Mai Perso - Travel adventures

La Casa Particolare de Senior Emillio

May 28, 2012
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I lost my camera in Havana. It’s not as dramatic as loosing your way or virginity. I admit. With little coffee in my system this morning, I left it in the room when we checked out. By the time I was back looking for it, the maid has already been there. I can’t blame her. The Nikon I left behind was worth a year salary for her. Hopefully she will do something useful with the money she gets for the camera.
No sour grapes but I didn’t really like the Nikon. Short battery life and I paid way to much for it in the Nikon store in Lima Peru, earlier this year.
The only bummer is the fact that day one in Havana was all on the 32 gig mini memory card which was another two month of her salary…
We left the hotel that had a name way too long to remember and like everything else here, is operated by a state owned company, and moved to Sr. Emillio’s B&B.
It took me all of two minutes to forget the camera incident. Leo, the manager is a young charming guy, as friendly and helpful as anyone we have met here so far (including the camera maid…).
Emilio’s place puts a smile on my face. Our room is small with a bed that squeaks like the bed in the “Paris Texas” movie. No practice today…
The adjacent living room is a baroque furnished room with tasteful nude art on the walls, painted by a local artist. Chrystal chandeliers all round and a cool breeze breaking the hot and humid pattern outside. I will Seattle here later to write my blog and listen to Ibrahim Ferreira’s most suitable Social Club work from the past decade.
Our room was being cleaned, so we left our luggage behind and walked back to Obispo street for a drink and a bite. A rhythmic music session drew us into Cafe Paris where Julio’s quartet was playing a combo of famous and less known pieces. All with much flair and tempo that makes you want to get up and dance.
A couple of Mojitos and two Cristal beers further and by 13:00 I didn’t remember I ever owned a camera.
Julio and his band signed their CD for us and while we chomped on Cubano sandwich with ham and fresh cheese and some battered shrimps, his crew played ans sang a few more songs. I love this place. The people, the atmosphere, the tempo of living.
As you walk down the streets, you can imagine what will it look like when it all gets commercialized. The Cubans will be too poor to afford it all, the bars will commercialize, update, upgrade and gone is all we are experiencing now. Dolby surround cant replicate the atmosphere, the smell of cigars and old oil cranking up battered prawns in the kitchen. Something very sad about it.
On the way back to Julio’s we pass by the antique book market, with replicas of the revolution propaganda and some old memorabilia. Nothing we can’t do without, other then the traditional pin of the local flag, that Danielle buys anywhere we travel.
At the corner of the park where the book market takes place, five guitar players and percussionist play a jazzy tune. No audience and no hat collecting coins. Just like that, hanging out with the boys in the park, playing music. I can imagine the conversation at the breakfast table this morning… “Maria, I am going to the park to hang out with the guys and play some music.
No problem said Maria, just remember you promised little Natalia to take her to get Papaya slushy later today. Please be back home by the time she wakes up from her siesta.
Segura que si, said Juan Ramon, I’ll be there. We never go longer then 2-3 hours. By three o’clock in the afternoon it’s too hot in the park anyway…” with that, Juan Ramon picks his guitar, gives Natalia a kiss on her forehead and leaves the house.
Weekend in Havana…
Looks like our game plan is forming. A day trip from Havana then over to Trinidad for a couple of days, and back to Havana for the final couple of days.

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Kicking the tires in Cuba

May 25, 2012
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Hopping into the Time Tunnel for this trip. Yes that black and white vortex that takes you back in time. I know it’s telling about my age when you reference the Time Tunnel, oh well…
We took off form SFO at dark o’hundred, for a four stop hop to our final destination in Havana. The travel gives me time to transition from the 160 MPH speed at work over the past few weeks, to a place where time stood still half a decade ago.
This is a MaiPerso scouting trip. I would love to take a group of my buddies for a motorcycle trip around the island, riddled with Mojitos, Music, Cigars in a colonial setting. It will be an adventure of a different kind. Not the riding challenge, no survival of the fittest but an exploration of a world, now in the news and soon to become history.
We have no plan, didn’t book hotels, and head over there wishing to see Cuba the way the locals experience it.
Using the flight time to list out the things I want to experience. And then compare notes as we get through them on the ground.
We have an added bonus. We will be spending time to and from, in Panama. We have spend an hour or two in transit there before, but this trip we will have some time to actually check it out.
The thrill of this adventure is great. For one, visiting places like Panama and Cuba, ads the smell, dialects, sounds, tastes and social vibe to my lexicon. Next time I read a book or see a movie or hear a story about Che, or Fidel, or a news bit about a tropical storm hitting the islands, I have a bother dimension of senses to go with it.
I can’t forget the first time it rode down the Rue du Soleil, the famous road that runs down France and ends in a fork in the French riviera. Left was Cannes and right is Marseilles. All I could think of was a scene from Casino Royal or some other scene from a James Bond film. Building out your sensual database feeds into everyday’s mundane experiences.
Cuba isn’t waiting for me, it probably doesn’t even know I’ll be coming by for a coffee and a Pork stew. But I am by now, dying from anticipation to our encounter. And you know what, I just know that we are about to fall in love. The sign is on the wall. The same one that carries Che’s infamous silhouette…


Touring in our own backyard

April 23, 2012
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Touring in our own backyard

My Mom on the bike, back from a trip to Sausalito and The Golden Gate bridge


More about La Mar Cebichería – Chef Gaston Acurio

February 21, 2012
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More about La Mar Cebichería - Chef Gaston Acurio

We had no expectation what so ever, from the two day stop in Lima. We were going to meet Nach and Dario for a quick catch up and compare notes for the upcoming adventure. After spending an incredible night around town, we hoped on a cab the following day and asked him to take us to a good restaurant for lunch. The driver, who happened to have great English and lived in the Bay area for a couple of years, suggested La Mar Cebicheria. A lunch only local restaurant. He mentioned that the chef had places in several other world capitals. A quick Google search brought back Chef Gaston Acurio, and the fact that he recently opened a La Mar restaurant on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, in our own back yard…
The lunch was amazing. The food original and straddled Peruvian tradition with Asian trends. True fusion and very different then the Californian fusion we are used to.
The service was great, ambience sublime and the fish and seafood fresh and tasty.
I loved the use of fresh chili peppers and lime juice without killing the fish taste in the process. the freshness of the mix allowed them to live side-by-side, rather then blend together and just be spicy.
We are looking forward to trying out La Mar in SF. In the meantime, we just have the photos to remind us of the breeze, the smells, the sounds and the flavors of the lunch at La Mar.


The Macho Pisco sticker

February 2, 2012
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(Design by Amie & Issa)


Uyuni to San Salvador de Jujuy – Day 6

February 2, 2012
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We are leaving the salt lakes and heading back to the border, this time planning to cross from Bolivia to Argentina mid day. We have 600km route planned for the day, starting with 200km dirt, the Argentinian border at the midpoint and a smooth ride to our destination in Jujuy.

The 200km of dirt was great. fun long stretches of packed dirt road, culminating with a beautiful canyon similar to the Sedona area with red rock and a river flowing next to us. The river bed was green probably from a Copper ore that was flowing in it. The last 20kn of the ride was particularly spectacular. The group spread out a bit as we were enjoying the mountainous road and the views. Once again, we had several fun water crossings and some narrow passages, additionally challenging due to the trucks and busses that were sharing the dirt road with us. We were hundreds of miles from the famous Death road in La Paz, but at times, this route felt pretty deadly to us… Regardless, we had a blast. we gathered at the foot of the mountain, breaking under 10,000ft altitude for the first time since we got on the bikes in Ollantayatambo a week ago. Getting on paved road after 200km of dirt felt good even though the morning was once again an amazing combination of good riding terrain and amazing views.

Off we go to the Argentinian border. Nacho described it as an easy pass, since the bikes were going back into Argentina. Famous last words…

Apparently, an oil truckers strike closed all neighboring border crossings, funneling all traffic through the crossing we were at. The border turned circus, was great source for jokes at this point. An estimated crossing of 30-45 minutes, was well into the fourth hour before we cleared both Argentinian and Bolivian customer and passport control.

The team was getting anxious as we were heading for a second long trip down the mountain through the night. Fortunately as we were in lower elevation, the temperatures were more amicable and road conditions in Argentina much better then in Bolivia. Still, as dark settled, our speed was reduced and the hotel seamed more elusive as the hours went by.

The gas stations we stopped at were empty and at some point we had to put a gallon of gas in aech bike from a reserve tank we had, since we all were running on empty. That was the second time the border truckers strike hit us in one day. At around 11pm, we rolled into the hotel. Showered and went down for drinks and dinner. Dinner was remarkable. We had flakey tamales with beef and a slightly hot chimichurri sauce, followed by Goat ribs and shanks in the oven. Crunchy, luscious, yummy Argentinian cuisine. (More about the food on the trip, in dedicated future posts)

By 1am we went back to our rooms for a short night sleep. Tomorrow we have the longest and last day of riding for this trip, heading to Cordoba.


Potosi to Uyuni – Day 5

February 2, 2012
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A lazy start following an eventful ride on day 4, and what looks like a promising ride. Nacho provided guidance which we all learned to take with a grain of salt… The day will be all pavement other then parts of the road that are under construction, and the last 60 km as we reach our destination for the night. All in all it’s a 235km ride, (apx. 150 mi.).

So… how did it pan out? well we started the ride with a grand tour of the Potosi city dump. Our first water crossing was a local sewage. We then picked up the road that created us with a well paved series of twistys and wonderful scenery. As we were increasing the distance from Potosi deeper into the high mountains, the first “Under construction” sections started showing up. These sections turned at some point to an “under construction first road stretching for about 100km.

Well… that’s when the magic of the BMW 1200GS hits you. Just as much as we were having fun on the paved road, we were now riding an uber fun dirt road, with packed sand, water crossings, mud, gravel, you name it, we had it. And it was just an endless source of fun. Yesterday’s misery turned into one of the best road and off road riding days in our collective recent memory. Not too short, not too long and a combo of all terrains desired by a GS rider.

During a lunch break, we met two Israeli 800GS rtiders making their way to Ushuaia, who waited for us at the next water crossing to get a first hand demo of how to handle water on a GS. Our team has handled the crossing flawlessly, giving them the demo they were looking for.

At the end of the road, after crossing thorough the town of Uyuni on the way to the salt lakes, we ended the afternoon at our next stop at the Salt Hotel “Luna Salada”.

The hotel was the kind of experience you have at the Ice hotel or one of those funky places around the globe. The building is made from Salt bricks, The floor is covered with rough grains of salt, and a smoked salt smell hangs in the dirt from the Salt structured fireplaces along the corridors.

Out the panoramic windows, The moon was reflected in the salt plains that were now all water due to the rains that poured here in the past couple of weeks. A dramatic picture perfect view.

Pisco Sours, Cusquena beers, Gin & Tonics, shower, dinner… Life is good!


Cusco to Puno and the beautiful Lake Titicaca – Day 3

February 1, 2012
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The route to Puno, a small town on the banks of Lake Titicaca, is set to be a relaxed ride of roughly 400 km (250 mi.) mostly on paved roads and beautiful mountain views. We started the day with a slight rain that cleared later to a sunny and cold day, as we were climbing up in elevation.

White snow dusted mountain ranges and dramatic cloudy sky kept the ride once again breath-taking. We were on a roll to get to Puno by lunch, since we had a surprise tour for the group on Lake Titicaca and a visit to the Floating Reed islands on the lake. On the way, we have crossed Juliaca, later renamed by Cliff as “Shit City”, which provided us with some of the more challenging dirt road riding experience of the trip to date. The town was a traffic mess, dirt, potholes and mud puddles in the streets, and chaos like nobody business. The local gas stations were actually a lady sitting at a cross-road, with 4 or 5 plastic containers and a funnel. If you were lucky, they had a piece of filthy cloth in the funnel to filter the dirt out of the gasoline. We managed to avoid using their services and opted for a gas station along the way several miles out-of-town.

Once in Puno, a quick-lunch and on to the boat that took us to the floating islands. The captain’s son, a 9 year old boy was driving the boat. We got a full tourist intro to the islands and were shown around by one of the families that lives on an island. We did the obligatory trip in a reed boat and even got to experience rowing it.

It was great! the people were wonderful and it is something we will probably will not have an opportunity to experience anytime soon.

We had dinner at the hotel with Lama stew, Lama Carpaccio, grilled fish and other local delicacies and went to bed early. Tomorrow, day 4, is an 800 km day (500 mi)  with a boarder crossing from Peru to Bolivia. We also had prediction for rain. Talking about a perfect storm…


Cusco and the Sacred Valley – Day 2

January 31, 2012
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The group was a team by now. For Safta and myself it was great since another couple was riding two up and some of the people we enjoy riding with most, where with us on this biking adventure through the Andean mountain range.
The trip to Cusco took us around the Sacred Valley, an agricultural testing ground of the Incas and the salt pools of Moray. It felt good being on the bike again. I like hiking but having a hundred HP taking you around this magical landscape, is un comparable experience. The scenery, weather, temperature and company were all perfect.ancient cultures mixing with people who are moving. slowly to the 21st century. Still working the
And with animals and wooden plows, eating ancient verticals of potatoes and drinking Chicha, a fermented corn potion.
We did about 300km that day, had a fun dirt road with a few water crossings, some gravel, long packed dirt and windy paved roads. We passed through villages with bulls blocking our way, cut slowly through herds of sheep and goats and were greeted by small chubby local matriarchs with white top hats and colorful robes made of Lama or Alpaca wool. It was the perfect way to get warmed up. A bit of everything, and once again accompanied with stunning views and dramatic sky’s. It actually looked like those cheesy posters of the Peruvian ministry of tourism.
We stopped for lunch in a local restaurant. A mother with a 9 month old baby on her back, served us a pork stew with steamed corn on the cob and sweet purple onion and fresh mint leaves (Naana) salad. The meat was a bit dry but the whole meal tasted fantastic. We were hungry and it all fit well together. nacho introduced us to Inca Cola, a local favorite that looks toxic with a fluorescent color and tons of sugar. Three 6-8 year olds were playing naked in a little stream at the back of the restaurant, chasing a miserable family pet duck, spraying it with water from empty Coke bottles. The smell of the mint, the water, the stew and the wood fire it was cooking on was the memory of the lunch. The blaring soap opera playing on an old TV in the corner, completed the scenery. Life is good! Actually, life is great. Like rolled into Cusco late afternoon and found our way to the hotel, am old colonial house turned modern charming hotel. Greeted by a friendly staff we went to our rooms and changed. Everybody was planning on going to check out the center of Cusco but by the time I was out of the room, a drizzle was washing the streets of town and the warm bed and an afternoon nap was very attractive. The ride, the impressions, fresh thin air and the events leading to the trip all brought us all to the same conclusion.
Later afternoon, I made my way to the city center. I wasn’t in love with Cusco. It is restored and in a beautiful condition.
Packed with tourists, Israeli advertisements for Showarma grills and trips on ATVs, and Thai Girls promoting massageS with happy endings…
A well trained 10 year old girl named Sara was harassing me and managed to sell me a local straw doll that was probably imported from China. I took the mandatory panoramic photos, checked the box on Cusco and strolled through the small ally’s back to the hotel.

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Lima, Peru Day -1

January 24, 2012
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Lima took us by surprise. We checked into the Westin, welcomed as usual with a very friendly local staff. Nacho and Dario “Abuelito”, met us in the lobby for review of the logistics and an innogural round of Pisco Sours.
An hour later we took off joined by Paula, an Argentinian friend of Nacho who lives in Lima.
Like the dumb traveler I can sometimes be (read my “Camels in Japan” blog post for reference), I expected Lima to be a third word town like many we have seen in Chile, Ecuador and other countries in South America. The town instead was more like Buenos Aires. Strewn with glorious Spanish architecture, mixed with modern and well maintained modern buildings and well invested infrastructure. You could definitely see that parts of this emended city suffer poorer lot, but we made our way from great restaurant to a better club to a great late night bar.
Walked down to a path overlooking the beach and mingled with a young cosmopolitan crowed.
The food was a combination of Peruvian and Asian cuisine.
The two highlights were “La Mar” the local lunch establishment owned by Peru’s own, world renowned Chef Gaston Acurio. The second is Ayahuasca, a Spanish villa turned Bar / Club. We had a blast and enjoyed every minute of it.
Drinking Piscos and chatting and finally made it back to the heavenly bed at 3am.

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