Monday, December 12, 2011

home for the early holidays

      Our feet touched the ground in Rhode Island one fine late-october afternoon.  The weather was lovely, mimicking an end of summer rather than start of winter. All of the trees still waved their green leaves in the wind. Thanks to the hurricane earlier in the season, the deciduous trees decided they would wait an extra few weeks to put on the fall spectacular. 
     It was a strange time of year to celebrate the holidays, particularly since it wasn't even thanksgiving yet,  but my brother only had a 2 week leave "sometime in november"  from afganistan, so we blocked out the whole month to make sure we saw him.  its kind of scary over there in desertland so it was good to have him home. 
     With four full weeks on our hands in prime hurricane wave season, we figured we'd have our hands full surfing everyday, in between hanging with the family. Twas not to be.  While we did get a fun little session on a beautiful sunny day, the boards stayed in the garage for the whole trip.  It did allow us to get in good quality time with family though - good books, movies, coffees, food, walks, and laughter.   That warm fuzzy stuff that holidays in the movies feels like. 
     Our 4 weeks were up in a flash, and loaded onto another plane to San Diego to see Gary's family.  Thankfully, California has more consistent surf than RI and we were able to catch a few waves there.  Family bike rides, mountain hikes, and proper christmas celebrating also soaked up our time their until we loaded on another flying device and tumbled once again in Pura Vida Land, which is somehow still raining even though my guidebook clearly states that dry season starts in December.  ;)  ok too much coffee and too many things to do.  until next time.....

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rainy Season Blues in Central America

(Writing is a little dry on this blog.  May as well have bullet points.  Been busy with lots of stuff and working on my travel novel - so bear with me on this one!)

    After a lovely seven week visit home in RI and SD  - catching up with loved ones and enjoying the umbrella packed beaches boasting waveless shores-  we returned to Pura Vida land with new inspiration.  Our "sponsors"  made it possible to get a sick new video camera that could also make magazine quality stills.   After years of filming on sub par equipment we were super excited to move into the professional realm.  
    The first few days in Costa Rica were filled with fun sized surf in blue tropical water.  We were just getting our sea legs back when I got a stomach bug that benched me for a week.  Just as I began to feel better we ran into a fellow shooting for Women's Surf Style Magazine who wanted to gather a group of girls for an article.  Our friend collected two carloads of girls and we all hit up a fun lil wave about an hour away. Still under the weather, I didn't perform as well as I'd have liked, but still had a good time.  You'll have to pick up the next issue of WSSM to read the story!
Other than that our typical day for this time period went as follows:
wake up at 345, suck down multiple cups of strong costa rican coffee, edit until our bums were numb from sitting, walk raven, film and surf, eat some rice and beans, edit, walk raven, sleep
in other words:

    A few days later one of the local pro kids we film told us he was leaving for the ALAS Latin Pro tour surf competitions in Guatemala and Nicaragua.  I have wanted to enter comps for a while, but always managed to miss them by a week or two due to short notice, or no notice at all. Aside from the WQS events, Women's contests are really hard to come by.
    I was slightly heartbroken when he first told us-  while Nicaragua is only a few hours away  we had just barely paid rent and a weeks worth of groceries. It seems to always come down to money and boy did I curse the cards dealt to me for a few days.    I tallied up the minimum cost to do the contest and started asking around for help with butterflies in my stomach and an ache in my heart - just hoping for a way.
          I was in a state of disbelief as we flopped on the bed in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua. We shared a room with our friend Evie-  a closet sized space with no a/c or even a fan to circulate the heavy tropical air.  Irrelevant, after 8 hours of driving, crossing the border, and bumbling down the pot hole ridden dirt road into the beach- a bed was a bed.
          There is only one place to stay at on the beach in Maderas-  Hostel Tres Hermanos (three brothers)  It's a cute little two story shack, with the 1st floor as a restaurant and 2nd floor with 7 rooms and shared bathroom.  Reminded me of an oversized treefort with no tree. I had stayed at the hostel for a few months two years ago, and was glad to see the brothers again.
     Nicaragua is famous for its perpetual offshore winds,  making the waves crest and falls with such balanced precision.  For the next few days of the surf contest- not so much.  Onshore winds whipped the waves into lumpy little wedges, while bringing onslaughts of torrential downpour at 35 minute intervals.  It made for awkward filming and even more awkward surfing.   Still, the excitement of doing my first surf contest ever remained.  Believe it or not, with tons of pro guys and girls in the water, we all managed to get waves.  A handful of competitors from Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela stayed at our hostel - playing games of backgammon and cards between heats.  
      I did ok my first day- didn't surf outstanding, didn't choose great waves- but managed to  pass into the Semi Finals.   I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself, being my first surf contest, so my goal was to get at least 3rd in the Semi Final -  it would earn me $100 and that was enough to feed us another 2 weeks. 
    As I paddled out for the Semi's  the sky unloaded an angry set of rain,  reducing visibility to a few feet.  the announcer's told us to stay put in the water, and they were going to wait a few minutes to blow the horn.   Earlier in the day they canceled a men's heat due to heavy rain, but not so much for the girls.  they finally blew the horn 15 minutes later-while it was still dumping buckets of rain. I managed to get two waves and place 3rd, which I would have been stoked on since it was my goal, but I only needed .06 to advance into the final.   I came in excited and super bummed.  It was a good lesson to never shoot for lower than you are capable of.  As I watched the girls final later that day- in super fun glassy nearly sunny conditions- my heart cried.  I could have been surfing those super fun waves, if I had just focused on a higher standard. That is the first and last time I will ever shoot for anything but first, because even if you shoot for lower and achieve it you still feel like you let yourself down.  Lesson learned. 


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sand Bottom Bliss

               El Salvador is two away as I write this -  two days, two countries, two stamps-  and the only feeling that remains is joy. Maybe because I had a different expectation or maybe things just feel better in hindsight- but  El Sal is a special place.   It has its faults, I could write  a personal list of things I despise about the country.  But it makes up for itself by all that it offers a broke surfer in search of playful waves and tranquility.   The people- exceedingly nice.  Almost suspiciously so.  There are those who make their money off tourists, and those who just want a handout, but everyone we encountered wouldn't let us pay them for any help they provided.    So often people would stop to give us a ride when we hadn't stuck out our thumbs, and then go out of the way to bring us where we needed to go.  I'd try to thrust some money at them and they dismiss me with a slightly offended "psh no no" and flick of the wrist.   People would immediately come to our aid if we looked distressed and take time out of their day to help us get what we needed, always refusing if we offered anything in return.   Even the drunks we encountered were in good behavior.  trying to offer us swigs of their vodka bottles with smiles and giddiness.  Not only did no one bother us, but in fact it felt like everyone helped us.
                  We left the La Libertad area with high hopes and octane coffee.  As we tumbled down the pot hole paved road leading south, open fields of green with a mountainous forest sprawl along.  We passed tin sheds and other houses built of whatever seemed to be lying around and wondered why all of them on are pure dirt-  grass completely removed from the yards.  (we later learned that between what lurks in the natural grasses of el salvador and the amount of time it takes to machete a plot of grass below the ankles, dirt wins on function) 
                   We hit the coast in a town called El Cuco, which held little significance to us until we discovered that we were going to have to go there for everything we would need as the Las Flores  "town" is really just a lady selling water, coffee, and cookies out of her house. ( the other part of "town" is the fruit truck that passes twice a week)
                We promptly fell into a beautiful time warp in Las Flores.  It had its pure moments of horribleness- namely those weird days where somehow 60 people paddled out and there were hardly enough waves for 5.  But thankfully this didn't happen every day.  occasionally we'd run out of food, but someone always seemed to want some videos and we'd be eating our bananas and rice and beans again in no time.   The bus I'm on is hitting another border - so the next post will have to explain the rest!



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ramshackle Point, El Salvador - part 2

             I sit here in the late morning heat of El Salvador's western flanks. chickens are doddling around in the dirt, searching for bugs I'm sure.  The waves are just about prime, needing 40 more minutes of tide.  We are still in the sleepy little town past La Libertad - in about 4 days we'll be at a much better wave and we both can barely stand ourselves in the inbetween- like children days away from christmas.  We came to el salvador in search of a certain type of wave.  We haven't found it yet.  The waves in the la libertad area are all wonderful and quite fun, but not quite the ideal for what we're currently searching for.  
    We spent the past few weeks surviving el sal, getting by just enough to eat some rice and beans, film some locals, take long hot bus rides to check out other waves, often having to go twice to get the tide or wind or swell right for them to be surfable.  In the past  month, thanks to getting sick, busting open a toe on the rocks and poor swell, we probably surfed a total of 2 weeks.  thankfully we scored some fun ones in that time.
    There are some glorious things about this place regardless of swell:  the tortilla ladies who crank out 20  thick hot corn tortillas over a scorching wood fire for $1  or the 40 cent bus rides to anywhere within 30 minutes (though people will always pull over and give you a ride in the back of their truck for free- we often didn't have to wait for the bus!)   There's also the ever grinning Salvadoran-  every local here has got a smile for you if you give them a "buenas"  and the fact that a giant basket of fresh fruit and veggies costs $5.
    Since arriving we have watched the landscape change from barren brown to lively popping green.  As we move forward into the next few weeks I expect life to take on the same vivacious coloring.....hasta luego until the coloring book fills in...


Friday, April 15, 2011

Ramshackle Point, El Salvador - part 1

"We'll never know the worth of water till the well is dry"  english proverb

                   Blaring its horn, the brightly painted school bus veered around the bend - nearly sending me flying out its half opened windows.  The cow thankfully moved out of the road in time for us to zip by, with loud latin music pouring out  into the still tropical air.  Bumpy Bus rides in El Salvador aren't always my favorite.   There is a certain flare and culture to them, but when you have to ride them on a daily basis the excitement wanes and you realize that your are squished up against a dozen other sweaty people on a rickety old bus that is about the temperature of a bikram yoga studio.      We tumble out of the bus, arms feeling like they'd been put thru chinese stretch torture having to cling onto the poles as the bus hurdled around sharp corners,  definitely trying to dislocate our shoulders.  It's a scorching hot walk to the beach, a short five minutes, but enough to set the skin on fire.   We duck under a patch of shade as soon as possible to suss the waves and decide who surfs first. It has been a long week, so we take our time thinking about it.    
    Even still, the magic of being in El Salvador remains.  We only arrived a bit ago, and while the days were somewhat trying on a personal level,  the travel experience itself is worth sharing.  Put to rest all the fears you might hold about El Salvador and its people- this place is mellow with a purer Pura Vida vibe than even Costa Rica.  (note that there are some things to still be cautious about, we look somewhat vagabondish so I reckon nobody thought to bother us anyhow.)
                    The journey here:   Last friday, after a long two day bus ride from Costa Rica, with 3 border stops and one night in Managua Nicaragua, we stumbled into a little dirt pueblo up the road from the main surfhub La Libertad.  The most famous wave in the country sits in La Libertad- called Punta Roca- a world class, extremely crowded, right pointbreak.   Next up is playa el Tunco, into Sunzal pointbreak, then a few other odds and ends lead you to our little village, Ramshackle Point.  Here we had lined up an exchange with a hostel for our stay, having no clue what the wave would be like but not really having another choice.  
    The road off the freeway is a very rugged sort of dirt, but thankfully the hostel was only a short ways along it.  When I stood up out of the bus it felt as if i had just jumped on a trampoline for twenty minutes - the remanent vibrations of the long journey causing my legs to tremor and buckle.    After unloading our our packs and boards, we decided to explore town with what little energy we had left. 
     A mixture of cobble stone, gravel and the errant fallen tree limb winds you to the coast.  Alongside the road, sticks wrapped with barb wire fenced in small tin sheds, each about the size of a guest bedroom.  You'd never know that entire families live inside, until they come out one by one to smile as you pass by.  The campfire smoke choking the heavy tropical air reminded me that these people live much simpler life than where I'm from- all of their meals are cooked over a wood fire- if they have electricity they rarely use it.  If they have running water, they conserve it by collecting river water to wash their clothes, dishes and even themselves. 
    My feet kept moving along the path, passing a few cows nibbling on fallen mangos,  until the road opened up to a thatch roof restaurant with a picture perfect right peeling across the view.  Our pace increased drastically and we arrived just in time to watch a dozen beautiful waves break from the rocky point into the bay.  It was a short point wave- not nearly as lengthy or legendary as Punta Roca- and with an inside shorebreak that looked a little devastating as this particular tide.  But still, it only had a handful of people surfing it so we hurried home to collect the filming gear.  (our existence as surfers depends on our ability to earn enough money to eat, so filming is always a must.) 
    Waves were fun and not too crowded for the first couple of days.  A weekend crowded dampered our spirits, followed by a few weird very unsurfable days, so we started taking the bus to one of the other points in the area.  That's where you found us,  huddled under the shade of a drain pipe, arguing about who had to surf first.  Eventually one of us paddles out and within twenty minutes who ever got to stay on the beach is wishing otherwise.  We're both still like grommets, jut give us a little coffee and  a few moments to collect ourselves after a long bus mission and we'll be frothing to surf any sort of wave.  That day the waves turned out to be pretty poor quality. it only allowed two immediate turns before it mushed to nearly nothing. if you weren't careful you'd do cutties all the way to the inside hoping for a section, only realize you now had to paddle the entire mile back to the peak.
                   The next day we tried a new spot, the famed Punta Roca where the 2011 ISA world masters surfing championships will be held.   The wave is beautiful- powerful, shaply, and blue.  Walking out over the rocks generally sucks and cuts the feet pretty bad. Plus, the crowd factor is somewhat devastating.   the locals are actually pretty mellow, its all the tourists who are crazy and aggressive.    We desired so much to jump the next bus to las flores, a sand bottom point that could take a swell because its much more protected.  But we have just barely sunk some roots in here, and we'll see how sweet it treats us after we learn its moods.  A bowl of rice and beans are calling, so until next time.....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Marchin' thru March- part 2

One o Five - that's about the temperature we endured today while waiting for a bus to pass through Jaco (ha-koh).  We rarely make the trek to town, instead obtaining all our food provisions from the little store in Hermosa.   But we needed to take care of a few things today, so were forced into the vortex of Hot Hot Jaco.  To save approximately two dollars and 85 cents, we waited for almost two hours in the oppressive noon heat for a bus that arrived quite late.   As we sat there sweltering, dozens of taxis whizzed through, plucking up random people and sailing away with their a/c full blare.   I wished we could be one of those people, but that extra $2.85  might be a necessary stipend in our near future.  We just couldn't risk it.    Our bus finally arrived in its glory, packed  full tilt with so many sticky sweaty bodies that we were literally sardined on the steps with a door swinging open at every stop, threatening to suck us back out onto the crumbling sidewalk.  We barely reached the string in time to pull it for the "ding" that tells the bus driver to stop.  Thankfully he did and we tumbled out the rear doors lacking all dignity and grace- but with arms full of food and half a smile.  
     We were planning our mission to El Salvador.  the beachie has started to become unruly in Hermosa with the south swells lighting up the coast.   For a surfer with a set of wheels, this is the best time of year to go to Costa Rica.  But for us- no car, no money for a taxi or even a daily bus mission,  we were getting frustrated.  Playa Hermosa, anyone can tell you, is a dumpy little beach break in dry season- but come rainy season it's become a monsterously unmanagable wave with any sizable swell -  unless of course you have a dozen or so boards to break.    The boards we had were already falling apart and we certainly didn't have enough money to buy boards if ours fell victim to the oceans tantrums.  So we opted to find  a less hazardous wave.  We also needed to find somewhere that could use our services in exchange for letting us stay-  we simply had little money to put towards rent.  That's where El Sal came in. We'd passed thru there before on a bus to Nicaragua from Guatemala, but stayed only one night in the city, San Salvador, in transit.  With all these stories and photos of waves that can hold the big rainy season swells, we were pretty keen to get up there.   We scraped together what we could and bought the ticabus tickets up.
    Our last day in Costa Rica will be the last day in March- I can only hope that age old saying will apply this year-  "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb....."