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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Palawan Paradise

Day 11 here in paradise and so much to catch up on. The beauty of this country continues to amaze me. Bohol was fun and now it was time to hit a full week in Palawan where I’d find my wingman for the week. A 20 year old friend and trusted travel companion, we met up in Puerto Princessa which is the capital of this island at the very west of the Philippine islands. Yes Gunar is shorter than me so I made him stand below me.

The must see attraction in this area is the Underground River tour which is a breathtaking 8km deep river tunnel with cathedral lake ceilings of rock carved out over millions of years and about a million bats throughout that apparently take great joy in pooping on tourists. It’s called guapa and if it happens to you you’ve been “guapaed”. Literally I had seen nothing like this in my life. Continuing to embrace an environmentally focused mindset the tour forbids any talking while on the river tour as it effects bats navigation who rely entirely on sonar pitches to fly around the pitch black caves. Instead they give you a recording device and ear buds and you follow along a narration. At one point in the tour the guide turns out his light and you can’t see the hand in front of your face. Amazing. After the river cruise we also participated in the package zip line ride and mangrove tour. Good but nothing compared to the underground river.

Puerto Princessa in the rear view mirror we next headed for El Nido which was 250km/5 hour drive away. Gunar and I went into full fragile old guy mode and rented our own private car rather than cram into a van with 10 others with no leg room. Our driver was Jeffrey who was awesome and alarmingly sane consider he does this round trip drive EVERY DAY! That’s 5 hours there and 5 hours back plus any breaks in between. Next time you think you have a tough gig at work just think of Jeffrey who grinds out each day, with a smile.

El Nido welcomed us with our own personal greeting and some world class sunsets. Our most important decision to make immediately upon arrival at happy was which 2 for 1 drink to order and find a great spot to take in paradise level sunsets.

If I have any one bone to pick with this wonderful country its an inability to make a good cocktail. I ordered a mai tai but got an orange creamsicle.

Gunar and I went to dinner one night and I was in the mood for a Martini which was a bold move. Strategically like Trump avoiding the draft with bone spurs I deferred but instead had Gunar order one first. Good thing as his drink arrived and it looked like water taken directly from a pond in Chernobyl. We sent it back and said no vermouth and the next one came back even darker and more vermouthy. Knowing they were still cooking my dinner and could sweet revenge for being that problem table that kept sending drinks back I offered to drink it but could not get through the first sip. Time to take matters into my own hands and show my Philippian friends how to crank out a world class martini. My gift to the people who have given so much to me.

Scooter bikes rented yesterday to find a world class beach which was achieved at Lio Beach about 15 min outside of El Nido. Free lounge chairs and a beach nearly to ourselves with multiple bars and restaurants steps away. It’s crazy how easy it is to find your own little peace of paradise.

Today was a travel day from El Nido to Coron for the last phase of our trip before heading home – another full day of kayaking. The ferry ride over was a scheduled Donut Monday authoring time but 15 foot swells put that plan on hold. Good to see Gunar there in my time of need.

Clearly I was still woozy from the trip later that night

Zzzzzz time

Become The Local

Day 7 here in paradise and we’ve moved on from the amazing beaches and torn up roads of Boracay to the island of Bohol and specifically Panglao. A day long trek that took a trike, jetty boat, plane, ferry boat and one more long trike. Beer me. Never did I appreciate my backpack more though it’s crazy how many folks I see with roller bags.

My new digs is a new set of villas set off from the main hotel that was just recently built. So new that the taxi trike driver could not find it and at some point pulled me into a locals home driveway that could only be properly described as “rustic. Like outhouse level rustic. Just before I could call the Expedia hot line we realized our mistake and I was all checked into paradise.

The hotel was about 3km (yeah they use the metric system here folks) from the main drag of Alona beach so some quick math determined I was going to put a trike kids though school. 400 pesos per day and the most basic signed waiver later and I’ve got my own ride, a late model yellow tourist scooter with a half tank of gas and unlimited gusto. I hopped on and cranked that baby to what I considered top speed for me, only to be immediately passed by a family on bike, with a toddler, and groceries.

Bohol is the island that always seems to be on the verge of a apocalyptic rainstorms that never come to fruition. A lightening bolt hit the water offshore and I hit the floor like someone yelled incoming but the locals never flinched. Even today when we went for an early morning snorkeling tour on what I could only describe as a boat made of bamboo powered by a lawnmover engine all I could see was a black cloud from the edge of the water to heavens. I checked the itinerary to see if this was a 3 hour tour. Indecisive if only because there is no itinerary. Just give someone 700 pesos and see what transpires. Today was great snorkeling with reefs that seem very healthy and seeing dozens of huge sea turtles.

7 days in and I’m getting the hang of this. Thank you has become “Salamat!”

“Would you like to take an island hopping tour?” Yes and I did that yesterday my friend

“Would you like to rent a scooter?” I just waive my scooter keys around my finger and a knowing smile.

“Sir you so white. Would you like some sunblock? I have special SPF120 for you!”

Some things you can’t escape

Be the local.

Tomorrow I rendezvous with my fellow Umbrellahead in Palawan and start week 2 of this Philippine adventure

Rapids, Rappelling and Roasting

Day 4 into the Philippine adventure and the theme of the day is rapids. A full day of white water kayaking with a side adventure of waterfall repelling and the most unique hot tub experience I’ve ever had.

The day starts early with a 6:30am pick up by my guide Jodil who works for Tribal Adventures, the local tour outfit that organizes this trip. This was my far my costliest excursion of the trip but it’s primarily because I was the only one in my tour. October is still off season here in Philippines and it’s a 10-12 hour day which many avoid. Throw a few others in and it’s more than a reasonable price but I didn’t care. This was an adventure I was looking forward to. It was almost 2 hours to get to our destination. 30 min on a trike, 20 to jetty boat over to the mainland and just over an hour of driving to the mountains. The drive itself is an adventure. Imagine a road full of tricycles and mopeds and we are in a big Toyota van dodging all of this at 60 mph. Not one horn. Not one angry gesture. It’s just how things work here.

Before we could arrive at our destination we had to stop and pick up lunch. I’m not talking sandwiches or fast food. I’m talking about fresh fish caught earlier that morning. A Whole chicken. The freshest of fresh vegetables. All in a bustling farmers market that was tarped to easily accommodate the average Filipino height. I’m 6’1 so I pretty much was in the crouch position for 20 minutes holding mangos, a dead chicken and rice. Feel the burn.

We then set upon our arrival to our destination at the kayak Inn which is ground zero for our adventures today. We met the Filipino family that lives here all year round managing the inn and organizing the food and hot tubs (more on that later) There are 6 kids and about as many dogs which scurry around the grounds. Assuredly I will find another canine fiend today. Everyone is happy and very welcoming as always. I realize now why our guide bought so much food for lunch to feed one guest….most of it goes to the family on site.

We started off on a quick waterfall hike with our guide Ryan. I know his name is Ryan because that was the name on his shirt but not one word came from his mouth. He’s a nice local kid who is designated to take tourists to the local waterfall. Jodil came with us too. Imagine a 3 level waterfall, each with its own pool to swim. We made it up to the top, the last part of which required rapelling up using a rope and some hopefully sturdy well gripped shoes to make it up the sheer cliff. We made it surprisingly easily though I found a new level of sweating I did not think possible. Jumping into the cool pool of natural spring water was welcome relief.

A 30 min hike back to the Kayak Inn and a hearty lunch and it’s kayak time.

These are special Filipino style kayaks that are sit on top style with special drainage to keep the water from pooling too much. They cut through the water so easily. I had some kayak experience before but almost entirely of the sea type excursions. Regardless the safety lesson was brief ( Go down the river. Don’t fall out. If you fall out reminder that you signed the waiver and the check has already cleared my friend) The outfit actually takes safety very seriously and had another kayak guide and 2 spotters down the river to guide me to the exact spots to navigate to. I never felt they would not be there to rescue my ass if I got into a pickle. It was a 4-1 ratio guides to me. Plus 2 of the family dogs that accompanied us on the trip and hitched a ride to the back of kayak when they feel like it.

I felt confident and perhaps a touch brazen which quickly evaporated when I got caught up on a shallow rock not 30 seconds into the trip and had to be turned around by one of the spotters who “walked” over in 3 feet of water to help me. But I quickly recovered what was left of my manhood by navigating through the first few rapids unscathed. These are class 2 and 3 and while they don’t look that big of a deal from the shore its verified sphincter tightening scary when you are going through the rapids in an open kayak. You try your best just to point the boat downhill and the water decides what comes next.

We are down to the final rapid which is full class 3 and narrow. This is actually the pull out area above the rapid for most of the tourists but the consensus from the guide team is that I’m good enough to get through it. My chest extends slightly outward simultaneously with a slight head expansion. I’m back to full strut mode. I see a handful of local Filipino boys purched on a rock at the bottom of the rapid. Clearly word has spread quickly that a pasty white foreign prodigy has descended upon this tiny town. They are here to witness this first hand, or compete for the 500 pesos to retrieve my body. Either way I feel like I’m making a contribution.

My guide gives a few final instructions, a motivational tap on the helmet like a team coming out of a huddle on the final drive of the game. No timeouts left. It’s win or go home. And 30 seconds in on the tiniest of rapids of what is to come I get dumped into the water and now I’m dog paddling to survive. Even the dogs, who adored me, again admittedly driven almost entirely by my pork table scrap generosity, can’t look at me now. Imagine a scene from the Simpsons when Homer is rolling head over feet getting smashed, a rapid succession of “Dohs!”

The local Filipino kids admiration quickly transitions to a scoring a quick 500 pesos but even that hope is dashed as I am able to get through the rapids relatively unscathed save for my ego which is still pierced on one of the rocks from now to the end of time. I hear a monument is in the works. Philippine President Duterte exchanges tweets with Donald Trump to consult on my new nick name. They agree on Litl Canadian Hoser while my U.S. citizenship is revoked. But even at my lowest Jodil my guide fishes me out the water at the bottom and gives me a big grin smile. I think he enjoyed it more that I fell in. I love that guy.

Waterlogged but still in good spirits we shuttle back to the Inn where I’m offered (and eagerly accept) a cold San Miguel. Part of the tour experience is a hot tub which is essentially a large cast iron pot with water that is heated by fire below. It’s set to about 104 degrees and filled with a concoction of native leaves, some special bark and other various ingredients that are supposed to bring some medicinal effects. I ask the local hot tub preparer guy if they have anything in there to heal egos. He just stares at me with a big smile. There is no cure for that whitey. I hop in because when it’s 85 degrees all day with 100% humidity that mandates 3 shirt changes a day what’s better than to jump in water that is 20 degrees warmer? Go with it. The hot tub guy hovers and asks me how I like it. Takes a few pictures. Keeps smiling. I can’t help but think something is off here. He offers if I can stay for dinner. But is that a question or statement? I look down at the water. That’s not eucalyptus leaves. Those are bay leaves! That’s not local tree bark. Those are peppercorns! And why are there wedges of onion scattered throughout the water? I’m not being hot tubbed. I’m being slow roasted! Brined Canadian Pork! It’s time to go.

2 hours and 3 modes of transportation later I’m back in Boracay and while a local Filipino family won’t be having pork tonight they can still savor the time they saw a Canadian boy take on the rapids and dog paddle his way to (Not) glory.

Special thanks to the gang of Tribal Adventures for organizing an amazing day. I highly recommend them and will be using them again next week in Coron for another kayak and snorkeling adventure!

Sweaty Island Hopping

Here I am full into day 2 of my Philippine adventure and already the trip is living up to high expectations. The Filipino people are amazing and have made me feel very welcome (and safe) every step of the way so far. Other than a short layover in Manila to catch some zzz’s after a long flight over I’m hitting 5 total destinations in 2 weeks. Boracay, Bohol, Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron. October is towards the end of rainy season but since I’ve arrived I have yet to see a drop of rain. I’d actually welcome a bit of rain if it would cut the heat a bit. Temperatures range from mildly sweating in the mornings before 8am, aggressive sweating from 8am to 1pm and downright dripping sweat until sundown. But I just embrace it and plan on a few laundry days.

This is the journey each morning from my hotel to the main drag in Boracay which is broken into 3 stations. It’s about a 30 min walk which is a large contributor to the sweat scenarios but the view is worth it.

This is the death climb I do twice a day. I work out 4-5 times a week and I’m drenched with sweat at the top. I just jump right into the pool.

If I don’t want to walk I can take a motor trike home which is essentially a motorcycle with a side car. 200 pesos which is the equivalent of $4. The journey encapsulates the haves and the have nots. 5 star hotels with every amenity imaginable beachfront with shanty style units across the street. The road to my hotel is outside the main drag and is crammed with all the locals who serve those who visit the islands. It’s a simple and perhaps hard life but I get the sense the people of Boracay wouldn’t trade living anywhere else and the sense of community and family is strong.

Any stroll down the beach front inevitably comes with tourist pitches to do any number of activities and I was happy to indulge in an island hopping tour. 5 hours to hit 2 snorkeling destinations, 2 beaches and lunch over 5 hours. 800 pesos which is $16. You can’t beat that deal. The entire country is incredibly reasonable cost wise by western standards and in some cases downright cheap. 500 pesos ($10) for a 1 hour massage (still on my list to do) $3 for full laundry service. $2 for pretty much any alcoholic drink. No tipping required but I do it anyway. I’ll remember Boracay from now on every time I have to pay $35 to park for a sporting event or $25 for a glass of wine.

I had some time to kill before my island hopping excursion started so I hit a Starbucks aka a sweat break zone with killer AC only to be outdone by the view. I defy you to find a more amazing view in any Starbucks in the world. And I had the place almost entirely to myself.

My boat was filled with a hodge podge of tourists from all over the world. There was the 3 Saudi men who only spoke Arabic and spent most of the trip making fun of each other, culminated with the part of the trip that had one of their friends getting hit by wave after wave splashing over the side of the boat. There were the 2 K-pop Korean women in their early 20s that were posing and posting selfies to Instagram ever 19 seconds. I’m not far off on this time estimate. I did my best impression of a small sampling of their favorite poses below

The rest of the boat were all Chinese, most at or near retirement age. Very friendly. Very aggressive on getting in whatever line for snorkel gear, lunch or whatever. I was always last which personified my island time mentality. They are masters of this trade craft. The snorkeling was just ok. Very small fish and the coral looked very bleached which is an indicator of a reel in stress. Global warming is everywhere. I was just happy to be floating and swimming in a sea that is the most beautiful turquoise you have ever seen. The Boracaians are very environmentally friendly. No trash anywhere. Banned straws. Limited fishing.

This is where we stopped for lunch. It’s essentially someone’s house in the backyard with extremely tasty local Philippine cuisine and hungry yet well behaved dogs that will welcome any scraps but don’t beg. This is my new friend who enjoyed the head rub almost as much as the pork I was sharing with him. (Editorial update – we interviewed the dog and he confirmed his attention was driven entirely by the pork)

5 hours later I’m back at the port and my tricycle was calling for a ride back to the hotel to rest my weary feet. The decision was culminated when my driver said he needs to go very fast to have enough power to make it up the hill road to your hotel. Is that OK? Hell yes that’s ok.

Evening time and I’m back at station 2. Traditional dinner of Filipino cuisine and 3 beers later $17 total) I’m strolling down the main drag. Every bar has live music and I settle at The Bom Bom bar (it’s not what you think you heathens) and drain one more beer listening to live reggae band with a lead singer that should probably be on American Idol he was that good.

My head hits the pillow 30 min later into a very welcome air conditioned bedroom and day 2 is officially put to bed.

Fijian Adventures Week 2

 

 

For those craving an update here’s the recap of Fiji adventures week 2

 

After the 1st week of orientation Donelle got assigned her class. It’s 5-6 year old Fijian girls and boys from town. For most of these kids this is their 1st structured teaching environment and it’s more equivalent to pre-school than kindergarten. Basic shapes were her first teaching assignment as well as helping the kids make name tags.

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It’s 4 kids assigned per desks and classes are 2 hours per day for each set of kids. Donelle has 2 classes so the mornings are set for classroom time

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It’s definitely rustic conditions in the town where she stays but it’s safe and everyone seems happy.

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Here is group picture of the full time teachers and volunteers that help at the local schools. Of course Donelle fully accessorized to match the color of the day. Good job!

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The community of volunteers are constantly changing with new arrivals and departures with volunteers staying anywhere from 1-12 weeks. The average age is about 22 years old and many volunteers are from Australia and Germany. They have not called her mama Donelle yet, probably because she can roll with all of them fun and energy wise.
School days are Monday through Thursday. Most of the volunteers take off for the weekends to explore other areas of Fiji. Hostels are throughout the region and Donelle has made a good crew of friends with the “Older” volunteers who are closer to 26.

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and I don’t even know where to categorize this one but Donelle is a pro now at cracking coconuts!  This was part of the orientation cooking class for local cuisine.

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Trail Blazin!

So proud of this Chickita Momita Seniorita. This unsung hero who takes care of the kids every time I get on a plane for the last 14 years is getting her due. Donelle heading out tonight for a solo 2 month volunteer trip to SE Asia to help make the world a better place. Some people get out of her comfort zone..this lady cashed in all her points for a mom sabbatical, took a stick of dynamite to her comfort zone and is heading out to do her little part to make the world a better place by working with impoverished children in Fiji. In lieu of high heeled shoes and all the trimmings of a typical tropical vacation she has loaded up a suitcase of school supplies, books, games, and other staples that we all take for granted here which are in short supply where she is headed.

Either that or she got on Survivor and is keeping it a secret…Nah!

This lady is truly going to rough it. Not our standard definition of roughing it when we think vacations when there is only weekday butler service, 200 thread cotton sheets (ick) and wifi that tops out at 100Mbps (unfathomable) She will be sleeping in a dorm with no AC and heavy humidity.  Working 5 days during the week and weekends off to explore on her own. Then a side trip to Sydney at the end of her tour and heads back end of March. We will miss her a ton but so happy for her upcoming adventure.

Meanwhile back on the home front single dad Scotty has things covered. I mean how far can kids grades drop in 8 weeks and do you really need to change the bed sheets that often? Pretty sure there’s only a small chance I loose one of the kids but that’s why we had two. Backup.

Stay tuned on DM for more updates on the adventures of a traveling volunteer mama and single dad shenanigans.img_9892

A Parental (Un)Guide to Surviving DisneyLand

(Disclaimer – If you think this will be a traditional helpful hint guide that tells you all the ins and outs of the parks, which apps to use, which Disney characters to seek out and where to save a $1 on a coke please turn that cruise ship around now and find another port of call. If I could tell you to seriously consider cancelling your trip, call up your bookie and put it all on red and you would seriously consider such a move please read on)

 

So whoever coined the phrase Disneyland “The Happiest Place On Earth” never had to deal with a 3 year old with diarrhea and a 6 year old that declared It’s a Small World frightens him in hour two on the 1st day of a 3 day park hopper pass that cost more than your 1st year of college tuition and he’s tapping out on any more rides. And for every parent out there that has made this trek you know what I’m talking about.

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It’s been three years since our last pilgrimage to see Mickey and friends and with my kids now 13 and 10 I thought maybe I’d made my last visit but when we sat down for the annual family vacation planning summit it was declared that Disney was on the rotation again this year. There was concern raised in various focus groups commissioned as part of the pre-summit preparation that the kids were on the verge of getting too old to want to go again until they would have kids of their own and suffer the same fate like a generations of parents before them. The commission was right on the outgrowing part and yet there was no room for negotiation. My counter focus group commissioned by Mr Donut Monday made a unanimous recommendation to leave the kids at home, got to Scotland for golf and scotch tasting and talk like Sean Connery for the rest of the year. That focus group was permanently disbanded.

 

 

My destiny locked in there was only one thing left to do. Embrace my fate and Initiate the Disneyland Ultimate Family Unification for Survival plan (AKA Operation DUFUS) This is essentially a survival guide that has been honed and refined over the span of about 45 minutes it took to churn this out, passed down from generations of parents who bought into the Disney dream and came unprepared. It’s so sacred and secretive that even the illuminati don’t have a copy of it but I share it for my fellow donut disciples. Some of these need to be executed prior to the trip and some are initiated on site but each are proven techniques to help you survive and dare I say enjoy your trip. And I’m not talking about how to use Fast Passes or which day to visit the park to minimize crowds. Let’s face it, the last time Disney was not crowded with endless lines was never.

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  1. Fake a Disney Bookings Website Crash

A true patriot of deception goes cloak and dagger in day one of Disney trip preparation. Get out in front by volunteering with strong enthusiasm that you will immediately work on booking the tickets online only to come back with academy award winning frustration that the Disney ticket bookings site has been down all day. Position yourself accordingly for a fast acting yet sly unplugging of the router if she tries to access the site on her own. Inevitably a Google search will produce a toll-free number to call (1-800-Shoot-Me) so you’ll have to set up a fake call center routed to your Thursday night drinking buddy who will be instructed to pleasantly take a ticket order while simultaneously suffering a Tourette Syndrome attack and/or making inappropriate advances. Alas she will recognize your friend’s sailor mouth from regular Thursday night drinking experiences and the gig will be up. You’re going to Disneyland.

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  1. Contaminate your kids with ride fear

Embracing your fate, it’s time to plan out your day. One technique I like to leverage is to compare the average wait time for each ride (which I like to categorize Death March 1 through 4) and then subconsciously convince your kids they want no part of the ones with the longest wait times. No kid interest = no ride.

So it would go something like this if you want to avoid Pirates of the Caribbean.

“Hey kids did you hear that Disney upgraded Pirates of the Caribbean with real life pirates this year? It’s going to be so much fun. They try to actually snatch children out of the boat and sell them for ransom but don’t worry your Dad will negotiate a fair price for your return”

Think you will lose your mind if you have to ride the Jungle Cruise one more time? No problem

“Hey kids I’m pretty excited to ride the Jungle Cruise! It’s so fun to avoid the poison darts that are shot at the boats by the natives from the shoreline. Aunt Gertrude loved it to until she got a little slower in her advanced age last trip. RIP Aunt Gerty”

This technique can work on enthusiastic adult family members as well.

“You are the best mother-in-law ever! Thank you for coming on the trip to hang with us and the grandchildren. I’m just sorry you picked the year to come when Disney profits are down and they had to fire all the sanitation “cast members” who were responsible for cleaning the park rides and the restrooms on a regular basis. Here take this TP. We brought it just in case. Now let’s go snuggle into a It’s a Small World paddle boat!”

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  1. Train like it’s your last Olympics

Embracing the fact that your daily itinerary will not end until you have knocked out 24 rides in 12 hours with a maximum of 12 minutes of down time for you and your family (to visit those sorely neglected Disney bathrooms….see point #2) speed is the name of the game to get from ride to ride especially in the early hours of the park opening. A navy seal level regimen of wind sprints for the kids should start T-minus 4 weeks before the trip. Set up obstacles that resemble frail grandmothers using walkers, obese slow walking teenagers who wear extra tight gaming T-shirts and triple wide strollers and employ a no mercy policy. If taking them out determines whether you get to the next ride before the fast pass window closes you go Jonny Lawrence Kobra Kai on that obstacle my friend.

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4. Get your doctorate in Traveler Boozology

Ah ha ha..you’re so smart you brought a flask to sneak into the park to share with your significant other to help get you through the day. Rookie. Good luck getting that through Disney security and enjoy your day drinking lukewarm $10 cokes. You have to get one step ahead of these security guys who are looking to bust a cap in your ass and by bust a cap I mean voiding out your $600 park hopper pass. I choose death instead.

You have to think out of the box now and get ninja stealthy. Buy one of those kits that are crafty booze smugglers designed as real day to day products like hand moisturizer, sunblock and Tylenol containers and pack them right on top of your bag in plain sight while you cackle walking though security with an extra spring in your step. Right after that first kid melt down you say “Hey honey can you pass me the sunblock and a coke? I’m feeling hot and thiiiiiiiirsty.  Ah yeah all better now. I love SPF 80 proof. You look a little red too. You want a single or double application?”

You see a man at Disneyland that loses his shit because his wife forgot to bring extra “tampons” and think what a freak. I see a fellow drinking ninja who ran out of booze and needs a new wing man. My wife would never make that rookie mistake.

 

  1. Don’t look at a bank account or credit card bill

Perhaps the most important tip. Pre-embrace the fact that you are going to get fleeced. Some dumbass and now ex SVP in the Disney picture division greenlit The Lone Ranger and they have to make it up with $24 water misters, $18 sunblock (but hey don’t worry you brought your own 🙂 and $12 hot dogs to help pay off Jonny Depp’s salary and “alleged” coke habit on your back. But I gleefully smuggle booze into kid theme parks so who am I to talk. Sure you can try to sell some 3rd rate traveling carnival as the new Disney to avoid the fleecing but the kids will see right through that sham and there is a 34% chance one of them suffers a traumatic injury from the death trap they call carnival rides. Either way you are hitting your medical deductible.

So enjoy my fellow donuters and next time you see Mickey give him a good poke in the eye.

Dear Liver

Dear Liver,

First off I just want to say that I love you. We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve not always treated you with the respect you deserve. There was that malt liquor phase in college which I’m not proud of.  Oh and spring break in Mexico where I set the record for most consecutive tequila popper shots. Come on that was fun right? Fist bump! Come on don’t leave me hanging. Yeah I get your still mad about those early days in my career where I got a little carried away with the free soda perk and only consumed water in the form of ice cubes in my jack and cokes. Thank you for sticking around with me during those days and by sticking around I mean not shutting down so I’m on dialysis for the rest of my life. I appreciate it.
But hey we are in a much better place now right? I’m drinking tons more water, no more soda and I’ve cut way down on my day drinking at work. I don’t take you for granted anymore and I’m committed to you for the long haul. You know that now and that’s why I feel comfortable telling you that I’m taking a 3 day trip to Vegas with the guys.

Oh please don’t cry.

No really it will be fine. I’ll be sure to hydrate. Already I’ve had 3 glasses of water this morning before I head to the airport. Yes I’ll probably have a few drinks at the bar. Yes those are a stack of Southwest drink tickets in my pocket but it’s just an hours flight and how many can I really use in that time? Last trip was 4 coupons? Really? Wow I’m good but that’s besides the point. I’ve been preparing for this trip and taking a holistic approach to improving all of my organs health. There’s all that hot yoga workouts with those moves that improve the health of my pancreas, kidneys and gall bladder. My gall bladder is rockin right now. It should be on the cover of gall bladder monthly it’s so finely tuned.

Who’s going on the trip with me? Well there is Tom, Dave and my brother Sean. Yes my Canadian brother is going. Ok you need to just calm down. Yes he can be a bad influence on me but I haven’t seen him in almost a year and we can’t even go back to that bar again since the fire we accidentally started burned it down and all charges were eventually dropped. I know it’s not fair that his liver died many years ago from that trip to Saskatoon when it was all you can drink Molson’s night but it’s not my fault that he has free health care and got the titanium liver transplant. We just have to deal with this together.

So let’s just get through these next 3 days and make the best of it. I’m not going to lie to you that it’s going to be easy but I’l stay clear of the double vodka/redbulls (I get annoyingly chatty) and be sure to hydrate regularly. Tonic water counts right?

Long Live The Annual Guys Getaway

Mancation….Guys Weekend Away…Boys Trip. Call it what you will just don’t forget to call me if you’re putting one of these bad boys together. Since the beginning of time when Fred and Barney would take a road trip with their fellow Water Buffalo brethren into the prehistoric minivan and head off to Rock Vegas for to blow off some steam and throw down some bets (Did someone say b.b.b.b.bet, bet bet?) men have come to love the ritual of the annual guys getaway. It’s the only reliable environment where you can take  a collection of otherwise responsible set of dudes who are generally upstanding citizens and have them voluntarily subject themselves to photo documented acts worthy of extortion. For evidence I present you with Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

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These are men in full scale annual guy trip mode. Note their temporary departure from self pride fueled partly by brotherly companionship and partly by the 19 beers consumed by the time this picture was taken…at 11am. You may think this picture is an anomaly but I’ve trained this crew to willingly put on an umbrella hat in public during perfectly sunny days at major sporting events for 10 years running. Do not underestimate the alluring power of the annual guy getaway. That and 19 beers.

I used to think that guy trips were just something you only did in your college days but when you are that young with little or no responsibility your whole life at that moment in time is practically in constant guy trip mode. Your only concern when you return from a trip at that age is whether you left the beer fridge open while you were gone and whether you will get the damage deposit back on the house boat rental (You won’t). I suspect the allure of the guys trip fades for those in retirement age as well given the abundance of down time already readily available or because there is only a 78.3% chance you’ll survive the ordeal.

It’s actually us middle age dudes that truly embrace the guys trip and get the best return on our investment. We are in the sweet spot of life where downtime is rare and you don’t pass up the chance to break out of the normal routine. Nothing makes you step up your game and temporarily loose your mind on a testosterone filled excursion knowing that when the sanctioned debauchery ends  you will pack your bags to head home to start a 48 hour diaper duty shift, face a shit ton of work to catch up on and a get a freshly updated HoneyDo list from wife who’s looking to collect on all the man point credit cards you charged this trip to to get out in the first place, with interest. But that’s not for another 3 days 7 hours and 15 minutes from now and it’s time to live large.

Like most things in life there is a hierarchical pecking order in the various preferred formats of the annual guys trip. Any quality time away with the guys is a good thing but the first annual trip is always touch and go and the casualty rate is high. The rule of thumb for a first time getaway is invite 30% beyond trip capacity knowing some never make it past the budget talks, others get D blocked from the boss on a last minute conflicting business trip and then there is the rare occasion where a poor soul gets machine gunned on his front lawn within visual range of their target getaway vehicle by the wife who was never properly briefed on the original mission. We attempt to recover the body later.

Any guy getaway that makes it to year 2 is officially considered a tradition according to worldwide man code which instantly upgrades your weapons cache for counter assaults in subsequent years by aforementioned barriers to entry. Void where prohibited. The gold standard is the annual guys trip established before you even settled down to got married and have kids. This pre-nuptual agreement term was recently upheld in a challenge in front of the Supreme Court of ManJustice. You’re grandfathered in and can play the tradition card every year with no expiration date. “Honey you know I want to be home for Christmas with the family but we’ve been doing our annual guys Halibut Be Thy Name  Alaska fishing trip since 1986 and I can’t let the guys down.  The key is don’t miss even one year or you loose all your accrued vesting and we won’t see your ass on that trip again until the kids are out of college.

Annual girl getaways, while fully endorsed and encouraged by my fellow male brethren,  don’t come together nearly as easy. Women are much more polite then men and will try to work around everyone’s schedules to find a compatible time before an entire year has gone by and they have to start over for the following year. If they do actually agree on a  time there’s talk of what to bring, what kind of clothes to pack and pre-planning some excursions. No such silliness on guy getaways. Without prior notification or planning guys just show up in front of your house the same day each year, the car filled with beer based on a 24 bottles per person per day consumption rate and poker chips. No words are exchanged. For girl getaways, themes will change every year and there’s debate and discussion about what to do to “build on the experience”. Yawn. Men invite the same other men every year, wear the same shirt, order the same beer and sit in the same chair and if someone’s in their chair they will crop-dust  the area until the perpetrator is forced to exit from lack of oxygen. Don’t mess with tradition.

One final little tidbit on the subject of guy getaways. Contrary to what you see in the movies and outside of any excursion involving Charlie Sheen, most men I’ve seen don’t completely loose our minds on these kind of trips and do stupid shit. If  someone new is initiated into the excursion and shows up with hookers and coke they are quickly excommunicated from the group and shunned from existence. The fact is we’re not out to cheat and break laws. We just want to drink beer, shun responsibility for a few days and have something to look forward to next time around, which according to my calendar is a mere 187 days away and counting!

FarFromGroovin – Down with Rental Car Companies

I put myself in the category of the classic business trip mid level exec grinder. Having not (yet) achieved superstar CEO status where access to private jets and town cars are at a moments notice and working for a start up, I pack my bags for each trip, kiss the wife and kids goodbye and prepare to go to battle. Flight delays, tight connecting flights that require full sweat maximizing sprints between terminals and surly flight attendants don’t phase me anymore. Bring on the excessive drinking repugnant customer who orders his 3rd last round on my tab at 1am the night before a 5:30am wake up call for an early morning flight home. No problem because I play hurt. Yet rental car companies cut me down at the knees. They are my kryptonite. While the world continues to evolve, the rental car industry embraces 40 year old practices with their proudest achievement in the last 5 years being the introduction of the flexible fueling option/wallet vaporizer, and super sized rental car lots that are outfitted with every imaginable type of car ever made except the one I actually reserved. A random sampling of their practices I find the most annoying

1. Forcing me to deal with actual humans

The airlines have taught me the less human interaction the better. I embrace a kiosk driven interactive business lifestyle. With exception of the frequently pleasant and borderline hygenic rental car shuttle drivers who pick me up to take me to the rental car lot located as far as possible from the airport, everything about a rental car experience can and should be automated so no one has to deal with an actual rental car company employee. That world does not yet exist and regretfully there are a few occasions when I actually have to walk in and talk to a customer service reservation agent. That usually instigates the official start of a shitty business trip day. Not that I have anything against the employees personally. They work exceptionally hard for minimal pay. Its the process they are forced to follow. The encounter typically starts with me queuing up at the end of a what resembles a depression era bread line with fellow customers at various stages of frustration. Your estimated wait time is 20 min (+1 day). When my turn finally arrives I present my drivers license and credit card used to secure my reservation to the service agent who proceeds to type uninterrupted into a computer screen I can’t see for a minimum of 20 minutes, supposedly processing my reservation. Its the most inefficient process I’ve ever encountered. I truly wonder at some point if the agent is Facebooking, or perhaps instant messaging with a friend to bet how long I will stand there blankly waiting before I loose my mind. My alternative theory is they are talking directly to the insurance arm of the rental car company to plot their strategy to see how much they can fleece me before I can leave the lot in the compact Ford Fiesta that oozes my “playa” status. Which leads me to my next gripe…

2. Enough of the hard sell on insurance

Suckers and grandmothers buy rental car insurance. Yet the world must be filled with the former because the rental car companies remain relentless in this practice. First it was the peace-of-mind tactic. “Sir why would you not consider protecting your company and person financial liability for a mere $15 a day.” Then the direct threat tactic. “Sir you will be charged a minimum of $1000 for any damage to the vehicle.” Now it’s a scare tactic. These words actually left the lips of a service rep recently. “Sir it’s 1000 times more likely you will get into a car accident than an airline crash so you should really consider liability coverage.” Well thank you for reminding me that my imminent death is mere moments away, knowing that you will be there to cover the cost of the burned out car that my unrecognizable charred remains will be scraped from after I’m t-boned by a gas tanker leaving the rental car lot.

3. Phantom daily rental rates

There is basic arithmetic. There is Calculus. And then there is rental car math. I have a PhD in rental car math yet even I’ve not completely figured out how my 2 day compact car rental comes to $232.34. The typical rule of thumb on calculating the real cost to rent a car is double any advertised daily rate and  pre-anticipate some additional hidden fees such as the  $5 “We bought too many Chrysler Sebrings and now we can’t unload them” fee, the $12 “Buying 150K shares in Facebook stock seemed like a good idea at the time” fee and the $15 “Reservation agent carpal tunnel syndrome epidemic from excessive typing producing unanticipated medical costs” fee.

4. Practicing IVU – (Inept Vehicle Up-selling)

it’s 8am. I’m in a business suit. I’m in Minneapolis. It’s February. Hmmm..do I want the Mustang Convertible upgrade? Fuck you.

5. Optional Safety Accessories

This one comes directly from Mrs. Donut Monday and falls more in the vacation rental scenario. Renting a baby car seat. This was when we still had some faith in rental car companies. Silly new sleep deprived parents. The first time we rented a seat and arrived to pick up our car the agent said they no longer had any available. Oh ok it’s 10pm and we’re an hour drive from our hotel but we’ll just put our 3 month old on my wife’s lap in the front seat and pretend it’s 1962 again. Can I also get a 6 pack of beer and a Jack Daniel’s chaser for the long ride since drunk driving is optional in this time warp universe you think we’re in? And come to think of it, yes I’ll take the fiery crash insurance option. The 2nd time (yes we did this twice) the rental car seat was covered with an inch of baby vomit and a belt restraint system that only worked with their higher end car models. Crafty

Logical conclusion – Rental car companies enjoy making babies cry

My only hope is a Virgin America equivalent of the airline industry breaks into the rental car market and shakes things up to reinvent the whole rental car experience. Already we’re seeing that with Zipcar and other similar start ups. Or I get that upgrade to CEO. Stay tuned….