The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Season Opening in the White Mountains 2012

North Conway is a quiet little town about three hours north of Boston. Each summer its 2,400 residents are driven mad or out of town by the droves of tourists who flock here to camp on the shores of the Saco River, drift lazily in a canoe, shop the many outlet stores and bring their children to the crazy attractions they are sadly brought up to crave: Santa's village, Storyland, indoor water parks, and some nutty monkey-banana themed zipline place.

The Other Season attracts winter hikers, alpinists, climbers, and skiers. People who prefer short days, freezing temperatures and clear, crisp air with endless visibility to ferocious bugs, crowds and hazy humidity which forces you to process the thick, heavy air for oxygen, like plankton whales sieve water for food.

After six months of saltwater and triathlons, I was totally stoked to return to the White Mountains, the most rugged mountain range in New England for the start of the winter hiking season. Using both carrots and sticks I coerced a few people to bag Monroe (5,371'), Franklin (5,003') and Eisenhower (4,780'), a hike of approximately eight miles and a total elevation gain close to 4,000 feet. Pretty ambitious for a warm-up but I was as excited as a child waiting for Christmas morning. We would take the short but very steep Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail up to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, gaining approximately 2,800 feet in elevation in the first 3.1 miles and pay our respects along the way to Herbert J. Young who died here of exposure in 1928, before heading south on the Crawford Path, the oldest, continuously maintained, hiking path in America, originally built during the 1800′s and used as a horse trail, across the open ridgeline up and over Mt. Monroe and Mt. Franklin, continue south to the saddle between Franklin and Eisenhower before heading over its summit. From Eisenhower we would descend Edmands Path which, according to one trail description is "fairly steep, but gets you down fast". How? I wonder.

A friend had offered us to stay at her house, a treat instead of driving six hours in one day to hike for six hours which I'd normally do, and treated us upon arrival to an evening of story telling (read: local gossip) around the fire pit. Dressed like Michelin men, in down jackets, hats and mittens, we sat with new friends and crazy canines (or perhaps it was the other way around?) under a sky the color of charcoal, the orange blaze of the dancing fire bringing us closer together.

The fire petered out and with the aid of headlamps, as much a part of your clothing up here as undies, we fumbled our way back into the house. Laden with an earthy scent of smokehouse, or as they say up in North Conway, "stinky like a local", I stuffed the next day's clothes in the sleeping bag and crawled in like a butterfly stuffing itself back in its cocoon, smiling from ear to ear, snug as a bug in a rug.

The forecast for the higher elevations, received live and direct from the roommate who works at the Mt. Washington weather observatory, was bleak even with optimistic standards: 40 mph winds with gusts of 50, heavy fog and mixed precipitation. When our hostess, spoiled and picky since she lives there and can be spoiled and picky, called us nuts and refused to go (partially because she knows everyone on the search and rescue team and it would be a huge embarrassment to get caught out in the elements) I reconsidered. I always listen to locals. "We should stay south of the Notch where the chance for good weather is best" she said. We settled for a south - north Moat Mountain Range traverse, a 9.7 mile moderate hike with sweeping views of the Mount Washington Valley, covering three peaks: South (2,270'), Middle (2,805) and North Moat (3,196). Despite a sting of disappointment about the re-routing, I realized this was probably a wiser choice for the start of the season. Besides, a traverse is always fun.

At last, we had ourselves organized, with one car parked at Diana's Baths and another at Dugway Road. Three women and a mutt who just met set out under cloudy skies at the crack of 10 am.

Trail conditions were great, a little slick in a few places, but overall, the trail was bare and dry. By south Moat, we'd covered all the peripheral conversations and realized we didn't only have in common a love for the mountains... but for spur of the moment adventures too, with comparable histories of related injuries and scars.

Between south and middle Moat Mountain, where the trail runs mainly on exposed granite, clouds gave way to sunny skies and  presented us with sweeping views of Mt. Chocorua, Mt. Washington and North Conway. From middle Moat, the trail is not very well marked, but well traveled, and meanders through thick forest, destroyed by hurricane Irene in 2011, downed logs everywhere around us, before spilling out into Diana's Bath, a waterfall with perfect pools carved out in the rock, perfect for cooling off in the summer. Not today. The water was ice cold. 

As the sun set, we walked out the last mile as the best of friends.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

C.R.U.I.S.E. Part III: Cut and Run
Under skies the color of Guinness stout beer, the outgoing tide carries S/Y Balboa Clipper through the labyrinth of canals of Fort Lauderdale, a man-made engineering marvel that makes me question human intelligence. If Hurricane Katrina sank New Orleans, it's easy to imagine what a tsunami would do to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, not exactly towering above the ocean at eleven feet above sea level. Deduct a normal average wave height of five feet and very little margin is left to protect the multi-million-dollar homes with their curbside boat slips and drive-in boat houses. In what is supposed to be a tight housing market, a motivated seller lists his single family home at $6,999.000. Others are listed between $55,000.000 and $100,000.000.

She glides along towards open water, one bridge after another opening on command, like the door in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Her engine purrs like a content kitten in stark contrast to the gruff bridge operators, surprised and not particularly happy about having to actually work so early in the morning.

Traffic is sparse. It's 3:30 am.

As the sun rises out of the ocean in the east, S/Y Balboa Clipper dumps out in the Atlantic Ocean. We hang a right at the flashing green buoy marking the channel into Port Everglades, leaving a rapidly approaching container ship and her pilot (guide) boat to our aft. Container ships always move a lot quicker than they appear to. Our heading: 180. Dead south, which inherently gives you a strong feeling of good. We cruise along making decent speed on a perfect heading, until suddenly our speed over ground drops four knots. Feeling of good gone. On the wheel, I wonder what I'm doing wrong and ask for the sails to be eased, then trimmed, and when my efforts of gaining a knot or two only slow us down further, I ask for them to be eased out again, back to where they were. Sigh.

The Gulf Stream rushes east and north through a deep, narrow strait some 25 miles wide between Florida and the Bahamas.  Here, the current typically averages three knots, although it can reach speeds up to eight knots at times. This Gulf Stream is the fastest and largest current in the Atlantic; over a billion cubic feet of water rushes past Miami every second. Fascinating facts to read. Heartbreaking and very frustrating to experience. But change is constant and before long, the wonders of nature, a current running in the reverse direction (southbound) on the outer edge of the Gulf Stream, also called an eddy, picks us up. Soon, we see the sky-rises of Miami proper and South Beach sprouting out of the ocean, LEGO like. Eleven feet above sea level. Marvelous.

Sailing has been called "the art of going nowhere at great expense", and this trip is no exception. We are running behind schedule (this is a delivery, not a pleasure cruise) and the two extra days I had added into my already conservative timeline for "oh shits have already run out. Apparent final destination, assuming all goes relatively well from here on: Key West, maybe Isla Mujeres, Mexico. As we round the southeast tip of Florida we obtain reports of tropical disturbance number 19 brewing on our port and tropical storm Sandy, now hurricane Sandy, south of Cuba. Emails from friends read: "Some people's life is meant to be quiet and calm. NOT YOURS!!!!!!
Your is meant to be an adventure. I pray you are safe and well!!!" and "So, there's a hurricane where you are. Typical."

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920
US poet (1892 - 1950)

With bobbing sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins playing at our bow, we forge ahead, surfing down waves on the fringes of two big storms, licking us with their advantageous, brilliant steady winds. This is some of the best sailing I've ever experienced.

As dusk falls, our captain decides to teach the two first-time sailors how to anchor. In the dark, and in twelve feet of water. Aye, aye. I head into the wind, and hold her there. Suddenly the strong wind grabs her nose and pushes her to starboard. I turn the wheel hard to port to correct. She doesn't react but is pushed further downwind, the wind now starting to fill the sails. I at full tilt, and nothing happens. She is at the mercy of the howling wind. The steering is gone.

"DROP THE ANCHOR", I shout loudly into the wind as I throw my hands up in the air. I point to the wheel and motion with my hand across my throat to signal the loss of steering.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

C.R.U.I.S.E. part II: The Floating Repair Shop

"With a backpack, passport, and a sleeping bag, anything is possible. This trip is far from over."

Part II: The Floating Repair Shop

At last, the S/Y Balboa Clipper arrives Ft. Lauderdale. She comes in on the high tide that let her float off the sand bar where the crew sort of parked, unconventionally and involuntarily at 4:00 am. She's pretty, a 41' Formosa ketch, meaning that she has two masts, the main mast and aft (rear) of the main mast, the shorter mizzen mast. Below deck, she's pristine; cozy, warm, woodwork gleaming with thick coats of varnish.  On deck is tied a windsurfing board, an inflatable kayak, a fiberglass dingy, related oars, six jerrycans with diesel fuel and a little more than the usual clutter of anchors and lines. Captain Adventure, as I learn is his nickname (which coincidentally matches mine), points out that despite the clutter, there are really only two lines that are unusual: One is a preventer, keeping the mainsail boom from knocking the crew overboard when heading downwind under sail. The other puts tension on the port (left) shroud, as the turnbuckle cannot be tightened any more, "for some reason", he says with a smile. As a point of interest, I'd like to add that the shrouds serve an integral role in keeping the mast from falling out of the sky. 

After a weather update and a round or two of the mandatory sea stories, Captain Adventure grabs a box of waffle mix and exclaims "Waffles at Kelly's!" We follow him to the neighbor's house two doors down, who's intent on winning the neighborhood Halloween decorating contest and is busy adding skeletons, cob webs and a séance circle in the front yard when we arrive but welcomes us warmly just the same. We bond over beers, chocolate chip waffles and coffee, in that order, whilst formulating a plan for our departure. One disembarking crew member quickly made it clear, by his actions, that he was not going to help, but instead arrange for his return home. But as every boat that comes in to port, we need to make repairs and buy parts, food, water and fuel, so the rest of us divide the tasks and go to work. As a final project, started at 9:00 pm under a starry sky, Captain gets hoisted up the mast to repair the masthead light, a mission that ends after two and a half hours with the casing slipping out of his hands, bouncing off the deck and into the canal with the unmistakable "PLOP", followed by "shit" exclaimed from the masthead.  Little did I know that this was the first of what became a steady stream of mishaps, surprising us at first, becoming more expected as the trip continued, under the least of favorable conditions: 

With hurricane Sandy on our tails.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Not dismissing the importance of Thanksgiving to many families, but for me, Thanksgiving is not holy in any way, shape or form. I'm not originally from here, nor am I truly fond of big dinners where you stumble away from the table wishing you had wheels to cart you off to a horizontal position. Add to that, bumper to bumper traffic and crowded airports, buzzing loudly like bee hives interrupted only by announcements and irritated parents. Are we having fun yet?

Then come the countless reports of over-eating and epic family arguments, made even better by everyone being liquored up. Being a fly on the wall, I see the sad parody of it all: people running around trying to fit too much into too little time, only to be exhausted and edgy when the time comes to sit down and enjoy family and friends.

The past several years I've been lucky to be able to do some amazingly fun, healthy holiday hopping (no, not s-hopping), visiting friends - coffee here, a long walk there, a slice of pie elsewhere, and a good dose of relaxation and pottering about on a day when streets are deserted and shops are closed. The people you meet are friendly and wish you Happy Thanksgiving. It's been a wonderful tradition.

This year will be different. This year I will forgo visiting the warm homes and hearts of the families that have adopted me for the holidays for taking care of a friend's dog, a beautiful, bouncy bully-mix. This year I'm packing all my favorite foods: root vegetable chips, the creamiest of Bries, chocolate chip protein bars, smoked salmon from a tiny smokehouse in Nova Scotia only locals know, fresh bread from A & J Kings Bakery, and pounds and pounds of mixed nuts and dried fruit. This year I'm making crepes with peanut butter and bananas and drinking Swedish mulled wine. This year I'm going to lose myself in the raw beauty of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Who needs turkey?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Eva Mossberg

Saturday, October 20, 2012



Before even leaving the dock in Jacksonville, Florida, she has engine problems. This is far better than having engine trouble underway. Which is still perfectly possible.

"She" is a 42' Formosa ketch called Balboa Clipper. She's been on the hard for three years and now the owner/captain wants her by his side in Belize, where he's built an ecolodge near the Guatemalan border. I have been recruited to help bring her south. By, and with a non-sailer.

I confirm early on that I'm recruited neither as captain nor galley girl. Instead, as it turns out, I'm one of only two sailors on board. With that, I'm in. I have yet to meet the captain (sailor number two), and lay eyes on the vessel but am beyond thrilled for an opportunity to sail and complete another leg and +/- 600 nautical miles of the circumnavigation I started in 1991 by sailing from Sweden to the West Indies.

Shy on vacation days, I am meeting them in Ft. Lauderdale, a floating city about twenty road miles north of Miami, which suits me fine. Sailing the east coast of Florida has never been on my list of things to do and the captain has arranged for me to stay with his friends on the river until Balboa Clipper arrives, by ways of wind or diesel. They have a 49' Hinckley tied up in their backyard. Sounds promising. Told they do charters, I check out their webiste You should too.

Elbow to elbow on the commuter line. I can feel the unfriendly looks "why the hell is she on the RUSH HOUR direct train to Boston with a backpack?!" I smile and think to myself "I have to go to work too...  I just have a different voyage planned for the end of my day. HA!"

Spirit airlines brings me to Ft. Lauderdale for $138. Not a bad flight at all but they are stingy with their carry-on policy. I shouldn't have brought the sleeping bag. It costs me a smile and $40 (vs. $47) to bring it in the cabin.  Better than having it put in the hold and be forever lost. I don't have a return flight booked.

So it seems like I'll have two days here in sunny Florida until the boat gets here. Florida is not my favorite state even though the east coast is livelier than the west coast. The latter, where I spent eight months at school is referred to as God's waiting room due to all retirees who move there for the weather, kind to their ailing bodies. Their presence is very apparent. Here on the east coast it's bikinis, mega yachts, plastic surgery and stilettos.

On top of engine problems delaying departure by two days, the first update from aboard includes "two out of the four guys on the boat threw up for the first twenty-four hours at sea". Yuck. Glad I wasn't on board for any of that.

The most common boat problems are engines and crew.

But this and countless tales of the misadventures of Captain Chris make me wonder if I'll ever make it to Mexico, especially since we will be heading into a strong opposing current. Realistically, he'll want me on board for the crossing, especially now that his talent on board has demonstrated their weaknesses. But time and tide wait for no one.

Plan E (yes, there's A, B, C and D) would be to simply mosey on up the coast back to Boston. Planes, trains or automobiles. I have friends in TX, NC, NYC, CT, and RI I'd like to see...

With a backpack, passport, and a sleeping bag, anything is possible.

This trip is far from over.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Triathlon Epilogue

Triathlon: a trilogy of sports totaling sheer madness ranging, in order of madness (worst to least): Ironman, Half Ironman, Olympic Distance, and Sprint. The sport is said to have originated in the 1920's France even though the name comes from the Greek words trei (three) and athlos (contest). I'm not sure how the French ever agreed to the name being Greek.

Competing in a Tri was never on my list of things to do, especially as I considered it having become something people did to be hip. Didn't feel the need to prove anything. I was quite happy with my routine of cross training, and my body seemed to agree.

People asked what I was training for, what my goal was. Truth is, I always trained because it makes me feel good both physically and mentally. My goal? To feel as good as possible without getting injured (a historical snapshot of my life indicates I have a special knack for this).  But one after one, they asked "Why don't you do a Tri? You already run, bike and swim." My answer is noted above.

Then I came across a Sprint Tri advertised in the next town over from where I live. The date was in three weeks. Being fitter and more cross-trained than ever before I was admittedly tempted. I wouldn't have to train any more or drive three hours to get there. I routinely did more than the 1/3 m swim, 14.5 m bike, and 5k run. Just hadn't put it all together yet. This was a little too close in time and distance to pass up...

However, I did not lose sight of my goal of not getting injured so I asked an equally motivated and life embracing friend to do the run. He needed little convincing. We registered as the relay team "Never Too Late" because in our minds it's never too late to starts something new.

Once or twice before the race, I combined swimming with biking, roughly the distances required for the race, but absolutely without applying scientific methods. This race was going to be fun, not overwhelming. I was thrilled that someone else was going to do the race with me and as an extra bonus relieve me from the pressure of having to do the run. In fact, the week before the race I got sick and focused more on sleeping than training but as someone who tends to over-train I believe it worked in my favor.

4:30am Sunday morning. A knock on my door tells me I'm actually committed. To a Tri. I consider the fact that people who go to the early Sunday service don't even get up that early!

Bike strapped down sideways on my roof rack (bike racks are overrated), and helmet, fairy shoes, sunglasses, gloves, towel and running shoes accounted for, we drive down to Nahant for the First Nahant Annual Sprint Triathlon, September 9, 2012. Both giddy, laughing at the madness of it all. Two peas in a pod, disguised as a red VW Golf GTI.

The air has a definite chill to it but I know from an ocean practice swim I did a few days ago that the tropical storm brought along some pleasant, warm water. The reports said 65 degrees. Tropical indeed.

Registration and marking first: entry number on left shoulder and age on right calf. (A revolutionary thought enters my mind: dating would be an easier process if everyone always wore their age and marital status inscribed on their body for everyone to see.) In the transition area, competitors lay out a towel on which they carefully organize their two pairs of shoes, helmet, running bib, lucky charm... you get the idea. I follow suit, minus the charm. I wear mine around my neck.

The sun rises over the horizon and chases the night's rain clouds away as we make our way down to the start of the race. Upon arrival I notice that all but five participants are wearing wet suits. I'm one of the five and not one of the "better insulated" participants.  They are all in fact, wearing wet suits.
The pre-race meeting is brief and soon enough the first wave of competitors throw themselves into the wet. I place myself on the outside of my field to avoid getting caught up in the sea of madly swinging arms and kicking legs which is where, I learned in a swim race last year, contact is the rule rather than the exception. This turned out to be a good strategy and soon enough I am out of the water and on my way across the street to the transition area, happy to not be twisted up in a wet suit: Sixty-five degrees is not cold when you have 125 psi of adrenaline pumping steadily through your system.

With soaking wet and sandy socks, fairy shoes, bike shorts and helmet I mount my Cannondale and embark on part two. We'd checked out the course a few days before the race so I know the rolling double loop by heart: 1 km in to the course, we are sent straight up a hill that rises up steeply, immediately after a 90 degree right turn.  No cruising speed to help you up there.  Carefully navigating the wet leaves that had been knocked down overnight I push through as hard as I can, cheered on by onlookers and police, wanting to set free the chained cheetah waiting eagerly to run. Damn this is fun!

Back in transition I throw my bike on the ground, hand off the timing chip and wow I'm done. Now it's up to my teammate who takes off like a rocket and keeps the tempo up all the way to the finish which helps land us in second place out of eleven teams with a total time of 1.17.09. Not too shabby for a pair of first timers. We are on the moon, jumping with joy and adrenaline proudly wearing our medals to the post race breakfast, complete with beer, eggs, and live music.

A few days later I mention there's another Tri in Rye, NH in two weeks. We enter as individuals this time... hooked.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Turning Leaves

I relate to the dragon fly for its affiliation with summer, close relationship with water and being a mythical symbol of greater awareness, change and an example of living in the moment. Fortunately, I get to see more seasons than this fascinating insect which only gets to live as a flying adult, outside the shelter of a cocoon for about two months in the summer, much like those who decide that summer is over after Labor Day and impatiently sit around and wait for next summer to start, regardless of weather on Memorial Day. 

Yesterday, I put my Triathlon competition gear away, contently, with a smile and a sigh of relief. The sigh was far from the kind of sigh you let out when you have finally filed your taxes but instead a sigh filled with a sense of inner gratification and completion. With the last Triathlon of the season at Wallis Sands, NH, and a great race at that, time has come to alter the pace.

Time has come to wax up the longboard and enjoy the long awaited swell of storms with given names churning off the coast, then drive home with both hands latched on to a cup of hot chocolate and the car heat blasting in an effort to regain circulation in fingers and toes. Only to do it again as soon as possible. 

Time has come to run on empty, silent, moonlit streets or head to the White Mountains for a day of hiking before the sun has woken up. 

Time has come to paddle out through the estuaries under a pale sun, in solitude, as the season grabbers who gave up and pulled their boats are gone, the bugs are dead, birds have departed for warmer climate, and only the enthusiastic paddlers and those who make a living off the ocean come out: Those of us who appreciate ten miles of visibility in clear, crisp air, the company of harbor seals, and no wake from inconsiderate summer weekend yahoos all in a great hurry to sooner or later in the day find themselves stuck on a sandbar awaiting the next high tide. 

Time has come to curl up and read a captivating book, to be creative and to sleep late under a heavy blanket, windows wide open, a cool breeze whispering in your face.   

Two days ago, the almanac marked the first day of autumn. Time has come to turn a leaf. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Today is the halfway mark for my Junior Program: 3.5 weeks behind us and 3.5 to go.

The excitement of initial change of pace (from zero to 120) wore off after the second week of wrangling cats 12-14 hours per day (if you ever ran a Jr program you know what I mean). The kids are great, the crew beyond words, but by Wednesday every week I now crave my home, my road bike, my little corner store, comfort foods (any food in fact as I live on seaweed salad, peanut butter and banana roll ups these days), and my local social circle. I crave to wake up in the morning without having a to-do list on the heel of my hand that I wrote at various points during the night and being able to just take a deep breath without anxiously anticipating the next phone call. I crave the ocean: The Muddy River, meandering through the neighborhood of Fenway, where I run at the crack of dawn to center my Self most mornings isn't quite cutting it, even though landscape architect Olmstead did a beautiful job of designing the Emerald Necklace, the park flanking the Charles River back in 1890. It's a far cry from the ocean, still largely free and untouched by man.

This weekend I hope there will be no alarms of missing children at 10 pm (they have all been false and caused by unnecessarily nervous parents). No calls at 6am. That I can spend two days almost uninterrupted, surfing, swimming, cycling, relaxing, leaving my mind behind, letting my thoughts wander...

Halfway mark: It feels like summer solstice: a fantastic feeling to have reached this point, but also sad to be heading towards the much anticipated end. I know when it's over I will miss it all: the students chatting outside my window at night, my runs along the river, the tears of homesick students, the smiles when they make new friends...
Eva Mossberg

Monday, June 25, 2012

Playing Gypsy Again

With a small, thirty-litre backpack slung over my back, flipflops on the left, water bottle to the right, and my running kit in the bottom of the bag, I shut the door behind me, heading for the 5:50am train. Destination Summer Camp: 175 international teenagers, 12 - 17 years old, descending on Simmons Campus for seven weeks to learn English and experience Boston through a variety of activities, from walking the freedom trail to touring Fenway and watching whales frolick off Stellwagen Bank. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Imagine being in America, away from mom and dad for the first time ever, living on a real American campus?

Who is dumb enough to ever want to manage such an animal?

I, in fact didn't. When the job as Program Manager was pitched to me this past winter I sat back in my chair, arms crossed, smiling confidently as I shook my head and said "no, absolutely not". Truth is, I said no three times, intent on breaking out of the seasonal job cycle which has both plagued and enhanced my personal and professional life (the line tends to get blurred) for well over a decade and can best be described as an existence going from being bored stiff pushing paper in the off-season and screaming high on adrenaline in the busy season.

Since the alternative wouldn't put me on the right career track or even as much as give me a high, I decided, after much deliberation to accept, not embrace the position, knowing that I was entering a love/hate relationship (essentially I hated that I loved it). Seven weeks doesn't sound like a lot but nor did six months when I managed private yacht clubs. I dare you to add up the hours... and then multiply it by fifteen curveballs per day, seven days per week.

So five months later I find myself in a 10' x 8' spartan dorm room (with a killer balcony if you climb out the window), living like a gypsy again. I'm giddy, perched on the top floor like an owl ogling the ground cover, listening to the rain tapping on my window, warning me of the approaching thunder storm. My soul is at rest, my mind at ease.
High or not, life is good.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Learning to Surf in Nicaragua

I thought sand in your bathing suit, the somewhat uncomfortable side effect of building sand castles on the water's edge was a thing of the past. I was wrong. I had yet to try surfing...

Why Nicaragua?
A sequence of random events had landed me with a house sitting gig in San Diego, a very sleepy little community a mile or so from the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, south of El Transito and north of Montelimar. The local gathering place for local expats and surfers is Los Cardones, a surf/yoga ecolodge, named after a local cactus. Very secluded and located right on the beach, a bumpy half hour away from the motorway, there is not much to do, other than surf and swing in one of the hammocks with a book. And that's just what people come here to do: The surf is consistent and excellent for everything from beginners like myself, and experts like my friends who moved here or come down to surf for months at a time.  

I had surfed once before - on a wintery day in December off the coast north of Boston about eighteen months prior to this trip. Small stuff, one breaking point but enough for the bug to bite, and I was eagerly awaiting my next opportunity. Little did I know it would be in Nicaragua.

Conditions at Los Cardones and Surrounding Area (in layman's terms):

1. The crowds: There aren't any. In fact, it's so desolate that I usually told someone on shore that I was going out, just in case my board came back without me.  

2. Surf: steady, consistent and great for beginners and long boarders right in front of the lodge. Within a fifteen minute drive (there’s a pick-up truck on site to rent for this purpose) there are several other points for more advanced surfers including Asuchillo, Hemmies, and Chiggas offering everything from fast and hollow and A-frames all day to long, fast rights.

3. The ocean: Almighty. Need I say more?      

4. Critters: Stingrays are common and should be avoided. This can be accomplished by shuffling your feet upon entering the water. Upon landing after a ride, it's luck...

5. The weather: The water temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit; the air between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Sunny and windy, especially in the afternoon. For the week I spent there, we had strong onshore winds starting around 9 am. Experts get sulky as it blows apart the waves, but to a beginner who's just having fun figuring it all out, it doesn't matter at all...

6. The Sun: The sun is high in the sky by 7:15 am and strong. Use sunscreen and a white, longsleeved rashguard. I brought a hoodie down for my friend and he thanked me all week. I'm thankful for the friend who recommended me to bring one.

7. Boards: It's expensive to fly with surfboards on planes and there are loaners to rent at Los Cardones. If you want your Board, bring it (most surfers).

8. Wetsuits: The water temps are in the 80s. I brought a short-sleeved, short-legged wetsuit and never used it, but if the wind is strong onshore and you are out for hours, a shortie is nice to have. Even if you get cold easily, you will absolutely not need anything more on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

9. The season: Rainy season runs from May - October and IF you can make it to the beach in September or October you'll be in the company of logs and dead cows. Don't bother.

Time to Surf
On my second day in Nicaragua, the phone rang. "Are you ready for your surf lesson?" he said in a way that left room for only one answer. After a basic safety briefing on land (avoid contact with the fins at all times, and cover your face when you come off the board), and a push in the back to determine based on which leg I moved forward to brace myself if I was a leftie or a rightie, we went to work. With a long blue foam board leashed to my ankle we entered the ocean, shuffling our feet to avoid getting stung by an unsuspecting sting ray. Having swam out way too far the day before I was slightly weary of the powerful waves towering ahead. But the board is a flotation device and attached to your leg, and with that, I was totally back in my element and confidently took the waves head-on, or in many cases, head under or straight through.

I'm a strong swimmer and somewhere along the way got gifted with a natural paddling technique so I easily slid over the top of, or ducked through waves on the way out to deeper water. I suddenly caught myself with a big smile, feeling thankful for so many things and just in a general state of happiness. Life is pretty darn good. My only wish was for an elastic band to tie my hair back as it hung over my eyes like a blinding curtain each time I emerged from having ducked a wave.

Los Cardones Ecolodge
Once in deeper water, it was time to turn the board around and catch some waves! I was told to start with the whitewash, which is when the wave has already broken, and after less than ten minutes' worth of pointers, I was on my own. My instructor went to watch me from the comforts of a lounge chair up at the lodge, a cold drink in hand.

Catching waves isn't rocket science, especially if you already know how to read the ocean. Before long I caught wave after wave, riding laying down on my belly, steering along the wave using my arms and feet. What a great feeling it was, being able to control your board playing with such massive forces of nature. And then totally lose control and get washed up on the beach, sand everywhere. After a few fun filled rides it was time to take the next step - to learn how to stand up on the board, which is where balance and confidence is everything. The first few times I didn't make it up all the way but caught an awesome wave which I rode all the way into the beach on my knees. I decided that with that, I would glide into shore like a pro and call it a day. Just as I was about to gracefully disembark, the wave following my ride caught me from behind, and made me take a chunk out of the beach where I was deposited like a wet rag. I laughed and cursed her at the same time. I couldn't wait to go for another round.

Day two: With no pointers from my instructor other than "Keep going - you are doing great!" I shuffled back in the ocean for round two. This time I was able to get up, wobbly at first, but quickly gained the confidence necessary to just pop up off the board. And I did. After almost three hours I came back in, beaming. But my knees looked like they belonged to a rough and tumble five-year old, scraped up and various shades of black and blue. I needed to start popping up straight to my feet, instead of getting there by the way of my knees.
Day three: "Try to catch some more green water (just as the wave is about to break) and angle your board slightly as you pick up the wave." was today's instructions. This was more difficult than it sounded and I spent hours following a distinct pattern: Getting up on the board for a split second, falling, getting washed, going back out for another one, getting up on the board for a split second, falling, getting washed, going back...
By day four I had lost control. I was driven by a somewhat manic pull to go back into deeper water and catch another one. And another one. And another one. Just one more...  But alas, my time had come to return home to colder waters and to buy my own board.


Nicaragua - Are You Ready?

Let your gut guide your answers to the following questions. You get one point for each correct answer. A maybe usually means no, so you get no points for that… At the end, you’ll know if you are ready for a trip to Nicaragua or not.
  1. You get off the plane in Managua and your ride is nowhere to be found. You go to call him but your international phone doesn’t work. You:
A.     check out the local bus service
B.     catch a cab for the one and a half hour ride
C.     ask someone to use their cell phone to call your ride
D.    A and C
  1. As you pick up your beach towel from the kitchen counter, an 8cm long scorpion scurries across the counter and launches himself onto the floor and hides under the trashcan. You:
  A.   scream and run out of the house
  B.   kill it using your dinner fork
  C.   ask someone else to bring it outside 
  1. You go to brush your teeth at night and when you look in the sink, a frog is staring you in the face. You:
A.  wait until he disappears to where he came from
B.  remove it with your hands
C.  don't brush your teeth

  1. The first page of the manual for the house you rented lists "local critters: Sting rays, poisoneus toads, scorpions, angry ants, and 27 varieties of snakes - 24 of which are deadly." You:
A.     call your travel agent and change your flight home to "as soon as possible"
B.     continue reading about the local fauna, electrical outages, and shortage of water
C.     call and accuse your agent of putting you in danger

  1. You get tagged by a scorpion. The local cure is to drink a strong cup of coffee right away. You:
A.     insist on going to the local health clinic
B.     trust the locals and have a cup of coffee
C.     mix your own remedy using your EPI pen, antibiotics and whatever you have in your travel 1st aid kit
6. Your rental car arrives. It looks like a gangsta’ car. The      door doesn't work. The hand break is busted. The gearbox works like a game of Russian roulette. You:
      A.     refuse it
      B.     ask for an upgrade
      C.     get in, turn up the kick-ass stereo so you can’t hear the rattle, and drive off in a cloud of dust

  1. After two days, you have sand and dust in every orifice of your body, your clothes, in your bed. You:
A.     change sheets and dust the house every day
B.     embrace it and look at it as free nightly exfoliation of your skin
C.     complain about it, loudly and avoid the beach

8. Your house owner has told you to conserve water. You:
          A.     turn the water off as you lather up in the shower
          B.     flush the toilet only after # 2
          C.     shower off by the beach whenever possible
          D.    all of the above

9. You have been told there are sting rays in the ocean. You:
          A.     don't go in
          B.     shuffle your feet as the locals do
          C.     walk in thinking it won't happen to you

  1. You are driving down the road and see a family of three looking for a ride. The man carries a machete. You:
A.     keep driving without looking at them
B.     stop and tell them you are only going another 200 yards, so there is no point in them catching a ride with you
C.     offer them a ride

  1. You are trying to make a purchase but the sales person doesn’t understand you. You:
A.     speak louder
B.     use gestures
C.     leave without buying anything

  1. There is an oxcart coming down the road. You want to take a photo. You:
A.     ask for permission
B.     take the photo without permission
C.     opt out

Answer Key: 1D, 2B, 3A, 4B, 5B, 6C, 7B, 8D, 9B, 10C, 11B, 12A

You scored:
1 – 6:  You have no business leaving home.
7-9:  Try camping. Locally.
10-12: You have guts and are not afraid to stretch the limits of your comfort zone. Book your flight (via Houston). You are in for a treat.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Boston, MA - San Diego, Nicaragua

There were two real options for flights, both with United Airlines: I could fly via Miami and arrive and depart Managua at humane hours with a twelve hour overnight layover in Miami, or bite the bullet on the return by departing Managua at seven am (count backwards with 1.5 hrs to the airport and early checkins and the time now says 4 am departure) and go via Houston. Spending a night in Miami had little allure, and I get up early, so I booked via Houston.
United Airlines flights to Houston depart terminal A and it should be noted that you need go towards gates 8-13 if you desire anything to eat or drink before departure, other than Dunkin Donut's and Wendy's. I luckily discovered this last minute and was therefore able to address the caffeine deficiency before boarding. Travel tip: look at what people are carrying, whether you are looking for groceries or a Starbucks, and follow the trail to the point of origin or ask where they got it.
Houston, TX - America's
petroleum capital
Walking through George Bush International airport, Houston, TX, I couldn't help but snicker. The picture says it all. A world so close yet so far away from us folks not from there. However, or perhaps because of this, the options for food and shopping (if you are so inclined) are pretty good.
Flying to Managua, or any other place for that matter, I recommend not checking luggage, especially not now that United charges $25/bag. It makes for an easy arrival plus you know you have your toothbrush with you at all times. But I did confuse the customs' officer who asked where my luggage was...
Having cleared the formalities of immigration and customs, where I overheard many arrivals speaking English with the officers, somewhat to my surprise, I approached the line of taxi drivers waving placards with the names of their passengers. Good news: No embarrassing sign with my name on it.
Bad news: No embarrassing sign with my name on it.
Looking to phone my friend who's driver was supposed to pick me up, I discovered that my international phone didn't work. I knew the last bus had left for the night, so dodging taxi drivers, I found a mini van loaded with surfboards and asked if he was going to Los Cardones, located down the street from where I was going to stay. The answer was negative so I turned to the Thrifty car rental agent and asked if she had a phone I could use. She handed me her private cell phone. I liked Nicaragua already. As I hung up the phone with my friend, my ride walked through the door.
My Spanish returned quickly and the driver, Alvaro and I had a great chat for the hour and a half it takes to get to La Casa on a mix of paved and bumpy dirt roads dotted with a variety of animals including skunks, birds, dogs, horses and oxen. So far, everything was in order and as expected.
La Patron had left me an extensive guide to the house and the pets, starting on the first page with power outages. As I read "we haven't had any in a long time so you should be ok", the lights started to flicker. I quickly skimmed the text back to where I'd seen flashlights mentioned. Flashlights were found next to the electrical panel so I flicked all the breakers off and on. The house remained pitch black, and what was worse, the fans were dead. I read the instructions for starting the generator and quickly realized, not trying to start it was the right decision, especially in the middle of the night. I don't like to play with electrical power.
By flashlight, I perused the rest of the house guide. Under "local critters" I read about scorpions, poisonous toads, tarantulas and sting rays. Exotic. It said that the local remedy for scorpion bites it to drink a strong cup of coffee right away. I wondered how effective that was, and hoped I wouldn't have to find out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The World is My Oyster

It was once said that I am the wife of the great seafarer and explorer Christopher Columbus.

I ponder this, as I sit squashed in with some 180 people on a plane high up in the air on my way to Nicaragua: Why this desire to travel to far-flung places?

All of my needs, according to Maslow's pyramid, are filled to one extent or another.
I don't even travel to "get away" from the mundane or the stressful as many (most?) people do.
But I have this creature living inside of me that needs to be fed, seemingly and slightly alarmingly, on a regular basis. It's a curiosity that needs to be stilled. I need to learn. To stretch the limits of my comfort zone. To see what's on the horizon. I'll keep going until I get there.

The world is my oyster.