Friday, August 31, 2007
Tomorrow is the Braemer gathering, the most famous gathering of the clans for the highland games. The Queen and other royals shall probably be there.
Phil is the "chosen man" to Haemish, the head of Clan McClean. We arrived unannounced around 7 pm and since then have gone mushroom picking in a range rover through a field protected by a giant bull, seen wild rabbits, foxes and owls, tried some swords out for size, were loaned some antique quilts (including a McCrea tartan from his mother) from Haemish for the games and did some nighttime target practice with Phils nightvision rifle, before sharing a wee dram of whiskey before bed. In other words, a typical day out.
Clara has been riding with all the packs to simulate riding with a passenger, her next goal. We also saw a long haired red cow with big horns. I put on a new rear tire today, and bought a new front which is strapped to the back of my bike so we look like real "world tourers"
Can't wait for the log throwing tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Although there were a few tourists, clearly it was the place for the locals to enjoy some good craic! (Not to be confused with "crack")
Monday, August 27, 2007
While Kevin is downstairs at the pub trying to explain to the owner that he has broadband in his establishment and helping him to remeber what his password is, I would like to share some thoughts about my favorite country so far. Ireland is just how I imagined it, only better! Each day that we have been here we have ridden on some fantastic, wildflower-lined, narrow winding roads through picture-perfect towns made up of brightly colored homes with manicured lawns and gardens bursting with flowers. Wether on a coastal road with wiews of cliffs and beaches and waves crashing against limestone shores, or on a desolate country road surrounded by acres of boggs and farmland divided with stone walls and dotted with grazing two-toned sheep and hearty cattle, I feel part of this land. I have no Irish ancestors to speak of, but there is a sense of warmth and community yet at the same time a feeling of isolation and sadness that appeals to me at a level deep, deep inside. I have a sense that at some point in my life this is where I was meant to be; in a small stone cottage overlooling the sea. Where I could sit in my sun room and watch the rain fall and the waves crash stoicly against the rocks, or tend to my rose garden wrapped in a wool blanket on a bright crisp day.
Here, I get the feeling of being close to everything but far enough away so as to be able to feel modern and ancient all at once. I don't know, it is hard to explain, but if you've been here, traveling on these roads, you know what I mean.
In terms of ridng my motorcycle, Ireland is a dream! All the roads are paved, even if they seem impossibly narrow. Distances are short, but traveling the distances takes a long time because of the configuration of the land. The coastline is made up of "fingers" each containing numerous inlets. On any given day, we ride winding roads with tight turns and whoop-de-woops past a half dozen whole or partly whole castles, through tiny towns and modern cities each with their own personality but very much a part of the collective Ireland. I have become very comfortable with leaning waaaay over to one side then the other followng the curves of the snaking road. I've yelled out plenty of woo-hoos, especially while wooshing under a canopy of trees and wild flowers or on a cliff road by the sea. I have begun to drive with my visor open so I can constantly take deep deep breaths of crisp fresh cool air!
Well, Kevin is back, no luck with the broadband. We'll be back downstairs at the pub around 10pm tonight to partake of a lager while we listen to the Irish music jam session.
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Sunday, August 26, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
We are roughly following the same route, inadvertently, of the Tour of Ireland bike race. We are back to the clouds mist and rain for which the isle is well known.
We visited Lough Gur yesterday, a 5000 year old settlement site and home of Irelands best stone circle. Later to the spectacular cliffs of Moher, draped in mist but occasionally giving the 600 foot view down to the Atlantic.
Last night we enjoyed great local music at world renowned O'Connors pub, recommended to us by our friend Joe, whose wife is a niece of O'Connor clan.
The food is pricey but good, blowing our budget but filling our tummies. One pint knocked me out before midnight!
The roads and scenery have been fantastic. Amazing how 20 miles an hour can seem so ponderous in the Andes, but so glorious here. All the names and faces of Boston are here, murphy, connolly, o'brien, etc. My grandparents names of Fitzgerald and Murphy are as common as smith and jones in the states. I feel a part here, as if I am home, although maybe not so comfortable.
The people are kind, friendly and gentle and a feeling of safety abounds despite the tabloid headlines.
The roads are screaming, bringing back eachoes of my racing days. I even got the notorious front end wobble as I crested a wee hill yesterday, something I hadn't experienced in over a decade. A large smile got plastered on my face as we continued through the hedgerows and stone walls hemming us in on either side.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
We went down to the coast again, to Clonakilty, Skibberdeen and to Bantry where we camped for the night on the shore of the bay. There was a rally of old men and their old motorcycles on the roads, black outfits on black cycles, with the occasional singe of gray haired beards under a half helmet and goggles. The passion never dies...
I think I saw an AJS from the 20's, a few vintage sidecars and one solo rear wheeled car. All zooming through in traffic, no parading for them!
Delicious lamb chops for dinner, a pint at the pub with some local flute and music box before retiring under budget for the first time in Europe.
On to Kerry to confront the tourists!
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Monday, August 20, 2007
We are in Kilkenny, staying at the John Donegan family home. He is another great and friendly motorcyclist from HorizonsUnlimited who has a beautiful home and a GS Beemer.
In the last day or two we have caught a trout, had so much rain it came through the seams of our tent and on our heads in the middle of the night, visited Howth and watched the sailboat races, fallen over because I forgot to look right not left on a downhill graded curve (no damage!), went 24 hours without fish and chips, visited Kilkenny Castle with a great Long Room, listened to wonderful traditional music at Hughes pub, had some rain, had more rain, saw the sun for a brief period, almost ran over a rabbit on Saturday night,... and of course saw the Book of Kells, which was quite inspirational.
There are over 300,000 polish people in Ireland, it is amazing. Polish language newspapers and stores all about. Tons of tourists from all over Europe and America.
Must go, off to the pub!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Brazil is Big.
Random rememberings of the fond variety: Caipirinhas (preferably with 51 cachasa alchohol), more thumbs up than a Henry Winkler highlight reel, smiling faces, people truly wanting to help, oil change attendants wanting to hear my swear “like Hollywood”, beautiful theater in Belem and Opera House in Manaus, Rodisio’s of delicious Brazilian beef, everything is green, the Pantanal, wonderful open air evening of free music in Salvador, children in canoes on the Amazon receiving gifts from the Brazilian ferry passengers, an album cover of Kermit Ruffin’s plastered on a wall of a jazz café (affirming for them and me), truck drivers providing passing clues with their turn signals, animals, and bird as if the whole country is an open zoo, helpful, fun and thoughtful fellow motorcyclists, beautiful beaches, a jazz concert that spilled over into the streets, and the overall general feeling of everyone that life is good, worth enjoying and worth sharing.
This was tempered by some issues, most of them caused by a growing population and economy that gives one the feeling of opportunity. Air pollution in the megalopolis of Rio-Sao Paulo, the poverty of the flavellas, trash in some poorer areas, and rough infrastructure in many areas are problems of this type. The $5 dollar a gallon gas didn’t help, especially when I look at the odometer and realize we have gone 7000 miles since Buenas Aires which doesn’t seem nearly so far away.
Brazil is unique from South America, and the rest of the world in more ways than just its version of the language of Portuguese. You can easily imagine that Brazil is a world of its own, so large as to have all ones needs encased in its borders. Really what else is needed other than sun, surf, sand, samba and smiles. Many of them seem to be surviving on just that. Brazilians like to travel, but few of them have left the country, and they do not know much about life on the other side of the solid lines on the map. For example, one of my panniers has a sticker with the name and flag of Bolivia on it. I also have stickers of Brazilian Motorcycle Clubs, and a license plate from Massachusetts which says “Spirit of America” on it. But for some reason, people in Brazil from police to gas station workers were constantly asking me if I was from Bolivia. It is not that they aren’t intelligent, it is just that they have no knowledge or preconceptions about the outside that they could believe that a 5’ 9”, blond guy with bad Spanish riding a BMW 1200 is just as likely to be from Bolivia as from China. Despite sharing a long border with their landlocked neighbor, they don’t know how poor and indigenous the country is, nor of course the fact that there is no BMW dealership in the whole country. I developed an odd sense of enjoyment of even the suggestion of being a resident of the highland country where Che was done in. It is not that they are xenophobic or closed minded, in fact just the opposite they are full of questions and interest but there is a reason for the saying that “God must be Brazilian”, and that is because if there is a heaven on earth it surely is found in Brazil.
Brazil is the least race conscious country I’ve ever been in. It is common to see hands held of black with white, white with black and every mix and match in between. After centuries of racial mixing there are more varieties of human here than any where, different skin, eyes, hair; most importantly no one seems to judge one just by color. This isn’t to say that complete equality has been reached. It is also clear that the lighter skinned one is, the more likely to have money they are. At the nicer restaurants and clubs, the clientele is noticeably more European looking, although certainly not exclusive. The greatest difference from the US is that people simply don’t look at someone, up and down, let alone sideways because of their looks. They just aren’t judgmental or bothered. Of course, the Brazilians aren’t bothered by much and that is a good thing. I’m sure there is an equivalent saying to “live and let live” in Brazilian, which probably doesn’t need to be said much, because it is ingrained in the DNA of the citizens.
Brazilians really look out for each other, also more than any other nation I’ve encountered. From the people in the lowest class of the ferry boats on the Amazon throwing gifts of food, toys and clothes to their poorer Amazon brethren, to men at bars buying homeless kids food and bringing them cokes it is not difficult to find these acts of kindness. “There but for the grace of God goes I” also seems to be part of the conscious. They way the look and treat beggars and the poor is different from the US where we often have such disdain for them. In Brazil, the people have a look of compassion that says ‘I wish our country were not this way’ in a way that treats the other as an equal fellow man, as if they were commiserating over a drink at a bar or at a neighborhood bbq.
As with the rest of South America there is a large lack of faith in the government. Even when one gives praise in the form of saying the government is better, there is the acknowledgement that it should be much better and that much corruption, inefficiency, and bad planning still remains. This came to fruition spectacularly with the plane crash in Sao Paulo, a runway we had been on the day before. Earlier this year a local judge had ruled the airport unsafe and had halted flights on the doomed runway. He had been quickly overruled by a higher panel of judges who ruled that it was too much of an economic burden to bear and so reopened it to its fatal business. Nearly every time we watched the news Prior to the accident there were stories about how messed up the air flight system was in Brazil.
Finally, (and I could write a whole chapter on this) the Brazilian Flag is the most representative of its country of any in the world. The country truly is green and yellow, from top to bottom and side to side, with a big sky full of stars over it. The green is prevalent, of course, in many countries but not as much as Brazil and not just because of the Amazon. The yellow is the more distinctive part and the more subtle. Because of the great power of the persistent sun, the greens are changed, shaded, and hued into different yellows depending on ones angle, view, presence and perspective. There are also, of course, direct yellows: flowers, stalks, leaves. But to me it is the way the everpresent green and the gold of the sun meet to give yellow to the human eye which was the inspiration for the green and yellow country of happiness and good will. Finally, the people wear the colors proudly, even more than the red white and blue of the USA, on jeans, shirts, sandals, pendants, hats, it is casual and dressy, and always appropriate.
Have a caipirinha to get a taste of the spirit, or better yet visit and have one offered to you.
brother in law Michael. We had delicious food, and received lots of advice on things to see in Scotland.
We've been on the road in England and Ireland for nearly a week and it has rained every day, what a surprise! We camped out last night and Clara is already tired of the wet, cold windy weather. Welcome to August!
Friday, August 17, 2007
We both were in Wales for the first times of our life today. The A55 is a pretty road, with delicious soon to be mutton chops in the fields, and a blustery sea off to the right. The mountains(or large hills depending on your definition) had a peculiar mix of red and green shrubs desperately clinging to the hillsides which were mostly loose rock and shale. Amazing how different mountains can be from place to place.
At the Ferry Terminal I enjoyed some fish and chips next door to The Boston, a local watering hole.
Finally, we visited Stonehenge early last week, and it was underwhelming. But we took a picture anyway!
Clara and one of the Lions in Trafalgar Square, nice pussy cat!
Here we are behind one of the sculptures made by our friend and fellow motorcyclist Tim James Morgan. This one helped pay for his South America trip and is displayed in downtown London.
Here is a barrio climbing up the mountain side in Caracas, maybe the most dangerous city in the world with over 100 murders a week.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Does Quaint describe England?
Jolly well does! Right off you go!
We are in England, picked up the bikes today from Heathrow and safely made it the 30 miles back to our friend Tim and Nushka's place near Islington riding on the Wrong side of the Road!!!
Clara has bought a new pair of pants and her face and arm are healing nicely from the attack in Caracas. We are experiencing major culture shock. The streets are clean, things are efficient, barely any pollution and people speak English. London is about half English speaking now, although everyone seems to understand the language the first tongue on the Underground and in tourist traps like Leicester square is usually not Anglo-Saxon. Tons of Russians, Poles, Middle Easterners, Indians and Pakistani's, with a few french, german and a few nordic voices as well.
There is up to a $100,000 fine for putting trash on the street!!! Lovely! The streets are clean, and people are quite proper. We took a ride on the London Eye, the BIG giant ferris wheel and sat on the Lions in Trafalgar Square.
I have been indulging in my second favorite food, after cucumbers, Fish and Chips. However, the "chippies" are fast becoming a relic and unfortunately replaced by KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks.
It is very, very expensive here, just another reminder of how far America has fallen under the Republicans lead by that intellecutal genius of the new-clear age, George Bush.
Who is there?
South America, who?
Friday, August 10, 2007
Besitos to all!
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Thursday, August 9, 2007
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
We are really looking forward to the calmness and sanity of europe. It will be quite odd to speak english again in London.
Yesterday was the worst day of the trip. We got away from a robbery, then driving our bikes to the airport in tshirts and jeans we got hit with a horrible thunderstorm (our riding gear packed away for the trip) and were soaked to the bone.
Caracas is horrible in many ways. The WORST traffic in the world. One hour to go 4 miles on motorcycles with us going on sidewalks and between cars whenever possible. Ten cent a gallon gas, and barely a public transportation system will do that. Every left over american V-8 is here....ford fairline 500's, LTD's, Continentals, etc. Taking up space and gas, often without taillights.
Pictures of Chavez are everywhere, as is the danger. 100 murders a week is the common figure. The police are corrupt, apparently they steal motorcycles when they need parts for theirs. (This from the dealer who sells and services their bikes). Many people are fans of Chavez, usually less educated and not business people. Many people speak of the brain drain in the country and how the situation here is making people crazy. We have had 4 people from different parts of the country say the exact same words "people will kill you for your shoes".
Still, the city is growing and new buildings are being built. There clearly is money here, we have seen ferrari's, porche's and an MV Augusta on the road. The bmw dealership has been fantistic to us, and we have met many nice people there. Many of whom have personal harrowing stories of attemted robberies and kidnappings.
We are supposed to do a photoshoot today for a colombian "people" magazine called "Caras". They are interested in Clara's travels around south america..
They have the most precipitous barrios we've seen in some time. Funny enough, some neighbors have painted their casas in multiple primary colors as opposed to the usual unfinished red block and concrete.
There is also a black market for american dollars which is almost twice the official rate! You can get 8 months in jail if caught exchanging them, but people still come up to you in the street and ask if you need to change money.
Did I mention the ten cent a gallon gas?
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Sunday, August 5, 2007
Our friends Alfredo and Mena hosted us and our American friend Dave for a final goodbye lunch before we got on the boat to Belem. Muy deliciouso!!! and the company was incredibly charming of course, throughout all the courses.
Here is a picture of our great friend Alex and his Yamaha 650. Anyone and everyone with a motorcycle is a potential friend of this motorcycle shop owner. He put us up, and put up with us for almost 2 weeks!
This is another picture from Manaus, where we went to a Jazz concert at the Opera House and at the end of the show the band left down the main center aisle followed by the whole crowd and the party started in the foyer then out in the street. If they did this in Boston the police would arrest everyone! Imagine the horrors of a spontaneous party at 11 pm on a Thursday!!!
We have reached our final desination in South America, the city of Caracas. We used the old "look stupid and lost" technique to once again find a great host. As we pulled into an area where our guidebook said there were hotels, we stopped on the side of a pedestrian shopping thoroughfare. As Clara went and looked for a hotel, "Daniel" came by and asked if I spoke Spanish. I answered yes, and soon he was explaining about taking his 650 motorcycle around South America in the near future. By the time Clara came back he was ready to ask us to stay with him!
Works almost some of the time! We just enjoyed a wonderful meal at the home of he and his wife, whom he warned us is a full utilizer of the talents of the local silicon implanters.
I started to diagnose the problems with his Yamaha dragstar 650 (maybe 400) which he knows nothing about, including how his petcock works. (But rest assured, petcocks are working pretty well around South America..., bu dump bump)
We'll see if I can get his electrical problems worked out before we get kicked out of the house!
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Yesterday was my birthday (34!) and it also marked the end of a wonderful 3-night-2-day tour into the Tepuy region of Venezuela. This region is famous for its waterfalls and its table-top shaped mountains known as Tepuys. The most famous water fall is Angel Fall, found on Auyan Tepuy, named after an American explorer who "discovered" it in 1931 while flying over the area and prospecting for gold. He landed his plane on top of it and was later unable to take off so he and his three companions just left it there and hiked down the Tepuy for 11 days to get help.
We took a plane from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima where we promptly got on a boat to take a four hour ride upstream, with only a short stop for a hike and one for lunch, to arrive at Salto de Angel before sundown. Our travel companions were a group of 19 rowdy middle-aged Venezuelans on their summer vacation. It was great fun and well worth the time and expense. After climbing for about one hour to reach the viewing area, we descended the mountain and crossed the river to reach our camp. We ate delicious roasted chicken, toasted with our new friends and turned in for a great night's sleep on our hammocks.
Early the next morning, we were back in the boats for the ride down-river.
We reached our other camp by lunch time and after a nice afternoon rest we headed over to the Salto Sapo and Sapito falls where we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the cave behind the huge and powerful waterfall and hiking up to get views of both waterfalls from above.
This evening we slept in our "honeymoon cabin" on a real bed! It was quite luxurious compared with the prior evening.
Yesterday, we slept in and around late morning we took a boat ride to the falls directly accross from our camp. I got so inspired by the beauty of the nature surrounding us that I disrobed and let Kevin take a picture of me in my "birthday suit" wearing nothing but my birthday present (a lovely sun-burst necklace made from seeds) and my sunglasses to protect my eyes and to a degree my innocence! But, since I am a professional woman, I will not post such a picture and avoid any future scandal. Here's the PG version though...
After we arrived back in Ciudad Bolivar, we had dinner and topped off my wonderful day with a yummy banana split.
Today, we rode an easy 200 miles to arrive in Puerto La Cruz, a coastal city not far from Caracas where we will probably spend the weekend catching up on emails and relaxing on the small beach or in our sexy time hotel suite.