Blog Archives

Around the World in a Daze

My faithful readers will already know I am married to a wonderful woman who has made my lifelong wanderlust sustainable. To my new readers, trust me, I married right.

This will be the next to last post on this blog for 2012. I intend to do a “year-in-review” post soon, and what a travelicious year it has been.

This is a short look at a long trip around the world. I had never done that before. Due to circumstances and needs, I had all the excuses I needed to circumnavigate the coconut.

My trip took me across each and every of these time zones!

My trip took me across each and every of these time zones! I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, the Tropic of Cancer each twice, the equator twice, the international dateline and the prime meridian. Hey sister teacher, do I pass my geography test?

We live near Dubai, which just happens to be a fantastic place to travel from. Everywhere is close it seems. We flew Emirates Air, the first of six airlines I would use on to get around the globe.

This trip starts on a tiny rock in the south Indian Ocean called Mauritius.

First flight, Dubai to Mauritius. Emerites Air. 6 hours. No upgrade needed, Emerites treats you well in all the cabins!

First flight, Dubai to Mauritius. Emerites Air. 6 hours. No upgrade needed, Emerites treats you well in all the cabins!

Mauritius can be driven across in less than two hours. Volcanic in origin, it has a very picturesque mountain range which you can see from anywhere on Ile Maurice.

Mauritius can be driven across in less than two hours. Volcanic in origin, it has a very picturesque mountain range which you can see from anywhere on Ile Maurice.

Perhaps I am a spiritual descendant of the now extinct Dodo bird. Mauritius is where they were before the first white settlers caught them all because they could not fly. I hear they tasted like chicken.

Perhaps I am a spiritual descendant of the now extinct Dodo bird. Mauritius is where they were before the first white settlers caught them all because they could not fly. I hear they tasted like chicken.

The Island has an interesting history. First settled by the Dutch who named it after their Prince, it was taken over by the French. The French used it primarily as a port to launch attacks on  East India Company ships taking spices and silks to England from India. The East India Company, owned in large part by the royals, did not like that inconvenience one little bit and sent the worlds best naval power to put an end to the piracy. Consequently French and English are both spoken all over the island along with a native patois that combines the languages of India with African dialects. The main agricultural crop is sugar cane, which of course means there is production of rum, ummm, good rum.

rum

Turning sugar cane into rum, honest work!

My wife was with me for this part of the trip. It was a break from work for her and she wanted a no hassle week, so we stayed at a Club Med. On Mauritius? Yes, in fact they have two on the island. Mauritius is circled by luxury beach hotels. Tourism comes in second in the local economy.

Like all Club Meds, there is no shortage of recreational activities. Like most Club Meds, this one was on a fantastic stretch of beach.

Like all Club Meds, there is no shortage of recreational activities. Like most Club Meds, this one was on a fantastic stretch of beach.

All inclusive not only means ” have fun with our toys and eat until you burst”, it means drink your butt off if you desire.

The local beer. Here we are on a catamaran trip and Mary Ann took advantage of the "all-inclusive" thing.

The local beer. Here we are on a catamaran trip and Mary Ann took advantage of the “all-inclusive” thing.

Now 8 hours on a sailboat, and many “la bieres” can lead one to be a bit clumsy when you set foot on land. Mary Ann headed to the room to change, and tripped over her flip flops.

A few minutes later she was a patient in the Club Med clinic.

A few minutes later she was a patient in the Club Med clinic.

The clinic insisted we take an ambulance to the hospital, fearing a minor concussion. She got a cat scan which revealed no damage.

The clinic insisted we take an ambulance to the hospital, fearing a minor concussion. She got a cat scan which revealed no damage.

The hospital was not ony modern and efficient, it was on the beach! We (I stayed  overnight with her) have had less attractive hotel rooms.They kept trying to feed us. The room, the multiple MD visits, the cat scan altogether cost less than US$300. We had bought the Club Med trip insurance, and paid NOTHING out of pocket.

The hospital was not only modern and efficient, it was on the beach! We (I stayed overnight with her) have had less attractive hotel rooms.
They kept trying to feed us. The room, the multiple MD visits and the cat scan altogether cost less than US$300. We had bought the Club Med trip insurance, and paid NOTHING out of pocket. You can see here Mary Ann’s eye starting to puff up. The next day she looked like she had done 3 rounds with Mike Tyson.

Besides the catamaran trip, we took one overland excursion across the island. Pretty small towns, one big city, and a lot of sugar cane!

Perhaps the slowest way to see the island!

Perhaps the slowest way to see the island! He was not much of a guide, but I still tipped him well.

Mary Ann returned to work. I took off back across the equator for Thailand. I flew Air Mauritius to Kuala Lumpur, then Thai Air to Bangkok, then Air Asia to Chiang Mai.

I have been getting some extensive dental work done there, and this was going to be my last trip. I have covered life in Chiang Mai in previous posts, and they are worth navigating to. It is a very excellent city. I stayed three weeks and walked away from the land of smiles with a new smile. I promised my wife I would use it as much as possible.

From Thailand I flew  South China Air into some city in China I cannot pronounce or really even spell. The airplane we took from Bangkok to China had one of the windows in the cockpit held on with duct tape, I kid you not. I tried to get a photo, but it did not come out. Trust me, duct tape.

I had a 90 minute layover before I connected on a flight to LAX. This was both the least expensive flight from Thailand to Los Angeles, AND the flight to LA was on an A380, which I had never been on.

This a truly large aircraft. A double decker. Everything was quite modern. I cannot wait to fly on one where everything is in English. My Chinese is  rather bad. The flight was 16 hours!

This a truly large aircraft. A double decker. Everything was quite modern. I cannot wait to fly on one where all the instructions are in English. My Chinese is rather bad. The flight was 16 hours! Brand new plane, no duct tape.

I arrived in LA during rush hour (as if LA is not a 24/7 rush hour), rented a car and sat in traffic (managing not to fall asleep after that flight) to my sister’s house where I occupied her living room and had a fantastic turkey day spread. Thanks sister.

Then I went to spend a week in my personal Valhalla, Big Sur. This is simply my favorite place on the coconut, and has been for close to 40 years.

My buddy John lives 6 miles and 3500 feet above Highway 1 on the very worst road I have ever been on. The road keeps the tourists away so I do not mind!

My buddy John lives 6 miles and 3500 feet above Highway 1 on the very worst road I have ever been on. The road keeps the tourists away so I do not mind!

An Oak grove near his house.

An Oak grove near his house.

Cutting firewood. Split wood not atoms!

Cutting firewood. Split wood not atoms!

Even the firewood here is pretty. These " designs" in the wood should be sold as Chumash Indian art!

Even the firewood here is pretty. These ” designs” in the wood should be sold as Chumash Indian art!

Now for a couple of sunset photos from John’s house. Eat your heart out.

The sun reflecting off clouds foretelling a rainstorm.

The sun reflecting off clouds foretelling a rainstorm.

Just another sunset in Valhalla.

Just another sunset in Valhalla.

With a sad heart but a happy mind, I left Big Sur. I drove back to Los Angeles in a rainstorm. I got to LAX early, too early. I was flying Virgin Atlantic from LAX to LHR. A five hour layover in the most confused airport in the world, and then onto DXB and finally home’

For this 10 hour flight I upgraded to  "premium Economy" class, whch is VA's way of saying business class. It was worth it. Big comfy seat, excellent food and good service except thattheydo not have Tabasco Sauce for a Bloody Mary

For this 10 hour flight I upgraded to “Premium Economy” class, which is VA’s way of saying business class. It was worth it. Big comfy seat, excellent food and great service except that they do not have Tabasco Sauce for a Bloody Mary. Come on Sir Richard Branson! Geesh.

photo (10)

The last leg of the trip. 6 hours, 4 time zones. I was glad to be home in Sharjah. When I laid my head down, I realized I had missed Saturday altogether! I had a wicked case of jet lag. Next time I go around the world I want to do it longitudinally so I can stay in one time zone. Is that possible?

Well that about wraps up the coconut for the year! Look for my 2012 recap soon. Meanwhile, please make a comment and/or share this with your FB and real friends!

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.

Going Digital

I’m old. I grew up with cameras that shot film. I learned how to develop and print my own B/W shots to save money. However, I still had to worry about how much film I had in my camera, or on my person whenever I was out taking photos.

Now, along with just about everybody except some true pros who still think film renders a better image, I am a member of the digital age. I was unhappy with the performance of my first couple of digital cameras. One of them bit the dust (make that humidity and corrosive environ) of my previous home. Consequently when I left I bought a new Nikon digital.

It was an OK unit, but it was slow at capturing an image, and I really missed the abilities I had in my old SLRs, things like aperture and shutter speed. I was using it to take pictures for this blog and in the final analysis,  I was not happy with the results.

So I splurged on a new camera.

In making my decision I had to consider weight and ease of use. I remember well my old Nikon SLR’s with a 50mm lens, a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens.  I also remembered having to carry a camera bag and being in a hurry to switch lenses when I needed to. I did not want to get into that again. Because I carry my HP mini with me, with the power unit, I already feel like a sherpa when I am on the move.

Then I was reading Wired magazine and I saw an ad for a new Nikon. I feel free to digress here, after all this IS MY blog. I have always believed in Nikon over the lesser brands. I think the Nikkor lens is superior to anything short of Hassleblad, which I cannot afford. I also know that a Nikon is much more rugged brand than say a Canon.

This new Nikon is called the P7000.

It is sexy as it is light and easy to use!

The ad listed the features and I was blown away. I googled the P7000 and the list of features in the review were even more impressive. It was compared to a new Sony that had most of these features, and one my camera does not have ( an adjustable viewing screen, very nice) but like I said, I am old, and Sony, as far as I am concerned, makes stereos. Then I read this independent review and user comments and I was sold.

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/P7000/P7000A.HTM

Now the search was on. I live in the UAE. Dubai has a worldwide reputation as a place to go shopping. All you have to do is visit a mall and see the hundreds of sunburned overweight Russians carrying multiple shopping bags full of things they cannot buy back  in the USSR, even under capitalism.  So I looked for a Nikon retailer. There are many of them, but only one carried this new fangled P7000. When I walked in and asked the Indian gentleman (Emiratis NEVER do retail) “Do you have a Nikon P7000”  he knew he had a sale. His was the only store in Dubai that had one, and I obviously wanted one. Because of all my travels lately I have become a true haggler. I tried to get his price down, but by the look in his eyes I could see him say “This aint Bombay Sahib.” All I managed to get was a free case, which it turns out I do not use now.

This camera has an instruction manual longer than the computer I am typing on, or for that matter my last automobile. I have spent hour upon hour trying out features in search of the perfect setting for that Ansel Adams moment.

All I have to do is pop open the manual to any page and I am astounded at what this camera will do. I flip the pages and just stop anywhere and I say to myself “really, I can do THAT?”

The camera goes from lens settings of 28mm to 200mm effortlessly and quickly. I can change any of the settings I used to play with on my old SLR’s as easy as using my Ipod. Or of course I can just set it on auto, and it does everything necessary for a good shot all by itself. But I like playing with the knobs and altering the outcome of my shots.

When I used film, I thought that if I was very careful composing the picture, I might get one good shot out of a roll of 36 exposures, or maybe one great  shot out of 100. Now, I am happy with three or four out of 1000. Yes, I have a big memory card in it, it handles over  10,000 images. I have never come close to running out of space, even when I take videos.

I am about to travel to a very exotic location, New Jersey, to attend a wedding. I am sure I will be the obnoxious person running around taking shots of people I do not know, in hopefully embarrassing situations.

Drink up kid, all the adults are!

 

After that I am on my way to my favorite location on the planet, Big Sur. One cannot take enough photos in Big Sur. I just might fill up that memory card.

I cannot wait to be here again if only for a week. It is, in my opinion, even after all the traveling I have done, simply the most beautiful place on the planet. Just wait until you see my photos!

Stay tuned for pictures of  over-served guests at the wedding, and waves crashing against granite cliffs.

Subscribe to this blog if you have not already, hell it is free. Tell a friend, or an imaginary FB friend, and PLEASE make a comment!

%d bloggers like this: