The Mongolia Motorcycle Adventure Pt. 2

The black market was packed with people buying and selling things you didn’t even know existed.  On one dusty walkway one could find car bumpers while the next stall consisted of only old, rusty shovels.  Papa Mongolia feverishly bargained with the unshaven Mongolian on our behalf and we were able to secure a deal for roughly $US900 for each motorcycle.  Papa Mongolia was even able to somehow get the man to draw up a contract that stated we could sell the bikes back to him after the trip if they weren’t in pieces and we weren’t dead.

The men went into their shack-office a few feet away and returned minutes later holding a wrinkled piece of white paper with barely legible blue ink all over it.  Papa Mongolia roughly translated the contract and expressed with great excitement that we would indeed get at least $600 back per bike if they were “rideable.”  If you had asked us what was the least likely thing to happen at the black market, “drawing up a contract in a shack for a piece of shit bike” would have been near the top.

The true stars of the day.

The true stars of the day.










Contract signed and we were ready to set off, at least back to the hostel to gear up and ride for a few days before leaving civilization.  Then the minor problem of us not knowing how to ride resurfaced after we picked out our helmets and keys were divyed out.  We were both very confident that if forced to ride these newly acquired bikes we’d have the most embarrassing story that certainly would involve crashing our 10 minute old motorcycles on the ride back to the hostel.  We weren’t ready for that…yet.

Papa Mongolia casually asked for a truck to take the bikes back to his house for us as we followed in a an old Chinese made taxi. Upon arrival, Papa Mongolia directed the unloading of the motorcycles into his patio area. The time had come when Dave and I needed to just get on the damn bike and see what happens. Well, what happened was a lot of stalling, and then more stalling.

We already didn’t know what we were doing but the main hinderance seemed to be that we had based our knowledge of all motorcycles by googling “how to ride a motorcycle” and the advice memorized had been strictly for Western motorcycles. Naturally, the transmissions of motorcycles made in China or the Far East are completely different than those of their Western counterparts and the results were complete buffoonery.

For the next 90 minutes, we each “circled” a cul-de-sac divided by a small park where locals had gathered and sat on benches enjoying the cool day. What they witnessed was two grown men riding a motorcycle about 5-8 feet before stalling, jerking forward and coming to a stop, then glancing around to see who noticed (usually everyone). After figuring out that the gears we had learned in our head weren’t corresponding to the gears we were attempting to shift into, it started to roll more smoothly. I knew we’d be OK when I made one entire lap of the cul-de-sac and passed Dave. Minutes later Dave returned the favor with a few choice words the Queen would not be proud of.  The Mongolians found this the greatest form of Sunday entertainment.

The original plan was to leave the following morning but seeing as how we still sucked at riding motorcycles and were going on a motorcycle trip, we realized that wasn’t realistic and pushed back the departure date one day. The next day we ventured back to the giant black market which had an accompanying bazaare of sorts behind it. They sold every type of clothing. Dave and I both picked up some cow hyde jackets that were the closest things to “motorcycle gear” as we could find. For good measure, I bought two camel-hair sweaters, a knife and some rope.

While that night before our departure was restless for Dave and I, it must have been fits for Papa Mongolia. The man didn’t leave our side from the moment we bought those motorcycles, our last night would change nothing in that regard. All dinner conversations circled back to Papa Mongolia politely questioning if we really wanted to go through with this and double checking to make sure we had everything we needed when we insisted we were leaving. The next morning he had breakfast prepared (a loaf of bread and some nutella) and looked like he had been up for hours. He looked sharp, his hair was slicked to the side and he was wearing a polo shirt, treating this moment as if it was the last time we’d ever see him.

We attached all of our gear (tents, sleeping bags, clothes, etc) onto our motorcycles with bungy cords in a way that any true motorcycle enthusiast would laugh at. Hell, we laughed at it but we didn’t have any other options. We rolled the bikes out of Papa Mongolia’s walled patio area and parked them in the dirt alley. Papa Mongolia took a photo of us (Men’s Journal would later select that photo with our write-up) and he pulled us both close for hugs. I don’t usually latch on to the care of random strangers in faraway places but knowing Papa Mongolia cared about us meant a lot in those early days of the trip. Having not seen any of my family members in over 11 months—in that moment, on that dirt alley, he earned the nickname Papa. He helped two wannabe adventurers make a dream, 8 months ago thought up over beers in a South Korean apartment in between FIFA games, into a reality. We were riding motorcycles in Mongolia, all thanks to Papa Mongolia. Long Live Papa Mongolia.

The man who made the entire trip possible.

The man who made the entire trip possible.

The jerkyness of motorcycle was probably drawing attention as we meticulously made our way out of the sprawling dusty capital. Little does the rest of the world know but years before your local suburban town was putting in those traffic circles where people yield instead of stopping, Mongolia had those things.  Who knew?  Surprisingly Dave and I stayed upright through the circles and were a 2 kilometer stretch of pavement away from the outskirts of Ulan Baatar. Though we were tense from the city riding in a developing country with lax traffic enforcement, everything was going according to plan. The bikes were working, our gear hadn’t fallen off in the first 5 kilometers and then we rounded a bend and saw what every driver worldwide desperately doesn’t want to see: a police checkpoint.

The checkpoint was set up on the right shoulder, about 1 kilometer from where we currently cruising at 50km/h. The good news was that they weren’t stopping every vehicle, only those they deemed worthy. We naively latched onto the hope that we’d cruise through unmolested. That false hope disappeared quite quickly as the young Mongolian police officer eyed me, smiled slightly and gave me the look of “Come on, man, really? I mean, you really thought your foreign looking ass with bungy cords holding up a mountain of random gear on an old Chinese motorcycle and his cargo shorts-wearing English friend were just going to cruise through our checkpoint?” He stepped in front of our motorcycle and pointed to the side of the road.

The officers were all quite young and asked for our passports as we sat on the bikes. They started to ask us questions in Mongolian to which we shrugged and said the few phrases we knew regarding introductions.  At this point the police officers talked amongst one another—I don’t think Dave and I are nervous at this point because the bikes were legally bought and we had international driver’s licenses, it was more of annoyance of being so close to the ultimate goal of that countryside just behind the checkpoint. After further (very) small talk, we got the feeling they weren’t looking for bribes (our initial worry).  We realized it to be they saw foreigners riding motorcycles and wanted to talk with them, harmless and it made us feel as if for some reason we’d be ok once we hit the countryside. Our first conversation on the road was with your friendly local Mongolian police officer and our conversations over the next few weeks would be similarly friendly ordinary Mongolians who in the end, just wanted to say hello.

After clearing the checkpoint, in the span of 1 kilometer we went from dusty urban streets packed with decades old Mercedes spewing exhaust and soot to this…


The grass was extremely green on the rolling hills that stretched for miles and there wasn’t a building in sight. We both tested our motorcycles a bit as we cruised down an empty road. Not a soul passed us for miles, it was as though the previous week in the capital of 1.3 million people was something out of science fiction novel, a futuristic, forgotten city in the middle of this beautiful land that we had stumbled upon.  How could we have only been riding 15 minutes and be in such rugged beauty after having been in the Detroit of Central Asia minutes earlier? When you travel, or life in general for that matter, the experiences come often and only the select few get remembered with the exact emotion matching that specific experience. I can remember exactly how happy I felt in those first two hours of riding my motorcycle in Mongolia. I remember the taste of the bugs I swallowed because I was smiling at 90km/hr heading towards Khovsgul Noor.  Though the smile would fade in the coming days of hard riding, that emotion was so strong that we could have ended the trip right then and there and I would have said it was worth it.  Fortunately for us, and maybe for you, the adventure had just begun and it was about to paint a very different picture of the Mongolia we thought we knew.


5 kilometers outside of UB

Categories: Mongolia | 2 Comments

More Than Soccer Part I

When you first land in a new country one of the major requirements is drinking the local beer to gage how the trip will go.  Smooth, cheap beers with a bit of aftertaste means heavy drinking with heavy hangovers (think Thailand, China, Panama).  The beer that assaults your tastes buds from the first sip, yet are unavoidable because lack of other options (South Korea, Russia) will make for hangovers that reduce you to a fetal position, shielding your eyes from any natural or man-made light.  Brazil’s beers fell somewhere in the middle of those two.  After the initial night of drinking those beverages, we retired to our apartment, cranked our 1974 style window air conditioning unit and awoke the next morning to heavy rain showers and low grey clouds.

The view in the morning from the apartment

The view in the morning from the apartment








Between the five of us staying in the 400 sq. ft apartment, we had enough USA schwag to arm an extended family in Kentucky for a 4th of July BBQ.  Now here you might be thinking “What is schwag?” or you are thinking “Do I want to know what an “extended” family in Kentucky looks like?”  I’ll answer neither of those questions and move on to the reason we flew 3,000 miles south, USA v. Germany, the last match in the World Cup Group of Death.  Waking up 6 inches from my friend’s face (we shared a pull-out couch), I looked outside and could see nothing but gray outside our 18th floor balcony.  Normally, we could glance down the street at the greenish-blue ocean but today, on the day we were supposed to sit outside in a stadium and cheer on our countrymen, nothing but hard rain and clouds.

Before we could even apply the face paint, a few ominous messages rolled in via social media and texts.  “You friends should leave very early, flooding everywhere, traffic terrible, I fear you will not make game,” a text from the normally cheery landlord of the apartment read.  The previous night on my flight from Miami to Brasilia, I had met a guy from Fort Lauderdale traveling with his 3 children, his mother-in-law, and his wife to visit some family in Recife.  After 8 hours next to him on the plane, out of respect for his task and sympathy for his situation, I offered him one of my extra 9 tickets I had obtained for the USA v. Germany.  If anyone deserves to go see USA v. Germany, it’s the guy traveling across continents with his 3 daughters, wife, and mother-in-law. (I love all of those people in my life, for the record).

He was set to pick us up from our apartment in his rented mini-van at 10am for the 1pm game.  Various texts later, we realized something was amiss, he had traveled roughly 3 kilometers in 2 hours from his hotel in the southern part of the city.  I called him 30 minutes later to check his progress and he sounded like someone had kicked him in the nuts, and then for good measure kicked his dog in the nuts as well, and the dog had died from the kick.  His answers were so short and depressing that I had to cut the conversation short.  I turned to the crew and said “we don’t have a ride, let’s go find the subway.”

We knew the subway was somewhat close and had heard that people were planning on taking it to the game the night before.  It was a complicated process, one that involved a taxi, two trains, and then a bus to the stadium.  The goal was to avoid that by hopping a ride with the mini-van guy.  It was pouring as we left the apartment, we all had raincoats but they were doing little to stop the downpour from drenching us.  We made it literally 2 blocks from the condo before we paused, looked at each other, and then realized we had no idea where the subway was and there wasn’t one taxi around anywhere.  It was late enough that I think everyone, in the back of their minds, was thinking horrible thoughts of traveling this far then missing the match.  The stadium was 40 kilometers north of this strange city and we had no idea where to go or what to do.

A silver SUV circled us.  The windows were tinted so we couldn’t see intention but it was clear he was paying attention to us.  This was it.  Everyone had told me we would be abducted, murdered, have our kidneys sold to the black market, and for once, everyone’s assumptions were about to come true.  It slowed to a stop and a good-sized man with dark hair and sunglasses on his head popped out suddenly.  He opened the back door of his SUV, presumably to show us his illegal cargo…or two baby seats, whichever.

“Are you going to the game? I’m going, come in my car,” he yelled, shaking all of our hands as he walked around the car jumping over gigantic puddles.  With little other options available, and the baby seats reassuring our fears, we piled in his SUV, two of us jammed in the way-back, two of us in the middle with the baby seats, and yours truly riding shotgun.  He claimed he knew a way to the stadium that would bypass a lot of the flooding we had heard about.  Even with his wipers on full-speed and barely able to see out of his windshield he high-tailed it through winding roads cruising through shanty towns in an attempt to make kickoff.  He was from the same well-to-do neighborhood that we were staying in and had a daughter and a wife named Fabiana.  He worked in “logistics” and had traveled the world.  He was Miguel, our Brazilian guardian angel.

We made it to the highway but still had 20+ kilometers to go before we were anywhere near the stadium.  Pulling onto the highway it immediately came to a stand-still.  Miguel had me scroll through his iPhone and access the Waze app to find out where the problem lied.  After four or five minutes of waiting and going nowhere,   Miguel jerked the wheel to the right, yelled “FIFA Lane!” and plowed off the side of the road into what should have been the shoulder.  Brazilian shoulders are basically just a drop off of pavement then grasses and giant holes.  He cruised around using me as his navigator and asking questions like “Jared, you think that hole is too big for car?”  to which I’d respond “Listen, man, that hole is covered in water, I honestly don’t have any idea how deep it is and don’t like advising you on depths of potholes because eventually I’m going to be wrong.”  We came to one section of the highway where there was 3-4 feet of water and all motorcycles had stopped.  The larger cars went through at a snail’s pace but all four lanes had to widdle down to one to make the crossing.

The river in the highway

The river in the highway

Miguel plowed through the crossing and took advantage of the FIFA lanes a few more times before we reached the stadium with 25 minutes to spare.  We serenaded him with chants and showered him with gratitude.  He responded by reaching over the center console and giving my kidney a squeeze.  I glanced over, he winked, I smiled, and we were off to the World Cup match.


FIFA Lane!

FIFA Lane!

The entire parking lot of the restaurant where we parked was filled with USA fans applying face paint, downing beers and chanting for their country.  We elected to start walking to the stadium and get beers there in lieu of beers at the restaurant with all the lunatics.  Luckily, in Brazil during the World Cup they sell beer everywhere.  30 seconds after leaving the parking lot, a man with a cooler was selling $2 cans of beer.  We each grabbed a few for the walk.

I'm telling you, it was raining...a lot.

I’m telling you, it was raining…a lot.


The stadium was in the middle of the forest.  Trees surrounded the stadium everywhere one looked.  The rationale being that the city would eventually expand to surround the stadium.  Through my own luck, and doing, I had 9 extra tickets to the USA v. Germany match and had plans to sell all of them to make up for the expensive airline ticket I had just purchased.  I would not recommend trying to sell 8 tickets to a premier match 30 minutes before the start.  My stress level was extremely high trying to track down the people I had previously set up the deal with via Craigslist (I can’t believe Craigslist people turn out to be so shady, who knew?)  I gave two tickets to my friend Hillery and told her to meet a German guy at a gate and accept nothing less than the originally agreed upon price.  My friends, quickly discovering that I was in a mess of extra tickets and finding random strangers, grabbed their tickets from me and set off.

Ticket crazyness

Ticket crazyness


Completely soaked, I walked up to the gate to enter with my ticket.  The seconds felt like hours as I waited for the ticket taker’s scanner to turn from red to green, but once it did, goosebumps shot through my body.  I was at the mother flippin’ World Cup.  5+ years of dreaming about it, saving for it, I had just entered the stadium and it felt wonderful.




You can’t give proper justice to what it’s like to be at a massive World Cup match over a blog, so I won’t try.  I’ll just give you my takeaways from the experience.

1) The entire crowd was probably 70% USA supporters, and hearing 35,000 people chant U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, as they kicked off the match was one of the greatest sporting experiences of my life.  (Because I know you’ll ask—Watching Pistons win 2004 Championship in person, and Magglio Ordonez sending Tigers to 2006 World Series with a monster homer shot in the bottom of the 9th are up there as well).

2) Soccer is a great sport to watch live.  No commercials, instant replays, or fouls where the clock stops for multiple minutes.  Non-stop action, all the time.  Of course, that also means that you have to time your bathroom breaks perfectly and your beer refills accordingly.

3) US supporters still don’t know soccer, and that’s ok…for now.  Multiple idiotic calls for fouls, offsides, red cards, and just general tomfoolery left for a lot to be desired of the cheering section.  I will admit, they made up for their lack of knowledge by bringing the noise and energy so you can’t really hate on that.

The only problem with having a chant that goes “I believe that we will win” and then you lose is the clowning that occurs afterward by the opposing supporters, all of whom’s mastery of the English language is very questionable.  We heard a “I believe that you have lost” chant, a “I believe that you are going to the airport chant” and a “I believe that you stink” chant.  Well-played Germany.

4) The greatest souvenir you can get from a World Cup match is a beer cup.  Forget jerseys, t-shirts that will shrink in 5 weeks, or soccer balls.  Brahma, the local equivalent of Budweiser printed cups that said World Cup USA v. Germany on them and they are keepers.  Sadly we all know plastic never decomposes, so I’ll be drinking beer out of that cup when I’m 79 years old.

The US needed just a tie to secure our place in the knockout round, as did Germany, so both teams played relatively conservative.  It didn’t lessen the experience but seeing the US score a goal would have been pretty epic.  The actual highlight of the match might have been when they announced the Portugal/Ghana score which officially sent the US out of the “group of death” and into the tournament.  The team celebrated as if they had won and came over to our section to blow us kisses.  Have you ever been blown a kiss by Clint Dempsey?  I have.

Proof I made it

Proof I made it

That night we wandered the streets of Recife, a city of 3 million on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean watching intense beach soccer.  We visited street food stalls (beef wrapped in cheese and barbecued was the winner).  We still wore our jerseys, our facepaint, and our beaded red white and blue necklaces because even though we had lost, by advancing alone we actually had won and it felt damn good.  The win not only secured the USA 2nd place in the group but the draw sent them to Salvador, 675 kilometers south for a gigantically huge match the following week.  After 5 years of planning and saving, everything was magically falling into place, our motley crew was headed to the south, to a highly recommended, funky city called Salvador.

Part 2 coming soon.

Categories: Brazil/World Cup 2014 | Leave a comment

With A Stranger to Telluride

Rideshares.  The thoughts that come to mind when I read that word are serial killers and well…serial killers.  I report to you, my loyal readers, (mostly now my grandma and her bridge club) from the friendly confines of the Steaming Bean Coffee shop in Telluride, Colorado.  I arrived last night to stay with my nomadic friend Danny, whom they admiringly refer to as “Pootie” here.  Pootie sleeps in a loft in an all-wood two bedroom apartments of sorts, I sleep on the couch below Poot.

To say the apartment is immaculately clean would fall into the category of biggest lies in world history.  Beer cans are strewn about in every place imaginable, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  PBR cans rest in the all-wood shower, the kitchen counter, the window sill, creating a Colorado-esque photo opportunity for the alcoholic outdoor adventurer in all of us.

Before I ramble on about the beauty and uniqueness of Telluride, I will introduce you to Paul, a mid 50’s retired banker from Castle Rock, Colorado.  Paul’s wife e-mailed me after I posted an ad on the craigslist rideshare board asking if anyone wanted to come along for the 7 hour ride to Telluride in exchange for gas money and shared driving time.   Cindy, Paul’s wife emailed me stating that her husband needed a ride to go visit their grandson in Delta, Colorado.  She promised me he was sane (a requirement I listed in my ad) and that he could pitch in with gas and driving.  I learned a long time ago not to count on anything with rideshares so I told Paul if he was at the meeting point at 3:15 he could come along.  He showed up.

Paul was a missionary who had worked in Thailand and South Korea.   Ride shares can be pretty awkward, just ask my friend Brian about awkward when we picked up RainShadow for a lift from Portland to Boise.  I think she had a guitar case but no guitar and smelled like a warehouse.  She didn’t kill us (though she did agree to 30 bucks and paid us 20) so it was a successful ride share.  By rule, any ride share that doesn’t in getting stabbed by the person is generally successful.  Paul and I chatted for a few hours, listened to NPR (couldn’t read him on his political views), and sat in silence at times.  He believed Buddhism was the religion of lazy people because they are required to pray just once a day and they receive housing and food.  He was a strong advocate for racial profiling in the airports but also showed random other moderate views on issues such as religion and government.  He didn’t kill me and even gave me 20 dollars more than I requested and blessed me on my journey to see my buddy and then back home to my girl.  A successful ride share.

I parked the truck somewere in town and ten minutes later we were in a bar meeting all of Danny’s friends.  I woke up on a couch staring at the mountains the next morning, unsure exactly where I was.  You might be wondering what happened between the arrival at the bar and the morning.  You aren’t the only one.  Telluride, you’re a monster.

The next morning, after a few advils and buckets of water, I walked with Danny to take the gondola to his job.  I’ll write that again, he takes a gondola to his job.  The views on his way to work are unbelievable and like he said, it beats the L in Chicago.  I’m not sure what’s in store for the next 3 days.  Rumors are that it’s going to snow tomorrow.  Not sure Telluride could get much better but come tomorrow I might be eating those words.

Waking up to this view soothes all hangovers









Backpacker Acker

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Backpacker Acker in Men’s Journal

My Mongolian Motorcycle Trip was picked up by Men’s Journal who gave readers an accurate view of  what Mongolia might be like.  Steve Russell, the writer, did it justice and my thanks to everyone at that fine magazine that begs you to “Live the Interesting Life.”

Pick up a copy at newstands all over…




















For some reason, albeit trivial, it makes the years of wandering feel a bit justified, like all along there actually is a real reason people move.  I’ll leave it to Robert Louis Stevenson to close this memorable day out.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Now what you say we all get movin’

Backpacker Acker

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Top 5 Short-Term Work Adventures. What’s on your list?

Surely it isn’t our destiny as humans to work in cubicles and grind away the hours.  Days turn into weeks, weeks into months.  I’m quite sure we aren’t supposed to be just “trying to get through” the week.  In a perfect world, we enjoy the workweek and it is looked at as an event leading up the weekend, not how we “earn” our weekends.

Alas, believe it or not there are lucky bastards out there who pass the time on the weekend waiting for Monday to start.  They do what they love, they don’t take it all so seriously and for that we dedicate this post to them.

The following is a list of my top five destinations for working short-term across the world.  Short-term can be defined as less than a year in this case.  Obviously, training and certifications in some circumstances are necessary but because this is the internet we’ll pretend I’m qualified in everything.  Hard to fathom, right?

Resort Worker in Hawaii

The only one on the list I’ve checked off.  You earn your meager paycheck by scrubbing pools, handing towels to super pale people from Chicago, and convincing the 37 year old guy with a bowling bowl belly that he better wait for low-tide to try out his new boogie board.

"Excuse me pool boy, this towel isn't nearly soft enough"

The Advantages

Besides the fact that you get to live in Hawaii?  The tips can be astoundingly great, people on vacation are happy and happy people tip.  Your workplace is filled with palm trees, breaching whales, and girls in swimsuits.  I don’t think I need to explain any of those three.

The Disadvantages

Yes there are some.  The hours can be very early (4 a.m. pool scrubbing) and very late (2 a.m. luau clean-up) and you will always be working weekends as you have zero seniority upon hiring.

Believe it or not people actually call you “pool boy.”  “Pool Boy, here’s my key to my room, I need my sunglasses.”  “Pool Boy, make the whales come back, I didn’t have my camera.”  Both real requests folks.

Besides the hours and the catering to rich folk, this can be a great job for someone who loves the beach.  No matter how stressful the people made you, if you were off work at 5 p.m., you were sitting on you surf board in the line-up of a world-class break at 5:10 p.m.  And no, I can’t make the whales come back.

River Rafting Guide in the Grand Canyon

The mountains, the sunsets, the rapids.  Anywhere there is a river, there is an outfitting company who will take you on that river if you pay them enough money.  Contrary to my original thinking, I found out most bigger rivers don’t actually let you float down them with swim muscles on, you actually need a permit and need to be with a guide.  Go figure.

Yeaaah, so everyone can swim pretty well, right?

The Advantages

No cars, no buildings, no pollution.  Your workplace is technology-free and your main assignment is to get 6 people you don’t know down a river safely.

Most guides I’ve seen have a great tan.  Anyway…moving on.

The Disadvantages

People’s lives are in your hands.  There are relaxed times, but there are also times where you must be on top of your game or people can get seriously injured or worse.

Aside from getting people down a river safely, you have to cook and set up their shelters for them.  There is also no place to go if the people you are assigned annoy the shit out of you.  You can’t go for a “walk” to cool off, you can’t “turn the damn raft around” either if the kids are screaming in the back.

Scuba Dive Instructor in Australia

Those that dive can attest to the magic that happens below the surface.  There are no problems when you are scuba diving (unless you run out of air) and the world is care-free.  Schools of thousands of colorful fish accompany you as you explore reefs the size of countries.  You’re going to pay me to do this?

No, you can't ride the dolphins.

The Advantages

You are on/in the ocean almost every day.  You meet a vast array of different people on a daily basis who all share the same love that you do for the ocean and its inhabitants.

Your co-workers include turtles, manta-rays, schools of fish and the occasional curious shark.

The Disadvantages

The pay is universally quite terrible.  Upkeep of the equipment and lugging it all around can be tiresome.  The monotonous mandatory pool sessions for new divers can become…monotonous and once again, you are responsible for the lives of others 80 feet below the surface.

Fishing Guide in Alaska

Each summer thousands of people flock to Alaska in search of seasonal employment.  The jobs range from front desk at a hotel in Denali National Park to fly-fishing guide for 20 lb. salmon in remote streams under towering mountains and everything in between.

You'll smell like fish all of the time, but look at your "job site"

The Advantages

I have heard of great tips being thrown at guides who can help anglers land the big kahuna.  Fishermen do crazy things in the euphoria that takes place after a dream catch.

You get to eat world class salmon or trout on a nightly basis, usually prepared at no cost to you by the chef who works at the resort.

You get to fish, every day, for months.

The Disadvantages

Ever tried to clean a fish?  How long did it take you to rid your hands of that smell?  Now imagine cleaning multiple giant fish on a daily basis, good luck finding a girlfriend.

Working at a lodge in rural Alaska means no tequila shots with 18 year old college girls, no HD-TV broadcasts of your favorite college football game and no IMAX screening of Avatar.  But if you are working in Alaska, I’m not sure those are big priorities of yours to begin with.

Deckhand on a Sailboat Crossing the Pacific Ocean

My personal favorite.  I find myself wondering aloud what the stars must be like as you lie on your 48 foot sloop gazing up as you head towards Tahiti at 3 a.m.  Are there better stars anywhere in the world?

You share the same toilet with 6 other strangers but the sunsets are epic.

The Advantages

You catch fresh fish off the boat on a daily basis and plow through books like Dawkins while getting your tan on like Snookie.  Yes, I just referenced Richard Dawkins and Snookie in the same sentence.  This website will explode in 10 seconds.

You get to see the world from a different perspective.  Ports of call from Tel-Aviv to New York City, the oceans and seas are your highways and the itinerary based only off of your crazy captain and possible storms.

The Disadvantages

Very little pay combined with the fact that you are on a 40 foot boat with 6 other people.  That comes out to roughly 6 feet of personal space.  You share a kitchen, you share a bathroom, and you undoubtedly will share a bedroom/bunk.  You had better pick your crew and captain wisely.

Pirates.  A very real concern that has captains across the world planning and changing their itinerary accordingly based on reports.

No internet, no telephones, isolation.  Trouble in the Central Pacific Ocean means you had better be equipped.  The nearest ship that could offer aid could be days or even weeks away.  If isolation isn’t your thing, pass on this.

What’s on your list?

Backpacker Acker would like to hear from you, the readers.  What adventures (paid and short-term) do you have on your list?  What crazy job would you want to do?  Let us know in the comment box where, how, and most importantly, why.


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The Mongolian Motorcycle Adventure Pt. 1

There are times in life when things start to feel stagnant.  The extremity of the feeling varies person by person but there is little doubt that every person who has walked this beautiful earth has felt that helpless feeling.  Helpless no more we decided.  After a year in ultra-conservative, think-in-the-box South Korea, we needed a trip that would test our limits, justify why the hell I had picked up and moved from a happening city where I could drink beautiful, rich beers in tiny corner pubs to a place where the local “Hite” tasted more like formaldehyde  than anything resembling a brew.  After careful consideration (internet travel message boards after a few glasses of whiskey) we decided Chinggis Khan’s kingdom was beckoning.  We would head over to China and catch a northbound train to Mongolia.  We knew little about Mongolia, we knew even less about motorcycles.  It was settled, we would ride motorcycles across Mongolia.

Planning for a trip usually (always) involves beer, a computer, a guidebook, the occasional credit card, and more beer.

For the last 2 months of my contract in Korea, I passed away the days by teaching, working out, then doing as much research as I could about Mongolia and how we best could pull this trip off.  I still think it was fair to assign my 5th grade E.S.L. class a project on miles per gallon for motorcycles and Mongolian infrastructure.  If only Joon-Kim would have stopped asking me why we were studying backroads of Mongolia.  “But Mr. Acker I don’t even have a motorcycle, and what is Mongolia?” isn’t an acceptable answer to “Where is the best place to fill-up your motorcycle between Ulan Batur and Erdenet.  I hope that kid got his stuff together.

What we found out was probably as much as you currently know.  It’s a country somewhere between China and Russia.  It has a ton of open space and not very many people.  Most recommendations about motorcycling from people who traveled there went something like this—“I saw someone doing it, he looked pretty sad” or “Are you going for a BMW-R1200?”  (that bike costs upwards of $16,000).  We finally concluded that we would arrive to the capital and buy two Chinese models.  Buying a Chinese bike over a Russian bike is apparently the equivalent of buying a Pontiac Sunbird over a Saab.  But as those of us who have owned a Sunbird before can attest, they are a hell of a lot cheaper.  By the way, if anyone has seen that car, (I lost it in a bet to a guy named Phillip and a three-legged dog), give her a hug for me and whatever you do, under no circumstance should you try and drive it with out your seatbelt on.  You’ve been warned.

Preparing for the trip in our South Korean studio apartments proved to be a challenge.  We had shit strewn around like a garage sale in the ghetto.  This was organized chaos with out the organized part.  We didn’t want to take much gear so it mainly consisted of really cheap, really useless stuff we found in Chinese markets.  For example, a small Chinese-made flashlight equipped with a red laser beam.  I’d like to say I bought this because it was a flashlight when in fact I bought it because it had a laser beam.

The train to Seoul is fast and crowded. Yeah that's all I have to say about the train, afterall, it's a frickin' train.

The train ride to Seoul was uneventful.  We just wanted to be in Mongolia already.  We caught a 36 hour ferry ride to Tanjin, China from Seoul.  The ferry had the feel of the Titanic and we were definitely sleeping where Jack slept.  4 of us jammed into a corner of a back room that smelled like fish and poo.  It was the most glorious 36 hours of my life.  Regardless we made it to Tanjin and then because of a lack of busses, had to take a taxi to the train station to catch a train to Beijing.

Buying the ferry tickets to China.

Ol' Trusty was sure to get us to China safely.


Dave + Soju + Chinese men returning home=Sleeping at a table in chairs

Early morning fog welcome us to the country that is China.

The taxi driver spoke no English and wrote down his fare request on a napkin on our way to the Tanjin train station, a roughly 45 minute ride.  Seeing as how we had never been to China before and we failed in our preliminary research to find out the exchange rate for the Yuan, we had no idea if the smelly driver was requesting the equivalent of $50 or $500.  Not caring for our predicament, the driver sped on to Tanjin and we knew we had to figure out how much he was requesting before arrival to a dark alley in Tanjin where Mr. Wong, the only person who lifts weights in China would strongly recommend we pay the agreed upon fare.
I yelled for the driver to stop at the equivalent of an American Wal-Mart and told the cabbie to keep the meter running while I booked it inside the store.  I needed to find something priced universally where I could quickly calculate the exchange rate.  Beer.  I can rattle off the top beers in 43 different countries so I was quickly directed to the beer isle where I learned the cabbie was indeed charging us a very reasonable rate.  An hour later we were waiting for our bullet train to Beijing in the Tanjin airport, a cold six pack of Tsingtao in hand.

Wish I had left the hairdo in China. Heading North to Mongolia, the adventure is about to begin.

We stayed in Beijing for a few days.  It was my second trip to Beijing in as many months so we didn’t do much exploring.  We soaked in our last bit of modern civilization (food courts, movies in the hostel, e-mail) and woke up real early one morning and humped it a mile over to the Beijing Central Train Station.  We had booked our tickets in advance (strongly recommended) and headed down towards the cement platforms to find our train.  Finding the train would not be a problem.  You mean we weren’t going to be taking this super shiny silver train that looks like a spaceship to Mongolia?  Our train looked like a real version of a model train a 7 year old kid would get from his grandfather for Christmas.

Proof we actually made it to China.

So the satelite TV is in which dining car?

We spent the next 36 hours en route to Mongolia in a small cabin car with two old guys from Mallorca, Spain.  They didn’t speak any English so I became David Holt’s personal translator.  The northern part of China we saw was very industrial.  It was easy to see how almost 1.5 billion people live in that country.  The “small” cities looked like 3 Detroits all lined up next to each other.

At the Chinese-Mongolian border, the train stops and you have two choices, stay on the train while they change the wheels (they use a different size track in Mongolia) or get off and wait at the customs “station.”  We opted for the former (how often do you get to see a train change its wheels?) and then were forced into the latter when we were sitting on a stoop outside of the customs station having a drink and our train pulled away.  I’d like to tell you all I knew the train was just going down the tracks a mile or so to a waiting garage to change out the wheels but that’d be a lie.  10-12 seconds of panic led me to believe I was being deserted and would spend the next 3-4 years of my life in the customs station on the Mongolian-Chinese border.

That's clouds and smog, reminds me of Cleveland.

The border of China and Mongolia. Those neon lights actually read "Live Girls."

We pulled into the Ulan Batur train station and were more than happy to get the hell out of our now-stinky, dirty 6 x 6 cabin car we spent 40 hours in with two hairy old guys.  We stepped out and a young woman approached us speaking pretty decent English telling us about a place we could sleep.  We weren’t really sure what she meant but at this point we had no options so we did what any stranger in a strange land would do—got in a strange car with her and another really big Mongolian guy and off we went.  They dropped us off down a dirt alley and a giant steel door slid open.  Behind it was the man who would single-handedly make our adventure possible, Papa Mongolia.

Our first glimpse of Mongolia in the daylight

One of the first few Mongolian villages we passed through

Behind the massive steel door that could have been bigger than the one at the U.S. Embassy was a short, 50-something, pot-bellied, Mongolian man with grayish-black hair and a firm handshake.  He immediately tried to sell us the most expensive room in the “hostel” for a whopping 25 dollars a  night.  I use quotation marks with hostel because it was more his house that had a few spare bedrooms that he may or may have not built himself.  In the middle of his driveway, he had a giant ger tent that also had beds.  We decided to compromise between the two and settled for a semi-private room for 15 bucks.

Not exactly Rodeo Drive

We headed to bed early that night, unsure of what the hell would we do in the morning.  The first night inside the hostel was shockingly cold.  We weren’t sure what we expected Mongolia to be like but 20 degree (F) temps in August wasn’t what we had in mind.  We both woke up the next morning somewhat awestruck staring into our backpacks which had sandals, tank-tops, one pair of pants, and lots of socks and underwear.  That night and are ill-equipped rucksack was a lesson in foreshadowing.  Bitter cold was in our future and we both knew it.

Papa Mongolia's house, a.k.a. our headquarters for Mission: Don't get lost.

The next morning Papa Mongolia came into the kitchen with  bread and butter that he offers all his guests.  He tried to pawn us off on some guided trips to the Gobi or a jeep trip to the ancient capital of Mongolia but we knew why we had traveled 3 plus days and it wasn’t to sit in the back of a jeep and listen to:  “There is sand, and tree, and now we meet typical Mongolian family.”  We told Papa Mongolia of our plans and I wish I could say he didn’t immediately look us up and down.  Dave and I both liked to believe we had prepared physically for this trip but mostly we just played with BB guns and drank beer our last 5 months in South Korea.  We knew if we were ever in a BB gun fight in Mongolia we’d crush, but motorcycles in Mongolia?  I think Papa was right to be sizing us up.

He reluctantly agreed to take us down to the black market (not stolen things, just what they call it) to search for a motorcycle.  We grabbed a taxi for a 4 km drive to the other side of town where we walked the aisles of the old car area looking for acceptable bikes.  My eyes immediately drifted for the scooters but Dave convinced me a man’s bike was needed.  I nodded my head in fear and off we went to the more “manly” bikes.  I’ll admit it was an awkward few of hours.

Living in South Korea, we had grown accustomed to being stared at, but as we walked the dirt aisles lined with bikes and spare parts for horses we noticed we were being sized up as well.  The conversations weren’t how you’d think typical bike-bartering conversations would go but this was to be expected as both of us had NEVER ridden a motorcycle before in our lifetimes, a sample if you will

Jared (looking at random bike):  How much for this?
Vendor:  I make good deal, you want to try?
Jared (becoming nervous) Try?  Hmm, so hypothetically speaking, if I were to crash this bike on my “try” would I have to buy it?
Vendor: (Staring)
Jared:  Yeah, it looks good to me, I’ll buy it.

9 days after leaving our comfortable one-bedroom apartments and our cushy job with air conditioning and heat, we were standing in the black market of Ulan-Batur, Mongolia with two
motorcycles about to embark on a 2000 km trip.  All the bullshitting had become a reality, tomorrow we would hit the road.  We were prepared little for what was to come, but we preferred it that way.

Check back in a week for the 2nd part of the 3-part entry.

Leave a comment, let’s talk story.

Backpacker Acker

Papa Mongolia after successful purchase of bikes. I think he tried to convince us not to go 5 times on the 5 minute ride home.

Categories: Mongolia | 3 Comments

Because Forgetting Isn’t Just

Taylor Anderson was an English Teacher in Japan.  She spent the last 15 minutes of her life on a bicycle returning to her home after helping students find their families after the 9.0 earthquake.  Here’s to Taylor Anderson, bicycles and selfless people.

In what I thought was the epitome of selfless, a quote from her understandably distraught family.

“Please continue to pray for all who remain missing and for the people of Japan,” her family said.

Right on.

Backpacker Acker


Click here to check out the full article from CNN

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Thoughts are with Japan

Title says it all.  The American Red Cross has a program where you can donate $10.00 by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999.


May peace be with all of you.

Backpacker Acker

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We think we can…We think we can…

The little engine built by the “most powerful” country in the world that simply…couldn’t.  Lunch in another city 200 miles away and back home in an hour or two? Crazy you say?  All this normal living has corrupted my brain hasn’t it?


That’s “been there, done that” in Chinese.  Well it’s either that or something about a goat and a dentist, let’s hope it’s the former.  I’ve got nothing against goats.

Here comes the Boston-D.C. Express!

Choo-Choo Make way for the D.C. Express!

I’m going to walk you through this revelation through various links, follow along won’t you?

Let’s start with this dandy, so we all know what we are talking about.

So in 2012, China will have 68,350 miles of rail track, (U.S. has over 230,000) and China will have 8,000 miles of high-speed track.  The United States has 1 “high-speed rail line” (Boston to D.C.).  That’s right, 1.  Before you get too excited, it averages 68 m.p.h.  By contrast, Chinese and European trains average between 150-160 m.p.h.   Please don’t e-mail me with “Brah, you missed tha point man!  We’ve got 230,000!”  You’ve clearly missed the point.

But alas, have no fear, help is on the way.

I hope you read that piece of an article I just linked.  Well if you didn’t, I’ll sum it up.  For the U.S. to get a true high-speed rail line, comparable to Europe and Asia, it will take 30+ years and $117 billion.  30 years for a 400 mile track.  Well hold the phones Mary Beth, we’ll have caught up to China in…wait a second…let me get a calculator.  Heyzoos Christo, by the time we catch up to China (assuming naively that they for some reason, stop building tracks) people will have personal aircraft anyway and B.P.A.’s ashes will have been scattered in the pancake mix at Luna’s Castle.  Sweet, sweet revenge in the form of dusty pancakes.  (Alright Luna, I know I just said your hostel’s name twice, but this isn’t serious, it’s just a joke, Happy Hanukah!  Stop googling yourself!)

The last three sentences probably didn’t make much sense to those who don’t visit this site often but that’s okay.  Now I’ve lost my way and must get back to my point…least I think I have a point.

So you’ve seen what a country the same size as the United States with 8 times the population can do when it becomes a priority of their government to do so.  I know how we ended up here but what I don’t know is how we can recover and join the rest of the world with regards to rail service.  I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that a country whose people drive to the corner store for a candy bar also fly to a city barely 200 miles away.  Either way, it has to change, as a matter of survival.

I’ve taken the train from D.C. to Michigan, it wasn’t terrible but I also had two days to kill.  Business travelers don’t.  I’ve taken the train from China to Finland, and it was terrible, and I had months to kill along with jugs of home-made vodka.  So unless the U.S. Government starts handing out free vodka and unemployment reaches 98%, we are in trouble.

All is not lost, China has set forth a perfect model.  Why can’t we take notes from them or just flat-out copy them?  Oh right, because China is a fascist, authoritarian, corrupt regime.  I don’t buy that, but I’m not going to pretend to debate it knowledgeably.  Instead, I leave you with a final link to ponder, because I’ve got a feeling when I step off that first beautiful high-speed rail train in 30 years and onto the platform, I’ll notice three little words with such negative connotations on the underside of the train that just hauled my hippie ass 200 miles in 80 minutes.  Made in China.

*Note- I am currently working in an inner-city public elementary school in the United States as a 2nd grade teacher.   I will be posting more in the coming weeks and months to give you an accurate picture of education in the inner-cities.  Best to all. Lastly, for good measure, and just to see their search engine die…Luna, Luna, Luna, Luna, Castle, Luna, Castle, Hostel, Panama, Luna, Castle, Hate, Luna, Castle, Pancakes.

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Scrappin my way Northward

The last time I left you, I was having a cup of coffee on Luna´s Castle´s dime after which I´m sure we all are aware (and had a good chuckle) they called me out on it (see comments section from Panama) which I´m thinking (and know) was greaaaat entertainment for all my friends.  I´d like to personally thank and simultaneously apologize to Luna´s Castle for a) the coffee and entertainment and b) for abusing my privledges as one of their “guests.”

I don´t know how they found my blog, which only adds to the mystery Hanukah Miracle that was being called out by a hostel on your website—which is only read by my family, a few friends, and some guy named Pancho I just paid 5 bucks to hold a sign on the corner of the dirt road outside while I type this.  Great, he totally just stole my sign and is now using it for fire tinder, wait, now people are stamping on it and screaming death to BPA.  Let me slip on my Panama hat, they´ll never recognize me.

Back to the point, (the crazy dudes here are rubbing off on me, that or the Mojitos, you decide).  I realize the Internet is the Internet and that anything can be found at any time through our good friend Google, but isn´t the Internet supposed to be about fantasy football, facebook, internet poker, pet forums, and porno websites taking complete control of your comp—wait that doesn´t happen on everyone´s? The point is that the vast majority of people use the Internet for entertainment purposes.  Lord knows, this site isn´t informing the masses, provoking guerilla-induced revolution, it´s entertaining.  At least I hope it is, though I´m beginning to think its entertainment value is based on the following scale;

When BPA has 0 beers———-Historically unfunny (in the category of root canals and  puppies getting hit by trucks)

When BPA has 1-3 beers——–Kinda funny but not really (Your buddy is drinking beers on a raft in the ocean and  gets pulled out to sea in a rip tide, never to be heard of again)

When BPA has 4-9 beers——–Worthwhile reading and very very funny (said “deceased” buddy sends you a postcard from Japan saying he floated across the ocean and now has a beautiful Japanese wife and three children who are Karate masters)

So why, and more importantly, how (I´m lookin´at you Luna) are these people finding my site, and why is it they care to comment on a goofball writing about traveling around the world?   I´d say I even censor 90% of the shit I´m thinking because it might offend someone, yet the 10% that makes it out, does so anyway.  Go figure.

Anyway, that´s my official take on the sometimes edgey posts that are Backpacker Acker.  If you don´t like em, write me an e-mail, as now, that is your only alternative. I´ve gone totally Fidel Castro on everyone and require approval for all comments to be posted to the site.  Remember I´m doing the (poor) writing, you´re doing the reading.

So here we were back in a familiar place called David, Panama.  We had spent time there three weeks prior on our way to Panama City.  Fresh off pancake-gate, I was sure to ask the hotel we were staying in if they served pancakes as I didn´t want to have any relapses and get caught stealing pancakes again.  Free pancakes are as you all know, my cryptonite.

My lovely traveling companion looks down at her airline ticket and notices that her flight departs from San Jose, (not only a different city, but an entirely different country than we are in) in less than 30 hours.  We previously thought we had 54 hours until departure.  Brief panic set in and we realized that tomorrow would be one of the longest travel days of our lives.  Boy, were we right.

The next morning we awoke at the crack of dawn, the streets were completely empty (this is saying something as Latin Americans are some of the hardest and earliest working people in the world) and humped our way to the bus station to catch a bus to the Costa Rican border.  We flew through the border in record time somehow and hopped on a bus heading towards San Jose.  This would have been a direct 7-8 hour ride but of course we had no reservations and weren´t in line long enough to get a seat for the journey.  Jammed in the back of the bus with people all around me like a chotchey bar in Lincoln Park, Chicago, for three hours, we both started to lose it.  I, however, started to “lose it” maybe a bit quicker.

I´m not proud of the following conversation but a man can be pushed only so far:

Backpacker Acker:  I can´t take it anymore, I´ve been standing for 3 hours with no food and water, I feel faint, I´m getting off at the next town even if it´s called ¨KillWhitey.”  You can stay on or get off the choice is yours.

Jenn:  Hmmm, ok.  I guess I´ll get off.

And that was that.  We got off at some who-knows-where town called San Isidro which miracuouslyhad busses running to San Jose through all hours of the night and early morning.  We slept at some hotel, had a few beers to unwind and I sent Jen off on a bus at 4:30 a.m. the following morning to catch her noon flight.  Dicey, but we made it.

So here I was in a familiar position, alone on the road.  This didn´t have the isolation that Russia did, but it was still the same freedom and a bit of insecurity that comes with traveling alone.  My traveling companion gone, who would watch my bag while I chased pigeons or constantly remind me that my sunglasses were indeed on my head as I accused a 8 year old girl of swiping them?  (She stopped crying after an hour or so, come on)

The next day I booked a ticket for the capital, intending to only stay there for one night and catch the next bus to the Nicoya Peninsula and the town that is Samara.  Jen had spent some time there in her language school and recommended the place.  It didn´t disappoint.  Through a few rough patches of adjusting to life solo on the road, I learned to take Samara for what it is—a sleepy town with decent waves.  The people in Costa Rica, especially in the tourist areas, seemed to be more aggressive in wanting your money and ripping you off. Costa Rica is the most Americanized country of Latin America I would surmise, though in as in many cases, I may be wrong.  I was able to rent a surfboard and even a buddy from home was in Costa Rica for a week, so we met up for a few days in Samara.

We shared a room in a house right on the beach, met some very cool people, drank some very expensive beers, and just kicked it.  Two weeks later, I headed up to Liberia, Costa Rica, near the Nicaragua border to meet Jen.  As I was rolling along some sugar-cane infested road staring listlessly out the window, I saw a few airliners followed by a small airport which read Liberia International Airport.  Liberia, Costa Rica holds a special place in my nomadic heart as it was the first airport I had ever gone to outside of the United States back in 2000.  At 17 years old, my buddy Ari and I spent a week on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica introducing our pallets to the wonder that is the “screwdriver.”  Little did I know that after a week of drinking screwdrivers, I would never look at orange juice the same way ever again.

It was an amazing first trip outside of the country.  I knew very little of the world at 17 and was fascinated by almost everything we saw.  “Holy shit, a monkey, holy shit, that guy is tan, holy shit, that doesn’t sound like English.”  I also learned how to talk to women that trip since I wasn’t very good at in high school besides a few random lines I had mastered, “Yes you can copy my homework, then can I hold your hand?”  One thing I’ve learned about women—when you are 25 and older and woman tells you “you’re smart,” she’s hitting on you.  If you are 24 and younger and she tells you “you’re smart” she wants a) your homework  b) to make her  jock boyfriend jealous for 15-20 minutes somehow involving you as a pawn.

Anyway, the Liberia airport made me realize how full circle I had come.  I could now speak three languages and had traveled the better part of the world in the 9 years since I graduated high school.  Hell, now I even had a girlfriend somehow.  We all have places we can drive by, walk by, or see a picture of that makes us realize just how big of a trip, literally, life is.

The next morning Jen and I took a bus to the border of Nicaragua where we walked across uneventfully and shared a taxi to San Juan Del Sur with an Icelandic fellow named “Jack” (not his real name, I wouldn’t dare try to spell it) and a guy from England.  Picture in your head what you think meeting a guy from Iceland would be like.  Keep in mind now that Iceland is an isolated island settled by Vikings who had very little contact with the outside world.  Essentially, meeting someone from Iceland is the equivalent of meeting a very pale Mr. Rogers.  He says hello to everyone, smiles at everyone.  This, of course is a very beautiful characteristic in a person but also a very dangerous characteristic when said person is your traveling partner. A sample from our trip to the Corn Islands…

Jack:  Guys! Guys! I found this guy, he said we could pay him DIRECTLY and not have to buy tickets from the ticket person at the ferry station!

BPA:  Right, and who is this guy?

Jack:  He came out from behind this shack but he speaks English!  Quick give me the money!

“Vendor”:  Ya mon, you give me dem dat der cash and i bring you dem ticketz.  (bug crawls from his hair)

BPA:  O.K. Jack, we are going to go ahead and buy from the real person.

So all in all, a great guy, just a tad naive.

We found a hotel in San Juan Del Sur a small walk from the beach.  The owner wanted 20 dollars for December 30th but $150 for New Year’s Eve.  We tried not to laugh at loud at his requested price for New Year’s seeing as how the room had no windows, a leaky bathroom, and a bed that might or might not contain a large metropolis of bed bugs.  We spent the next two days body surfing pretty decent shore-breaks and drinking pretty cheap beer.  We don’t remember all that much from New Year’s Eve but there were fireworks and ridiculous little parades of children with stilts and giant heads.  Jen insisted I take a picture of them and as soon as I slightly pressed down the shutter button I was surrounded by the “parade” who were now demanding money for their work. I will say that having a 7 year old kid with a giant head 3 foot in diameter right in front of you is a bit intimidating and I immediately departed with a buck or two.

After a few days we caught a chicken bus to the town of Rivas.  A taxi then brought us right to the ferry dock where my first sudden pain of you know what occurred.  Those of us who travel know it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when.”  I ran into a restaurant and found myself in the smallest toilet I’ve ever seen and I’ve lived in Asia so that’s saying something.  Anyway, I’m glad it was 10 a.m. and the restaurant was empty.  As I boarded the beleaguered ferry for our trip to Omatepe I sat smiling on the deck in a much better state.  It isn’t a trip with BPA unless BPA leaves half his shit in various places in the region, thus the trip was officially underway when I left my brand new Panamanian hat on the toilet.  The fact that my hat was even off in the toilet says something about the entire experience.  And in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.


The ferry, if you could call it that, more appropriately would be “the piece of iron and wood that floated across the lake at the mercy of the waves” brought us to the town of Moyogalpa.  A town of only a few thousand at the foot of a giant volcano acted as our base and our starting point for exploring Isla De Omatepe.  The island is basically just two large volcanoes, both active, with a collection of small little towns and villages around them.  I rented a motorcycle from a guy because we didn’t want to be in the main town for more than one day but had no idea where we wanted to go.  So we set off on this guy’s motorcycle and found a little place right on the water and made a reservation for the next day.


The next day we arrived by bus (45 minute ride at no more than 22 m.p.h.) at the lodge and attempted to check in.  They said the people who were staying in our room decided to stay longer so we could not have the room.  I then had to explain to them the concept of a “reservation” and that we had no place to stay and no way of getting back into town.  I don’t know how people travel to some of these areas with out speaking a word of Spanish, in certain situations, it really must be terribly difficult.  The women behind the desk spoke zero English but eventually upgraded us to a very nice room for the night until the next day.  Problem solved, we enjoyed our room very much.


Fear Jeebus, and fear my next entry…more of Isla de Omatepe…


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