Laying on a futon next to a snoring Francis, I got up to write. Somehow, a recent 23 hour nap has thrown off my sleeping schedule.
I’m trying to think of where I left off. Also, trying to keep myself from falling into that late night, grossly introspective style of writing.
I guess I’ll start with right before we left San Francisco. We had just received the quad-copter from our sponsor, Parallax. To give a quick context on the quad-copter:
Francis really wants this show to be “cutting-edge” and “future-proof”. So he threw a helicopter into the mix. As if my 5’9 aerial shots wouldn’t be good enough. 5’11 if you count my arms length. I was originally against the idea, as I have received those oh-so-exciting $20 RC helicopters for Christmas. The ones with the same fragility as Pringles. But he persisted and eventually came across a well-reviewed quad-copter called the “Elev-8″. I know what you’re thinking, military spec for sure. He contacted the manufacturer, Parallax, and they agreed to become our sponsor and give us one. Turns out it costs, fully loaded, about $1000 retail. And it takes 8 hours for an experienced nerd to build. At that point(Dec ’12), I had disregarded it from my to do list, hoping maybe Parallax wouldn’t come through. But I wasn’t dismissive for no good reason, it’s just that, at the time, I was in the middle an insane amount of prep- Selling my apt, my car, my things, my clothes, finding an editor, composer, publicist, buying and testing all the gear, saying goodbye to everyone, getting shots, getting documents in order, buying and testing software….among many other things. So I was not really up for self-training myself on building and flying a helicopter.
It’s gets better. Actually better. Parallax offered to give us an already built nerd-copter and they’ll teach me how to fly it. Ok…this I could handle. So Francis and I drove up to Sacramento, learned how to fly it, crashed it several times, and learned how to fix it. Got that out of the way.
They gave us many spare propellers and other little pieces. A very skilled mechanic and relative, Andy Weber, custom built us a mount for the GoPro. So we’re pretty set with that. The next challenge is getting it past border guards. This will be a challenge because it looks like a military drone and we look like 2 American spies with $15,000 of recording equipment. I’ll be sure to write about that one.
New York, New York
Ok, so we flew off to New York. I arrived with Francis and we carried about 60 pounds of gear in 5 bags, plus a stripped-down, attention-grabbing, fear-instilling quad copter, and a broadcast camera across the crowded city to an apartment on the upper west side.
Yes, close to Jerry Seinfeld’s fictitious apartment. No, he wasn’t home.
I picked up Laura from the airport and we spent the next few days having a really incredible time. We didn’t have a lot on our list of things to do, so we just took it easy. We mostly drank coffee and got lost on the subways.
I know, now, why the subways are underground. Because the people on them are already half-way dead. I don’t know what it is about walking down some steps and getting on a really fast underground train that makes people look like they want to jump in front of it. I was never scared for my own life, but for theirs. I may take cabs next time just to avoid my happiness being crushed by their soulless stares.
The highlight of that trip was certainly Central Park during Winter Storm Nemo. I had heard of the news sensationalizing the storm, but I can’t imagine what they said…
It was like flurries and some wind for 12 hours. I saw that Jersey got it bad, especially with the power loss, but NY got a nice blanket and some cold wind the next day.
On Sunday the 10th Francis and I flew to Madrid. Getting through customs took the same amount of time as it takes to stamp a passport. The airport was really nice.
We took public transit and met our couchsurfing host, Gloria. She was extremely kind and let me and Francis sleep in her bed, and she slept in the guest room.
As I mentioned before, I have been working practically non-stop for the past 3 months. Literally, I have not had a break, a weekend, or a day off. If I wasn’t taking care of personal things I was preparing for this Africa TV show. So some rest was well overdue. But before I get to my epic nap, let me tell you about the Spanish lifestyle.
The average schedule for a Spaniard is:
- Wake up around 10am
- Eat breakfast around 12
- Eat lunch around 4
- Take a siesta(after lunch nap) around 5
- Wake up around 8
- Eat dinner around 9 or 10
- Go to bed around 12
It’s like college over here. Even most of the stores close during the siesta time.
We dropped our bags off at Gloria’s and we headed to the main square in Madrid for some tapas and wine. Tapas were fantastic…
…red wine was incredible.
Not being a big wine guy, I actually really enjoyed this one. It seemed bolder than what I’m used to, but not bitter. I can’t even say what kind it was, but I’m going to guess it was a Cabernet, because it was pretty fruity. I think if I lived in Spain I would probably get into wine more, because it is literally everywhere. Even gas stations have a large selection.
We took the train back to her house, I got in bed around 4pm, and I got out of bed around 4pm, the next day. I woke up for about 15 minutes every 5 or 6 hours…but that’s it. I hardly remember even those moments…it was a deep, deep sleep. This super long nap is why I’m writing right now, at 6am. My internal clock is so confused, it may be a while before I can set it straight.
The Last Stop
Madrid isn’t Africa, so I wasn’t expecting any exciting stories yet, but I have a good one to start them off.
Francis and I went to look at a car in a city about an hour away, by train, from where we were staying. In Madrid, and some American transit systems, you have to buy your ticket for the exact route you want to take before you even approach the train. So we bought our tickets for the train, 3 euros each. After we see the car, we start walking back to the station to get a train home when Francis realizes he doesn’t have any more Euros. He only has his Citi bank card….and it doesn’t have a PIN number. Without a PIN number, it can’t be used to withdraw money at an ATM, we can’t get any more euros, and we can’t get a train home. After trying and failing to work something out with the local banks, we realize we have no way to get back to Gloria’s. And no phones. So we’re stuck.
Francis suggested jumping the 3 ft high gates and sneaking onto the train. They’re usually not well guarded and it would be very easy to climb over the little rotating bars(like at theme parks). We walk down the stairs and approach the station to find 3 security guards lounging just 10 feet from the gates. We also see that these gates aren’t those little rotating bars, but actually 2 clear plastic doors that push sideways when you put in your ticket. When closed, they leave about 6 inches open. Francis then suggests we just use our previous tickets(now void, they only last one trip), and if the gates don’t open we pretend we don’t realize and squeeze through.
I walked up to the gate at the same time Francis did, entered my ticket as he did, and heard the negative beep denying us entry. He looked at me and squeezed through the doors, and I did the same. As we walked down the escalator to the train, I removed my bright blue jacket, turned it inside out to the grey side, and removed my hat. He removed his bright red jacket and held it. The guards didn’t seem to notice our forced access.
We walked onto the train, I sat down and he stood up. While waiting for the doors on the train to close, we kept looking for the security guards to walk down after us. Usually the doors close in less than a minute. This time…2 minutes past. Then 3 minutes…Then, the conductor steps out of his little room and walks down the middle of the train. At the same time a distinct alarm sound goes off, and lights blink at every train door. Francis turns and looks at the escalator- all three guards are heading down toward the train. He walks away so we look like individuals, they are looking for 2 men together. There are maybe 8 people on this whole train.
My mind starts racing…what is the penalty for slipping past a train gate? 5 years? I don’t even speak Spanish….I could play that card…I wonder if they’ll just give us a ticket…I guess Francis will pay for it…getting caught wouldn’t be so bad then…
With the stupid alarm still ringing and the lights still flashing, the guards board the train and slowly walk past me. I grab my camera and pretend to be the tourist that I am, looking at shots of buildings and statues. They walk past me slowly and continue on. Francis is down the line, hiding his face like it’s not suspicious at all…. Somehow, they walk past him. They all end up about 12 feet past Francis and gather together and start talking. Finally, after 10 minutes the alarm stops, the doors close and the train takes off. I guess we dodged a serious bullet.
Then I notice something weird…no one else on the train seemed annoyed that the alarm was going off and that it took so long to move. And then I remember that the train had come into this station in the opposite direction it left…which meant this had to be its last stop. I cautiously make my way to Francis and ask him about it…he tells me that “now he remembers the alarm and lights goes off every time the train reaches its last stop.” This also explains the conductor leaving his room, and the guards catching the train- they were just taking it to another station. As for me and Francis, we had a good laugh and I think I passed another one of his tests.
Where are we now?
At this point, we are in Madrid looking for a car to take across Africa. We have seen several but are not sold on any yet. We have narrowed our choices down from 4 to 2. Originally, we were considering a Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender, and a Santana Anibal. The 2 latter models were only ever sold in the UK, so you may not be familiar with them. The Santana Anibal is essentially a clone of the Land Rover Defender, but with many upgrades in design and quality, most notably a much more reliable engine. While Toyotas were our first choice, they have proven to be too small. We couldn’t fit all our gear and camp in a 4Runner or a Land Cruiser. So those 2 are off the list. The LR Defender and the Santana can fit everything, but either of the cars would need serious modifications if we are to take them across Africa.
Primarily, we would need:
- Larger, off-road wheels
- The car would need to be lifted
- An exhaust snorkel
- A winch
Francois and Adela
We saw a Santana tonight that had actually been taken down almost the exact same path Francis and I are planning to take. Basically a counter-clockwise path entering almost every country in Africa.It was being sold by a couple that did the trip entirely for fun. They were both very knowledgeable and inspiring. This is their blog from their trip: www.atlasinafrica.com ”Atlas” is the name they gave to the Santana.
Francis and I spoke with them for a couple hours, test drove the car and said goodnight.
Walking away, I think we were both a little humbled by their accomplishment. They took a similar trip to ours, but with a much smaller budget and less travel experience. There was also something about them that spoke to me on a deeper level. The guy’s name was Francois, he looked about 8-10 years old than me. He spoke 3 languages fluently, French, Spanish, and English. He kindly spoke in English to accommodate me. When he spoke to us, he spoke with a certain confidence and eloquence that conveyed a level of content that I’ve rarely seen. It was almost like he had already had this exact conversation and was just repeating it back in a more refined way. He seemed extraordinarily comfortable. Then his girlfriend, Adela, walked up. She looked maybe a year or two older than Francois. She was very pretty. We soon found out that they were both engineers, which made us feel a lot better about not following most of their detailed notes on the mechanics of the car. Adela referenced many of their detailed experiences from the trip with pleasure, seemingly enjoying looking back, even for our sake. She too, spoke with confidence. She stood and talked with us 3 guys for hours and engaged in the conversation more than I did. She gave us great advice and very honest answers about the car. They both did. While neither of them “controlled” the conversation, they both seemed to be in sync when it came to explaining something. Adela was very funny at times, and they were both extremely down to earth. They seemed like 2 people who really, really had it all figured out.
As the career success of my generation, and those behind me, becomes increasingly more project based and dependent on networking, observing and learning from those skilled in social situations has become something I do daily. It’s so much more than just being able to talk to someone, it’s about being able to read them. It’s about sensing the direction of the conversation and adjusting accordingly, while not making it obvious that you’re analyzing. It’s about doing it well and doing it naturally. There was certainly a change in the conversation with Francois, where he went from being a salesman to being a friendly consultant, and you would never know the difference based on his actions or words. Adela walked up in the middle of the conversation and knew exactly what to say, and how to say it. They both made me and Francis feel comfortable, even when Francis was asking question after question, completely unrelated to the car. They never seemed frustrated or annoyed, but rather eager to relive their journey through helping us prepare for ours.
I imagine their trip across Africa shaped who they are now to some extent, and I can only hope this trip will have a similar affect on me. Most importantly, I hope it makes me less awkward when I have to do that double-cheek kiss hello that everyone does here in Spain.
We should have a car by the end of the week and hopefully on the way to Morocco by the end of next week. I’ll post pictures of the car we end up buying.
I know this post was super long. My hope is that once we get the car and have a relatively normal routine, I will update more often so these posts don’t end up being 2,687 words.
Thanks for reading, all 7 of you. I love each of you so much. Until more people start reading. Then my love will be spread thin and you will become just a number. But until then, thanks