Some Speed Bumps on the Road

Greetings from the home base.  It has been awhile since our last post and we are long overdue for an update and providing some closure to our trip notes. We have been back in the States for some time –  regrouping and adjusting to our Seattle lifestyle  – and of course, daydreaming about our next lap around the globe!

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Here is the first of a few final posts on our travels until we head out again sometime in the future.  We’ll tackle the ever popular subject of What Went Wrong When You Were Traveling.  We have briefly covered this topic in an early post but continue to get questions on the topic so here we go!

 

Admittedly, our posts throughout the year tended to take a positive and happy tone  – and why not? It was a pretty stress-free year of travel.  We generally avoided “hot spots” so our itinerary took us to mostly safe spots. And the travel gods were with us, we never missed a flight or train, nor showed up to  a hotel that didn’t have our reservations. We missed one bus and were forced to spend extra time in Megeve, France – not a bad place to be stuck.

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But having said that, here are our top baker’s dozen challenging and negative experiences while traveling for the year:

The Thai Dog Bite Incident

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By far this was the most challenging situation for us.  During a couple weeks of sailing lessons in the Bay of Thailand, Susan was bitten by a stray beach dog.  The irony of this happening while we were sailing was not lost on us.  We encountered stray dogs while running or biking throughout the year – especially in Asia and South America and had some uncomfortable encounters with security dogs in South Africa and aggressive farm dogs in Portugal. But we only ran into troubles in Thailand.  Because Thailand has one of the highest rates of rabies in the world, there was no choice to get Susan appropriate treatment which meant changing our agenda to ensure we would be in countries that had the vaccine. It turns out that Thailand actually has very good healthcare and clinics and we found the level of care there to be very good.  It was also extremely cheap relative to the high cost of health care in the States.

A Nasty Wasp Sting in the Alps

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While hiking through the French Alps on a trail that circumnavigated Mt Blanc, we left our windows open at our auberge one evening.  It was a beautiful, crisp evening and the mountain air was wonderful.  Around 3am, I woke up in incredible pain – just about at screaming level.  Something had bitten me in the middle of my forehead.  We are still not sure what it was but my assumption is some type of wasp. Being Europe, there was no ice available so not too much to do.  I drained a bottle of whiskey after using a bit to clean out the wound on my head.  Unsurprisingly, the next morning my forehead was swollen and I had a lump for a week.  Not fun but as we have said, we didn’t run into many significant issues during our travels.

A  Bad Slice of Pie in Pai

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We loved Northern Thailand  – an addition to our Asia plans due to rescheduling because of the dog bite. Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, were great spots. Cheap, beautiful, exotic. The food was awesome.  But we had a a bad meal in Pai, a remote backpacker mecca in the Thai hills.  We  both were violently ill for about 8 hours. Crazy ill.  Unfortunately, the only way in and out of town is by bus – not the large Greyhounds with bathrooms – the mini-van variety packed with 13 passengers.  We had a 6 hour ride with one bathroom stop the next morning – not ideal for those suffering from a bad case of food poisoning. We ate as much loperamide as we had and hoped for the best.

The Curious Indian Yoga Adventure

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We were excited about a week at a yoga “retreat” that we booked in Goa after we spent a few weeks cycling in Southern India. We thought it would be just the way to unwind and stretch out some of the sore muscles. We booked through The Clymb which we used with much success to find some trips in South America including our Inca Trail hike and some trekking in Guatemala and Colombia.   But we didn’t fully vet this one and were a bit oversold.  The week turned out to be a bit of a gong show.  Our beach accommodations were in an  apartment block a 10min drive from the beach.  The yoga was OK but outside next to a busy street in the morning. Our very nice Italian yogi was fired for some reason during the week. We had evening yoga sessions on a beach that was nice but a bit of a drive and filled with stray dogs which put Susan on edge. We also had a crazy dog staying with us at the accommodations that would constantly bark at us every time it saw us – which was often. The included massages were at some shady massage parlor (we passed on these after the first one).  The owner got in a very heated argument with the staff one day that cast a very uncomfortable air about the place for the rest of the week. 1st world problems and complaints for sure but it was a wacky, uncomfortable few days under the Goa sun.

Hot and Bothered in Nicaragua

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Dang it was hot in Nicaragua.  Really, really hot and oppressive. We booked 2 weeks in the country  without a lot of research and figured we would fill in the blanks when we got there.  But things didn’t work out well for us.  We found a great hotel in Granada – the main entrance city of the country that we enjoyed a lot but the rest of the visit was painful. My windsurfing lessons were canceled because of lack of wind.  We did some paddle boarding in Lake Nicaragua, but the extended heat wave dropped the water levels extremely low and most bays were a steaming stew of algae.  We had to bail from a eco lodge because it was crazy hot – and too hot to sleep without AC and no power at night to run a fan. We booked into an Airbnb instead which was nice enough and complete with AC.  But unexplained in the Airbnb listing, running the AC would cost approximately another $100-200 per day.  In hindsight, we would have much preferred to skip the country and spend much more time in Guatemala which we loved.

Avoiding Elephants  while Cycling in India

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Biking for a couple weeks in Southern India was an incredible experience and a full-on assault on all the senses but it was not without its challenges… and obstacles.  Kerala and Tamil Nadu are filled with beautiful rural spaces with all sorts of exotic animals including tigers, elephants, and bears. With some experienced wilderness guides, we got to get close to a few in Periyar National Park. While cycling however, our local guides were a bit less experienced in the wilds and more adept at urban pursuits and the arts of persuasion. They were so persuasive, in fact, that they talked a number of soldiers to allow us to cycle through a tiger and elephant reserve.  We didn’t appreciate the gravity of our adventure until we tried to exit the park and were accosted by a number of upset and frightened officers at the other end of the reserve.  We were all lined up against a wall and were subjected to a number of stern warnings and reprimands. Admittedly, we didn’t follow the whole conversation because it was not in English and there were 3 wild and angry elephants a few hundred yards from our discussions (elephants kill many in their area every year).   We were lucky to get our bikes and guides back…and avoid the elephants.

Disgusted in Pataya

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Two hours south of Bangkok is one of the worst cesspools in the world. Pataya is a thriving city that grew from a US air force base back in WWII.  It is now one of the sex capitals of the world filled with Western lowlife sexpats.  Seedy, shady, filled with the lowest of the lows – it is a place to avoid – there is really no reason to be there.  We were based in a marina 20 miles south of the city and well out of the grime.  But after Susan was bitten by the stray dog, we were forced to hop a bus every day for a week to visit a clinic for daily cleaning of her wound (you can’t stitch an animal bite because of infection).  While the clinic and personal were great, the trip there was always an adventure and the clinic was always filled with drunk Russians with head wounds or broken bones. Stay away. (The silver lining was catching an all female Black Sabbath cover band in the city center).

The Epic Battle with Fed-Ex

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I will reiterate again that these are mostly 1st world problems here so we took them all with stride. As strategy that many extended travelers take is to have the home team ship clothes and gear to them in certain locations so they don’t have to lug them around the world.  We spent most of our time in warm weather following the sun but we had some climbing and cooler weather hiking plans in South America so we had friends ship us a box of appropriate gear to our location in Buenos Aires.   That was a mistake and Argentina is probably the worst country in South America to try and ship belongings – their imports rules are brutal. We spent hundreds of dollars and many hours trying to secure our box from customs.  We eventually ran out of time and gave up but we did spend months calling and e-mailing FedEx for resolution and were absolutely shocked by their support and customer service.  We are firmly in DHL and UPS camps now.

A Week Delay at the Cusco Airport

 

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Cusco is a great city. It is the gateway to Inca Trail and the Sacred Valley as well as many other locations in Peru.  But the airport is tiny, crowded and stressed.  The good news is they are building a new international airport that will allow folks to fly directly to the city and not requiring a transfer in Lima.  But unfortunately, they are developing it in the middle of the  beautiful Sacred Valley. Progress.  A day before we were set to leave, a plan skidded off the runway and closed the airport for a number of days (no one was hurt).  We spent 8 hours at the airport because communication and crisis management is different.  We didn’t mind the extra few days in the city but we spent another two full days waiting and expecting earlier flights out. All that time in Peru and we still never managed to eat a BBQ’d guinea pig so we definitely have another visit in our future.

Bumped off the Bike in Cartagena

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Cartagena is a beautiful Colombia beach town with much history – a Spanish outpost, a pirate’s lair, the setting of famous literature.  Young backpackers love the crazy beach scene that the islands offer.  After a couple months in Peru and Colombia, we enjoyed the wide streets and ocean boardwalk for  early morning runs and evening strolls.  One day, we decided to grab a couple cruiser bikes from our hotel and take a short ride to the beach.  On a one-way street, half-way to our destination, a car pulled out from the left on one-way road and ran into me.  Luckily, it was a relatively low-speed incident and the only thing that got banged up was the bike.  After some shouting in English, I noticed the two occupants were dressed in military garb so we just quietly went on our way.

A Domestic Dispute Intervention in Cusco

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More drama from Cusco.  A minor incident for sure but as we have stated before, we had minor bumps along our way.  When out for an evening stroll on the outskirts of the city, we encountered a couple young folks in a heated debate.  The man started to get physical with a women and young child – kicking and punching.  With others, we expressed our concerns and demanded he stopped. The women took the opportunity to leave quickly but the man followed her – continuing to berate her.  We followed them for 15 minutes or so until we arrived a square with policemen and we were able to get them involved.

Avoiding the Duel in Bogota

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Walking back to his bike. Pistol in right hand.

We did have some concerns about visiting Colombia.  We were both well read on the subject of drug violence of the 80’s and 90’s. Our preconceived notions were completely changed after spending a month there and the country ended up on our top 5 list for sure.  But the first week-end in Colombia, we spent a couple nights in a dingy part of Bogota.   Not a big deal but not the most comfortable environment.  During an afternoon stroll, I encountered a scene that was straight out of a James Bond film.  A motorcyclist jumped off his bike, pulled out a handgun and ran right by me chasing another man.  I didn’t hear any shots so it may have been just a bluff charge.

The Messy Aftermath of a Bike and Truck Collision in Uruguay

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We had a great visit in Uruguay. There is not much going on there but there are a couple hopping cities and a surf scene on a few beaches.  We rented a car and had a great road trip around the country for a week or so.  But on the last day and on the way to the airport, we encountered a gruesome scene on the highway.  A tractor trailer ran over a couple road cyclists – it was a quite a mess and a bit unnerving as we were only weeks away from a couple of months of cycling later in the year.

We were both surprised as we compiled this list that many of the incidents occurred in South America.  We loved out time there and ended up spending three months exploring the region when our original plans didn’t even include a visit. We’ll be back.

Beautiful Bourgogne, No Beaune(s) about it

Burgundy for kings, champagne for duchesses, claret for gentlemen – French Proverb

Beaune ( pronouced “Bone”) is in the middle of the French Bourgogne wine region well known for its Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and Chablis (Chardonnay) wine. The city has a long history of wine making and is surrounded by vineyards, many hundreds of years old. Wineries, large and small, are integrated throughout the new and old parts of the city. It is an oenophile’s paradise for sure.

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We must admit, we are not huge fans of Chardonny and Pinot. It is not that we have a “Beaune of contention” with them or that we need to “Beaune up on them” (I could go on if my editor would let me).  Oregon which is very close to home in Seattle has allowed us to enjoy many of the new world Pinots (which can be pleasantly very earthy). It is just that we prefer bigger reds, clarets, in fact, so perhaps that makes us better suited as a duchess and gentleman.

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We stopped by Beaune and the Bourgogne region for a bit more cycling and a little bit of wine tasting as we made our way to Chamonix to leave our cycling behind and tackle the Tour du Mont Blanc. Beaune is an incredibly beautiful city with a very large old town, a historical hospital and wineries that are older than the U.S.A. There is a ring road that circles old town which decreases car traffic and provides a nice walking and short cycling path.  It is a beautiful city but we recommend avoiding in August because of the hordes of tourists that are here and many of the good restaurants which are closed as the locals get out of Dodge for their own holidays.

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We stayed for about  a week and spent most of our time visiting the surrounding areas via bikes but used Beaune as our base.  Not surprisingly, there are grapes everywhere. You hit vineyards in less than 1 km from the city center and it is amazing how integrated some of the vineyards are to the villages surrounding Beaune.  Grape growing was in full production so you shared the roads and bike trails with plenty of farmers, tractors, and trimming machines.  The vineyards are stunning.

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The cycling routes are well mapped out in the region with plenty of signage and routes. Some direction and route guidance helps to put together a full day ride, but for the most part you can pick a village and distance and then follow the routes.

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The countryside is scenic. There are a few hills and some elevation but for the most part it is undulating.

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The villages are gorgeous and there is one every 5km or so in any direction you choose. There are a number of parks and preserved lands about but for the most part, you cycle through villages and vineyards.

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We enjoyed a lot of the villages, including Pommard, Volnay, Puligny-Montrachet, Savigny-les-Beaune, Nuits Saint-Georges, Villars-Fontaine, Bigney-sur-Ouche, and Vavilly-Mandelot. Meursault was one of our favorites. It is only about 10km from Beaune and has a number of great lunch spots so it is a very good ride for casual cyclists but it is also a good stop on the way back from longer rides.

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We had a blast riding for a few days in Burgundy; a few of our routes offered some 3-4km climbs that offered some challenges.  Wine was very good.  When we compare it to our recent trip to The Loire, I think we would rank the Loire higher for value and cycling. Even though the cycling was a bit flatter in The Loire, there are many more routes and options.  Wine, restaurants, and hotels are more reasonably priced and the villages are just as stunning.  But Burgundy offers more wine, no doubt about that. Wineries and vineyards are older and more renowned.  There is no right answer and you can never go wrong with some pedaling through French vineyards!

 

In the Garden of Beasts

Biking through France has made me hungry for books on WWII, and there arein the garden of beasts plenty of good reads on this topic.  After reading All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale which are both fiction novels, I picked up In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson which is a non-fiction book about the US Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his family’s experience living in Berlin from 1933 (as Hitler is coming into power as Chancellor) to 1937.  Although this is non-fiction, it reads more like a historical fiction novel, and I found it to be a quick read.

The book raises a lot of questions, but a key question raised (and attempted to answer) is why the US government did not speak out and/ or take any action given Hitler’s barbarism.  For example (and only one of so many), in 1934, the Nazi regime unilaterally carried out a series of political executions of Germans who were thought to oppose Hitler (this act was later known as “The Night of Long Knives”).  To Dodd’s credit, he warned President Roosevelt and others of the risk of another world war. Had the US and other countries done something in response to Hitler’s atrocities could WWII have been circumvented?

Well researched and written, this is a fascinating read about Hitler’s accession to power and Dodd’s experience as US Ambassador in Berlin in the years leading up to WWII.  In my opinion, the one downside of the book is that there is too much time spent on Dodd’s daughter’s, Martha, social connections and love life, but regardless, another compelling read.

Slaying the Badger

This was a fun read – especially while we were spending a couple weeks following this year’s Tour de France.  With a bit of bus travel and more than a few hours waiting for the peloton during our trip, we knew that we would have some time to dig into a few good books.  Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France fit the bill for me. This was a fantastic read that sucked me in from the first pages (yeck!).  It is a fascinating reporting on the 1986 Tour de France which was the first Tour that featured a team from the States and ended with the first winner from the States, Greg LeMond. It was also the last Tour for Bernard Hinault – a hugely popular French cycling legend who today is still very influential and prominent in French cycling.

The story line revolves around the inter-team fireworks between the two leaders Hinault and LeMond and their agreement that frustrated both but also set the context for one of the most entertaining races in its history. Ultimately,  the outcome solidified Hinault’s French popularity and position as a bit of a folk hero and LeMond as the first winner of the race from the USA and also a pivotal player in increasing salaries and the free market model in professional cycling.

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Really? No helmets in ’86

It’s a story of characters – from the leaders, the managers, the owners and even the Tour’s officials. All involved seem to have been a bit off balanced at best.  It’s a fast, enlightening and fun read. Though, it is very much an “inside baseball” story that may be difficult for a casual fan, if you follow cycling or are intrigued by this race, it is a good one to pick up.

And if you want to know why you shouldn’t have your favorite Mexican food delivered from California to France the night before an important ride, definitely check this one out (or at least review the Amazon Kindle sample which will give you that answer)

“Hvar” Nagilia, “Hvar” Nagilia!

Hvar was the third island ride during our stop in Split, Croatia. It is a two hour ferry ride from the mainland although if you do not have bikes or a car, you can take the catamaran which is faster.

Hvar has a population of roughly 11,000 making it the 4th most populated of the Croatian islands.  It is one of the more popular islands and Hvar Town can get crowded with visitors.

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Previously controlled by the Venetian Empire, Hvar Town is the largest town on the island with a port surrounded by a square, harbor and some Venetian architectural details.  In June, the harbor was packed with fishing boats, commercial boats and yachts alike.  One could only imagine how crowded the harbor is with boats in August when most of Europe is on vacation.  The island of Hvar is quite beautiful with diverse landscape. We biked through lavender fields, rural farming villages, busy ports like Hvar Town as well as the charming, quieter seaside village of Jesla.  For us, today was more about suffering  (in a good way) than rejoicing. It was mostly about one thing:

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We took the ferry to Stari Grad.  Then, we climbed the 12 kms, mostly at 10%, to the highest point on the island and from there, coasted all the way down to Hvar Town about another 10 kms away. After a coffee and some water, we turned around rode back because we did not have a enough climbing on the way to Hvar Town.

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Hvar Town was beautiful. A little larger than most of the harbors we have visited on the Croatian islands and much more crowded. It is a good base for hitting some of the hot beaches and diving spots. It is quite a diverse crowd ranging from multi-million dollar yacht owners to backpackers looking for cheap hostels.

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Ferries are limited so we had a few hours to kill after we did our climbs.  Instead of hanging out on the beach, we decided to add another cycling loop out to Jesla, and we are glad we did. Jesla and its neighboring villages are fantastic and have some of the best beaches and harbors we saw in Croatia. There is also a fantastic bike path that follows the water for about 10km.

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Hvar gets an estimated 200,000 visitors per year mostly in July and August.  In June, our ferry ride from the mainland to Hvar on a Wednesday was packed with standing room only for those arriving late.  Hvar is beautiful and we enjoyed the stunning views it had to offer as well as the biking.  But if you plan to visit Croatia in July and August, there are so many gorgeous islands it might be best to visit some of the other less known islands such as Brac, Solta, Molat or maybe Vis (unfortunately, we did not get to Vis on this trip but now we have an excuse to go back).

Fig-uring it Out on the Island of Šolta, Croatia

Solta is another sparsely populated Croatian island which is easily accessible from Split via a 45-minute ferry.  It has a long history of Greek, Roman, and Venetian rule and it is speculated that its name was derived from “Fig Island” way back when. With only 1,700 permanent residents, there is not much traffic making it another great spot to cycle.  Solta is hilly like most of the islands in the area, and the climbing starts as soon as you get off the ferry in Rogač.  After a 1-2 km climb from the harbor, you arrive at Gorhote and then it is either a out and back ride southeast to Stomorska or northwest to Maslinica. (Check out some great footage of the island in this video.)

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We cycled to both Stomorska and Maslinica on a sunny but windy day and a headwind made for some challenging biking out to Maslinica.

because it was a bit longer cycle and slightly larger hill, we cycled to Stomorska first. Stomorska is a small, charming fishing village, but it is also famous for its big wooden ships that used to transport Šolta’s figs, olive oil and wine  (all the Croatian food groups) to Italy.  That will give you sense of the landscape and what was for lunch!

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Maslinica was our second out and back and is basically a long downhill to the harbor filled with fishing boats and charter boats. Maslinica is a classic Croatian island harbor town with a few restaurants and bars and plenty of boats.  We stopped for lunch and had some fantastic, fresh anchovies before turning around for another 6 km+ climb out.

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When you hear stories of people living well past 100 years old on islands in and around the Mediterranean, it is likely farmers on an island such as Šolta living simply and from the land with diets rich with fish, olive oil and wine that create these legends; however, that is if they are not contributing to the average of 1709 cigarettes consumed per day per adult in Croatia. For us, however, it was back to the ferry and back to Split for the island of Hvar the next day.

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