Travel adventures, anecdotes, musings, and memories.

Posts tagged “beach

Life’s a Beach

After flying over 50,000 miles to visit 12 countries on 4 continents and never spending more than 3 days in any one location (with the exception of volunteering in Pisco), I sensed I would want something more… “stable” for the end of my journey.

The intuition I had over a year ago turned out to be quite prescient. I had become an expert on life on the move (I was going to say run, but I sense that word has a very different connotation, which may imperil my future [nonexistent] political career). I could expertly re-pack all my belongings in less time than it took to cook huevos revueltos in the morning. Yet, I longed not have to re-make an entirely new set of friends every 72 hours.

So what to do with a month of free time? After ruling out sitting at home enjoying great cooking, capitalizing on free rent, and watching YouTube videos of animal antics and dancing babies all day — which was not an easy decision — I figured it would be good to pursue an activity that would help me decide what I want to do when I grow-up. For years I have said that one day I would love to own an eco-resort. So, instead of embarking on the unknown in middle age (potentially making a huge life and career mistake), I thought it wise to test the hypothesis earlier rather than later.

After some research (Googling “best eco-resorts”), I decided on a place called Maho Bay in St. John, USVI. It was one of the first “eco-resorts” in the world, founded over 30 years ago; before every Westin and Holiday Inn in the world claimed to be eco-conscious: “Go green! Don’t have us wash your towels and sheets everyday!” (alternatively, “Save us lots of money! Help us avoid paying for extra labor, water, electricity and detergent costs”)

At Maho, I would work approximately 30 hours a week as a cook in exchange for free housing and discounted food. I was finally able to list my college job as a cook at a catering company on my resume and not have it immediately disqualify me from the job. My house was an unoccupied (it was low season) guest “tent cottage” about a 30 second walk from the nearest beach.

Little Maho Beach; the private beach some 90 steps from my cottage.

Little Maho Beach; the private beach some 90 steps from my cottage.

The kitchen of my tent cottage. Notice the "refrigerator" and "facuet".

The kitchen of my tent cottage. Notice the "refrigerator" and "faucet".

The bedroom with its "more like purgatory" bed.

The bedroom with its "not exactly Heavenly" beds.

As you can see, “eco-campground” is a more apt description, which is term Maho uses. The accommodations were basic, but I could hear the waves crashing and feel a cool breeze all day and night, so I was perfectly content.
A guest in my tent.

A guest in my tent.

The restaurant was located towards the top of the campground, which made for stunning views from my new “office”.
View of Maho Bay during the day.

View of Maho Bay during the day.

View at sunset.

View at sunset.

Work was either a breakfast or dinner shift, on a team of one other cook and a chef. We would prepare up to 150 meals in an open kitchen, all to be served in two hours. My favorite was Wednesday: Italian night. We’d listen to classical music while prepping all afternoon before serving dishes like chicken saltimbocca and lamb ossobuco.
Hard at work.

Hard at work.

Lest you are concerned that all I did was work during my month on the beach (I suspect you were instead cursing me out of jealousy, but, I am staying open to the 1% possibility), I did manage to squeeze in some R&R time.
Relaxing after a tough shift.

Relaxing after a tough shift.

Since 75% of St. John is a national park, there is plenty of outdoor activity to occupy one’s free time. The island is surrounded by reefs, making for excellent snorkeling.
Sergeant majors.

Sergeant majors.

Stingray! Which was actually spotted while standing in the sand.

Stingray! (spotted while standing in the sand, eek!)

Nemo?!

Nemo?!

To round out the tropical mix of crystal clear waters were of course white sand beaches.
Francis Bay, right next to Maho.

Francis Bay, immediately adjacent to Maho.

Trunk Bay, I believe. The red is the engine of the boat we rented for the day.

Trunk Bay, I believe. The red is the engine of the boat we rented for the day.

If one tired of the beach life, there were also amazing trails to hike.
Exploring the south side of the island.

Exploring the south side of the island.

View from Ram's Head.

View from Ram's Head.

The Ram's Head?

The Ram's Head?

The bottom line? My month did not at all dissuade me that eco-resort owner was a good future career move. Perhaps it will happen sooner than I planned.

With Maho, my round the world adventure comes to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along. I’m now in the process of preparing for a transition back into the real world and moving out West (to San Francisco). Who knows what the future will hold? I sense there may yet be more adventures to come.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

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Galapagos

Other than a crazy Cuban taxi driver who liked to tell dirty jokes, I don´t have very many crazy stories about the Galapagos. I was afraid it was going to be one of those places that is overly hyped and disappoints in reality, but I was thankfully proved wrong.

For those of you who know little about the Galapagos (like me), they are a group of islands 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They are largely famous for their numerous endemic (i.e. only found in the Galapagos) species. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835 and the unique species played a large role in developing his theory of evolution.

Due to time and (more importantly) financial constraints, I was only able to do a land-based tour instead of a live-aboard, which is supposed to be even more breathtaking. Regardless, I found the scenery fascinating and the animals captivating.

I´ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Sea lion on a buoy. As viewed from my transfer from the airport to the main island.

Sea lion on a buoy. As viewed from my transfer from the airport to the main island.

View of the Santa Cruz harbor that afternoon.

View of the Santa Cruz harbor that afternoon.

Galapagos tortoise. It is the largest species of tortoise in the world, capble of living to over 150 years old.

Galapagos tortoise. It is the largest species of tortoise in the world, capable of living to over 150 years old.

The tortoises eat all day and can weight close to a thousand pounds.

The tortoises eat all day and can weigh close to a thousand pounds.

The tortoises can survive for almost a year with no food or water, given their slow metabolism and large internal stores of water.

The tortoises can survive for almost a year with no food or water, given their slow metabolism and large internal stores of water.

My sketchy Cuban taxi driver/tour guide.

My sketchy Cuban taxi driver/tour guide.

Santa Cruz harbor at sunrise on my second day.

Santa Cruz harbor at sunrise on my second day.

Marine iguanas crossing the road on Isabella island.

Marine iguanas crossing the road on Isabella island.

Boat dock for snorkelling tours in Isabella.

Boat dock for snorkelling tours in Isabella.

The blue water and skies were a welcome change from Montanita.

The blue water and skies were a welcome change from Montanita.

Galapagos penguins are the only penguins that live close to the equator. Only 1,500 are still alive today.

Galapagos penguins are the only penguins that live close to the equator. Only 1,500 are still alive today.

The famous blue-footed bobby. Its blue feet feature prominently into its mating ritual.

The famous blue-footed bobby. Its blue feet feature prominently into its mating ritual.

Crab. I unfortunately know no interesting facts about it, other than it is very red.

Crab. I unfortunately know no interesting facts about it, other than it is very red.

Sea lion chilling on the beach in Isabella.

Sea lion chilling on the beach in Isabella.

Day #3, hike to Volcan Sierra Negra.

Day #3, hike to Volcan Sierra Negra.

Clouds rolling in across the crater.

Clouds rolling in across the crater.

The volcano is still active, last erupting in 2005. It was fortunately quiet the day I visited.

The volcano is still active, last erupting in 2005. It was fortunately quiet the day I visited.

The landscape is truly other-worldly.

The landscape is truly other-worldly.

Speaking of landscapes, the view from my hotel dining room in Isabella wasn´t too shabby.

Speaking of landscapes, the view from my hotel dining room in Isabella wasn´t too shabby.

View of the beach from my balcony.

View of the beach from my balcony.

View of the beach from my room.

View of the beach from my room.

Getting up close and personal with the wildlife.

Getting up close and personal with the wildlife.

Marine iguana. The Galapagos iguanas are the only marine iguanas in the world.

Marine iguana. The Galapagos iguanas are the only marine iguanas in the world.

Final sunset in the Galapagos.

Final sunset in the Galapagos.


The Beach

After a week back in the USA, I was off to South America.

My first stop? A little town called Montanita on the coast of Ecuador. My goal: learn Spanish in two weeks. More on that later.

Let’s begin with the pluses. I was staying right on the beach and my room cost less than $20 a night. There is something special about falling asleep to the sound of waves. I finally understand the market for strange CDs and white noise machines.

Actually, I still think those people are crazy and likely read too many self-help books, but the real thing is quite nice.

View from my hostel during the one hour of sun Montanita saw all week

View from my hostel during the one hour of sun Montanita saw all week

Beer vendor on the beach close to sunset

Beer vendor on the beach close to sunset

Sunset view toward Surfer´s Point

Sunset view toward Surfer´s Point

The first two days of school passed normally. I mastered the difference between being tired (cansado) and being married (casado) — but similar to Swahili, not without a few hiccups. I may have asked my Spanish teacher for her hand in marriage instead of whether she was sleepy.

(I realized I had erred when she responded by asking me how long it would take for her to obtain an US passport instead of with a simple yes or no).

There were some less stellar aspects to Montanita, however.

(Mom, please stop reading here. Please be aware this may be one of many of these types of disclaimers going forward…)

On Wednesday night I was in a cooking class learning how to make ceviche. A fellow student rushed in hurriedly. He had just witnessed a shooting. Apparently two Colombians had been “assassinated” (the word used by the teacher) on the street.

Fortunately, this was the first time anything like this had happened in Montanita, supposedly. It seemed to be part of a larger battle being waged by various drug cartels against each other, similar to the situation in Mexico. Unfortunately, it happened a block away from our language school. The teacher figured Montanita would be safer than ever over the next few days because of the increased police presence. Which sounds a bit like The US response to terrorism – always ready for the last crisis.

Thursday was also interesting. I was sitting on a hammock in front of my room between classes (if only real school were like this) when suddenly the beach cleared. As it turns out, there was a tsunami warning. As soon as the police left some fifteen minutes later, all the locals were back on the beach, of course. I suppose the Asian tsunami didn´t get much coverage in Ecuador. I kept my distance, but did manage to catch some surfers having a gnarly time.

Tsunami Surfin´

Tsunami Surfin´

One more.

One more.

I did manage to have a brief moment of introspection amid the constant fiesta of Montanita. I was walking back to class on Thursday, covered in sand, mud, and mosquito bites. I passed some Rastas with a young baby in the midst of a heated argument (aside: it looked like they could house the baby in their dreadlocks), seemingly stuck between the beach hippie life of no responsibilities other than selling the occasional bracelet to pay for food and suddenly having to provide for a newborn.

As much as the bohemian and transient life appeals to me on some level, In that moment I gained a new appreciation for the value of life in the developed world. Yes, living in Palo Alto or Denver is way more boring than somewhere on a beach in Africa. But there’s no malaria in the ´burbs.

Rasta entrepreneurship

Rasta entrepreneurship

Next time you´re cursing the two people in front of you at the Bank of America ATM, realize it could be worse. Much worse.

Next time you´re cursing the two people in front of you at the Bank of America ATM, realize it could be worse. Much worse.

That said, the kids in developed countries are never as cute as in developing ones. When I think American kid, I think screaming on an airplane or crying because their parents won’t buy them an iPhone at the age of five. Kids in developing countries always seem happier.

Happy kid #1.

Happy kid #1.

Happy kid #2, freaked out parrot #1.

Happy kid #2, freaked out parrot #1.

Happy kid #3, waving goodbye to the happy Gringos.

Happy kid #3, waving goodbye to the happy Gringos.

At the end of my first week, I realized a few other things:

  1. I wasn’t going to learn Spanish in two weeks (duh) and needed more chances to practice practical Spanish outside a classroom. Learning the format for indirect objects is important of course, but first one must master being able to order lunch.
  2. The sun rarely makes an appearance in Montanita. As a Floridian, the beach without sun is like Apple without Steve Jobs. Oh wait…

So I decided to pack my things up a week early and head for the mountains.