Friday, May 29, 2020

Vietnam Part 1

Monk goes to a hotdog stand. Know what he says?
 “Make me one with everything”

There’s a hole in the massage table where my face rests. I wrap my belongings in my shirt and place them directly beneath me so I can keep an eye on them and prevent any monkey business (there has never been any monkey business). An hour later I put my shirt back on and there’s a big wet spot. Yep, I fell asleep and drooled all over my shirt. This summarizes my Vietnam experience:  dreamy, luxurious, slow and easy, relaxed and stress free. We didn’t do anything approaching excitement. We fell for the packaged tours and packed on a few pounds while embracing our inner tourists. I am so happy to be a passenger. All the responsibility falls on someone else’s shoulders and I can just stare out the window. I am little more than a lens recording my own voyeurism through the filter of my biased experiences. Your results may differ.
Egg pizza and pajamas

“So I Sold The Camper And Strapped On A Backpack”

Endless hot water, no low hanging cables or tree branches waiting to ruin my day. Tires, filters, leaks, maintenance – Ha! What are those? My biggest concern now is that my zipper doesn’t break on a travel day. Too easy mate.

We drove from Brasil back to our friends’ house in Buenos Aires and left Elsie in the capable hands of Diego and Ana to sell on my behalf. That trip ended. Aleja and I flew back to our respective nations to spend 2 months with family & friends.

In case you’ve just discovered this blog… I traded in my keel for 4 tires and a camper, and after 4+ years I sold the camper in South America. Now we are backpackers in South East Asia. Or for those conspiracy fans amongst you… We’ve changed sound stages on the Hollywood lot.  Spanish got replaced with some tonal alien screaming, the back drops have all been rebuilt to reflect the vastly different architecture of this side of the world, and the food went from high cholesterol to super healthy.
Last chopper out of Saigon 1975

Saigon / AKA: Ho Chi Min City
We spent a week acclimating. It took Aleja 6 days in transit to arrive here. That’s the difference in our ages. She loved her day long lay overs in Mallorca, Hamburg and Bangkok. It sounded like misery to me sleeping in airports for a week but she’s a rock. We ate snails, guzzled gallons of cold beer and drank the world’s best coffee. We liked HCM and gave it 2 thumbs up. Then we got conned into going south
I found the building 45 years later

Can Tho
The original plan was to go to the Mekong Delta and live on a boat for 4 days. Ha! I’m glad we shortened that to 2 days in a hotel. The truth is you need exactly 2 hours in an early morning boat to catch the golden hour of light at sunrise and then get the hell out of that tourist trap. There were more tourist boats then vendor boats. It was tourists taking pictures of tourists, or more accurately: tourists trying to take pictures without other tourists in the frame. There was a lot of cropping going on. In fact, that might be a good question to ask of anyone returning from a trip to see if you might want to go there: “Did you have to crop a lot of your pix”? We got stuck there for 2 days. Great street food. We managed to have soup only once per day.

Vietnam - The Menu
The coffee is abundant & fantastic and the food is even better, but good luck trying to buy both in the same place. Cafes usually don’t sell food, and restaurants usually don’t sell coffee. They are either silly capitalists or very generous with their neighbors for voluntarily losing market share. We ate everything and were damn proud of ourselves. If you don’t gag once a week you aren’t pushing your boundaries, and you should be.

One popular question for our first week: “Are you hungry? What kind of soup do you want?”

If an alien beamed down to the planet and had to report back a brief summary this would be the synopsis: “It's a soup based pajama culture. Visually it looks like they are on the brink of a countrywide sleep over and we believe many of them don’t feel well, hence the abundance of soup.” We ate a lot of soup. It was good. I like soup.
Frog legs

We loved Vietnam so much that we volunteered to create taglines for their chamber of commerce. Here’s a few we came up with:
Vietnam – Where every meal is soup!
Vietnam – Eat all you want and still lose weight with delicious food & dysentery
Vietnam – With coffee this strong you can finally quit meth!

It is, however, impossible to get a dry napkin. Every napkin offered is actually a wet baby wipe. What if you just need something absorbent to get the soup off your face? And it’s mostly soup, most of the time. Did we cover that?

I ate more snails then you ever could

They always want to show you an “autograph book” with testimonials from their past clients about how great everything was, but what the savvy tourist looks for is how many pages have been torn out of that book. The few derogatory entries that are clever enough to slip past the censors make for some humorous reading: “She promised a long trip and it lived up to her promise. I’m sure glad she included the noodle factory as part of the tour.”
War as tourism

Then we went north to Dalat for some higher elevation coffee plantation relaxation. We essentially snuggled in bed for a week only donning our ponchos and umbrellas to go out doors for a meal in the wet downpour. It literally rained 23 hours per day every day but one. We sang karaoke and spent a lot of time indoors.

Vietnam The Sequel When We Return
This concludes part one for the Vietnamese dispatch. I’ll be posting part 2 in a week.

Your man on point,
Captain Bobby

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Road Trip Wrap Up

“What is too foolish to be said must be sung. Lyrics are written on bubbles” ~ Blaise Pascal~
It’s the last dispatch for the Latin American Overland Trip. I thought I’d have some fun by punctuating the paragraphs with songs stuck in my head. I hope you have enjoyed the road trip and stick around for the next adventure.
The Beagle Channel

They call me Captain Lucky
“Change. Nothing stays the same. Unchained. Hit the ground running!” ~Van Halen~
What happens when your dream becomes a reality? When it becomes an actual persisting reality? The answer is it gets taken for granted. I work hard to remind myself of the following:
Not only was I born birth defect free, white, male, and in a developed nation, but I (we) were born at the perfect time. 2 generations either way and life could have sucked. And this on a timeline of 300,000 years of being Homo Sapiens. Way to catch The Sweet Spot.
Think about this: life didn't change for Homo Sapiens for 290,000 years (we were hunter gatherers and life was brutally hard). Then it didn't change for 10,000 years (we were sedentary agrarians and life was a different brand of brutally hard). A couple hundred years ago we were welcomed into the industrial revolution (Do you know the photos of Lewis Hine? Jacob Riis? Still brutally hard unless you were a Vanderbilt). But gradually - Electricity Elevators and Plastics made room for Microwaves Television The Internet and all you can eat buffalo wings. We lucked out. And I'm serious about two generations in either direction and it could have sucked. Your grandparents didn't have our options. Their menu was a single page with only one condiment, and all dishes were hand washed. And the kids of the future? What if you were born in 2020? That means you're 50 in 2070. You think the world will be better? Not with an extra 3+ billion people and a middle class in China & India. Civilization as we know it is untenable. We scored in so many ways. Soooo Lucky! Not grateful? Get grateful!
This is how bad it could be: Homeless & Insane & Trapped in the 3rd world
Trimming Trees And Doing As We Please
Trimming trees means breaking things on my roof

“We ain’t got no government loans and no one sends a check from home and get this, we just do what we wanna” ~ Cracker ~
The Motto: “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. A list of goals? A mission statement? – You’re thinking too small. We made a declaration of independence. We wrote a constitution for maximum freedoms. We were a mobile nation of 2, in the front seat of a massive truck with the biggest camper I could fit on the back. “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. Our bill of rights mandated throwing our arms around those we met and embracing new cultures head on. At times it was expensive, risky, and even dangerous, with lots of hard work. We weren’t on holiday. This was travel. “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. Sometimes our moxie gave way and we came up short. Sometimes our frontier spirit sagged and we asked too little of ourselves. But sometimes . . . we caught a glimpse of that noble splendor that makes one squint into the klieg light of actualization.
But What Did You Learn?
"And the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear" ~ Fleetwood Mac ~
It truly was a research vehicle. The drone and the metal detector are among the most obvious items for evidence of this, but it was more than that. I learned so much. We’d hear stories but then we went to see it with our own eyes. Here’s the laundry list:

Most of life’s problems can be solved with these simple words: “less pressure on the accelerator”. Just slow down. Think it through. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your foot off the gas please.

I learned a lot of Spanish which is good for 2 reasons: 1.) I can now ignore people in a second language and 2.) Pixies songs have taken on a deeper meaning

Midlife crises: I never had to get divorced to have mine. I'm 52 & living with a 25 year old. That's every mentally defective married guys dream. No ex to pay for. No kids get hurt. This is the new model. Maybe we should rethink the institutions of marriage and procreation?
In Latin America - even the mannequins are different

Do 2 rivers converge? Guaranteed there was an ancient civilization at the confluence. Guaranteed. Start digging.
Geology and geography shape the economy of a given locale and that in turn shapes the culture. Is the soil chalky with cool night air? They will probably end up growing grapes and making wine. That shapes the culture. Is it cold with very short unreliable summers? Then they will be industrious or they will die. Congratulations you are in Patagonia or Scandinavia and that shapes the culture. 

Hero worship is for ninnies on both sides of the equation but there is something to being on a sustained trip of this magnitude that tends to bring about immediate acceptance (respect) from the new people you meet. Undertake big things and people will embrace you.

I've got no gripe with the third world. I've lived in it for ten years. I've hand knitted a formula to make it wonderful. Earning $USD$ and spending it abroad is the easiest way to guarantee a sweet existence. If I had it all, I'd split my time in thirds: Asia, The Americas, Europe. Good contrast. Delicious food. Wonderful people. The only flaw in my algorithm is the flight costs.

Smile, it’s like giving yourself a facelift. Wanna know what you’re gonna look like in 10 years? Stay up all night. Old age looks just like exhaustion. 

My many years of adventuring have given me some measure of enlightenment but I confess to still having an ego. I was once told that I was not an adventurer. That may be. Everything is relative, but I wasn’t going to hear it from this pudgy yob with his neon dayglow “Sunday Funday” wristband still on from 3 nights ago like it’s jewelry. “I stay gone for years, and I learn the language. I did it in Indo and I did it here. And, I date the locals. How many weeks have you been in country? Do you even know what a Michelada is? No, because you’re still jamming a lime wedge in your beer. That’s not even beer anymore. You’d be right at home in a Munich beer garden. And now how are they gonna get that lime wedge out of there you stupid git? You just set recycling back 2 generations. Do you know how hard it is to find a Colombian small enough to climb into that bottle and push that lime wedge back out?” It may have been my finest moment. 

The sign off “Ciao” is like the metric system, used everywhere but the US. – Max Guarnaccia

Aleja likes to say; “The Transformation Is Complete”. We laugh that I’ve gone “Full Colombian”. I lie around naked, I eat crackers, I put salt on everything, I’ve developed a taste for fried plantains. I even eat rice with eggs & I like marmalade with cheese. But she is addicted to S’mores. So I ask you . . . Who do you think won?

As you might know, Richard Henry Dana wrote a book entitled “Two Years Before The Mast”. I’m a guy who has spent 10 of the last 13 years traveling by boat and camper in the tropical 3rd world. My hiatus in the USA should have been called "Three Years Without Mildew". I gotta give my lungs a break at some point. I don't know which is worse; the mold or the smell of the vinegar that erases it. 6 YEARS BEFORE THE MAST AND 4 YEARS BEHIND THE WHEEL. MY PULMONARY NIGHTMARE. THE MEMOIRS OF ROBERT SEAN FRIEDMAN.

I thought I had fleas. I am so happy to be wrong. I have since realized they are in fact called “Springtails” and they are attracted to wet wood. I had a leak and these little buggers got inside the camper. Vinegar, some mild bug spray and constant fans to dry everything out has done the trick. 
Cocoa Bear; The Seal Pup Of Love (& her dinosaur)
I used to say: “Fortunately for me, I’ve suffered my last gut wrenching heartache and I’m finally dead inside. It’s all black in here.” I used to think of myself as a cold dry husk of a man, and that love would forever see me and hurriedly cross to the other side of the street. I was pleasantly wrong. Sure, I'm a wizened old flank steak now, but I used to be almost handsome, and in those final waning years of “barely acceptable” I met a girl. I am not a “hopeless” romantic. There is nothing hopeless about me. I am a “pragmatic” romantic. We fought, we struggled, we healed. We took on an enormous adventure, and we did it together. Because I was with Aleja it became a much richer experience than I could have ever hoped for. I was 2 years into this trip before we met, so it’s very easy for me to compare. There is no comparison. I won the lottery with that little Cocoa Bear; The Seal Pup Of Love

Zorba Sponsorship
“If the life you have created, has buried you in luxuries outdated, and you ask, what is the purpose, too weak to claw your way up to the surface” ~Grant Lee Buffalo~
I find I learn much about humanity from the ones who are willing to scrape food from the finished plates of others, and sleep on rooftops without mosquito nets. I’m no longer willing to dip that low but I can support the lifestyle. Do you know the character “Zorba the Greek”? If not you should read the book. His attitude of being completely absorbed in whatever he is doing or whomever he is with is the essence of the “be in the moment” movement. His zest for life is on equal footing with Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), a character that Jack Kerouac wrote at the same time Kazantzakis wrote “Zorba”. I’ve lost that skin, but I can still appreciate it and how they can feel as much as they do with their callouses so coarse. I find the feral Zorbas in every country and from every country. I was 23 and living in a cave on a Greek island with some South Africans. They were wonderful people and we shared our food and stories and we were young and we were vibrant. I suppose I’ve spent the intervening years trying to feel that again. Travel does it for me and I’m sure that in some ways I’m just a parasite trying to soak up the glow that those Zorba types give off. I’ll always buy them a beer or pay them for their wrist tie jewelry. Zorba on brothers and sisters. Zorba on!
I hired this Zorba to do some work. Rum was his tip
There are some maxims that are absolute and should never be challenged: “It’s always colder on the water”. “There’s always free cheese in a rat trap.” “Never go to a second location with a hippy”. Here’s one more: "I’m never going back". None of us are. We are only going forward. Make sure you pick the path that makes you the most alive. I’ve made lots of bad choices, but this road trip - I got it right. 
“Playing in the dust. We find the seeds of doubt. Don’t water them with your tears. Don’t think about all the years. You’d rather be without”. ~INXS~
I Cuss At Inanimate Objects
“I walk from my machine” - Bush 

I’m the oldest son, of the oldest son, of the oldest son. Talk about a douchebag (baggaducci in Italian) with a ridiculous sense of entitlement. I somehow feel that I deserve this incredibly lucky life based on my birth order lineage. How is that for the epitome of nonsense? Here’s more nonsense: I cuss at inanimate objects. I learned it from my intolerable father (great band name). I might not be masterful with the “F” word, but I say “Goddamn it” better than just about anyone. Know why? Cuz I’ve said it more times than just about anyone. Practice makes perfect and I’m no quitter, goddamn it. I think Elsie generated more swear words than anything I’ve ever owned before. But, having said that….When we parted company - I hadn’t cried that hard since my grandma died in 1991. Walking away from Elsie absolutely broke my heart. All you really get to keep of anything is the memory. Elsie was indeed a Freedom Machine and deserves every superlative with which I could possibly label her. I cuss at inanimate objects and apparently I fall in love with them too. It’s been odd to realize. It was a hard, gasping, uncontrollable sobbing. I suppose beneath the callouses there might be a sensitive soul inside after all. 
Next Up – Asia
“Now's the time to have some big ideas. Now's the time to make some firm decisions. We saw the Buddha in a bar down south, talking politics and nuclear fission” ~Shriekback~
It was 4 years, 3 months and 9 days. It was 20 countries: 42,000 miles driven and 3,000 miles sailed. It was the trip of a lifetime, and now it’s over. The overland trip is dead! Long live the trip! What’s next? - Aleja and I return to the lands of our birth for 2 months and then we rendezvous in Vietnam. We’ve been demoted to mochileros (backpackers). We’ll be taking public transport and sleeping in a hundred different beds as we crisscross South East Asia over the course of the coming year. And so begins the next chapter. . . 
“Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing. Many many men can’t see the open road“. ~Led Zeppelin~
Your man on point,
Captain Bobby

Friday, May 8, 2020

Brasil Part 2

We crossed late in the day from Bolivia to Brasil and at this little used border opening we hit a snag. They delayed us for long hot hours and we were forced to drive at night. I hate driving this huge pig in the dark on these bad skinny roads. But for what was waiting – it was all worth it.
The Capybara: World's largest rodent. It can weigh up to 145 pounds and not
less than 70 (35 to 66 KG)

The Pantanal
You know about the Amazon Jungle. It's the world’s largest tropical rain forest. But you probably didn’t know about the Pantanal, which is the world’s largest tropical wetlands. We almost skipped this. Don’t. Sure – it consists of little more than swamps, rivers, and waterways, and for that reason it’s overlooked. However, because of its open landscapes, and without the covering canopy, it’s easier to spot the fauna. It doesn’t have the plethora of actors on the stage but the stage is so much smaller than the Amazon’s that it’s much easier to spot wildlife. Bring a hat. There’s little shade and that sun is a killer.
Caimans everywhere
This enormous bird fears nothing and excels at ugly 
Giant Blue Macaws in the wild

The only jaguars and giant anteaters we saw were dead road kill.

I paid for guided tour after guided tour as we relinquished our pioneer spirit. There are enough things to kill us here that I thought better than going alone.

Driving In The Pantanal
The roads in Brasil are decent. The road we took thru the Pantanal was terrible. It took me 5 hours to drive 11 miles. That’s 2.2 mph. The average human walks at 3.1 mph. When I was a sailor I used to say that bad weather is expensive. Yes, it’s scary but it’s mainly just expensive because you break things. Same with bad roads. Yes, they are uncomfortable but the real cost is that of repairs and the time you lose effecting them.

It’s impossible to do anything in Bonito without a guide. They have a strangle hold on all things fun and the gatekeepers have mastered wringing the tourists for maximum fees. In the Pantanal I was happy to sit in the boat and have them explain how to catch a piranha and feed it to a caiman, but I wasn’t going to pay $100 to rent mask, fins & snorkel when I already have them. In addition – all the fun stuff in Bonito is actually hours outside of Bonito. This place was a big disappointment. Save your money.

Long Miles
This country is huge. We literally drove for 3 days to visit some friends in Ponta Grossa and we were still nowhere near the coast.

Our misguided drive to nowhere came to a stop when I didn't trust the bridge. We camped here for the night and retraced our path in the morning

Taquara – This marked the beginning of our return to the state of Santa Catarina. We were very happy to be back. Taquara isn’t a nice mellow beach with gently lapping waves, It’s a dramatic shore break with closeouts crashing right where you enter the water. This was survival training. When we tired of the sore neck aches and flushed sinuses we left for familiar ground . . .

Ah Bombinhas – God I love it here! I raved about this location on my previous Brasil post. This time we made even more friends. I swear, making friends with Brasileros is easier than picking up fat sorority girls.
Parked in the foreground with electricity. Doesn't get better. And the Pinheiro family is the best

Me to Aleja: “See that guy over there? I’m gonna make friends with him in 2 seconds. Watch this”
Me to stranger: “Bom Dia. I like you. We are friends now, yes?”
Brasilian stranger: “Yes Yes! Good friend now. Me and you. Yes! Where you from?”

Hugging and handshaking commences and goes on way too long. So easy.

One piece of wood carved by  hand

We were adopted by this family and another

Juliana on the right just had a baby today. Parabéns! Tenho certeza que o bebê será tão lindo quanto você

Big ones huh!

This is one of the big carnaval spots for Brasil, and we got here just in time. We left the party one night at 12:30 in the morning and it was only half over. Insane. The size and scope of a party like this... It's like the Rose Bowl parade meets New Year’s Eve in Madison square garden. And the amount of work that went into these costumes...Nossa! That means "wow". The city has built what they call a "Pasarelo do Samba" which is an enormous convention center around grandstands facing a street which only gets used once a year. You have to buy tickets to it and there are different levels of VIP enclosures. I snuck in using “Dave McGinn's Unique Technique” of walking in backwards thru the exit gate. Do you get it? Read it again and try to visualize: I walk in backwards as others are walking out. We are facing the same way so it doesn’t immediately register with the guards even though I’m moving in the opposite direction.
AB is so short she stands on beer cans to see ;-)

Then there is the poor man's party in the street. If Halloween is every girls excuse to dress like a slut, this is every guys excuse to dress like a queer. There aren't that many homosexuals on the whole planet but damn near every guy was in drag. And this party goes on for 5 days!  Brazil just keeps blowing my mind.

Even the beer servers are in the best of moods. And they say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth

The couple in the middle are Martin and Nhatasha. They lent us their car for 3 months for free. We knew them for a week. 

Carnaval is so important that for the better part of a whole week they watch the TV like it’s the grand championship of a sporting event as the country’s samba schools exhibit their best. They are literally dancing in the streets for 5 days. Unless you’ve seen it, you can’t believe it.

I guarantee you no one is trying to take “upskirt photos” like they do in Japan. There are so many derrieres in plain view you don’t need to sneak a peek. I do have a question though: How is it that this machismo Latin American country is so tolerant of gays and tranny’s when so much of the rest of the world isn’t?

The old fort from 1755
Cachaça Culture

Lake on the left, Ocean on the right

The dunes that run from the lake down to the southern end and the sea

Worker's quarters from 1780. Old ruin on the island

200 year old wooden screw for pressing cane sugar

Endless beaches and the best of friends

When you time the tides right you can paddle from the sea to the lake and then catch the ride back when it changes, and drink caipirinhas at the riverside bars. Paradise

Lagoa De Conceicao
We parked Elsie in the middle of this camper land / apartment / hotel for over 3 months. It’s a beloved lake front location and suddenly we were part of a community (we were here last year) again. Absolutely Wonderful. I found my favorite coffee spot, favorite restaurants, joined a gym, had a car or a scooter the whole time, and made real friends. It was the best ending to a 4 year road trip one could ask for. It was literally 4 years of adventure capped by 3 months of vacation. Perfect ending.

Do you remember our Argentinian friends Diego and Ana? They drove 1000 miles north to visit us. We love these 2.

Are you ready for this . . .  I haven’t been everywhere but I’ve committed 10 years to full time nonstop travel, so I’ve seen a lot, and I’m giving the title of World’s Best Place to the Island of Florianopolis, Brasil. There, I said it and I stand by it.

Mi Suegra! Aleja's mom flew down to join us for a week in the camper
My Floripa Crew

Porto Alegre
There is no reason to ever go here unless you have friends in the city. We do, so we stopped. I can’t rant enough about how welcoming and wonderful South Americans are. The Colombians will set the bar super high and then the Argentinians and Brasilians will just keep edging it skyward. You are blowing it if you don’t make a concerted effort to meet a South American. You don’t even have to leave your country. They are everywhere. Seek them out. You won’t be sorry.

We had one more couple that we needed to drop in on. I rank a locale by the 4 Ps: People, Place, Price, and Plates (food). Brasil wins on all and it was great to see these friends again.

Goodbye Brasil 
If you travel the usual geographic circuit of South America you’ll start in Colombia and end with Brazil. And that’s just how it should be. Most people skip it and end in Buenos Aires Argentina, but you shouldn’t skip Brasil. It’s like capping off a long adventure with a vacation.

We’re not on a holiday. This isn’t a vacation. This is travel. The entire 4 year trip was an enormous wild bucking adventure. We earned our miles and enjoyed it all in spite of the struggle. Brazil on the other hand; was a complete vacation. I will always go back to Brasil.

Your man on point,
Captain Bobby

Random Clearing House (France, Albania, USA, Colombia)

  These lines represent 2 years of driving around Europe Red = Year 1 / Purple = Year 2 “And you may find yourself in another part of the wo...