Friday, January 30, 2015

Yoga in San Juan Del Sur

January 3rd-15th, 2015

I hopped on the local bus from the kite surfing farm up to La Cruz.  From there it was another local bus, albeit a fancier one, to Penas Blancas, the border to Nicaragua which was only about 20 kilometres away.  Ulf, the restaurant manager, had told me that the border could be busy with many Nicaraguans returning from Christmas vacation after visiting their families in Costa Rica, and he was definitely right.  Exiting Costa Rica was no problem but there was an insanely long line to enter into Nicaragua.  On first glances I figured it might take 4-5 hours, if I was lucky.  Most of the queue was in the exposed sunlight and I wasn’t sure how I would make it in the heat.  A local approached me and after a short verbal exchange he told me to follow him and he’d get me through quickly.  I wasn’t sure about the whole deal and didn’t like the idea of budding in line just because I was a foreigner but I soon realized that I didn’t actually need his help, that only Nicaraguans were in the massive line-up and I could head straight to another building to get my entry stamp.  I paid the guy a $5 tip which I realized later that I didn’t really need to but oh well, he had made me feel like I had saved hours of waiting.

In the immigration building there were only two officers working.  The lineup snaked to the entrance of the building and one would think that the single queue would then break into two for each operating window.  However from my previous experience crossing this border I knew that there would be two separate lineups and if you pushed your way inside the building you could get into the second line which was much shorter, which is what I did even though I knew I was receiving evil stares from other foreigners who thought I was budding in line.  After almost an hour in the “shorter” line, I noticed that there was a sign at the counter that said “Solo Nicas” (only Nicaraguans).  The sign had been obscured by people standing at the front of the line and I decided that I was not going to start over in the other line at this point, I was going to take my chances.  This border crossing was filled with inefficiencies, many of which could easily fixed and one of the blatant ones was that any non-Nicaraguan had to pay a $2 entry fee and the immigration officer had to handwrite out a receipt which took close to a minute to do.  The reason for this queue being only for Nicaraguans was that it was quick for them to have their passports scanned and be on their way, this being after they had waited 4-5 hours in that outside line for something else.  So you could imagine their frustration when foreigners were taking up extra time in their line, where they shouldn’t have been.  The Nicaraguans were starting to get to their boiling point as a couple of Costa Ricans took more than five minutes at the immigration window.  I could feel the wrath approaching me so I explained to the nearby Nicaraguans, in my broken Spanglish, that I hadn’t seen the sign for “Solo Nicas” until last minute.  They seemed to appreciate my situation and thankfully the immigration officers opened up another window and the tension was defused.

I hopped onto a chicken bus towards La Rivas and transferred to another one on the highway to San Juan del Sur.  There I had a nice pizza lunch, got some money and took a shuttle out to Casa Maderas, about 10 kilometres north where Jeff was holding his yoga classes.

Casa Maderas was a lovely place, about a 10 minute walk from the Maderas Beach, a popular surfing spot.  One foreigner did say that it looked like a cocaine king pin’s complex with its pool and terra cotta buildings but it did make for a great place to stay for the next 10 days or so.  Almost immediately I ran into Jeff and soon the beers were flowing.  Over the next week I attended yoga sessions at either 8 or 11am.  The courses were held at a covered pavilion up the hill that the buildings were situated.  Unfortunately at this time of the year the wind blows hard from Lake Nicaragua so this resulted in challenging yoga sessions where keeping your mat from flying away added to the difficulty of the practice.  It also made poses that much harder, especially ones like the tree pose where you stand on one foot as the blasts of winds would threaten to topple you over.  Nevertheless my back and body were grateful for the exercise and stretching and the rigors of the kite surfing lessons began to fade away.

Casa Maderas:

The restaurant:

Maderas Beach:

Jeff soaking it up:

As am I...

One of many sunset pics:

Jeff upside down kicking the sun...nice yoga move:

I walked the 10km to San Juan del Sur one day and passed by the local dump, where the vultures and dogs like to hang out:

The Christ of Mercy statue in San Juan that is one of the tallest Jesus statues in the world:

Knuffle getting a blessing:

The bay of San Juan del Sur:

Carolyne enjoying sunset at Maderas:

I started to meet some other characters staying at Casa Maderas.  There was Carolyne from Quebec who was on her first big trip outside of Canada for two weeks with her father joining her for the second week.  And Ifenea (pronounced like “a funny”, that’s how I remembered it…it’s “a funny” name”) who was an incredibly brilliant and interesting American living in Berlin.  Later I met Steve, a doctor from Quebec with his young Russian girlfriend Anya from Moscow.  And finally there was Lee and Naomi, a couple from Point Roberts which is a strange little geographical anomaly near Vancouver Island.  It’s a little peninsula which is part of the US but it occupies only 12 square kilometres and its inhabitants must drive into Canada in order to get into the continental US, even though Point Roberts is part of the continent.

Lee lovin' life:

And so is Naomi:

We heard of a local secret of a pizzeria near Casa Maderas which was a must visit.  It turns out that “Bluues Munchies” (yes, that’s the correct spelling) is run by Sergio, formally from Rome.  He only opens the place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights and you must, must have a reservation or you will not be fed.  And for your reservation it doesn’t matter how many people you are, just how many pizzas you want.  Sergio runs the place by himself and there’s not even a waiter or waitress so it’s an honor system with self-serve drinks.  It’s best to arrive before 6:30pm, the official opening time as it’s first come, first served.  The first night we went there we didn’t arrive until close to 7 and that meant that we were one of the last groups to receive our pizzas…which took over 2 hours…but it was worth the wait.  So worth it that I went every night it was open after that until I left Nicaragua!

Sergio working his pizza magic:

Cooking up nicely...

The awesome finished product...okay, this one looks a bit burned on the crust but still yummy.

One day a group of us went in Steve’s rental car to Hermosa Beach (which means “Beautiful Beach”), about 10 kilometres south of San Juan del Sur.  It happens to be where the American TV show Survivor shot one of its series.  It was a large sandy beach and quite devoid of humans and made for a lovely afternoon out.

As we first walked on to Hermosa Beach, they had about a hundred baby Leatherback turtles that they were going to release later in the afternoon.  The are really making an attempt to help the population of the turtles.

Chillin' in the shade at Hermosa:

Naomi, Lee and Carolyne showing their handstand skills:

Now jump!

Looking back at Hermosa Beach:

Nice form Carolyne:

Lee's going to love that I posted this's Naomi's shirt which says "Do Yoga".

Time to chillax:

Doctor Steve and Anya:

Madkot anyone?  Oh, actually this are for making a pizzeria we stopped at in San Juan returning from Hermosa:

So Lisseth, one of the staff at Casa Maderas thought that I looked like McGyver from that old TV show. One night I got my bill at the restaurant and at the top it said "McGyber"...this became my nickname for the rest of my stay at Casa Maderas...pretty funny.

Max the waiter showing where the McGyber inspiration came from:

And this is Lilleth who started it all:

Sergio’s landlord is an American named Vince how lives next door.  Vince has a large property and he has turned most of it into the “Marsella Valley Disk Golf Course”.  I haven’t played much Frisbee golf in the last five years and in the late 90s I was hooked on it so one day Lee and I went to check it out.  It only cost 50 Cordobas ($2) to play the 12 hole course, and you could play as many rounds as you wanted, and Vince could also hook you up with a small cooler of beer with ice for super cheap.  We ended up playing a round with a couple of Canadian guys, Ian and Tyler and Vince even joined us.  It was a super sweet afternoon…well worth the price of admission!

Walking to the disc golf course I saw this chicken eating the oh so filling dish of Styrofoam:

The entrance to the course:

Interesting baskets unlike any I had played before...but they worked fairly especially for putting but almost impossible to get a hole in one:

On the course...there is a basket somewhere in the distance:

My tee off shot got stuck in bamboo:

Final sunset at Maderas:

The next day was Lee’s birthday and unfortunately in an alcohol fuelled celebration, he did a flip into the shallow four feet deep pool and hit his head on the bottom of the pool.  The small gash required stitches and luckily Doctor Steve had medical equipment to do the trick and so Lee didn’t need to go to a hospital or clinic, although he did make Lee wait until after he had finished dinner which I thought was fair enough.  Silly Lee.

Our crew getting a bit silly:

Nice finish:

Needless to say the “yoga retreat” turned into a “yoga/party retreat” but a good time was had by all.  Time to head back to Costa Rica to finish my kite surfing lessons.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Learning to Kite Surf

December 29th-January 2nd, 2014-15

After leaving my family at the Dreams resort I headed to a “farm” called Cometa Copal to take some kite surfing lessons.  It was a toss-up between this place and one called Kite Costa Rica but I had read some good reviews about Bob at Cometa, an instructor from the States.  Bob had promptly replied to my previous day’s inquiry stating that a room was $20 a night and the beginner lessons were $400.  The other place had answered back but only gave me their identical room rate but not the cost of their lessons so I went with the known costs plus the positive reviews of Senor Bob.  I was not disappointed.

When I finally arrived at the farm in the dark around 8:30pm, they already had a room ready for me, albeit a pretty basic one.  I met Stein, a guy in his early fifties who when I asked where he was from gave me one of those goofy hippy like answers of “Well whose from anywhere?” but eventually I found out that he was originally Norwegian but grew up in Michigan.  He was a wealth of information when it came to kite surfing as he was an instructor of instructors.

The next morning I met the main man Bob and we ventured down to the beach with a truckload of gear.  My first lesson with him started on the beach, flying a small 2.5 square meter kite after some initial theory.  With my paragliding background, Bob whipped through some of the initial stuff, knowing that I’d pick up on the kite flying aspect fairly quickly.  Later on we ventured out into the water, without a board, to practice what is known as “body dragging”.  This entails using the kite to pull you through the water but angling one arm out to the side in order to work your way upwind.  This technique is necessary in order to return back to your board should you wipe out and lose contact with it.  Bob is an excellent instructor and I knew that I had made the right choice.

On the playa:

Okay, my hair is getting a bit wild these days:

The next day the wind was howling big time and my body was a bit sore from the previous day’s activities so I sat that one out, although I did do a bit of playing with the trainer kite.  The following day one of Bob’s other instructors, the blonde haired 24 year old Tyler from Connecticut took me out for some more body dragging which included dragging with the board.  Later on I tried getting up a few times on the board but without any success.  In fact, I experienced my first “Superman” in kite surfing.  I dove the kite too hard in what is known as a power stroke and was launched out of the board, flying head first over the water.  Kinda fun yet not overly graceful.

Someone getting some serious air:

On New Year’s Eve, everyone had dinner at the restaurant on the farm called Plaza Copal, which is run by an Austrian guy Ulf and his Costa Rican wife.  A handful of us ventured down to the beach close to midnight and Tyler and another American hopped on their boards in the partially moonlit night and rode in the New Year…pretty cool.

Tyler and Bob on New Year's Eve:

Check out the rainbow which is more of a "rainline":

I left shortly after to head back into Nicaragua to meet up with yoga master Jeff from Miami whom I’d met on Ometepe Island.  My body, specifically my lower back, was sore from this new activity and Jeff was running a yoga retreat near San Juan del Sur, a surf town near the border so I figured it was worth backtracking to learn some good techniques for healing my poor back which has been busted up by not one, not two but three paragliding crashes over the years.  I figured I’d head there for about 10 days and then return to finish my beginner kite surfing lessons.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Horses, Hot Springs, Zip Lining and Extreme Water Sliding

December 27th, 2014

As much fun as it is having the groundhog days at a beautiful all inclusive resort, we needed to get out and see a bit of Costa Rica.  That’s one thing that I don’t really like about all inclusives is that you’re so insulated from the local culture and sites.  So even though it felt tough to pull away from the pricey prepaid fun at the Dreams resort, we needed to get out for a day trip.

My stepsister Michelle had organized an excursion with a guy she knew through a friend back in Canada.  Edwin was a native Costa Rican but had spent a year up in Alberta and this was how the connection was made.  It also meant that Edwin’s English was quite good.  He showed up in the morning with a 20 person mini-bus which just fit our family of 19 perfectly (as you do need a seat for the beer cooler!).  We drove for close to two hours, to a large ranch called Buena Vista.

Getting on our private bus, the guy in the blue shirt is Edwin, our tour guide:

Just ten minutes from our resort we stopped to see this male howler monkey who wasn't too impressed with us, so he pissed down from the tree (sure, just marking his territory):

Astronaut!...Boys will be boys.

Our first activity was to saddle up on horses and ride for about 45 minutes to some natural hot springs.  We were given the option to sit in a trailer pulled by a tractor if riding and equine wasn’t up your alley.  My step brother-in-law Dave told of a story when his first son was on a horse and it took off and it was a terrifying experience for him as he had to chase after him.  It all ended up fine but Dave swore he’d never mount a steed again but amazingly he changed his mind.  My brother in law Brad was also not crazy about riding but he also did it so everyone in the group did ride…nice work gentlemen.

Brad looking stoked:

Brenna and Brayden mounted up:

We're almost ready to go, but notice Brad facing the wrong way on the right:

Giddy up!

Dylan excited to ride:

So is Brenna:

Up the hill we go:

Moseying along:

Nice views as we head downhill:

A horsey selfie:

At the hot springs we first ventured into a little steam room that was heated by some natural thermal vents.  Then we lathered on some hot mud for a little skin treatment followed by some bathing in various pools of different temperatures.  Hot springs in the jungle…super nice.

Inside the steam room powered by natural hot springs:

Getting muddy:

Edwin surprised us by hosing us off with cold water:

Miss Brenna looking through the swimming hole:

 The water was a nice warm temperature:

The tractor pulled the trailer with everyone in it back to the ranch for some lunch and then it was zip lining time.  I had never gone zip lining before.  Yes, perhaps a bit of a surprise for some of you as I’m into adrenaline type activities but this one had just never crossed my path before.  I thought it was super cool that everyone, from ages 6 to 68 did it.  Well done team!

The whole crew on a tractor trailer ready for the next stage of the day's adventure:

We saw this nice lizard on the way, basking in the sun:

Alright, it's zip line time!

Brenna's ready to go:

The whole crew suited up:

Paige and Corinne practice their technique:

Jaxon getting set up:

And off he goes:

Now Michelle's turn:

Dylan about to set off:

The crew at station 3:

Brad enjoying it:

Everyone up in the trees...almost reminds me of the Ewoks in Star Wars:

Here I go!

Rachel going upside down:

Okay, it's my turn:

And the final activity was an insane concrete waterslide through the forest.  It took about 45 seconds from top to bottom and you could pick up some serious speed.  A few of us (read: me and the young kids) did 3 runs.  I went barefoot the first two times and the imperfections of the cement did a bit of a number on my heels as the technique you had to use was to sit through an inner tube with your legs crossed and your elbows in so not to get all banged up.  On the last run I borrowed Brad’s sandals and tried to minimize drag by only having one heel and the inner tube touch the slide and I got up some serious speed.  I almost thought I was going to fly right out of some of the corners!

The water slide through the forest:

Joel coming out the bottom...he loved it!

As did Dylan.

And even Uncle Dave was getting his thrills:

Word of the day is spread the word! (look back to my Ometepe blog entry if this doesn't make sense to you.

We stopped briefly in La Cruz to check out the sunset before heading back to the resort, which is on the other side of this bay...nice finish to the day.

What a day.  Half the crew fell asleep on the ride home, exhausted from exhilaration.  Definitely a good time was had by all!