Thursday, May 18, 2017


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 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