Archive for November, 2008

Extreme Yet Serene

Yes, paragliding can be a little bit hairy. Yes, accidents happen. Yes, it’s still AWESOME! Yes, it’s off the beaten path for adventure.

Actually, if you’re going to try something like this, there is no safer place than the Torrey Pines flight park. The wind coming in from the ocean is nice and smooth, the instructors are competent and the park has been there for a long time. It can get a little crowded in the air but the traffic is well organized. Personally, I would take hang gliding over paragliding any day but paragliding seems to be all the rage these days. If you are interested in a little off the beaten path adventure, be it lessons or a quick tandem flight, this is the place to go.

Yotel, I kind of dig this.

You know those Japanese sleeping pods, just big enough to lay down in? Well, the idea is catching on at other places, too. They’re basically mini hotels complete with bed, television and kind of look like something you would get on a railroad car. Bathrooms are communal in most of them but they’re clean, safe, and the savings are great http://blogs.asbur..ra.html. Now they even have some at Heathrow, in Amsterdam, and at other places around the world. For me it’s perfect for a few quick zz’s between flights or a place to be if I’m coming off the field feeling poorly. You can rent a few hours, a day, whatever you need. If you’re interested, take a look at

Build a house in Mexico….IN TWO DAYS!

If you’re looking for a way to help others, learn a bunch, and make the most of your time off, try this off-the-beaten-path trip. This group builds houses for very poor families in Juarez, Mexico. They have it down to a science and can throw up a sturdy, warm house in just two days! The family goes from living in a shanty made out of scraps of wood to a small but comfortable home where they can be out fo the wind, cold and dust. It’s an awesome experience with the added bonus of getting some perspective on our blessings. If you are interested, just visit This is one of those trips where you will feel like you’ve been away forever even though it’s only been a few days….in a real good way.

Paying to LEAVE a country; be ready for it.

Just one little quick tip today when traveling to an off-the-beaten-path country. Sometimes you have to pay to LEAVE! The scenario is like this: You have had a wonderful time, saw the sights, bought some souvenirs, spent your last bit of money on a trinket or two. You went through the airline ticket line and customs as well and now your are headed toward your gate…. or so you think. Ah, look, one more line! What’s this for? It’s an “airport tax” to leave the country! I know that in the Philippines, it’s somewhere around 25 USD but must be paid in pesos. What does one do if he or she doesn’t have it? I have no idea. Fortunately we were tipped off and had saved the money for each person in our group of 15 people. Yes, that’s right, a cool 375 extra US dollars for our group to leave the country. OUCH!!

The Russian Banya. It has to be done.

The Russians invented the Banya because during a Russian winter one can feel as if he will never be warm again. It’s the kind of cold that seeps deep into your bones and holds on tight. Only the Banya can have victory over this kind of frost. Basically the Banya is a room (either a little log house or a more professional, spa-looking sauna) where they jack up the heat to unbearable levels. Sometimes dry, sometimes steam, one sits and sweats and sweats with periods of running out into the cold to regain your sanity. While these sweat rooms are fairly common in the colder countries, what makes it peculiarly Russian (other than the usual copious amounts of Vodka) are the “Veniki”. These are birch twigs with leaves attached, used to slap all over your body to “get the blood moving”. I think it adds just a touch of cruelty to make every Russian feel at home. Probably the best part of the Banya is that the Russians put so much effort into it. They get that gleam in their eye, kind of a dangerous gleam but you know it’s going to end up good.

Beating the Airline Ticket Guessing Game

I’ve found a free site that rocks and is actually usefull! It’s called and basically it takes historical and current data to see the cheapest time to buy tickets. You know how it goes: “what if I leave on Sunday or Monday? What if this week or next week? When does the season end? What If I stay 13 days or 12 days” Well, this site beats them at their game. They make it so confusing that we just guess and make bad decisions. What do we need? Information and here it is!

Do a Layover in Hong-Kong. Inexpensive and totally worth it.

If you’re heading “off the beaten path” anywhere in Asia, you might as well make a stop in Hong Kong on your way in or out. For roughly 100 USD, you can stay in the local YMCA which is situated in an awesome part of Kowloon. Best of all, it’s really quite a nice place to stay, just like any hotel.

Not Bad

Not Bad

 If you were roughing it in some jungle somewhere or schmoozing at some beach somewhere, it’s always good to touch one more place before heading home. For me, the two day layover was a highlight of my trip. Hong Kong is so beautiful and interesting, I will include it on any trip I can. Just remember to bring an umbrella!

Learning Languages, The Truth

I once heard of a businessman who wanted to learn Russian fluently in a 3 week crash course. Something got in his mind (advertising maybe?) that made him think this was possible with hard work. He learned a lot but barely touched the edge of what he needed to converse freely. Another person accumulated lots of dictionaries, books (unread), games, stickers and so on but never did the hard part: memorizing and practicing. She got nowhere.

Flashcards Rule!

Flashcards Rule!

THE SECRET: Flash cards and being willing to make a fool out of yourself. Make or buy thirty flash cards with the most common words on them. Keep them in your pocket and go over them everywhere you go. At red lights, waiting in an office, hold them under a table at boring meetings. As you learn the words, take them out of the pile and replace them with new words. NEXT, use them every chance you can, even if you look stupid. Learning a language is about work. First you need the tools (words in your head) then you need to practice using those tools. It will take time and you will also need instruction for native speakers, but until you suck it up and get the words out of books and into your mind, you will be struggling. AH, BUT THE PAYOFF IS WONDERFUL!!! As are the relationships you will form

The Secret to eating weird food

Eating nasty food is well…. nasty. I’ve known some who will pretend that something is tasty and eat it for the local experience but I don’t have that kind of stomach nor that ability to lie to myself. Some food is just stinking gross and that’s the way it is.

I will try things before I write them off, though, and some things really are an acquired taste. In answer to the question in your head, yes, there are times when we just need to suck it up and eat so as not to offend. As an example, I offer the following: red caviar that looks like it should be on the end of a fishing hook. This is served “tastily” on a slab of butter and a slice of white bread. Basically the bread and butter just prolong the suffering of the fish eggs.

Oh no.

Oh no.

THE SECRET: bite – swallow – say “thanks”. Don’t chew, just get it down as quickly as possible or your taste buds might have something to say about it. Let your host know how much you appreciate it but don’t be too enthusiastic or you might have to eat more.

THE AMAZING SIM CARD – and being “local” everywhere

Imagine this: I’m in the Philippines, making calls on my local cell phone. A little bit later, I’m in Cairo doing the same thing. After that I’m in Russia and on it goes. It’s always the same phone and I’m always local. How does this happen? By understanding how phones work overseas.

It’s not about hooking up with phone services and getting the right calling plan. It’s merely a matter of going into a kiosk or booth, buying a SIM card stocked with minutes and putting it in your phone. Violla! You’re local. In the Philippines I bought a SIM chip for $10 and was calling and texting home to my heart’s content. Everyone at home could find me whenever they liked so it was good all around.

The catch: First, you have to have a GSM enabled phone (quad band). In America many are already like that so no big deal. I bought an ATT Tilt that gets me anywhere and opens up easily to change the SIM card. Second, you have to get the code to unlock your phone. This means talking your carrier into letting you get off their system while out of the country. My phone is with a business so they were happy to accommodate. Just so you know, it can be difficult sometimes if you have an I-phone or something else you got on a deal with a 2 year contract.

Perfect for calming down the parents who are worried about getting a hold of you.