Friday, October 31, 2008

Puebla to Oaxaca Mexico

Enjoyed breakfast and the Internet service at CityExpress, then packed up for a 3.5 hour ride to Oaxaca. Leaving Puebla I looked for a bank, low on peso and gas... Santaner is the Mexican partner for Bank of America, so that is the preferred institution, no transaction fee. The edge of town passes and no Santaner bank was to be found.

I can see a fairly large town ahead on the GPS and made a detour. Aztec Bank won't change Amex Traveler's check, so I change all the dollars in my wallet. Getting back on the highway I fail to notice the difference between Route 150 and Routa 150d. The "d" indicates the toll road. The other is the local roads which take significantly longer to get anywhere. My goal is to get miles behind me and the tolls aren't exorbitant, but first you need to get on the road.

About 20 kilometers later, after crawling through traffic backed up to deliver flowers to a huge market and as mountains approach, it become clear that I have missed the turn to the toll road. Studying the GPS I resolve to turn around…back into the traffic. That is how a 3.5 hour trip turns into 6.5 hour trip.

Four shotgun toting traffic cops approached me as I was taking the photo of trucks lining up to enter the market.

"Who are you taking these pictures for?"
"Just for myself"
"Where are you from?"
"New Jersey, I'm riding to Oaxaca."
"I lived in Norristown, PA..."

The conversation turns into small talk and I excused myself to get back on the road. Why traffic cops need shotguns is beyond me, but I am sure the drivers all listen to cops directions!

Another 10 kilometers and I'm back on toll road. Now flying along to Oaxaca. The warm late afternoon light is raking across the fields as I pass workers harvesting flowers for the Day of the Dead, loading them high pick-up trucks and donkey draw carts. A few miles ahead I will have a new experience in Latin highway behavior.

I am riding on a two lane highway that has what know as "breakdown lanes" or shoulders on either side. Going up a gentle incline I notice a car passing a truck ahead of me. The truck has partially pull over onto the should, but the passing car is taking up the middle of the road and the distance is closing between your's truly and himself. Not one to stand on formality and with more than a touch survival instinct, I navigate to right side of my lane. "Crazy Mexican drivers" is the first thing that comes into my mind. Short after I see the same event, but in the direction I'm traveling. I soon realize that this is how people drive here. A slow vehicle will pull over a bit to let faster cars pass, and pass they will, even with oncoming traffic. It sounds hairy, but it works. Everyone understands the technique. Passing cars usually put their blinker to indicate their intention to pass. Blinkers have a lot of meaning down here. You have to pretty much guess what the driver is trying to tell you, pray and pass.

Sorry, but I didn't take photos of a few interesting thing that I which I had stopped and captured. One was seeing several groups of high school girls waiting for rides on the toll road. I was not clear to me if they were hitch hiking or simply waiting for their ride. I have never seen clusters of young girls hanging out on a toll road. It was very strange to me. Later, riding through the mountains I saw cactus, as tall as telephone poles. At first there were a few, then soon they were everywhere. I was looking for the perfect vista and didn't find one before I ran out of the zona cactus. I will be passing thought the same area on my way to Belize and will take cactus photos next time.

The tank bag had come partially open when riding through the mountains and I think the only think I lost was turn by turn instructions to the apartment. Before leaving Puebla I copied a Oaxaca street map image Kelly, my niece, had emailed to me to the GPS. When I got to Oaxaca I was able to view the map, zoom in and more it around, on the GPS. After a while I figured out where I was and had an idea of where to go. I got pretty close, then stopped at an Internet cafe and called Kelly. Her wonderful landlady drove the few blocks to pick me up.

I'm now staying in an apartment of a large compound on homes, in a spacious room with private bathroom, just around the corner from Kelly. I quickly settle into my new living quarters. Her boyfriend, Abraham arrives and we go out for dinner.

The next morning Kelly takes me for a walk up a long staircase to a hill that overlooks Oaxaca. We get there just a sunrise, in time to see the night fog before it burned off. After coffee and breakfast breads we head to largest market in Oaxaca. Kelly calls it the crazy market and swears that she always gets lost within the maze of stalls.
We pass a church where people have laid out flower alters on the ledges for their loved ones that have passed on. We would see dozens and dozens of alters, prepared to welcome and honor the dead that come to visit during this time of year. Food, water, candies, photos, candles, and other items are provided for the dead to enjoy. Read more about the Day of the Dead on Wikipedia.

In the market we see specially prepared bread that is baked for the Day of the Dead celebrations that has small faces embedded. Indeed the market is a crazy place, disorienting for a tourist. Low hanging ropes and other obstacles keep my six foot, three inch body vigilant. I really stick out, towering over locals. I'm tall, but now I feel like a giant.

In the market Kelly is buying things for the alter to be prepared in her apartment. I bought a toy race car for my father, who loved auto racing. A guy passes by with a bundle of sugar cane. Later I understood that the sugar cane is used to build an arc for the alter. Flowers are placed in attached to the sugar cane. In another market I took a picture of sugar confections.

We repaired to the Zopola, the central square, for a bite to eat and beers. The local snack is salted peanuts with lime juice -- delicious!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maplewood, New Jersey to Laredo, Texas

10/20/2008 - Day 01

[New Jersey] >…TX


Turns were a problem for me, a problem that had to be addressed. Going to work in the morning I faced the same turn curve on the highway. Helmet and gloves on, a few local streets, then up to highway speed, with cars all around me and here comes that damn turn. It was pretty much the same scenario on the trip home. I just had to make it through that first big bend in the road, at speed, and then I would be OK for the rest of my way home. The basics: throttle down, look, lean, and gently roll the throttle – never hit the brake in a turn unless you have to stop. After many months I got some what comfortable with turning, but it was the leaning part that I started thinking about. There are two ways that you can lean. A reluctant lean, body tilted, but head straighten, almost pulled back from the lean. It’s a subtle difference the second kind of lean, with head tilted into the turn, embracing the curve. I was doing the first kind of lean, nervous, almost flinching, as I executed the turn.

There are two ways that we interact with computers, we can lean back (to be entertained) or lean in (and actively participate.) I was determined philosophically to take the lean in approach to taking turns on a motorcycle. I wanted this to be my philosophic approach to
riding and to life. Lean in, embrace each moment.Today I am leaving for the trip and looking out the window this morning I can see there is frost on the cars. Still packing this morning, now making notes about what I would take care of on the road before entering Mexico. I said goodbye to Ingrid and she left for work, the hardest moment of the day.

11:25 AM, as I closed the garage door my cell phone rings:

“It's Buff, have you left yet?”
“It’s you, me and the ignition switch.”
“Do you have your passport andcredit cards?”
“All set, I’ll call you from Texas.”

11:30 AM, now on the highway, but today I’m not taking the road to work. I had been consulting at “Mondo Real Estate Corporation” for two and a half years. Challenging work, good people and the pay was hansom, but I needed to take this trip. So I gave my managers five weeks notice (timed at the end of a big project), wrapped up my work and said goodbye. Now I’m actually on the road, doing what I have been dreaming about for over three years. It was one of those special moments, no longer planning or day dreaming, I’m really on the road.

NJ >[Pennsylvania] >… TX

The only time I used my E-Z Pass to pay a $.75 toll. I will send the tag back to NJ with the first box of extra stuff that I can live without.

NJ >[Maryland >West Virginia] > … TX

Moving along, I love these states because you cross them fairly quickly. It makes you feel like you are burning up the road. You hardly notice that you are in Maryland and the next thing you know it’s gone.

Down the road I watched as a 3 foot florescent tube worked its way out of an open side door on a utility truck. The tube bounced several times before shattering in to thousands of piece of glass at my feet.

NJ >… [Virginia] >… TX

Fog, Twisties, Gravel and Deer

Getting a late start didn’t help the situation. Now it’s gotten dark now and cold mountains air is creeping into my bones. I abandon the goal of reaching Tennessee on the first night starting looking for hotel. Via cell phone, Ingrid finds a “last minute deal” rate at a hotel that is listed as 15 miles from Roanoke. She books the room via the internet and I head back down the highway, only to realize that I should not have gotten back on the interstate. Getting off at the next exit the GPS calculates the distance and direction. Now it is clear that the hotel is a distance to the east, off of the highway.

I passed an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it was too late at night to wander down this legendary highway. I rode over a small mountain, hit light fog with fogged my visor, navigated through dozens of extra tight twisties with bands of gravel on the sides of the road (this is not fun in the dark) and then I saw deer… Finally arriving at the hotel, tired and ready for bed.

10/21/2008 - Day 02

NJ >… [Tennessee] …TX

By early afternoon I got arrived in northeast Tennessee,
Greenville, later than expected and find the hospital around 2:00 PM.
In part my detour the night before added extra road time and I’m still
streamlining the steps to pack the bike up in the morning. It’s not as easy as
grabbing your suitcase and throwing it in the back seat. Everything must fit
fairly tightly in the various cases and bags. As I continue to unload stuff that
I don’t need the space will become easier to manage. I’ll start organizing
thing by daily use and only unpack what I need.

Dr. Kevin Toppenberg met me in the hospital parking lot, described where to find his practice and dashed back to attend to patients. All of Kevin’s staff are great people. Missy, his nurse, had brought in homemade biscuits and apple butter. The snack was an unexpected treat. Eddie, the software programmer adjusted the virtual software appliance I will be demonstrating in Latin America. In all it took a few hours and then I hit the road. Kevin offered dinner and a place to stay, but the schedule keeps me moving forward. Hopefully I can stop on the return trip and have relaxed visit.

NJ > … [North Carolina] > …TX

Just a short stretch of road and I was in North Carolina. On the interstate, near Asheville, I had one of those moments. A piece of silver venation tubing, about 4-5 feet long, appear from under the car ahead of me. It takes the brain a few milliseconds to recognize an obstacle and present choices. I am used to avoiding small things on the road. This one took up half of the lane – out of the middle! The time allowed to digest the information is fleeting. Quickly the choice becomes evasive swerve or run over it. I recognized the object…and ran over it without incident.

Within 2 hours of leaving Greenville I was south of Asheville, and on the local streets Hendersonville, home of Olympia Moto Sports. the web site I maintaining have been web master for the past 6 years.

I spent the next day with Kevin and Karilea Rhea, their nephew Alex, Eric, and Frank. Mostly I worked with Eric, showing him how to manage parts of the Olympia Moto Sports website. It’s a simple web site compared to the slick sites out there, but it gets the job done. It takes some skills to update and keep things running smoothly, tasks I was teaching Eric.

10/23/2008 - Day 04

NJ > … [Georgia > Alabama] …TX

An early departure from Kevin and Karilea’s, Rode to the
edge of town with Kevin, then peeled off as he went to work and I headed to Atlanta.

In Atlanta I found Dr. John Leo Zimmer’s place near the Emory University and had lunch nearby. I met his young charge, Diego, his 11 months old grandson. We caught up on VistA community stuff and I showed him Kevin and Eddie’s modification to the medical software. I wanted to see Tom Ackerman who lives in Atlanta, but only had time for one visit and choose John Leo because of his experience with virtual machines. Tom had generously offered me a place to stay, which wouldn’t work because I got to Atlanta at mid-day and the schedule keeps me pressing on. John Leo told me that Tom was now recovering from surgery. Sadly, I learned in a few days that Tom passed away following the procedure. He was a kindest and most gentle guy in the VistA community. Tom will be missed.

South of Atlanta as night approached the rain started. I stopped for a bite to eat and to locate a hotel. I booked my first hotel using and my iPhone. It was really cool. Found a “last minute deal”, just like the discounts airlines offer. Looking back the hotels are already blurring together… While sitting over a cup of hot chocolate I hear someone say, “Is that a K bike?” I join at very nice couple, Al and Katrina, and chatted over dinner. Turns out he rode a BMW R1100 years ago.

10/24-25/2008 - Day 05

Montgomery AL, in the morning I packed the bike near dawn in light rain. Put on “Dry as a Bone” duster my friend Yarama gave me. It does a good job of keep the rain off. Half way across Alabama the rain ended and I continued to wear this “mad max” cape on to dry it out. This isn’t much to report on the landscape south of Atlanta or most of the way through Alabama because you really can’t see anything from the highway. Tall trees line either side of the road, blocking any view of the passing landscape.

When I got to the gulf coast area, the tail end of Alabama and into Mississippi, the weather opened up and I knew I had finally gotten far enough south to be warm again. I finally reached warmer climates, or so I thought at the time.

Now going through Mississippi and into Louisiana I am crossing swamp lands. The highways turn into long stretches of low bridges that rise about the wetlands. There are countless pieces of heavy equipment rolling down the highway. I see the same construction equipment going east and going west. I suspect that they are simply trading equipment.

You see all kinds of weird stuff, WIDE LOAD, banners are everywhere. There was a strange thing being transported, it looked like it was a swimming pool sized box. As I passed the truck got a quick glance that tells me it would be bolted on top of a tower poll or perhaps on a ship. One day I may figure out what that thing was.

NJ > … [Louisiana] > TX

10/24-25/2008 - Day 05

No time to visit New Orleans this trip. We’ve been there every year for the past 4 years for Jazz Festival. I must press on to get to Oaxaca, Mexico by November 1. Got off the highway and passed the omni-present fast food chains. A few miles down the road I found what I was looking for, Desoto's Dock, Mandeville, Louisiana. Seafood gumbo and onion rings hit the spot.

By mid-afternoon I got to Arcadian Computer Systems (ACS) in Lafayette, LA and emonstrated the software modifications to Adrian and Casey. Adrian gave me a tour of the ACS facilities. Later we enjoyed takeout Cajun food on the porch with Adrian’s wife Danielle. Spent one night in Lafayette and got on the road in the morning.

10/25/2008 - Day 06

NJ > … > [Texas]

President: What is this thing?
Truman: It's an asteroid, sir.
President: How big are we talking?
Scientist: Sir, our best estimate is 97.6 billion…
Truman: It's the size of Texas, Mr. President.

(Armageddon 1998, Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) describing the size of a "planet killer" meteor in un-scientific terms.)

Adrian had pointed out to me that Texas is bigger than I was describing and needed more time to cross than I had realized. I know Texas is big, but failed to appreciate that Houston is 5-6 hours from the Mexico border.

Once I got into Texas I started to think back on my hitch hiking days, two trips across the US and Canada after high school. The on/off ramps on Texas highways brought back a flood of memories.

Two oil filters and two quarts of oil are packed in my luggage. Another two quarts of oil are needed for my next 3,000 mile oil change. Locating a BMW motorcycle dealer in Houston via iPhone and GPS, I placed a call and arranged to have oil left outside for pick-up after hours.

In Houston, I connected with David Whitten and headed to the graphic shop to pick-up a custom WorldVistA banner for the motorcyle. David has been invaluable coordinating
the fabrication. I figured out the design and called in the specification from the road. Now it’s time to pick it up and see how it turned out.

David drove me around Houston, picking up last minute supplies. I tease David that he is my personal chauffeur for the day. Later that day David added additional modules to the software package. Between Kevin, Eddie and David, there will be a number of new modules to demonstrate to potential adopters and educators in Central America. I met Sarah, David's marvelous girl. Later we met Dee and Lee Knopp for genuine Texas BBQ.

10/26/2008 - Day 07

Sunday morning, rode to South Houston and found Gulf Coast BMW. The oil right was right were Gary, the parts manager, said it would be. I got back to Houston in time to attend the end of Sunday worship at David’s church. Back at the house, changed the oil installed the replacement PIAA light, and added the WorldVistA banner to the motorcycle, all in David’s driveway. We went out to a drugstore and made 8x10 prints of Tom Ackerman, sadly, for his widow. Finally left David's around 5:30 PM and headed to San Antonio, because it was clear that Laredo and the border was too far. Yes, Texas is big and never you forget that boy, you hear.

Spent the night outside of San Antonio, TX and got a fairly early start on the road. This wasn't my first time traveling through Texas, as I have crossed it several times with family or hitch hiking. All the same it was neat seeing my first tumble weed blow across the road this morning . In the distance broken down wind mills look like abstract sculpture. As I approach Laredo, TX, I can see hills in the distance that I believe is Mexico.

[Nuevo Laredo to Oaxaca coming soon!]