Friday, October 27, 2006

Logbook: Plan B

Planb2It's been a trying 48 hours. Here's a recap: After posting the logbook entry Wednesday night, I edited the Kidzania Report, pushed the "publish" button at about 2 in the morning and went to bed. Since the Majestic Hotel has no air conditioning, the noise from Zocalo came through my open window unabated. I slept poorly -- for only about 4 hours -- and got up yesterday morning to face two problems: 1) the altitude, heat, noise, pollution and lack of sleep had conspired to beat me down a little and 2) the Kidzania Report I'd published the night before was "busted" and stuck on "The Big Blue Q." I decided to stay in and tackle the web problem which ended up taking almost the entire day to isolate and fix -- thanks to a nasty little bug in a recent update to third-party (Non-Mac!) video software program I use.

With that finally resolved, I went for a brief walk around Zocalo, had dinner and went to bed early with hopes of a good night's sleep. No such luck. Last night was the worst so far on The Voyage. I had to keep the windows open to keep from suffocating, and while my earplugs did a reasonably good job against the noise there was nothing to be done to combat the swarm of huge mosquitos that invaded my room! I was up most of the night, swearing that I would not stay another night in the Majestic, no matter how "authentic" it is. This morning I felt like I'd been whipped. The oppressive altitude and pollution of Mexico City combined with two nights of very little sleep had me pretty knocked down, but at least I was on a mission to find another abode. I walked yet another block south and found that the Grand Hotel -- a truly elegant old-style place that must have been featured in many movies -- had a room available for the duration of my stay in Mexico City and for only a few bucks more than the Majestic!

Especially with my friend Greg on his way -- I would not subject anyone to the Majestic -- I happily made the deal and set in motion my move to the Grand Hotel. I went back to the Majestic, went online for messages and the like, then packed my gear and checked out at one o'clock. I walked the block to the Grand, did the paperwork and was told that my room would be ready at 3 o'clock. Excellent! I left my gear with the bell man, had some lunch then headed to the airport. I arrived just before Greg's flight, positioned myself right in front of the arrival gate and got my camera ready to record his entrance. After a half hour, I started to wonder if I'd missed him and began looking around. After an hour, I wondered whether he had arrived at another gate and started searching the concourse. After two hours, I figured something had gone wrong and decided to go with "Plan B" which, of course, I had arranged with Greg as follows: "If all else fails, get a cab to the Majestic and I'll meet you there."

The Majestic! Too bad I wasn't there anymore. I could just see Greg walking into the place, asking for me and being told I had checked out! As you can imagine, I hurried to the Majestic in hopes of finding him waiting there, but, alas, no such luck. I ran over to the Grand, checked in, got to my room, went online and -- you guessed it --picked up a voicemail from Greg saying that his flights had gotten screwed up and would be arriving at -- you guessed it again -- just about the time I had given up and left the airport! To make it all more ironic, he had left the voicemail just ten minutes after I'd logged off and left the Majestic!

Anyway, I knew I wouldn't be able to get back to the airport before he too figured the connection was busted and got in a cab, so I went with "Plan B" as well. I walked back over to the Majestic and waited outside the front door. Sure enough, about 45 minutes later, a cab pulled up and I saw Greg's smiling face in the window. We hugged and high-fived then walked to the Grand, dumped his stuff in the room and went to dinner. We cracked ourselves up sharing the stories of our screwed up day, but decided that's just the way it goes some days in the expedition business and all's well that ends well. We both look forward to a good night's sleep in our cool, quiet room and to whatever tomorrow brings. Stay tuned! Ole!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Logbook: Zocalo Mexico City

Zocalo1The overnight bus from Monterrey to Mexico City last Sunday night was pretty good. Imagine a first class flight and you will pretty much have the picture. Add in some hefty turbulence to account for the road conditions and you will really have it. Also, since I am at least a few inches taller than the average Mexican, the fully reclining seat was a bit short for me. No matter, getting the very best bus you can -- and there are many, many classes of bus in Mexico -- is certainly worth the small added cost. Of course, 12 hours on any vehicle is a pain, so I was happy when we arrived in this immense city. As usual, I got on the taxi ticket line and paid my fare to Zocalo -- the center of the historic area where I had made arrangements at the local Holiday Inn -- and got a memorable taxi ride through what is some of the worst traffic I have ever experienced.

After a smooth check in, I will confess that I took a nap. Not a long one, but a good and much needed hour or so. Then, since I’d only arranged two nights at the Holiday Inn -- and, frankly, since it was overpriced and not very friendly -- I hit the streets to find another hotel. The Hotel Majestic, right around the corner, has a very nice “authentic” ambiance for less money, so I booked a room for the duration of my stay here in Mexico City. After that, I wandered around the area for a while, taking in the sights and sounds of this very busy area and found a Starbucks where I treated myself to a “familiar” cup of coffee. By early evening, sensory overload had set in so I had a simple dinner at a decent local restaurant, went back to my room and crashed.

Zocalo2Yesterday was an olio of activity. I spent some quality time having on-line conversations with friends and family, did some research on what to do in Mexico city, did a little preliminary scouting of my options for continuing south toward Costa Rica and wandered the neighborhood. All in all, I am growing fond of the area. It is way more congested, busy, noisy and dirty than I would like, but it is a vibrant place. Again, by the end of the day I was “full” and appreciated the joy of going to my room, bolting the door and hanging out in my peaceful little cocoon. I spent some time online this morning, then packed up my gear, checked out of the Holiday Inn and walked around the block to the Majestic where I am now happier to be. Taking advantage of my increasing city stamina, I packed up my laundry and tried to find a laundromat. There may be one in the area, but I couldn’t find it. What I did find was a little shop where I was able to figure out that a nice young woman would do my laundry for me. The price she quoted is about a buck more than if I did it myself someplace, so I handed her the bag and was rewarded with a receipt and the assurance that it would be ready tomorrow after ten. I was a bit disappointed that I would not have the experience of doing my own laundry in Mexico, but I was also happy not to have to deal with it.

You have probably noticed that in 48 hours in Mexico City I have done exactly zero sightseeing or exploration. There is a good reason for this: On Friday, my good friend Greg -- the Hi-Line Road Trip Greg -- will be arriving to join me for a week on The Voyage. With this in mind, I am holding off on doing any real exploration so that we will be discovering the area together. Also, knowing that we will be going non-stop once he gets here, I am making sure that all my “stuff” -- gear, correspondence, accounts, etc. -- is in order so that there will be nothing to get in the way of our adventures! I am really looking forward to having his company -- and enjoying his wild, crazy energy! Ole!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Logbook: Publish Error

Publisherror2Late last night, after celebrating my great day of learning, I got back to my room and went on-line to finish the updates to this website and “publish” the domain. For those of you who don’t know about these things, iWeb is a fabulous Mac program that lets one create websites like this one without having to know anything about HTML code, Java, CSS, RSS or any other techie stuff. Like most Mac programs, you just have fun using an intuitive, graphic interface to create whatever you want. When the site looks like you want it to, you just press the “Publish” button and iWeb does everything else. For months, I have been using iWeb to develop this site and have never had any problem.

Then, last thing last night when I pushed the “Publish” button, I got the error you see above. Like any experienced Mac user, I clicked “OK” and hit “Publish” again. Same error. For the briefest moment, a sense of dread and terror shot through me. Could this mean that my iWeb was busted? Could my website be busted? Had my Mac let me down? Then, again like any experienced Mac user, I took a moment, took a deep breath and said to myself, “It can’t be my Mac’s fault. It’s never my Mac’s fault!” Given the late hour, I decided to get some sleep and try again in the morning. To my dismay, I got the same error this morning. A little bit of Googling led me to some user comments that even when everything else -- like browsing, mail, etc. -- may work fine, some of the more complicated internet operations -- like how iWeb publishes my domain to the Mac servers -- may not work. Something about incompatible or unsupported “proxies.”

Well, I don’t know about tech stuff like that. I am, after all, a Mac user! Now assuming that the problem was with the hotel’s server and not with my Mac, I packed up my beloved Macbook Pro and hit the streets of Monterrey in search of alternative internet connections. After trying three nearby hotels that have wi-fi in their lobbies -- but who require you to be a guest to use it -- and three internet shops that only offer access using their machines, I was getting a little worn out and headed back to my hotel. I stopped by to talk to a bellboy whom I have discovered is the hotel’s “go to” guy for internet problems -- and who also speaks pretty good English -- and told him my sad tale of woe. He smiled and said, “It’s a proxy problem with the hotel’s server. Go to Carl’s Jr. and use their wi-fi. It is very good.” Now why didn’t I think of that? Go to one of the local burger joints and use their wi-fi! Go figure!

With some degree of incredulity, I have to admit, I walked two blocks to the nearest Carl’s Jr. and got a Diet Coke. I sat down, opened up my Mac and -- Shazaam! -- I had wi-fi! I spooled up my browser, checked the connection and was delighted to find I was on a good, stable, moderately fast internet connection. I hopefully hit the “Publish” button and was rewarded with a very agreeable result! As I write this, I am still at the Carl’s Jr. burger joint, ready to publish this update. Although I hadn’t intended to spend most of the day working around internet problems, I can’t say that the day has been a waste. I’ve learned some important and useful lessons about being on The Voyage: 1) All internet is not the same 2) Internet connection is surprisingly ubiquitous and 3) You can find wi-fi in unexpected places. The thing I already knew? Macs Rule!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Logbook: Learning Curve

Learningcurve2Today was a great day on the very steep learning curve that is The Voyage! First thing this morning, I decided to make my travel arrangements to Mexico City. I went to get some help contacting a bus company from the hotel’s concierge, but her Spanish was so rapid-fire that I couldn’t make any sense of it. Since I can read Spanish much better than I can understand it, I decided to try to book my bus trip on-line. From previous research, I knew that Senda has excellent “executive” buses, so I went to their website and was feeling very proud of myself for making great progress with the booking process when I ran into some language I couldn’t figure out. Undaunted, I grabbed my Mac, went back down to the concierge, logged onto the hotel’s wi-fi and got her help with completing my booking. Success!

Then, just as we finished, I was thrilled to get a video Skype call from my good friend Mark. I wish you could have seen the look on the concierge’s face when Mark’s image came up on my screen and we started talking! Anyway, I thanked her for her help and proceeded to have a wonderful wireless chat with Mark while walking around the hotel lobby and showing him all that there is to see. I have always liked Skype, but being able to see and talk with friends from anywhere in the world -- for free! -- makes me just love it!

With a sense of victory and glee, I went back to my room and was finishing up some emails when one of my RSS news feeds offered a link about a thing called Kidzania that has just opened in Japan. It looked very interesting, so I followed the links to the company’s web page and found out that one of three Kidzania’s in the world is right here in Monterrey! I almost couldn’t believe it, but it was true! Seeing this as an omen, I copied a map to the place onto my PDA, grabbed my camera, went back downstairs and showed the map to the guy at the door. Within minutes I was in a taxi, then standing in front of Kidzania Monterrey. (For the moment, what you need to know is that Kidzania is a kind of “commerce-based theme park” for kids. Instead of rides and the like, kids get to do little jobs, earn “Kidzos” -- the internal money -- and then spend it on things and activities they like.)

Learningcurve1I tried to buy a ticket to get into the place but was refused because I was a guy without kids wanting to get into an establishment for kids. I appreciated this security, but I still wanted to get inside! So, I handed the attendant one of my cards and said “internet journalist.” She said, “uno momento” and in moments I was escorted up to an office where my card was given to a woman in a cubicle. She did something on her computer -- which I later learned was check my website -- and came out to meet me. Her name is Ana Gabriela, and for the next 90 minutes I had a personal guided tour of the facility! I took a ton of video of this truly remarkable business and will look forward to sharing a Report as soon as I can edit it. Until then, I can only say that it has been a long, long time since I have been so impressed with a business model or with a representative like Ana Gabriela. If I could, I would buy the company.

Anyway, though it may not sound like much, my day was full of “living by my wits” and a lot of learning. Making travel arrangements on-line in Spanish, having a video conference in the lobby, the serendipitous discovery of an amazing local business, using my credentials to open an otherwise closed door and capturing tons of video for what I know will be a great Report has made this one of the best days I’ve had in a while. I am happily exhausted, ready for my celebratory dram of Scotch and looking forward to a good meal and a good night’s sleep in anticipation of whatever tomorrow has to offer on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Logbook: On To Monterrey

Ontomonterrey2I don’t mean to belabor my first border crossing and foreign destination, but they strike me significant enough to deserve a little more special mention. I have to admit that just about as soon as I woke up this morning and got myself sorted out, I began feeling a bit apprehensive. In some moderately profound sort of way, I had a kind of visceral sense of what my mind wrote just five days ago about moving into the unknown. I took a walk and had a little talk with myself, to remember all that I already know about travel in foreign lands and to remind myself that I’m pretty good at figuring things out. With that exercise behind me, I had some lunch and caught a ride back into Laredo. The bridge crossing was identical to the one I made yesterday, with two small exceptions: I had all my gear with me and I stopped to take the “last look” photo you see above. For the first time in my life, different from all other travel I have ever done, I was leaving the US with no idea of when I would be returning. I had a sense of “expatriation” that I took a few minutes mid-bridge to experience. It is a feeling that is very difficult to describe, so I will just say that I am sure it is one of the moments I will remember for the rest of my life.

In due course, I completed my bridge walk, passed through the Mexican gateway and proceeded to the bus ticket office as instructed yesterday. The nice man who sold me my ticket was there, led me a half block to his car and drove me to the bus station. There, I went inside, checked in at the desk and was told to have a seat and wait for the bus to be called in about half an hour. Just like clockwork, the announcement was made, I walked to the “gate” and stowed my gear under a bus that is comparable to a good Greyhound. About a dozen passengers loaded up and off we went for our three hour ride to Monterrey. As usual, I fired up my iPod and began watching episodes of my favorite TV shows -- The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (which I download from the iTunes Music Store thanks to a thoughtful birthday present from my brother).

Ontomonterrey1Almost before I knew it, we were pulling into the very large, bustling city that is Monterrey. Once off the bus, I bought a taxi ticket -- which is priced based on the zone of your destination and is done, I suspect, to prevent visitors from being ripped off right at the start -- and got a taxi to the Holiday Inn where I had made arrangements to stay for my brief time here. After checking in, I took a walk around the area and found the Macro Plaza -- an outdoor pedestrian shopping mall -- which is shown in the small photo above and where I found a simple, tidy place to have some dinner. And that’s about it! In retrospect, the whole experience was such a no-brainer that I almost can’t believe I had any trepidation about it at all. Then again, I remind myself that being alert is a good thing in the expedition business and give myself a break. My special thanks to all of you who used Skype and iChat to call me this afternoon and evening. It was wonderful to connect with people I know and love in a strange place. I really appreciate the calls and look forward to sharing many, many more in the future. Now, buenos noches from The Voyage!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Logbook: Mexico Recon

Mexicorecon1_2After sleeping in a little bit this morning -- which I really needed to do -- I went into the heart of Laredo and made my way to “International Bridge #1” which is the bridge that allows foot traffic into Mexico. My plan today was to recon my border crossing and to arrange my transport onward to Monterey. Frankly, I just wanted to make sure I have everything in order before getting to the border, lest I have to make a “go around” for lack of documentation or whatever. As it turns out, it was all so easy I could have skipped the whole recon. The details: It costs 50 cents (exact change only) to cross the bridge from the US. It’s only a five minute walk across the bridge, but it feels longer when you see the symbolic Rio Grande pass under you. Next, since I will be transiting Mexico, I need to have a tourist permit. That was swiftly and easily gotten by showing my passport to the immigration man and paying a 200 peso (20 dollar) fee. I even got the first stamp in my new passport -- for no additional charge!

Mexicorecon2Now officially in Mexico, I crossed the street to the bus ticket office and said, “Monterey, manana.” I was swiftly rewarded with a ticket and a reassuring, “Manana, uno media, aqui!” And that was it! In less than thirty minutes I’d finished my entire Mexico recon plan, so I decided to just wander around Nuevo Laredo for a while. After saying “No, gracias” to offers of everything you might imagine a single man in Mexico would be offered, I found a cell phone store where I handed my phone to the woman at the counter and simply said “Chip, por favor.” Without breaking stride, she popped a new Telcel chip in my phone, set up the service, handed it back to me and helped me successfully test my new Mexico phone number. With else to do in Nuevo Laredo, I walked back across the bridge -- which only costs 3 pesos (30 cents) -- and made my way back to my hotel room. At this moment, my gear is all packed and I’m ready to have my last night of sleep in the US for a long time. Tomorrow I will cross the border “for real” and continue south on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Logbook: Southern Border

Southernborder2On Sunday morning I boarded the Amtrak Crescent and had a pleasant 12-hour trip to New Orleans. Arriving at about 7pm, I walked about four blocks to a modestly shabby Holiday Inn and parked myself for the night. I took a few minutes in the morning to walk around the city to see what it was like “in the wake of Katrina.” I have to confess that I’ve never really liked New Orleans and it has always struck me as a run down kind of town. It seems pretty much the same as it has the other half-dozen times I’ve been there, so I can’t really say I saw any Katrina effects. Again, I didn’t look around very much -- and didn’t really want to -- so I’ll just leave it at that. By noon Monday I was on the Amtrak Sunset Limited bound for San Antonio. After another satisfactory 17-hour train ride -- which included about seven hours of sleep -- I arrived in plenty of time to transfer to the bus station, check my bags, get some breakfast and go through security.

No, that’s not a typo. We went through a pretty rigorous security check before getting on the bus to Laredo. I have no idea what it was all about, and can only imagine the possibilities of -- what? -- hijacking a bus? The best part of the experience was finding out that snickering at mindless “authority” is a universal language. As one of only two “whites” to board the bus, I found myself making pleasant eye contact and exchanging contemptuous expressions with many of the Hispanic passengers. We all had a good laugh and I trust we were laughing at the same thing. A 3-hour non-stop bus ride later and I emerged from the depot in “downtown” Laredo where, I must confess, I gave myself a break by taking a cab about a mile out of town to a passable Day’s Inn that I saw on the way in. After 2+ days of more or less continuous travel, I’m going to take the rest of the day to get my land legs back, update this website and take it easy. Tomorrow I will explore Laredo, check out my border crossing options and develop a plan for leaving the USA on the first foreign leg of The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Musing: All Aboard?

AmtrakIn the past 70 days, I have traveled over 3,800 miles on Amtrak. With names like Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, State House, Keystone, Crescent and Sunset Limited you get a picture of grand and glorious -- almost epic -- travel. Add to that the lore -- the “romance” -- of rail travel and you can almost find yourself booking a ride. Can’t you? Well, I can honestly recommend it. Not totally glowingly, but truthfully. On the plus side, there is something special about taking a train trip. Maybe not ten trips in ten weeks like I have done, but once in a while for sure. You board the train, find your seat, check out your fellow passengers and settle down in quite comfortable seats that are much, much bigger and roomier than any plane or car. If you are smart, you book yourself in a Sleeperette -- or better yet a Bedroom -- and have a private space to make your own, a big picture window to enjoy the view and a conscientious attendant to make your trip even more comfortable. Any time you want, you can get up and walk the length of the train, sit in the view lounge to be immersed in the scenery or stop by the cafe car to get a snack and a beverage. At meal times you can go to the dining car and enjoy your food in the company of generally pleasant strangers with whom you have been randomly seated.

What could be better? Well, I can think of a couple of things. First, the train cars show signs of age and wear, bordering on bring shabby in spots. Second, the food is pretty mediocre, almost entirely pre-prepared, and the menu is very limited. Third, the ride can be pretty jostling, owing to the fact that Amtrak uses rails that are designed for freight not passengers. All in all, I still think it’s a good alternative to flying and driving. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Amtrak doesn’t do more to promote it’s service. In these days of flying hassles and high gas prices, I think more people would give it a try. With a little more revenue, Amtrak could easily fix what’s “not so good” and make the train routes worthy of their names.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Musing: Not As Seen On TV

NotasseenontvI met this nice couple on the train to New Orleans. He is from England, she is from Bulgaria and they are living in Bahrain. Go figure. Anyway, we happily passed our time together over dinner by chatting about everything from the food to geo-politics. When they told me this was their first trip to the US, I asked them about their impressions. The first thing they mentioned, of course, was how big the country is. This is something I have often heard from foreigners, so I was not very surprised. What did surprise me was the second thing they said: “The people are so normal!” I inquired further, and got the following explanation: “We expected violence in the streets, homeless people in every doorway, protests everywhere and constant threats to our safety... Just like we see on TV!” And there you have it, America as seen by foreigners on CNN.

My new friends went on to say, “There has been none of that. People are friendly, we haven’t seen any trouble and we are surprised at how few police there are.” The reality just doesn’t live up to its media image, does it? This got me thinking about my own traveling and my expectations going forward. I’ve heard a lot about how “unsafe” foreign countries are and I have often been admonished to be very careful on The Voyage: “They just love kidnapping Americans, you know.” After all, isn’t that the bulk of what Americans see on TV about other countries? Well, I’m not going to be stupid and foolish -- or at least not any more than usual -- but I’m also not going to travel in continual fear of what I’ve seen on TV. Sure there is danger in the world. Sure there are bad people in other countries. Sure you have to take some care while traveling. But you also have to remember that some things are “not as seen on TV.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Logbook: Leaving Atlanta

Leavingatlanta2Over the past few days, I have completed my preparations to leave Atlanta and board a train bound for New Orleans -- and beyond -- in the morning. After almost a month in Atlanta, getting ready to hit the road again has mostly involved replenishing supplies -- such as toiletries, batteries and scotch! -- doing laundry and repacking gear. As part of this process, I have done my first "recycling" of gear by depositing a pair of pants and a pair of shoes in a local clothing bin. The items still have some life in them, but not enough to merit being packed and carried. In the first 66 days of The Voyage, I have allowed myself to add two t-shirts and a pair of tropical pants to my gear by rationalizing that these are legitimate additions as I move toward much warmer climates. It is so easy to accumulate "stuff" that I will have to remain diligent about making "cuts" -- or at least "exchanges" -- along the way! I have also taken time to bid farewell to all the wonderful friends I have been happy to visit while I have been here.

One highlight has been going with my friend Ken to have lunch with his sons at their school. Picture the two of us sitting in an elementary school cafeteria in those tiny chair, at those tiny tables. It was a fun and sweet experience for all of us, and it will surely remain in our hearts and minds forever. As I prepare to leave Atlanta, I am aware that -- so far -- The Voyage of Macgellan has been a wonderful, cross-country visiting of family and friends. Except for some difficulty getting on-line here and there, it has been as easy a voyage as one can hope for. There has been reliable power and plumbing, good housing, easy transportation and fine food everywhere. English has been the universal language and I've enjoyed the comfortable and convenient hospitality of many friends and family. It has been a wonderful voyage so far -- one that I would have done for its own sake -- and it has been an excellent opportunity to test my gear, technology and systems.

Beginning tomorrow morning, The Voyage of Macgellan will take on a new gestalt. I will be moving away from friends and family, across a foreign border and into unfamiliar territory. I will make a change from "connecting the dots" to "creating the dots" and from "testing my stuff" to "testing myself." While I have thoroughly enjoyed -- and benefitted from -- The Voyage so far, I am energized and excited by The Voyage ahead.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Logbook: Old Haunts

Oldhaunts2The past week has been a pretty “mixed-use” time. First, I did a lot of iLife for this website. With all of the new Reports, Photos, etc., I am finally caught up with myself and ready to move ahead. Second, I did a little bit of visiting with old friends and checked out some old haunts around Atlanta. Although the friends and haunts were pretty much the same as they were when I lived here 20-30 years ago, I’m afraid I can’t say the same for Atlanta itself. The “lovely little city” I knew no longer exists and the “metropolis” is booming. Construction and development are going on everywhere, and the traffic is simply impossible. I mean no offense, but I’ve been here for almost a month and that is about as much as I can handle. Which brings me to my third area of activity, “getting ready to hit the road.”

Oldhaunts1After a lot of research, I abandoned my idea of crossing the Caribbean. Because I have a firm date for meeting my folks in Costa Rica, I need at least semi-reliable transportation to get there. I was unable to find any such means across the water, so I have planned to take a land route through Mexico and Central America. As a result, I will be leaving here on Sunday by train to New Orleans, then on to San Antonio where I will catch a bus to the border town of Laredo. I intend to cross into Mexico late next week then work my way to Mexico City and onward from there.

Other Voyage related preparation has included a trip to the local REI to get some lighter weight, tropical pants and a new pair of walking shoes to replace the ones I’ve already worn out. While I was there, I got a new day pack that will better serve my needs -- now that I actually know what they are -- than the one I’ve been using. Also, I have replaced my old Canon S400 “point and shoot” camera which had become a bit “flaky” and unreliable. The new one is a Nikon L6 and I’m very happy with it so far. (I doubt I need to tell you that I’ve gotten at least four times the camera for less than half the money!) Over the next few days I will wrap up my Atlanta visit, replenish various supplies and repack my gear, ready to continue south on The Voyage of Macgellan...