Travel

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.


Sales Managers on the Road: Tweeting through Toronto

I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak.  I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here.  Why? First, because I'm lazy.  Second, because, you know... social media and all that.  Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on.  But mostly, I'm being lazy.  Or as they call it, "repurposing content."

This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks.  It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.  

This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO:  I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada.  Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal.  Grrr.

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Next stop:  the gate.  Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in.  Turns out, they are.

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On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.

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It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever.  That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends.  And they all made hotel reservations before I did.  So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events.  But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work.  And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...

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Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains.  Take notice, CalTrain!

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I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent.  I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone  system.  It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value.  I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.

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I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson).  Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on.  Now, that's completely different.  There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.

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On to the conference.  Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things."  I just liked this quote.

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The moose I expected.  A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me.  But... woodpeckers?

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How times change.  Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise.  Now...

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CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award.  We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win.  And they have a Tesla as a company car.   That's pretty cool.

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I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.

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More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365.  I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!

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Back to the convention hall.  On the way they're handing out...

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"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it.  Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.

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Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.

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Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.

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I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real.  Until I saw Bill Walton.  Trust me, I'm standing next to him.

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The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report.  I had TV on for the background noise.  Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...

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See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...

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A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.

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Last party, lots of food options.  I chose...

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I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.

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And I leave you with some Canadian humor.

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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).

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McCloud Thanksgiving

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Family Christmas togetherness

Norovirus

Booming business

Freeway gridlock

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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.


Sales Managers on the Road, Haiku Edition

I took a day trip to Southern California this week, to meet with a potential customer.  We were selected as one of the finalists to conduct an IT assessment, and we headed down to meet with the President and a few other executives.

Normally, my posts like this are more in the style of "and then I did this" but that seemed boring, so (for no reason) I decided to catalog the day's events in haiku format.  Hope you like it!

Which route to San Jose?

85 often beats 101

But Google map's red

 

I will use CLEAR card

Even though the lines are short

Keep your shoes on, sir

 

Soon call with Ghana

Hope I'm through security

The travel sales life

 

Three excited girls

Disney taping in LA

What to ask the star?

 

Bob Hope or Burbank?

Small airport by any name

Like SJC's past

 

Lunch with customer

Head says salad heart says beef

But no micro-brew

 

Please increase your quote

Surely a buying signal

Too early to cheer

 

Cruising Victory

Back to Burbank end of day

Porque no freeway?

 

TSA Pre-yeah!

But metal in my shoes-dang!

Barefoot after all

 

Computer pass fail

Board only with paper

Now low tech is best

 

Scotch on the rocks-nice

Peanuts make me think of Sean

Always brought him nuts

 

Town car takes me home

Another successful trip

Now rinse and repeat


A Week at Sea

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Cruises: love them, hate them.  They're certainly perfect for those "intersection of the life stories of ten people" movies.  Our good friend and budding travel agent Malcolm arranged for us to join him and some of his college buddies on a cruise through the Western Caribbean.  Crystal and I are not huge cruise people, but we love traveling with Pam and Malcolm and the decision to join in was made after a few glasses of wine, so there you go.  Plus, the itinerary included diving at Grand Cayman--a bucket list-worthy activity.  So, in early April we found ourselves meeting up with our BFF's for the week at the San Jose Airport, as we headed to Houston and then Galveston to start the cruise.  What follows are my notes, for your enjoyment and amusement. 

The cast of characters:

  • Connie and Bob, from Malcolm's Cal Poly San Luis Obispo days
  • Greg and Leona, also from Malcolm's Cal Poly days
  • Pam and Malcolm, our partners in crime
  • Crystal and Dan, your humble narrators

Day One:  San Jose/Houston/Galveston

Our plane to Houston is two hours late taking off, since the crew hasn't shown up. It has to with United/Continental flying different planes and not being able to swap crews.  Malcolm's head is going to explode.  Connie tells the gate agent: "You WILL be taking care of this… either get us there on time or fly us to Jamaica and put us up in a hotel until the ship arrives." Malcolm happens to be approaching, with all papers at the ready.  Connie sends him away.  Perfect good cop/bad cop routine.

Houston. Magically, our bags are the first off the plane.  Our driver gets us to Galveston with minutes to spare.  He is a Texas gentleman all the way, but pushes the limits of what Texas State Troopers will allow with respect to speed.

The nice thing about arriving so late: no lines at check-in.  Could this be the new trend?

My first thought on arrival in Galveston: the smell of hydrocarbons. It takes me back to high school and visiting an oil refinery as part of our Chemistry class.  I'm pretty sure breathing this stuff isn't healthy.

On board the cruise ship.  First up:  mandatory safety drill.  Due to intercom problems, it sounds like a Peanuts cartoon: "wah wah wah.. Wah wah, wah wah wah wah.  I get the essentials about how to put on the life jacket.  I'm looking around for Rose and Jack.

On to our room, then to the Two Poets bar to meet up with our other traveling companions, Greg and Leona.  Despite having purchased the cruise line's all-you-can-drink pass, I stop at two Manhattans.  A man's got to know his limits.  Our traveling companions carry on, until our dinner at 9.  I'm definitely not going to be able to keep up with these people.  A tough thing for an Irishman to admit.

Dinner at the resident steak house.  Lots of fantastic wine.  Stuck my finger on the wrong Italian wine description when ordering wine, cost me an extra $40.  You only live once--if you're lucky.

Great dinner, much conviviality.  But eating meat late at night--not such a good idea. In to bed for a full nine hours of sleep.  Considering I never went to bed before we left for the cruise, I'm improving my average quickly.

Day Two:  At Sea

Coffee on the mini-deck, watching the ocean go by.  No worries here.

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Into the gym for some self-imposed penance.  That felt good.  FitBit was happy.  Plus, now it's lunch time.  Out on the pool deck (in the shade, let's be sensible) and on to sample the drink of the day.  It's got blue Curacao in it, and you know what I think about what blue in nature means--pain.

Don't tell anyone… but it turns out they do have Wi-Fi on the ship (at exorbitant rates, of course). I'm going to pretend I didn't know that.

Day 3:  At Sea

Best sighting of the day: a T-shirt reading "Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles." This addresses a favorite pet peeve of mine regarding that other baseball team based in Southern California.

As this is our second day at sea, today definitely qualifies as an "OMG, I wish I didn't get sunburned yesterday!" kind of day.

Day 4:  Falmouth, Jamaica

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Finally, land!  I can't wait to get off the ship.  Malcolm has arranged for a tour of the Appleton Estate rum distillery.  Since it's in the interior of the island and we have limited time, he has arranged for a driver and tour guide.  This leads to an immediate immersion in the language and culture of Jamaica.  For instance, our tour guide says "ting" instead of "thing", "hear" instead of "year" and "Otre Rios" instead of "Ocho Rios."

Our first stop, by the side of the highway, is to point out the high school where Usain Bolt graduated.  Our tour guide is clearly proud of what Bolt has done for the country.  She points out that he purchased a school bus for the high school.  I marvel at the fact that the track is just dirt covered with a little bit of grass.  No wonder these guys are fast, if these are the training conditions!

We're on a two-lane road up and over the mountain to a high mountain valley where the Appleton distillery is located.  With one lane each way, Orville, our drivers, is doing a lot of passing and then jamming back into our lane to avoid head-on collisions.  I did not realize a thrill ride was included in the tour!  Could this be the origin of the reggae song, "we be jammin'?"

Going through the countryside, we see lots of small shacks, with wood or cinder block construction.  Other houses are simply shipping containers with cutouts for windows and doors.  It seems like every town has its bar and jerk take out place.  At the distillery we learn that Appleton makes an over-proof rum, called Jamaica's Best.  Most of it never leaves the island, and given all the bars advertising it along the way, I can see why that would be the case.

Back in the van, as we have to hoof it to our next stop for my request: jerk barbeque.  After asking several Jamaicans for a recommendation, we settle on the most popular choice--Scotchies.  This is exactly what I was looking for in a jerk place.  It's flimsy, made from concrete blocks, corrugated metal and palm fronds.  It's sooty from all the barbeque, with great aromas.  There are guys cooking chicken and pork on top of pimiento logs placed over the wood coals, with pieces of corrugated tin roof used to hold the smoke in.  The food is fantastic--jerk chicken with a side of grilled breadfruit.  And the heat means that the Red Stripe beer goes down easily.

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We learned at the Appleton estate that the Pimiento tree provides the berries that we call allspice, which provides jerk's unique flavor.  Our tour guide says they crush the berries and use them for jerk seasoning, and use the leaves to flavor other dishes, including something called bammy.

After getting our jerk, we head over to a gift shop that is primed for our arrival.  We're whisked away by sales clerks offering us all sorts of stuff.  Most of our group opt for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.  I go for the package of jerk spice.  Greg, waiting outside the shop, is offered ganga by one of the locals.  Greg gives him his, "you do realize I used to be a prison guard, yes?" look and respectfully declines the offer.

Day 5:  George Town, Grand Cayman

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Crystal can't dive today, due to a sinus blockage; that's a shame.  So she's off with some of our group to go see sting rays and dolphins.  That turned out to be super fun.  Our dive group is walking around George Town, killing time before our dive boat leaves.  There are lots of backyard chickens.  Since George Town is a cruise ship port of call, we start noticing that it seems like every port has a Margaritaville, KFC, Burger King and Domino's Pizza.  And there is always lots of shopping for jewelry and cheap T-shirts.

Our first dive is a wall dive, across from the Great House.   The water is beautiful and clear, with at least 60-80 feet visibility.  I'm a little more "buoyant" (ahem) than I used to be and have some trouble getting down to the bottom.  We're at 80 feet, and the wall drops off to… nothing. We learn that it's 3,500 feet to the bottom.  Between my struggles getting down and swimming against a strong current, I'm using air like crazy.  In no time at all I'm back on the anchor line of the dive boat, slowly ascending.  Even so, I saw lots of beautiful corals and sponges, in all kinds of colors.  I also saw a turtle munching on something.

Our second dive is on the wreck of the Oro Verde.  There are many stories about how the ship met its demise.  I like the story of the captain who tried to smuggle marijuana along with the bananas and got tossed overboard when he wouldn't share with the crew.  The dive book says something else entirely--that the ship was sunk on purpose--but where's the fun in that story?

Either way the ship is all broken up, scattered across the sea floor.  There are a couple of bikes down there for good measure, which many of the divers attempt to ride.  We see more wildlife on this dive:  lobster, a nurse shark, an arrowhead crab, and lots of corals and sponges.  I do a much better job managing my air consumption.

Day 6:  Cozumel, Mexico

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Today's agenda includes a trip to the Tulum archeological site and Mayan ruins.  Tulum is actually located in Playa del Carmen, about 20 miles south of Cozumel.  But there's a reef that runs along Playa del Carmen that protects the coastline from hurricanes.  So we have to dock in Cozumel and take a tender (think big, smelly water taxi) down the coast, then disembark and take a bus to Tulum.

We heard the story of one city that carved a break in the reef to allow cruise ships to enter and dock.  The city was later wiped out by Hurricane Gilbert.  That will teach you to mess with Mother Nature!

Armando and Julian are our tour guides.  They're both Mayan, and clearly proud of their heritage.  They claim that Mayans are probably descended from the Chinese, owing to similar body types.  The physical anthropologist in me objects.  It's also clear they're still ticked off at the Spanish for that whole Conquistador thing.  Armando and Julian tell us that the temple is aligned to capture sunlight from the summer solstice.  The engineering is pretty amazing.

There are iguanas all over the grounds--lots of iguanas.   Armando says they're "like backyard chickens."  I am not pleased.

In suggesting explanations for the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, our tour guides point to poor resource management.  They say there were more than 5,000 cities, and it took 20,000 trees to build each temple and city.  The Mayans stripped the land of its resources and died out as a consequence.  Another morality tale!

Despite being on the Gulf coast, it's very hot when the wind stops blowing.  Cold beer never tasted so good.

We're back on the tender for the trip to Cozumel.  They're selling blankets and other trinkets. Talk about a captive audience!

Day 7:  At Sea

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I fall asleep on our stateroom couch last night.  I guess I just like sleeping on couches.  I slept in--until 8:30 AM.  After that, I put in a nice long workout in the gym.  Those Margaritas won't go away by themselves.

Later that evening, it's NCAA Final Four time!  Both games were very exciting.  It was fun to be in the bar with the Florida Gator fans, who were whooping it up early on, but ended up skulking away once their team fell behind to UConn.

We had a great dinner at Sabor, an upscale Mexican restaurant on board.  There were very arts-fartsy margaritas (that were nonetheless very good) as well as guacamole made table-side.

Day 8:  Galveston

Hurry up and wait is the order of the day.  Our bags were packed and left outside the door the night before.  Now it's up for one more breakfast on the ship.  We have to come to grips with the fact that tomorrow we'll be clearing our own dishes and making up our bed--and not every day.

After breakfast it's down to the assembly areas to wait for our turn to disembark.  Things drag  a bit owing to the time needed to get through customs and immigration.

Off the ship and back in Houston, we drop Greg and Leona off and have some time to kill.  We decide to go to the Johnston Space Center.   It was a very cool experience, especially if 1) you're a technology geek and 2) you lived through the era.  Seeing the Saturn V rocket up close (Connie estimated it at 510 feet long) as well as some of the capsules really brought the times to life.  The Mercury capsule looked a lot like a garbage can mounted on top of a rocket.  And as Malcolm said, just remember you're strapped to a rocket provided by the lowest bidder.

Next we're off to the airport for a reasonably relaxed time through baggage check and ticketing.  One or two more beers and we're on our way back home.  It will be nice to get back home and the 542 messages I no doubt have waiting for me.

Would We Do It Again?

Our travel style is a little more toward the hang-with-the-locals approach, and we generally would rather stay longer in one place than see several places for just a few hours at a time.  That said, we couldn't beat the company on this cruise, and have made some new friends that we're already meeting with on other adventures.  So while we generally opt for other vacation formats than "cruising," it certainly works if you go with the right people.

Random Thoughts

  • Flotsam and Jetsam--where'd that term come from?
  • A boat is still a boat.  I don't care how big the cruise ship is, when it's in the ocean it feels like a boat.
  • It's interesting to see how people get all competitive at the start of a cruise.  Parents are rushing to get in line for towels, deck chairs, a spot by the window… Fortunately, after a bit people start to relax and realize there's enough of everything to go around.
  • Stairs are a life saver for staying in shape on the ship.  Walk up and down several flights of stairs each day and you'll get a workout without noticing.
  • The "port of call" culture is interesting.  It seems like every stop featured the same chain restaurants, along with a jewelry store, maybe an art store and some place where you can buy an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.
  • With all the bad press about people getting Norovirus on cruises, it was interesting to see what the cruise line had done.  Purel hand sanitizer stands were everywhere, and you were encouraged to clean your hands before and after every meal.

 

Been on a cruise lately? Let me know what you think!


Product Managers on the Road, Islamabad Edition

Off to Islamabad, Pakistan, to lead an implementation of Office 365 for the country office of one of our NGO customers. Herewith, some random notes, observations and musings.

  • Got properly adjusted to Islamabad time by having three meetings and one fitness workout in the 12 hours before my flight. I'm at the airport feeling like I've been up all night because I have been up all night. That's one way to adjust to the 12 hour time zone difference.
  • Ready to use the "Clear" card I've received so I can skip past the security line, but the TSA agent tells me that line isn't operating. I'm pretty sure she just doesn't know how it works. At any rate, TSA Pre means I get to go right through security. Pretty sweet.
  • Lunch at Cat Cora restaurant. Who is this executive chef imposter?

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  • I can tell that everyone in my family is nervous about me going to Pakistan. It probably didn't help to watch an entire season of Homeland before I left.  As Pakistan goes, Islamabad is about the safest place I could be going. Most of the violence is in the southern part of Pakistan, in Karachi and Balochistan. Even so, I understand the difference between "relatively safe" and safe.
  • Brian calls. He's greased things for me with the State Department in Islamabad. Nice to have powerful friends.
  • Prepared for my trip by reading CIA Factbook on Pakistan. Main issue is low GDP growth. Also poverty and illiteracy.
  • My American Airlines flight to Chicago is delayed for an hour, then for six hours. There goes my connection… Now I'm f*d. Because I have checked bags (and people get hinky when bags fly without their owners these days) the best choice American can offer involves arriving one day late, after spending 20 hours window shopping in Doha airport.
  • Thankfully, my virtual travel agent and airline expert Brian calls to tell me there's an Emirates flight leaving in an hour if I can get on it. I call the travel agent and, after a bit of work, get re-booked. Now, to find my luggage.
  • In the Emirates line. I think this is what the American Airlines baggage agents were referring to when they talked about "lunch hour": the group in front of me is a family with about ten bags each.
  • Emirates has this rule that your carry-on can't weigh more than 15 pounds. And they make a big deal about saying they'll gate-check your bag if it's overweight. From what I could see, that rule is not being enforced.
  • 15 hours in a middle seat. Thank God there are free drinks on this flight. The hardest part about this flight? Sitting still. My iPhone is out of battery power (after all those phone calls rearranging travel) and I've put my laptop in the overhead bin, so I can at least stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me.
  • Pre-flight announcements in Arabic—that's a first.
  • Fake starry skies on the cabin ceiling--nice touch Emirates (or Boeing).
  • Surprising, and refreshingly helpful, reaction to the woman behind me feeling ill. They arranged for a medical person to see her when we landed.
  • The Dubai airport is like a Las Vegas hotel or a shopping mall. Marble floors, bright lights, indoor garden, boutique shops and food courts. And prayer rooms. Don't think they have those in Vegas.

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Yes, those are real trees... inside the airport terminal

  • Watching as people board flights for Riyadh, Bangalore, Delhi, Dhaka, Doha, Tehran… definitely at a crossroads point for the Middle East and Asia.
  • I wish I could have taken a picture of that woman in the burka walking through the terminal with her carry-on bag on her head.
  • My introduction to Pakistani culture starts with the flight to Islamabad--a Boeing 777 that's full. I expected that on the flight to Dubai, but not to Islamabad. The gate agent announces that the gate is open for boarding, and everyone--everyone--rushes to the gate. The agent keeps saying "business only" (which sounds like "B-C only" or "bees knees only") but it has no effect on the crowd. Eventually some security guard shows up and restores a bit of order to the line. I am going to have to get used to having people crowd around me. There's a very different sense of "personal space" here, meaning "there's no personal space here."
  • The culture lesson continues as we board the aircraft. People are trying to sit in whatever seat seems most desirable, slowing down the whole process. The flight attendants are constantly telling people to go sit in their assigned seat. At least they're stricter about enforcing the 15-pound overhead luggage rule.
  • Arrival in Islamabad. At once strange and wonderful, as I had expected. Islamabad has a layer of… what? Can't tell if it's smog, fog or a combination. The result is that the sunlight is filtered, which adds to the feeling that everything is a kind of tan-white color.

 

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Islamabad, from the Capital Monument. They say that's "fog."  I have my doubts

 

  • We exit the aircraft in Islamabad, using the older style portable stairways that put you onto the tarmac. They load us onto buses; another opportunity to experience crowding. The sign for Benazir Bhutto Airport—block letters that look like they're perched on a wall—and the age of the terminal reminds me of a typical '60's James Bond film.
  • Once in the terminal I have to pull out my laptop so I can look up the street address of the office I'm visiting. I need this to fill out the immigration forms. As a result, I'm literally the last person in line for immigration. There are several immigration queues (my favorite: "ladies and children") with the Pakistani's again ignoring the signs and jumping to whatever queue seems the smallest. I'm sticking with the (sole) queue for "foreigners and diplomats," wanting to avoid any incident, when the guard waves me over to one of the shorter lines. God takes care of fools.
  • Next up is baggage claim. Now each of those passengers that were ahead of me going through immigration is crowded around the baggage belt, with the baggage carts three-deep behind them. It takes me about 10 yards from when I spot my bags until I'm able to dive into the line to grab them. And customs/baggage check? No more than a glance by some official as I walk past.
  • It's the ride from the airport to the guest house that really tells me I'm not in Kansas anymore. Some of the scenes:
    • Women riding side-saddle on the back of Honda motorcycles (the basic form of taxi here)
    • Beggars at the window when we stop for a red light
    • Horns honking the instant the light turns green
    • The trucks and passenger vans decorated in all sorts of bright colors and jewels
    • Five guys riding on the roof of a passenger van
    • The police security checkpoints designed to reduce the flow of cars to one car per lane, so police can decide if anyone needs to be detained for further questioning
    • People playing cricket in a dirt field
    • As in India, drivers using their horns to say "I'm here" to anyone ahead of them changing lanes
    • Armed soldiers in front of sensitive locations
    • Barbed wire, and lots of it
  • It turns out that I have just enough time to get from the airport to the guest house, unpack and take a shower before I'm headed to the customer's office for meetings with local staff. Feels like my Nortel trips to Paris and London, where we'd go from the airport straight to an all-day meeting. I'm OK with not doing that anymore.
  • Apparently there's no extra charge for the next-door rooster that wakes me every morning.

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I'm pretty sure this tells you where to face when you're praying in the direction of Mecca

  • I'm beginning to wonder why I so enthusiastically said, "I love spicy food!" at lunch, when I eat something that freezes my vocal chords for about 20 seconds.
  • Hearing the call to prayers for the first time as it broadcasts from the local mosque and echoes across the city is an experience. And I have to admire the devotion of Muslims as they take the time for prayers. I have enough trouble getting to church on time once a week, much less multiple times daily.
  • First text message on my local mobile phone? An announcement about the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader, by a US drone the day before scheduled peace talks with the Pakistan government. Yeah, that should complicate things.
  • A visit Saturday to the Capital museum. Interesting spin on history: the exhibits basically say, "India was decaying, but then we took over and now it's flowering". Plus lots of stuff about benefits of Islam. Still, it's interesting to realize that Pakistan has only existed as a country since 1947.

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Capital Monument, Islamabad. Kind of a lotus flower design

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Detail of bas-relief on one of the lotus petals, highlighting people and events in Pakistan's history

 

  • It seems that all the police checkpoints have an advertising deal with Wazir Fabrics. Way to monetize, police force!
  • At Daman-e-Koh Park. High enough to be above the "fog". The sight of women in burkas is surprisingly normal. Yes, there are men with monkeys on a leash. And yes, that was a monkey I saw running across the parking lot.

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View of Islamabad from Daman-e-Koh park

  • Lunch at Jahangir Balti and BBQ. Slightly awkward moment when we suggest to our guide that we invite the driver to have lunch with us. They're fascinated that I know and like some many kinds of Indian food. Our guide excuses himself for afternoon prayers.
  • Actually posted on the lunch menu: "Smoking, photography, pets, arms, ammunition and eatables from outside are not allowed."
  • Shopping trip cut short by request from customer's Chief of Security to return to our hotel and stay inside, as a result of the Taliban killing and fears of a reprisal.
  • Let's see. There's cricket, soccer, and a tennis match. Oh, and 10-year old World Wrestling Federation.
  • My wake up text message: "is it advised to avoid Centaurus (a large mall) and Kohsar Market. It is also advised to be extra vigilant while visiting markets, parks and public places." You don't have to tell me twice.
  • And just to hit the trifecta, there's going to be a solar eclipse today. I'm sure the population will take that in stride. Or not.
  • Hierarchy is a big deal here.
  • My kingdom for a vegetable.
  • As we sit working in the customer's basement conference room I'm invited to share lunch by one of the employees. Lunch consists of oranges, persimmons ("chaponese [Japanese] fruit") and pomegranate seeds. We compare notes on farmer's markets, local food and family vs. factory farming.
  • Migration team "thank you" dinner at Saidpur Village. A reconstruction of a village from times past, set up as a tourist attraction. I can tell it's a tourist spot because the guy I saw Saturday at Daman-e-Koh with the balloon target shooting game is here. Favorite dinner menu item among the team? Hamburgers.
  • New culinary experiences:
    • Mix tea, made by boiling tea in milk (apparently condensed milk)
    • Pakistani food for breakfast every morning. One day there were labels to indicate what the food was, but most days you just lifted the lid on the warming tray and took your chances.
    • Mutton karahi, a spicy stew made from hacked-up pieces of mutton. You could also get a chicken version. I couldn't help but think the mutton had a slightly slimy feel to it. Still, it was quite good.
    • Lahore fish, fish fillets fried in a spiced flour coating.
  • So the Taliban have selected another hard-line radical as their new leader, someone nicknamed "Mullah Radio." And, naturally, they swear off any peace talks with the Pakistan government. This should end well.
  • Headed to the airport for our 3:30 AM flight to Dubai. The place is chaos. Driver tells us that everyone is returning from the Haj, which means there are 5,000 relatives waiting outside the terminal to pick up someone. I get a few I-hate-Americans looks.
  • My traveling companion, David, and I stand gawking in the terminal, trying to figure out which way to the departure area. Two Emirates baggage handlers show up, grab our bags, and instruct us to follow them. They proceed to plow through the crowd, cut to the front of the baggage screening line, throw the existing bags off of the conveyer belt and insert our bags. Next, they push their way to the ticket counter and get us checked into our flight. I tip the guy $10, figuring it's money well-spent. His reply? "What about for my partner?" I'm tempted to suggest he share the $10 but decide this is not the time to cheap out. Best $10—no, make that $20—I've ever spent.
  • Another tip: for $10 each we get to stay in a sort of "Red Carpet Club" and wait for our flight. For the price of admission we get all the water, tea and juice we can drink. Oh, and free Wi-Fi. In keeping with the Wi-Fi network security practices we observed all week, the Wi-Fi password—naturally—is 123456789.
  • David, former Marine, spots the defense contractors in the VIP Lounge.  Two of them can stay, but the one that looks like he carries the weapons is asked to leave. Ohhh-K!

Back in Dubai, headed to SFO. Welcome to the middle seat. 15 hours of opera, old Disney movies, Dubai tourist videos, and Bruce Springsteen's entire music collection. None of that matters—I'm on my way home.