The 2009 retrospective continues…
May 2009 – Jamaica
Just recently back from Bucharest, it was time for a quick turnaround for the Caribbean… and specifically, Jamaica.
The Jamaican Tourism Board slogan suggests, “once you go, you’ll know.” Oh, how I know! …and will never forget, so hard as I may try.
I have been to the Caribbean before for work and holidays, to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Grenada, where I had a particularly enjoyable time working for some particularly nice people, but none trips of these prepared me for what was waiting in Jamaica.
From the time my driver picked me up at the airport with a lit joint in his mouth and full cocktail tumbler of rum (yes, a glass) on the dash of his primer-accented late-80’s Toyota, I knew that Jamaica would be an interesting adventure, to say the least. Had I read the US Department of State’s warnings on crime, violence and traffic safety before my trip, I probably would not have gone.
…that one luckily did not involve me, but there were about a dozen other near-misses that had me scrambling through my briefcase for Dramamine. Like a cross between a Cheech & Chong movie and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride we weaved and bounced over the rain-slick and poorly maintained roadways for hours each day with little regard for what obstacles may be around the next corner — after all, they were probably hallucinations anyway.
A meeting in Kingston with Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica Executive Director Christopher Gentiles was a refreshing diversion from all of the madness I experienced earlier in the week in Mo Bay and Negril; a hopeful reminder that there are some very smart people with good ideas working hard behind the scenes to help the coffee industry in Jamaica along.
After a week of nauseating car rides, creative disagreements with clients (I still think that serving pressed Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in plastic cups is a bad idea) and mostly-no-show meetings with vendors and prospective landlords, it was time to pack up and get out of there, which I did as soon as possible.
June 2009 – Cologne, Germany
Until June 2009, the year had been lousy, so I vowed to make a fresh new start in the second half; it pretty much worked. In June, I traveled to Cologne, Germany for the annual Specialty Coffee Association of Europe conference, including championships for cup tasting, latte art, good spirits (with alcohol) and Turkish coffee preparation. Other than a few business meetings and helping out with the WBC stand at the exhibition, I had some uncharacteristic time to socialize with colleagues, as well as jog around the city and enjoy the amazingly pleasant weather.
The sudden untimely death of Michael Jackson (should we really have been so surprised?) could have been received as a bad omen, but it was not. Incidentally, he must have touched a lot of people in Germany (oops, bad choice of words). Vigils lasted for days in the Dom cathedral square and I awoke more than once to the sound of MJ ballads sung by crowds of heartbroken German fans. Suddenly, that whole David Hasselhoff thing began to make sense (ok, not really).
Even in the absence of dear ‘Wacko Jacko,” my new start was definitely on-track. I enjoyed the next few months of relative peace and quiet at home in Hawaii, with some portion of July dedicated to moving back in to my house that had been renovated for the prior 13 months. It was good to be home.
August 2009 – Muscat, Oman
O.K., that’s enough goofing off at home, it was time to get back to work on the road. I headed next to the Gulf (Persian, that is), a region of great interest to me for its unique history, food and unparalleled hospitality.
One small word of warning to travelers visiting Oman: do not drop by a friend’s house with the expectation of having a quick chat and cup of coffee. It is tradition in Oman to make as big a fuss as humanly conceivable upon the arrival of a house guest, with the host going to insane expense preparing elaborate meals and even traveling across country to return home at the mention of a casual visit. Similarly, it is traditionally rude for the guest to reject the hospitality, even if you (oh for example) have been on the road visiting retail sites all day and really want to get back to your hotel so you can sleep. Such visits are known to ensnare visitors for hours -even days- before the host will acquiesce and grant his guest permission to esc… I mean, leave. As I recall from discussing the incident with my client there, the English translation of the local phrase describing this situation is approximately “the kind of hospitality that hurts.”
In the months that followed, I took a short trip back to Detroit for an informal reunion of old high school band friends brought together by the power of Facebook… great to catch up with all of them after all of this time. Next, I prepared for another trip, but this one would not take me far from home.
October 2009 – Hawaii Island, Hawaii
That’s right, they came to me this time! October 26-30 was the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe origin tour of Hawaii, organized and led by me and my friend Dr. Shawn Steiman, doctor of tropical agriculture extraordinaire, author of the Hawaii Coffee Book and all around swell guy.
A complete day-by-day account of the tour is already posted to this blog and SCAE’s article is online at their website, so I will not take up more space here with a another recap.
Be sure to read the articles, as it was a great trip that did much to promote Hawaiian coffee in Europe. As a follow-up, farms featured on the tour are now exporting coffee to new buyers overseas — of note, be sure to look for some of the best of Ka’u for sale now at Harrod’s in London!
November 2009 – Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Morocco, Netherlands, Chicago, San Francisco
Watching the 38 second animation of my 2 week business trip in November one may ask, “how does this sort of thing happen?” Well, it is a long story, but let’s just say that things do not always work out as you plan.
The trip began as a long but simple, round trip from Hawaii (where I live) to Dubai for the first UAE Specialty Coffee Conference and Barista Championship. Despite being a longer distance, eastbound travel from Hawaii is generally far less expensive than westbound travel due to U.S. Mainland tourist airfare competition and as a pretty regular passenger on United Airlines, I am almost always put in business class for the cost of coach, so the original plan was deemed acceptable.
…but plans change. Next, having recently started a large project in Eastern Europe (which you will hear about in the 2010 wrap-up), I scheduled meetings in The Netherlands with my clients and extended out the trip a little longer. I was left with a free weekend between the conference and meetings, but surely something else would come along — and it did.
A new project was forming in Morocco, so I added a stopover on my weekend off to hold meetings in that country. So what about the whole Tokyo, Hong Kong connection, you ask? As I said above, things do not always work out as planned.
The date of my originally scheduled departure direct to San Francisco from Kona, I received the status update that my flight was expected to depart late, which is never a good sign in Hawaii. When an inbound aircraft to Hawaii is late, it is often very late… usually maintenance or union terrorism that is tracked in terms of hours instead of minutes. Still, I had plenty of time for my connection, which was not until the following late-morning or afternoon, so I proceeded to the airport accounting for the estimated departure time.
Three hours later, we sat in a completely dark aircraft to address a new electrical issue that had arisen since the aircraft arrived. When fixed, we pulled away from the tarmac (there really is no “gate” to speak of in Kona) and made a new discovery: the airport was closed that night to repaint the runway lines. Are you joking?
So, flight canceled and no other alternatives available that evening at 1:00 A.M. (for a 10:00 P.M. originally scheduled departure), the full 757-load of passengers disembarked and raced to the counter to make hotel arrangements and flight changes with 4 weary and unhappy looking customer service attendants. I did not blame them in the least for looking unhappy; they did an outstanding job.
One hour later (and I was one of the first to the counter), I had a new plan: go home for 3 hours (hooray), then fly out to Honolulu in the morning, then Tokyo, Seoul and nonstop to Dubai, only missing about a half day of my original itinerary.
In Tokyo, fate struck again when my replacement Seoul flight was similarly canceled due to maintenance problems and I was stuck there for the night, only to continue my journey instead via Hong Kong the following day. I arrived in Dubai one day late, almost to the minute, making me wish that I had just caught my original flights one day later. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20, and at least the trip was productive.
December 2009 – Los Angeles and back to Sacramento
December saw me return to my former home city of Los Angeles for a short few day’s roasting work on my European project and then back to Sacramento with my wife and her family for the holidays, completing the circle to where I began in January.
2009 was wild, amusing and unpredictable, sometimes sad and stressful, but everything worked out in the end. Like an episode of Fantasy Island, economic uncertainty was resolved, family illness was cured, an IRS audit was dropped, old friendships were remembered and new ones made all in one tidy 12 month period.
What I learned in 2009 can best be summed up by Ricardo Montalban’s iconic Mr. Rourke character, who said at the beginning of every episode, “smiles everyone… smiles!” After all, I’m living on Fantasy Island.