The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Doctor's Orders

Just left my annual check-up with an A+ and the following instructions for my injured rib: "Tylenol, Ibuprofen and go surf."
Seven days and counting...

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Sudden Bump in the Road

Two weeks ago my hip got mad. Screaming mad in fact. "Why, why, why?" I asked. Well, ok. I freely admit I knew the answer: I got hooked on winter hiking in January and hiked eight 4000' peaks plus miles and miles of local trails in ten weekends. Of course my hip was mad. Mad or not, with vacation beckoning, this needed to be combatted immediately. I went hellbent for a fix: I backed off the exercise and went to the acupuncturist who stuck me full of needles. Three times. I noted no change in the first week and decided to step up my attack. (I know, my patience is not so great when I'm injured.) First I lined up my primary care doctor. She gave me a referral to a chiropractor and suggested Prednisone or 2400mg of Ibuprofen daily. I started my daily overdose on Ibuprofen that evening, wondering at what point my stomach would simply disintegrate, and made an appointment with the chiropractor. This, I knew would be the fix! Snap, crackle, pop - fixed! I was very excited.

The chiropractor, a blond 6'3" Tarzan with California looks adjusted my neck. Ahhhh! I felt two inches taller already. Onto the next adjustment and I had the snap, crackle, pop part correct. However, when I looked up, the scoreboard read: Tarzan: 1 - Rib: 0. The only word I could think of starts with SH and ends with IT. So much for surfing in two weeks, I thought.

Tarzan, horrified but composed, gave me his cell number and insisted I call with an update in the morning and come back two days later. I did. Suing, suggested by many, gives you really bad Karma and wouldn't fix the rib anyway, so I never gave that much thought.

Now as intent as I was to fix me up for vacation, he pulled out all stops, including a torturing lower body massage by his wife. If you are looking for a nice, relaxing massage - this is not the place for you. If, however your hip flexor, IT band and SI joint get hung up and feel like guitar strings, take a deep breath and sign up. A combination of electrodes, ice, ultrasound and especially the torturing massage will quickly remind you of why you booked the appointment. It hurts like hell but I'm pretty sure they'll have the hip sorted before I leave, and my friends in Nicaragua said they'd just tape me up if I needed it...

Looks like I'll be surfing...