Category Archives: Random Ramblings

Travel Tug of War

DSC_0034It has taken me many miles and months of travel to recognize the tug-of-war that begins on day one, and lasts well into my second or third week of a trip. I could label it jet lag, but it’s more complex than that. It’s that slow process of letting go and embracing what is new, and now. And that doesn’t come easy for most of us, hence, what I call the internal “travel tug-of-war” – one foot in one world and one in the other – straddling the abyss between comfort zone and the unknown.

I think most people are only vaguely aware of this battle going on inside them because they travel at the same frenetic pace they live by at home, so not much changes, you just see a lot of new stuff – you acquire knowledge about another culture, but you don’t have time to experience it, or share with the locals on a deeper level. That takes time.
On the plane, I immediately jump into the transition – no Western food for me! I order the Bento Box breakfast. The flight attendant passes me three times carrying my meal, looking quizzically at her colleague, I am sure thinking – that blonde woman in 7A can’t be having the Japanese b’fast? I try to convince David to choose the Bento, but he stubbornly opts for the “egg benedict”, which turns out to be a mistake – a cold egg with artery-clogging tasteless sauce. (I mean, come on, it’s difficult enough to make a decent poached egg and hollandaise sauce in a proper kitchen!) The bento box was amazing. If you fly Japan Airlines, for sure order the Japanese b’fast!

IMG_0006Whether you ease in, or dive in, on your next trip, pay attention to your internal tug-of-war and the feelings that arise as you slowly let go of your comfort zone, give up control, and let the new culture flow through you.




“Elevation Elation”

Elevation Elation: That giddy feeling of exhilaration that overcomes you around Colfax, as you climb highway 80 into the Sierras. Symptoms are more pronounced after dark, and include an uncontrollable urge to roll down the window, stick your head out and inhale the heavenly mountain air, followed by a desire to scoop up the stars, kiss the moon, hug the trees, and jump for joy. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like Tahoe!

SO grateful for all I have, and where I live!

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Seeing the world, with new eyes…

The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees.  Marcel Proust

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Travel helps me to see the world, and my home, with new eyes.

My minimum travel  time is three weeks, and a couple of times, we were able to do a six-week trip, but this time,  after exploring Chile, Argentina & Uruguay for three months, I am really noticing my “other eyes”.


Guanaco enjoying their view

The longer you are away, the more acute your awareness becomes when you are once again surround by the familiar.  “Home” is so much more interesting – suddenly I’m living life in a hyper-aware state – I find myself noticing all kinds of little things about people, places and our customs.  I’m going to try my best to maintain this travel hangover for as long as possible.


Alpaca shearing with the Galileos at Estancia del Zorro

A frequent comment we get is: “Wow, three months, was that too long?”  No, not at all for us. I think it’s like anything in life – it’s what you are used to.  We love to travel slowly – parking ourselves at a homey B&B, connecting with locals, getting to really know a place – this enables us to feel more “at home” wherever we are.  We hang out until we are sure we’re ready to leave, even if that means skipping something we had planned for the end of the trip.  For us to be ‘tour-ists” – to have a set schedule, get a taste of places, and then hurry on – would be very frustrating, and exhausting.


So many people welcomed us into their homes, and families

If you want to try a longer trip, but are hesitant, don’t worry, just do it! Expect to get antsy, or home sick at around two weeks, if that’s what you are used to. Just ride out those emotions, they will pass. For the first couple of weeks, I struggle to let go of that “have to be doing something productive” drive that always seems to stowaway in my backpack. You will be amazed how hard that is to shake, it is so engrained in us, and when it does start slipping away, you get the inner voice saying “geeze, you’re getting so lazy”.  When you can reply “good, that’s what I am here for – to become a human being, not a human doing!”, congratulations, you’ve had a breakthrough.P1030849

This will be followed by the big payoff.  You will settle into a new rhythm, you will begin to understand what “slowing down” really feels like, you’ll take the ups and downs of travel with a shrug, knowing that you need the lows, in order to fully appreciate the highs.  When you begin to see mishaps and disappointments as benefits, you are really on your way! As the Buddhists believe, your life’s challenges provide opportunities for growth, and I believe, the same applies to travel. (Not to mention, we have had some of our best experiences, as a result of a things going “wrong”.)

Family weekend at the estancia.

“No plans? Great! Join our family reunion!”

Another benefit of extended, independent travel is the mental stimulation – I’m convinced it’s an alzheimers-buster. Every part of your brain gets a workout, every day, all day – calculating prices, deciphering menus, communicating, figuring out driving, bus schedules, maps, IVA taxes (and how to avoid them!*), and the constant barrage of sights, sounds and tastes foreign to you – what could be better therapy to keep those neurons firing on all cylinders?

Travel slow  and see the world, and your home, with new eyes.DSC_0085


*I should write a post on the in “IVA” taxes in Chile, Argentina & Uruguay (19-22%) but seeing as we never actually gained any real  clarity on the rules, (and we certainly tried), I will have to just let you enjoy the mental exercise, or the challenge of letting go and just paying whatever is charged. Note: the rules differ in each country, and even the locals are confused. And, the way the taxes are charged (or not charged) varies from city to city, province to province. The good news: the system for getting money back at the airport is pretty well organized, but you only get money back on locally made products, not hotel rooms or dinners.





big news!

1993 - former soviet republic of Georgia, still some of my best memories!

1993 – former soviet republic of Georgia, still some of my best memories!

After 20 years of hosting, producing & marketing Passport to Adventure, I have decided the time is right to hand over the reins, in hopes that new blood, fresh ideas, and increased capital, will allow the program to continue growing and reaching fans around the world.

Montana, at the Mountain Man Rendezvou, in a native American deer skin dress loaned to me. It was SO soft!

Montana, at the Mountain Man Rendezvou, in a native American deer skin dress loaned to me. It was SO soft!

I am happy to announce that Passport to Adventure has been purchased by NC2 Media, who also just purchased Lonely Planet, so we are keeping good company.

The folks at NC2 are good people with plans to further develop the worldwide audience for travel programming.  I wish them great success, and look forward to Passport to Adventure gaining expanded exposure.

Chillin' on the Li River, China. Loved Yangshou, need to go back!

Chillin’ on the Li River, China. Loved Yangshou, need to go back!

I hope to continue writing travel tips and tales for the Passport blog and website, so please stay ‘tuned in’ and in touch with me!

As NC2’s plans develop, I will keep you informed here on the blog, and hope to be able to tell you where you can watch the show on a regular basis.

If I get my wish, there will finally be a channel, both on the web and on TV, for American’s to watch real travel programs. I am hoping NC2 is the company that can make this happen.

Just think, maybe if Americans had the opportunity to watch the type of travel shows that can be seen everywhere else in the world, people would lose their fear of venturing beyond our borders? We would become a nation of travelers! Maybe we could get the number of passport holders in the U.S. up to over 50%! And then, maybe people would start demanding 4-6 weeks (for a start) of vacation time, like every other civilized country! Just think where all of this could lead! I’ve always thought Passport could play a small role in changing the world, or at least American culture, and I have not given up. I will continue to look for ways to be a part of that change – to promote “GAP years” – for college students, as a right of passage for 20-somethings, and for people my age, as a break from their careers, or as a retirement option. The latter is something David and I will be exploring!

More ‘Live small, Travel BIG’ adventures to come!!

Aysen, Patagonia, shooting our most recent HD episodes

Aysen, Patagonia, shooting our most recent HD episodes

The road less traveled, our favorite place to be!

The road less traveled, our favorite place to be!

Which one are you?

Are you a human being, or a human doing?

Just hangin'. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Just hangin’. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Is your life an endless series of planning and to-do lists?

What percentage of your time is spent just BEING?

Based on the number of talk shows and self-help books on the subject, it appears that we are taking that first step toward breaking the addiction – admitting we have a problem.  Only eleven more steps to go! If you are in the Passport to Adventure recovery program, the next step is – GO TO LAOS! (Recommended dosage is 3 weeks. WARNING: Staying longer may lead to an uncomfortable sense of well being, and diminished desire compete in the rat race)


Minding little sister and the herd. Laos

If Bhutan can market their “Gross National Happiness”, then Laos needs to brand its laid-backness. It’s too bad that so many visitors rush through the country – most spend a few days in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, then fly to neighboring Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia. They are missing a real opportunity to understand that there IS a different way to live this life. If there was ever a place to “chillax”, Laos is it.


Proud Grandpa, Luang Prabang, Laos.

This was our third trip to Laos – we were there 12 years ago, and 5 years ago. On each trip we spent 3 weeks, and covered different areas of the country, always returning to Luang Prabang. So, “how has it changed?”, you ask. Well, there are more tourists, more hotels and guesthouses, cars and motorcycles have replaced some of the bicycles, everyone has a cell phone, but aside from that, I did not detect any major changes the Lao people and their attitudes.

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia, do not make the mistake of assuming the cultures are the same, or even similar. They are not. The main thing that makes the Lao people different is their complete lack of materialism. I think we are so consumed by consumerism, and our capitalist nirvana notions, that it’s really, really tough for most Westerners to fathom this non-attachment to earning money. Working hard, and getting bigger, better stuff is admired in our culture, but I saw no indication that the Lao have embraced this philosophy. We had more than one smile and tell us frankly, and even proudly, “we are lazy”.

It doesn’t look like laziness to me, it appears they just would rather enjoy life with little, than work hard for more. Their lifestyle seems to make a clear statement: we value time over money, and laughter over perfection. Lao culture is strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings, with acceptance of circumstances, detachment from outcomes, and the belief that ‘all is as it should be’ shaping attitudes. Western directness, planning, and problem-solving are truly foreign concepts.

After a couple weeks of travel in Cambodia, (which comes right after Laos on the “chillax” list) I was slowing down – lingering at cafés, not planning our next move, wandering aimlessly, taking naps, reading novels (instead of guidebooks) in the middle of the day – all stuff that should be part of every day, right!?

Well in Laos, they are. Neighbors hang out on the front step chatting, shop keepers don’t hassle you, children don’t have tantrums, people giggle a lot, they don’t hurry, they nap in hammocks or on the office floor, they celebrate often, they play music loudly, and they prepare food anywhere and everywhere all the time.


Making yummy coconut crisps on the street.

Your meals will rarely be delivered quickly – the prospect of getting a tip does not seem to motivate servers. In my opinion, they like tips as much as anyone would, but they see it as more of a gift, as in, those that have should share with those that have less, a common tribal ethic. They do not get the idea of trying to earn a tip – if they give good service, and you are financially able to tip, great, but they will never be solicitous, rushed or stressed out about it, nor angry if you do not leave one. They enjoy the opportunity to chat with you more than they covet thy money.

After two weeks in Cambodia and three in Laos, I had completely shed any urgent need to do anything. I found that the “eh, whatever, whenever” shoulder-shrug was becoming quite natural for me. Now that I have experienced true laid-backness, I’m really going to work hard on keeping it. (pun intended) And whenever I feel stress creeping in, I’ll just shrug my shoulders, remember the wonderful people of Laos, and recite my new mantra “baw pen nyang” – no problem!

Watch this fascinating TED talk: “What Makes Us Happy?”!


Yes, even savvy travelers blow it…

Love, love, love the holiday spirit in Southeast Asia!

In my experience, this is when most travel screw-ups happen – when you are disembarking in a jet lag stupor and excited to have arrived.

In the rush to “stow personal articles for landing” in HKK, I shoved our “pill bag” into the shoe cabinet and forgot it there! (beware of the handy little nooks for storage in biz class) Yes, it had ALL of our vitamins, prescription meds, and first aid supplies that I have carefully assembled over my years of travel. I realized it pretty quickly and ran back to the gate, but it was already gone.  That the Cathy Pacific staff did not share my shock that it had disappeared, is what annoyed me the most. And it’s worthless to whomever end up with it, as all the pills are in tiny plastic bags, most unlabeled. Only I know what they are.

Hard to stay upset for long once we arrived at our favorite little bungalow resort!

As with all travel mishaps, good people appear when you need them. I mention my problem to the guy that picked us up at the airport here on Phu Quoc, he says his wife is a doctor, and he will see what he can do. The next day, someone appears at my beach chair, with my prescription medication in hand!! And when I try to pay, he hands me his cell phone, I thank Nghe (sp?) and he says it is a “gift”! He also says if it is the correct medication, (it is) he will get me 20 more, so I will have enough to finish our trip, and again, he won’t let me pay.

The bungalows are basic, but the beach is stellar!

Another example of why we travel – it forces you to be vulnerable, and to accept the kindness of strangers. And now, we have a new adventure – visiting local pharmacies, trying to decipher which pills are what, to restock a new “pill bag”. I’ve already found the Vietnamese version of Claratin, one down!





I am, but we’ll get to that later


No travel story worth reading is going to be about an airline losing your luggage.   Try to interest listeners with a lost luggage story and be prepared  for everyone else’s lost luggage stories,  so let’s introduce this episode as the one in which we spend our first three hours in Paris shopping for French Lingerie.   I am herein capitalizing French Lingerie because it deserves to be.

It was United Airlines that lost our luggage but it was Lufthansa that made the offer to reimburse us for a day’s worth of clothes.   I am not sure why Lufthansa stepped in to cover United’s screw-up but it seems  the Germans do a lot of that these days.

Lufthansa having rescued us from UAL took us,  but not our luggage now on a vacation of its very own,  from Frankfurt to Paris.  Upon arrival we checked in with Lufthansa’s lost luggage agent, a  cheerful and pretty German girl who offered to buy us a few days worth of clothes; specifically;

“Ya.  Vee vill reimburse 50% for da outervear duht you buy   …  und  100%  for duh undervear”.  The girls and I exchange something-for-nothing raised-eyebrow smirks.  Personally,  I was okay with the prospect of wearing the same underwear for three weeks.  Why not, I do at home.  But the girls, my wife Jacki and my sister Carolyn,  not so much.   We check empty-handed into our apartment in the Marais district of Paris and  straightaway we are off  to a department store on the Rue de Rivoli.  It’s after dark by now and the sidewalks are crawling with supermodels with shopping bags.  Actual supermodels.    If one is going to step out onto a Parisian sidewalk for the very first time you might want to time your visit with something called Fashion Week,   a city-wide event that makes it difficult to walk in a straight line with all the head-turning.

I digress.  Back to the mission.  I am following the girls who have been given a free pass to shop for replacement underwear in Paris France.  Tres bien.   We find an unimposing department store that could have been a Mervyns, until you get to the second floor:  women’s underwear.   Now I admit I used to occasionally stroll through the girl’s underwear dept in Mervyns  on the way to … you know … Pep Boys.  But this was Paris and in Paris underwear is Lingerie !   The  second floor girl’s underwear department in this non-descript French grand magasin was a dazzling acre of lace and silk and strappy stuff decorating mannequins that you want to date.   In Mervyn’s would you see a lifelike plastic madamoiselle wearing, for example, a lace garter supporting one red stocking, one black, and a red feathered mask ?  Probablement pas !

The girls were studiously hunched over a bin of panties holding them up to the light for some reason.  I know why guys hold underwear up to the light.  I don’t what girls look for and I would have asked them but I was distracted weaving my way through silk and lace tableaux on weak knees like Scarecrow in the Emerald City.

My wife eventually bought $100 dollars worth of bras and panties which by the way I could have folded into my breast pocket and walked out with undetected.   In the meantime the store began to flicker its lights indicating we would have no time to get to the men’s underwear department for the free thong I was conjuring up for myself.  But that was ok, I was happy where I was and the girls were gracious about subjecting me to all this shopping.

“Thanks for being so patient Michael”

“Yeah sure. No problem.  Can we come back tomorrow ?”

Voulez vous avec moi c'est soir ?

Voulez vous avec moi c’est soir



Cambodia for Christmas?

Christmas dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Pakse, Laos.

This will probably sound strange, or even blasphemous, to some, but the merry Christmas I dream of, is not white, it’s palm fringed along the Mekong.  I guess most people look forward to the holidays all year, and would never consider missing cherished family traditions, and I completely understand that. This post is for those that share my wanderlust, and may wonder what it is like to skip our version of X’mas one year, in favor of an adventure!

Traveling during the Christmas season is a great way to stretch your minimal vacation time, escape the expensive December shopping frenzy, and for me, relax and embrace the JOY of the season. The downside is that it’s high season in Southeast Asia, so you will need to book early. And, of course, if you have a family that requires your attendance at holiday festivities, this may not work for you. But, I say, if you are one of those over-worked Americans with only 2 or 3 weeks vacation, give it some consideration, your family can probably live without you for one holiday season, and you will have a “proper” holiday! (proper, as in longer than 2 weeks!)

Santa on the Mekong!

Why am I drawn to Southeast Asia for the Christian holiday season?? Honestly, I am not really sure how this happened. Christmas was a big deal at our house growing up. All I know, is after honeymooning in Thailand and Vietnam over the holidays almost twenty years ago, I wanted to go back every year.

Need reasons?….The countries of Southeast Asia are predominantly Buddhist, but they love any excuse to put up colorful decorations, and wear Santa hats. Not to mention, the weather is delightful in Dec-Jan (if you like warm and humid) and shopping is WAY more fun (and a heck of a lot cheaper!). Plus, there are enough expats from Western countries, that you can easily find traditional Christian festivities, even church services, if you want them. I think the main draw for me, particularly at this time of year,  is he “vibe” – in contrast to our hectic, often exhausting, holiday rush, Southeast Asia is very relaxed – everyday life flows gently along the Mekong, and we happily fall right into this laid-back pace.

X'mas fun with the always-smiling locals.

We have spent several Christmas holidays in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. At home, the decorations, and shopping ads that appear just after Halloween, drive me nuts. They make me want to leave the country (almost as much as the politcal ads) In Asia, it’s not about gifts, it’s just a celebration! Most of the hotels have tastefully decorated trees in the lobby, and many offer western style Christmas dinners. We prefer to find a cute French restaurant and use the holiday as an excuse to treat ourselves to a nice bottle of Bordeaux and a pepper steak, at half the price of a similar meal at home. We have watched spectacular New Years Eve fireworks displays in Bangkok & Phnom Penh, even though they celebrate the Chinese, or Lunar New Year, which falls typically in late Jan or early Feb. One of my favorite memories – hanging out at sidewalk bar in Vientienne, on X’mas day, drinking “Beer Lao” with locals in Santa hats – it was classic!

Another thing we enjoy about holiday travel in Southeast Asia is that many of the foreigners working in Asia and the Middle East, instead of returning home for the holidays, use their vacation to explore neighboring countries. So you get to meet interesting expats, that have lived all over the world, wherever you go.

David and his elves awaiting their martinis.

There is nothing more exciting to me than having a ticket to BKK (Bangkok) in December! My mind spins with the options – so many places we have yet to visit, and so many we love to return to. I feel so at home there, and have so many great memories, and I am looking forward to creating many more this Dec-January! Watch for my posts starting SOON!


Our Bear Visit…

This was taken 10 feet from our deck, after his dinner in our condo!

In some places they have “fish stories”, in Tahoe, we have bear stories. It’s a classic tale of best intentions, producing unexpected, undesirable consequences. Twenty years ago, it was rare to even see a bear in Tahoe, unless you were in the back country.

Getting as far away as possible from that damn dog!

The way I understand it, at some point some mama bear figured out that it was easier to eat garbage out of the trash cans, or the dumpsters behind restaurants, than it was to forage. She taught her cubs this nifty trick, they taught their cubs, and voila’! – we have a bear population that no longer knows how to feed themselves in the wild. The problem is, that in an effort to stop the bears from eating trash, everyone installed “bear-proof bins” and now lock their dumpsters, so, the bears have no choice now, but to go into houses looking for food. And it is getting worse every year.

Bears are now a regular fixture in neighborhoods – strolling down the street, thru yards, and along fences. Once I watched a mother and her 2 cubs climb on top of a wooden fence and walk along the top like a tightrope! They are smart and very agile. They open home, garage and car doors, and can navigate refrigerators quite well.

OK, dog seems to be safely behind glass door...

The new millennium bear diet – fat & sugar – just like humans! The bear in our house ate a jar of honey, then put the jar in the sink, with the lid back on it!! It took the lid off of the ceramic butter dish, ate the butter, without harming the dish. It opened the freezer and ate frozen organic blueberries, but left a whole container of fresh blueberries on the counter! (Apparently they only know human food, and no longer recognize fresh berries?) He also enjoyed avocados, and my precious farmer’s market peaches. At least he left the wild prawns I had marinating in the fridge for dinner! He left us his calling card – a large pile of poop in the living room – before the neighbors dog “got wind of him” and went crazy. Maybe “scared the crap” outta the bear?

Mom never said it'd be this tough getting food from houses!

The number of home invasions by bears in the Tahoe Basin is increasing every year, and the bears get smarter, and bolder all the time. Lucky for us, they are California Brown Bears (not Grizzlies) so they tend to avoid confrontation with humans. The best tip I was given to avoid tangling with a bear, was “once they have your food, it is theirs, so don’t even think about trying to get it back!” Mark had one drag a 5lb bag of dog food out of his garage, dump it on the lawn in a neat pile, where he sat, legs spread around the pile of food, and chowed down, while the dogs were going crazy in the house! Another bear climbed into a car, the car door closed on him, and in his panic to get out, the bear totaled the inside. The car had to be towed away – steering wheel & stick shift bent, windows broken.

We live in such a small, safe community, is it really a big lifestyle change for me to remember to lock all of the doors and windows when we go out, but I guess I am going to have to get better about that. (The bear slid the bedroom screen door open, cruised through the downstairs and went up the stairs to the kitchen. We arrived home just as he was exiting the same way. If we had come home 2 minutes sooner, we would have been face to face with him in the stairwell! Not a good situation.

I guess if we all lock down our garbage, houses and cars, eventually they will be reconditioned to live in the forest and eat bugs?? Or will they just get more and more aggressive about getting into homes? I don’t know what the solution is. It seems the more we deprive them of the food they have now become accustomed to, the more they break into homes. Quite a conundrum… as much as I love seeing them around, I hope we can find a way to get them ‘back to nature’, otherwise many more will be tagged as “repeat offenders” and could be killed. A sad state of affairs.


Drought driving wildlife into residential areas, from NY Times, Sept 2012

Mountain Lion in downtown Reno!

Cool? Or Creepy?

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

So, first morning in St Lucia, I log onto my computer, and have an email from Trip Advisor suggesting best stuff to do in Soufriere St Lucia. Huh? How the heck does Trip Advisor know that I am in Soufriere, St Lucia?

So far, I have not joined the ranks of those worried about our online privacy. I thought it would be a good thing for Google to track our internet searches, I figured every time I search, it’d be like casting a vote for more intelligent media, for products and websites that are a force for good in the world. I still hope that is the case, but I am also seeing the downside more clearly now, and it is getting a little creepy.

Like when I did some research on latex mattresses. We bought one 15 years ago, and we love it, but now apparently they are all the rage and shopping for them is so excruciatingly complex, I just decided to keep the old one!

After a few searches, every website I looked at for the next 2 weeks had the same ads for latex mattresses! It was pretty funny. As sophisticated as they are at Google, once you see what they are doing, it gets a little silly and you tune out the ads.

IMHO, Travel research and booking online is also becoming a major waste of time. There is just too much noise out there. Too many reviews to read. Too many FAKE reviews to weed through. Too many opinions. Too many “experts”. Too many “best of” lists. Too many “must do” lists. I think if we calculated how many hours we spend doing online research to plan our next vacation, we’d be able to take a whole extra week OFF every year if we just called a trusted travel agent or tour operator and let them do their job!

The thing that concerns me the most, is the “bubble” the internet is creating around all of us. Feeding us only what it knows we like, reaffirming what we already know, and insulating us from any differing views. THAT, I think, is a huge problem for our society, and I do not know how we fix it. Maybe it will just play itself out? People will become more savvy, turn away from the internet, and go back to shopping at their corner store, and using a good ol’ travel agent to book their trips?