Friends and Family

Kauai in 25 Pictures

We went to Kauai this year, since Brian wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday there.  We attracted a big crowd of family and friends along the way, and had a wonderful time.  OK, the part about Crystal breaking her arm wasn't so great.  But if we overlook that one little incident... There was hula, a luau, sailing and snorkeling, surfing, stand-up paddle boards, golfing and lots of good food.  So go here to view the photo album. 


What Did You Do In The War Grandpa?

Department of Obscure References

This is for my niece, Katie.  Recently you had said something along the lines of "why didn't anyone ever tell me that" about your grandfather.  So I thought I'd share some details about his time in World War II.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, your grandfather, along with his two best friends, enlisted.  Norman and Nathan Sandersen (sp?) joined the Army.  More specifically, they joined the Army Air Force (the Air Force was not a separate branch of the military at the time).  Their friend, Daniel (I don't recall his last name) joined the Navy.  

Here's a picture of Norman (left) and Nathan (right).  

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Of the three friends, only Norman survived the war.  Nathan was a ball turret gunner in his B-17 crew.  He was on a mission when his plane was shot down.  The other crew members were able to jump out of the plane, but Nathan couldn't get out of the ball turret, and died when the plane crashed into the ground.  Daniel was aboard a destroyer (perhaps the USS Indianapolis, although that was a cruiser and not a destroyer) that was torpedoed and sunk.  The story of the Indianapolis is well-known; here's one account.  Your late uncle Nathan was named after Norman's buddy.  I was named after my grandfather, but I like to think that I was also named after Norman's friend, Daniel.

Norman was a photographer in the war.  It's probably more accurate to say he was a photographic technician.  His job was to process the films that were recorded during bombing missions, so that mission planners could assess how much damage the bombing had caused.  He was part of the 8th Army Air Force.  From the photo above, I had the impression that Norman flew on the bombing missions, recording the bombing runs.  Now I don't think that's the case.  In the accounts I've read, it seems that the bombers had cameras that automatically started when the bomb bay doors opened.  Also, descriptions of the crew of the B-17 and B-24 (the two long-range bombers used by the 8th Air Force) don't list a cameraman.  Nevertheless, developing the film after each mission was an important job; planners had to know how successful each bombing mission had been.

Norman enlisted in December, 1942 and was discharged in 1945.  Reading his last will and testament (no doubt required of every enlistee) was a sobering experience.  I don't know much about Norman's time in the Army Air Force, as he wasn't one to talk about his experiences (at least not to me).  I do know that he fell out of the back of a transport once and injured his back.  Other than a few references to lovely English ladies, that's all I know.

The 8th Air Force was based in England.  They were responsible for daylight bombing of German factories, oil refineries and anything else deemed material to the war effort.  The British Air Force conducted night bombing.  US bombing was labeled "strategic" as it targeted specific sites.  British bombing was called "area" bombing as it just attempted to hit an area of interest.  Exactly why this division of labor existed is hard to say.  The British had tried daylight bombing, but experienced heavy losses and weren't able to hit their targets with any precision.  There was also a belief (thanks to experiencing The Blitz) that bombing of civilian targets (by accident or, as in the case of Dresden, on purpose [see Slaughterhouse Five]) could cause a loss of civilian morale and possibly hasten the end of the war.  It's also true that the US had developed the Norden bombsight (Norman claimed they used a spider's thread for the filament used to sight the target) which had proven to be very accurate (under unrealistically ideal circumstances).

At any rate, daylight bombing was incredibly dangerous.  Bombers flew without fighter escort between 1942 and 1944, since there was no mid-air refueling at this time and escort fighters didn't have enough fuel to make the complete round-trip.  So the bombers had to fight their way into and out of the target.  The bombers were heavily armed, and developed formation flying to increase their defensive capabilities.  Still, between the flak and enemy fighters the bombers suffered tremendous losses.  26,000 service members died, out of 210,000 deployed.  The average lifespan for the bomber crew was thirteen missions.  [Side note: this attrition, together with the requirement to complete 25 missions, led to the notion of a "Catch-22."The odds were you'd be killed before completing 25 missions, yet you couldn't be relieved of duty unless you were insane... And if you asked not to fly because you feared for your life, you were considered sane."]  Later in the war, fighters were introduced that had longer range and were able to accompany the bombers to their targets and back.  In order to avoid the flak, the bombers flew at something like 50,000 feet--higher than a passenger jet.  The bomber cabins weren't pressurized or heated.  As a result, crews had to breathe oxygen during the trip (frostbite around the mouth was a common injury) and had to wear the heavy flight suits with integrated heaters in order to avoid freezing to death during flight.

Even if you didn't fly on bombing missions, it had to have been tough work. Guys you trained with, had a beer with, left in the morning and didn't come back.  Guys too young to graduate from college were leading crews of 10 on 12-hour flights with bombs exploding all around you while you had to maintain level, straight flight in order to hopefully hit your target.

So that's what I know.  Maybe your Mom has more details.  As others have said, it was a time when ordinary men and women accomplished extraordinary things.

 

 

 


North to Alaska

So Crystal and I, along with her parents, just recently completed a nearly two-week visit to Alaska.  It was wonderful.  We were on a Holland America cruise for the first week.  After that, we rented a car and drove the Denali National Park for a few days.  Add in a few days for stopovers on the way, and there you have the itinerary.  Cruises aren't my favorite form of vacationing, but there's a lot of Alaska that is best seen from the water (the rest is best seen by air).  And we thought a cruise would be a good compromise in traveling styles between ourselves and Crystal's parents, Joe and Norma.

This was the longest vacation I can remember taking in a long time and I definitely reached the point of being ready to come home.  Rather than recount all the myriad details of the trip, I decided to focus on one memorable moment from each day.  Before going there, I can relate some feelings about the trip as a whole.

  • It was great to get "off the grid."  Yes, I checked mail periodically, but only to make sure that sales leads were getting looked after.  No social media, no furtive mail review when in cellular range.
  • Not only was I unplugged from work, but I was also unplugged from almost all the news.  No election politics.  No what-did-he-say-now Trump news.  I did catch a bit of news about the earthquake in Italy, but missed the entire Colin Kaepernick national anthem drama.  Being unplugged from the news cycle was a great way to recharge.
  • Many of my best moments came from conversations with people we met.  I met lots of people whose first impulse was to tell you about themselves, where they cam from and why, and what was cool about the place where they lived.

Day One: Vancouver Arrival

An unusual day:  warm… and sunny.  We head down to Harbour Centre and go up to the lookout for a 360' view of the city.  It's clear enough to see Mt. Baker in Washington state.  Next we wander around Gastown and have dinner. 

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Sunset from Harbour Centre

 

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The Steam Clock

 

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Joe and Norma Perusing the Menu at the Revel Room

Memorable Moment: two actually.  Watching the steam clock ring in the top of the hour.  Also, meeting some Aussies in the bar at the Revel Room, and hearing their stories of seeing heroin of junkies downtown selling stuff and shooting up.

Day Two: Vancouver Departure

Departure day.  We've been warned that there are three cruise ships leaving today, so we might want to board early.  Our plan is to get our luggage on the ship, then spend some time in Stanley Park before we board for good.  Once we go through the customs and immigration lines, there's a small mutiny and it looks like we're boarding and staying on the ship.  Cocktails, anyone?

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We're on our way!

 

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The Photographers at Work

Memorable Moment: Sunset

Day Three: At Sea

Today we're sailing; no stops, just whatever entertainment the ship has to offer.  This is a good day to fulfill my intention to go work out at the gym.  Only I can't, because the gym is closed.  Why? A passenger has had some kind of medical emergency, and they're using the gym as a staging area for getting the passenger off the ship via Coast Guard helicopter. Coast Guard Alaska in real life! In the end, the USCG determined they couldn't safely evacuate the passenger via helicopter, so they pulled a boat alongside and got the person out that way.  Hopefully there are OK!  Meanwhile, I spent 30 minutes walking up and down the nine flights of stairs on the ship.

So, we attended a cooking display with one of the ship's chefs, as well as a mixology class hosted by our BFF Walter.  Crystal got some hands-on practice with a Boston shaker.  Learning can be fun!

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Coast Guard Helicopter Circling the Ship

 

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Mixology Class with Walter

Memorable Moment: passenger evacuation

Day Four: Ketchikan

Our first port of call.  Time to see if Verizon offers cell service here.  It appears not, since my phone is asking me if I want to sign up for international data.

We decide to head out to Totem Bight State Historical Park, a few miles away.  There are lots of recreated totem poles out there, and information on the symbols and the different Native Alaskan tribes that lived there.  It's an Anthropology geek's heaven.  We opt to catch a cab there vs. take the cruise line's shuttle bus.  The driver doesn't take credit cards, but he will stop at the Wells-Fargo on the way so we can get some cash.  His stories are priceless.  He tells about one brother who owns the cab company, who has to ship his taxis to Seward for repair.  Why? Because the other brother owns the GM dealership in town, but he and the first brother hate each other.  Then there's the boy who went to explore the secret Army dump in WWII, and died a month later of radiation poisoning.  It appears the Army was dumping spent nuclear waste there; eventually a dozen townspeople died.  The driver shows us the property where the owner has cleared the land (mostly hillside) of trees and can't understand why no one now wants to buy the property.

 After our totem tour, we head back into town and walk along Creek Street (more of a wooden sidewalk) to see where the brothels were back then and to watch the the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

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Welcome to Ketchikan!

 

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Recreated Totem Lodge at Totem Bight State Park.  The Small Entrance was for Defensive Purposes.

Memorable Moment: Our cab ride/narrated tour. This turned out to be a theme during our trip.

Day Five: Juneau

Next stop: Juneau, the state capitol.  Almost immediately after you get off the ship you're walking uphill.  We head up to the Capitol building to get a picture for Brian; unfortunately it's under restoration so you have to imagine the final product.  Next up, we're boarding a bus to go to the harbor and take a whale-watching tour.  The weather is cool and overcast, sometimes a bit foggy.  But there are smoked salmon Bloody Mary's on the boat, so we'll manage.  After a stop at their lodge for lunch we're off to look for whales.  We eventually spot some humpbacks, as well as Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles.  Plus we get to try the pickled kelp on the boat--not bad.  After our whale watching tour, we're off to Mendenhall Glacier for our first up-close glacier look.  Crystal and I leave Joe and Norma in the visitor center so we can take a short hike to see the salmon swimming upstream.

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Mendenhall Glacier

 

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Thar She Blows!

 

After our tour, we find the local Ben Franklin's to buy a replacement suitcase for Joe and Norma's that broke.  We get the parents a duffel bag, sans wheels.  This turns out to be a critical error.  We've worn Joe and Norma out with all the walking. so we send them back to the ship and stop in at the Red Dog Saloon for a beer and some country music.  As the singer says, "you can enjoy the music, or just keep d***ing around with your phones." 

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A Well-Deserved Beer at the Red Dog Saloon

Memorable Moment: Our narrated tour.  The driver is reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite.  His stories are hilarious.  His best one:  the man who eventually admitted that the bitchy woman they had to go back and pick up at the glacier visitor center was his wife.  "Why didn't you tell me when I asked who was missing?!," asked the driver.  "Because I wanted some peace and quiet," said the man.  "Best two hours of my entire vacation!"

Day 6: Skagway

Skagway, once the jumping-off point for gold miners ("sourdough's").  Today the only industry is tourism.  Crystal and I take a walk around the town while we wait to start our sled dog adventure.  Another narrated bus ride up the river valley and into the hills.  Our driver is a former Wall Street type that one day decided to get off that train and head to Alaska.  Another common theme up here.  He says it was the best decision he ever made.

We arrive and the dogs are going nuts; they can't wait to run.  They look like muts, slighter in build than I would have thought.  These dogs are bred for speed vs. pulling a load.  Noah’s talk on mushing was fascinating.  12,000 calories a day for the dogs! Sleeping on top of your sled for 90 minutes at a time, dogs sleeping on straw despite -30 to -60 weather.  Noah's best record for the Iditarod was 11+ days.  Not my cup of tea.

Beer and a snack at the Skagway Brewing Co (Blue Top Porter and Sitka Spruce Tip Amber) and then it's back to the ship for us.

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Our Crew is Ready to Go!

 

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Sled Dog Puppies

Memorable Moment: The sled dogs.  OK, we're dog lovers so we're a bit biased.  But experiencing the joy of these dogs getting to run, learning about "mushing" and handling the puppies was a great experience.

Day 7: Glacier Bay

When we wake up we're in Glacier Bay.  It's a complete and total overload. Panoramas in every direction.  We take a zillion pictures, hoping that the next picture will fully capture the scale of the place.  Seeing glaciers was like seeing the volcano in Hawaii; it makes you feel quite small.  We saw Bald Eagles, no whales but Stellar Sea Lions and Puffins. And some Harbor Seals.  There are glaciers everywhere you look.  The glaciers crush the ground below them as they move, resulting in "rock flour" which turns the water gray near the glaciers and a milky blue-green elsewhere, due to minerals.  Iso-static expansion (aka Post-glacial rebound) means the ground is rising more than one foot a year due to retreat of the ice and removal of its weight.

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One of Many Glaciers We Saw

 

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More Glacier Scenery

Memorable Moment: Glacier Bay, hands down.

Day 8: On to Seward

Today we head west toward Seward.  We're following the Alaskan coast so most of the time there are mountains in the distance.  My sore throat from yesterday has blossomed into a full-on head and chest cold.  So I spent a lot of time in my bed.  I was happy with the gentle roll of the ship as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska; it helped me sleep.  We wen to the Indonesian tea ceremony on the ship, but it turned out not to be a show-and-tell but more just another chance to eat.  Back to bed.

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From Juneau, I Liked This Tattoo Parlor Sign.


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From Skagway:  Can I Take Him Home??

Memorable Moment: Sleeping. Also seeing sperm whales spouting in the distance.

Day 9: Overland to Anchorage

The ship drops us off at Seward, and provides a bus to take us to Anchorage.  As with other bus rides, this one comes with a narrative.  There's marathon mountain, so named because there's now a race every year to run up the mountain-are you crazy?? Traveling along the Kenai Peninsula is beautiful.  The landscape is beautiful, and we learned about what happens to people who attempt to walk in the mud flats created from the glacier deposits (think: quicksand).  We also hear the story of the guy who drove his truck out at low tide and got stuck when the tide reversed.  The tides change up to 38 feet so he had to call the Coast Guard for help... who said that, technically, he wasn't a vessel in distress.  

Once in Anchorage, we (with some difficulty) get our gear onto a shuttle that will take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car.  Then it's over to the Fat Ptarmigan for pizza (since this place was closed on Sunday). The bus driver has some good advice about driving the Richardson Highway: "watch when the white line gets wavy.”  I'm thinking the highway is going to give way to a gravel road but that turned out not to be the case.  From here, it's on to Willow for a stay at a B&B.  We passed through Wasilla on the way, but couldn't see Russia; maybe it was cloudy.

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The Panorama From our B&B

Memorable Moment: Listening to our host as he tells us about each of the hunting trophies in his house.

Day 10: On to Denali

Up and on the road. We take a detour to Talkeetna (meaning, "where the rivers come together").  It's a bit like Boulder Creek--kind of touristy. But it's the closest spot (only 40 miles!) to Denali so it's a hopping off point for climbers.  After that it's on to Denali.  We're early arriving at our motel so we continue on to Denali and explore a bit.  We stayed up in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights but that didn't seem to happen.

 

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Yes, That's a Runway


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Local Politics in Talkeetna


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Outside Our Room at The Perch

Memorable Moment: Seeing the stars at night, including the Big Dipper and the North Star—just like the state flag. 

Day 11: All Day in Denali         

Denali National Park is six million acres, with one road running through it, and driving is restricted to the first fifteen miles of the road.  You pretty much have to see it via a bus, unless you're striking out overland on your own.  The scale of this place is incredible.  You're seeing valleys that were cut by glaciers, mountains forty miles in the distance.  We learn about the permafrost, a couple of inches below the soil surface.  It's very spongy to walk on and creates an acidic environment that causes the trees to only grow ten or twenty feet high.  The brush is about four to five feet high, meaning that brush movement is often your first clue to seeing an animal.  

We got to see moose, caribou and Dall Sheep. We didn't see bears, but they are no doubt around.  Our tour made two stops, each of which featured an Athabascan guide who told us about the land and their history with it.

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Denali in the Distance

 

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Nails. That's One Way to Discourage the Bears

 

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Lots of Scrub, Stunted Trees

 

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Fall Arrives Early in Alaska!

 Memorable Moment: Being in Denali National Park.  Our only wish was that we could spend a day or two in the back country.

Day 12: Return to Denali

Most days were governed with a "we have to get there right away” agenda.  Today we were able to change that.  We went back to Denali National Park, dropped the parents off at the Visitor Center and then spent an hour or so hiking to Horseshoe Lake.  We had a chance to practice our “hey bear!” warning calls as we hiked. We got to see the trees downed by beavers and the huge dam they created at the lake. Lot of berries and wildflowers along the way. We also got to see the train arrive at the park depot.

Denali showed me that I need to be in nature, not just see it from a bus.  I have to be in nature, give it time to talk to me.  

Following our hike we drove through to Anchorage. We stopped for photos of Denali from the north side, also awesome.

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That is a Beaver Dam

 

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What Beavers do to Trees

 

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Yay! I Made It!

 

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Train Arrival

Memorable Moment: Our hike to Horseshoe Lake.  It was very rewarding to get out and spend time off the road for a bit.

Day 13: Headed Home

We're back on the "get there right away" agenda.  At the airport three hours early; not even the gate agents are here yet. Worse: the bar isn’t open.  I manage to get a Kodiak Brown Ale before we go.  It's been a great visit, and we can't wait to get back.

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Nenana River

 

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That Dark Spot in the Center of the Picture is a Moose.  A Big Moose.

 

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Time to Go!

Memorable Moment: Remembering Denali.


The Yin and Yang of 2015

2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that.  Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).

  Yin-Yang

  Yin-Yang

McCloud Thanksgiving

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Family Christmas togetherness

Norovirus

Booming business

Freeway gridlock

Dozens of flights to BUR 20150706_153619145_iOS

Blown up workout schedule

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No-shave November

A grey beard

30 selfies

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Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl with Wendy, John, Holly and Kenny

Being lost in the town you grew up in

Watching Stanford football and texting with John Gless

Losing to… Northwestern??

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The passing of friends

Weddings, anniversaries and babies

 
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Acts of terrorism The kindness of strangers
So much to share Time's up/pencils down

 


Ten Days in Paradise

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Sometime back in the fall, the family is sitting around the table discussing options for our winter vacation. The default option is to use our timeshare week in South Lake Tahoe and go skiing.  But this year Sean, Danielle and Brian (who all live in places where it snows in the winter) want to go somewhere warm.  I can understand that.  We check out numerous February vacation options and the one that seems to pop successfully out of the linear optimizer is Hawaii; specifically, The Big Island.  The last time anyone was there was for our friend Kaui's funeral, so there are some emotions to navigate.  But eventually everyone is on board and we're ready to go.  Brian is heading out first (and in first class--what a brat!), Sean and Danielle next, and Crystal and I last.  

Here's our account of the trip, complete with pictures of course.  So sit back, grab a Mai Tai or bottle of Longboard Ale, and enjoy!

Friday

Crystal and I fly from San Jose to Maui, and then on to Hilo. We stop in at Café 100 for some Loco Moco. Not too early to get into Hawaiian style! I ask the car rental agent if I need four-wheel drive to go across Saddle Road, and she gives me a "you haven't been here in a while, have you?" look. Turns out Saddle Road was recently renovated (thank you, Senator Inouye!) and is one of the best roads on the island. Our rental car seems to be having transmission issues, so I take it back and get upgraded to a practically brand-new Dodge Durango. Off we go.

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This is my first time crossing the island this way, and it really gives you a good feel for all the different climate zones that exist on the island. We cross the summit and drop into Waikoloa, just in time for the weekend going-home traffic. Even in paradise…

We catch up with Brian, Sean and Danielle at the Sheraton, where we're staying for a night before our condo is ready the next day. Lots of excitement as we catch up and talk about what we want to do for the week.

First up, dinner in Waikoloa at Roy's. The food is great, service OK. It's a great way to start our vacation.

Saturday

Check-out day at the Sheraton Kona and check-in day at the Kona Coast Resort just up the road.  The place is a little dated, but there's plenty of room and we're near the pool, restaurant, bar and barbecues so we'll take it.  It's right on a golf course (yeah!) which is closed for renovation (dang!).  After check-out we head down to Keauhou Harbor, to Akule Supply Company, for breakfast. Sean, Brian and Danielle have already been frequenting this place and like the food and atmosphere. This means another chance to sample the Loco Moco, which is fantastic.

Next up, we head to a local farmer's market to pick up fruit and vegetables for the week. (We always start out thinking we'll cook most of our dinners, but it never seems to work out that way.) It's amazing to see how many varieties of avocado and papaya there are on the island. Then there's the jackfruit, which is like a punk-rocker version of a watermelon.

After the market, we check into our condo and then head down the road for lunch at Da Poke Shack. I'm not that big of a poke eater, but this stuff is outrageously good. They serve whatever kind of fish they get that day, which in our case is tuna. There are a variety of preparations, but it really doesn't matter what you choose, because they're all good. And the Primo beer (the big dog in local beer before the craft brew revolution) is a nice touch.

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We reach Steve Doyle and invite him down for dinner. About the time I head to KTA to pick up some fish for dinner, a windstorm hits the island and knocks the power out. Good thing I have cash… Steve and I pick up on our mutual joke-telling while I grill up dinner. Mai Tai consumption is trending upward.

Sunday

Steve sleeps over, and we convince him to join us for brunch at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. This is one of those memory-lane events we've all been anticipating, since this was a favorite activity on earlier trips. We remember all kinds of great food, from sushi to fruit to all kinds of breakfast choices… all served in an open-air lobby. But first, it's time for a papaya breakfast, supplemented with Ahi jerky. Hey, those farmer's market fruits won't eat themselves!

This year's version of brunch doesn't match up to our memories. The venue has moved to another area of the hotel, apparently because that part of the Mauna Kea was damaged in the 2006 earthquake. The food's still good—very good—but the atmosphere is a little lacking and the overall feeling is this meal isn't going to live up to our expectations.

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After brunch we head over to Hapuna Beach, one of the best beaches on the island. Normally this beach has a wide swath of white sand.  But with the waves up and stormy conditions, most of the beach is gone. We spend lots of time in the water, but it's tough to catch any waves with the water so churned up.

After time at the beach, we head up to Kawaihae Harbor so Sean can show Danielle where he used to work. We head to the bar above the former Harbor Grill and Sean immediately reconnects with the owner. We have pupu's and Mai Tai's, judging the Mai Tai's to be some of the best on the island.

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We return to Kona and head to Humpy's Alehouse for burgers and beers. Crystal and I get into a conversation with a couple from Washington state who have retired and bought property on the south end of the island. They're telling us about starting out with no running water and no electricity. Crystal and I are thinking "oh, hell no!"

Monday

Today is our Big Adventure, a snorkel cruise to Kealakekua Bay on board a catamaran. It reminds me of sailing with Pam and Malcolm through the Greek Isles. The ride down to Kealakekua Bay turns into an impromptu whale watching trip as we see all kinds of humpbacks breaching a few hundred yards away from the boat.

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Snorkeling is great (I even saw an octopus) although crowded. It's a great ride back to Keauhou Harbor, with lots more whales to see and the waves crashing up against the shore. After we get back we head down to the Kona Coffee district. We make a brief stop at the Painted Church, then drive down the hill to Pu'uhonua Honaunau, aka City of Refuge; one of my favorite places. If you broke one of the many kapu's and had a hoard of angry warriors trying to chase you down and kill you, your one shot at redemption was to get to this place.  Here the local religious people would perform the rituals that would get you a reprieve.  (Confession would be a lot more popular if the alternative was being eviscerated.)  A lot of the grounds are under restoration so it's not as fun as we remember from past trips.

After that it's back to Akule Supply Company for dinner; awesome short ribs and (of course) more Mai Tai's.

We hear about an earthquake in Japan, and are happy to hear that the tsunami warning is cancelled.

Tuesday

Today's surf lesson is postponed, since the instructors are fully booked. So, on to Hawi, at the north end of the island. We take Highway 190, which traverses the mid-altitude side of the saddle, into Waimea (aka Kamuela). There's an awful lot of ranch country up that way. Sean is pointing out many of the highlights to Danielle, who has heard the stories of Sean's horse training days up country.

Next stop is Parker Ranch store, where we stock up on Hawaiiana. I see an agricultural theme and pick up a number of t-shirts. We head to Hawaiian Style Café for breakfast/lunch. Hawaiian Style is known for its large portions, which should only be eaten by paniolos before they start their day. It's interesting to note that the menu lets you know you can't order a split dish,  but any leftovers are fed to a local hog farm… lucky hogs!

We go on to Hawi, for a short walk through the center of town. The Batman rides outside one of the local stores are long gone, but in other respects Hawi seems about the same. 

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I want to go to the heiau there because it definitely gives you "chicken skin" but everyone else is ready to get back to Kona. We stop at Kapa'a Beach but it's too rocky for swimming. On the other hand, there's lots to see with the whales offshore. At some point we imagine them saying, "oh yeah?! Watch this!"

As we make it past Waikoloa Village we hit a horrendous backup on the road (there's only one) into Kona. Mostly it's just the traffic from everyone who lives in Kona (or south of there) and works at one of the resorts along the Kohala Coast. But there's also a delay due to people setting up a fresh memorial for those that died the past weekend in a head-on collision on the highway. So sad.

Eventually we make it into Kona and head to the Kona Brewing Company (yes, that one) for some brews and dinner. They actually have a large variety of beers (one of which features Kona coffee) and the food is OK; bar food. After that, we stop in at the Kona Inn (another Malcolm Brown recommendation) for Mai Tai's. We're not sure they're the best on the island (we're voting for the Seafood Bar in Kawaihae) but they're still quite good.

Wednesday

Today we learn to surf. After check-in and a pretty funny on-land practice getting up on a surfboard, we head down the road to Kahalu'u Beach. We're learning on long boards, which are pretty forgiving. There's not much surf, but we eventually decide to give it a try anyway. The beach has a rock jetty that protects a cove and coral reef, but there's a break to the right where we can sit and wait for the waves. Everyone manages to get up on the board and catch a wave at one time or another; Danielle seems to be a natural at it. As for me… let's just say there were some spectacular face plants into the water, and that I was advised at one point to not use a skiing stance on the board. We were joined at one point by a local surfer and his retriever (who swam out in a doggie life vest). At least the dog was kind enough to not show me up by surfing back into shore.

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After surfing we head into Kona to Broke Da Mouth Grinds for some lunch. Danielle found this place, and it's a winner. It's small and non-descript, in a business park. So the only thing it can have going for it is awesome food—which it does. The menu is a combination of Hawaiian and Philippines and it's good.

After lunch we head back to Kahalu'u Beach, this time for some swimming/snorkeling. It's a bit crowded but the sea turtle that decides to haul out and sun himself near us makes up for it.

Dinner find us back at Akule Supply Company for dinner. Then we walk back to our condo, stopping long enough to enjoy another wonderful sunset. After that, it's a game of Hearts. Brian correctly points out that I'm hard to play with, as I have a "go big or go home" strategy, meaning I try to run the board almost every hand.

Thursday

Last day in paradise for Sean, Danielle and Brian. We're off to Kona for Acai Bowls (another Danielle find) and Three-Stone Blend from Java on the Rock (thank you for the suggestion, Malcolm Brown!). Everyone wants some beach time, so we head to La'aloa Beach, aka White Sands Beach aka Disappearing Sands Beach. The surf is too rough for swimming, but it's fun to watch the waves.  A local snorkeler bags an octopus and asks us, "did you see that shark?"  When we say "no" he says, "neither did I!"  Ummm, k.

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We head over to Keauhou Harbor since it's the only nearby beach with decent swimming conditions today. Apparently the sea turtles agree, and we're happy to share space with them.

And naturally, since we're here, we stop in at Akule Supply Company for poke and burgers (along with more Lava Man Red Ale).

After swimming and a break, we're on our way to Kawaihae for dinner with friends Steve and Diane, at Café Pesto. This was always a must-do item when visiting Steve and Kaui, for goat cheese pizza. Then we're off to the airport to drop off Sean, Danielle and Brian. Crystal and I head back to our condo, which feels much larger and quieter than we'd like. We find a local cooking show to watch while we finish off the last of the papaya.

Friday

It's a little strange to wake up with our kids having gone back to the mainland. We head into Kona, to Island Lava Java for some fantastic coffee and breakfast. Suddenly we have to make our own choices about where to eat and what to do.  Where are the tour guides?

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The weather is great today. The winds have turned around and the surf is down at Kahalu'u but it's coming up elsewhere.

When we were in Havi, I learned about a program to grow all of the area's vegetables and fruit locally; apparently they import a lot of it, which makes no sense.  I roll the thought around in my head that maybe I could help the North Kohala food security program via CGNET, or SITIA. It's an interesting thought.

Crystal and I decide to head south, to coffee country. We stop at Greenwell Farms and get a personal tour of the operation. It turns out the "we're accepting cherries" sign refers to coffee cherries; it's roasting time! From Greenwell Farms we head over to the Painted Church, which is beautiful inside despite showing its age. And the view of the ocean from the church entrance is enough to make you not look and trip on the steps leading to the parking lot.

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After the Painted Church, we head down to the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative.  Whereas Greenwell Farms buys coffee cherries from local farmers and processes them (as well as their own coffee), the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative is more of a hippie-style shared resource setup.  Here, farmers come and use the equipment to process their own coffee (as well as macadamia nuts).  These guys have been around since 1910 and the tour is decidedly un-touristy.  They do have a nice garden with examples of common trees and plants from the island. I'm fascinated with all the chickens roosting in the shade of the trees.

We head down to Napo'opo'o Beach to see about swimming. It turns out this is the beach we had come to with Sean and Brian the first time we visited nearby City of Refuge. I remember them boogie-boarding. Now, the beach is gone. Hurricane Iniki sideswiped the island here, and took all the beach sand with it. We're at the other end of Kealakekua Bay, and can see the monument to Captain Cook at the far end, where we were snorkeling earlier in the week.

Heading back to our condo, we stop in at Sam Choy's for a drink, and to check out the view. The restaurant has a killer view of sunset over the ocean, but we've come a bit early to avoid the crowds. The hostess asks us if we want to sit inside or outside (outside, please) but seems confused when we tell her we don't want to sit in the sun. Apparently "outside in the shade" is not a combination she recognizes.  It's happy hour, and there's an incredible whale show going on out in the ocean. I think the difference between locals and tourists here is that the locals don't turn around to check out the whales breaching offshore.

We head back to Keauhou Harbor to swim, as the surf's been too rough elsewhere on the island. Our decision not to scuba dive tonight with the manta rays is a good one, as the dive boats are fighting five to six foot swells as the snorkelers and divers get ready to head into the water. We take tons of pictures of the surf crashing on the lava outside the Sheraton.

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Saturday

Today we travel to Hilo, where we will depart tomorrow for California. After checking out of our condo, we head in to Kona for coffee at Java on the Rock . We tell the server to say hello to Malcolm's sister-in-law. After coffee we're on our wait to meet Steve in Waimea. Try as I might, I still miss the turn-off to Steve's house. Steve takes us to the coffee house in Waimea, where they have a picture of Kaui on display. Sigh.

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Steve's going to drive with us down to Hilo, and Crystal has several stops planned along the way. Right on schedule, the mist kicks in when we get about a half mile out of Waimea. But then the mist doesn't go away as I had thought it would. And what I then think is a brief shower shows itself to be a persistent, heavy downpour. At one point it's raining about one to two inches per hour. We stop at Tex's Drive-In in Honaka'a, but with the rain and the long line we decide one less plate lunch will be OK.

We drive on, and stop at Akaka Falls. It's still raining like crazy, but Crystal wants to see the falls. I kind of wish we could have reproduced the picture of Sean and Brian standing next to the sign at the falls, but that wasn't in the cards. I'm ready to get annoyed at Crystal for not following the suggested route to the falls, when—of course—her intuition or memory is correct and we've taken the short route to the falls. Despite saving so much time, we're still soaking wet by the time we get back to the parking lot. Steve, wisely, decides to wait for us and stay out of the rain.

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We drive on toward Hilo, and stop just outside of the city. We're at the cemetery where Kaui's ashes are interred. She's buried alongside her mom and grandmother. The spot overlooks the ocean, and (on any other day) would provide a great view of a large tree and the ocean beyond, very serene. Steve leaves the flowers he picked up in Honoka'a. The inscription on Kaui's headstone reads "Love One Another.  Rejoice Evermore.  Pray without Ceasing." The headstone is for both Kaui and her mom. Steve tells us the story about how Kaui was supposed to get a headstone for her mom, but never did. So it was up to Steve to rectify the situation, five years after her mom's passing. We all have a good laugh about that, such a typical Kaui story. Spending time at Kaui's grave was emotional, as expected. I sort of felt like we were holding our breath all week, waiting for this moment. But in the end, "turn the page" becomes the phrase that captures our feelings. Hawaii isn't the same without Kaui. Neither is Steve. Neither are we. But Hawaii would have changed regardless, and we have changed as well. It feels good, in an odd way, to feel like I can end this chapter and go on to the next one. I'll always miss Kaui, and I'll always remember so many good times we had with her. But I'm ready to live in the present.

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We drive on into Hilo, and check in to our hotel along Hilo Bay. We head over to Uncle Billy's for a Mai Tai, as Crystal's father had suggested. But the bar is closed, for good. Clearly, it's time to move on.

Back to our hotel to change out of our wet clothes. Steve and I are watching some comedian on Comedy Central, laughing our heads off. Seems like old times. We head out to Pineapples, a restaurant Steve recommends, for dinner and drinks. The restaurant is an open-air style, typical of Hawaii. So it's a bit cool, since the rain is still coming down hard. The overhang is keeping the rain out so we're OK. But there's something surreal about being in a restaurant in Hawaii in the pouring rain, while we watch an outdoor hockey game being played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

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Sunday

The rain from yesterday has diminished to a drizzle. It's hard not to miss Kona, on the sunny side of the island.

Breakfast with Steve and Crystal at Kuhio Grille, "home of the one-pound lau lau". Sounds like gut bomb to me! One of the local high school basketball teams is at the nearby table; interesting to see what the players choose for their pre-game meal… Breakfast of Champions as they say.

On to Longs Drugs for some gift shopping before we head to the airport. There's an interesting only-in-Hawaii episode involving Crystal, a CVS discount card (or not) and the cashier. In the end, she gives Crystal the kamaaina discount, saying, "this really is the best island."

On to Hilo Airport. Steve decides to hang out with us until we need to get to the gate. One more opportunity to have a Lava Man Red Ale.

Time to check in. Hilo is a tiny airport, and every passenger flying out of Hawaii has to go through agricultural inspection, so I'm a little nervous about the time. As it turns out, we're two of about twenty people all told that are flying at this time, and the whole ticketing/baggage inspection/security routine takes about five minutes.  After that we're off, quickly leaving Hawaii below the clouds.

It's been a great trip.  We love traveling with our adult children; it's fun to see what they find fascinating and how they choose to spend their time.  It's great to see that Steve is doing well.  We went to Hawaii to relax and recharge.  Mission accomplished.


Product Managers on the Road, “DC Dysfunction” Edition

For your viewing pleasure, here are some notes from my visit to Washington, DC during the last days of the US Government shutdown. I was out to meet with one of our larger customers, a group of sixteen agricultural research centers, to talk about a plan to migrate their messaging and other services to Office 365. As has become my custom, I took the opportunity to line up some informal visits with a couple of other customers. And, as luck would have it, I was asked by another customer if there was any way I could pay them a visit in Boston (Watertown, to be exact; across the street from my first MIT residence.) Since I was going to be in Washington, I arranged to leave one day early and head to Boston for a visit.  Herewith, the details...

Monday

I wake up at 3:00 AM, after falling asleep in the chair watching TV. Since the car will be picking me up for the drive to the airport at a little after 5:00 AM, and since I haven't packed, I decide to pack before I go to bed. Good call—efficient and focused.

Hit the Town Car, asleep almost immediately. Next thing I know, we're exiting the freeway for SFO.

During the flight to Washington I have a brief panic attack. Did I actually pack my suitcase? Or did I just pull it out of the closet and load it into the Town Car, empty?

Landing in Dulles.  Since I'm wearing a backpack for my carry-on, I nearly walk out of terminal without my suitcase. I have that groggy feeling you get when you take a midnight flight somewhere—except I didn't.

Brian and I meet for beers at the Black Rooster. The weather is quite nice, so we sit outside and catch up. Brian wants to take me to his latest find, a small Thai restaurant near his house. After taking some time to get there, we realize why they never answered the phone when he called to make a reservation: they're closed Mondays. Oh well.

Instead, we go to dinner at his new favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Zenebech Injera. The food is good and surprisingly cheap for Washington. We splurge and order a bottle of their best Yellow Tail wine.

I'm always surprised at how many homeless people I see on the streets.

Tuesday

Today is meeting day. I've got customer meetings about every two hours. With meeting over-run's and factoring in transportation between visits, the result is a series of meetings from 11 AM to 6 PM, without a break.

Brian and I catch up for dinner again, and I get to see his (new) office. From there, we walk past the White House. In the (officially closed) federal park across street, Brian points out the lady that's been protesting for the last 15+ years. Apparently if she doesn't abandon her post, the park police (when they're working) leave her alone.

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DC Shutdown Humor: Someone put "Sorry, We're Closed" stickers over the monument icons on this Metro subway map

We have drinks at Old Ebbitt Grill (near the White house), very cool and historic. I loved the duck decoys. The bartenders are all white-haired, and you get the feeling they have the goods on every politician who's worked in DC over the past forty years. We decide to stay for dinner. The menu is very good and the prices are not too expensive, considering the tourist-trap location. Plus, we get fresh oysters!

Wednesday

Today is an all-day session on how to roll out Office 365 to all the agricultural research centers. I arrive at the meeting location a few minutes early, only to discover I'm at the wrong building. Nothing like a four-block run in the morning to get the blood flowing.

Lunch is at a local American/Vietnamese restaurant. I notice that the Pho isn't served with Jalapenos, although Sriracha sauce is available. We have to remind one of the diners that it's hot sauce, not ketchup, in the red bottle on the table.

After the meeting I head over to the Charles Tyrwhitt store to buy a shirt. I discovered the company while in London a while back, and love their shirts. Now that the Great Recession is thawing for me, I have an opportunity to buy a new shirt. After extensive shopping, deciding, and optimizing on my purchase, I go to pay and realize I don't have my credit card. You know, the one I got JUST FOR THIS TRIP? Holy sh$t, where could it be? I head back to my hotel and spend equal amounts of time ripping apart my room looking for the card, and calculating how I'm going to pay for my hotel in Washington, fly to Boston, and fly back to San Francisco with just the cash I have on hand (which is never very much).

Fortunately, I call the Old Ebbitt Grill and they have my card. Phew!  The rest of the night is spent retrieving the card and tracking down Brian to see if he wants to meet up with my sister Mary (who's now flown into town) and me. Turns out Brian needs a night for laundry and what not (since he spent part of the weekend at an event in New York), so I have the rest of the night to myself.

I have a final beer at Mackey's Public House, a pub next to the hotel. It turns out that the hotel bar next door, Recessions, gets Brian's vote for DC's best dive bar--go figure.

Unsurprisingly, Congress passes the debt ceiling bill just in time. The glum mood that has existed in DC for past 16 days starts to ease.

Thursday

Another early wake up and off to the airport. At least I'm flying out of Reagan National (or whatever it's called) so it doesn't take too long to get to the airport. I get a view of the Pentagon 9/11 memorial "contrails" as we head to the airport.

Hello Boston; good to see you again! As I take the "T" into downtown Boston, I realize I'm part of the morning commute, which wouldn't be bad except I have a large bag I'm dragging around. Soon enough, I make my connection, from Blue to Green to Red Line, and the next thing I know I'm in Harvard Square. It's refreshing to see the same impossible-to-understand accents on Red Line. I finally find the bus stop for the 71 to Watertown Square. Oh, I pay when I get off the bus? OK, so some things have changed since I was going to school here…

Several of our favorite haunts are still there: theTown Diner, Mt. Auburn Steakhouse (now the Mt. Auburn Grill, New Yorker Diner, Demo's.

Thursday is another full day of meetings. It's a little like the old Johnny Carson "stump the band" routine, as people cycle through to ask me about their respective area of technology interest. Lunch is brought in from Theo's—the restaurant may not be from my time but the style is the same; no horseradish, you'll have to have mustard, bub.

After a full day, my customer gives me a ride back to the airport. My first chance to ride through The Big Dig since they finished it. On to the UA lounge, where I get to grab a glass of wine and get the user accounts set up for another customer migration to Office 365 that's starting the next day. Soon enough, I'm on my way home. Miles to go before I sleep.


No Bad Days

Los Cabos 2013 045

Cabo San Lucas… San Jose del Cabo… Los Cabos…

Place names from Baja California Sur, all translating loosely as:

"Can I interest you in a timeshare presentation?"

After a while you wonder if this was how the Mexicans finally drove the Spaniards from their country. "Mr. Cortez, wait! I can get you a really big discount on a parasailing adventure!"

It was, in turn, thrilling, nerve-wracking, amazing, annoying, a bit scary, unsettling, charming and refreshing. Oh, and it was hot. And humid. Did I mention sweaty?

They say it's sunny in the Los Cabos area (San Jose del Cabo and, as some will know from the TV show COPS, Cabo San Lucas) 350 days out of the year. Based on our experience there with two tropical storms, the area is due for about 345 more days of sun.

Yes, we went at the start of hurricane season. How else do you think we could find a place on short notice? Yes, we were aware of the threat from narcos. But as the welcome magazine so cheerfully pointed out, there's a hospital open 24 hours! For us, it was go on a much-needed vacation at the end of August, or wait until January. That made the decision easy. Despite the concerns we went, and had a great time. But not right away.

Highway Robbery!

My lovely, obsessive-compulsive wife wanted everything arranged before we left home. OK. But the car rental deal seemed too good to be true: $5 a day for a car? And that was without a timeshare presentation commitment… Turns out, you can get a car for $5 a day. But then you'll need to mandatory insurance. That's a minimum of $35. Per day. And you still have some liability, so watch out for those crazy, uninsured drivers! OK then.

Driving in Mexico: Rules of the Road

  • Do not follow the speed limit. Ever. Following the speed limit will immediately let everyone know that you're a tourist.
  • Stay in the right lane. The left lane is for passing. And for fast drivers. And everyone drives faster than you.
  • Feel free to use the shoulder or curbside lane as a passing lane as well. Just make your passes at low speed. As in, "Hi, I'm going to cut in front of you now, OK?"
  • If someone races up behind you while you're waiting at a light (why would you do that? See below.) and starts honking, go ahead and run the light, to move out of their way. They're trying to make a left from the right-hand lane, and won't be able to cut off the entire line of left-hand turning cars unless you move.
  • Never use your turn signals. This marks you as a tourist in two ways. First, only a tourist would actually think to use their signals. Second, only rental cars seem to have working turn signals.
  • The STOP signs are marked ALTO. This roughly translates to, "pause briefly, if at all, before proceeding." You can understand the failure to stop, given that the ALTO signs are always on one side of the street only, and often obscured. But even when visible, the signs are almost universally ignored.
  • The authorities have designed a clever way of controlling speeds. It's called "El Tope." We called it "El Bumpo." These are speed bumps. Some are the classic raised cement bumps. Many are metal half-spheres glued to the road. Some are broken down, exposing the rusting rebar—also effective. And I'm not counting the sand bars created by sudden downpours. Not only do they slow cars down, but they're often unmarked, which makes for even more fun.

And while we're on the subject…

Understanding Traffic Signals in Mexico

Signal

Meaning

Solid Green

Go!

Flashing Green

Go faster! The light's about to turn yellow!

Yellow

You may have to pause briefly for oncoming traffic while proceeding.

Red

Looks clear to me!

Surprising and Not So Much

What surprised me?

  • The seafood… I could have predicted this but didn't think about it beforehand. I was looking forward to fish tacos, but the variety of seafood was impressive, and all of it was prepared with a minimum of fuss.
  • The mountains. I had this image of a sandy desert bordered by the sea. Not so. There are mountains high enough to get snow.
  • The quantity of US-based venues. Costco, Walmart, Office Depot (apparently things are still paper-based in Cabo; there were at least three Office Depot stores in a 10-mile stretch of highway), Cabo Wabo, Hard Rock Café, Domino's Pizza, Burger King…
  • El Retorno. With a divided highway, there are limited places to turn around. What was a bit confusing is that some of the Retorno's are basically U-turns, while others are the famous Jersey "jug-handles," where you exit to the right, then turn left across the highway.
  • Lack of ATMs at gas stations. And the lack of gas stations, meaning you have to plan your driving carefully.
  • The variety of farm animals grazing, unattended, by the side of the highway. It's one reason why they discourage night-driving.
  • The apparent dislike for the Jesuit missions. It seems like every mission story started with, "and then the locals burned the place down."
  • Traditional values. Only once during our stay did someone present the bill to Crystal first. And anytime there was a discussion about spending money, they talked to me.

What didn't surprise me?

  • The friendliness of everyone we met. Even if they had no business interest in being nice to us, people went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
  • The prices. We were warned not to expect bargains, and that was the case. Most things cost what they do in the US.
  • The timeshare come-on's.
  • Mexico outside of "gringolandia." We took a trip to La Paz and Todos Santos. La Paz is much bigger, but is still a small town at heart. We enjoyed seeing the cathedral and plaza at the center of town, and strolling along the malecón along the beach. Todos Santos is a surfing town that has transformed into more of an artist colony.
  • All the development, in various stages of completion. You can see that there's been a building boom in this area, with every piece of beach or ocean frontage being built on. You also get the feeling that the half-completed buildings are the result of the Great Recession, and are going to linger until investor appetite for developing the area picks up again.

My Big Question—where will the water come from for all the development? There's hardly any rainfall, and I would have to imagine it's quite expensive to pump water out of the ground (one reason for the high green fees at the golf courses.) Interesting times ahead…