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Forgotten Islands, Indonesia

For the final leg of this adventure, we headed to Indonesia for two weeks of diving off a liveaboard ship through The Forgotten Islands of the Banda Sea.

We started our visit in the town of Saumlaki on Yamdena Island in Indonesia.  Not quite sure where this is? Neither were we.  It took us four flights from New Zealand to get to this tiny island, and each stop seemed more remote than the last.  Saumlaki is the capital of the Tanimbar Islands, a chain of islands on the eastern side of Indonesia separating the Banda Sea and the Arafua Sea.

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This town is not on the beaten path whatsoever.  The tiny airport is still being built, and when we landed we had to walk through a small building still covered in scaffolding.  Later, as we wandered around the town, we were surprised by how untouched this place was from the western world.  As we walked by the shops no one called out to us or invited us to shop.  They just stared at us, curious and smiling.  It was clear that tourists don’t usually come through town.

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Soon we realized no one spoke a word of English, and it hit me suddenly—I hadn’t learned anything in Bahasa before coming.  I felt so useless not being able to even call out a greeting or say thank you.   Luckily we finally were approached by a young man named Augustine. He told us he was the English teacher in town, and would we mind if he walked with us to practice his English? We were both thrilled to have him as an interpreter and guide. His English was rough but good enough and we had so many questions. He walked us around town and down to the harbor, where many small boats were tied up for the night. He explained that they all came to shop in Saumlaki from smaller neighboring islands.  As we walked along the harbor he noticed his uncle’s boat tied up. He and some cousins had traveled four hours to get there so they could buy basic supplies like rice and meat.  They would spend the night at the harbor and then travel back the next day. They were just settling into “bed” on their little boat.

Later Augustine joined us for dinner and helped me make a basic primer for learning Bahasa.

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me and Augustine

Everyone else at the hotel was curious about us, too. The hotel was full of Indonesia government workers. We never figured out what they were doing there, but they all wanted to take pictures with us and teach me Bahasa.  I made lots of friends there. It was my last day of being “connected” to the internet and so I was sitting on the deck trying to finish all my work, but I was constantly interrupted by all the men who wanted to know who I was, where I was from, etc.  Of course I realized it was time to shut my laptop!

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You might already know that Indonesia is primarily a Muslim country, and we did hear the call to prayer from the Mosque nearby.

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But we soon found out that we were in the Christian part of Indonesia.  During the two-week, 500-mile sail across the Banda Sea, every island we were on and almost every person we met was Christian.  This part of Indonesia is dominated by Christians, which was another surprise for us.

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After a night in Saumlaki we excitedly boarded the Arenui, our home for the next two weeks.   The Arenui is a Phinisi, a classic Indonesian wooden sailing vessel built in 2007, designed to carry 16 guests and 22 staff through the waters of Indonesia for liveaboard diving tours.  It’s the ultimate way to go diving, and we knew how lucky we were to be on board!

My first glimpse of the Arenui

My first glimpse of the Arenui

Here’s a day in the life aboard the Arenui.  We wake up early and have a light breakfast in the dining room (fresh baked croissants, tropical fruit and coffee for me) and then put on our wetsuits and jump in the tender boat for the first dive with our guide and two other dive buddies.  We dive in amazing waters full of crazy creatures and pristine reef.  We jump back in the tender boat and head to the ship, where the staff take care of our gear (they even pull my wetsuit off my body) and hand me a warm towel. Then we wander into the dining room for “Big Breakfast,” which we ordered before the dive. I usually had fried noodles, eggs and pancakes. Mark was partial to the french toast and omelets.  Breakfast is barely finished and it’s time to get our wetsuits back on and jump in the tender for Dive 2.  Each dive is in a new location (the ship moves while we eat or sleep so that we never dive the same reef twice).  Then it’s lunch, another dive, snack time, another dive.  There may be time for a massage on the top deck or some down time to read or chat with guests, and then it’s dinner, which is a casual but elegant three-course affair under the stars upstairs in the Sky Lounge.  Could we get used to this? Yes!

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Our room, after turn down service

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Warming up in the sun between dives

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Massage on the top deck

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Sundowner time

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Dive briefing in the dining room

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Some down time on the deck

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View from the captain’s chair

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A little sail on the last day

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hmm….I think I spent a lot of time on that deck!

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Beautiful teak everywhere

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Pretty much every sunset was spectacular

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Dinner served at the Sky Lounge

 

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Mark in his element

 

Mark and I were constantly giggling after each dive, thrilled and amazed at how fantastic every moment was.    Neither of us got tired of diving, and Mark was one of only two guests who did every dive. (I passed on the final night dive.  I was about to rally and “force” myself to go, but then I thought, “You’re only doing it so you can say you did all 42 dives.” That seemed fabricated, so I quickly opened a beer to disqualify me from diving any more that day).

The marine life and creatures were superb.  The Banda Sea is very different from the Caribbean, where we’ve done most of our diving.  The diversity and health of the coral is striking. In the Indian and Pacific Ocean region there are over 1400 species of coral, whereas in the Caribbean there are about 70. Mark is going to post his own blog with his photos, but here are just a few to give you an idea.

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The highlight of the diving for me was at Gunung Api, a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere known for just one thing: sea snakes.

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These gorgeous snakes live on land but hunt in the ocean during the day, and if you jump in the water anywhere near the island, they swim right up to you. They are curious and want to check you out, and will even swim around your legs or through your fingers. Except watch out, they happen to be lethally poisonous. Yes, that’s right. I did a double-take when Edu said this to us, until he explained that their mouths are so tiny they can’t get their teeth around your finger. The snakes can bite you on the earlobes and between fingers, so everyone wore a cap on the first dive and kept their fists closed, but loosened up on subsequent dives

When we first got in the water we were all a bit hesitant.

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But right away we loved how interactive and playful they were!

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To really appreciate how beautiful and spectacular they are, check out some of the video that Mark shot:

 

A big part of the trip for Mark was falling in love (or shall we call it an obsession?) with underwater photography. He had dabbled in it before, but for this trip he bought a new underwater camera and housing set-up.  He honestly didn’t know much about photography before this trip, but he definitely improved about one-thousand percent over these two weeks!

There were several experienced underwater photographers on board, including Edu, the cruise director, and all of them graciously took Mark under their wings and helped him learn at record speed.  After each dive they would look over his shots and explain to him what he did wrong, how he could have done better, and within a couple of hours he was underwater again applying what he learned.  He absorbed everything and I think that made his teachers want to work with him more. By the end of the trip they were calling him, “Daniel-San.” The highlight of his new found fascination with photography was the last night of the trip, when the crew voted on the best underwater shot of the trip.  Mark’s sea snake photo won and I think it was a victory for Mark and all his gurus.

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Mark with Ronald, the best dive master ever, and Edu, his photography mentor

We also really enjoyed our topside time, getting to know the crew and the other guests. We made fast friends with Chris and Izzy, a couple from Temecula who were also our dive buddies.  By the end of the two weeks they felt like old friends and we made plans to see each other again in Mammoth and Rosarito.

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Ronald, our dive guide, was fantastic, too!

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He was a master at finding tiny creatures. We would laugh underwater watching him comb through a sea anemone with his pointer, and then reach for a finer more delicate pointer, and then eventually reach for his magnifying glass. I don’t know HOW he found all the things he found, but here are some shots of some very tiny creatures!

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shrimp on a bubble coral

 

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camouflaged soft coral crab

 

We had a lot of fun with Edu and Nic, the cruise directors/dive masters, and Wawan, a younger dive master who we bonded with big time.

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Nic and Wawan

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Edu with a frigatebird. He rescued it from drowning and then released it after a day on board.

We really enjoyed getting to know all of the other guests on board, too.  On the first day everyone was a bit quiet and I felt everyone checking each other out, wondering if the group was going to get along and mesh well. We knew it would be very close quarters for 14 days, and I think everyone was a bit nervous.  But after about 24 hours we all breathed a sigh of relief–it was a perfect group that got along really well!

Mark and I both commented about how interesting everyone was to us.  We learned so many different things from each of the guests.  For example, Larry and Leslie from New York have been on dozens of liveaboards and had tons of experience diving around the world, so we picked their brains about all this and learned a ton.  Jack and Chan from Malaysia were an eccentric, friendly couple who entertained us with funny stories (and Chan’s enthusiasm for the diving was contagious).  Ken and Annette from Denmark were on their third trip on the Arenui, so they convinced us we had found the best ship. Though already in their late 60s, they impressed us with their adventurous spirit. After the Arenui they were off to Borneo to camp in the jungle with the orangutans.  Keith and Mari were another sweet couple who happened to live not that far away either–Riverside!  There was a honeymoon couple from Australia, Cheryl and David.  Indrah and Youke, the couple from Indonesia, taught us so much about this part of the world.  They were so kind and generous, and in fact, when we mentioned we were headed to Bali after this trip, they said, “You must stay in our villa!” They arranged for their cousin to pick us up at the airport and bring us there, too!

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Mark, Me, Izzy, Chris, Anto the Steward, Annette, Ken, Indrah, and Youke

 

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Leslie and Larry celebrating Larry’s 1000th dive with chef Putu

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Chan admiring a parakeet in the village

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David and Cheryl on their honeymoon

 

I also dove into the language of Bahasa and found the challenge of learning it addicting and satisfying. It is a very simple language with minimal conjugations and no verb tenses and once I figured out the basics I was determined to master it. Ok, so I didn’t master it, but I really enjoyed trying! A couple of the crew members plus Youke and Indrah, our new friends from Jakarta, helped me fill my notebook with vocabulary, and I had fun making everyone laugh with my broken Bahasa.

Anto and Putu, the steward and chef, showing off Putu's carving skills

Anto and Putu, the steward and chef, showing off Putu’s carving skills

Along the way we stopped at several villages. The first was on the super remote island of Dawera.  Before we went diving the first day some of the crew went ashore to pay respects to the chief and ask for permission to dive near the island. This chief was surprised and touched that we had asked for permission.  After a while he said, “You guys want to see lots of fish?  I can show you a good spot.” So that morning the captain and the chief went out and marked the spot where an underwater pinnacle hovers under the surface at about 60 feet. A few dive masters popped down to check and it out and they were stoked to see so much life in this secret spot! We dove there that afternoon and it was amazing!

Just a peek at how gorgeous these waters are

Gorgeous waters at Dawera Island

 

Visiting the villages was really cool. The first one on Dewara island was such a unique place.  We were impressed by how orderly the layout of the village was.

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The government had granted funding to build small paved road all the way across the island. It wasn’t wide enough for a car (which was fine since there weren’t any cars on the island) but it kept the island orderly and neat and the villagers road their bicycles up and down it.

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On Alor island we visited another village. This is a bigger, busier island with lots of shopping and ferry traffic.

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The Lateuvi village was awaiting us to perform a traditional show.  It was a bit contrived, but I enjoyed the dancing and the singing.

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I got to use my Bahasa with the women and had so much fun making conversation with them. They also got a kick out of Mark and I trying beetlenut (all of the other guests declined, but I laughed when I looked across the circle at Mark chewing it at the same time I popped some in my mouth). It’s sort of like chewing tobacco and supposedly gives you a high, though we didn’t feel anything. All it did was make our teeth red.

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Another highlight for me was diving at Nil Desperandum, an island in the middle of the Banda Sea known for schooling hammerhead sharks.  Now part of the excitement came from the build-up by Edu.  Edu is a Spanish divemaster who spent many years diving in the Red Sea, where he became at expert at diving with hammerhead sharks.  Hammerheads are not common in the Banda Sea except for this one tiny island, and the Arenui only passes by this island twice a year, so he was really excited to look for his “spirit animal.”  During the dive briefing he gave us very detailed instructions on how to behave. We were not supposed to make any noise, no quick movements, and if possible, even lower our heart rates. The hammerheads would know we were there as soon as we jumped in the water, but it was up to us to be quiet enough for them to come by and check us out.  The plan was to drop into an area with a lot of current, use a reef hook to grab on, and just sit and wait for the sharks. If enough hammerheads showed up, Edu would direct us to swim out to the big blue and if we were lucky, the hammerheads might school around us for awhile.

For some of the divers, this seemed a bit boring, especially because during the first dive no sharks showed up.  We were all just literally hanging out waiting for them.

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But there was something about the chase and the wait that I loved. We dove the same spot four times, and each time we were rewarded with a little bit more action. On the second dive a hammerhead swam by us just once, pretty far away.  On the third dive two swam by, still far away. On the last dive one circled us for a good while, one time swimming right up to me, giving me the thrill of a lifetime. These guys are huge and very prehistoric looking. We never got a school to circle us, but I just loved every minute of the hammerhead hunt! Sorry, no good pics of this though.

For the last night I helped organize for a goodbye song to thank the crew. Youke helped me choose a traditional song in Bahasa, and Wawan and I practiced on the deck a few times to prepare.


I convinced the rest of the guests to learn the song and perform for the crew. It went perfectly with just one hiccup—I missed the party.  I blame it on the tequila shots before dinner. Sadly I was passed out for the whole thing.  It looked like a lot of fun, and the crew told me they were so touched by the guests singing that a few of them shed a tear.  And apparently the crew’s goodbye performance was quite entertaining, too! (They took a bit of a different angle!)

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It was definitely a trip of a lifetime, but hopefully our lifetime will make room for a few more trips like this one.  Mark and I confirmed once again that life at sea is utter perfection, and we truly treasured every moment of our time on the Arenui.

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our last meal at a local warung in Ende, Flores

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Coming soon! Mark will write the next blog and include all his best photos with stories and descriptions. Here’s a sneak peek:

 

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Seven Great Days in New Zealand


After a great visit in Hawaii, we headed off to New Zealand. As soon as we landed we were feeling the Kiwi love.  There’s just something about this country that draws us right in. We checked in for a couple nights in Queenstown at the Larchhill B&B.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

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The view from our room

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Queenstown in the sunshine

 

We freshened up, went for a quick run, and then headed out to “See if this place has a pub!” We had couple drinks on the waterfront (Steinlagers!) and then dinner at the Irish Pub next door. We were feeling super stoked to be back in New Zealand where everyone is so friendly, everything is so easy and well-organized, and we were getting ready to meet up with all the Coast-to-Coasters!

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The next day we took the Gondola up to the Skyline and from there hiked up the Ben Lomond track.  The plan was to run it (six miles) but it was too steep and the footing too slippery.  We made the saddle but turned around before the peak because of the mud.  I have to say I was probably most excited about the Jelly Belly store at the end of our run, and bought a box to get me through the next week.

The Rail Trail started the next day. At 10am we arrived in Arrowtown and got a look at the crew.  We had met a few of these crazy Kiwis two and a half years ago thanks to reconnecting with Erica, one of my best friends on the track team at UCSD.  She and her partner Rob were kind enough to indoctrinate us into the group during their annual trek to Tuapo, a beachside getaway for a week, and we loved the fun, athletic group right away. We also enjoyed their especially Kiwi peculiarities.  Anyway, fast-forward a couple years later and here they were gathering again together, this time in large quantities! 47 of them signed up for the three-day Rail Trail bike trek, in which we all rode on mountain bikes for about 100 miles along the old railroad track though Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand.

So that morning we pull up to the Arrowtown Apartments where the motley crew was gathering.  We spotted Grubby right away, maybe because he was wearing a cow suit?  He gave us a warm welcome, repeating, “Good effort, guys, getting here.”   I was just looking around soaking in the group, made up of a collection of Kiwis from all over New Zealand, a good amount of South Africans, and the Hong Kong contingent (plus us, the only two Americans).


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Ok, let me first try to describe the South Africans.  Now I have to admit that I’ve had a personal prejudice against South Africans for a long time because the ones I know are a bit arrogant, selfish, and to be honest, a bit racist.  But right away I discovered (alas!) there are some really great South Africans, too!  Tanj and Jill were really friendly right off the bat, and then we met Jane, my new idol.  Ok, so this woman is maybe 52 and in killer shape. Once I touched her arm to hand her a beer and I was stunned at how rock hard she was.  She was an animal on the bike and often rode the track twice because she would go back to “Check on the girls,” or “See how Howard is coming along.”  She was also so sweet and welcoming to us. Finally, she partied like a rock star. She outlasted me every night (ok, not that hard to do, but still, I was impressed!).

Go, Janie, go!

Go, Janie, go!

Then there are the Hong Kongers.  Martin is Grubby’s friend and the two of them were celebrating their 50th (the reason, in fact, for this event).  Martin is South African but lived for many years in Hong Kong and made lots of friends there with the British ex-pats who live there, who, by the way, call themselves FILTH (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong).   So about 10 of them made the trek to Queenstown just for this event.  They were all great, but our favorite was Tim. On the first day we sat together in the van for a three hours and had very proper conversation about travel and culture, and I thought he was just a very stoic British guy, until a few beers got into him.  We soon realized he was a wild one.  Just as an example, one morning they all went for a run around a lake in the middle of Arrowtown and he decided to do it “sans” clothes.  Not sure why.

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Way to clench, Tim!

We also enjoyed meeting a lovely couple from Zimbabwe who had moved to Auckland after the civil war in their country.  They were so sweet and Ash told me lovely stories of growing up on the farm where her mother would take in injured wild animals including a lion, and monkey, and a mongoose (in their house!).  She said the monkey and the mongoose grew up together and were inseparable, and the monkey would ride the mongoose around the house!  Wow!

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Well, they don’t always look like this!

 

We also met a lot of Kiwis who had travelled from all over to come to this Queenstown event.  Like Howard, Grubby’s accountant who freakishly knew everything about American sports. Dunfey was another character and a half, and Mark tried to keep up with him by closing down the party every night (though Dunfey always managed to outlast him).

From left to right: Dunfey, Tim, Mark, Mel, Badger and me in front

Clockwise: Dunfey, Tim, Mark, Badger, me and Mel in the middle

 

As an aside, many of the crew were fascinated by Mark’s job as a poker player.  By Day 2 most were referring to him, simply as The Gambler. At one of the inns Mark found a piano and began playing, and I heard someone saying, “Who is playing the piano?” and the other said, “It’s the Gambler.”  I had to laugh.

The bike part was really fun. It wasn’t as challenging as Mark had expected (just flat wide trail riding) but the second day wore me out (I probably shouldn’t have stopped at that pub midway and had two honey beers).

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As usual, Mark was such a stud that on one of the legs he opted to run instead of bike.  So all 46 of us rode bikes while Mark ran and beat most of us!

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I did have a few “moments” riding by myself in the middle of New Zealand, going by millions of lovely fluffy sheep and riding through some tunnels that were completely pitch black.  What a great way to meet and bond with so many new friends.

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me and Pinche (that’s really his name!)

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I had a mini-melt down on Day 2 when we arrived at our hotel, which was actually a little guest house, where ten of us where supposed to share one bathroom.  Mark tucked me into bed early and I powered up the wifi, turned on the electric blanket, and recharged my batteries (yes, this means Facebook time).

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The last day was another 30K and then we were done!  Felt fantastic and what a feeling to arrive back in “civilization.” Grubby and Martin arranged for us all to have a lunch at a winery in Central Otago (Bannockburn). Now we’re talking.  We walked into a beautiful place with huge windows overlooking a lovely vista, delicious antipasti, and endless bottles of wine.

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Turns out Central Otago is known for their Pinot Noirs.  My favorite wine. Perfect. This is when Tim from Hong Kong came in handy. He was good at making sure we never ran out!


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After a delicious lunch and a great buzz we drove back to Arrowtown and checked into the Millbrook Resort.  We couldn’t have planned this trip better because each leg kept getting more and more luxurious.  Millbrook is absolutely gorgeous.  It is surrounded by mountains, creeks, and a lush golf course, and our room was awesome with all the little luxuries like a big tub and heated tile floors.   There we finally meet up with Rob and Erica and Markos, who all just flew in from Auckland.

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So what’s next? Fancy Dress Night of course.  Grubby and Martin decide for no particular reason that we will all dress up in costumes and hit the pubs in Queenstown. You know you don’t have to tell Mark and I twice!  So I whip out my Black Swan costume (yes, I chose to use precious space in my suitcase to bring the costume instead of my dive gear!)  and Mark goes as a character from The Fifth Element and we show up in a taxi wondering if we’ll be the only ones dressed up.  Luckily, no.

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Super fun crazy night that of course led to Mark asking to wear my bra. Not sure why? But I was happy to lend it to him.

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Around 1am I was fading at the bar so I told Mark I would  find my way home and gave him the “hall pass” to go big, which he gladly accepted.  As I was leaving one of Grubby’s cousins offered me a ride, which was great.   However, by the time we got to the Millbrook I could tell he was tired and he pulled up to the gate saying,  “Here you are…” I knew it was a ways down the road to the hotel, but I didn’t want to be rude and ask him to drive me all the way there, so he dropped me off and there I was in the pitch black night about a mile away from the hotel reception.   And remember, I’m wearing a tutu and tights—that’s it!  And still a bit drunk. It’s so dark (and I’m wobbly). I can’t see the road and keep stumbling onto the grass.  Luckily it’s easy to feel it through my ballet slippers, so I managed to stay on the road the whole way there.  When I finally got to Reception I stuck my head in the window looking for someone to let me in and I think the poor night clerk had a heart attack when he saw my eyes staring in on him.

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The good part was, that night on the long walk I finally spotted the southern cross, a constellation shaped like a cross only visible in the southern hemisphere. I have been trying to spot that thing for years. That long, cold, dark but beautiful walk is one I will never forget.

Meanwhile, Mark made a solid effort with the late-night crew and crashed on a couch at Grubby’s place with a few of the other guys.  The next morning the guy dressed at Elvis woke up on the couch next to Mark and remembered he had to go pick up his wife at the airport.  Since all he had was his Elvis costume, he put it back on (wig and all), dropped Mark back at off at our hotel, and drove straight to the airport. I bet his wife just loved getting picked up by a hung over, unshowered Elvis!

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Elvis sandwiched between Rothy and Dunfey. No good can come of this!

The final day was the main event, a formal dinner and dancing party at the Mount Soho Winery with the whole group (which by now had turned into 150 people).  It was terrific.  Amazing venue, amazing food, ridiculous amounts of delicious wine.

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And did I mention, full on debauchery? It made the fancy dress night look like a warm-up (and I suppose it was).  I danced with every man there and even got carried around on the shoulder of Grubby for a dance (this apparently is his signature move).  Speaking of Grubby, I have to give him props for inviting not just one but FIVE of his exes to the party.  This guy likes to keep in touch!

So we danced and partied til midnight until the bus picked up all our drunk asses. On the way to the hotel the bus stopped at a pub, and it took all my coaxing to keep Mark on the bus, reminding him that the next morning we would begin the 24 hour trip to Indonesia. Luckily he listened to me but that didn’t mean we weren’t majorly hung over the next day!

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Such a great week. Again, we are truly grateful for the warmth, laughter and fun that comes with everyone we have met in New Zealand. While I try to stay away from stereotypes (surely everyone  in one country can’t possibly all be this wonderful?) again and again I am struck by how much I enjoy the lifestyle, personality, culture and attitude of New Zealanders! If only it were tropical, we would be living there instead of Mexico for sure.  Thanks again to the Kiwis for welcoming us and sharing such an amazing week with us!

Thank you, Erica!!!

I will miss my buddy! When’s our next adventure, Erica?

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

First stop, Makaha

The blog is back!  I have been meaning to add another post for, like, two years, and I really don’t have a good excuse why I haven’t. But alas, here I am finally writing a new one.

Since it had been a long time without any exotic adventures (mainly just Mexico and Mammoth with a bit of BVI sprinkled in between),  Mark and I decided to plan a big trip.  It covered a few different spots on the globe, but our first stop was Hawaii to visit my dad. So let me tell you a little bit about that.

A couple of years ago my dad fell and hit his head, and has never been the same since.  He suffers from brain damage and so his mind is fuzzy and he is confused. He’s been living in a nursing home on the remote west coast of Oahu and his wife visits him frequently, but I know he misses his kids and I was really excited to spend some time with him.

When Mark and I arrived at the Mahaka nursing home, all the staff was excited to see us. Dad is clearly one of their favorite residents. It might be because he is a lot more active and personable than some of the other patients.  It might also be because he flirts with all the nurses.  But it’s a good thing because they take really good care of him.  As always, right away he recognized me and seemed so happy to see me.

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Dad and I at the Army Recreational Center (the only beachfront joint in Makaha).

 

He seemed in great shape and spirits, and we had a really nice three days together. We took him out to lunch a couple of times and also to our condo.  He had an amazing appetite and finished everyone’s plate plus extra ice cream.  I told him about our life in Mexico and showed him all the pictures.  He seemed to understand most things, and he kept saying, “I’m glad you’re happy.”

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He still has a very wry sense of humor, and Mark and I were surprised by his wit.  Most of his jokes were self-deprecating, but he also told us stories about the other residents (some true, some invented).  As you can imagine, some of the people there were wandering around quite confused and sometimes ornery.  Like Gladys. She is a frail little lady with long gray hair that wheels herself around the halls, barking out in a scratchy “Red Rum” voice to the staff, “Iced tea! Iced tea! Can’t you hear me?”  She’s sort of frightening and one time she cornered me in the hall and grabbed my hand and I have to admit I ran to get her an iced tea!   Dad kept leaning over to me and whispering, “That one is nuts.”  It cracked me up.

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Dad and Sunny

 

When Mark and I weren’t spending time with Dad, we did a little exploring around Makaha and we just loved this side of the island.  It is a world away from the craziness of Waikiki, where Dad used to live.  Makaha is all the way on the northwest coast, just before the road ends.  The community is known to be poor and “rough,” but we found the people so friendly and welcoming. Mark went on a run through the lush valley and every single person he passed called out to him to say, “Hello!” or “Good Morning!”  And the beaches are so quiet and beautiful. Definitely a wonderful place to visit.

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Makaha Valley

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View of Kaena Point, just a few miles from Dad’s place

 

On the second day I gave Dad a surprise. Before the accident, he had just finished writing a novel (his first).  He shared the draft with me, but it never made it to an editor.  I figured it was time to have it published.  I had it printed and brought him a couple paperback and hardback copies. He was shocked. He said, “I wrote all these pages? How many pages are there?” (134).  Then he asked, “Is it any good?”  I laughed and told him it wasn’t bad.  He signed a copy for his wife and gave it to her, and I think he was proud and pleased. We left the other copies in his room and told him we would see him in the morning.

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When we arrived again the next day,  a couple of the nurses came up to me and said, “We saw your dad’s book! We want to read it! Where can we buy a copy?”  I said, “Seriously? Sure. I’ll get you one.”  But they said, “You don’t understand, everyone wants to read it. The whole staff is asking for one. We love your dad and we can’t wait to read his book.” I couldn’t believe it. He already had a reader base!  I told Dad the news and asked him how much we should sell his book for. He was sort of wavering between five and ten dollars, and he said I should get a cut, as his agent.  Before I left I ordered 20 more copies to be sent to the nursing home.  Hopefully Dad’s making lots of money!

It was hard to say goodbye, but the visit was so rewarding for me and I think for Dad, too.  We will be sure to be back again soon.

Here’s a sneak peek from the back page of Dad’s book.
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Another blog is coming soon! Next stop, New Zealand!

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Who would have guessed? We like sailing.

It took more than ten years to make this trip happen, but finally Mark and I are here in the British Virgin Islands sailing around for a week, along with three of our New Zealand friends. Today is the last day on the catamaran and it’s time to sum up a few life lessons.

The crew: Matt, Mark, Erica, me, and Rob

The crew: Matt, Mark, Erica, me, and Rob

 

First of all, grabbing the mooring ball is not the easy task it appears to be. Every one of us tried it and every one of us screwed up at least once. If we did it right the Kiwis would give us an “Achieved,” but if not it was a “Not Achieved,” and we got a lot of grief.

Second, apparently when you are on a boat, things fall overboard if you don’t tie them down. We are getting better at remembering that.

Third, even though we are all seasoned drinkers, we still are able to get properly pissed and hung over just like the younger whippersnappers!  Willy T’s is a floating bar in the middle of the cove off Norman Island, and on Day 2 we headed over there after a delicious dinner on board.  Willy T’s isn’t the classy joint the name connotes, and in fact encouraged women to take off their tops by displaying TVs with photos of others who had. (Don’t worry, we didn’t).  I wish I could tell you what happened over there, but for some reason I can’t remember a thing.  The next day no one even made it up on deck until mid-morning and we were all moving very slowly. After coffee and breakfast Captain Shane wanted to know if we were finally ready to let out the sails and turn off the motor. Rob had been itching to get the sails up, and here was his chance. Unfortunately, none of us were at our best.  Mark, Rob and Matt assisted with the sails and Erica did some steering (all I could do was nap on the deck). Rob was green for most of the ride and Mark ended up chumming for fish once we finally arrived.  It was a bit ugly, but we made it.

Fourth lesson, this is the life! We felt like the rich and famous as we cruised up to each mooring, hopped over for drinks or shopping on an island, and then lounged luxuriously on the spacious, comfy trampoline over the hulls.  We kept saying things like “Who do we think we are?” and “Is this for real?”

Pulling up to Saba Rock Island, just around the bend from Richard Branson's Necker Island.

Pulling up to Saba Rock Island, just around the bend from Richard Branson’s Necker Island.

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Here are some of the highlights:

First night’s dinner under the stars at Waterlemon Cay in St. John

Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon Cay

After dinner we noticed a school of giant tarpon swimming under the boat so we jumped in

After dinner we noticed a school of giant tarpon swimming under the boat so we jumped in

 

Swimming and snorkeling at the Indians and the Caves at Norman Island

Erica and me looking for lost treasure in the caves

Erica and I looking for lost treasure in the caves

 

Indiana Jones-ing around the Baths and Devil’s Bay at Salt Island

See the Guiding Light, our catamaran, in the background?

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Matty’s action-filled birthday!  It started at 7am when we set sail for the 25 mile crossing from Anegada (most of which I slept through). Then we jumped off  the boat for a healthy 600m swim to Sandy Cay and a short hike around the island.

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This was my favorite island–totally uninhabited, beautiful white sand, and turquoise waters!

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Then we made a quick sail to White’s Bay where he proceeded to swim straight to the bar and order two Soggy Dollars, which would have been quite clever if that was actually a name of a drink rather than the name of the bar, although he did pay with the notorious soggy dollars from his pocket. This bar happened to be the home of the Painkiller, one of our favorite drinks of the islands.  In fact, Erica had three in that one sitting alone!

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On our way to White’s Bay

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Not too shabby of a bay!

Matty then kayaked around Great Bay before we went ashore for dinner.  We had a fantastic meal of conch fritters, pizza, tuna, and scallops at Corsair’s.

sm31 After dinner we ordered three 170 proof absinthe drinks that we were cautioned could be hallucinogenic, though none of us reported any of that but plenty of inebriation.

Apparently absinthe is an acquired taste

Apparently absinthe is an acquired taste

Finally we ended the night at Foxy’s in the early morning hours dancing to reggae music (along with one of our new local friends and his 30-year-old dreads), drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and crashing one of our neighboring boat’s party.

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Actually, there’s a bit more to that night than we actually shared with our Captain. Around 1am Erica and I were ready to head back to the boat, and I thought I could cleverly “borrow” the dinghy and get us back there on our own.  So I jumped in and miraculously figured out how to get it started. I yelled to Erica to jump in, but the practical woman she is, she said first show her I knew how to drive in a circle, then she would get in. It was a wise test, and I failed. I must have flooded the engine because all of a sudden it wouldn’t go. Luckily I was still in shallow water so I jumped out and dragged the dinghy back to the dock with my hands. We headed back to the bar (I was sopping wet) hoping none was the wiser. An hour later when we all stumbled back to the dinghy, we were giggling and praying that the captain wouldn’t notice. He did comment that someone must have been “messing” with the line, and we braced for it, but then the dinghy started right up and we all kept quiet!

Another highlight was the 15 mile sail to Anegada in 25-30 knot winds cruising at an average speed of  9 knots on a beam reach (I actually slept through the sail, but Erica tells me she steered for the whole trip) and then a 3 mile run on the white sandy road to the windward side of the island and lunch at Cow Wreck, which was completely empty due to the difficulty of sail that only our crew could manage.

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Spectacular sunset at Anegada

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Swimming at Turtle Cove with our new best friends, the turtles (Rob and Matty got a bit intimate with them, as a matter of fact)

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Rob with a turtle

shane_sm09Great run/swim/tour of the old Sugar Mill in St. John by Captain Shane

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Fantastic snorkel at the Cow and the Calf rocks where we saw an eagle ray, an eel, a turtle, an intimidating barracuda and then a bull shark!

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Endless inside jokes, including “eat an onion Mate”, me setting world sleeping records while at sea, deciphering between which of our tour mates was the “bloke” of the relationship, that the sheep-shaggers refer to us Yanks as Seppos (Is there any surprise that Kiwis refer to Americans as “Septic Tank Yanks” or “Seppos”?).  However, we know that Kiwis come from a land where men are men and sheep are nervous.

As for the six of us, I thought we made a great crew with very compatible interests and personalities.  Captain Shane was always calm even when our sailing skills didn’t impress him, and he was a patient teacher and excellent guide.  Erica’s sweet smiling face was a pleasure to wake up to every morning, and she looked after all of us like the mother she is.

last_sm03 We also were impressed to see her get more comfortable in the water, and I’ll always remember watching her dive down to the wreck below. Mark as usual was the all-around sportsman and I think everyone enjoyed watching his many exertions, and then later seeing him match them with the number of beers each night.

This looks awkward, but he nailed it!

This looks awkward, but he nailed it!

Matt’s even, mellow attitude kept us all calm and collected (and was a great balance to my Type-A personality), and we all relied on him for important information like the name of a song from 1962 or what year a certain country got its independence. last_sm01

And then there’s Rob.  He could have his own reality show I think.  His subtle humor had us all in stitches most of the time, and as I sit here I can still picture him shaking his head as he watches another sailor going by muttering something like, “That fella tacked a bit early, didn’t he, Cap?”

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He’s probably saying something like “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get a look at this place.”

 

As for me, I have to say that in all my travels, this might be one of the best trips yet. Michaela is a happy, happy girl!

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6 Comments

Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

It’s all good

It has been months since I posted, and I think I fell out of habit for two reasons: my pace of life has picked up so I don’t find myself with as much free time, and we have settled into a routine that doesn’t feel like travelling, so I’m less inclined to “document.”

More and more I feel the urge to be compellingly honest when I write these entries. I don’t want to appear that I’m painting my life in a rosy color, and I certainly don’t mean to be bragging.  Yet, the overwhelming thought that comes across my mind on a day to day basis is, “Damn, how lucky am I?”

My general contentment feels especially rich because of the bumpy couple of years before.  More than a year after Diego died I could still slip into a sobbing mess just by letting myself think about him.  And then last year I was feeling really lost about where Mark and I belonged. I was wondering if we were too “light and free” from traditional bonds that held us to a place and a community.  But lately, and I suppose this is the past few months, I feel like we have gotten back our rhythm. Here’s my theory on why.

First, we have carved out a new set of home bases that are really working for us: Rosarito-Mammoth-Akumal.  Currently we are living in Club Marena, Rosarito in a perfect little townhouse we rent for next to nothing.  Unlike our condo last year, this unique location is protected from the wind by a bluff, so we’ve had terrific weather all winter and spring, without a hint of fog or marine layer so far.  This means that we enjoy our outdoor life so much here. We eat all our meals on the patio in shining sun, Mark surfs right out front, I walk Pancha on the beach every morning, we both swim in the pool and enjoy the hot tub, and we’ve even been playing tennis together.   I can’t stress enough how important it is for both of us to be outside as much as possible. If there is a condition that means someone is addicted to the sun, we both have it. Yes, we still spend a good part of the day inside working on our computers, but we hurry with our work so we can get outside.

Sunset at Club Marena

Sunset at Club Marena

Another great part about Rosarito this year is that we got our Sentri passes, which means the wait at the border is less than 15 minutes.  So we can run up to San Diego for family events or a doctor’s appointment or just a drink with friends without having to plan three hours ahead and sweat it out at the border.  It is so much better!

And this year we get to ski again, which is so much fun. We took last season off so we could travel, but this year I was so anxious to get back to skiing. Our first ski day was delayed for weeks because of a hold-up in our condo purchase, but the deal finally got done and we headed up on January 28. Since then we’ve been up four times. Our schedule (which has been flexible based on various events up there or down here) is two weeks in Mammoth, two weeks in Rosarito.  It is pretty ideal because after ten days of skiing our knees are pretty shot and it’s time to do some cross training down here.  Our new condo in Mammoth makes the transition so easy, too. The rental company takes care of everything and rents it when we are gone. For the winter months we’ve even made a profit (though we expect the summer months to rent sparingly). Still, it seems too good to be true!

Finally skiing again!

Finally skiing again!

Mark's nephew Ben on his  first solo visit

Mark’s nephew Ben on his first solo visit

With the Avila-Gorostizas, enjoying the hot springs in Mammoth

With the Avila-Gorostizas, enjoying the hot springs in Mammoth

And then in June we will head back to Akumal, and stay for six months.  This is our longest stretch in one place but I think we both admit this is our favorite of all the locations.  We can live even more comfortably outside in Akumal, and both of us are just suckers for the tropical lifestyle.  Whether we are paddling, snorkeling, or just staring at the turquoise water, we are addicted to Akumal.

So, I guess we have created some roots and normalcy out of our gypsy lifestyle. We have “stuff” and familiar places to rest our heads in each place, so it takes less than a day to arrive, unpack, and feel settled in each location.  We also feel like we have a community in each place. In Mammoth we have a few local friends and on the weekends there seems to always be someone visiting from San Diego.  In Rosarito we are making more and more friends.  This week was eventful as the next door neighbor invited us to a really fun dinner party and then the next night we bumped in Mark’s old Kingsburg buddy and went to the Tequila Festival with his crew.

The Rosarito Tequila Festival

The Rosarito Tequila Festival

Learning about the agave root

Learning about the agave root

Meeting the band and sharing tequila

Meeting the band and sharing tequila

In Akumal of course we are slowly becoming integrated into both the local and “loco gringo” communities through sports, happy hours, my teaching, and the dog spay/neuter project.

Anyway, I just want to throw it out to the universe that I am incredibly grateful for my happy, happy life.  I know things won’t always be this rosy, and that makes it all the richer!

Here are few more photos from the last few months:

Mark took his mom to her first Laker's game to ring in her 70th year

Mark took Jason, me and his mom to our first Laker’s game to celebrate Diane’s birthday

I had almost TOO much fun at our track girls reunion in February

I had almost TOO much fun at our track girls reunion in February

Paola and me at good old UCSD getting Isabella some hurdle training

Paola and me at good old UCSD getting Isabella some hurdle training

Pancha and I visited Diego's tree

Pancha and I visited Diego’s tree

Spent some time with all my nieces and nephews up north including this cutie, Amelia

Spent some time with all my nieces and nephews up north including this cutie, Amelia

Found this puppy at the K38 taco shop and fell in love! We named her Villa, took care of her for a week, and eventually helped her make her way to her forever family in San Diego.

Found this puppy at the K38 taco shop and fell in love! We named her Villa, took care of her for a week, and eventually helped her make her way to her forever family in San Diego.

Joe took this gorgeous shot one evening in Mammoth Lakes. Ah!

Our buddy Joe Smith took this gorgeous shot one evening in Mammoth Lakes. So pretty!

And since it’s Saturday night, I’ll end with this: two of my favorite munchkins performing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NE1JhVeWv6M&list=UUHUhXEf6oGxZJSi7MxxTlBg&index=3

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Hello out there! Anyone still follow this thing?  I’ve been meaning to update this for awhile, but I guess I’ve been having too much fun!  Here’s a quick run down of some fun events in the last two months.

Halloween

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a very festive time around Akumal. The Americans rally for a huge party at La Buena Vida, and costumes are mandatory.  Here are some pics:

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Magnum PI

La Catrina

La Catrina

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But just as fun was the Dia de Los Muertos party our friend Jennifer hosted out in her jungle house.  Jennifer has had her fair share of pets over the last ten years, and her pet cemetery was the perfect setting for a spooky evening full of altars, candles, traditional foods, and yummy Mexican hot chocolate.


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Sian Kaan

We squeezed in one more overnight trip this season and headed down to Sian Kaan, a nature biosphere about 50 miles south of Akumal.  We had heard for years how horrific the road was, but we sure didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was!

We only made it about 100 meters in our little car before we realized we better turn around.  We headed back to Tulum and rented this jeep.

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But two paddleboards don’t fit very well in a jeep, so we pulled over to re-adjust.  We brilliantly figured out a new position that would avoid them banging on my head, so we celebrated with a few refreshments. In all our excitement, though, we left one of the paddleboards on the side of the road as we drove off.  We drove back to look for it the next day, but alas, it was gone.  That was our first paddleboard, and we really mourned the loss.  May she rest in peace!

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Our beloved paddleboard on a sunset paddle a few months back

Anyway, we arrived at Xamach Dos, which is about halfway down the peninsula, and met the owner’s daughter Michelle, who was running the place by herself.  She didn’t know we were coming and didn’t have much to offer in the way of food, but said we could stay in a bungalow and then we all ate ham sandwiches for dinner. It was a great, mellow night and we really loved the “off the grid” feel of the place.  I also enjoyed all the dogs and cats!

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Visitors in Akumal

Our last two weeks in Akumal were full of visitors and festivities. Shannon and Venti came first, and we had so much fun showing them around, diving in Cozumel, and teaching Venti about swimming and paddling.

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Triathlon

November 8 was an exciting day in Akumal for us and the four other competitors in the first annual Akumal Triathlon.  It was DJ Bob’s idea, and it was so much fun. Mark set up buoys out front for the swim, and then we biked and ran around the road.   We also had a good group of spectators.  The race was a blast and then we had a fun beach lunch afterwards. Mark took first and I took second, so we currently hold “fittest couple in Akumal” honor. Let’s hope we can keep that for next year!

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The next arrivals were Bob and Tina Dameron, Mark’s old boss and his wife/our real estate agent.   We hadn’t seen them in over five years, and we had such a blast with them. Of all our guests, they might have liked Akumal the most. They were snorkeling or paddling every day and took their happy hours very seriously, too.


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Thanksgiving in Pacifica

Suddenly the summer was over and on November 15 we both flew stateside. Pancha and I went to Pacifica and had a great time with Mom, Meg, her family, Adina, and some other friends.

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Mission Beach

After a couple weeks up north I headed south to meet up with Mark in San Diego. We moved into our Mission Beach rental for the month of December, and have been really enjoying the boardwalk beach life.

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Nick with his new Mark-look-alike haircut

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Meg’s whole family came down last weekend and they seemed like Mission Beach locals after only a few minutes:

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We’re here til New Years and then we set up our pad in Rosarito in January. We plan to be back and forth between Rosarito and Mammoth all winter. Until then, Carpe Manaña!

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2 Comments

Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Isla Mujeres: No Shirt, No Problem

So, what do you pack in a bag when you plan to go away to a little island for a day and a night?  The basics, right? A change of clothes at least.  Well, as we boarded the ferry to Isla Mujeres yesterday I looked at Mark and noticed, as usual, all he was wearing were his flip flops and board shorts.

“You did bring a shirt, right?”  

“Oops,” he said.

So we spent a whole day and night in Isla Mujeres and somehow he got by without a shirt. If you know Mark, this probably doesn’t surprise you!

I suppose this was the right place to forget his shirt!

Here are a few more pics.

Avalon Hotel. Beautiful location at the northern tip of the island, totally surrounded by water. As usual, we stumble upon a great low-season last minute bargain!

We spent the next day cruising the five-mile island in a golf cart–fun 24 hour getaway!

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Uncategorized