Amazon.com Widgets A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care: June 2010 Archives

June 2010 Archives

Karma

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I doubt it's possible to take a transcontinental road trip without one's vehicle experiencing some sort of mechanical breakdown, but yesterday's adventure was pretty harmless. On the way from Quebec to Montreal, my fondness for gadgetry blew a fuse in the minivan, which disabled the radio and the power outlet. [1] In my old cars, replacing a fuse was a simply matter of looking at a small box beneath the dash, but a 2004 Chrysler minivan hold its entire collection of fuses in an "integrated power management" box under the hood, next to the battery. Unfortunately, the explanatory diagram of the IPM box makes sense only if you already know what its acronyms mean. I couldn't immediately understand it, but as we were about to stop at a hotel for the night anyway, I used the University of Google to figured out which of the dozens of fuses probably needed to be replaced. One short hop to a pieces d'auto in Montreal and our radio happily spewed French pop music again. Figuring that they might be handy, I bought four fuses at the auto store.

An hour later, halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, I pulled over for a cup of coffee. On the way out of the service station, I walked by an older couple standing in front of their Dodge Caravan, staring quizzically at the cover of an integrated power module. "Fuse blown?" I asked. They replied that yes, their radio wasn't working, but that they didn't know which fuse to replace. I told them that it was the one labeled "RDO," and asked if they had the right part. Although they had bought a small box of generic fuses in the filling station, none of them fit, so I gave them one of mine and a spare for the road. "How'd you blow it, anyway? Overload the cigarette lighter?"

"Yes," said the husband, sheepishly. "I was using my laptop."

[1] For what it's worth, I think that a Chrysler or Dodge minivan will quite happily charge a notebook when it is not in use, but the fuse tends to blow when a powerful notebook's fans kick in.

P.E.I. Generally

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On Friday, we left Stephen King country

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for L.M. Montgomery territory.
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Bleg: Travel Insurance

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For as long as we're in the United States and Canada, we're covered by the COBRA extensions on the insurance we had with our employers. Once we get on the plane to Ecuador, however, we're on our own.

We need travel insurance to fill that gap, by covering any emergency medical/dental care we receive overseas, as well as our evacuation to the U.S. in case the emergency occurs somewhere with subpar health care.

So far, we've had trouble finding such insurance. Most plans limit the length of a trip to 90 days or less; we need a plan that covers close to a full year. We'd ideally also like to pay less than $1000 per person for the plan, and are willing to take on a high deductible in return. Have any readers had experience with such a plan?

On the to-do list

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What would a road-trip be without a drive-in movie or two?

Comments

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At the moment, I think comments are working: feel free to contact me if this is not so.

By the way, for those of you authenticating using Yahoo! OpenID, your comments currently display your identity as a series of random letters. This can be changed using the settings in your Yahoo account.

Failure to cross paths

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Bad luck. I just received an email from my favorite Hong Kong tailor announcing his American tour. My last suit from Peter So garnered quite a few compliments when I wore it back in law school, and I was hoping to have a second one made. Unfortunately, he's going to be in precisely the wrong places, missing us by about a week at least three times. But if you're in his area and need a good suit, check him out.

A few technical difficulties

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I've been told that we're having a few technical difficulties today with comments and page loading. MT 5.0 is still pretty new to me, so it is taking me some time to iron out the problems in the system. In particular, because MT 5.0 will accept authentication from several different systems, it is difficult to figure out if the issue is with our host or the external process. If you are having difficulty leaving comments (particularly with authentication), please either send me an email or leave a comment below and I will try and work it out. Please include the login method that you tried (OpenID, Facebook, etc.) and the nature of the error.

Update: A few tests have worked. My host seemed to be having some severe service issues earlier today, so that may have been the problem, but again, please contact me if you have further difficulty.

Update II: Is anyone having trouble logging in using Firefox (particularly in Windows)? Chrome on Macintosh is working fine, but sadly I think I need to create a better testbed.

Borders

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Greeting from Prince Edward Island! About halfway through our 300 miles of driving, we crossed into Canada. Arriving late, we've not had a chance to explore, but I'm sure PG will be updating tomorrow.

One note for anyone driving to Prince Edward Island: there is not very much between the border and PEI. Do not let your gas tank get low!

The Charles Inn

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A brief thought on our hotel last night, The Charles Inn. This "Art Gallery Hotel" wasn't my cup of tea, but certain travelers might like it. The rooms are spartan (although our room had a surprisingly spacious and strangely-designed tub), the hallways appear to have last seen new wallpaper in the Reagan years, and the "complimentary wireless" does not reach our room. That said, it had an atmosphere unlike any hotel I've ever seen. The staff are helpful but remarkably informal, and as the hotel is surrounded by various bars and nightclubs, by 10pm the lobby assumes a bohemian aspect. Predominantly young patrons lounge on couches surrounded by paintings from local artists, making the entryway feel closer even to a dorm than a hostel. Although seemingly safe and above-board, the Charles Inn conjures a sense of seediness, and walking up from the bar through the dilapidated hallways you would be forgiven for thinking of a Mickey Spillane novel.

As I said, not to my taste, but some travelers on a budget might like it.

One other Maine item

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PG didn't mention this, but despite having a brand new GPS, two smartphones and an atlas, we still got lost on the way to the L.L. Bean store. One experience I've not had in a while: not minding getting lost. Although we have a couple of "must hit" deadlines on our North American trip, for the most part a minor course deviation merely means unexpected adventures. In this case, a working dock, some lobstermen, and great fried clam strips.

a port in South Freeport

As you might expect, not being stressed about sudden, unexpected changes in plans is a new experience for me.

Water, Water Everywhere

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The Inn at St. John, where we stayed Wednesday night, had a "European-style" setup in which bathrooms are separate and down the hall from the bedrooms, but the bedrooms have a working sink, as well as bathrobes and towels. After the slight awkwardness of washing up in a hallway bathroom and dashing back to our room in towel and robe, Tony drank coffee, I dropped Nutrigrain bars for the road into my purse, and we headed out. As recurred through the day, our outdoor plans were dampened by the fitful rain. We'd intended to walk through Portland's Old Port area, but after driving around for a bit, decided that we'd instead start the drive to LL Bean before noon.

The LL Bean campus in Freeport really does stand out, even in that area of yuppie outlets (going in and out, we passed North Face, Abercrombie, et al., along with the nicest McDonald's I'd seen since Milan*). There's separate buildings for Home Furnishings, Hunting & Fishing, as well as the original gear for hiking. We looked around the latter, but the most desirable thing found was the Archery Range. I talked Tony out of paying $12 per person for the Range's use, pointing out that in Michigan we could use his own archery set for free. There is the minor problem of finding a place for archery; my suggestion of the golf course on which we'd previously gone sledding was quickly shot down as likely to incur liability at worst, and the wrath of club-wielding golfers at best.

For lunch, we stopped at the famous Red's Eats lobster shack along Route 1 in Wiscasset. The restaurant is reputed to have the best lobster roll in Maine, and they are generous with the fresh chunks of meat in the sandwich. Still, at $15 for plain lobster with an oversized piece of toast folded underneath -- not to mention the lengthy wait to order and receive -- it tasted a little overpriced. Aside from the wallet pinch, it was a good time: the rain had stopped, and the tables set up outside Red's, shaded by trees and umbrellas, offer a gorgeous view of the water.

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When looking for a place to spend the night, our default is to check hotels.com, but that website heavily favors chains and has very few of the independent inns that populate so much of this area. When it does list them, they often have few or no reviews, leaving us clueless as to whether Mom & Pop's Motel is a fleapit or an under-appreciated bargain. (I have read too many articles in New York publications about people bringing home bedbugs from hotels to feel OK about just checking into the nearest quaint-looking B&B.) BBonline.com and TripAdvisor.com lack a low-high price sorter and can make discovering the exact rate for the night quite difficult.

If anyone has a suggestion about a better way to meet our goal -- a clean, decent but not-fancy room at a low price -- please do leave it in the comments or email it to us. In particular, a website similar to BBOnline.com with regard to highlighting non-chains, but that focuses on more moderately-priced accommodations, would be welcome. In the meantime, we'll probably be trying out AAA's recommendations and booking them through hotels.com when available there, as hotels.com is offering a promotion in which one gets a free night's stay for every ten nights booked through the website.

Road Trip Theme Song: Country Edition

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People have told us that this road trip will afford us a great opportunity to relax, to discover our country, to learn more about each other and ourselves. However, there is one opportunity of this road trip that no one had mentioned, but that we are enjoying very much: country music on the radio. Of everything you can get in New York -- and that really is quite a list -- you cannot turn on the radio and hear country music.

Since the genre is one of our shared favorites, and we've heard it so little in the last few years, the minivan's radio tuner frequently falls upon the local country stations scattered up the East Coast -- again, everywhere except New York. Today, I heard for the first time a Zac Brown Band song that, while not musically brilliant, is currently my front-runner for a road trip theme song. (Debb's proposal of "Roam" has the advantages of (a) working for the international leg as well, and (b) being a song people have, you know, actually heard.)

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Lyrics:

Boston to Portland

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A long and eventful "first" day. We skipped Boston proper, instead making our way to Cambridge, where we grabbed a burger at the world's most political burger joint. (Mr. Bartley's burgers are named after local luminaries and national politicians) right outside Harvard Yard. We wandered around campus, which served as a great way to kill an hour, but I didn't find it as impressive or interesting from an architectural perspective as PG's alma mater, the University of Virginia.

The rest of the day was spent meeting people we knew, including one of PG's college friends in Chelsea, who told us to leave Boston before 3:30 when the traffic would hit. This good advice prevented us from being too delayed on the way to Portland, Maine. Highlights of Portland:

  • The Inn at St. John. A very price-competitive bed and breakfast, whose cheapest rooms are less expensive than a chain hotel. True, we have a European-style across-the-hall shared bathroom and an in-window AC unit that may date from the Eisenhower administration, and some of the furniture and wallpaper shows its age. Nonetheless, the rooms are charming, if slightly dusty, with plenty of colonial trimmings.

  • Local 188 (warning: link has sound). I don't know about the food here, but the bar serves very potent cocktails. If you order the sazerac, they'll happily substitute absinthe for pernod, and PG found the "margarichio" strong enough to knock her for a loop. The bar was recommended by blogger Sherry and her husband. I had not seen her since she acted as my unofficial mentor in law school, and this was her first introduction to PG. Still a great mentor!

Which brings us to a big travel lesson: local friends are invaluable when exploring a place quickly. We'd planned to spend tomorrow in Portland proper, perhaps doing some sailing, before heading on up to Prince Edward Island. They recommended better places to sail, other places to see, and which campground would be the best to get to by tomorrow night. I'm sure we would have had fun without the advice, but having heard their tales, we're really looking forward to tomorrow.

And so it begins...

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Today I learned that our life (defined as "possessions we'd be willing to pay to keep in storage for a year") fits comfortably in a room 10 X 5 X 8 feet. And that our plan for packing light for the road has, at least initially, failed miserably. There is plenty of room in the back, but little floor space, and our bags and boxes are not well organized. Still, we're on the road.

By late afternoon, we closed up the apartment and managed to make it to the FDR, which obliged us by remaining relatively uncongested. After a few setbacks involving road construction, we found ourselves on our way to Hartford, Connecticut, where old law school friends introduced us to a wonderful recipe for poached salmon.

We're considering this Day 0 of the trip: too short to be a full day's travel. Tomorrow, we'll make a brief stop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that I can say that I have at least seen Harvard Square once in my life, and then settling down in Portland at nightfall.

Enough with eBay

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After my earlier problems, I reposted my computer on eBay, again specifying local pickup. The auction ended yesterday, and the first thing I received from my buyer was an email saying, "hi, are you going to ship this macbook? I asked because you the shipping method is pick-up only..."

You know, I think the question pretty much answers itself. Whatever eBay's virtues for professional auctioneers or people who do a lot of shipping, it has very little protection for non-professional sellers.

New York Bucket List - check!

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Spent an evening at Please Don't Tell. I don't think it's replaced Death & Co. in my heart, but it does have bacon- and tobacco-infused drinks.

Good news for our road trip: posting will be easier because Starbucks will start offering free wifi in July.

Bad news for our road trip: AT&T considers Canada foreign enough to justify international roaming and data rates. At least while we're Up North, the cell phones go off, and we'll be in contact a little less often.

eBay and Nigerian fraud

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I now have first-hand knowledge of why eBay and PayPal were two of the first companies to work with Google on their email identity verification system. On Friday, eBay notified me that a MacBook that I had put up for sale went for its full Buy It Now price. Given that the item was for pick up only, I expected an email asking where the buyer could meet me. Instead, my "buyer" sent me a message "apologizing for the inconvenience," but informing me that he would release PayPal funds from escrow after I sent him proof that I had sent the computer to his Pastor's wife in Nigeria.

Two minutes later, an email arrived informing me that PayPal was holding the funds pending proof of shipment. Although a pretty obvious fraud, the email was close enough to have tricked someone who didn't look carefully (or notice the obvious spelling errors). Google's identification program worked as advertised, however, and spotted that the Paypal email was not genuine.

Thus followed a few days of trying to convince eBay to cancel the sale. Today, after my second online chat with eBay support, they finally credited me back my fees. (The computer is still for sale here, if you're interested.)

A Public Service Announcement

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For your convenience, the waiting lounge at the New York Passport Office, just like airplanes, comes pre-equipped with screaming babies.

One hint for a round the world trip: check your passport not only to make sure that it won't expire, but also to ensure that you have enough pages for visa stamps.  That way you won't have to make last-minute appointments with the Passport Office. (If you ever do need to do so, here are instructions.)

Based my admittedly non-extensive research, there appear to be three main ways to ticket a round-the-world trip:

  • The first is to book tickets as one goes, taking advantage of the skills of local travel agents, trusting on one's ability to obtain visas, and generally being willing to be flexible. This method appears to be heavily endorsed by Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, and I can see its attractions, but I believe that had we tried this method the uncertainty and risk would have quickly driven me mad.
  • The next option is to contact a round-the-world specialist travel agent, such as Airtreks or Air Brokers. This approach is favored by the author of The Practical Nomad. We looked at these, largely because I was attracted to the idea of having an experienced agent who had a vested interest looking out for us as we traveled, and to whom we could send questions. But these operations did not seem to be price competitive for the trip that we wanted to take.
  • So in the end, we decided to try booking a RTW ticket with an airline alliance, in this case One World. Of the various options, they seem to have the best coverage in the southern hemisphere, and although their options in Africa are limited, this appears to get us most of the way around the world in one package.

The Missing Part of the "C"

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You might notice that the roadtrip doesn't make a complete circuit of the country, but instead forms a "C" shape, beginning in New York, curving up through Canada, across the Midwest, down the Pacific Highway and coming to a stop in Texas.

For me, there's already been a kind of prelude to the roadtrip Tony and I are taking together. My parents loaned us their minivan, but as my parents are in Texas and we would be starting our trip from New York, we somehow had to be united with this minivan.

Don't Stop Believin'

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The regular TV season is over -- although there are temptations to find cable during our roadtrip -- so I think it's time to start our own adventures. These begin with selling several of our possessions, renting out others and putting the rest into storage, whether in Long Island or Michigan or Texas.

When people ask me what made me decide to spend a year traveling, there's not a single answer. Part of the motivation is a kind of magical thinking. If I go away for a year, I'll come back and everything will be better: the job market, the housing market, the political situation. And even as a non-magical prediction, I'm fairly certain that things will be different, even if not what I would consider better, when we return.

So in one way I'm trying to hurry time, or have it exert a change, but in another way I'm pushing back against time.

Things We've Seen


Things We Like