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.