Monday, May 24, 2010

Randomy Monday

  • this week kicks off a month of weekly bi-coastal travel
  • first stop: San Diego
  • when I checked the 10-day weather forecast for San Diego it claims there was a 4.2 earthquake 11 hours ago
  • otherwise high 60s and partly cloudy
  • is it weird of me to kind of want a little small earthquake while I'm there?
  • I have a morbid fascination with being apart of catastrophic events
  • I haven't admitted this much to people but on 9/11 I was weirdly disappointed that I was at home in midtown Manhattan that day rather than at my office two blocks away from the World Trade Center
  • weird, I know
  • to be clear - I am not wishing any type of crazy earthquake on Southern California later this week, I just have a fascination with how I will act and react in extreme situations
  • after San Diego I head to Portland for Memorial weekend
  • the weather there will be low 60s with chance of rain
  • I will be fulfilling an 18-month old promise to visit a friend who left me friendless at work when she moved
  • I'm still a little bitter about that, the perfect work friend is hard to come by and she was a great one
  • we both liked making planned trips to the candy jar to reward ourselves for hard work
  • hard work like, not making unscheduled trips to the candy jar
  • in our new offices I don't even know where the candy jar is!
  • I find that a little bit tragic
  • speaking of my new office and treats, we no longer have vending machines on every floor
  • to get a snack or soda I now have to take two elevators to the vending machines
  • the vending machines are pretty fancy and they all take credit cards
  • but that is probably to compensate for the fact that no one will manage to have correct change when a bottle of soda is $1.50 and Red Bull is over $2
  • I've only had a Red Bull once
  • To combat a threatening migraine
  • Tiffany provided it
  • She is kind of a Red Bull pusher
  • Last Christmas she kept trying to talk my dad into trying one so he could keep wandering the city with us
  • we put him in a cab instead
  • it was a good thing because our next couple of stops were all closed
  • sure, it was Christmas Eve but still, didn't Shake Shack understand that we were all craving a shake?
  • sometimes it is weird for me to think about the completely opposite end of the weather spectrum than the one I am currently experiencing
  • like being bundled up in a parka, hat and gloves seems odd when all I needed was a scarf this morning
  • although it is easier in the spring and the fall to wrap my head around the extremes, but in the summer when it is sweltering and I can barely stand to wear shorts and a t-shirt, winter will seem really bizarre
  • speaking of Christmas Eve, Tiffany and I split the last box of the most amazing cocoa covered French truffles sold at the Christmas market at Columbus Circle - the box contained 4 bags and we each took 2.
  • My first bag was devoured pretty readily over the holiday by me and my guests
  • then I somehow forgot about the second bag for a while and when I rediscovered it I have managed to ration the truffles out in singles or pairs
  • I still have quite a few left
  • the way they melt on your tongue is pure heaven
  • the first time I tried this type of truffle was in a chocolate shop in Geneva with my sister. We had not yet learned that dark chocolate is the greatest kind and were skeptical when the chocolatier urged us to add some to our sampler box. But once she handed us free samples, we were hooked.
  • wish I had one here at my desk now
  • instead I have the remains of my tuna sandwich that I need to take to the pantry to throw out before my office is overpowered by the tuna smell
  • actually, it is too late, all I can smell is tuna
  • speaking of tuna, those vending machines I mentioned earlier have tuna salad kits
  • I find that a little odd
  • other things available in those fancy vending machines: ice-cream, burritos, 4-minute meals from Fresh Direct (these are pretty good) and White Castle burgers
  • That's right - White Castle!
  • that was pretty much the talk of the office that first week - everyone was fascinated by the decision to put those in there and who would possibly eat them
  • this is getting kind of long
  • but I still want to talk about my weekend so hang on for a bit, Sunday I did absolutely nothing so this shouldn't take too long
  • Saturday I did two 30-minute runs - the first one was good but the second one felt much harder
  • between the two runs I went to the eye doctor and to Brooklyn
  • the eye doctor lectured me a bit about wearing my contacts for too long - this particular pair has been with me since early March
  • I don't wear them for more than 8-10 hours at a time but they really should be thrown out every 4 weeks
  • sometimes eye exams make me a little anxious like I'm getting the answers all wrong
  • also, they give me a headache
  • Brooklyn was fun - I visited Fort Greene park to picnic with a friend and her energetic 1-year old who can spot a ball a mile away and is not afraid to steal it from any old toddler's stroller
  • I also bought a new pair of running shoes on Saturday
  • mine aren't worn out yet but my more experienced running consultants advised it is a good idea to start rotating in the new pair before the old pair are completely done
  • I noticed a big difference in my second run with the stiffer shoes
  • went to a farewell dinner Saturday night at a Cuban restaurant
  • wasn't really excited about going but went anyway and enjoyed myself
  • although I found it weird when a couple of different people commented on how dressed up I was
  • I didn't feel especially dressed up and wasn't any more dressed up than anyone else in the room
  • in retrospect I am going to chalk it up to my post-run glow - if there is such a thing - since I had to rush through the shower and get ready phase to make it to the dinner after that second run
  • and like I said on Sunday I did nothing
  • unless you count the hour and a half I spent hunting for vacation deals for my sister and her husband over the phone
  • or all the crap tv I watched
  • I've primarily blamed this on my allergies wiping me out
  • but if I'm being honest, I was just feeling extremely lazy
  • lazy enough for a no shower day
  • but hey, I took 2 on Saturday so that should count, right?
  • no?
  • okay, I don't really want to end on that note but I've run out of nonsense to type
  • unless anyone wants to suggest a good place to eat in San Diego
  • I'll be back two more times after this in June so any and all suggests are welcome
  • I'll also be in Utah a couple of times in June
  • oh, and briefly for a layover on my way home from Portland
  • I better get back to work now
  • Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Coibita


After our first night camped on Machete Beach we woke to the sun peaking through clouds on pinks and white among the gray and a gourmet breakfast of banana pancakes with genuine Canadian maple syrup (lugged all the way to our tiny island in the Pacific by a tiny little French-Canadian woman), bacon, fruit and yogurt.

We set out for our first full day of kayaking by 930 and after that first hour-long paddle to our camp I was worried about how I would endure a full day of it. Luckily I fell into a decent paddle ryhthm with Shannon who was endlessly patient with me and my breaks. We spent the day paddling around Rancheria - or Coibita - Island with a lunch stop on the back side that included a short jungle walk along a path that started with a Smithsonian Institute sign and terminated at a well maintained air strip cleared out of the middle of the jungle. Given the trouble I'd been having with my eye, I spent the day with only one contact which was not as difficult to adjust to as I had feared.

Jaime making lunch






Jungle walk
the air strip

After we had completely circumnavigated the island (and, to be honest, I was absolutey sick of paddling), we stopped at a few rocky little outcroppings that were isolated in the ocean not far from Coibita and a ways off from our camp to snorkel. Denise was inexplicably nervous about this particular snorkel and opted to stay in her kayak while Jaime, Shannon and I donned our fins and masks and dove in (or flopped in, in my case). Jaime tied the kayaks together and acted as anchor as he explored, taking photos as we went. The guy has some serious lungs and can stay under water for ages and dive to incredible depths.

The water around these islands is so salty you have to work pretty hard to not float. In fact, on this snorkel I mustered up enough courage to force myself to learn how to dive down to get a closer look at things. But I often misjudged how much diving momentum I needed in the buoyant water and I am pretty sure all I was doing was sticking my head a foot or so below the surface with my butt floating up at the top.

I felt far more comfortable in the water on this second snorkel with all of the many creatures swimming around - and that strange crackling noise I always forgot to ask Jaime about but which Shannon was relieved I heard as well because she had convinced herself it was her jaw . . . or something weird. Even snorkeling with a group of people it is a very solitary activity in such a foreign world that it is easy for the imagination to run a little rampant. Mine certainly did a few times. More on that later.

Mostly I was proud of the significant accomplishment of diving under the water and learning how to blow the water out the tube (or more accurately, spit everything out as I gasped for air) when I finally reached the surface after a 45 second dive. Plus, the whole mouth breathing thing was getting easier as was the coordination of having extra long feet. I didn't even panic when Jaime pointed out a reef shark on this go around - lucky for me his tail fin was pointed in my direction and not his mouth.

There were loads and loads of tropical fish in a whole variety of colors which I could never begin to name and we also spotted a beautiful manta ray.
But my new-found comfort in the water was yanked out from under me when we swam towards another small rocky island and the ocean dropped beneath us to an impercetable depth and the water changed from a clear, mostly colorless blue to a brilliant opacity that felt vastly open and exposed with nary a fish until the ocean floor rose up beneath us once again in rock and bits of coral to form another small island. There we saw large schools of fish mingled with these amazing purple and yellow and blue varieties that were almost unremarkable by the end of the week due to their predictable appearance each trip into the water. When we finally climbed back into our kayaks around 4 pm fatigue was settling in after a long day of paddling under a hot equatorial sun.

But there wasn't time for a leisurely paddle back to camp as the sky quickly grew dark and the ominous thunderheads that had been so far off in the distance prior to our swim appeared to be on the move and were now close enough we could see the sheets of rain pouring out of them. With long, even strokes we paddled back to camp as the storm chased us spitting light, cool droplets as a warning of worse to come.

We made it to camp while the sun's warmth was still overpowering the storm. Ian did not accompany us on our tour of Coibita and he welcomed us back to camp by introducing us to the solar shower he had set up during his day on the beach with Buddy. The shower had enough remaining water (dredged from the "fresh" water swamp just behind our camp) for each of us to take a turn lathering up our hair and extremeties enough to rinse off the thick layer of salt and sunscreen we'd accumulated over the course of the day.

The storm was on the near horizon as Shannon and I hurried back to our tent to finish the bathing proceess with camp wipes (I have to say a genius invention and an absolute must have for all adventure travel) and to hang our wet paddling clothes on the natural clothes lines of jungle tree limbs with just enough barbs to prevent clothes from flying off down the beach. As we stood outside our tent in various stages of dress attempting to get relatively dry and clean before getting dressed again, the wind picked up force to warn us those clouds were not just a tease. The sarong I had wrapped myself in flapped wildly in the wind to the point where the only body part that was securely covered was my neck to which it was tied. Modesty was relative on our remote corner of the beach where the only other human habitants were the three other people we brought with us who were down the beach a ways in their own tents. Shannon and I laughed at ourselves as we gave up trying to keep covered with sarongs and towels in favor of embracing some brief nudity.

Once I was clean, dry and semi dressed I pulled my rain jacket out of my dry bag attached to the tree outside my tent door and tossed it into the tent as the wind whipped ever more ferociously and Shannon and I laughed at the similarities of the storm's windy precursor to the one we endured on the Green River last fall that sent one of our fellow traveler's tents flying towards the river. I zipped myself into the tent and removed the one contact I was wearing out of the wind's forceful gust. While I was taking out my contact and looking for glasses, Shannon tried to dash back to the main camp area . The side of our tent facing the ocean (fortuitously we had just happened to place the doors toward jungle trees) bulged in from the wind's force as rain clamored down and Shannon burst back in announcing everyone was taking cover and dinner would be delayed.

An Shannon's attempt at taking a picture of the storm's affect on our tent

I wrote in my journal and attempted to read but when we are together it is really difficult for Shannon and I to have any semblence of quiet time. She tried reading for a bit but kept interrupting herself to explain how she kept thinking the book she was reading really needed to be read aloud. She asked if I thought the others would be open to her reading a chapter to everyone - just the introduction, she said.

Before I continue, let me put it out there that I am a snob. My snobbery comes in odd forms and at odd times. It just sneaks up on me unpredictably. And this is one of those times. I do not know why - and Shannon I so apologize for thinking this way - but I was not into the idea. I knew nothing about the book she was reading and I had no reason to believe one way or the other as to whether Shannon would have a good reading voice. But my initial reaction was lukewarm to put it in the best light. That being said, I did what I thought was the good friend thing and said why not try it even though I secretly thought, I'd rather enjoy everyone's conversation.

The rain cleared up in a relatively short amount of time and we all congregated in our sandy living room with bug spray and head lamps. At some point while I was in the tent Ian had erected a tarp giving us a common area that was relatively protected from any last remaining drizzles the storm sputtered out at us. Jaime impressed us all with an incredible spaghetti dinner that was the star of the week of delicious meals.

After dinner Shannon proposed her reading idea and when no one objected, she proceeded. The book was The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment and before the end of the introduction we were all hooked. Shannon has an amazing reading voice that is clear and animated and soothing all at once. As we asked her to read another chapter I wondered "when was the last time someone read to me?" It brought back fond childhood memories of family road trips with my mother sitting in the front seat reading to keep us entertained - Beautiful Joe was always my favorite.

a breakfast reading later in the week

Shannon's reading was an instant post-dinner ritual that occassionally snuck in as a pre-dinner or even post-breakfast routine. She would read and Ian would interject his dissatisfaction with the character's actions or this turn or that to the story line and we would argue for or against this or that. Somehow Shannon's reading helped solidify us into a family. We managed to make our way through all but the last 80 to 90 pages of the book before splitting up and purchasing it was almost the first thing I did when I got home. I devoured the end of the book to discover the final fate of the leading character but it wasn't the same without Shannon's voice and the island scenery. That being said, it is an intriguing book I would recommend even if you don't have a Shannon or island views.

While we were sitting around under the tarp post-dinner listening to Shannon read, we all jumped a foot or two off of our seats when a thundering shot rang out and clambored down through the trees. We had been as selective as possible about not situating our tents or camp area directly under the many coconut trees but none of us had anticipated the coconuts being used as propellants. As quickly as the snapping branches and shotgun like noise startled us, something landed on the - gratefully - tautly tied tarp and rolled off the end into the dark sand out of sight of Shannon's lone reading light.

When we cautiously walked out to inspect what we had narrowly escaped from landing on our heads, we discovered this:

A clawed open coconut that had been angrily hurled at us by one of the locals up in the trees. It was startling to say the least but after guessing that maybe it was a monkey, no a sloth, no a monkey, we settled back in our seats and continued the story followed by a lively philosophical, historical and spiritual discussion on religion of the kind that can only take place amongt respectful friends overnighting on a secluded island when their views are so disparate. In our regular lives I do not believe such a conversation could ever be repeated.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'm a Runner

(Post-Thanksgiving Day 6K)

Just over a year ago I wrote a post entitled "not a runner" wherein I described all the reasons I was not and likely could not be a runner while at the same time sending out a tiny wish that maybe one day I would become one. By June I had met my first small running goal of running a 5k and by September, I decided it was a good idea to run another one. And before I knew what I was getting myself into I ran a 6k Thanksgiving day and agreed to be lowly Runner #7 in this crazy relay race coming up in June.

And this past Saturday I did something that a year ago I could not have even fathomed. I ran a 10K. That is 6.2 miles! And I ran it in just over an hour with an average pace of 10:40 which is not exactly fast but it is a great pace for me!
With four races under my belt I have learned a few things about myself. First, I get nervous before a race even though I have no deluded thoughts about winning and while I have an idea of the pace and a goal finish time, really, I'm just doing it to finish at this point. So why do I get nervous? Even worse is how my nerves express themselves - by telling me frequently I need to go to the bathroom. For example, Saturday morning I went probably three times in the span of 45 minutes between waking up and walking out the door. The race was in Central Park which is a mere 10-15 minute walk from my front door but before I entered the park, I stopped at the bathrooms in the Time Warner Center for one last (or so I thought) pee break. I arrived at the race about 20 minutes early and used the extra time to walk the extra kilometer back from the starting line to the gate where my assigned number was to line up and to go through my pre-run stretching routine. All was well. The race started exactly at 9 am and people started shuffling forward but mostly standing around waiting for the massive crowd to make its way to the starting line (no joke, it was about a kilometer ahead). I didn't necessarily feel nervous but I did feel like I once again needed to pee. How was that even possible? It wasn't like I had consumed anything since my last four trips but the longer I waited in that shuffling crowd the more intensely I had to go. Finally, when we rounded the bend and were only about 600 meters from the start line, I broke away from the group to make one last dash to the nasty port-a-potty that . . . of course, turned out to not have any toilet paper. Awesome. But running out of there and back to the herd of people still waiting to start the race I knew I would be far more comfortable.
When I finally crossed the starting line the official clock indicated the race had been underway for over 14 minutes. Luckily, fancy technology means my time started the second I stepped over the starting line. I also set my nike+ on my ipod to keep that familiar motivational voice in my ear that tells me I have completed a kilometer and that I am half-way there, etc. I also like to have a reference to tell me if I am keeping the right pace. But what I forgot is that if I set it for a 10k, it gives me my pace in kilometers and I have no idea what that means so I was basically on my own for that. For longer runs like this, I still take planned 60 second walk breaks every 10 or 15 minutes which I felt kind of silly doing on Saturday but ultimately I think they give me great little recovery moments and break the run into more manageable pieces for mentally.
Another thing I discovered during this race - Gold Digger by Kanye West and Lose Yourself by Eminem are the most motivating songs on my playlist. Empire State of Mind by Jay Z is up there as well.
And the overall thing that I have learned in the past year that I never expected is this: I can make myself more of a morning person and not just that - a morning runner! I have somehow managed to take two things I previously disliked - getting up early and running - and combine them into something I enjoy. I won't lie. It is still difficult some mornings to drag myself out of bed, especially if I hear rain against my window. But there is nothing like how I feel when I go to work having completed a difficult run - it is like I have already achieved success for the day before it has even begun.
I wish I could also report that all this running has resulted in me losing another ten pounds. Oddly, aside from the initial loss of about ten pounds a year ago, I haven't lost anything! I will occasionally dip down 2-3 pounds only to bounce right back up. But, and this is even more important than weight - I have lost inches. My clothes are looser and everything just fits better. Also, I feel better and I have discovered muscles in my legs that were never there before.
I still have one more month of training left before the Ragnar Relay which means I have a lot more running to go before I'm ready but Saturday's race gave me something I have really needed - confidence to call myself, without qualification, a runner.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Journey to Isla Coiba

February 24th dawned beautifully in Santa Catalina, Panama. While I was reluctant to leave behind my new found love of surfing, not to mention a toilet and shower, I was excited about the next phase of our adventure - Isla Coiba. A Panama National Park and World Heritage Site, Coiba has the second-largest coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean and is covered approximately 85% with tropical forest. The island was originally (meaning prior to 12-18,000 years ago) connected to the mainland of Panama but then separated when sea levels rose. This separation created a uniquely isolated island where animals and plants evolved slightly differently in appearance and behavior from the same species found in Panama and throughout Central America. Some descriptions I read before my trip compared it to the Galapagos Islands - a place I have always wanted to visit. Among the animals on the island are a unique subspecies of howler monkeys (which I heard but never saw) and a creepy little critter called a Coiba Agouti. Check him out:

Let me pause here for a moment and explain that although I did a bit of research in the last 10 to 14 days leading up to this trip, this was by far my least studied trip in a long while. The idea was first presented to me sometime in December and before I even did much digging into the details I worked hard to make the dates work with my schedule simply because the opportunity was there and I thought, why not Panama? (I am very much of the "have passport, will travel mentality".) I was told we would be surfing, kayaking and yoga-ing. I booked in January, was immediately buried in work and February was upon me without warning and I decided a guidebook might be a good investment to see what I was getting myself into. Also, I finally took a serious look at the itinerary and Googled the places we would be visiting. Suddenly my anticipation went from "it will be good to get away, I'm glad it will be warm, this should be fun" to "WHOA! This place looks amazing! So secluded! So unheard of! I can't believe I am getting the opportunity to go!"

Before I get to my actual experience I will share one other tidbit of fascinating information I picked up about Coiba in my lunch hour pre-vacation day dreaming research: from about 1919 to as late as 2004, Coiba was the home of a prison incarcerating the most violent criminals in Panama. During the Noriega years the prison was notorious for its extreme tortures, executions and political murders as well as the brutal conditions - so locals stayed away and folklore built up.

All of this to emphasize that although I was reluctant to leave our beach side cabana, anticipation of the adventure ahead was at a critical peak as we set forth on our journey to the star of the trip.


We were outfitted by Mike's kayak company (remember Mike, our lame surf instructor?) where we also loaded the tiny little motor boat that transported us the hour to hour and a half ride to Coiba.

I include this ridiculously bad photo for two reasons: 1) to show you our awesome little boat; and 2) to offer a warning when it comes to using an underwater camera casing in humid weather. I had previously used my water-proof camera casing on two river trips - both in very dry climes (Idaho and Utah) so the whole fogging lens thing was never a problem. I was caught completely unprepared for this. Luckily, Shannon (who did not have an underwater camera casing) was inexplicably prepared and had one of those anti-moisture silica gel pack things that comes in shoe boxes and warns you not to eat it. For reasons I do not understand now, I never even asked her why she had this but I was definitely grateful when she finally dug it out and I finally added it to my camera so my photos could stop looking like this:
Before boarding the boat we had to transfer all of our belongings to dry bags - dry bags that turned out to be smaller than anticipated. Much smaller. Which means what I felt was already minimalist packing had to be cut to extremely minimalist packing with a lot of shoving and tucking and frustrated "do you really think we will need [fill in the blank]" asked back and forth between Shannon and I both the night before and the morning of our great adventure.

And that giant yellow dry bag in the photo? That was Ian's - I could have easily fit all my stuff in there with room to spare but our bags were about a quarter that size and we had two each and one more to share. I know I really didn't have anything extra and I don't think there was anything critical (aside from the anti-moisture thing) that I didn't have so ultimately it all worked out.

Shannon and I were both happy to discover that we were getting the fancy type of life jackets - the kind people in the know refer to as "PFDs" aka personal floatation devices.

Mine even had a zippered pocket where I was able to stash some chapstick and extra sunscreen (the kind this is like deoderent where you just roll it on - excellent for reapplying, especially to the face). But what really cracks me up when I look at this photo is remembering that just as we were about to head out - boat loaded and goodbyes just about to finish up - Mike looked at me and asked if my sunglasses were "real" or just looked good. And he said it in this condescending tone that just really irritated me. And before I was able to respond he rambled on about how terrible the sun is and blah, blah, blah. If you have ever glanced through my vacation posts in the last couple of years you will recognize these glasses - they have done their time in the blinding sun and trust me they are "good" sunglasses. I paid a good amount for them because I have extra sensitive eyes (I seriously cannot be in the sun without sunglasses) and because I do not need to further encourage the crow's feet I inherited from my father. Mike did not pose this question to anyone else, it was not a general warning and honestly, if I said yes, I bought these off the street in NYC what could be done at this point? Was he ready to hand over his shades? Ugh, totally pointless know-it-all-ism. The irony of my defensiveness over my choice in eye wear played itself out over the course of the next couple of days.

But before I allow this post to follow one thought to its logical conclusion, I will once again back up and offer this. If you are ever in need of some rain, might I suggest inviting Shannon and me to your neck of the woods for a vacation? Or really me and anyone from my Gates of Lodore river trip where we encountered one pounding rain storm after another in the arid east deserts of Utah in a time of year when rain just doesn't show up too often. When I visited Denise (from the river trip, not the one from the Panama trip) in Connecticut to go hiking - pouring rain. When Denise came to NY for my dessert party and we went out for brunch and a movie the next day - torrential downpour in December (rain, not snow). And when Shannon and I arrived in Panama we were told it was dry, dry, dry and hot and windy. But as soon as we arrived in Santa Catalina - the drought was over and it rained.

And while the day of our boat trip to Coiba dawned bright and sunny, the ominous gray clouds blocked out the sun before too long and soon we were all shivering in the boat as it bounced over waves that grew bigger and bigger. I couldn't help but remember a terrible boat ride I experienced in the Dominican Republic a number of years earlier that was over similarly choppy waters (though without the rain) wherein the boat driver launched our little motor boat off the back of breaking waves only to slam continuously down on the other side with each succeeding wave feeling like a longer plummet and harder landing until one wave seemed to move in slow motion as our little boat pushed over the front side and felt as if it hung in the air a full five seconds before slamming back into the water on the other side as all hell broke loose on that little boat - my two friends on the front bench looked back at me on the third with fear and concern and one was about to cry until we all saw the girl who had been sitting on the bench between us who was now splayed awkwardly between the benches with blood running down her chin in larger amounts than anyone was comfortable with. The bench I had previously been sharing with a Dominican-born New Yorker who was afraid of water and didn't know how to swim (yet was on a mini-snorkeling trip!) had snapped when we hit the water leaving the two of us holding onto the side of the boat to prevent from sliding into each other in the middle. Later I realized the snapping wooden bench probably saved me from snapping a bone in my body considering the massive bruise I walked away with as a souvinier. Another passenger - our snorkeling guide - broke his leg. During all the carnage I had to yell at the driver to stop and slow down to prevent further injuries. It was a nightmare I was not interested in reliving.



(Our excellent, excellent boat driver)

Luckily, this boat driver was better than the Dominican one and negotiated his way among the waves in a manner that did not send the boat slamming back onto the water. But I would be lying if a little bit of fear and quesieness did not settle in my stomach as salt water and rain water lashed at my face and eyes aggravating what was possibly a minor scratch on my eyeball from the dust storm the previous night when I had something stuck in my eye. There was no sun but the combination of salt and rocking and who knows what left me unable to keep my eyes open. It didn't matter that my eyes were shut since there wasn't anything to see - I believe we were still a few hours away from noon and yet the sky was completely dark and the rain and the gray was all encompassing. We had to trust our driver that he could find his way to Coiba basically blind. We also had to trust that he had enough gas as he kept switching tanks. Tanks meaning those plastic gas jugs people use to refill their lawn mowers. Only not quite that fancy. I didn't realize at the time that he carried any type of communication or navigation device as all I could see was a guy standing at the back of the boat steering us further into the darkness. That is, when I managed to keep my eyes open.

And then there was the part where I had to pee so bad I thought the next bounce may cause me to go against my will. The phrase "are we there yet" has never rung so loudly in my head. I was shivering with eyes squeezed tightly shut trying not to think about how desperately I needed to pee while being splashed on all sides with both rain and sea water. Not my favorite boat ride of all time.

Just as I was reaching the absolute end of my ability to tolerate it all, the boat stopped after Shannon had begged to stop to pee. Turns out, one of the many things we have in common is our small bladders! We both happily jumped over board into the welcoming warm, warm water. The rain was now just a light drizzle and the water had smoothed out to a gentle rocking that was nearly flat. The sun peaked out a tiny bit and we tried to remember how to pee while treading water as others waited impatiently in the boat - essentially watching. I squeezed out enough to get beyond the pain and we climbed back into the boat. Soon the sun came back and we could see land. Beautiful, green land.

And a giant, giant yacht.

Let me tell you, there is nothing that ruins the first glimpse of somewhere remote and difficult to get to like the sight of other tourists. Especially the sight of pampered tourists.

But we blazed right past them and went to our beach - Machete Beach - to unload our stuff before checking in at the ANAM Station (ranger station) and picking up our kayaks.

After depositing all of our things on the beach and a quick look around, we got back in the boat under a now brightly shining sun that had forgotten the clouds of the morning and headed back toward that stunning yacht.

You can see the yacht up in the corner of the above photo - it was seriously massive. And when we climbed out of our dinky little boat at the ANAM Station we discovered what kind of people travel on such a yacht - extremely pampered rich ones. Mostly old extremely pampered rich people. The type who have cabana boys in matching white polo shirts and crisp blue shorts running around to do their bidding. The type who all looked like they had just stepped out of their massive Hamptons "beach houses" in their resort wear instead of onto an extremely remote rarely visited Pacific island.

It was disappointing to say the least to maneuver past them as we were walked through the station to a back room with aging posters of animal life on the wall and very old filing cabinets and a desk where the official took down our names and glanced at our passports as Jaime gave them money for our stay. It was quiet and other-worldly back there and I felt like at least we were seeing the real details and not being handed a towel every time a bead of perspiration showed up on our foreheads. We re-filled our water bottles at a sketchy looking spigot near the water as a guide walked a herd of shuffling tourists clad in bright prints and linen past us. I tried to follow their gaze up into the trees to spot the monkey or bird or whatever the guide was pointing out but instead found myself the object of other's ogling. At any moment I expected the guide to turn and point to us as some of the crazies who come and camp on the island to explain away our more sporty attire. I like to think those people were secretly jealous of our bravery for having a less santized encounter with the island.

Before long it was time to climb into the kayaks for the first time. Funny thing is, I was the only beginner - everyone else had been on a kayaking trip with Jaime before and both Ian and Denise actually owned their own kayaks and did this on a regular basis. Jaime nearly forgot this as we were about to climb into our kayaks and had to turn back into the guide to teach me what I was supposed to do!

Jaime gave a quick lesson on how to hold my paddle and I spaced out through most of the instruction on how to use the pedals (yes! there are pedals! this was total news to me) to steer once Shannon agreed to sit in the back. Granted, I did sit back there and try it out but mostly I was not grasping the concept all that well.

Another concept I didn't grasp all to well? Paddling. There were a lot of tips and tricks and directions and instructions and do this and not thats thrown out at me on that beach among the yacht tourists and I just wasn't with it enough to comprehend it all. Or maybe I thought I would just come to it naturally given my river experience (if you can call it that) and those occasional free kayak days I spend on the Hudson each summer.

The lesson to future me: if you are struggling and something feels much harder than it should be - try asking a few questions. It hurts far less than the sting of needlessly fatigued muscles, I promise.

That first paddle out of the ANAM Station bay and back to Machete Beach was painful and felt much further than it actually was. Bless Shannon for being so patient with me as I took a few strokes and then faded, took a few more and faded and then whined about how much harder it was than expected.

After about an hour we arrived at our beach and set up camp. We found this beautiful and enormous sand dollar and took it as a sign of where to pitch our tent.

Our little clearning was just above the high tide mark in a small clearing in the jungle down the beach a ways from what Denise termed "the living room" of our island.

Here's the view from our tent:

And here's the Living Room where we gathered for breakfast, dinner and long evening talks - sometimes with a fire, always with extra bug spray.

It has now been nearly three months since I called this beach home for a week and I must tell you that I miss it. Of all of the places I have ever been, this is one of the most remote, most secluded and untouched wildernesses I have had the opportunity to enjoy. And I will tell you it was a little slice of heaven.

That first afternoon on the island, after we set up camp I tried out my new snorkel gear for the first time as we checked out the reef around the small outcropping of an island in the middle of our bay. I was surprised by how little effort it took for me to swim with long fins on my feet but I knew I was awkward in adjusting to breathing and seeing under water. Especially with that one possibly scratched eye that refused to function properly. It was malfunctioning enough that I was incapable of seeing the first reef shark we encountered. Of course, that was probably a good thing as I really was not mentally prepared to encounter real life sharks in my vulnerable role as a swimmer.

There is so much more to tell of Coiba - the fish, the monkeys, the sea turtles (oh, the sea turtles), the sun rises, the sun sets, the fascinating camp fire discussions and the always delicious food - including a birthday cake! I realize I get long winded and rambly when I recount my travels but I truly love reliving my experiences as I write about them (even poorly as I have done today - I am forcing myself out of this writing funk one way or the other!) and I hope you get something out of it as well. If not, I hope you enjoy skimming through the photos of a very beautiful part of the world at least.

p.s. I should mention that in all of my posts about Panama, while the majority of the photos are my own, I have also used some that were shared by my generous travel companions.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

diplomas and random college non-memory

I need to write myself out of this stuck place I've been wallowing in for a while. I'm not sure how I got here and I certainly have not figured out how to get myself out. I have loads of half-written posts floating around in draft form that are just not worth sharing. And my standards for hitting publish are not always terribly high so that is saying a lot.

But in the interest of getting back into the blogging habit and writing my way out of this dark corner, I'm just going to share a couple of really stupid things with you that aren't really worth sharing but hey, they are something to write about and they are semi-related so here goes.

Moving apartment and office within the span of one week really makes one analyze all the stuff that accumulates. "Stuff" being the nicest word I can think of to describe it. I apologize if I am repeating myself here but mid-way through the long day of my home move I called my mother to blame her for all my junk. Don't get mad at me, I was saying it in jest. Mostly. I only half-blame her for all the stuff I cart around. I place the other half of the blame on my dad. You see, from my mother I get this little voice in my head that whispers "sure, you aren't using it now and you haven't used it in 5 years and you didn't even remember that you still have it but you never know when you might need it, so you should probably just keep it." I also just don't like throwing away things that aren't broken and donating is a complicated ordeal in NYC. So I keep a lot of stuf just in case I might possibly have use for it in some hypothetical situation in the future I cannot even invision.

If that voice has not convinced me to keep whatever item I found hidden at the top of my closet, the voice from my dad's side will. That sappy, sentimental voice whispers "ooohhh, do you remember when you first got that? Yeah, you can't give it away, too many memories wrapped up in that [fill in the blank thing]." The combination of these two voices is a curse.

Of course, there are some things I stumble upon that are actually useful and sentimental in a positive way. Such as my framed law school diploma. Sure, I'm guessing most people don't cart around their framed diplomas in the original box for 9 years post-graduation stashing it under the bed and in the back of closets with each new move. But I don't think I've ever really been most people.

As a first year associate in a law firm I remember someone saying it was bad luck to hang your diploma before you passed the bar. So I didn't haul mine into the office before the November news came. And by the time I found out I was indeed a lawyer the following spring after being sworn in, it just didn't seem terribly high on my list of priorities of things to schlep through the streets and onto the subway. So it never got hung during my first job.

My second job was a temporary position of only two years so really, what would be the point of putting it up there? And when I started my current job five years ago I thought about pulling it out from behind my bed to hang at my office but then I thought maybe it was weird to hang just one diploma without the other. And that other diploma of mine? It was sitting in a crate of miscellaneous journals, notebooks, keepsake newspapers and printed emails I had collected over the years in the red faux-leather (I'm assuming) folder I was handed when I walked through college graduation thirteen years ago. . . wait, that cannot possibly be right. I graduated from college thirteen years ago? I'm going to pretend I didn't just say that and move on.

Instead of stashing the skinny box with the handle back behind my bed in my new apartment, I left it in the hallway as a reminder to take it to work already. Once in my new office with all its large empty walls I realized it was time to take action and I ordered a diploma frame online from my alma matter and had it shipped to the office. It arrived yesterday.

So today, 9 years after graduating from law school and 13 years after graduating from college (that number still disturbs me) I have two framed diplomas in my office. Note, I did not say hanging. I am not allowed to do the actual hanging and no one has responded to my request yet but I am pretty sure that before the week is out I will be able to say I finally have two diplomas hanging in my office.

The interesting thing is last night as I was pulling my college diploma out for framing I had to fight against getting sucked into the sentimental vortex that is this crateful of memories. Other than reading a hilarious but heartbreaking story I wrote about losing my best friend in 6th grade, I refrained from blowing off a night's sleep by digging through all the papers. A story I may have to share with you one day because it reads more like a teenage girl getting dumped than a pre-teen being told she is a loser. But I guess those two experiences can evoke similar feelings in the uninitiated.

Anyway, among the certificates and report cards stashed in with my diploma I found a certificate I was given at the end of my freshman year by my dorms. You know those silly awards handed out that are personalized with some joke about something the kid did during the year? I don't remember when or how I received this thing although I'm guessing there was some sort of end of the year party attached to it but I found my award kind of hilarious. Also, sad. My certificate was titled "Who Is This Resident Anyway?" Or something to that effect. I don't have it here in front of me. I guess it was true, I really didn't know anyone who lived in my dorm building other than my actual roommates. We referred to ourselves as the "people under the stairs" because we were in the downstairs room. We lived in apartment style dorms with a suite including three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen shared by six girls and a common area for the building. If I recall correctly there were two suites per floor with a total of three, maybe four floors. When we first moved in we ventured up to the common area once or twice and immediately felt out of place and awkward so we retreated back to our own room. Of course, if any of those girls locked themselves out they had no qualms about banging on our window which was right next to the front door. And surely they caught a glimpse of us always sitting at our kitchen table with the door open down the short flight of stairs from the front entry or possibly when they visited the coke machine in the dark lobby outside our door with the grimy old couch where I once stayed up all night talking to a boy I liked. It is surprising the drama of our suite never drifted up the stairs to where they all sat watching soap operas non-stop as voices were often raised.

Of course, ultimately it was a good thing we kept to ourselves in that dark basement dorm suite with the filthy orange carpet and grimy linoleum. Otherwise, they may have given me some sort of award related to that time my roommate went crazy and clawed my shirt half off leaving scratch marks down my chest. It makes me wonder what awards my roommates received . . . .

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I am really stuck as far as writing goes lately. I have plenty to say but the words just aren't coming together for me lately for some reason. Hopefully I can push out of this funk soon so you don't all wander off and figure out there are better blogs than mine to waste your time with.

In the mean time, have a fabulous Cinco de Mayo. I hope yours is filled with guacamole, good burritos and plenty of refreshing margaritas (virgin or fully loaded, whatever you prefer). And if you need some inspiration as to how to celebrate - try this salad. It is delicious and quite festive.

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