Thursday, December 15, 2005

I know this blog is dead. I'm working on getting my new one up, but until then I thought I would post this here.

I was waiting for my bus here in Portland this morning. Freezing my ass off, as it was about 28 degrees out. Behind my bus stop is a place called Stumptown Printers. They do concert posters and all sorts of cool stuff. One of the guys from Foghorn Stringband works there.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I saw this poster in the window. It was designed by, and you can buy copies there for $3. Stumptown did the printing. Very cool for all you Boliviaphiles.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Adios, y buenos noches

Let me say that it is good to be home in Portland, Oregon. It is so nice to again be able to ride my bikes, see live music, drink beer, soak up cold, rainy days and dose myself with the world's best coffee. Oh, and to be surrounded by more friends than anyone as surly as me has any business having. If I died and went to heaven, the only difference between it and Portland would -- hopefully -- be cheaper housing in heaven.

When we came up with the crazy idea to move to Bolivia, I started this blog as a way to keep our friends and family up to date on what we were doing and where we were. Somewhere along the way, it became a general forum for me to rage on about whatever was on my mind.

Most surprisingly, people seemed to enjoy what I was writing. I can't get over how many people read this thing. I get a ton of e-mails from complete strangers telling me how much they enjoy the blog. That's nice. One of the best compliments came from an acquaintance here in Portland who recently told me that even though I've been thousands of miles away this past year, she feels like she knows me so much better now because of the blog. That makes me feel like I was doing something right.

Well, now that we are home in Portland and have finally found an apartment, I just don't think that there is anything left to write about -- at least anything that fits the confines of "Life in Bolivia." So, I will end it here. I may start a new blog about something else. Maybe I will work up enough energy to expand the blog and turn it into a book. Maybe. We'll see.

There are truly too many folks to thank individually for their help and support during this crazy adventure, but I will single out three.

First, my brother Jeff. There is only one person on this earth that we could not have done this without and that is Jeff. Our beloved 3-legged Rottweiler Juno needed a temporary home while we were in Bolivia. Without hesitation, Jeff agreed to take her. He spoils her rotten and she loves it and deserves it. No Jeff, no life in Bolivia. Muchas gracias, mi hermano.

Second, my parents. I could call my folks up and tell them that I was going to build a rocket in my backyard and fly to mars, and their only reaction would be to say "What can we do to support you." They realize that the best a parent can hope for is to have happy kids who are the best individuals they can be. The object isn't to make tiny clones of themselves. I hope to remember this with Mac and Jane. If I can be 1/2 the parent my mom and dad are, Mac and Jane will be lucky kids. Muchas gracias, mom and dad.

Third, Lu, Jheyson and Vlady, our Bolivian family. They took care of us, watched out for us, counseled us, and provided invaluable insight into the "real" Bolivia that we otherwise would not have had. If there exists a better human being than Lourdes, I have never met them. Muchas gracias, mi familia.

Finally, if there is a take-away point from our entire experience, it can probably be summed up in this quote from Cash Peters, who hosts a Travel Channel TV show:

"Every five or ten years, you have a big adventure; otherwise, you are not living."

Think about it. If you keep pushing off your dreams until next year, or until you can only save up enough money, you will never, ever realize them. You will never do anything. And you will die thinking about all the cool things you always wanted to do but never got around to. Please, do it and do it now. And don't forget to tell us all about it. The only regret you will ever have is the decision not to go.

Us? We're already dreaming up our next crazy scheme.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Friends in Need

We got some bad news from our friends Doug and Lisa Jo Looney down in Bolivia. Doug and Lisa Jo are Catholic missionaries with the Maryknoll organization. They are Red Sox fans, so you know they are good people. Their three little kids went to school with Jane at Tierra de Ninos preschool. In fact, I first met Doug when I was walking into the school and he was walking out and we were both wearing Red Sox hats.

Anyway, Doug was experiencing some pain and went in to the hospital to have it checked out. Turns out that Doug has a tumor growing in him and it needs to come out.

Faced with major surgery and potential cancer treatment (they don't know what it is yet) in Bolivia or in the United States, they chose to send Doug back to the U.S.

As you can imagine, if you were sitting in a hospital bed somewhere in pain, and scared, it sure would be nice to have your family with you. It will cost the Looney's around $3,000 to get the whole family back to the States. Missionaries don't make a lot of money. They really need some help to pay for this trip.

I can tell you firsthand that Doug and Lisa Jo do a lot of good work in Bolivia. They don't walk around trying to convert the natives to Catholicism. That isn't what they do. Instead, they live in a very poor area of Cochabamba and do their best simply to help the poor people have better lives. Lisa Jo, a trained grief counselor, also spends a lot of time in local hospitals comforting people who are dying. It would be great if some of those Karma points could be cashed in now.

If you are at all in a position to help a very good bunch of people who are out in the world sacrificing themselves trying to make the world a better place, then please consider sending a little money their way. The money would ensure that the whole family can be together right now. Every bit helps. If you can't send money, then I am sure they would appreciate any prayers you can offer. They are good folks and they need your help.

Send checks to:

Lisa Jo and Doug Looney
Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Bethany House
Maryknoll, NY 10545

Muchas gracias.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Back Home Again

After Day 3's epic 758 miles over 14.5 hours (including 4 hours in Ft. Collins getting Smokey fixed up) I was in no mood to travel today. In fact, it seemed like a heck of a day to sleep in, then kill the afternoon in a pub. But then I remembered I was in a Motel 6 in Ogden, Utah and suddenly the open road didn't seem so bad.

So at 6:30AM I am once again hauling the duffel bags out and tying them onto the roof. Man, it is COOOOOLD in Ogden Utah in the morning. My hands turn numb while tying knots. But soon enough I am wandering back out to the interstate and making way towards Portland.

Utah is some pretty country. To my left for a while is the Salt Lake. I see a lot of nice rock formations along the way, but not much else. Once you get north of Ogden (which itself is north of Salt Lake City), it is some barren country.

I am also on like day 4 of the Roberts confirmation hearings and it is just killing me.

Quick enough and we're in Idaho. This part of Idaho looks a lot like Kansas. Then again, most of the country looks a lot like Kansas. Remember that next time you talk smack about Kansas.

My first gas stop is somewhere outside Twin Falls. Smokey is a smokin' and a drippin'.

I've always romanticized Boise, Idaho as being kind of a mini-Portland on the rise. A frontier town with character on the verge of taking off. Gateway to some beautiful country. I had never been any where near Boise before, so I don't know why I thought that. From the highway, Boise is kind of dreary and depressing. To be honest, a lot of places are like that (though not St. Louis or Louisville, both of which looked cool from the highway and made me want to visit). So, I drive on and decide to grab some lunch further up the road.

I am also making a list of life's universal truths. I have added these so far this trip:
23. From the interstate, the whole country pretty much looks like Kansas.
24. Truckers are apparently all perverts.
25. If there isn't constant and maddening construction on your highways, your congressman isn't doing his job 'cause the rest of the country is being widened. Call him and tell him you want your pork too.
26. Being in fear that at any moment your 6-year-old car with 108,000 miles on it will die, stranding you 30 miles from anywhere in an area with no cell phone reception, helps keep your mind off the fact that the entire country looks like Kansas and that all commercial radio sucks.

Up to the Oregon border the interstate system has pretty much been straight and flat. But soon after your cross into Oregon, Interstate 84 starts curving and climbing and showing off fancy things like "trees," which, believe it or not, they do not have in Kansas. Oregon seems to say "we're different here. We don't suck." It makes me feel good.

Well, until I notice two things about Oregon: (1) it is the most desolate state I have encountered, with even fewer roadside services than Wyoming; and (2) it is the only state with a 65mph speed limit on the interstate. I spend most of south eastern Oregon starving to death, hoping I don't run out of gas, with my foot on the brake. Speaking of which, it still pisses me off that you can't pump your own gas in Oregon.

At some point after half of a day driving in Oregon, I suddenly realize that the golden hills have been replaced with forest. It is kind of weird because you are driving through high desert plains one minute, and the next it's like "Wow, where the hell did the trees come from?" I also think to myself that if I had never been to western Oregon, I would be dumbfounded by the beauty.

The road in to Portland skirts the southern shore of the Columbia river, taking you through what they call "The Gorge." It is always windy out here and you see crazy muthers on their kite boards and wind surfers just blazing across the river. It doesn't look fun; it just looks scary.

About 5pm I finally am able to relax, knowing that Smokey is going to live long enough to take me home. A half an hour later I am puttering through my old neighborhood, tired, exhausted and sick of driving. Portland looks the same as when I left her a year ago, but is somehow busier, bigger and crazier than I remember. No other city we have visited in the world bussles with the same amount of energy as Portland. To be honest, it kind of overwhelms what is left of my brain.

I pull Smokey up to a spot in front our friend Susan's house, near 28th and E. Burnside. I shut off the engine and watch the oil smoke rise for the final time. I use what is left of my energy to unload the duffle bags from the roof one last time, before collapsing into a heap on Susan's couch. She shoves a bottle of Mirror Pond in my hand. It will be several days until my brain, road-weary from 2800 miles (I managed 742 the last day) is able to form a coherent thought.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Day 3, or how I spent my afternoon in Ft. Collins, Co.

6:30AM in Colby, Kansas is unholy cold. Well, at least to someone who just left hot, humid North Carolina. When I back up the Subaru, I notice a pizza-sized oil spot under the car. Crap. I cross the street to fill the gas tank and buy a few extra quarts of oil while I am at it. I roll out and cross my fingers.

A couple of hours later, I approach Denver. Until this point, I had seen nothing but corn fields. But the corn fields end at Denver with the Rocky Mountains rising straight up out of the ground. The little bit I can see through the brown air looks impressive. I take E470 around Denver so I miss downtown's rush hour traffic. But E470 is a toll road. No big deal, right? Well, every 3 miles is a toll plaza. It costs me $10 to go 17 miles. And everytime I stop to pay a toll, my car becomes enveloped in smoke. Still, better than being stuck downtown at rush hour.

The other thing I notice about Denver is the sprawl. Pretty soon suburban Denver will go all the way to Salina, Kansas. Lots of ticky tacky little boxes (note: subtle reference to the brilliant Showtime series "Weeds").

Leaving the Denver area, I notice on the map that there is not much between Denver and Boise, some six hundred miles away. Which is to say there isn't much between Denver and Portland. Outside of Denver I stop at a rest stop and the Subaru is dripping a ton of oil and smoking like Snoop Dog at a NORML rally. Which is to say it is smoking a lot.

So I pull off the highway in Ft. Collins, Colorado (just north of Denver). As luck would have it, Smokey (my new name for our Subaru) leads me right to a place called "Nice Car," which fixes nothing but Subarus. The mechanics take one look at Smokey, all laden down with the duffel bags on her roof, and they know what has to be done. They feel sorry for us, and commit to putting us back on the road ASAP. The guys at Nice Car shuffle Smokey to the front of the line and put her up on the rack.

One look confirms it: Smokey's front crank case seal is a goner. Maybe another seal farther back in the engine is gone too, but there is so much oil splattered on the bottom of the car that they can't see. The guys set to work fixing Smokey and I head up the street to downtown Ft. Collins.

I love Ft. Collins. What a cool little town! It has lots of old brick buildings, tons of people on bikes and driving Subarus. In short, it is like a little, dry Portland. Definitely a "10" when it comes to towns to be stuck in on the road.

I quickly find a coffee place called "The Bean Cycle," which roasts their own beans on an Ambex roaster up front. I grab a large coffee and settle into a soft couch and proceed to kill off the rest of the morning with a good book. Second best cup of coffee I have ever had (Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland is the best coffee in the world). They even fire up the roaster and I am treated to the sweet black licorice smell of roasting coffee beans. What heaven!

I have a couple hours yet to kill before the car is ready, so I walk around town a bit more. The warm hominess of Ft. Collins is such a stark contrast to all of the rest stops, corn fields and gas/McDonalds freeway pit stops. I could live here.

After a bit, my nose leads me to Coopersmiths, a brewery. Since I am stranded here, I treat myself to a couple of pints of a nice tasty IPA. Not a bad way to kill an hour or two.

But soon enough my car is ready. I hop on the road $450 lighter, but Smokey isn't so smokey. 100 miles later, after crossing into Wyoming, I pull off the road and check the car. Smokey isn't smoking or dripping. Good sign. I continue on and during the late afternoon I stop to get some gas. The second I turn off the ignition, Smokey starts smoking. And dripping oil. Not as bad as before, but obviously there is another bad seal. Damn. I now have to stop every hour to check the oil level.

Now a word on Wyoming: It is beautiful, with brown grass fields, dramatic skies and beautiful rock formations. But it is desolate. In fact, they have barely any rest areas. Instead, they have what they call "parking areas," which are rest areas without a toilet. I guess they figure that out here in the middle of nowhere, who really cares where you pee?

By 8pm I roll into Ogden, Utah and find the obligatory Motel 6. I am dead-dog tired. Despite a 4 hour layover in Ft. Collins, I make 758 miles today, a record for the trip.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Day 2: More of the Same

Sitting on your bum bum all day driving makes one a lot more tired than one would imagine. So, last night I slept HARD after those 683 miles. I intended to sleep in, but I popped awake at about 5:30 in the morning. So, lacking anything better to do, I loaded all the bags back on the roof, tied them down well, and was on the road by 6:30.

I'm a few minutes outside of Mt. Vernon, IL when the sun begins to rise. It is a giant, gauzy red sunrise which tints the brown cornfields. I watch the sun reflect off the tailgate of the truck in front of me. Pretty.

It isn't long until we hit the first of what is to prove a maddening day of road construction. If I haven't said this already, let me say it now: The whole damn interstate system is under construction. I must get stuck in a dozen construction zones today.

Construction is a pain because it slows me down. The road narrows to one lane and the speed limit often drops to 45 or so. And there are all these big signs saying "Minimum fine in construction zone: $395."

Let me tell you, the threat of an almost $400 fine for speeding slows me right down. I crawl through these zones. But invariably there is some jerk on my tail wanting to take his chances at 75mph.

I manage to time it perfectly so that I hit St. Louis at rush hour. I crawl through the city. My engine is starting to smoke again from the oil leak. Great. I'm this little gray cloud creeping through St. Louis.

With traffic and construction, I make just 80 miles in the first two hours.

Eventually, I am through the city and I-70 opens up a bit. Missouri looks just like Illinois and Indiana -- nothing but brown cornfields. Well, that and porno.

Missouri, as viewed from I-70, is nothing but adult video and fireworks "superstores". There is one of each at every exit. I don't know if this says more about Missouri or the truckers the stores are primarily aimed at (I know this because they all advertise "truck parking" and one even calls itself "Adult Video Superstore Truck Stop").

Not much in the way of radio out here in middle of nowheresville. I get middle of the road country and public radio. I like public radio, but all that is on this week is the Roberts confirmation hearing. I am a lawyer and this stuff bores me.

Kansas doesn't seem very inviting. It is the only state I go through without a "Welcome to . . . " sign. The road through Kanasas is also impossibly straight. I think that Kansas wants you to get the hell out of its state fast. I note that every damn farm in Kansas has a billboard pointed at the interstate with an anti-abortion slogan on it. Hope those truckers picked up condoms at the Missouri adult superstores.

As the afternoon drones on and on and on, I'm still listening to public radio. Every 10 minutes they give you the weather for the entire state, broken down by region. This is funny because the weather is the same everywhere in the state, but the announcer still thinks he has to break it down every 10 damn minutes like this: "In north-east Kansas tonight it will be in the low 40s with a 30 percent chance of rain. Tomorrow highs in the 70s with a 20 percent chance of showers. In south-east Kansas tonight it will be in the low 40s with a 30 percent chance of rain. Tomorrow highs in the 70s with a 20 percent chance of showers. In southwest Kansas . . . " I memorize it and start reciting the weather every 10 minutes along with him.

Round about 6:30 I park the Outback in front of another Motel 6, this one in Colby in northwest Kansas. The car quickly becomes engulfed in a thick cloud of oil smoke. I ignore it as best I can, check into my room, and down three cans of Miller beer back to back to back before sleep finds me.

688 miles made good. Another record.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Headed West (day 1)

I woke up around 7AM and finished packing the car. It is pretty hilarious. I have two huge duffel bags strapped to the roof. Every square inch of the interior is full. Mac's blue tricycle is crammed into the front passenger seat.

Looking at 2800 lonley miles on the road, I decide to delay my departure by an hour so I can grab the package of cds sitting in the apartment manager's office. My buddy JP put together a little care package to get me across the country.

So, around 8:30 I kiss the wife and kids goodbye and hit interstate 40 headed west for Oregon.

I pick up a great bluegrass show on the country station out of Galax, Virginia as I head out of the state. It is kind of sad, though. This music will always remind me of our time here, and it is bitter-sweet. I turn off the station and just concentrate on the road.

Outside of Mt. Airey I see a guy on the side of the highway. He has a big backpack on, and a little dog. He is dragging an enormous crucifix over his shoulder. Gotta love the South.

North Carolina fades out of my rearview mirror soon enough and I am in to Virginia, then on to West Virginia. Some beautiful country out here -- nice rolling mountains. And road construction EVERYWHERE.

My first stop for gas (I average about 3 tanks a day) is in West Virgina. I head into the rest stop bathroom and when I come out I find my car engulfed in smoke. I pop the hood and see that the tiny oil leak, which drips on the exhaust and smokes, has become a pretty scary leak. Oh, great. I decide to stop and check the oil level every few hours. Nothing else I can do.

By early afternoon I am into Kentucky. Lexington is just as I imagined it, with rolling green horse farms, with their mansions and endless white fences, everywhere you look. Southern Indiana passes in a blur. I can't get many radio stations on the interstate, but I do pick up some John Mellencamp which makes me smile. The road passes not too far from French Lick, and I am tempted to make a detour and visit Larry Bird's birthplace. But I am nervous about my leaking engine and anxious to make as much ground as possible.

By dinner time I am in Southern Illinois and suffering serious road burnout. I start looking for a hotel to crash at but there is nothing to be found. I end up driving a bit further than I planned, and end up in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

680 miles made good. I am toasted, my car is smoking, and I went about 80 miles more than I planned on. Still, this will prove to be my shortest day.