My Latest Espresso Adventure

I know the plan for June was to cut back on the coffee, but the Victoria, BC trip with the Coffee Club of Seattle was already scheduled. My espresso mini guide is up on INeedCoffee.

5 Espresso Saturday in Victoria, BC


Unrelated to coffee, I love a good user interface. Victoria utilizes boxes at crosswalks to present maps of their city. Would love to see more cities do this. There are some parts of downtown Seattle that use map based engraved manhole covers. An OK idea, but the city workers stopped lining the covers back up so the maps reflected which direction you were facing, which makes them less useless. Victoria’s approach is cheaper and much easier to read. Props to the City of Victoria Engineering Department.

UPDATE JULY 2013: I took a photo of the manhole cover mentioned above (4th and Cherry). It was completely turned around. Someone put a lot of effort into this design, but it fails to be useful as a map, because it wasn’t oriented properly by the city worker that placed it down.

Seattle Map manhole cover

Vancouver 2012

Last weekend I returned to Vancouver, Canada for a weekend of massive espresso consumption. Actually, I had so much caffeine on Saturday that I had trouble sleeping and I never have trouble falling asleep. Sure I might have light sleep or wake too early, but falling asleep is never a problem. The reason is most of my Saturday coffee consumption was between 1PM and 7 PM. Lesson learned. For Sunday and Monday, I cut my intake in half and had no problem falling asleep those nights.

I updated my 2009 INeedCoffee article Vancouver Espresso Vacation with three new venues.

Vancouver 2012

Vancouver, Canada

Back From California

During my short trip to the Los Angeles area, I stayed at the most unique hotel I’ve ever slept at: The Queen Mary. This luxury cruise ship was built in 1936. Lots of famous people traveled on it. During World War 2 it transported troops to Europe. In 1967, the City of Long Beach bought it. Later it was converted into a hotel. Some say it is haunted, but I didn’t run into any ghosts. :)

Photo by Yang and Yun’s Album

Photo by Olivier Bruchez

Photo by Eleventh Earl of Mar

Travel Maps 2010

2010 ended without me being able to add a single new state or country to my travel maps. My only travels this year were to the Olympic peninsula and Portland, Oregon.

visited 32 states (64%) Create your own visited map of The United States

visited 12 countries (5.33%) Create your own visited map of The World

I’ve been asked by a few people where I am going next and I honestly don’t know. Where do you think I visit next? My criteria for travel is quite simple.

  1. Cheap. I want my dollar to go further abroad than it would at home. Sorry Japan.
  2. Excellent or unique food.
  3. I don’t want to drive.
  4. Not Completely Dangerous. I want avoid war areas like Afghanistan, urban hell zones like Caracas, Venezuela and remote parts of the planet with landmines or highly infectious diseases. If the daytime is mostly safe then it is a candidate for travel.
  5. New destination. I’m more interested in going somewhere new than returning to a place I’ve already visited.

Where should I go?

Portland Coffee Adventures

My guide to the Portland, Oregon espresso scene is now finished. Head over to INeedCoffee if you want to read Portland Espresso Vacation. As if living in Seattle with all its wonderful coffee isn’t enough, we are fortunate to have Vancouver to our north and Portland to our south. Many coffee professionals cite these 3 cities as having the best coffee in North America, if not the world.

Back From Portland, Oregon

My only other visit to Portland, Oregon was when I drove from San Diego to Seattle in 2007. Since then the coffee scene has exploded down there. I will post a full report on INeedCoffee later. For now, I’ll post a few non-coffee related photos.

Khao Muu Daeng/Muu Krob from Pok Pok

Rose Test Garden

A toy horse hitched in the Pearl District of Portland.

Basil Crispy Duck from Bangkok Bites (7915 SE Stark St)

The Portland coffee photos are up here.

Where Was I?

I am back from my trip. Where did I go? Below are two photo clues.

Bonus clue: I stood out as a tourist because I wear bright colors and have no facial hair.

Talk Me Down, Safe and Sound

If you live in Seattle or plan on coming here for vacation, I highly recommend taking the Seattle Underground Tour. It is 90 minutes long and full of fun history on how the city got started. Most of my photos did not turn out, so I found some better ones from Flickr. The tour is in the Pioneer Square district.

Photo Seattle Underground Tour VII by Crashworks

Photo Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour by cliff1066

For more photos check out the Seattle Underground gallery.

Post title is from the song 6 Underground by the Sneaker Pimps.

Coke Zero in Thailand

This post has been moved from Coffee Hero. It was originally written on January 12, 2010.

Even though I quit drinking Coke Zero in 2008, I make an exception when I’m in a hot place far from quality coffee. So in 2009, I drank Coke Zero in Thailand, Cambodia and New Orleans. Coke Zero is my caffeinated insurance policy when I’m surrounded with bad coffee and tea.

This week Venezuela devalued their currency by 50%, which got me thinking that it might make for nice cheap trip. But then I recalled that Venezuela banned the sale of Coke Zero last June. Guess I could always pack my own tea.


Venezuela Bans Sale of Coke Zero – BBC news story from June 11, 2009

Chavez Devalues Venezuela’s Currency – WSJ story from January 9, 2010.

Yes, It’s Over, Call It A Day, Sorry That It Had To End This Way – Blog post on why I quit drinking Coke Zero…at least when I’m surrounded by good coffee.

Coffee (Land) Mine

This post has been moved from Coffee Hero. It was originally written on November 14, 2009.

This voluminous monster is what I got when I ordered an espresso in Bangkok. My first impression is that Seattle does Thai food better than Thailand does coffee.

UPDATE: It appears I misplaced the espresso photo when I moved web hosts.

Coffee Bean Chair from Argentina

This post has been moved from Coffee Hero. It was originally written on January 25, 2010.

I was going through photos from my 2006 trip through South America and I found this photo that I had completely forgot about. This coffee bean chair was inside a Buenos Aires mall. Notice that every chair in the cafe has the coffee bean design.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There

Two years ago I read the travel book Vagabonding, which I enjoyed. I was pleased to discover the author had written another book.

Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer (Travelers' Tales Guides)
Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer (Travelers’ Tales Guides) by Rolf Potts is a collection of travel stories. Most of the stories had been published before in other formats over the past decade. They were all new to me though.

Rolf Potts is a very good writer and I loved his openness to travel adventures. He goes to places far off the beaten path, such as the remote villages of Cambodia and the beaches of Grenada. He gets robbed. He gets sick. Then he picks himself back up and continues the journey. I wouldn’t consider the book to be funny like Smile When You’re Lying. To me it spoke about having a healthy attitude in your daily adventures with people, be they in the Indian Himalayas or in a small town in Kansas. Recommended.

Note that each chapter has notes at the end. There are not essential to enjoying the book. I only read the ones of the places I may visit in the future.

Planes, Trains and Elephants – My 2009 Asia Trip Overview

Early in my 4 week trip to Asia, I discovered that slow upload speeds would prevent me from posting my travel blogs in a sequential timeline. Now that I have all my posts finished (finally), I can assemble them in order with links. I bolded the more important posts. At the end of the post, I list some of my trip favorites.

Seattle, USA

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand

Ko Samui, Thailand

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Bangkok, Thailand (return)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Seoul, South Korea


Trip Highlights.

  • Favorite Place: Chiang Mai, Thailand – Great food and great activities.
  • Favorite Tourist Spot: Angkor Wat – Beyond amazing.
  • Favorite Activity: Elephant Training.
  • Favorite Photos: Night shots of Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
  • Favorite Video: My graceful “head first” climb at Elephant Training.
  • Favorite Food: Bangkok, Thailand and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Favorite Airport: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Favorite Meal: Baby chicks on a stick in Ko Samui, Thailand for under $1 USD. (on right in photo below)

Will I return? Maybe, but probably not. I’m the type of traveler that would rather seek out a new destination than return to a place that I’ve already visited. With that said, I would not turn down a chance to return to Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

Fearing Black Canyon Coffee in Bangkok, Thailand

While looking for espresso as I explored the streets of Bangkok, I found a sign inside a shopping mall pointing me in the direction of a place called Black Canyon Coffee. With a logo that seemed more fitting for Arizona than Thailand, my interest was peaked. I walked in the direction the sign was pointing, but did not find a coffee place.

I wasn’t ready to give up, so I exited the mall by the side so I could walk around front to find another sign. That is when I spotted their large sign up front. Take a look at the photo below. Look at how professional the photo is setup and then notice that the espresso coming out of the portafilter is almost white. That can’t be good. I decided to pass on trying Black Canyon Coffee. Did they take that photo when they were cleaning the equipment? I hope so.

One commenter suggested that this billboard may have been sun washed, which would explain the lack of color in the espresso shots. I would agree, but I saw this same photo a few times and it was the same color.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

It seems I missed a post. I posted about the cool things I did in Chiang Mai, such as the Thai cooking class, elephant training and playing with tigers, but I didn’t mention the town itself. Chiang Mai was just my speed. Even though I loved exploring Bangkok, I prefered the much smaller city of Chiang Mai.

We arrived in Chiang Mai via an overnight train.

The food was stellar. Not just the Thai food. There was an amazing Mediterranean restaurant and possibly the best Indian food I have ever had was at Royal India Restaurant. The proprietor came out and offered to cook us a meal and if we didn’t like it, we didn’t have to pay. We liked it so much, we came back the next day.

The only thing keeping Chiang Mai from being one stop Thailand destination is that it is land locked, so you won’t find a beach here. Since I get bored of the beach quickly, Chiang Mai was perfect for me.

Photo Gallery for Chiang Mai, Thailand

Seattle Iced Latte in Bangkok?

This post was moved from Coffee Hero.

When I spotted this “Seattle Latte” in the cold drink section of a Bangkok 7 Eleven, I knew I had to try it. It was a sweet tasting drink, which wasn’t too painful considering how hot and humid it was in Thailand. Did it taste like a Seattle Latte? Not unless you add sucralose and Acesulfame K to your latte.

I will say the “Seattle Latte” was better than the Birdy coffee drink. Then again the drip tray overflow of a Tully’s espresso machine would have tasted better than that drink. ;)

Immigration, Customs and Fearing International Travel

This post is primarily for people that have not traveled outside the United States.

When you first enter a foreign country you must present yourself to an immigration officer. They will look over your passport and if a tourist VISA is required, they will examine that too. They may ask you questions about why you are in their country and what you plan to do. And if they don’t like the answers they hear, you could be detained. This is their home and they set the rules.

Once you make it through Immigration, you will pass through Customs. This is where officers will defend their country from you taking in anything illegal. That might be a firearm, drugs or even a sizable amount of cash. It is their country and they set the rules. If you don’t play by their rules, you could be fined or detained.

Sounds scary doesn’t it? A bright-eyed American leaves the Land of the Free and ends up in a foreign prison due to some misunderstanding at the airport. The reality is every foreign country that I have visited has had Immigration and Customs officers that have treated me with respect. I understand there is corruption at some land crossings, but it is far less common at airports.

During my trip, I went through Immigration 7 times and only once was I treated like a criminal. Can you guess which one?

  1. Thailand (from Seattle, USA)
  2. Cambodia (from Thailand)
  3. Thailand (from Cambodia)
  4. Malaysia (from Thailand)
  5. Thailand (from Malaysia)
  6. South Korea (from Thailand)
  7. Seattle, USA (from South Korea)

If you guessed #7, you are correct. The immigration lines returning to America were longer than every other line I had gone through combined. The lines were long and slow moving because everyone was being grilled on why they were here or why they left. I got the same hostile reception when I returned from South America in 2006 as well. Is this how we treat everyone visiting our country? Sad.

I got off easy. Some young mother of Latin descent that just arrived on a red-eye got peppered with hostile questions in rapid fire. When her language skills couldn’t keep pace with the officer, she got escorted to a side room with her infant child. The officer was some young guy with his head shaved to look tough. If you want to be tough dude, join the military.

I breezed right through South Korea Immigration and was on my way.

Perhaps my experiences were not typical. I’d like to hear from other travelers about their incidents with Immigration in America and in other countries.

Traffic Lights and Menus in Thailand and Cambodia

As much as a bad user interface annoys me, I really enjoy discovering an excellent U/I. While in Thailand and Cambodia, I noticed a brilliant user interface. They place a second counter on traffic lights. When a light turns green or red, there is a second counter to the side of it. You know exactly when the light will change.

11 Seconds left on this green light in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here in the States, people use red lights to apply makeup, drink coffee and light their smokes. Having a second counter on the light would give our multi-tasking drivers a visible indicator on how much time they have before the guy behind them blasts his horn. I love it.

9 seconds left on this red light in Bangkok, Thailand

TheTailGunner mentioned a potential downside. He saw drivers gunning their cars a second or two ahead of time. So a red light with 1 or 2 seconds left is equal to a green light. At first I conceded this point, but when I went back to the intersection to witness the traffic dance, I noticed that in heavy traffic it is more likely that the side with the green light will run the first second or two of the red light. During light traffic, the side waiting for the light change will advance prematurely, but not during heavy traffic. Since cars take a second or two to move from a dead stop until they are in the intersection, more cars get through each light cycle. What appears unsafe at first, somehow works.

As much as I loved the user interface of intersections, I need to give a slam on menus and restaurant ordering in Thailand and Cambodia. As I’ve stated before, most of the people in Thailand do not speak English. However, they do know numbers. Cambodians speak much better English. One thing both countries have in common was that almost every menu for sit down restaurants, be they Thai, Indian or whatever, had a sequential number system beside each dish.


4 – Pad Thai with Shrimp

5 – Pad Thai with Chicken

Now the silly American in me would order #4 and then point to the line in the menu. Since many can’t speak English and they all understand numbers, this to me seems the logical way to order. Nope. I don’t even know why they put the numbers in the menu. We always had to have that moment where nobody understood anyone until they came around to write down what I was pointing at on the menu. They would write the entire name of the dish down. Never once did they write the number.

A numbered menu from Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the reasons the United States is a business success is because we use numbers and acronyms. We are able to communicate a lot of information quickly and without error. I had a few orders that came back different than what I ordered. Using the number system would have eliminated those mistakes. Come on Thailand and Cambodia, you like numbers when you drive, use the ones on your menus.

Birdy Ice Coffee is Just Nasty

This post was moved from Coffee Hero.

If I had to pick the worst coffee related beverage I tried in while traveling in Asia, I’d say it was Birdy Robusta Ice Coffee. Now this is something I’d never consider drinking back home, but since I was in Coffee Explorer mode, I figured I’d give it a try.

One sip was enough. Just vile. Avoid.

Starbucks Civility in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This post was moved from Coffee Hero.

Even though you would never catch me going into a Starbucks inside the city limits of Seattle, I have been known to get my espresso fix on the road there. During my 4 weeks in Southeast Asia, I did go to Starbucks a few times. The shame! The espresso quality was worse than the Starbucks in the States (even more stale), however they did do one thing that I really liked.

They served my espresso in ceramic, like a real coffee shop. The Starbucks savages in the States have always served my espresso in a tall paper cup with a plastic lid (for my protection, I was once told). Now if they could just improve that espresso blend.

Photo Starbucks Civility in Chiang Mai, Thailand by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

A Holiday in Cambodia

How did I end up in Cambodia when my original travel plans only included Thailand? It was me discovering what type of traveler I am. The thought of spending two weeks on the white sand beaches of Thailand may sound like paradise to many, but I got bored quickly at the beach. I needed a little more grit. Cambodia was the ideal choice.

Cambodia is much poorer than Thailand. According to the IMF, Thailand is close to Argentina in wealth, whereas Cambodia is just a little better off than Haiti. Despite the poverty, there was no evidence of crime and I never felt threatened walking at night in Siem Reap.

Cambodia has had it rough. After the Vietnam War came the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people. The country is still littered with land mines. Tourist revenue from those visiting Angkor Wat is one thing Cambodia has going for it, but our guide mentioned that the financial crisis and H1N1 fears have caused a 50% reduction in tourists in just the last year. I saw many restaurants that were 100% empty EVERY time I passed them.

Workers replacing a sidewalk using hand swung tools. No jack hammers.

As for food, I found Cambodia curry to be more brothy and less creamy than Thai curry. It also lacks spices. Although I liked their use of pumpkin in dishes, I found the food to be on the bland side. Even their Indian and Thai restaurants seemed to be lacking the intense flavors found in Thailand. If you find Thai food to be too spicy, give Cambodian curry a try.

The people of Cambodia were just as nice as Thailand, but with fewer smiles. Still more than a typical city, but less than Thailand. Unlike Thailand, they spoke pretty decent English and even used the US Dollar side by side with their own currency.

The engineer in me wants to fix the ills the of Cambodia, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Kids are pulled out of school to beg money from tourists. If you give them money, you are helping a family eat, but you are financially rewarding the decision to pull the kid from school. Without a more educated population, the country will stay poor. I wish Cambodia the best of luck and encourage anyone visiting Thailand to take 3 days off from the beaches and visit Siem Reap.

Photo Gallery for Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is the expansive temple complex in Cambodia built over a few hundred years starting in the 10th century. It is an amazing place to visit. It far exceeded myexpectations. I spent 2 days and one evening going from temple to temple and I still didn’t see it all. Besides the food and my elephant training, this was the highlight of my month trip in Asia.

The photo gallery I created is quite extensive at 467 photos.The morning sun was harsh, but I was able to fix many of the photos on my PC. The last few pages of the gallery are photos taken in the late afternoon. They turned out the best.

If you find yourself in Southeast Asia, you must visit.

Here I am outside the temple door that was in the movie Laura Croft Tomb Raider.

Photo Gallery for Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodian Landmine Museum

The sad history of Cambodia involves land mines. Lots of them. I read an estimate that there may still be 2 million land mines buried in throughout the country. And no one bothered to document where they were placed. As a result, people are still being killed andmaimedtoday. While in Cambodia, I saw quite a few adults and kids with missing limbs.

In between Angkor Wat temple visits, we stopped into the Cambodian Landmine Museum.

Photo Gallery for Landmine Museum, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Why I Dislike American Dentists and What I Did About It

I do not carry dental insurance. I never have and never plan to. My teeth are in great shape. Back in the dot-com days I got one small cavity after going through a full tin of Altoids every day for over a year. Yeah, I was a sick puppy. That is the only dental issue I’ve ever had.

These days my sugar and carbohydrate consumption is super low. I don’t ever expect to get another cavity, so I don’t feel like I need to purchase dental insurance to cover twice a year cleanings. Cleanings are known. I like what Jim said about insurance in the comments of Healthcare and Price Discovery.

insurance is supposed to cover you in case of catastrophic loss. Current insurance pays common expenses.

My west coast experience is that dentists have tripled the price of teeth cleaning in the past decade. They figured out that they can jack the prices up if they use an insurance company as a middle man. The patient doesn’t see or care what the price is. That is unless they pay cash like me.

In the post The Price of Teeth Cleaning, I mentioned that when I used a dentist in Bellevue, they wanted $190 to do a teeth cleaning. The madness doesn’t end there. I have not found a dentist in America that will clean your teeth without charging for X-Rays and a consultation. Not just the the first visit, but annually. I don’t need X-Rays and certainly don’t need a consultation where you try to up sell me on nonsense such as sealants. Humans had healthy choppers for 2.5 million years and now we suddenly need sealants? How about we put down the bagels and Gummy Bears. Problem solved. Weston Price showed us the link between processed carbohydrates and poor dental health in 1939!

I didn’t blog about this, but when I switched to a Lake Union dentist last year, I had blow up. They quoted me $130 on the phone for a teeth cleaning. After I got out of the chair, they asked for over $300. I was livid. They explained to me that they did a special cleaning. I blew a fuse and accused them of fraud. They backed down and charged me the normal price for the special cleaning. Going to the dentist should not be a battle for cash paying customers.

Most people dread going to the dentist because of the pain. I do because they are crooks. Clean my teeth at a fair price and leave me alone. Don’t rip me off because I pay cash. Last month I was due for a teeth cleaning and I knew they would force me to get my annual X-Rays or I wouldn’t get a cleaning. Then a brilliant idea popped into my head.

I would get my teeth cleaned while in Thailand.

While in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I found 3 dentists within a few blocks of each other. The price of a teeth cleaning was between 550-700 baht, or $16.55 – $21.06! Nobody wants to get hepatitis in a third world country, so I toured one facility. They walked me through all their sterilization procedures. It was every bit as professional as an American dentist office. I got a same day appointment. No X-Rays, no asking for insurance and no up selling sealants. My teeth cleaning was thorough and professional.

I thought my $20 teeth cleaning was amazing until I met a woman a few days ago. After hearing my story, she told me her brother got a root canal done in Peru for $20. He is an American. A quick search tells be that a root canal can cost between $400 to $1000 depending on the tooth. You can fly round trip to Lima, Peru now for $450 (American Airlines on Feb 28). The math seems clear to me. See Machu Picchu or make the next payment on your dentist’s sports car?

Photo Machu Picchu by dachalan

Floating Village – Siem Reap, Cambodia

While in Siem Reap, we had our driver take us out to the Floating Village. Unlike our Bangkok experience, this was not a tourist trap. It was the real deal. The Floating Village was a community of mostly fishermen living on the water. Many fled Vietnam during the war and were never allowed to return home.

The floating village is a working community. These people live, work and raise their kids on the water. Young kids know how to fish and navigate boats. Neighbors hang out with each other. They don’t have any of the creature comforts of the modern world, but they seemed content. This trip redefined extreme working poverty for me.

One of the themes I’ll go back to a different post is how Americans live in a culture of fear. We have every advantage, but spend our days fearing that will lose our stuff or health or job. These people have nothing but each other and they seemed fine. Despite the brutally low standard of living, it was inspiring.

Photo Gallery for Floating Village – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Although I am very pleased with my photos, my camera battery was near dead during this portion of my trip, so I didn’t get near the number of pictures I would have liked to. When TheTailGunner posts his gallery for the the Floating Village, I will add that link to this post.

Travel Maps 2009

Now that we are at the end of 2009, it is time to update my Travel Maps.

This year I added Louisiana to my USA Map.

visited 32 states (64%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

And on the World map, I added Cambodia, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand.

visited 12 states (5.33%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Here is a link to my 2008 Travel Maps.

The Fish Massage – Siem Reap, Cambodia

This was too weird and cheap not to try. Siem Reap, Cambodia has something called Angkor Dr. Fish Massage. Basically you put your feet into a tank of water filled with little fish. The fish then swarm your feet and eat off the dead skin. I think that is what they said. It is an odd feeling.

20 Minute Fish Massage – $3. This story – priceless. :)

Left = TheTailGunner, Right = MAS, Below = Lots of Fish!

A Rainy Day in Seoul, South Korea

On the return flight home to Seattle, I had a 12 hour layover in Seoul, South Korea. Urban hiking in 41F rain felt a lot like Seattle. Like Kuala Lumpur, Seoul has an airport which connects right into a train/subway system. I was able to get to the heart of downtown Seoul in about an hour. For a city of 10 million people, I expected the streets to be packed, but they weren’t. Where was everyone?

My short trip did give me enough time to eat some great food and acquire some outstanding Korean green tea. Now for the photos.

Photo Gallery for Seoul, South Korea

Coffee Hunting in Seoul, South Korea

Yesterday I had a 12 hour layover in Seoul, South Korea. Instead of hanging out at the airport, I decided to venture into the city and seek out some coffee. Before heading out, I got a good espresso from Caffe Pascucci. That provided enough fuel for me to leave the airport and make my way downtown.

Seoul is loaded with coffee shops. Everywhere I turned there was a sign for some cafe. Because I didn’t have any leads on where the quality places were, I had to throw the dice down and gamble on which place might be good. I didn’t do so well. The places I picked outside the airport were lousy to mediocre. Oh well, I did get some cool photos!

I’ve Got Seoul and I’m Super Bad

What do you do when you have a 12 hour layover in Seoul, Korea? Hang out in the terminal or go exploring? Explore!

It is time to put allthat cold weather training to use. Once I step outside the terminal (minutes from now) it will be 41 F. Good thing I dropped $2.50 on a long sleeve shirt in Bangkok.

Photo Rush Hour by Stuck in Customs

* Post title is based off the 1970 James Brown song Super Bad.

Arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The adventure continues. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur late last night.This is an awesomeairport. The KLIA Ekspreshooks right into the terminal and drops you off in the center of the city, which is a 28 minute journey. Once at the center (KL Sentral)you can takea train orget a prepaid taxi. This is the slickest arrival airport I’ve ever been through.

My first day I did what I always do: urban hike. I’ll cover my coffee adventures on Coffee Hero later. For this post I’ll stick to the city. I started the day by visiting the KL Tower, which my map calls a “lookalike of the Seattle Space Needle“. At 421 meters, the KL Tower is much taller than the 184 meter Space Needle.

From there I walked over to Petronas Twin Towers, which are the tallest twin buildings in the world. For lunch, I took TigerAl’s tip and went to Madam Kwan’s and had the Curry Laksa. It was the best meal I’ve had since Chiang Mai. The perfect amount of spices. It was so good, I came back two hours later and had the Assam Laska. It was good also, but I give the edge to the Curry.

In the evening, I took a subway back to the Towers to take some night photos. That is one cool looking building. Lots more photos in the full gallery.

My hotel is in the Little India area of Chinatown. Not my favorite area of the city, but the price is right and the upload speeds are impressive.

Photo Gallery For Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

My Return to Bangkok

For those keeping score, I left Cambodia and returned to Bangkok for a night before flying down to Malaysia. Before returning to Seattle, I will go back to Bangkok for one more night.

I will get around to posting on Cambodia, but probably not until I return to Seattle. Cambodia was an amazing experience. I want to spend some time on those posts and photos.

When I returned to Bangkok, I thought I was over the city. I liked it more than I thought I would, but 5 nights is a lot of Bangkok to experience. So I picked a neighborhood that was closer to the airport. My plan to was tokill a day before heading to Kuala Lumpur. That was the plan. Turns out I discovered agem of a neighborhood.

The Ramkhamhaeng Road area is wonderful. All the great food and walking of downtown Bangkok with very little pollution and not a single tuk tuk driver (annoying open air cabbies). No one tried to sell me a suit or fake watch or crappy T-shirt. I was just a face in the crowd. I love this area.

Who needs temples and nightclubs? I just need great food, clean air and good people. I met a coffee shop owner and we talked using limited English about coffee culture. That will be a future post on Coffee Hero.

One place I went the lady was excited to meet me. There are no tourists in this part of Bangkok. She was excited to learn that I had visited the Phi Phi Islands, where she grew up. Another open cart restaurant gave me a second plate of food for free. The shop owner refused my money, smiled and waved. And not a word of English was spoken.

Ko Samui, Thailand

After escaping the hell known as Patong Beach, I headed for the quieter beach setting of the island of Ko Samui. Although the vendors were still pushy, it was far less than Patong. If you only have a few days to spend on the beaches of Thailand, I’d go to Ko Samui instead of Phuket.

One day I took a scooter around the island and another day I did a tour which included an animal show, stone garden tour and a mountain trek on the back (and top) of a 4 WD truck.

Photo Gallery For Ko Samui, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand

The prime vacation destination for Thailand is probably Phuket. That should have been a warning. I did not care for Phuket. It was loud and the vendors were beyond obnoxious. It was probably my mistake for staying at Patong Beach. Once I got away from Patong, the rest of thePhuket was much better. Patong is the Daytona Beach of Thailand.

The highlight of mystay in Phuket was hiring a taxi to drive mearound the island to take photos, see stuff and do a little hiking. If you plan to visit Thailand, you can avoid Phuket. There are better places to have the Thailand beach experience.

Photo Gallery for Phuket, Thailand

Thai Cooking Class – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Besides riding elephants and playing with big cats, the other cool thing I did in Chiang Mai was take an all day Thai cooking class. I’ve been cooking Thai food pretty much every week for the past 18 months. Assuming I don’t get hit on the head and forget everything I’ve learned, my Thai cooking skills will be even better when I return to Seattle.

The day started out with a trip to the market. There wemet up with our instructor and got an introudction to curry and rice. We alsoand saw a machine used to extract coconut cream and milk. Then we drove out to the Thai cooking school, whichwas on an organic farm.Our instructorwalked us around the garden and showed usthe different plants thatwe would be adding to our Thai cooking.

The Thai cooking class was a 6 course event. We made our own curry paste and then a dish using that curry. In addition, we made a soup and astir fry. The class had a choice between pad thai and spring rolls. I picked pad thai. We finished with a desert (pumpkin soup for me).

I highly recommend the Thai Cooking Class. It was fun and we got to eat our own cooking. We even had leftovers to takehome.

Photo Gallery for Thai Cooking Classand Market Trip

Photos taken with the Canon 30D by Nick

The Phi Phi Islands in Thailand

My posts are getting a little out of sequence. Although I have more to say about Chiang Mai, I want to get out my photos from the Phi Phi Islands. The Phi Phi Islands are off the coast of Phuket.

We got to snorkel at two different places. The water was a little murky, but still had good visibility. Someone mentioned that it gets much clearer the further away from the rainy season. All underwater shots are by Nick (aka TheTailGunner).

I also got a chance to hike up to thetop viewpointof Ko Phi Phi Don. Once up there I had to race back downso I wouldn’t miss the boat. I made it just in time.

Photo Gallery for the Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Elephant Training in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are at least two ways to ride an elephant in Thailand. One is to do a trek. They put you up on a mini bench and two can ride seated side by side. That is what I planned to do when I came to Thailand. Then we discovered the elephant training option.

Atelephant training we learnedand practiced two ways to climb up on an elephant. The first wayis by the side. You grabthe ear, place your foot on the elephant’s leg and then yell a command to have the elephant raise his leg up. From there, you straddle the animal and pull yourself up.

The second method is the head first method. You tell the elephant to bend his head down and then you climb onto his head. Once on, the elephant lifts his head and you move tothe top. Once situated, you spin around and you are ready to ride.

Once on the elephant we learned commands to get the elephant to move right, left, forward and backward. The commands were all in Thai. When you combine the command with a tap from a mini cane, the elephant responds. So cool!

Later in the day, we took the elephant intoa river and cleaned them using water and scrubbrushes. We also rode them intoa field to graze and even took them into a mud bath.

Our elephant group was two female elphants and a baby elephant named James Bond. He was a handful and liked todo ram us occasionally.

If you go to Chiang Mai, you MUST do the elephant training. It has been the highlight of my trip so far. More photos and video will be coming in a future post.

Posting Bottleneck From Thailand

I am behind on my trip blog posts. The primary reason is the upload speeds in Thailand (to my American servers) are horrific. This means the photos are being uploaded at a painfully slow rate. Most are failing.

Unless I get faster upload speeds soon, I may need to do mini-galleries here and then work on the full galleries back in Seattle.

Missing Circuit City at the Floating Market

When it comes to face to face customer service, I use something I call the Paraguay / Circuit City scale. During my one day trip to Paraguay in 2006, I went to a market where the vendors were in your face trying to sell everything. It was the most relentless shopping experience ever. They made Tijuana look laid back.

Then there was the late Circuit City. The employees never asked anyone if they could assist. Hell, they didn’t even say hello. Circuit City employees worked at Circuit City so they could socialize with other Circuit City employees. Any interaction with the customer just interfered with that process.

There is a happy medium. Up until visiting the Floating Market, Bangkok had been at that happy medium. Then they went all Paraguay on me.

To see the Floating Market we signed up for a tour. We were driven an hourout of Bangkok.Once there we took a nice boat ride to the market. At that point they tried to upsell us boating THROUGH the market. A bit dishonest from the tour company, since we paid to tour the Floating Market from the boat, not the ride to the Floating Market. We didn’t pay.

Once off ther boat the vendors descended on us like mosquitos. This was all tourists being lead into a trap. One lady stuck a stick with fruit inches from eye after I declined her offer for a free sample.

Eventually we found a place to wait out our time there and not be hassled. We got some great photos and visited a wood carving place on the way back.

I am sure there is some traditional Floating Market somewhere on the planet. Avoid the one outside Bangkok.

One Night In Bangkok and the World’s Your Oyster

How about 5 nights then?

I was told by several people that had visited to Thailand to get out of Bangkok as soon as possible. It is dirty, loud and not representative of the real Thailand. I had low expectations for Bangkok. The only reason I scheduled 5 nights there was so I could meet up with 2 friends.

My verdict is that I liked my time in Bangkok. I arrived in the city doing absolutely no preparation. No map, no travel book, nothing. I didn’t even read the page on the Wikipedia. As much as I like to travel, I dislike travel planning.

For Bangkok I did the random Urban Hike. I walked everywhere. Unlike my trip to Brazil and Paraguay, I never once felt like I was a target for a crime. The air quality is pretty bad, but not as bad as Sao Paulo or Rio de Janiero. But by the second day I was sneezing up a storm, almost like I was having a pollen allergy attack.

Anthony Bourdain, the host of TV’s No Reservations, really has inspired me to embrace local cuisine. In Bangkok there are street carts of food EVERYWHERE. It is good and dirt cheap.

The biggest falsehood that I was told about Thailand was that everyone speaks English and that all the menus are in English. Not true for Bangkok. Not even close. When I took to the streets exploring areas and eating food in areas away from the other tourists almost nobody spoke a word of English. How did I eat? I walked up to a cart and saw something another customer ordered and I pointed at it and then paid. What else needs to be said?

My favorite cart had a few tables and seats. It was just a block away from my hotel. A full plate of food for 40 baht. That is about$1.20. Super tasty. Stick meat was even cheaper at 10 baht (35 cents).

Oh yeah, Bangkok also has some temples. Yawn. I came for the food.

Off to Thailand

I am off for a 4 week trip to Thailand (Nov 12 – Dec 10). This is my first trip to Asia.

In 2006 I met a retired British school teacher in Auckland, New Zealand. For over an hour he told me how wonderful Thailand was. The food, the people, the beaches and everything else. Since that conversation, Thailand was been at the top of my list of places to visit. Now that plane tickets are dirt cheap and Seattle weather is approaching miserable, it is time to go.

I am not sure how much I will update my websites or check email while I am away. Feel free to sign up for the newsletter. It will alert you when a new post is written and it is easy to unsubscribe anytime.

Photo Thailand through Serengeti by gustaf wallen

Photo Buddha’s Gold by Stuck in Customs

Some Good Travel News For Me?

Last December, I learned that my super common name was on the “naughty list” at airports. From the post Osama MAS Laden:

Guess what common American as apple pie name is now on the governments watch list? Mine. American Airlines has confirmed that my name is on the naughty list.

Being on the watch list means I can never do web check in. I am no longer permitted to do curb side check in. Even if I don’t have a single bag, I have to stand in line at the ticketing counter every time I fly. Once I get to the counter, I must spend another 5-10 minutes standing there smiling while the agent gives me the sniff test. Lordy Lordy, please don’t detain me!

Today I learned from American Airlines that the TSA is finally addressing this issue. The program is called Secure Flight Program. By registering through American Airlines, I am now part of the program. According to the representative I spoke to with AA, this means that soon I will no longer have anymore problems when I go to check in for my flights.

It has been 8 years since 9/11. What detailed information did I need to provide in order to prove I’m a good guy? Fingerprints? Retinal scan? Maybe a criminal background check? Nope. Just two simple pieces of data.

  1. Date of birth
  2. Gender

That is it. Thousands of Americans have been inconvenienced for years now because of these two fields? I already thought they had this data. I’m grateful that it appears TSA has finally taken action. I’m disgusted that it took TSA 8 years to collect two minor database fields.

Vashon Island Coffee Museum

Last weekend I stopped into the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie for a coffee and found a bunch of cool coffee artifacts. Vashon Island is a ferry ride southwest of Seattle. It was a good thing I had my camera on me. Below are some of the photos I took. At the end of this post is a link to the full gallery.

Photo German Coffee Sorter by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Photo Coffee Scale by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Photo 1909 Sample Coffee Roaster by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Photo Danish Grinding Table by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie website mentions its early history connection with Seattle’s Best Coffee.

The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie and Minglement, est. 1979 (an organic health food store) now call the Roasterie home. It is also home to Specialty Coffee and Fair Trade pioneer, Jim Stewart’s original coffee company, The Wet Whisker, which eventually became Seattle’s Best Coffee.

How was the espresso and coffee? The espresso was undrinkable and the Fireside Blend tasted burnt and bitter – like it came out of a fire. However, the Guatemalan coffee was extremely good. So my advice is to stick with the lightest drip they have.


Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie – The Vashon Island, Washington coffee roaster.

Vashon Island Coffee Museum – Full Photo Gallery.

Seattle’s Best Coffee – Wikipedia page.

Vancouver – Nice and Beautiful

Writing about travel is the hardest thing for me to do. I’d rather hack out 500 words on the stupidity of Ben Bernanke. It pains me to use terms like “nice” and “beautiful” to describe a trip. That is so boring. I think that is why it has taken so long for me to get this post up. However, when I think of my weekend trip to Vancouver two words come to mind: nice and beautiful.

The book Smile When You’re Lying has forever influenced me. The writer exposes the travel industry and the endless positivity that permeates travel writing. Great vacations can make for boring stories or maybe I just don’t have a clue on how to say nice and beautiful 10 different ways without making myself nauseous.

My Vancouver trip was mostly about the coffee. I will have a detailed report up on INeedCoffee soon and that will have its own photo gallery. Below are some non-coffee related photos from Memorial Day Weekend 2009 in Vancouver, BC. Look how nice and beautiful it was. :eek:

Photo Gallery For Vancouver 2009

New Orleans 2009

Well I am finally getting around to posting on my trip to New Orleans. I arrived on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and left Thursday afternoon. This was a great way to see the city both during the chaos of Mardi Gras and the normalcy just afterwords.

From 1994-1998, I lived in the Tampa Bay area and I spent a lot of time in Ybor City. Ybor City is the Cuban version of The French Quarter. I didn’t want to spend my vacation comparing The French Quarter to Ybor City, so I took my time just soaking in the atmosphere. I did a lot of exploring and went to different restaurants and browsed numerous stores.

It was a great trip. I really enjoyed the architecture and vibe from the French Quarter. The parades were a bit too long for me (3 hours each). I made it safely down Bourbon Street during the Fat Tuesday celebration. The quiet post-Fat Tuesday portion of the trip was more my speed.

People keep asking me about Katrina. This was my first trip to Louisiana, so what I saw is all I know. I did learn the French Quarter had very little flooding. There are street signs that got bent during the hurricane that haven’t yet been repaired.

Below are some highlights of my trip.

King Val Kilmer

The legendary Val Kilmer was King of the Bacchus float!

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street in the morning

Back in college before I developed a refined (snob) taste for coffee, I would drink canned Cafe Du Monde. When I got to New Orleans I was fearful that I would no longer like this coffee. Surprisingly, after all these years, I still really enjoy this chicory based coffee. It is a very smooth full bodied cup of joe. And the Beignets were good too!


The Zulu Parade


Lots of people dress up in costumes.

My hotel room had a nice flat screen TV and I found CNBC. Crack TV!

Deep Fried Pickles are the only vegetable in the French Quarter, unless you count Corn Dogs. :)

Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday

St. Louis Cathedral

Want to see more photos? View New Orleans – Mardi Gras Photo Gallery.

Travel Maps 2008

No new countries or states to check off the map this year. In February, I will attend Mardi Gras and be able to check off Louisiana.

visited 31 states (62%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

visited 8 countries (3.55%)
Create your own visited map of The World

The Lovely Ladies of Texas?

When I arrived at my gate at the DFW (Dallas Fort-Worth) airport, I walked past a stunningly beautiful woman. Magazine cover quality. Two minutes later, a better looking woman walked by. And then a third. My only trips to Texas have been confined to airports, so I have no idea what exists past the security gate.

Thanks to my fellow considerate passengers that packed the cabin of the plane tighter than a Peruvian bus, I now had almost 2 hours until my connecting plane departed. So I went for a stroll around my gate. To kill time at the airport, I like to see where the other planes are going. I walked down the line reading the signs.

Oklahoma City, Calgary, Denver and then So Paulo, Brazil. Brazil! Immediately I had an Ah-ha moment. Now it all made sense.

My head spun around to the seating area for that flight. Unlike the seating area for the Oklahoma City flight, which looked like it could have been a team of world class belly floppers, this area was The Beautiful People. Waiting to escape Texas, I saw those 3 ladies, plus a few more. Mystery solved.

Brazilian model Adriana Lima. No one going to Oklahoma City (or Seattle) looked this good.

Paying to be Considerate

Whenever I fly, I check my bag in. The reason is I detest all those people that abuse the carry-on policy. One small bag became one small bag plus carry on. Then the bag got larger. Women would not count their purse as a carry on. Grab a bag of McDonalds and a 32 oz Coke. That doesn’t count either. Now that it is winter, be sure to also add a heavy coat.

These people are causing planes to be delayed. Several people on my return flight missed their connections, because people are now bringing their life’s possessions into the cabin. I missed coming home 90 minutes earlier, because of this.

I used to just chalk these people up as inconsiderate. Now I have to blame the airlines. When jet fuel spiked, they added a baggage check-in charge of $15 ($30 round-trip for a single bag). Then customers just decided to cram everything into smaller bags to avoid the check-in fee. I’m hoping that next year when oil is lower and the airlines are begging for fliers that they drop that surcharge and start reinforcing the old carry-on rules.

The worst part is once the cabin is filled, those people can hand their bags off at the end of the runway, have them stored and returned to them – all without having to pay the baggage check-in fee. So I am now penalized for being considerate. Lesson learned. I’ll be a dick next time too and jam my crap into the overhead compartment. Mr. Business Traveler, I sure hope you don’t miss your important presentation. I tried to save the world, but failed.

Osama MAS Laden

Guess what common “American as apple pie” name is now on the governments watch list? Mine. American Airlines has confirmed that my name is on the naughty list. Why did my parents have to slap me with the most common baby name for 43 consecutive years on top of my surname a Smith? If my name were Spike, I’m pretty sure I could get through airports faster.

Being on the “watch list” means I can never do web check in. I am no longer permitted to do curb side check in. Even if I don’t have a single bag, I have to stand in line at the ticketing counter every time I fly. Once I get to the counter, I must spend another 5-10 minutes standing there smiling while the agent gives me the sniff test. Lordy Lordy, please don’t detain me!

lil MAS

Look at me. I’m harmless.

Airlines state that they appreciate our business, because we “have a choice” in who we fly with. But airlines are basically utilities. If any airline would like to earn me as a lifetime customer, here is how you do it. Get me off the list. You know I’m a good guy. You work directly with the government every single day. Fast track me off the list and call me when it is done. Are you listening American Airlines?

Will 2009 Be The Perfect Year to Travel?

With the exception of a summer road trip to Vancouver, I really didn’t travel at all this year. Seattle is amazing during the summer and I had just moved to Queen Anne, so I really didn’t see a need to leave town. Now that the days are only about 12 minutes long, I’m itching to go south.

new zealand

My last trip outside North America was to New Zealand in September 2006.

Since the end of summer a few things have happened.

  • I have finally completed my vaccination series. At the time of this post, it takes 7 months to get a series of 3 shots for Hepatitis B. You can fast-track it, but it costs more money. The time to get vaccinated is well before you need to go on a trip. I highly recommend visiting a local Passport Health. They track all the infectious diseases on the planet and always have the shots or pills you’ll need. It may cost more than your general practitioner, but it far more complete and their information is always updated.
  • The US Dollar tanked this summer. This made travel expensive for us Americans. When oil was $140 a barrel, plane ticket prices were unreal. Now that deflation has kicked in, the price of oil is diving. The US Dollar is gaining strength as the rest of the world slips into a deeper recession. With the exception of Japan, travel should be a lot cheaper in 2009.

On paper it seems like the perfect recipe for travel. A self-employed, fully-vaccinated single guy with savings in US Dollars. (As tempting as those 15% yields were a few years ago, I am so glad I did not put my money in Iceland CDs.)

The only thing is, I have never traveled alone. I’ve traveled with family, friends and girlfriends, but never by myself. I suppose I could reach out to GAP Adventures again, but I really would like to plan my own trip from start to finish. Will I go anywhere? Where would I go? Stay tuned.

Smile When You’re Lying

Just like I did in 2007, soon I’ll be assembling my Best Books of 2008 list. I’m almost certain this one will make the list.

Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer
Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson is a very funny travel book. The author trashes the travel writing industry and then tells a series of stories that you would never read while researching a trip. Great stories and a fun read. Highly recommended.


The 4-Hour Workweek exposed me to the idea of working on road. Although I’m pretty good at working remote, more instruction was needed on the traveling part.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts is a collection of essays and tips written for those considering living on the road. The book spends a good chunk of time explaining the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler.

If you are considering packing a backpack and heading out for a few months (or years) but sure to read this book. The author also has a well-researched list of resources which are available on his web site.

Returning to Columbus, For a Weekend

I got tired of waiting for my high school reunion planning committee to set a date for my 20th (now 21st) high school reunion. Guess I’ll catch them at the 25th. I’m heading back for a long weekend from Thursday April 17th through Tuesday April 22nd.

Family, friends, Ted’s Montana Grill, Donatos Pizza, Staufs, etc. You know the drill.


Photo by Flickr user elmada.

The MAS o Menos Bike Race

I was testing to see if Google had starting indexing my new WordPress blog and I stumbled onto the Desert Sports web site, which talks about the MAS o Menos 100 bike race. It is a 100 K race on mountain bikes near the Big Bend National Park in Texas.

This race is calling to me. I must do it. I want that T-shirt. The next race is February 12-14, 2009.

My only mountain biking experience has been a 50 miler in Mexico on a highway. Not exactly true mountain biking, but then again a Mexican highway isn’t exactly a true highway.

What am I thinking? My bike was stolen. Perhaps I could volunteer? Prior to running my first marathon, I volunteered to work the finish line the year before. Volunteering is what inspired me to run the race the next year and if I’m not mistaken I got a free T-shirt!

Culture Shock Japan

On my short list of places to visit next is Japan. My first step in learning about a new country is reading the Culture Shock! book for that country.

CultureShock! Japan: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides)
CultureShock! Japan: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides) by P. Sean Bramble by P. Sean Bramble is the best Culture Shock! I’ve read so far. I learned a lot about Japanese culture and the author has a great sense of humor. If you pick up this book, be sure to get the 2005 edition. The 2004 edition has quite a few negative reviews.

The book covers proper etiquette for eating, exchanging business cards and something interesting that occurs at funerals.

Since cremation in Japan is done at a comparatively low temperature, the bones of the deceased will not be completely consumed. Instead, it is the duty of the immediate family members to break those bones apart by hand into smaller pieces.

And as a non-chopstick user, I was pleased to learn on page 169 that Japanese people use their hands, not chopsticks, to eat sushi. Works for me.

My only complaint of the book is the Index is lacking. After reading the book, I wanted to go back to certain pages, but they weren’t listed on the page index. Other than that I really enjoyed this book. Now I just need enough time off from work to see the country.

Waking Up in Costa Rica

What is the best thing to read on a cold wet January day in Seattle? Maybe a book about how much cheaper and warmer life could be in Costa Rica.

Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica (Living Abroad)
Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica (Living Abroad) is by Erin Van Rheenen and she sold me on Costa Rica. Although I seriously doubt I’ll be buying any real estate on Planet Earth in the next two to five years, I did enjoy reading about life in Costa Rica.

My favorite part was on page 52.

Most Ticos are up before six in the morning.


You will be much, much happier if you adjust to Tico hours, which means getting up with the sun and going to bed as early as 9 or 10 o’clock.

Warm weather and a decent bedtime. Sounds like heaven to me. During my 2006 visit to South America, I found the opposite to be true. They woke up late and stayed up late. I’m an early riser. In Montevideo, Uruguay, I walked around downtown looking for a breakfast place from 6:30 AM to 9:00 AM. Nobody was awake and nothing was open, except the so-American McDonalds. Although I could imagine living in Montevideo, I can’t imagine sleeping in to 9 AM.

Prior to picking up this book, I looked at Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua (Living Abroad) by Joshua Berman. No sale. Although cheaper than Costa Rica, the author painted this country as a little too poor for my liking.

Legacy Comments


Costa Rica is near the top of my list of places I want to visit. Wonderful weather, beaches, coffee… Think Hawaii but without the very-high cost. Plus, my spanish is passable…


DH – lets go! Leave a note for the wife and I’ll meet you down in San Jose. :)


You have no idea how tempting that sounds ;)

Back From Canada Eh!

Vancouver was an amazing city. Think San Diego with frostbite. Actually it’s downtown is further built out than San Diego. Despite the rain and cold temperatures, I was able to get some good photos. And I now have a new favorite coffee house: Caffe Artigiano. Great food, Clover and my new favorite drink the Americano Misto.


MAS in Canada

Photo Gallery For Vancouver Canada

The second part of the trip was skiing in Whistler. It has been almost two years since my last ski trip. I’m still a beginner. I decided early on that I wouldn’t be taking any refresher lessons. The best strategy would be to find a green (easy) slope and figure it out on the way down. This was a mistake. There are no bunny slopes in Whistler and the ones labeled green seemed much tougher than the other green runs I had down previously in Taos, Bogus Basin and Mammoth.

mountain Whistler

I have no business skiing. Unless you are willing to commit to skiing more than once every other year then you are inviting injury. That lesson sunk in about 50 meters (think metric!) down the mountain. Almost 90 minutes and several bruises later, I made it to the bottom of the mountain and added skiing to my list of sports than I’ve retired from.


Whistler was the kind of village you would see in Holiday X-MAS movie (starring Tim Allen). Although I plan to return to Vancouver in the summer, unless I come out of retirement and decide to take skiing seriously, I probably won’t return to Whistler. If you are a skier, you will enjoy Whistler.

Photo Gallery For Whistler Canada

Not Much of a Culture Shock

After reading the Culture Shock! books for Chile and Cuba, I thought I’d read the one for Vancouver. My first trip to Canada is in a week. How shocking is the Vancouver culture? Judging solely by the book Culture Shock! Vancouver: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! at Your Door) by Cuek-Cheng Pang, not much.

As I read this book I kept thinking that this couldn’t possibly be written for an American audience. In fact this couldn’t have been written for any English speaking audience. Why was there a paragraph explaining how daylight savings works? There was even page explaining how it is important to respond to wedding invites in a timely manner. Shocking!

The Osmonds taught me an important lesson. One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl. The Culture Shock series is excellent and I will read more in the series, however the Vancouver book is a waste of paper.

Longing For Cuba

A few weeks ago I read the Culture Shock book on Chile. Before I read the book, I really wanted to visit Chile. After reading the book, I still wanted to see that country, just not as much as before. How did I respond to the Culture Shock book on Cuba?

Culture Shock! Cuba: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides)
Culture Shock! Cuba: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides) by Mark Cramer sold me. I’m ready for Cuba. Now. I need to get to Cuba before Fidel kicks it and the boys from Las Vegas show up and ruin it with casinos.

It’s 40 degrees in Seattle right now. 15 days in Cuba sounds perfect. As an American, I can’t fly directly to Cuba. A stop in Cancun is one way to get there.

Two Types of Travelers

I’ve noticed that people that travel tend to fall into two camps.

1-People that go to the same places they know and like multiple times.
2-People that always seek out a new place to visit.

I’m clearly in the second group. As much as I liked Maui or Buenos Aires, I have many more places to visit before I return to places I’ve already visited. The world is too large for reruns. My former neighbors went to a resort in Cabo San Lucas once or twice each and every year. To me that seems boring. To them it was a hassle free get away they didn’t have to plan or even think about.

The next distinction travelers have on vacation is the level of activity they plan to have. Those same neighbors preferred to be toes up on a raft in the resort swimming pool. Sipping a drink with an umbrella or reading a book is the most exertion they experience while away from home.

Again that seems boring to me. I sit in front of a computer indoors to earn a paycheck. The idea of having even less movement on vacation doesn’t sound relaxing at all to me. I suppose if I worked in a coal mine all day, sitting by the pool might be pretty nice. For me I’d rather charge up a mountain.

palm Springs

The Most Dangerous Places in the World

Over a month ago I stumbled upon the most interesting travel book I’ve ever seen. This book isn’t about places to snorkel in Hawaii or New England bed and breakfast locations. This was a book on traveling to the most dangerous locations in the world.

Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition (Robert Young  Pelton the World's Most Dangerous Places)

Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition was written by adventurer Robert Young Pelton. At over 1000 pages, I thought I’d just thumb through a few pages and return it to the library. I couldn’t stop reading this book. This 2003 edition covers and ranks countries such as Chechnya, Colombia, Iran, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan and several others. There are chapters on how to deal with being kidnapped, bribery and what deadly diseases you might encounter on your trip. What travel destinations have the most land mines? That question probably isn’t covered in Fodors or Lonely Planet. Pelton covers it in detail.

The book is full of statistics. Your odds of being killed in a plane crash going coast to coast in the USA is 1 in 11 million. In Africa, your odds increase to 1 in 50,000. But the number one killer of tourists in the Dark Continent is hippos (p992).

As interesting as the topic of adventure travel is to me, what I loved most about this book was the author’s writing style. Robert Young Pelton mixes the wit of Joe Queenan with high-octane travel. Right from the start in the What is Dangerous? chapter, Pelton sets the tone of the book brilliantly.

The bad news (for us; we’ll get to the third world shortly) is that all this safety labeling, caring and sharing, seat-belted, Special-K eating, nose to the grindstone society can quickly piss away a generation of genetic privilege, medical advances, and peace treaties in a single two-week vacation. Why? We seek danger even when we don’t even know it exists. …We snarf down Churros and Slurpees in our paper-thin Minivans while chatting on our cell phones at 90 miles per hour. We smoke cigarettes, drink too much booze, bang questionable partners, and pick fights with strangers. We order extra whipped cream on desert, cheese on hash browns, and extra butter for pancakes. Hell, this isn’t dangerous – this is living well. Yeah, we generally first-world ourselves to death. Yes, for some of us the world’s most dangerous place is not 9/11 but the 7-Eleven.

I really hope the author puts out a 6th edition. There are some updates on his web site, but it has no where near the level of detail found in the book.

High School Reunion Update

Turns out the planners of my high school reunion came to the same conclusion I did in my High School Reunion Dilemma post. In that post I stated:

My 20 year high school reunion is scheduled on the same day as the Ohio State – Michigan game. You could not have a picked a worse date. Would the Pope schedule his high school reunion on Christmas?

Then I predicted:

Now Ohio State plays Michigan every year. I’m willing to miss The Game for a high school reunion, but I don’t think others will see it that way. My hunch is the turnout for the reunion is going to be awful.

Last night, a mere two weeks away from the scheduled reunion, I received an email.

We have postponed our 20 year class reunion due to popular demand. If you didn’t already know this weekend was also the OSU – MICH game.

We are looking at rescheduling it sometime next March or April of next year. We tried to do it sooner but the holidays made it difficult.

It’s a good thing I didn’t buy a plane ticket to Columbus already or I’d be hopping mad. This event did however have a cascading effect on my fall travel plans. I did cancel my trip to Guavaween to avoid the expense of 2 cross country trips inside 3 weeks. Then I backed out of a trip to Puerto Vallara which intersected on a few days of the reunion, which I had a hunch might change dates. Finally I had the date of Thanksgiving wrong in my head. I always thought Thanksgiving was the last Thursday before the last Friday in the month of November. Turns out it is always the 4th Thursday of the month. By the time I learned of my error, that plane trip had doubled in price.

Fall travel summary: no Guavaween, no High School Reunion, no Mexico and no Thanksgiving. At least I can look forward to my 21-year high school reunion in the spring.

Culture Shock Chile

Last year before I went to South America I did minimal research. Basically I just checked to see what the weather would be like, got some vaccinations and read the travel bulletins provided by the State Department. I wasn’t prepared enough.

Culture Shock! Chile: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides)
Culture Shock! Chile: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides) by Susan Roraff is the style I book I should have read before I went on my trip. After reading this book, I know more about Chile than Brazil. And I was in Brazil for almost two weeks. This is not a travel book. It is a culture book. Read it before you decide to go. Once you decide to go, then get a travel book.

I plan to read some more books in the Culture Shock series. I’m thinking Cuba is next.

Travel Maps 2007

The countries in red indicate places that I have traveled to. There still is a slight chance I’ll get to add Canada before the end of the year.

visited 7 countries (3.11%)
Create your own visited map of The World

And here is my USA travel map. Notice my aversion to states in the Central Time Zone. I also need to be honest that I just missed Rhode Island in 2005. And although I briefly drove through a very small part of Arkansas and Alabama, won’t include them since I didn’t get off the freeway. I’m also not including states where I never left the airport (Texas, Illinois).

visited 31 states (62%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Bailing on Guavaween

The streak will end at 12 years. Looks like I won’t be attending Guavaween this year. Since 1995, I’ve spent the last Saturday in October in Ybor City, Florida celebrating Halloween.

Every year the cost for me to attend the event gets greater and greater. In the 1990s, I would drive in and find a free parking spot. Today a trip to Guavaween requires a cross-country plane trip and 2 nights in a hotel. When I ran the numbers the cost of the trip this year would have exceeded $1200.

I’d love to go, but the cost is now too high. And if I haven’t convinced you it’s the best day of the year yet, I never will.

Clark Kent

Legacy Comments


What?! No Guavaween? I’m SHOCKED!! You need to start earning airline miles! You live in Seattle now…get yourself an Alaska Air card for sure.


The Ybor City Hilton is charging ~$500 for 2 nights. Tampa now has a 12% hotel tax.

For $1200, I can spend a week in Buenos Aires, round-trip flight included.


hey Michael I’m sorry to hear that you are not going to be at Guavaween this year because you and wing man are some of the people I look for when I get there. Well maybe I’ll see you next year.
(your favorite Nazi) Eddie

High School Reunion Dilemma

For the last year or so I have been waiting to attend my 20 year high school reunion. Since the 10 year reunion took place in the summer, I expected the 20 year would also be in the summer. This summer I kind of mentally blocked out a weekend that I would fly back to see my family and attend the reunion. But the invite never came.

The months went by and I heard nothing. Eventually I got in contact with the only successful (to my knowledge) fellow graduate. She did some investigation and found out that our reunion would be on November 17th. Great!

Then Ohio State started their football season, so I checked to see if there was a game that weekend. Yes there is. It’s Michigan. My 20 year high school reunion is scheduled on the same day as the Ohio State – Michigan game. You could not have a picked a worse date. Would the Pope schedule his high school reunion on Christmas?

Fields of Corn

Now Ohio State plays Michigan every year. I’m willing to miss The Game for a high school reunion, but I don’t think others will see it that way. My hunch is the turnout for the reunion is going to be awful. Even though it isn’t a home game this year, I’ve seen how this town behaves during Michigan week. For a week solid, it’s all about The Game. I’m ready and willing to fly back for my high school reunion, but I don’t want to arrive to an empty party.

I’m wondering if I should just wait for my 25 year reunion?

UPDATE: The planners came to the same conclusion I did and canceled the event until “Spring 2008″.

Putting Around Pike Place

Today I went exploring downtown Seattle. I seemed to find more things than I did back on my first visit in May.


Having never tried Russian food, I had to try a pirozhki at Cafe Yarmarka. It was pretty good.

Pike Russian

The last time I was down by the original *$, I didn’t order anything. Today I did. I expected that the original *$ would serve me a decent espresso. They failed. It was thin, weak and over-pulled. Thankfully, Victrola was up the street and able to deliver a fine espresso ristretto.


Discovery Park in Seattle

Today we braved the rain and did some city hiking in Seattle’s Discovery Park. We took the light house tour. On the way home we finally found a good Mexican restaurant in Seattle.


Legacy Comments


Dude! Awesome!

When I was 18 I moved with my family to Virginia. NO GOOD MEXICAN FOOD. NO REAL TORTILLAS OR GOOD QUALITY MEXICAN FOOD INGREDIENTS. It was awful. We were so spoiled in San Diego with those things.

VERY glad to hear you found some good Mexican food. :-)

Agent Cooper I’m in Twin Peaks

Just east of where I’m living now is Snoqualmie Falls, Washington. This is where Twin Peaks was filmed. Before I left the house, I had a plan to run around taking pictures of the locations used on the TV series. It had been 15 or so years since I saw the show, so I decided to do a little research first. That is when I discovered InTwinPeaks. It’s an amazing site that matches screen shots from the TV series with modern day location photos. He did such a great job that we just took a single photo of the diner.


While in the land of Twin Peaks, we hiked the River Trail in Snoqualmie Falls Park. It’s an easy (yet steep) hike with views of that waterfall.


As we were leaving we ran across a snake. Can my snake people tell me what kind of snake this is?


Photo gallery for Twin Peaks – Snoqualmie Falls, WA

Impressed by Portland Oregon

Despite the fact many of the downtown streets are torn up for a construction project, I really liked downtown Portland. Lots of cool neighborhoods and a waterfront. It is also a city that is committed to a quality beverage. It’s the home of Stumptown Coffee, which roasts one of the best espresso blends in the country.

Latte art

Many consider Portland the brewpub capital of America. We visited the Lucky Lab Brewing Company and were impressed.

Lucky Lab

Photo Gallery For Portland Oregon 2007

Pacific Road Trip

We leave Saturday morning for our move to Seattle. Movers will be taking most of our stuff. We are driving our own cars the 1250 miles. Thankfully I have satellite radio.

My car will be loaded with essential items. Those include some clothes, my PC and my espresso machine. That way if our movers overshoot Seattle, go to Canada and try to play Ice Road Truckers, I’ll have enough stuff to get by.

Below is a map of the route, which shows our stops. Future posts will describe any side trips and photo galleries.

Guavaween 2007

Who thinks about Halloween in early June? I do. Not familiar with Guavaween? Read my Guavaween 2006 post.

Guavaween will be on Saturday, October 27th this year. It is held in the Ybor City district of Tampa, Florida. Of course I’ll be there. So far The TailGunner and I are coming. We will arrive Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday. If you wish to attend this year, get your hotel reservation now. Your first choice in lodging should be the Hilton Garden Inn in Ybor City. It is the only hotel within walking distance of the event. Don’t worry about your plane ticket or costume yet. Just get your hotel lined up.

I’ve always said this is the best day of the year. Come join us.


UPDATE (9-13-07): I won’t be attending Guavaween this year.

Channel Islands – Santa Cruz

Yesterday we visited the Channel Islands National Park. This National Park just outside of Ventura, California does not have an entrance fee like most parks. However, you will need to hire an outfitter to take you to the island which is 20 miles off the coast. We went to the island of Santa Cruz with Island Packers.

On the way to Santa Cruz, we saw 2 whales. Visibility was better than our 2001 whale watching trip in San Diego, but not as great as Maui.


If you decide to visit the island, be sure to pack your food and beverages. There is no snack bar on the island. You also may want to confirm with Island Packers that the boat you will be on isn’t being chartered by 100 elementary school children on their end of the school year act like animals field trip.


We hiked the Scorpion Canyon Loop and the Cavern Point Loop.

Photo Gallery For The Channel Islands – Santa Cruz