Alameda NAS

Since I bought my motorcycle earlier this summer (a 2008 BMW R1200RT) I’ve been looking for locations where I can practice to improve skills.  A friend of mine suggested the Alameda Naval Air Station, a nearby US Navy base which was decommissioned several years ago.  It has  a 10000′ runway, which is closed to the public, but is the site where the Discovery Channel program Mythbusters often uses for high speed car crashes and other experiments.  There are also numerous abandoned hangars, warehouses, and parking lots;  the latter a very usable area for slow-speed practice.

Today, I went to the NAS to do some practice, and as well, to explore a bit.  It really was fun driving around this slowly decaying piece of history – all the buildings are still standing, some are clearly unused, some are being used by commercial operations.  One hangar has been repurposed as a winery, another as a vodka distillery, and another warehouse on the adjoining Navy dock, still had signage indicating it was the base of operations for the Artemis America’s Cup sailing team.

While motoring around, I noticed signs with the BMW logo, with arrows directing toward the decommissioned runway.  I followed the signs and discovered a BMW event out on the runway, where anyone interested could test drive new BMW automobiles, and even take a car out onto a somewhat lame autocross course.  Lame, because it was basically an oval, with one chicane on a short straight.  Had I had the time, I would have done that, but I did spend a few minutes watching people having fun,  thrashing and squealing the tires of brand new BMWs on the course.

I found a quiet parking lot tucked up against a warehouse, and set up a couple of slow-speed maneuvering courses, using sawed-in-half tennis balls as markers.  Sawed-in-half tennis balls are actually better than other objects such as traffic cones, because when you hit traffic cones, you need to go back and set them up again, whereas sawed-in-half tennis balls just stay in the same place.

While out in the parking lot with a tape measure and my tennis balls, a security guard drove by to check out what I was doing.   He told me that although he “personally” had no issue with it, this is federal property, and his “boss” might have an issue. Insurance, liability and all. We had a friendly conversation, he suggested another location (on nearby EBMUD property near the USS Hornet)  I could use in the future.  I thanked him for the information, and assured him that I would probably be gone within an hour.  He wished me a good day, I did the same, and he drove off.

I figured that his “boss”, presumably an admiral based in Washington DC, would not be coming by any time soon 😉

Thirty minutes later, another guard drove by in a pickup truck.  I’m pretty sure he was not an admiral, I saw no uniform or fancy hat. I waved to him; he kept driving.

Shortly after that, I decided that I had enough practice for the day, so I packed up and continued my tour of the base.

I found my way to the USS Hornet, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, known for service in WWII, and as the prime recovery ship for Apollo 11 and 12, the first and second manned spaceflights to the moon. It’s a museum now, open to the public.  As I often carry my point-and-shoot Nikon camera with me, I decided to take the opportunity to make a portrait of my bike, with an impressive piece of hardware in the background….



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Bora Bora

We continued our celebration on Bora Bora – beautiful resort on a motu off of the main island of Bora Bora.  The first surprise – after DSCN0737landing at a typical island airport, we walked the short distance to DSCN0731baggage claim where we met our hotel shuttle.  But, where usually you find taxis, buses, and cars outside baggage claim, we found boats!  The land side of the airport is really the sea side – access to Bora Bora and the surrounding motus is purely by boat.

And the shuttle – not your usual van, but a beautiful wood cabin cruiser.

Once again, our hotel is on a motu, not the island of Bora Bora itself.  Motus are small skinny islands which surround the island, and form a ring about a mile or so offshore.  The islands are volcanic.  Over millions of years, te massive weight of the islands cause them to  sink, leaving a ring of motus, with a foundation of coral, which mark the original size of the island.  Between the island and motus is the lagoon, ranging from 20-30 ft DSCN0753deep, to approximately 3 feet.  Often you can walk through shallow water between motus.  Past the motus is the ocean, but they make superb breakwaters and keep the lagoon calm.






DSCN0761Our bungalow was overwater, with a beautiful view of Mt Otemanu and the sunset. A great deck for sunning or relaxing, and stairs down to a deck from which one could jump in for a swim.



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A couple pictures of the beach-side bar and restaurant at Vahine Island..














Our hosts Terrance and Laure, waving goodbye as we head to Bora Bora.












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Taha’a – vanilla and pearls

While at Vahine, we took a 1/2 day tour of nearby Taha’a Island.  Taha’a is known as the vanilla island;  most of the French Polynesia’s vanilla crop comes from this island.  TDSC_1144he island has an aroma of vanilla most places you go.

Taha’a has a population of approximately 5000, one resort on the island (plus a handful of other small resorts such as Vahine on surrounding moths), several vanilla plantations, more churches than we could count, and two pearl farms.

The tour included a stop at a vanilla plantation, as well as a Tahitian pearl farm.



DSC_1180The owner La Vallée de la Vanille  is an expatriate Dane; he gave us a little tour of the processing shack, and explained that, although not certified, he runs an organic operation.  It’s extremely difficult to get a certification. There is only one person in the island who can certify operations.  Apparently this individual experienced pressure from the government and other vanilla operations to certify the large operations despite their non-organic practices.  The officer quit, so now there is no one who can certify legitimate organic producers.

It was very apparent that the farmers make the most of everything they’ve got – they reuse, repurpose, and recycle.  Cocoanut husks become the fertilizer for the vanilla plants.

DSC_1184Each vanilla flower is pollenated by hand, and produces one vanilla bean.  Once harvested and dried, they are hand sorted by length, and then massaged twice a day for a couple weeks, before they are ready for shipment.  It’s a very manually intensive project.  Here’s his son and friends cutting up cocoanut.




We also got a very interesting tour of Tahia,  a Tahitian pearl farm.  The guide explained how the pearls are made, as well as a brief explanation of how they are graded.

Pearls are produced when a small bead is surgically inserted into an oyster.  The oyster is placed back into the sea, where it starts coating the bead with mother of pearl.  After many months, the oyster is opened, the pearl extracted, and a new bead, the same size as the removed pearl, is inserted.
Oysters which produce high quality pearls are re-used several times, each time producing a larger and larger pearl.  Those that don’t, become dinner, I guess.









DSC_1189During our drive around the island, we kept seeing long rectangular boxes along the road in front of houses.  They are not mailboxes, they are baguette boxes.  The french influence in the islands.


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Sam Crabbe

There’s something about being thousands of miles from home;  away from familiar surroundings, daily routines and rituals, and responsibility. There’s time for things that simply don’t fit into the normal life.

For me, today, was a sunrise stroll around the Vahine motu with my camera, with the desire to capture the light and life of the awakening island.

Early light was streaming through the palm trees of the grove.  I walked the 50 yards through the cocoanut grove from our bungalow on the western shore of the motu, to the eastern shore.  At the shore, I spotted a brown sand crab, about the size of my fist, scurry into a little hole in the sand.

Hoping to get a picture, I stood still a few feet from the hole, hoping that he would come back out.

After a few minutes, I saw one of his legs poke out of the hole, then another, and then, tentatively, he pulled himself almost all the way out of the hole.  The sunlight was starting to light him, displaying his rich brown color.  I waited a few minutes more as the shadows of the nearby vegetation receded a bit and improved his lighting.

DSC_1039 (2)Then, suddenly, he must have detected my presence, because he darted back into the hole.

Now, I decided that I really wanted a better picture of him, so I crept closer, sat down, and framed the photo as I wanted.  I figured that he came out once, he will again.  I just need to be careful not to alarm him, and I will get my picture.

I started wondering what the crab was thinking – I assume he saw me as a predator.  Do crabs have a concept of time, and do they consciously calculate how long to wait based on the perceived threat outside their little hole?

Do crabs have a sense of smell? Does he know I am there?

I felt a bit bad about scaring him – I do not mean to harm him;  all I wanted was a picture.  It was sad to think I might be causing him stress.

So, all of a sudden, I found myself in a relationship of sorts with a little brown sand crab – feeling concerned for his feelings, but understanding that his instinct for survival trumps his daily routine for gathering food.  I named him Sam the Sand Crab.

And then –  a sense of competitiveness arose – which was stronger – Sam’s instinct for survival, or my desire to capture his photograph?   Would he cheat?  The beach had many little crab holes – are they connected like gopher burrows, and did he escape out a back door somewhere?  (I did see another crab pop out of a hole about 20 feet away, and race down to the water.  Was it Sam, or just a sibling or relative?)

About 20 minutes went by with me sitting by the crab hole but no Sam.  Finally, I had the answer to my question.  The call and anticipation of a French omelette and hot coffee superceded my desire to capture Sam’s photo.  As I got up and walked toward breakfast, I realized that Sam was better at being a crab than I was at being a patient nature photographer.

Even so, I felt fortunate to be thousands of miles away from daily routines and responsibilities, with the luxury of doing nothing other than waiting for a crab to emerge from a hole.  Sam does not have that privilege.  Every day he is a crab working to survive.


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Snorkeling on Vahine

We took a short snorkel sail to a motu and coral garden near Vahine;  I took the opportunity to play with my GoPro camera.  This is my first attempt at shooting with the GoPro and editing the resultant video, so please bear with me.

Snorkeling was not quite as good as we’ve seen on the big island;  not as many fish, and due to the sandy bottom, the water was not quite as clear.  But we saw some very unique things – stick-like coral that grew like bushes, and clams that would wedge themselves in the coral – all you can see is the bright blue membranes which they use to trap their nourishment.  As I approached, the clams would close up, and then immediately open again.






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Vahine Island, French Polynesia

To celebrate our 30th anniversary, we decided to leave the Airstream at home, and journey to Tahiti.  Our first stop is on a tiny motu off of Taha’a island called Vahine.  Vahine is approximately 10 acres in size, approximately a mile off of the small island of Taha’a.  On Vahine is the beautiful Vahine Island Private Resort, consisting of 9 bungalows and a fine DSCN0687 (2)restaurant, operated by a French expatriate couple which happen to be incredible French chefs.  Beside the resort, nothing else on the motu, other than a couple of private residences.

To get to Vahine, first we took an international flight from LAX, landing in Papeete, Tahiti.  From there, an island hopper 45 minute flight to the island of Raiatea.  At Raiatea, a Vahine Resort staff member met us at the airport, escorted us 20 meters to a waiting boat, on which we traveled the 30 minute ride across the lagoon to Vahine.

DSCN0691 (2)Upon arrival at Vahine, we were informed that we were 2 of atotal of 10 guests on the island.   The staff outnumbered the guests!  Our beachfront bungalow  has a wraparound deck, with a beautiful view of the lagoon and Bora Bora in the distance.


Did I mention the incredible food?  Our lodging includes half-board – that is breakfast and a four-course dinner, prepared and served creatively and with care.

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New Zealand Lamb




DSC_1023 (2)Mahi Mahi with Octopus tentacle




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Cocktail hour




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Tropical drink.  I especially enjoyed the cute little stirrers, a figurine of a Vahine (woman, in Polynesian)  Definitely click on this picture to zoom in ….


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Sunset from our lanai, Bora Bora in the distance.  (click on any picture to zoom in)


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Not enough lens

With the incredible vistas at Dead Horse Point, near Moab – my widest lens could not do justice to the views.  When you have 270 degree views of the canyon, there does not exist a wide enough lens.  Here’s a couple shots from the point – one at sunrise, one at sunset.


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Double Airstream, Double Rainbow

Shortly after we arrived at Monument Valley, a beautiful vintage Airstream pulled in right next to us.  Then to top it off, after a very brief rainshower, we were treated to a double rainbow as well!

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Valley of Goblins

Somewhere out between Capitol Reef and Moab is a desolate, remote, area called Goblin Valley.  Here, wind and water have created out of sandstone, little goblins – short stubby spires of rock – not as majestic as what you find in Bryce Canyon, but impressive in their numbers.  You can walk right up to them.

The place has a spirit that you can feel – in our case, we were visited at midnight by a lightning storm, followed by a fierce windstorm.  Sand was blasting through the trailer, at least until we closed the windows.   There were numerous tent campers in the campground that evening, but in the morning, many of them had moved to their cars to weather the storm, and some packed up and left the area completely.  The wind

kept up for two hours, we had trouble sleeping while safe in our Airstream, but those in tents had a sleepless night indeed.

Those who stayed spent the following morning patrolling the campground, looking for missing tarps, rainflys, chairs, and whatever – deposited throughout the campground by the swirling, howling, winds.

The goblins were having a grand time that night.


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