Instagram, Foursquare, and Twitter may have killed my blog game, but I think I’m going to do this again.
Currently I’m sitting in the Oneworld Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, enjoying some free curry chicken dumplings (empanadas?) and shrimp cakes, recharging my perpetually dead iPhone off of my Macbook, and trying to roughly plan out what I’ll be doing with myself for the next 20 days.
Just over a week before Hurricane Sandy hit, I had left New York by car barely six hours after returning to it by plane after a long weekend in Chicago. 3000 miles later I had spent time in Chicago, Denver, and Vegas before stopping in Long Beach for a long weekend with friends. A few days before arriving in LA I had abruptly redeemed a slew of American Airlines Advantage miles in a long winded phone conversation from the patio of a Colfax Ave Starbucks. This resulted in my departure from LAX for Bangkok via Hong Kong yesterday. I am scheduled to return to Chicago from Saigon via Hong Kong the day before Thanksgiving (see you at Crack Friday).
Monday night I dressed as the Phantom of the Opera as Gucci Mane, dined on a bucket of homemade ceviche with a bottle of champagne, and fell asleep without an alarm set. Tuesday morning I woke up with just enough time to get to the airport and fly to Asia.
I spent last night and all day today exploring Hong Kong. This morning I accidentally ate a goose for breakfast. And I finally got to ride the mid-levels covered elevators! Hong Kong is cool and I will get to that eventually- perhaps after I catch up on 16 months of highly blogable but unblogged adventures.
My rough plan as of yesterday was to spend a few days in Bangkok before heading east to a beach or two and then to Cambodia by land. I would spend a few days exploring the ruins at Angkor Wat/Siem Reap before traveling to Phnom Penh and eventually on to Saigon by boat. I figured this would be cheap, weird, and a sufficiently challenging way to spend 3 weeks.
Today I realized that my plan might be a bad one. I could theoretically secure a visa for land entry to Vietnam in Bangkok, but it’d be way easier to simply get the visa on arrival at the airport in Saigon. I would like to see Angkor Wat, but I would not like to become berserk on malaria pills and I would definitely not like to get malaria. I want to see Phnom Penh, but only because it sounds weird and I know I have no logical reason to ever be there. Also, my plan completely skipped over the beaches of Southern Thailand.
Currently I am thinking that I will use these three weeks to take advantage of the low cost airlines that have apparently taken over southeast Asia. In some order, I plan to go to Phuket, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and maybe Bali. I will swim in the Indian Ocean and* the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool! For this plan to work, however, I must end in Saigon and have a visa waiting for me on arrival- otherwise I miss out on my flight back to the US and miss out on Thanksgiving and get disowned by my family. Also these “low cost” airlines must prove to be low cost. And safe. At least safer than a Cambodian riverboat.
This has not been proofread, so please excuse anything and everything that does not quite make sense. Flying to Thailand now.
One unusually warm afternoon back in May, I was relaxing on the stoop of an old pre-war on the southside of Williamsburg, drinking a peach iced tea and browsing twitter on my phone while waiting for a client to show up, when I stumbled upon a tweet which suggested that people were somehow booking roundtrip flights from New York to Tokyo + four nights in a four star hotel for a total of just over $700. A brief investigation and a phone call to an office in New Jersey confirmed that the Japanese government was in fact sponsoring US travel to Tokyo in an effort to boost tourism in the wake of the recent earthquake. I decided that as long as I could get a flight out on American or JAL and accrue elite qualifying miles that they might as well put me on the next flight out and four weeks later I found myself drinking complimentary Asahi and playing in-flight Tetris in seat 50E of a JAL 777 on my way to Narita.
Thirteen hours of smooth air, decent food, and mild valium consumption came to an abrupt end when the plane encountered major wind shear seconds before touch down- causing us to bounce twice and tilt violently before the pilot thrust the plane back into the air for a go-around. Though the crew had us safely on the ground fifteen minutes later, all the valiums in Southern California couldn’t have taken the edge off the cabin during the second approach. A quick google search is all it takes to learn that low level windshear is rather common at Narita and an issue which worries many pilots. It’s also thought to be the cause of the FedEx cargo plane that crashed upon landing there last year.
The last time that I arrived at Narita, the young lady who was working at immigration giggled at me when I showed her my onward ticket to Seoul, I ate some fancy KitKat bars and some udon soup, and fled the country for South Korea. This time I got stamped and fingerprinted, bought the JR/Suica combo pass (thanks to Jaunted for the foursquare tip upon landing) and immediately hopped on a train to Tokyo station. After a brief walk in the direction of the Tokyo Tower, we arrived at the wrong side of the little park in which our hotel was situated. In Tokyo, arriving at the wrong side of your destination-be it a park, hotel, or train station- means you’re most likely in for a twenty minute stroll and probably a few escalators.
We were booked at the Prince Park Tokyo, which likely would have set us back $300 a night had it not been somehow included with the already impossibly cheap flights. Other than a lack of wifi and the ten minute walk to get to the nearest outside business due to it’s location within a park, it’d be tough to have any complaints about the hotel. The bathroom was actually so pleasant that I intend on recreating it at home once I figure out how to finagle my way into homeownership.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ll take the MTA over the public transit system in Tokyo any day. Tokyo is on a distance based system, in which you swipe your card a second time and the appropriate fare is deducted. This alone puts Tokyo among the ranks of Washington DC and London-two cities I avoid for a plethora of reasons. Besides suffering the occasional indignity of being locked within the system until you figure out how to reload your card to buy your way out, one must allow extra time for the outrageous commute from the station entrance to the actual boarding area- which in the case of certain lines such as the Toei Oedo Line, can be a solid ten minutes worth of escalator switchbacks which seem to burrow underground half way to the United States. Perhaps most confounding is the fact that there are two different companies, Toei and Tokyo Metro, running subway lines in overlapping areas, which means transfers are not free. Finally, the trains stop around midnight, which means outrageous cab fares back to Minato when you overstay dinner in Shinjuku and miss the last train back.
Tokyo is the promise land those who enjoy track bicycles, vintage rear wheel drive Nissans, fancy backpacks, hilariously large chrome cans of beer, design-y bookstores, vending machines, and fresh seafood. If the word “Panasonic” makes you think of racing bicycles and not DVD players, you will probably like Tokyo. If the terms Purple Label, NJS, Head Porter, and United Arrows mean anything to you, you will probably come home with no money. If your personal food pyramid is built upon a solid foundation of recently offed marine life, you might come home with mercury poisoning.
The following were shot with my old Nikon D70 (D-Lux 4 RIP)
The following were shot with instagram on my iPhone (D-Lux 4 RIP)
The Rosarito-Ensenada Bicycle Ride is the reason that like clockwork I will return annually to Southern California from wherever I may live at the time, to inconvenience my friends in Long Beach and drive into Tijuana with an obnoxious gaggle of bicycles strapped to the trunk of an overpacked car and proceed to stuff my face with mariscos and parade my bike for fifty miles down the coast of Mexico with a few thousand like minded individuals.
Last year, this trip began with a drive to from Chicago to California which not so coincidentally began on my last day as a Chicago resident. After riding the race and abandoning my car in Long Beach for an impulsive last minute flight to South Korea, I found myself almost-living in Miami and then for-real-living in New York- which happened to be the beginning point for this year’s pilgrimage.
This year was actually quite the grown up pilgrimage. I flew non-stop from JFK to LAX, with my entire bicycle disassembled and crammed into a cardboard box designed to hold two wheels without the rest of a bicycle (this is the least grown up detail of this story), in order to circumvent American Airlines’ outrageous $150 per leg bicycle fee. After a few typical days (friends, beers, tacos, beach, hamburgers, bars) in Long Beach, we rented a rather ill-fated Nissan Versa from Hertz at Long Beach Airport, piled it with bikes, and drove it clean across the busiest (and most scandalous) international border crossing in the world to the Hotel San Nicolas Casino in Ensenada.
The ride was outstanding as usual. The morning was cool and hazy, with the sun coming out and the air warming just as the route cut inland to head up the big hill- the top of which being the location where the day took a brief turn for the worst. I’d been shooting photos of the ride on somewhat* of an assignment for certain publications, and I’d made sure to have my camera out while riding to shoot from the first person when conditions would permit. Unfortunately conditions ceased to permit at the top of the hill as a rogue gust of wind sent me grabbing for my handlebars and my Leica (RIP) to the pavement of Baja Highway 1 and under a stampede of cyclists. Needless to say there is a noticeable gap in my coverage of the ride.
We finished in about 4.5 hours, which is not fast, but definitely not slow considering the break at the halfway house to eat three tacos and numerous stops for photos and one for SD Card recovery, not to mention the fact that on track bikes we can’t coast down the seven mile downhill as all the freewheel-having cyclists can. Tecates and tacos at the end were rewarding as usual, though the highlight of this year’s arrangements was definitely not having to ride a shuttle back to Rosarito after the ride. Staying in Ensenada and shuttling to the ride in the morning is absolutely the way to go.
Less than ten hours after eating the traditional celebratory hamburger(s) at In-N-Out in National City, I was on a Chicago bound flight from LAX, where my dad would be waiting to pick me up to drive to Champaign-Urbana for my brother’s graduation from college. Quite sleepy from a bike ride across Mexico followed up with a drive to Long Beach for old fashioneds at the bar on the Queen Mary and a brief nap in the back of a cab to LAX, it was quite the pleasure to sleep through the flight entirely uninterrupted. Upon my May 15th arrival in Chicago it was 39 degrees and raining ice. I stuffed my face with Portillo’s, went to sleep in my dad’s passenger seat, checked into the Holiday Inn, and proceeded to get my Illinois on for a pleasant few days before flying back to New York.
The top of this hill is where my Leica died.
Later in the evening we caught the last train back to Casablanca, a four hour journey that left us at the Casa Voyageurs station where we’d first arrived two weeks prior. This time however, we noticed a wifi network that we hadn’t found our first time through. It just so happened to be that of the Isis Hotel (branch mayor @claytonhauck), which uses the same network name at all of their hotels and happens to have a location literally behind the train station.
As we were without a place to stay and the train to the airport had stopped running for the night, we decided to head to the hotel bar (this time less North Korea, more South Beach) and weigh our options. When the bar closed we brought our beverages into the hotel lobby and continued to weigh our options. By 2:00 AM, the hotel had caught on to us and we moved ourselves back to the train station where we were pretty much out of options. Around 5:00 AM we boarded the first train to the airport, which according to sleepinginairports.com, is one of the worst airports in all of Africa.
After discovering that our flight would not be leaving until noon, we set up camp in a desolate corner of the ticketing area and slept until the morning crowd began to roll in. After a final Moroccan coffee and a quick trip through passport control, we were on a flight to Madrid, where my dreams of spending one night in Iberia were given life by a friendly ticketing agent only to be shattered moments later by his supervisor. Clayton and I parted ways, as he was lucky enough to have an overnight layover in Madrid and I was unfortunate enough to be spending the night in Brussels.
After a decadent meal from cafeteria in Barajas Terminal 4, I was on a flight to Brussels, where upon arrival I walked no less than two miles to passport control and proceeded to wander the arrivals area searching for an ATM from which to withdraw Euros so that I could pay for a train into the city. From the Brussels Central station, I wandered aimlessly, extra careful of my surroundings as I’ve heard that Brussels thinks it’s Chicago and some of the streets are a bit stab happy. I’d decided that I would get a cheap hotel for the night rather than spend another night in an airport or train station, and was quite excited to find an Ibis, only to discover that the rate for one night here was more than the rate for one week in Morocco. Eventually I found a decent little spot in a converted apartment building, conveniently located down the block from the Delirium Cafe, where I was able to negotiate an acceptable rate with the clerk once I convinced him that I was in fact traveling alone and only looking to stay for eight hours. After dropping my belongings in the room, I set out to find dinner, which came in the form of an hour long conversation about Morocco, the United States, and life in Belgium, as well as a shawarma sandwich and a to-go beer from a Moroccan cafe down the block from the hotel. This of course was followed by a brief stop at Delirium before retiring to the hotel for a few hours of sleep and a shower before my flight back to New York in the morning.
Upon arriving at JFK, I was flagged at passport control and sent for further inspection, where I waited for no less than forty five minutes while the customs agent fidgeted with his Dell PC, attempting fruitlessly to log into his system while asking me why they even sent me over to him in the first place. Eventually, but not before breaking a sweat and trying to pawn his job off on another agent, he gave up, told me to have a good day, and waved me through and into the arrivals area. At this point I entered the United States with my backpack full of foreign currency, black tar heroin, and illegal immigrant stem cells only to be robbed of it all by a gang of unruly teenagers in baggy pants while transferring subways trains on my way home.
Yesterday I started my day at home in Brooklyn where I took the L train to the A train to the Skytrain to JFK to catch a flight to London where I got held up by a lethargic woman at security and had to sprint to catch a flight to Madrid that got put in a holding pattern for forty minutes which in turn required me to sprint to a flight to Casablanca and wait in an hour long passport control line to rendezvous with Clayton to catch a train into the actual city to walk 6 kilometers to a hotel that I’d previously booked in the medina.
So we’ve actually been in Casablanca now for about seven hours. It’s my first time here, and all I’d heard before arriving is how it’s a big, ugly, dirty shithole with nothing to see and that I should get out as soon as possible. As this is also what most people say about places like Mexico City and São Paulo, I was tipped off in advance to the likelihood that I’d find it charming, which so far I do. Nevertheless, I’m full of mint tea, espresso, shwarma and french fries and I’ve slept for about an hour in the past two days. We’re planning on catching a train to Rabat tomorrow, so I’m staying in tonight. I’ll have a few days to really explore this city on the way out of the country in two weeks.
These are a few pictures that I took on the walk to the hotel and from the rooftop earlier this evening.
(And Yelapa and DFW)
Two Mondays ago, upon arrival at LaGuardia after spending the weekend in Chicago, I checked twitter (and checked in to the airport Five Guys) to discover via @AmericanAir that a “winter storm” headed for Texas would quite possibly be shutting down DFW on Wednesday. Being that I had a connection at DFW that coming Wednesday afternoon on my way to Puerto Vallarta, and being that I’m not one to mess with Texas (though I may be one to speak poorly of it), I finished my arrival hamburger and made my way to the surprisingly empty American Airlines ticketing counter to investigate the possibility of rebooking. Rather than lose a day in Mexico, I decided we would fly out ahead of the storm, which meant I’d be back at LGA to fly down to Texas in exactly twenty four hours- essentially an overnight layover at home and a free bonus day in Mexico.
As I was technically supposed to be at work on Tuesday, I walked across Williamsburg with my luggage at 8:45 AM to open the office until a coworker would be coming in to cover the day at 10:30. After a cab to LGA, a flight to DFW, an extra large frozen yogurt and box of Dayquil with a side of Popeyes fried chicken, a flight to PVR, and a cab downtown, we found ourselves at the front desk of Hotel El Pescador a day early with no reservations. This proved to be a non-issue and shortly after dropping off our belongings we walked down the block to enjoy an eighty peso (roughy US $7.50) dinner of six tacos and two beers.
The majority of the following five days were spent wandering the city sampling delicious street food, consuming irresponsible amounts of mariscos and micheladas, exploring local markets, lounging on many beaches, and becoming regulars at a moderately seedy downtown pool hall.
We kept everything pretty local, despite talk of renting a car and driving to Guadalajara for a night. One day we did actually make it out of the city and took a water taxi to the small, no-roads village of Yelapa, where we hung out with a giant iguana and hiked to a waterfall.
On Sunday we had possibly the best American breakfast ever at Fredy’s Toucan, followed by pasta at Sbarro for lunch at PVR Airport, which was in fact the only subpar decision made the whole week. After a rushed layover at DFW complete with slow agents at customs and full body scans at recheck (no time to opt-out when you risk being stranded overnight in suburban Texas) we were on a packed flight back to New York.
Upon landing in New York, the LGA Five Guys was closed, the guy at T&A Deli sneezed all over the cheese while assembling my sandwich, and the deli across the street refused to take my debit card despite the obvious presence of a card machine and a large Visa/Master/Discover sticker in the window. I had my first full flavored beer in almost a week and went to bed craving tacos.
Downtown at night
I bought a sweet painting from this family
Best tacos in Puerto Vallarta
More good tacos- 5 for 35 pesos
The northern end of the malecón
Canned Spicy Mango Margarita from OXXO
Oceanside patio at Hotel El Pescador
Don’t swim at night!
Classy roof rack
Rebuilding the pier at Playa Los Muertos
Leaving PV for the forty five minute ride to Yelapa
Dropping people off on the far side of Yelapa
Coming into town
Yelapa Beach from the main town stairs
Open invitation to the election and crowning of the Queen of Yelapa at the village casino
The trail to the town waterfall
Approaching Playa Los Muertos
Sunset at 7:00 on the malecón
(The Slightly Derelict Fremont Street Experience by iPhone Camera)
After a forty five minute flight from JFK to Boston, six hour layover at Logan Airport, six hour flight to Long Beach, night and day on the beach, and four hours in the backseat of a Jeep Wrangler, I found myself in a twenty two dollar per night hotel room on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas with fifteen or so of my favorite people. I’m proud to have not set foot on the strip the entire weekend, though at one point while looking for trouble on the east side of downtown we considered walking to the Stratosphere.
Nice things have no place around deep fried oreos, crackheads, or ten dollar AYCD brunch buffets, so I decided to keep my Leica locked in the room and shoot with my iPhone all weekend.
Movie set alley
The Golden Nugget pool has sharks!
Deep fried oreo coma
Miles away from the strip
Blunts and burner phones
Ironic Brunch #1
Chicago Thursday. Mexico the following Wednesday. More soon.
(but first I’m going to Las Vegas)
Iberia’s website is/was selling unadvertised fares on American, British Airways, and Iberia and I managed to get a roundtrip flight from New York to Casablanca for under $400. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the area, but it seems that besides Casablanca I’ll also be headed to Marrakech, Rabat, and Tangier, as well as ferrying to the south of Spain. We’re also trying to figure out the logistics of getting into Algeria, though the hassle and cost of the visa and documentation that is required to get in, coupled with the fact that the land border from Morocco is closed, might be a bit much.
I flew to Long Beach yesterday (JFK-BOS-LGB for $5 in taxes with my last old jetBlue Trueblue pass) and I’m currently waiting to jump into a car to Las Vegas. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who was born in 1990. He turned 21 earlier this week and has booked five rooms on the old Fremont strip for the weekend.
Photos coming soon!
I finally got around to some of these photos from the past year while hanging out in Logan Airport for five hours on my way from New York to Long Beach yesterday. Most were shot with my Leica, though some are iPhone photos and some are from my 35mm toy camera.
Interstate 70 Between Green River and Salina, Utah
On the road from Liberia to La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
Lunch at a roadside soda in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Small Town Costa Rica north of San Jose
Central Mexico City
Chapultepec Park, Mexico City
Chapultepec Park, Mexico City
Pilsen from Bridgelife
Riis Park, Queens
Memorial Day BBQ in Brooklyn
Maujer Roof, Brooklyn
Coney Island, Brooklyn
Montreal from Mount Royal
Portuguese Lunch in the Plateau, Montreal
Pollo Tropical Cat, Miami
Kogi BBQ Truck, LA
Parking Garage in Chicago that thinks it’s the 2 Train
After the Christmas Blizzard, Brooklyn.
Chinatown Fair Arcade, New York
East from the Empire State Building
I left for California yesterday with my car looking like this.
This sums up the past few months pretty well.
I found three nights + a roundtrip flight from JFK to SJO for $300 per person and went to Costa Rica on a few days notice back in September. It became a four night trip when we were forced to spend an additional night in San Jose after missing the three hour cutoff for our flight. It became a five night trip because we had a 10pm-8am layover in Miami and enjoyed a traditional Wednesday night at LIV with Sir Juan Herrera.
Crocodiles and Cows
I’d definitely recommend Vista Los Sueños
Hillside outside of Manuel Antonio