Surfing el paraiso en Nicaragua!

Nicaragua is different from Panama and Costa Rica. There is barely any trace of tourism and the people are very nice. Playa Gigante is a great place to visit, but you should go there to appreciate the sports and underwater life, not for partying. The Nicaraguans in the village still live very traditional – I hope you show them the necessary respect when you go there! The kids are great surfers and I bet we will see some of them becoming pros.

An hour after my arrival at the Playa Gigante I have done all the check-in. For my sake I am able to pay up my stay and the food I consume with my credit card – since I don’t have too much cash on me anymore due to the cab ride – this feels like lots of money when you are used to get a full dinner for around two dollars. I will stay the next two nights in a hammock, in a high room without air condition, for seven dollars a night. That’s great and actually what I was looking for. I get a locker and place all my stuff, get me a big bottle of Toñar, a Nicaraguan beer and chill out. It’s a most peaceful mood and the sun sets over the Pacific.

Dani writes me on WhatsApp and we have a lively English / Spanish conversation while the night takes over and the rum starts to make me tipsy. I enjoy a local dinner for pilgrims, which is just two dollars and very tasty. From time to time the power goes down and up again. When it is totally dark I decide to have a swim, naked, it’s awesome! When I lie in my hammock later I can hear the roaring “thunder” of the Pacific, it’s powerful, and a great experience to fall asleep like that.

It’s around 5:30 am when I wake up the next morning. I walk around and take a closer look at the beach. There is not much, mainly just the beach which is most beautiful. My breakfast are cereals with fresh and tasty fruits from the region. I could really get used to this, although I have never really been into breakfast!

I try to rent a surfboard but the guy tells me that there was a group of Americans the last week who broke three of his boards and he doubts my skills and is obviously worried that he will lose just another board. I guarantee him to stick to his advice and that I am a pretty good snowboarder who knows about the dangers of those action focussed sports and that my surfing skills are acceptable for doing it just as short as I do (it will be my 12th time). He agrees to rent a board to me after lunch, says that the surf will be better in the afternoon anyways. So I go snorkeling for the time in between and what I see totally overwhelms me. The current is strong and I have to struggle to get close to the cliffs. Again I really regret not to have a GoPro. There is a mooray eel feasting directly on the cliffs without any fear. It is a white mooray with black spots, one I have never seen before. Different kind of fugu is swimming around, the ones with stings and some without. I see some really colorful and big emperor fish and so many more animals in those 45 minutes it’s unbelievable! The only thing I miss are colorful corals, there are basically none – especially if I compare my snorkeling experience from San Blas – but what I see is new and the fearlessness of those fish is sapid. For my dislike I swim into several nettles of jellyfish, it hurts pretty much…

Lunch is the pilgrims food again, Gallo Pinto with fish. Easy going, good, cheap. And I receive my board thereafter. It is 8’2”, a little bigger than the one I had in Santa Catalina. I follow the surfer dude, who rent the board to me, and two of his buddies. One is a local Nico (male Nicaraguans are called Nicos), the other one a shitfaced American from Colorado – shitfaced because he is already hammered at 1 pm – which I dislike – he is funny, tho. But that’s how they are on vacation and that’s why I chose to skip San Juan del Sur. The surf is not as big as expected, but some bigger waves of 2 m come in and it’s lots of fun to ride here. I basically spend the whole day surfing and later the day I get some company of Matt, who I met already the evening before. He has a very short board and is at the same level as me. We get along very well and while I have a break I start building a sand castle, which arises the interest of some ladies at the beach who come by one after another to ask me what I do there. Being infantile sometimes is just a great thing to do! 😉

On my way back to the hostel I see a scenery I would have loved to take a picture of. But for the respect towards the Nicas and Nicos I don’t do it. A family of six people, the parents very young, live with their animals in a very small hut. The garden is muddy, pigs are lying around, the chicken is going all over the place, and their horse is feasting.  A little baby Nica is sitting in kind of a bucket, having a bath looking at us while we pass by. It’s such a different world, but taking pictures of them is disrespectful so I continue to get my camera just to take some pictures of the beautiful evening at the surfer beach, which is the next bay to the one the hostel is at.

The night comes fast and it’s already my last night here, since my plan is to continue to Granada, from Granada to León and there to meet up with Eric, a friend from Florida to do some vulcano boarding…

There is an open mic session this night at our hostel and I get to know Conrad from England and Sam from New Zealand, who hung out the evening before with Matt already. The four of us have a good time and the boys tell me they want to continue to Isla de Ometepe early the next morning. And of course I’m in…

Santa Catalina, hidden surfer gem at the Pacific

Santa Catalina is a dreamy village at the Pacific of Panama. It is mainly popular as a surfer village with a great beach and a beach where you can relax without the big waves, protected by a small island. It also is the hub to Coiba Island, something untouched like the Galapagos. Trips there are most expensive and I chose not to go, this is something for the future 🙂

After some really good sleep we start the day with our standard breakfast. White bread with green pepper, tomato, cheese and thunfish.  First of all we visit Surf and Shake, a shop for nice fruit shakes and everything connected with surfing, run by a girl from Munich. She tells us to attend the second beach for surfing, not the first one, protected by an island, the one we visited last night after we arrived. Santa Catalina is small and we are looking for another hostel which is closer to the big surfer beach.

Stefan and me enjoy a little chillout after the tough ride the day before and after some coffee Columbiano and our custom thunfish sandwiches.
The Surf and Shake of Santa Catalina
The beauty of the hibiscus is everywhere and beautiful insects and colibri swirl around it.
Stefan and Anne in Santa Catalina at our morning stroll to check out where to stay.
Most beautiful butterflies swirl around everywhere in Latin America. This is a big swallowtail.
A gas station in Santa Catalina, we would have been lucky and could probably have gotten gas over there…

We find a place called Mama Inne’s and move there. It has a great garden and direct access to the beach.

Mama Inne’s in Santa Catalina, a nice terrace but the dorm was not the best you would expect for the price paid. Take the apartment upstairs, you shall be good!
Hola, Hooola! A smart green parrot who always stopps talking when you want to film it… 😀

I rent a 7’7″ surfboard at a place called Rollo’s which is much smaller than my last ones in Florida but it is still the biggest I can find. The surf is gigantic for my current skill, the waves further offshore are probably 5 – 6 m high and the ones which hit shore are still 2,5 to 3 m. It costs lots of power to get outta there and surf back in but it works very well to my surprise so I spend several hours surfing, observe skilled surfers and try to do the same to handle the massive force of the incoming waves. In my breaks I chill and chat with Anne and Stefan. It’s just relaxed and awesome – for the first time I miss that I don’t have a GoPro! The whole day is so relaxed and it flies by in a second.

At night we try to find something to eat which is quite challenging. We leave one restaurant since we get ignored for 30 min, leave another one where nobody shows up for 15 min and get back to our hostel to eat… It’s crowded with visitors having dinner and we wait another good hour until we finally get our food. This is probably part of being here, to adjust to the time you need for everything? The food is not very good and the room is really hot.  The bedding smells of the many people who slept there as well and the night is a disaster, with bedbugs in Stefan’s bed and very few sleep.

I flee from the bed at something around 6 am to take some photos and spend the time outside. After a little breakfast we catch in the little shop back in the village I go to surf. Today the surf is even more aggressive than the day before. I get to know Miri a girl from Munich and surf a bit with her. Later Laura joins our little chat. She is just 19 years old, from Berlin and travels alone and for a long time. She is half Venezuelan and tells us about her experience there, sounds absolutely great and totally in contrast to all the news about the riots…

At lunchtime we leave Santa Catalina since Stefan and me want to be in Panama City at around 6:30 pm to book the trip to San Blas which you have to do the night before the trip until 7 pm. In Santiago we drop off Anne who wants to continue to Costa Rica alone. It’s a lively but ugly town and going around there with the car is really difficult, everybody shouts and honks at us. We are glad when we are back on the Panamericana on our way to Panama City. The ride takes forever although I push the gas quite strong in the frame of opportunities – we don’t want to be stopped again. Short before we reach the city we miss an exit and have to pass downtown to reach Casco Viejo and the hostel. This is my worst city driving experience so far, speeding through traffic stuffed downtown, maneuvering around standing cars and walking people. We make it to lunas castle at 6:55 pm, basically in the last minutes before closure of the lists, and are the last ones for tomorrow’s trip to San Blas, what a relief!

We need to get rid of the car and while we try to find a gas station the police stops us again. A fiendish cop shouts at me in Spanish and I reply about 3 times with ‘No hablo Espanol!’ He doesn’t want to believe me and accuses me that I would have taken drugs. Stefan talks to another cop and tells him that we have to return the car quickly. It’s already 8:40 pm, we haven’t filled up the gas yet and it’s still some way to the rental station that closes at 9 pm… After a full inspection of the car and of us the cop let’s us go, phew. 5 min before closure we finally turn in the car and are somehow totally relieved. Back at the hostel we have way of too much Rum with Anika, a nice girl who lives in Zürich and Jonas from Hamburg. I can’t sleep that night, it’s hot and loud in the dorm and the guys under my bunkbed have sex and it feels like an earthquake. I decide to go to the hostels living room and chill the rest of the night there. It’s way more comfortable and relaxed and early in the morning a trip into Paradise waits for us…

Surfin’ USA!

Surfing is one of the many great sports you can do along the shores of the USA. I personally preferred the surf in California and the Pacific over the one you find in Florida, along the Atlantic, but the experience is still great when you have found the right spot to do it! This entry is cumulative and from different beach days with my friends from UF navigators and the pharmacy interns.

Finally a chapter addressing my new hobby: Surfing! By using this term I mean the kind of raw surfing, without a kite, a canvas or anything else. Just you, the board, maybe a lycra to keep you protected from the sun and the sea of course, delivering waves for your enjoyment. I got my first instruction by Tom on Eleuthera Island of the Bahamas, about six years ago, when I stayed at Surfer’s Haven. And he must have done a good job because I didn’t have the opportunity to go out there for years and just started again, in Santa Cruz, on my way to visit a friend in San Francisco, California, a couple of weeks ago. To my surprise I remembered lots of his instructions from the days past and I even stood up for some seconds…

I was eager to continue so I was looking for a beach over here in Florida, where an easy going surf is guaranteed. The place to be is Cocoa Beach indeed from all the places I tried so far, including St. Augustine Beach and Daytona Beach! I tried both with friends, but the tide was choppy and it was exhausting to catch a single wave due to the inconsistency of the waves and the board was probably too small – the equipment is important and you will find everything you desire in Ron Jon’s rental in Cocoa Beach. For beginners I recommend a huge foam longboard. It offers the easiest access and the most fun for your first experience. I use a fiberglass board in the meanwhile of a length of about 8’6″ to 9′. This works really good and I consistently catch the waves and stand up.

Conny gives it a try as well :)

Cocoa Beach

I can’t take responsibility for you, learning this awesome sport, where you are totally connected to nature, but I can give you some advice which might help you. For instructions you should still get a teacher to begin with, if he is good he will make sure you stand up the first day you try it!

1. Paddle outta there

Before you can catch a wave, you have to get out into the sea. And to do that can be exhausting, if you are thrown around by the waves. If you have a “neversinker” one of those beginner foamboards, you just have the option, when a big wave comes towards you, to push up on the board or sit up, that it goes under you smoothly towards the beach. If you use a fiberglass board, depending on the size of the wave, you can stretch out and go under the wave, your body under tension. If you have reached a good position, one where the waves just don’t break yet, you sit up on the board, face towards the sea and observe the incoming waves.

2. Find your Balance

This is the most difficult part in the beginning. You have to find the point to sit on the board, which guarantees you most stability. You can “grab” the board with your legs and you will find out pretty fast which is the most stable positions when the waves pass and shake you. If you have spotted a good wave, one that has not yet broken and is consistent, you smoothly glide back on the board, allowing the nose of your board to come out of the water. This way you can turn easily and fast. Remember, the waves cme in pretty fast so you have just little time to make the turn and get into position.

3. Catch the wave

This part of the exercise is probably the best workout. If the wave of your desire comes in you lay down on the board. Make sure, if the board is long enough (which was the case for me all the time), that your feet close with the rear of the board. Keep your tension up and when the wave is behind you – about two board length start paddling, consistently and strong. It’s not necessary to paddle fast, you have to push the water away to make progress and get some speed, you don’t have to mix it up. If you did right you will feel the wave “catching” you or the other way around, you catching the wave. You will then be pushed forward and gain some significant speed.

4. Stand up

For my experience it is not necessary to try to stand up immediately. Give it time! Maybe you glide in, tension up, lying down on your board for the first attempts. You get a good feeling for the stability doing so. If you have the feeling it works to your satisfaction you can start to kneel on the board, face forward to shore. If that works fine as well, without you getting delivered into the sea permanently, you can try to slowly stand up. First of all you will have to find out which of your feet will be in front – this is also important to fixate the line – you do that on your back foot. OK, so far so good! Now you enter a crouch position, with the right foot in front, you have to turn while doing that, from face forward a bit to the side. You will find really good videos on youtube! In this crouch position you will feel it’s less stable than just going in and you might fall into the water. That happens, don’t worry you will get used to the feeling. And if you decide to finally stand up, do it slowly and make sure you stand up over the most stable part of your bard, which I mentioned above. Have fun trying!

As you can see, we all stood up and this entry is TBC, since I miss lots of photos of our second group, the pharmacy interns, when we attended. In the meanwhile enjoy this as a foretaste… 🙂

Go Gators

Florida Spring Break – Good Times!

Spring Break must not neccessarily be a party overkill. I experienced some great beach days, with good live acts with my friends over here and they were all unforgettable. And as long as I hit the Atlantic I continued to learn surfing. It works actually alright and I am satisfied with my progress – as of now I am a four-timer on the board and I have no intention to stop learning it 🙂

Spring Break in Clearwater Beach

Although I never intended to take part in the Floridan Spring Break at Panama City Beach, there are different locations along the coasts which are equally entertaining and relaxing, compared to the crowded party beaches of the Panhandle. Ruben, Mareike, Starlight, Julia and me head to Clearwater Beach, to find something in between, a mixture of good nightlife and a decent beach to hang out at daytime. And all of that is so much fun in a nice group, willing to experience a good life.

20140315_124958

First of all we hit St. Petersburg Beach, which is obviously beautiful but mainly crowded with old people and families. It’s more the kind of beach you would have a look for attending as a couple or a family. Our way from there to Clearwater Beach in front of Tampa takes us another two hours, we have not been the only ones with the idea of a pristine day at the beach… But when we reach it finally we still hava a great day and of course, as it is gold standard at the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, a great sunset.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach, at the Gulf of Mexico

Goede avond Ruben!

As I find out at dinner pizza Chicago style is really enjoyable. We have to prolong our beach stay a bit since the street is totally blocked by cars, this time heading back to the mainland. Most of the more affordable hotels are on the mainland and a night directly at the beach is not affordable at all, prices start around $160 for a room per night in places you would normally pay $30 if they would be located elsewhere. Our program for the night: Attending the Shepard’s Beach Resort where Vanilla Ice gives a concert this night. Our way to celebrate Spring Break. On our way back to the car, a moving performance of The Wandering Madman really touches me – goosebumps! – check out all of his music on his website and on youtube for free! What a great voice and what a laid back dude – I already experienced so many great artists, free of cover, in bars, on the streets, in wagons like this time, everywhere and all over the USA. It is really awesome!

We reach our hotel and just have 45 min. to get done and back to the hotel, where Vanilla Ice performs this night. Ruben made a small mistake booking the hotel tho. Our reservation is for the upcoming weekend and so we are without a place for the night. Luckily the shabbier motel next door has a place left. We have a quick “shower race”, about 3 min. for everyone, to get prepared. We “succeed” in staying on time and head back to the show. And I promise you, this show was really great and it’s often like that, you don’t expect anything great, then it becomes great!

Vanilla Ice performing some of his older songs

Vanilla Ice was born on Thangsgiving 1967 and loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles, that’s what we learn when he talks a bit about his songs he performs. He is in the mid fourties, his biggest hit Ice, Ice Baby is dated back to 1991, but he still is able to deliver a great show like that. Unexpected, great! Some party equipment is thrown into the crowd, some ladies enter the floor and soon afterwards the party really kicks off…

The girls go Spring Break crazy

It lasts until 3 a.m., an hour longer than elsewhere. It’s fun and we return back to the hotel totally tired but satisfied. The next morning starts with a big breakfast at IHOP, the rest of the day we lie around at the beach, enjoy it and try to not eat too much sand, since the wind is strong and the fine, white sand is everywhere!

Clearwater Beach

I have learned from my first beach days this year, use sunscreen LPF 50 now and enjoy the sun. But it’s still too much, after some hours I surrender and enjoy the show of some tourists, trying their best to stand up on the standing wave inside of one of the entertainment centers at the beach.

When we reach Gainesville at night, we have a decent BBQ. And on our way back we bought some cool $5 shirts at Walmart for the upcoming St. Paddy’s day the next day…

Spring Break in Daytona and Cocoa Beach – Surfing the tide of the Atlantic

Daytona Beach was once a popular location for Spring Break, this is long time ago. It is still a beautiful beach with very fine sand. I meet up early in the morning with my friends from the UF Navigators, Conny and Theresa from Austria, Nasa and Aicha from France. We take a rental car together and pick it up really early the morning. Gainesville really seems asleep at this time (7.30 a.m.).

A random wall painting I took a photo of in the early morning

Our ride to the beach takes a bit but we manage to get there before luchtime. It is a very beautiful day but the conditions on the water, the waves in Daytona, are tough to manage for a beginner like me. It was much easier to surf in the Pacific…

The day flies by in a second and I am eager to go to the beach again. After all it’s weekend and I like it more to go to the beach at daytime and skip the party at night in return. It’s so much more rewarding.

The next day I visit the beach with some other friends, Martin from Switzerland, Sharvari, Adriely, and Virat. They are colleagues of mine and we start again early in the morning to Cocoa Beach  close to Cape Canaveral. The beach has not such fine white sand as many others I visited in Florida and California, but the swell is really good to surf! Stephan, my former instructor from my times as intern here, his little daughter, Ben, a former colleague of mine and his girlfriend already await us.

Martin and me borrow a board and start right away. We have to bring it back several times until I find the perfect size, 8’6″. I teach Martin a bit and he really does good standing up on a big board. I go to watch El Classico in the meanwhile. The end of the day I surf, when the others are for dinner and I stand up everytime now. Too sad I am too busy with surfing to take pictures… It was great and I am in a spree to learn it properly now – a worthy alternative to snowboarding I have to say and since the Atlantic is already quite warm and the sun does the best to impress, we had another great day at the beach! This is how Spring Break can look as well. Thanks to all of you guys for the great time, the funny conversations and all the action – Really enjoyed it and we should do more of such stuff in our limited time over here!

Spring Break Tour 5: Rocking Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz of California is like Innsbruck of Austria in regard to outdoor activity. It is a sleepy little town, in the middle of the most beautiful part of Californias coast I experienced. Redwood is surrounding the city and the campus is built in this forest. You find nice and laid back people over there and for surfing there is probably no other place – like for snowboarding there is no other place like IBK.

I hit the campus right out of a big CF* in Santa Cruz. It is a tad elevated over the city and – interesting! You have a humongous forest around all the university buildings and in between the little condo houses of the students. It looks a bit like the elven village from Lord of the Rings. I want to talk to a Professor I know from a congress and I am lucky to find him in his office. Won’t say more, can’t say more, believe me it was quite an interesting talk… But University of California, Santa Cruz is for sure a nice place to be. It’s comparable to Innsbruck from the spirit, in IBK you got mountains and snowboarding, in Santa Cruz you got the Pacific in front of your door, supreme surfing and snowboarding if you are willing for a two hour ride into the mountains – what is a couple of hundred miles, right? Awesome!

After sunset and some observation of the skills of the local surfers (hilarious!) I make my way into the city. It’s tiny! I stroll around and discover a bad-ass shop for vinyl LPs, some of the most cool shops for surfers clothes, I’ve ever seen – and that’s where I get my new beloved hat – and a little further into downtown, some artists performing Hip Hop and Samba on the street. I join them, of course and party until 10:30 p.m.

And after this really cool experience, I attend the Irish Pub Poet & Patriot, where I get to know some really nice people. A girl called Violet from south Italy and her American friends, and later this evening Cassidy, a dude from Washington D.C.

I still have no place to sleep and I really don’t care. Could just ride up to campus and sleep in the car, right? But that’s not necessary. I talk with Cassidy about mountaneering, surfing, snowboarding and want to say goodbye, like “Dude, was awesome to meet you and your buddies, have to leave now to find a place to crash in the car, where the cops don’t find me at night…”. And he invites me to crash at his place. It’s really great! And so I crash at their place. The guys are all PhD students in physics, really nice folks, love to surf, to snowboard and the craziest thing is, Cassidy will come to Europe by the time I come back, for a conference and I invite him to experience the mountains of Tyrol with me. That will be fun! Cassidy, you are still very welcome and I hope you will be able to manage our mountains… 😉

The next morning I have breakfast with the guys, the other one is Juan from Spain. And since I had the intention to go surfing – second time of my life, 6 years after my first experience on Eleuthera of the Bahamas – I ask them for advice, where to rent the equipment and where to go. They send me over to Freeline, a small but very well sorted surf shop in the south of Santa Cruz. And they tell me to visit the Nisene State Park close to Santa Cruz before I leave… You can rent your equipment for just $25 a day, that’s what I do. Glad the board fits into my small rental car.

I hit Sharks Cove right at the end of 41st Street and enjoy two hours of surfing. Probably looks pretty clumsy but I don’t care. It’s the second time as I told you and for that it still works alright! I am able to catch some waves, they are pretty big. And all the paddling and swimming really exhausts me, yet leaves joy, happiness and adrenaline. After two hours I am just done, with a big grin on my face, and I still need to hit San Francisco… Exhausted, but happy and relaxed I continue my journey and I will never forget those friendly and nice people who live in this city.

*I will use CF as a abbreviation for cluster fuck = traffic jam