Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chased by llamas, falcons, running into bears, going through super typhoons and class 5 hurricanes.  Just who writes this ridiculousness?

I realized I really didn't have anything in the way of an "about" page.  I don't have any extra tabs on my blog.  I'm not selling anything.  I'm not spewing out a lot of unsolicited advice.  I don't have ads here.  I just have travel stories and humor.  Simple as that.

Still, when somebody is reading about my stories, they might want to know just a little bit more about me.  Do I seek out trouble?  Am I stupid?  Do I go where no man has gone before? My five decade mission is to....oh wait, I've been watching too much Star Trek.  Never mind.

A remote island off the Northeast side of Australia
Back to me.  I'm not a full time world traveler.  I have a job at Nike.  I have a base city in Portland, OR.  But I'm not some travel newbie either.  I've done millions of miles for both pleasure and business (and both).  I've been on all the populated continents.  I've been to over 50 countries.  I've done the Eurail Europe backpack deal before.  I've done the Asia experience before.  I've taken the cheesy tourist photos.  I've done the cheesy tours and excursions.  I've been on those cruise ships around the Caribbean.  I've also been to places few go.  Siberia, Adak, Angel Falls, Venezuela.  Been there, done that.

Cycling deep in the heart of Tanzania
Of course, like my blog title, that doesn't mean I'm not obsessed about where to go next.  I'm as passionate about travel as the next travel blogger out here.  They do it their way, I do it mine.  I'm fine with that.  

So my traveling goes back to 1980 which means I have over 30 years of accumulated stories and experiences.  For whatever reason, things just seemed to happen to me along the way.  I plan a trip to Cancun and hurricane Gilbert came through while I was there.  I take a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil and the gangs take over the city and fight with the police while I am there.  I do a work trip in Taiwan and Super Typhoon Zeb blows through.  I go to California and there's an Earthquake.  I fly back from South America, the plane engine catches on fire over the Amazon.  My car engine blows and strands me in the middle of the Mojave desert.  The list goes on...

Relaxing after some Paddle Ball on the Oregon Coast
When I am not experiencing something bizarre, I have based out of Portland, OR where I grew up.  That is changing though.  I have dreamed out moving out of the USA and have been looking around for years and finally found what I had been seeking on the Southern Coast of Spain in Almunecar.  It will be a good base from which to visit even more places and a chance to just enjoy things and not have to work again.  Ever.  I hope.

In a tight place in Aruba
My wife Jeanne is my lucky charm though.  Crazy things don't happen when we travel; usually.  Okay, so she was actually on the ship my son and I were exploring the front of our cruise ship in the Caribbean and the winds were so strong they closed off that area but didn't bother to check to see if anyone was still out there so we got locked outside in the wind.  It took quite awhile to get somebody to see us trying to open the doors which were locked closed.  These things happen.  I think...

Mossman Gorge, Australia.
So, enjoy the stories and don't worry, I've got no hidden agendas or motivations other than to tell them and have some fun with this crazy world of travel.  - Ed

Sunday, August 17, 2014

All I could think of was "don't try this at home" as I stumbled upon this sign recently.  Okay, sure, bicyclists should avoid railroad tracks because if the wheels get caught in between you will most likely do exactly as this sign.

I should know.  I did that years ago racing my girlfriend in an industrial area.  We both ended up on the deck.  She with several stitches above her eye.  Me with a bunch of nasty road rash that I had to clean myself because I didn't have insurance and couldn't afford the medical cost at the time.

You see, when you have bits of road embedded into what was your skin but is now your flesh, you actually do have to get it out and that requires a wire scrubber brush.  Fortunately I had one of these.  Unfortunately, they don't feel as easy as a toothbrush against raw flesh.  The first pass at scrubbing yourself with one is painful but doable.  It's the second pass when you KNOW what it's going to feel like that is daunting.  Let's put that day down at the bottom end of "fun days" for me.  It wouldn't be my first or last time dealing with road rash.  The last time came in Brazil with inline skates but that is another post.

But this post isn't about my unfortunate losses of skin.  This is about all those strange signs we see on the way somewhere.  Sure, there are probably dozens to highlight.  I'll just share a few that I happened to come across.


Sometimes it isn't even along a roadside...here's a classic trail sign.  Hmm...difficult or MORE difficult

Gluten Free, Vegan, Grass Fed...yep...must be in Portland, OR
This might actually keep the family from arguing.  I do notice that they seem to think it takes women 6 hours to do what the men have 3 hours to do.

Were these put up by the auto repair business down the road?

Language translations...close doesn't always do it...

Apparently nothing is a secret anymore...

They've named this right.  With no services, what else CAN you do.

Ok, so if this is an evacuation area, why is the guy running towards the water?
Honestly...there isn't a lot of room between these two signs
This is why we have GPS mapping now

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Quick, you're alone, you're hiking outside of Juneau Alaska, you round a bend on the trail and nearly walk into a full sized grizzly bear.  What do you do?

Now a prepared Ed wouldn't be hiking alone.  A prepared Ed would know that it does no good to run away.  A prepared Ed would not let the bear sense any fear.

Of course, I was none of those and I did like any stupid person in that particular situation, I nearly peed my pants, turned around and ran the other way!



I was in Juneau and rather than getting drunk in some dive bar like those I was with, I chose the higher road.  Literally.  I wanted to do a little hiking while I was there.  I wanted to get a feel for the area.  I just never expected to walk into a bear.


Looking down on the city of Juneau, Alaska
I also wasn't very observant.  There was clearly a large sign posted to the trail head bulletin board warning of a wounded bear in the area.  I never saw it.  They hadn't closed the trail but it was a bit off season and well, this was Alaska, they're just a bit more accustomed to such realities and probably have more sense than to hike up alone and inadequately prepared.


Yes, there was a sign on my trail but it wasn't as obvious as this one. Wished it were!
Still, it was a wonderful trail and it wasn't raining.  Juneau gets a lot of rain!  And snow.  Well, not a lot of snow but let's just say that I can count the number of good trail days Juneau has in Spanish and I really don't even speak Spanish.

Most people that visit Juneau are on a cruise.  They really don't have the time window to be able to get out and hike.  They make the trek over to Mendenhall Glacier and wander about town for the most part.  It's not like you can drive to Juneau. There are only about 45 miles of road around and they are locked in by the mountains on one side and the sea on the other.  You either have to fly there or boat in.


My first visit to Mendenhall was under less than ideal hiking conditions
Mendenhall Glacier is spectacular and I was fortunate to see it when it was easy to walk right up to the ice.  So much of it has melted and receded back now.  Glaciers are disappearing everywhere rapidly; go see them while you still can!

Standing at the base of the glacier
But beyond that a nice hike was definitely on my itinerary.  Coming from Oregon I am accustomed to the rain forest trees and vegetation of the area although in Alaska it is just so much more extreme.  There are no beaches coming out of the water; much of the land goes nearly straight up and the trees line the way.



But back to my unfortunate bear encounter.  I'd walked right by the bear warning sign, done a fair bit of hiking and was rounding a rock buttress.  So was the grizzly.  I came upon him and we both stopped with a distance of probably 10 feet between us.  I mentally thought, "Holy crap," turned and ran for the trees back down the trail.

Fortunately for me, the bear must have also thought, "Holy Crap!" for he took off the side of trail.  I had turned around to see if he was chasing me only to realize he had run off the trail.  The trail went down to a small stream or something and then rose back up this incredibly steep hillside.  The bear was charging up that hillside like a freight train!  I'd never seen anything like it; even on TV.  It was only then that it sunk in how ridiculous my notion of running away from the bear was.  If that bear wanted to catch me, he'd have already done so and have been gnawing on my legs like they were out of a KFC chicken box.  I cannot outrun a freight train at full speed.

After a few moments of watching him go and then shaking off my adrenalin, I decided that perhaps hiking by myself in such an environment wasn't a good thing and headed back.  I wish I had an actual photo of the bear but it's hard to operate the camera when you are pissing your pants.  It was only when I got back to the trail head that I noticed the wounded bear sign.  I was lucky that wasn't the bear.  At least, I don't think so.

And I'd like to tell you that was my one and only bear encounter.  I'd like to tell you that but I can't. I have one more ridiculous tale to share but I'll save that for a later post.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Great, there we were, dumped out on a lonely jungle back road.  Does this happen to anyone else?  I mean, how often does the transportation bus for a guided rafting trip have it's engine catch on fire and cause everyone to evacuate?

I only had two days in Costa Rica and I wanted to experience one of the top five most amazing jungle white water rivers on the planet:  The Pacuare River.  

Though I have done some of my own rafting adventures without guides, I prefer to use guided trips in areas I'm unfamiliar with.  The experience is more fun, more relaxing and takes less logistics.

So I'd bet all my time on one excursion to the Pacuare.  I was on an extended trip back from South America making hops to check out new locations.  I'd just come from Ecuador and planned the short stop in Costa Rica before departing back to the United States.


Needless to say, when smoke came billowing into the bus from an unknown fire in the engine, I was none too amused at the predicament.  The entire company and crew were left with no bus and no means of communication other than two-way radios.  No cell reception in this remote area.

Fried engine wasn't on the excursion itinerary
As I stood out on the highway looking as pathetic as the rest of our party I wondered if I'd even make my flight back much less lose my opportunity to do the whitewater.

Now Costa Rica is a place I could spend at least a couple of months exploring.  There's a plethora of jungles, beaches, mountains and white water to explore.  This was just my "taste test."


Despite the bad luck in being stranded, we were fortunate that one of the guides was able to get a hold of the river portage employee.  They had a tractor that hooked to a wagon which they use to take everyone down to the actual put in spot.  We were also lucky in that while we were pretty remote, we weren't too far away from that put in road and eventually they showed up with tractor and wagon in tow.


Out secondary transport.  10 miles at a speed of about 3mph...

Tractors are great for getting down to the river but not so on back road highways
This river was Class III and IV whitewater which means that it had some very large rapids and some fast moving water.


Ready to finally get wet!
There were several extremely large rapids where the holes between them swallowed the entire raft to where our heads were actually level with the tops of the rapids.


That's me closest to the camera obscured by a wall of water
We were fortunate enough to have the most experienced guide on the river and with our instruction, he was able to even backpedal into a huge waterfall that nearly filled our raft and soaked us completely.  It was all safe and according to plan but awe inspiring none-the-least.

The great thing about doing a jungle river over doing a mountain fed one is that the water is really warm.  This wasn't some snow melt frigid river, this was inviting to get wet, particularly given the heat and humidity outside.


 At one point we were allowed to float along by ourselves and enjoy the calmness that comes with just floating down naturally.  With Monkeys swinging from the trees and bright tropical bird singing along side the river banks, it made for a really memorable moment.

Yes, that bridge is truly scary
Just before the put out point, we floated under one of those crazy rotting bridges you see in movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Romancing the Stone. Sure enough, this was movie set worthy!  Trying to cross the bridge wasn't on the itinerary and I doubt that even if it was any of our crew was crazy enough to try.  I've done a 50 plus foot jump from a bridge before and it really isn't a very soft landing.

So in the end, I was able to enjoy the river and get my taste of Costa Rica.  I definitely need to go back and explore the country some more.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I have a confession.  I have an unhealthy need for speed anytime I drive in Europe.  It all goes back to a European backpack trip when I was just 21.  Back then I was doing a long Eurail travel trip throughout Europe with a friend and we stopped in Austria to drive on the Autobahn from Salzburg to Vienna.

This was at a time when you could actually walk up to a Hertz car rental and get a Ferrari or Porsche to rent!  No, I'm not talking about $3000 per day or some ludicrous cost. Sure, they went for a lot more money than your typical sedan but it wasn't over the top.


You will not see these at your typical European rental car agency
The only catch was that you had to be 25 to rent them and we were only 21.  Damn!  We opted for a BMW 637csi at the time and cranked that baby up to 156mph on the Autobahn. That was as fast as it would go.  I figured out that after about 140mph I get kind of white knuckled to the steering wheel.

The crazy part of the day was that we were getting passed!  We learned our lesson that day about hanging out in the left lane on the autobahn.  Don't do it!  Unless you own a super car you will get passed.  We had a Ferrari, a Porsche and a Mercedes all pass us during that drive.  And we weren't looking to get passed!

I never got the opportunity to drive in Europe again until almost 20 years later.  I was focusing on visiting other parts of the world during that timeframe and when the opportunity to do a work trip in the Netherlands came up, I immediately tagged on three days for driving in Germany.  I was determined to go faster!

But to my surprise, in those 20 years the rental car industry had learned a few things.  One of them was to not offer up super cars for rentals in Europe.  Duh!  So despite my searching and searching, I couldn't find anything really exotic to rent and abuse on the German Autobahn.  Sure, I could rent a Lamborghini but the cost of doing so was so much that only a person rich enough to afford one of their own could afford to rent one so that wasn't an option.



In the end, I dragged my co-worker onto the trip and we ended up with a large sedan.  We thought we were getting a Mercedes but they did a bait-and-switch at the rental place and ended up with a high end Peugeot.  That is an oxymoron.  To be fair though, it did get up to about 140 tops and I spent the better part of three days driving between 120-140mph.

At that speed I also learned that I don't get bored, tired or drowsy.  It's just too exhilarating.  Of course, we set off from Amsterdam and I just couldn't wait to get started so I just pretended all of Europe was an Autobahn.  Miraculously, I never got a speeding ticket on my way to Europe despite all the warnings I was given.  Sure, dumb luck.

Of course, there are only so many true "autobahn" roads and you cannot really drive for three days on them unless you keep repeating them so we did embellish by driving too fast on other roads too.

What did finally get me to slow down was a bit of rain while heading up the Rhine River.  Call me a wimp but I don't like to go over 100mph on slick roads.  We had a convertible BMW pass us during that time.  She was going about 120mph at the time.  About 15 minutes later we saw her car sprawled out all over the road.  Pieces were everywhere and amazingly she was standing with a police officer.  My hat goes off to German engineering after seeing that.



I got one last opportunity to speed ridiculously fast while heading up the Italian Riviera.  I did have a beastly Mercedes at the time and I might as well be driving it because there certainly wasn't anywhere in all of Italy to park it.  It was simply too big!  The thing about driving over 100mph in Italy on the E80 is that there are a bazillion tunnels to go through.  You just get tired of taking your sunglasses on and off after awhile.
  

Yep, eventually you are driving in a dark tunnel at 130mph with sunglasses on.  And the fact that I'm writing this and not squatting still in some Italian jail or having this inscribed on a tombstone indicates that while stupid and unsafe I am sure, I pulled it off.  I think I can safely say I'm satisfied with my speed binges now.  I think...