Author: RM

And break down I did…

And break down I did…

So I am posting this from my new HTC Inspire Android phone, using an Android WordPress app!

With my 8 megapixel camera in hand, I’ll be hitting the trails looking for all manner of cool things to photograph – although let’s face it, another bobcat encounter right about now, with a chance to get some crisp, clear photos, would be perfect…

I Just May Have to Break Down and Buy a Smartphone…

I Just May Have to Break Down and Buy a Smartphone…

I’ve been resisting it… The lure of instant access to email and the web. The electronic leash of a smartphone. I mean, I must be the only bona fide IT geek in the San Francisco Bay Area who still doesn’t have one, right? Add to that the fact that I am “text averse”, and I guess my cell phone should have a rotary dial on the front.

However, I have now come up with a really good reason to make the jump to a smartphone… A few weeks ago, I’m hiking out to Tennessee Valley Beach in Marin with a really good friend. We hadn’t seen one another in a while, so we are chatting, catching up, when suddenly we come around a bend in the trail, and meet several hushed, awed hikers, “Bobcat, there on the trail…” they whisper. And sure enough, there on a side trail, is a bobcat, hanging out on a Sunday afternoon, totally ignoring all the awestruck bipeds.

So, what does this have to do with a smartphone you ask? Well, everyone else has their iPhones and Droids, and is zooming in for feline close-ups. Me? I take a couple of very sad, fuzzy shots with my 1.3 megapixel not-so-smartphone!

Blurry Bobcat, Tennessee Valley, Marin
Blurry Bobcat, Tennessee Valley, Marin

This is only the 2nd bobcat I’ve seen in the wild, and all I have to show for the encounter is a blurry photo. So yeah,  that smartphone with the 8 megapixel camera? Next time I hike that trail, I’m going to have one with me, just in case…

A quick XC-Ski outing…

A quick XC-Ski outing…

So at the end of the 2009 ski season, I got a great deal on a pair of Atomic MX:7 skis (with Black Diamond Riva Z Telemark bindings – for those of you dieing to know…), and they have been sitting in my closet ever since – waiting patiently to be taken out for a good run!

Right after Christmas, my buddy Mike and I decided to drive from Oakland up to the Sierras for a quick day trip to the snow,  so I pulled my ‘new’ skis out from the back of my closet, we loaded our gear into Mike’s truck, and off we went…

We figured we would exit Highway 80 after about 175 miles, right by Boreal Mountain Resort, then cross under the freeway to go back country skiing at Castle Peak. Unfortunately, a LOT of other people had decided to get off at that same exit, and traffic was lined up for 1/2 a mile on the hard shoulder, all waiting to exit the freeway and fight over a limited number of parking spots. Since we were more interested in skiing than tussling for a parking spot, we headed on over Donner Summit and down to Truckee, 10 miles further on, which turned out to be a smart move!

XC skiing, Coldstream Canyon, Donner Memorial State Park
XC skiing, Coldstream Canyon, Donner Memorial State Park

Donner Memorial State Park is right off the freeway at the 1st Truckee exit, so we pulled in there to ask the rangers if they knew a good spot nearby to do some back country skiing. I had been to the park in the summertime, and remembered a pretty nice campground with a few short trails near Donner Lake. What I didn’t know was that the park connected to Coldstream Canyon, and a lengthy trail that stretches right up to meet the Pacific Crest Trail.

We strapped skins on our skis and skied about 3 miles up the Canyon on fresh, crisp snow.  The trail was wide and easy, and we met a few people on snowshoes and skis, most of whom appeared to be locals. We went off the trail in a couple of spots into fairly deep powder, and when the sun started to edge towards the horizon we turned around and headed back down the trail.

The Atomic MX:7 skis performed well. They were (as expected!) much more maneuverable than my lengthy, aging Tua Mega MX planks. It was also great to find a new trail to explore – note to self: get there earlier next time to explore much further up the trail!

Next? I want to get back up to the snow several times in different conditions to check out how the new skis perform skiing downhill, and with different snow conditions. I particularly want to see how they handle in icy spring conditions – I’m hoping they bite better than my Tuas!!

Adventure – it’s all in the eye of the beholder!

Adventure – it’s all in the eye of the beholder!

What IS adventure anyway? For some it is making the first ascent of a remote peak, or the first descent of a challenging new river. For others it is being a silent observer to the annual Serengeti migration, or cycling from one picturesque medieval village to the next in France’s Loire Valley. Like beauty, adventure tends to be in the eye of the beholder.

However, until I took my first ever cruise over Thanksgiving, I thought I knew the limits of what adventure meant to me personally. Adventure was traveling thru Africa by 4WD, motorcycling around India, or taking local buses with my daughter as we explored Guatemala and Belize.  Adventure (for me!) was NOT taking a 4 day cruise! Or so I thought…

When my girlfriend suggested a short cruise over Thanksgiving, she really had to talk me into it, “it’s so relaxing…”. OK, in reality, she really didn’t have to say too much to convince me to take a few days off work and try to kick back!

Indian Creek Hotel, Miami Beach
Indian Creek Hotel, Miami Beach

So on the Sunday before Thanksgiving I flew from San Jose to Miami with my girlfriend Regina, my 16 year old daughter and her friend. Once there, we checked into the Indian Creek Hotel, a small, art deco inspired (but still affordable!) boutique hotel just a block from the beach in Miami Beach.

Carnival Imagination docked in Key West
Carnival Imagination docked in Key West

The next morning we had strong Cuban coffee at breakfast, explored the boardwalk and beach, and caught a cab to board the Carnival Imagination in the Port of Miami. If, like me, you have never been on a cruise ship. just let me say this: they are huge, they are glitzy. But you know what? They are fun, and I really got to relax for a few days. In fact, as we sailed out of Miami headed for Key West and Cozumel, I could feel my stress diminishing at about the same rate as the land was shrinking in our wake. Of course, the fact that my cell phone and laptop were turned off helped me chill out and relax!

Carnival Imagination - nice cabin!
Carnival Imagination - nice cabin!

I had always shied away from cruises because, being an active person, I assumed I would get bored being cooped up on a ship, and also because it seemed like you had relatively little time ashore to be adventurous and to explore. Of course I now realize that a lot of the attraction is just the experience of being aboard a fun, floating hotel, and waking up in different destinations each day.

Customs House, Key West
Customs House, Key West

Our first stop was Key West, the southernmost spot in the USA. It seemed like a very cool place to hang out (as Jimmy Buffet will attest…). White houses with louvered windows, wrap around porches and luscious tropical gardens lined the streets into town. Even downtown, vehicles appeared to max out at about 5 mph. Key West is definitely a pretty laid back place!

Giant Barracuda - photo credit http://pescaprofesional.net
Giant Barracuda - photo credit http://pescaprofesional.net

Regina took a 3 hour bike tour of Key West, crossing the island from one side to the other, and really enjoyed it. Meanwhile, the girls and I took a Catamaran trip to snorkel the reef, the highlight of which was spotting a 4 foot long giant barracuda cruising serenely past us as we snorkeled back towards the boat.

Mayan Ruins, Tulum, Mexico
Mayan Ruins, Tulum, Mexico

Our next stop was Cozumel, where we boarded a fast ferry to the mainland, and took a bus to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. Perched on a clifftop above the ocean, the ruins at Tulum are not as extensive as at Tikal or Chichen Itza, but the setting is spectacular. In addition, after a guided tour of the ruins, we were able to go for a quick dip in the warm Caribbean water.

Back on board the cruise ship, we relaxed, ate, slept and were entertained by stand up comics, singers and dancers en route back to Miami. For a first cruising experience, Carnival’s 4 day Western Caribbean cruise was the perfect blend of relaxation, fun and even some exploration.

Was it truly adventurous? Let’s just say that the relaxation quotient outweighed the adventure quotient, but the fun factor was high! Would I take another cruise? Absolutely!

Lake Tahoe – Fall camping trip

Lake Tahoe – Fall camping trip

Just over 3 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe is set in the High Sierras at over 6,000 feet, surrounding by snow covered peaks.  In the winter it is California’s primary ski area, and in the summer it draws hikers, mountain bikers and lovers of mountain scenery.

Baldwin Beach, South Lake Tahoe
Baldwin Beach, South Lake Tahoe

In early October, my girlfriend and I took a quick weekend break, leaving after work on a Friday evening, and driving 3 hours up Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe to camp for 2 nights at Fallen Leaf Campground, nestled in a pine forest between Lake Tahoe and the smaller Fallen Leaf Lake. Arriving at about 10pm, and having carefully read all of the campground reviews on Yelp, many with a strong theme of “how to keep your food from being eaten by bears”, Regina suggested that I put up the tent while she selflessly watched for bears – albeit from the comfort of a locked vehicle!

Perhaps the bears had all moved to lower ground in anticipation of the first snow, as the only animals we saw were tiny ground squirrels struggling with over-sized pine cones. Although we were wakened each night by coyote’s calling across the campground to check in with one another, they stayed hidden during daylight hours, and were as elusive as the bears!

The campsite was pretty empty so late in the season, and of the campers there, most had RVs or trailers – not many were tenting it like us. The sites were clean and reasonably well spaced, the hot showers (a dollar in quarters got you 3 minutes) were good, and although the temperature dropped at night to the low 40s, we stayed snug and warm in our tent.

Fallen Leaf Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake

After breakfast on Saturday, we walked from our campsite to the trail, and after 3 minutes reached a small pebble beach at Fallen Leaf Lake. Kids splashed in the shallows looking for freshwater crayfish, and the mountains were reflected perfectly in the clear blue waters of the lake – idyllic!

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, and the Tahoe Queen
Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, and the Tahoe Queen

After returning to the campground, we drove up around the west shore of Lake Tahoe to Emerald Bay.  While most places we went to on this trip were pretty devoid of people, here was an exception. People from all over were here to soak up the incredible lake views and stunning scenery – we took photos for a couple from Washington State, and Regina chatted with some folks from Louisiana.

After admiring Emerald Bay from above, we decided it would be an interesting contrast to view it from the water, so we went to nearby Baldwin Beach and launched my inflatable kayak. Unfortunately my trusty Sevylor inflatable sprang a leak, and we ended up paddling back to Baldwin Beach in our ‘deflatable’ kayak – so Emerald Bay from the water will have to wait for another trip!

Lily Lake, just above Fallen Leaf Lake
Lily Lake, just above Fallen Leaf Lake

After another cozy night camping, on Sunday morning we drove to the far end of Fallen Leaf Lake to rent a kayak, only to find the boat rental store had closed for the season at the end of September – a real shame as it was a beautiful sunny, warm day.  So instead of kayaking, we drove to the end of the road beyond Fallen Leaf Lake, and discovered pristine Lily Lake – a perfect example of nature at its most serene and tranquil!

A touch of Fall color in the Sierras
A touch of Fall color in the Sierras

Rather than drive home on the main drag, Highway 50, we opted for the scenic route: Highway 89 and 88 to Markleeville, on the eastern slope of the Sierra, then back over Ebbet’s Pass, returning to the Bay Area on Highway 4. It took a few hours longer, but we got to see alders with some fall color, stopped at another couple of small lakes in the middle of nowhere, and enjoyed some beautiful mountain views.

View from Highway 4, approaching Ebbet's Pass
View from Highway 4, approaching Ebbet's Pass

It was a pretty full weekend, but spending time in the mountains, relaxing by beautiful alpine lakes, definitely recharged our batteries and sent us back to the city with clean air in our lungs, and smiles on our faces.

Just over 3 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe is set in the High Sierras at over 6,000 feet, surrounding by snow covered peaks.  In the winter it is California’s primary ski area, and in the summer it draws hikers, mountain bikers and lovers of mountain scenery.
African Princesses, in Oakland?

African Princesses, in Oakland?

Did I mention that my theme tune is “Voyager” by Les Nubians?

“Voyager, rien ne m’est plus essentiel
Plier bagages, en quête d’autres images plus réelles..
Partir loin et découvrir
Quel air l’humanité respire
Comment nos contemporains vivent
Sous d’autres lumières.
Voyager”

“Travel, nothing is more important to me
Pack my bags, in search of other images more real…
Travel far and discover
The air that humanity breathes
And how our contemporaries live
Under other lights.
Travel”

So I just had to be there this afternoon at Yoshi’s when Les Nubians included Oakland in their pre-release tour for their new album, “NU REVOLUTION”! What can I say, other than the music was true to their ‘Afropean’ heritage – a wonderful mix of African rhythyms, R&B, with a jazzy style, with lyrics in French and English. Check it out for yourself at Les Nubians.

Les Nubians, Afro Hair Dance
Les Nubians, Afro Hair Dance

Great as the new songs are from their new CD, the most fun part was the interaction between Hélène and Célia and the kids in the audience, especially the Afro Hair Dance, which they even performed again at the end of the show as an encore, a special request by an 8 year old fan!

meeting Les Nubians at Yoshi's
meeting Les Nubians at Yoshi's

Thanks to my daughter for taking the photo, and to my girlfriend Regina for indulging my moment with Les Princesses Nubiennes! 😉

Toumani Diabate, master Kora player

Toumani Diabate, master Kora player

Some of the most enjoyable things about travel are learning new and different cultural traditions, trying to master your first few phrases of a new language, and discovering rich new veins of music.

Of course, most of us don’t get to travel to our dream adventure destinations nearly as often as we would like, so when the opportunity presented itself to witness master Kora player Toumani Diabate playing here in the Bay Area, I jumped at the chance.

Toumani Diabate at Yoshi's
Toumani Diabate at Yoshi's

Yoshi’s offers an intimate venue to get close to, and sometimes even converse with, a wide variety of world class musicians. While the primary focus is Jazz, traditional and modern musicians from around the world are often also featured.

… And this week Toumani Diabate, a Kora (traditional West African 21 stringed harp-like instrument) master from Mali filled the house at Yoshi’s in Oakland with incredibly varied sounds, from guitar like riffs and solos to complex melodies making use of all those strings – but don’t take my word for it, check his music out for yourself, live if you can, or on YouTube:

Maple Syrup Taffy? Tire sur la Neige…

Maple Syrup Taffy? Tire sur la Neige…

Never heard of maple syrup taffy? Neither had I until I discovered it being made on the walls of Québec City.

Maple Syrup popsicles in the making
Maple Syrup popsicles in the making

But what better way to experience an 80 degree spring day in Canada, than to pour steaming maple syrup onto snow, roll it around a popsicle stick, and create an instant “tire sur la neige” treat to fortify you as you explore this ancient, walled city!

Roll your own maple syrup taffy
Roll your own maple syrup taffy
Springtime in Paris? – Make that Québec…

Springtime in Paris? – Make that Québec…

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Canada a total of 6 or more times, and finally over Easter I made it to Québec, to sample some Québécois food, culture and language! And it truly is like visiting a slice of Europe in North America!

Old town Montreal by night
Old town Montreal by night

Montréal is a large modern city, and in my short stay there, I felt on many streets that I could easily have been in Chicago or Toronto. But the old town, down by the port, has a very European feel to it. As we ate dinner at a sidewalk restaurant, couples, groups of friends, and families took their evening stroll down by the water, enjoying an unusually warm spring evening. French was the language most in evidence, although we heard snippets of conversations in Spanish, English and, hmm, was that Polish or Czech?

Old Montreal
Old Montreal

A mere 3 hours from Montréal by train, Québec City has by contrast a uniquely European feel. Encircled by medieval walls, and with 95% of its population speaking French, this is like no other city in North America! It feels and looks much more like an historic town somewhere in the middle of France. Sure, it’s touristy, but the natives are very friendly, and it’s a great place to explore!

Quebec City
Quebec City

The Chateau Frontenac may be a bit of a splurge, but its imposing presence and elegant comfort in the heart of the city makes it a great base to come back to after a day’s exploration. And if your travel budget won’t absorb a stay in one of its historic rooms, then at least soak up the atmosphere of the St-Laurent bar, with a panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River.

Old Quebec City and the Chateau Frontenac
Old Quebec City and the Chateau Frontenac

And for a great view of Quebec City? Just take the ferry across the river to Lévis and back…

4 trips in 4 weeks…

4 trips in 4 weeks…

So where exactly did March go to? In my case I had 4 business trips in 4 weeks, definitely not my norm!! I started off the month with a quick trip to Vancouver, for 2 days, to assist with the installation of a new phone system at the Vancouver office of a Canadian adventure travel company, Trek Escapes, with whom we recently merged.

View from Granville Street Bridge
View from Granville Street Bridge

I didn’t really get much time to explore, but made sure to walk from the hotel to the office, across the Granville Street bridge, with great views across the water to Vancouver Island.

strolling downtown at night, Vancouver
strolling downtown at night, Vancouver

And in the evening, I checked out Granville Street again, and ate some truly delicious, middle-eastern inspired tapas at Sanafir. Hmm, I’m thinking I may have to go back and check on that new phone system soon, so I can explore Vancouver some more!!

Chicago's Bean
Chicago's Bean

After Vancouver, it was off to Chicago for management meetings with our new Canadian colleagues, and a chance to meet more of the folks at our other sister company, iExplore. Whenever I travel on business, my natural curiosity prompts me to seek out something unique to the area. In Chicago I managed a brisk walk across to inspect the puzzling but intriguing 66 foot long Bean sculpture near the lake.

flying over the Rockies
flying over the Rockies

Next, a quick trip to Calgary and Edmonton allowed for incredible winter views of the Rockies – truly beautiful! And now I am about to head off to Toronto – although this time I plan to tack on a weekend in Quebec, and my girlfriend Regina is coming along for the ride!