Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tales of the city

My stay in Tucson was brief and it was soon time to begin the next phase of the off-ice journey in the San Francisco Bay area.

We spent Thanksgiving morning doing some urban birding at the Albany mudflats just outside of Oakland with Michael's mother, brother and a couple of friends. Perhaps that was a good way to build up an appetite for the turkey feast that afternoon. We joined an eclectic collection of extended friends and family and feasted on food that was just as varied and delightful as the company.

We've spent the last few days soaking up the sights, sounds and tastes of the city as Michael has been showing me around his old favorite haunts. He let me indulge in some obligatory tourist activities and we took a cable car from Chinatown to Fisherman's Wharf.

The city competed a massive restoration project of the cable car system in the 1980's and today they happily clang away carrying tourists as well as residents. I thought it was a great way to get around instead of hoofing it up and down the hills. Besides, how often do you get to hang off the side of a moving vehicle in traffic?

We walked along the wharves and Embarcadero early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds and most of the shops weren't even open yet. As much as I love being a tourist, I can't stand any of the other pesky tourists.

But it wasn't too early for the sea lions. Pier 39 has become home to hundreds of sea lions since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and now they are a beloved attraction at the water front, just like clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

Alcatraz looked so close on this beautiful sunny clear day. Funny, people often compare South Pole to Alcatraz for some reason but I'm sure we have better food than the inmates ever had.

And speaking of South Pole, it's apparently the hottest brand of jeans among trendy high schoolers in the Bay area. I'll see if we can start carrying some of the styles in Polemart.

We spent lots of time visiting the old favorite hangouts, like eating burritos at El Farolito in the Mission and drinks at Vesuvio in North Beach. This is where Jack Kerouac hung out and there are plenty of hommages to the beat generation.

I though it had a great interior and since it opens at 6am, it also has its own collection of colorful regulars. We've actually gone there three times so far, the earliest being 10 am, and I must say the Bloody Mary is fantastic.

I love the nuances of the city and amidst the hustle and bustle on the streets with business men closing deals on cell phones, tourists wandering into traffic to take the perfect photo and an endless barrage of panhandlers, nothing disturbs the concentration of some intense checkers players in a little park on Kearny St.

This is all providing a nice transition for heading over to Bangkok in two days...

Sunday, November 18, 2007


OK, I'm not exactly 100% homeless...I'm fortunate to be able to call the desert of southern Arizona home where Mom and Dad still live in Tucson.
I was born and raised here and called it home myself until age 30. Now I use it as a homebase where I keep my stuff and repack my backpack in between gigs on the ice or in Alaska or elsewhere. It's always good to see family again and to get my fill of the best Mexican food in the world. OK, maybe in Mexico they have the best Mexican food in the world but here in Tucson just north of the border, we have amazing Sonoran style Mexican food that I always dearly crave whenever I'm gone. My first dinner after arriving here was at our favorite little restaurant El Minuto in the historic barrio district of downtown Tucson. Carne seca tacos...mmmm.

Today was a perfect day for a hike with my friend Lynn. Sabino Canyon is just north of Tucson and a very popular spot for its gorgeous scenery and nice easy trails but it's recovering from massive rains last year that caused landslides to erode away parts of the mountain sides and covered the trails with giant boulders and debris. Trail restoration is still underway and the one that we did, a 3 hour loop trail was only recently reopened for hiking.
You can see the city of Tucson in the distance

Just like tamales and carne seca, I have to also get my fill of desert and cactus whenever I come back home to Tucson. And at this time of year, you can always count on delightful weather, even before global warming started up. Temps are in the low 80s today and despite slathering on SPF 55 sunscreen, my arms and legs are a couple of shades darker.

South Pole seems like a world away right now...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Road trip

Believe it or not, this is a tourist attraction in New Zealand:

The public toilets in Kawakawa in the northern part of the North Island were designed by the German artist Hundertwasser and they are now one of the biggest things going for the little town on the way to the Bay of Islands.

We rented one of the smallest cars in the country but we just needed it to take us up to the scenic coastal area a few hours north of Auckland.

The weather was mostly gorgeous and yesterday we did a coastal hiking trail linking the towns of Paihia and Opua.

What we didn't spend on the rental car, we used to splurge on accomodations.

We rented a beach front apartment in Paihia that was larger than the entire B1 wing at the South Pole. I swear the walk-in closet was bigger than a standard berthing room back at the station.

Cuban cigar: $30. Enjoying it on your beachfront balcony: priceless.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back in the city

Ahhh...civilization again! We've been enjoying sun, warmth, a few rain sprinkles, lots of good sushi and Thai food, the most beautiful lattes in the world, street performers, seagulls screeching for handouts, lots of walking on grass and sidewalks, a huge grocery store with really expensive fruits and veggies but three separate displays of all kinds of cheeses, etc. One of our favorite hangouts so far is the Belgian beer garden, just down the street from our apartment, where they have imported Belgian beers and a wonderful patio overlooking the Avon river. We went there twice yesterday. I've been putting on sunscreen and wearing my hat but still feel a little glow from hours in the sun. Michael is a healthy pink now.
We hosted a little get-together last night at our place and had a room full of Polies. That's Jamie, Gail (Dennis's friend from Perth), Michael, Dennis, Francie, Kris, Jason, Randi (Kris's girlfriend) Jack, Leah and Noah. We were hoping that some friends would make it in to Christhurch yesterday but heard that they were actually still stuck at South Pole and not too happy about that. So we toasted our friends still on the ice and were even more thankful that we were the first and only group to escape Pole so far. If we don't see you guys here, safe travels and we'll see of you in a few months.