Thursday, April 23, 2015

People often ask me where my favorite place on the planet is. Or more specifically, where I think the best place in the world is to live. If you travel a great deal, you too will be asked this question. The notion of a utopia. A perfect, egalitarian, and harmonious paradise on Earth has been a recurring theme in literature and storytelling for hundreds of years. I think this comes from a basic human need from time immemorial to search out greener pastures.

The thing is, there is no perfect place on this planet. Some places are nicer than others. No place is perfect. The outer Hawaiian islands had great year round weather when I lived there for several years. But day after day of nice weather comes with the difficulty of making enough money to afford the high cost of living and the transitory nature of a tourism based economy.

Shangri-la is a state of mind. It is something each person finds within themselves. It is not a place on earth.

Standing on a beach in Thailand watching a perfect sunset reflecting golden light off the waves is an easier place to experience that state of mind than horizontal snow in the upper midwest I have found. Which is one reason I migrate like the birds and live a nomadic existence.

Friday, April 17, 2015

I have led an interesting life. Reflecting back on it, as one does when they get older and have time, some stories have been coming back to me. The memories are haziest from the 1970’s. I had to do a google search to find out when the first Rainbow Festival was in Colorado. 1972 it was. That was the year that I hitch-hiked down to Mexico and lost all my money and had to make it back to Oregon from central Mexico with my thumb and the kindness of strangers. But that is another story. It was the year before that I was trying to remember.

In 1971 shortly after finishing spring term of college I had the summer off. My first car had a blown engine so I was back to a bicycle. I had graduated from high school early when I was 17 in 1970, so this meant that my friends Craig and Larry had just graduated from high school. We decided it would be fun to ride our bicycles to Canada.

more later….

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Last year in April of 2014 I had just parked my bike in Uruguay and flown back to the U.S. to do my taxes.

I always do my taxes on April 15th. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I have a problem with authority telling me what to do and when to do it. Who knows? At least now in the “occupation” box I can put “retired”.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

You wouldn’t think that a movie about a woman who goes on a walkabout 1700 miles across the Australian outback from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with some camels carrying her gear would be very interesting. Images of a lady walking 20 miles a day with some camels across the desert come to mind. How do you make a compelling film out of that story? And yet I thoroughly enjoyed the movie “Tracks”.

It became available on Netflix streaming yesterday. It didn’t have much dialog but it really spoke to me. The desert imagery and vastness of the outback were stunning. I remember reading the story in National Geographic years ago. I might have to get the book now. Stories like this always get my imagination going.

When I was in middle school an Australian anthropologist lived in the basement apartment under the house my parents were renting. He was a visiting professor at the college my father taught at. I used to love going down into his apartment to listen to his stories of life in the Australian outback. He did his PHD dissertation on the aborigines and lived with them in remote Western Austalia back in the 1960's. He had slides and would give me a private slide show of life with the aborigines. I saw that he was listed as a consultant on the film credits of "Tracks." What a coincidence. He is living in Perth now. I haven't seen him in 40 years. Good to see he is still doing well.

I learned today that my trial in Texas for the drunk driving arrest back in October will be May 7th. It took them over 6 months to get around to it so I’ll be heading back to Texas next month. So much for a speedy trial.

Ah well, in the U.S. drunk drivers lose their license for a time generally. I imagine I will too. So I have been looking at bicycle touring sites. The thing is, you can learn a lot about great roads and routes from long distance bicyclists even if you ride a motorcycle. Especially the folks on mountain bikes traveling the back roads.

These guys are tough and determined. The folks riding solo are generally very interesting people. They tend to be fiercely independent. My kind of people. Like this fellow I met in Southern Mexico who had started in Alaska and was heading to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America:

Or this Japanese cyclist I met out in the middle of the Atacama desert in Chile last year:

He was a physics professor on sabbatical. Out in the middle of nowhere. Mind you, the Atacama desert is the driest place on the planet. There is nothing out here. No plants, no animals, no birds, no trees, no water, no insects. Just a ribbon of asphalt for 1000 miles with nothing but rocks and sand. I would ride off on a side road to take a siesta in the shade of my bike and there was nothing but the silence of the desert.

And this Japanese cyclist had a bum knee. He was hurting. There hadn’t been any signs of civilization for the last 100 miles and here he was out in the middle of the desert pumping those pedals. What are you going to do? I gave him all my water and food since neither he nor I knew for sure when the next place to get anything was.

I often wonder how that fellow made out. Of course you can always flag down a passing motorist. But he was one determined traveler. I assume his thinking was, “By God, I’ll get to the end of the earth on this bicycle if it kills me.” I liked his style.

The worse the roads are, the nicer the people tend to be. A similar corollary to backpacking where the further you hike off the main trail and into the wilderness the nicer and more physically fit the people tend to be that you meet on the trail.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Argentina and Venezuela are the two countries in South America where they give an “official rate” for exchanging money at banks and ATMs and there is a better black market rate done informally with cash. What this means is that you are penalized for using ATMs at banks or paying for anything with a credit card in those two countries.

If you google “Argentina blue dollar” you will get a full explanation of the benefits of exchanging money on the black market in Argentina.

What this means to you is that ATM and credit cards will give you the official exchange rate of 8.85 Argentine pesos to the dollar, but if you have U.S. crisp hundred dollar bills, you can exchange them for 12.40 Argentine pesos to the dollar from a private money changer.

So say you go to an ATM in Buenos Aires and use your debit or credit card to get out 200 dollars worth of Pesos. The cash machine will spit out 1770 pesos. But if you go to the money changer dude on the corner near the central square and hand him 2 hundred dollar bills he will give you 2480 Argentine pesos. A much better deal. They prefer crisp hundred dollar bills. The exchange for 20s and 50s is slightly less. Don’t ask me why.

One other thing that many first time travelers don’t hear about is the importance of bringing crisp bills from your home bank to exchange in Latin America. No slight imperfections or tiny tears. They won’t take them.

Funny story, Albert the Scotsman who owns the hostel in Medellin where I stayed last year had a ripped 100 dollar bill that he hadn’t been able to use for years. I exchanged a fresh one and took his ripped one home where of course any bank in the States will exchange for a fresh one free of charge.

When I was in Argentina last year I exclusively used cash since your money goes 50% further. Where do you find black market money changers? Usually they hang out near the town square in the city center of medium to large towns. Or you can stop in at a hostel and ask the gringo backpackers on a budget where the nearest good money changer is. They will know. Small towns off the gringo trail won’t have them.