Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Human nervous system

This took two medical students 1,500 hours to dissect in 1925.

Final: Day 2: Leaving Lima

Things go well, until they don't.

My bus leaves Lima at 5 p.m. But because Pope Francis is holding mass for over a million people in Lima at 4 p.m., I thought I would go to the bus station at noon. I tend to overplan things.

On my way to breakfast, I saw a poor legless guy in a wheelchair, begging for money. I thought about him a lot while eating. He has a below-the-knee amputation to his right leg, just like my estranged father. And although the beggar and my father couldn't be more different (one was Afro-Peruvian, the other Chinese), I saw a lot of similarities between them. When I walked out after breakfast, I gave the man all of my spare change. The palm of his hand was so rigid and flat, it didn't even feel like human flesh.

I spotted this old Plymouth on the street. There are not that many old American cars left in Peru.

My driver from yesterday drove me to the bus station. We talked about a lot of things and he asked me if I noticed that he was wearing a prosthetic. I did not. He had a below-the-knee amputation to his right leg, just like my father and the beggar.

All the worrying had been unnecessary. We made it to the bus station in less than 20 minutes. There was no traffic. The only people out were expats walking their dogs and abuelitas going to see Francis. I sat around all afternoon at the Cruz del Sur bus station/terraport.

The time had arrived. But instead of a double decker Cruz del Sur bus, I was scheduled to leave in this single story Brazilian bus. Must be some kind of partnership between the two companies.

This bus was to take me through Peru, Ecuador, and the southern half of Colombia. It had three drivers in their 50s. I describe them as Handsome Dad (he had stylish eyeglasses and could easily pass for an executive), Responsible Dad (he was the oldest and heaviest and had the most gravitas), and Joker Dad (he had a mustache and made everyone feel at ease).

In the photo below, all of the luggage was laid out for a drug sniffing dog. Who would smuggle cocaine INTO Colombia?

As we lined up to have our carry-ons searched, the man in front of me, an Argentinian named Jhon (who I had assumed was an American because of his looks and the way he dressed) had five bottles of booze confiscated from his backpack.

Within 15 minutes of leaving the bus station, our bus came to a halt. I thought we were just getting gas, so I just looked out my window for half an hour.

But we weren't moving. I got out and saw this. A radiator hose had broken off.

While we waited for help, we went to the gas station for snacks and water. We would wait for three hours.

The bus company's mechanic came in this Hilux.

He tried to improvise by cutting a piece of a plastic water bottle to replace the damaged hose. Thankfully, it did not work. So he went back to his shop to get the right part.

After dark, he came back, replaced the hose, and they filled up the radiator with coolant and buckets of water.

They used a Coke bottle to top off the radiator.

Jhon told me that at least the bus broke down in Lima and not in the middle of nowhere. Right.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How the car was driven in Baby Driver when the actors were busy acting inside

Final: Day 1: Lima

My first day was spent in Lima, Peru. But let me first tell you what happened the evening before, as I was preparing to fly out of San Francisco. I got a great deal on airfare, I just had to connect in Panama City first. There I was, sitting by my gate, minding my own business. A soft spoken but confident Asian-American man in his 50s walked up to me.

Him: Excuse me, but are you going to Medellin?
Me: (This flight is going to Panama City. How does he know I am going to Medellin?! Maybe he recognized me and is a fan of my blog (me being delusional).) Yes...eventually.
Him: Are you familiar with "mxxxxx"? (I don't remember the word he said, but it started with the letter M and was six letters long.)
Me: Uh, no.
Him: I'm sorry for bothering you. Good-bye.

As soon as the man walked away, I googled the M-word. It's a website for international sex tourists. He thinks I'm a John. He's a John.

Now, the plane is boarding. I'm in the final boarding group, and I can't find my passport. I panic. I ran all over the boarding gate area and even retraced my steps to the restroom upstairs. Nothing. There was only one other passenger left in the boarding area, an older gentleman who was waiting for his wife who was using the restroom. He started helping me look for my passport.

The thoughts going through my mind: Maybe this is fate telling me I shouldn't go on my bus trip. I have wasted the month leading up to this trip, moving appointments, telling all of my clients that I would be gone, all the shopping. Should I take BART or Lyft home from the airport?

I was freaking out. I was cursing out loud.

Then, the old man found my passport. He, his wife, and I were the last people to board the plane.

I bumped into him at the Panama City airport. I thanked him again, gave him my business card, and asked him to email me his contact info so I can send him a thank you card.

The following morning, I landed in Lima. My hotel sent a driver to pick me up. He's holding a sign with my name on it. He is tall and a bit disheveled. He's wearing a dress shirt but it's only half tucked in. While he goes to retrieve his car, I step out into the passenger loading zone. It's hot, the air is polluted, and I get misty eyed. I'm going to finally finish this bus trip.

On the way to the hotel, my driver needs to fill up his car. To combat air pollution, many cars, including his Hyundai Elantra, have been converted to run on natural gas. While the gas station attendant (they are all female, short, Indian, and wear lycra uniforms) fills up the tank, I am asked to step away for safety purposes.

It has been eight years since I last visited Lima. It's slightly less polluted and there is less garbage on the streets. The cars are newer, and there is a significant number of Chinese brands present. The main avenues are lined with posters welcoming the Pope. He is here on the same weekend as me.

I grab my first Peruvian meal, lunch at La Lucha Sangucheria in the Miraflores neighborhood. It's just a five minute walk from my hotel. That orange thing in my pork sandwich isn't cheese. It's a slice of sweet potato.

On the way back to my hotel, I spotted this rare Chinese Brilliance BC3.

I would normally try ceviche in Lima. But because my bus trip starts tomorrow and I don't want to risk food poisoning, I opt for cooked foods. I walk to La Panchita for dinner. It's street food in a fancy setting. I have a pisco sour and wonder if the egg white will spell my doom. In all of my previous journeys, I have never gotten food poisoning. Never.

The neighborhood is fancy, and so is the clientele. At one table, a young white man was with a young Asian man, obviously on a date. At another, a very Caucasian boomer couple, dressed like Cape Cod preppies with sweaters tied around their necks, are taking out their equally attractive Lands End catalog adult son and daughter. And next to me, a short, mestizo gentleman, with the confidence of a self-made successful businessman, is taking out his wife, mother (or mother-in-law), and five children for dinner.

I brought with me a bunch of used books I got at the local Friends of the Library store. That's PJ O'Rourke's 1980s Holidays In Hell. I don't know anything about O'Rourke, other than that he's often a guest on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. In each chapter, he describes a trip to a different 1980s danger zone, e.g. Lebanon, El Salvador, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's amusement park. The writing is very un-PC (lusting of underaged girls, spiking drinks) and is a relic of a different era.

And the main course. Beef hearts on a skewer. It's juicy and flavorful. I tasted cumin but my waiter insisted it was Peruvian spices. The potato halves were fried perfectly and the giant corn kernels were meaty. I asked the waiter to suggest a wine to go with the meal. He brought a glass of Syrah from nearby Ica. It was mediocre.

Tomorrow, I ride.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Final: Introduction

Last Friday, I completed the Pan-American Highway! The accomplishment still seems unreal to me. Over the next week or so, I will document for you my day-to-day experiences.

This was the most difficult leg by far compared with the other six legs over the past eleven years. Emotionally and relationship-wise, it was extremely trying to leave my wife and ten month old son home while I went on my adventure. The trip itself was also stressful. I lost my passport, my bus broke down four times, I got violently ill, and I fell hard on concrete at a bus station in the middle of the night. But in retrospect, it was all worth it and made the experience even more intense, to say the least.

I'll share some highlights here.

The bus that broke down four times:

Typical rest stop:

Catastrophic breakdown in Ecuadorean Central Highlands:

Colombia-Ecuador border crossing with my busmates:

Cali bus station breakfast:

Scenery between Cali and Medellin:

Typical Medellin meal:

Final bus ride:

Approaching the Darien Gap:

The Banana Zone:

Mission Accomplished:

Bogota's Bolivar Square:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bon voyage!

See you all later. I'm off on an adventure. I will be tweeting when possible so check the right column of this blog. I'll also be posting on Instagram. I hope you enjoy following me along on the trip.

And here is a map to follow along with. I'll be starting in Lima and working my way northward.

The Road Movie trailer

I can't believe this is going to be shown in theaters.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Starbuck and Starbuck at Starbucks


Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting Iqaluit

I've been meaning to post this for a while. Last month, while on Maui, I had lunch with Pete D of CarEnvy and now ContraVex fame. Pete has had some adventures, including visiting this out-of-the-way settlement. Enjoy.

RIP Dolores O'Riordan

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I leave in five days!

Now, I'm researching bus companies for my Cali to Medellin leg and Medellin to Turbo leg.

Chinese genealogy research service

For Chinese people, especially those who live outside of China, researching one's ancestors is an almost impossible task. But I read about this service in The Economist. I might try them out.

Incredibly intricate paper airplane

H/t to Ramon.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

14,741 miles by bus

I leave for Lima next week. I started this quest from the Oakland Greyhound station in 2007. I will be done by the end of January 2018.

JFK and Jackie O in 1953

Friday, January 12, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Monday, January 08, 2018

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Honda Clarity

What do you all think of the Clarity? The fuel cell process is very out there. It's ugly, but it's less ugly than the Toyota Mirai. They are installing a hydrogen pump next to my office, and I am seriously thinking about getting one of these. It comes with $15,000(!) worth of free hydrogen!

Europeans who cannot afford to keep their homes adequately warm

Towing an illegally parked cart in Moldova

Friday, January 05, 2018

Me, waiting on the side of the road, in the Banana Zone

These poor travelers are stuck because of the blockade and only have the shade of the bus to protect them. How do they go to the restroom?

Bad news in the Banana Zone

The Lima Devil's Curve dilemma is no more. As you may recall, my bus trip was going to take me to a dangerous section of the Pan-American Highway north of Lima. A northbound truck crossed into the southbound lane, struck a bus, and the bus fell 260 feet down a cliff into the Pacific.

Well, there was an uproar in Peru and the president just banned all buses from using that stretch of the highway. So by the time I get there in a couple of weeks, we will be taking an inland (and hopefully safer) route.

But something else happened this week. The Uraba region of Colombia is in turmoil. Uraba is a poor region abutting the Darien Gap. It contains the final few dozen kilometers of my Pan-American journey to Turbo. Apparently the government installed three toll booths along the highway and the locals are pissed. The police have not been able to control the situation and all flights in and out of the area have been canceled.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Romanian Ford van train conversion

H/t to rchen. Check out how the old man turns the van around starting at the 2:20 mark.

Here is my Romania story. I knew a nice Romanian guy who got his graduate degree in forest management from Berkeley. He went back to Romania, got married, had a kid, and got a job living on and managing a huge tract of public forest. The mafia approached him one day, and told him he better let them chop down the trees for profit or he and his family were going to be in danger. He quit his job immediately thereafter.

Mercedes Iron Schoeckl

Is this a traveling show? Will it ever be in Northern California?

Where others are left standing, the G-Classmarches onward confidently, inspiring a great deal of respect. The Mercedes-Benz team have thought up a special task for the G-Class and its occupants: the steel construction is called “Iron Schöckl”; a name derived from a mountain just outside Graz in Styria. This iron mountain is used by Mercedes-Benz for test drives. The drive begins with a moderate 80 percent gradient. No problem for the eight-cylinder engine of the G 500. It even takes the 100-percent gradient smoothly, before stopping briefly at the highest point of the iron mountain, eight meters up in the air. As you look high up into the sky, this is how it must feel in the Space Shuttle just before take-off. There is another challenge on the way down: stopping on a 100-percent gradient and reversing back up the slope.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Peruvian bus crash along Pan-American Highway


Monday, January 01, 2018

Camaro ZL1 1LE

Junior and I saw one of these parked in Oakland today. I thought all the aero was aftermarket. I had no idea this was all stock. I was expecting lots of noise at start-up, but it wasn't too loud at all. It's quite a monster on the track.

First 747 to land at Medellin airport (1976)

Assembling a 787 jet engine

The far side of the moon...

...all lit up, taken by a satellite 1,000,000 miles away.

First post of 2018

Happy New Year, everyone!

2017 was a mixed bag. Personally and professionally, it was the best year of my life. But nationally and internationally, not so much.

I'll start 2018 with some good news. I was able to buy a bus ticket out of Lima on the day of the Pope's visit. I was stressed about it for a week, but it seems to have all worked out. We shall see.