Monday, October 26, 2009

San Francisco and a One Way Plane Ticket

Okkkkaaay. I have been one very lazy blog writer. I guess everyday California life has been repressing my creativity and will to write. I have about half an hour before it's time to serve the lunch rush their burritos so I better hop to it and fill in the blanks of the last few months. I will start with my week long trip to San Francisco around mid September.

As my grandparents live in the Bay Area I have visited San Francisco a few times growing up, but this was the first time I actually got to stay downtown and see the city. My dad very suddenly, giving me only a few days notice, decided to fly all the way from Perth to visit his parents so I hopped on a short flight North to join him. Family time was wonderful as always, but the highlight of the short trip was definitely staying downtown and exploring the city. What a neat place! It is just buzzing with culture, music, great food and more homeless people than I have seen ANYWHERE! I also really appreciated how culturally diverse the city is, with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. We stayed in a nice little hotel in the center of town for two nights, which provided tequila shots upon check in (thanks mum), and apart from the shoot out on the street by my window at around 3 am it was a pretty good place to stay. Dad and I did all the typical tourist things, ate seafood at fisherman's wharf, zipped around on the cable cars, rode bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge ect. One thing that really sticks in my mind though was the musical talent all over the city, especially the homeless people. Many of them were busking to survive with any instrument available, be it old guitars, drum kits, pots and pans or their own voices, and the amount of talent was unbelievable. I had one old homeless guy play me a song on his guitar with one string and sing, and he actually sounded really good!

Another highlight of my San Francisco trip was eating out in China town. Dad told me he had a certain restaurant in mind for dinner and that he hadn't been there in about 20 years. We were waking down the street in China Town when he announces "here it is!" and procee
ded to walk straight through a kitchen full of Chinese ladies cooking. I gave him a very confused look but followed behind as he headed up a flight of old stairs, thinking how could this possibly be a restaurant???. When we got to to the top it opened up into this tiny low roofed, old little restaurant with low tables and little stools. Dad told me the place had been around forever and he used to
take my mum there when she was my age. What a trip!!! And the food was really good too. The day before my birthday Dad and I parted ways with a Maori nose rub and I headed back down to San Diego.

I had a wonderful birthday. Possibly the best I've ever had. A few friends got me a camp site in Cardiff and we spent the evening surfing, drinking, playing guitar and hanging out. I felt very touched that although I have only been here a little while I have friends that know me well enough to plan such a perfect birthday! Thanks guys! When I arrived here I only intended on staying for about 2 months, and it has some how turned into 5 and a half! While there are aspects of American life and culture that I find frustrating over all I have had a
wonderful summer. San Diego is a very beautiful place and the waves aren't half bad either. A few days ago I booked a one way flight over to Hawaii, continuing on my endless summer. What can I say, I don't like to surf in a wetsuit!

Monday, June 8, 2009

California Life

Ok people, I am VERY sorry for how slack I have been with my postings. But seriously how can I follow on from almost being eaten by crocodiles and surfing amazing Central American waves? A bit over a month has passed since my time in Costa Rica, so I will try to briefly fill you in on what's been going on!

Coming back to the US was a bit of a shock to the system. It's been almost a year since I passed through here last. And after living and traveling through such amazing places like the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic returning to a relatively normal life can be challenging. Not to mention the thought of going back to full time work. My aim is to spend the summer here working, build up some more travel funds then hit the road again. So I arrived in San Diego early May, hoping to find work straight away. My Auntie and Uncle live in Carlsbad and were kind enough to take me in. The first few weeks here were tough. I was out in the suburbs with no transport and the bus system here is appalling. It's funny that I find it easier to get around a third world country alone than I do in California! The weather was miserable as well, May gray was in full swing, and my poor body was softened from the warm Caribbean weather. For my first surf here I had to borrow a guys size medium wetsuit. It was a horrible rainy day and the wind was howling. On my first duck dive the wetsuit swelled up with water like a balloon and I felt like I was going to sink! I had forgotten what cold water felt like. Finding a job was also harder than I had anticipated, the economic crisis is being felt by all, with jobs scarce and so many homes being lost with people out of work.

Despite a rough start things started to get better after the first few weeks. The first stroke of luck came with finding my car. She's a beautiful old volvo station wagon that I picked up for an absolute steal, and she runs like a dream. It fits all my boards in the back, and pretty soon I'm going to put a mattress in too and some curtains up! Plus I drive like a grandma so I'm pretty suited to a volvo. Being mobile again and having freedom made everything so much better! I can go surfing everyday now, and it also opened up a lot more job opportunities. Next came the job, I scored a sweet job at a popular restaurant/bar in Del Mar called En Fuego.

The weather is slowly improving too. I invested in a 4'3 wetsuit which has made things a lot more toasty. Except the thing broke after only 2 weeks so I had to send it in for repairs, so now I am back to freezing again. Every couple of days I drive to chase some bigger waves at either Trestles or Oceanside. San Diego in the summer is pretty damn flat! I think I may have to take up stand up paddle boarding. Trestles is a quality wave but it gets very crowded. Still all things considered the surf has been OK. I did a day trip down to Blacks with my friend Vanessa and although the surf was terrible we had a great time. The hike down is beautiful and having to walk through the nudie beach to get to the surf is always entertaining. Had one guy wearing only a baseball cap, knee high socks and soccer shoes ask me to take a photo of him.

On that note I will wrap things up, over all I think San Diego is going to be a fun place to spend the summer working. The weather is warming up (although the swell is disappearing) and there are lots of fun things to do around here in summer. Still, it's taking me a while to get used to wearing a wetsuit again...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Crocodiles and Earthquakes

Journal entry 23 April

It was one very long day on the road traveling from Puerto Rico to Costa Rica. The countries seem pretty close together but somehow it managed to take me around 18 hours to go from San Juan to Playa Hermosa. Trying to carry a large backpack, two surfboards and a guitar really doesn´t make anything easier either. I left Puerto Rico with mixed emotions, being excited to get on the road but feeling very sad to be leaving the Caribbean. I found myself in Tortola completely by accident, having never heard of the place. It turned out to be the beginning of an incredible 7 months island hopping, possibly the best time of my life, coming to a close 3 days ago as I left Puerto Rico. Costa Rica seems just as I remember it; hot and humid with lots of tourists, fun waves and good food.

My first surf here turned out to be very eventful. A group of us got up around 6am for a dawn session. It was perfect conditions with no wind, making it beautiful and glassy. Too bad there was no swell! Still it was lovely to be in the water on such a peaceful morning. The marine life was abundant with stingrays leaping out of the water all around me, landing with "plops" like flipped pancakes. I was sitting on a peak alone quite a few meters away from the others. I paddled for a left, missed it, but noticed something floating in the inside. I thought it was a log and it took me quite a few seconds to realise it was a crocodile. It was cruising slowly through the water maybe 10 meters away from me. The two guys on the inside spotted it around the same time as me, and they had paddled to the shore before I could even blink. I calmly moved over to the others, figured that way the croc would have a choice of 4 for breakfast instead of just me. We had all started to paddle in together when I saw it thrashing on the inside to our left, just a few meters away. It was at that point I started to feel a little worried. A wave broke out the back and we all got ready to catch the white water in. Displaying my usual lack of co-ordination I missed the wave and watched as everyone rode away from me to the safety of the shore. Great. The water was really dark and I could not see anything. I just tried to stay calm and paddled the fastest I ever have in my life, making an effort not to splash around too much. I finally made it to shore, and I have never been so happy to have my feet on solid ground!

It was definitely an exciting first day in Costa Rica, there was even an earthquake that evening. I was sitting on a huge wooden bench outside when the whole thing suddenly started shaking pretty strongly. It didn´t last too long, and at least there was no tsunami! The waves were good yesterday, perfect conditions with a good swell. It was a solid head height, slamming down on the sand bank in barreling A frame peaks. Only about one third of the waves were rideable though, the rest closing out with a board annihilating "thump" on the shallow sand bar. I was sitting outside waiting for a set when the guy next to me yells out,"Wow, what the hell, did you see that?" Said he saw about 8 small sharks swim right below us, and judging by the look on his face I believe him.

Last night we were blessed with one of the most amazing thunderstorms I have ever seen. I went down to the beach to watch it. I have never witnessed such explosive electrical activity, it was beautiful. This morning my encounters with sea creatures in Costa Rica continued. Four of us took a boat out to a place called The Island, a fun left point break that works well on a big swell. It took us about 10 seconds after jumping off the boat to realise the water was full of jellyfish. I have never seen anything like it. There were literally hundreds of them. They were small and brown, maybe the size of my hand including tentacles. Almost every time I paddled I could feel them brushing against me, like acid on my skin. We would all be sitting out back waiting for a set when someone would start yelling,
"Oooooh, oh, ouch, AHHHHH", and start thrashing around in the water, trying to get away from the jellyfish. At one point I accidentally paddled through a group of about 50 and got stung on every single inch of exposed skin, and considering I was wearing a bikini that was a lot. I was yelping, and may have had more than a few tears in my eyes. The worst thing was that the boat had left us there, and was not returning for another 2 hours, so we were stranded in jellyfish infested waters. My body is still stinging and I´m covered in red welts. The things we do for waves! Still, I am feeling happy to be back in Central America and can´t wait to start heading up to El Salvador. Hopefully I won´t be eaten by any hungry sea creatures along the way.

P.S. Ranifly Bikini website is finally up and running, my fist official modeling gig! Go to

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Ok I just spent an hour or two typing up a post, it wouldn´t publish and I lost the WHOLE THING. I´m too angry to type it up again now but I will in the next day. Watch this space to find out more about encounters with crocodiles, sharks, earthquakes and jellyfish!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Coral Branding and Flying High

So I have been back in Rincon, Puerto Rico, for a little over a week now. I caught the ferry to Mayaguez which was 12 hours of hell without a cabin, 4 hours in line in the sun clearing customs and then hitching back to Rincon. The surf has dropped off again so I figured now is a good time to do some blogging! I attempted a longboarding session yesterday, but due to the Easter long weekend it was a nightmare in the water, with shrieking small children bobbing around with all the co-ordination of beached whales on their surfboards, getting in my way! Three days ago the surf was smoking though. For two mornings we had perfect gentle offshore winds, with a solid head height swell producing some beautiful waves. After a lovely morning session near Sandy's I decided to paddle out at Dogman's. I was a little hesitant after watching a few sets roll in; it looked big. It was a maneagable size most the time but every now and then a few monster sets would crash down, and I knew I really didn't want to be on the inside for one of those. The paddle out was a bit tough but I made it ok. I sat for a while quite far out the back, getting a feel for things. A nice little inside left walled up, I paddled, dropped and rode it a little ways before kicking out on the inside reef. I spun my board around and began the paddle back out. I was almost back out when I looked up to see a dark blue mountain looming up before me, blocking out the sky. Crap. I couldn't go forward, I couldn't go back, I was smack bang in the middle. All I could do was take a big breath and begin a feeble attempt at a duck dive. I don't think I even got halfway under the wave before it ripped my board out of my hands. For the first time in my surfing life I experienced being pinned on the bottom. The force of the wave threw me flat on my back like a starfish, and held me down against the reef. I came up gasping for air, my back stinging from the contact with the reef. I copped about 4 more waves before the ocean gave me a break and I started paddling like a lightning bolt trying to get back out. I almost made it before the next set took me out. Another 5 waves on the head and a whole lot more paddling and I finally got back out! When I came in from the water I realised my back had gotten scraped up. A quick check in the mirror revealed the coolest looking surf injury I've ever had. I must have landed on a brain coral, and it left a perfect detailed imprint on my back. You can see every little line of the coral. I call it a Puerto Rican ocean branding. Who needs to go snorkeling when you can just look at my back? I wonder if it will scar.

The next day after a morning session I was beginning the long walk up hill back to my house, I had been out surfing for around 4 hours and I was pretty tired. I got about 5 minutes up the road when a local surfer stopped his truck to offer me a ride. On the drive we got talking about the Virgin Islands and I told him I had lived there for 3 months, and how much I had loved it.
"Got a passport?" he asked me.
"Um yeah sure, why?" I enquired.
Turns out he is an ex pro surfer who now works as a pilot and ownes his own planes. He had to fly to Tortola in his private jet to pick up some friends who were over there on a surf trip, and asked me if I wanted to come along. The flight was amazing! Cruising along the coastline of Puerto Rico is so beautiful. I got to sit up in the co pilot seat with the head set on and everything. We only got to stop in Tortola for a few hours which was a pity, I have a few good friends that I would have loved to have seen. On the trip back I got to fly the plane most the way from San Juan to Aguadilla. At first I was rather nervous and my hands were definitely a bit sweaty and shaky; it's a strange feeling being up so high and having the control of a plane, but after a few minutes I got the hang of it. The family we went to pick up were really lovely, and it was a pretty amazing afternoon. I feel like I have achieved the ultimate in hitchhiking, the holy grail, the ride on the private jet! Not bad for walking up a hill with my surfboard :)

This weekend is the Easter long weekend, and it feels strange not having it at home. I have no one to buy me chocolate. The family of my best friend of 15 years hosts Russian Easter around this time too and it's such a blast. It's all about amazing food, lots of vodka and great company. I wish I could be there. Also in the next few weeks is my favourite music festival back home, Fairbridge Folk Music Festival. I have gone every year since I was 5. I can't complain too much though, when I'm surfing awesome waves and flying around the Caribbean! Plus last night I went to a pretty good reggae concert, Midnite, playing at Bamboo beach in Isabella. I have about a week left in Puerto Rico now before heading back to Central America.

Happy Easter everybody! xoxoxox

Saturday, April 11, 2009

North Coast Perfection!

I've been a little slack with writing posts lately. I've been back in Puerto Rico for a little over a week and I haven't written anything about the last part of my trip to the Dominican Republic. I spent my last week hunting waves on the North coast around Cabarete. It was my intention to only go for two nights and return to Santo Domingo to see the DJ Tiesto concert but I loved it so much there I ended up staying around a week. Cabarete is a very different place to the rest of the Dominican Republic. It has a lot of tourists and has much more of an upper class feel, with lovely beach front bars and resteraunts. It's very hip! The majority of the tourists are European, and a lot of girls from Norway come there to study abroad. Cabarete is considered one of the top places to kite surf in the world as everyday around late morning the trade winds swing in, creating excellent conditions. Along all the beaches you can see hundreds of kites zipping around, brightly coloured against the perfect blue sky. The main surf beach is called Encuentro and is about a 10 minute drive out of Cabarete. Accommodation is very expenisive in Cabarete so I opted to stay in Encuentro where it is quieter and I could walk to the beach. I found an amazing place to stay run by a lovely German lady called Veronika. She has a few little cottages on her property and she gave me a wonderful price. Its a 5 minute walk to the surf, has a swimming pool and heaps of animals. I couldn't have imagined a better place to stay! See for more information.

When I arrived so did a really big swell. It was too big for Encuentro. Only two crazy locals were brave enough to paddle out and they got worked! I managed to hitch a ride up to Sosua and surfed a spot called Sosua bay. It only breaks on a really huge swell and is a crazy A frame reef break. It comes out of nowhere and just wedges up so fast and big. Then it suddenly peaks and slams down in a racy, spitting barrel. It's not a long ride, more of a drop and hold on for dear life kind of wave. Everyone was out there on 6'6 or 7'0 boards but all I had was my 6'2. I had to paddle so hard to get on the waves and then when I did the drop was insanely scary. I surfed there for two days until the swell dropped enough to surf Encuentro again, and I probably only got about 4 waves, but I was proud of myself for getting a few. Once the swell dropped Encuentro was a lot of fun. It's a nice reef break with peaks that stretch all down the beach. I had a wonderful time on the North coast, I only wish I had gone there sooner. I made a lot of good friends and had great surf . It took 5 hours by bus (caribe tours) and cost only $350 pesos one way. The bus was a lovely coach bus, with reclining seats and televisions. I felt very safe. It was a perfect way to spend my last week in the Dominican Republic!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mountain Life

Journal entry from around March 20th

I have spent 3 days now staying in a small mountain village just out of Bonao in the Dominican Republic. I left on this trip inland with a touch of uncertainty. Its my first time venturing off solo since arriving here, tearing myself away from the safety of my medical student friends and their comfortable apartments :) Quite a few people have given me warnings in regards to the safety of traveling alone as a single female in this country. So understandably when I boarded the bus to Banao alone, armed only with a backpack and a Spanish phrase book I felt a few butterflies in my stomach! However I was worrying for nothing, the bus ride turned out to be a blast (see last post chickens on the bus). When I arrived in Bonao there were no regular taxis so I had to hop on a motorcycle taxi (moto concho). We must have been quite a sight, zipping along the village streets with the driver holding my large hiking pack on his lap, me clinging on for dear life with my guitar strapped to my back. I chose to stay at Rancho Wendy because was the only place I had heard of with backpacker prices, offering dorm beds for $9 US a night.

The website for the Ranch looked amazing but I was sceptical as it had received some terrible reviews on the website trip advisor. I've been here a few nights now though and I must say I am completely satisfied with the accommodation. Sure it's not 5 star, but what do you expect for $9 a night? The owner is a little quirky and grumpy but I found the more I talked to him the friendlier he became. My only complaint is my room mates, large and hairy with 8 legs. I guess I can't complain about spiders in the mountains, plus you think I would be used to it coming from Australia. Also not all bugs are bad, last night I turned out the lights to be greeted by a room FULL of fireflies, glowing, winking and dancing around as I drifted off to sleep, proof that no matter how far away from home we are never alone. As I write this in my notebook I'm surrounded by the most amazing mountain views, tall green peaks flanked by misty grey clouds. Its quiet and peaceful with the soft sound of merengue playing in the distance mixed with the occasional brrrr of a passing motorcylce.

Rancho Wendy offers guided hikes but at $40 per person they are way out of my budget. So yesterday instead I ventured out solo with some very rough directions on how to reach a local waterfall. I got lost (as usual) after about 10 minutes so asked for directions at the local village primary school. My Spanish stinks but I picked up something along the lines of que? sola? es moi dangerouso sola! or something like that. I continued on to the left where I passed a house with an elderly man preparing food outside.

"Permiso Senor, donde esta a la cascada?", I enquired. He invited me into his home, fed me lunch and we chatted as best we could, with my terrible Spanish skills and his total lack of English. He then walked me all the way to the waterfall, proving to be a lovely tour guide. He even cut down fruit and cleared paths with his machete. So far I have found this to be a typical example of the generosity and friendly nature of the people living here. Today I went for a four hour walk alone through some rural villages and farming areas. I came to a large stream I need to wade through so sat down to take off my shoes. But before I could a local man had stopped his motorcylce halfway across, hopped off, and piggy backed me across the stream. I feel a lot of the people here would give you the shirt off their back if they thought you needed it.

On the same walk today I crossed paths with two men herding some cows using a motorcycle. This has not been an uncommon sight throughout my travels, I have grown accustomed to walking through herds. However as they grew nearer I realised this was no heard of cows, they were very large bulls. The bull at the front of the pack stamped his hoofs, prancing side to side along the dirt road, head bowed and horns bared. I scanned for an escape route, somewhere to stand out of the way or perhaps a tree to climb? But I was trapped and the best I could do was stand against a barbed wire fence. The bulls were veering all around the path in a disorderly and aggravated fashion. The lead bull turned to face a follower, angrily scuffing at the dirt. Then than 2 meters away from me the bulls locked horns, fighting each other. Trapped against the fence I had no where to go, I was sweating and I didn't know what to do. The men herding the mob looked very uneasy and hopped off the motorcylce to move the animals on as best they could. All I could do was stay frozen against the fence. Somehow they all moved around me, and I popped out the other side unscathed. From a nearby hut some women giggled at me, I must have been as white as a sheet! It took me about 15 mins to stop shaking.
It's a beautiful place here and I am the only guest at Rancho Wendy. They like me so much here they offered me a job doing public relations and advertising for them, even said they would throw in a horse or two to sweeten the deal. Still I think it's a bit too far from the beach for me. One of the other highlight of my stay here so for has been getting to know the Ranch workers from Haiti. There is one young guy who is my age, he speaks a little English in addition to Creole and Spanish. I have given him my Spanish dictionary so he can learn more, he carries it around with him everywhere. The kitchen lady has two little kids, one is 5 years old and is very shy. She looks incredibly bored living on the Ranch in such basic conditions, with only a few articles of clothing and no toys or kids to play with. I taught her how to trace around her hand and made her paper aeroplanes which brought her endless hours of entertainment, it was really cute. I am definitely looking forward to my next few days of solitude and venturing out to discover more of the countryside.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chickens on the Bus

I have bad luck when it comes to passengers on buses. Always have. If there is an enthusiastically strange homeless guy, someone seriously horizontally challenged or a person allergic to showers guaranteed they always find their way to that empty seat next to me. So today when on the bus from Santo Domingo to Bonao a relatively normal looking young guy sat along side me, I knew it was too good to be true. And it was. He had been seated only a few seconds when the smell hit me, like a vicious assault upon my unsuspecting nostrils. I couldn't figure it out, he wasn't that unclean. He was carrying three sacks with draw strings and I assumed they held his belongings. Perhaps despite his average appearance he was homeless, it would explain the foul stench coming from his direction. He caught me assessing his bags and gestured toward them. I heard a strange noise coming from them and I responded with a curious look. He reached one arm deep into the depths of the bag... and pulled out a live, clucking chicken! His bags were full of live chickens. He sat one on his lap and gave me this goofy grin as if to say "look, I have a chicken!". I couldn't stop giggling the whole bus trip. It definitely explained the smell.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day Trip to the South Side

Yesterday a group of us took off on a day trip to the South side of the island to visit the area of Barahona, and some other places along the way. I think this post will be more pictures than writing, I went a little camera crazy but I think the photos really capture it better than I could in words. Through friends of friends I came in contact with a local surfer called Marcus. He has turned out to be a god send, not only does he do ding repairs but he also has been kind enough to take my medical student buddies and I on sight seeing trips around the island. He gave me a ridiculously great deal on the repairs to my favorite surfboard, injured in an incident involving bad roof ties and high speed! Armed with my newly repaired surfboard, a convoy of 3 car loads of friends and I took off at 6am on the hunt for some waves. My previous Dominican Republic surf expedition to the North was enjoyable but only produced head height mush, nice to get wet in but not the epic quality surf I have been hoping to find, and I embarked on this adventure with high hopes.

The 3 hour drive along the coast was beautiful. The Dominican Republic has some amazing mountains, I hope to at some point this week to go explore them. They filmed the movie Jurassic Park here. The roads are in good condition and the drive was very interesting. The beach we stopped to surf at was stunning. The coastal waters are an amazing, milky bright blue and the beaches are fringed with palm trees. But damn it, it was windy AGAIN! We were greeted by shoulder to head height wedgy mush, but still we were all eager to hit the water and made the most of what was on offer. Even better than the surf was wandering through the streets of the village. The Dominican Republic is a very poor country, but the small villages are vibrant and colourful, full of gorgeous little shacks and people riding around on donkeys. When we came out of the surf some of the local kids brought us coconuts which was really touching. However when we pulled into the beach I remember seeing a young boy, no older than ten, standing there naked, his face swollen and bruised, clearly beaten. I assume he was unable to buy clothes. I didn't even think to offer him one of my spare shirts, and by the time I did he was gone.

After a morning surf we continued down the coast and went for lunch at a local waterfall. The water was icy cold and refreshing, and the food delicious as always. Typical food here consists of rice and beans with fish and plantains. We drove a little further down the coast in search of waves, but its seems the surf gods were against us. We returned to the previous beach for an afternoon session, the wind died off a little and there were some rideable ones coming through. The break is a left, it's rocky and shallow on the inside but has a really fun takeoff and good shape. I can see with the right conditions it would definitely be a quality wave. The drive back to Santo Domingo was long, by the time we got home it was around 10 at night. Even though the waves weren't epic it was a thoroughly enjoyable day, the only downside was managing to drop my wallet in a Dominican public toilet (EEEW YUCK!).

However I do have one unfortunate discovery to comment on, a few days ago I found out my plans to reach Cuba from here are unattainable. Flights are unreasonably expensive. It seems the cheapest place to fly to Cuba from is Cancun in Mexico, so i will try to reach Cuba later on in my trip. I have been dreaming of going there ever since I was young, after my parents dragged me off to see the documentary on the Buena Vista Social club. I left the movie theatre inspired, announcing "I'm going to Cuba!". I am taking this set back not as total defeat, simply as a bump in the road. My plans will now change, back to Puerto Rico then onto Central America. But hey, things could be a whole lot worse!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ferries, Cadavers and Santo Domingo

After a month and a half of lovely surf in Rincon it was time to kick my butt into gear and head for the Dominican Republic. Since flying with surfboards can be extremely costly I opted for the ferry that runs between Mayaguez and Dominican Republic. It's more of a cruise ship style than a passenger/cargo ferry, much to the disappointment of my wallet! The brochure and website showed a large cruise ship, with everything from a casino to a movie theatre. The reality was a run down old cruise ship, smelling of stale cigarettes. I chose what was called "aeroplane style seating" in order to save money. Aeroplane seating turned out to be a few plastic chairs scattered around the place, it was shaping up to be a very long and uncomfortable 12 hours! As luck would have it I met a lovely group of American missionaries who took me in and gave me the spare bed in their cabin. This is not the first time in my travels that I have been taken in by missionaries, I seem to find them everywhere, they can be a helpful bunch! It was rough seas and very rocky, but it seems all my time recently spent on boats has been paying off, I didn't feel even a touch of sea sickness. Getting off the boat and clearing customs was mayhem, very crowded, and my lack of spanish doesn't help. It was definitely a relief to have my old housemates cousin picking me up from the ferry dock. My advice for anyone island hopping without surfboards, take the aeroplane!

I have spent the past couple of nights staying with a group of medical students in Santo Domingo, next door to the university. On my first day I was taken into the anatomy lab to get a look at my first dead body and test my stomach. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but it certainly wasn't anything like what I saw. They were so brown! The bodies spend several months being preserved in a brown liquid, so by the time they come out they almost look mummified. I had an initial wave of "oooh wow that's overwhelmingly creepy", but after a few seconds it passed and I found the experience very interesting. The worst was a big pool where three new bodies were soaking, they will stay there for a few months before being used. It definitely looked like something out of a horror movie, I took pictures but I don't think they would be suitable for posting on a blog, some how! They never have a shortage of bodies to study, as the bodies of criminals are given to the university.

Last night was my first proper look around the city of Santo Domingo, it was far more beautiful than I had expected! It has such a rich cultural history, and the architecture is so well maintained. Christopher Columbus arrived in Santo Domingo in 1492, and I think today the city is the oldest European city in the caribbean. The Catedral Santa Maria La Menor was the first catholic cathedral in America. Wandering around the cobbled stoned streets at night looking at the ancient architecture is an absolute pleasure. We went for dinner at a beautiful restaurant and being seated outside we were able to watch live music and dancing being performed in the town square. I have also discovered a new favourite drink, one I tried for the first time in Puerto Rico. It's called Sangria, and is a mix of wine with juice, sliced fruit and soda. The recipe varies from place to place, but its always delicious. I guess coming from Australia our idea of a sangria is some cheap wine mixed with that old orange juice we found at the back of the fridge, but when made the traditional way it really is delicious! The nightlife in Santo Domingo is really upper class, swanky bars and beautiful restaurants, found mostly around the colonial district. It's definitely worth a visit. The only down side of the night was having my credit card eaten by an ATM machine because I left it there too long! Tomorrow I am hoping to go to the North coast and find some waves. A big swell is hitting the islands (Puerto Rico and Tortola too) but the wind is blowing so strong it has been unsurfable. Hopefully the surf gods will smile upon me and tomorrow I can report on the quality of Dominican Republic waves. Well its time for me to go back to bed now and sleep off my morning sangria hangover!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Contests and Bomba

This weekend saw the arrival of the annual corona surf contest in Rincon, infamous for its perpetual lack of waves and copious amounts of drinking (photo to above is of Rincon, a few weeks before the contest). It is a rather festive affair, offering $2 coronas not only at the contest but also in all the bars around town. It draws a healthy crowd, with people traveling across the island to attend, many pitching tents at the beach. The contest is renowned for its run of bad lack in the waves department, and sure enough as the contest was setting up the waves decided $2 coronas weren't their thing and made a hasty dash for the exit. I enjoyed the first day of the competition, residing for the afternoon in a hammock hanging from a tree, $2 corona in hand. After a day of sunshine and light (though non the less constant) alcohol consumption I rallied the housemates to hit up the Rincon night life. It was packed! Beer tents were set up outside bars and people lined the streets. Day break saw me waking up in the sand at Maria's beach a little worse for wear. A nice morning swim was followed by a bacon and egg sandwich, then after a short rest it was time to return to the contest grounds to start all over again for day two!

That evening I attended a birthday party which turned out to be thoroughly more enjoyable than any night out on the town in Rincon. It was the birthday of Vivian, a lady whos 8 month old son my housemate babysits. This party was my first introduction to traditional Puerto Rican culture and music. Coming from Australia I associate only two things with Puerto Rican culture, salsa and reggaton. While both of these are interesting there are some other amazing styles of traditional music. About four guitars were brought along (including mine) and the men sat around and began to play a style of music called Trova. It has a lovely up beat, latin feel and the "Travador" sings along. He improvises lyrics to the music in a distinctive singing style. After a few drinks things are getting quite festive, and I'm sure his lyrics are getting a bit cheeky because there are shrieks of astonishment and fits of giggles going on around the room. Next the men flip the guitars over to form make shift drums. Vivian, the birthday girl, gets up to dance. She was born in South America and she is beautiful. She's curvy with dark wavy hair and an infectious spirit and enthusiasm. She begins to dance a style called Bomba. The first drummer sets down a beat and she leads the second drummer with the moves of her body. She taps her feet, the drummer simultaneously matches the rhythm on the back of his guitar. Her hips move with a "whump whump" side to side, the drummer matching with a "thump thump". And in a flurry of feet and hips and hair she's off, dancing around the room, leading the drummers in a frenzy of rhythmic percussion. Everyone is cheering and it's so much fun to watch. I am told in this style of dance the woman normally wears a special long skirt made with several layers. I can imagine it would be beautiful. I get a kick out of seeing my guitar being played by such great musicians, and I wonder how many different styles of music and how many hands of musicians it will see before it returns home with me. This weekend I learned yet again that a night with the locals unquestionably and undeniably far surpasses any night on the town drinking!

A Bit of History

I'll try and make this brief as I have been sitting in this cafe using the wireless for around 3 hours now, I'm definitely getting some strange looks. I'm happy that I have finally got around to creating a blog, I should have done this a year and a half ago! I'm full of amazing travel stories and information of the countries I have already been. Perhaps if I find the time I will do some posts on some of my experiences of my past year and half. I began my travels in New Zealand, then after a month went to Samoa. I spent two months living in Samoa where I was taken in by a village and worked in return for my hut and food. I surfed all over both islands of Savaii and Upolu, but if i was to write about all that now it would take up about 5 pages! After my time in Samoa I returned to New Zealand for around 5 months, buying an old car (pictured above) and cruising around both the north and south islands surfing. I then returned home for 2 months to save some money, doing everything from reception work to washing dishes on a mine site. After a grueling 2 months I flew back through Samoa for a few weeks then onto California for a week. After staying with family in San Diego it was onto Costa Rica for my cousins wedding. I stayed in Costa Rica for a few months working as a surf coach. Then I traveled down to Panama and up to Nicaragua. I was then offered a job on a mega yatch so returned to Panama and sailed on the tail of hurricane Omar for 6 days to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. I worked a month on the boat then left, and couch surfed my way around the British and US Virgin Islands for a few more months. I then took a one way flight to Puerto Rico where I have been living and surfing in the town of Rincon for a month. As of Wednesday I am off to Dominican Republic. Phew that was a lot of travel details condensed into a few sentences! Over the next few weeks I will try and post some past journal entries and photos from some of my favourite countries!