actually I made a decision to see Mexico by bus instead of fly over it a few years back.  Talk about the wrong fork. The bus was hijacked, we were all robbed, and yes there was gunfire. My cordite scented memories of Mexico remind me that the wrong fork can lead to more than being embarrassed while ingesting a shrimp salad. But hell, I’m still here aint I?

Now a word from the hippy-dippy weatherman.  “Kilometers are shorter than miles. Save gas, take your next trip in kilometers.–  George Carlin

Examined in a way I am sure Carlin did not intend, this is a call to get away from the normal, the proximity to the mundane.  When things are measured differently than you are used to, yes, you are now travelling.  But remember, people who drive kilometers instead of miles are usually doing it on the wrong side of the road.

The next is by a Pulitzer prize winning author famous for his self-critical prose. I pride myself on self critical prose, but pining for a Pulitzer is well beyond my wildest delusion. “The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.” – Russell Baker

OMIGAWD, that is SOOOO true. One of the worst things that can happen while I putter around a foreign location trying to look like Peter Lorrie is to have another American ask “Wheah ya fruhm bud?” I find myself inspecting myself looking for what tipped him off, before I come to the realization that there are not many 6’1” locals in Nepal  buying sixties era love beads.

 “If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I do not know where in the volumes of Chuchill’s writings this quote appears. I do not even know if it applied to travelling. But it does for me. In my much simpler lexicon, it means “if where you are sucks, get on down the road.”

 “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”. – Unknown

Yes, I agree with Mr. Unknown. You can always get laundry done. Travel light and treat yourself to the occasional great meal.

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain.

Yes it is. I have found that when dealing with people of other cultures and religions, I find more in common with them than I ever thought possible.

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Yes again. It is the Stranger in a Strange Land  idea.  Deal with it.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Oh Mr. Twain. If only the entire world could do that. And yes, I do not want to lie on my deathbed wishing I had finished my bucket list

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

This one is for people who watch Fox News.

“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot

Well, this sounds great, but sometimes I must disagree, especially twelve hours into a flight with crying babies onboard. I just want to get there, now.

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling

This from a man who spent a lot of time in India. Take him at his word.

 “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

Yes, but sometimes you find yourself wondering ”Who designed THIS place?”

 “Most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting.” – Robert Thomas Allen

Oh yeah, oh yeah. Sit someplace and stare at the scenery, or people watch. In the right place you can do it for hours, while your mind “travels” in glory.

And finally:

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

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