Thursday, May 18, 2017

California

I can't believe I haven't written since February but I honestly haven't felt like it or really had the time. Today was my first day off that I didn't go surfing. Instead I went for a hike in the hills outside of LA. I really needed to clear my head and process the last few months and a hike was exactly what I needed. Three months ago I drove across the country to work on the schooner American Pride as a marine science educator/deckhand. After less than a few weeks and before even sailing with students, the ship was unexpectedly sold out from under us. Instead of an 8:00 am pre-sail muster one morning we were told that the boat had been sold and we had simultaneously lost our jobs and our homes. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI) and been in the process of taking on the Pride and her programs and the director offered us all jobs and a place with them. We were given until 2:00 that afternoon to move all of our stuff off the boat in Long Beach and over to LAMI in San Pedro. Needless to say, we were all shocked and sad but since we had all driven across the country for the job and had nowhere else to go, we accepted LAMI's offer and moved on board. It was not the smoothest transition in the beginning and it definitely involved a change in mindset but we gradually adapted. A couple of the A. Pride crew decided LAMI wasn't for them and moved on to other things. A couple more of us almost left when we heard that the new owner of the A. Pride planned to take the ship around the world as an outdoor classroom for high school students. I was just starting to feel comfortable with the new ships and feel at home at LAMI but the Pride's potential adventures sounded so good that I was nearly ready to jump on board until everything fell through. Honestly, I was relieved. It made my decision for me and meant that I had more time to explore southern California and hang out with the people I've met here. 


A view of LA from Topanga Park



California coastline

So many wildflowers!!


I didn't instantly fall in love with California though. My first impression of LA was sullied by the foul Rainbow Harbor - complete with dead birds, old nitrile gloves, and all manner of trash you can imagine - where the A. Pride was docked in Long Beach and the horrendous traffic everywhere around LA - it took me about 2 hours to go thirty miles today.... The harbor where I am now in San Pedro isn't much better but I've had more time to get out and explore the area and I've found that there are some really beautiful places and things. Like the surfing spots and the surf culture, the incredible coastlines just minutes from the harbor, the wilderness areas just outside of the city, sailing on square-riggers, and the awesome people I work with. I still have yet to actually see downtown LA and there are lots of other places on my list to see while I'm here.

I don't have an end-date in mind but I'd like to stay around for the summer. Summer is the voyage season at LAMI. We usually go to Catalina Island which is about a 4-hour sail from San Pedro but a totally different environment. Much of it is untouched and the island is reminiscent of Jurassic Park. We've seen leopard sharks, sea lions, a juvenile bald eagle, rays, crabs, and a variety of fish. I still have yet to see one of the iconic bison though! We take middle, high school, and college students on multi-day voyages and it is an exhausting but fun and rewarding time. This week has all been day-sails but we have two five-day voyages coming up over the next two weeks! The ships at LAMI are named the Exy Johnson and the Irving Johnson and I'm on Exy (the better one of course ;) ). They are brigantines which means that they have square sails!! Instead of only triangular and parallelogram-shaped sails set fore and aft they have square or rectangular sails set perpendicular to the masts. That means we get to go aloft to prep and furl sails, which is awesome. So even if this wasn't want I intended to do in California, I'd say it's pretty great. (More pictures to come because I'm having technical difficulties)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Costa Rica

I'm writing this blog on my phone so I apologize in advance for any grammatical errors or weird layout...I've been in Costa Rica for about two weeks now. I have to say it's even better than I expected.
Ostional Main Nesting Beach

View from the hilltop



It's exactly what I was looking for and I haven't felt this content and stress free for a while. I'm so busy here that I don't have time to think about really anything except day to day life here which I think is the best way to live. I arrived in San Jose last Sunday and was glad I didn't have to spend a lot of time there. It's nice enough but it is a city and the flight over and the over priced taxis made me busy want to be out of there at my destination, Ostional. I stayed in a guest house in San Jose which was an experience in itself. It's owned and run by a lady named Margarita.  She's very kind and spoke English well. The people there were all much older than I and had lived in Costa Rica for quite some time. I stayed there for a night and took the bus to Ostional the next..day. To get to the bus I took a taxi which should have taken 20 minutes but due to construction on a bridge and rush hour traffic took a painful hour and a half. Fortunately we had left early and when we got there the driver helped me buy the bus ticket and find the bus.  The days were sold out on the bus but fortunately this isn't the US and they sold me a "standing only" ticket. I stood/at in the wheelchair area for a while until somehow a seat opened up and several helpful passengers directed me to it. I'm not sure the seat was any more comfortable than the aisle but at least I didn't have to stand for four hours.  When the bus arrived in santa cruz I had to buy another ticket to get to Ostional. Someone sitting near me showed me where to buy the ticket which I  was thankful for since I had no idea. There were alot of people getting on the bus and fortunately I got a seat. However,  I ended up with my small bags at my feet and my huge backpack on my lap when someone took the seat next to me. It was not the most comfortable to say the least. And I happened to be in the sunny side of the bus and there was absolutely no air flow. I felt like I was suffocating and I was so I hot I thought I might pass out. Due to a combination of the heat,  lack of sleep, and exhaustion from traveling, I managed to sleep for a good portion of the three hour trip which helped the time pass. The bus basically did door to door service since alot of the passengers lived in the middle of nowhere. By the time I woke up enough people had gotten off the bus and the guy next to me moved over and I was happily freed of my backpack. I made it to the destination of Ostional and a local who had also just gotten off the bus showed me to the research station. I met the other volunteers and the coordinator and then my host family came to get me. My first week I stayed with a different family since the person I was supposed to stay with was away on vacation longer than expected. The lodging is simple but sufficient.  All the buildings have tin roofs which makes them like ovens during the day but it cools off at night and is comfortable for sleeping. There is no hot water but a cool shower is almost always wanted. 98% of the meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - are rice and beans, sometimes with other things on the side, and I will certainly be thankful to eat other food again but I don't really mind it. Life here is pretty great and maybe even better than I expected. This morning I was working by 6 to do a morning census. We're hoping the arribada - a mass arrival of 100s or even 1000s of turtles - will be soon so we try to keep track of how many turtles were out out the night before by finding tracks.
Olive Ridley tracks
 We also record whether or not they laid and if the nest was poached or destroyed (usually by dogs :(  ). Most days I wake up around 7, eat breakfast, surf for a couple hours,  do a bit of work at the station at 10, eat lunch, then relax, journal, read, explore, swim until beach cleanup (picking up trash and wood off the beach). After I might surf again or go for a swim and maybe do yoga before dinner. Every night Monday - Friday we have night patrol where we walk the beach looking for nesting turtles. Since I've been here there have been a couple nights we haven't seen any turtles but usually we see 3-4 Olive Ridley Turtles. One night we saw about 15-20 turtles and had about 8 nesting at the same time!! When we find a turtle we record what time we found it, what it was doing and then, if we get there before it has started laying, how long it took to lay eggs, how many it layed, and how deep the nest is. We also measure the length and width of the shell, and width of a back flipper. Then we tag the turtle if it's a new, untagged turtle. So far I haven't seen an returning turtle. Our patrols are usually 4 hours long which isn't bad if we see a few turtles but can be a lot of walking if we don't. The beach is beautiful at night, though. There is almost no light pollution so when the moon is dark the stars are incredible.  When the tide is low it's like a mirror that reflects the stars and the bioluminescense in the water makes the crashing waves glow blue. We even saw a bioluminescent turtle once! Her shell was covered in algae that glowed blue when we touched it.

We're free on on the weekends and the past couple weekends we've gone to nearby towns. Getting around here is pretty easy and there are lots of cool places to see nearby. The other day,  some of went for for a hike led by some of the locals. They showed us around the hills and countryside and then we scrambled through the mangrove forests searching, unsuccessfully, for crocodiles, and up a steep hill overlooking the ocean. As a reward for our efforts we got fresh coconuts! One of our guides climbed all the way up the tree, chopped them down with a machete and then cut them open so we could drink the water and then eat them. They were delicious! I also tried climbing part way up a tree but it's not easy and getting back down is rather awkward since the easy option of sliding down trunk is highly uncomfortable.
Our guide Macdonald getting coconuts

Our view while doing sunset yoga

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The In-between

I've been home for more than a month now with no set plans to leave again and it's hard. I don't want to seem ungrateful that I have a place to come home to, because I am SO grateful that I can come back and stay whenever I want and my gracious parents will always take me in, but after one month I'm restless. It is wonderful to see my family and friends again and to catch up with the amazing people that I miss so much when I'm away but I can't help feeling a little bit stuck here. I like doing new things and seeing new places and, honestly, living the life of a traveler keeps me from overthinking. When I'm living in another country in an environment that I've chosen, I am rarely bored and usually doing things that I want to do. When I'm here, I have more time to myself and less choice over my job since I have to take what I can find around here. That leaves more more time to think about everything and anything and worry about the future or miss the past and wish I was somewhere other than here and doing something other than what I'm doing. It's hard to stay positive even though I know I have so much to be thankful for.

The ocean <3

I love fall days in New England

I'm currently working two jobs, as a server at a Thai restaurant Friday and Saturday nights, and as a Shift Supervisor (although my title actually technically just became Store Manager) at a burger place and, needless to say, it's not exactly my dream job. I'm sure there are plenty of people in a similar situation but I find myself wondering how I ended with a college degree and two-page resume, working at a burger joint. I guess you could say I'm having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I realize that I chose a path of less security when I decided to travel and I don't regret traveling for one second but I guess it can't always be glamorous... I kind of thought I'd come home and find a job as a biologist or field researcher or something along those lines right away and I'd settle in and spend some time around here. But apparently God has other plans for me. I don't know what they are yet but I'm excited to find out! In the meantime, I'm going to be thankful for the people I have here, a place to live, a job, the car that I just bought, the New England fall I get to enjoy for the first time in several years, the surfing, a horse to ride, and many other things that I don't have everywhere!
No waves today but the surf is pretty good some days!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Italy

It's taken me a while to write this because there's just so much to write about and I haven't stopped moving around until about a week ago when we got back from family vacation in Minnesota. Even after that, time has gone amazingly quickly and I've filled up my days with surfing, going to the barn, and looking for a job.

It feels like forever ago but it's been a little over a month now since I left France. I said my goodbyes to the family over the course of my last week with them and then the mom and youngest daughter dropped me of at the bus station where I met my friend, Olga, with whom I would be traveling for the next week and a half. It was cold and kind of rainy despite the fact that it was the middle of summer, but I guess Brittany, France is like that. It was something like eight hours from where we got on the bus to our destination of Paris. If you've ever heard that the French like to go on strike and do so frequently, it's true. Unlike in the U.S., however, it's a very planned-out thing and our flight happened to be the last day of a week-long strike on our airline, Air France, and we were so afraid it would be cancelled. My Google homepage even told me that it was cancelled, though I hadn't received an email or anything so even as we made our way to the airport we weren't sure if we would be flying out or not. Luckily, we were fine and as long as there were no delays we were scheduled to arrive in Venice just in time for the last bus... We arrived at the airport around 10:30 pm and figured out we needed to take the bus to Mestre station and then one more which would take us practically right to our Airbnb. When we got to Mestre it was completely dark, there was pretty much no one there, and we couldn't see any signs for buses. There was one  unmarked mini-van taxi so we asked the driver where we could find the bus and he pointed us in the direction. We walked for a few minutes and tried asking at a restaurant but they only spoke Italian. As we would learn later on, we weren't far but it was late, we had no idea where we were, and we were a bit sketched-out so we decided to go back and take the taxi. Fortunately we didn't take the bus because I don't think we would ever have found the apartment from the station. Even the cab driver couldn't. He had no meter, much less a GPS, so he stopped twice to ask for directions. When we still couldn't find it, he pulled over to call the host of the Airbnb since neither of us had service. Turns out we were right in front of the apartment.

Our hosts were a wonderful retired couple who prepared meals for us whenever we were there and did everything they could to help us out and make us feel comfortable, even though they didn't speak any English and we didn't know enough to really communicate in Italian. Fortunately, Olga speaks Spanish and the two languages are similar enough that we could usually make each other understood. It was quite a nice appartement, too, even though her territorial chihuahua did pee on our floor and the metal fan blades did fly off the fan one night and land on my bed.

Venice is a beautiful city but you have to pay to do anything and there were soooo many people so after walking all over the first day we were exhausted and ready to see something else.

Venice


We decided to take the bus about an hour away to Verona, the site of Juliet's balcony. Verona is a small city with lots of ancient buildings and shady, stone-paved streets. We visited the balcony (but did not take a picture with a hand on Juliet-the-statue's breast like everyone else - apparently it's good luck...), we saw the market and an ancient Opera theater, visited a beautiful Roman cathedral, crossed the river to see the ruins of a Roman theater, walked through an old Roman fort, and ate pizza and gelato.
The river around Verona


Juliet's Balcony

Roman fort

The next day we took the bus to Florence. We stopped again in Verona but we only had about an hour before our next bus so we found the closest restaurant and ate very mediocre sandwiches from a kebab shop (a Turkish restaurant that is very popular in Europe) while being stared at by unsavory, non-Italians who seemed to be locals. Needless to say, we ate quickly and made our way back to the bus. We continued our streak of struggling with public transportation but somehow made it to the appartement with the help of kind locals on the bus and in town where we asked for directions multiple times, and the Google maps that I had downloaded on my phone. We arrived at exactly the same time as the host which saved us from wandering around for an indeterminate amount of time since the buildings were not clearly marked. The place was rather cold and unwelcoming and we could hear the neighbors talking and babies crying but it could've been worse and Florence the next day made up for it.
We left for the bus stop way too early so we got beers and sat in the middle of weird little market

I  liked Florence even better than Venice and Verona. It's a bigger city but not so busy that you feel constantly surrounded by people and cars. We started at Michelangelo Square - the site of Michelangelo's "David" - which overlooks the entire city. What an incredible view!
Me and David

Florence!

We started to descend the steps into the city and stopped to take pictures with the view in the background and we were talking to each other (in French, which we always spoke together) about asking someone to take our picture and a man, who must have been about 70, asked if we wanted our picture taken. He took our picture and we started talking. We asked him if he was French and he told, no, he was a local and he liked to just come up here and see the city and "tour guide" for people because he is a retired teacher (if I remember correctly) and his wife didn't like going on long walks with him. He asked if we wanted a tour of the old church on the hill behind us and we figured "why not". He told us that a lot of people missed the church altogether because they were too focused on the tourist highlights but that it was his favorite church in Florence. It really was a magnificent church and in a mix of French, Italian, and English, he told us all about its history and the architecture and artwork inside. After our tour he gave us some tips about seeing the city and then said goodbye.
Inside the church

Florence from outside the church on the hill

We descended from the hill into the city until we came to the river. The Arno River cuts right through Florence - large rivers seem to be a theme in major European cities - so there are a series of bridges all down the length of the river. The oldest of these bridges is Ponte Vecchio which is so crowed with shops and building, you almost don't realize it's a bridge at first! It was an interesting site, however, and I can see why it's a popular tourist attraction.
The Arno River

Ponte Vecchio

One of our first stops was food. We wandered a little to find a place off the main drag that would be less expensive and just all-around better. We found a little pizza place (shocking, I know), that I can't even remember the name of and ate the best pizza that I had the whole time in Italy. It may have tasted better since they made the pizzas heart-shaped just for us. Afterwards, we walked a lot. We went to the Duomo (a cathedral with a dome) where we were obligated to buy shawls from a nearby vendor and put on jackets or be refused entry because we were in shorts and tank tops and, as we found out, the dress code for most of the Italian churches is covered knees and shoulders. It was worth it, though, because it was incredible inside! In fact, every church we went to in Italy was beautiful on the outside but exquisite on the inside. The amount of time that must have gone into all the paintings on the ceilings and walls is unimaginable!
The best pizza in Italy



Inside the Duomo

The Duomo
The Duomo in Florence
We went to one museum which was really interesting because it had some of the oldest artifacts that I had ever seen and lots sculptures by Michelangelo and other artists of the time but it was a little overwhelming because there was so much to see and it didn't help that it was about 90 degrees. We admired lots of other old buildings and statues and tourist sites, and when we couldn't walk anymore, we found a little cafe where we got fruit, gelato, and beers over the course of at least a couple hours. We had planned to move on but we were just so comfortable that we stayed there charging our phones, using wifi, and talking to the server until it was time to catch the bus to Rome.

Carving by Michelangelo
Some statues at the museum...


Yet again, we had misadventures getting to where we were staying in Rome. Supposedly all we had to do was take the metro to the train and then it would be a 15 minute walk from the train station to the hostel. We'd been told that the last train was at midnight and it was around 10:30 so we figured we'd be fine as long as we hurried. We found the metro and got off at Flaminio (the stop for the city center and also where we had to change to the train) and the train station was completely dark. Horrified, we asked a police officer outside the station when the last train was. He didn't quite understand but he told us the next train was at 5:30 in the morning. He tried to help us and gave someone a call to see about getting us a taxi or something but there was nothing he could do so we walked into the center - luckily it wasn't far - and found a taxi which was certainly easier than trying to find the hostel for the first time in the dark. We missed the train again the next night, too, and had to take a bus before we learned that the last train was actually at 10:30 and not midnight.
The square at Flaminio during the day

 Over the next three days we did all the touristy things like the Colosseum, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica... We probably spent more time waiting in 95 degree-heat and blazing sun for everything then we did actually seeing it but it was worth it. I loved the Colosseum because you can almost imagine being there back in the day and it is really an amazing piece of architecture. You never see pictures of the inside but it's way more incredible and almost everything is still in place like it used to be. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel were incredible and almost every surface was covered with some kind of painting or artwork but it was so much it was almost impossible to really appreciate it and it was impossible to stop to admire anything because we were being pushed through by the masses like a herd of cattle. The Basilica was equally adorned but less frenetic and we stopped occasionally just to take it in. We also went to see the Trevi Fountain at night and it is very beautiful and remarkably large - like everything in Rome - but, once again, there were so many people that it kind of took away from the overall experience. We did throw a coin in which apparently means we're going to fall in love with a Roman and come back to Rome...

Inside the Colosseum



Paintings like these were on every surface in the Vatican

Inside the Vatican Museum

It was impossible to capture the splendor inside the Basilica


...but I tried

One of many painted domes

Trevi Fountain

Aside from the main highlights there were plenty of interesting streets and buildings to see and I was amazed at how many ancient ruins are still there. The old is completely mixed in with the new and is everywhere. There are ancient walls lining streets and pathways, Roman arches over and next to the main highway, and large tracts of land covered with ruins. It makes you feel so close to the history. It's unlike in Paris, for example, where you know the buildings are old but the majority of them are seamlessly blended into the modern city and often have a new purpose. I really loved Rome for that reason. The only thing I really didn't like were the crowds.
Olga in front of some ruins

By our third day in Rome, we were so exhausted from the countless miles of walking (I think it was 15-20 miles a day) and the heat and all the people that we didn't do a whole lot. We were also tired of spending money, often unintentionally, on everything (we once paid 20 euros each for a dry sandwich and some chips because we didn't know it was twice the price to eat-in and we had to pay for silverware, whether or not we were using it) so we decided just to buy a pizza and take it back to the hostel and drink the bottle of wine that my au pair dad had given me as a parting gift. Then we tried to go to bed early since we were taking the train at 6 am to catch the plane to Brussels and then to Denmark.
Fitting meal for our last night in Italy

We didn't actually sleep much at all but we got to our flight on time with no real difficulties. I'll write about Brussels, Denmark, and England later or I'll never get this posted!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sometimes You Need To Walk


 I love intense sports. I love surfing and running and horseback riding... I love moving fast and feeling alive and pushing myself, but sometimes, I just need to walk. Today was one of those times, though I didn't realize it at first. My impending departure from France has me left with a million emotions, as every big change does. Things feel different now as two of my good friends have just left and I know I will soon be saying "goodbye", too. Sunday is my day off and I spent the morning organizing my room and going through my things. I had no idea what to do with my afternoon but I was feeling restless, pensive, and a bit down. There were no waves so I couldn't go surfing and the thought of running (especially in the heat of the day) wasn't terribly appealing. I would have loved to see friends but they are all either gone or were busy. I couldn't imagine staying in the house all day so I decided to take the car and go visit a small town not far from here called Pont Aven, which I had never seen before.
Pont Aven

The Port




















As soon as I got there, I realized that walking around a bustling tourist town with people and cars was not at all what I wanted to do but I worked my way through the busy center towards the port and I stumbled upon a trail on the edge of town. It was exactly what I needed and I followed it as it wound along the edge of the water and into a perfectly green and lovely woods. The woods do something for my soul and being practically alone on that quiet trail was wonderful. I thought about my time in France and of times before and of all the places I have gone and all the wonderful people I have met. I thought about the things I love in life and how I wish I could have them all at the same. I happened upon a couple of horses in a field along the trail and my heart ached for the times when horses were my world. I walked past farms down a long, dirt, tree-lined road and I reminisced of other dirt, tree-lined roads through farmland in other parts of the world and the times that I had had on them. Occasionally, I passed people - families, couples, friends - and I longed to be with people that I love and care about. I dreamed about the future, too. What I will do, where I will go, who I will be, and who I will be with. I have so many dreams but really no idea where I will end up and I love thinking about the possibilities. I walked for a long time and I didn't want the trail to end. I wanted to walk until I couldn't walk anymore and just to be alone with my thoughts and memories and dreams.
My lovely little trail

Ponies :)
I can't remember the last time I just walked and thought like that and it felt so good. I'm always with other people or, when I'm alone, I'm distracted by my phone or computer or some activity and I didn't even know how much I needed it. When I finally came back to the town, I felt completely different. I calmly admired the pretty, French town, strolled past the little shops and restaurants, and waded in the river that flows under the bridge for which the town is named ("pont" is French for "bridge"). Then I bought myself and Italian ice, which I thoroughly enjoyed before making my way back home.