I have been a little busy, dealing with a bit of a family emergency. However, I have not gone away. You’re not getting rid of me that easy! But, if you would like to know a little more (warning: this has nothing to do with science fiction, nor fiction of any kind, but it does involve a little writing), delve a little further into my own personal life, then I invite you to take a peek at my other, older, and until today much dustier, blog.
I don’t advertise the existence of that blog very much, because it has no real meaning except for my own family and myself. Strictly speaking, it’s a genealogy blog, but it’s also a blog where I share thoughts on things going on within my own life.
Until today, I had not written anything over there for five years. The last few posts I had written all had to do with the death of my father, six years ago, and my experience as executor of his estate.
And then a month ago, my mother passed away. And now I am writing about that.
I’ll have more to say before I’m done with that subject, and then I will be getting right back into the thick of it over here, but meanwhile, feel free to peel back the covers of my life and see what lies hidden away.
It starts on February 6th. That is the day the office at your mobile home park, where you have lived for twelve years, calls your daughter to express their concern. It seems you forgot to pay the rent for the space your home sits in, and in twelve years this had never happened before. You are in the habit of visiting the clubhouse each day, making a pot of coffee, and chatting with the manager there, but on this day you seem to have trouble with the coffee pot, and when the manager asks you about the late rent, you don’t know what she’s talking about.
Well, 3.7° to be more precise. No, not the temperature (not by an order of magnitude!). The latitude. 259 miles south of the equator. 340′ above sea level.
Hot. Humid. Muggy.
There are no direct flights from North America into Iquitos, so first one makes one’s way to Lima, the capitol of Peru. Even that is not a straight shot from Seattle, so instead I flew to Chicago, which felt sort of like going the wrong way, and from there to Toronto, which really felt like going the wrong way, where I met up with Dale in the airport before catching the long leg down the east coast, across the Caribbean, and into South American airspace. We arrived in Lima in the middle of the night and made our way to the airport hotel, where I had my first taste of the classic Peruvian pisco sour.
I could grow to really like this drink, I thought.
In the bar of the hotel we met up with Kate and Steve, Canadians who would be paddling in the race, and subjects of Dale’s documentary. With their arrival, I had a second taste, and the four of us kept the barman busy until it was time for the Canadians to catch their flight to Iquitos. I think they found this preferable to trying to nap on the floor of the airport.
Wait, what race? What documentary? And what are we doing in Peru, again? Hmm, rather than explain it all over, go back one blog post for the introduction to this story and how I found myself, on practically no notice, dropping everything to jet off to the jungle.
Meanwhile, Dale and I stayed in Lima an extra few hours. I was scheduled to appear as a speaker on a professional webcast that morning, and the hotel WiFi in Lima was going to be far more reliable than anything we’d likely find in Iquitos. That proved true, the webcast went well (“Greetings from Peru!”), and as soon as it was over we rushed back into the airport for our own flight.
Where we waited. And waited. Then we waited some more, as our flight was delayed, then delayed some more. To make things worse, the stated destination over the gate kept changing. Sometimes it said Iquitos. Then it would say Tarapoto. We were pretty sure the plane was going to both cities, we just weren’t sure in which order.
“¿Es este el vuelo a Iquitos?” asked an older gentleman of us as we stood in line to board. Is this the flight to Iquitos? Even the locals were confused!
“Sí… Yo creo que,” replied Dale. Yes… I think. Ah well, they accepted our boarding passes, so surely it was the right plane.
By this time it was already evening, and as Tarapoto lies between Lima and Iquitos, we assumed we’d be landing there first. It was pitch black outside, so no landmarks could be seen to assure us. To my regret, I never was able to catch sight of the famous Andean Cordillera when we passed over. It was only as we started to descend, and we began to see rivers and tributaries reflecting the starlight, that we knew we were well and truly over the Amazon basin. We began to see the lights of river barges as we flew lower and lower, and then we touched down on a short runway between the bright city and the dark jungle.
Heat. Humidity. Flying insects. Unenclosed airport (though not as glamorous as Kona, perhaps). I could grow to enjoy this place.
Bags collected (pelican case, photography gear), the haggle for a moto-taxi ride into town began.
“No, no, veinte.”
We moved on. 20 soles (about US$6) was too much for the ride, though we knew we were unlikely to get it down to 10. The second driver we spoke to said ok to 15, and off we went for a night ride through the streets of the city.
The streets of Iquitos are busy, crowded, with everyone seeming to go wherever they felt was best for them, and as such they are difficult to navigate in a regular car (though people do). So, they are crowded with motos, or moto-taxis, the same as tuk-tuks found in southeast Asia. Essentially these are the front half of a motorcycle and the back half of a rickshaw, able to carry three passengers in addition to the driver, and they dominate the city. Almost all of them are for hire, operating on a cash basis, so it is essential to carry plenty of coins in order to have correct change. Residents and visitors alike get around by moto-taxi, and as long as you negotiate your fare before getting in, the drivers will honor it without hassle when you arrive at your destination. Indeed, a good moto driver can make or break your search for just the right place in Iquitos when you need a certain part for the construction of a raft, but we’ll come to that later.
Motos are not clean machines, contributing greatly to the smoke filling the streets, nor are they quiet. From about 6am until Midnight, the sound of moto engines can be heard all over the city. On a hot night, however, riding in the back of one can be just the thing, a breeze in your face and hair, to make you feel that little bit less sticky.
It’s about a half-hour ride from the airport into the heart of the city, to our lodgings at the Green Track Hostel. We arrived to a dark street, and a barred and gated doorway. We rang the bell.
Moments later, the door opened, light flooded out, and there stood Kate! We were in the right place.
“Where’ve you guys been? We were expecting you hours ago!”
If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been having adventures!
A few months ago I found myself in rather urgent need of a high-resolution portrait photo. How urgent? Well, a professional organization related to my day job wanted to give me an award, and they wanted to show my face on a huge banner at their annual conferences, in three cities on three continents, no less, and the first conference would be in a matter of a few weeks. Could I send along something of at least 300×300 dpi resolution, 30″ square, and by the way, tomorrow would be good?
If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize they were looking for a serious professional shot, not something I could whip out on my iPhone. I needed to bring in the big guns, and fast.
I gave my good friend Dale a call… well, ok, a text, really… and, what luck! He was actually in town and available. Dale is a semi-pro photographer, a reviewer and editor at one of the most prestigious online photography review magazines, and a freelance documentary filmmaker on the side.
“Sure,” texted Dale, “I can do that for you. But, I have a favor to ask. Do you remember that log raft race I won twelve years ago on the Amazon River? I’m going back to make a documentary about the race, and my usual assistant just canceled on me. It’s really a two-person job, so you’d seriously be helping me out if you could come with me to Peru.”
Peru? Cool! I thought, imagining this would be months in the planning. “That sounds like a great trip. When are you planning to go?”
“In a week.”
“A week?” I’m pretty sure disbelief would have colored my voice, if this whole conversation were not happening by text message.
“Yep. I know it’s last-minute, but I’ve already invested a lot into this trip, and losing my assistant has put me in a bind.”
One thing you should probably know about Dale is that we met as students in a climbing course. We had scaled peaks together. We had camped overnight in an emergency snow trench together. We had literally held each other’s lives in the balance on belay during rock climbs. I knew that Dale had spent a couple years backpacking around South America, and that he was fluent in Spanish. I knew he had spent three days paddling a log raft on the Amazon while he was there. So I knew that he knew what we’d be getting into with this trip.
What’s more, Dale knew that I had wintered in Antarctica back in the day. He knew that I had trekked the Himalaya and navigated the alleyways of Kathmandu. So he knew that I’d likely be fine for a little escapade in the Amazon jungle, and that the streets of a tropical Peruvian city were unlikely to faze me. He wasn’t asking an unknown to cover his back on this adventure.
“Give me ten minutes,” I replied. “I need to talk to my wife. And my boss.”
Fortunately for me, both my wife and my boss are adventure-minded in their own ways. Despite the short notice, the only issue my boss raised was that he’d prefer to be the one to go. Sorry, boss; this one was mine.
Ten minutes later I committed to travel to Peru in a week’s time, and then I called my doctor’s travel clinic to arrange for vaccinations.
Fortunately, much of what I needed in the way of vaccinations I already had from my time in Nepal, although a few had expired and required renewal (typhoid, tetanus, etc). I would need anti-malarial pills. And… ah, I would need a yellow fever shot. That was new.
The administrator for the travel clinic told me that it would be a week and a half before I could get on the schedule to see the travel nurse.
“I don’t have a week and a half,” I said. “I’m going to Peru in one week.”
“Oh. Where in Peru?”
Ten minutes later the travel nurse called me back directly.
“You’re going to the Amazon!”
“You need a yellow fever shot.”
“Almost no one has it in stock right now. It’s in short supply all over the country. We’re ordering in an alternative from France, but it’ll take me ten days to get it here.”
My heart started to sink. I weighed the idea of just going without, but there are some complications with this particular nasty little bug. It’s rare to catch it, but if you do, there’s a scarily high fatality rate, and by all accounts it’s not a pleasant way to go (not that many ways are all that pleasant). And, because of its lethality, many countries require visitors to show documentary proof of having had the shot, depending on where they arrive from. Coming from the US, it seemed unlikely that Peru would require me to show the classic yellow vaccination card, but it seemed entirely possible the US would ask to see it upon my return.
And if not the US, well, a week after getting back I would be jetting off to Spain. Remember, the professional conference for which I needed the headshot photo that started all this? Yeah, that would be in Barcelona, and I was going. I had no idea whether Spanish authorities might see that Peruvian stamp in my passport and then say, “Tarjeta amarilla, señor?” It would be a shame to be turned away from the conference at which I would be winning this award.
“It’s ok, though. There’s a pharmacy in Sand Point that has yellow fever vaccine in stock, and they take walk-ins. Call this number.”
All was not lost! Hastily I wrote down the number, thanked the nurse profusely, and then gave it a call. I was able to make an appointment for the next day, and there I was able to stock up on everything the savvy traveler might require: anti-malarials, antibiotics, anti-diarrheals… pretty much anti-everything. And a course of typhoid pills, a tetanus booster, a flu shot while I was at it, and the all-important yellow fever shot, the most expensive vaccine of the bunch.
One week later I boarded a plane with no luggage besides a backpack, everything I would need for two weeks of equatorial living. I left the sweater at home.
Oh, and Dale snapped a great portrait.
Stay tuned for the next part of my Amazon adventure.
Let me start by saying who I am not. I am not a psychic. I am not an actor. I am not a hockey player nor Olympic weightlifter. I’ve made a few speeches in my time, but none of them are considered landmarks of First Amendment rights, nor am I a debate coach. I’m not a journalist, nor a professor, nor a scientist.
Why not all those things? Well, there are other Matt Frasers (or Mat Frasers or Matthew Frasers) out there who are all those things. It turns out I have a fairly common name (there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to people named Matt Fraser). One of the above is even an author, though fortunately for me he is a writer of nonfiction, so I trust you’ll be able to tell us apart.
I am a writer.
I have been writing stories since my age could be measured in single digits, when I wrote a stage play called Fly of Fly Hall (which was inspired by A. A. Milne’s Toad of Toad Hall, itself an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows). Around the same time I also penned the tale of Ford Matchbox, the fanciful adventures of my favorite Matchbox toy car and his automotive friends. As a teenager I had a keen interest in all things Fantasy and Science Fiction, and with great expectations I submitted a short story to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Much as with my early childhood work, the story borrowed heavily on concepts I’d lifted from the greats such as Robert A. Heinlein, and the magazine rightly rejected it as unoriginal. As writers we are supposed to take such things in stride, learn from them and press on, but I admit my teenage ego was heavily crushed, and I did not write fiction again for a number of years.
Yet the bug never quite leaves one, does it?
Throughout the 2000s I puttered about with some concepts for a political techno-thriller that never quite got off the ground, and in 2012 I wrote a piece of historical fiction for NanoWrimo that was loosely based upon the experiences of one of my ancestors during immigration. I followed up in 2013 with some stream-of-consciousness-inspired steampunk romance (yes, really) about which it might be better if we said no more (though I did “win” NanoWrimo that year, as I at least completed 50,000 words, even if much of it was schlock). There followed a couple years of trying my hand at short romantic fiction, and if nothing else, doing so taught me much about better understanding my characters’ emotional states.
But I am back now to my first literary love: science fiction (and perhaps the odd fantasy or mixed-genre piece as well).
I am a sailor.
You could say it’s in my blood. My father was a merchant sailor and Master Mariner, having spent much of his career commanding cargo and passenger ships around the oceans of the world. As a child I was hugely fond of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books, and when I read Robin Lee Graham‘s Dove as a pre-teen, I figured I had only a few years if I wanted to meet his then-record of being the youngest solo circumnavigator (that didn’t happen).
At the age of 13 I finally had the opportunity to learn to sail for myself on a rented 14′ Sunfish on the lagoons of Foster City, California, and the next year I signed up via Explorer Scouts as crew on board a cutter-rigged Downeaster 38 out of Redwood City named Pau Hana. Two years later I was in Seattle, and again via Explorer Scouts signed on as crew for the custom racing sloop Serenity (previously called Sachem and donated by one of Puget Sound’s legends, Bill Buchan).
Since that time, I have owned a succession of ever-larger and ever-older sailboats: Kiwi Dreams, a 1984 Merit 22; Roxy, a 1983 Beneteau First 32; and today Abeona, a 1982 Cal 39. My wife and I enjoy sailing Abeona up and down the length of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, having many fine adventures on the waters of Washington and British Columbia, and we have also sailed the warmer waters of Tahiti and the British Virgin Islands (though not on Abeona). We are members of the Shilshole Bay Yacht Club.
I am an adventurer.
This is in my blood, too, perhaps. Whether it’s my father’s hijinks on the high seas, or my mother’s tracks on alpine trails, I love getting out of the city and into the wilderness, or simply exploring new places. I have been hiking and backpacking as long as I can remember, and for several years I was quite active as a mountain-climber in the Pacific Northwest, including scaling Mt Rainier in 2003. I have trekked the Khumbu Valley of Nepal as far as Everest Basecamp, and I have cycled the Pacific Coast from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico. I have traveled to five of the seven continents, one of which was Antarctica, where I worked as an electrician for nearly four years, including three winters. I have gone beneath the waves in a nuclear submarine, and I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.
I am a computer geek.
Or is that nerd? Either way, I wear the label with pride. Perhaps, though, I should say that I am a computer professional, as it is in this arena that I make my living — at least until my books take off!
I got my start with computers, sort of, in the late 1970s, when my stepfather, who was a field engineer for Livermore Data Systems, would constantly muck about with multiplexors and modems in our home. My first experience with networking was connecting to a mainframe from a “dumb” terminal via an acoustic modem; you know, the kind that had two rubber cups that you fit the handset of your telephone into. By the time I got to high school, I was teaching myself to program in BASIC on a DEC PDP-11 that the math teacher maintained. There were no actual computer science classes in high school in those days, or at least not at my school, but we could have access to the PDP-11 if we asked nicely.
In university I majored in Electrical Engineering, but I ended up taking more computer science classes than engineering classes, and along the way learned how to program in FORTRAN-77 and Pascal. My university career was short-lived, however, as I was not then a very good student, but after dropping out I got myself hired on as a system operator in the university’s data center, running CDC Cyber 170 and IBM System/370 mainframes.
For a while I bounced around the nation (and one or two other nations) doing various odd jobs while trying to “find” myself, until eventually I did find myself on that Pacific Coast bicycle ride, followed by the years working in Antarctica. Upon returning to Seattle from the Ice, I pursued a certification in network engineering, and proceeded to have some very good years as a Novell and Microsoft network administrator. One thing led to another, and I found myself specializing in database and enterprise application systems administration, so that today I work as an SAP Basis administrator. You can read much more about my path to this career on the SAP Community Network.
I am many things.
I’m a genealogist. I’m a husband and father. I’m a reader of books and watcher of movies. I’m a traveler, and once in a while video-gamer (though I rarely seem to have the time for this anymore).
I was born in New Zealand, emigrated to the United States at the age of 5, grew up alternately in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, and live today in Seattle with my beautiful wife.
And I’d like to hear about you! If you’ve read this far, please leave a comment below.