Mai Perso - Travel adventures

A Brief Lesson on Panama Hats

June 3, 2012


As we flew in and out of Cuba through Panama, we decided to make a short stop, check the Canal and get a feel for the place. See if it warrants a longer stay on a future trip.
The smells and sights of Cuba were still fresh in our minds. For a very short time, it felt good to be back on the grid. Our phones were working again and wifi can be found anywhere in Panama. Over two hundred emails have been waiting patiently for my attention as well as several un attended voicemails. The iPhone and iPad came back to life.
We settled in the Sheraton and left for a rendezvous with Carlos, the local cab driver turned tour guide, who will be showing us around town today.
We started at the Panama Canal. Coming from Holland, the concept of water lifts is obviously not new, and while the scale here is big, the water works in Holland are as if not more impressive, and started much earlier in time. I was more excited from the signs warning you of Crocodiles, then the history of the Canal.
Panama Canal, Check.

The skyline of Panama City is impressive. We have seen it a couple of times on the way to and from South America and this visit allowed for some more time to take it in.
We then asked Carlos to drop us in the old city of Panama. This area started as a slaves/canal diggers colony when the French made the first attempt to dig the canal in the early 19th century. The area is being fully restored with grants from the government helping the push. I could not stop thinking that Havana could look the same with the right investment.
We struck a conversation with Carlos, who turned out to be a very knowledgable guy, about Panama’s turnaround in the past thirty odd years. Going from a brutal dictatorship to a modern democracy. The initial pain of the transition and how leadership with a clear vision and determination, managed to turn Panama to a place with so many opportunities for the willing.

If you have been following my blogs in the past, you already know that I have a tendency to find out some very fundamental facts about places I travel to, en’ route to the location. In Panama I learned that Panama Hats come from Ecuador. There you have it. If you want a real, Fine Woven Panama Hat, go to Ecuador or order it online.
A Fine Panama Hat can take up to 40 days to weave, and can cost upward of 25,000 US$. Also, the Montecristi hats sold in Panama, are most likely not Montecristi. They are more often Montecrooky. They may be nice and they are probably from Panama, which I guess makes them genuine Panama Hats, but they don’t pass as such.
You get the gist of it. I’ll get off the subject. So now that I know all the Panamanian vital statistics, I can go and enjoy the place.
Carlos recommended a couple of places for lunch and dinner. Panama is considered one of the best south American culinary spots, and with Carlos’ help, we had no chance of enjoying it. Both restaurants were good, but neither was Panamanian. The food surely beat the bland Cuban meals, but failed to introduce us to the true Cuban Cuisine. We did see more Habaneros on the menus in Panama then in Havana, the cradle of the Habaneros you would think. Once again, as I have learned, Habaneros can be found in Havana but actually come from the Amazons.
So Panama Hats aren’t from Panama, Habaneros aren’t from Havana, and soon I may find out that BMW is a Korean brand….
After a long stroll criss crossing the restored streets of Panama’s colonial quarter and pondering what would Havana look like with similar investment, we took a quick break and drove to the Causeway. A stretch of landfill from the dugout of the Canal, that connects three island and the city of Panama. It includes touristic restaurants, duty free stores and a long promenade, facing the city skyline from across the bay. Yacht harbors along the walkway and a beautiful vista if you are into city silhouettes. Alas, as with many modern developments, the area lacks character and is a distant second attraction to the Casco Viejo, the old city of Panama.
We left Panama without a Hat and no authentic Panamanian food, but agreed to come back and explore it further some time. It seamed to have the combination of modern comfort and old heritage mixed with tropical nature, we like.
Maybe next time we can combine Panama and Costa Rica in a two week Motorcycle adventure. It should be easy to get our motorbikes over here…


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.

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.


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.



Getting ready for The Machu Picchu adventure

November 16, 2011
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The heat is on, we started the countdown to the Machu Picchu trip and the list of todo items is getting longer. Participants confirmed, route confirmed, most flights are booked and theMotorcycles have been secured for the trip. Our Argentinian contact is doing the route, confirming access routes, and some cool spots along the way.
I have organized many trips in my life, for groups varying from a handful of people to several hundreds. Some have been very complex from logistics perspective, but this trip is one of the more exciting for me. It’s the first of many trips we will be doing with MaiPerso. If this adventure is as successful as I envision it to be, we are going to have a blast, with an amazing group of friends, for many years to come.
We have Europe, Japan, Asia, South America, Cuba, China and the Middle East on our list.
Mountains on super bikes, Cuba on vintage Harley’s, Thailand on scooters, Japan and more.
We want to travel the world and see these places through the eyes of the locals, eating local food, sleeping local and leaving with a taste for more.
I am stoked with the thought that we can be doing this over and over, in all those places.
Back to the trip planning. I want it to be perfect, in a funky kind of way.

Bologna and surrounding impressions

May 30, 2011
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Anna Maria is the one restaurant you can’t miss when in Bologna.
I don’t think I have ever, in my entire life, had such light, silky, delicate Italian pasta.
Only now I get the meaning of the Bolognese cuisine with the Taliatelle al Ragu it has been so famous for.
The Ferrari factory and the mother of all Mortadelas in the local market, where just minor anecdotal touristic extras.







The Morning After – Mai Perso is lining up a new trip

May 20, 2011
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When ever we get back home from one of our adventures, people around us listen to our stories in amazement, and we love recounting our time abroad with like-minded friends and family. Simply put, we do not need to be plowing through sand or travel without food at 13k altitude and freezing conditions, to experience an adventure. Some of our greatest adventures have been about the interaction with special people, places, and strange situations, but sinking into a Japanese hot tub in the Tokyo Park Hyatt, followed by a soft bed for a long night sleep, is just as much a part of our memory.

Since we came back from the 2011 Dakar trip in South America, we have been thinking of an alternative way for us to keep traveling, without paying exorbitant fees to a third party. We wanted to find a way to set the quality bar higher, while decreasing the level of risk involved. We also want to have more options for trips that last a week or more, but allow us to keep connected to our daily responsibilities as needed (in other words, as with all dedicated travelers, we make liberal use of technology to keep us in the loop while we are on the road, and we imagine that it’s just as important for you as well!).This is how “MaiPerso” was born. Mai Perso translates to “never lost” in Italian.
We are creating a travelers club that passes the cost savings of the trip to it’s members. A social community that benefits the group. With a reasonable size of membership, we should be able to go places across the globe, without being taken to the cleaners. Here are some ideas to get you excited…
  • We are the core group. As such, we get to choose where we go and how do we want to spend our time.
  • We all are foodies, travel lovers, adventurous, and social. We don’t want to travel alone but dislike “Tour Operators” or organizers, especially their prices and restrictions.
  • We like being in charge but often want someone else to take the detail work away from us.
  • Our life is busy, we need flexibility.

We would love to have you join us for our inaugural “Morning After” tour.
The outline: A 10-day motorcycle trip, starting with a tour of Machu Picchu, Peru and ending in Northern Argentina. We will cover about 2,000 miles in 10 days, allowing for large doses of fun and sightseeing along the way.

  • Timing will be on the heels of the 2012 Dakar race, the week of Jan’ 22-28, 2012.
  • It will be a fully supported trip to the areas where Peru, Bolivia and Argentina meet.
  • 10 days, 8 travel days (mas o menos) adventure, laced with fun and plenty of local experience.
  • Our bike of choice will be the BMW 1200GS (or 650/800GS if you really want one). The bike will be included in the price.
  • We will have a support truck with us. (No kidding. A real support truck).
  • Danielle and I will ride two up, so feel free to bring your significant other along, we will plan the trip in a way that will make it possible and enjoyable for them. They can always join in the support truck or drive their own vehicle if they choose to do so. It will be a blast, and you don’t want them to miss it.

We need your input to help flesh out the outline. Those folks that commit to the trip will be integral to the process of determining where we go and who we meet if they choose to. Rest assured though, we’ll build plenty of flexibility into the trip. Do you want to skip a day and stay at the SPA, take that left turn and explore the winery down the road or that extra twisty trail, have dinner at the table of the local butcher or cheese maker? MaiPerso is your club and the adventure is yours to create.

Let us know if you are game. We want to keep it to a small group and before we open it up to a larger audience, and to make sure you have first right of refusal. We would love to have you as part of the MaiPerso inner circle.

Last but not least: Life isn’t scripted, why should your vacation be?