RSS

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.

map_bandasea

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.

ArenuiJPGs-251

ArenuiJPGs-253

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.

ArenuiJPGs-255

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!

ArenuiJPGs-254

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

ArenuiJPGs-252

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.

ArenuiJPGs-48

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!

ArenuiJPGs-305

Our room, after turn down service

ArenuiJPGs-6

Warming up in the sun between dives

ArenuiJPGs-36

Massage on the top deck

ArenuiJPGs-39

Sundowner time

ArenuiJPGs-42

Dive briefing in the dining room

ArenuiJPGs-111

Some down time on the deck

ArenuiJPGs-112

View from the captain’s chair

ArenuiJPGs-220

A little sail on the last day

ArenuiJPGs-249

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

ArenuiJPGs-281

Beautiful teak everywhere

ArenuiJPGs-70

Pretty much every sunset was spectacular

ArenuiJPGs-296

Dinner served at the Sky Lounge

 

Arenui_M4-3

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.

ArenuiJPGs-53   ArenuiJPGs-164 ArenuiJPGs-261 ArenuiJPGs-286

 

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.

ArenuiJPGs-162

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.

ArenuiJPGs-33

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

ArenuiJPGs-3 ArenuiJPGs-4  ArenuiJPGs-15 ArenuiJPGs-32 ArenuiJPGs-34

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.

ArenuiJPGs-233

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.

ArenuiJPGs-266

Ronald, our dive guide, was fantastic, too!

Arenui_M4

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!

ArenuiJPGs-298

shrimp on a bubble coral

 

ArenuiJPGs-258

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.

ArenuiJPGs-304

Nic and Wawan

ArenuiJPGs-74

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!

ArenuiJPGs-41

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

 

ArenuiJPGs-44

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

ArenuiJPGs-170

Chan admiring a parakeet in the village

ArenuiJPGs-206

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.

ArenuiJPGs-150 ArenuiJPGs-295

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.

ArenuiJPGs-27 Less than 100 people live on the island, and I think they all came out to greet us.ArenuiJPGs-101 ArenuiJPGs-117ArenuiJPGs-270ArenuiJPGs-272ArenuiJPGs-279ArenuiJPGs-280ArenuiJPGs-282ArenuiJPGs-283ArenuiJPGs-22

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

ArenuiJPGs-172

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

ArenuiJPGs-167ArenuiJPGs-151 ArenuiJPGs-158  ArenuiJPGs-165 ArenuiJPGs-166ArenuiJPGs-168 ArenuiJPGs-174 ArenuiJPGs-175 ArenuiJPGs-176 ArenuiJPGs-193
ArenuiJPGs-239
ArenuiJPGs-241

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.

ArenuiJPGs-160

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.

ArenuiJPGs-30

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!)

party Arenui_M4-4 party_mark_chris_anto   ArenuiJPGs-237 ArenuiJPGs-238

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.

ArenuiJPGs-210

our last meal at a local warung in Ende, Flores

ArenuiJPGs-69  ArenuiJPGs-148 ArenuiJPGs-218 ArenuiJPGs-225  ArenuiJPGs-227
ArenuiJPGs-265
ArenuiJPGs-250 ArenuiJPGs-290 ArenuiJPGs-303

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

 

 
4 Comments

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

NZ_enhanced-40

The view from our room

NZ_enhanced-43

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!

NZ_enhanced-41

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).


NZ_enhanced-4

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.

NZ_enhanced-50

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!

Ok, they don't always look like this!

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).

NZ_enhanced-31

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!

NZ_enhanced-35

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.

NZ_enhanced-5

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

NZ_enhanced-44 NZ_enhanced-45 NZ_enhanced-36 NZ_enhanced-33NZ_enhanced-30
NZ_enhanced-27 NZ_enhanced-28
NZ_enhanced-29 NZ_enhanced-24 NZ_enhanced-14 NZ_enhanced-9NZ_enhanced-19NZ_enhanced-15NZ_enhanced-10 NZ_enhanced-11 NZ_enhanced-6

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).

NZ_enhanced-38

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.

NZ_enhanced-47

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!


NZ_enhanced-46
NZ_enhanced-48

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.

NZ_enhanced-51

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.

NZ_enhanced-25 NZ_enhanced-37 NZ_enhanced-22
NZ_enhanced-16 NZ_enhanced-7

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.

NZ_enhanced-12NZ_enhanced-13

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.

NZ_enhanced-32

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!

NZ_enhanced

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.

NZ_enhanced
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!

NZ_enhanced-53 NZ_enhanced-52

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?

 
Leave a comment

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.

newfiles3

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.”

newfiles3-3

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.

newfiles3-2

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.

newfiles-2

Makaha Valley

newfiles

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.

bookcover

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.
about the author

Another blog is coming soon! Next stop, New Zealand!

 
2 Comments

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.

last_sm03

sm01 last_sm02

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?

sm14 sm12 sm10 sm09 sm07

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.

sm26

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

sm24

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!

sm28

On our way to White’s Bay

sm27

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.

sm33 sm32

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.

shane_sm03

sm22

Spectacular sunset at Anegada

sm23 sm21

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)

???????????????????????????????

Rob with a turtle

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

sm02 sm04

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!

??????????????????????????????? shane_sm06

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?”

sm29

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!

shane_sm07

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Protected: It’s all good

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

 
Enter your password to view comments.

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:

sm1IMG_7182

Magnum PI

La Catrina

La Catrina

sm54IMG_7272

sm22IMG_7234

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.


IMG_1660 IMG_1662

IMG_1669
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.

blog32 blog31

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!

IMG_4183

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!

IMG_1611

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.

IMG_1702 IMG_1701 IMG_1696 IMG_1694IMG_7314 IMG_1684

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!

DSC_0065_3_1bDSC_0071_7_1DSC_0128_8_1DSC_0157_4_1DSC_0191_14_1IMG_1801_18_1

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.


blog18blog19blog17

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.

blog27 blog26 blog25
blog23 blog22 blog21 blog20

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.

blog01

Nick with his new Mark-look-alike haircut

blog02 blog03 IMG_1932 IMG_1929

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

blog10blog07blog11blog08blog09blog13blog12blog14

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!

IMG_1939

 
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!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Cozumel

We’ve been in Cozumel six nights already but I’m still feeling giddy like it’s the first night of vacation.  I love it here!  Cozumel is an island just east of Playa del Carmen, a quick two hour trip from Akumal including driving and ferry time. We have been here a bunch of times, and every year it becomes easier for us to get here and settle in.

The first year, we spent a whole day driving completely around the island going door to door to hotels asking if they allowed pets, and none of them did. Finally, a little hotel called Villa Blanca took pity on us after I broke down into tears, and said we could stay one night with our dog. After they saw that Diego was a quiet, well-behaved dog, they said we could stay on, and we ended up living in that tiny hotel room for a month.  The next year we realized the hotel had superior suites for just five dollars more, so that trip was much more comfortable. Then the next year we found Costa del Sol, a small group of homes in the south of the island, which we enjoyed for a few years.

This year we decided to try out the new condo buildings in the north of the island. The advantage with the north is that it is a lot closer to the town center, and the accommodations here are brand new high rise towers with amazing infinity pools, modern units, and of course beautiful views. But what is also great is that people actually live in the north….it’s not just all-inclusive hotels.  However, the one disadvantage is that it is a longer boat ride to the good diving in the south.

Anyway, we both had to laugh at how easy things were for us this time.  We decided last minute to head out here because there was construction happening at our condo in Akumal. In a few hours we had packed, booked a condo, loaded up our car with all our toys including two paddleboards and Pancha’s crate, caught the car ferry to Cozumel, drove off the ferry, met the condo manager who gave us our key, and we were moved in! So much easier than the first few years!  And oh my god the condo is amazing. Here are a few photos and a video.

A few hours after we got here the security guard called up and said, “Look out your window.”  There was a school of dolphins swimming by. So beautiful!

So far I’m totally sold on the north side of this island. Pancha and I go for walks every morning and evening, and there are a ton of locals out exercising and walking their dogs. The wide sidewalks are lined with trees so there is lots of shade, and there are even kilometer markers for the joggers and cyclists to measure their workouts.  This island is full of exercise-junkies.  Next week they are hosting a half Ironman, and in November is the real Ironman, which attracts a lot of athletes from all over the world. But the coolest part is to see all the locals exercising themselves. This is not typical for Mexicans, and it reminds me a little bit of New Zealand.  Like New Zealand a lot of the joggers cruise at a very modest pace, but I love that they are out there just doing it. Very cool!

The town center is really lovely, too.  Built around a typical Mexican plaza, the centro has lots of restaurants, bars, and street performers, and once the sun goes down everyone just hangs out there.  Old people dance in the plaza, young people hang out on benches, little vendors sell food, and of course there are lots of dogs everywhere that keep me entertained.

We found a wonderful new dive shop located just a few doors down from our condo. The dive master Fernando is a really friendly guy from Acapulco, and the operation is very organized and professional.  I was so excited to dive that I couldn’t wait for Mark, so the first day I dove without him while he caught up with work. This is not typical for me….I used to be so nervous to dive and would never go without Mark. But again, it’s this vacation-giddiness that has overtaken me!

Finally, we can’t get over how friendly the people are here. Cozumeleños are a lot different from those that live on the mainland, mainly because this island has been inhabited for more than a hundred years (compared to the coast that was developed for tourism just about 40 years ago, and all the workers were recruited in from the neighboring state of Yucatan).  Thus, the Cozumeleños are a distinct group of people that have lived here for generations. They are a bit more educated, more cosmopolitan, and enjoy a higher standard of living than those on the mainland. Many own their own businesses and steady tourism keeps everyone comfortable and happy.  And they are just so darn friendly! We’ve already met so many people who have welcomed us. One waiter gave us an open invitation to dinner at his house and spent time carefully giving us directions to where it was located.

And we are lucky to be here today, September 16, for Mexican Independence Day.  This date marks the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, over 200 years ago.  This is what happened. On the night before, at 11pm on September 15, 1810,  Mexico’s “Father of the Revolution” Miguel Hidalgo shouted the Grito, a cry of patriotism and independence, in order to rally the people and encourage them to revolt.  Since then Mexico celebrates this night by re-enacting the Grito. This is done all over Mexico in every town center.

Last night we headed down to the Palacio Municipal early to enjoy the festivities. Several streets were blocked off and there was a huge mobile amusement park, carnival games, several stages, professional dancers performing traditional dances from all the states of Mexico,  bands, and tons of food and beer vendors.  The place was packed with what seemed to be everyone on the island: families, kids, old people, one month old babies, etc. We had some delicious tacos and enjoyed a few beers while sharing a table with a New York couple who hooked us up with shots of tequila out of their backpack.

Then the Cozumel mayor stood up on the balcony of the Palacio Municipal and made the pronouncement.

First he listed the rights of all people in Mexico, and then he began the grito, which was basically a salute to the revolutionaries, “Viva Hidalgo!” and “Viva Allende” and each time the crowd would repeat back “Viva!” Then he brought it closer to home, “Viva Cozumel!” and “Viva Quintana Roo” (our state), and again the crowd cheered back “Viva!”  Finally he ended with three cheers for Mexico: “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!” Then he rang the bell and a spectacular fireworks show began. Here are a few photos to capture the evening!

After the fireworks show we wandered around the carnival and were entertained by the rickety rides and unusual games.  One man was auctioning off a whole warehouse of merchandise in a matter of minutes.  We watched him get hundreds of people to buy random junk instantaneously. Mark was fascinated!

We are already talking about how maybe we need to spend more time in Cozumel, and put this spot into our regular rotation.  For now, we are enjoying it! Viva Cozumel!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Some stories from the summer

Can’t believe it’s Labor Day Weekend already. The summer tourist season is officially over and things are quieting down even more than usual.  The winds have died down, too, and without a breeze our condo is HOT!  We try to spend as much time as possible in the “refreshing” 88 degree water, but alas, we have to get our work done. Both of us hunker down next to our high speed fans and try not to be too grouchy with the heat. Mark still won’t let me turn on the air conditioning because of the environmental impact, but we’re surviving. Neither of us wear anything but a bathing suit all day.  Pancha uses minimal energy by laying under my fan and saving her beach romps for twilight when the sun is almost down.  That all sounds pretty miserable, but in fact, we both just love this climate (weird, I know).  Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of our summer stories in this blog, in case you are curious.

Baptism

One very memorable night happened a couple of weeks ago.  Merly and Orlando, a local Mexican couple that owns a fruit stand in the Akumal pueblo, invited us to their son’s baptism. We only know them from our fruit shopping, but they have always been friendly and last year when Merly was pregnant we talked a lot about the upcoming baby. Well now Axel is a year old, and her older son is turning five, so Merly and Orlando planned a Baptism/Birthday Party for the two of them. We were honored to be invited, and had no idea what it would be like.  First was the mass.  It was at 5 o’clock on a Saturday. We cruised into the pueblo and hopped out of the car, and there was Merly and her family, all dressed up. She welcomed us and we sat in the second pew right behind her. Her husband asked me to be the photographer, and handed me his digital camera.  The service was about an hour and involved anyone who happened to be at the church (it seemed like many of the townspeople were there just for the mass).  They invited several people up to do readings, and Merly tried to get me to go up, but there was no way I was going to stumble in my gringo accent while reading biblical passages in Spanish!  Still the service was lovely and everyone was so welcoming to us obvious foreigners.

Then was the party. I imagined it would be ten or twenty friends and family members gathering for some cake, but boy was I wrong.  She said it was in the “cancha” which is the cement basketball/soccer court in the center of town. This pueblo doesn’t have a plaza, so the cancha serves as a gathering place for people in the evenings. When we got to the cancha we were shocked to see tables and chairs for 250 people, a giant jump house for the kids, numerous tents covering serving tables for the food, elaborate cakes, waiters, a DJ, and three fancy pinatas.  The party went on for six hours, and included tons of food, drinks, entertainment (freaky clowns and lots of pinatas to destroy), dancing contests for the kids, etc.  We met some nice people, including the sweet godparent couple and a very drunk uncle/cowboy from Panama.  Basically everyone in the town was invited, and it was a great party!

The freaky clown pinata

Hurricane Ernesto

We also experienced our second hurricane last month, Ernesto, who passed through on August 6.  The anticipation was more eventful than the actual storm (technically it was only a tropical storm when it passed through Akumal, though it was at hurricane wind speed level about 40 miles south of here).  No one was evacuating so we stayed put, too, but we were a bit disconcerted when the Mexican Federal Military knocked on our doors at 8pm and recommended that we evacuated or otherwise, just be advised that we were on our own.  By then it seemed too late to evacuate (the storm was supposed to hit with a few hours), so we just shut the hurricane shutters and hoped for the best.  The storm surge came all the way up to the terrace a few times, but water never entered the condo, so that was that.

Apocalypto

I’m continuing to teach my English class every Monday to the locals who want to learn.  Most of my students are the hotel maids, along with a few maintenance men and hotel reception workers.  They are so sweet and slowly becoming less shy around me. They’ve been asking me funny things like “What does holy shit mean?” And when I explain it to them (and by the way, this phrase really is odd and makes no sense literally) they tell me that’s what their gringo boss says all day long! They have also been teaching me some words in Maya (their native, indigenous language), and we started talking about the Mel Gibson directed movie Apocalypto, which was filmed in Mexico and is in the Maya language.  So last week they all came over on their lunch break and we watched it at our condo. Mark downloaded the version that has English subtitles, so they listened in Maya and we read the subtitles in English.  If you’ve seen it, you know it’s incredibly violent, and my students knew I wasn’t crazy about violence.  So whenever a violent scene unfolded, I winced and they watched my face and laughed. There was so much laughing going on that you would have thought we were watching a comedy!  Anyway, it was a really fun afternoon!

Paddleboarding Adventures

We bought a second stand-up paddleboard this summer, which is better suited to catching waves, and Mark has been having fun surfing on the little waves that pop up into our bay from time to time.  Now that we have two boards, we’ve been going paddleboarding together, too, which is really fun.

Although as Mark says, I’m a paddleboarding liability!  Last month we did a long paddle to a couple bays south of here, and the plan was to paddle for an hour or so, have a floating picnic, and then paddle back.  Mark had all the gear tied to his board and all I had to do was paddle along beside him on the shorter board, which turned out to be tough.  We noticed a tiny set of waves was coming through, and Mark wanted to try to surf them, so we swapped boards and he headed over there. I paddled around the set, and thought I was fine, until somehow I got sucked into the break. A wave hit my board sideways and everything fell off (snorkels, lunch, beers, the waterproof radio), and my board also floated way.  I panicked, and yelled to Mark, “What do I do?” And he yelled back, “Get the board!” So I swam to it (note that these waves were tiny, maybe one foot tall, but were breaking on very shallow reef so I was getting all beat up). I finally made it to my board and tried to collect all the gear floating around.  Mark came to my rescue and grabbed the rest of the stuff, secured it to my board, and we headed back out. About thirty seconds later another wave hit my board and knocked me and the stuff off all over again. I screamed at Mark, “What do I do now?” and he said, “Just get the fuck out of here, I’ll find all the gear.” 🙂  It was pretty funny! Somehow I managed to get myself and the board out of the waves, and I waited patiently in the calm water outside while Mark got knocked around and collected all our gear again!

Last week we finally convinced the dive shop to rent us tanks, and we went on our maiden solo scuba trip. We loaded the paddleboards up with full dive gear, paddled out to the deep, and went diving by ourselves. We didn’t go too deep (around 30-40 feet). There is a decent reef right outside our bay where we saw lots of fish, a turtle, a grouper, and some pretty coral.  Pretty neat!

The only problem was that when we surfaced, suddenly there were waves lining the entrance back into the bay. This is very unusual (and were caused, we realized later, by another hurricane that was north of us). With a heavy scuba tank and BC balancing on my paddleboard, needless to say I was very nervous to paddle in. We paddled around for awhile and Mark studied the waves, picked the best spot to head in, and then said, “Go now!” I was so scared, and paddled my little heart out, but made it in without falling off my board.  Phew!

Turtle hatchings

Every year we see turtles laying their eggs on the beach and babies hatching from their nest, but this summer we’ve seen more than all the other years combined. This is mainly because we’ve figured out which beaches have the most turtles. Here are a few pics and videos.

Henning and Brandi seemed to attract turtle nests like crazy!

Mark and Henning swam with a group of baby turtles on their first venture into the sea:

Small World

Finally, this little anecdote reminded us what a small world it really is.  Even though Akumal is in a tropical area, you might be surprised to know that there is a not a lot of access to fruits and vegetables here. This soil is not very rich and this peninsula is quite different from the farming areas northwest of here.  All the fruit and vegetables we eat are usually trucked in from central Mexico, and there are often slim pickings (mainly just bananas, tomatoes, avocados, and oranges). However, over the years more and more produce is making its way here, and I’ve discovered shops where I can buy more fruit.  Last week I came home with a bag of nectarines, and as Mark bit into the first one, he commented on how much it reminded him of growing up in Kingsburg, in the Central Valley, the tree fruit capital of California.  The next day he ate another one, and as he picked off the yellow sticker on the fruit he gasped. Yep, you guessed it. These nectarines came from Kingsburg!

Alright, that’s all for now. Headed to a gringo party in the jungle this afternoon. If it’s hot here, it’s gotta be blazing there….but planning to spend all my time in the pool!

a nice sunset a few days ago

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Della

This summer started off with a bang (Paola’s wedding) but then quickly slipped into a slower pace. I wondered how I would handle the monotony of quiet Akumal life for the next two months. And then suddenly that all changed when Meg called me on July 22, two weeks before her due date, to say that she was in the hospital ready to have the baby.  I was surprised, nervous and excited, and twelve hours later I was on a plane to San Francisco. Luckily (for me, not for Meg) the labor was long and slow and when I arrived Meg was still many hours from delivering.  I don’t know what I expected, but seeing my little sister in a delivery room about to give birth was such a moving experience for me.

12 hours to go

All smiles on our end!

I still think of her as twelve years old, and we kept joking, “Babies having babies!” But she handled it like a real pro, and John says she was quiet as a mouse as she pushed baby Della out the next morning.

I stayed in Pacifica for two weeks and totally enjoyed every minute with Meg’s growing family: my new niece Della, my recently acquired niece and nephew Gaby and JT, and my brother-in-law John.   I helped as much as I could to make everyone’s life easier while they adjusted to a new baby and all that brings.  It sounds funny (and not like me at all), but I truly enjoyed being helpful and needed, and was happy to shuttle kids to gymnastics, take them for walks on the beach, and fill them with junk food (donuts, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell were our most common meals).

Noni is loving this!

It was Gaby and JT’s idea to throw Della a surprise party when she first came home. They carefully picked out balloons that said “Welcome” and “Good luck!” They were so adorable telling everyone at the store that their two-day-old baby sister was coming home!

I also enjoyed quality time with my sister.  The first night they brought Della home John had a cold and was coughing a lot, so Meg sent him to swap with me on the couch. So Meg and I slept with Baby Della the first night. Meg was up feeding her most of the night, and I would look over at her every once in awhile, wishing I could help, but then of course nodding off again.  I definitely got the “full” experience!  Since Mark and I are not planning to have our own kids, I really appreciate getting this close to the action.

We took Della out for lunch when she was six days old. Is that wrong?

It was so hard to leave them, and I hope to go back soon for another visit. Already Della is growing so fast!  I can’t wait to see them all again, but I’m grateful I was able to share all this with them.

a few months earlier


 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized