A Guide to Cabo San Lucas

My wife and I made our first trip to Cabo San Lucas during the week of the 4th of July, 2018. A popular holiday destination down in the Baja peninsula of Mexico, Cabo San Lucas makes for a relaxing beach getaway. Over the course of a week, we had a great time sampling what this resort town had to offer, while also learning a thing or two about traveling through Mexico, which is what I primarily would like to share in this post.

We flew Southwest from San Jose, California to Cabo with a layover in San Diego. It was noon on a very hot day when we touched down in Cabo. Having read about the public transportation bus ‘Ruta Del Desierto’ that takes you from the airport to the city of Cabo San Lucas, I was interested in making that my mode of transportation. This is an excellent option if you’re looking to save some money while getting to travel like the locals do it. The downside however is that you’ll end up walking a bit to get to the bus stop from your airport terminal, and then again to your destination hotel once you get off the bus, dragging your baggage all the while. With the bus making frequent stops along the way, it also takes a while to get to Cabo from the airport. In hindsight, I’d say the hassle and additional time spent isn’t worth the money saved. I opted for private transportation on my way back to the airport.

For those interested in taking this route, here’s some helpful information.

Ruta Del Desierto

The Ruta Fleet

If I’m not wrong, most flights into Cabo arrive at Terminal 1. Out of the airport, you walk to Terminal 2 which is where you get on the Ruta. It takes about 15 minutes and you’ll be on the sidewalk of the open roads. It can get uncomfortable if you find yourself lugging your baggage in the middle of a hot day.

The bus shelter is right outside terminal 2. You don’t need to get inside the terminal. Once you get to the bus shelter, you should find the ticketing person you’ll purchase ride tickets from.

I was aware of the extremely poor currency exchange rates that you’re offered at airports. US banks aren’t a great option either. I had wanted to put off getting Mexican pesos until I got to downtown Cabo, where you’ll get far better exchange rates. So we flew into Mexico without any Mexican currency.

Hoping I could buy the tickets for Ruta with US dollars, we walked to the ticketing guy and were glad to learn that they accepted US dollars.

As of July 2018, one way ticket price from the airport to downtown Cabo costs $5 per person. This is a steal when you contrast this with private transportation costing upward of $50. You however pay the price in terms of having to walk a bit and taking longer to get to your hotel.

There’s a bus that shows up at the stop every 15 minutes. The ride is air-conditioned and is truly a blessing after your little excursion to the stop in the desert heat.

After an hour of riding The Corridor, (the highway that connects the three landmarks – Los Cabos airport and the cities of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas) we got down at the route’s final destination – Puerto Paraiso. We then again walked the final mile to our resort, perspiring under the afternoon sun. I had had enough of the hassle and was repenting making my wife endure the ordeal. We both were certain this wouldn’t be our mode of transport back to the airport.

Public Taxis

Taxis in Cabo San Lucas

It took me a while to realize that taxis in Cabo aren’t your typical little sedans. No! Cabo’s taxis are these humongous green/blue minivans that you can either hail for an individual ride or make it a shared ride if you’re in no hurry and looking to save some money.

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Goodbye, Car Payments!

Got Some Battle Scars, But Will Do Just Fine!

I like watching my money grow. Long term appreciating avenues like the stock market, real estate, retirement accounts and such are places where I’m most happy to see my dollars hanging out, rather than watch them leave my bank account every month toward paying down consumer debt.

With the final chunk of balance leaving my checking account this month, I’m done with my last standing consumer debt – auto loan! I’m glad I did not take on the financial burden of owning a fancier car and stuck to the humble Toyota Corolla all these years. And I probably won’t be signing up for car payments again for a long time to come.

FIRE  (Financial Independence/Retiring Early) is an ideal that I partially subscribe to. I voraciously consume blogs like Mr Money Mustache and Mad Fientist. Linger around this literature long enough and you’ll begin downshifting on consumerism, making life choices more aligned with frugality and simplicity. While making no compromise on the quality and enjoyment of life, I’ve been generally moving in this direction over time. Reducing transportation costs is one of the areas I’m always looking to optimize.

I’d be remiss if I don’t clarify a few things, lest I risk letting this post seem like the rants of a penny-pinching cheapskate. A mid-range car isn’t really a huge dent in the pocket for folks within my demographic, which is that of a well paid software developer in the high-tech industry. With a couple of years of earnings and savings, we all can very well afford to straightaway buy out a decent new car, without ever having to take out a car loan. However, the question we fail to confront is the ‘Why’. Why would we want to spend this significant chunk of money on that shiny new car? Is it because of a genuine need for a certain kind of transportation vehicle, or is it so we can impress our friends and peers? Is it so we can partake in a social competition where the fanciness of our automobile speaks for how successful we are?

It is the latter mindset that I try not to fall trap into. This thinking can creep into most every aspect of modern life. If you give in, you’ll continue running on this hedonic treadmill, forever trying to keep up with the Joneses. Not to mention the wealth destroying repercussions of pumping more and more of your hard-earned money into depreciating consumer goods, that you could otherwise have invested toward buying your freedom from mandatory work.

I’d be honest to admit it hasn’t been easy. It takes conviction to withstand societal pressure and opt out of this social contest. It is even harder when you’re living in one of the richest communities in the world (San Francisco Bay Area) where Teslas abound and fancy cars are commonplace. Conversations very frequently turn toward cars and the accompanying assessment of one’s self-worth going by what one drives. I still don’t find myself unapologetically confident when I mention that I drive a Corolla. The fact that both my wife and I are well paid full-time earners adds to the puzzling gap between our income and certain lifestyle choices. On mentioning the fact, it is amusing although unsettling, to watch that look of condescension that appears on those conformist faces, no matter how hard they try to conceal it. This however is a valuable exercise that helps me grow and practice not to buckle under the weight of peer pressure.

I’ve only put in 60K miles on my Corolla, so I’m only nearly 1/3rd done with its shelf life. With the car fully paid off, I’ll maybe splurge a little more on some extra TLC. More frequent washes and a disciplined routine maintenance are in order so the vehicle continues to stay healthy and clean in the long run. AAA coverage will help me get through those occasional hiccups on the road, if any at all. These fringe expenses won’t come anywhere close to what I’d otherwise be paying for a needlessly expensive brand new automobile.

A fully paid off car is now one less source of drag on my wallet. The money that disappeared from my bank account the 15th of every month will henceforth find its way into the Vanguard S&P 500 mutual fund (VFIAX) where it’ll grow and compound over reinvested quarterly dividends. Goodbye, car payments and good riddance!

Related reading:
Millionaire Next Door
Cars For Smart People
Hedonistic Adaptation

ಮತ್ತೊಮ್ಮೆ ಶೂನ್ಯ

“ಅಮ್ಮ ನೀನು ಮತ್ತೆ ಹುಷಾರಾಗಿ ಆರೋಗ್ಯದಿಂದ ಓಡಾಡ್ಕೊಂಡಿದೀಯ ಅಂತ ನನಗೆ ನಂಬಕ್ಕೇ ಆಗ್ತಿಲ್ಲ.”

ಬೆರಗಿನಿಂದ ಅಮ್ಮನನ್ನು ಎಡೆಬಿಡದೆ ನೋಡುತ್ತಾ, ಇದೇನು ಕನಸೇ ಎಂದು ಅಮ್ಮನನ್ನು ಮುಟ್ಟಿ ಕೈ ಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತ ಕೇಳಿದೆ. ಆಸ್ಪತ್ರೆ ಸೇರಿದ್ದ ಅಮ್ಮ ಇನ್ನು ಗುಣಮುಖಳಾಗಲ್ಲ ಅಂತ ನಾವೆಲ್ಲಾ ಅಸಹಾಯವಾಗಿ ವಿಧಿಯ ಮುಂದೆ ಕೈಚೆಲ್ಲಿದ್ದೆವು. ಈಗ ನೋಡಿದರೆ ಅಜ್ಜಿ, ತಂಗಿ, ಅಪ್ಪ ಮತ್ತು ನನ್ನೊಡನೆ ಹರಟುತ್ತ ಈಳಿಗೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ ಕುಳಿತು ತೆಂಗಿನಕಾಯಿ ತುರಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾಳಲ್ಲ? ಏನಿದು ಮಾಯೆ?

“ನಾನು ಹುಷಾರಾಗೋ chances 20% ಅಷ್ಟೇ ಅಂತ ಡಾಕ್ಟ್ರು ಹೇಳಿದ್ದು ನಿಂಗೂ ಗೊತ್ತಲ್ಲ. ಆದ್ರೂ ಅದೇನು ದೇವರ ಇಚ್ಛೇನೋ ಏನೋ, ಮತ್ತೆ ಹುಷಾರಾಗಿ ಬಂದಿದೀನಿ.” ಅಮ್ಮ ಹೇಳಿದಾಗ ಸಂತಸದಿಂದ ಕಣ್ಣಲ್ಲಿ ಹನಿಗೂಡಿತು.

“ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಹತ್ತು ವರ್ಷ ಏನೂ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆ ಇರೋಲ್ವಂತೆ.” ಅಮ್ಮ ಹೇಳಿದಳು. ಅಮ್ಮನೊಡನೆ ಕಳೆಯಲು ಮರಳಿ ದೊರಕಿರುವ ಸಮಯಕ್ಕೆ ಹತ್ತು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಮಿತಿಯನ್ನು ಹಾಕಿತ್ತು ಕ್ರೂರ ವಿಧಿ. ಆದರೂ ಪಾಲಿಗೆ ಬಂದದ್ದೇ ಪಂಚಾಮೃತವೆಂದು ನಮ್ಮೆಲ್ಲರ ಮೊಗದಲ್ಲಿ ಸಮಾಧಾನದ ಕಳೆ, ಆನಂದದ ನಗೆ ಮೂಡಿತ್ತು.

ಪಕ್ಕದಲ್ಲೇ ಕುಳಿತು ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆಯ ಮೊಗ್ಗನ್ನು ದಾರದಲ್ಲಿ ಪೋಣಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದಳು ಅಜ್ಜಿ. ಆಕೆಯ ಭಾವದಲ್ಲೊಂದು ಛಲ ಮೂಡುವುದನ್ನು ಗಮನಿಸಿದೆ. ಎಣಿಸಿದಂತೆ ಬೊಚ್ಚು ಬಾಯಿ ತೆರೆದಳು ಅಜ್ಜಿ.

“ನಾನು ನನ್ನ ಮಗಳನ್ನ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿ ನೋಡಿಕೊಂಡು ಅವಳು 10 ವರ್ಷ ಅಲ್ಲ, 20 ವರ್ಷ ಆರಾಮಾಗಿ ಇರೋ ಹಂಗೆ ನೋಡ್ಕೋತೀನಿ.” ವಿಧಿಯೊಡನೆ ತೊಡೆ ತಟ್ಟಿ ನಿಂತೇ ಬಿಟ್ಟಳು ನನ್ನ ಅಜ್ಜಿ.

ಅಜ್ಜಿಗಿರುವ ಮಗಳ ಮೇಲಿನ ಮುಗ್ಧ ಮೋಹಕ್ಕೆ ನಾವೆಲ್ಲರೂ ಮರುಗಿದೆವು. “ಅಜ್ಜೀ, ನಿಂಗೇ 84 ವರ್ಷ ವಯಸ್ಸು. ಇನ್ನೊಂದ್ 5 ವರ್ಷ ಹೋದ್ರೆ ನಿನ್ನನ್ನು ನಾವು ನೋಡ್ಕೋಬೇಕು, ನೀನೇನ್ 20 ವರ್ಷ ನನ್ ಅಮ್ಮನ್ನ ನೋಡ್ಕೊಳೋದು.” ಮನದಲ್ಲಿ ವಿಕೃತ ಹಾಸ್ಯದ ಹೊನಲೊಂದು ಹರಿದು ಹೋಗಿ ಕಿಸಕ್ಕೆಂದು ನಕ್ಕೆ. ಅಜ್ಜಿಯೊಡನೆ ಸಲುಗೆಯಿದ್ದಿದ್ದರಿಂದ ನನ್ನ ಕುಹಕ ವಿಚಾರವನ್ನು ಮನದಲ್ಲೇ ಅಡಗಿಸಿಟ್ಟುಕೊಳ್ಳದೆ ಹೇಳಿಬಿಟ್ಟೆ. ತನ್ನ ವೃದ್ಧಾಪ್ಯವನ್ನು ಪರಿಗಣಿಸದೆ ಹಠ ತೊಟ್ಟಿದ್ದ ಅಜ್ಜಿಗೆ ತನ್ನ ಇತಿಮಿತಿಗಳ ನೆನಪಾಗಿ ನಿಟ್ಟುಸಿರ ನಗೆ ನಕ್ಕಳು. ಕಾಲಚಕ್ರದ ನಿಲ್ಲದ ಓಟವು ನಮ್ಮೆಲ್ಲರ ಆಟಾಟೋಪಗಳಿಗೊಂದು ಕೊನೆಯನ್ನು ಕಾಣಿಸದೆ ಬಿಡದು ಎಂಬ ವಿಶ್ವಸತ್ಯವು ನಮ್ಮ ಚುಟುಕು ಬದುಕನ್ನು ಅಣಗಿಸುತ್ತ ಮೂಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಗುತ್ತಿತ್ತು.

….

“ಇನ್ನು ನಾನು ಟಿವಿ, ಮೆಗಾ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್, ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್, ಸಿನಿಮಾ ಅಂತ ಹಾಳು-ಮೂಳು ವಿಷಯಗಳ ಮೇಲೆ time ಹಾಳು ಮಾಡಲ್ಲ. ನನ್ನ ಉಳಿದಿರುವ ಆಯುಷ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಕುವೆಂಪು, ಕಾರಂತ, ಬೇಂದ್ರೆಯವರ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳನ್ನು ಓದುತ್ತೀನಿ. ಸಂಗೀತ ಕೇಳ್ತೀನಿ. ನನಗೊಂದು ಕೊಳಲು ಕೊಡಿಸು. ಕೊಳಲು ಕಲಿಯೋ ಆಸೆಯಿತ್ತು. ಎಷ್ಟಾಗತ್ತೋ ಕಲಿತು ನೋಡ್ತೀನಿ.” ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಇನ್ನು ತನಗೆ ಉಳಿದಿರುವ ಪ್ರತಿ ಕ್ಷಣವೂ ಅಮೂಲ್ಯ, ಅದನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಪೂರ್ಣವಾಗಿ ಕಳೆಯಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಅವಸರ ಮೂಡಿತ್ತು.

“ನೀನೂ ಅಷ್ಟೇ, ನಿನ್ನ ದಿನಗಳನ್ನ ಹಾಳು ಮಾಡ್ಬೇಡ. ಜೀವನ ಎಷ್ಟು ಬೇಗ ಮುಗಿದು ಹೋಗತ್ತೆ ಅಂತ ಈಗ ಒಂದು ಸಣ್ಣ ಪುನರ್ಜನ್ಮ ಪಡೆದಿರುವ ನನಗೆ ಗೊತ್ತಾಗಿದೆ. ನೀನಿನ್ನೂ ಸಣ್ಣವನು. ಹಾಗಂತ ತಡಮಾಡಬೇಡ. ಜಗತ್ತನ್ನು ಸುತ್ತು, ಓದಬೇಕೆಂದಿರುವ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳನ್ನು ಓದು, ಕಲಿಯಬೇಕೆಂದಿರುವ ವಿಷಯಗಳನ್ನು ಮುಂದೆ ಹಾಕದೆ ಆದಷ್ಟು ಬೇಗ ಶುರು ಮಾಡಿಕೊ.” ಎಂದೂ ಕಂಡಿರದ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಬುದ್ಧಿಮಾತು ಹೇಳುವ ಪರಿಯನ್ನು ಕಂಡು ಬೆರಗಾಗಿ ಹೋದೆ. “ಆಯ್ತಮ್ಮಾ.” ಎಂದು ಹೇಳಲಷ್ಟೇ ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಯ್ತು. ಸಾವಿನ ಮನೆಯಿಂದ ಚಿಕ್ಕದೊಂದು ವಿರಾಮವನ್ನು ತೆಗೆದುಕೊಂಡು ಬಂದಿದ್ದ ಅಮ್ಮ ಹೊಸ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿಯಾಗಿ ಬೆಳೆದು ಹೋಗಿದ್ದಳು.

….

ದೂರದ ಅಮೇರಿಕದಲ್ಲಿ ನೆಲೆಸಿದ್ದ ನಾನು ಇನ್ನು ಅಮ್ಮಇರುವಷ್ಟು ದಿನ ಎಲ್ಲರೂ ಒಟ್ಟಿಗಿರಬೇಕು ಎಂದು ಹವಣಿಸಿ ಭಾರತಕ್ಕೆ ಮರಳುವ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ವಿಚಾರಿಸಹತ್ತಿದೆ.

“ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ವರ್ಷ ದುಡಿದು ವಾಪಸ್ ಬರ್ತೀನಮ್ಮ.” ಅಮ್ಮನ ಕೈಹಿಡಿದು ಹೇಳೋಣವೆಂದು ಕೈಚಾಚುತ್ತಿದ್ದಂತೆ ಪಕ್ಕೆಂದು ಎಚ್ಚರವಾಯಿತು. ಒಂದು ಕ್ಷಣದ ಮೊದಲು ಕಣ್ಣತುಂಬ ನೋಡಿ, ಮುಟ್ಟಿ, ಕೈ ಹಿಡಿದು ಮಾತನಾಡಿಸಿದ್ದ ಅಮ್ಮ ಸುಳಿವೇ ಇಲ್ಲದಂತೆ ಮರೆಯಾಗಿ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದಳು. ಆಕೆ ನಮ್ಮನ್ನೆಲ್ಲ ಅಗಲಿ ಹೋಗಿ 8 ವರ್ಷಗಳಾಗುತ್ತ ಬಂದಿದೆ ಎಂಬ ವಾಸ್ತವದ ಅರಿವು, ಅವಳನ್ನು ಈಗ ತಾನೇ ಮುಟ್ಟಿ, ನೋಡಿ, ಮಾತನಾಡಿಸಿದ ಹೊಂಗನಸಿನ ಗೊಂದಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲಕ್ಷಣ ಹೊಯ್ದಾಡಿದೆ. ಇನ್ನೇನಿದ್ದರೂ ಅಮ್ಮನೊಡನೆ ಕನಸಿನ ಭೇಟಿಗಳು ಮಾತ್ರ ಸಾಧ್ಯವೆಂಬ ಸತ್ಯವು ನಿಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಮೈಗೂಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದಂತೆ ಆ ಲಘುಮುಂಜಾನೆಯ ಮಬ್ಬುಗತ್ತಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮತ್ತೊಮ್ಮೆ ಶೂನ್ಯವೊಂದು ಆವರಿಸತೊಡಗಿತ್ತು.

The Tranquil South Indian Countryside

Just Another Peaceful Day In the Country

Like last year, I took some extended time off work during December 2017 to visit my home country, India. I decided on taking it easy and not plan anything big like I did during 2016. Despite no travel planned, I ended up taking a little trip to the lush countryside where I’ve got a bunch of extended family leading the quiet and slow paced rural life.

I landed in Bangalore and couldn’t wait to get out of the crowded and congested metro fast enough. The initial couple days of cacophony is overwhelming but you quickly get used to tuning the noise out. I try my best not to get used to first world conveniences which makes it easier to get along with things back home. Out of the airport, I straightaway hopped onto the local bus, got off at the station near my in-laws and walked the last half mile to their home, dragging my two piece check-in bags on the uneven curb. My in-laws politely disapproved the way I got to their place and wondered why I didn’t just take a cab. I continue to puzzle my in-laws with my ways. They wonder if I’m a cheapskate and I don’t do a good job at explaining that I don’t like turning into a convenience seeking wuss.

After resting for a couple days at my in-laws and satisfying my craving for real authentic Indian food, I took the overnight train to Dharwad, a tiny city 450 kilometers northwest of Bangalore. This is the town I grew up in and where my father has been living. Although the city has grown over the years, it continues to have the vibe of a quiet small town and I like it that way. Settling into my home, I looked forward to a peaceful relaxed stay. I often fantasize of a simple life where my days revolve around taking care of my family and my home, lots of reading, writing, listening to music and long walks. I got to live out this dream for the next three weeks with no cellphone or internet distractions. Bad internet connectivity further helped me drop off the electronic grid.

My dad loves to travel and heads to his nearby ancestral hometown of Sirsi every opportunity he gets. A town smaller than Dharwad, Sirsi abounds with charming stone temples and is seated in the foot hills of the Western Ghats. The region’s economy is primarily agriculture driven with a focus on areca nut. The harvest season was on in full swing when my dad and I drove to Sirsi. All along our drive, we frequently stopped by at the little towns and villages on the highway, snacking away at the roadhouses and drinking fresh squeezed sugarcane juice.

Over the next week, I hopped from one monstrous home to another of my extended family and enjoyed the warm hospitality and the indigenous food. Even as modern machines and conveniences inevitably find their way into the daily lives of country folks, which definitely change their lives for the better, I’m thankful to the fact that our cultural identity and the unique dialect of my first language continues to live strong.

Here are some picture I took as I tramped through.

A Warm Welcome From My Hip Grandpa
That’s Just the Living Room!

Decadence Served on a Banana Leaf
Hospitality Unfolding
Grandma Supervises the Makeshift Machine Churning Buttermilk
Areca Nut Dries Out in the Sun

Read more >>

2018 Diaries

November

  • Attended a concert by Passenger of ‘Let Her Go’ fame at The Fillmore, San Francisco. Mike, popularly known as Passenger, was a one man army without a band to back him up. He sung, played his acoustic guitar and entertained us for two hours straight. I immensely enjoy watching musicians put their raw talents out for display in small intimate settings. Heavily produced shows with lots of pyrotechnics don’t hold much appeal. Passenger’s concert was memorable for that very reason.

October

  • I spent three unforgettable days of solitude, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada wilderness in Yosemite National Park. This was my first multi-day solo hike. Backpacking has a learning curve and can be uncomfortable until you figure out efficient ways of being out in the wild. I had my share of inconveniences during my three days in the mountains. However, the unbelievable natural beauty of the Sierra range with its pristine lakes and raging red sunsets was physically and emotionally an intense experience.

September

  • Flew to Colorado for the labor day weekend with a couple friends. This was our second visit and we love the state’s wide open spaces and the majestic Rockies. We hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park by the day, and enjoyed flights of beer in Denver’s downtown breweries by the night. Took a day trip to Colorado Springs and visited the Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds.

July

  • Wife and I flew down south to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Spent a relaxed, lazy week at one of Cabo’s fine resorts. Hung out by the beach, enjoyed the food, drinks, massages and the hospitality of the friendly locals. I also got to practice some of my broken Spanish! A weaker Mexican peso, for better or worse, helps your US dollars go far here.

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A Week Under The Hawaiian Sun

Hawaii has much to offer to the water sport enthusiast. It however took me a week of tramping through Maui to realize I like the mountains more than sunny coastlines. While I truly enjoy the waves and absolutely love snorkeling, the novelty can wear off pretty quick. I’d still take backpacking through a mountain range and enjoy the daylong Hiker’s High any day over beach-combing.

My wife and I flew to Maui, Hawaii for a week’s vacation in the summer of 2015. We zeroed-down on Maui among other islands since it is known to have some of the best beaches in the Hawaiian archipelago. Besides, Maui isn’t as cacophonous as the island of Oahu while still offering better tourist infrastructure than the other Hawaiian islands. The famed ‘Road to Hana’ was another alluring factor in our picking Maui over the others.

Five hours on a plane from San Francisco and we got down at the Kahului airport on a windy day. It was warm and breezy the day we landed. The swaying palm trees and the moisture laden ocean breeze instantly puts you in the island spirit. Living in Northern California, I dearly miss the opportunity to frolic in natural water bodies. The freezing waters of the Northern Pacific is no place to get your ocean fix. But now in the sunny tropics of Hawaii, I couldn’t wait to rush into the waves.

A False Start

As it happens more often than you’d like, nature takes her own course, not usually in alignment with your plans. As we got into our rental car and hit the road, we soon ran into a roadblock caused by a wildfire in the nearby hills. Law enforcement officers and fire fighters were out minding the traffic and fighting the wildfire. Choppers hovered in the skies spraying barrels of water on the blazing hills. With no alternative route to get to our accommodation, we took a detour to the nearby Baldwin beach. I immediately changed into my beachwear, ran into the waters and had my first fill of the Hawaiian waves. The waters were colder than I had thought.

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A Saunter Through Death Valley

During the President’s day weekend in the Winter of 2016, we headed south-east from the San Francisco Bay Area to the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America – Death Valley National Park in the state of Nevada.

Unlike any other national parks I’ve been to before, Death Valley is a vast remote landscape with many different terrains tightly woven together. After a hike through the red rock canyons, if you feel like sinking your toes in the sand, you are only minutes away from the sand dunes of Mesquite. As you scramble up and down the dunes, if you fancy getting into a crater, a 40 minute drive will land you at the mouth of an adequately large volcanic crater. The terrain choices at your disposal are varied – snow peaked mountains, a perennial waterfall, sand dunes, volcanic crater, immense stretches of salt flats and canyons all within small distances made our visit to this park very engaging.

The drive from the Bay Area to Death Valley isn’t a short one. We broke up our 8 hour onward journey into two halves with a night’s stop at Bakersfield. This gave us some much-needed night’s rest and recharged us for the second leg of our journey the next morning. I no longer have the stomach to settle down behind the wheel for that long. A quicker option in the future would be to simply fly into Las Vegas and then make the two-hour drive to the park. It was close to noon when we made it to Death Valley.

Winter is probably one of the best times to visit a searing desert like Death Valley. This place is one of the hottest on our planet and temperatures soar up to 50C/120F during summer times, rendering a visit here during summer an exercise in survivalism. Even as the rest of the country progressed through the dead of February winter, we had warm weather welcome us at Death Valley. I for sure wouldn’t want to test the elements at this desert in the summer.

Here’s a brief trip report of our visit to Death Valley.

Day 1
As we entered the park, we hit a hiking trail right away. Named the Mosaic Canyon trail, this narrow pathway winds through smooth mosaic canyon walls. The drive on the unpaved dirt road to this trail head isn’t easy on cars built for the cities. My Toyota Corolla took quite a beating as it bounced and squeaked its way to the trail head . We hiked the trail for a while, watched the sunset and then got back before it was dark.

Death Valley is renowned for its night sky. Being way out and away from any major city, Death Valley ranks high in the list of places with the darkest night skies. We hoped to witness the Universe put up a grand spectacle up in the heavens. Mother Nature, however, works on her own terms and had no interest in entertaining us. A cloudy sky marred the view. I’d still gratefully take that over the few handful of stars we get to see in the hazy skies of San Jose.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

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One Week in Alaska – 2

Continued from the previous post

Day Five and Six

The town of Cantwell lies about a half hour’s drive south of Denali National Park, home to Mount Denali. Reverently known as ‘The Mountain’,  the tallest peak of North America doesn’t simply reveal itself to the traveler. The immense elevation of the mountain means that it creates its own ecosystem and is shrouded in a blanket of clouds most of the times.

The gloomy skies cast a doubt on our chances of catching a glimpse of the mountain as we began our drive to the park in the morning. We would drive to Denali and get on the park shuttle to go deep into the heart of the park on its single lane dirt road. There are no private vehicles allowed beyond Mile 14 on this road and you would need to get on a park shuttle or a tour bus to get further into the park.

The day turned out to be a long but an eventful one. The shuttle I had booked tickets for was an 8 hour round trip, beginning at the park visitor center and turning around at the Eielson visitor center, at Mile 66. On this long ride, we were moderately lucky spotting some wildlife. A couple of adult Grizzly bears foraged for berries along with their two cubs and our shuttle got pretty close to the animals as they ignored us and went about their business.

The Grizzlies At Our Doorstep
Polychrome Pass

Moose, mountain sheep and a very distant black bear was all we got for the rest of our journey. While I was mildly disappointed with the lack of abundance of bigger mammals, consolation came in as the skies opened up to reveal Mt. Denali on the horizon.

The Snow Capped Mount Denali In The Distance

We squeezed in a ranger hike and a small self-guided stroll into the day and the park rangers educated us on a few interesting facts about the Arctic Ground Squirrel that run aplenty in the park.

Ranger Explains Arctic Squirrel’s Winter Hibernation
Eielson Visitor Center

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One Week in Alaska – 1

Alaska was pretty high up on my dad’s wish list and I can now rest proud and easy for having fulfilled his desire.

We had a memorable week-long vacation in Alaska this August and found America’s final frontier to be beyond beautiful. While traveling with aged seniors limited my opportunities to rough it up with a few long hard hikes, we did get a good sampling of the immense landmass. Alaskan brewed beer colored our evenings while the famed salmon, although a savory, turned out pricey.

As I got started with the logistics of the trip, I briefly wrestled with whether to go on a multi-day Alaskan cruise or to make it a self-guided land excursion. I’ve gone on a cruise to Mexico before and the sensory overload was exhausting as well as revolting. The touristy Las Vegas-like atmosphere in cruises, the excesses of buffets and desserts, and the restrictive schedule that prohibits you from going where you want and being some place for as long as you want are reasons enough for me to not venture out on cruises again. That left us with booking our own flights, accommodation and rental car.

Here’s a quick lowdown on how our itinerary unfolded.

Day Zero

Flying from San Jose with a layover in Seattle, we touched down into Anchorage an hour past midnight. It was a little too late to pick up my rental car at the airport so I had arranged to pick up my car the next day in the city. We took an Uber to our AirBNB.

Day One

Potter Marsh, Anchorage

Our day began on a great note as we came across an adult moose that was ambling along a busy street without a care in the world. Cars slowed down to get a glimpse. We were rife with anticipation that this was only the beginning of a lot more wildlife sightings to come that Alaska is renowned for, although such occurrences came in few and far between over the next few days. With the moose disappearing behind the bushes, we headed downtown to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center to talk to the National Park Service rangers and run our itinerary by them. The rangers recommended a few hikes and informed us of a Blueberry festival going on down south in Girdwood. After lunch, we drove to the Earthquake park for a quick hike and then headed to Girdwood on the scenic Seward highway that runs along the ocean inlet named the Turnagain Arm. We pulled over at the many vista stops along the way and got some great shots.

Turnagain Arm On The Drive To Girdwood

Girdwood is a little mountain town south of Anchorage that houses the upscale Alyeska resort, where the Blueberry festival was underway. The Girdwood local band ‘Hope Social Club’ put on some really good live music. The resort also has a few Gondola rides going up the mountains, but after learning the ride fares, I backed off and settled for just enjoying the music with a beer.

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Tax Returns In US For Home Loan In India

I bought a rental apartment in my home country of India in 2016. I financed the purchase with a home-loan from an Indian bank and am now in the process of paying off the loan. As I live and work in the US and pay my taxes to the US government, I was interested in learning if I can claim any tax deductions for this foreign property investment. As someone who’s been doing my own taxes since I started filing, I did a little bit of reading around and turns out the US federal tax code does have the provision for claiming tax deductions on the home-loan interest that you pay to your foreign bank. I ended up going through the exercise of claiming this deduction and the IRS did not seem to have any objections with my filing.

In this post, I’d like to provide some details on how to go about claiming this deduction on your federal returns. A customary disclaimer is in order before I proceed. Here goes – Note that I’m not a tax professional and the directions provided here might not apply to your case. Please read the IRS instruction documents carefuly and run the facts by your tax adviser.

1. Itemizing your deductions

To claim tax deductions on your home loan interest payment, you would need to itemize your deductions. If your total itemized deductions including your repaid loan interest does not exceed the standard deduction amount set by the IRS, you are better off dropping this whole ordeal and just claim the standard deduction.

You would report your deductible home loan interest in the ‘Interest You Paid’ section of Form 1040 – Schedule A. See the screenshot at the end of this post.

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