Fun with Friends – US edition

New York | Lake Michigan | Atlanta | Bonaire | San Diego | Madrid | Vienna

4th July was coming up soon after I left Turkey and where better to celebrate than the US?    Landing in New York, I was quickly whisked upstate to Cesar and Jill’s wonderful new ski chalet at Windham.   Our focus was more on sampling the unique wines at their local wine bar than the 4th July celebrations…but it was fun to watch the local parade.   A brisk walk to the top of the mountain the next morning cleared our heads.  So glad I got to check out your new place C+J – it is Gang approved!

Next stop was Pentwater, Lake Michigan and a long-awaited reunion with the Milliken/Nash family who were in from Singapore for the summer.    Coming back to Pentwater after all this time was like coming home and it was wonderful to just chill, take long beach walks/runs, play games, kayak, paddle board, have long chats and watch the incredible sunsets.   There was even a wildlife safari – with beach going deer and a massive porcupine!  Steph and Chris – thank you for your amazing hospitality as always – and hope it is not another 8 years before I make it back again.  Hope to see you in Singapore!

Then it was off to Atlanta where my grad school friend Craig continued the tradition of welcoming me with a tequila in his very cool loft and then offered a late night Harley ride and special nightspot tour of Atlanta.   The next day we headed to Bonaire (a Dutch Caribbean island located off the cost of Venezuela) for a week of diving.   Bonaire is known as “The Divers Paradise” and with reefs fringing the island, diving is as easy as walking out your front door and into the water.   I was a little nervous about diving unguided but Craig did a great job of organizing some guided tours to get us comfortable and then showing his divemaster future on our unguided dives.    With lovely diving, sunset drinks on the balcony, pontoon lazing and interesting nights out it was a great trip.  Although the tensions between the Dutch and Bonaireans were evident – with the Dutch holding most of the jobs.   And it took us a while to get used to leaving our car unlocked with windows down – for safety!  Thanks for a great trip Craig!

Back in the US, a whirlwind trip to see Dave and Binda in San Diego saw us cruising the surfing lifestyle in La Jolla and visiting the Mexican border – there is a wall but this one existed pre-Trump! – along with some California outlet shopping (my favorite place to shop).     One of the highlights was an unexpected amazing brunch at Café 21 – a must visit if you are ever in San Diego.   And just soaking up the Gaslamp district vibe….although, as always, the high incidence of homelessness, mental illness and drug abuse that you see on the West Coast is heartbreaking.    D+B  Really enjoyed catching up – see you in Palm Desert next time! 

My final New York stop involved seeing Dagney off to camp with a lovely Greek dinner and special ice-cream (this ice-cream shop has a pavlova and berry flavor) then a too-short but wonderful river walk catch-up with Ilana.     It also meant getting my final Covid vaccine shot.   I am now quadruple vaccinated, having had two shots of Sputnik (the Russian vaccine) in Kenya and now Pfizer which is more widely accepted, especially in Europe.  I may be the only person in the world who has this!  While I’m privileged enough to have this opportunity, it makes me sad/angry that many less wealthy countries are struggling to access enough vaccines for their populations while the US is offering incentives for people to vaccinate and giving them away for free to tourists like me.  

Vaccine inequality is very real.. See this article by a prominent Kenyan journalist at CNN in the US. In Kenya, the government had been struggling to access enough vaccines so private sector employers such as mine have joined forces to purchase vaccines directly from suppliers so we can get our employees vaccinated.    Still – the US should be applauded for the way they have swiftly and effectively managed their rollout and it shows in their travel patterns – airports were packed!   Although Covid tests were not quite as easy to access.  

While not unexpected, it was also sad to see first-hand how extremely politically polarized the nation is – with families and friendships shattered due to differing political views.    Unfortunately, there is no end in sight and there were plenty of Trump 2024 signs in rural areas.   Race relations have also deteriorated rather than improved with voting rights being curtailed – effectively making it more difficult for African Americans to vote and a raging debate over the teaching of racial history in schools.   See this excellent article by my friend Craig of Bonaire diving adventures on voting rights and the role business can play.

Leaving behind the US and its troubles, it was time for a European Gang reunion….  Firstly a mini-one with Cesar and Jill in Madrid and then an almost full one (we missed you Jamie) in Vienna where Robert and Dani thoughtfully moved into a house with a full floor for hosting Gang members.    The key theme for this week was culinary   …. Amazing restaurants, amazing food and amazing wine.    Thanks for being such great hosts Dani and Robert – it was an unexpected gift to be all together again this year.

It was interesting to see the different approaches to Covid in the two different European countries.  Nobody even checked for my vaccine certificate or test going into Spain while in Austria you have to show your vaccine certificate just to get into a restaurant!   

I’m now off to Pakistan to go hiking to K2 Base Camp in the Karakorams – a bucket list destination for me.     Watch for details on my next blog post. 

P.S.   This was actually my second trip to the US this year.  I snuck in a New York (hosted by Cesar) and California (hosted by Amee) trip for my actual 50th birthday in April so I’ve included some of those photos here as well.  NY involved great dining and wine and an amazing surprise chopper ride over NYC – no doors! And California involved beautiful Marin hiking (with champers), a surprise grad school friends zoom call and beach fun…. Huge thank you to both of you for making this trip and my birthday so special!