Santa Fe Motorcycle trip — the introduction and route out

I’m taking a couple of weeks to ride out to Santa Fe to go visit friends, make some pictures, meet new people, gawk at that strange land beyond the San Francisco bubble, and basically enjoy the high desert in the short window between “Inferno” and “Icicle.”

Continue reading “Santa Fe Motorcycle trip — the introduction and route out”

Earthquake country ride

Heading down near Santa Margarita for the week to hang out with friends.

Someone suggested this route:

Seems like a nice idea, explore earthquake country…

Parkfield is the most active part of the San Andreas fault. Almost constant tremors and quakes. I may skip the Parkfield loop if it’s too hot… 😦

proposed motorcycle route to tahoe

I’m planning on heading up to Tahoe this week on the bike to stay with some friends at their cabin.

This is the route I’m considering —

  1. cross the bridge to 84
  2. east on tesla road to stockton ( suggestion)
  3. north on 88 to ione
  4. hit sutter ione road ( suggestion)
  5. hit fiddletown road ( suggestion)
  6. up 88 to 89 into tahoe

Africa: Botswana History Lesson (as told to me by Fish)

Big game parks. Both owned by a guy named Ratray. We met old Mr. Ratray at Mala Mala, he was wearing red tartan trousers and a red sweater for dinner. His traveling companion was a blue haired woman wearing a pith helmet to lunch.

I kid you not…but first…

Fish, the coolest ranger, ever, told me some Botswanan history while we were walking through the lands.  I’m trying to recall this from memory, a week later, so I may have to update it when I have real internet access again.

Mr. Fish
Mr. Fish

Great Grandfather Khama was one of three paramount chiefs in the land that later became the country of Botswana. There was nothing of value to Great Britain in Botswana–no minerals, no oil, nothing to be exploited. At this time, the British were doing everything they could to gobble up as much of southern Africa as possible. They claimed Rhodesia, north Rhodesia (Zimbabwe & Zambia), and most of South Africa. The Dutch had previous claims on South Africa, but the British had been harassing them badly, pushing the Afrikaners north east, to the land that became Transvaal.

The British  had little interest in Botswana, but were going to colonize it anyway as a matter of principle. They were building a railroad from Cairo to Cape Town, and through Botswana was the perfect choice. Their usual modus operandi was to claim the land, “hire” the natives to help with the manual labor, and pay them off with alcohol, which was largely unknown previously, quite addictive, and easy to manufacture and transport.

Khama and the two other paramount chiefs did the unthinkable. They wore western clothes, learned western manners, and went to England to petition the Queen. The Queen dumped them on her Lord Chamberlain, who just wanted the problem to go away. Khama negotiated a deal where Botswana became a protectorate of England, largely autonomous.  They deeded a small strip of their land, the Tule block, to England to build the railroad–think canal zone. He also convinced the crown to agree to immediately settle the Tule block with British subjects.

This was a brilliant move.  It created a tripwire between the British and the Dutch. If the Boers tried to cross into Botswana, they’d have to fight the British first. The British, for their part, seeing nothing of worth in Botswana, left the rest of the country alone.  This is one of the main reasons why Botswana is so less fucked up than the rest of the region. There was no “civilizing” of the natives by turning them into servants and/or drunken unskilled laborers.

Fast forward to the independence of Botswana. Khama’s grandson, Svetsee Khama (spelling?), made a similar trek to England. Again, there was nothing to exploit in Botswana, the Crown was more than happy enough to give up responsibility for Botswana. In fact, the deal that they negotiated included a hardship provision for Botswana. Cattle were imported to the country, and the UK contractually agreed to buy a huge load of Botswanan beef every year, with no expiration date on this contract.

(Off topic, Svetsee Khama and an English aristocrat fell in love. It was unheard of and totally scandalous that there could be a relationship between a black man, even the leader of a country, and an English woman of high standing. This caused a lot of friction and frustration to the British and a number of times nearly screwed the deal.)

Cattle is now the number two source of income in Botswana. Amazingly enough, just after the deal was inked and Botswana received independence, diamonds were discovered. A LOT of diamonds. Ooops. 🙂

Svetsee Khama negotiated a deal with DeBeers. For 20 years, DeBeers would receive 60% of the profits from diamond exploitation, but part of the provision was that they had to train locals to run and manage the operation. At the end of 20 years, the contracts would be re-negotiated, and, of course, now far more in favor of Botswana. DeBeers got a lot of diamonds, Botswana now controls the operation and gets the majority of profit, everyone’s moderately happy.

I love these guys.

Africa: Zimbabwe – part 2 – Who wants to be a Zimbabwean billionare?

We were mega-border hoppers today. We not only went into Zimbabwe for the elephant ride, but also crossed the border again to head over for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

Zimbabwe is falling apart all around us (we didn’t realize that while we were there, Tschangere came back into the country and was arrested and his folks were getting beaten and detained by the war veterans and police), and this grand old hotel is doing its damnedest to make us think it’s still high times in the British Empire.

The hotel is beautiful, if a bit threadbare, but is quite empty. There is one other party of Africans here, us, and a couple of Japanese tourists. It is a complete and utter transformation from Zambia, which is full of tourists, money, and absolutely no class. Think Russian Mafia chic and you get the Royal Livingstone at Zambia vs. the Queen Mother (who is still revered here at the Vic Falls).

The border between the two countries is a no-mans-land between the falls. There are people here carrying goods back and forth between Zim and Zam. The inflation here in Zim is so incredibly bad that you cannot keep the local currency. One of our party asked to see an inexpensive dollar bill, the waiter handed him a ZIM$25 million bill and told him to just keep it.

Our bill for tea was ZIM $44 billion, roughly USD $90 given the poor (and totally illegal because it was still 100x better than the official rate) exchange rate they gave us.

I have a strong feeling that if they can get Mugabe to exit, Zim is really going to come back in style, give it 2-5 years and it will be rocking here, just like Prague after the wall fell.



Africa: Zimbabwe – part 1 – Elephants

Since the credit card machine at Kasane was out of order, we had to pay for a fuel load with cash. We both had brought a lot of US dollars along for just such a case, but between the fuel load and the new passport visa fees into Zambia, we were on the verge of being cash-dollar poor, so I’ve started to become really stingy when it comes to spending US dollars.

We really wanted to ride some African elephants, despite it being one of those cheesy tourist activities. The elephant park in Zambia was full, but just across the border in dreaded Zimbabwe, there was the sister franchise for the local game park. So, off we went this morning at 5am.

_MG_0913 - Version 2

So far, I really like Zimbabwe. Perhaps Zambia and I got off on the wrong foot (staying in a tourist hotel in Africa makes me feel like a mark, and then paying US$100 per-person to ride some elephants made me feel even more like a mark). However, when I realized how many different people we were supporting, I started to feel somewhat better about it. We had a Zambia driver and a Zimbabwe driver who both helped us through immigration and customs, drove us 30km to the franchise, then there were 11 different elephants available to ride, photographers, trainers, etc.

Tourism in Zimbabwe is _way_ down. The place we went was clearly set up to handle a few dozen people at a time, and we totaled five. Everyone was very nice, proud, and not subservient like in South Africa. While their economy is totally screwed, they are making due as best as they can. There are still a fair number of white people there acting in specialist roles (videographer, vets, et al) but they seem to have pragmatically accepted that they’re not colonial lords anymore and are there because Zim is their home. I spoke to my elephant guide for an hour or so, trying to avoid politics, but we did discuss the economy and how they make do with a currency that is rapidly inflating. He works 40 days on, then has 10 days off. He has to travel 1000km to go home to visit his family. By train, 2 days each way, at 1 billion ZB$, or by bus (1 day) at 2.5B ZB$ (about 20USD). I asked him how he gets money to his wife in her village before it goes worthless. Obvious answer, shared ATM cards and he calls her. 🙂 Just when you think people are stuck in the stone age, you get slapped in the face. You can use an ATM in Zimbabwe, but you can’t get magnets.

I suspect if the MDC win the run-off elections, Zimbabwe is going to rapidly recover and could become another African powerhouse next to Kenya and SA. That said, I still love Botswana, who has no pretensions of doing anything other than doing what’s best for its people..