Authors Posts by Fly Brother

Fly Brother


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An hour south of Geneva, where the Swiss Alps meet the French Alps, lies the splendid little city of Annecy. In winter, Annecy’s lake—opaque and unfrozen—reflects snowy peaks down which the begoggled and besweatered whoosh on skis, powered by adrenaline and hot chocolate. But in summer, Annecy itself is the attraction, its lake sparkling and turquoise in the bright Alpine sun, its winding streets humming with tourists from Lyon or Paris, yes, but also with first-year university students from Metz, middle-aged café owners who au paired in New York, pensioners who remember the end of the war, young professionals who commute to day jobs in Switzerland.

Laced with narrow canals, flower-lined palisades, sidewalk cafés, and arcaded boutiques, Annecy’s old quarter looks picture perfect. The preserved, ship-like island prison, the wrought-iron balconies above the pavement, and the commanding Château d’Annecy seem almost Disneyfied in their perfection. But that appearance is only because of the pride the residents take in making sure their town is attractive to visitors and residents alike, a pride which seeps into pleasant, warm interactions that feel downright quaint when held against Parisian aloofness: Anneciens are glad you’re here.

With the opulent L’Impérial Palace hotel and casino crowning its northern extremity, the lake of Annecy becomes the town’s locus of activity during the daytime, especially when the sun is shining: renting a bike or a kayak is the only way to soak in the vibrant energy of the lake, if you don’t know anyone with a catamaran or motorboat. In the evenings, regional French and international cuisines entice hungry diners into intimate eateries and a mix of cocktail lounges, wine bars, and sports bars keep the libations pouring and the interaction lively. Don’t worry if your French is rusty or non-existent; Annecy’s a great place to pick up a few French kisses, I mean, phrases. 😉 And before you go, stop by Chez Apo for a tasty kebab—owners Beatrice and Apo will take good care of you.

Annecy (pronounced ‘an-SEE’), France, is located 22 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland. Fly into GVA non-stop from North America via Air Canada, Swiss International Air Lines, or United Airlines, then take the bus or popular rideshare service to Annecy.

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Did you know that you can fly on a double-decker plane from five cities in North America?

No, the iconic 747, with its distinctive hump and short business-class cabin towards the front isn’t the double-decker plane I’m referring to. I mean the world’s largest airplane, the Airbus A380, which can seat between 525 (typical 3-class configuration) and 850 passengers (all-coach configuration) on two levels that run the length of the aircraft. Ten airlines currently operate this behemoth worldwide, eight of which fly routes to the United States and Canada, and ten additional airlines have ordered the type.

Despite appearances, the Lufthansa A380 is bigger than that Air France Boeing 777. Kohei Kanno/Flickr
The Lufthansa A380 is actually bigger than the Air France Boeing 777. Kohei Kanno/Flickr

Dubai-based Emirates owns the largest number of A380s—64 in all—and is awaiting another 76 on order from European manufacturer Airbus. The other operators of the type include Air France, Korea’s Asiana Airlines, British Airways, Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Germany’s Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Australia’s Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways International, all of whom have decked out their premium cabins (read: not economy) with such wonders as shower stalls and bedroom suites with minibars and vanity lights.

Inside the Emirates A380 shower spa. PYONKO OMEYAMA/Flickr
Inside the Emirates A380 shower spa. PYONKO OMEYAMA/Flickr

Even if you’re typically fly economy class, the seat width and pitch (how far you can lean back) on this great whale are a couple of inches greater than that of a typical 747, especially on the Singapore Airlines A380, which offers coach passengers two full meals and a snack, with menus and real cutlery, on their transatlantic flights.

If you fancy a ride on the world’s largest passenger aircraft, don’t fret about cost. Coach fares for transatlantic flights from North America start at about $550 round-trip and transpacifics from $650, depending on the season, and there is no price differential among aircraft types. Just make sure you choose the route with 388 listed as the aircraft, and you’ll be in for an amazing ride.

The A380 currently plies 22 routes from eight North American gateways:
Air France: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to Paris
Asiana Airlines: New York and Los Angeles to Seoul
British Airways: Los Angeles and Washington to London
China Southern: Los Angeles to Guangzhou
Emirates: Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto to Dubai; New York to Milan
Korean Air: New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta to Seoul
Lufthansa: Houston, Miami, and San Francisco to Frankfurt
Qantas: Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne
Singapore Airlines: New York to Singapore via Frankfurt and Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo


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Bryan Sereny/Flickr

Did you know that only 28% of Greater Miami’s residents speak English at home? Miami being a Spanish-speaking city isn’t just a myth. Everyone jokes about needing a passport to visit Miami and that the city’s first language is Spanish. But it’s not just a joke; in Miami, more people speak Spanish than English. According to data compiled in 2010 by the Modern Language Association, of Miami-Dade County, Florida’s 2.3 million residents over the age of five, only 28% – around 644,000 – speak English as a first language at home. Spanish ranks Number One, at 1.5 million speakers, or roughly 64% of the overall population of the county (over five years of age, that is). Haitian Creole, Haiti’s official language along with French, comes in third at almost 97,000 speakers, or a scant 4.2% of the over-five population, while French and Portuguese round out the top five, with less than 1% each.

Reflecting the demographic make-up of the region, Miami-Dade County has three official languages – English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole – in which all county documentation, from voting registration forms to court summons to school board notices, must be printed. While more obvious reasons for the shifting of Miami’s primary language from English to Spanish over the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st include economic and political instability throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, many of the people who lamenting the decline of English forget that the name Florida itself is a Spanish word meaning “florid” or “flowery.” That’s not all; the name Miami is derived from that of the Mayaimi Indians who lived around nearby Lake Okeechobee when the Europeans first arrived. The Mayaimi’s linguistic cousins, the Tequestas, lived in what is now Miami and they didn’t speak English at home either.

That said, add a little bit of instrumentation to all these languages and you’ve got the incredible mash-up of the Miami music scene. Salsa, samba, soca, and every riddim in between thumps out of open car windows and on nightclub dance floors. So while you may have to speak Spanish to that gas station attendant (diez en la doce means “$10 on pump 12”), you’ll also get to work on your reggaeton moves as you pump.

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With a last name like Goldfrapp, you’d better start a band or something. British chanteuse Alison Goldfrapp and musician Will Gregory have been whipping up ethereal, otherworldly sounds for over 15 years. I first heard of the duo back in the early-2000s on one of the many lounge music compilation disks in my collection at the time. The tune? This haunting throwback to black-and-white frightfests, “Lovely Head.”

But it was this latest album, Tales of Us, that recently grabbed my attention, transporting me through sonic time and space, no matter if I’m traveling or writing. Check out some of my favorites from the album’s deluxe edition (but you’ll love the whole thing).



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Martin and I have been friends since I first CouchSurfed at his place in Stockholm during my whirlwind round-the-world tour in 2009. Recently, I hung out at his place and he finally decided to teach me a little Swedish before dinner. :-)


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Me and my former partner in Montreal, months before the sun set on hour relationship, one of the not-so-great happenings in 2014.

In this video, I discuss what went well and not-so-well in 2014, including the Big Break-up, and talk about my goals and aspirations for the coming year.

Sorry about the length and the phone call. 😛

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Read Part One here.

The crack of dawn occurred after Rogue Priest, Pixi, and I had woken up and took to the road in search of breakfast. The Hotel La Turbina advertised a restaurant that didn’t actually exist, and, Sabinas Hidalgo being a relatively small town, most eating places didn’t open on Sundays until seven (in principle), but not really until about 7:15 or 7:30 (in practice). For the second time on the trip, we ended up at a restaurant with a severe dearth of cars in the parking lot. This time, though, we were on the town’s main drag and didn’t expect to have our pictures on milk cartons this time.

The Restaurant Acira (all restaurants in northern Mexico seemed to use the English version of the word, though they still seemed to pronounce it restaurante. I guess dropping the final “e” lent a place a certain je ne sais quois) served up traditional Mexican breakfasts in what was, if you bothered to look past its crusted-over, forlorn ambience, a surprisingly attractive, mid-century Modern roadside diner. The parking lot’s rusty awning probably shielded snazzy drive-in customers from the fierce Mexican sun when served in their 1955 Chevy Bel Airs. Along the northern wall glittered a giant, intricate tile mosaic depicting cows and cowboys locked in their historic and essential wrangle. The restaurant’s Jetsons-style sign, in desert pastels, perched almost demurely at the edge of the parking lot and, like most of the other impressive design elements of the place, outshined by gaudy, artless kitsch, required keen eyes to appreciate. Even the waiter had a classic air about him, with his elegant mustache and diction, that seemed to belong to an era of service long dead and buried. And the breakfast was pretty good, too.

After filling our bellies, Rogue, Pixi, and I stocked up on provisions and hit the road, saying our private goodbyes to lovely Sabinas Hidalgo as we passed tree-shaded yards and whitewashed houses en route to the verdant hills ahead of us.

As the arid carpet of northern Mexico unrolled ahead of us, we continued adelante, emboldened by the previous day’s triumph of reaching our first stopping point without incident. Rogue and Pixi biked briskly, maintaining a steady pace as the sun, and the land itself it seemed, rose steadily higher.

It was here, in the midst of the fluttering Monarch butterflies, bright yellow wildflowers, and sturdy cacti that lined our route, that I soon began to ponder my own path. Where, indeed, was I going to?

The previous few months had meant leaving my teaching job and apartment in Miami to focus on my PhD, my writing, and my relationship in Germany. The relationship—five years and almost married—ended suddenly, but not without good reason, just as I’d visited South Africa for the first time on a press trip that I’d put off for two years. And now, here I was: traipsing through Mexico with only a few freelancing gigs and my part-time airline job for money, my doctoral studies on indefinite pause, the solid relationship I had counted on no longer in existence, and an intense and unexpected romance in South Africa suddenly interrupted by fear and uncertainty.

To be honest, for the past several weeks, I’d been struggling greatly with all the great existential issues that plague the aimlessly intellectual and creative: why am I here? For what purpose? What is happening to me? Why didn’t my relationship work out? Why isn’t this new one working out? Why isn’t the love of my family and friends enough? Why is my bank account perpetually empty? What happens now? Where am I going to? Where am I going to?

And as I tossed these things about in my head, silently rejoicing about the awesomeness of the trip but a bit more loudly despairing of my life situation at that moment, I heard Janelle Monae sing: “To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”

And this refrain, undergirded by the gentle yet unrelenting reminders of numerous friends, family members, the universe really, of how wonderful and one-of-a-kind every single moment of my life was, took on a greater significance.

How many other people had the time and ability to fly down to Mexico and help a good friend realize his life goal? Or help a new friend realize how far beyond her limits she could push herself? How many other people were freezing up in colder climes while I was able to drive through some of God’s most thrilling countryside ‘neath nuclear skies, where most people don’t even fly over, let alone experience by land? And despite my physical remoteness, I was still in contact with my familiars around the world—in Brazil and Sweden and the US and South Africa—checking in on me, thinking about me, praying for me, loving me. All these little things.

“To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”

There is more to the story. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving.

Snaps from the road:






Select sounds from Day Two:

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At the spur of the moment, and in what I would consider to be a bit of cosmic planning, I found myself with some unexpected free time with which to head down Mexico way and drive the support car for my buddy Rogue Priest and friend as they cycled through the dry and dangerous northern borderlands between the Rio Grande and Monterrey.

Rogue’s epic journey—to bicycle the length of the Americas—combines adventure, danger, courage, spirituality, and heroism. His embodiment of these virtues (well, danger isn’t a virtue, but…) and his neverending quest for knowledge of all kinds are the reasons why I admire him, and why I agreed, offered, really, to be his support driver. Rogue opened up the Mexican portion of his quest―called The Fellowship of the Wheel―to the public and had a few interested parties sign on. Some backed out because of safety concerns; others agreed to join at points further down the road. But this first three-day stretch, with its forbidding terrain and criminal notoriety, required someone who understood the importance of the quest and who wouldn’t allow fear to interfere.

And so it was that I followed Rogue and Pixi south from Texas, crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico by foot from Laredo, a 10-minute jaunt for which the US Government charged 75 cents. Rogue met me in Nuevo Laredo with a smile and a hug, unable to look anything other than hopelessly American with his bicycle, and dashing my hopes of neutralizing our obvious foreignness with a little faux Dominican-ness of my own. The soggy, gray clouds lay thick and humid over the city as we trudged through the mildewed and crestfallen blocks of the old central business district looking for a rental car agency that was not where Google Maps said it would be, and I began my role as official translator when Rogue handed me the iPhone he waved about so liberally to confirm the exact address of the place (“What good is having a phone if not to donate it to those less virtuous than us?”).

Because of the complex nature of US-Mexico border relations, rental cars fall under a strange set of rules: only a select few rented in Texas can cross into Mexico, and even then, must stay within a certain distance from the border. Since we were taking the car just south of Monterrey, and therefore past the border threshold, we had to rent the car in Mexico, opting for returning the car to Nuevo Laredo rather than the more expensive one-way rental which would have allowed me to fly out of Monterrey three days later. But we were adventure seekers, and what kind of adventure would this have been without some sort of return dash north to La Frontera?

Car rented, I got directions to our CouchSurfing host’s house from Rogue and drove on ahead, getting accustomed to our silver Chevrolet Aveo and covering the distance in about 8 minutes that it took Rogue to cover in 15. In no time, he appeared and we stepped through a pair of wrought iron gates and past three cats and a dog into the house of sushi restauranteur and gentle giant, Scotch (who, at that very moment, was away managing one of his restaurants). There, among the visual noise of a modest Mexican homestead, I met quiet, reserved Pixi, who, like Rogue, hailed from the stoic wilds of the Upper Midwest (Minneapolis, to be exact…Rogue’s from ‘scahnsin). We then piled into the Aveo for trip provisions and a late lunch, as Scotch had promised a hearty dinner that evening.

The thing many people who don’t travel abroad fail to realize is just how Americanized life has become in many places around the world. Mexicans and Brazilians and South Africans and Malaysians and Germans all pull into the parking lots of big-box retailers in their SUVs to purchase American-inspired, Chinese-made groceries and household items. Disaffected teenagers swipe through Instagram on their smart phones while parents mull over which revamped Ninja Turtle toy to buy the kids. Sure, there are and will always be significant cultural differences, but in early November, in Mexico, leftover Halloween candy was still in the clearance bin and the Christmas decorations―replete with a rosy-cheeked Santa and fake snow―were being set up at the front of the H.E.B. supermarket in a strip mall in Nuevo Laredo. We stocked up on water, bananas, bran crackers, and tuna (with veggies!) for the road, then went to the Chinese take-out joint next door and ate greasy, plastic chicken and lo mein that sunk like the Hesperus in my stomach.

We capped off the night in Scotch’s dining room with scrumdiddlyumptious bowls of beef and rice stew, along with heaps of laughs and mostly-English conversation with his family about travel, music, and the general safety and sanity issues raised by a bicycle trip through northern Mexico: an arid and inhospitable hinterland pockmarked by gangs of drug- and human-traffickers, some even masquerading as “legitimate” law enforcement and setting up roadblocks to rob motorists, a most useful factoid on the eve of our excursion into said hinterland.

What seemed like a mere five hours later, just before 6am, we were up and out of the house, Rogue and Pixi on their bikes, peddling through the Saturday morning twilight at ten-to-fifteen miles per hour, me following behind in the Aveo, hugging the side of the road behind them with emergency flashers blinking and Janelle Monae hyping me up for the journey ahead. Initial fatigue aside, the excitement of supporting a good friend of mine on his life-quest, with the heightened sense of adventure associated with traveling through Narcolandia, kept me alert at the wheel. As the sun rose higher into the cloudless sky, I could sense the cosmic approval of this endeavor; we were going to be okay.

Not that our―or their, rather―safety was always readily apparent. On the multilane highway heading southwest from Nuevo Laredo, 18-wheelers flew by at astronomical speeds, often belching black clouds of exhaust and kicking up dust into Rogue’s and Pixi’s faces. Sometimes, the two had to ride single-file on the jagged edge of the road, dodging debris and potholes; I even had to keep a sharp eye out for abrupt slow-downs so as not to accidentally run over my own daring charges with the Aveo. Still, with me behind them, vehicles tended to give Rogue and Pixi a wider berth, often changing lanes completely and respectfully, with nary a beep or a toot. Typically, all heads in a passing vehicle or standing along the road turned in our direction, some spectators even waving, but all with a look on their faces that seemed to say “¿que carajo are these fools doing?”

The objective of the day was to get as far away from the border, and out of perceived danger, as quickly as possible, reaching the town of Sabinas Hidalgo―85 miles away―by afternoon’s end. The chosen route, the toll-free and therefore curvier and more-heavily-traveled version of Highway 85, spanned the fertile flatlands of the Rio Grande before the leafier, more vivid foliage gave way to paler greens and the spiky flora of the scrublands. By mid-morning, the sun burned hot overhead, a heat lamp quietly and deceitfully roasting the immediate environment while the actual air temperature remained mild, and every bird seemed, for a split second, to resemble a vulture. Yellow wildflowers clung boldly to the sides of the road and golden butterflies fluttered like confetti over the roadway, especially once the number of lanes dwindled to two.

Rogue and Pixi pedaled and pushed themselves along the route, their long-sleeved shirts shielding them from the sun and remaining virtually dry in the near-desert air, me rolling behind in relative luxury, South African house DJ Black Coffee’s rhythmic wizardry as much in place on the golden plains of Nuevo León as in the orange hills of KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped every hour along the route, chatting for a few minutes about their impressive progress while bladders were emptied and water bottles refilled. I respected them incredibly for their bravery and drive in this undertaking, and not for a single moment did I wish to be changing places with either of them at any time during the trip.

It was just before noon when we stopped at the first respectable-looking, and open, restaurant we came to along the route. While the front door gaped wide and the “Open” (yes, in English) sign was illuminated, not a solitary car occupied the muddy parking lot, but we decided to take a chance anyway. We’d settled around the table for totopos when the clock struck 12 and darnit if the place didn’t fill up with hungry truck drivers, relieving us of our apprehension about eating in a tiny diner in god-knows-where without any customers. But then, I guess it would have already been too late for us had there been any truly sinister shenanigans at that place.

Three full stomachs later, we hopped back onto the road, our sights set on Sabinas Hidalgo and an early arrival into town. About two hours later, though, as the afternoon sun beat down on the adventurers and the terrain started inching upwards, Pixi decided that she would join me in the cool, conditioned air of the Aveo, leaving Rogue to continue ahead of us on his own. Personally, I couldn’t blame Pixi―as I said, I had zero inclination to peddle even a tenth as far as she did…and this is due to falling off my bike in front of a bus at age 16…I’m scarred―and Rogue didn’t either; she had come over 60 miles of tough terrain and should be proud of the effort.

And so we pushed on, away from the US and ever deeper into Mexico. Shortly thereafter, weathered road signs welcomed us at last to Sabinas. At the leading edge of town, just as rain-heavy clouds closed in and the incline became ever steeper, we stopped for gas and snacks. I couldn’t resist a sliver of cheesecake in the freezer case labeled “Pay de Queso” (the “pay” pronounced “pie”), but I hadn’t been resisting much during the entire trip. I’m a grazer and had torn through half the box of bran crackers and at least five pouches of tuna during that day’s drive, and I hadn’t peddled an inch. But it seemed like every ten minutes, I was reaching to put something in my mouth. I vowed to stop the insanity after just that one slice of “pay.”

Pixi and I hopped back into the car and followed Rogue into town. The road became a city street, cross-streets and driveways depositing slow-moving small-town traffic onto the thoroughfare. We passed through the main commercial strip, banks and drugstores and gas stations and cocinas mexicanas on both sides. The local Church’s Chicken-cum-Subway stood proudly and colorfully as one of, if not the, newest buildings in town, a sign that modern globalization had not forgotten about little Sabinas Hidalgo.

Rogue peddled and I drove, exchanging glances with Pixi when Rogue seemed to be unsure of which route to take to our hotel, and unsure ourselves of the name and address of the place, necessary facts for any GPS search. Yet our trust in Fearless Leader unwavering, we ended up at the decrepit, yet still somehow cozy Hotel Las Turbinas, a small motor lodge located on the far end of town that glowed Dr. Seuss pink in the waning afternoon sunlight.

After a quick bed bug spot-check and verification of internet access at least somewhere on the premises, Day One was done.

To be continued…

Snaps from the road:



15588723408_0c1a517835_z15772267581_6323ab8078_z15588676218_c496aae562_z15588982117_8e5f63140c_zSelect sounds from Day One:

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At my favorite place at my favorite time of day with one of my favorite people in the world. Home.

One of the barriers that keeps people from traveling more often, if at all, is the fear of homesickness. People fear not being in close contact with loved ones and familiar environments, with those things, those people, with which they belong.

But in my travels, I’ve been blessed, lucky, fortunate enough to construct familiarity and develop connections with things and places and, above all, people that I’ve encountered. I’ve learned how to connect, how to interact, how to make familiar. How to make a home and a community. I didn’t set out to learn these things, but by being as open and authentic as I could be, which sometimes wasn’t very open or authentic at all, I came to realize that it was my willingness to interact, to engage, to be open, to be permeable, even when not all that successful, that allowed me to develop my community and my familiars, my family. It allowed me to belong.

By no means does this suggest that I never feel lonely or even homesick. I tend to experience things deeply and often struggle with feelings of isolation and alienation, especially on long plane journeys. For while I may selfishly bask in the love and attention shown by my familiars while we’re together, I’m the one who quickly uproots and takes off, while their lives continue, day after day, with or without me.

The lesson for me in all this is to never, ever take my family, my familiars, for granted, because they can and sometimes do disappear, quite suddenly and without warning. And this does mean focusing on the present moment, every moment, a herculean task to be sure.

The lesson I’m able to impart to others, though, is that homesickness, loneliness, unfamiliarity are not truly valid excuses for failing to travel. You travel and you become familiar. You engage and interact. You create community and you create home. It may not be where you expect or even hope, but with openness, with permeability, it will happen before you even realize it: you’ll belong.

And when you need to talk to your mama ‘nem…well, that’s what Skype and round-trip tickets are for.






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Table Mountain, Cape Town

“I live in the most beautiful city in the world,” said my buddy Rob, a long-time expat American living in Cape Town. He’s been saying this, in one way or another, for the past several years. And it only took until this year for me to visit and, sooner rather than later, for me to agree with him.

Cape Town spills around the bottom of Africa, just north of where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, so far away as to be on another planet. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and Cape Point stand, alternately shrouded and ominous or windswept and proud, testifying to the city’s singular place in the world and daring any other pretenders to make themselves known.

Yet despite this singularity of place, Cape Town recalls at once California and Florida and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and Rio de Janeiro and Savannah: the arid mountains, the pastel buildings and turquoise waters, the lingering sun and undulating landscape, the laid-back atmosphere, the luxury hotels and marinas full of yachts, the unresolved social inequality and unearned entitlement hard-baked into the South African soil, a Southern soil if there ever was one.

The secret to Cape Town’s beauty isn’t that it is so immediately apparent; it’s the elements of the familiar and the unique that reveal the city’s kaleidoscopic aura. I sensed this aura on the rocky flats atop Table Mountain and in the sapphire surf that plays on the beach at Sea Point. I sensed it on the buzzing commercial strips of Bo-Kaap and Brooklyn, districts containing all the various and new South Africas, where the intrepid shopper could procure any good or service, legal or otherwise. I sensed it in laughter- and light-filled conversations with Xhosa radio DJs and Afrikaner waiters, Coloured publicists and Indian receptionists, French journalists and American models, portending, possibly, nascent lifelong friendships.

Which brings me back to Rob, who I’ve known for a decade. Well-versed in my cultural and intellectual leanings, he’s been championing South Africa to me for years, even as I moved to other continents. But it only took a single fantastical moment, stepping off of Rob’s porch at twilight, Table Mountain looming black and matte against a watercolor sky, for Cape Town to prove him right. He lives in the most beautiful city in the world.


Oh yeah, did I mention that I went to Cape Town Fashion Week, and associated parties?