Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Eating the Globe: Western Sahara

Morocco is notorious for canning fish in Western Sahara and labeling the product as Moroccan. I am 85% sure the canned mackerel I had was from Western Sahara. Since I make the rules, I am counting it. I mean, just look at where the green dot is on that map on the back of the box!

I ate the mackerel plain with leftover takeout rice. It was fine.

Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe

Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen

Europe: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, Vatican City

North America: Barbados, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, USA

South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela

Oceania: Australia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga

Thursday, March 16, 2023

I'm going to French Guiana!

I can't believe it.

I will be flying Air France's once-weekly Island Hopper. From Miami, it stops in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and finally, Cayenne. Port-au-Prince used to be a stop, but Air France no longer serves Haiti.

The plan is to stay at a colonial era hotel in Cayenne and go on day trips.

The itinerary:

  • Minibus or shared taxi to Suriname border
  • Minibus or shared taxi to Brazil border
  • Visit Cacao in the jungle; it's a Hmong village full of former refugees
  • Space center tour; I just got a ticket for a three-hour tour
  • Devil's Island

Unexpected Southwest Airlines Southwest Road Trip: Day 3

We planned on completing our road trip on Day 3. Didn't happen.

In retrospect, I should have deferred to my wife and let her plan the meals. But I was on a mission to get home as quickly as possible and thought she would just slow us down with meals and potty breaks. After a breakfast at our hipster motel's oatmeal bar, we headed towards Phoenix.

I was not expecting so many mountains in southern Arizona. I was expecting flat expanses of desert.

Without any plans for lunch, the kids got grumpy. Because restaurants were 50 to 100 miles apart from each other, they had to wait. We ended up at a lovely but rough cafe in Quartzsite, near the California border. 

Quartzsite is known for two things. First, in the 1800s, camels were imported and raised here by the U.S. Army. Now, the town is a destination for destitute senior citizens who live in vans and RVs. It was featured in Nomadland.

The "town" was pure chaos. People on ATVs. An RV parked called MAGA...

This Brat was just one of the many wild things we saw in Quartzsite.

To lighten my mood, the kids bought me a back scratcher at the diner.

We crossed the might Colorado River! We're finally in California. The river crossing was kind of anticlimactic.

Lots of cool carspotting opportunities. Like this Mexican Suzuki Jimny next to the Morongo Indian casino.

Or this Ferrari 612!

We hit rain and traffic in Los Angeles and it really slowed us down. We picked a Japanese restaurant in Santa Clarita (north of Los Angeles) for dinner. The meal was easily twice what we normally paid outside of California. At least I spotted a Renault Duster in the parking lot. I gushed at the middle class Mexican dad who owned it. He was confused by my excitement.

We continued driving into the night along Interstate 5. It was simply too much mentally and physically for the kids. They were crying from sitting for so long. So we spent the night at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, three hours short of home.

Harris Ranch is known for its steakhouse. Many people driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles stop here for a meal. I knew it had a hotel, but I could never figure out why anyone would stay there. 

We had a nice room and this was what we saw when we stepped out our door in the morning (on Day 4):

We walked to the restaurant and I got some beef with my eggs.


We got home around noon on Day 4. I returned the car at Oakland airport with 12 minutes left. The bill was $2,200(!). We also spent $600 for three nights of hotels/motels.

I asked Southwest to reimburse us $2,800, I didn't ask for gas or food. They offered $1,400. I was PISSED. I appealed and on March 14, Southwest decided to reimburse us the entire $2,800.


Saturday, February 04, 2023

Unexpected Southwest Airlines Southwest Road Trip: Day 2

What does Day 2 of the road trip bring? Let's see!

The shortest route would have been to continue on Interstate 40 across Arizona. We could have met up with my sister-in-law in Flagstaff for a late lunch and then spent the night at my mom's in Vegas. Well, there was a heavy snowstorm in Flagstaff and my mom was stuck in San Francisco. She was flying back from Taiwan and she ended up stranded at SFO for three days. She was going to fly Alaska Airlines home from SFO and Alaska was very generous with the hotel and food comps. She ended up having a great time.

I woke up at our motel in Tucumcari before everyone else so I decided to go to the donut shop and pick up some surprises for the family. Sadly, it was closed. I went to the gas station next door instead. The cashier was a trip. He called me sir and was super polite. But he (a white guy) had dreadlocks a la Korn and wore a tuxedo t-shirt. 

This was the sunrise along Route 66, just outside the gas station.

We headed west on Interstate 40 to Albuquerque for lunch. There was a billboard proclaiming that abortion is legal in New Mexico. There were also a few billboards looking to hire prison guards. The job does not pay well.

As we approached Albuquerque, there was a snow flurry. I'm glad we are going south. Neither my wife nor I have much experience driving in the snow. And we didn't want to risk it in an unfamiliar car with the kids in the back. 

Check out this old Kia Sephia!

Here is a billboard for a personal injury attorney in Albuquerque. He's the brother of a friend. Apparently, their dad is a law professor and they are all super well educated and cultured. The brother that stayed in Albuquerque is Bertrand, named after the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Anyway, he came up with this tagline "Hurt? Call Bert!" He's the inspiration for Saul Goodman!

My wife found our lunch spot, which was inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

We then drove 270 miles south on Interstate 25. After a third of the way down past Socorro, there was nothing. I made the mistake of not filling up sooner. The strong winds ruined the gas mileage. My wife and kids were sleeping, and I was sweating bullets. We were going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere! We stopped at a place that said GAS. All of the pumps were cordoned off with cones and TV show tribute cars, like Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine, My wife went inside to check if gas was available. She told me a guy who was really down on his luck stood up from his chair and apologized, stating that state regulators shut down his gas station due to safety issues. We didn't get gas until we got to Truth Or Consequences.

Then, we arrived in Las Cruces. It's close to the Mexican border and I spotted this!

Dinner ended up being the best meal of 2022. We ate at La Nueva Casita. New Mexican cuisine is not like regular American Mexican cuisine. I love it. I got this combo plate with chili con carne, chile relleno, enchilada, taco, and squash.

My son had been eating beans for a day straight.

After Las Cruces, we headed west towards Tuscon for the night. Here are some Texas-build Teslas headed for year end delivery.

We ended up at the Hotel McCoy for the night. It used to be a seedy motel next to a freeway but it has been transformed into a hipster hotel. I really liked it. It even claims to have the longest oatmeal breakfast bar in the world.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Unexpected Southwest Airlines Southwest Road Trip: Day 1

As some of you know, I was caught up in the Southwest Airlines mess over the holidays. After spending two weeks with my in-laws in Florida, we started flying home on Christmas Day. We thought we were being clever by flying on Christmas Day because we expected it to be chill and relatively easy. We were wrong. We landed in Kansas City and when we were looking for our connecting flight, we saw the pandemonium. The crying gate agents, the sea of abandoned luggage, lines of people not moving. We were stuck in Kansas City. After two days of canceled flights, we decided to rent a car and drive home.

Our goal for Day 1 was Tucumcari, New Mexico. We did not want to go straight west because we did not want to hit the mountains and snow of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

Here we were, waiting for the hotel shuttle bus on Christmas Day when our connecting flight was canceled. We had no idea what we were in for.

On the first night at the Kansas City airport hotel, I ordered a wedge salad and a steak. The steak was actually not bad.

Okay, back to the road trip. This was the morning of Day 1. We drove through rural and very cold (around 15 degrees F) Kansas. 

This part of Kansas was much hillier than I imagined.

We had a nice breakfast in Wichita at a place called Homegrown. The low cost of living here was insane. I filled up our Kia Sportage rental for $28!

After breakfast, it was more driving. Rural Kansas was like another world. Every small town had multiple urgent care centers for some reason. Most of the work trucks were Dodge Rams. And they all looked like they were worked hard. Formal rest areas were rare, so the kids just peed on the side of the road.

For late lunch, we went to Asian Market in Liberal, Kansas. It was all takeout and the food was very spicy and had a Southeast Asian influence. We stocked up on Pockys and shrimp chips. The town of Liberal is majority Latino and has a huge beef processing plant. The largest helium facility in the world is nearby as well.

As an addendum, about a week after driving through Liberal, one of my mentors passed away. In reading his obituary, he was born in Liberal!

We drove through slivers of Oklahoma and Texas. It's just cattle and oil wells.

We arrived in Tucumcari, New Mexico after sunset. We gained an hour because we entered the Mountain Time Zone. I was determined to take advantage of the local food. I had this enchilada plate with green chiles at La Cita

Exhausted, the first few hotels we called had no vacancies. Lots of stranded Southwest passengers were driving along Interstate 40/Route 66. We got a charming room in a mid-century modern motel called Motel Safari. We watched old America's Funniest Home Videos before we went to bed.