Obligatory DR Beach Post

The Caribbean is synonymous with fun in the sun. And fun in the sun is synonymous with great beaches. So while I'm not generally a beach guy, I did make a point while in the DR to check out as many beaches as I could. By beach number 5 or so, I was starting to come around: beach time ain't half bad.

The things I look for in a beach are 1) uncrowdedness 2) ample availability of shade and 3) absence of hustle (vendors insisting you "just look" at their wares, restaurants with pumping beats to supposedly entice you in, etc.) After these things comes the more generally accepted criteria of sand quality, swimability, etc. And while I didn't find my perfect beach by any means, each one I got to check out has its charms.

I found one secluded enough that with a 5 minute walk down the beach, I was totally alone*. Then, while maybe not the best for swimming or laying out, in a little town called Las Galeras, the beach felt very traditional and unexploited. I did a bit of laying out and reading (after all, what's time on the beach without the reading of a mindless novel), but mostly I stayed active.

Among the land of the mega-resorts (a.k.a. Punta Cana), I walked the length of the beach and back (it counts as my exercise for the day and a cultural experience!) seeing how the true vactioners do the beach. In the hippie(-ish) town of Cabarete, I found some folks to juggle with which caught the attention of some of the passers by. A lady from a nearby resort asked if she could film me to post on their facebook page. Of course I obliged (and then went and stole the video for this here blog :-))

A while I missed some of the reportedly best beaches of the country and skipped out on some of the more stereotypical beach activities, I'm pleased with my beach time. You could even say I more than pleased. I was pretty dang happy.
Thursday December 18 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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How to Skin a Coconut

One of my favorite things to do in the tropics is to find and open a coconut the way nature intended: with no tools. Mano a coco. I don't really like the flavor that much and I don't do it to save money on food. No, I just really really (really) love the concept: something so ubiquitous that you find them on the ground almost everywhere yet so difficult to get to without the right tools. I feel like it is an evolutionary challenge: "Are you clever enough to get the goodness that's inside me?" I take the challenge every chance I get. Here's a handy guide if you ever decide to have a go.

Step 1: Find a coconut. They won't look like those you see in the stores back home. They've got a big thick husk designed to make you feel inadequate. Try looking on a nice coconut palm lined beach. Plus, hey, you're on a beach!

Step 2: Find a couple of nice sharp rocks and start wailing on the thing. Be sure to try lots of approaches and angles because none of them works very well. And try not to smash your finger.

Step 3: Sweat...a lot. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Plus, there's a good chance you'll burn many more calories opening this stupid thing than what's contained inside, so you can write it off as today's exercise!

Step 4: Swear...a lot. Don't worry, that smashed finger will heal. Consider giving up. Because after all, you don't really like coconut and who is this "evolution" that's throwing the gauntlet anyway?

Step 5: Triumph! You've now gotten the husk off, half the battle. You deserve to take a selfie for instagram.

(Yes that was just half of the process. I never said it was going to be easy.)

Step 6: Now comes the delicate part, getting the nut open without spilling the delicious* water inside. If you had your trusty pocket knife, you'd just poke holes through the eyes on the end. But since we're going au natural, try a little more delicate smashy smashy.

Step 7: Drink and be merry! Totally worth it for that half cup of chunky water.

Step 8: Smashy smashy (again). Less care is needed this time around. Feel free to get out your aggression here. You showed that pesky evolution who's boss.

Step 9: Munch on the meat inside...for about 5 minutes until the novelty wears off or you get slightly sick of it. Chuck the rest into the underbrush. It doesn't keep well. Besides, it was all about the pursuit anyway.

Step 10: Head home for a nap. After all that work, you deserve it. On your way, consider grabbing a coconut ice cream and sit back and appreciate how much [of someone else's] work went into making it.

There you have it, a handy step by step guide to one of the most enjoyable rewarding satisfying activities the tropics have to offer.
Sunday December 14 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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27(-ish) Waterfalls

NOTE: I didn't take this photo (or the one below). I didn't take any because I left my camera in my backpack to stay dry. It was my attempt at living in the moment. And when I made the decision, I didn't know how cool it would be. If this photo is yours, 1) thank you for letting me use it and 2)please don't sue me. :-)
I don't mean to sound cliche here, but if you ever find yourself in the Dominican Republic, put 27 Charco on your todo list. I usually don't like trying to sway people into doing what I liked, as I am a much bigger fan of the serendipity of travel, but so much about this place is great, I've gotta recommend it!

Firstly, from a purely geographic standpoint, it's awesome. The river has cut a series of narrow canyons, deep pools, and varying waterfalls. It's somewhat like I imagine the slot canyons of Utah to be like during a flash flood. The canyons would be gorgeous to walk through even without the falls and river, with neat rock layers and formations every which way.

Then there's the experience: they do you up in a life jacket and helmet* and let you jump, swim, and slide your way down. Because I arrived too late (after the always confusing act of getting anywhere), I only got to do 12(-ish) of the 27(-ish)* falls. I got to jump* the highest cliffs, slide the best chutes, and go through some spectacular canyons. I can only imagine what I missed in those upper 14 waterfalls. Also, my guide* told me that the water level the river changes drastically depending on the rains, so some chutes would be faster with more rain, but the cliffs not as high.

Finally, there's the story behind the place. You can read all about it on their website (linked above) but basically, through the help of peace corp, they got it to be a national reserve where the government helps monitor things and keep things safe and fair, and some of the money goes back into the communities in the form of money for schools, etc. The guides share everything so they don't fight (like the hassle that ruins the experience at so many other places). All in all, it sounds like a good good thing that's happening there.

So are you sold yet? Don't you just want to be there right now? I do, again, and I was just there! Next time, though, I will get there early enough to do all 27 and take my camera in a sturdy plastic bag. Next time...
Friday December 12 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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Hit the Ground Walking

The first thing I like to do when I arrive in a new place, after securing a place to safely lay my head, is to head out and walk. No map, no destination, no expectations—just walk. On the functional side of things, it really connects with and orients me to the area. But it also serves to help me truly be in a place, rather than experience it through the lens of whatever guidebook, website, or friend's recommendations I have gotten. Just walking allows me to follow whatever minor whims occur at the moment and see where they take me. There's always time at the end to visit any highlights just walking might have missed.

Take Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, my current whereabouts, for example. Today, my first day here, I must have walked at least 8 miles, and I saw a lot. Of the "you should see this" list, I happened upon the presidential palace, Independence Park*, the malecon*, and the Columbus Lighthouse*. But I also happened on all sorts of other cool stuff, like this crazy Ricola statue* and this amazing fort/castle, places I probably would not have found if I was on a mission to any place in particular. I had lunch at a place that's never been mentioned in a guide book* and got lost resulting in the opportunity to practice my Spanish in asking for directions home. And I earned the 3 ice creams I stumbled upon.

Yep, this hit-the-ground-walking routine really works for me. My feet my be tired and my socks more pungent than normal, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wednesday December 10 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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Sony Pictures Studio Tour

When you are in the LA area, it's kind of a rule that you've gotta do something Hollywood-y. If you're in town to do a taping of Wheel of Fortune, it only makes sense to have your Hollywood-y thing be a tour of the Sony Picture Studios in beautiful(?) Culver City.

While the price tag on the tour was a little steep, I justified it as a way to get a little more comfortable with all things Lights Camera Action, before I had my big day. But it was really just an excuse to do something that I knew would be really cool, and it totally was.

The coolness fell into two different categories. First, there was the "I've always wondered how they did that". One example of that was the sound effects room, a room filled with all sorts of crap with piecemeal flooring, where they record everything but the dialog. Super interesting. Or the sound mixing room. Or sound stages with sets*, green rooms, etc.

The other coolness category was the "I know that thing/place from TV/movies!". There were old movie props, building facades, and more. It was neat to see how often a certain building would be reused for different shows, scenes, etc.

But really, the crowning glory of the tour was being able to see the sound stage where the Jeopardy! set was set up. There was a neat museum documenting memorable moments, history, etc. There were replica lecterns*, rows and rows of Emmys, and a life size reproduction of the Man himself. I was in hog heaven. Someday I will be back here as a contestant. But until that day, this tour was good times!

Seeing how movies and TV are made is fun! Rubbing elbows with the stars...' assistants' valets, so much history, and lots of behind the scenes anecdotes made the Sony Picture Studios tour a great way to spend an afternoon! Plus it took my mind ever so slightly off my big day of taping the following day. Yikes! I mean, Yeehaw!
Monday July 14 2014File under: travel, USA

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Standby

Killing time in an airport isn't the worst way to spend an afternoon. It isn't the best, but it isn't the worst. And I seem to be doing that a lot recently. Not because I've been travelling more, but because of how I've been traveling. Through the generosity of a friend, I'm in the in-crowd, able to hop on flights for free or little money (provided it's the right airline) without jumping through the hoops of time-sensitive fares, blackout dates, etc. Yes, I'm a travel companion!

The upsides of this arrangement are many. There's the whole cheap cheap travel, of course. And then there's the way the airline folks treat one of their own. I've had so many great experiences, esp. with the ticketing and gate people. And maybe they're this nice to everyone. If so, I didn't notice until now. And with the cost of travel a non-issue, freedom of travel increases. Hop to San Francisco for an evening? Why not? Weekend trip to Hawaii? Alhoa!

But as with anything, there are downsides. The two biggest for my situation are this: the airline I get to go free on has a business model that isn't conducive to flexible travel. They serve small airports via hubs and don't do any connecting flights. This works great if I'm just going Bellingham to Vegas or LA, but doesn't work well if I want to head to the east coast. It can be done, but it involves overnight layovers and transfers in obscure midwest locations. But the biggest downside is what has me killing full afternoons in airports unexpectedly: I only fly standby.

It seems when I was flying via traditional paying means, none of the flights I ended up on were fully booked. There was always one seat to be had somewhere. But now, a full 25% of my flights have been booked to the point of leaving me waving to them from the airport while they taxi away. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it can sure throw a wrench in one's planning*.

So here I continue to sit, poaching free wifi and counting heads as the waiting room fills up, hoping there will be one measly seat for little old me.
Sunday February 23 2014File under: travel

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A Brief Visit to Madison

The happy coincidence of having family in the same city as a well known juggling festival led me to hop on a plane and bounce on over to Madison WI for the weekend, a place I've always wanted to check out anyway. The verdict: pretty dang neat.

Seeing the midwestern version of a juggling festival was interesting. Madfest, now in it's 47th year is pretty big as far as juggling festivals go. Lots of people, lots of talent, and lots of age diversity, which was really nice to see*. And while between the awesome show and all the happenings in the gym, there was plenty of great stuff to watch, the overall vibe was a bit cliquey. I mostly juggled by myself* and am looking forward to getting back to the awesome Bellingham club meeting to get my fill of high level passing.

Aside from the juggling festival, there was lots to do and see in Madison, and I had a great tour guide and host. We walked the city in freshly falling snow, sampled a bit of the local cuisine, got a geocache(!), saw Cora's school, and much much more. It was the perfect taste of the place and it has me looking forward to coming back someday.

In short, my time in Madison was awesome. Getting there and back, however, there were a few more ins and outs. But that'll have to wait for another post.
Monday January 20 2014File under: travel, USA

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Panama Pictures

Here are my leftover, didn't-make-the-blog-elsewhere-but-are-still-neat-and-I-want-to-share-them pictures. I attempted a creative way of showing them, like I have before (here, here, and here), but I'm afraid this country silhouette collage method falls a little short. So instead, why not go ahead and click on any tiny picture below (or here) and scroll through them using the good old fashion lightbox slideshow. Included is a little blurb about each picture. You could even think about it like 13 instagram posts in one! Enjoy!


Sunday December 15 2013File under: travel, Panama

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Chronicling Travel

When one returns from a wonderful trip, there are lots of memories that will stay for a life time. Then there are the other memories, the stories that get lost when recounting the adventure for family and friends, and after telling more or less the same account of the adventure, get lost even to yourself. So has been so many of my adventures; if it didn't make it to the blog*, it sometimes just slips away.

Since travelling with Della, she's instituted a great new travelling habit, one that I plan to implement on whatever adventure I am on from here on out: chronicling. At the end of each day, we record what we did that day. It's amazing how even little notes about the day can remind you of some story or adventure that didn't make it from short term memory to long term.

Here's a couple examples from this latest Panama trip (augmented with photos of course):
Day 8: Wednesday 20th
 - pancakes
 - awesome bike adventure, "¡somos los batidos!"
 - geocache, binocs, Trump tower, threw pennies in fountain
 - empenadas
 - taxi to parque metripolitano (opted out of paying, walked short trail then into long walk home)
 - long walk home (jugglers, Della's scary neighborhood, turned down ride from cops, cheap taxi home)
 - Batidos! and park
 - Dinner @ Mac n Cheese place (Tapas) Fue delicioso
 - Evening walk through pleasant neighborhoods
Day 6: Monday 18th
 - Eaten by bugs, poor sleep, hot, buggy, kind of miserable, full of bites
 - We like fry bread!
 - Ate ceviche in grass...Della tried it!
 - Our dude rode us across in his boat
 - Bussed to Porobello (tiny internet place)
 - Bussed to Colon (walked to train station, didn't get shot :)!)
 - Train w/ 27 Frenchies...oui oui!
 - Della saw a crocodile (or 2!)
 - Awesome train ride
 - Haggled w/ cab driver
 - Found awesome hostel (Luna Castle)
 - Crazy ass rain shower
 - Cheap ass dinner
 - Wren snored


As you can see, it pretty much covers the bases, sometimes a little too much. But having this record will be great in 25 years when we head down to Panama again. After all, it will be very important to remember "Somos los Batidos!"

(Note: Della has been doing her own blogging about our trip and it is totally worth checking out. But please pretend all the photos for this post weren't stolen from there. Thanks!)
Saturday December 7 2013File under: travel, Panama

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Tropical Waters Trifecta

While I'm not a beach person the way some people are beach people, I've been known to enjoy a good beach every now and again (as testified to in these previous posts: A Day at the Beach, My Kind of Beach, and Beach life (is the life)*). And since it seems somewhat of a sin to go to the tropics and not enjoy the beaches, I made it my goal to complete the Tropical Waters Trifecta*: Gulf of Mexcio, Caribbean, and the Pacific.

First stop, Venice Beach, Venice, Florida*. While initially reluctant to get in due to the overcast skies, I instead busied myself with searching for shells, walking the beach, and lounging. But just as we were starting to pack up, I felt inspired and dove in*. I'm so glad I did. Bobbing in the waves (and rinsing away 2 days of travel grime) was a great start to the trifecta.

Next, 1225 miles SSE, I tested out to the waters of Isla Grande, just east of Colon, Panama. The warmer water made entry much easier, but the best beach on the island charged a day rate we weren't into paying, so we grabbed a quick dip on various other corners of the island. On the plus side, while the beaches weren't great, we did manage to find a mini-beach all to ourselves at a closed down resort (which required crossing the island by foot through some pretty neat rain forest jungle). And since a deserted beach tops a beautiful beach for me most days, I greatly enjoyed phase 2 of the trifecta.

A quick hop across the isthmus, the last stop on my tropical waters trifecta was Isla Taboga, Island of the Flowers. We came to this island just to get a final day of beaching in and we weren't let down. Although I had to stay huddled in a tiny shade patch, I often popped down to the water for a quick soak. And since my shade patch was hammock ready*, my lazy beach day was perfect.

While none of the beaches I visited would be mistaken for the best each area has to offer, they were definitely good enough for me. Now just to figure out where the next beach trifecta will be...
Sunday November 24 2013File under: travel, Panama

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