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The End

It had to come.  And ya know, when it did was I was sad but not too sad.  Because I’d had my week in the Carribbean, and it had been good.  My last night I said goodbyes to the folks I’d met and the Montana gals I’d been hanging out with.  Then I walked to the shop and bought a bottle of (very overpriced) wine, and walked to the west end of the island.  Eventually I found an empty pier.  It had a sign that said I shouldn’t walk out there, but hey its Caye Caulker and I’m not going to break it.  I’ll just borrow it for one sunset.  So I plunked down, drank my bottle, and just let my brain be quiet.
 
I watched some kayakers stop paddling and watch the sunset.  Slowly, maybe a dozen other people meandered over nearby on other piers and plunked down to watch the show with me.  I imagined that the folks out on their boats were plunking down to watch as well.  We were all together again.  Us.  That is, the ones who had travelled from their lives somewhere else to be here right now with me.  We were all strangers but in coming here we all shared a brief bond of the traveller.  Even if it was just a nod, or a smile.  I know they didn’t know what a big night it was for me, but I shared their sentiment.  And it was: "I’m going to just relax and soak up this sunset tonight.  Nothing else matters.  Nothing from before, and nothing from tomorrow.  All that matters is this right here and now."
 
So all together we watched the show.  It was a good one.  Not the best, not the worst, but a clear beautiful sunset that would do just fine.  The sun dipped behind a cloud, and when it re-emerged below it, just above the horizon, it had swelled into a huge orange fiery ball.  I was amazed at how big it was.  Almost like it was trying to get my attention.  "When you get back to the grind, don’t forget everything."  Then, as it always does, once it touched the ocean it dropped rapidly.  There was the glow, that moment of stopped time, and then it was over.  The others got up and left, some stayed for a little bit, but soon it was just me on the pier again.  Long after the sunset the sky glowed with the aftermath.  And I took one of my favorite pictures of the whole trip, with the green of that ocean spilling out below the orange sky above.  A sliver of moon arose and some stars appeared, even while the orange glow still remained a bit.
 
I wrote my name in the dirt on one of the steps at the end of the pier at the waterline.  But even as I finished, I knew it would be gone in a couple days.  Nothing lasts.  Everything has a beginning and an ending.  I guess that’s what makes it all meaningful though.  If things didn’t end, and move on and change, then what’s the point?  Why should we ever do anything if it’ll never change anything?
 
Well for those who have stuck with me on this journey, and read some of it, thanks for coming along.  I hope I have given you an itch to see a piece of this huge world yourself.  Its seems small sometimes, but the more I see the more I realize I haven’t seen that much at all.
 
Hell I’m already planning my next one.  Life is short ya know…

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Do what the sign says or people will yell at you. Seriously
Caye Caulker.  Its the Caye off Belize City that is supposed to be chilled out, backpacker vibe.  No big discos, no Starbucks.  No gasoline-powered vehicles.  The opposite of its upscale neighbor, Ambergris Caye.  And its cool here.  But to be honest I’m a little disappointed with the "beach".  Or, lack of beach. No lazing on perfect white sand… but the coral is great, the water is warm and green and clear.  The weather is behaving, and most importantly the beer is cold.  Reliable electricity is kinda novel.  And who doesn’t love the Rasta Nation with their prophet, Mr. Robert Marley, and their crop, Mr. Grassmon.
Late Night with the Lyrical King

Yesterday was another perfect day.  (How many times have I said that? Gotta come up with something new…)  Hanging with some Americans from Montana of all places, drinking and lazing and swimming all day in the sun.  A great italian dinner capped by a night of singing with a Rasta’ed guitar player who called himself the Lyrical King.  Out on one of the old broken piers.
 
Emerald waters with white foam

And the scuba was great, with the Blue Hole and good reef and hermit crabs and boobies (that’s a type of bird here) and just being on the boat above emerald water with the frosty sparkling white foam from the wake.  And the awesome day of snorkeling with the swedish gals on the sailboat.  Where we saw and swam with gray rays and sharks and big moray and eagle rays.  Swimming through the little underwater cave.  Drinking rum punch with fresh pineapple.  Cruising, sailing, lazing with the rastas and the reggae.  A damn good day as well, that one.  Belize is treating my alright.  Just going to keep it like the sign: "Go Slow."

Last Bus

Ha ha ha!  My last adventure is right now really.  I just crossed into my final destination – Belize from Guatemala after an interesting hour of plowing and sliding through 6" deep mud.  Watching bulldozers tow tourist buses.  Watching stoic locals in backs of pick-ups get mud sprayed right in their face as we drove by.  Good lord.
 
After the usual rigamarole silly lines and waiting, I was officially in Belize.  And culture shock it is, let me say.  ENGLISH!  Good ol’ Ingrish is the official language.  I had to rub my eyes in disbelief when I saw my first roadsign: George City 21 miles.  Miles?!  Holy foreign language batman.  The ol’ queen’s bluebood smile was seen peering out of the local coin (called Dollars ironically).  Good boys those Brits.  Finally, and most impressive of all, somehow those pommies managed to avoid bringing in their backwards driving system.  Yep, we stayed on the right side of the road of a former British colony.  Paved roads, English, miles, dollars.  It was enough to put a big dumb smile on my face as I got a twinge of nostalgia.
 
Well, this will probably be my last entry in a foreign country I’m guessing.  Time is now sand running its last few grains to the bottom of the hourglass.  So now is supposed to be when I reflect on the trip.  And life, and all that blah blah yadda yadda.
 
Was it what I expected?  Ya know I think it was, which is kind of strange and unexpected itself.  It was definately all that I possibly hoped it would be.  I mean I got broken down buses, was robbed and stranded with no money, thought I would be shot in southern Thailand by the cops, had that insane 5-part check-in at Kathmandu, and flew in that plane from Singapore that had its wings ducked-taped to the fuselage.  I surfed all the waves on my list (which I wasn’t sure I would have the balls to do when I left).  I climbed some high peaks, trekked the himalaya, and looked down into some smoking lava pits.  I scuba’ed some virgin reef, saw my first manta ray, and got drunk in the blue hole (more on that later).  I lazed on true white sand beaches in Asia and Africa.  I drank my eyes crossed at the Full Moon party.  I met some cool people that I hope I will stay in touch with.  I briefly caught a bit of zen a few times.
 
Am I different?  I don’t feel all that different, just the same ol’ dumbass looking back in the mirror every morning still.  But change is a slow process that is only meaningful over time.  So I won’t know if I’ve "changed" for awhile.
 
 Postcard Perfection of Mt. Bromo
I guess I did figure some things out.  For instance, despite being an atheist I think I found something pretty peculiar about the world we live in.  In its raw state it’s so blindingly beautiful sometimes.  There is some kind of weird perfection in its infinitely-layered chaos.  Some things I’ve seen have made me just sit and stare.  And twisted my noodle when I’ve looked too long.  The handmade postcard perfection of Mt. Bromo, Nepal, or the Perhentian Islands.  Standing above a rumbling, smoking lava pit in Sumatra, where the Earth itself was alive.  The insanity of Iguazu.
 
How can these things that make you rub your eyes in disbelief be all just an accident?  And its not just the big things.  I felt the same weird tickle in my brain hiking in the ethereal cloudforest.  Staring at a hummingbird perfectly still in midair, flitting like a little jeweled robot.  Or watching that pristine reef in Komodo alive and moving with its madmax stew of alien crayon-colored lifeforms.
 
My engineer brain tells me its all just a cool accident.  But why is it such a perfect one?
 
The other thing which I kind of knew in a read-it-in-a-book way but never really absorbed is how miserable life is for most people on this blue ball.  Seeing a starving kid on TV used to make me uncomfortable until I flipped the channel. Hey, sucks but not my problem.  I got my own bub.  I got a stressful job, no free time, trying to find a girlfriend in LA ain’t easy, and I haven’t even bought a friggin house yet.  Don’t got any room left on my worry list for that kid.
 
Where is she now?
But Asia and India flipped some kind of switch in my brain.  Losing my flipflops pissed me off until I saw the little kid missing his leg from a landmine.  Haggling my hotel price for 30 minutes angered me until I saw that abandoned street girl, sleeping amongst the cowpies in the digusting garbage-filled gutter.  Only 6 but won’t eat that night.  One image still burned in my brain is the little kid who came up to my tuk-tuk to beg but was missing his hand.  My driver explained that sometimes a parent will chop it off to help the kid collect more money.  In a country that overpopulated human life sin’t worth all that much.
 
Later in Brazil a beggar came up.  I gave him my hamburger.  I realized afterwards I wouldn’t have done that before.  I still don’t know if its the right thing to do, but now I find myself thinking about it long after he left.  Now I want to do something to make this world a little better.  I have no idea what that’ll be.  But flipping the channel doesn’t work for me anymore.
 
And its not just strangers.  Its my own friends and family too.  I need to pry my selfish ego out, stick it in their shoes more often.  I hope that the next time I start to do the easy thing, the selfish thing, I check myself.  And remember that guy who loaned me $20 in CR when I was so broke I couldn’t even afford to call home to ask for more $$.  That man did such a little thing but for me it was a huge thing.  It wasn’t just the money.  That guy gave me a pat on the back when I pretty much had given up on the human race.  Kinda like that happy little monk in Thailand.
 
Finally, I think I’ve learned something else.  And that’s this: our actions impact people around us much more than we realize.  We are all connected through a complex web of social networks.  Hell with the internet now its even more true.  And you might not think the little things you do matter too much, but they can matter a lot.  Like a pebble tossed into a calm lake, each thing we do ripples out through our human connections, affecting much more than we realize.
 
And in that sense karma is a real scientific thing.  Through that butterfly effect our everyday actions change the world around us, which in turn will back to impact our own path.
 
So its important to help that stranger you meet who needs something.  Your friend who needs a lift.  Your mom who needs your time.  It might be something small and maybe annoying to you but it means a lot to them.  And in the end you’ve helped yourself the most.  Because each time you give, the person you gave to will give it back to you eventually in some way or another.  That little smile of satisfaction you find on your face is from that piece of karma you just added to your bank account.  Answer this question: "Did I live a good life?"  When you are about to die I think that’s the only thing that will matter.
 
Volcanos rise above Antigua and Guatemala City
Before my last stop to chill out in Belize, I figured I could squeeze in a nearby visit to Tikal in Guatemala.  Yep this is that place in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto movie about those crazy bloody-thirsty Mayans.  (I have to admit, after looking at the trailer I am excited to see it and watch Tikal come to life.)  In term of ruins its ultra-famous, supposedly rivaling Ankor Wat itself in beauty.  To get up there I had a brief layover in Guatemala City, which bummed me out.  Not the fact that I almost missed my connection in that crazy, under construction zoo with AK-47 toting military pointing me in all sorts of wrong directions.  No, what bummed me out was when our plane took off, I saw the sunset blazing behind the ring of black volcanos lording over Antigua in the distance.  It was beautiful and clear.  Lava and chicken buses and the fun of exploring a new country was over there, but because of the week I’d lost I had been forced to cut it out.  I hadn’t realized I would actually be able to see it from my plane, kinda of throwing it in my face.  I resolved to come back and see it one day.
 
Anyway, off we went and arrived into Flores, a pretty town plunked on a little peninsula in a lake.  My time was running out, so I was kind of in a hurry to "do Tikal" in the worst kind of touristy way and then get over to Belize.  So instead of spending a night in Flores like a traveller should, I got an overpriced taxi directly to the ruins.
 
After a night in a crappy over-priced hotel, I was woken at 0-dark-30.  I had signed up for the sunrise tour, which meant getting up at some unholy hour, then trekking through the jungle in the dark with a flashlight.  When you are jetlagged and on 3 hours of sleep this isn’t a joyful activity.  The idea is that we would be blessed with a wonderful clear sunrise over the spectacular ruins.  Finally we reached Templo IV, the biggest temple at the site.  I think the same aliens that taught the Ankorians how to build these things visited the Mayans, because the steps were once again impossibly small and steep.  Luckily (or maybe because an American had brought a lawsuit), they had built a wooden ladder all the way to the top.  It was still was a long climb but at least I wasn’t on all fours with the risk of tumbling to my death.
 Cloud-rise over Tikal
At the top, we waited excitedly.  Or at least they did.  I was struggling to keep my lids open.  Finally enough light had come to show us….. that we were completely socked in.  Honestly I wasn’t even sure if the sun had come up yet when our guide said that it was over.  Woo-hoo!  But, in fairness, even in the gray light it was pretty cool.  There they were, the towers of Tikal.  Rising up straight out of the jungle, which sprawled endlessly to the horizon in all directions.  I could imagine without the clouds it would have been pretty spectacular.
 
After snapping the pics, the troop marched back down and waited for the subsequent guided tour.  I started to walk off by myself when the guide asked what I was doing.  I replied, "I’m off to explore the ruins."  "But you’ve already paid for my tour."  "I know.  See you later."
 
As in Ankor Wat and Macchu Picchu, the last thing I wanted on earth was to be herded from one site to the next like cattle.  Being lectured on what I should see, what this little clump of dirt meant, like I was back in a classroom studying for a quiz.  Are you kidding me?!  Here I was in Tikal, this awesome huge city-state still buried partially under jungle ripe for exploring!  We were here hours before the crowds from Flores and I wanted to wander.  Just get lost and see what I could.  You can’t sit in awe in front of an ancient ruin, imagining the spirits of the Mayan ancestors hovering around if you are in a noisy 50-man battalion on the march.  So off I went.
 
The first place I went to see was pretty well isolated.  You hear stories of people occasionally seeing jaguars, so I figured if I had any chance at all I had to get lost.  The jungle has literally grown up undisturbed here since the 900’s.  I mean, we are talking over a thousand years since the Mayan kings vanished.  So its old big thick jungle.  It was awesome strolling along the path, watching spider monkeys clamber overhead, hoping to glimpse a spotted cat or a friggin’ quetzal.  I got to the place I was headed, and I was completely alone.  Perfect.  Just explored it and walked around.  What strikes me about Mayan architecture over its counterparts elsewhere in the world are the big blocky lines.  The buildings are almost like massive legos.  Unfortunately, the glyphs on the tops are generally in very bad condition and unreadable.  Hey, its been a 1000 years exposed to the elements.  Can’t blame ’em.
 
My backpacker buddy

On my way out of the place, I ran into this hippy chick dressed head to toe in bright cheap fabric.  I asked the obvious question: been to India?  "Yeah, spent 6 months volunteering there."  If you’ve been to India you can spot other backpackers who’ve been there a mile away.  Its the only place I know where you can cover yourself head-to-toe in a bright yellow sari and blend right in.  Anyway, I had to admit it was cool to meet another person who wanted to get away from the scene and explore the place on their own.  I said goodbye but was hoping I’d run into her later.
 
Basically the rest of the day was spent climbing up and down the big temples, avoiding herds of tourists, and dodging the intermittent rain storms.  I did manage to run into the backpacker gal again atop this ancient pre-Mayan pyramid that offered stunning views all around.  Since it was too difficult to climb up for most people, it was a pleasant spot to rest and soak it all in.  From here you could see Templo IV, where I had watched the "sunrise".  Along with it, to the right was Templo’s III, II, and I, all jutting above the canopy like ancient alien ships poised for takeoff.  You could see part of the Acropolis in the main site.
 
Tikal’s claim to fame recently is that its featured in Star Wars as the rebel base on Yavin 4.  For non-dorks, this was that scene in the first film (i.e. from the 70’s) near the very end where they showed some green planet with Temples that had the "rebel base."  But back in the day, it was famous because it was just the badass in the area.  Tikal was the biggest and most powerful Mayan city-state ever.  The site is enormous, at its peak they estimate between 100,000 to 200,000 peeps lived here.  The kings had cool names like Lord Chocolate, Lizard Head II, Dark Sun, etc.  At their height, the Mayans were well known for their technology like astronomy, canal-building, temples.  Most famously, they were the only civilization in the Americas to ever independently develop writing.  But unlike the Incas or Aztecs no king ever was powerful enough to conquer everyone.  So there was never any big empire, and they remained fragmented.  They (ya know, those people) say that this fragmentation and constant warfare was one of the reasons the Spanish had much more difficulty conquering the Mayan descendants vs the Aztecs or Incans.
 
Those crazy bloody Mayans (as depicted in Apocalypto)

Course, my favorite part of the Mayans was how blood-thirsty they were.  And down here near the pyramid I was atop you could see the famous ballcourts where the winner had his head removed.  Dunno about you but hey just give me a trophy or something.  "OK fellas, taking off my head is a cool reward and all but you guys are just being way too nice.  Ha.  C’mon stop that you guys.  Hey.  Seriously."  Then to top it off the king took his heart and drank from it.  Dude.  Probably good source of iron though.
 
Overall, I really liked Tikal.  Its big.  Its impressive.  When you get a bit of sun cracking through the clouds it can beautiful.  I like how lots of it is still covered in jungle.  But it doesn’t compare to Ankor Wat in my book.  The thing I really loved about Ankor was that you could get lost and wander around inside these ancient temples, with giant trees sprouting in and around them.  It was almost spooky.  With Macchu Picchu you have those incredible mountain landscapes all around.  With Tikal, the Mayan temples are smaller and you can’t wander inside of them.  And I pretty much saw all the main stuff in half a day.  So its worth a visit, its cool, but if you’ve seen Ankor don’t go thinking you will be blown away.
 
Enough of this jungle crap, I’m off to the Caribbean.
Famous Witches Rock

We pulled into Witch’s that evening, and just to be here…. I mean it was a cool experience.  To be in a place that you’ve seen only in movies and videos for the past 8 years.  Watching Wingnut and Robert August slash through the jungle, paddle across the lagoon with crocodiles, and finally emerge to find that perfect right.  Witch’s Rock standing guard in the background.  I mean every surfer who’s ever gotten up before sunrise to beat the crowds has dreamed about this place.  I had goosebumps as we pulled up next to the rock in the boat, and eagerly scanned the break to find….. small waist-high weak-kneed junk a lake could poop out.
 
Oh well, you can’t control the ocean.  I was still happy to be here, and Big John lent me his Big longboard (all 12 feet of it) which could probably catch a ripple from a pebble.  After surfing a 6’4" the past month it felt like I was riding a Blue Whale atop this aircraft carrier.  Even though it wasn’t as good as the movies (hey c’mon is it ever?) it was still sweet to be there, catching waves as the sun set behind Witch’s, out here in splendid isolation all by myself.  That evening we had a big feed of home-made burgers that I probably couldn’t have improved on back on the grill in Hermosa.  Over a couple beers, I asked if it was true about the crocs in the water.  He said oh yeah sure, he saw a few now and then.  Ummm…you ever ask a question and then wish you hadn’t?  Soon it was time to turn in and drift asleep on the mercifully insect-free, cool ocean.  I dreamt of green shapes coming up under my board and biting off my legs.
 
The next morning after a quick (and small) AM session John said we could try to cruise around the point to Ollie’s.  I didn’t know much about Ollie’s except that it was supposed to be another good right.  Some said better than Witch’s.  Well, at this point anything would be better so we raised anchor and cruised out.  I plugged in the ipod, found a good spot up top with the breeze, and went to work on getting in a good nap.  Suddenly, I hear a couple shouts, and then hear "Fish! Fish!"  John happened to have a pretty impressive tackle kit, and loved catching tasty fresh sushi while cruising from one break to the next.  We reeled it in and Juan gaffed a decent black tuna.  Not sushi but it would make for some killer tacos later.
 
Later on from up top I noticed something in the water.  I looked closer and I saw lightning fast giant fish swimming all around, in front of, then behind, then beside the boat.  I got down to the main deck and leaned over.  They were little dolphins!  I wedged myself into the front of the boat, where its bow hung over the water and I could stare all around.  The dolphins noticed me and came up to the front, surfing the boat wake.  Just playing.  A smaller one cruised easily just below me, turning his body to look at me directly with one of his eyes.  We maintained eye contact for what seemed like quite a long moment.  Who was studying who?  Then they got tired of us and zipped off.  What were they thinking, seeing me seeing them?  Do they think in ways we could understand?  Something about that direct eye contact was powerful and had left me wondering.  But in my lifetime we’ll probably never know, what it means to be think as a dolphin.
 
Big John catches some Dorado sushi
A little later and John called me down to take a look at another semi-secret break.  He explained how it was thick and bowly, like a miny Teahupo’o.  Just the mention of that gnarly wave (the heaviest in the world they say) put a lump in my throat.  We watched a set come in, and I could see how the wave broke near some rocks, then the face curved inward as the wave sucked up.  Yeah it was a big thick lip, but I had to admit it was make-able if it was just a bit bigger.  After looking at all the rocks onshore, when he suggested we continue on to Ollie’s I said "sure, uh, no prob".  Yeeeaah….I would prefer to tackle this beast later when I had some more waves under my belt.
 
We continued on around the bend into a wide bay, and headed for the far corner.  I could see even from far away a wave breaking a long way along the shore.  John confirmed it was Ollie’s but wasn’t sure how big it was.  I kept my hopes in check, I mean Ollie’s and Witch’s pretty much catch the same swell and it hadn’t been working at Witch’s too well.  We finally pulled up and dropped anchor… and waited.
 
Surf Porn at Ollie’s Point
A set came in, and I watched the first wave break near some rocks.  It kept breaking along the shore.  And kept breaking.  And kept breaking.  Then it broke some more.  Finally after about 200 yards it closed out on a sandy beach.  Each wave in the set did the same magical performance, breaking for a full couple of football fields.  It was a machine.
 
The wind was whipping, but it was offshore and the howling spray from the rooster tails meant that if you made the blinding mist-in-your-face drop it was hollow barrel nirvana.  I think I had to reach down and pull my jaw up from the bottom of the boat.  We didn’t say a word, I just sprinted to work on waxing up a board, slathering on sunscreen and cramming on a rashguard.  Juan got the dingy going and in less than a minute we were motoring over to the takeoff.
 
Jumping out of boat into the ocean used to freak me out back in Bali the first time I did it.  I mean, back home you have to work your way out to a break, you get hit on the head a few times, get the juices going and by the time you get to the lineup you are usually warmed up.  But jumping out of a boat directly into the lineup is like cheating.  You are still cold, you haven’t ducked any waves yet, you don’t know what you are getting into.  Lots of times you only see the back of the wave and don’t really know how big the face is.  Its just unnatural.  However, by now I had done it a few times and it wasn’t huge today.  And I reminded myself I’d done barrels over coral reef in Indo, over sharp shallow lava rock in Jbay, and both of those experiences were way bigger and gnarlier.  So by the time the first set came through I was ready to go for it.
 
But even so, the first time you try and catch a wave in a strange place is always a little scary.  You don’t know exactly how the wave will break, you don’t know what’s on the bottom, what critters are in the water, what the currents will do.  So I half-assed my first one and missed it.  And then the 2nd.  Finally I said f-it and paddled hard to catch the 3rd.  As I started to drop in, the wave started to feather and the strong wind blew right up the face.  If you’ve dropped in an offshore windy day you’ll know this feeling, but I could barely see with all the spray and mist in my eyes.  Its mostly surfing by feel at this point.  But I knew I had this one, as that familiar feeling of angling, dropping, and quick acceleration all came together at once.  It was bigger than it looked, as it always seems to be on hollow point breaks.  I felt the wave rising over my head behind me, curling into a tube, and at the bottom I turned and grabbed my rail to setup for the barrel.  But I hadn’t done a backside barrel since Indo and I had the wrong angle and not enough speed.  I watched helplessly as the wave in front of me rose up into a wall and then slammed into my head, flicking me from the board like a little fly.
 
The worst part about barrels is that even medium-sized ones, ones you can’t even fully stand-up in, have a ton of power as they slam into the water below.  After getting hammered, then going through the rinse and tumble cycle, I came up in the foam only to find myself standing up in 2 feet of water.  Holy crap it was shallow.  But to my surprise I found my feet on sand.  The whole bottom was frickin’ sand.  Oh man how cool was that?!  Here I was, on a perfect machine-like barreling right, all to myself, in warm-water, and the bottom was f-ing sand!!  I waited for the set to finish, watching the empty green barrels roll by one after another, then paddled back out to the lineup with a shit-eating grin on my face.
 
After awhile Big John came out on his carrier and for the next hour we traded wave after wave.  I was getting the hang of it, getting little barrels, riding the face, and then dipping back in.  It was incredible being on such a long wave in warm water with no coral below you and no crowd.  After the drop you had to pump once or twice to get up speed, then tuck in.  If you made it you had a little face, and then if the wave was just right you’d get a 2nd barrel at the end right before having to shoot into the air before the final closeout.  I loved that part…you could get quite a bit of speed and just get launched.  After awhile some more guys showed up, but they were mostly kooks that weren’t seriously challenging for waves.  Which meant more for me.
 
However, this one dude showed up on his own board he’d made here in Costa Rica.  A local.  And watching him score barrels and waves was almost more fun than me riding my own.  He’d drop in late, pull a crisp bottom turn, pump hard and setup deep inside with loads of speed.  Paddling back out, I had a great view watching him just get slotted.  The guys who saw it would just hoot, I mean you can’t help but get stoked watching someone get it so good, seeing that just fires you up to get some yourself.
 
After an awesome fish taco lunch (fresh as you can get baby) it was straight back in the water.  I surfed, surfed, and then surfed some more.  John and I had our Motel 6 parked right there, so as one boat and then another sped off back to shore, we yelled "see ya later, sorry you couldn’t stay!" then just laugh.  Soon it was just me again, like it had been that morning.  I was tired but this was too good.
 Fiery skies on the way back home

I stayed until it was almost getting dark, getting every wave I wanted.  Being by myself again, with dusk setting in, I started to get a little nervous.  John had told me another story of shooting video at this place.  Once they got back home and looked at the video, they found something odd in the lineup.  This little grom was surfing the wave, and remembered seeing some weird rock.  Ha.  Wazzunt no rock, wazza croc bruddah.  So, when I saw a bunch of fish jumping right near me, and then a small dorsal fin pop out of the water and then another dorsal fin, I freaked out.  I pulled my legs onto the board for a minute, looking to see where the sharks had gone.  They were probably small but I wasn’t taking any chances.  F- this.  At least with another person in the lineup you chances of getting bit drop to 50%.  I was outta here.  Exhausted, but with the adrenalin from the day still in me, I finally called it a day limped back to the boat.  I had been in the water for 9 hours.  Now that’s a session.  A perfect day.
 
Weird.  Here I am after my wicked boat surf trip back at Copacabana watching another great sunset, listening to samba tunes.  A moment I didn’t want to end is back to visit again, like an old friend.  I could go run and get my camera, but hell I gotta ton of sunset pics and I just want to enjoy this one for once.  Wow.  This is going to be a good one.  El sol is just now sinking beneath its cloudy veil, perfectly setting up the brilliant fiery sky.  The rastas are back on their perch, already turning once again to silhouettes.  Tamarindo I’ll miss ya buddy, good to see you one last time amigo.
 
Why I Came in the First Place

So a few days ago I hired some decent planks, restocked the wax supply, and managed to find a taxi and bus up the crater-filled ruts that pass for roads here in CR.  I got dumped off the bus with my boards at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.  And then after a spell what do I see but a good ol’ slice of Americana.  A gigantic fat white Ford F-350 super-duty badass truck with dualies pulls up into the gas station I’m squatting at.  It might as well have had USA stamped on its grill and a flag pole with the stars and stripes waving from its ass.  Ya see, outside of the US, this type of massive T-Rex simply does not exist.  They require huge tracts of land to graze, guzzle enormous amounts of drink, and when riding are extremely difficult to control.  In the crowded cities of Europe where fuel is expensive, and clogged and congested urban areas of Asia, these proud beasts are simply not an option.  For the poor of South and Central America, they are too expensive to purchase and feed.  So they remain in the vast land of the U.S. of A., roaming on oversized freeways, expansive countryside parks, and enormous parking lots next to enormous stores called Walmart.  In a land where fuel is still relatively cheap, to own a vehicle with 10 times the capacity and power you really need is both a badge of honor and a way to show pride in your Big Badass Country.

 
So I knew instantly the man behind this wheel was a red-blooded AMERICAN.  Out came Big John, and he was a big dude with a big smile and a big handshake.  I smiled back and almost laughed at how out of place him and his truck was in this land, but also how at once I felt back home.  Big John was the guide and owner of my surf charter (Costa Rica Surf Charters), and I knew I was in good hands.  A guy who liked big new trucks was somehow I guy I knew would say what he thought, would expect the same in return, and would probably run a good tight ship.  In a way it was cool to deal with an American like John, because for once I felt like I wouldn’t had to bargain for every last penny and worry about getting scammed.  This would be a straight-up deal.
 
We bounced and banged down the rubble of a road to a little beach called Playa Hermosa (yep yet another one).  The experience made me appreciate why he had gone to all the trouble of importing this well-built Truck-asaurus down here.  Without any waste of time, soon I was on a dingy out to the nicest-looking boat in the harbor.  As soon as I got onboard I was almost laughing with excitement.  It was so f-ing sweeeet!!  I had a huge queen bed in the forward below deck, the toilet was nice and actually flushed (!), the cabin was handsome and modern, there was an breezy upper deck to chill and nap with speakers playing my ipod tunes.  But best of all, there were two huge coolers filled to the top with food and beer.  Dude I was in frickin’ heaven, and had it all to myself!!!!
 
We pulled anchor and were cruising out of the harbor within a few minutes.  Juan the captain didn’t speak much English, John spoke even less Spanish, but somehow they managed to Spanglish their way through ship tasks pretty damn well.  Listening to John with his southern homegrown pronounced spanish was pretty comical and actually made me feel a little better about my own crappy espanol for once.
In Tune at Ollie’s Point

I probably talked too long about this on my Indo surf trip, but I need to say it again.  There is nothing quite so sweet as setting out for a surf trip on a comfortable surf boat.  As the land recedes, all your worries, all the dirt, dust, crime, and hardships of overland travel recede with it.  In front of you is the ocean with its simple beauty and cool breeze.  Nothing but waves, good food, and end-of-day beers await.  But by far the biggest thing is that you can kick off your shoes and really, truly relax.  And that is a luxury you don’t get enough of when you are a budget traveller.
 

Tama-Gringo

If I stare long enough hopefully it will burn into my brain
My last night in Tamagringo (Tamarindo if you are looking at a map).  I have to say… I really like this place.  Sunsets over the pacific.  Dusty dirt roads.  Plenty of places to surf, and bars to fiesta.  Not sketch like jaco, this pace has good vibes, even if its a bit overdeveloped in some ways.  I’m just chilling (finally) watching the sunset over the boats and the blue, reflecting what a great day it was.  Walked the big expanse of Playa Grande with its millions of perfect spiral shells, caught a few little knee-slappers, then in the arvo got some little barrels at Langosta.  And now its Long Island Mahi-Mahi sunset watch the bikini-clad girls learning to surf walk by with their big boards on their heads silhouetted against the sunset time.
 
Here at the beach bar, Copacabana (can’t help but smile at that), they got the chill beach sounds perfecting my mood with nature’s own light wave crashes tying it all together.  Its one of those brilliant clear eye-blinding orange sunsets, but I love how it turns the ocean and scattered clouds on fire and frames anonymous couples holding hands on the beach, and the surfers with their sticks.  Its a scene I’ve seen in countless painting and posters.  And here it is again just for my Costa Rican viewing pleasure.
 
The instant of sunset is so interesting and powerful.  For a brief moment, everyone pauses.  Vendors selling their beaded necklaces, surfers  floating on their boards, tourists looking for shells.  All heads are irresistibly pulled to the horizon and time stops.  The world stops spinning, the waves stop crashing , and silence reigns for that heartbeat when el sol slips into his bed.  There is a brief golden glow, and then wham!! the world starts turning again.  People snap out of the trance and continue their lives, the waves start crashing again, and its gone.
 
But for that one instant we were together, united in awe of the mystery and beauty of the universe.  That is pretty damn cool.
 
You ever have a moment you never want to end?  Now that’s me, right here right now at this very one.  But, it will end.  Time marches on and has no sympathy for moments.  Soon the rasta dread-locked silhouettes sitting up on that wall will go home, the last diehard surfer will straggle in from the dark, and these final threads of sunset gold will fade to black.
 
I can wish it wouldn’t end but I know it will.  And now………. I guess it has.  This lovely moment is gone.  I can only now write about and try to remember.  For that time when I’m back home, sitting at a cubicle at work stressing about a deadline.  Finding a minute over lunch to re-read and relive this instant once again.
 
Most moments vanish the instant they come.  But not this one.  I will remember it, even if in 10 years its only a hazy golden happy faded photograph.  It will have to be good enough.
 
La cuenta, por favor.  Guess I better get off my ass and get moving.  Everyone else has, following the relentless march of the sun.
They swear there’s a volcano up there in the clouds somewhere

Well there ain’t much worse than going to see a volcano and its socked in and raining with no end in sight.  But shit happens and it turns out La Fortuna is pretty cool besides the volcano.  Its kind of Costa Rica’s answer to Queenstown with tons of stuff to do.  Yesterday hiked the slopes and saw trantulas and loads of monkeys, then soaked in the most fabulous hot springs I’ve ever seen at Tabacon.  They were re-donk-ulous.  Must have been over 50 little pools hidden around the the sprawling jungle-cloaked paths.  Steaming waterfalls, swim-up bars, slides, etc.  At one point wandering I stumbled upon a private wedding altar with those big granite balls that slowly spin on a water platform, with loads of exotic flowers dangling everywhere.  I mean the place is endless.  I was like a little kid running around there, and to be honest I felt a little jealous at the couples.  It would be so perfect to get lost there with someone.  (Course it didn’t hurt to stumble upon a couple top-heavy naked gals floating on their backs in a remote section.)
 
Hauling Ass Through the Canopy
The zip-lining here is insane!  It put that crappy zip-lining I did in Peru to shame… these were full-blown kilometer long wires, a full dozen of ’em, just ripping along.  Aww man waterfalls pouring out below you while you whiz above the ground through holes in the canopy; like in Star Wars on the planet of the ewoks where they screamed through the forest on those cool floating motorbike thingies.
 
La Fortuna is sweet… if I come back to CR this is one place I’m going to see again.  They have horseback riding, the lake, hiking to waterfalls, ATV’s through the jungle, sky-diving, the hot springs, some theoretical lava that appears on clear days, you name it.  Adrenalin junkie central.  And best of all it had none of that old ex-Pat disease I saw in Jaco.
 
But now I got the ants in my pants…. read some other people’s blogs about Montezuma and Mal Pais and realized I reneged on my promise to make this a month of surfing.  So its back to the beach manana, finally.  Gotta make my last 10 days here count.
December!  Good lord it is truly the home stretch now.  3 weeks to go.
 
Q: What separates you from them? A: A little piece of plastic
Last night I finally picked up new debit/ATM card.  Its a long story but the short version is that pretty much my bank, the phone reps, and even UPS all screwed up to the point where a week after I was robbed, here I was back in the capitol, San Jose, riding in a taxi that was lost in some ghetto, checking my watch and realizing we would probably not get to the hidden UPS office before it closed.  However, when we finally got there it turned out that the Costa Rican "you can count on it being late" policy actually worked in my favor: they hadn’t gotten around to locking the front door yet.  I ran into the office, probably looking like some frenzied crack addict bum off the street.  After 30 minutes of torture they finally returned with some envelopes marked "Expedian Personal Services."  What the hell was this?  I was on edge, if it wasn’t my card at this point I think I might have a nervous breakdown right there.  The shit I’d been through since being robbed isn’t worth all telling, but let’s say it was the worst week of my entire trip by far.  Worst than losing my camera full of Indo surf pics, or my journal with 2 months of entries.  Worst even than the week-long explosive diarrhea I got in India that nearly derailed my Kilimanjaro ascent on the first day.  I felt like I was trapped in limbo with no way out, while the sand in the hourglass of my remaining days slowing drizzled away.
 
So you can imagine that as I cautiously opened the envelope, I felt like I was clipping the red wire on a nuke that was about to go off.  I was about to be either delivered from disaster or my doom sealed.  When I finally pulled out that new, crisp, blue ATM card with my name emblazoned on it I almost wanted to cry.  I marveled at the shiny hologram with the VISA bird thingy.  It was like a part of me that was missing had just been found again.  It was my get-out-of-jail free card.  My VIP pass.  My key to a door that allowed me back into the privileged life of tourist wealth that most of the oblivious Americans running around this place take for granted.
 
So what’s it all mean?  Well, the more I reflect on it, the more and more I realize this is, absurdly, a golden opportunity.  All the stuff I’ve tried to absorb from the Dalai Lama and even self-help dork Robin Sharma applies directly to this whole mess.  The DL states directly that the worse thing you can do is dwell on mistakes and pain in your life.  Learn from them and move on.  Dwelling on it only reinforces and feeds it, until it destroys your peace of mind.  As my friend Butchie once told me, after I whined we made the wrong choice and surfed the wrong spot on a big swell: "Forget it.  Its done.  You can’t change it."
 
And that’s the key.  Save the stress and thinking for what can be done.  Everything else, learn from it and then click and drag it to your brain’s recycle bin.
 
And I going to find these thieves?  No.  Delete.  Am I going to call up my bank and spend 2 hours explaining to them how stupid they all are and how they ruined my vacation?  Since it would accomplish nothing and just piss me off again, no.  Delete.  Am I going to sue UPS for their negligence in contributing to my wasted week?  No, its way more trouble than it worth (and I bet their lawyers are better than any I could afford).  Delete.
 
So what I can do?  First control my emotions and thinking and stop dwelling on things I can’t change.  This isn’t easy so I have to keep at it, but it can be done.  I can get excited about the rest of my trip, which ain’t over yet bub.  There’s a ton of cool shit left to do.  And I guess most of all, I can perversely thank those thieves through putting me through a week of hell.  Their way of life is destined to end in a bad way anyway.  No, I thank them because for the first time I have faced an actual challenge.  Something that has forced me to put into practice what I’ve learned about how to live.  At the end of my trip, its fitting.
 
And in the bigger picture, my little hiccup is a speck in the wind compared to what I witnessed during that week.  This poor drug-addicted bum was having real troubles.  Day after day, as I sipped cervezas staring at the ocean cursing my luck and stupidity, this broken man would stumble from his box to the beach.  For what who knows.  Maybe it was his way to break up the day.  I watched him one day, struggling to put on his shoe because he could no longer kneel.  So I got up from the bar, walked over, and helped him put on his threadbare shoe, then tied it up for him.  Close up, he stunk of urine and sweat and was afflicted with some form of skin disease.  (That he would never be able to see a doctor about.)  He gave me a shocked smile, then said in bad English, "thank you thank you thank you.  Oh thank you thank you thank you"  Then took my hand in both of his and shook it.  It was a tiny thing to do but it made all my stupid, silly problems vanish for awhile.  I would get through this and return to my life of privilege.  This man was stuck in a true hell he had no escape from.  By helping him just a little I’d helped myself much more.  And if that’s not the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year then I don’t know what is.
 
Fucking holy hell.  What a relief to be back on a bus, back on the road.  Out of that hole called Jaco, littered with Colombian hookers, fat old greasy ex-Pats, 10-year old drug dealers, broken glass on the beach, crackpipe bums begging for help: seeing into their eyes and realizing their soul and will to live had crumbled to ash long ago.  Robbed twice to the tune of $800+.  5 days burned of my precious remaining time due to corporate numbskulls.  Endless calls of frustration to clueless credit card reps from India who can’t even "to be speaking the English."  Begging my own family for cash.  Filling out meaningless police reports to bored crooked cops.  Countless long dusty agonizing walks to the post office for a credit card that never came.  How amazing that a little piece of plastic is all that separates you, the wealthy privileged tourist, from the masses of humanity with the unfortunate dumb luck to be born in a 3rd world country.
 
The worst wasn’t the utter shock, rage, and embarrasment of being robbed.  It wasn’t the internal anger at being so careless and stupid.  It wasn’t even the burning pain at knowing the fuckers hit the jackpot with my overstuffed pig of a wallet and got away clean.  No.  The absolute worst was the stolen time they took.  5 days is a side-trip to Cambodia.  5 days is more than the length of the Inca Trail or a voyage into the Amazon.  5 days can be the difference between catching a great swell or completely getting skunked while rotting on dry land.
 
Guatemala’s Infamous Chicken Buses

I was thinking about a side-trip into Guatemala to see the famous picturesque colonial city of Antigua, surrounded my towering volcanos.  One of them you can climb up and actually poke a stick right into the lava!  To get there you ride these local cramped chicken buses emblazoned with more crazy paint schemes, glitter, and flair than Elton John in Vegas.  And I wanted to go to the cloud-forest of Monteverde and finally see those damn elusive quetzals I had been reading about since before I left.  But now this window was closed.
 
So I reckon the lesson I’ve learned is that on vacation there is one thing more valuable than your passport, money, wallet, or (gasp!) your Not So Lonely, In Fact Quite Well-Trampled Planet.  And that’s time.  Especially now, at the end of my trip, where the flight home is being measured in days, not months.  Where each new destination is a final count-down to splashdown.
 
If I could take those two thieves and could do anything I wanted to them, I wouldn’t run ’em over with a bus.  Because after I’d settled down and had a week to think about, I realized that those people were destined to a life of suffering.  That the only way their life can end is in a bad way.  So my anger at them eventually morphed to pity.  And an acceptance of the sad fact that it’s the shitty life most of the people in the world face that drives them to be turn against one another and the natural human state of cooperativeness.
 
Pain is so much sharper when your expectations are doing an exact 180 of what life throws ya.  So instead, after they’d taken my stolen money and planned a vacation, got on the plane, and sat down on the beach with their Mai-Tais, I would like to see some other thieves rob ’em and leave ’em stranded.  (And then I’d throw them all under a bus.)