USA: The worst. Except for the others.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Flew Sydney –> Los Angeles April 15, 2010.
Will be home approx May 15.
Just random notes and images from the road for now.

Seeing USA (again) as Canucks: In north Israel sitting at a café we chatted with a California couple at the next table.

"Oh you're Canadians – that's America Lite" the woman quipped. We're still laughing over a year later and use the line regularly. In a world context, it's true.

We hear much simply wrong criticism of America in Canada and Europe, it admittedly makes me defensive of USA – because I actually know the place reasonably well.

That said, Thao and especially Wheezy are usually assumed to be Americans as we travel; even though few nations dislike Canada, we do not wave the flag unless you look at the license plate. And we're driving an American-built, Japanese-brand, made-for-USA-market bike.

. . .It should gladden American hearts that we do not
. . .recall a single instance of being prejudiced against
. . .because we are supposedly Yanks. Not once.

. . .Around the globe. Two years. Several wars. 37 countries.
. . .No anti-Yank prejudice encountered. Damn good.
. . .Cuz we encountered lots of other racial prejudice(s)!

Most people world-wide like America, even in countries that are officially not supposed to – like Iran for instance. Their people are markedly pro-American (read the Iran blog for actual survey stats.) Ditto many other countries, even those with USA travel advisories and political issues at play. Libya, Syria, Vietnam ... However getting visas to some countries may have been a bigger problem with a US passport than a Canadian one.

Clearly President Obama has been an international PR boost after President Bush. We saw evidence of it everywhere: In a Turkey village the day after the election, a team of stone workers with little English, congratulated me heartily as an American, they were visibly excited, shook my hand. And similarly several times afterwards.

Specific issues aside, Thao and Wheezy generally love America for what it is, not for what some believe it should more ideally be. Wheezy lived in New York for five years, had a cultural business there; lived in Florida on his yacht; travelled and did business in almost all of the states, many of them several times. Much of my business life has been in USA. Was even lucky enough to have been invited, amazing as a foreigner, to cross from Pearl Harbour to San Diego as guest aboard a US battleship returning from action in the Gulf – don't hold your breath for that to happen in Canada, Europe or elsewhere!

As Canadians we live under its shadow. Many Canadians resent the shadow part – we not being among them. We see it far more as blessing than curse; damned lucky in fact, on almost all fronts – economic, cultural and military. The last attempted invasion was 1812; it failed [history link.] Since then we share the world's longest undefended border [Wikipedia relationship link.]

To those who claim USA is expansionist, I ask why they have not invaded resource-rich and geographically logical Canada then? Probably hardly a shot would be fired. However I feel safe from invasion: The Republican Party will never let that happen, they'd be adding 10-13 Democrat states!

A little-known fact even to most Americans, Canada and USA are each other's largest trading partner – not Japan or China. Relations could not be much better.

When NAFTA (Free Trade) was being debated decades back, the cover of Canadian Business Magazine said in bold letters, quoting a Canuck exec: "We do ten times more business in USA by accident, than we do in Canada on purpose." This has been true of my businesses as well – including cultural, yachts and electronics. Doing business in USA is easier than in any other country I know of: Do a good job and they will welcome you with open arms; do a bad one and you're history. It's no more complex than that, which is untrue elsewhere.

For all its flaws, what a great ongoing social-economic experiment. But then which nation has a shortage of flaws? And whose experiments are working better? It's a great neighbourhood to live in.

A couple fun farmer-type fellows we met at a rural gas station in Texas, drawlingly asked us which country we visited we liked the best? I replied "this place sucks less than most others." They laughed. But I meant the backhanded compliment.

More on USA travel as we complete the circuitous 10,000 km ride home.

Distances are vast. Lots to see. Regions are so different, it's like a half-dozen or dozen different countries under one flag – culturally quite regional.

And a tourist bargain compared to Europe and Australia, perhaps 50%-60% of the cost at current exchange rates – a guesstimate of $120/day including food, gas and very decent motels in USA, versus more than double that in Europe or Oz. (Of course the sky's the limit at the high end, which is very high.) High-end or low, you get a lot for your buck here: Huge clean motel rooms including free phone, wi-fi, many satellite TV channels for $50; food portions that beg obesity for $10; gasoline around $0.70 per litre; Oz wines far cheaper than where they are made, cars, electronics, clothes – everything is a bargain relative to elsewhere.

And people are the among the friendliest. Proud. Open. Business-minded. Real.

America is far from perfect. But it's a wonderful place(s).


Click to enlarge view from cockpit.
Black Bike crossed 80,000 km en route to Las Vegas.
Rural Arizona, looking for a motel in small town.
America isn't all 90210.


Grand Canyon West, The Skywalk: We're not the first to observe that breathtaking is an understatement about the Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders – looking down almost a mile and not even having to climb a mountain to get the most spectacular view.

It's hard for us laymen to comprehend, ranging in age from 1.7 billion years at the bottom to merely 270 million years at the rim. A river runs through it. (Sorry.)

A Skywalk photo from space, Google Earth.
Look at the edge you can walk to. And over.
Almost a mile down, a bumpy ride if you do something stupid.
(We watched people do very stupid stuff for photos.)

We only went to the west side, wanting to see the $30 million Skywalk [CNET photos link] a significant engineering feat which was opened in 2007 – 250 miles (400 km) from the South Rim Park entrance in Arizona.

You stand on glass floors and look down 4,000 ft – disconcerting for sure. Is it worth $60 per couple on top of $90 regional entrance fees to spend a couple minutes standing on glass? That's up to you; I suppose once there, may as well.

The surrounding million acres and the western Canyon rim development has been owned since 1883 by the 2,300-member Hualapai (WALL-uh-pie) tribe, the "People of the Tall Pines." Not that there are any tall pines in the area.

Sincere applause to the tribe for raising the considerable money, being so imaginatively entrepreneurial, as to open up an entire new tourist region of the Canyon – the entire western part is theirs. Hotels, airport, helicopter rides, river trips are in the works.

Some environmental groups are complaining loudly about it in the media, but to my uneducated eyes it's such a tiny blip in the context of huge spectacular geology – it strikes me as a 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' situation. Glad they did; they are creating revenue and jobs for their people versus the stereotype of welfare-dependant native Americans/Canadians. Plus they are spreading the millions of annual Grand Canyon visitors over a larger, less-crowded area. Water, sewage and electricity are real-world factors that'll be solved if the revenue is there. It's still early days for the West Grand Canyon's development.

If for example they attracted 500,000 visitors/yr. x $80 each = $40 million/yr. Serious money, especially for a small tribe who already own the real estate.

The only thing that really annoyed us was their narrow-sighted photo greed. One pays $150 in total for two, to walk out there for 5 minutes – but you cannot take a souvenir photo? Nope, they use airport scanners to make sure you bring nothing in. A photo by one of their guys is an extra $30 for one print and all you see is your smiling face against a railing: A rip-off and big error. On-line travel chat rooms we skimmed complain consistently about the high cost and no photos. The Hualapai management had better listen to these valid complaints.

The view from the Grand Canyon edge is almost as good and even more scary than the Skybridge, plus you can take photos, so consider saving yourself $60 a couple. There are no railings along the Canyon; the drop is straight down forever. Very dangerous but spectacular. We watched one woman step literally over the edge, balanced on a jutting rock, just to have her photo taken; she's nuts.

. . .A gasp-inducing related diversion: Check out these photos on
. . [link] of a photographer in sandals doing a death-
. . .defying leap between rock pinnacles while holding his camera!

The Canyon is one of those lifetime must-do's. Perhaps we'll drive back some day and do a Colorado River ride, and/or one of the all-day donkey rides down. This time we had enough just with a breathtaking view and our time was running a bit tight.

The Skywalk. Click photo to see Colorado River at bottom.
Stunning rock formations.
A photo of the Skywalk from CNET

So tell me where it's more beautiful on this earth?
Bryce Nat'l Park Utah, this shot from 9,000 ft
John Wayne on Coca Cola Ave. Rear of a store.
Click to enlarge - fun western Americana.
How often do you get this close to a raven?
This one is huge, 1.5' long

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado [link]
Ancient Pueblo villages, dug into cliffs, from AD 600-1300.
Click to zoom in: Look at size of people.

Was Wheezy's birthday in TX. Thao did this cutout and stuck on Black Bike
spelling "Wheezy" wrong I think. Also her math is a tad dyslexic?
She photo'd it on an outdoor tablecloth.

Pebbles, Christian, one of their wonderdogs at the beautiful ranch.
I like the name Wilderado Texas. But check out the steak!

Not free, unless you can eat 100% of what they pile on your plate including veggies, potatoes etc – within an hour. No bathroom breaks. But it's a hugely successful Texas-style publicity gimmick. Dozens of billboards, great word-of-mouth, has been going on for decades.

72 oz = 2 kg = 4.5 lb!

We hit -2˚C = 28˚F blizzard in New Mexico! Coldest temps of this trip.
Hands were numb and we actually rode through 3" deep snow for a stretch.

It dropped another degree but Thao's hands were too cold for a photo.

Dropped in on Buzz and Pam Reed in Columbia KY [map link]
Buzz was Peace Corps, we were both in Kpandu Ghana [map link] 1968-70
As Buzz said, it's like being war buddies; creates lifelong bonds.

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